Call Me By Your Name
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
A darkly comic horror movie about race in America - - how do you like them eggrolls, Mr. Goldstone? Written and directed by *Key and Peele* star Jordan Peele. Exciting, creepy, funny, unsettling, and completely original, full of surprises but not at all cute or clever (you know how I can’t abide cleverness). A dazzling debut!
Oh wow, what an incredible movie - - Sofia Coppola’s finest to date. I’ve seen every one of her movies in the theater, which I can’t say for any other director (I come close with Tarantino, but I missed his first movie, *Reservoir Dogs*). *The Beguiled* is titillating, exciting, gorgeous to look at, beautifully acted, expertly made. The use of music is genius. All three lead performances (Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst) are very strong.
Fantastic! Some of the greatest fight scenes I’ve ever seen. Charlize Theron tore the joint apart, literally and figuratively. Is she one of the people they’re considering to be the new James Bond? She would be killer! The director, David Leitch, has a background as a stunt double and stunt coordinator, so it’s no surprise that the fight scenes are so stunning - - but the whole movie works, never a bump in the road, always smooth sailing, narratively-speaking. I can’t wait for his next movie: *Deadpool 2!*
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
This movie was on my radar because of the director - - Luca Guadagnino did *I Am Love,* a rapturously beautiful movie from 2009 with Tilda Swinton, Marisa Berenson, and some other people. *Call Me By Your Name* is a romantic drama set in rural Italy in 1983. The two people involved in the romance are a 17-year old half French, half American guy played by Timothée Chalamet and an American graduate student played by Armie Hammer. They advance and retreat over the course of the movie, the atmosphere is heavy with unspoken desire. The younger guy is the point of view character, and the actor, writer, and director totally nail the romantic longings of a young man that age.
This movie had three great things going for it: it was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who I adore. It starred Daniel Day Lewis, who is always fascinating. And it was about a 1950s London fashion designer, which is totally my lane! It delivered big time on all three counts, and added a delicious element of surprise - - it wasn’t just a frothy fashion movie, it was also a creepy, terse drama with an intense power struggle. Love that! Day Lewis has said that this was his final movie, but we’ve heard that from him before, haven’t we? This isn’t a monumental part, like Lincoln, but he started his career in quirky indie movies (hello, *My Beautiful Laundrette*), so it seems a fitting way to end his career. I think only he could play this role with such a careful balance of elegance and malice.
Karen, Bruce, and I first saw this as an art installation at the Park Avenue Armory. You can read my review of that experience here:
Allow me to summarize, for those who don’t feel like reading the review: it was a work by Julian Rosenfeldt, twelve films shown on twelve screens, settings of the manifestos of many different art movements. My favorites were Fluxus/Merz/Performance, which was told in the context of a Russian choreographer rehearsing a group of dancers in an alien ballet, and Dadaism, which was told in the context of a woman doing a eulogy at graveside. Hilarious. All twelve films starred the one and only Cate Blanchett. In one film she played two characters, so she played a total of thirteen different characters.
Early in the show I wondered how Rosenfeldt would make it an immersive experience, instead of just being twelve films shown in a large space. He did this by having a moment in each film where the central character looked into the camera, in a close-up, and intoned the next section of text on a single pitch. This happened at the same time in all twelve films so it became this marvelous sense-surround experience.
So my new question became this: now that he proved he could make this into something more than a movie, how would he succeed in making it a movie? A 90-minute movie in a normal movie theater, no less. Well, he succeeded brilliantly. In the movie theater setting, the film seemed to highlight Blanchett more and the artistic texts less. She was astonishing, absolutely fearless and exploding with talent and ability.
When was the last time you saw a summer action movie (a superhero movie, no less) that addressed deep issues? This is the one. Director Patty Jenkins knew exactly what she wanted and how to get it. Let’s see her direct a Bond movie, shall we (more about Bond in a minute)? Chris Pine’s character was a little too goofy for my taste, but not so bad that it threatened to derail the movie. Gal Gadot was the best thing in the movie, as she should have been - - she’s got all the charisma of an old school movie star. She grounded the movie.
STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI
Such a delight. Exciting, beautiful, somewhat surprising - - just plain satisfying. But Richard and I came up with a whole list of things that were being ripped off, or is it better to say “referenced?” The Harry Potter movies, the Jurassic Park movies, the Kill Bill movies, moments of Kurosawa, Richard Wagner operas, and I think there was a moment ripped of from a Steak-Umm commercial.
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
A tremendous movie, a masterpiece of storytelling, storytelling of the highest order. Great performances by everyone. I wasn’t surprised to see Frances McDormand giving such a powerful, searing performance, she’s one of our greatest actors and has been doing extraordinary work for ages. But I was surprised to see Woody Harrelson give such a rock solid performance. Over the course of the movie we hear his character read two or three letters, we hear his voice over the visual onscreen. Those letters were the highlights of the movie.
The movie was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, who I know as a playwright - - we saw maybe his best-known play, *The Beauty Queen of Leenane,* last year, and it blew me away. He also wrote and directed *In Bruges,* a cute little caper with Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes. I guess now I need to see the movie he directed before *Three Billboards,* *Seven Psychopaths.* Starring Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Abbie Cornish, and Olga Kurylenko. And jeez, also with the inevitable Michael Stuhlbarg, Gabourey Sidibe, and the late Harry Dean Freaking Stanton!
My friend Lyn wrote a brilliant rant on how much she HATED *Three Billboards.* Clearly I’m not in her camp, but she certainly gave me a lot to chew on:
BEST CAMEO: FEMALE
I looked back in my records, and this award has almost always gone to a fairly well-known actor. This year it goes to someone you might not have heard of, but who you might recognize, and definitely makes the most of her small role. Harriet Sansom Harris played a rich American woman, a big mess. Richard turned to me during the movie and said, “It’s supposed to be Barbara Hutton.” There you have it!
BEST CAMEO: MALE
Elton John in *Kingsman: The Golden Circle.* A delicious, wacky, boisterous movie, made even more delicious, wacky, and boisterous every time Elton John came onscreen! He was a scream, and clearly having a great time. More movie work for him, please!
REMEMBRANCE OF MOVIES PAST
I first saw *Johanna D’Arc of Mongolia* in Minneapolis in 1991, as part of an Ulrike Ottinger film festival at the Walker Art Center. I was visiting my brother Howard and he thought a nearly three-hour movie by an underground German lesbian filmmaker sounded like just the thing. It was! And ever since then, I’ve described it as the greatest film I’ve ever seen. It took on mythic proportions, due to the fact that it wasn’t available on DVD or any other form, and it seemed clear that I might never see it again.
Fast forward to the spring of 2017. Howard was planning a visit to NYC and checked out the MoMA website to see what was going on there. And would you believe that *Johanna D’Arc of Mongolia* was playing there a week later? Sadly it was before Howard’s visit, so he wasn’t able to see it, but I was available, so I bought a ticket. I was a little worried that the movie wouldn’t live up to my memory of it, but it was, if anything, even more wondrous and delicious 26 years later. An astonishing movie, completely original, glorious to look at, amusing, rich, breathtaking. I will gladly wait another 26 years to see it again, if I have the guarantee that I WILL be seeing it again…
MOVIE THAT NEEDS TO BE MADE
I would love to see a really good, creepy biopic about Connie Francis. Not a nice story, that one. I read on Wikipedia that a project was in development with Gloria Estefan producing and starring as Francis, but it got derailed. Someone please revive this project! I see it having a slick yet sick glamour, like *Mulholland Drive.*
*Untitled Patty Hearst Movie.* Starring Elle Fanning, based on *American Heiress.*
*Suspiria.* A remake of the Italian horror classic, starring Chloe Grace Moritz, Dakota Johnson, and Tilda Swinton, directed by Luca Guadignino (who did *Call Me By Your Name*).
*Can You Ever Forgive Me?*, based on the memoir by Lee Israel, one of the most delightful books I’ve ever read. Starring Melissa McCarthy, also with Richard E. Grant, Jennifer Westfeldt, Anna Deveare Smith, and the one and only Jane Curtin!
*Untitled Peggy Lee Project.* Directed by Todd Haynes! Oh YES! I hope this doesn’t go the way of the Jodie Foster movie about Leni Riefenstahl, or the long-awaited movie about Janis Joplin (which was most recently supposed to have starred Nina Arianda). Development Hell is getting very crowded these days.
*Mary Queen of Scots.* That fabulous old story. With Saorise Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I.
MOST DESERVING OF A COMEBACK
It looks like she’s busy doing not one, not two, not three, but FOUR sequels to*Avatar* (blech), but could we please see Sigourney Weaver in something good? She’s an extraordinary actor with presence coming out of every pore. She should get more work.
VIVA LA DIVA
Lesley Manville in *Phantom Thread.* Froideur in the extreme, this woman drips icicles! She totally took over whenever she was onscreen, she was thrilling.
*Alien Covenant.* I’m a huge fan of the first four Alien movies, and liked Ridley Scott’s 2012 prequel *Prometheus* very much. This movie had a “been there/done that” quality to it - - it was fun, exciting, and scary, but it wasn’t at all original. The thing that elevated it was the delicious performance by Michael Fassbender as not one, but TWO robots. But that moment with the alien in the shower, please.
*Mother!* Oo Lawdy, what a crazy mess of a movie. It started off good, it was creepy, disturbing, surprising, but then in the last third it totally went off the rails. Kudos to the actors for going for it to the degree that they did, especially Jennifer Lawrence.
HOW COULD I HAVE MISSED IT?
I added Richard Linklater to my list of eight must-see directors a couple of years ago (those eight directors are Pedro Almodóvar, P. T. Anderson, Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, Mary Harron, Linklater, Quentin Tarantino, and Lars von Trier), with the expectation that I would almost always see their new movies in the theater, and they would usually have a good shot at my Top Five that year. Well, Linklater’s name wasn’t enough to get me to see *Last Flag Flying,* a movie about three Viet Nam vets getting together to bury one of their sons. With Bryan Cranston, Lawrence Fishburne, and Steve Carell. I’ll give this movie a whirl when it comes out on DVD, but the previews made it clear that it was NOT my kind of movie.
And one more: *The Lure.* My brother Howard often recommends movies to me. People think my movie taste is out there, but mine is totally middle-of-the-road compared to Howard, who seems to lean towards five-hour Estonian dramas and the like. He told me about this Polish mermaid musical, and I can’t remember if 1) it had already left town, 2) I waited too long to see it, or 3) I was a little skeptical (my memory is long, and I still haven’t quite forgiven him for sending me to Steven Soderberg’s *Che* in 2008), but I really wish I had seen this one in the theater. A fascinating, completely original movie. Like many original movies, it works by combining established genres: this is a splashy musical, a tender coming-of-age story, a behind-the-scenes band drama, a special interest soft-core porn flick, and a grisly horror movie! Something for everyone!
BREAK-OUT PERFORMANCE: FEMALE
Who else - - Gal Gadot in *Wonder Woman.* What a thrill to see someone I’d never seen in anything in such a big deal movie. It was like Vivien Leigh in *Gone With the Wind* all over again.
BREAK-OUT PERFORMANCE: MALE
A tie between Daniel Kaluuya in *Get Out* and Timothée Chalamet in *Call Me By Your Name.* Two glorious performances, powerful, subtle, brilliant. Can’t wait to see them in more.
The closing credits to *Call Me By Your Name.* Stunning. I don’t think the closing credits to a movie have ever made me cry. These did.
Five best lines in a movie:
The Wicked Witch of the West in *The Wizard of Oz*: “And your little dog, too!”
Mrs. Moorehead in *The Women*: “Living alone has its compensations. Heaven knows it’s marvelous being able to spread out in bed like a swastika.”
Norma Desmond in *Sunset Boulevard*: “Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
Norman Bates in *Psycho*: “She isn’t quite herself today.”
Emily in *The Devil Wears Prada*: “Oh I’m sorry, do you have some prior commitment? Some hideous skirt convention you have to go to?”
*Dunkirk* had all of the makings of a wonderful movie, but totally tanked. There were moments that made you feel like there could have been a good movie in there, but writer/director Christopher Nolan couldn’t get out of his own way. He used three different time frames, alternating between the three. A similar device worked well in *Inception,* but it didn’t work here, it just made the story more convoluted and confusing. And if I had to hear Kenneth Branagh say the word “home” one more time, on the brink of tears, in that plummy Great English Stage Actor manner of his, I was gonna barf.
*Frantz* was lovely, a surprising and thought-provoking little movie set in France after WW I.
*Logan Lucky* was a blast. I love movies where the characters are smarter than you think, and also smarter than THEY think.
*Victoria and Abdul* was cute. Some critics thought it was predictable, but it’s a movie with Judi Dench playing Queen Victoria - - what do you expect? If you like Dench (and who doesn’t?) and like this era, you’ll enjoy the movie.
*Darkest Hour* was OK but maybe too much of the same old story. How many times do we have to see the Churchill story told, and was WW II the only interesting thing that happened in the 20th century? Plus I don’t like movies that so clearly present themselves as Oscar bait, it feels pushy.
*The Shape of Water* was darling, a lovely little fairy tale. It didn’t quite have the punch to displace a movie on the Top Five, or even an Honorable Mention, but it was very sweet and beautifully made.
*The Post* is another movie that didn’t quite make the Honorable Mention, but just barely. It seemed at first to be a little too classy, a little too patient, but Spielberg was just planting the seeds that would blossom into full, glorious, exciting flower two thirds through the movie. The biggest thrill of the movie was watching Meryl Streep’s Kay Graham go from a strong woman who was hesitant to use her strength to the strongest person in the room. At one point my somewhat stoic husband burst into applause!
*Lady Bird* was very sweet, but also somewhat sour! Fantastic performances by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. A classic, old fashioned indie movie.
*Happy End* brought to mind something a creative writing professor said about one of my short stories: “We want to read about people who are in trouble, not people who are troubled.” *Happy End* more or less held my interest the whole time, but it didn’t have anything near the drive or crackle I expect from writer/director Michael Haneke. I didn’t realize until the end of the movie that it was a sequel to *Amour,* his elegiac and brutal 2012 movie.
*Black Panther* was exciting, beautiful, fascinating, wonderful! I'm not really a comic book movie person, but between *Black Panther* and *Wonder Woman,* it was a good year for Marvel.
Years ago I started a tradition of the Birthday Double Feature and Waffle Fiesta. I have three or four of my best friends over to the apartment, we watch a movie, eat waffles, and then watch another movie. The first year was two random movies my friends hadn’t seen and I thought would be fun to watch (*The Long Kiss Goodnight* and *8 Women*), but starting the second year, every year had a theme (email me if you want the full list of themes). The theme when I turned forty was Turning Forty is a Drag, and the two movies were *Victor / Victoria* and *Tootsie.* So this year, with me turning fifty, it’s going to be Turning Fifty is Murder. And the features will be *Gosford Park* and *Eyes of Laura Mars.*
*Gosford Park* isn’t a guilty pleasure by any stretch, that’s a high class movie. But *Eyes of Laura Mars,* that’s a fabulous piece of trash! 1978, with Faye Dunaway at her peak of glamour and self absorption, a young and comely Tommy Lee Jones as her love interest, also Raul Julia, Rene Auberjonois, and the inevitable Brad Dourif. It’s what I call a “frozen in amber” movie. The clothes, the hair, the whole sensibility of the movie, it’s a priceless document of the culture at that moment. And what a treat to see New York City in 1978 in all its glorious skeeviness.
ON SECOND THOUGHT
Richard and I watched Buñuel’s *The Exterminating Angel* in preparation for the Met production of the opera version. I had seen the movie many years before, but being a big Buñuel fan, I was of course excited to see it again. I think I might have liked it even more the second time. It wasn’t really Richard’s jam, but he could see why I would like it.
BEST USE OF A POP SONG
Last year I gave it to “Hello Stranger” from *Moonlight.* This year I’m giving it to the whole soundtrack of *Atomic Blonde.* Glorious late 80s pop: David Bowie, George Michael, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Flock of Seagulls, “London Calling”, “The Politics of Dancing,” and since the movie was set in post-wall Berlin, of course we needed “99 Luftballoons.” All of it used with wit and verve.
NEW CATEGORY: BEST DOCUMENTARY
I’m adding this category to guarantee that I see at least one documentary a year. Our first winner is *The Opera House,* a film about the building of Lincoln Center in general and the Metropolitan Opera in particular. Dazzling, fascinating, extraordinary. Leontyne Price is the greatest thing onscreen, anywhere, anytime! “I really sang like an angel. You just want to kiss yourself, you sound so great.” I asked Richard, when we left, “What was your favorite part?” He said, “When you were CRYING.” I asked him to be more specific, I spent over half the movie crying.