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.


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.


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.


For what it's worth...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!


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...)


Performances: Retractatio

I've seen so many more terrific performances since posting this list that I've decided to update, and double, it. Insofar as I care about the Oscars, I'm decidedly bummed that Ethan Hawke was snubbed, but pleasantly surprised that Willem Dafoe made it in, for one of the best performances of his career (possibly the best). At Eternity's Gate itself –– beautiful and indelible but marked by some deeply odd and questionable technical choices –– warrants more careful consideration (I just finally saw it) and extended discussion, which I'll get around to soon...




The Dumb Resistance

Vice is a bad movie about a very bad person. Because Adam McKay's film is sharply critical of its subject does not make it a good movie. It is obvious, clumsy, admittedly sporadically entertaining, but most of all, bizarrely incongruous, its many moveable parts shoehorned into a film that as a whole is barely coherent. On the one hand, its dramatic scenes feel like the stuff of a highly conventional, super-reductive biopic, a key-moments collection of Cheney's life and career, with every major decision or event compressed into the fewest number of synoptic lines possible before jumping to the next such moment. On the other hand, this series of dramatic scenes–––arranged elliptically so as to ostensibly explain who Cheney is, or what really motivates him, or whatever––are framed by a sub-Michael Moore narration–commentary that is more heavy-handed and condescending than your average left-wing conspiracy-theory amateur doc posted to YouTube; the choice to have Landry from Friday Night Lights break the fourth wall in delivering this narration was utterly ill-considered, and the scene where it's finally revealed who this narrator is in relation to Cheney's story is downright cringeworthy--arguably the dumbest movie-moment of the year if not for the scene with Alfred Molina as a waiter, which is somehow even dumber. Whatever dramatic impact Vice might have otherwise made is thoroughly undermined by McKay's lame stylistic choices.

This is a bit of a shame because some of the film's performances are quite strong, at least as uncanny impressions or amusing takes on well-known people. Christian Bale is eerily dead-on in the same way as Gary Oldman's Churchill, Meryl Streep's Margaret Thatcher, and Jamie Foxx's Ray Charles. Amy Adams is also good, if basically one-dimensional (though, curiously, her performance is at times more reminiscent of Kate McKinnon's Hillary Clinton than it is of Lynne Cheney). Steve Carrell's performance works because he hones in on a particular, distinctive aspect of Donald Rumsfeld––his impish petulance––and essentially plays him like a smarter, more evil (if no more socially adept) Michael Scott. Tyler Perry's Colin Powell and LisaGay Hamilton's Condoleeza Rice are fun, one-note touches. Sam Rockwell's George W. Bush, however, is shitty and lazy, impression-acting at its worst that dampens the scenes he shares with Bale, Carrell, et al.

As a piece of pop-polemic, Vice shares a certain cultural space with BlackKklansman, my pick for 2018's best movie. Both films blur the line between past and present, and combine fast-paced popcorn entertainment with explicit political critique. Yet, the qualitative difference between these two films could not be more extreme. It's not just the difference between a great filmmaker and a mediocre one, though that's part of it. It's that Spike Lee earns his film's incendiary coda and its presentist nods along the way with rich, sensitive storytelling; interludes like the Birth of a Nation sequence deepen, rather than distract from, the main drama. A pleasurable movie narrative ultimately gives way to profound despair and anger, and both feel wholly warranted. By contrast, Vice aims squarely to shoot fish in a barrel, and in some respects it fails even at that. When it attempts something like profundity, it feels like a ridiculous self-parody of the twenty-first-century American left.


Secrets stolen from deep inside

Damn! Even better than "Pinot Noir" and "Boobs in California," though perhaps not the one-man geisha opera.
2018: Movies

Terrible year for the world; terrific year for movies, which is some small consolation. Though we needn't overextend the supposed correlation of bad times/good art, the year's best film might've merely been one among many very good ones if not for its galvanizing present-day coda. Of course, I'd trade a great movie for an inferior one together with less harrowing current circumstances, and I'm sure Spike Lee would too, but here we are. Radical resistance art par excellence –– or torridly making out with Amanda Seyfried –– might be all we've got as things stand.

01. BlacKkKlansman (Lee)
02. Zama (Martel)
03. First Reformed (Schrader)
04. Transit (Petzold)
05. Burning (Lee)
06. Roma (Cuarón)
07. Hereditary (Aster)
08. The Favourite (Lanthimos)
09. Microhabitat (Jeon)
10. Ash Is Purest White (Jia)

11. Lush Reeds (Yang)
12. The Image Book (Godard)
13. The Death of Stalin (Ianucci)
14. Support the Girls (Bujalski)
15. Shoplifters (Koreeda)
16. The Third Murder (Koreeda)
17. On Happiness Road (Sung)
18. Mirai (Hosoda)
19. Three Faces (Panahi)
20. Mid90s (Hill)

21. If Beale Street Could Talk (Jenkins)
22. Fausto (Bussmann)
23. Edge of the Knife (Edenshaw/Haig-Brown)
24. Hold the Dark (Saulnier)
25. Grass (Hong)
26. Cam (Goldhaber)
27. Oh Lucy! (Hirayanagi)
28. The Darling (Lee)
29. You Were Never Really Here (Ramsay)
30. Paddington 2 (King)

31. Spider-Man: Into Spider-verse (Persichetti/Ramsey/Rothman)
32. A Land Imagined (Yeow)
33. Leave No Trace (Granik)
34. The Museum of Forgotten Triumphs (Bodružić)
35. Father to Son (Hsiao)
36. Non-Fiction (Assayas)
37. Sorry to Bother You (Riley)
38. May the Devil Take You (Tjahjanto)
39. Unsane (Soderbergh)
40. Cargo (Howling/Ramke)

41. Verónica (Plaza)
42. Calibre (Palmer)
43. Diane (Jones)
44. Crazy Rich Asians (Chu)
45. Searching (Chaganty)
46. A Quiet Place (Krasinski)
47. Paul, Apostle of Christ (Hyatt)
48. Ralph Breaks the Internet (Moore/Johnston)
49. The Incredibles 2 (Bird)
50. The Endless (Benson/Moorhead)


Holiday complaints dept.

The Raptors, with a league-best record and one of the top five players in the league, not getting a Xmas-day game this year is ridiculous and just plain poor decision-making. Instead, we get the shitty Knicks sans Porzingis getting (inevitably) obliterated by Milwaukee, ugh. Raptors–Bucks (Kawhi vs. Giannis!) would've made for an infinitely superior game for anyone who cares about great basketball, including discerning New Yorkers. Or, for narrative: Raptors at Spurs as a much better late-slot match-up than Portland–Utah––both small-market teams with no legitimate superstar save Dame; Donovan Mitchell's not quite there yet, and as much as I like and respect Rudy Gobert, I strongly doubt that many kids outside Utah, and maybe northern France, unwrapped Gobert jerseys this morning.


2018: Music

01. Mount Eerie, Now Only
02. Robyn, Honey
03. Prince, Piano & a Microphone 1983
04. Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy
05. The Carters, Everything Is Love
06. Ariana Grande, Sweetener
07. Soccer Mommy, Clean
08. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer
09. Mitski, Be the Cowboy
10. Lykke Li, so sad, so sexy

01. Drake, "Nice for What"
02. Soccer Mommy, "Your Dog"
03. The Carters, "Apeshit"
04. Ariana Grande, "Thank U, Next"
05. Robyn, "Missing U"
06. Childish Gambino, "This Is America"
07. Drake, "God's Plan"
08. Travis Scott, "Sicko Mode"
09. Cardi B, "I Like It"
10. Miley Cyrus & Mark Ronson, "Nothing Breaks Like a Heart"


Your car's a dump and you're broke

(Does Borders still exist?)
2018: 50 Performances

There are still some ostensibly key things I haven't seen yet, so I'm holding off on a year-end films list, but here's this for now; subject to revision, but really solid as is. (updated Jan. 30)

01. Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
02. Willem Dafoe, At Eternity's Gate
03. Jeffrey Wright, Hold the Dark
04. Regina Hall, Support the Girls
05. Mary Kay Place, Diane
06. Zhao Tao, Ash Is Purest White
07. Toni Collette, Hereditary
08. Steven Yeun, Burning
09. Michael Jq Huang, Father to Son
10. Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
11. Olivia Colman, The Favourite
12. Rachel Weisz, The Favourite
13. Emma Stone, The Favourite
14. Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
15. Sakura Ando, Shoplifters
16. Jeon Jong-seo, Burning
17. Madeline Brewer, Cam
18. John Cho, Searching
19. Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
20. Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here
21. Koji Yakusho, The Third Murder
22. Marina de Tavira, Roma
23. Juliette Binoche, Non-Fiction
24. Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace
25. Topher Grace, BlackKklansman
26. Hugh Grant, Paddington 2
27. Cedric Kyles, First Reformed
28. Amanda Seyfried, First Reformed
29. James Faulkner, Paul, Apostle of Christ
30. Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
31. Steve Buscemi, The Death of Stalin
32. Na-kel Smith, Mid90s
33. Martin Freeman, Cargo
34. Kim Min-hee, Grass
35. Bryan Tyree Henry, If Beale Street Could Talk
36. Ben Foster, Leave No Trace
37. Kirin Kiki, Shoplifters
38. Esom, Microhabitat
39. Jang Jieun, The Darling
40. Daniel Giménez Cacho, Zama
41. Jay Pharoah, Unsane
42. Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place
43. Josh Hartnett, Oh Lucy!
44. Gabriel Byrne, Hereditary
45. John David Washington, BlakKklansman
46. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Annihilation
47. Armie Hammer, Sorry to Bother You
48. Christian Bale, Vice
49. Steve Carrell, Vice
50. John Malkovich, Bird Box




This is eerily ominous –– and in itself just plain awful news.