TRIANGLE OF SADNESS was the last 2023 best picture nominee I hadn’t seen, but I’d been planning to watch it anyway. It’s the latest from Swedish director Ruben Östlund, and his second in a row to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes. I haven’t seen the previous one (2017’s THE SQUARE), so my impression of him comes from FORCE MAJEURE (2014). Although I liked it I guess I didn’t review it, and I mostly just remember the A+ premise (a guy ruins his marriage in one moment because an avalanche seems to be headed for his family and he runs off without helping them).
The new one further explores the subject of flawed rich people on fateful luxury vacations. It begins with a young couple, Carl (Harris Dickinson, MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean, DEATH RACE 3: INFERNO). Carl is a seemingly pretty successful male model (the people at an audition say “It’s you!” in awe when they open his portfolio to a black and white ad for perfume or something) and Yaya is also a model but considers herself a professional influencer. The first chapter of the movie chronicles a passive aggressive comment about who pays for dessert escalating to a screaming near break-up public scene in a hotel elevator just because Carl doesn’t know how to let it go. The long, slow boil from him kind of having a point to making you want to throw him out a window for not moving on to a new topic is kind of a test to see if you’re gonna be able to stand the movie, which is not in a hurry to get anywhere. It’s just cruising. (read the rest of this shit…)
See, this is why I continue being a best picture completist – it gets me to watch some good movies I was planning to skip. This year when they announced the ten nominees I had already seen six of them and was planning to see another three. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is the only one I’d had no desire to see. In fact I’d been hoping it wouldn’t get nominated, and felt a little resentment that according to my self-imposed rules I was gonna have to watch it.
I have no familiarity with the 1929 novel by Erich Maria Ramarque, the 1930 film version by Lewis Milestone, or the 1979 tv version, so my skepticism was not about being a purist. I just had heard an impassioned argument that it’s a movie with cool battle scenes that turn a powerful anti-war story into some SAVING PRIVATE RYAN shit about heroism and sacrifice. And that didn’t sound like something I wanted to see. (read the rest of this shit…)
WOMEN TALKING is the new best picture nominated film from writer/director Sarah Polley, who is minor-key beloved as an actress for people around my age (THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, GO, EXISTENZ, DAWN OF THE DEAD, SPLICE), but these days is more known as an acclaimed filmmaker (she directed AWAY FROM HER, TAKE THIS WALTZ and STORIES WE TELL). Now I’ve finally seen one of the ones she directed, and it lives up to her reputation. It’s based on a novel, but I would’ve guessed it was based on a play, because it’s one of those stories with a really concise but heavy-duty set up to put a top shelf ensemble of actors into a limited location (in this case a hay loft) with much to discuss, debate, and decide. Kind of a 12 ANGRY MEN deal, except there’s very intentionally only one man with a speaking part in the whole movie. And he’s way more sad than angry.
Canadian author Miriam Toews wrote the novel as a “reaction through fiction” to a real thing that happened in a Mennonite colony in Bolivia. So bear with me – this is awful. In an isolated religious colony (here seemingly in the U.S.) women and even young girls have, for some time, been waking up bruised and covered in blood as they have been repeatedly knocked unconscious by cow tranquilizer and then raped. For years they’ve been told by the elders that they imagined it or it was the Devil or a ghost or a punishment from God or all that kind of bullshit. But before the movie begins our young narrator Autje (Kate Hallett) and her friend Neitje (Liv McNeil) caught one of them running away, they got him to name the others, they were arrested and taken to jail. The men of the colony have gone to the city to bail them out, and given the women 48 hours to forgive them, or they will be excommunicated. Can you believe that shit? (read the rest of this shit…)
SOUND OF METAL is not what I pictured at all. It’s about this guy Ruben (Riz Ahmed, VENOM) who’s a heavy metal* drummer, and then he loses his hearing. That’s the part I did know. The poster and the trailer and everything all focus on him shirtless on stage banging away on those things, and especially since it was nominated for best picture I had to figure it was about him struggling and overcoming and finding some thrillingly dramatic way to keep playing. I’ve heard of deaf people who play music based on vibrations, so I don’t think it’s impossible. It’s loud music, after all.
That’s not what this is at all. In the beginning he’s on tour with his group Blackgammon, which is just him and bleached-eyebrow singer girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke, READY PLAYER ONE). They live in an RV (a little nicer than NOMADLAND) so they’ll just play a show at some small place, try to sell some records and merch, then move along to the next town and find the next place.
The hearing loss seems pretty out of the blue. His ears just start ringing before a show. Then it sounds like he’s underwater. He just kinda pretends it’s nothing and hopes it will pass. Doesn’t even tell Lou. During the show he just goes for it, and Lou is looking at him like something’s wrong, so we wonder how far off he is. Suddenly he loses it, gets up and runs out the fire exit. (read the rest of this shit…)
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN is a black comedy I heard some good things about and had been wanting to see for a while and then right around the time it came out on disc it got nominated for best picture, director, original screenplay, actress and editing Oscars. Okay – didn’t know it was gonna be that kind of party, but I’m down.
The movie opens in a bar as three co-worker bros talk shit. One of them (Adam Brody, JENNIFER’S BODY) seems like the nice one, standing up for a female co-worker the other guys are complaining about, and seeming unimpressed by their sexist horndog talk. And of course when they spot Cassie (Carey Mulligan, DRIVE [the Refn one, not the Dacascos one]) so plastered she can barely sit upright on a bench, he’s the one who goes over and tries to make sure she’s okay.
Put quotes on that last phrase. We all kinda know where this is going: he offers her a ride home, playing it like hey, I know what this looks like, but I’m just trying to make sure she gets home safe before some jerk comes along. But the next thing you know it’s why don’t you come up to my apartment and let’s have a drink (!?) and then he’s on top of her taking her clothes off while she asks him what he’s doing and he keeps telling her it’s okay, she’s safe.
And actually she is fairly safe, because as she reveals when she sits up, she’s completely sober. She just has this hobby of faking drunk to see what assholes try to take advantage of her, and then shame them when they do. Try to scare them out of doing it again. Just a weird vigilante crusade of hers. (read the rest of this shit…)
NOMADLAND is a simple, quiet character and/or lifestyle study. It’s shot all on location, mostly outdoors, and feels largely improvised. It centers on the great Frances McDormand (DARKMAN) as a woman named Fern, who is often alone. But when she’s not, she’s often working exclusively with non-professional actors just being themselves, using their own names. (Two of her co-stars are credited as “Linda May” and “Swankie,” which is also what she calls their characters.)
Adapted from the non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by the journalist Jessica Bruder, these are characters and/or real people – mostly of what used to be called “retirement age” – who have either chosen or been forced into a life living in vans or RVs, crossing the country to take on different seasonal jobs. Fern’s husband died, and then the mining town where they lived did too, and for years she’s been “doing the van thing,” as a friend she runs into at a store describes it. Everyone she knows from before seems concerned for her, and offers to let her stay with them. And we will learn over the course of the movie that it’s not just pride that makes her turn down their offers. (read the rest of this shit…)
When I heard writer/director Adam McKay was doing a movie with Christian Bale (TERMINATOR SALVATION) playing Dick Cheney, I couldn’t picture what that would be, but I assumed I would love it. The former Saturday Night Live writer has much more experience in beloved Will Ferrell comedies than in Serious Important Movies, but I enjoyed THE BIG SHORT‘s novel and audacious attempt to make entertainment out of explaining the early 2000s housing bubble. Many worship ANCHORMAN or STEP BROTHERS, but for me it’s TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY that makes me laugh no matter which part I rewatch for the one-thousandth time on cable. Maybe people don’t think of it this, way, but to me it’s the best pop culture portrait of what was going on in our country during the Bush years. So I figured McKay had good instincts about this stuff. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE FAVOURITE is the best picture nominated latest from director Yorgos Lanthimos, who I know from THE LOBSTER. I’m behind on this guy because I still haven’t even seen DOGTOOTH, let alone THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER, but I get the feeling this is the least weird of his movies. It’s also the only one he doesn’t have a writing credit on, instead using a script by newcomer Deborah Davis (her first produced screenplay, even though she wrote the first draft 20 years ago!) and Australian TV writer Tony McNamara. It’s a historical costume drama about palace intrigue, nothing conceptually crazy going on here, but it has a distinctive off-kilter feel and biting humor not always beholden to things people would’ve said at the time. (read the rest of this shit…)
Of all the stories we tell over and over, “coming of age” might be the most universal. I don’t care who you are, as long as you live to be a certain age, at some point you’re gonna come of some of that age. And when you see some fictional (or, let’s be honest, usually semi-autobiographical) character’s age coming of you can compare and contrast to your experiences. You see echoes of your own life, revive emotions that were so potent at the time, now faded, learn about other people who had it different. So I have not specifically experienced being a girl in a private school in Sacramento in the oughts, and I definitely have no personal understanding of how it feels to be someone who could identify a song as Dave Mathews and have an emotional response to it that involves embarrassment, nostalgia and personal meaning*, but I can also see those things on screen and have them feel familiar and real and relatable.
(*I did see him in public one time and I could tell he was famous by the women who started gathering around him but I had to ask somebody else who he was) (read the rest of this shit…)
HACKSAW RIDGE is a twisted, uninhabitable mass of rock with a steep edge and riddled with secret caves, one of which is home to 2×4-carrying WWF legend “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. But there is no movie about that so until then we’ll have to make do with director Mel Gibson (APOCALYPTO)’s identically titled HACKSAW RIDGE, the best-picture-nominated movie based on the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN), the only WWII Medal of Honor recipient who was a conscientious objector. See, he wanted to do his part to fight Hitler, but he didn’t believe in killing or even touching a gun, so he went as a medic and was really fucking good at saving people’s lives. A reverse AMERICAN SNIPER.
I wonder if he traveled through time if he would kill Baby Hitler, or just try to give first aid to other babies fighting against Baby Hitler? It really makes you think.
The first half or so is before he goes to war. We see him as a little shit, constantly running and climbing and getting in violent scraps with his brother Hal, with no intervention from his drunk asshole dad (Hugo Weaving, BABE), a WWI veteran. Desmond could easily turn into the town bully, but maybe it’s his intense devotion to the family’s Ten Commandments poster that ensures he’s a big dork by the time he grows into Garfield. On one INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE style conveniently fateful day he discovers the two other loves of his life, because he 1) rushes to heroic action in administering a tourniquet and getting an injured person to a hospital where 2) he spots a beautiful nurse (Teresa Palmer, POINT BREAK remake) and decides he will marry her.
But not until his first furlough, because shortly after successfully wooing her he announces that he has to enlist. (read the rest of this shit…)
WAYS YOU CAN SUPPORT THE SHIT OUT OF VERN & OUTLAWVERN.COM
if that's your thing:
Toss me a couple bucks a month, support the good shit, also get access to a bunch of exclusive writing. This is my primary source of writing money that has allowed me to cut down to part time at the day job. Thank you!
2. Buy my books from your local bookseller or somebody