Best Picture Countdown #4: Lady Bird

“The only thing exciting about 2002 is that it’s a palindrome.”Saorise Ronan as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, Lady Bird (2017)

Dir: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saorise Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, etc.
Runtime: 1hr33min
Rating: R

Lady Bird is a coming-of-age dramedy about a California teen in her senior year of high school in early post-9/11 America. As she endures the emotional turmoils and personal explorations that come with growing up and preparing to leave the nest, Lady Bird (Ronan) also must handle a rollercoaster relationship with her mother (Metcalf).

Lady_Bird_posterOverall, this film is a delightful look into the life of a teenage girl who is unsure of who she is at a pivotal time in her life, and desperately wants to find her place in the world – she wants to leave her hometown in order to do so, though other forces might compel her to stay. There are countless notable coming-of-age films already out there and more coming every year, but Lady Bird still feels fresh and original. It’s not afraid to let the heroine fail on occasion, make mistakes, or look foolish, and doesn’t sugarcoat painful realizations, but it’s still so easy to root for Lady Bird as she deals with the trials of falling in love, making new friends/potentially losing old ones, and waiting eagerly by the mailbox for college acceptance letters. Bu the film’s high point is the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother, Marian – it will make you want to call your mom and apologize for all the bullshit you put her through in your angsty teen years, and she might have some things to atone for, too. I mean, I saw it with my mom (who has, on more than one occasion, told me to stop dragging my feet) so I got to skip a step afterward… I just had to turn to my left and say, “sorry for not sleeping through my alarm and forcing you to drive me to school so often,” when the credits rolled.

Saorise Ronan masterfully delivers a moody, angst-filled, yet charming and hopeful performance as the titular character. I was once a teen girl myself and recognized a lot of my own “strife” in Lady Bird’s struggles and triumphs, and though her antics might be seen as silly at times or her behavior as irrational, Ronan’s genuine portrayal of a girl seeking her purpose and place in the world is undeniably grounded in reality. I’d love to see her take home the Oscar for Best Actress – been rooting for her since the Atonement days – but I’m not sure she can edge out one actress in particular. Metcalf also turns in a marvelous performance as Marian, Lady Bird’s mother, and their interactions with one another are so up-and-down, yet it’s clear how much they care for one another, even as they trade hurtful insults or are mired in tense silences. I found myself agreeing with her in some moments, yet decrying her passive aggressive comments in others – her nuanced performance is perfect for this role, and a wonderful complement to Ronan’s. In the continuous take where she’s driving off after taking her daughter to the airport, her face reveals a collage of raw, genuine emotion, and the transformation is simply spectacular. I’d love to hear her name read out on Sunday night for Supporting Actress.

Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is visually stunning, poignant, full of heart, and well-balanced in its focus, but unless the del Toro train stops rolling, it’s doubtful she’ll take home the gold. Her screenplay is sharp, witty, laden with realistic conversations (Kyle’s dialogue is so convincing it’s almost painful to hear, because anyone who grew up in that era definitely knew a Kyle or two) but in such a close race, it’s difficult to predict who will emerge victorious on March 4th. I just know that no matter the result, I won’t be disappointed, and Gerwig is a personal favorite.

Lady Bird is an undeniable success and highly deserving of the accolades it has already received and the nominations still pending, but even though its wonderful, I’m not predicting a Best Picture victory on Sunday night. Regardless, this film should be celebrated and I am excited to see more storytelling and directing from Gerwig in the future.

Oscar Nominations
Best Director (Gerwig)
Best Original Screenplay (Gerwig)
Best Actress (Ronan)
Best Supporting Actress (Metcalf)
Best Film

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Best Picture Countdown #5: Dunkirk

“There’s no hiding from this, son. We have a job to do.” – Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson, Dunkirk (2017).

Dir: Chris Nolan
Starring: Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Fionn Whitehead, James D’Arcy, Harry Styles, etc.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr 47min

Dunkirk is a war film that utilizes three different perspectives (land, air, and sea) and a trio of timelines to depict the events of the Dunkirk evacuation during WWII. Over the course of the film, the three viewpoints gradually sync up and the characters collide with one another as a brave fleet of civilian boats seeks to rescue the stranded soldiers.

This film is probably higher on my list than on most, but it’s not just because I’m a Chris Nolan fangirl with a penchant for war films. I mean, as much as I admire him, I don’t think he’s going to take home the Best Director award, though I was pleased to see him get his first nod. I’m actually stunned he’s never been nominated before, but that’s a convo for another time…

Dunkirk_Film_posterOne of the film’s greatest strengths is in what it lacks: dialogue. The tension builds in conjunction with the cinematography, sound effects, and pulse-pounding music, not the words and conversations of the characters. The whine of the planes and the rat-a-tat of dogfights, the crashing of bombs on a beach, the yells of frazzled soldiers and the unnerving creak of a ship about to sink, all combine with the vivid imagery of bleak sands, the dour grey of a morning sky, the bobbing of civilian ships forging a path across the waves, and a shivering soldier stranded on floating debris. Seeing this film in IMAX was a cinematic experience unlike any I’ve seen before, and I was so engrossed the entire time I forgot to eat my candy – something I can safely say has never happened before. This film came out in wide release months ago, long before most of the other nominated films, and I can still clearly visualize several scenes because of how much of an impact they had and how brilliantly they stood out onscreen.

While the entire cast is great, Dunkirk is truly an ensemble effort; I found myself invested in each character’s journey, as a significant portion of time is spent on each of the three perspectives, giving each story the chance to unfold without feeling rushed or drawn out. The timelines weave in and out from one another, but do not come together until the very end, which forces the viewer to put some pieces together and heightens the suspense in crucial moments. And the presence of Harry Styles isn’t a major distraction.

As immersed as I was by the performances and atmosphere of this film – and the apparent historical accuracy in comparison to Darkest Hour – I doubt it will take home the ultimate award on March 4th. I’m not putting money on Nolan either, though Dunkirk might be the best example of his directing chops to date. It’s a dark horse for Best Cinematography, but I actually have another favorite in mind for that race, and though it’s my personal favorite for Original Score (as in, Zimmer’s score seriously enhanced the film, arguably more so than the others) I don’t see it taking that one home either. But, as with the BAFTAs, I think it has an excellent shot at the other technical awards, both sound mixing and sound editing, and has a good chance at film editing as well.

The events of WWII have been depicted countless times across various media and in countless films over the years, but Dunkirk still manages to present something refreshing and new. Nolan may get flak for being “pretentious” and “cerebral” with his films (the end of Interstellar comes to mind…) but in this outing, his experimentation with new narrative styles, his striving for authenticity, the intense focus on visual elements, and the reliance on generating an intense atmosphere with limited dialogue and mostly nameless characters is a cinematic triumph worth seeing on the big screen, and well-deserving of a Best Picture nomination.

Oscar Nominations
Best Director (Nolan)
Best Cinematography
Best Original Score
Best Production Design
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing
Best Film Editing 
Best Picture 

My full review of Dunkirk from July 2017 is available HERE

One and Done

In my experience as an avid movie watcher, I’ve seen several films that lack the rewatch-ability factor, which means (at least personally) they aren’t films that seem meant to be watched more than once. Of course, this varies by person, but here’s a list of films that I’ve only seen once and have 0% desire to see again, and my reasons why.

1.) Saving Private Ryan (1998)
This is a phenomenal film about the experience of WWII and a band of determined American soldiers who are attempting to find Private Ryan, the last remaining of four brothers, and send him home. This film is brilliant and was totally robbed of the Best Picture Oscar, but it isn’t an easy watch – the opening half-hour is especially gut-churning and difficult to watch for its graphic depiction of the events at Omaha Beach during the Normandy Invasion. I was too young to see this film in theaters and can’t imagine how hard it must have been for people to witness on the big screen, especially for veterans who were there during the actual events. The film is widely lauded as being accurate in its portrayal of violence and warfare, and though it is a memorable and marvelous work of film-making, and well-deserving of its enduring reputation, one viewing was enough for me.

2.) A Clockwork Orange (1971)
I was subjected to Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s novel in a film class. It is a dark exploration into the idea of “ultra-violence” with an utterly baffling sociopathic protagonist who is involved in a variety of horrendous crimes, and is later subjected to horrendous punishments. But just because a number of bad things are depicted by this film does not mean it is a bad film. For the record, this film – as a work of art – is great. The acting is astounding, the depiction of society is thought-provoking, the imagery is stunning, and there are countless shocking and horrid moments that linger in the mind long after the film is done. It deserves the notoriety it garnered and the controversy it kicked up and remains a powerful film so many years later. I am glad to have seen it. But it is not enjoyable. And a lot of horrible things happen in it that I never want to see again. But man, it is a spectacle. If you are easily upset by violence, DO NOT WATCH.

3.) Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Yeah… there’s a Kubrickian theme to this list. To be fair, he is one of my favorite directors, and there are many Kubrick films that I have seen/would see again, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and Dr. Strangelove.  But Eyes Wide Shut, an erotic drama/thriller that features a sex cult, orgies, and young women being sold into prostitution was just too… bizarre, for me. Which is saying a lot, because I like weird films. It’s got great performances, and I have since enjoyed mocking the “I’M A DOCTOR!” line from Tom Cruise in my everyday life, but by the end of this film I was just… confused. I didn’t get what the film was trying to do, and, as a result, didn’t much like it or appreciate it, even though some critics lauded it as Kubrick’s best (to which I ask, have you ever seen 2001?). It’s one of Kubrick’s works that didn’t land for me, and I didn’t find that much to enjoy about it or glean from it. It didn’t help that I had to watch it in a class of my college peers, which was pretty uncomfortable (I’m fairly sure it was the uncut version, as well), and truth be told, though it has its merits, I am 100% happy to never watch this movie ever again, purely for the fact that I didn’t like it.

4.) Borat (2006)
I was actually forced to watch this film as a final for my Documentary film class in college, and I hated every single second of it. I do like Sacha Baron Cohen as an actor, but some of his roles are simply not my brand of humor. I’m sure some folks could watch Borat’s exploits in his green mankini and his generally offensive, occasionally racist, and always inappropriate humor over and over again and always find it funny, but I am not one of those folks, so Borat was definitely a one and done for me.

5.) The Revenant (2015)
I loved this movie when I saw it in theaters, and consider this unconventional western about survival and vengeance in an unexplored frontier one of the most impressive films in recent memory. The cinematography is stunning, the cast is amazing (Tom Hardy is so immersed he’s unrecognizable, and Leo got his long-deserved Oscar for his role) and the plot is engrossing, but it is a slog. The film feels as exhausting and grueling to the viewer as Hugh Glass’s journey through the wilderness is portrayed, from the bear attack to the self-soldering to the final showdown in the snow. That’s not a bad thing – if anything, it’s only more indicative of brilliant film-making – but it is not a film I have any desire to see again, because, as the title implies, the film remains with the viewer long after the credits have rolled, and I don’t need to see it again to remember how much of an impact it had on me. I can still recall the opening shot – that long, continuous take – fairly vividly, proof of just how powerful the film is and how it sticks in your memory.

6.) Grave of the Fireflies (1998)
UGH, the tears. I watched this film on a portable DVD player in the car on a 6 hour road trip, and I started ugly-crying in an Arby’s drive-thru when I got to the end. Easily one of the most powerful war-themed movies I’ve ever seen, and one of Studio Ghibli’s finest, Grave of the Fireflies shows the impact of WWII on a pair of young Japanese children, Seita and Setsuko. This movie is not for the faint of heart; the animation is beautiful, the story is equal parts moving and haunting, it wrenches the heartstrings in uncomfortable, yet important ways, and it shows a perspective of war that is far different from films that focus on valor and victory and rising against the odds to defeat the “bad guy.”  It’s difficult to imagine, after seeing both, that another film on this list (Saving Private Ryan) and this film technically take place during the same war. I highly recommend this film to anyone who is interested in the various perspectives on war and WWII in particular, but it’s definitely not one that I intend to watch over and over again.

7.) Un Chien Andalou (Andalusian Dog) (1929)
Look, an obscure title! I am a snob!
Anyway, I probably would watch this surrealist film again, but not in its entirety. As in, I never, ever want to see the eyeball cutting scene ever again. Ever. It is one of the worst things I have ever seen onscreen. The rest of it is worth examining again, though, because it’s really f*cking weird and it provokes a lot of thought. There’s a ton of artistic imagery and unique ideas presented in this film that are very cool and wonderfully bizarre, like a trip into some twisted version of the Twilight Zone. But if I ever do see it again, I am skipping the eyeball scene. Just trust me on this – if you are squeamish, DO NOT WATCH THIS FILM.

8.) Le Sang des bêtes (Blood of the Beasts) (1949)
Look! Another obscure film!
This film, which is an artistic exploration into the contrast between idyllic Parisian life and what happens within the walls of slaughterhouses is the main impetus behind my decision to convert to pescatarianism in 2013. I am no longer a pescatarian for health reasons, but the image of a cow being killed is forever imprinted in my brain thanks to this film. It’s a unique, 20-minute long juxtaposition of surrealist and realist imagery and seeing it left a profound impact on me. I’m glad I saw it, but never, ever want to see it again.