Best Picture Showcase Day Two


Four films are on tap today, including the one I have not yet seen, Parasite. I’ll have comments about all/of the films as we go along, but I will try to have more in depth commentary on Parasite when we get to it. I sat in the same seat that I had last week and again visited with Gary and his son Bradley.  They had remembered taking with Amanda a couple of years ago and they recognized me as one of the frequent trivia winners.  So although I was without my usual crew, I did have fans to talk with about the films.

All of the films in this years showcase are pretty heavy in some emotional way. While there are comedic moments in most of them, there is not one film nominated who has as it’s principle focus, making us laugh. The closest we get to that was the first film of this Saturday’

JoJo Rabbit

There is a lot to laugh at in this fantasy film about the waning days of World War Two. It is told from the perspective of a ten year old boy who has made Adolph Hitler his imaginary friend. The film mocks the notion of radical nationalism and it shows fanaticism in some pretty silly ways. The preposterous claims about Jews made by the Nazis come in for some pretty funny exaggeration, and the hopelessness of the war is told through the story of two kids, a teenager and a mother who struggles to be supportive to her child while remaining true to her ethics. The movie takes a pretty dramatic turn and I could hear the whole audience respond to it as we were watching in the dark. This provides another reason to enjoy theatrical exhibition of movies where the collective experience adds to the power of the film.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

This has been my go to film this last year. I’ve seen it twice on the big screen in it’s summer release, I watched it on a plane and once on home video, so today marks the fifth time I saw the film since it came out last July. I was hot on the film before it opened, warm after the first viewing, but heated up substantially with each subsequent visit. Leonardo DiCaprio is the lead, nominated for Best Actor, but the movie belongs to the guy carrying his load, Brad Pitt as stuntman/gofer Cliff Booth. Pitt gets three big fight scenes and excels in all of them. He makes Cliff a laconic throwback to old school Hollywood stuntmen and at the same time a transition to the new Hollywood. Leo’s Rick Dalton will have a harder time adjusting to the new ways but the film gives them both a little hope at the conclusion. The revisionist history of this film is the most compelling thing about it. If you don’t stick around for the last fifteen minutes, you are missing one of the most violent and joyful conclusions of a fairy tale ever told.


This is the one that I had not yet seen and about which there has been so much talk. Director Bong Joon Ho is the toast of the film world and the movie won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It is the top rated film of 2019 on the LAMB, and I saw several on-line rankings that said it was the best film of the decade. Okay, here is the thing, it is great, extremely well written and acted, it however is being overcooked and it will be endangered of having a backlash if people keep pushing the greatest ever narrative.

Somehow, this became a film that is about income inequity, and I think a lot of social warriors want to jump on that to do a little virtue signalling.  That seems like a bad idea to me because the have nots appear to not have from bad choices. They all have talents but in a cliche worthy of a superhero movie, “if only they used their talent for good rather than evil”. The Kims ingratiate themselves into the Park household by being the kinds of employees that you would want. Mr. Kim knows the roads and learns a Mercedes well enough to be a good driver, his wife is the kind of housekeeper for the Parks that she never is at home. The daughter may be faking the art therapy thing, but she is having a positive effect on the Parks son. Ki-Woo, the son,  is a capable tutor but his lack of University status might hold him back. It’s not really clear why the two offspring who are so gifted are not at university. This may be a place where the implication is poverty, but that is subtle at best.

What is clear is that the Kims delight in taking advantage of the Parks. They maneuver two people out of jobs in devious ways and they congratulate themselves for doing so. The only fault that the Parks seem to have that might justify the audience sympathy for the Kims, is a not very realistic olfactory failing. The Kims smell like poverty. When that becomes the trigger for an unfortunate event later in the film, it certainly seems to be overblown.

The movie reminded me of a cross between “The Sting” and “Fargo”. There is a confidence game being played that runs out of control by unanticipated events. Those surprises are the kinds of things that provoked the violence in the Coen Brothers movie. From the beginning however, in Fargo we have two low lifes that we know are killers, so the explosions of violence seem reasonable to the characters. The twist in this film turns people who were not particularly nice but who were not killers, into potentially violent actors. The sort of stuff that we might have laughed at as innocuous petty crime becomes something very dark, very quickly. A new layer of social class is being brought in and it is even more inequitable. So the metaphor begins again. The metaphor even becomes a theme in the story and that is a little obvious as well.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the film. There may be something wrong with the folks who are over analyzing it as social commentary, and that is something that put me off a bit. I’m reacting to the reaction rather than the movie.


This continued to be my favorite film of the year, even after viewing all the others. Several people in the audience as I was walking out at the end of a long day were overheard saying “well, they saved the best for last”. I think that was true.   The gimmick of the film, being shot as if one continuous take, is a technical marvel but it also works for dramatic purposes. This was an intensely dangerous and stress filled day in the lives of two ordinary soldiers. When we see that they are part of a large army and we get hints about the equally dangerous days that each of those other soldiers that we see our two leads passing are having, it is even more compelling.

If Roger Deakins doesn’t win for cinematography, something is just wrong. The complexity of the shots is hard to believe given how smoothly the images float in front of us. The expertise required to handle the night time scenes is also worthy of an award all on it’s own. The composition and lighting of those sequences are both beautiful and nightmarish.

I did mention the two leads in my previous review but I’m not sure I gave them as much credit as they deserve. Dean-Charles Chapman as the determined younger brother who is given this mission because he will be motivated to carry it out, is a stand in for all of us who are naive enough to think that mere will alone is enough to accomplish a task. He of course does show that he has more than will, but his naivete is frustrating to us emotionally and another victim of the horrors that war is. George MacKay as the slightly more weary companion, imbues the film with the valor that an ignoble soldier finds in trying to do right by his commanders and friends. Either of them would have been valid choices for awards consideration despite their lack of star status.

AMC Best Picture Showcase Day One

As is our custom , we visited the Best Picture Showcase to catch up on all the films nominated this year. Also as usual, we have already seen most of them so it is a revisit for some of these movies but each day of the showcase this year will feature a movie that is new to us.

Phantom Thread was maybe the most divisive film my family seen this year.  My daughter loved it  and so did I. My wife hated it, she compared it to “The Tree of Life” a film that I personally also I hated.  The film is extremely funny but also extremely tight and I mean that in a literal sense. Daniel Day Lewis’ character is so tightly wound that he could fracture at any moment, he makes Samuel Jackson in “Unbreakable” look positively rubber like.  I’m not sure if the film is supposed to be a comedy but it definitely played incredibly humorous.

The story is hard do explain. Reynolds Woodcock is a dress designer at the highest level of passion who has difficulty relating to anything except his own self interest. He finds a woman that he falls in love with for reasons that are hard to understand. Both he and his work are effected by her for her.  Everybody experiencing his personality would be incredibly frustrated and angry. If our partners behaved in the manner that either of these two engage in, the relationship would end, but somehow it brings them closer together. I thought that the whole point ultimately was for the film to show how meticulous they are in their relationship, in the same manner that he is meticulous in the dresses that he makes. I can see however why my wife found it frustrating be because it is incredibly slow moving and deliberately paced. 

Obviously the dress design are fantastic but the film barely lingers on them instead it focuses on the quirks and idiosyncrasy of Daniel Day Lewis’ character and his relationship with Alma the woman that he may be in love with. It turns out to be one of the most amusing and twisted love stories you will ever see, and it is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who knows how to make even a slow moving train [of a gown] look compelling. 

Lady Bird  So I liked this film much better the second time then I did the first time I saw it.  I think I came in better prepared to appreciate the characters and since I knew what the story involved I could pay attention to the details of how main characters interacted instead of worrying about the plot. Both actresses are excellent and Laurie Metcalf especially impressed me more as her character truly does act in frustrating ways but also in very loving ways.  I do think that if I were Sacramento I’d be a little bummed out about the way I was referred to by Lady Bird. At the end of the film there is a nice pay off and maybe I could be more forgiving just as Julie is when Lady Bird returns to her and tries to renew their friendship.  

Once again my favorite scene in the movie remains the prom moment when the two girls re-established their friendship.  It felt real in very satisfying coming of age manner.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri   My level of respect for this film went up seeing it a second time and I already thought it was one of the better films at the last year. Francis McDormand is clearly the future Oscar winner. I think Sam Rockwell will definitely win this year is well,  which is too bad because his competition includes his costar Woody Harrelson. Harrelson is really excellent in this film and deserve the nomination. I also think that the theme of the movie is a little different on my second go round. While it may be hard to believe,  I do think that the movie has something to say about forgiveness.  There at least four major character who have to make a decision to forgive something. That act does not come for each character in the same place and for the same reasons but it is critical to appreciating the characters who are not all likable. 

I still think the film is about the rage Francis McDormand’s character goes through passions that are conveyed in her eyes and vocal tone.  The film does have redemptive arcs but they do not attempt to whitewash the negative characters but rather they are presented as much more complex than we might have thought. “Three Billboards”  remains a film that goes in directions that you never expect.

The Shape of Water  I suspect this will be the eventual Best Picture Winner. I say that not as an advocate of the film itself but rather as an analyst of Academy tendencies. This fairy tale, told with extreme moments of unpleasantness interspersed with moments of great beauty has the qualities the Academy will want to award. It has a director with a background in foreign films and independent movies, who also happens to not be the least preferred heritage of the moment. 

There are several heavy handed moments and a very clunky musical interlude that detracts from the tone the film developed. The imaginary oppression in this film is a surrogate and companion for actual oppression that is shown in the movie. The actors are all very good but their parts are a little too on the nose when it comes to the themes. The production design is really top notch and the movie looks great. If there is a film that will deny Roger Deakins his Oscar, it will be this movie for the work of Dan Laustsen. 

AMC Best Picture Showcase Day 2

Day two promised to be a long one. There are five films left and none of them is a crisp ninety minutes. Even the two that manage to come in under two hours are deliberately paced. Shane, who has been our regular host for a couple of years now, was out of town but AMC employee Johnny was an enthusiastic substitute and ran the trivia with efficiency. Of course maybe I say that because we cleaned up with three movie poster prizes and some Batman Lego pieces.  I’d seen all of the films already, so this will mostly be a quick recap and there are links back to my original comments in each title and picture below.


As an exploration in anthropology, this was a revelation to me. I’d not expected myself to have a lot of empathy for drug dealers but the way this story unfolds gives us a lot more to connect with. The three part structure of the film is not subtle but it does choose the three stops in Chiron’s life that seem to be most critical in our understanding of him. As much praised as the first chapter was, I found the last chapter with the regretful visit with his mother and the reunion with his somewhat reformed school buddy Kevin, to be most interesting this time out. The performances are very solid in this adult world.

LION was pretty critical of this film when I first saw it. The structure is so bifurcated that it seems like two different pictures. On this viewing I was more able to appreciate the connection between the two and give the second section a little more credit. Inevitably, it is the miraculous story of Saroo’s use of Google Earth to reconnect with his original family which is the heart of the film. Little boy lost is

found, but the story has some sad twists to it. Once again I cried at the last ten minutes of the movie as our hero reconciles his two lives and we discover some resilience in his mothers as well. I did not give Nicole Kidman much credit before but as I watched the movie again, my appreciation for her work was elevated. Dev Patel is a good actor, and supporting actor is the right category for him even though he is the first listed star of the film.


Hacksaw + Ridge

This movie is the closest thing to a sure thing for me. I am eternally grateful to our fathers and grandfathers for the sacrifices they made in two world wars. The exceptionalism of Desmond Doss is a perfect illustration of the diversity of Americans who stood up to tyranny in all kinds of ways. I recently listened to a Lambcast where one blogger complained about this movie and the prayer that Doss made on that day of his heroism. She found it cliched and annoying, she also asked about the triage issue. Doss acted as a fellow soldier would at times rather than just as a medic. I found it humbling and inspiring. The opening act in the film should get some credit as well, Hugo Weaving was not nominated but he was very good as the battle embittered father of Doss, and an indirect inspiration for the choices he made.

Arrival movie about communication is also a thoughtful puzzle for us to solve. This second viewing allowed me to percieve scenes in a way that I could not have expected in the first screening. There are secrets revealed at the end of the movie which force us to rethink much of what is going on. Since there is a time shifting component to the process, it also introduces some of those pesky conundrums that make our brains hurt to much if we get carried away trying to work them all out. I can confidently say that the biggest Oscar snub this year was Amy Adams, who carries this movie in almost every frame and who not only deserved to be nominated but also to win. The production design her also deserves to be singled out, it sells the concepts in great ways, both the fantastic and the mundane.


Hidden Figures

My wife has been sick the last two days and she toughed it out as long as she could but this film was starting at 8:30 and she was spent, so we left before we got to re-watch this fine entertainment.  I think this is a popular choice to include in the categories that it was nominated in, but I will be surprised if it wins in any of them. While the story and the themes are important, and the film was entertaining, the film making did not seem extraordinary. This is an excellent film that deserved to be included but it is not quite in the same class as some of the other contenders. A second viewing changed my mind a little about Manchester By the Sea” and “Lion”, maybe this one would have gone up in my mind as well.

AMC 2017 Best Picture Showcase Day 1

So we put on our lanyards and started off another year of the AMC Best Picture Showcase at 10:00 am on Saturday Morning. Our host for another year was Shane, a long time employee at the AMC Santa Anita 16. He greeted us and set up the schedule for the day. There are four films on this weeks menu, next week there will be five. I still haven’t found anyone willing to do the 24 hour marathon with me. Oh Well, maybe next year. I’ve already seen all the films so this is a recap. The titles and pictures will link you to my original comments.

Manchester By the Sea

A movie that has improved in my esteem with a second viewing. There was nothing wrong with it the first time out, it was just so overwhelmingly tough to view that some of the nuances that make it a great film slipped by. As hard as it is to re-experience, it is rewarding in additional ways. The sadness hangs like a pall over almost everything, but there are moments of humor throughout, which help make the story feel completely human. Casey Affleck is almost certainly going to win the Award for his acting performance here. Completely deserved as he manages the difficult task of portraying a man paralyzed by grief and guilt, who must find at least a little room in his life for the family he has remaining.


I still have the same issues with this movie that I first had on viewing it. This is a very stage-bound set of dialogue, performed wonderfully by the cast, but still  a two set scene. Director Denzel Washington has taken the story as far as he can to make it feel more like a movie, but in spite of some trash trucks, Pittsburgh neighborhoods and a scene at a public building with some old murals, it still comes down to actors standing around talking to each other in the backyard or kitchen. If you don’t know baseball, half the metaphors in this film will leave you uncertain as to what the character of Troy Maxson is talking about. I understood, but the poetry of the diamond sounds too conspicuously well written.

Hell or High Water

 This is a movie that has grown on me more every time I have seen it. If there is a chance for an Oscar upset, this is the movie I would be happiest to see take the prize. There are four really good performances at the heart of this film, and a half dozen smaller roles that add so much character to the movie. Once again I was impressed with the work of Ben Foster as the older of two brothers, who is not as smart as his younger sibling, but has the gumption and fierceness to push their plan of economic justice to fruition. The ambiguity of the ending is perfect, it feels like a film from my youth, in the glorius days of the last golden age of Hollywood, the 1970s.

La La Land

This exuberant update of the Hollywood musical, stole my heart when I first saw it. On second viewing, the few lapses and pacing issues were more apparent, but they bothered me only slightly. I finally downloaded the digital version of the soundtrack to my device and I expect to be listening t it all week. The two lead performances are even better when you have adjusted to the musicals style. This is the front runner for good reasons. I still expect it to be victorious,  although that sense of inevitability may detract a bit from the current experience.