Saturday, March 31, 2018

Conan & Jordan & Italy

I mean, in theory Jordan breaking character kind of "ruins" the gimmick of the whole schtick.  But in a way, it makes it even funnier.  First of all, we've seen Jordan break his stone face on multiple times in the past --- there's even one in this video when Conan busts out the "sucking at my teat" line.  Secondly, when he totally loses it at the 6:30 mark, I feel what we get next is a glimpse into what the actual relationship between Conan and Jordan is like.  It's all good-natured jibes back and forth and you can tell these two are good friends.  To be frank, I suspect Jordan (who isn't a trained actor, by the way) might break up a lot during these segments and they just edit it out, but this was whole segment was too funny to leave on the cutting room floor. 

And to think, Jordan finally loses it when Conan is just staring at him!  It was the Schlansky look itself that broke Schlansky himself!  I'm going to love this Italy special.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

History Of The Markademy Awards (updated again!)

It's been two years and two lavish ceremonies since my last update, so here's the latest look at Markademy Award history.  I really should go back and fill in the blanks for the pre-2008 acting categories, but that's a fun trip down memory lane best saved for when I have loads of free time.

2017: The Florida Project
Lady Bird, The Meyerowitz Stories, Get Out, Phantom Thread, Spider-Man: Homecoming
Acting awards: Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread), Hong Chau (Downsizing), Richard Jenkins (The Shape Of Water)

2016: Everybody Wants Some!!
Moonlight, Hell Or High Water, Captain America: Civil War, La La Land, Fences, 20th Century Women
Acting awards: Annette Bening (20th Century Women), Denzel Washington (Fences), Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters), Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash)

2015: Mad Max: Fury Road
Spotlight, The Martian, Anomalisa, Carol, Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, The Big Short
Acting awards: Brie Larson (Room), Paul Dano (Love & Mercy), Kristen Stewart (The Clouds Of Sils Maria), Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

2014: Birdman
Force Majeure, Edge Of Tomorrow, Boyhood, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Acting awards: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Chadwick Boseman (Get On Up), Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer), JK Simmons (Whiplash)

2013: The Wolf Of Wall Street
Her, Short Term 12, 12 Years A Slave, All Is Lost, Gravity, Frances Ha
Acting awards: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street), Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Jonah Hill (Wolf of Wall Street)

2012: Life Of Pi
Les Miserables, Moonrise Kingdom, Cloud Atlas, Django Unchained
Acting awards: Marion Cotillard (Rust & Bone), Jack Black (Bernie), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Samuel L. Jackson (Django Unchained)

2011: Midnight In Paris
Hugo, Bridesmaids, The Artist, A Separation, Young Adult
Acting awards: Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn), Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar), Amy Ryan (Win Win), John Hawkes (Martha Marcy May Marlene)

2010: Exit Through The Gift Shop
The Social Network, Toy Story 3, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Inception, Winter's Bone, The Other Guys, Another Year
Acting awards: Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Colin Firth (The King's Speech), Marion Cotillard (Inception), John Hawkes (Winter's Bone)

2009: Inglourious Basterds
A Single Man, In The Loop, A Serious Man, I Love You Man, The Hurt Locker, The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Acting awards: Gabby Sidibe (Precious), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Julianne Moore (A Single Man), Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

2008: The Dark Knight
The Wrestler, Slumdog Millionaire, Happy-Go-Lucky, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Stepbrothers
Acting awards: Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky), Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler), Frances McDormand (Burn After Reading), Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)

2007: Once
No Country For Old Men, Walk Hard, 3:10 To Yuma, Sweeney Todd, The Bourne Ultimatum, Hot Fuzz

2006: The Prestige
Pan's Labyrinth, Children Of Men, The Departed, A Prairie Home Companion

2005: Batman Begins
Good Night And Good Luck, Match Point, Sin City, The 40-Year-Old Virgin

2004: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
The Incredibles, Spider-Man II, Closer, Kill Bill (Part Two)

2003: Love Actually
21 Grams, Kill Bill (Part One), Bad Santa, Old School

2002: Talk To Her
Minority Report, Adaptation., Catch Me If You Can, The Bourne Identity,

2001: Memento
Amelie, Moulin Rouge, Ocean's Eleven, Zoolander

2000: Unbreakable
High Fidelity, Best In Show, Cast Away, Waydowntown

1999: The Talented Mr. Ripley
Galaxy Quest, Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, Three Kings, American Beauty, The Insider, Election, Sleepy Hollow, Office Space

1998: The Big Lebowski
Shakespeare In Love, A Simple Plan, Zero Effect, There's Something About Mary, Run Lola Run, Pleasantville

1997: Jackie Brown
L.A. Confidential, Titanic, Wag The Dog, Chasing Amy

1996: Fargo
Hamlet, Lone Star, The Rock, Kingpin

1995: Dead Man Walking
Apollo 13, Toy Story, Heat, The American President

1994: Pulp Fiction
Trois Couleurs: Red, The Shawshank Redemption, Speed, Dumb and Dumber, Trois Couleurs: White

1993: Short Cuts
Dazed & Confused, Groundhog Day, The Sandlot, Trois Couleurs: Blue, The Fugitive

1992: Unforgiven
A League Of Their Own, A Few Good Men, Noises Off, Wayne's World

1991: The Silence Of The Lambs
The Fisher King, Terminator 2, Beauty and the Beast, Defending Your Life

1990: Edward Scissorhands
Goodfellas, The Grifters, Back To The Future III, Miller's Crossing

1989: Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade
Do The Right Thing, Field Of Dreams, Jesus of Montreal, When Harry Met Sally, Batman, Back To The Future II, Road House

1988: A Fish Called Wanda
The Thin Blue Line, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Die Hard, The Naked Gun, The Last Temptation Of Christ, The Accidental Tourist, Rattle & Hum, Rain Man

1987: The Princess Bride
Planes Trains & Automobiles, Predator, Roxanne, The Last Emperor

1986: Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Platoon, Highlander, Big Trouble In Little China, The Fly

1985: Back To The Future
Fletch, Witness, Anne Of Green Gables, Clue

1984: Ghostbusters
This Is Spinal Tap, Stop Making Sense, The Muppets Take Manhattan, All Of Me

1983: The Dresser
A Christmas Story, Trading Places, Monty Python's Meaning Of Life, Never Say Never Again

1982: Tootsie
E.T., Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Rocky III

1981: Raiders Of The Lost Ark
Chariots Of Fire, Ragtime, Gallipoli, Blow Out

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Hot! Live! Music!

Johnny Marr, "How Soon Is Now"
I've never been much of a Smiths fan, largely because most of their songs sound like tuneless meandering from Morrissey rather than awesome fuzz-rock jams like this one.  It's one of the great near-misses in rock history that the Smiths thought so relatively little of this song that they didn't even release it on a proper record, instead sloughing it off as a B-side.  It became such a cult hit that the band eventually released it, and HSIN became arguably the best-known Smiths song.  

Bruce Springsteen, "Royals"
Bruce performed alongside the Wallflowers at the 1998 MTV Video Awards, and I believe it was Bill Simmons who noted that Bruce so utterly and totally owned "One Headlight" that it must've been disheartening for Jakob Dylan to just stand there and watch another musician completely dominate (yet elevate) your own song.  I can maybe see Lorde feeling the same way after watching this, though she can always just go back to being Stan Marsh on a full-time basis.

Bruce Springsteen, "Stayin' Alive"
The Bee Gees don't need to adopt the persona of a middle-aged cartoon character in the wake of a Bruce cover since their original version is legit one of the best songs of all time.  Even, Bruce is just the best cover artist of all time.  In a related story, the How Did This Get Made episode about the film "Stayin' Alive" (the Saturday Night Fever sequel directed by, you guessed it, Sly Stallone) is one of their best podcasts ever.

Radiohead, "Lotus Flower"
I'm going to see Radiohead this summer, yayyyyy!  If they play this song live, I'm going to shriek like a teenage girl at a Beatles concert, yayyyyyy!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Johnny Come Lately

That “academy award” man is coming to town!  You’ll go for Jimmy as he goes all out for three gals in a jam…And William Cagney’s production really makes the story tick!  C’mon people!  This is for you!

This vaguely threatening tagline can be found on the poster for “Johnny Come Lately,” a 1943 film starring the great James Cagney.  I recently saw this poster and found basically everything about that tagline hilarious, in no small part because it’s very fun to read aloud in an old-timey radio announcer voice.

What struck me as interesting is that technically, it really isn’t all that different from today’s movie promotions.  You often see posters or trailers with credits like “from the producers of…” or stars denoted as “Academy Award winner” or nominee.*  The difference was that back in the day, they were just way less subtle about it.

* = I always love it when a trailer lists 4-5 actors who are all Oscar winners or nominees, and then one person who isn’t.  To use something like Shape Of Water as an example, you have the list of Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, and Richard Jenkins all as past Oscar nominees or winners…and then poor Michael Stuhlbarg.  It makes you think “hmm, maybe you should’ve worked a bit harder, eh, Mike?”  (Of course, the irony of this example is that Stuhlbarg could or should have a couple of nominations to his name already, but c’est la vie.)

Personally, I think “Academy Award man” is a much funnier designation than boring ol’ “Oscar winner.”  It’s both an accurate description AND it sounds sarcastic at the same time.  Like, if Sam Rockwell drops a glass on the floor, I can see Leslie Bibb rolling her eyes and slow-clapping while going “nice work, Academy Award man.” 

That said, wow, the ego on William Cagney.  You don’t really see too many well-known film people nowadays who are famous just for being producers.  Off the top of my head, I guess there’s Harvey Wei….oh, uh, um, er, ah, maybe he’s famous for something else now.  Anyway, back in the day, you often had producers held up as stars in their own right, much moreso than directors.  For instance, David O. Selznick was held up as the major creative force behind Gone With The Wind, whereas director Victor Fleming was more or less seen as a hired hand who got that difficult shoot across the finish line.

That was Selznick, however, a major Hollywood name with a long list of credits under his belt.  By comparison, this was William Cagney’s first film as a sole producer, as the proprietor of William Cagney Productions.  If you’re wondering, yes, William and James were brothers, and apparently they even looked virtually identical.  Looks like Hollywood definitely missed the boat on a middle-aged version of The Parent Trap, but my main point is, ol’ William apparently couldn’t resist the urge to give himself a bit of extra promotion on Johnny Come Lately’s poster.  After all, John Van Druten was only an accomplished playwright and screenwriter (he wrote Gaslight the very next year), and director William K. Howard had a long and distinguished career of over 50 movies.  But yeah, it was definitely William Cagney’s production that “really makes the story tick.”  Ah, nepotism!  

I should note that I haven’t actually seen the film, and going just by Wikipedia plot summaries can be a fool’s errand.  But it’s worth noting that “You’ll go for Jimmy as he goes all out for three gals in a jam” doesn’t really seem to be what the movie is about.  Firstly, from a grammatical standpoint, that line seems to use the word ‘go’ one too many times.  Secondly, as per Wikipedia, here’s the synopsis for Johnny Come Lately…

In 1906, Tom Richards (James Cagney), a drifter, arrives in Plattsville and befriends newspaper proprietor Vinnie McLeod (Grace George), who is battling the corruption of the town's leading citizen W.M. Dougherty (Edward McNamara). He takes over as managing editor of the Plattsville "Shield and Banner" and, despite initial resistance from the oppressed citizens, finally drives Dougherty out of town.

So I guess Vinnie (short for…Vinessa?) is one of the “three gals in a jam,” but it seems like Cagney is really helping the entire town rather than two unspecified other gals.  Isn’t helping an entire town more of an impressive feat?  Also, man, in this day and age of newspapers cutting staff left and right, journalism jobs were so plentiful back in 1906 that editorial posts could be handed out to even the common drifter.  This still could technically happen — I applied for a writing job for a local paper in a small town in Northern Ontario years ago, and it quickly became apparent during the interview that the “writing job” was really running the entire operation.  But still, at least at the time I had some experience on my resume; I didn’t just start hanging out with the paper’s owner and schmoozed my way to a gig.  And I didn’t drift into town, I drove in via my super-cool Toyota Echo.

The IMDB summary is even better.  It’s just “Newspaper man wanders about and helps older woman save her paper.”  Brevity!  Maybe instead of Johnny Come Lately, it should’ve been Johnny Newspaperseed, with Cagney wandering across America to bail out papers in all manner of small towns.

Whatever the summary, if this poster has inspired you to check out a no-idea-if-it’s-good 1940’s film, then be my guest.  You can try to find the movie on….


…whoa, easy poster.  I was just getting around to…


They know it’s for them, poster!  They appreciate all the hard work that went into the film, they really do!  No, poster, what are you doing?  Put down that knife!  No poster, nooooooooooooo!

Fun fact: the porno version of this film is also titled Johnny Come Lately.  He also, er, helps three women out of a jam, not to give away too many plot details.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

YoKevinzuna Hart & SumO'Brien

Gotta go with the NSFW tag on this one, since yikes, some of those sumo dudes in high-def.  Not to say I'd look any better, but man, the mawashi doesn't leave much to the imagination.  Also, my apologies if the glare off Conan's pasty torso blows out your monitor's brightness settings.  Here's the original sketch, plus the outtakes, and I'm working on a petition to remake all of Laurel & Hardy's movies with Hart & O'Brien. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

The March Holiday Rush

Sorry I haven’t been posting much lately.  It’s been due to my multiple daily trips to Hallmark to get greeting cards for the onslaught of wacky March holidays, all of which just pile together in a nonstop parade until you just wish Flanders was dead.

The list…

March 14, Pi Day
: What better way to celebrate the legendary mathematical constant 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459230781640628620899862803482534211706798214808651328230664709384460955058223172535940812848111745028410270193852110555964462294895493038196442881097566593344612847564823378678316527120190914564856692346034861045432664821339360726024914127372458700660631558817488152092096282925409171536436789259036001133053054882046652138414695194151160943305727036575959195309218611738193261179310511854807446237996274956735188575272489122793818301194912983367336244065664308602139494639522473719070217986094370277053921717629317675238467481846766940513200056812714526356082778577134275778960917363717872146844090122495343014654958537105079227968925892354201995611212902196086403441815981362977477130996051870721134999999837297804995105973173281609631859502445945534690830264252230825334468503526193118817101000313783875288658753320838142061717766914730359825349042875546873115956286388235378759375195778185778053217122680661300192787661119590921642019893809525720106548586327886593615338182796823030195203530185296899577362259941389124972177528347913151557485724245415069595082953311686172785588907509838175463746493931925506040092770167113900984882401285836160356370766010471018194295559619894676783744944825…..well, you get the picture, by giving Pi its own holiday on 3/14?

March 15, Ides Of March Day
: Ok, maybe “holiday” is an odd way to mark the day Julius Caesar was assassinated.  It’s generally bad form to celebrate assassinations in any way, frankly, even though Boxing Day was founded after Gerald Boxing of Birmingham, UK was killed when he was using a outhouse and a hot air balloon crashed into it on December 26, 1837.  It was such a hilarious day to go out that we’ve remembered poor Gerry ever since.  That’s why so many cities have the traditional balloon race every December 26, plus every country sends its most accomplished strongman for the annual “outhouse toss.”  Anyway, I hope you celebrated the Ides by eating a Caesar salad and washing it down with a Caesar cocktail.

March 16, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin Day: Austin 3/16 says I just took a non-denominational bank holiday on your ass!  Like drinking a Caesar on March 15, the traditional way to celebrate Austin day also involves beverages, namely opening two cans or bottles and pouring the contents into your mouth while holding the cans/bottles at arm’s length over your head.

March 17, St. Patrick’s Day: Not much is known about this obscure Irish holiday.  It may have been founded after Lester Patrick, 44-year-old coach of the New York Rangers, had to personally take over as goaltender during a 1928 Stanley Cup Finals game after the regular starter suffered an eye injury.  Patrick played well the rest of the game and the Rangers went on to win.  (Imagine the headlines if this happened today.). However, as amazing as this scenario was, it probably wasn’t the sole inspiration for the holiday since according to my exhaustive research, there has never been a Stanley Cup Finals game played in Ireland.  That said, the Maple Leafs were known as the St. Patricks before taking on their current name. 

As always, a discussion of St. Patrick’s Day has devolved into a discussion of old-timey hockey history.

March 18: This one is more of a personal milestone, as it’s my parents’ anniversary.  To my knowledge, neither Lester Patrick, Steve Austin, or Gerald Boxing were involved in setting my parents up, nor did my folks meet while in a math class.  Granted, a scenario where their eyes lock over a row of digits and my dad goes “baby, you’re the only constant I need” is pretty romantic.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Oh Hi, Batman

Todd Phillips needs to scrap his plans for a Joker origin story prequel and just claim that "The Room" was that origin story

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

The 2017 Markademy Awards

It’s a known fact that Katherine Hepburn’s last words were, verbatim, “I would’ve happily melted my four Academy Awards into a necklace spelling out the words ‘OSCARS ARE FOR LOSERS’ just to have been nominated for a Markademy Award.”  Now, Katherine Hepburn famously didn’t give a damn about the Oscars so that part about the necklace might’ve actually been true.  But the part about her coveting a Markademy Award is 1000% true.

Culled from a field of the 89 movies (!) with official 2017 release dates that I saw in theatres and on Netflix this year, here are the best of the best, the creme de la creme.  For instance…

Actual nominees: Paul Thomas Anderson/Phantom Thread, Guillermo Del Toro/The Shape Of Water, Greta Gerwig/Lady Bird, Christopher Nolan/Dunkirk, Jordan Peele/Get Out
Actual winner: Guillermo Del Toro

Alterna-ballot: Sean Baker/The Florida Project, Noah Baumbach/The Meyerowitz Stories, Luca Guadagnino/Call Me By Your Name, Dee Rees/Mudbound, The Safie Brothers/Good Time
My ballot: Anderson, Baker, Baumbach, Gerwig, Peele
My winner: Jordan Peele

I was very pleased that Jordan Peele went home with something on Oscar night, though am I wrong in believing that his direction was more award-worthy than his script?  Don’t get me wrong, it was a great script, but the film was so expertly shot with a hundred little details and homages to classic horror tropes that I came away more impressed by Peele the director than by Peele the writer.  It’s like, we already knew he could write (via Key & Peele), but the filmmaking was a revelation.  Now I’m wishing Peele had directed “Keanu” and perhaps elevated that movie beyond its only ‘okay’ status.

It was pretty hard to improve upon the actual Best Director slate, which shared three of my five nominees and also had long-overdue nominations for Del Toro and Nolan.  As you’ll note later, Shape Of Water wasn’t one of my true favourites of the year, but Del Toro is obviously a fine filmmaker and he should’ve won an Oscar a decade ago for Pan’s Labyrinth anyway, so I have no issue with him getting one now.  It would’ve been great to see Gerwig and Baumbach actually nominated together since it would’ve made them the first pair of directing nominees to have slept together. 

(Unless anyone has some Karina Longworth-style old-timey Hollywood gossip to share about two former nominees seen canoodling at the Brown Derby.) 

(Or if the Coens shared a bunkbed as a kid.)

Actual nominees: Timothee Chalamet/Call Me By Your Name, Daniel Day-Lewis/Phantom Thread, Daniel Kaluuya/Get Out, Gary Oldman/Darkest Hour, Denzel Washington/Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Actual winner: Gary Oldman

Alterna-ballot: John Cho/Columbus, Bryan Cranston/Wakefield, Robert Pattinson/Good Time, Algee Smith/Detroit, Jason Sudeikis/Colossal
My ballot: Chalamet, Cho, Day-Lewis, Pattinson, Smith
My winner: Daniel Day-Lewis

I love movies that seem entirely predictable based on the trailer or even the film’s first 20-30 minutes, and then they take a “wait, WHAT’s really happening here?!” turn that gradually dawns on, and delights, the viewer.  It occurs to me that Phantom Thread, Wakefield, Good Time, and Colossal all share this distinction, with the latter two films standing out since wow, who knew Pattinson and Sudeikis has those types of performances in them?  (I hesitate to say too much about either film since if you haven’t seen them, the less you know the better, but both are terrific.)  With Detroit, sadly, you know all too well what's going to happen, with Smith's character arc perfectly reflecting the film's horror.  Chalamet would've won had it not been for DDL hitting it out of the park once again, and really, you could make the case that Chalamet had the more difficult role given the complicated nature of the story.  If you remember the old Hollywood Stock Exchange online game, I'd advise you to invest heavily in Chalamet and Smith in the near future.

Since this is DDL’s, ahem, “last movie,” surely he deserves a Markademy Award before he disappears into the Irish countryside.  He also deserves one since this guy is just operating on a higher level than anyone else.  To use the analogy of the movie itself, Day-Lewis often seems less like an actor than a designer given the care he puts into every aspect of his performances.  You can’t compare the originality of DDL’s work in Phantom Thread to the lesser feat of, say, putting on some old-age makeup and pretending to be Winston Churchill.  Just to pull an example out of thin air.

Actual nominees: Sally Hawkins/The Shape Of Water, Frances McDormand/Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Margot Robbie/I, Tonya, Saoirse Ronan/Lady Bird, Meryl Streep/The Post
Actual winner: Frances McDormand

Alterna-ballot: Anne Hathaway/Colossal, Vicky Krieps/Phantom Thread, Tatiana Maslany/Stronger, Haley Liu Richardson/Columbus, Emma Stone/Battle Of the Sexes
My ballot: Hawkins, Krieps, McDormand, Ronan, Stone
My winner: Saoirse Ronan

Sally Hawkins falls just short of being the first-ever three-time Markademy Award winner, so she’ll remain in the two-trophy club (with Colin Firth, Marion Cotillard, Leonardo DiCaprio, and John Hawkes) for at least one more year.  It is great that between TSOW and, of all movies, Paddington 2, the general public is just beginning to realize how great Hawkins is, and the sky is the limit for her future roles.  Likewise, Frances McDormand seemed to make the leap from “oh yeah, she’s a great actress” to bonafide icon with Three Billboards.  Emma Stone continued to establish herself as a legit star, plus you had the unknown Vicky Krieps leap into prominence, not just breaking out, but breaking out while stealing scenes opposite Daniel Day-Lewis.

My trophy, however, goes to Saoirse Ronan.  It must be odd portraying a character in a semi-autobiographical film when the subject of the autobiography is also your director, though it’s telling how little Christine McPhe…er, Lady Bird has in common with Greta Gerwig (or at least, the “Greta Gerwig” persona we’re familiar with from films and interviews).  Lady Bird McPherson is both shades of every teenage girl you ever went to drama class with and a wholly original character.  Let it be noted that Ronan already has three Oscar nominations by age 23, so if you had to bet on anyone ever breaking Streep’s record, she has to be the (only?) possible favourite at the moment.  She’s the Jordan Spieth to Meryl’s Jack Nicklaus. 

Actual nominees: Willem Dafoe/The Florida Project, Woody Harrelson/Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Richard Jenkins/The Shape Of Water, Christopher Plummer/All The Money In The World, Sam Rockwell/Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Actual winner: Sam Rockwell

Alterna-ballot: Paul Walter Hauser/I Tonya, Lil Rel Howery/Get Out, Michael Keaton/Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tracy Letts/Lady Bird, Michael Stuhlbarg/Call Me By Your Name
My ballot: Dafoe, Hauser, Jenkins, Letts, Plummer
My winner: Richard Jenkins

Tough category as always this year, with so many apples-and-oranges picks.  Do you go with some great comedy relief in Howery or Hauser?  A performance that is lacking in screentime but boils down to one amazing monologue (Stuhlbarg or Harrelson)?  A performance that probably has too much screentime and is essentially a co-lead but what the hell, let’s do some category fraud (Rockwell or Dafoe)?  Michael Keaton continuing his late-career renaissance as one of the best Marvel villains ever?

It was a bad idea on many fronts to cast Kevin Spacey in All The Money In The World, but sticking to just the acting for the moment, surely Plummer would’ve been the better choice from the get-go.  As opposed to loading Spacey up in old-age makeup and making the whole performance into a gimmick, why not just cast an actual 86-year-old who still effortlessly bring it?  Plummer is so good that he manages to turn a role that is basically written as “C. Montgomery Burns, but real” into an actual human being.

My choice came down to Letts and Jenkins, both killing it in great low-key benevolent nice guy roles.  They were both supporting and supportive actors.  Between this film and The Post, I’m enjoying Letts’ late-career face turn of suddenly playing decent people after a career of mostly being haughty, upper-class scumbags.  Jenkins takes it by a hair, just because I felt his role was slightly more difficult.  Lady Bird does a fine job of illustrating the complexities of the mother/daughter relationship, but being the father in the middle of that relationship probably isn’t as quite as tough as playing most of your scenes against a co-star who can’t speak and an undersea fish-god.

Actual nominees: Mary J. Blige/Mudbound, Allison Janney/I, Tonya, Lesley Manville/Phantom Thread, Laurie Metcalf/Lady Bird, Octavia Spencer/The Shape Of Water
Actual winner: Allison Janney

Alterna-ballot: Hong Chau/Downsizing, Beanie Feldstein/Lady Bird, Betty Gabriel/Get Out, Zoe Kazan/The Big Sick, Sophia Lillis/IT, June Squibb/Table 19, Emma Thompson/The Meyerowitz Stories
My ballot: Chau, Feldstein, Gabriel, Metcalf, Thompson
My winner: Hong Chau

I went over the five-nominee limit on the alternate ballot since this was definitely the most loaded category of the year.  (And also because, to be honest, the Academy’s ballot wasn’t great.  Blige’s nomination was a head-scratcher, and I feel Spencer and Janney could’ve played those parts in their sleep.)  If I’m not mistaken, I also believe we now have the first-ever pair of sibling Markademy Award nominees in Feldstein and Jonah Hill. 

This category again runs a wide gamut, from the young (Lillis) to the old (Squibb), to the playing-against-type (Thompson, as I actually didn’t realize it was her until about halfway through the movie), to those who didn’t have screentime in Gabriel and Kazan.  For Gabriel, she had one big scene to work with and only made it into one of the most iconic scenes of recent years.  For Kazan, she had about 10-15 minutes to get you to fall for her as Kumail did, to understand why she’s worth waiting around for to see if she comes out of that coma. 

Downsizing is one of those missed-opportunity movies that I find fascinating because there’s clearly pieces of a great movies in there, but the execution was just off.  In any sci-fi premise as outlandish as this one, it helps to just focus on one single relationship or aspect within the world so you don’t get bogged down in the “wait, what?” details of how this premise could actually exist.  I think Alexander Payne tried to have his cake and eat it too in trying to make the whole “downsizing” concept explainable rather than just keeping it as big-picture satire, and the movie suffers for it because the viewer immediately has a million questions that poke holes in how this could ever possibly work. 

What might’ve saved the film is if Payne had just focused things around Matt Damon and Hong Chau, the latter of whom totally steals the entire movie in a star-making performance.  In a gimmicky movie, and in a role that could’ve been gimmicky with the broken English and the prosthetic leg, Chau brings a dose of much-needed reality into the mix.  Ngoc Lan Tran has no time for Paul’s mid-life crisis nonsense, and I wish Payne had taken that hint for the movie as a whole.

Actual nominees: Call Me By Your Name/Darkest Hour/Dunkirk/Get Out/Lady Bird/Phantom Thread/The Post/The Shape Of Water/Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
Actual winner: The Shape Of Water

As always, the following six movies are the ones that leapt the magical “this was good enough to be Best Picture” bar in my head…

1. The Florida Project
2. Lady Bird
3. The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected)
4. Get Out
5. Phantom Thread
6. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Come quick words on the runners-up…

* Lady Bird is one of the great coming-of-age stories of our time, and the rare such film that both treats the young character’s desires as understandable and realistic, yet also quite wiling to acknowledge the nonsensical, in-your-own-headedness of being a teenager.  Greta Gerwig is a longtime Markademy Award favourite, and it’s fascinating to watch her evolution from great actress to great writer to now great director.
* I like to think that Baumbach read the script for Lady Bird or saw the dailies or something and realized he had to up his game to avoid getting A Star Is Born-ed, since he stepped up with easily the best of the Ben Stiller Mid-Life Crisis Trilogy — Greenberg was good, While We’re Young was not.  Who knew Adam Sandler had this kind of a performance in him?
* Get Out is one of the rare films I went to see twice in theatre, since it works great if you a) know nothing about it going in, and b) if you know EVERYTHING about it going in, since there is so much to be caught on a repeat viewing.  It is such a novel idea for a movie and perfectly executed. 
* I’ve already talked about Phantom Thread a bit, so I’ll just add that Paul Thomas Anderson really should win an Oscar one of these years.  Hell, I only like about half his movies and even I think the guy is overdue.
* As a Spidey fan since childhood, was it ever great to see Spider-Man once again done well on the big screen.  Aside from the second Sam Raimi movie, the previous Spidey movies have ranged from frustrating to “why is this happening,” and I’m relieved that Sony finally just threw up their collective hands and just handed the creative reins over to Marvel.  I’m beyond fired up for the next generation of Spider-Man movies, not to mention seeing him in the Avengers films and lord knows how many other crossovers with future Marvel projects.

This brings us to the big winner, and I’ll begin with a fun fact.  “The Florida Project” was (thank you, Wikipedia!) Walt Disney’s idea both for his Florida theme parks and a bigger-picture vision of an always-sustainable city of the future, basically Tomorrowland and Epcot Center rolled into one.  In Sean Baker’s film, we essentially get Realityland, a look at lower-class families trying to hustle and get by as best they can while living in a rundown motel just minutes away from Disney World.

Yet, this is also a self-sustaining world.  Moonee and her friends are a bit too young to really understand their situation, though when the veneer begins to crack as the film goes on, Moonee sustains herself through imagination.  Bobby the motel manager sustains himself by just focusing on making the motel the best it can be on a day-to-day basis, while also seemingly trying to make up for his fractured family by acting as a guardian figure to the residents.  Halley also lives in something of a world of make-believe, though her contentment about her life often manifests itself as dangerous given her obliviousness about her parental responsibilities — it seems like Halley would be perfectly happy living at the motel and hanging out with Ashley forever, never realizing until it’s too late that this *isn’t* sustainable.

It’s a fascinating idea for a movie, and one completely grounded in complete normality.  There’s less a strict plot than there is just some of the day-to-day routine of these characters, and the cinema vérité vibe is enhanced by the fact that the cast is mostly comprised of first-time performers.  What an achievement to get such an absorbing movie and a set of performances from people who weren’t even actors, plus Dafoe as the cast’s experienced cornerstone.

Between Florida Project and Tangerine, Sean Baker is on an incredible roll of innovative movies about characters that you basically never see featured in film.  Even in an era when movies like Get Out or Mad Max: Fury Road are getting a lot of Oscar attention, I get the feeling that Florida Project might’ve been just a little too out-there for the Academy, hence its lack of nominations aside from Dafoe.  I heartily urge everyone to check out Florida Project since you’ve probably never seen a movie quite like it, and it also has one of the most creative end sequences in recent memory.  Come on, it’s a Markademy Award winner, how could it NOT be great?

The rest of the films that weren’t quite enough to get into my Best Picture ballot, but all ranged from excellent to very good to good to good-but-not-nearly-as-good-as-if-could’ve-been (looking at you, number 26!)

7. Good Time
8. Colossal
9. Logan
10. The Big Sick
11. Coco
12. Mudbound
13. War For The Planet Of The Apes
14. Baby Driver
15. Landline
16. Detroit
17. The Shape Of Water
18. It
19. Blade Runner 2049
20. Call Me By Your Name
21. Thor: Ragnarok
22. The Disaster Artist
23. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
24. John Wick 2
25. Wakefield
26. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Best Movie Scenes Of 2017

A great scene can take place in a great movie, an awful movie, or anything in between.  It can be one line of dialogue, maybe even as simple as a character's glance or even a quick camera cut...or it can be a massive setpiece that lasts for 10 minutes or more, as I stretch the boundaries of what a "scene" exactly is, perhaps compared to what a "sequence" is. 

Anyway, here is my annual compilation of the scenes that most stood out to me over the course of the last cinematic year.  I laughed, I cried, I said "wow" out loud to no one in the theatre. 

SPOILER ALERT for some of these movies, as though I tried to be somewhat vague about some plot details, it couldn't be helped in some cases.

36. The song-and-dance number (The Shape Of Water)
35. Peter goes “sad astronaut” (Rough Night)
34. Mildred’s “Blood vs. Crips” analogy (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
33. K finds his horse (Blade Runner 2049)
32. The Moors and the “Moores” (The Trip To Spain)
31. The chase through the underground mall (Okja)
30. “So what have you been up to?”  “Well…” (Sense Of An Ending)
29. “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!” (Guardians Of The Galaxy 2)
28. “This Is Me” (The Greatest Showman)
27. Will Oldham’s character’s monologue about the future (A Ghost Story)
26. Thor vs. The Hulk (Thor: Ragnarok)
25. The fight in the mirror exhibit (John Wick 2)
24. Lee and Jeremy run lines (The Hero)
23. The Bishop reads the list of sins (The Little Hours)
22. Captain America’s PSAs (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
21. Luke faces the First Order (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)
20. The two ghosts encounter each other (A Ghost Story)
19. The guys are telling stories about Vietnam (Last Flag Flying)
18. Matt and Danny deliver their speeches (The Meyerowitz Stories)
17. Rey, Kylo Ren, and Snoke (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)
16. Terry’s performance (The Square)
15. Danny and Eliza play “Genius Girl” (The Meyerowitz Stories)
14. The last line and cut to the end credits (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
13. K versus Deckard (Blade Runner 2049)
12. The surprise in the credits (Split)
11. Georgie loses his boat (It)
10. Chris finds the photo album (Get Out)
9. Leadership in Times of Crisis and Change (Dim The Fluorescents)
8. The entire sequence at Adventureland (Good Time)
7. The opening bank robbery escape chase (Baby Driver)
6. John Wick vs. Cassian in the subway (John Wick 2)
5. Elio and his dad have a chat (Call Me By Your Name)
4. Peter and Adrian in the car (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
3. Moonee and Jancey go to Disneyland (The Florida Project)
2. Miguel sings to his grandmother (Coco)
1. Georgina “reassures” Chris (Get Out)

Friday, March 02, 2018

The Worst Movies Of 2017

My "this looks pretty bad, I think I'll skip it" spider-sense for movies just keeps honing itself, and as a result, I actually had a minor bit of difficulty creating this year's bottom 10.  Most of these movies are merely bad, as opposed to outright offensive and terrible.

10. The Foreigner
9. Baywatch
8. Rough Night
7. War On Everyone
6. Brad’s Status
5. Suburbicon
4. The Discovery
3. A Quiet Passion
2. CHiPS
1. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

Worst Supporting Actor: Pierce Brosnan/The Foreigner
Worst Supporting Actress: Jillian Bell/Rough Night
Worst Actress: Scarlett Johansson/Rough Night
Worst Actor: Dax Shepard/CHiPS

*Best Performance In A Bad Movie: three-way tie between Gil Birmingham in Wind River, and Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Pfeiffer in Mother!
Birmingham's raw performance kept the otherwise dour and predictable Wind River out of the bottom 10 films list.  As for Mother!, wow, this was a new level for Aronofsky in the "interestingly bad" department, as I feel like I could talk about this movie for two hours despite it being a paper-thin allegory and an overall misfire.  J-Law may deserve a bonus award for not just working her hardest to try and save this movie, but also for actually dating Aronofsky and suffering through an endless number of conversations about the film (which, hilariously, was partially why they broke up).  If nothing else comes from Mother!, it may have been worth it only if it kickstarts a late-career Pfeiffer renaissance.

*Worst Performance In A Good Movie: Michael Shannon/The Shape Of Water
In theory, a heightened-reality kind of movie can excuse this type of hammy, cartoonishly evil caricature of a performance.  In practice, Shannon stands out like a sore thumb, especially since the rest of the cast is going the subtle route --- Shannon's overplaying looks silly given that he's so often paired with Michael Stuhlbarg, who is underplaying his role and quietly acting Shannon off the screen.  Ironically, Shannon is usually very good at the kind of increasingly-malevolent menace that would've benefited the role.  If you could magically slot the "Take Shelter" version of Shannon into this movie, TSOW is ten percent better.

*Worst Casting: Bryan Cranston/Last Flag Flying
This is very specific kind of criticism, and one that takes some explanation.  For one, you can easily come up with a dozen better examples of outright bad casting, in the Denise Richards-as-a-nuclear scientist kind of vein.  I also wouldn't even say that Cranston's performance was bad, which is why I didn't hand him any of the "worst acting" awards.
My issue was just that Cranston just seemed really out of place playing a ne'er-do-well, living-in-the-pat smart-aleck who was a real wild man in his youth but now seems sad continuing this behaviour into his 50's.  (If I could think of an ideal actor for this part, maybe Sam Rockwell in another 10-15 years.)  I can't really even blame the filmmakers and casting people for the choice since....well, it's Bryan Cranston.  He just may have a couple fewer pitches in his arsenal than everyone thought, and since he couldn't quite pull off the role, it stood out more glaringly than your average casting misfire.  To use another example of co-star context, it didn't help Cranston that Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell are a) both great in this movie and b) perfectly cast.