31 December 2022

2022 Nutshelled: Best Movies

Alright people, here we are! This what we lurch forward and get excited about all year! We'll take all the cultural force and magical experiences we had at the cinema and distill them all into a big dumb Top Ten List. More and more I think this is stupid. That's why I made like five this year. We will likely change this all around when we take another look next year, and I know there was a handful of films that I did not see that could penetrate this list next year. But for now, let's look at the best movies that I personally watched in 2022:

#10: Don't Worry Darling

I've looked at a lot of lists from around the whole Internet and reputable critics and people, and I was most struck by how much my list doesn't match up with them at all. We had such great films in the sweet spot this year of engaging, competent genre action. Or just really weird like Don't Worry Darling. I was so into the trailers, and I like Olivia Wilde as a director. This just got shat on for behind the scenes nonsense. No one really seemed too harassed or anything as far as I can tell (if I suck please let me know, I did not get into the gossip much beyond the headlines), but the amount of cheating, spitting, and chaos was unbelievable.

And it really should further show just how good of a job Olivia did to get ANYTHING out of anyone to make this movie. It's definitely got its source inspiration from a few places, but it still pulls off a satisfying story. At some point you just wait for the other shoe to drop and you know it's going to be either satisfying or a let down. And it's really satisfying! The acting and mind-fuckery is great and motivated here and it's also surprisingly one of the better-looking films of the year. Truly gorgeous, and what looks like mostly natural sets. This movie got a lot of crap, I wonder if we'll forget about all the nonsense in time and re-evaluate how good this is.

#9: Barbarian

There might not be a movie I've thought about more. AirBnB horror! What a concept! Some of the decisions are a little contrived, but man this movie gets so many points for being the most unexpected movie of all time. I love how much it spins from a basic story and then dramatically re-shifts but all in service of the same story. Justin Long steals the show as the worst human being to ever live and when he seems like he's redemptive, he's even worse. It's awesome. There's again some legit fucked up shit here and the delicate house of cards that's assembled never topples.

#8: Prey

I feel personally slighted by how much hype all these movies got when they came out but how little anyone seems to be talking about them at the end of the year. PREY was the perfect Friday night movie, a tight, coherent, legit action movie that advances the themes of an existing (and well-trodden IP), goes the mid-budget competent route but succeeds in its effort to remain interesting, and survives as a deserved work in its own right. There's also a message here but it's very slight and in service to the story. Everything works.

#7: Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

All hail Roku! Of course the Weird Al movie comes out on the most obscure service possible. The funniest movie of the year with absolute zero pretensions, we don't get enough of these kinds of films anymore. It's unreal. What's more unreal is how quickly it descends into having no interest in representing reality at all. It succeeds in being a parody of biopics but staying far away from being a direct parody of the genre like Walk Hard (2007) but is instead interested in exceptional silliness. I'd watch it every day if I could.

#6: Glass Onion

Written, produced, filmed, and released all in November, 2022! Knives Out (2019) was tremendous but this somehow pushes everything further, mostly from being completely disinterested in being a direct sequel. It's an incredible achievement to re-invigorate one of our oldest genres, but find a way to keep things interesting even after Knives Out did the same thing a few years earlier. The characters are vivid and dynamic, the lighting and cinematography is dynamic, bright, and in service of the film, but most importantly the film makes you hang on every word of long dialogue and monologue strings. It's consistently hilarious as well, while also punching for the gut. What's wrong with giving Rian Johnson more Star Wars again?

#5: Banshees of Inisherin

Maybe the saddest movie ever, I didn't really believe the hype until I watched this and was like oh damn! It's also the most Irish movie of all time, with equal parts wryly funny and deeply depressing. Everyone is acting at full speed here, and it finds the perfect line between the trivial and tragic. It's shot simply but lets the setting do the work for them. Martin McDonough has his credentials by now (I forgot he did Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [2017], which people seem to care about a lot less than In Bruges [2008] in hindsight), but seems to be much more in his element here.

#4: Everything Everywhere All At Once

The Top Four are pretty interchangeable and I foresee these being the immutable candidates for future reconciliations of this year. This got a lot of hype when it came out and has wormed its way into a lot of lists. For some reason this has been the year of the multiverse, and ends up being the best use of the concept. We get to see many fully realized and silly universes (Hot Dogs) but at the core is a relationship between mother and daughter that takes some significant effort to un-fuck. It's funny, original, thrilling, and explores a deep and fulfilling interaction between all the principal characters. Even Jamie Lee Curtis' tax specialist, who would be insufferable in another picture. This is one of the great ones.

#3: Nope

Jordan Peele's best film, I said it, Nope has thematic richness regarding our relationship with nature, animals, spectacle, exploitation, Hollywood, and filmmaking. It's quite a bit, all in a cinematic package that makes it look easy. It's authentic and fantastic all at once. I don't really actually like the SPOILER revelation that the spaceship is an alien or how it transforms at the end, but those are both thematically sound. Like so sound it makes me angry. Add to all this the genuine tension in a handful of scenes (ironically the fake-out scene is the most insane) and absolute horror from chimps and digestion and there is a lot to love here.

#2: RRR

It would seem somewhat improbable that a random Bollywood movie would become one of the biggest global phenomenon of the year. But for one, it's Tollywood, and second, it got some buzz on Netflix, man. Now, I'm aware that there is some problematic cultural stuff here. Oh no! Yeah, read up on what this all means for Indian and Telugu cinema here. It's pretty thorough.

But sticking to the film itself, this is at every moment a revelation. Watching as someone who has gotten very used to and jaded by Western blockbuster filmmaking it feels like an unbridled explosion of creativity, limitless expression, and truly dynamic action. All of that is wrapped up with revolutionary ideals (anti-colonialist, but also very nationalist) and what amounts of historical fiction with the greatest bromance of our era. Every scene seeks to top the one that came before it, all symbolized by the fire and water of our two heroes that echoes into mythology. RRR is insane. Watch Baahubali too.

#1: The Northman

And here we are. My pick for the Top Film of 2022 I saw in theaters and knew it would be tough to beat. I don't know why this hasn't gotten much of any love since its release. I watched it twice this year. I love every part of this. On the surface its a brutal action film. Deeper it's full of authentic filmmaking techniques, majestic vistas, and a classic story. But deeper than that it exposes the bullshit of its own story and undercuts the hypermasculinity that seems to possess its whole deal. It really is an incredible experience. Naked lava fight!

Honorable Mentions: Greenland, Pinocchio, KIMI, The Batman, Ambulance. I was also close to adding Elvis and Blonde. Elvis is so damn maximalist and serves as an incredible companion to Weird. Like literally Walk Hard if it were a straight biopic, to the point where it feels on purpose. I keep thinking about Blonde, too. I wish it were shorter so I could watch it again to unpack. It feels like a dream and is either the most brilliant film of the year or the worse. I disagree with accusations of exploitiveness, it just seems like it couldn't be more obvious that what everyone is doing to Marilyn (including the viewer's eye) is horrendous.

Have not Seen yet but might get on this list next year:

After Yang
No Bears
The Hustle
Triangle of Sadness
Eternal Daughter
White Noise

I probably won't watch all of these. I've had plenty of opportunity. I just missed TAR and White Noise, ran out of time. That's why these are all meaningless, baby! Check in next year when I confess to being really stupid and completely refine this list.

Until then, Happy New Year and here's to 2023!

30 December 2022

52 in '22: GREED

MovieGREED (1924)
Method: Xfinity

Why Did I watch this?

Can you believe it?! It's been a whole year of this! We ended on Greed, a four hour but used to be 9-hour epic of love, betrayal, and America. What a movie. I think I first read about it in the 1001 Films You Should Watch Before you Die book, and it just looked really really interesting. It's not even on Netflix's DVD service so I knew I'd have to hunt it down a little. Turns out I could just spend $4 for the rental. But what a way to close the year!

What Did I know ahead of time?

I may or may not have known about the excessive run time, I knew it was long, but I had definitely forgotten how chopped and altered this current best version was. See, much of this film has been lost to time, so the best we got is a pieced together cobbling of mostly still images and intertitles. It's not great, but you can still tell some of the acting here is superb just by their expressions! I knew it was between two dudes who dislike each other, but I did not know all the ins and outs.

How Was It?

Greed is considered one of the all-time classics and I wonder if it hasn't ever been remade for that reason. Because this could use a remake. Sorry, like it doesn't even have spoken dialogue, but this is so damn good! But it's hard to maintain a connection through all the still images and let's face it folks, really excessive length.

I get what's going on here, there are these parallel stories that heighten in the impact of the main story being told and give alternate paths to the terrible decisions everyone makes. I'm into movies that are more focused and deliberate, all driving towards one goal, which you can argue this does, but it takes a long way about it.

The film is actually very basic, it's all in the title. It's greed. For gold specifically, but also ownership of spouses, self-interest, careers, and an inability to control one's envy. It tracks the rise and fall of a wonderful San Francisco dentist named McTeague as he falls in love with his friend's cousin. She wins the lottery but everyone becomes obsessed with the money until they all die. A tale as old as time.

Shouler, though, covets both his cousin and her money. Was that just a normal thing in 1924? Like, he says "this is my cousin, my sweetie!" and I thought maybe cousin or sweetie were just different terms back then? But he keeps saying it...I think he was really just trying to bone his cousin. But it's more like he feels entitled to the money she won, not the woman herself. And nevermind any of her feelings, she isn't really all that into either of them. McTeague definitely gets a little rapey when she's knocked out in his dentist chair. There is such lust and despicability here! It's fun to watch!

But it drags, man. I don't care that the original nine-hour version was one of the greatest, most epic feats of cinema. Maybe as a mini-series on Netflix these days. Dude, we need a short-ass movie. There are a lot of side characters here who come in and out and don't do much. We could definitely montage some of this wedding stuff to get to the juicy finger-biting parts.

Anyone else get King Schultz vibes when his wagon rolls into town with that bobbly tooth? I think Tarantino knows what's up. There were other bits and pieces here and you can tell this film runs deep in cultural lore.

The ending is great, too. For all their violence and hatred of each other clouds their judgment. There is a bit of inherited evil here, like McTeague's father was a drunken horror, and by the film's end he acts like him as well as visually recalls him. But that's just not an excuse, they make all the decisions they make and their judgment is clouded by wrath and vengeance for no real purpose. It's an assuredly brutal film and one that you can picture getting made in director Erich von Stroheim's basement as a mad scientist without regard to audience, box office, toys, or Oscars. It's a pure film, man. Epic in scope, length, acting, and even the luscious gold-tinted cinematography. One might call it the AVABAR 2: Wet 'n' Wild (2022) of its time.

I liked this a lot, I wish had given myself more time to watch it and digest, honestly I rushed things this week before the New Year.

What's on the docket, next, then folks? We're 52 movies closer to watching every great forgotten movie that has burned a hole in my queue. Next year we'll keep this up because I like how it forces me to watch stuff, but I might lighten up the release schedule. Some weeks are just tough, man. I've got 38 movies on my list right now, come January I'll announce my pledge and start getting at it.

29 December 2022

2022 Nushelled: More Random Crap

We will drop our heavily vaulted Best Movies of 2022 list soon, but in the never-ending lead-up, we need to talk about all the other wonderful trends and everything of the year. Now, in general this year was fantastic for films. There were a ton of weird and amazing experiences to be had, and I think 2022 will be fondly remembered for many years. Maybe even like a 1999, 2007, or 2014.

That being said, I found it tough to recall particularly great singular defining moments or scores, or music. I really only point out things that are truly great. Not everyone gets a prize every year, people! I kept coming back to the same well. I think 2022's highs were pretty high but definitely in just a select few movies that really struck gold.

Actors of the Year:

I had a few nominees on the men's side, but somehow improbably it's no one but Colin Farrell. Yes, Colin Farrell won 2022. Mostly by appearing as a gonzo cartoon figure in The Batman (2022), a deep and thoughtful competent rescue worker in Thirteen Lives (2022), and then an amazingly sad Irish fellow in Banshees of Inisherin (2022). It's not only the volume here but shocking range of characters and genres that shows that this dude is the real deal. Called it!

Is it kind of weird that we even divide this? Like, what is it about gender that differentiates anyting with acting? Well, we do have a lot of nominees. Nicole Kidman seems to be every where all of a sudden and Jamie Lee Curtis showed range from horror icon to wacky hot dog finger lady! Anya Taylor-Joy and Margot Robbie keep flirting with over-exposure and Ana de Armas is showing that she's more than a pretty face, even if her biggest profile work Blonde is mostly about her being a pretty face.

But let's go with the long-deserving Florence Pugh! Don't Worry Darling (2022) was her big work but she also appeared in Hawkeye at year's end last year, and added The Wonder and Puss in Boots to show her credible range. There isn't really anyone acting like she is in addition to her overexposure and we're here on the Pugh train to stay!

Moments of the Year

Spoilers for the first couple here because it's a few endings: WEIRD: The Al Yankovic's story quickly shows that it has no desire coming anywhere near the true story when Al is gunned down at the Grammys by Madonna. This is really a thing that happens. I also was shook by the donkey eating Brendan Gleeson's fingers in Banshees of Inisherin. I'm sure there's more.

This category was always about highlighting great moments in otherwise dull movies. I don't know if we had a lot of that this year! Or it's about a sequence in an otherwise forgettable superhero film. We have some of those for sure.

Non-spoiler favorites:

The house covered in blood in NOPE
Wanda vs. the Illuminati in Multiverse of Madness
HAVE SEX! In Morbius
Zoey Kravitz gains the upper hand in KIMI
The Family faces their destiny trapped in the earth in The Bob's Burgers Movie (hands down funniest scene of the year)
Barbarian switches to The Adventures of Justin Long

Best Ending:

Dude this movie is not good in anyway, but almost worth sitting through the entire slog to see that in the end the impetus for the entire murder mystery in Bodies, Bodies, Bodies is Pete Davidson being an idiot. It really is worthwhile. Not another movie this year with a worse first thirty minutes and a better last thirty minutes.

Movies Where Every Scene was the Best Scene:

RRR, Ambulance, and Glass Onion are really hard to pick just one. Most are going with the musical dance number (that definitely wins down below!), but I just need to go with the intro. Such a hook.

Ambulance just kept going. Not enough love for what Gyllenhaal does here. Somehow the most Michael Bay-protagonist of all time.

And Glass Onion, it's got to be when everything comes together with the Mona Lisa at the end, right? Phenomenal work here.


NOPE or Pearl made me want to see both without spoiling anything. And I'll give Bodies, Bodies, Bodies again a lot of credit for making a great trailer that sold an amazing attitude that the movie couldn't have been farther away from.

Musical Moments

C'mon, man. You know it's RRR for the best bro-down of the year. I mean, all standard Tollywood stuff, but blew our stupid minds.

The best use of other songs probably go Nirvana in The Batman. That just fits so improbably well. And it kept coming back! I thought it was part of the score.

Other Stuff:

Copshop (2021) is a terrible movie that no one should see. It also didn't come out this year. But I'm not going to have another chance to talk about this, dammit. Toby Huss is amazing and in an entirely different movie. A better movie.

We'll get into my top pics on 12/31. Obviously that's when you need to highlight the top movies, people. I watched a lot of movies this year, and not all of them were good. No one's talking about 3000 Years of Longing (2022), which I was very excited for and deeply disappointed by. Same with The Bubble, which might be one of the worst films of all time.

I was also really bummed by Bros. It was just not really a good movie at all, but worse than that, really wanted you to think it was good and different than every other rom com. But it was totally just like every other rom com. I'm sorry, Billy. I really wanted to like this one.

This was just sort of a disappointing year, maybe I got too hyped for directors I like and we got boned. Oh well. Plenty of good things around, too, which you'll see in just a little bit!

2022 Nutshelled: Stuff We Thought Would Be Great!

Ah, the best time of the year. Time to look back at what we were eagerly anticipating and see how wrong we were. I feel like I'm disappointed every year, man. Except for 2017 when Blade Runner 2049 was my most anticipated and then greatest movie of the year. So let's take a look back at this stuff and see how we did:

Untitled David O. Russel Project (turned out to be Amsterdam):

Did I see it? Yep
How was it?

Dude, this shit was not good. What a freakin disaster. Just all over the place and ends with nine - NINE characters standing in a room with nothing to do. This feels more like a vanity exercise to work with every great contemporary actor (name one and they're in this movie) but give no one anything to do. Also a truly terrible exercise in subtlety. 

Bullet Train

Did I see it? Yep
How was it?

I don't know. It's maybe very good, but also maybe very bad. I think I didn't like it. I'm going to end on that side, although the ending is very strong. Ultimately I don't think it gets over the problems it has loving its own cheeky self and becomes a movie struggling with its own authenticity.


Did I see it? Yep
How was it?

Dude, it's like one of the best. Go watch it.


Did I see it? Yep
How was it?

How utterly disappointing. I mean, I knew it'd be stupid, but it wasn't even that stupid in a self-aware or fun kind of way. Just kind of a mess. I'm so sad.

Don't Worry Darling

Did I see it? Yep
How was it?

This movie got a lot of hate, but looking back it feels so clear that it's just more anti-women hate. The behind the scenes non-sense is inescapable not to talk about, but we should give all the actors all the more credit that the finished product is so tight.


Did I see it? Yep
How was it?

YO! This is actually fire. I should watch it again. It's somehow the most Michael Bay-movie of all time, but then also somehow GOOD?! It landed with a substantially difficult thud, but deserves much more. I'd watch it again. It's just a pure, beautiful non-stop car chase movie. At some point you need to give it up, because Roland Emmerich is right there fucking this shame shit up. I don't know. I need to really think about this. Why is this good? I think it does have to do with its genuine-ness, it just loves itself, which many modern movies struggle with.

Jackass Forever

Did I see it? Yep
How was it?

So, it's definitely good. I don't think it reaches the heights of either of the previous two installments (it's ahead of Jackass: The Movie [2002]), but it's not the amazing work that contemporary reviews thought it was. The editing was a little sloppy, I expected more from the new cast, and we are thoroughly separated from the ride or die grit that gave the first films their charm. I think critics probably liked it because it was far tamer, but c'mon. I frankly love it as a look into the world of filming through COVID. And the captured conversation about Cobra Kai lol.

The Northman

Did I see it? Yep
How was it?

Unreal. One of the best of the year and BEST EVER. More to come.

Across the Spider-Verse Part 1

Did I see it? Nope, did not come out
How was it?

I'll tell ya next year! Is this coming out?

Looking back, man, all those superhero movies were crap. I apparently liked Doc Strange better than most folks, it was definitely enjoyable, but everything else was mid. Also, what happened to the Aquaman and Flash movies? When are these ever coming out? I told you, I'll believe it when I'm in theaters. I can't believe AVABAR Dos: Wet n Wild actually dropped. I don't really plan on seeing it, maybe not ever, just looks....really really stupid.

What's up for next year?! Probably all great perfect films!!

28 December 2022

2022 Nutshelled: NMW's Sight and Sound All-Time Poll

It's apparently been ten years already and there's a lot of talk about what the greatest films of all time are. I would like to humbly share my personal picks for the 2022 Sight and Sound poll. It's so clear to me that for a not professional movie blogger for the past thirteen years I really haven't seen a ton of movies. I'd like to expand the depths of my knowledge, but I'm also honestly okay with seeing the movies I like to watch instead of the ones people say I should watch. That means I don't catch After Yang (2022) but I didn't see Top Gun: Maverick (2022), either!

So my list is an assortment of mostly popular films, but all ones that fire up every aspect of filmmaking. Coherent action, tight narrative structures, deep themes that are revealed through action, choices, and emotion. That's really what I'm looking for in a film. When a movie can do all that while also being thrilling, funny, and good to look at, that's really where we get something special.

I am assuredly affected by nostalgia and when I think of a film that has a dozen quotes instantly come to mind, that affects me quite a bit. So let's get to it!

#10: Marty (1955)

I just saw this one and I've thought about it all month. I think it's really a film for our times, which is insane, because it was a film for our grandparents' times. It resonated back then enough to win best picture, but we don't acknowledge how great this thing is anymore. Ernest Borgnine is incredible without being showy or chewy and it doesn't batter you with its themes and consequences, it's remarkably naturalistic and funny while drilling into some significant issues about dealing with family expectations, arrested development, and finding love and happiness. I have weird recency bias since I just saw it, but already one of the greats.

I was going to put The Blues Brothers (1980) here because another one of my criteria is for a movie to just be endlessly watchable and quotable, and that's one I could literally watch every single day and brings so much meaning to my life. But get real, that's barely even an actual movie. I ultimately couldn't justify it.

#9: There Will Be Blood (2007)

In the eternal battle between the nearly equally great No Country For Old Men (2007), Atonement (2007), and this, I've always been a Daniel Plainview fan. Who knew one of the most irredeemable characters in cinema history could be so compelling to watch for three hours? It's like the inverse of any other movie. He's assaulted with continual challenges and opportunities to be a nice person, but he rejects and rejects, not even out of a love of capitalism, even though that's there too, but out of a malice and misanthropy that I just really identify with. Add to that a collection of insanely good quotes, a delicate plot balanced entirely of hypocritical people not saying what they mean (except ironically enough, Daniel), and it's a really fun epic.

#8: Seven Samurai (1954)

I don't have all that many foundational-type films on here, but Seven Samurai is one that created an endless amount of imitators, a story that transcended genre, all while being its own film that holds up today. Epic rings again here, but also one that tells such a compelling story that balances pure heroism with redemption and an articulate viewpoint, end goal, and catharsis for every character, not just the eponymous Samurai. It's the kind of movie that has everything in it, but what pushes it to the top here is how effortless it all is.

#7: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

This is one of those populist takes that earns everything, man. On the heels of the improbable and definitely bad fifth outing, we need to look at the original, which cooked all the nostalgic pulp serials of the filmmakers' childhoods into a nostalgic movie for our own childhoods. It's such a fun examination of how you can make a bad movie if you just make a good movie. Like, there's deus ex machina here, it's the same film whether Indiana Jones is in it or not, and even the ultimate reclamation of the ark is fruitless. But it's such a fun adventure! We don't give Harrison Ford enough credit for charisma-ing his way through this thing and giving us such iconic wonder.

#6: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1968)

Call Clint Eastwood the Harrison Ford of the 1960s. He also does nothing here, really. But a simple story about finding some lost gold and trying desperately not to be a western turns into one of the best Westerns of all time. Do we have that today? Will Deadpool 2 (2018) be considered one of the best superhero films because it tries so hard not to be? It centers around the three principal characters from the title and just spins those three into a fantastic adventure. The tension derived entirely from editing in the ending Mexican Stand-off might be one of the best ever, but beyond that the vistas, the West, the SCORE, every single choice is the stuff of legends.

#5: Barry Lyndon (1975)

It's hard to pick just one Kubrick (I ended up picking two Spielberg, which I totally overlooked). Eyes Wide Shut (1999) is up there for me, as is The Shining (1980), both of which exist so well as pure cinematic experiences. I have a soft spot for films that use the medium of film to enhance their story. The Shining is brilliant at this, and if you don't believe me, watch Stephen King's adaptation of his own work to see just how wrong you can get it. But at the end of the day Barry Lyndon shines above all for its attempt to just be the movie version of a Baroque painting. There are more pretentious attempts, some that I really enjoy like The Mill and the Cross (2011), but Kubrick always had the guts to present his subjects as dirty and genuine as possible. This tracks Raymond Barry's journey from insignificance to elite society and back. Again, to be on his list, it's not enough to just be a great screenplay, which favors these sorts of long epic films to fully develop each theme (this movie looks like a painting and has the character trajectory of a book but uses the language of film), but also is a huge landmark for literal filming (using lenses from NASA to capture the natural lighting in indoor scenes), and all of this adds to the experience. It's firing on all levels.

#4: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Perhaps our most unlikely entry on this list. You might make a case for all these, but not enough folks are continuously talking about Into the Spider-Verse. Dude this movie is perfect. We can talk about how it's the most comic-book looking movie of all time, a literally pitch-perfect voice cast, a somehow authentic and fresh take on one of the oldest and most tired Superhero stories, all with genuine humor, in-jokes, complex set pieces, comic mischief, and nods to iconography. But the best movies are all about character and the entire point of this film is about how Miles Morales can genuinely find his character and stand out as himself in a sea of other Spider-Men. The content of the film is identical to the context of the film, standing out across a sea of other superhero stories, Spider-Man in particular. And it looks fantastic! And the mechanisms of its animation are used for jokes, character growth, and story enhancement! This does everything! People need to take this movie more seriously, as yes, something that stands aside Seven Samurai, bro.

#3: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

You understand this movie from the first ten seconds. Literally. Ten seconds into this movie you know all you need to know about Max and what the entire movie is about. Fury Road does not get enough credit, man. This thing is so good. And this is all screenplay stuff! There isn't dialogue, which makes it harder to recognize but again, it's using the pure medium of film to tell a remarkably simple story. Go to the Green Place. Come back. Why do they come back? Well that's all theme and character. The screenplay helps the characters. The characters are informed by the setting. The setting enhances theme. Theme drives the cinematography. Cinematography tells us about the story. It's fucking amazing, man. There might not be a more cogent and coherent unified film on this list. And we're not even getting into the action set pieces or the Doof Warrior. Do all this and be funny and thrilling!

#2: Goodfellas (1990)

Alright, fine, I don't know if my nostalgia is getting in the way with this one. But every time I watch this it's just perfect, man. And it's all character. A classic story of rags to riches, but ruthlessly selling one's soul to do so. Henry Hill does seem to always know he's on the edge, and he never kills anyone himself in the film. But it's all ephemeral, because he's not really a gangster, no matter how much he wants to be. But all those gangsters he wants to be end up dead or alone anyway. So he's deluding himself. But by the end he's corrupted and unsatisfied. It's the most twisted spin possible on the American dream. I haven't talked much about acting here, I don't know, to me acting always comes second somehow, except for charisma. I mean, Marty, There Will be Blood, and even in their own way, Good Bad and Ugly, and Raiders are fueled by acting. But this one really is it. And it needs to be, since it's really just about these machinations of wannabe gangsters. But of course it's full of these iconic scenes and lines, too. Like every scene is unreal. I want to watch this again.

#1: JAWS (1975)

Maybe it's not JAWS. Haha, I know, I'll instantly undercut my own list. My genuine favorite movie is probably How High (2001) or Blue Streak (1999), but like, when you get down to filmmaking, it just has to be JAWS. It's another film where you know instantly what the deal is. And it delivers on that deal, consistently and thoroughly. It's such a foundational film. The art of Quint bumping against the science of Hooper with Chief Brody caught in the middle. It's a surprising structure for such a big movie. For the genre it launched, can you believe that a film would settle into a hunt film for the second half, whittling its characters down to three? It's brutally efficient. More efficient than a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers. There's an endless amount of metaphors, from government inaction, to the ineptitude of police, to changing family dynamics (the looming irony is that the Brodys moved out of the city because of crime to the safer haven of Amity). It's got everything but you can also turn that all off and enjoy a shark movie. I always liked how the shark just seemed like an inexplicable dick, definitely targeting these drunken boat idiots for no reason. That was always my appeal. But this film does so much more, bridges the auteur era to the blockbuster era, landmark special effects and cultural sway, and most importantly, Larry Vaughn's jacket. I'm all over it.

27 December 2022

2012: The Last Year In Review: Updated Movies 10 years gone!

Hey man, we're going to do this. We're ten years out, time to update our list. I love best of movies list, especially making them smooth, flowing, and changing like water, not set forever in stone like a big rock. We listed our favorite movies at the time ten years ago but things change! Some have staying power, some don't. Some are good because they don't have staying power! It's all relative and there are so many reasons why a movie can be a good movie. But it also takes us a while to catch up to good films. So let's do this again. 2012 re-hash! Let's go!

Here's our shortlist:

The Grey
John Carter
21 Jump Street
The Cabin in the Woods
The Five-Year Engagement
Moonrise Kingdom
That's My Boy
Your Sister's Sister
Magic Mike
The Dark Knight Rises
Ruby Sparks
Celeste and Jesse Forever
The Campaign
The Master
Pitch Perfect
Seven Psychopaths
Zero Dark Thirty
Django Unchained

I was going through the beginning of the year with so many favorites and thought my list might really get switched up. Then I hit the end and was like, "Oh yeah, here are the heavy hitters. Dang. Your Sister's Sister ain't gettin' in!" Lincoln and Skyfall came out on the same day, folks. 11/09/12. Fun how that works.

Okay, let's pick the big shots. The untouchables, the stood the test of time movies. I've seen all these a few times, except Argo, which I know is the classic Oscar pick and all that crap, but I still really dug it.

The Master
Zero Dark Thirty
Django Unchained

So that's six. Let's whittle down the rest to find our next top four, taking out the obvious bad picks. I personally enjoy a very high amount of infamously bad films from 2012. Huge year for Emily Blunt and Taylor Kitsch. Funny I gave the nod to Jennifer Lawrence and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (but did actually acknowledge Kitsch). Anyway, if I were to pick only four more...

21 Jump Street
That's My Boy
The Campaign

I just saw Magic Mike for the first time, and it lived up to all the hype. It ended up being first out, along with DreddLooper, and The Grey. 2012 was a great year for mid-budget action films and comedy movies. Two things we don't have any more! It's amazing how when doing the 2022 list I instantly took off No Time to Die, despite liking it a lot, but would never take Skyfall off 2012.

Comparing to the original list (funny we did leave Skyfall off originally), I have retained five of my original picks - The Master, Django, 21 Jump, Lincoln, and Argo. All made my shortlist except Silver Linings Playbook, which just really hasn't stuck with me at all.

Anyway, we've done this before. Let's see how we did when we re-appraised in 20142017 and then just last year. I share a familiar six with 2017, but surprisingly only seven from just two years ago in January 2021. Notably the big six stay the same across those two re-appraisals, with Brave filling in again, but I traded The Campaign, 21 Jump Street, and That's My Boy, three comedies I can watch every day of my life for Celeste and Jesse Forever, Haywire, and The Cabin in the Woods.

I don't know what I was doing in 2014, maybe I just felt like rebelling. Dredd, Goon, The Dark Knight Rises, and Ruby Sparks made the cut for the first and only time, and I'm glad because those are all great movies that should get some recognition. But I only share four movies from this list! And three appear on all five! I make too many of these. Rest assured, I think when this becomes a thing, I'll just do the ten-year reappraisal and that's it.

Some of these are a total product of age and shifting novelty. Cabin is one of those mind-blowing movies upon first and even the ninth year watching, but everything, especially in horror right now is so meta, it's lost a bit of luster. That final scene packs an equal punch, but it's just not as shiny as it once was. It's weird how the comedy movies have kind of cemented themselves in my brain. Haywire is a little awkward with Gina Carano proving herself to be a crazy person. I did re-watch that in the past year and it's as rewarding as ever, but it doesn't quite make it out past the other great action films of the year for me anymore.

I'm very surprised I've never actually ranked Pitch Perfect in there. That's probably because the screenplay doesn't make any sense at all, even if the themes and moments are as rock solid as any movie ever made. Goon is an old favorite that hasn't held up all that well. TDKR could be in there, but there's just better movies. I'm not sure I've seen Ruby Sparks or The Grey since they came out, I should get a refresher. Moonrise Kingdom has proven itself to be quite a lesser Wes Anderson work in the wake of better pictures. Since all his movies are the same, it's tough when one proves itself to be the worst version of everything he does. Lockout is obviously still awesome.

This is obviously self indulgent, so thanks for sticking with us! As for #1, it has to be The Master or Django, I flip-flop every other year. Stay tuned next year when we recap 2013!

26 December 2022

2022 Nutshelled: Best Movies of 2021!

Here's a new thing this year - now, we probably can't ever wholly drop doing a current year Best of List. But more and more that's just stupid. I don't live in a big city that gets every movie, nor do I have time to seek out every single thing that comes out each year. I just have like, a whole other life besides this blog. I know, it shouldn't be that way, but that's what it is, man!

I think it's fair to give ourselves a year to re-evaluate which movies sit with you, catch up on obscure ones, and get passed the initial hype which can sometimes be ephemeral. At the same time, I understand why sometimes what makes a movie great is how much it plays with the zeitgeist of its release. There are films that are great because their initial watch is so ground-breaking, while it loses impact upon subsequent watches. There are also films that reward repeated watches to bring out nuances and catch intricate things lost on the first go around. There are also films that come out that are just never going to be off a list. Like Pain & Gain (2013). I just love that movie.

So, for all of those reasons, we WILL do a proper 2022 list to see where we are this year and create that time capsule. But all lists are fluid and meaningless. I often have done a re-hash list (anyone want to join me in starting a regular ten-year out list, too? Why not, let's do all the lists!) as part of that, but let's get a little more in depth. For all to see, here are NMW's pic for Best Films of 2021!

#10: The Suicide Squad - the more people try to make movies like this movie the more I realize how special this one really was.

#9: Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar - This might win best comedy of the last five years, they literally don't make them like this anymore.

#8: The Tragedy of MacBeth - Joel Coen breathes life into this age old tale with some of the more breathtaking black and white shots of any film in the last five years

#7: Nightmare Alley - Guillermo del Toro's best film of the past five years, gothic, creepy, and wonderfully American

#6: West Side Story - I never thought I'd be a convert but Spielberg crushes this and give us a reason to enjoy this story again. Every aspect of filmmaking is such a high level. Don't let the haters in.

#5: The Last Duel - A strong amount of medieval films on this list, complex with every scene revealing something we didn't know that enhances the story and theme of the film.

#4: Zola - Gritter or glitter, compelling from start to finish. Inspired by Twitter - more movies need to come from backgrounds like this.

#3: Pig - Hey Nic! Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022) needed more truffle pig references. Gets points for being the most unlike-Nic Cage Nic Cage movie of all time.

#2: Red Rocket - authentic, brutal, and beautiful, Sean Baker is crushing it.

#1: The Green Knight - steeped in simultaneous metaphor and authenticity, the corrosion of a kingdom told through vanity and narcissism. Should be required viewing for every American.

First out included House of Gucci, The Harder They Fall, No Sudden Move, and Power of the Dog. Dog is funny, man, that got so much hype, didn't really win any awards, and didn't really stick with me like it should have. I still think Kristen Dunst is amazing in it and the ending is the best of any movie. But it's ultimately just not at the level of anything else here. I want No Sudden Move to get back on here. That's another film with an outstanding ending. It might also reward rewatches better.

I am endlessly interested in how my own brain likes and interprets movies, and what stays and what doesn't. Looking back at last year, six fell off the original list and only one out of my nine listed contenders cracked it open.

That's part of why I was compelled to make this re-list. I just knew that 2021 was sneaky, man. Part of that was still dealing with Theater shut-downs so I just straight up didn't see a lot of films in time. I dig that The Suicide Squad prevailed. I was nervous about including that last year to prove my cred, but man, that movie's good. I want to watch it again.

What will next year bring?! I'm not sure, I feel decently good with my 2022 list, I know there are a handful I won't see before the cut-off, but I am really going a broad route for '22. You'll have to stay tuned to see what that all looks like!

24 December 2022

2022 Nutshelled: Best Movies Seen for the First Time!

Welcome, folks to the first of many wrap-up posts for the year! It's getting to the point where I've been doing this blog thing for a while, and while I am fantastically energized from our 52 in '22 series, this is really what the meat is all about. Year end lists!

It's always a nice way to highlight where we are after another year and as human beings we tend to enjoy labeling, categorizing, and assigning ranks to everyone. I always like messing with that, so take this as not a total ranking system, but just a collection of stuff I thought was cool. We've done the logging all movies seen in a calendar year for a somehow SEVENTH time in 2022, so it's fun to create a ranking of not just the Top Films of 2022, but the Top Films Seen for the First Time in 2022, regardless of year. Actually for this year I took out all 2022 films. They'll get their day!

Let's dive in:

Nightmare Alley (2021)
Dir: Del Toro

Guillermo del Toro keeps coming up with pictures way better than The Shape of Water (2017). Definitely long but does more to earn its run time than most. Bradley Cooper needs more roles like this. He's the kind of actor that can play absolute smarm so well because he exudes charisma. He's also in a place where he can play both a youngin learning the ropes and a wised beaten down dude. The film's about selling one's soul to become a geek. I dug how grimey del Toro dives in, Cooper's transformation, the highlights of Buffalo, NY of course, and the general gnarliness.

The Mighty Quinn (1989)
Dir: Schenkel

The first of two early Denzel movies that I couldn't decide which I liked better so I put them both in. Why not have two Denzel movies in the Top Ten? Also two Denzel cop movies. Talking about charisma, it's amazing what he does here as the Jamaican cop balancing his own life with rampant late stage colonialism, but it's told so wholly from the Jamaican perspective without battering us with its message. Remember when movies were subtle?! It's a fun film with an engaging mystery and assured star vehicle for our dude.

Ricochet (1991)
Dir: Mulcahy

We don't give these random 90s action movies enough credit. Ricochet is a fantastic film that is as bonkers as a Nic Cage movie but has somehow been lost to pop culture. Denzel is a cop who gains his fame early in his career and transitions to the DA's office, but when the dude he busted gets out (John Lithgow!) he gaslights the hell out of him and drives him insane. That premise is legit, right? This doesn't hold anything back, a sure product of the post-Shane Black era of anything goes action filmmaking, but it earns its keep. Denzel is again the star here, but everything is firing at a high level. Especially the guns!

The Last Duel (2021)
Dir: Scott

This seemed to come and go without a lot of fanfare last year, but it's honestly one of Ridley Scott's best ever, certainly best contemporary work. It follows the breakdown of friendship between Matt Damon and Adam Driver for the favor of Ben Affleck, but works because every character is a huge piece of shit. We also get three stories from three perspectives, including GASP a female perspective! No way! It's excessively long but again earns its runtime with a thorough look into every character's nuance. The performances are top notch and the ending is brutal and unsatisfying but that's the way it's supposed to be. It's the kind of film that pulls you in, earns everything, and then leaves you exhausted. I'd watch it again!

The Hidden Fortress (1958)
Dir: Kurosawa

One of the all-time greats for a reason, I've spent the last few years trying to catch up with my Kurosawa. It was amazing how funny watching two Japanese actors from the 1950s playing feudal characters could be in 2022. There's some legit skill there transcending culture, geography, and time. The story is also unique, although fun to realize halfway through that it's Star Wars (1977). It's such a foundational movie where the acting and story beats hit in all the right ways before you even begin to look at how extensive the cinematography, natural sets, scope, and framing all is. It's amazing to see what was being done so long ago that filmmakers still struggle to grasp today, but hey, that's Kurosawa.

Tangerine (2015)
Dir: Baker

The first of two Sean Baker films on this list, and the only films of his I've seen (clearly the ring with me), he's an up and coming director (at age 51) who still gets cred since none of his work is ever recognized with any awards. Tangerine is one of the funniest films of the year. Everyone said so in 2015 when it came out, but it just wasn't on my radar. It's also an unflinchingly brutal look at transgender sex workers powing around Los Angeles on Christmas Eve. It spirals into true chaos but always stays remarkably grounded in reality despite its extremely niche premise. It was famous shot on an iPhone but they nail it. Choosing mostly the magic hour was a good call, and it looks perfectly fine. Even more so since the shooting method complements the dirty and direct theme of the movie. It's fantastic.

Zola (2021)
Dir: Bravo

I have Tangerine, Zola, and one more Baker film on this list, clearly dirty American black comedies spoke to me this year. There is some genuineness to this film that a typical indie doesn't have. As well as the charisma of Taylour Paige as Zola, which is unreal. It reminded me of American Honey (2016), although maybe because they both starred Riley Keough, but contemporary America is all about the hustle and swindle, with characters feeling both sides of that twisted coin right now. It's a classic strippers tricked into being prostitutes story, which hits brutality and comedy in the same stroke. Also Zola is a great character who doesn't take the insane pimp shit, which makes it fun to watch. Florida sucks.

Marty (1955)
Dir: Mann

Marty! This film won everything when it came out and I wouldn't say it's totally forgotten, but it's quasi-forgotten just how good it is. It's maybe the least pretentious movie ever made, and it runs the world on its simplicity, character, and how much depth it hides behind its simple premise. A remake of Marty today would be a 2.5 hour Apatow sex comedy. Marty as it stands in its form has heart, comedy, real drama, and effortless character work that's without parallel. Maybe the best written film of all time. Besides like, Network (1976). But this film is tremendous, quick, no fat, and hits on everything it needs to be.

Red Rocket (2021)
Dir: Baker

Okay, our second Sean Baker film! This expands on everything Tangerine did - a brisk look at sex work, a mostly non-actor cast, and a really authentic experience in subaltern America. I should probably retreat movies from the previous year on these lists and just write reflecting older films. Obviously I do a lot of catch-up each year and recency bias is real. Let that not take away from the greatness of Red Rocket! Never before has an actor matched up so well with a role as Simon Rex feels like the only dude who could play this part. He's an aging ex-porn star who simultaneously can't get work outside the industry because of the stigma, but doesn't really want to, and then turns that victimhood onto the next generation. It's horrifying, hilarious, and hellacious. Can you tell I have a type of movie I like? Give me a genuine American black comedy and I'm all over it.

All That Jazz (1979)
Dir: Fosse

My wife was watching this one night on her own, as it's one of her favorite movies, I had never seen it so I tuned in. And now it's at the top of my list. I had no idea what the premise was or how it was a semi-autobiographical tale of director Bob Fosse's actual life (and eventual death). It's full of remarkable song and dance numbers, modernized versions of Fosse's odes to eroticism through choreography, and most importantly, a really honest self-appraisal of how much of an asshole he's been. It was a little like Straight Outta Compton (2015) where the subjects presented themselves as is, without any kind of whitewashing whatsoever (unlike say a Bohemian Rhapsody [2018] which had no interest in being honest). It's hard to remember that's the true pathway to respect. All That Jazz blends fiction and reality, real people in Fosse's life playing fictionalized or alternative roles, and it all works at an insanely high level of set design, framing, color selection, and Roy Schneider's non-JAWS (1975) acting.

I'm not sure if I've ever had a year where my movie picks were so clearly similar to each other. Hey, when you know what you like! I agree about taking out the previous year next year. The last four our would have been:

The Elephant Man (1980)
Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Night of the Comet (1984)

Stay tuned for more posts this whole week, people!

23 December 2022

52 in '22: Cosmopolis

Movie: Cosmopolis (2012)
Method: Netflix DVD

Why Did I watch this?

Oh, so many reasons. I don't have all that many Cronenberg films on my resume, nor do I have many Pattison films. I wanted to see his attempt at playing Bruce Wayne ten years before The Batman (2022). The premise of him just driving around NYC rush hour in a big limo as "his empire collapses around him" sounded really interesting. It was about the end of the year and the last to check off my list!

What Did I know ahead of time?

All that stuff I said up there. Actually a good amount! I knew the basic idea, the director, and the lead actor. I was surprised by some of the cast who showed up and how much the film didn't really stick with its premise all that long, but let's get into how bad this piece of shit is.

How Was It?

I had forgotten how much I enjoy 80s Cronenberg but how rough modern Cronenberg is. I was equally excited for Eastern Promises (2007) and A Dangerous Method (2011) and both those movies were remarkably flat despite getting critical praise at the time. I have not seen Crimes of the Future (2022), so it's hard to talk about modern modern Cronenberg, but the cutting edge of body horror balanced with sincere humanity from his early period is dead. He's now very boring and misguided.

I made a huge mistake with this series. Well, not that bad, I don't regret watching a lot of these terrible films because now I know, but I feel a bit like Michael opening a bag with a dead dove inside. I don't know what I was expecting. There were so many interesting or notable movies for whatever reason on my list that I had never gotten to see, but as it turns out, most missed out on becoming a cult favorite for a reason. They're just really bad movies.

I kept wanting to find a movie that didn't deserve its reputation. Or be like, "Hey, this movie is really interesting, why didn't it ever catch on?" Mongol (2007) should be a really great, notable movie, it's crazy that we haven't had a fantastic Genghis Khan biopic. Except the direction is uninteresting and the casting is insane. I found a few great gems. Last week's Bringing out the Dead (1999) was fantastic. Cosmopolis may have been the biggest whiff of the year. So let's get into it.

Robert Pattison is a tech billionaire who wants a haircut. So he drives across town dealing with a Presidential motorcade, anarchist protests, and the funeral of a rapper he likes. While this is happening he yuan rises like crazy, but as a financial manager he mistakenly bet against it, so he loses hundreds of millions of dollars. It sounds really fun! This movie doesn't even know that it's a movie.

First, it lost me immediately with some horrendous car riding green screen. An early scene with Jay Baruchel looks worse than Toonces the Cat. Like...why. It just seems like a complete failure to have any creative cinematic problem solving. The dialogue is stiffer than Star Wars Prequels, and every character talks exactly alike. This is enhanced by constant reassurances of knowledge, "I know this, I don't know this, you know this." It's very distracting.

The age old question then, is "Is all this on purpose?" Like, is it supposed to be saying something about the unreality of the movie, the falseness of the characters, a growth towards humanity, or an elucidation of flaws? It's hard to find any evidence of any of these. Consequences seem real and the movie isn't really dreamlike or a play on logic. Characters are maybe vapid and false on purpose, as they seem to come and go with little introduction as to who they are (I thought his wife was originally a prostitute, it's how the conversation was framed. THAT may have been on purpose...) or why they are important to the story. Pattison certainly seems to lean more into his human roots instead of his stuffy business acumen as the story progresses, but dialogue-wise nothing changes to indicate this. And since every character speaks like a crazy person there's not really anyone who represents the other side.

Do we represent the other side? Critical audiences who can gawk at the mundane insanity and scoff at another world wholly alien from our own solely because of power and money? There doesn't seem to be consequences in this movie. Everything is taken from Pattison (rather quickly), and he seems to just ignore it. He becomes destitute, but remains blase. He doesn't care or express fear, sadness, or anything. He's still just an emotionless dick. Man I hated this movie.

Again, maybe this is the point? That billionaires are bad people? There are films that do a better job of showing the nuance of emotionless tech giants, from The Social Network (2010) to hell, Don't Look Up (2021). There are a lot of people angry for no reason other than broad and generic social unrest, which is notable, but the film doesn't bother to get into the nitty gritty of that, either.

There's a bit to like here. Pattison is charismatic. The sex scenes are surprisingly erotic despite really trying hard not to be. I liked the basic premise, that he's so aloof that he just thinks he's invincible and wants a haircut in a specific way. They reveal there is some nuance there, like the barber used to cut his dad's hair. I liked the cabbie bit, it goes on way too long. I don't know why he killed his body guard. It's all kind of maddening.

There might be some justification for this movie to exist, but I can't figure it out. I'm trying to look deeper but there's nothing there. I want someone to tell me why I should care about any of this, I really do. But this was deeply disappointing and a huge waste of time. One more to go for this year's series!

16 December 2022

52 for '22: Bringing out the Dead

MovieBringing Out the Dead (1999)
Method: HBOMax

Why Did I watch this?

You know, it's going to be really sad when HBOMax folds. It's so by leaps and bounds the best streaming service. Anyway, this was heading away come January 1st, it had been on my queue for a while as both a Nic Cage completionist and a Marty Scorcese completionist. And how can you not want to watch this pairing? It's had next to no adoration or acceptance into general canon for some reason, but it's still a rare union of these two giants of contemporary film. I had one more open slot I was saving for something special, and this just fit the bill!

What Did I know ahead of time?

I knew the general just of things. I actually knew quite a bit! I knew it was Scorsese, Cage, late 90s, an unadorned work from both of them. It was about EMT drivers going crazy in guess what - New York City! The windy apple itself. So all this swirled in my mind as I pressed play. What followed was surprising and engaging but not entirely unexpected. Twas a solid viewing experience.

How Was It?

Hey, this movie is pretty great. I don't know why it landed with such a thud. Audiences gave it a C- cinema score and critics hated it upon release. Scorsese and Cage have both stuck by it over the years and it assuredly holds up. It is also probably because I have seen so many terrible, terrible movies this year, but it's refreshing to see such a steady hand behind the camera. Even if it's generally considered a lesser work. Scorsese just Scorseses this and it's great to see.

I was spot on with the plot and the movie doesn't waste any time getting into it. It's a rapid-fire and sincerely brutal look at the world of late night EMT drivers, with Nic Cage perfectly cast as a depressing, alcoholic ambulance driver whose patients keep dying and is literally haunted by their ghosts. Is it a thing that EMT drivers are terrible people? I got Mother, Jugs, and Speed (1976) vibes a little bit. Except this is exceptionally darker and grimier.

These guys are nuts, they drink on the job, crash ambulances and laugh about it, constantly with they were fired or killed, and have a general disdain for the people in tremendous pain that they interact with every night. I suppose you build up a tolerance or numbness to the chaos and have to put up walls to prevent yourself from succumbing to the nihilistic hopelessness. There is some truly diabolical shit in here, too. Mostly Tom Sizemore who literally beats the hell out of a patient he doesn't like. It's insane and terrifying.

Some of that is a product of their environment. This is somehow both a love letter to New York City and also a diatribe about the muck that corrupts and destroys all good souls who enter. You know, like every Scorsese movie. There's not many people who can nail that vibe. He clearly paints a picture of an unforgiving, overloaded, and chaotic city on the brink of collapse, with too many things going on to care about anyone. But he also takes pride in that. It's a dastardly tight rope to walk.

The movie is set primarily at night and just slightly fantastic. Lights race by in a haze and there's all this quick editing, sped up shots, and stationary cameras. Thelma Schoonmaker at her best here. It's constantly raining and scenes are barely lit. There is this pail of dinginess over the whole movie. Scenes in daylight are largely focused on crack dens and other horrific locations. There is a difficulty to do anything. Go upstairs, drive the streets, navigate crowded environments. Most of the victims are homeless or drug addicts. And the characters don't hide their distaste for either while fulfilling their obligations to help save their lives. There's this eternal feeling of just spinning wheels in a stress-filled system until it either collapses or you do.

Add to that Cage's ghost hallucinations and possibly psychic visions. Or he just hasn't slept in days and imagines patients asking him to kill them. Ruh-roh. Cage isn't manic scene chewing here, but he's at his most sleep-deprived and strung out. It's a perfect casting choice because his real talent is that despite all his crazy he has enough charisma and glimmers of honesty to be someone you really want to root for.

I am eternally curious about how this film came about. How did Scorsese and Cage interact? How did that casting happen? What was production like? What strikes me most is context of the late 90s. Scorsese really had an interesting decade. He makes one of the more seminal films of all time in Goodfellas (1990) and follows it up with Cape Fear (1991). Then he cranks out Age of Innocence (1993), which regardless of quality isn't nearly as mainstream. Almost in reaction to that we get Casino (1995) which feels like the third big De Niro / Pesci gangster joint (and it sort of is). But then it's Kundun (1997) and this. It's a man at the top of his game choosing Bringing out the Dead.

Same with Cage. Dude came off an Oscar win for Leaving Las Vegas, then the greatest trio of movies ever with The Rock (1996), Face / Off (1997), and Con Air (1997). Then Snake Eyes (1998) and 8mm (1999), we can be forgiven for expecting a very different movie from these two. He was in pure action mode. And BotD has some of those elements. There is a car crash! But it's totally more of a character-driven, almost noir-ish piece about depression, death, and finding hope in hopelessness. It's a mean left swing.

That's why it feels really good to watch these kinds of movies 23 years later with fresh context. So many forgotten gems just came out with the wrong expectation or the wrong marketing and were never able to earn their reappraisal. Now, most films I've watched this year are obscure forgotten relics like Where the Buffalo Roam (1980) despite their novelty, deserve their grave. Others like Gods and Monsters (1998) delightfully got their spotlight at the time but lost their cultural cache. And then there are the few like Bringing out the Dead (1999) that never got their due.

A few more things before we leave you - not only is the context of Scorsese and Cage throwing themselves all in on this one bizarre, I was left looking at what a lot of Scorsese's New Hollywood contemporaries were doing in the late 90s. And every single one of them had their seminal work. Spielberg had Saving Private Ryan (1998), Kubrick had Eyes Wide Shut (1999 - okay, that had and has enough of its detractors, but generally one of his more well known films), George Lucas cranked a little film called Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (1999), Brian DePalma was doing the aforementioned Snake Eyes and coming off the first Mission: Impossible (1996). David Lynch just did Lost Highway (1997). Milos Foreman did Man on the Moon (1999).

We also had all these new filmmakers throwing down their stamp. The Wachowskis announced their arrival in the upper echelon with The Matrix (1999). We also have seminal work from Sam Mendes, Frank Darabont, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, and M. Night Shyamalan. It's talked about everywhere but 1999 is nuts. It's as if every director of that era threw all of their effort into something and it became super popular.

Except for two. And I think it says a ton about these three. At the peak of his game and bankability Tarantino decided to do Jackie Brown (1997), which is incredible. A truly great movie, many hot takes like to claim it's his best, it's good but it's not. And Marty decided meh, I'm going to make this very personal, small EMT driver movie with the most bankable action star of the era and he's going to play crazy but grounded and it'll be a stealth meditation on depression in the big city. It's why these two just stand out (okay, not trying to say the aforementioned amazing list of directors don't stand out, but they bucked the trend that the trendbuckers were doing).

Not totally in that zone because obviously the film is all about how not-90s it is anymore, but I also thought a lot about Spike Lee's 25th Hour (2002). Let's call that a complicated relationship with New York City as well and a movie seeped in both grime and love. They really are companion pieces and if you're really courageous you can marathon those two.

There's also this truly bizarre triple shot of Patricia Arquette. I didn't know where to talk about it, because I don't think that neither I nor the film knows what it's doing here. It's just a piece of normal conversation and it suddenly drastically breaks the 180 degree rule. It might be one of the weirdest cuts of all time. A rare misfire for Marty and Thelma. I'd love to know what they were thinking or if anyone has any idea. I can't find a clip because it's in such a forgettable scene, like why would you ever post that online. You'll know it when you see it.

Arquette is great, though. Such a sadness and hidden life behind what you think could even turn into a Pixie Dream Girl in the hands of a lesser director. NOPE. Ving Rhames plays really broad and wacky. John Goodman is here as a stabilizer. Michael K. Williams! Cliff Curtis playing again as the most racially ambiguous actor in Hollywood. Marc Anthony great. Cast slaps bruh.

Go watch it! You have like two more weeks! This is a gem.

09 December 2022

52 for '22: Marty

MovieMarty (1955)
Method: Netflix DVD

Why Did I watch this?

Oh, lots of reasons. It's a Best Picture winner, one of my uncle's favorite films, and a notable film in every possible listing ever. I can't believe it took me so long to dive into. It's not a long film, either. But for the exact reason, buddy we're pretty much at the end of the line on this list for 2022!

What Did I know ahead of time?

I knew quite a bit. I knew Ernest Borgnine was in it and it made him a star. I had forgotten about just how many accolades it got (BP, Actor, Screenplay, and Director). I knew the general just of it - it stars this guy Marty and he goes on an adventure or whatever. I thought it was going to be a bit more comedic, it really wasn't that funny. But compelling!

How Was It?

I don't know how this thing won Best Picture, it feels like this kind of film would never win that today. It's extremely light and airy and doesn't deal with any major societal issue except for Ernest Borgnine getting laid. Where Marty succeeds though, is that despite the fact that it's not epic in scope (either in plot or theme), it insanely executes exactly what it's trying to do.

Screenplay I can see. It's that rare kind of film where as you're watching it you can notice how tight and crisp the writing is. This thing is a beautiful 90 minutes and there's not a lick of fat on the bone. The characters are fully formed from the get go, and you understand Marty's problem right away - dude needs to get laid. It really only worries about that singular concept and spins it until it ends.

There's a little more to it than that. Marty is constantly harangued for being a 34-year old Bachelor in NEW YORK CITY. I mean, whatever, clearly, but the dude gets it from all angles! His mother, his friends, the little old ladies that stop by his butcher shop. It's insane. And this coasts on the strength of Borgnine's charisma. Marty could assuredly be a weird, creepy incel, but he plays it so sweet and innocent. He's really just trying to make people happy, but he himself is unhappy. He doesn't need to hear it from everyone because it's his own internal monologue.

And we don't need too much dialogue to show this. You get it from his face, his mannerisms, and everything he does. His mom convinces him to go to the Dance and there he picks up "a real dog" and bless Betsy Blair's heart for taking a role where every other character in the film comments on how ugly she is. Apparently she was a communist and blacklisted, so maybe that's why she was okay in a thankless role, but that's neither here nor there. She does great work as a relatively simple woman, but one who staunchly defends herself when pressed. Did Marty try to rape her? That's for the problematic section.

This poor girl, she's on a blind date at the same dance and her dude is immediately turned off and tries to score with another bird. He literally pays someone off to dance with her instead. At least he's thinking of her. Most of the middle part of the movie is Marty putting hoes before bros and having a positively charming time with her.

Then the other shoe drops. Before he meets Clara everyone says he needs to find a girl. Then he finds a girl, he's really happy, and everyone says she's a dog and he shouldn't be with her. There's a few things things going on here - first, his mother and friends realize they'll lose the Marty they can rely on if he actually finds a dame. They're also jealous and try to talk him out of it. These old single guys are trying to cling to the last remnants of their bachelorhood and they're more comfortable doing what they've always done and wallowing in their self-pity rather than recognize that they could find happiness. They are actually the ones stuck in the status quo. Marty is ready to move on and be an adult and it scares the hell out of them.

There's this ode to lip service, like people claim they want the best for their loved ones, but it's really a selfish act. And Marty is so self-less that he lets himself be manipulated. There is a great side-bit with his cousin whose mother is driving his wife insane. He seems complacent at first, which I thought was a great bit, but then blows up when he's in a situation that he controls (ie no mothers or aunts present), and appears pretty abusive. He's also jealous of Marty's single way of life, but Marty knows that he'll treat his woman right and be able to own the butchershop and be happy. Every other character is pulling him back. And bless his heart, he just lets them.

I got a supremely gay vibe from his friend, too. Like, him and Marty were definitely gay together. A lot of jealousy there for sure. C'mon, you can't watch this in 2022 and think anything different. Two stag dudes going to the Hayseed Dance. You gotta love it. Either that or incels. It's also easy to view this from 2022 picturing a lot of nerds that think women suck because they don't like them. I'm not sure if it's refreshing or not to remember that this concept goes back way farther than Trump.

There is a lot going on here, and some really complex character work, but it's all done at the fridge, not on the screen. Marty is good, man. And it doesn't really try to hit you over the head with anything. It's mostly subtle and super light drama. It's how it gets you! It sneaks up on you. It's a very well done movie.

This was longtime TV director Delbert Mann's first feature but the lighting and composition is supreme. Marty's mother's house is dark and old but his face is so round and captures a ton of light. There are crowd shots in small aspect ratios and a really wide variety of shading in its black and white cinematography. It's pretty to look at! I always love movies that find some beauty in the extremely ordinary.

Marty is good. Go watch it!

02 December 2022

52 for '22: The Last Tycoon

MovieThe Last Tycoon (1976)
Method: Xfinity

Why Did I watch this?

Well, damned if I know. I was maybe going through De Niro's filmography or maybe even Jack Nicholson's filmography and the synopsis caught my eye for sure. I added it to my infinite Netflix queue and it wasn't available. Nor on any streaming service! So I bought the bastard. Seemed like fun non-Scorcese De Niro, which I'm all about.

What Did I know ahead of time?

I knew the general plot, like a 1930s movie tycoon is the last tycoon or whatever. I didn't know all that much else besides the obvious fact that De Niro was going to De Niro all over this thing. I did in fact forget that Nicholson shows up, if I ever did know that. I really just hear about movies literally ten years ago and file it away as something cool to watch at some point in my lifetime.

How Was It?

This is a bit of a forgotten De Niro movie and it turns out it's that way for a reason. I have really only rarely seen a film in this whole series that doesn't buck its underseen reputation or is undeserving of its underrated status. The Last Tycoon is totally in that zone.

De Niro does De Niro all over this film, and it's fun to watch. He isn't introduced until a while in, though, and it seems like the film doesn't know if it's a scathing critique of capitalism via character study like There Will Be Blood (2007), a inside industry satire like Hail, Caesar! (2016), or a 70s love story like Five Easy Pieces (1970). And no, that's not a love story, but that's kind of the vein here.

The opening is strong. We get the world, the characters, how good De Niro is at both his job and everyone else's job. And he leads this show. Impressive with Donald Pleasance, Robert Mitchum, and Nicholson in the cast, but hey, it's De Niro, man. He totally sells you on everything about this dude. His swagger, confidence, competence, and steel eyed studio leadership. The beginning works so well as this semi-industry satire. I'd have liked them to push everything a bit more. This could have been a really cutting look at the studio system of the 1930s and the brutality of what it took to lead a mad world in its burgeoning infancy.

Instead the middle hour is mostly just De Niro trying to bang some random girl. And it goes on...a lot. A lot. Like, when it seems like they're done it keeps going. I don't necessarily default to rolling eyes and checking out during mushy parts of a film, but man this just ground to a halt. We don't really get any progression of character or plot with him wooing this random woman. It's fabulously boring.

But the ending comes around. Mostly when Nicholson shows up. Man, this is such a bad movie to waste prime De Niro and prime Nicholson squaring off against each other. It's unreal to see. They have these opposing viewpoints - De Niro an egotistical studio head, though admittedly not necessarily always chasing profits, and Nicholson an admitted communist trying to help the Writers Guild unionize. They play fabulously awkward against each other and grow tension and subtext like the absolute pros they are. It invites tremendous energy into the film and makes me wonder why this wasn't what the whole film was about.

It pushes De Niro into his ultimate meltdown and it ends solidly with his character being essentially kicked out of the studio, but him refusing to believe it. It's fantastic, earned work. I would have liked it if they had jumped into his character from the get go and even introduced the opposing conflict with Nicholson earlier. It would have just accentuated every important theme they were trying to go for.

That's the biggest thing - movies don't work if they only go halfway. The dealing with writers, dealing with actors, dealing with editors who pass away during the screening of movies because they didn't want to interrupt the picture, the impending unionization. It's all gold. We needed a little more of this stuff for it to really have a drive. It's tough for a movie that critiques movies so much to itself be a pretty bad movie.

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