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. 

Lady Bird

The characters portrayed in this film go to Catholic Schools and wear uniforms reflecting that status. Inspired by that vision and setting, I am prepared to make a confession. “Bless me internet for I have sinned. I am not a Catholic so it has been my whole life since my last confession,…I did not love this film.”  Unlike Marion McPherson, I like Lady Bird rather than love her. After hearing so many podcast raves and seeing the 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (which finally dropped today to 99%), maybe I was expecting too much. Don’t get me wrong, this is a perfectly fine movie and it has some excellent qualities to share with us, but it is not a “perfect” film, although I can say it is an accurate and honest one.

One of the guys on the “In Session Film” podcast, said his only complaint was that “hella tight” sounded too early for 2003. He apparently is unaware that the term “hella” has been around the NorCal area since the early seventies and there was a No Doubt song that featured the phrase the year before. To me it sounded completely authentic to time and place. The one thing only that felt inauthentic was a sex scene where the girl keeps her bra on. I understand and respect the right of the film makers to present their story in a manner that is non-lascivious.  This is not an 80s teen comedy after all, but Saoirse Ronan is not Janet Leigh in the opening scene of “Psycho” released in 1960. The idea that a teen Lothario would be passive enough to ignore this undergarment is just ludicrous. Find a more modest angle, or use a bedsheet, which is a lot more probable, and that scene would still work without a topless shot.

I’m really not trying to pick at the film, that was just one minor example of the slight imperfections that people might overlook because they love so much of the rest of the film. Who can blame them? There is a lot to love about this movie. The actors are all pitch perfect.  Saoirse Ronan is deadpan funny in so many scenes that we ought to be laughing a lot. I did, but not as much or as deeply as I expected. Humor is subjective at times, and the contentious nature of her relationship with her mother Marion, while amusing, was also painfully expressed, which did not always deepen the laugh but soured it. The timing of the two actresses, Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, cannot be faulted. They are fine, it is the occasional bitter dialogue that sounds honest but hit my ear just a little too often as trying too hard. The same was true in a scene where “Lady Bird” confronts her best friend when being given the silent treatment. They both throw verbal jabs that are funny, but just a bit too perfectly set up.

Maybe the reason I am not quite as responsive to this is that I have lived this story to a large degree. Maybe I was off a year, but I have a daughter who longed to be going to school in NYC. She had a boyfriend who turned out to be something different than she had hoped. She worked as a barista to make cash so she could pay her own way. She was definitely smart but had work habits that held her back and she found friends late in her high school career in theater. The love/hate relationship was maybe more with her father than her mother, so the crisp dialogue in this film might just be too on the nose.

My favorite scene in the film involves Lady Bird’s sudden realization that she doesn’t want to fit in with her new friends. She wants to go to the prom. That was certainly the opposite of my child, who would never have bent her behavior to curry favor with a group of people she wanted to be “in” with, with only two exceptions, picking up cigarettes and automatically taking a position designed to irritate one or the other of her parents. Lady Bird has to come to realize that abandoning her friend Julie, played with a heart breaking degree of honesty by Beanie Feldstein,  was a big mistake, and it is one of several transformative moments in the movie. Lucas Hedges gets a second opportunity within just a couple of weeks to make a mark on the film business. His part here is deeper and more significant than his role as the neglected surviving sibling in “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri“, and the tenderness between Ronan and he is wonderful despite the bitterness that accompanies it.

Writer/Director Greta Gerwig has fashioned a very effective coming of age story. There are plot elements that you can see coming, and the lines are sometimes to dead on, but it is a great script and film. It is however, just another coming of age story. The performances, elevate the movie quite a bit but the heaping of praise on everything about the movie burdens the experience rather than sharpening it.  There is nothing to not like about the film but that doesn’t make me love it. To take advantage of one of the most derided quotes in movie history, “Love means never having to say you”re sorry”. My guess is that it is apparent how I feel. Sorry.