Top Five for 2018
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
The House That Jack Built
Honorable Mention: Ocean’s Eight, Sorry To Bother You
What an extraordinary movie, so full of power, so exciting, so fully actualized in what it was trying to achieve. It was a joy to sit there in the theater and watch it unfold. I'm not a fan of comic book movies, but this one was something else, it had a mythic quality that really spoke to me.
I might not have thought that the sequel could be even funnier and more exciting than the first movie, but wow, it was! So good, so brilliant. It was, of course, a special joy to see the great Leslie Uggams return in her scene-stealing role as Deadpool’s roommate. I’m very excited to see that a third movie is in the works.
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
Richard and I both loved the book, a memoir by Lee Israel. She was a writer of celebrity biographies in the 70s, she did fairly well. Then her writing went out of style, she became a bigger pain in the ass, and started drinking. A lot. She wasn’t getting enough work anymore, so she started stealing letters written by celebrities. She stole these letters from the New York Public Library or similar. She went through such tsuris stealing these letters that she realized it would be easier to write them herself! She copied the letterhead used by each writer, precisely mimicked their writing style, and meticulously researched their lives to choose the right context for each letter. She made a lot of money in the year and a half she did this, and she said she was a better writer as Noël Coward, Lillian Hellman, and Dorothy Parker than she ever was as Lee Israel.
The movie was so touching and delightful. Julianne Moore was supposed have played Israel, but she dropped out and they got Melissa McCarthy for the role. Hey, if I were McCarthy, I would tell her agent, “Anytime Julianne Moore drops out of a movie, please, make me the next person on your list!” She was extraordinary, you could feel her thrill in playing such a complex role. Richard E Grant was equally delightful as her accomplice, and what a treat to see Jane Curtin and Stephen Spinella in small roles.
THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT
Lars von Trier, he knows how to push those buttons! He is our #1 cinematic sadist, and this movie was just as screwy, disturbing, visually arresting, and thought-provoking as all of his movies. It also had the added element of humor! DARK humor, but humor all the same. There were a few moments when I noticed I was the only person laughing, which gave me pause. This movie had storytelling at a very high level - - one plot element was thrown at us early in the movie and made me think, “Hm, that’s going to come back at a key moment,” and it did. I love that kind of thing, it makes me feel like the writer and director are collaborating with the audience instead of just throwing things at you.
The most beautiful and emotional movie of the year. Writer and director Alfonso Cuarón did my favorite thing, he set up a warm and sweet tone to pull you into the story and get you to care about the characters, which made space for the intense drama that followed. Yalitza Aparicio gave such a powerful performance, so quiet and honest.
I enjoyed this so much more than I thought I would! There are so many strong women in the cast, most of them aren’t given much to do. Sandra Bullock stands out of the crowd just because she’s in the lead role. It delivered the comedy and the thrills and twists that we expect from an *Ocean’s* movie, it totally lived up to the franchise, and the female switch didn’t feel like a gimmick or pasted on, it felt authentic.
Clearly they made this one *Ocean’s Eight* so they could follow up with *Ocean’s Nine* and *Ocean’s Ten.* The *Eleven,* *Twelve,* and *Thirteen* movies justified the new number by adding one new member to the team. I have a prediction to make for *Nine* or *Ten* - - the new member of the team will be Julia Roberts, a in a lateral transfer from the original franchise! OK people, you read it here first!
SORRY TO BOTHER YOU
I heard that this was similar to *Get Out,* which I loved. It was similar in the way that it presented a mixture of comedy, horror, and an examination of race relations in the United States, but I found it even more disturbing than *Get Out.* Both movies were made by a first-time writer-director, Jordan Peele for *Get Out* and Boots Riley for *Sorry To Bother You.* Both, I hope, have many more exciting, thought-provoking movies ahead.
BEST CAMEO, FEMALE
Late in *Ocean’s Eight,* they bring in four women of a certain age to pull off a moment in the heist plan, and the choice of the four actors who play those four women was GENIUS! I don’t want to tell you who they are and spoil the surprise, but the first one was a big star of yesterday, the last one was a demi star of yesteryear, and the middle two are treasured artists on the stage. The highlight of the whole movie, which is what you want a celebrity cameo to do.
BEST CAMEO, MALE
Danny Glover in *Sorry To Bother You.* His monologue early in the movie was the highlight of the whole thing, it was priceless, touching, hilarious. And I also want to thank Lars von Trier for the cameo by Glenn Gould! Sure it was old footage, but that guy was WHACK.
REMEMBRANCE OF MOVIES PAST
I saw the Danish movie *Babette’s Feast* sometime in the late 80s or early 90s and was charmed by it. Richard and I visited our friend Dennis this summer and we’re always looking for a movie to watch with him - - he had *Babette’s Feast* on DVD, and Richard had never seen it before. We all loved it. It’s an extraordinary movie, so funny and touching. And hilarious in the most delicate ways. A treasure.
MOVIE THAT NEEDS TO BE MADE
The New Yorker had an article in October 2011 about a pharmacist in Nucla, Colorado. The author included a brief description of a community that formed in Nucla in the 1890’s, the Colorado Co-Operative Colony. It sounds like a fascinating experiment, and it didn’t end well. Sounds like a job for Robert Altman, but he’s dead.
This list is my biggest ever! The first three are by directors I love, and I’ve organized the list of actors as “repeat offenders” (people who have been in previous movies by that director, often multiple times) and “new to the franchise” (people who have not been in a previous movie by that director).
*The French Dispatch,* the next Wes Anderson movie. Starring repeat offenders Natalie Portman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Willem Defoe, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Mathieu Amalric, and new to the-franchise Timothée Chalamet, Benicio Del Toro, Jeffrey Wright, Kate Winslet, Lois Smith, and Henry Freaking Winkler.
*The Dead Don’t Die,* the next Jim Jarmusch. Starring repeat offenders Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, and Tom Waits, and new to the-franchise Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, and Danny Glover.
*Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.* The new Tarantino movie coming out in August, set during the summer of the Manson murders. With repeat offenders Brad Pitt, Leonardo di Caprio, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Zoë Bell, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern, and new to the franchise Margot Robbie, Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino, Timothy Olyphant, James Marsden, Emile Hirsch, Damian Lewis, Lena Dunham, Rumer Willis, and would you believe Brenda Vacarro and Luke Perry?
*Charlie Says,* another Charles Manson movie, this one directed by another of my favorite directors, Mary Harron. The only names I recognize in the cast are Annabeth Gish and Matt Smith (he’s playing Manson).
*Charlie’s Angels.* Don’t worry, this isn’t a third Charles Manson movie, though I anticipate that Saturday Night Live will do a fake movie preview morphing *Charlie’s Angels* with Charlie Manson. With Christoph Waltz as Manson. You know how I loved the *Charlie’s Angels* movies that came out at the beginning of this century, those were supreme. So I’m curious to see this new one, directed by Elizabeth Banks. With her, Djimon Hounsou, and Patrick Stewart sharing the role of Bosley? How does that work? The three angels are being played by Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska. I know Stewart, but who are the other two? So many questions.
*Deadpool 3.* ‘Nuff said.
*Dolor y gloria.* The new Almodóvar movie, with Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas.
*Blanche Neige.* A contemporary retelling of the Snow White story, in French, with Isabelle Huppert playing the wicked stepmother.
*Greta,* a pseudo horror movie starring Isabelle Huppert and Chloë Grace Moretz, directed by Neil Jordan, who we haven’t heard from in a while. Let’s hope it’s good and schlocky and not too well-mannered.
*Brightburn.* A sort of horror movie about Superman’s origin story. What if Superman had been evil instead of good?
*Us,* the second feature by Jordan Peele, who planted his flag in the most dazzling way with *Get Out.* The preview looks majorly creepy.
*Little Women,* directed by Greta Gerwig, with a sumptuous cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, James Norton, Bob Odenkirk, and Chris Cooper!
*Legally Blonde 3,* Valentine’s Day 2020. I already have a date for it, Rubén and David Jay. We’re seeing it at 34th St and having dinner at the Tick Tock Diner across the street. I’m having a fried chicken wrap and fries.
MOST DESERVING OF A COMEBACK
Vanity Fair had a great article in their Hollywood issue: “How Eric Roberts Went Big, Crashed Hard, and Became the Hardest-Working Man in Hollywood.” The guy sometimes has three projects going on at the same time, is filming two or more things on the same day. He had a juicy and impressive cameo in *Inherent Vice* in 2014. This guy still has the goods, someone should give him a sizable and showy supporting role in a movie that people will actually see.
VIVA LA DIVA
She was the first winner in this category, for *The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe* back in 2005 - - Tilda Swinton is at it again, playing the creepy choreographer of the dance company in *Suspiria.* She also played another role in that movie (which I won’t spoil for you).
I had seen the three previous versions of *A Star Is Born,* so I felt I needed to see the new one, just to be thorough (please be New England when you say that word, and pronounce it “thah-rah”). Good news first: the first half hour was stunning, it really depicted what it must feel like to be onstage at a big stadium concert. All of the performances were great, especially Sam Elliott and Andrew Dice Clay. It was beautifully directed, classic old-fashioned movie directing, nothing tricky or flashy, just telling the story, putting it up there on the screen.
The bad news: Lady Gaga is fantastic, but where are the other women in this story? And I’m not going to give any spoilers, but her character’s arc takes a turn that I thought was gratuitous and portrays her like a sellout. I didn’t think that was fair. These two problems really bothered me and spoiled the movie.
I’m a big fan of Luca Guadagnino. My mother told me about *I Am Love,* his 2009 romantic drama with Tilda Swinton, such a beautiful movie. I was crazy for the movie he directed last year, *Call Me By Your Name.* And I was frothing at the mouth when I heard that he was doing a remake of *Suspiria,* the schlocky 1970s Italian horror classic. It was fantastic! With Tilda Swinton again, and Dakota Johnson. It had Guadagnino’s signature visual opulence, it was dazzling, inventive, and ambitious. The whole thing kind of made sense in its own creepy context. Let me put it this way: if you’re going to make a movie about witchcraft and female hysteria, you could do no better than to set it in a modern dance company in East Berlin in the 1970s.
HOW COULD I HAVE MISSED IT?
I had every intention of seeing *Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool* when it came out in the fall of 2017. It has Annette Bening playing movie star Gloria Grahame at the end of her life, Jamie Bell playing her boyfriend, Julie Walters playing his mother, and a tiny cameo by Vanessa Redgrave as Grahame’s mother. I thought, “Finally, this is the movie that will get Bening her long-awaited Oscar!” but Oscar had other plans that year, she was shut out by five entirely deserving nominees.
It’s such a sweet movie, and Bening gives one of her best performances. If you see it on DVD, please spare yourself the indignity and DON’T watch the special feature Q & A at some film festival. The moderator is such an idiot.
BREAK-OUT PERFORMANCE, FEMALE
Yalitza Aparicio in *Roma.* She’s a very gifted actor, I hope to see more from her. And I’ll also include Cynthia Erivo in *Widows,* who didn’t exactly come out of nowhere (she has done other movies and won a freaking Tony) but this felt like an arrival for her. Is it possible she was the best thing in the movie?
BREAK-OUT PERFORMANCE, MALE
Again, Lakeith Stanfield isn’t exactly a newcomer (he had a notable supporting role in *Get Out*), but what a treat to see him in a leading role in *Sorry To Bother You.*
The opening credits to *Roma* were astonishingly beautiful. *Suspiria* didn’t have particularly amazing credits, but the way the title of the movie appeared, that was wonderful and unexpected.
Five movies I get sucked into watching when they’re on TV:
Any of the Star Wars movies
The Shawshank Redemption
The American President
Any of the Harry Potter movies
*The Favourite* wasn’t as bad as previous movies that have won this award (I don’t think anything will ever top *Noah*), but I had such high hopes going into it, and it really didn’t live up to its promise. I’m a fan of the director, Yorgos Lanthimos. I loved the two movies he made before this one, *The Lobster* and *The Killing of a Sacred Deer,* both bizarre and unsettling. In this movie I felt like he was trying to say, “This is NOT *Masterpiece Theatre,*” and proving the point by adding lots of coarse language, odd music, and fish-eye lenses. Brilliant performances by the three lead actors, especially by Olivia Colman, who we’re all looking forward to seeing as Queen Elizabeth II in seasons three and four of *The Crown.* But the movie on the whole was too deliberate and pushy in its strangeness. I dislike it more the more I think about it.
*Widows* was exciting and had great performances. I knew Viola Davis would be extraordinary, but what a treat to see Michelle Rodriguez giving such a great performance, and I am crazy for Elizabeth Debicki and Carrie Coon. But the tone of the movie was a problem, for me. It was a drama with a heist movie pasted on at the end. It’s tricky to blend genres like that, and McQueen didn’t succeed in making it smooth.
*BlackkKlansman* was very good, fantastic performances, but I felt like the story was the best part of the movie. The movie did a good job of delivering the story but I don’t feel like it did more than that. Should I expect a movie to do more?
*The Wife* was fabulous. Glenn Close gave one of the best performances of her long and stunning career. Also great supporting performances by Jonathan Pryce, Max Irons, Christian Slater, and a delicious tiny role for Elizabeth McGovern!
Have you seen *Rome Adventure*? It’s a hilariously awful movie from 1962 about nice girl Prudence Bell (Suzanne Pleshette, “a bright new star,” according to the trailer), her boyfriend (Troy Donahue), the blonde vixen from his past (Angie Dickinson, naturally), and the suave Italian gentleman who wants to liberate Prudence from her virginity (Rosanno Brazzi). It has one of my favorite moments in any movie ever. Donahue doesn’t want to have sex with Pleshette because she’s a virgin, so she decides to do it with Brazzi. She shows up at his villa wearing a cute little day dress. She makes it clear (in coded language, of course) why she’s there and he asks if he can help her with her bags. She says, “No, I have everything right here,” and pats on the small handbag over her shoulder. They neck for a bit and she goes upstairs to change for dinner. And she comes downstairs wearing a floor-length black evening gown with a gold beaded jacket. Which we’re supposed to believe were in that small handbag over her shoulder.
ON SECOND THOUGHT
*Atonement* made my Top Five in 2007. I have it on DVD yet have never watched it. I own the book yet have never read it. Clearly I'm not so jazzed up about that movie.
BEST USE OF A POP SONG
I was sure that *Deadpool 2* using Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” would get this award, but then later in the movie they used “All Out of Love” by Air Supply! Air Supply! Can you even stand it.
Nicola and I saw *The Gospel According to André,* what a fabulous movie. André Leon Talley is a larger-than-life tastemaker in the world of high fashion, he was an editor-at-large for a number of years at American Vogue, working closely with Anna Wintour. The movie shows him in all his fabulous glory, but also shows the wounded side of him that hadn’t been previously visible to the outsider. He’s a fascinating, complex person, and the movie captures that beautifully.
NEW CATEGORY: MOVIE PROJECT
I often like to give myself a movie project It all started sometime around 2003. My parents gave me a book for Christmas, *The New York Times Best 1000 Movies Ever Made.* My dear friend Byron, that same year, gave me a book, *1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.* Total coincidence. So I, being who I am, made a spreadsheet listing the movies on each list and with a separate tab for the movies on BOTH lists. There were 463 movies on both lists, and I decided I need to see them all. Thankfully I had already seen 336 of them, and only had 127 to see. (By the way, drop me an email at divamensch at divamensch dot com if you’d like a copy of the spreadsheet).
The number one discovery of this project was Louis Malle’s 1987 film *Au Revoir les Enfants.* A quiet, intense, heartbreaking little film, truly the work of a master. There are twelve movies that didn’t make the cut - - I give a movie twenty minutes, and if it’s too boring, I turn it off. This list of twelve is liberally peppered with documentaries about World War II.
There are six movies that aren’t on Netflix, aren’t at the Public Library, aren’t streaming online (at least where I can find them). I’m stalking them on Turner Classic Movies and have them in the “Saved” section of my Netflix queue (yes, I still get DVDs from Netflix), but would love it if someone could point me to a place where I could watch them, even for money.
*The Baker’s Wife* (1938)
*Los Olvidados* (1950)
*Deep End* (1970 - - not to be consumed with *The Deep End* from 2001, which I have seen)
*Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song* (1971)
*The Heartbreak Kid* (1972)
*The General* (1998)
ANYWAY - - that was my first movie project, but it’s not really the current one. My current project started when I bought the book *Hitchcock’s Music* by Jack Sullivan. It’s goes through all of his sound films in chronological order and examines his use of music. Fascinating. I realized, reading the book, that I hadn’t seen many of the movies, so I started watching them all, from the beginning. Richard was a little surprised that I was even watching the movies I had seen before (I’d seen *Rebecca* at least six or seven times, ditto *Psycho,* *To Catch a Thief,* *Vertigo*), but I thought it was important to watch them all in sequence.
The number one discovery of this project was *Saboteur,* from 1942 starring Robert Cummings. What a fantastic movie. On the flip side, I had never seen *Torn Curtain* (1966) or *Topaz* (1969) and what a couple of stinkers. I’m glad that Hitch bounced back for his last two movies (*Frenzy* and *Family Plot*), it would have been disappointing to have him end with two lousy movies.
I noticed about halfway through that apart from learning about the use of music in movies, I was also getting a master class in movie making in general. Hitchcock is an absolutely pure director, everything is done with precision and purpose. There’s a moment in *Lifeboat* that took my breath away, a simple bit of camera movement and editing. I won’t bore you with a description, email me if you’re interested.