Two steps forward, one giant leap back
This year's Academy Awards were shaping up to be one of, if not the, best awards ceremony until we reached the screenplay categories. There was diversity, genuinely lovely acceptance speeches, Black Panther's wins put a smile on everyone's face, (especially Chris Evans) and Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga tore the roof off with one of the single best musical performances I've ever seen at the ceremony. But then, like your angry old uncle who sits at the Thanksgiving table and says nothing for an hour before delivering an unnecessary and overtly racist offhand comment he thinks is somehow funny, Green Book happened. And, as much as the optimist in me wants to remember everything that happened before it, the wounds of witnessing the Academy hand out its highest accolade to a woefully mediocre, insidiously disingenuous film are too fresh for me to move past it. Sure, Spike Lee won his first ever Oscar and accepted it in the most Spike Lee way possible, but he had to walk on a stage that was disgraced by the overtly racist Nick Vallelonga just moments prior, who somehow won Best Original Screenplay for Green Book despite it being by FAR the weakest screenplay in the category, controversies aside. It is absolutely wild to me how a person with enough experience in the movie industry to earn a membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could look at this year's Best Original Screenplay and (especially) Best Picture nominees and say, with a straight face, "Green Book is my choice." The Academy had a chance to send shockwaves through our cultural pulse with bold, trailblazing choices like BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, The Favourite, and, of course, Roma. But, instead, they looked at the face of evolution and flinched in one of the most cringeworthy ways imaginable.
Some of you may be confused or even angry at the people (myself included) saying Green Book is easily the worst Best Picture winner since Crash. (That is a phenomenal article about it, by the way.) A choice which will undoubtedly be jeered at for decades to come, and a giant step back on the trail of progress. I will do a deep dive myself on it in the coming days, after the dust has settled and I don't feel on the cusp of an emotional breakdown. For now, though, I want to focus on the rest of this year's Academy Awards. Because there were some truly heartwarming moments littered around a shockingly well-run hostless ceremony. Sure, all of it will be hindered by the dumbfounding, frustrating, regressive choice for 2018's standardbearer, but for now..... Positive vibes time.
Ok, so here's something cool: every film nominated for Best Picture won something, for better or for worse. (Looking at you, Bohemian Rhapsody.) On the better front, you had some genuinely heartfelt moments, highlighted by Spike Lee jumping into Samuel L. Jackson's arms after winning his first EVER Oscar. One of the most influential directors of the past 30 years finally received (some) of the recognition he deserved, and his speech was one of the better moments of the night. It's also easy to forget that Regina King led off the night with a win for Best Supporting Actress, the lone award for If Beale Street Could Talk, and became the fifth black woman to win Best Supporting Actress in the last ten years after ONLY Whoopi Goldberg and Jennifer Hudson had won the category since Hattie McDaniel's trailblazing win (issues with the role aside) for Gone with the Wind in 1939. In the undercard categories, we now have three black women EVER to win any of them, including the two that happened this year. Best Production Design (Hannah Beachler - the first African American to ever win the award in addition to being the first black woman) and Best Costume Design, (Ruth E. Carter) both for Black Panther, which also took home Best Original Score. (Sorry, Nicholas Britell. You're number one in my heart.) Entering the night I was worried Black Panther, the most culturally significant film of the year, was going to walk away empty-handed, so I was exuberant to see it win some awards. And Hannah Beachler's speech warmed my cold heart, and still does now even after Green Book happened.
Also, there was a lot of genuine excitement in the room for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse winning Best Animated Feature! Co-Director Peter Ramsey became the first African American to ever win that accolade. And it was a great night for women overall! Women directors won in all three short categories, also a first, as well as Best Original Song, (Lady Gaga, A Star is Born) Documentary Feature, (Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Free Solo) and Makeup and Hairstyling. (Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney, Vice) Eeeeeeeven if that last one had the worst speech of the night. But hey! Speaking of speeches, can we talk about Olivia Coleman's shocking win for Best Actress for The Favourite? Glenn Close's initial reaction before they cut exclusively to Coleman was priceless, (a sly shrug as if to say, "Hey, what are ya gonna do?") as was Olivia Coleman's genuinely shocked reaction to winning the award. (Every speech now needs to end with a spontaneous blurting out of "Lady Gaga!" with no context.) It was one of the most touching moments of the night and ensured The Favourite would walk away with at least one W, and it was even more shocking when you consider Olivia Coleman hardly campaigned for the Oscar at all because she was in Britain filming The Crown. That W goes to her strictly for the performance itself. Sadly, though, it turned out to be the last genuine moment of the night, as Alfonso Cuarón's speech, while great and SHOULD HAVE BEEN DUPLICATED 5 MINUTES LATER, (happy thoughts, happy thoughts) was obviously heavily rehearsed as he was the overwhelming favorite for the category. And Green Book's speech was every bit as awkward as that entire room realizing that their choice for the standardbearer of 2018 will now, forever be, Green Book. Ugh.
The show itself was surprisingly tightly run without a host. Also, because of the lack of a host, there were no silly and unnecessary bits where "stars go and be just like us," or "hey, let's bring a bunch of pizzas in for everyone because that's a good idea" to distract us from the awards themselves, which allowed for a surprisingly brisk runtime of under 3.5 hours. From my count there was only one "movies are great and you should go watch them in the theater" montage, down from the (seemingly) 36 we had to sludge through last year. And only once did someone get cut off in their acceptance speech. (Seriously. What was that, Vice makeup crew?) And, of course, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper slayed. That performance was straight fire and I'm still getting goosebumps. Also, kudos to this cameraman for killing the single uncut take. 10/10 moment.
Buuuuuuuuuuuut it doesn't feel like any of that matters. For all my attempts to find the positives of this year's awards ceremony, for as much as I want to look at the progress made by trailblazers like Ruth E. Carter, Hannah Beachler, Peter Ramsey, and the legendary Spike Lee, as much as I want to remember that Alfonso Cuarón continues the unprecedented dominance of the three amigos from Mexico, (Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, and Alejandro González Iñárritu) with their FIFTH Best Director win in the last six years, it's impossible to overlook the epidemic failure at the top of the ballot. When Moonlight won Best Picture over La La Land in 2017, it was the first moment since November the year prior where I felt like our culture took a real step forward on the never-ending trail of progress. In that moment, I felt like the Academy maybe, just maybe, had finally put #OscarsSoWhite behind them. That the diversification of the Academy's voting body had allowed a somewhat unorthodox, but certainly artistic AF indie film from then unknown A24 to win Hollywood's most prestigious award over a wonderful escapist studio film in La La Land that appealed directly to the old white male stereotype the Academy was trying to liberate themselves of. Well, this year, that old white male stereotype reared its ugly head in the worst possible way, backing a horrendously regressive film over potentially iconic choices. Not only that but, like in November of 2016, the old white men decided to make their statement against us progressives (I believe the term I'm looking for is "snowflakes") with a film that's...... just not that good. It's not that good, people! Why did you put all your chips on freaking Green Book? Why is that your "statement" against the winds of change?? At least La La Land was a beautifully made film with master cinematography, editing, acting, and score with iconic musical numbers all wrapped up in an overly feel-good escapism premise. Green Book is just....... bleh! What do you remember from Green Book? Seriously? Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali are charming and have good chemistry. That's literally all I remember from it. That's it! And that's now the flagbearer for 2018. How???
In short, the Oscars were...... fine. They had the EASY potential to be so much more than that, but now we have to look to the undercard to find the genuinely wonderful choices. (Mostly..... how about the best acting job of the night going to the crew from Bohemian Rhapsody tiptoeing around the man who made the film? Hey, at least it didn't win Best Picture, right?) But, when it came time to hand out the night's most prestigious award, the old voting body tripped over itself and sent a painfully regressive message to all of us. And we'll have to struggle to overlook that.
Also, Awkwafina needs to host next year's Oscars or I'm boycotting. Just saying. HER PURSE HAD A FLASK IN IT, PEOPLE. IT WAS A FLASK.
My Number: Bleh/10
https://www.latimes.com/resizer/RbwSuCvS8BBrJLnyK7UaqoxzFqU=/1200x0/www.trbimg.com/img-5c737ca5/turbine/la-1551072417-08muj3mbas-snap-image (Spike Lee)
https://static01.nyt.com/images/2019/02/24/arts/25oscars-diversity1/noel-oscars-2019-1105-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale (Hannah Beachler)
https://sharedmedia.grahamdigital.com/photo/2019/02/24/Green%20Book%20wins%20best%20picture%20at%202019%20Oscars.jpg_20363481_ver1.0_1280_720.jpg (Green Book)
https://cdn.mainichi.jp/vol1/2019/02/25/20190225p2g00m0et063000p/9.jpg (Alfonso Cuarón)
By: Joseph Kathmann
There's an east wind coming
2018 was a year of changes for Hollywood. Now over one year removed from Harvey Weinstein's (overdue) downfall and the rise of the #MeToo era, the industry has recognized (thanks, in part, to audience acclaim and commercial success of their more progressive films) that the time for change is now. For the first time ever, a film with a nearly all black cast will be the top grossing film of the year in Black Panther. The first American-made film to feature an all Asian cast in 20+ years dropped in Crazy Rich Asians and was another domestic box office hit, showing the industry that, yes, we want more diversity in our big budget films. One of the pioneers for change, Spike Lee, after years of being on the outside looking in with the industry, dropped BlacKkKlansman to huge critical acclaim, and was rewarded with his first EVER Best Director Oscar nomination. Films like A Star is Born, Incredibles 2, Ocean's 8, Mary Poppins Returns, Bumblebee, and the aforementioned Crazy Rich Asians all featured strong female protagonists, and all were within in the domestic top 25 for box office gross. And that doesn't even mention groundbreaking films with strong female leads like The Favourite and Roma, the later of which has the potential to cap off a year of progress in Hollywood by being the first foreign film to ever win Best Picture. And let's not forget Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with its proudly black protagonist! If that doesn't warm up your insides, then I really can't help you.
That said, we still have a long way to go. Films like Bohemian Rhapsody took a torrid stance on the struggles of gay men and women throughout the country, Green Book hashed out a tired old "white savior solves systemic racism" storyline, and is depressingly relevant on this year's award's circuit with old white men, (the same year BlacKkKlansman was released, no less) Clint Eastwood is still making movies grossing over $100 mil, (seriously, people, why did you go see The Mule?) and Sicario 2...... happened. But, change doesn't happen overnight. Remember when Halle Berry because the first black woman to ever win Best Actress in 2002 for Monster's Ball and everyone thought that would blow the door wide open for more diversity at the Oscars? To this day, she remains the only black woman to win Best Actress at the Oscars. Ever. And since her, only three other black women have even been nominated for the role. There have only been two Latinas nominated for the award in the 21st century, which makes the nomination of the third, Roma's Yalitza Aparicio, that much more significant. But, if there was ever a year where the winds of change started to be felt, it would be 2018. Here's to hoping 2019 is even more diverse! (Still need to hire WAY more female directors, Hollywood....) So, without further ado, let's talk about the best and worst 2018 had to offer!
WELP. So much for this mentality. Green Book is now 2018's standardbearer for the Academy's best film of the year. Don't you worry, more on that soon. But I think it's safe to say my optimism was also wrapped up in some naiveté. Looooooooooong sigh.
For individual reviews of the films mentioned, click on the pictures.
The Best Trailers of 2018
Any trailer that uses a Perfume Genius song gets an automatic entry into this list. But, also, this trailer does a great job balancing the line of making you want to see the movie while not over-explaining it.
Now, the Avengers theme is stuck in your head. Took Marvel like 10 years to realize they had a great theme for the Avengers, but better late than never, right? Also, dat beard dough.
A Star is Born
It's always a plus when a trailer utilizes the music from the movie itself, but this trailer also has something of a story arc with its female lead, Lady Gaga. She is introduced around 45 seconds in and finally takes over the trailer about a minute later. You don't often see that when a trailer is tripping over itself to over-explain things.
Main reason this trailer makes the list is because the song choice, "The Man" by The Killers, is basically the best song choice ever to sum up Dick Cheney. Also, this trailer f************cks. Even if the movie itself doesn't.
There's nothing quite like a trailer synced to Pink Floyd. Add to it the emotional weight of the scenes chosen, while simultaneously not telling you much of anything about the film itself, and you have the embodiment of what a great trailer should be.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
"Your mission. Should you choose to accept it. I wonder: did you ever choose not to?" Now let's have a badass mashup with the Mission: Impossible theme and Imagine Dragon's "Friction" in sync with the sound effects in the film. If that doesn't get your blood pumping, I don't know what will. Plus, Angela Bassett says "plutonium." To be honest, that alone is reason enough for it to be number 1.
My Favorite Movie Moments
BlacKkKlansman - Going Undercover
I love the moment later in this film where Stallworth reveals himself to David Duke, but this moment was on YouTube and is pretty great too. This makes for a harrowing side-by-side with any clip from Green Book's white savior narrative, as the grittiness of this scene, and the rawness of the crusade against hatred, is what so many white folks want to ignore in place of going on a car ride through the south and discovering you're not actually racist.
Shoplifters - What Makes You A Mother?
The emotional climax of Hirokazu Kore-eda's masterpiece, this intimate, touching, genuine interrogation sequence will devastate you, while simultaneously making you question the societal norms placed on family and what constitutes as much. Nobuyo's (Sakura Andô) tearful breakdown at the end of the clip still makes me ball.
Black Panther - Killmonger Takes the Thrown
If there was a single sequence that sums up the power of Ryan Coogler's directing influence over a film, it's the final 30 seconds of this clip. Featuring two of the best shots I saw all year back-to-back from the great cinematographer Rachel Morrison, combined with the hip hop beats of composer Ludwig Goransson, this brief showcase of Wakanda's world being turned upside down was one of the best of 2018.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout - HALO Jump
One of the most badass sequences I've ever seen, this shot is one of the most difficult shots ever made. Period. Director Christopher McQuarrie had to train a camerman for weeks just to film it, plus the insistence on shooting the sequence at dusk, and that it is an actual single take (at least through the first lightning strike) makes this the single best moment I've seen in an action movie since the opening of Saving Private Ryan.
Widows - Rapping Scene
Steve McQueen's filmmaking gets me every time watching this scene, then I'm flabbergasted when I go and remember that this film didn't receive a SINGLE Oscar nomination. The uncontrollable camera makes you nauseous as you nervously anticipate the fate of the two characters at the center of this scene. All of which is hammered home by Jatemme's (Daniel Kaluuya) DOMINATING presence. Love it.
Roma - The Corpus Christi Massacre
While everyone (justifiably) marvels at the brilliance of Roma's beach sequence, which also could be number 1, I wanted to instead highlight the climax of the film, a sequence which director Alfonso Cuarón himself has said was the most challenging sequence he's ever shot. The sheer number of extras in that pan to the street, (thousands) all doing seemingly random things in a controlled manner, is unfathomable. Combine that with the colossal emotional juncture of this sequence, and that's why it's my number 1 favorite movie moment of 2018.
The Best Films No One Saw
All films on this list grossed under $25 million domestically.
You Were Never Really Here
Lynne Ramsay's uniquely weird murder-mystery was one of the most underrated films of 2018. Definitely not for everyone, but showcases the beauty of what great visual storytelling can do.
Gustav Möller made a huge splash with his first film, a claustrophobic murder mystery that unfolds in a single room, leaving your imagination to run amok with the events occurring through Asger's (Asger Holm) earpiece.
Leave No Trace
Debra Granik's first feature film in 8 years, Leave No Trace is a wonderful tale about a father raising his daughter in the unknown of nature.
Nadine Labaki's Oscar-nominated film was arguably the most emotional piece of cinema I saw all year, propped up by a terrific performance from its lead and real-life Syrian refugee, Zain Al Rafeea. Be ready to ROCK the ugly cry here.
Sorry to Bother You
Easily the weirdest yet most topical film I saw all year, Boots Riley's directorial / writing debut was a gripping, poignant statement about our society. With horsemen sprinkled on top.
Bo Burnham's feature / writing debut has resonated with me more than almost any other film I saw in 2018, featuring a script that should have been nominated for an Oscar, (it won at the Writer's Guild Awards, mind you) and easily the year's best debut performance from its lead, Elsie Fisher. It's the only film that will overlap in my overall Best of 2018 list, but it is more than deserving of that accolade.
The Worst Films of 2018
Hey, remember when this movie was supposed to make Jennifer Lawrence edgy? That worked out really well.
Issues on the set aside, the latest installment in The Predator franchise just another forgettable action movie with no sense of purpose, wasting its great cast in the process. JACOB TREMBLAY WAS IN THIS, PEOPLE. HOW DO YOU SCREW UP HAVING JACOB TREMBLAY IN YOUR MOVIE.
FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD
J.K. Rowling's follow-up to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them wastes the best parts of the original (the core cast and their dynamics) as well as the introduction of Dumbledore (Jude Law) to regress back to the 90s and highlight the hilariously irrelevant villain, portrayed forgettably by the even more irrelevant Johnny Depp. This series bet it all on him, and has already lost in spectacular fashion.
Holmes & Watson
The lazy, mindless reunion of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly was so bad there was even some incoherent editing littered about. If you want a single film to sum up the state of many modern American comedies, look no further.
The 15:17 to Paris
Clint Eastwood's first terrible movie of 2018 had a nice premise behind it - a film about a real-life dramatic event starring the people that lived said event - executed in a hilariously bad way at the hands of a once great director that has failed to recognize that enough is enough.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado
One of the worst movies I have EVER seen, this #MAGA wet dream, sorry excuse for a film did nothing but propel the racist narrative that "all Mexicans are rapists," wrapped up in a poorly made film starring people that clearly were #InItForThePaycheck. In a year where Hollywood took a lot of steps forward, this dumpster fire was a giant step back.
The Best Films of 2018
Ryan Coogler's powerful entry to the Marvel universe was the most culturally relevant film of 2018, smashing barriers while also giving us an incredible film.
A Star is Born
Bradley Cooper's directorial debut featured the best music of the year in a wonderful rendition of a classic Hollywood story.
Crazy Rich Asians
Look at Awkwafina's outfit and tell me how this film was not one of the zaniest, over-the-top romcoms of the 21st century, all wrapped up in the first American-made film featuring an Asian cast in over 20 years. Also, Henry Golding's smile is littered throughout this, so that's a huge plus.
Steve McQueen's gut-wrenching heist film went criminally underappreciated. A wonderful bit of filmmaking wrapped up in a topical statement about politics and society with a great cast and unpredictable story.
Spike Lee's most popular film since his groundbreaking Do the Right Thing, BlacKkKlansman was the best statement on the state of our current society in 2018, spoken by the king himself.
The most charismatic film of the year, Pawel Pawlikowski's Cold War is tells a classic, gut-wrenching love story starring two people who's suave is borderline insufferable.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
The best action movie I've ever seen, director Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise's 6th installment to the Mission: Impossible franchise raises the bar for the genre with some of the most technically difficult sequences ever shot.
Bo Burnham's directing and writing debut had some of the most grounded moments of the year, featuring a lovable lead in a terrific and relatable coming-of-age story.
The best American film of the year, the latest (and greatest) from director Yorgos Lanthimos features a shamelessly flamboyant and wonderfully weird power dynamic story and the best trio of performances of the year.
Hirokazu Kore-eda's masterpiece will linger with you long after the end credits roll. An emotionally devastating film wrapped up in an incredibly powerful message about family featuring some of the most genuine performances I've ever seen.
Not only the best film of the year, but possibly the best film I have ever seen, Alfonso Cuarón's latest accomplishment is the very definition of a cinematic masterpiece. A triumphant family epic told on an unprecedented scale with some of the most intricate and complex longtakes I have ever seen.
That's all, folks! As my 2018 film list draws to a close, I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you, to everyone, for following my blog and supporting this naive Millennial's trip through the magical world of film. I have no intentions of slowing down anytime soon, so here's to a wild 2019. Bring it on.
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Women Reign Supreme
With the Oscars looming large, it's time to talk about the best performances I saw throughout the year! This year's list is filled with women: in fact, there's only two men in my entire top 10, and one of them shares the spot with the female lead of their respective film. No doubt this is the result of one of the strongest years for female actors I've ever seen. Certainly the strongest since I started writing this blog. Now, let's give more female directors the chance to shine, shall we???
For my reviews of each film discussed, click on the actor's picture.
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody