Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Top 10 Films of 2019

Last year, I announced my favorite films of the year on this day. Like then, I feel like I’ve seen almost everything that I plan to, with a few technical Oscar characters sure to follow early in the new year. This year, I’ve set a record on the number of films I’ve screened (more on that soon), and I’ll be celebrating the best in cinema with the 13th Annual AFT Awards after Oscar nominations are unveiled. For now, here are the best films I saw in 2019. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments and share what you enjoyed best this year. Most of all, please see these films!

Runners-up: Late Night, Animals, Big Time Adolescence, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, American Factory, Booksmart, Dolemite Is My Name, I Lost My Body, Long Shot, and Richard Jewell.

The Top 10 Films of 2019


#10: The Silence of Others

This documentary was actually included on the shortlist for last year’s nonfiction Oscar race, and it’s unbelievable that it didn’t make the cut. This haunting exploration of collective memory and an unspoken agreement to forget rather than forgive or even address a national trauma is extraordinary insightful and difficult to shake. It demonstrates that a documentary doesn’t need to be flashy or include famous people to be truly poignant and important. Watch the film, which is slated for a DVD release next year, on POV on PBS.


#9: Joker

When comic book reboots are so omnipresent that it’s hard to keep track of them, it’s rare to find one that completely surprises by investing deeply in its characters in a way that almost entirely disregards the universe and context in which they were first introduced and featured. Comedy director Todd Phillips may have been an unusual choice to helm this dark character study, but the result is immersive and unsettling in all the right ways. Joaquin Phoenix looks to be headed for a well-deserved Oscar win for his transformative and deeply human performance. You can buy the film on Amazon Prime or rent it on DVD later this week.


#8: Olympic Dreams

This film is such an unusual and wondrous specimen, filmed on location at the Olympics in Pyeongchang in 2018 by director Jeremy Teicher and starring just two actors, comedian Nick Kroll and Olympic athlete Alexi Pappas. This romance between a volunteer dentist and a competing cross-country skier is hardly complicated, but there’s something that really works about it and feels so sincerely authentic. This is the only film on this list that isn’t technically a 2019 film. Despite premiering at South by Southwest this past March, it won’t be released in theaters until February 14th, 2020, so be sure to see it then!


#7: Pink Wall

Actor Tom Cullen’s directorial debut is a formidable and complex examination of a couple in times of crisis and cohesion. Tatiana Maslany and Jay Duplass delivered blistering performances as three-dimensional, flawed partners who weren’t always prepared to deal with each other. Constructing this film through six extended scenes, each from six different years in their relationship, strongly frames the ups and downs of their riveting relationship. Rent it on Amazon Prime, YouTube, DVD and other formats.


#6: Wild Rose

Irish actress made an incredible film debut with Beast in 2018, and here she delivers a completely different kind of raw, vulnerable turn as a recently-paroled country singer desperate to get out of Glasgow. Her performance – and her singing – makes the film, but it’s also an above-average story about someone running away from her reality, with terrific music propelling her and her loyal friends and family keeping her going. It’s too bad it only has one real shot at Oscar recognition for its signature song. Stream the film for free on Hulu.


#5: Ms. Purple

I still remember when I saw this film at Sundance almost a full year ago since I walked out of a very late 10pm screening extremely happy with my choice to have seen it. This hypnotic spotlight of a karaoke bar waitress trying to care for her ailing father felt like a trip to another world thanks to its beautiful cinematography and music, presenting a stirring story in an extraordinary and unforgettable way. Rent it on Amazon Prime, YouTube, DVD (in a few weeks) and other formats.


#4: Honey Boy

Is there a better child actor working today than Noah Jupe? He is one of the best reasons to see this endearing, emotional father-son drama in which he stars opposite Shia LaBeouf, who makes an instant impression as the manipulative, know-it-all dad who wants his son to be a successful actor at any cost. Director Alma Har’el makes an excellent feature film debut with this exceptional film that has many opinions about its featured characters and wisely refuses to cast definitive judgment on them. This film may still be playing in some theaters and is coming to Amazon Prime on February 7th, 2020.


#3: Paddleton

After premiering at the tail end of Sundance nearly a year ago, this film had a completely under-the-radar debut on Netflix. Ray Romano and Mark Duplass delivered funny, relatable performances as best friends and neighbors whose relationship is transformed when one of them gets sick. This is a delightful film about life, death, and the small things that really matter along the way. Stream it for yourself on Netflix!


#2: The Last Black Man in San Francisco

This film as best described as fantastical, telling a story that could be ordinary and making it something else entirely. There’s an incredible sense of wonder to be found in this film that follows one man desperate to get his family house back and another with a unique perspective on the world. This film has much to say and does it wonderfully and beautifully. Stream it now on Amazon Prime.


#1: Parasite

I’m glad to see that my top film of the year is also one of the most popular and well-received. This South Korean satire about class differences is mesmerizing in its approach, featuring an excellent ensemble participating in a story that exists within many different genres. It may be hard to classify or describe, but it’s one hell of a tremendous viewing experience. It’s still playing in certain theaters and will be available to rent on Amazon Prime on January 14th and on DVD later this month. Don’t miss it.

What to expect here at Movies With Abe in early 2020:

January 1st: Reviews of a few remaining documentary and foreign Oscar finalists
January 5th: Golden Globe Awards (my predictions)
January 6th: Detailed predictions for each Oscar category
January 13th: Oscar nominations reactions and analysis
January 14th: The 13th Annual AFT Film Awards, my choices for the best in film from 2019 in 20+ categories
January 22nd: SAG Awards winner predictions
January 23rd: Sundance Film Festival coverage from Park City, UT

If you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to the movieswithabe channel on YouTube for regular video reviews and follow movieswithabe on Instagram for up-to-date posts about where I am and what I’m seeing. Also, visit TVwithAbe.com for regular pilot and episodic reviews!

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Movie with Abe: Corpus Christi


Corpus Christi
Directed by Jan Komasa
To Be Released April 22, 2020

Those who are released from prison after a long stint inside often have a difficult time adjusting to a new life filled with certain freedoms and other limitations. It’s not uncommon to see ex-convicts return to prison shortly after getting out due to the standards set for behavior that do not permit them to enjoy liberties they’ve long awaited and do not set them up for a successful existence. Having a passion can steer those without much hope in the right direction, and may be able to fuel their journeys towards a positive and rewarding future.

Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) is a twenty-year-old man released from a juvenile detention facility, made aware by the priest with whom he has bonded that he cannot enroll in a seminary due to the nature of his criminal past. Set up for a job at a sawmill, Daniel brings the clothes of a priest with him. When he meets the local preacher, who requires some time away, Daniel is thrust into a position of leadership without anyone checking into his background or credentials. A combination of Googling answers to questions like how to do confession and a true passion for religion make Daniel an odd and eccentric fit for a small community grieving the lives lost in a tragic car accident.

There are definitely comic elements to this film that includes a great deal of violence, particularly in how Daniel’s physical appearance and lack of knowledge make some question his ability and education. Yet Daniel does express an enormous zeal for sharing the message of his God, finding creative ways to reach members of his parish that make its more traditional population balk. As someone who understands that people have looked down on him, Daniel opens up his heart to those shunned by the community, including the rebellious daughter (Eliza Rycembel) of the sexton and the widow (Barbara Kurzaj) of the man villainized for the car crash that has so shaken the town.

This film is Poland’s official Oscar submission and shortlisted finalist for Best International Feature, a formidable follow-up to last year’s “Cold War,” which managed to earn a Best Director mention. This film doesn’t feature black-and-white cinematography or haunting music, but it does tell an affecting and uplifting story that feels entirely original despite similar premises explored in the past. Bielenia is excellent, so completely natural and zealous that it’s easy to forget that he isn’t actually what he is pretending to be. Rycembel contributes to the experiences as the one person who seems to see Daniel for who he is without any judgment. While it might have been satisfying to end this film one scene earlier, the journey there is fully worthwhile and tremendously involving.

B+

Movie with Abe: Beanpole


Beanpole
Directed by Kantemir Balagov
To Be Released January 29, 2020

Raising a child under conventional circumstances with a fellow parent can be challenging enough, and when that additional person doesn’t exist and the surrounding world is anything but tranquil, the difficulty is multiplied exponentially. There are stories throughout history of parents doing incredible things for their children, many of which were successful and others which were not. It’s unfair to judge those who must combat incredible odds for survival and perseverance, especially when it is clear just how many obstacles they face.

Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko), a tall, lanky blonde woman, has been discharged from the Russian army due to frequent spells in which she finds herself frozen in place and unable to move or speak, and works as a nurse in a hospital in Leningrad in 1945. She raises a son, Pashka (Timofey Glazkov), giving him anything she gets, including an extra ration of food obtained from a recently-deceased staff member at the hospital. When the boy’s mother, Iya’s friend and fellow soldier Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), returns from the front, the situation and their relationship becomes extremely complicated as they navigate their priorities and their aspirations for what they can achieve in a continually crumbling world.

Iya is continuously referred to by Masha and everyone else she knows as Beanpole due to her tall stature, which often finds her standing a full head above even the head doctor. Her physical demeanor is not matched by her social presence, which is mostly meek and compliant. In sharp contrast to Iya, Masha is bold, flirtatious, and eager to communicate what she wants rather than be told what to do. As they interact with doctors, patients, and boys eager to get to know with them, the ways in which these two friends differ become clearer, making for a fascinating and eye-opening journey.

Miroshnichenko and Perelygina make this movie due to their carefully-calibrated performances, silent but strong for Iya and fearless and defiant for Masha. The film’s backdrops are purposefully bleak and depressing, and the colors worn by the two protagonists, both in clothing and complexion, help them to feel much more alive than anything around them. Russia's official Oscar submission and shortlisted finalist for Best International Feature inarguably and unapologetically a depressing film, but one that seeks to showcase the brief moments of joy found by those unable to escape a world they truly can’t control. Its two-hour-and-ten-minute runtime is long, but there’s a purpose to spending every moment with these two characters whose stories are well worth showcasing.

B+

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical


The competition:
Dolemite Is My Name is directed by Craig Brewer, marking his fifth film. Star Eddie Murphy is also nominated for his performance.

Jojo Rabbit is directed by Taika Waititi, making his sixth feature film. Star Roman Griffin Davis is also nominated for his performance.

Knives Out is directed by Rian Johnson, marking his fifth film. Stars Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas are nominated for their performances.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is directed by Quentin Tarantino, marking his ninth film and his first nominated in this category. It also contends for its direction, screenplay, and for stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.

Rocketman is directed by Dexter Fletcher, marking his fourth film. Star Taron Egerton is nominated for his performance, and the film also contends for Best Original Song.

Additional notes: The winner of this award has gone on to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture ten times in the past fifteen years, triumphing there twice, in 2011 for “The Artist” and last year for “Green Book.” A directing nomination isn’t crucial for a win here but it does help. Both “Jojo Rabbit” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” are nominated at the SAG Awards for their ensembles.
What should win? I’ve mentioned my lack of enthusiasm for both “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Rocketman” in my posts about other categories. I enjoyed “Knives Out” and thought “Jojo Rabbit” was very interesting and entertaining. My clear choice, however, is the highly underrated “Dolemite Is My Name.”
What will win? It’s possible that “Jojo Rabbit” or even “Knives Out” scores an upset here, but I think Once Upon a Time in Hollywood safely has this.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Motion Picture – Drama


The competition:
The Irishman is directed by Martin Scorsese, marking his twenty-fifth feature film. The film is nominated for directing, its screenplay, and for performances from stars Al Pacino and Joe Pesci.

Joker is directed by Todd Phillips, marking his tenth film. It also contends for directing, score, and for star Joaquin Phoenix’s performance.

Marriage Story is directed by Noah Baumbach, marking his thirteenth film. It is the nominations leader, with bids for its screenplay, score, and performances from stars Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, and Laura Dern.

1917 is directed by Sam Mendes, marking this eighth film. It also contends for directing and score.

The Two Popes is directed by Fernando Meirelles, marking his fourth solo feature film. It also contends for its screenplay and for performances from stars Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins.

Additional notes: The winner of this award has gone on to win the Oscar for Best Picture only four times in the past fifteen years, and only three times in the entire history of the Globes, most recently in 1963, has the winner been snubbed altogether at the Oscars. “The Irishman” is the only film here nominated for its ensemble at the SAG Awards.
What should win? I liked all of these films. I actually think “Joker” is the strongest of this bunch, though “Marriage Story” and “1917” are great choices too.
What will win? I think Marriage Story will win, though it could just as easily be “The Irishman” or “1917.”

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Director – Motion Picture


The competition:
Martin Scorsese (The Irishman) directs his twenty-fifth film, which earns him his ninth nomination in this category and tenth overall. He won this prize in 2002 for “Gangs of New York,” in 2006 for “The Departed,” and in 2011 for “Hugo.” He was also awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2009. His film is nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama, its screenplay, and for performances from stars Al Pacino and Joe Pesci.

Todd Phillips (Joker) directs his tenth film, which earns him his first nomination. He directed 2009’s winner for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical, “The Hangover.” His film is also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama, its score, and for star Joaquin Phoenix’s performance.

Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) directs his ninth film, returning to this category previous nominations for “Pulp Fiction,” “Inglourious Basterds,” and “Django Unchained.” He has two wins and two additional nominations in the screenplay category, where he also contends this year. His film is up for Best Motion Picture – Drama and for performances from stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.

Bong Joon Ho (Parasite) directs his seventh film, earning him his first bid in this category. He is also nominated for Best Foreign Film. His film contends for its screenplay.

Sam Mendes (1917) directs his eighth film, returning to this category after a win for his directorial debut, “American Beauty,” in 1999. His film is also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama and its score.

Additional notes: The winner of this award has gone on to win the corresponding Oscar ten times out of the past fifteen years, with only Ben Affleck missing out on a nomination altogether. Five of the last fifteen years, the film that won in this category did not also win the top corresponding film prize. Foreign film directors triumphed three out of the last four times they were nominated in this category, including last year.
Who should win? I don’t think this is Tarantino’s strongest work by any stretch and wouldn’t include him here. The other four are all excellent choices. I’d probably pick Scorsese or Joon Ho.
Who will win? While it’s possible that Joon Ho, Tarantino, or Mendes wins, I think that Scorsese will triumph.

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Screenplay – Motion Picture


The competition:
The Irishman was written by Steven Zaillian, who won this award in 1993 for “Schindler’s List” and was nominated again in 2011 for “Moneyball.” The film also contends for Best Motion Picture – Drama, director Martin Scorsese, and stars Al Pacino and Joe Pesci.

Marriage Story was written by Noah Baumbach, earning his first Globe bid this year. The film is the nominations leader, contending for Best Motion Picture – Drama, its score and three of its stars.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was written by Quentin Tarantino, who is also nominated this year for Best Director. He won this award twice, in 1994 for “Pulp Fiction” and in 2012 for “Django Unchained.” He has two additional previous bids in this category and three for directing. His film is also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.

Parasite was written by Bong Joon Ho, who is also nominated this year for Best Director, and Han Jin Won, who earns his first bid this year. His film is also nominated for Best Foreign Film.

The Two Popes was written by Anthony McCarten, who earns his first Globe nomination. The film is also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama and stars Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins.

Additional notes: The winner of this category has gone on to win one of the two corresponding Oscar prizes nine times in the past fifteen years, and only once in that time has ended up being snubbed altogether. Only twice in recent history has a foreign film been nominated in this race, in 2007 for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and last year for “Roma.” A Best Director nomination isn’t crucial here to a win, but it does help.
What should win? I wasn’t anywhere near as gung-ho for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” as anyone else, and I didn’t love some aspects of the screenplay for “The Two Popes.” It may be long, but “The Irishman” is definitely well-written. I’d pick either “Marriage Story” or “Parasite.”
What will win? I think Once Upon a Time in Hollywood prevails here over “Marriage Story” and “The Irishman.”

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Original Song


The competition:
Beautiful Ghosts (Cats) was written by Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Swift was previously nominated for her work on songs from “The Hunger Games” in 2012 and “One Chance” in 2013. Webber won for writing the music to a song from “Evita” in 1996. This is the only nomination for the film.

Into the Unknown (Frozen II) was written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. The duo was nominated for a song from the first “Frozen” in 2013 and then again in 2017 for “Coco.” Though both songs won them Oscars, they have yet to win a Globe. The film is also nominated for Best Animated Film.

Stand Up (Harriet) was written by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo. This is the first nomination for both. Erivo also contends for her performance in the film.

Spirit (The Lion King) was written by Beyoncé, Ilya, and Labyrinth. This is the first nomination for all involved. The film is also nominated for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama. Beyoncé previously contended for songs from “Dreamgirls” in 2006 and “Cadillac Records” in 2008. The film is also nominated for Best Animated Film. The original film of the same name earned two nominations in this category in 1994, winning for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”

I’m Gonna Love Me Again (Rocketman) was written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. John won this award in 1994 for “The Lion King” and was nominated again in 2003 for “Mona Lisa Smile” and in 2011 for “Gnomeo and Juliet.” Taupin won in 2005 for “Brokeback Mountain.” The film also contends for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical and for star Taron Egerton’s performance.

Additional notes: Only “Beautiful Ghosts” missed the fifteen-wide finalist list for the corresponding Oscar category. The winner of this award has gone on to win the Oscar six times out of the past fifteen years, though seven of the remaining times the winner wasn’t even nominated there. Mary J. Blige and Bjork were nominated in 2017 and 2000, respectively, for acting and songwriting, and in both cases, neither won, but Lady Gaga, who was nominated for her performance last year, did succeed in winning this award.
What should win? After listening to these five songs a number of times, my clear favorites are “Beautiful Ghosts” and “Stand Up.”
What will win? There isn’t the same kind of frontrunner as there was last year, and so my best guess is that Spirit takes it.

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Original Score


The competition:
Joker was composed by Hildur Guðnadóttir, marking her first nomination. The film also contends for Best Motion Picture – Drama, director Todd Phillips, and star Joaquin Phoenix. This is Göransson’s first collaboration with Phillips.

Little Women was composed by Alexandre Desplat, who was nominated last year for “Isle of Dogs” and won the year before that for “The Shape of Water.” He has eight other previous nominations, including another win, for “The Painted Veil” for 2006. His film also contends for star Saoirse Ronan’s performance. This is his first collaboration with director Greta Gerwig.

Marriage Story was composed by Randy Newman. He was previously nominated for “Avalon” in 1998 and “A Bug’s Life” in 1998, as well as four times in the Best Original Song category. His film is the nominations leader, contending for several awards including Best Motion Picture – Drama. This is his second collaboration with director Noah Baumbach.

Motherless Brooklyn was composed by Daniel Pemberton, who was previously nominated for “Steve Jobs” in 2015. This is the only nomination for his film. This is his first collaboration with director Edward Norton.

1917 was composed by Thomas Newman, who was previously nominated for “American Beauty” in 1999, which was director Sam Mendes’ directorial debut. This is his sixth collaboration with Mendes. The film is also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama and for its directing.

Additional notes: The winner of this award has gone on to win the corresponding Oscar nine times in the past fifteen years, failing to receive a nomination just three times, including last year for “First Man.” All five of these scores made the fifteen-wide finalist list for this year’s Oscar category.
What should win? I didn’t remember the music from “Marriage Story” or “Joker” all that much, whereas it’s very central to the success of both “Little Women” and “1917,” either of which I’d be happy to see triumph. I wasn’t as fond of the score from “Motherless Brooklyn.”
What will win? I think this is going to Little Women.

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Foreign Language Film


The competition:
The Farewell (USA) is directed by Lulu Wang, marking her second feature film and first Golden Globe nomination. This is the fifth time that a film cited as being only from the USA has been nominated. None of them have won, though “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” billed as being from the USA and another country, did prevail in 2006 and 2007. This film is also nominated for Awkwafina’s lead performance.

Les Miserables (France) is directed by Ladj Ly, marking his feature film debut. As best as I can tell, France has been nominated a whopping eighty times and has been credited with twelve wins. This film is on the Oscar shortlist as France’s submission for Best International Feature.

Pain and Glory (Spain) is directed by Pedro Almodovar, marking his twenty-first film. Seven of his films have been nominated in this category before, with two wins, for “All About My Mother” in 1999 and “Talk to Her” in 2002. Star Antonio Banderas is nominated for his performance. This film is on the Oscar shortlist as Spain’s submission for Best International Feature.

Parasite (South Korea) is directed by Bong Joon Ho, marking his seventh film. He is also nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay. This film is on the Oscar shortlist as South Korea’s submission for Best International Feature.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (France) is directed by Céline Sciamma, marking her fourth film. This is her first Golden Globe nomination. As best as I can tell, France has been nominated a whopping eighty times and has been credited with twelve wins. This film was not submitted by France as its official Oscar submission.

Additional notes: All three Oscar-eligible films are on the shortlist for the Oscar Best International Feature category. Last year’s “Roma” was nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, while the previous two winners of this award, “In the Fade” and “Elle,” weren’t even nominated for Best Foreign Film. Only seven winners in this category have gone on to win the corresponding Oscar in the past fifteen years. Every time a film nominated here has also contended for Best Director, it’s taken home this prize, most recently with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” and “Roma.”
What should win? I like all of these films a lot and would be happy to see them win. “Parasite” is my favorite, but any of these would be great as winners.
What will win? I would be shocked, as would anyone else, if anything other than Parasite won.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

I'm excited to present a revamped version of Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe! The Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition will premiere on YouTube each Friday and be reposted here during the day as well. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Animated Film


The competition:
Frozen II comes from Walt Disney Animation Studios, which won this award for “Zootopia” in 2016 and the original “Frozen” in 2013, also directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. This sequel also contends for Best Original Song, “Into the Unknown.”

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World comes from DreamWorks Animation. The studio has been nominated eight times before, winning for “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” also directed by Dean DeBlois in 2014. The first film was nominated for this prize in 2010.

The Lion King comes from Walt Disney Pictures and represents the first nomination for Fairview Entertainment. The original animated film won the Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical award in 1994, before this category’s existence. This is the first nomination for director Jon Favreau.

Missing Link comes Laika, which has been nominated previously for “Coraline,” “The Boxtrolls,” and “Kubo and the Two Strings,” and Annapurna Pictures, contending for the first time. This is the first nomination for director Chris Butler.

Toy Story 4 comes from Pixar, a studio that has dominated this category with eight wins since its inception in 2006. The third film in the series won this prize in 2010, the second film won Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical in 1999, and the first film was nominated for the top prize in 1995. This is the first nomination for director Josh Cooley.

Additional notes: Two out of six previously nominated sequels have won this award, and this is the second consecutive year that at least two sequels have competed against each other.
What should win: My favorites of these are “Missing Link” and “The Lion King.”
What will win: I think this goes to The Lion King, though that might not be a smart prediction on my part.

Movie with Abe: The Lion King

The Lion King
Directed by Jon Favreau
Released July 19, 2019

Anyone who decides they want to remake a beloved movie should ask themselves one crucial question: is there a particular reason that a new iteration needs to be created? Fans of the original will surely be divided on whether or not an update is necessary, since some loyalists won’t want to have anything disrupt or disparage what they remember and love. When it comes to turning a fully animated production into a live-action film, the result will surely be visually different. Director Jon Favreau tried it a few years ago with “The Jungle Book,” and now he’s back at it again with another animated classic: “The Lion King.”

Young Simba (JD McCrary) yearns to experience all of the Pride Lands kingdom, which he will eventually inherit from his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones). Eager to dispose of the sibling he hates, the king’s vindictive brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) partners with hyenas to kill off both Mufasa and Simba so that he can take the throne. Simba manages to get away and grows to become a friendly adult lion (Donald Glover) thanks to the help and guidance of Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), who doesn’t realize the fate that has befallen his mother Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) and childhood best friend Nala (Beyoncé Knowles-Carter).

It’s only been twenty-five years since the release of the original film, as opposed to the almost fifty-year gap between the two versions of “The Jungle Book.” It’s not merely a shot-for-shot duplicate with CGI effects rather than hand-drawn animation, but instead one that updates the story slightly and changes up some of the familiar songs. Some scenes are discarded or extended, as this film clocks in at a full half-hour longer than the first one. The modifications are subtle enough in some cases and very noticeable in others, and there’s a different vividness that comes with experiencing this familiar story in live-action with gorgeous backdrops and stunning visuals.

The voice cast selected here is top-notch, with only Jones reprising his role as Mufasa. Selecting popular musicians like Glover and Knowles-Carter to play the leads is a strong choice, but the best decision comes in the form of Eichner, known for his yelly game show “Billy on the Street,” and Rogen, who writes, produces, and stars in comedy movies, who make a superb duo and enliven the already entertaining Timon and Pumbaa’s every scene. Ejiofor and Woodard are also excellent in their respective roles. The visual effects are truly astounding, and even though the two Oscar-shortlisted original songs, played over scenes rather than sung by characters, don’t hold a candle to the tunes composed for the original film, this remake feels totally worthwhile. It’s a perfect successor to Favreau’s “The Jungle Book,” an example of how to try something again in a new way and really do it right.

B+

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture


The competition:
Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell) plays distraught mother Bobi Jewell. Bates has four previous film nominations, winning in 1990 for “Misery,” and three TV bids, winning in 1996 for “The Late Shift.” She last contended in 2014 for “American Horror Story.” She is the lone representative from her film.

Annette Bening (The Report) plays Senator Dianne Feinstein. Bening has seven previous film nominations, winning for “Being Julia” and “The Kids Are All Right.” She also has a previous TV bid. She last contended in 2016 for “20th Century Women.” She is the lone representative from her film.

Laura Dern (Marriage Story) plays divorce lawyer Nora Fanshaw. Dern was Miss Golden Globe in 1981 and has just one previous film bid, for “Rambling Rose” in 1991. She has won four out of six TV bids, for “Afterburn,” “Recount,” “Enlightened,” and “Big Little Lies.” Her film is the nominations leader and contends for Best Motion Picture – Drama.

Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers) plays stripper Ramona Vega. Lopez was previously nominated in 1997 for “Selena.” She is the lone representative from her film.

Margot Robbie (Bombshell) plays Fox News producer Kayla Pospisil. Robbie was previously nominated in 2017 for “I, Tonya.” Her costar Charlize Theron is also nominated this year.

Additional notes: Dern, Lopez, and Robbie all contend for individual SAG Awards, and Robbie is nominated as part of her ensemble as well. Only four times in the entire history of this category has the winner gone on not to be nominated for an Oscar, and the most recent time was more than forty years ago. All but five times in the past fifteen years, the winner of this category has also won the Oscar, and several of those instances involved different nominees and category placements.
Who should win? I liked Bates, but she wasn’t the strongest part of her film. Bening didn’t impress me much in this turn. Robbie was great, and I’d be happy with her or Dern. Lopez did steal her film, which might be worthy of a win.
Who will win? It’s a two-way race between Lopez and Dern. I’m backing the former.

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Supporting Role


The competition:
Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) plays children’s television icon Mr. Rogers. Hanks has nine previous nominations, most recently in 2017 for “The Post,” winning for “Big,” “Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump,” and “Cast Away.” He is the lone representative from his film.

Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes) plays Pope Benedict XVI. Hopkins won the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2006. He has six previous nominations, most recently in 1997 for “Amistad.” His film is nominated for several awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama.

Al Pacino (The Irishman) plays Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa. Pacino won the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2001. He has fourteen previous film nominations, winning for “Serpico” and “Scent of a Woman,” and three TV bids, winning for “Angels in America” and “You Don’t Know Jack.” His most recent nomination was in 2015 for “Danny Collins.” His film is nominated for several awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama.

Joe Pesci (The Irishman) plays mob boss Russell Bufalino. He has been nominated twice before, both for Martin Scorsese collaborations, in 1980 for “Raging Bull” and in 1990 for “Goodfellas.” His film is nominated for several awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama.

Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) plays stuntman Cliff Booth. He won a Globe in 1995 for “12 Monkeys” and was also nominated for “Legends of the Fall,” “Babel,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and “Moneyball.” His film is nominated for several awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama.

Additional notes: All but Hopkins are nominated for individual SAG Awards, and Pacino, Pesci, and Pitt also contend as part of his ensemble. Only once in the past forty years has the winner of this category gone on not to be nominated for an Oscar (Aaron Taylor-Johnson in 2016), and the victor here also claimed the Oscar all but four times in the past fifteen years. The last three times two men were nominated from the same film, neither won, but Timothy Hutton did eclipse costar Judd Hirsch in 1980 for “Ordinary People.”
Who should win? I can understand that Pitt was natural in his film, but I don’t think he needs to win. Hopkins wasn’t as terrific as his costar Jonathan Pryce. Hanks was great and would be a fine choice. Pacino grew on me, but he didn’t wow me the same way that Pesci did.
Who will win? I’m not sure. I think that Pitt could win, but I’m backing Pacino.

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical


The competition:
Ana de Armas (Knives Out) plays caregiver Marta Cabrera. This is her first Globe nomination. She is joined by costar Daniel Craig and her film contends for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical.

Awkwafina (The Farewell) plays rebellious granddaughter Billi Wang. This is her first Globe nomination. Her film contends for Best Foreign Film.

Cate Blanchett (Where’d You Go, Bernadette?) plays troubled architect Bernadette Fox. Blanchett has nine previous nominations, winning for “Elizabeth,” “I’m Not There,” and “Blue Jasmine.” She is the lone representative from her film.

Beanie Feldstein (Booksmart) plays committed student Molly Davidson. This is her first Globe nomination. She is the lone representative from her film.

Emma Thompson (Late Night) plays talk show host Katherine Newbury. She has seven previous film nominations, including a win for “Howard’s End.” She also picked up a screenplay prize for “Sense and Sensibility” and has an additional TV bid. She is the lone representative from her film.

Additional notes: None of these actresses are nominated for a SAG Award this year. The winner of this award has gone on to be nominated for an Oscar all but twice in the past fifteen years, with five victors going on to win the Oscar.
Who should win? I really like four of these performances – Blanchett doesn’t belong here for a subpar effort. I’d honestly be thrilled with any of the rest, though I think Awkwafina winning would make me happiest since she’s the only one with Oscar chances and needs the boost.
Who will win? I don’t think Awkwafina has too much competition, but for some reason she doesn’t feel as safe as she should.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical


The competition:
Daniel Craig (Knives Out) plays private investigator Benoit Blanc. This is Craig’s first Globe nomination. He is joined by costar Ana de Armas, and his film contends for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical.

Roman Griffin Davis (Jojo Rabbit) plays young Nazi Jojo Betzler. This is Davis’ first nomination. His film contends for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical.

Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) plays fading actor Rick Dalton. He has eleven previous nominations, with wins for “The Aviator,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and “The Revenant.” His film is nominated in several other categories, including Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical.

Taron Egerton (Rocketman) plays famed musician Elton John. This is his first Globe nomination. His film also contends for an original song and for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical.

Eddie Murphy (Dolemite Is My Name) plays comedian Rudy Ray Moore. He won a Globe in 2006 for “Dreamgirls” and was previously nominated for “48 Hrs,” “Trading Places,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” and “The Nutty Professor.”

Additional notes: DiCaprio and Egerton are both nominated for individual SAG Awards, and DiCaprio and Davis contend as part of their ensembles. The winner of this category sometimes goes on to be nominated for an Oscar, and two victors – Jean Dujardin and Jamie Foxx – have actually won the Oscar.
Who should win? This is far from DiCaprio’s best performance, in my opinion, and I also wasn’t astounded by Egerton as I expected to be. Craig surprised me in an unusual turn so unlike most of what he’s done before. I’d be very happy if Davis got the recognition he deserves for a fantastic effort. The deserving winner here, however, is Murphy, who was terrific in a comic role that still felt like something completely new for him.
Who will win? It’s a three-way race between DiCaprio, who I’m picking, Egerton, and Murphy, who I’d like to see win.

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama


The competition:
Cynthia Erivo (Harriet) plays Harriet Tubman. This is her first Globe nomination, but she also contends this year for a song from her film.

Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story) plays actress Nicole Parker. She has four previous SAG nominations, for “Lost in Translation,” “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” “A Love Song for Bobby Long,” and “Match Point.” Her film is the nominations leader and contends for Best Motion Picture – Drama.

Saoirse Ronan (Little Women) plays aspiring writer Jo March. She won a Globe in 2017 for her last collaboration with director Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird,” and was previously nominated for “Brooklyn” and “Atonement.” Her film is also nominated for Best Original Score.

Charlize Theron (Bombshell) plays journalist Megyn Kelly. She won a Globe in 2003 for “Monster,” and has since been nominated for “North Country,” “Young Adult,” and “Tully,” in addition to a TV bid. Her costar Margot Robbie is also nominated.

Renee Zellweger (Judy) plays actress Judy Garland. She won three Globes, for “Nurse Betty,” “Chicago,” and “Cold Mountain,” and was also nominated for “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” and “Miss Potter.” She is the lone representative from her film.

Additional notes: Everyone but Ronan is also nominated for an individual SAG Award, and Theron contends additionally as part of her ensemble. The winner of this category has gone on to win the Oscar a little over half the time in the past fifteen years.
Who should win? Erivo was good but didn’t wow me in the role. Theron disappeared into her performance and would be a solid choice. Ronan was great as always in a very fitting part. Johansson delivered one of her best turns in a while, but I think my pick is Zellweger for a truly immersive dive into her character.
Who will win? There’s a slight chance that Johansson or Theron could pick up enough momentum for a win, but Zellweger shouldn’t have much trouble taking this.

Golden Globe Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama


The competition:
Christian Bale (Ford v Ferrari) plays cantankerous race car driver Ken Miles. He has won two Globes, for last year’s “Vice” and for “The Fighter” in 2010. He was also nominated for “American Hustle” and “The Big Short.” He is the lone representative of his film.

Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory) plays faded film director Salvador Mallo. He has two previous film nominations, for “Evita” and “The Mask of Zorro,” and two TV bids. His film is nominated for Best Foreign Film.

Adam Driver (Marriage Story) plays theater director Charlie Barber. He was nominated last year for “BlacKkKlansman.” His film is the nominations leader and contends for Best Motion Picture – Drama.

Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) plays clown Arthur Fleck. He won a Globe in 2005 for “Walk the Line,” and has also been nominated for “Gladiator,” “The Master,” “Her,” and “Inherent Vice.” His film contends for several awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama.

Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes) plays Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who travels to Vatican City from Argentina. Pryce has one previous Globe nomination, for the 1993 TV movie “Barbarians at the Gate.” His film contends for several awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama.

Additional notes: Bale, Driver, and Phoenix are also nominated for SAG Awards this year. The winner of this award has gone on to win the Oscar all but twice in the past fifteen years.
Who should win? Bale was a great fit for the role and did well, and the same goes for Banderas. Phoenix was incredible to be sure, and Driver was great too, though I’d really love to see Pryce, a hard-working actor who turned in a wonderful performance, take this. Luckily, there’s not a bad choice to be found here.
Who will win? It’s possible Driver could upset, but I think that Phoenix holds a firm enough lead.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Movie with Abe: Her Smell


Her Smell
Directed by Alex Ross Perry
Released May 10, 2019

The rocker lifestyle is one that lends itself to indulgent behavior. Finding a creative energy can be done with the help of drugs and alcohol, and often casual usage can lead to dependence, which itself fuels even more innovation that then makes it absolutely necessary to continue. When someone begins to withdraw from chemicals and other negative influences, the result can be truly jarring, unmasking a side of them that looks absolutely nothing like they recognize. Regaining a sense of stability from that point can be difficult, and some people find that they’re never the same.

Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss), the lead vocalist of the punk rock band Something She, is first introduced after a concert when she conducts a ceremony with her shaman (Eka Darville) that leads her to believe that her young daughter’s presence is affecting her in a bad way. Her strained relationships with her ex-husband Danny (Dan Stevens) and mother Ania (Virgina Madsen) are explored over the course of the film, which shows Becky lashing out at her bandmates and manager (Eric Stoltz), irritable at any given moment and ready to explode, until she finally decides to seek help when she realizes just how out of control her life has become.

This film starts in a fiery manner, showing Becky erupting in a fury just seconds after she is first seen on screen. The usage of five different moments over the course of a number of years to tell her story is an interesting narrative device, one that feels just as frantic and uneven as Becky’s life surely does to her and those around her. Like its main character, this film is a bit of a mess, jumping full-throttle into Becky’s rage and barely letting up until it finally provides some respite in the form of introspection and a new outlook for a reformed and totally transformed Becky, who it seems could easily slip and turn right back into her volatile self with even the slightest unfortunate encouragement.

This is an undeniably wild and unhinged turn from Moss, who marks her third collaboration with director Alex Ross Perry. Having achieved fame mostly for television performances in projects like “Mad Men” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Moss is doing something totally different here, and she’s most effective when she’s calmed down and understands how she’s treating those around her. She’s the only real anchor of this film, which leans a bit too much into its frenetic and hostile universe. Perry has made other great films about people whose behavior makes them selfish and unlikeable before, like “Listen Up Philip,” but this film feels too off-kilter and uninviting to truly succeed in telling its story.

C+

Movie with Abe: 1917

1917
Directed by Sam Mendes
Released December 25, 2019

There is a certain senselessness to war that finds ordinary people thrown into an extraordinary situation in which they are shooting at and killing each other to achieve some greater purpose. Seen from a distance, it can be easy to dismiss a war or conflict as unnecessary and avoidable, but when soldiers are on the front lines, it’s not possible to choose to walk away or decide not to move forward since there might be an opposing army just a short distance away whose numbers are just as determined to hold their defenses. It’s hard to truly understand that moment without being in it.

In 1917, two British soldiers, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) are tasked by their commanders to get a warning message to another division about to launch an attack on what they believe are retreating forces. They are told to walk through their brigades and into unknown enemy territory, accompanied only by each other and the gravity of what they must convey to spare their fellow soldiers from falling victim to a trap. Blake and Schofield have no idea what they’ll find as they continue, but they have no choice but to continue moving to reach their crucial destination.

This is an incredibly immersive film, one that stays with its protagonists for the entirety of its runtime thanks to the focused cinematography by Roger Deakins and subtle editing by Lee Smith. Composed as one shot, this film presents an incomparably intimate war story, an unflinching portrait of two soldiers who must fearlessly march towards an unknown fate, staying straight except for when something occurs outside their field of vision and they turn to look at it. It’s a very effective decision, one that strives to capture the inescapable reality of war and the bravery of these soldiers in a film inspired by stories told by director Sam Mendes’ grandfather Alfred about his own experiences.

This is the eighth film from Mendes, who made his directorial debut twenty years ago with “American Beauty.” After a foray into James Bond with “Skyfall” and “Spectre,” Mendes is back to serious drama with this compelling and harrowing production. Teaming with a truly competent group including Deakins, Smith, and composer Thomas Newman leads to a rich and stunningly powerful result. Chapman and MacKay are excellent, and brief appearances by Colin Firth, Andrew Scott, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Richard Madden enhance rather than distract from the lonely landscape. This film is poised to win many awards, and this effort surely deserves them.

B+

Movie with Abe: Little Women

Little Women
Directed by Greta Gerwig
Released December 25, 2019

Throughout history, and to this day in many respects, women have been subjugated and told that their contributions to society are less worthwhile and valid than those of men, even when the evidence to the contrary is truly undeniable. Many women have fought to be taken seriously and eventually persevered, though there are sacrifices to be made along the way, some of which include the cessation of relationships or the forfeiture of fortunes that might come from living a more acceptable and proscribed life. The intertwining of the two can be most interesting, and is often found in those who grow up in the same home or environment and choose remarkably different paths.

Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) is an enterprising young writer seeking to make a name for herself in a man’s world in 1860s New England, pitching a piece in the film’s opening scene to an editor (Tracy Letts) who insists that a female protagonist should either die or get married at the end of any good story. Jo grows up in a crowded home with her sisters Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen), with the supportive guidance of their mother Marmee (Laura Dern) and the more discerning old-world attitude of their Aunt March (Meryl Streep). As Meg looks ahead to a future as a wife, Amy dreams of being noticed as much as her older sister, and Beth quietly lives in the shadow of her siblings, Jo is courted by an excitable neighbor, Laurie (Timothée Chalamet), and must consider where she wants her life to go.

This is officially the eighth cinematic adaptation of the 1868 novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott, though it’s the only one that this reviewer can be sure he has actually seen and remembered. Director Greta Gerwig, who, like with her solo directorial debut, “Lady Bird,” would have surely played Jo had this film been made a decade earlier, livens up a classic tale with plenty of modern energy, imbuing all of her characters with personality and purpose. The film’s events are presented out of sequence, with unmarked cuts to different moments in the lives of these young women, giving their story a sense of timelessness, enhanced even further by the fact that Jo is writing about their adventures, fighting not to harm the integrity of its content by adhering to the whims of a chauvinistic editor.

This film’s plot is mildly familiar, and certainly more so to anyone who has seen or read previous iterations, but it is made relevant and enthusiastic by the contributions of all involved. Ronan is a fantastic fit for the spirited Jo, and Pugh stands out in the supporting cast as the most self-involved of the sisters who just wants to be noticed as her own person. Gerwig brings back those she has cast before, including Chalamet and Letts, and has now amassed an even greater cadre of talent from which to draw on for future projects. This is an affirming, entertaining journey filled with gorgeous costumes, a wonderful musical score, and a rewarding cast breathing new life into a story that is sure to appear on film again if history is any indication.

B+

Monday, December 23, 2019

Movie with Abe: The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse
Directed by Robert Eggers
Released October 18, 2019

Being in the same place for a long time without much human contact is bound to drive anyone a little crazy. There are some jobs that require isolation and often – though not always – pay well because, though day-to-day tasks may be mundane and not especially challenging, being cut off and far away from civilization is a demanding ask. Some people thrive in those situations and know exactly how to keep themselves sane, and the advent of technology and ways to keep occupied have aided in making the time pass. Others, both in the past and now, find it maddening and simply can’t cope.

Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) arrives on a New England island in the nineteenth century to serve as a lighthouse keeper for a four-week term. His supervisor and lone companion on the island, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), is unpleasant and unkind, and continues to give Winslow miserable and burdensome jobs. As he begins having visions that doesn’t make sense, he learns about his predecessor’s fate and begins to worry that he may never escape his present fate and return home.

This film is shot with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, which aids the feeling of being trapped and boxed in considerably by presenting a literal square in which its characters exist and cannot leave. Presenting its events in black-and-white compounds that sentiment even more, since the nightmarish images that Winslow experiences are reminiscent of gruesome scenes from classic early horror movies that used the starkness of the pictures to make up for lack of technological visual effects. This film isn’t quite a horror movie, though it’s definitely accurate to describe it as a psychological thriller with tendencies towards the terrifying, especially since it’s seemingly Winslow’s mind that plays tricks on him just as the physical environment that surrounds him.

Pattinson is an actor who has improved his reputation considerably in recent years after his breakout role in the “Twilight” saga, turning in a formidable performance recently in the science-fiction drama “High Life.” Here, he holds nothing back as someone who is acutely aware that his grip on reality is slipping, and Winslow has no desire to be taken advantage of by Wake, though he is powerless to do anything about it. Dafoe, who could earn a third consecutive Oscar nomination for his performance, is delightfully unhinged, expressing great cruelty and maniacal enjoyment of his superiority in a turn that feels nothing like his work in “The Florida Project” and “At Eternity’s Gate.” Director Robert Eggers has made an intense, captivating second film after his debut, “The Witch,” one that does seem a bit too eager to follow its characters off the deep end. It’s nonetheless a gripping and deeply unsettling experience.

B

Movie with Abe: The Song of Names


The Song of Names
Directed by François Girard
Released December 25, 2019

A childhood friendship can be enormously influential on a person, and in many cases it can lead to a lifelong relationship that continues through generations of descendants. Events don’t always allow things to go that way, and those who are close may be separated. A reunion years later could occur, though staying apart for that long seems less likely in today’s age of overly accessible social media. If someone has not been in another person’s life for a long time, the imprint of their memory may still be incredibly strong.

At age nine, Dovidl (Luke Doyle) is brought by his father from Warsaw to London in search of a teacher to train the talented young violinist. Gilbert (Stanley Townsend) offers to host the boy, who becomes friends with his son of the same age, Martin (Misha Handley). As the boys grow older, Dovidl (Jonah Hauer-King) grapples with his religious identity when he hears nothing of his family in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and Martin (Gerran Howell) tries to understand and support him. When Dovidl vanishes the same night he is supposed to perform a grand concert sponsored by Gilbert, an older Martin (Tim Roth) is still haunted by his disappearance decades later, prompting an international search for any trace of the long-lost adult Dovidl (Clive Owen).

This film makes masterful use of three separate casts, described by director François Girard as two vertical trios and three horizontal duos. Girard explains that he took care to have them “contaminate” each other while ensuring that they didn’t explicitly watch the filmed work another set had done. It’s an effective choice, one that helps to convey the development of the friendship between these two boys, initially uninterested in each other and eventually so close that they share something deeper than with anyone else. The elder Martin’s quest to find his old friend, expanded from a mere six pages in Norman Lebrecht’s novel of the same name, serves as a fitting frame for this film, one that lives only in Martin’s mind because of the great distance that has grown between them.

Girard emphasizes that this is a film about memory, in part because we “live in a world that is deeply amnesiac, where we are sucked into little screens, which make us captive to the present in an intense way.” Cinema, he believes, is a tool to escape that. This film presents a different angle to the Holocaust, one that doesn’t address it straight on, but instead looks at how being separated from his family affects Dovidl, and how Martin responds to it. That sense of loss permeates the entire film and guides it as Dovidl retreats into his music and Martin searches through his memories to find comfort.

Girard stresses the importance of music, and the genesis of cinema from its predecessor, opera. He enjoyed working with composer Howard Shore, who found ways to connect to his own Jewish heritage in the creation of the music for this film. As director of “The Red Violin” and other music-centric films, as well as a handful of operas, Girard is no stranger to music as a vehicle for storytelling, and this film does that strongly. Its assemblage of strong acting talent in each time period contributes to a deeply affecting film, one that packs a powerful emotional punch with plenty to say about the importance of the journey as well as the destination.

B+

Movie with Abe: Just Mercy

Just Mercy
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
Released December 25, 2019

There is an understandable gravity that comes with a death sentence, mainly because, unlike a life spent in prison with or without the technically-granted possibility of parole, the result is finite and irreversible. Yet many prisoners convicted to death have spent or are currently spending an extraordinary amount of time on death row, waiting and hoping that their execution date will never be set. Those in that situation may debate whether it is still a life that they are living in anticipation of a mandated death, but they may also hold out hope for a last-minute stay or, even more impactfully, that someone will come along and help them get their conviction overturned.

Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) grows up in Delaware and is tremendously affected by a visit with a death row inmate while an intern during law school. He decides to open his own firm, The Equal Justice Initiative, in Montgomery, Alabama with a local operations director, Eva Ansley (Brie Larson). On his first visit to the local prison, Bryan is strip-searched by a racist guard, acclimating him to the prevailing culture of the area. He encounters more harassment from the police and members of the community as he seeks to open up a wound that he believes has sent an innocent man to death row: Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), better known as Johnny D., who was convicted of killing a white woman at a dry cleaners based solely on the testimony of a white felon. Though Walter is initially closed off to Bryan’s offer of help, he quickly sees that Bryan will not soon give up when he perceives injustice.

This film joins many others before it in unmasking the systemic racism in place in the South in the United States, representing a tremendous culture shock for Bryan, whose idealistic nature faces multiple setbacks when confronted by law enforcement officials and judges uninterested in reviewing evidence that might contradict their previously-set expectations of what people are capable of based on how they look. It’s easy to become infuriated as a viewer, and Johnny D’s calm, detached demeanor demonstrates just how disillusioned he has already become with his fate. Bryan, not accustomed to it and not ready to accept it, becomes a force for change since nothing is going to stop him from fighting for the rights of others, particularly those with absolutely no power themselves.

A few cases are addressed in this film, but Johnny D’s takes center stage, laying out its discoveries and turns in a relatively straightforward cinematic fashion. Jordan and Larson are both well-known performers who clearly have a passion for this project, and they play their parts suitably enough. It’s Oscar winner Foxx, whose roles haven’t been plentiful or fantastic since his banner year in 2004 with “Ray” and “Collateral,” who truly impresses with a sympathetic portrayal of Johnny D. This film is upsetting and inspiring, doing exactly what it’s supposed to do: showcase injustice and advocate for further change.

B+

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Movie with Abe: Weathering with You

Weathering with You
Directed by Makoto Shinkai
To Be Released January 17, 2020

It’s possible to predict the weather, but not to control it, though that doesn’t stop some people from trying. Climate change advocates takes note of worrisome weather patterns to argue that we have to take an active role in saving our planet, while others attribute unexpected storms and unseasonal temperatures to nature merely taking its course. The idea of being able to turn rain into sunshine is a powerful concept, though it’s one usually reserved for science fiction or fantasy, with a little bit of magic and a whole lot of belief as the best ways to perceive such a possibility.

Hodaka (Kotaro Daigo) is a high school student who runs away from home to see the big city of Tokyo. When he arrives, he has difficulty finding work, but is eventually hired by a man he meets on the boat, Suga (Shun Oguri). As he helps Natsumi (Tsubasa Honda) investigate explanations for the wild weather Tokyo is experiencing, Hodaka meets Hina (Nana Mori), who possesses an unexplained power to pray for the rain to stop and create sunshine. The two form a business together where they provide a relief from the rain for those wishing to pay, which thrives until they have to face the reality that this miracle work can’t be sustained forever or without consequences.

This anime film, which serves as Japan’s official Oscar entry for Best International Feature in addition to being eligible in the Best Animated Feature category, expresses a wondrous imagination in its presentation of this story. Hina’s abilities are simple yet extraordinarily powerful, and Hodaka is wowed by the ease with which she is able to literally make the sun shine. Hodaka, whose reasons for leaving home are never fully explained, is living in a fantasy world of sorts, getting to experience Tokyo at such a young age while conducting a business based entirely on something supernatural.

This film follows other Japanese hits like “The Wind Rises” in gloriously using animation to tell a creative story, one whose colors dance all over the screen and which surely wouldn’t be anywhere near as compelling if filmed in live action. The characters are complex, and this film is appropriately being distributed in the United States by GKIDS, a studio known for bringing excellent independent animated films such as “My Life as a Zucchini” and “Mirai” to American audiences. It may not be entirely suitable for children, but this film has plenty of value as a rich love story to be appreciated by all ages.

B+

Movie with Abe: Les Misérables

Les Misérables
Directed by Ladj Ly
To Be Released January 10, 2020

A title can set expectations for a film, or at least color what the audience may take away from the experience that wouldn’t otherwise be part of it. Some films and television shows have famously been marketed with poor or problematic titles, either because they’re not accurate in describing the content or because they’re simply too long, like “Cougar Town” or “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” And then there are times when the title is selected to purposely reference a known work and transport audience members to a certain mindset that offers considerable additional commentary and context for what they are watching.

Stéphane (Damien Bonnard) arrives in the suburb Montfermeil in Paris to join the anti-crime squad, which includes Gwada (Djebril Zonga) and leader Chris (Alexis Manenti), who embraces the nickname of “Pink Pig” that he has been given by kids in the neighborhood. As they patrol the streets, Stéphane begins to see problematic behavior from his colleagues as they use force and intimidation to keep those who haven’t necessarily done anything wrong in line. When the violent members of a traveling circus discover that their prized lion cub has been taken, the squad sets out to find the thief and return the cub before things truly get out of control, an inevitability that they won’t be able to prevent and instead only serve to fuel.

Early on in the film, Stéphane correctly identifies Montfermeil as a key location in Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel that shares the title of this project. That comparison is not lost in this modern-day take on the disparity between the police who have all the power and the people whose rights are far from secure. Yet there’s just as much complexity to be found and analyzed, particularly as the target of the squad’s pursuit, a young boy named Issa (Issa Perica), expresses no remorse for any of his crimes, and his community moves to instinctively protect him, fully aware that he may have done something wrong.

This is a deeply relevant film for today, one that examines ideas of police brutality, criminal consequences, and poverty. Coming from a country like France paints a very different picture than in the United States, where the same issues are prevalent. Seeing it in a removed setting demonstrates the similarities that exist while maintaining a distinctly French perspective. The performances from the adult and child actors are very strong, and the cinematography by Julien Poupard manages to convey the gradual escalation to chaos that anchors some of the film’s best scenes. This may not be as revolutionary as the novel that shares its name, but it does offer a blistering and enthralling critique of society as it currently stands.

B+

Movie with Abe: Portrait of a Lady on Fire


Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Directed by Céline Sciamma
Released December 6, 2019

There is a permanence that exists with a painting that isn’t the same as its evolutionary successor, the photograph. The act of sitting for a portrait means that minute, precise details need to be expressly noticed and incorporated by an artist rather than merely captured automatically with the click of a button. The disadvantage, of course, is that a painting might not exactly resemble its subject due to its two-dimensional nature, but if the right combination of effort and passion go into a work, it can live on for generations, keeping the essence of the person pictured alive long past their natural years.

In the eighteenth century, a young painted named Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is brought to the island of Brittany and commissioned to create a portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), who is set to be married soon, by her mother. After learning that Héloïse has adamantly refused to sit for previous hires, Marianne becomes her walking companion to gain her trust. Their relationship develops into something neither of them expected as they forge a bond and a forbidden relationship that makes Héloïse, critical of Marianne’s first effort because she wasn’t aware that she was there to be paint her, eager to spend any time she can with the one person in her life who seems interested in getting to know what she wants.

This film features a few supporting characters, like Héloïse’s mother (Valeria Golino) and Sophie (Luàna Bajrami), a maid, but this is largely a two-person story. For Marianne, Héloïse’s reputation precedes her, and their first actual meeting finds Marianne walking directly behind Héloïse out to the beautiful cliffs and seashore, glimpsing her only briefly as she leaves her guard up. Future walks find them shielding their faces from the wind, and gradually they begin to open up, both literally and metaphorically, with each other, discovering comfort in being intimate together in a way that no one could possibly understand. It’s a stirring tale of passion and affection that grows out of crippling isolation.

The two lead performances here are terrific. Merlant is subdued and intentional as she reacts to surprising elements of her situation when she first arrives and learns of her subject, and reveals a hidden warmth when Marianne finds a friendly face on the other side of her brush. Haenel is wonderfully reserved, saying so much with no more than a small smile and grasping Héloïse’s power to influence her enchanted new friend. Cinematographer Claire Mathon makes tremendous use of light and the landscape, and this film has an intoxicating, timeless feel as a result. As its characters do with each other, it’s easy to get swept away by this beautiful and mesmerizing romance.

B+