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Rapacious and wrathful. Ravenous and feral. Unapologetic and unrepentant. And absolutely, bloody brilliant. Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Favourite" is the historical costume period drama that I really have a strong feeling that we have all wished to see as he ruthlessly showcases all of the raw emotions and reprehensible actions that would otherwise be repressed.
With a startling trio of fearless and rightfully Oscar nominated performances from Olivia Coleman, Rachael Weisz and Emma Stone, as characters all jockeying for power and control over each other while navigating various levels of greed, jealousy, self-righteous entitlement, enraged self-preservation, "The Favourite" is tremendously and refreshingly unorthodox in its open display of gluttonous, lusty, profane vulgarity--a perfect juxtaposition of the regal surroundings and royalty of the characters. While easily his most accessible feature to date, Lanthimos continues to provoke and challenge as he weaves a social satire that just may be designed to mirror the sheer, unrelenting ugliness of our current political dialogue by driving his characters and us in the audience deep into the figurative and literal filth of things and the effect is wildly, provocatively liberating and even surprisingly poignant to view and, I would imagine, for the actors to perform.
Yorgos Lantimos' "The Favourite" is a viciously fang baring dark comedy that plunges its venomous bite repeatedly and rapturously.
(Originally reviewed December 2018)
George Tillman Jr.'s excellent, pitch perfect adaptation of the outstanding debut novel from Angie Thomas, is an urgently stirring and sobering standout that explores with deftness and honesty the realities of racial code switching, police brutality and racial profiling, the urgent necessity of the survival of working class Black communities and Black families, the legacy and continuation of Black activism and all at the center, a fully three dimensional 16-year-old Black female leading protagonist we would follow absolutely anywhere.
The story of Starr Carter (a sensational Amandla Stenberg), who lives in the fictional working class Black community of Garden Heights yet attends school in a wealthy, predominantly White prep school and becomes a first hand witnesses the brutal murder of her childhood friend/first love by a White police officer is an up to the minute and piercingly humane message from the Black Lives Matter movement to a world that still refuses to regard the full value of Black people as human beings. And in addition, we are not only given another outstanding portrait of a Father/daughter relationship but of involved, engaged, loving and protective Black Fathers as Russell Hornsby's performance as Starr's former gang member/ex-con now neighborhood grocery store owner named Maverick was award worthy.
(Originally reviewed November 2018)
Meticulously observed, richly perceptive, deeply aching and featuring an impeccable, remarkable leading performance by Elsie Fisher, Bo Burnham's "Eighth Grade" is a marvelous slice-of-life film so astute and accurate to the turbulence and fragility of life at the end of Middle School that it nearly functioned as a documentary.
Fisher stars as Kayla Day, as we follow her through her final week of eighth grade as it is filled with all manner of painfully awkward situations and relationships with her classmates as well as with her single Dad (a lovely Josh Hamilton) and mostly, her vibrantly alive inner world which is fretfully, anxiously, hopefully trying to make sense of herself. In addition to housing another excellent Father/daughter story, Burhman has also utilized "Eighth Grade" as a powerful cultural commentary about our societal addiction to social media and how, as a result, we have become more disconnected and cripplingly lonelier.
Bo Burnham's "Eighth Grade," so sad yet still hopeful enough to illustrate that this time of life can be survived, was so authentic that it gave me PTSD flashbacks to my own year in eighth grade.
(Originally reviewed August 2018)
With all due respect to those of you who still adore Pixar and especially those whose collective jaws dropped with "Spider Man Into The Spider Verse," but I am sorry, Wes Anderson's "Isle Of Dogs" was not only one of the very best films of the year, it was without question, one of the most original films of the year, animated or otherwise.
As for originality, it should be celebrated that in our time of sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, re-imaginings, and everything being based from a previously released book, cartoon, toy or amusement park ride, "Isle Of Dogs" emerged from nothing else other than the zestful, unfiltered imagination of Wes Anderson.
This tale of a dystopian Japan set 20 years in the future, where dogs have been exiled to the isolated Trash Island due to a mysterious "dog flu" for which there is no cure and is feared will transfer to the human population. Yet, the determined 12-year-old Atari takes to the skies towards the island to find his dog and is soon befriended by a quintet of abandoned canines (voiced by Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban and in a terrific performance, Bryan Cranston). This by itself would be more than enough for any film but Anderson ingenuously delivers a storytelling feast involving conspiracy theories, Japanese folk tales, non-linear storytelling structures, a 12-year-old American exchange student freedom fighter, cannibalistic dog pack, kidney transplants and whatever else flowed through his feverishly inventive brain and every little detail worked tremendously.
As for a work of animation, "Isle Of Dogs" is resplendent and especially so as a work of the painstaking process of stop-motion animation. The amount of visual details within each and every frame of this film is staggering and I feel is just a gift to behold for my eyes luxuriously soaked in every beauteous image.
And yet, it is not all just canine hijinks, as Wes Anderson, true to his idiosyncratic form and dry, droll wit has indeed lovingly crafted a dark, melancholic affair that speaks directly to the bonds shared between ourselves and all of our animal friends, plus also existing as an allegory to our real world stresses of climate change and immigration. This is a deliriously inventive work more than worthy of our collective celebration as it is a cinematic universe unlike any other and created and presented with boundless energy, zeal and blissful imagination.
(Originally reviewed April 2018)
A work of staggering elegance, grace, pain and palpable tragedy, Barry Jenkins' follow up to his Oscar Best Picture winning "Moonlight" (2016) is the sumptuous adaptation of the James Baldwin novel which was not only a stunningly languid film about the Black experience, it was far and away one of 2018's most artfully humane films.
Set in early 1970's Harlem, this story of 19-year-old Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and 22-year-old Alfonso "Fonny" Hunt (Stephen James), whose tender, pure romance is supremely tested when Fonny is wrongly arrested and imprisoned for rape is a testament to the power, strength and most importantly, the endurance of love within Black romantic relationships and Black families within a cruelly indifferent and punishing White society.
With its non-linear structure, luxurious tempo, luscious cinematography and Composer Nicholas Breitell's sweeping, aching score which evokes the sound of Black American sorrow itself, "If Beale Street Could Talk" is a film of devastating beauty, tremendous empathy, and mournful truth. It is indeed a work of art so lavish that it exists as a richly expressionistic tone poem.
(Originally reviewed January 2019)
It is rare that a film just flat out announces its own sense of greatness from the very first frame. Bradley Cooper's "A Star Is Born" is precisely one of those very rare films and this one was an undeniable powerhouse. Itself the fourth remake of the classic rise and fall musical drama, Cooper, armed with an astonishingly high confidence, crafted a classic Hollywood melodrama and up to the 21st century minute rock musical weaved in poignant and potent themes of fame and celebrity, alcoholism and addiction, fading male dominance and rising female empowerment, a smashing love story and damn, Cooper can sing too!!!
On top of it all is indeed the debut acting performance of Lady Gaga herself, as the aspiring singer/songwriter that Cooper's veteran country rock star takes under his wing and soon becomes her lover. She is absolutely, positively sensational, unquestionably proving that she indeed has the acting chops to deliver a full, three dimensional, multi-layered performance as skilled as any veteran actress.
What we have with "A Star Is Born," is swing for the fences filmmaking, over-flowing with bravado, style and heart as it effortlessly merges the melodrama, the magical and rock film authenticity the likes of which I have not seen since "Almost Famous" (2000) and even "Purple Rain" (1984)--and tremendous kudos to both Cooper and Gaga for singing LIVE during every musical sequence in the film!!
A motion picture event of splendid reach and depth, Bradley Cooper's "A Star Is Born" is exactly the movie "Bohemian Rhapsody" wished it could have been!
(Originally reviewed October 2018)
The greatest film of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe for certain. A comic book based film that fully transcended its own genre, Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther" is monumental and majestic movie making. The first Marvel film that is truly about something other than heroes and villains, and with aims even greater and higher than the full representation of Black people within a major big budget superhero film release, Coogler lovingly imagines the fictional African nation of Wakanda, a technology advanced utopia that affords viewers the Afro-Futurism "What If?" concept of what a Black world may have been like if we had not ever been colonized, stolen, enslaved, murdered or has our bloodlines diluted through rape.
Yes indeed, "Black Panther" is a passionately personal artistic socio-political statement in the guise of a blockbuster as the meticulous design (sets, clothing, languages, color schemes, music, dialects, tribal markings, rituals, customs, ancestry, legacies) merged with the connection and divide between of Black Africans and Black Americans richly fuel the narrative far above and beyond the standard heroes and villains narrative.
As our titular hero, we have T'Challa the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), heir to the Wakandian throne after the assassination of his Father and Erik "Killmonger" Stevens (a searing Michael B. Jordan), the film's antagonist and representation of the painful realities of the Black experience, an African-American who has been stripped of his culture with no ability to fully access his ancestral birthright and armed with a fury that is self-righteous and rightful--therefore, making him the most complex villain in the Marvel film series to date and furthermore, making their dichotomy less Professor Xavier and Magneto and decidedly more akin to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther" is a film about cultures, both real and imagined, lost and found, subjugated, humiliated, eradicated and yet maintained, sustained, and poised for the fullness of ascension. It is also the story of a new King, determining precisely how he should reign, through inclusion or isolationism. And it is a superhero movie where the most powerful elements have nothing to do with superheroics whatsoever. A truly magnificent achievement.
(Originally reviewed February 2018)
An astoundingly beautiful documentary that fully made me completely re-evaluate and re-engage with the iconic Public Television figure whose program existed as his life's mission, to help children, and therefore, absolutely all of us, understand our own individualistic and inherent value as human beings and to be acknowledged as such with ever present grace, acceptance and unconditional love.
The story of Fred Rogers, the ordained minister and life long Republican who created, wrote, hosted and performed the one-of-a-kind and frankly, radical and revolutionary children's television show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" was nothing less than revelatory, entrancing, sobering and undeniably moving as there was unquestionably not even one dry eye in the theater--and that included mine and repeatedly so.
I believe that the outpouring of emotion for this film and the power it definitely harbored is precisely due to the intense and even anxiety ridden nature of our current times and social landscape which does reveal a certain spiritual decay and existential pain housed within all of us as our discourse has shattered, our tribalism has become more impenetrable and our compassion for each other and ourselves has deteriorated considerably. What Director Morgan Neville has accomplished through his briskly paced, and artfully engaging is to celebrate this gentle giant who endlessly found cause to celebrate the world in which he lived and the people who populate it, solely through the belief that everyone is deserving of love and also, that we are all capable of loving.
An antidote to our horrific landscape and a cinematic crime that the Academy Awards neglected to nominate this wonderful film for an Oscar.
(Originally reviewed June 2018)
2. "BLACKKKLANSMAN" DIRECTED BY SPIKE LEE
A filmmaker of unrelenting fearlessness, audacity, inventiveness, creativity and yes, fair mindedness, Spike Lee emerged this year with one of the finest films of his entire ouevre as "BlacKKlansman" is extraordinary, exhilarating and downright essential movie making.
Based upon the improbable, absurd yet defiantly true story of Colorado Springs Police Detective Ron Stallworth, John David Washington stars as Stallworth who infamously infiltrated the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK..and yet, Stallworth is Black. To continue the investigation into the KKK, which soon leads to none other than KKK Grand Wizard David Duke himself (Topher Grace) and the uncovering of a domestic terrorism plot, Stallworth continues to communicate with the organization via telephone while White, Jewish Police Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) portrays Stallworth in person.
Being provocative, confrontational, and controversial is indeed to be expected from an new "Joint" from Spike Lee but with "BlacKKKLansman," he has only continued to explore the turbulent landscape of race and racism in America with integrity, soulfulness, peerless skill, and a multi-layered purposefulness that this time, deftly illustrates the differences and similarities between the 1970's Black Power/Civil Rights movement and the White supremacy groups with images and rhetoric of racial self-love and self-preservation. Yet, Lee is rightfully wise to also showcase the subtle difference between the two, as being Pro-Black does not mean being Anti-White and White supremacy is the self-preservation of a race at the expense and eradication of all other races.
Within the characters of Stallworth and Zimmerman, we are given two individuals, through serious self-examination, who come to the realization that when it comes to upholding social justice, there is no standing upon the sidelines, and that prejudices and racist tendencies are closer than one may have ever expected to experience around and even within themselves.
Racial code switching, the pressures of being the first and only Black face in a White environment, and perceptions of race from oneself as well as those who surround you, all within a narrative and period piece purposefully designed to run concurrently with the continuously unfolding events of right here and now in the 21st century, Spike Lee's "BlacKKKlansman" is a brilliant slow burn of a film which builds into a towering, invigorating, dynamic and infuriating inferno.
(Originally reviewed August 2018)
1. "SORRY TO BOTHER YOU" DIRECTED BY BOOTS RILEYFor my number one favorite film of 2018, I turn to Boots Riley's unrepentantly WTF debut feature, a film of such tremendous audacity and anxiety that it is also one of the very best films I have seen within this decade.
The odyssey of Cassius Green (played by Lakeith Stanfield), who takes a job as a telemarketer and gains financial glories only after learning to utilize his "White voice" to attract customers, is an astoundingly singular cinematic vision that not only speaks directly to this specific time in our collective cultural history in the 21st century but also to all that has happened in the past and what will play out in the future.
While it is a film about racial code-switching and the perceptions and prejudices about and concerning African-Americans, Riley has crafted an insidious fever dream of razor sharp agitprop that eviscerates reality television, cultural appropriation, the desperate status of current hp-hp and rap music and at its most feral, the full dehumanization of rampant capitalism and even worse, the full dehumanization of not ever taking a stand.
Presented as a social satire yet utilizing techniques of magical realism, surreal thrills and even science-fiction horror, Boots Riley has weaved an uncomfortable, disturbing, oft-putting, often surprising nightmare of a film that supplies a major plot twist you will never see coming that flies the film completely through the looking glass and yet, superbly continues and even cements its message during which every character is complicit and is transformed by the knowledge that blindly adhering to the status quo is precisely what will cause our societal downfall.
No, this film is not for everyone and nor should it be as it is film designed to provoke and turn your brain inside out with a heartfelt fury. Despite the politeness of its title, Boots Riley's "Sorry To Bother You" is everything but.
This film is a cinematic Molotov cocktail.
(Originally reviewed July 2018)
There you have it. 2018's Savage Scorecard series is now complete thus making full breadth and space for the 2019 movie year!