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The So-called “Best Pictures” of 2017

The Oscars are just around the corner, and despite deep flaws in their voting board and a long, storied history of blown calls, they remain my Superbowl. They’ve once again rolled out nine films they’ve nominated as best of the year, once again I have some quibbles, but not on the same level as, say, last year.

Once again, I’ve seen them all (only partially so you don’t have to), and once again I’m here to rank them for you, say if they’re worth your time, and whether or not I think they’d even exist without Oscar season.

Enough intro. Lots to cover. Allons-y, Alonso.

9. MoonWhite

I kid, I kid, the only thing this and last year’s winner have in common is gay youths finding their chosen loves difficult to pursue. I mean, that’s all they can have in common. Turns out that being gay, like everything on this Earth save for pulling off cornrows, is way easier when you’re rich and white rather than poor and black. So if this isn’t Moonlight, what is it?

In the early 80s Elio, his father the American professor (Oscar Season 2017 MVP Michael Stuhlbarg) and his French (Italian? Both?) mother, are spending the summer at the family’s villa in small-town Italy. When his father’s summer research assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer), arrives… eh, describing it in detail bores me. They don’t like each other, but that’s because they do like each other and this isn’t the easiest time to be gay, even in Europe, and then eventually they bang until the summer ends. There are a lot of pretty shots of the lush Italian countryside and a heartfelt speech from Stuhlbarg near the end, but that’s basically it. It’s a well-acted, prettily shot, but paint-by-numbers star-crossed romance flick that happens to have arrived at a time when doing a movie like this about two men is no longer so scandalous that it would earn an X rating and be banished to the back shelves of independent video stores, but not so commonplace that it doesn’t garner attention.

And frankly… it’s slow and a little dull. The stakes are low, the editing is self-indulgent, the whole thing is at least half an hour longer than it needs to be, the ending is soft (the only other thing it has in common with Moonlight)… it’s not great. Not, I would argue, Oscar calibre. I can think of several movies from last year that deserved the nomination more… The Big Sick, The Greatest Showman, and even War for the Planet of the Apes off the top of my head.

And as to the title… as pillow talk, Oliver says to Elio “Call me by your name… and I’ll call you by mine.” And Elio goes for it, instead of saying “Those are terrible codenames, everyone will see right through them” or the more simplistic “What? Why?” Naming the book/movie after this one doofy moment is like calling the first X-Men movie “What Happens to a Toad When It Gets Struck by Lightning,” or calling Age of Ultron “Avengers: Thor’s Magical Spa Day.”

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? I doubt it? Not my usual thing.
Glad you did? I’m not upset that I watched it, but… before long, I will forget it, and its absence in my memory will leave no hole.
Would it exist without Oscar Season?
There’s every chance.
Oscars How White? Rich people in rural Italy in the 80s. If this movie were any more white it would be an albino.

8. That Other Time Fighting Nazis Was Somehow a Controversy

(“Boring Dunkirk” was already taken, damn it)

Darkest Hour focuses on the rocky first month of Winston Churchill’s first stint as Prime Minister of Great Britain, from when Neville Chamberlain resigned as PM due to the opposition parties’ unwillingness to form a coalition with the architect of the appeasement policy, to the day of Operation Dynamo, the civilian-aided evacuation of the British forces from Dunkirk. During this time, Churchill tried to rally his country for war against Hitler, while facing pressure from Chamberlain and his first choice of successor, Viscount Halifax, to instead negotiate peace.

Chamberlain valued peace. He didn’t want his country in a second world war. Any other time in history, that might have been admirable. As it stands, his legacy is to be a historical cautionary tale, and to be one of the antagonists in a movie about his successor.

Gary Oldman is nigh-unrecognizable as Churchill, and he gives his usual great performance, so it has that going for it. But that’s kind of the problem. It feels like it exists as a “Great man in his most noble moment” Oscar-bait biopic and that is a genre I feel needs to die. There isn’t a lot of tension nor engaging material in watching Churchill attempt to keep his position and motivate the government to stay in the war. Movies about “that guy you’ve heard of is just as great as you’ve been told, and here’s an actor trolling for an Oscar playing him” just feel a little… empty.

Also I can’t watch this sort of biopic and not wonder how hard they’re working to make the adversaries worse than they need to be. Chamberlain isn’t done many favours (that he was dying and just wanted to see his nation at peace before the end is a little sympathetic?), but Halifax? With his angry glowers, unflattering hair, and Elmer Fudd speech impediment (which might be historically accurate, I don’t know), he is played as a straight-up villain. He didn’t want to be at war with Germany because they’d just watched all of western Europe be conquered at alarming speed, and he didn’t want England to be next. Sure it was the wrong call, we all know that now, obviously there’s no way to depict “Let’s negotiate with Hitler” positively, I’m just saying that maybe history is judging them enough and they didn’t need to play Halifax like he murders puppies when he gets home.

Parliment is well-shot, though.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? Maybe? I do like Gary Oldman.
Glad you did? Eh.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
This movie reeks of “Win Gary Oldman an Oscar.”
Oscars How White? There’s a black guy in a pivotal scene in the London underground. He gets lines and a name and everything. Which sounds like a goddamn pittance but puts this one in the top half, diversity-wise.

7. Obsessive Compulsive Vs. Passive Aggressive: A Love Story

This poster upsets Uwe Boll, so try to only share it always.

Phantom Menace Tollbooth Thread is the story of a waitress named Alma, who encounters a famous dress-maker named Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis, in what he’s claiming is his retirement performance). Some would say Woodcock is the central character. I dispute that assertion. Anyway, Woodcock asks Alma to be his live-in model, she falls in love with him, buuuut…

See, in their very first interactions, Woodcock makes it abundantly clear that he is extremely controlling. Sure, at first he does it with a smile on his face and a song in his heart but still. Shortly thereafter, he also makes it abundantly clear that his routines and his work will always take precedence over the happiness, comfort, or any feelings of those around him, save possibly for Cyril, his razor-tongued sister and business partner. But despite his cold-to-the-point-of-cruel reactions to any kind gesture Alma makes that even remotely disturbs his work or habits, she is determined to be allowed to love him and be loved back on her terms.

Also I get the feeling he’s supposed to be gay. When she asks him why he never married, he gives the following responses:
“I make dresses.”
“I’m a confirmed bachelor. Incurable.”
“Marrying would be deceitful.”
At least one of those is old-timey-Hollywood code for “homosexual.”

But that ultimately doesn’t matter to the story. The point is, she wants to be a partner, but he’s determined to treat her like an accessory, and their various dysfunctions go to quiet, bitchy war.

This one gets tons of hype behind it, because Paul Thomas Anderson is a known quantity for quality films and Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t get out of bed if there’s not an Oscar nomination in it for him, but it’s… just pretty okay. I didn’t see anything that special in it. Also, Day-Lewis will not be getting one last Oscar. His performance is good, but subtle. The Academy doesn’t have a track record of rewarding subtlety, especially not when “Bombastic, in a biopic, with a lot of facial prosthetics” is on the table.

Also… I know there is nothing to this, but… the director’s name is two letters away from the auteur of the implausibly successful Resident Evil movies, Uwe Boll thinks they stole his poster design for Bloodrayne, and the male lead shares a penis-joke of a name with a failed and terrible-looking Billy Bob Thornton comedy. All of that is meaningless but it’s a weird confluence of shit cinema surrounding a prestige picture.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? Doubtful.
Glad you did? The ending was actually pretty neat, but it was a long road to get there.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis do not work together for other reasons.
Oscars How White? Like the driven goddamn snow.


6. Remember Journalism? Man. Those were the days.

Jebas, the cast on this thing. Even aside from Streep and Hanks, nearly every frame had someone I know and like from somewhere. Alison Brie, Zach Woods, Carrie Coon, Bruce Greenwood, Bradley Whitford, Fat Matt Damon Jesse Plemons… David Cross and Bob Odenkirk? Big year for sketch comics doing prestige pics. But it is a Spielberg picture. People show up for Spielberg.

Meryl Streep is Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post, first female publisher of a major American newspaper. Tom Hanks is her editor-in-chief, who’s eager to publish the leaked Pentagon Papers which revealed damaging secrets about America’s involvement in Vietnam. A masterful director and solid cast tackling a topic of depressing relevance: the responsibility of news media to hold the government accountable. But as legendary and Oscar-attracting as Spielberg, Hanks, and Streep are… this isn’t really any of their best work. I mean, even Spielberg’s B-game is pretty watchable, but this one is likely to get shut out and not for no reason.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? I’d have gotten to it.
Glad you did? Yep.
Would it exist without Oscar Season?
You know at this point I think Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks just do whatever they want and if it gets Oscars, it gets Oscars.
Oscars How White? Couple of black women in the crowd scenes. Jesus. This is a white-ass year.

5. Worst Layover Ever

The British army, in full retreat from the Nazis, find themselves trapped on a beach in Dunkirk, waiting for a miracle, while a massive fleet of civilian craft sailed in an attempt to rescue the troops before the panzers arrived. Christopher Nolan tells the story through three perspectives, each with a different time frame: the men in Dunkirk (primarily Tommy, who is particularly eager to get away), which covers a week; one of the boats heading for Dunkirk, and a rescued sailor quite determined not to go back to Dunkirk, which covers a day; and one air force pilot (Tom Hardy, doing some intense but silent eye-acting for most of his screentime) desperately trying to keep the German bombers from sinking the rescue ships, which covers an hour.

The various, non-synced timelines mean we encounter a few key moments from multiple perspectives, but if you’re paying attention it’s not hard to follow. Actually kind of cool realizing that the “sea” plot has caught up to “air” and whatnot.

It’s super tense, well done, and there are some solid performances throughout. I just ultimately liked a few others more.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? I never miss a Nolan movie except Interstellar for some reason.
Glad you did? Yeppers.
Would it exist without Oscar Season?
 The Oscars have taught Nolan to make movies for other reasons.
Oscars How White? White chocolate dipped in vanilla. Come on, man, there had to be people of colour in that army. They had an empire.

4. Awful People Trying to Do Good, also Explosions

You’ve heard of this one. Grieving mother Mildred (Frances McDormand, who makes the character a force of nature), filled with anger that her daughter’s killer hasn’t been caught yet, rents out three billboards to shame the local police chief (Woody Harrelson), angering many in the town. None more so than Deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who has problems with anger. And alcohol. And racism. And basic human empathy. He’s a mean drunk with a badge.

Writer/director Martin McDonagh is pretty good at throwing together deeply flawed people and getting a pretty solid story out of them (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths). The central theme this time around is that people in pain lash out. Mildred lashes out at the police (and others), Dixon lashes out at her, her billboards, and anyone connected to them. Also it’s made clear he does this a lot.

That, then, is the centre of the Three Billboards backlash: the redemption arc for the violent, racist, drunk cop. Because I guess people would rather that bad people stay bad people? I mean the point, right, the point of his arc is not that “Sure he’s a racist, violent thug of a cop, but that doesn’t mean he’s all bad.” The first step of his redemption is realizing, with a push from the chief, that he is a bad person now, but he doesn’t have to stay that way. Woody Harrelson delivers a beautiful speech, the central thesis of which is “Hate never solved nothing, but calm did.” Or as The Doctor put it… “Hate is always foolish, and love is always wise.”

Because a topic the film tackles, one that I am just now seeing, actually, is that perhaps the line between justice and revenge is love and forgiveness. The chief gives Dixon the push, but an act of forgiveness that he had not earned makes sure the push takes. Whereas Mildred’s rage just brings more destruction.

There are a lot of layers here. A lot to unpack. Which is why it ranks higher than the others: sometimes I’d rather my best picture nominees start a conversation rather than just say “Wasn’t Churchill great,” or “There was a time when Stephen Hawking was bangable.” Also it’s got a great cast bringing their respective A-games.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? I had every intention.
Glad you did? Indeedy.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
This is the first real Oscar buzz McDonagh’s gotten, so I imagine so.
Oscars How White? Just “Mostly.”

3. None Suffer Like White Drama Kids

A coming of age tale set in Sacramento, California, Lady Bird is about a teen girl (Saoirse Ronan, earning the crap out of her third Oscar nomination) on the verge of college trying to find an identity outside of her parents. Her family’s poor, her mother is passive aggressive, controlling, and short on kindness, so she tries to break away. By changing her name to Lady Bird, dating boys (with a few variations of failure on that score), getting into drama (though not exactly landing any leads), trying to trade up friend groups, and eyeing school in New York, waaaaaay away from home, which her parents do not love.

Do I have anything in common with Lady Bird? No. Well, mostly no. I was a drama kid and there was a hot minute in grade, I wanna say three, when I thought I wanted my name to be Robert instead of Dan. Then my dad called me “Robert” to play along and it felt weird and I never brought it up again. I lacked Lady Bird’s commitment to reinvention. Where was I? Right. I’m not much like Lady Bird, but I surely connected with her more than that stoner punk from Boyhood. It’s a film rich in charm, wit, and emotion, with outstanding performances from Ronan and Laurie Metcalf (poor woman, stuck doing the Trump Apologist Roseanne Reunion). I quite adored this movie.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? Look, she may have had to do an American accent, but if Saoirse Ronan is involved I’m probably gonna show up. She is concentrated adorable.
Glad you did? Oh my yes.
Would it exist without Oscar Season?
 Yes, but the studio would have buried it and we’d be poorer for not knowing it exists.
Oscars How White? A few people of colour in significant supporting roles. So, “Very.” Very white.

2. Aquaman Begins

(Again, someone funnier beat me to “Grinding Nemo,” god damn it)

Elisa, a mute woman working as a cleaner at a government lab, encounters their latest discovery: a fish man brought up from the Amazon. She and the fish man grow attached to each other, but the head agent is more interested in torturing and vivisecting him to see if they can find something to help with the space race. Elisa, her friends, and a surprising ally scheme to liberate Fishy.

Also Elisa wants to tap that amphibian ass.

Guillermo Del Toro directed one hell of a romance adventure here. Visually it’s great, the cast is outstanding, and it’s subtly subversive. Well, maybe not that subtle. I’ll explain. Who are the heroes? A mute, a black woman, an older gay man, and a communist. Outsiders. The marginalized. Who’s the villain? A personification of white US-style patriarchy and intolerance. People who find something miraculous and want to tear it apart to see how it works. People who see outsiders and think of them as “less than.” It makes the case that pretty is no substitute for kind.

Quite delightful, this one.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? Sure would. Looked fun, was fun.
Glad you did? Darn tootin’.
Would it exist without Oscar Season?
Nothing about this screams “Oscars” at all. Quality won out over Oscar bait box-checking.
Oscars How White? Octavia Spencer has the largest role for a person of colour in eight out of nine best picture nominees, but pretty damn white. The fish-man counts as “white,” ’cause the actor is white.

1. White People are Horror Monsters, Literally This Time

A horror movie directed by a sketch comedian with black protagonists is a serious Oscar contender? Is this real life?

Whoo boy this one was a ride. Tense, creepy as all get-out, Jordan Peele in his directorial debut nailed racial awkwardness as horror fodder. See, it’s not that the villains are stereotypically racist. They don’t hate black people. They seem to even admire them. But that doesn’t make them good people, that doesn’t make them good at dealing with race. They still try to claim ownership of black bodies. The whole situation is demonstrably uncomfortable even before the really creepy part kicks in. It’s like it’s calling out white liberals, saying “Hey, you’re not as woke as you think.”

And man is that the horror movie America needs, since it turns out a huge swath of the country was so mad about eight years of a black president that they would elect an incompetent orangutan to the White House if it meant undoing Obama’s legacy.

You probably know this but just in case...

And because so many white viewers can’t process that Allison Williams’ character is indeed just as much of a monster as she seems. No she’s not mind controlled, no she’s not a victim, she harvests black bodies and keeps trophies, that is some evil right there.

When people show you who they are, believe them. Otherwise you end up married to mentally abusive dressmakers. FULL CIRCLE! BOOM! … Crap, Phantom Thread was number seven. Less of a circle and more of a spiral. Damn it.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? I did. I did watch it without Oscar nominations.
Glad you did? Surely am.
Would it exist without Oscar Season?
 A black-led horror movie released in February? They can’t have thought Oscars were on the table.
Oscars How White? Only, like, half white! And the good guys are both black!

…Not the best year. Nothing was Fences bad, but nothing was Spotlight good, either. The prestige picture industry was so off their game that a horror film and a fantasy romance snuck onto the shortlist.

Also a really damn white year. Get Out and Black Panther are not swinging that pendulum as fast as you’d like.

Oscar Nominees 2017: Slightly Less White Edition

The Oscars are almost upon us. Once again, my friend Daisy and I have striven to watch all of the best picture nominees so that you don’t have to. And once again, it’s taken way longer than we’d like to manage it. So without further ado, let’s rank some nominees. And say whether I’d have bothered watching them without a nomination. Or if it even would have been made if it weren’t fishing for awards (by way of a for instance, The King’s Speech, Theory of Everything, and Imitation Game seem to have no purpose outside of Oscar season). And what actors from superhero or equivalent projects are in them.

I guess there was a little ado left after all.

9. Denzel Washington Won’t Shut Up

I’m-a spoil this movie because it’s bad and you shouldn’t watch it.

You don’t need to be told that this movie is based on a play. Denzel Washington’s direction is only a step or two removed from just filming a stage performance. Anyway, apparently Denzel enjoyed doing this play on Broadway so much that he got all the cast back together and made it a movie.

Which baffles me. Because this movie is bad. And I assume the play was bad as well.

Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson, a sanitation worker in the 1950s, who is consumed with bitterness over the fact that his professional baseball career came and went before the league was desegregated. As a result, he’s shitty to everyone in his orbit. He’s a bad husband, to the point where he fathers a child with another woman and doesn’t even bother to apologize for it when he comes clean. He’s an awful, awful father, with one son who grew up while Troy wasin prison, and a second he actually raised, but since that second son lived in a house (paid for with the money Troy’s brother got for being brain-damaged by the war) and didn’t starve to death, Troy keeps waiting for his Father-of-the-Year trophy. Putting aside refusing to show even the slightest affection for his own child, he acts like a job in a grocery store is the best his son could ask for, blocks a college recruiter from signing him because sports are involved (after all, why would he want to play football and get a full college scholarship when he has already has a menial job that can sustain a minimal quality of life?), nearly chokes his son to death with a baseball bat for standing up to him, then kicks him out of the house. And you know what, let’s not put “refusing to show even the slightest affection” aside, let’s bring that right back, because that pushes the equation from “disillusioned by life thanks to racist America” and fully into “is just a complete asshole” territory. Whites-only water fountains did not force him to hate his own child. And yet any time he’s confronted over this, he pulls out the fact that he’s provided food and shelter, you know, the absolute minimum amount of parenting you can do and not end up in court, like that’s some huge unimpeachable favour. As Chris Rock put it… You’re supposed to do that! What do you want, a cookie?

He’s awful. He’s painful to watch, and not in a good, cathartic way, just in the “why are you letting this man have two hours of my life” way. And 90% of the movie is him delivering long-winded monologues that take a lot of words to say practically nothing. Seriously, Troy Maxson has more dialogue than the protagonists of three other best-picture nominees combined*, and yet not one word of it is relatable, interesting, or able to generate sympathy, or indeed anything but contempt, for this utter waste of a person.

And if that weren’t bad enough, when he finally manages to die, there is an epilogue that feels about 45 minutes long (probably closer to 10, but feels longer) in which everyone stands around pretending that Troy wasn’t as demonstrably, irredeemably terrible as we just saw him being. His widow claims Troy somehow did a good job raising his son, as though his son’s every accomplishment were because of Troy rather than in spite of him, and says she’s going to raise Troy’s illegitimate daughter the same way. And if that isn’t all Child Protective Services needs to hear to step in, what could be?

Viola Davis does her best, but Troy is so remorselessly long-winded that Denzel Washington sucks the air out of every scene not focused on his brain-injured brother. If you want to see Viola Davis in something, you’d be better off watching Suicide Squad yes I said it Suicide Squad is better than Fences COME AT ME.

It’s bad. It’s just bad. It is very nearly Tree of Life bad and I hate that it exists.

*Lion, Manchester by the Sea, and Moonlight, for those keeping score.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? Good lord no. The trailer was terrible and the movie is worse.
Glad you did? No, no, a thousand times no.
Would it exist without Oscar Season?
Probably. I mean, it looks like an “actor showcase,” a movie designed to get actors awards, but it was a passion project for Denzel and that’s all it took.
Featuring: Amanda Waller.

8. Turns Out Death is Sad, Who Knew

Years ago, Lee Chandler suffered a horrific, unspeakable tragedy that has come to define his entire life. He’s a hollowed out shell who’d rather pick a drunken fight with a stranger than get picked up by a pretty woman. But when his chronically ill brother passes away, he has to return to his hometown of Manchester by the Sea (where he’s become a person of infamy) to take care of his teenaged nephew.

The point, the central thesis of this movie, is that no matter the tragedy, no matter your pain, it cannot stop life’s inconveniences. This is encapsulated in a moment where a woman, on the worst day of her life, is being loaded into an ambulance… but the gurney won’t fold up, and the paramedics spend long enough futzing with it it becomes a moment of comedy… which is surrounded by unspeakable tragedy.

That’s not the worst central theme. And there are certainly some very strong performances* in it. But… now that you’ve got all of that, I don’t know, maybe tell a story. There is very little narrative, just a lot of shots of Casey Affleck looking sad or emotionally blank, and then eventually it just trails off and rolls credits.

Critics seem to adore it. Great reviews everywhere. I just… I don’t get it. I was just kinda bored.

*Casey Affleck’s performance is somewhat overshadowed by revelations that he is allegedly pretty shitty to women. If that costs him the Oscar, well, maybe don’t be shitty to women, Hollywood stars. I just wish that didn’t mean it would go to Denzel Washington, because Fences doesn’t deserve awards, it deserves to be spat on.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? No. No human being could hear the description and think “That sounds like a fun night out.”
Glad you did? Meh.
Would it exist without Oscar Season?
 Kind of unlikely but I can’t rule it out.
Featuring: Green Lantern’s dad.

7. Jesus and Explosions

In our first (of four) “based on a true story” movies, Desmond Doss wants to go to war to serve his country, but his Christianity and deep personal convictions against violence forbid him from even holding a gun. Naturally, the army doesn’t care for this, and makes boot camp as unpleasant as they can to drive him out. But when he is ultimately allowed to serve as an unarmed combat medic, he ends up at the battle of Hacksaw Ridge in the South Pacific, where he stays behind after a US retreat, spending days getting wounded soldiers off the ridge to safety in an improvised harness. Which, as far as the movie is concerned, inspires the US troops into a more successful attack. Finding out that the Japanese troops had tunnels didn’t hurt either.

This one was better than I expected based on the trailer, which kind of sums up the whole story. The second act, where the army hates Desmond’s commitment to pacifism, dragged exactly as much as I thought it would. It is the primary weakness of the movie. But the first act, where we get to know Desmond, is far more charming than I expected, and the third act is pretty spectacular. Braveheart with explosions and flamethrowers.

Which brings me to the other flaw*. Through Desmond, the movie tries to portray the nobility of pacifism, how it’s possible to serve without violence, celebrating his refusal to throw a punch or take a life. But through every other US soldier, wow but the movie is celebrating violence. You’re not going to find a movie this in love with gore outside of, or frankly even including, the Saw franchise. So it’s kind of a mixed message. Is Desmond noble because of his pacifism, or is he noble because his pacifism inspires the other soldiers to be better at war-murder? Pick a lane, Hacksaw Ridge.

*Yes, Mel Gibson said terrible things about Jewish people that time, and no, I don’t have any concrete reason to think he’s stopped thinking them, but he keeps it out of the movie, at least. Well, if you’re Japanese, you might not have the best time, but it’s about US troops in the Pacific theatre, there’s not a great way to depict the Nazi-allied Japanese troops favourably.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? Probably not. That second act looked excruciatingly tiresome.
Glad you did? A little. Slightly indifferent.
Would it exist without Oscar Season?
Probably. Hollywood loves them some World War II movies.
Featuring: Spider-man, Elrond, the Avatar guy… VInce Vaughn has zero comic book movies? Or Star Warses? Bonds? Just a lesser Jurassic Park movie? Huh. Weird.

6. Google Earth To The Rescue

“Based on a true story” number two, and also the second the show the real people involved under the credits (Hacksaw did it too). As a small child, Saroo… okay, let’s just get this out of the way, he only thinks his name is Saroo because that’s how young he was, his properly pronounced name means “Lion,” that’s why it’s called that. As I was saying. Young Saroo idolizes his older brother Guddu so much that he insists on following him to his night job lifting bales, despite being a) too small to be doing heavy lifting, and b) too young to be up that late. Predictably, this goes very, very wrong, and he wakes up alone on a moving train, and ends up stranded in Calcutta, on the far side of India from home.

(I don’t mind spoiling the general plot here, because it is all very, very obvious. There are not two ways this movie can go.)

Unable to even correctly name his village, he ends up (after some ordeals) in a Calcutta orphanage, where he is adopted by an Australian couple in Tasmania. Years later, having grown into Dev Patel, an encounter with an Indian dessert he’d coveted as a child reminds him of his life pre-Calcutta, and of the brother and mother he left behind. A classmate suggests that this new program called “Google Earth” might help him take his decades-old memories and reverse engineer the location of his village. Haunted by the thought of Guddu and his mother desperately searching for him (he also had a sister, but doesn’t seem to care much), he becomes consumed with trying to find home.

That’s the premise. And like I said, there aren’t a lot of ways it can go. If Saroo just went a little crazy and then eventually saw a therapist and moved on, there’s no movie. So here’s the first issue… every stage of the story lasts just a little too long. When you know exactly where the story is going, the movie needs to work extra hard to keep you from getting impatient for the next beat. Allied managed this quite well, considering there’s an hour of movie before the part that’s in all the trailers. Lion occasionally struggles. Second, while the director is mostly effective at evoking emotional response, it can be a little nakedly emotionally manipulative. People want to emotionally respond to a movie, and the director is supposed to make you do that, but nobody likes to see the strings.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? There’s every chance. I do like Dev Patel.
Glad you did? I think so. It’s kind of touching.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
There is every chance. It’s not too showy about being uplifting, doesn’t scream “actor showcase.”
Featuring: Aquaman’s Mom, Faramir, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the manager of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (not a blockbuster but check it out, it’s so charming)

5. It’s Hard to be Gay in the Ghetto

The story of Chiron, a young gay child in a terrible neighbourhood, being raised by a drug addict single mother. That his life is not easy goes without saying.

We see three stages of Chiron’s life: as a young child, who ends up under the wing of a caring drug dealer and his girlfriend; as a bullied teen, whose drug dealer surrogate father is apparently dead, I think they mentioned that and I just missed it; and as an adult, after being poor, black, and ostracized have left him with precious few options in life, reuniting with the only man he’s ever loved.

(This is based on a play that was based on the life of the playwright, so he gets better, not that you’d know from this movie.)

At first I had trouble with this movie, as I can have difficulty connecting to protagonists who are largely defined by silence, as young Chiron is. But after the non-stop blather coming out of Fences’ Troy Maxson I have a new appreciation for it.

It’s very well done, with some very strong supporting performances from Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris. It does, however, have even less of an ending than Manchester by the Sea. It just kind of… stops. I mean, some stories don’t really have a nice “tie it with a ribbon” ending but seriously, this practically goes to credits mid-scene.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? It got enough buzz that I might have had to check it out.
Glad you did? Pretty much.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
Maybe yes, maybe no, but it should. A far more valuable story to tell than “Stephen Hawking loved a Christian.”
Featuring: Cottonmouth, Moneypenny

4. Love in the Time of Space Squids

Louise Banks is a mother whose child succumbs to a rare form of cancer. She is also a genius linguist who gets tapped by the US military when 12 alien spaceships arrive on Earth and we need to figure out how to talk to them. Louise and physicist Ian Donnelly lead the US attempt to talk to our new visitors, while the Chinese get ornery and society straight-up panics.

But why are the aliens here? What do they want? What’s the thing I’m not telling you? Well, I’m not telling.

It’s quite well done. The music, which resembles the odd horn-like speech of the space squid aliens, is highly effective. The visuals work. I would watch Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner in anything short of a Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat movie (fun fact, I hate that show more than almost anything). The actual science behind “How do we communicate with a race whose mere manner of speech and writing is absolutely alien to us” is pretty fascinating. And they pull off a twist I didn’t see coming, and that ain’t easy, because like most modern audiences I’ve seen enough twists that I can sense them coming from the narrative hints. But they pulled this one off.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? Lord knows I meant to.
Glad you did? Yep yep.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
Given that sci-fi movies and the Oscars go together like Mel Gibson and a “friends of Israel” dinner, I’d have to say yes.
Featuring: Lois Lane, Hawkeye, Saw Gerrera

3. In Which Banks Suck Worse Than Bank Robbers

And sometimes the Oscars choose to nominate a really well done crime movie.

Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Cross) hatch a plan to save their family ranch, swimming in debt after their late mother’s long illness. They begin robbing branches of the bank that holds their mortgage, laundering the money at an out-of-state Indian casino so they can pay off the mortgage with it. Paying off the bank with its own stolen money.

Meanwhile, Jeff Bridges is a Texas Ranger on the verge of retirement who catches the case, and tries to stop the robberies before they get bloody.

I can’t promise they don’t get bloody. Tanner is not overburdened with self-control.

This one is just good. Really good. The cast is excellent, the direction is solid, there’s suspense and humour… and a subtle view into the economic blight that has hit rural America as globalization and mechanization reduce the need for a blue-collar workforce*. It’s just really quite good.

*The movie does not spend time pontificating as to why times are tough in rural America, that was me, it just casually points out that this is so. After all, if it weren’t for for-profit health care and predatory lending, maybe nobody needed to rob any banks**.

**The movie doesn’t spell that out either but it’s not exactly a tough conclusion to reach if you’re paying attention.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? I’m surprised it took me this long, I heard nothing but good things back in the fall.
Glad you did? Hoo-rah.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
Damn skippy.
Featuring: Captain Kirk, Angel from the worst X-Men movie, Obidiah Stane

2. Obligatory “Ain’t Hollywood Great” Movie

If there is one thing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loves, it’s movies about World War II. If there are two, it’s movies about how great the movies are.

(Actually for the full list of things the Academy loves, watch The King’s Speech)

La La Land was greeted with wave after wave of accolades when it was released. And for good reason. It’s fun, moving in places, the songs are fun, and I really enjoyed what they did with colour schemes. Seriously, for something defined by music, it’s hella impressive visually. The leads might not be musical prodigies but they’re plenty charming.

Post-accolades, there was wave after wave of backlash, mostly having to do with how white the characters are. And you know what, I’m leaving that topic alone. It just gets me in trouble. I mean, I could say “The black character isn’t trying to sell out jazz, he is arguing against being a strict traditionalist in a musical style that is, by its very nature, experimental.” I could say “Sebatstian is not ‘mansplaining’ jazz to Mia because she doesn’t know anything about jazz and you can’t just throw the word ‘mansplaining’ around willy-nilly and not have it lose meaning and power.”

But we’ll move past that. This is my personal ranking list, so I’m-a just say it’s fun, charming, sweetly melancholy, and I enjoyed it a lot. So it stays at number two, and everyone shouting that it winning Best Picture is some sort of Hollywood apocalypse can consider chilling out.

Gladiator won Best Picture and the world didn’t end. Relax.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? Most definitely.
Glad you did? Yeppers.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
I don’t know, would the film industry need to jack itself off without getting trophies for it?
Featuring: Gwen Stacy, J. Jonah Jameson

1. Black Women Do Math and Be Awesome

Now Hidden Figures is the whole package.

Set in a time when “Computer” meant a person who does a shit-ton of calculations by hand, Hidden Figures is based on the little-known true story of the black women who proved instrumental in getting America into space. Hidden Figures centres on three women: mathematical genius Katherine Johnson, who goes from checking white men’s numbers (right before it becomes obsolete) to inventing the math needed to get John Glenn back from orbit; Mary Jackson, who fights to become a full NASA engineer, despite needing to go to court to win the right to attend night school in segregation-era Virginia; and Dorothy Vaughan, who sees that all the women she supervises (in all but title and pay scale) will soon be put out of work by the new IBM machine, so teaches herself how to work it better than anyone else, then passes it on to her staff. These three women each play a key role in NASA’s mission, while struggling against the realities of life in racist Virginia.

This is an important story about a part of history that’s been largely ignored: the vital contribution of women of colour, marginalised then, marginalised now. And if that weren’t enough, it’s also got an amazing cast and is legitimately fun to watch. Sure, there are a couple of white saviour characters, the most notable being the saint-like John Glenn, who as far as these things go ranks just below Brad Pitt’s Canadian Abolitionist Jesus from 12 Years a Slave, but, well… desegregating NASA needed someone at the top to be on board. And if that means seeing Kevin Coster take a crowbar to the “coloured bathroom” sign, I’m down with that.

And just in case anyone wanted to breathe a sigh of “Things are better now,” the movie opens with the women afraid for their lives after being approached by a white police officer (and how’s that going, America?) and has the best piece of shade thrown at the “I’m not racist, but…” crowd. When a white superior tries to make nice with Dorothy by saying “I actually don’t have anything against y’all,” Dorothy sighs, and replies “I know. I know you probably believe that.” Perfect.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? I think so. The buzz was so strong I was considering it before the nominations were announced.
Glad you did? Sure am.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
I’d really like to think so. I don’t, but I’d like to.
Featuring: Pa Kent, Mary Jane, Cottonmouth again

So that’s the lot. Sure there’s more to say, from “What the hell accent does Andrew Garfield think he’s doing in Hacksaw Ridge, it is just aggressive” to “Where is Amy Adams’ Oscar already” to “Seriously, what is it about Fences anyone liked,” but this is all we have time for.

See y’all at the show. And next time.

Ranking the Best Pictures

Hello readers. I return, and apologize for my absence… although, one could argue that there is an amusing symmetry in going from writing about the adventures of Dominic Toretto’s Fast and Furious family to discussing the eight films that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has chosen to claim were the year’s best.

A claim that grows more dubious the more we look at their storied history of blown calls, and the entire genre of movies that’s sprung up whose sole purpose seems to be pandering to the Oscars, but… eh, what can you do.

Let’s look at this year’s nominees, in my personal order of preference. And because I’m me and that one scene of Birdman really stuck with me, I’ll also be tracking how many superhero/Star Wars actors are trying to do something of substance in between tentpole flicks.

(For even quicker descriptions, check out this list of honest Oscar posters)

8. National Lampoon’s Vengeance Vacation

AKA "This was SUPER uncomfortable, can I have my Oscar now?"

AKA “This was SUPER uncomfortable, can I have my Oscar now?”

In a nutshell: When a fellow trapper kills his son and leaves him for dead, Hugh Glass (Leonardo diCaprio) must overcome his horrific bear-related injuries, a harsh environment, and a band of natives on their own vengeance quest, in order to find and punish his betrayer.
Featuring: Bane, General Hux

A lot has been made of how this movie was shot. How Alejandro Iñárritu insisted on using only natural light to shoot (meaning some shoot days lasted an hour and a half), how Leonardo diCaprio actually did eat raw bison liver and swim in freezing rivers, and so on and so on. Here’s the thing about that, though… none of that is the narrative. It’s the meta-narrative. It’s fuel for the DVD special features, not relevant to a discussion of the film’s quality. Using exclusively natural light resulted in a lighting effect I would describe as “adequate, not exceptional.” Tell me “Leo actually did all of those things,” and I’m going to point you to his five stuntmen. He actually ate raw liver? He was lying two feet from a fire and had, in fact, eaten that day, so from a narrative perspective, nobody needed to eat raw anything, especially if doing so was just going to make them throw up.

Also, saying “When Glass throws up after eating the liver, that was Leo’s authentic reaction…” well, that isn’t acting. It’s reacting. If diCaprio deserves an Oscar for that, then Johnny Knoxville deserved an Oscar for Jackass.

That aside.

Ultimately? It’s a little dull. What few action sequences there are were well-shot, I’ll give it that, but they end up few and far between. The whole thing could be thirty minutes shorter and you wouldn’t miss anything. Watching Glass struggle across frozen tundra for two hours just… gets old.

But at least that’s the worst I can say about it. A little dull. Not “It shouldn’t even be considered a movie” like Tree of Life, not “desperately and annoyingly cloying” like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, not “actively evil” like American Sniper. When a character in The Revenant calls the natives (Cree, I think?) “savages,” it’s someone we’re rooting against, not the supposed hero of the movie (looking your way once again, American Sniper), and said natives’ rampage might be horribly misguided, but it’s for good reason. They’re trying to recover one of their women who was kidnapped by white men… sadly their strategy of “murder every white man we encounter and hope they’re the right ones” is just god-awful.

Still though… eight nominees, and the weakest one is just dull. Normally I’d be angrily questioning why certain films had been nominated for a while yet, but not this year. #OscarsSoWhite aside (and not having seen Tangerine, Beasts of No Nation, or Straight Out of Compton, I can’t really speak to  that)… not a bad crop.

7. SUCKER! You learned stuff!


Don’t get too excited, only two of these people are in a scene together.

In a nutshell: Several finance industry outsiders see the impending collapse of the US housing market, and risk everything by betting against the American economy. And if you’re not careful, you just might learn something.
Featuring: Batman, and a cameo by Harley Quinn

Here’s what I respect about The Big Short. They are really trying very hard to hoodwink mainstream American audiences into learning how the 2008 economic collapse was caused through corruption and fraud on the part of the banks. They lure you in by telling you it’s a movie from the director of Anchorman and Ant-Man and a cast including Steve Carell in a wig that’s about a group of misfits finding a way to screw over the big banks.

That’s not what happens, by the way. If you recall, when the collapse did finally happen, the big banks (or at least their top executives) managed to be some of the only people not screwed over.

What this movie actually is, is the story of how a select few largely unconnected people managed to see that the housing market was a bubble, and that it was on the verge of bursting. Along the way, they walk us, the audience, through the steps involved in the housing market collapse. Whether it’s by having Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team investigate the actual houses involved in the mortgage-backed securities (many of which were given perfect ratings, but were clearly filled with mortgages on the verge of foreclosure), or by having frequent narrator Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) literally say “This is all really technical and kind of boring, so to explain, here’s Margot Robbie in a bubble bath.” And then yes, Margot Robbie explains sub-prime mortgages to you while sipping champagne in a bubble bath.

The result is a harrowing if still entertaining look at how corporate greed caused a global economic meltdown. The frequent fourth wall breaks, both celebrity cameos to explain the more technical issues and characters addressing the audience to explain how they’ve stuck to or deviated from actual events, help to keep the story engaging. And that’s good, because it’s a super important story that not enough people understand.

Honestly, it would be much higher on the list, except for one little thing. Christian Bale plays Michael Burry, the hedge fund manager who first identified the housing bubble, and was the first to bet against the housing market. He leans fairly heavily into playing Burry as somewhere on the autism spectrum (though not, like, Sheldon Cooper-level, just a certain amount of inability to interact with people or conform to societal norms), which makes him almost seem to be in a completely different movie than anyone else. And that would all be fine, but once his fund starts to lose money because he’s put everything into his bet against the banks, Burry’s plotline loses all momentum. There is nothing happening with him that isn’t also happening in a more engaging fashion with the rest of the cast, and every time they cut back to him (which is somewhat frequent), it’s dead air. Revenant aside, which was heavy on dead air, no other film on the list has that problem, so Big Short gets knocked down a few pegs.

6. No, not The Room, thank you

Please note the lack of Tommy Wiseau

Please note the lack of Tommy Wiseau

In a nutshell: Joy and her son Jack live in captivity, Joy having been kidnapped two years before Jack’s birth. When they finally manage to escape, both must adjust to life outside of the small shed known as Room, the only place Jack has ever known.
Featuring: The Shoveler

The opening of Room is a fairly successful blend of sweet and horrifying. Sweet from the bond between Joy and Jack, horrifying from the fact that they are imprisoned in a shed by Joy’s kidnapper/rapist/abuser, who… goddamn. Does that monster ever work as a perfect depiction of male entitlement’s worst case scenario. “I deserve love and sex, so I will keep a woman prisoner so that I can demand both of those things from her at my convenience.” Ugh. UGH.

Moving along.

After the highly tense sequence leading to Joy and Jack’s escape, we shift gears, watching Jack try to adjust to an alien world: so many people who are neither his mom nor the “imaginary” people he’d see on TV (yes, they had a TV, which their captor probably demanded all sorts of thanks for, I HATE HIM–sorry), buildings filled with rooms. With Jack as our POV character, every shot of an empty room becomes highly significant. It soon becomes clear, though, that it’s Joy who’s having the most trouble adjusting to life outside, as once she escapes Room, and the day-to-day life of simply trying to stay alive and provide any sort of happy life for her child, seven years of trauma refuse to be repressed.

It’s anchored by impressive performances from Brie Larson and nine-year old Smurfs 2 veteran Jacob Tremblay. It’s definitely worth watching once. Can’t say I’d go back for another round. Well, maybe, if I could… you know, skip to the part where the cops find Jack and figure out where he came from. I liked that part. Even if it involved less of their captor being hunted by Batman than I’d like. No, Daredevil. No, the goddamn Punisher.

5. Spielberg. Hanks. You know you want it, Oscars.

It's even a period piece.

It’s even a period piece.

In a nutshell: At the height of the Cold War, an insurance lawyer finds himself negotiating a prisoner exchange between the US, the USSR, and an East Germany eager for a seat at the table.
Featuring: This one’s clean. Two people from The Wire, though, that’s neat.

In 1957, New York attorney James Donovan is handed the least enviable case possible: publicly defending accused Russian spy Rudolf Abel in a country at the peak of anti-communist paranoia. And from there it only gets more complicated… after alienating his family and firm by going above and beyond defending Abel, when an American pilot flying a spy plane is captured by the Soviets, Donovan gets pulled into a prisoner exchange between two superpowers on the brink of war.

And it gets worse for him. An American student studying economics in Berlin waits one day too long to get his German girlfriend out of East Berlin, and gets grabbed on the wrong side of the newly-constructed Berlin Wall. The East Germans see this as a chance to gain formal recognition from the West, and try to hijack the prisoner exchange.

It’s Spielberg’s fourth collaboration with Tom Hanks. Is it their best work? Probably not, but I am awfully fond of Catch Me If You Can. Hanks goes with quiet strength over flashy dramatics, which is the right call, because it’s only that quiet strength that keeps Donovan in the game. And the fact is that at this point, Spielberg’s B-game is, in fact, still Oscar-worthy.

It’s that rare historical movie that not only has awards appeal but doesn’t feel too Oscar-baity. I can picture this movie existing for a reason besides attracting Oscars. Not something easy to say about, say, The King’s Speech, The Imitation Game, or The Reader.



The struggle of being a white immigrant in America

In a nutshell: A shy girl from Ireland tries to build a better life in New York, only to have her home town try to lure her back.
General Hux (again, dude’s everywhere all of a sudden), Felicity Smoak

If you don’t come out of this movie a little bit in love with its lead character you’re some kind of robot.

Saoirse (pronounced “Sur-sha”) Ronan plays Eilis (pronounced AY-lish) Lacey in the biggest collision possible of aggressively Irish names lacking any sort of intuitive pronunciation. A timid, traditional girl working part-time in the shop of a horrible, horrible woman, Eilis is sponsored by the church to immigrate to New York in the 1950s. With an entire ocean separating her from her friends and family, she has to forge a new life.

What I appreciate is that they steer towards some of the stereotypes, but then veer away at the last second. Her new boss seems to be a “mean boss,” but turns out to be supportive when it counts. Yes, Ailis stays in one of those boarding houses for ladies that, yes, forbids men and encourages good Christian behaviour, but the landlady isn’t the cruel tyrant of, say, Agent Carter, but the nicest, most accepting, most helpful, still rigidly Christian landlady I’ve seen on TV or film in a while. And the Italian lad hanging around her church’s dances is a perfect gentleman, charming and romantic yet respectful. Probably helps that Italians are often just as Catholic as the Irish.

Now… the second half? I’m not sure I reacted to that the way I was supposed to. When a tragedy causes Eilis to return home for the first time in months, her home town is quick to offer up all the things her new life in Brooklyn had been offering, but in the comfortable familiarity of small-town Ireland. Her sister’s old bookeeping job (which is exactly what she’d been studying in Brooklyn), a charming and handsome fella to spend time with… actually, they’re weirdly quick to offer all these things up. Suspiciously quick. Almost aggressively quick. Quick enough that I didn’t think “Hey, you know, maybe there is no place like home,” but instead reacted to her hometown like we’d entered a horror movie. Every time some new thing made her rethink returning to Brooklyn, I thought “RUN, IT’S A TRAP!”

That said, I had a better time watching the less oppressively dark metaphorical prison of small-town Ireland than the literal and horrifying prison of Room. But that’s neither here nor there.

It’s a delightful, charming, and moving. Okay, sure, elephant in room, a movie about an immigrant of colour trying to adjust to life in the US would be very different, would be considered an “issue” movie from the word go, and would probably get shut out of the Oscars, but… this is still delightful. Also, I saw Domnhall “General Hux” Gleeson in three movies in a matter of weeks and if his nose were less distinctive, I’d have had no idea it was the same guy (let alone the same guy as the excellent sci-fi flick Ex Machina), so, nicely done, that man.

3. Saving Private Ryan… IN SPACE

Another fine mess Matt Damon got himself into

Another fine mess Matt Damon got himself into

In a nutshell: In the not-too-distant future, astronaut/botanist Mark Watley is accidentally stranded on Mars, and must find a way to stay alive long enough for NASA to send help.
The Winter Soldier, Invisible Woman, Boromir, Ant-Man’s kinda offensively stereotypical Latino sidekick, Dr. Strange’s probable nemesis

It’s not The Martian’s fault that it will spend the next year or two serving as the poster child for Category Fraud (when a movie or TV show claims to be a comedy because the “best drama” category seems too hard to win). It isn’t, strictly speaking, a comedy, so the fact that it won “Best Comedy” at the Golden Globes feels hinky. That said… it doesn’t lack humour. For a movie about someone left stranded on a far-away planet, it’s got wit when it wants to, but it also impressively tense when it’s time to put Mark in increased danger.

Matt Damon is excellent. He could easily have carried this entire movie, Castaway-style, but he doesn’t even need to, thanks to equally great work from an all-star supporting cast. No other movie this year has made me think “Awesome, it’s that person” so many times. It’s delightfully pro-science (if, I hear, less so than the book, but that would happen), never dull, sometimes thrilling, and overall incredibly satisfying. It’s hard to think of more to say that wouldn’t just boil down to me reciting my favourite parts. You should probably just watch it if you haven’t already.

2. The Fast and The Furiosa

What a lovely day indeed.

What a lovely day indeed.

In a nutshell: In a post-apocalyptic future, Imperator Furiosa tries to escape warlord Immortan Joe, bringing along five women he kept as breeding slaves. A road warrior named Max and a Warboy named Nux get dragged along for one awesome, feature length car chase.
Bane, Beast

There’s a lot of talk about how out-of-touch the Oscars are. This is mostly aimed at that time they snubbed the Dark Knight in favour of the vastly inferior The Reader, then expanded the best picture category to avoid shunning popular films, but then kept doing it. So sure, it was a surprise when Mad Max: Fury Road started breaking the trend and attracting award buzz. So why this movie?

Because it’s freaking amazing, that’s why.

It’s masterfully shot and edited. It gets strong performances out of not just Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, but X-Man Nicholas Hoult and supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whitely of all damned people. The action is incredible. The story is above and beyond what a Hollywood blockbuster would go for, despite being so simple that it takes less time to describe than The Revenant. It’s a revival of a thirty-year-old franchise that isn’t weighed down by nostalgia, wink-nudge references, or franchise building.

Every element comes together to create an action movie far, far better than it has any right to be on paper, and that seems to have gotten Awards Season’s attention.

Also it pissed off MRAs, which I find delightful.

1. Extra extra, vows of celibacy screw with your head


In a nutshell: A period piece set in the long-forgotten time when print journalism made a difference (2001), the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe looks into child abuse accusations inside the Catholic church, and discovers a systemic cover-up bigger than they ever expected.
A different Batman, Bruce Banner, Sabretooth, Dr. Erskine, Dr. Manhattan, Old Howard Stark, Dr. Strange’s probable love interest.

Remember journalism, you guys? When men and women employed by newspapers would really dig into a story, doing months of research if necessary, to ensure that the news you were reading was not only important but true? Man those were the days.

Spotlight is the story about how one team of journalists uncovered the story that the heavily Catholic city of Boston did not want told: that priests had been molesting children. For years. Decades. The more they look into it, the more victims they find, and the more extensive the cover-up is revealed to be.

The cast is phenomenal. Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, and more, all doing some incredible work. The horror at the extent of the abuse and cover-up, the determination to put it right, and the gnawing realization that people inside the paper may have helped keep it all quiet once before.

It’s a gripping story, one that manages that trick of injecting suspense into a foregone conclusion. This is a movie I was determined to seek out the moment I saw the trailer, Oscars or no Oscars, and I’m glad I did. Highly recommended.