Tuesday

But tonight you presume too much


(Not my video, but I was there.)

Terrific show on the whole, though not necessarily the greatest setlist.

Highlights:
1. "Jack the Ripper" (one of his very best songs, stunningly performed)
2. "Why Don't You Find Out for Yourself"
3. "Is It Really So Strange?"
4. "Suedehead"
5. "Seasick, yet Still Docked"
6. "Everyday Is Like Sunday"
7. "I Wish You Lonely"
8. The fact that he didn't talk politics at all (a great relief!)
9. His story about how, when he retires from music, he wants to move to Ropongi Hills, Tokyo; the only trouble with this is that I'd really like to hear His Tokyo Record!

Gripes:
1. Too little Smiths (just the 1 song! by comparison, Marr played 6 at his show here last year)
2. Too little Vauxhall and I, or, as he referred to it last night, "Vancouver and I" (still by far his best post-Smiths album; at least "Why Don't You Find Out for Yourself" sounded really great)
3. Too much California Son (just meh af)
4. "World Peace Is None of Your Business" (Is Not a Good Song, and Also Suggests Some of His Worst Tendencies/Ideas)

Saturday

VIFF: Best of the Fest


(It was an exceptionally good year, so I've cheated a little here.)

FILMS
01. A Hidden Life (Malick)
02. Lost Course (Li)
03. Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (Gu)
04. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Sciamma)
05. The Lodge (Franz/Fiala)
06. MS Slavic 7 (Bohdanowicz/Campbell)
07. Oh Mercy! (Desplechin)
08. One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk (Kunuk)
09. Young Ahmed (Dardenne/Dardenne)
10. The Lighthouse (Eggers), Parasite (Bong), and The Twentieth Century (Rankin) [tie]

PERFORMANCES
01. Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
02. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, The Lighthouse
03. Riley Keough, The Lodge
04. Deragh Campbell, Anne at 13,000 Feet
05. Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
06. Roschdy Zem, Sarah Forestier, and Léa Seydoux, Oh Mercy!
07. The entire cast of Parasite
08. Valerie Pachner, A Hidden Life
09. Anthony Wong, Still Human
10. Lise Leplat Prudhomme, Joan of Arc
VIFF, pt. 4: One More


The Lodge In (another) strong year for interesting horror movies, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala's English-language follow-up to Goodnight Mommy –- exploring much the same thematic territory –- is the best of the bunch. I'm usually not especially careful when it comes to "spoilers," but in this case, the less revealed in advance of seeing it, the better (don't watch the trailer!). Suffice it to say that Franz and Fiala's film is unrelentingly tense and unnerving, pervaded by a thick atmosphere of dread. Few horror movies in recent memory use sound (or near-silence) so effectively: the soundtrack is mostly dominated by the sound of wind sweeping over snow; when this ominous calm is suddenly interrupted –– by a church organ, or the sound of ice cracking, or a gunshot –– it provides a serious jolt. Yet, such shocks aside, this is, for the most part, not a jump-scare sort of horror movie, but one that digs deeper under the surface, gradually winding through its characters' (and audience's) psyches to disorienting and genuinely disturbing effect. Comparisons to Hereditary are inevitable –– the fractured family themes, the prominent, creepy use of dolls, etc. –– but The Lodge is more subtle and slow-building than Ari Aster's film; and the performance at its core, Riley Keough's eerily understated turn, is in some ways the opposite of the volcanic intensity of Toni Collette's. Both films, in any case, rank as instant classics of their genre, "prestige" or not.

Thursday

VIFF, pt. 3: Duos habet!


The Two Popes When Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins are on screen together, this is a great movie. It really feels like we're watching the actual Popes Francis and Benedict XVI interacting, feeling each other out, quarrelling over issues of Church leadership and doctrine, learning to appreciate the other's virtues, despite their considerable differences in style, worldview, and ecclesiology (the papal names they've selected are deeply telling in this regard). These are two of the most fully realized portrayals of real, famous people –– familiar to us, but always at a remove –– that I can recall. When the leads are not sharing the screen, Fernando Meirelles's film is a very mixed bag: The opening act, from the death of John Paul II to Benedict mulling over his decision to abdicate, feels rushed, like a Cliff Notes summary of recent history; as a snapshot of intra-Vatican politics and factionalism, this is far less convincing than, say, The Young Pope (notwithstanding Paolo Sorrentino's series being a work of fiction). The lengthy flashbacks, providing exposition for the complicated pre-papal career of Francis (then Jorge Mario Bergoglio), are awkwardly inserted and shot (inexplicably, some are in black and white, while others are in colour). They tend to play like cheaply produced dramatic re-enactments in a true-crime show, the quality of which contrast sharply with the incredible performances of Pryce and Hopkins. While the past events depicted do help us better understand Francis and his reluctance to accept the papal crown, they could've been more effectively incorporated simply through more conversation between Pryce and Hopkins. Perhaps most problematically, one is never quite sure if The Two Popes is intended as a critique of the papal office and/or of the Church generally, or as a sort of love letter to these powerful institutions. The magnetic charisma of the leads, "humanizing" not just the well-loved Francis but also the more opaque Benedict, suggests the latter, even as Meirelles works in repeated references to the Church's chronic failure to address its legacy (and on-going crisis) of mass child abuse and its long history of tacitly supporting (or at least neglecting to oppose) murderous and oppressive regimes.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire Céline Sciamma's follow-up to the terrific Girlhood also centres on two people who get to know one another under highly particular and unusual circumstances (although that's probably where its similarities with The Two Popes end). Set in eighteenth-century France, Sciamma's drama is historically specific with regard to the extent of the constraints placed on female agency and its excellent, if austere, period detail, but it also has a timeless, fairy-tale-like atmosphere that feels indebted to Jane Campion (especially The Piano, less so Campion's adaptation of Henry James's Portrait of a Lady) and to Perrault's tales. Some synopses of Sciamma's film place it in the 1770s, while others see it taking place "at the end of the eighteenth century." I'm assuming that the main story is set just before the events leading up to the French Revolution, yet, unless there was some explicit date marker that I failed to spot, this is not at all certain. Such ambiguity –– keeping such a world-historical event totally outside the narrative frame –– speaks to the laser-focused intimacy and thoroughly feminine orientation of Sciamma's film. More than a usual "period drama," it feels like a dream of the past, a subversive romantic fantasy doomed to muted tragedy by its time and place. Its power sneaks up on you, building to a final shot that is among the most indelibe in recent memory.

Oh Mercy! Arnaud Desplechin's latest is an abrupt change of direction in the course of his career, almost completely eschewing the layers of artifice and meta conceits so characteristic of his oeuvre. Instead, Oh Mercy!, adapted from police transcripts and a TV investigative documentary about Desplechin's rough, northern French hometown of Roubaix (the film's much-superior French title is Roubaix, une lumière), is a realistic police procedural and gritty mosaic of contemporary life in this city. It's tightly scripted and superbly acted, with stand-out performances by Roschdy Zem, Sarah Forestier, and Léa Seydoux. One can imagine this translating well, and pretty easily, to the stage, particularly a remarkable long scene near the end that is all about performance, staging, and direction. Yet, at the same time, Oh Mercy! is still quite distinctly cinematic. Desplechin captures the urban environs of Roubaix with both affection and uneasiness--there is beauty, but also real danger, here––lending the film a strong touch of noir style, evident too in its rumantive, pessimistic voice-over narration. In the post-screening Q&A, Desplechin cited Hitchcock (The Wrong Man) and Bresson (Diary of a Country Priest) as influences for this project. When a member of the audience asked whether he conducted interviews with the real Roubaisians represented in the film, he answered firmly in the negative. Instead, for "research," he re-read Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment in multiple translations.

One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk Zacharias Kunuk's best film since Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner re-creates the 1961 encounter of the titular Inuit community leader with a Canadian government officer on Baffin Island. The white officer tries to convince Piugattuk to move his family from their ancestral home to a government settlement, and to send his children to school there. In return, he'll receive a wooden house, heated by a stove, a monthly family allowance payment, and access to desired commodities like tea, sugar, and tobacco. A local guide imperfectly translates the communication between Piugattuk and other Inuits and this government representative––a tense meeting that takes up the majority of Kunuk's film. What these scenes illustrate is the process of forced assimilation at work, in medias res. It only hints at the coercion and cultural destruction involved in this process, while suggesting that a profound lack of understanding was also partly to blame for it: first, at the level of language, though more generally of mutually incomprehensible mentalities and ideas about "home," identity, money, and productivity/utility. The flawed translation between English and Inuktitut feels wholly authentic, showing in vivid detail how such a meeting might well have played out. It also serves as a kind of microcosm for the ultimate failure in real communication that occurred between Inuit and other indigenous peoples across North America and the representatives of colonial governments. Yet, as in all of Kunuk's films, the situation is necessarily specific to Nunavut, the beautiful and severe Arctic landscape, and the Inuit culture. This film, after all, is set in 1961, by which time nearly every other corner of the continent had long since been enveloped by the "governmentality" of the Canadian or American state. Language gap notwithstanding, Noah Piugattuk clearly expresses his anxiety about the Canadian officer's proposal/command, though he refuses to directly state his choice. Despite his indecision, Kunuk frames this fateful encounter as a truly decisive moment in the modern history of the Inuit people and the (culturally and spatially) distant state imposing its will on them.

The Twentieth Century Matthew Rankin's bizarro biopic of Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King is a weird, sporadically hilarious delight, like a cross between fellow Winnipegger Guy Maddin (especially his Saddest Music in the World) and rightful cult classic Cabin Boy. To be sure, King was almost certainly Canada's strangest PM. For instance: "Not only did King speak with his dead mother, but he communicated with the ghosts of such famous figures as the former prime minister Sir Wilfred Laurier, and even Leonardo da Vinci. He used a crystal ball, now found at Laurier House." And: "King saw magical images in his tea leaves, and even more oddly, in his morning cup of shaving cream. On January 20, 1948, he visualized in his morning lather symbols of the Cold War, a polar bear and an eagle...Then a dog appeared, perhaps symbolizing Canada, which helped push the bear off the eagle." Even so, Rankin pushes his story into still odder, more aggressively surreal territory, skewering not just King and his era of staunchly elitist Canadian politics, but clichéd ideas about Canada, its history and traditions that survive up to the present, often generally accepted and unquestioned. The film gets a little tedious as it nears the home stretch, but on the whole, it's a lot of fun; I'll certainly never look at a Canadian $50 bill the same way again!

Edo Avant Garde As in Leonardo: The Works, the main pleasure in Linda Hoaglund’s documentary is "the works" themselves, in this case Japanese folding screens produced between the early seventeenth and mid nineteenth centuries, filmed in awesome, gracefully mobile HD by cinematographer Kasamatsu Norimichi. These extraordinary works, decidedly more unfamiliar to most Western audiences than Leonardo's masterpieces, are fascinating to look at (the more closely and patiently the better); and, as the films shows, they take up space and invite visual engagement in a way that is quite different from typical Western oil paintings. It's an important point, too, that something is inevitably lost from this experience by viewing these screens displayed behind glass in a museum or gallery. Hoaglund aims to place them back in their proper contexts, both by showing folding screens arranged in traditional rooms that could've been occupied by (sitting) Edo-era aristocrats or monks and by providing some useful historical information about the wider world of Edo Japan, particularly the shift in patronage to a wealthy merchant class, facilitated by Japan's rapid urbanization, and the combined influences of Buddhism and Shintoism on the art of this period. However, Hoaglund's primary argument--that in their non-naturalistic, "3D" perspective; lack of a clear centre or vanishing point; use of materials like goldleaf to form background space; and focus on animals, plants, and other elements of the natural world without direct reference to human beings, these folding screens were "avant-garde" art, conceptually and stylistically ahead of European painting in this period--is, ironically, too narrowly West-centric, tied to a flimsy History of Art master-narrative that few art historians today would accept and to an overly rigid East/West binary. Hoaglund compares the Edo screens to European art between the Italian Renaissance and the French Impressionists, noting that Van Gogh was heavily influenced by Japanese styles. But what if we broadened the scope to compare these works to Islamic or Persian art (flowing floral schemes and patterns), Byzantine art (particularly the use of goldleaf backgrounds), or even medieval European art (similarly de-centered works like tapestries, which invite a comparable type of nonlinear engagement), rather than only to Old Master paintings? In so doing, we might find that, while the art of Edo Japan was no doubt unique and spectacular, it was rather 400 years of European painting (ca. 1400–1800) that stand as the true outlier in the longer, global history of visual art.

VIFF, pt. 2: Making Connections


Parasite The first half of Bong Joon-ho's Palm d'Or winner, about a lower-class Seoul family of four who one by one con their way into jobs working for a wealthy family, is the funniest hour of any movie in recent memory. The performances are pitch-perfect across the board, and nearly every joke lands with maximum impact. Most of them sting, too; like last year's Korean Cannes hit, Lee Chang-dong's Burning, Parasite is an incisive social commentary centering squarely on class tensions and resentments in contemporary South Korea. More generally, there are also shades of Jordan Peele's Us, though Bong's poor family isn't composed of literal doppelgängers. Roughly midway through, Bong's film shifts gears, toward horror and tragedy––it's still quite funny, but more darkly so––yet without ultimately, fully succeeding as either. It is certainly suspenseful and occasionally disturbingly violent, though never truly scary. And its tragic final act feels too coolly calculated. Like Peele's Us, but very much unlike Lee's superior Burning, it explains much more than is needed. All things considered, this is a pretty terrific movie, probably one of Bong's (and the year's) best. Still, I suspect that, while it may remain just as funny, it won't otherwise reward repeat viewings the way a more ambiguous, less airtight version of Parasite might have.

Joan of Arc To be sure, the story of Joan of Arc has been one of the most frequently presented over the history of cinema, going back (at least) to Georges Méliès' 1900 short. Representations of Joan, her brief life, her trial, and her death have yielded some of the best films ever made (Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc and Bresson's The Trial of Joan of Arc), some merely fine, conventional biopics, and some bizarre misfires. Bruno Dumont's Joan of Arc (a follow-up to his 2017 Jeanette, which I didn't see) is firmly in the third category, closely rivalling Luc Besson's The Messenger as the weirdest filmic treatment of the Joan story. Where Besson's movie was a full-on action/war spectacle, starring Milla Jovovich in proto-Resident Evil take-no-prisoners mode, Dumont's includes no such action whatsoever (battles are merely hinted at, including in one long sequence wherein a horse dances, a touch that, for better or worse, felt straight out of Monty Python!) and features a 12-year-old actress as his Joan (probably 19 at the time of her death), radically reversing the usual problem of overly adult screen Joans. There are also songs, by the septuagenarian French singer Christophe, sporadically inserted into the narrative, and standing in, by turns, for the voice of God (or an archangel) speaking to Joan, Joan's prayer to God, and the questioning from one of her clerical inquisitors (Christophe himself, making a sudden cameo as a monk, lip-syncing one of his songs). The results are decidedly alienating––no doubt deliberately so, on Dumont's part. At the screening that I attended, there were at least a dozen walkouts, maybe more. I opted to stick it out, mainly because the less willfully idiosyncratic scenes of dialogue, particularly during the preparation for Joan's trial and the trial itself, are quite strong, thoughtful and well-performed (especially the young Lise Leplat Prudhomme, who is impressive despite being miscast as Joan). As provocations go, this one's a very mixed bag, but it's not without its peculiar charms.

Leonardo: The Works Speaking of venturing into well-trod territory, Phil Grabsky's latest fine-art documentary tackles perhaps the biggest name of all in the Western art canon. To his credit, Grabsky's film is acutely aware of how Leonardo, through pop-cultural osmosis, has come to stand in for Art with a capital 'A.' By taking the time to examine all of Leonardo's surviving paintings, together with some sketches and other paintings that he may have collaborated on (all beautifully filmed in pristine HD), Leonardo: The Works is able to carefully situate Leonardo and cogently demonstrate the nature of his legendary genius. Drawing on the expertise of scholars and curators, Grabsky's film also goes some way toward illuminating the specific cultural context of the Italian Renaissance, its competitive hotspots of Florence, Milan, and Rome, and its influence in neighbouring France. Of course, a 100-minute film is not the best source for this complex history, nor to learn about Leonardo's works themselves, topics to which specialists have devoted entire careers and countless books. But it's a perfectly fine starting point. For those who are already well-acquainted with Leonardo's paintings and their contexts, it's just a wonderful way to spend an hour and forty minutes.

Anne at 13,000 Feet Canadian director Kazik Radwanski's film, about a young woman struggling with (something like) manic depression while balancing strained personal and work relationships, is above all a showcase for actress Deragh Campbell. As the titular character, a daycare supervisor who has developed a fondness for skydiving (hence the "at 13,000 feet"), Campbell is revelatory, moving convincingly between uncomfortable laughter and sudden tears and awkwardly crossing others' boundaries while fortifying her own. Campbell's Anne is neither an opaque blank slate nor a showy caricature of mental illness, but something much more interesting and nuanced--namely, a dynamic person, constantly in flux, and "growing," though not simply in the usual, dramatic sense of linear personal progress.

MS Slavic 7 Deragh Campbell also stars in this film, which she co-directed with Sofia Bohdanowich. It's a sequel of sorts to Bohdanowicz's remarkable Never Eat Alone, and, like that film, it fruitfully blurs the normal lines distinguishing "documentary" from "fiction." The film's premise is based in fact: a young woman, serving as the literary executor to her great-grandmother's estate, discovers that some fascinating letters written by her great-grandmother, an accomplished Polish poet, to another important poet, have recently been donated to Harvard's Houghton library. This story is drawn from Bohdanowicz's family history, and, yet as a character in the film, "Audrey," she is played by Campbell. The narrative built around Audrey's research process and critical engagement with the letters is also fictionalized, although woven into it are, for instance, scenes shot at an actual anniversary party in suburban Toronto, at which Campbell's Audrey mingles with Bohdanowicz's extended family members as a kind of alternate version of her co-director. From this brief description, however, MS Slavic 7 probably sounds more aggressively "experimental" than it actually comes across in practice. Truth and invention are engaged with here in a way that feels mostly seamless and subtle. The film's formal playfulness is directly connected to its narrative and to its major themes, relating in particular to the relationship between content and form, the document-as-text and the document-as-material-object, with some passing gestures toward the ideas of Barthes, Derrida, Hayden White, and the like. MS Slavic 7 (appropriately, the title comes from a library special collections shelfmark) does a better job than any movie of which I'm aware at really capturing the excitement and pleasure of archival research––and it gets so many of the little details right: no pens in the reading room!

DANNY Another work deeply concerned with family history and memory, "by" Aaron Zeghers and Lewis Bennet. The scare-quotes are not meant as a slight to Zeghers and Bennet. In DANNY's closing credits, they cite themselves as editors, while "images and sound" are by Danny Ryder, Zeghers' deceased uncle. The 50-minute film is constructed out of home videos that Ryder shot in 1993, after being diagnosed with leukaemia. These video clips consist of Ryder, alone, speaking directly to his camera (he notes that photography and video technology are among his main interests, along with boating), usually in his Vancouver apartment or on its balcony. He reflects on his illness and mortality--alternately expressing hope, pessimism, and fear--but also on his frustrations in romance and sexuality, the difficult experiences of his childhood, his ambivalent relationship to his parents, and his worries about how others perceive him. This is extremely personal, indeed confessional, stuff, and at times it is discomfiting viewing. When Ryder, for instance, admits that he was once a "peeping Tom," the viewer of his (or Zeghers and Bennet's?) film can't help but feel a kind of queasy guilt, and pause to wonder whether they're also engaging in a type of voyeurism by watching DANNY. It's completely impossible to qualitatively assess a work like this one, but it is, in any case, genuinely moving and unforgettable, which speaks to both the skillful editorial efforts of Zeghers and Bennet in bringing this footage to light and the frank humanity of Ryder's self-portraiture. Whether he would've wished for his private videos to be presented this way, and screened at a film festival, is another, more problematic matter...

Still Human At one point during Chan Oliver Siu Kuen's film, I turned my wife, both of us teary-eyed, and whispered, "This is, like, Friday Night Lights-level sweet." And so it is! Following the symbiotic relationship of a Filipina nursemaid with dreams of being a professional photographer and her outwardly misanthropic but secretly tenderhearted employer, a lonely, paraplegic Hong Kong divorcé, Still Human is the kind of movie where you can see every dramatic plot development coming well beforehand, yet it still makes you cry when it gets there. It's not a great film, by any stretch: its treacly musical score is over-used and overly manipulative, most of the supporting characters are just faint sketches in service of the plot, there are some odd, unnecessary uses of slow-motion, and, most glaringly, for a film dealing with foreign domestic servants in Hong Kong, there could've been some acknowledgment of the many serious abuses suffered by such workers. Yet, these issues notwithstanding, it's a lovely, well-acted comic melodrama about being kind, decent, and compassionate to other people. And it's impossibly sweet.

Monday

VIFF, pt. 1: Dangerous Times


A Hidden Life Terrence Malick's latest masterpiece is, like all of his films, sublimely, singularly beautiful, but this might be his first film that can rightly be called "timely." His recent forays into contemporary culture, whether great (To the Wonder), muddled (Song to Song), or both at once (Knight of Cups), tell us almost nothing of particular interest about the present world. His apparent distaste for, and/or tenuous understanding of, things current (viewed, at times, like artifacts of an alien society) awkwardly undercut his focus on the poetic, the timeless, the essential. In his return to the past––specifically to the perilous period of the Second World War, which he last explored two decades ago, in the war's Pacific theatre––Malick recovers something from the story of the Austrian conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter that, through its timelessness and universality, resonates powerfully in the dangerous, murky conditions of the present.

Malick evidently found Scorsese's Silence seriously challenging. A Hidden Life considers a similar kind of spiritual crisis, though (perhaps, surprisingly) in an ostensibly less theologically complex manner. Matters of good and evil and of free will and compulsion (problems at the very heart of his oeuvre) are no less thoughtfully explored by Malick, but there are fewer nagging shades of grey here than in Silence. Instead, across its generous three-hour runtime, A Hidden Life immerses its audience in this kind of spiritual crisis as wholly as it immerses us in the Edenic beauty of Jägerstätter's Alpine village. Its simplicity is deceptive: if resisting and rejecting what we sense is truly wrong is something that is easy and obvious, the film asks, then why do we not all fully and unambiguously do so all the time? What evils do we just tacitly accept? Is being able to resolutely say "No" a matter of conscience, or courage, or the mysteries of divine grace? Jägerstätter has in fact been beatified by the Catholic Church, and A Hidden Life might be accurately termed a modern hagiography. Yet, as presented by Malick, Jägerstätter is a saint whose example speaks poignantly and directly to the insidious forces of nationalism, authoritarianism, and populism gaining ground again today.

Lost Course Another three-hour, genuinely monumental work, no less urgent than Malick's, although in many respects very different from it. Hong Kong filmmaker Jill Li's extraordinary documentary charts, for around five years' time, the hopeful rise and terrible fall of something like grassroots democracy in the small Guangdong province village of Wukan, where the expropriation of communally held lands ignited a forceful opposition to government corruption. In its intimacy and scope, I was reminded in particular of Xu Xin's Karamay (still one of the very best films I've seen over my dozen years attending VIFF). Li's film is not as artful, and its style is more frenetic and fly-on-the-wall where Xu's was above all acutely mournful, but, as a fiercely polemical extended snap-shot of Chinese society and politics, it's just as vital and affecting. If Lost Course's conclusions are inevitably pessimistic, one might find some glimmer of hope outside the frame, in the streets of Li's native Hong Kong.

Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains Set in Fuyang, a suburban district of Hangzhou straddling the idyllic Fuchun River, currently being transformed by large-scale redevelopment projects and soaring real-estate prices, Gu Xiaogang's film attentively follows the lives of four adult brothers, their elderly mother, their wives, and children over the course of about a year. The film takes its title from Huang Gongwang's Song Dynasty-era scroll painting of the river landscape. This famous work is explicitly mentioned as the university thesis topic of one of the film's characters, who has returned to his hometown to work as a schoolteacher; he can still detect the ancient beauty and distant civilization memorialized in Hong Gongwang's painting amidst the rapidly changing twenty-first-century Fuyang. Gu, for his part, draws inspiration from the form and substance of this painting for his film's distinctive visual style, characterized by a kind of loose and open formalism. Comparisons to Edward Yang, or to the warmer Jia Zhangke of Ash Is Purest White, are entirely merited. Such comparisons speak to the level of assuredness and quiet mastery of Gu's film--almost unbelievably, a debut feature! The film concludes with the note "End of Part 1," suggesting more to follow in this engrossing family story. By its completion, I suspect Gu may well be regarded as one of the next major Chinese filmmakers.

The Lighthouse Robert Eggers' follow-up to The Witch isn't quite as flat-out frightening as his superlative debut, but it's every bit as meticulously constructed and evocative of a time and place that look, sound, and feel thoroughly strange. Despite the (potentially distracting) presence of two prominent movie stars, one quickly feels locked into the claustrophobic milieu of a remote, eerie New England lighthouse in the late nineteenth century. This transporting effect can be attributed both to Eggers' great attention to visual and aural detail and to the precision and intensity of Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson's performances, method scenery-chewing in the best, most entertaining sense. In its second half, The Lighthouse jumps off the rails (to the extent that it was ever on them?), deliberately mimicking its characters' descent into madness. The result is surreal and jarring; this is a "horror movie," broadly defined, in the same way that, say, Eraserhead is a horror movie. Like Lynch's classic, Eggers' new film, also shot in stark black-and-white, is plumbing the depths of some deeply weird waters (nautical pun intended). Not all of it comes together in the end--nor do I think it's supposed to come together cleanly or coherently, in contrast to the hyper-exacting quality of Eggers' mise-en-scène--making for a movie that is not conventionally satisfying, but all the more haunting for its rough edges and loose threads.

Young Ahmed The Dardenne brothers' most provocative to film to date, a character study centering on a Muslim teenager in Belgium, driven through radicalization to attempt a violent crime. If Young Ahmed, on some conceptual or thematic level, is meant to measure the uneasy pulse of Western Europe right now, its greatest strength is its specificity. This is not, in execution, a general sociological portrait of Islamic fundamentalism in Europe, but of one troubled boy, who may appear demographically archetypal, yet who, in the course of his actions and reactions, emerges as a vivid, difficult subject. Thankfully, the Dardennes refuse (as ever) to play psychologists, instead allowing their protagonist to gradually come into focus through his choices and their consequences--first as a "product of his environment," but ultimately as an idiosyncratic individual, uncomfortable in his world and in his own skin. Not unlike several earlier Dardenne bros. works, this is a certain, rigorously realist type of coming-of-age film––the adjective jeune is in the title for good reason––territory the Dardennes understand better than they do ideology or religion.

Preface to a History As a longtime Vancouverite, it's a real pleasure just to see this extremely photogenic, if chameleonic, city playing itself, well-shot and up on the big screen. This remarkable short film by Devan Scott and Will Ross gives us that, as it follows one guy's long, scenic walk from Commercial Drive to English Bay after missing the last Skytrain of the night. The nocturnal rhythms of the city (so sleepy and still outside the downtown core) are perfectly captured here, and they provide the film its sliver of narrative. But these meandering rhythms are strikingly juxtaposed against Richard Evans' The Coming of the Third Reich, a sobering history of Nazism's origins in German culture, playing (as an audiobook) through the walker's headphones and over the film's soundtrack for nearly the whole route––interrupted only briefly by a phonecall with his girlfriend. I'm not sure what particular symbolic connection we should infer between what we're hearing and what we're seeing. In a post-screening Q&A, the filmmakers suggested something about the imminent danger of "global warming," but, I must admit, this idea did not occur to me at all as I watched their film. Instead, without overextending, what Preface to a History evokes so well is something quite common in life, but rarely hinted at in movies: the "ordinary affect," without conscious cognitive dissonance, of experiencing totally different phenomena at the same time, like The Coming of the Third Reich colouring an unhurried, late-night stroll around Vancouver.

Tuesday

And I press you to the pages of my heart


It may just be that I spend way too much time closely reading Augustine––but this lyric sounds rather strikingly like something straight out of the Confessions. Now, to be clear, I'm not suggesting that, like Blood Orange, Carly Rae Jepsen is consciously invoking Augustine. But what a strangely wonderful metaphor in a pop song that also seems to explicitly reference the True Blood theme!

In any case, Dedicated further confirms her place in the upper-most echelon of pure-pop consistency, with Robyn her only real peer, and Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift hovering, for now, just below that. The latter's Lover is nearly as resplendent, but its finest moments (including the title track and the quietly wrenching Dixie Chicks duet) sound closer to the country ballads with which she originally made her name than anything she's put out in years. She's still a singer-songwriter at heart, whose pop turn was a product more of will than nature; in another, plausible timeline, her career trajectory might have resembled, say, Lucinda Williams's or Tori Amos's. CRJ is through-and-through a crafter and performer of pure, sublime pop, like Robyn, like Kylie Minogue, like golden-age Madonna. Just occasionally, though, a note of (writerly) profundity slips in there, e.g, "And I press you to the pages of my heart."
2019, so far

Top five (or six) favourites, thus far this year:

Films
01. High Life (Denis)
02. Mary Magdalene (Davis)
03. Once upon a Time in Hollywood (Tarantino)
04. Toy Story 4 (Cooley)
05. Midsommar (Aster) / US (Peele) [tie, for now]

Albums
01. Ariana Grande, Thank U, Next
02. Carly Rae Jepsen, Dedicated
03. Taylor Swift, Lover
04. Sleater-Kinney, The Center Won't Hold
05. Solange, When I Get Home
Lost It at the Movies ***spoilers***

I have some reservations about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: I really disliked the Bruce Lee scene and a few others, and thought the voice-over narration was totally pointless (which reminded me of Vice, which was awful). But, on the whole, I think this is one of the best movies Tarantino has made. I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere, all the visual and aural period detail, and especially the performances. There are some individual moments (Margot Robbie's ebullient Sharon Tate grinning at the audience reactions to her on-screen, that child actor telling Jake that his acting in the scene they shot was the best she'd ever seen, the last exchange between Jake and Cliff) that felt like the warmest and most humane in Tarantino's work. And I just liked the looseness of it, its unhurriedness; it never felt aggressively over-written the way many of Tarantino's films do, nor did it rely on big action set-pieces in lieu of such over-written scenes.

With regard to the counter-factual conclusion, the obvious comparison is to Inglorious Basterds, but I would also suggest Get Out (suddenly, the police car appears, and we fully expect the black protagonist to be shot...but luckily, it's his friend in the police car). Like the former, it's certainly dramatically history-altering, but in such a way that Tarantino (like Jordan Peele) is gifting the audience a kind of relief from the seemingly inevitable horror and brutality. In the same way that we all know what really happened on that night in 1969, we all know what would almost certainly happen if most (white) police officers were to arrive at the scene and find a black man and a white woman in that moment. Of course, Tarantino "saving" Sharon Tate and her guests doesn't change the past any more than Peele sparing his protagonist from being shot on sight by a cop changes the realities of racism in America––but they're possibilities available to them as storytellers, in movie worlds that are only selectively realistic.

Friday

HOLY SHIT!


What a terrific season, amazing postseason, and a surreal, singular Finals series! And what an incredible, genuinely special group of players! Of course, I'm thrilled for Toronto and for my adopted home-country generally (on a personal level, it's pretty cool that this Raptors season coincided with my finally, officially becoming a Canadian citizen!), but most of all, I'm just so happy for the guys on this team. Just try not to smile, cry, or both watching this clip. Or this one. In a time of seemingly constant bad news, this is some sweet relief.

Wednesday

All Things Made New


In what was probably its original and intended form, the oldest of the four canonically accepted gospels, the text attributed to Mark, ended as follows:

But they, going out, fled from the sepulchre; for a trembling and fear had seized them. And they said nothing to any man; for they were afraid.

That’s it: “trembling and fear.” The plural subject referred to here are three women, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Salome. They had come to the tomb of Jesus “very early in the morning, on the first day of the week” to anoint his body with spices. When they entered, they instead found an unspecified “young man” dressed in white, who told them that Jesus had already risen. He urged the women to deliver this news to Peter and the other apostles, and to tell them to travel on to Galilee, where they would meet again with their leader, Jesus. But, according to the evangelist (Mark 16:8, quoted above), they did not pass on this mysterious young man’s instruction, “for they were afraid.”

That may well have been where the author of the oldest extant gospel abruptly concluded his narrative, but, of course, that isn’t the end of the story as we have it. The news of the risen Jesus did spread well beyond those three women, to Peter and the others, to Saul of Tarsus, and, in the centuries that followed, to every part of the Roman Empire. Two continuations (a longer addition and a shorter one) were later appended to the text of Mark, wherein Jesus himself comes to Mary Magdalene and then to the remaining eleven apostles (sans Judas); and the three subsequent gospels (two of them, Matthew and Luke, depending heavily on Mark, embellishing and expanding its terse text for different audiences) attested to the miraculous reappearance of the crucified Jesus initiating the religious movement that would begin to take shape following his death.

The composite picture of the four gospels, including the later additions to Mark 16 and the more explicitly Christological Gospel of John, is obviously very well-known by modern Christians and non-Christians alike, permanently woven into the fiber of Western (if not world) culture and art. It is therefore worth momentarily pausing to consider what the last two millennia might have looked like if Mark 16:8 had been left as the final word in the sole narrative account of Jesus’s life. (Paul’s authentic letters were composed and circulated before Mark’s gospels, but none of them attempts to narrate the life of Jesus.) To do so is to allow oneself to think of Christianity’s eventual cultural dominance as something that was not at all inevitable, and not providentially foreordained. It might even open the way toward imagining Jesus and his small cluster of coeval followers with fresh eyes, lacking luminous halos and a clear sense of destiny, haunted by a profound uncertainty following the sudden death of their leader.

Garth Davis’s Mary Magdalene does not end the way Mark 16:8 does, but right up until its post-passion concluding scenes (more on those scenes below) it does capture, to some extent, this same mood of uncertainty and non-inevitability. Joaquin Phoenix’s Jesus feels, at once, recognizable in his general appearance and through some of his canonically reported deeds, yet also more human and conflicted than any Jesus we’ve seen onscreen before (including Willem Dafoe’s in The Last Temptation of Christ). This rough-around-the-edges characterization of Jesus is largely due to Phoenix’s superlative performance. It is also a serendipitous by-product of Davis and screenwriters Helena Edmundson and Philippa Goslett’s decision to square their focus on the figure of Mary Magdalene. This narrative approach works only moderately well as the feminist gesture that the director and writers seemingly intended—but it works very effectively in creating a Jesus who feels radically peripheral to his own story.

Of course, it is decidedly not uncommon for movies ostensibly about Jesus to actually do something other than tell the story of Jesus, in part because the survival of four separate and distinctly different canonical gospels ensured that there never could be one definitive account. To cite just a few prominent examples: Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew, true to its title, is a fairly faithful adaptation of Matthew, which has no better claim to ultimate veracity than do Mark or Luke. Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ was adapted by Paul Schrader from a 1955 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, and, though a truly great film, it arguably has much more to do with Schrader and Scorsese’s respective spiritual doubts and frustrations than with those of Jesus as presented in any of the gospel texts. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ cherry-picks details from across the gospels, while also drawing from the purported visions of the modern German nun Anne Catherine Emmerich. As its title suggests, it is concerned almost exclusively with the rigorous passion of its protagonist, not the other, earlier parts of his life on earth. At the same time, Gibson’s terming of his condemned hero as “the Christ” presupposes the development of Christian dogma in such a way that the film—whatever its other faults or offenses—feels rigidly sealed off from the outset, quarantined against imaginative interpretation.

For its part, Mary Magdalene is, as noted above, focused more specifically on its titular character than on Jesus. It also dramatizes only the relatively brief period of Jesus’s mature ministry, not his earlier life. Like Mark’s gospel, Davis’s film does not include Jesus’s nativity or boyhood. Where Mark’s narrative begins with Jesus’s baptism, by another mysterious Jewish holy man, John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene opens in medias res, in the Galilean city of Magdala, with Jesus having already attracted a small group of devotees. The event that sets the plot in motion is Mary Magdalene (i.e., of Magdala) electing to join this entourage, and, against the wishes of her family, being baptized in the Sea of Galilee. After this, Mary becomes one of Jesus’s core apostles, not merely a marginal figure in his orbit. Indeed, Davis positions her as Jesus’s closest and must trusted confidante, surpassing even Peter (well played by Chiwetel Ejiofor).

Between its last images (of Mary setting forth to fulfill the mission with which Jesus has tasked her) and closing credits, Mary Magdalene provides its audience the following, briefly summarized information:

According to the Christian Gospels, Mary of Magdala was present at both Jesus’ death and burial; and is identified as the first witness to the resurrected Jesus.
In 591, Pope Gregory claimed that Mary of Magdala was a prostitute, a misconception which remains to this day.
In 2016, Mary of Magdala was formally identified by the Vatican as Apostle of the Apostles – their equal – and the first messenger of the resurrected Jesus.


None of this is necessarily inaccurate, though it is definitely simplified. To viewers (Christian or not) who are even moderately attuned to pop-culture and pop-history, none of it will come as much of a surprise.

The confusion regarding the identity of Mary Magdalene actually preceded Pope Gregory I (“the Great”) by a few centuries. The notion of her having possibly been a prostitute stemmed from the conflation of Mary Magdalene (never directly described as a prostitute or in similar terms) with both Mary of Bethany, who anoints Jesus’s feet at John 11:1–2, and an unnamed, vaguely described “woman that was in the city, a sinner,” who also anoints Jesus’s feet, at Luke 7:37–50. Such are the problems encountered when trying to “harmonize” four different, overlapping accounts of Jesus’s life, career, and the various people with whom he interacted. In the course of her long textual afterlife, Mary Magdalene was no doubt the victim of an ancient and medieval misogyny that was enduringly commonplace, but her misidentification as a prostitute was, in the first place, a consequence of imperfect exegetical analyses of some very challenging texts. Alas, “Mary” (or its ancient-language equivalents) was, like “Jesus”/“Yeshua,” an extremely common name in first-century A.D. Judea and Galilee. The same problem presents itself (even up to today) in sorting out mentions of “Jesus” in the writings of the Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus, whose Antiquities of the Jews is regarded as the sole surviving “non-Christian” text from the first century to seemingly attest to the execution of Jesus of Nazareth (i.e., the so-called Testimonium Flavanium, a brief passage in Josephus’s sprawling, twenty-book work, later recolored through the interpolations of medieval Christian scribes).

In the twenty-first century, Mary Magdalene’s reputation has been significantly rehabilitated, thanks less to the eventual Vatican pronouncement noted in the film than to a steady stream of popular history books and TV programs that claim to have uncovered the “real” Mary Magdalene (usually just by summarizing critical studies of the non-canonical Gnostic scriptures), and probably above all to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (2003). Brown’s bestseller swung the pendulum of opinion on Mary so far in the other direction that she was now not only a genuine apostle, or “apostle of the apostles,” but the secret wife of Jesus and the mother of his child. It was, in this overheated light, the misogynistic institutional Church, intent on preserving patriarchal power, that had deliberately framed her as a prostitute, while a small secret sect operating in the shadows concealed and guarded the still-enduring lineage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. By all informed accounts, this conspiratorial yarn is completely absurd, and in Brown’s defense, his book was unambiguously delivered as a work of pulpy historical fiction. But it was not interpreted as such by many of its rapt readers. Mistaken assumptions in reading and interpreting scriptural texts had first cast Mary Magdalene as the “sinful woman.” Now, more willful errors in the reading of a novel (and its many official and unofficial off-shoots) have recast her in an equally ill-attested role.

Consequently, it should not prove any real challenge for most viewers of Mary Magadalene to accept the film’s representation of its heroine as an apostle and not a prostitute. If anything, some readers of Brown’s novel may wonder why Davis’s film does not go even further in its depiction of Mary’s intimate relationship with Jesus. To its credit, the film does not push hard on this partially open door. Its Mary-Magdalene-as-chief-apostle is presented as one viable historical possibility, interesting to think with and empowering as a modern idea. This balance, between possibility and restraint, is perfectly struck in Mara’s performance, which is strong and deeply felt, yet unassuming and low-key—an ideal match for Phoenix’s Jesus.

The same observations can essentially be applied to the movie as a whole. The famous scriptural scenes that it stages—e.g., the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus casting the merchants out of the temple, the last supper, Judas’s betrayal of Jesus, even Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life—are presented as relatively subdued and resolutely human-scaled (Phoenix’s destruction of the temple plays like a spontaneous psychotic disturbance, not a righteous biblical event), often serene yet never grandiose or obvious. Davis and his actors’ approach renders these scenes somewhat less familiar, but more interesting and moving.

In his capsule review of The Passion of the Christ, Jonathan Rosenbaum lamented, "I assumed this drama about the last 12 hours of Jesus’s life would include something about his teachings, at least in flashback. But the Sermon on the Mount is reduced to two sound bites, and miracles and good works barely get a glance; director Mel Gibson stresses only cruelty and suffering, complete with slow motion and masochistic point-of-view shots." As a kind of antidote to Gibson’s suffering- and death-obsessed film, Davis’s spends remarkably little of its runtime on the crucifixion—and almost none on speculating about who was to blame for it. Included instead are a kind of greatest hits of Jesus’s canonically attested acts (if not his “teachings” in any doctrinal sense; for better and for worse, Mary Magdalene is light on theology). Filtered through the curious eyes of Rooney’s Mary Magdalene, these well-known hits play like the work of a good cover band, attempting to recover some Ur-versions of the songs in question, before their words, melodies, and rhythms became reified through mass-cultural osmosis.

Like The Passion of the Christ, Mary Magdalene was released during Lent (Lent 2018 in the UK and Australia, Lent 2019 in North America), clearly in the hopes that Christian moviegoers would slot the film in as part of their Easter season cultural-liturgical calendar. Yet, unlike Gibson’s film, Davis’s does not feel like it was made exclusively, or even primarily, for believing Christians. Nor, for that matter, does it resemble a glossy (wholly secular) Hollywood product, or a bold provocation like Scorsese’s Last Temptation. Mary Magdalene’s affect of catharsis and spiritual triumph is palpable, but mostly quite muted. It’s a film of ambivalent, uncertain feelings, even where (seemingly, on the page) it means to evoke a sense of commitment and destiny. Mara, Phoenix, and Co. do not play it that way. The resulting blurry in-between-ness makes for a fascinating and engaging film, but it may help to explain its apparent failure to “find an audience.”

It may also, at least partly (together with the unappealing optics of a delayed release, after Mary Magdalene switched hands from the Weinstein Company to IFC), account for the film’s tepid critical reception. While I’m impressed by Davis’s film, it’s not hard to understand the negative responses of some reviewers. For instance, the film’s musical score, by the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhansson (his last before his sudden death in 2018), is grating and overbearing so long as you resist it. Yet once (if) you accept its omnipresent histrionics, it contributes immensely to the film’s dreamlike atmosphere, its symphonic scope productively juxtaposed against the strikingly modest dimensions of the drama onscreen. Not unlike, say, Malick’s The New World, Mary Magdalene is a dream of history—specifically, in both cases, a pivotal and famous chapter in the world’s history—as strange and contingent. As in an actual dream, the names and relationships feel familiar, but the motions the named people are going through are peculiar, or different from how our conscious mind “remembers” them. In contrast to Malick’s film (and his work in general), which is perhaps overloaded with difficult philosophical and theological problems, Mary Magdalene is almost a tabula rasa—a blank screen conducive to projecting many different kinds of ideas, historical, religious/“spiritual,” or otherwise—at least up until its final few scenes.

Jesus’s resurrection—i.e., the events after Mark 16:8—is where Davis’s film “wakes up,” in more ways than one. Here, the film returns to a feminist message that it had suggested (rather more subtly) near its beginning in Galilee. The ideas put forth (namely, of women as key leaders within a more truly egalitarian Christianity avant la lettre) are certainly well-intentioned and admirable, but they have not been consistently, discernibly signposted throughout the intervening narrative. Heavy-handedly emphasizing this proto-feminist Mary Magdalene right at the film’s end feels a little jarring, particularly because this is a film that is in no other way heavy-handed or didactic.

Yet, these tonal issues notwithstanding, the final meeting between Jesus and Mary is so beautifully, gracefully acted that it mitigates against Davis’s narrative missteps. Phoenix’s disarmingly gentle and kind smile has never been used to more poignant effect than it is here, and it makes for a great contrast with the scowling, weary, or simply neutral expressions that Phoenix cycles between throughout much of the film. His Jesus is less the warm and benign Good Shepherd of Christian tradition than the highly enigmatic (if highly charismatic) messianic figure evoked in many modern studies of the “Historical Jesus.” Mara’s Mary Magdalene seems both consoled and surprised by her miraculously returned leader’s kind smile. It catches her off-guard, and she can’t help but smile too.

Mary Magdalene the film is remarkable for moments like this one, precisely because they also catch us off-guard, and they invite us to imagine outside the bounds of tradition, in much the same way as reading Mark’s gospel in isolation and stopping abruptly at its original terminus, 16:8. Though Mary Magdalene goes further than that ambiguous would-be ending, it may nonetheless be said that no representation of Jesus on film (of which I’m aware, at least) does a better job of facilitating this type of imaginative interaction.

Friday

Bare Life


High Life might well be the most radical film I've ever seen at a commercial (non-festival, non-arthouse theatre) screening. A friend suggested The Tree of Life as another possibility, and while true, Malick seems like a special case insofar as audiences more or less know what to expect: major movie stars reciting very strange poetry, and often overshadowed by grass and trees in the film's final cut. Because High Life was Claire Denis' first film to receive such a wide North American release – and her first entirely in English – I went in sort of expecting a diluted, "lite" version of Denis' aesthetic. Instead, what I found was one of her most challenging and provocative works, at a multiplex that normally shows superhero movies or the like on three quarters or more of its screens (and indeed, High Life was quickly slotted out by the latest Avengers sequel). Serendipitously, it's a film that truly deserves to be seen, and heard, at such a state-of-the-art venue, but which would normally be relegated to the margins. Surely this would've been High Life's fate if not for the presumed bankability of Robert Pattinson (he and Kristen Stewart are like real-life art-film superheroes, using their Twlight afterglow as long as it lasts to help get interesting films funded and distributed) and the sci-fi/space thriller genre in general, both manipulated by Denis in wonderfully subversive ways. It seems glib to call High Life "Trouble Every Day in space," but it's not wholly inaccurate. It's an extraordinarily visceral, tactile, and at times genuinely shocking film, using its setting and ostensible genre to evoke the extreme outer limits of the vulnerability and peculiarity of human life; and it's some kind of masterpiece.

Monday

This is a tremendously insightful article, by Clare Malone. FiveThirtyEight is at its best when it gets hyper-specific and balances contemporary data with the confluence of historical circumstances that subtly shaped that data. Both as an engaging piece of prose and as cogent sociopolitical analysis, this might well be the best piece they've published to date.

Thursday

We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder in our hearts







There will be time for that, too


I already knew that Robyn was the pop star par excellence of her generation (give or take Beyoncé, who only really started caring about making great front-to-back albums eight years after Robyn, still for my money the best pure pop album of this century); but she's also one of the best, most charismatic and exciting entertainers on the planet, full stop. Just...WOW.

Friday

For what it's worth...

PICTURE
Will win: Green Book?
Should win: BlacKkKlansman
Should've been nominated: Zama

DIRECTOR
Will win: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Should win: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman (or anyone other than Adam McKay)
Should've been nominated: Lucretia Martel, Zama; Paul Schrader, First Reformed

ACTRESS
Will win: Glenn Close, The Wife
Should win: Yalitza Aparicio, Roma or Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Should've been nominated: Regina Hall, Support the Girls

ACTOR
Will win: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Should win: Willem Dafoe, At Eternity's Gate
Should've been nominated: Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Will win: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Should win: Rachel Weisz or Emma Stone, The Favourite
Should've been nominated: Sakura Ando, Shoplifters

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Will win: Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Should win: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Should've been nominated: Steven Yeun, Burning

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Will win: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, and Peter Farrelly, Green Book
Should win: Paul Schrader, First Reformed
Should've been nominated: Ari Aster, Hereditary

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Will win: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Should win: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Should've been nominated: David Schneider, Ian Martin, and Peter Fellows, The Death of Stalin

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Will win: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Should win: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Should've been nominated: Hong Kyung-pyo, Burning

FILM EDITING
Will win: Hank Corwin, Vice
Should win: Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman
Should've been nominated: Jean-Luc Godard, The Image Book

God knows, I'm ready!

And yes I said yes I will yes!

Monday

Five Things


that I really like right now:

01. Thank U, Next the album, esp. "Fake Smile," "Bad Idea," and "Break up with Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored" The instant coronation of this one as her best record to date has real merit to it. Song for song, it's stronger than Sweetener, and while I'm still partial to Dangerous Woman, the new one may pass it, too, with just a few more listens. She's terrific, and is only getting better, smarter, and more prudent in her (musical) choices.

02. The National Basketball Association, esp. the Eastern Conference match-ups post-trade deadline Well, obviously.

03. Fake or Fortune?, esp. the Van Dyck, "Mystery Old Master," Rembrandt, and Delacroix episodes I'm thoroughly addicted to this show, which is essentially about art-historical research being exciting, which it is, or can be, when the brilliant Bendor Grosvenor is involved.

04. At Eternity's Gate, esp. Willem Dafoe and Mads Mikkelsen's performancs, Benoît Delhomme's cinematography, and Tatiana Lisovskaya's score It's imperfect, yet, upon reflection, mostly in ways that make it more appealingly strange and beguiling; probably 2018's most underrated film.

05. The "Woy-yoy-yoy" song from Cold War, esp. the full choral version The movie itself is good, and often really good, but only great during its stunning musical scenes. (Not sure what to make of that ending...)