Oscar alert! I'm saying it now, this is gonna be a major player. Or at least, I very much hope so because this movie was absolutely brilliant. Let's just get right into it.
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), Francess McDormand, godess of the silverscreen, stars as a woman who is frustrated that her daughter's murder has gone on for months without any movement towards catching the perp. She rents out a set of billboards in town to publicly question the local sheriff as to why he's let the case go cold. The small town she lives in is none too happy about that.
We'll start with the screenplay. In a way that only McDonagh can do, he brilliantly balances some biting comedy and intense subject matter. There's a dark tone that hovers over the whole thing as it weaves back and forth between the humor and the drama. That right there should earn it some screenplay love come awards season.
Then there's the cast. This is McDormand's best role since Fargo. I expect some major awards love coming her way. Her character was so strong willed and stubborn and McDormand sunk her teeth right in. You could see her relishing the sarcastic snapbacks and losing herself in the emotional moments. Watching her is a master class in acting.
She wasn't the only standout. Sam Rockwell, whom I've adored since Choke also had his best role in years. His character toed the line between the two sides of the screenplay. His not-too-bright deputy brought a lot of the humor, but he also had one of the biggest dramatic arcs in the film. He'd dance between both aspects with an expert ease.
This movie is in a pretty limited release, but if you have a chance to see it, you absolutely must. I'm pretty confident it's gonna end up in my top five for the year.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/
I thought I'd be the one to break this movie's perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Not that my posts actually get picked up by RT, but in spirit at least. I respect Greta Gerwig as a unique and creative voice, but I've never particularly cared for her. Nothing in the trailer seemed that special to me, and this ended up being one that I mostly went to out of a sense of obligation to see as much as I could. I knew that the film was supposta be lightly autobiographical for writer/director Gerwig, but what I didn't expect was how it'd be lightly autobiographical for me as well.
Saoirse Ronan is Lady Bird, a girl entering her senior year in high school, rebelling against the world, and deadset on leaving her hometown of Sacramento. Why did I overly connect to it? It was set in 2002-2003, which was also my senior year. She was at a Catholic school. Her relationship with her parents mirrored mine (sweet with Dad, add odds with Mom). The way she saw college as an escape from everything she grew up with. Oh and even little details, like how she got in trouble for her Student Council campaign posters. Cause that happened to me too. In the first scene, an unpleasant conversation with her Mom leads her to jump out of a moving car. I almost felt like doing that with the movie because it hit way too close to home, and I was not prepared for that.
Thankfully, I did not end up hitting the eject button, and stayed with the movie. I don't know that it particularly did anything different when it comes to these angsty teenage movies, but it somehow felt different. It could be how well I connected to it, it could be how well it was put together. I just know that Lady Bird is my spirit animal
Lady Bird – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n
Oof another emotional movie. And this one with a powerhouse cast behind it. Really, it had me at that cast: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Lawrence Fishburne. Oh and Richard Linklater directing.
The three are veterans who reunite for the first time since their service in Vietnam after Carell's son is killed in action in Iraq.
Those performances did not disappoint. Cranston did the unthinkable: he was unlikeable. He loses himself in every role and it's a first for me to not like his character. It still amazes me how different he plays everything he does. Fishburne was powerful, as the man who'd most changed since their time together, and the one most conflicted about their actions. However, the MVP for me was Carell who was utterly heartbreaking. He too loses himself in every role and gives us something different every time, but I've never seen this level of subtlety from him. He delivered the last line of the movie, and it broke thru my heart of ice and got a single tear out of me. There was one scene stuck in the middle where we see the comedian we love, but he worked it into this character so well, that it made me love this portrayal all the more. Any one of these men would be worthy to see on the Oscar ballot next year, but I really wanna see Steve make the cut.
The pacing did drag a little here and there, but the payoff was absolutely worth it. Not to mention just being able to watch these three masters of cinema work. I don't think it's possible to see this movie and not be affected by it.
Last Flag Flying – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n
The god of thunder is back! *Cue Led Zepplin's Immigrant song*.
Okay, it's an MCU movie. You know the framework. It's how these films are dressed up that distinguish them, and this stands out with its humor. Yes, this franchise is generally funny (esp once Joss Whedon got involved), but the way that Taika Waititi brings in the effortless laughs is in a super league of its own. Unlike its sister movies, this one relied a lot on improv, and as we learned in Ghostbusters, Chris Hemsworth can bring the funny.
Something else that hasn't been talked about too much that I wanna highlight is the way that Waititi involved the indigenous Australian people and culture where the movie was shot. The single thing that I love most from what I've read is that he approached these people for their permission, and together they held ceremonies to kick off the filming with their blessing. He also hired many of them to work on the film, and much of the production design and costumes were inspired by their culture. I'm not doing this subject much justice in my description, but I encourage you to do some light Googling to learn more. It's really admirable, and I feel like this was a huge factor in this movie's success.
With the later Marvel films, one thing that's kept me at rapt attention is the new characters introduced. Ragnarok introduced a slew of new characters, but I think I've found my new favorite. I need to be Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie when I grow up. I can't even explain how much I loved her and all the girl power she stands for. If you take nothign else from this write up, your takeaway should be go see this movie for her. Besides her, there was Waititi as Korg being endearing, Cate Blanchett as Hela being bad ass, and Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster being Jeff Goldblum.
The movie did fall into a lot of the same MCU pitfalls. They still haven't quite figured out their villain problem. So while Cate Blanchett gave it everything and was incredible to watch, her character still seemed underwhelming. And yeah, the plot itself wasn't anything too special (although at least it wasn't a Macguffin plot). But none of those shortcomings mattered because the movie was thoroughly entertaining, and it excelled where it mattered
Thor: Ragnarok – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/
I guess it's Christmas time already? What happened to Turkey Day? Oh like any calendar is gonna stop me from seeing a Christmas movie any dang time I wanna!
The bad moms are back! And they're taking back Christmas! Well unless their own bad moms have anything to say about it. Repeating what I said on Stardust, for me, one mark of a good comedy is that I wanna hang out with the characters. Just think back to the comedies you love. Aren't those casts people that you wanna get a beer with? And the bad moms are totally #squadgoals. Honestly, all I was thinking as I watched their shenanigans is that I wanted to be right there with them.
This one deviates from the original in that it isn't just about the moms letting go of the “perfect mom” impossibility. Oh yes, there's a lot of that, holiday themed of course, but the main focus in on them dealing with their moms. And the bad grandmoms are oh so perfectly cast: Susan Sarandan, Cheryl Hines, and Christine Baranski. I feel like our core moms did lose a lil bit of their edge in shifting the focus, but the additional moms did change up the dynamic enough to set it apart from the first. But honestly, I could watch our center trio thru any holiday at any time of year.
A Bad Moms Christmas – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n
On the surface, I had some concerns about this movie. It gave off way too much of an American Sniper vibe. While I did really like Sniper, that similarity was a concern because since that had unexpectedly been a big hit, it felt like this was trying to do a cash grab by going after the same audience. The title of this one seemed to be rather pandering as well. I later found out the reason for the similarities is that TYFYS was written and directed by the writer of American Sniper. There were quite a few parallels between the two, but this movie packed it's own emotional punch.
Miles Teller stars as real life Adam Schumann, a soldier returning to the US after serving in Iraq. The focus was on the psychological impact of his service, and the way that it affected him, his veteran friends, and his family. It is subject matter that American Sniper touched on, but this movie went deeper into that side of things. I found it incredibly moving.
PTSD is a real issue that affects a large percentage of our veterans, and it's something we need to be addressing. I hope this movie gets a conversation going. And Miles Teller gave one of the most sincere and powerful performances of his career. He's a big part of what made this movie work. While I'm still a little leery of Hollywood's intentions behind the film, the end result was something worthwhile.
Thank You For Your Service – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n
Where did this movie go wrong? George Clooney directing a Coen Bros script starring Matt Damon and Julianne Moore. Shouldn't that be a winning combination? So then why was it so flipping boring?
It's the 1950's (I think) Suburbia. Idyllic town, or so we think. Some mobsters come into Matt Damon's home, rough up his family, things end badly. And they get worse from there. Sounds interesting, yeah? Then why wasn't it?
Pacing was an issue, but so was tone. I think it was meant to be a dark comedy (again, Coens) but it had too serious of tone. And scenes were dragged out, they weren't snappy. The consensus on Stardust seems to be that the fault rests with Clooney, and I'm inclined to agree. Love love love him as an actor (and possibly as a person, as best as I can tell) but this movie needed to be tightened up.
The other big criticism I'm hearing is that the B storyline about an African American family moved in didn't work. I get what that story was meant to do, how the intensity was meant to parallel the A story. Again, I think Clooney dropp
I love the Saw Franchise. As I stated last year, I didn't see any of the sequels until last October since the first one had given me nightmares, but it was absolutely worth it to watch them all in close succession. Two main reasons I love these movies: the mystery/suspense and the psychological ick factor. I HAVE to know what the games are gonna look like and I HAVE to know what the players' sins are. That alone is enough to sustain me through one of these movies, I don't care how cheesy or silly they may be. I NEED this information. We know I'm mostly immune to gore (although each movie will have at least one moment that does skeeve me out on that level), but the psychological stuff is unbeatable here. Not a lot of movies can give me that visceral jittery feeling, and it's got me hooked like an addict.
I say all of that because I know this movie isn't get the best rap, and I know it doesn't work for everyone, but it works for me. I think I can skip over describing the plot, because at the base level it's the same that it always is. Same or not though, I very much enjoyed myself. It was particularly fun seeing the movie on the big screen, since I hadn't experienced one of these like that before.
Bottom line, if you're a Saw fan, you should be seeing this. If you're not, this movie ain't gonna convert you.
Jigsaw – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n
Every reaction to this movie that I saw on Stardust was emotional, mine included. Oh man, did this movie pack a punch right in the feels. It tells the story of a group of firefighters in Arizona who combat wildfires in the area. The film is a little lengthy, but for good reason. You follow their journey and get to know each of them, building very strong characters with some incredibly sincere performances. As you see them go into the fires (it's not just one big one at the end, but many throughout the movie), the stakes are so high and so real because you care so much about these men that you've spent the past two hours with.
For me, the standout performance was Josh Brolin. This is among his best ever. His role was the team supervisor and leader, and he also led the film so beautifully. This Goonie done good.
Don't know that there's a lot else to say about this other than it's a beautiful and deserving tribute that is worth a watch.
Only the Brave – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/
The Lobster was my favorite movie last year. Such a weird tone, and so unlike anything else out there. Now to hear that Yorgos Lanthimos was applying that to a psychological thriller? Yes please!!
Colin Farrell reteams with Yorgos as a doctor and family man, married to Nicole Kidman with two kids at home. He has a strange friendship with a boy his daughter's age (an incredible Barry Keoghan), that soon turns to disturbing territory. The boy has a hold over him that could potentially cost him everything. Cryptic, I know, but I'm trying to explain without spoiling the details.
This movie was so unsettling, exactly what I was hoping for! Yes, the Yorgos tone absolutely had a lot to do with it. But the other person responsible was Keoghan. As I described him on Stardust, he falls somewhere between Norman Bates and We Need to Talk About Kevin. I was srsly impressed and thoroughly creeped out by him, and he is the reason to watch this movie.
I will say that my one gripe is that the movie did seem to drag as it transitioned towards the end of the second act or so. The story was drawn out without really adding too much, and I feel as though it could have been a lot cleaner. Still, the rest of it was great enough that it wasn't a dealbreaker for me. It just didn't quite live up to the promise of The Lobster. Which is fine, because what other movie could ever possibly match up?
The Killing of a Sacred Deer – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n