Oscar Recap (as if anyone cares who won at this point)

Well, that was exciting, wasn’t it? I’m sure no one watching the Oscars was thinking about their Academy Award ballots after Will Smith smacked Chris Rock in the face and then won the Best Actor trophy a half hour later. This event will certainly eclipse the whole La La Land/Moonlight mix-up that happened a few years ago as the most shocking thing that has ever occurred at the ceremony; at least until the next thing happens.

There are plenty of hot takes you can get about this incident from every single person on the internet, so let’s proceed with the winners (more on my personal reaction further down). These awards were all over the place; Dune won the most with six, and they were all technical except for Best Score. (Question: How does a film that is mostly CGI generated win Best Cinematography?) The Power of the Dog (which had been nominated for twelve and was considered the frontrunner for Best Picture) won only one for Jane Campion for Best Director (back-to-back women directors for two years!). The poor showing for TPOTD busted a lot of brackets—people voted for Kentucky and then the Cinderella story called CODA swept in and took Best Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. Lin Manuel Miranda did not get his EGOT when that upstart Billie Eilish took Best Original Song for No Time to Die, and poor West Side Story only got one for Best Supporting Actress (Arian DeBose—but her acceptance speech was great).

I am a bit annoyed that after all my hard work of watching every movie nominated, no one really cares about who won (I imagine the winners feel that way, too). Thousands of people managed to produce some top-notch films in the middle of a global pandemic, and the only thing anyone wants to talk about is The Slap (#Twitternamedtrend). 

I’m not going to take sides here, as I feel that both Chris Rock and Will Smith were in the wrong. This was a classic case of impulse control—I would guess that from Will’s perspective, it probably felt like it happened in slow motion. You can see him laugh at Chris Rock’s joke about Jada’s bald head and then catch site of his wife’s face and her reaction. Why storming up the runway and smacking the comedian was the only thing he could come up with, I don’t know; but there is some history of Chris Rock mocking Jada in the past. It’s also possible (probable?) that Rock did not know about Pinkett Smith’s medical condition that caused her hair loss. But why would he be making a joke about the wife of a nominee’s physical look in the first place? Talk about punching down.

And here is my personal take on the situation—and the fact that I am nervous about writing this gives you some insight about how Jada must have felt. I have dealt with alopecia since I was a teenager, and it is crushing to your self-esteem. My biggest fear has always been people mocking me for something I have no control over, and the idea of a comedian joking about her bald head in front of a global audience is the nightmare that anyone coping with this has probably had more than once. Will Smith hitting Chris Rock was the absolute worst way to deal with this; but he is probably hyper aware of how his wife feels about her hair loss and reacted without considering the consequences. 

And the consequences are huge. To then win the award for Best Actor and make an acceptance speech where you once again make a huge faux pas by saying “Love makes you do crazy things”—which is a classic statement made by abusers everywhere as they protest they only hit “out of love”—was quite possibly the worst thing he could have said. Everything about this situation was terrible and no one came out looking good, but I imagine that shiny gold statue that will be sitting on Will Smith’s mantel is going to be a tainted reminder of what should have been a triumphant night.

I told you all to vote for Andrew Garfield!

Dune (*BP22)

The first ten minutes of Dune used the words Atreides, Caladan, Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV, and House Harkonnen as fit rulers of Arrakis, and I gave up. I had only about nine hours until the Academy Awards started and there simply wasn’t enough time to learn an entirely new vocabulary. I’d read Frank Herbert’s Dune way back in the 70s and hoped that fond memory would be enough to help me sort out the players, but nope. That information has obviously been replaced by theme songs from TV shows of the 80s. The only thing I could remember about the book was the sandworms, and I might have gotten those confused with the ones from Beetlejuice.

And then “the VOICE” spoke to me. I don’t know where it came from, but it said very clearly: “No one cares if you finished it or not. Why are you putting this pressure on yourself? There are probably only seven people reading this website, and you still have to finish making the Chicken Marbella for the party tonight.”

And so ends the great experiment of watching all ten Best Picture nominees; not with a bang, not even with a whimper. Just relief that I can stop thinking critically about movies and go watch The Lost City, which I understand requires no thinking at all.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Two Kernels. I only watched the first half hour, but the kernels are for Timothy Chalamet and Zendaya for being pretty and simply existing.

I’m obviously going to have to create a category called FlicksIWatchedOnHBOMax because the last four entries were from that streaming service. Maybe I’ll call it FlicksWhosePasswordINicked.

King Richard (*BP22)

I wanted to like King Richard; I really did. It tells the story of Venus and Serena Williams and the father who raised them to become two of the greatest athletes in the world. The star is one of my favorite actors (Will Smith) and I usually love a good inspirational biopic. The first hour or so of Richard Williams driving his kids around in a VW minibus and talking about his plan to make champions out of his two girls was entertaining. It was heartwarming to see how he put the all-around character of his kids at the forefront, and he was obviously a major influence in making them who they are. 

But at some point, the film needed to move away from him screaming about them opening up their stance and let the talents of the girls start to take over. And while Venus is finally allowed to make her own decision about signing with a sponsor toward the end, I was much more interested in how two sisters can have such phenomenal careers and compete against each other and still remain best friends. I didn’t need to see more of Will Smith in those very short shorts.

Venus and Serena are listed as Executive Producers on the film, so they obviously approved the script and wanted to honor their father. But I felt having all the focus be on the man behind the girls gave short shrift to the fact that they were the ones standing out in the blazing sun pounding the ball into the court. Will Smith is an iconic actor but I never entirely lost sight of him, even with the lisp and the shorts.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Two Kernels. I absolutely loved Aunjanue Ellis as the mother, but felt there was way too much of Richard Williams.

Categories: FlicksIWatchedOnNetflix (I don’t have a category called FlicksIWatchedOnHBOMax, and also it doesn’t rhyme, but the film is NOT streaming on Netflix)

Drive My Car (*BP22)

Go on, admit it. You never thought I would actually get to the three-hour, sub-titled Japanese film about grief that is a Best Picture nominee before the Sunday deadline.

Me, neither. And yet, here I am to tell you about Drive My Car, not only nominated for one of the ten best films, but also director Ryusuke Hamaguchi for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. And for Best International Feature as well! 

A theatrical director is staging a production of Uncle Vanya two years after his wife has died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The producers have assigned a young woman as his driver, and they spend a great deal of time cruising around Hiroshima in a red Saab listening to a cassette tape that his deceased wife had recorded of the Chekhov play. Repetition is how the director learns the lines, and by the time the film is over, I’m pretty sure that I could play Sonya as well. We hear a LOT of Uncle Vanya.

The movie is a study of people locked inside their emotions. For a film with the verb drive in the title, there is a lot of stillness. Even when they are actually in the car, the camera barely moves. These people are so frozen in their grief that one gets the feeling that if they allow themselves to experience any emotion, something inside will crack right open. Even when they finally get to that point, it still seems like the act of acknowledging their pain is muted by years of silence. The film builds with a slow momentum and tension until you feel like you can barely breathe because of all the intense feelings that are not allowed to escape.

About that slow momentum part . . . Hamaguchi is a master of tiny increments of tension, but the film is three freakin’ hours long. I understand what he was doing with the camerawork—the driving becomes more of a medium shot, then wider, then lots and lots of tunnels that show the director and the driver getting more comfortable with each other—but it just went on forever. I realize it is the director’s prerogative to pace a film the way he wants, but I wonder if audiences who have been seeing mostly Marvel movies would be able to watch this. 

I mention this because every year the Academy shuns popular favorites (like Spider-Man: No Way Home), and then complains because no one watches the Oscars or goes to movies anymore. Of course, the two demographics are completely different and don’t need to have any overlap, but this is the kind of film that critics love and most people won’t watch. That doesn’t mean it should not be showered with awards—this film will deservedly win Best International Feature, and it is a masterclass in silence. And I’m not suggesting that all films be dumbed down to level of the typical movie audience (Jackass Forever made $23 million dollars its opening weekend.) It simply answers the question of why no one is watching the Academy Awards.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three and a Half Kernels. The pace and the length are almost hypnotic, and by the time you get to the end, you feel like the silence these people live with is almost more eloquent than anything they have to say (and they say it in many different languages, too!)

Categories: FlicksThatYouShouldPick, FlicksIWatchedOnNetflix, (I don’t have a category called FlicksIWatchedOnHBOMax, and also it doesn’t rhyme, but the film is NOT streaming on Netflix)

Belfast (*BP22)

Belfast is the story of The Troubles in Northern Ireland between the Catholics and the Protestants, a violent period that started in the late 60s and continued for nearly thirty years. Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, the film is his memory of growing up in Belfast amid the escalating violence. 

The movie is seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy attempting to understand how his childhood neighborhood is changing as gangs and terrorists insist that his family take sides in the conflict. Filmed in black and white, the movie is an odd assortment of low angles and strange composition. There is one unnecessary shot as the camera does a slow, complete circle around the child; I assume this was to show the confusion he felt, but I found the movement to be distracting. It felt as if Branagh was attempting to convey the tension of the situation through the cinematography, but it took me out of the film completely because it was so strange. This is his 15th movie as a director, so the man is no novice. The story is powerful enough without adding any tricks, and that is how it felt every time he did something jarring like switch from B&W to color and then back again. 

It is impossible to watch this film without thinking about the war in Ukraine. The normalness of everyday life shattered by terror and explosions; children being dragged to safety by their parents; the bewilderment of innocent citizens wondering how violence keeps happening again and again. It’s always interesting to me how the times we live in influence art that already exists and changes our perspective of it. I wonder if that will affect the voting for this movie as Best Picture. There were other films more compelling, but none have been quite this timely.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three Kernels. It is simultaneously charming and sobering and the plight of the family resonates, but the distracting camerawork kept pulling me out of the movie.

Categories: FlicksThatYouShouldPick

Nightmare Alley (*BP22)

I try not to go into movies with preconceived notions of the subject matter, but when I realized that Guillermo del Toro’s newest film Nightmare Alley was set in a carnival, the first thing that popped into my head was a quote from Austin Powers. “Only two things scare me: Nuclear war . . . and carnies. Circus folk. Nomads, you know. Smell like cabbage. Small hands.” 

I have to agree with Austin, because when there are circus folk around, you just know it’s going to eventually lead to geeks.

Wikipedia describes Nightmare Alley as “a neo-noir psychological thriller,” and it is certainly that. Noir means black and the color palette of the film is so dark that it sometimes reads as black and white, with all the bright tones usually associated with a carnival looking like they have been smeared with grime and filth. The film is a production designer’s dream, from the wonky funhouse angles and jars of fermented babies lining the walls to the electric chair that is designed to up the drama of the woman who is electrocuted nightly. Everything looks damp and a violent storm is always about to erupt. I don’t know if it smells like cabbage, but it sure looks like everything reeks of urine. This is a rough way to make a living, and the desolation of the backstage circus areas is reflected in the faces of the people who inhabit these spaces. 

That includes the geek. Early in the movie, there is a graphic depiction of what it would be like to be a raging, caged alcoholic who is flung live chickens in front of an audience and then bites their heads off. Not a profession one would want to end up in.

Bradley Cooper enters this bizarre world and quickly adapts to a variety of odd jobs. His general prettiness is immediately noticed by a fortune teller, and he starts to learn the secrets of her husband, the mentalist. The film spirals into darkness as he becomes a master at reading people and eventually ends up in a plot with Cate Blanchett to trick people into speaking to their dead. The cast is great and the story gripping, with an ending as horrifying as it is inevitable. 

I was mesmerized by this movie; it did not do well at the box office, but I wish that I had seen it on a big screen simply because the look of it was so spectacular. Of course, that would have made the geek scenes really big, so perhaps HBOMax was the way to go. It does not appear to have much of a chance at Best Picture, having won no other awards this season, which is a shame because I would count it among my top three favorites this year. Maybe just close your eyes when they bring out the chicken.

Side note: Why does Bradley Cooper always take roles where he ends up looking like he’s a complete disaster? The man is very handsome, and just once I would like to see him make it to the end of a film without pissing on himself.

Second Side note: I have been informed by a loyal reader that I neglected to mention that there is a brief flash of Bradley Cooper’s full frontal in this movie. Since I try to give the public what they want, I have added the category FlicksThatHaveADick to this review. Although that was not the original intent of this label, the customer is always right, so here you go. (It’s also been added to The Power of the Dog. Hello, Dr. Strange!)

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three and a Half Kernels. It looks amazing, and as much as I am embarrassed to admit this, I simply could not look away from the geek biting the head off the chicken.

Categories: FlicksIWatchedOnNetflix, (I don’t have a category called FlicksIWatchedOnHBOMax, and also it doesn’t rhyme, but the film is NOT streaming on Netflix), FlicksThatYouShouldPick, FlicksIWantToLick, FlicksThatHaveADick

Don’t Look Up (*BP22)

Remember the great Is the Dress Blue or Gold? debate that swept the internet in 2015? People spent hours discussing this topic and trying to decide what it meant if you were Team Gold or Team Blue. It was fun and kind of silly. That was seven years ago—we were so young and innocent then!

Another similar online argument happened just a few months ago when the movie Don’t Look Up premiered on Netflix. This was director Adam McCay’s latest work, and it created a brand-new hot topic of discussion that swept the internet for a few weeks. The film was a heavy-handed metaphor about climate change and government incompetence, and people either thought it was the greatest satire since Dr. Strangelove or a smug, condescending piece of crap populated by Hollywood A-listers who should have known better. Can you guess which side I was on?

I’m not sure who McCay thought the audience was supposed to be for this film. People who already believe that climate change is the greatest crisis we are facing right now don’t really need to be convinced that it is happening; and if you honestly think the whole idea of global warming is a hoax, you are never going to watch a preachy movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. And yet Don’t Look Up was the third most viewed film in Netflix’s history; so whether or not people agreed with it, they still watched it. Not all of us made it all the way through to the end, though, and if it wins an Oscar for Best Picture, I am going to have to write a strongly worded letter to the Academy. Spider-man didn’t even get nominated!

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Zero Kernels. I have rarely hated a movie as much as I hated this one; not only does it not get a single, unpopped piece of corn, but the original  popcorn bucket is still upside down on the sticky floor of a theater with a greasy coating of fake butter topping, where rats will find it and lick up the yellow, viscous goo and it will get stuck to the roof of their mouths and they will never get rid of the taste. 

Side note: The dress was blue.

Categories: FlicksYouShouldNotPick

CODA (*BP22)

CODA came out on AppleTV+ in August of 2021, so it is amazing that the film has such proven staying power after six months; movies that hope to be nominated for Academy Awards are usually released as close to the end of the year as possible to make the eligibility deadline. For example, Don’t Look Up premiered on Netflix on December 24, 2021 (and what a Christmas gift that was—review to come).

CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) has a fairly standard Lifetime-ish family drama plot: high school girl wants to do something different with her life than what her parents expect her to do. As the only hearing member of her family, Ruby is relied upon to translate interactions with others that impact the family fishing business. If she pursues music as she hopes to, the business may not survive without her. Her parents and brother are all played by deaf actors, and their performances give the film an air of authenticity. 

The movie is charming and occasionally heartbreaking, and the expected happy ending was a relief. Watching this movie was like sinking into a good book, and I really needed everything to work out for this quirky family. I think the pandemic has made us all a bit more sentimental (at least this hard-hearted bitch seems to weep at everything these days).

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three Kernels. A heartwarming tearjerker that will have you crying like you were watching a Hallmark Christmas movie, only with American Sign Language.

Categories: FlicksThatYouShouldPick

The Power of the Dog (*BP22)

I had very little knowledge of what this film was about before I saw it except that it was a western directed by Jane Campion (whose work I love) and hated by Sam Elliott (who has a very big moustache). 

The story is set in Montana, 1925, and although Campion uses vistas from New Zealand as a stand-in for the state, her sweeping camera captures the beautiful desolation of the land and the immense isolation of the gothic farmhouse where two wealthy rancher siblings live. One brother is awkward and repressed; the other is a psycho who slathers his naked body with mud before swimming and castrates bulls with his bare hands. As Sam Elliott pointed out, this is not your typical western. It is a brooding psychological thriller with chaps. 

I watched this film with horrible fascination as the four main characters descended into alcoholism, despair and murder. It starts out a bit stilted and slow-moving and then builds until the tension is nearly unbearable. All of the performances are extraordinary, and Kodi Smit-McPhee is the skinniest, weirdest medical student you hope you will never meet in a doctor’s office. 

Hollywood bookies seem to think this is the odds-on favorite for Best Picture right now, and it does have many of the dark, brooding qualities that voters admire. I’m not sure that I agree with that; I still have a few more films to watch.

 “That’s what all these fucking cowboys in that movie look like. They’re all running around in chaps and no shirts. There’s all these allusions to homosexuality throughout the fucking movie.” Elliott also calls out director Jane Campion, asking what she knows about the American West and why she would film it in New Zealand and call it Montana, adding,
“That fucking rubbed me the wrong way, pal.”
He does go on to say that he’s a fan of her previous work.”

Sam Elliott, NYPost article

Side note: I have to admit that even before I read Sam Elliott’s comments, I wondered why the cowboys were working shirtless with just chaps. Seemed like they could get a bad sunburn that way.

Second Side note: Because apparently people want to know when there is a flash of Benedict Cumberbatch’s penis as he slathers himself in mud, I have added a new category.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three Kernels. It is powerful, unsettling and will definitely make you steer clear of dead cows.

Categories: FlicksIWatchedOnNetflix, FlicksThatYouShouldPick, FlicksThatHaveADick

Licorice Pizza (*BP22)

Is a coming-of-age film considered nostalgia if it follows your own personal timeframe of growing up? Licorice Pizza is at the top of countless Top Ten critics’ lists and has been nominated for Best Picture. But as a person who was approximately the same age as the lead character in 1973, I found the fact that I had an almost identical haircut then as a horrifying reminder of what it was like be a teenager in the 70s. And I am referencing the male lead, not the Alana Haim character.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson created a story set in that era that is very true to the hideous clothing and ridiculous attitudes of the time, but the film is a little too specific to the California lifestyle to be universal. Over halfway through it, I still couldn’t figure out what it was about—a series of random events in the life of kids? The stupidity of teenagers? How not to run a waterbed store in the middle of an energy crisis? When even the title has to be assumed knowledge, it makes those of us who were being awkward elsewhere feel disconnected from whatever the plot was supposed to be. (Licorice Pizza was the name of a record store chain in southern CA., but it is never explained or even referenced in the movie.) There are also incidents of casual sexism and racism that were part of the seventies, but sit uneasily for today’s audience.

Fans of Anderson might find this another winner, but I found it disjointed with unappealing characters. But it did make me nostalgic for the waterbed I had for ten years.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film One Kernel. A solitary, unpopped Old Maid is all I can manage for this movie, but I add the caveat that I found the seventies to be an awkward time to be a teenager and did not particularly want to revisit it. Younger viewers may find this film hilarious.

Categories: FlicksYouShouldNotPick