Tag Archives: Ford v Ferrari

‘Parasite’ Creeps Into Top Honors At 92nd Academy Awards

I gotta say, I’ve covered the Academy Awards for a long time now. Year after year, I watch as they award their Oscars to winners both old and new. I see them give their statuettes sometimes to those that are most deserving, other times to nominees that couldn’t be less deserving. And with each passing ceremony, there isn’t one where the Academy doesn’t spring at least one surprise on its unsuspecting viewers.

Take this year’s awards, for example. Not only is this the first year where a comic-book film was nominated the most (Joker with 11 nominations), but this is also the second year where the Academy led its ceremony without a host. Last year it was to the ceremony’s benefit, as the awards carried out at a brisk pace while simultaneously being quick-witted and funny. This year, however, the awards seem airy and directionless, like they were scrambling to get through all the categories and find some loose way of connecting them together.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the presenters were very funny, like Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus when they confused the cinematographers and film editor’s jobs, and James Corden and Rebel Wilson, who came out in these awful-looking Cats costumes and stressed the importance of good visual effects. Other times presenters seemed random and pointless, like when Kelly Marie Tran and Anthony Ramos came out to present… another presenter. 1917 actor George Mackay illustrated the monotony of the presentation brilliantly, saying he was a “presenter to present another presenter who was going to present… another presenter.”

But the Hollywood elites who read from the envelopes this year were the least of the night’s surprises. In fact, the biggest surprises of all came from a film that I wasn’t even expecting to win the night’s top prizes:

SOURCE: CJ Entertainment

Best Picture: The Academy’s top honor didn’t go to 1917, a beautifully-filmed war epic that captured the essence of its tragedy in one seemingly endless shot. It didn’t go to the witty and wild love letter to 60’s cinema Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. And it also didn’t go to a movie about the mental descent of one man that would grow to become Batman’s greatest nemesis in Joker. No, the Academy instead chose to give the night’s highest recognition to a film you probably haven’t even heard of: South Korea’s harrowing yet hilarious commentary on classism and economics, Parasite. 

This is significant for a few reasons. One: Parasite is so out of the box and so unusual for the Academy that you wonder if their tastes are changing for the new generation. It’s strange that the Academy has gone a whole decade without recognizing at least one war film like 1917, or that it wouldn’t take up the chance to be self-absorbed in their own culture with Once Upon A Time In Hollywood like they were with The Artist or Birdman. But Parasite is just such an unusual choice for the Academy. Take away the fact that it’s a Korean film for one second: the fact they would even consider an exercise in minimalism and implication like this is so out of left field for Academy voters. If it wasn’t, then why wasn’t Get Out awarded Best Picture in 2018? Or The Revenant in 2016?

Two: Parasite is the first foreign-language film to have won Best Picture… ever. That is a stunning title for it to own, especially when you consider the fact that the Academy has overlooked nominees such as Roma, Amour, Babel, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Life Is Beautiful, The Postman, and several other films dating all the way back to 1938. This also does not consider outstanding foreign-language films that weren’t even nominated for Best Picture, including A Separation, Pan’s Labirynth, The Sea Inside, Joyeaux Noel, Amelie, Ikiru, and several others.

Is Parasite undeserving of the Oscar? Absolutely not. It was cunning, captivating, poignant, thoughtful, and like all great movies, had something powerful to say about our culture. Should it have been the first foreign-language film to have earned the Best Picture honor? Probably not. It makes you wonder where the Academy has been in all years previous to Parasite, as well as what they’re going to do moving forward now that the gates are open for all foreign-language films at the Oscars?

Speaking of Parasite

Best Director: The bigger surprise isn’t even the fact that Parasite won Best Picture, which it might have been able to nab anyway since it also won Best International Feature and Best Original Screenplay (more on that later). The biggest surprise is that director Bong Joon-Ho won Best Director, beating out DGA winner Sam Mendes for 1917

Again, Bong Joon-Ho is not undeserving of this honor in the least. The way he mirrored the two worlds of the rich and the poor was stunning and captivating and showed the true genius of a brilliant director at work. But what’s so surprising is that his win supersedes Sam Mendes’ win at the DGA Awards, which have been used to predict Best Director Oscar winners for decades now. Are the DGAs slowly moving towards irrelevance in regards to the Academy? Only a few more ceremonies will confirm that for sure.

Either way, congratulations to Bong Joon-Ho and his well-deserved win. I’ll admit 1917 was my favorite to win both Best Picture and Best Director, but I can’t fault Parasite by any means. Joon-Ho made a brilliant film, and nobody can take that honor away from him.

Best Actor: The Academy was right to award Joaquin Phoenix his first Oscar in his 30-year career for playing a meek clown gone mad in Todd Phillips’ Joker. He completely earned the Oscar for giving one of the most haunting and darkly comedic performances of the decade. Congratulations to Joaquin for his well-deserved win, although his acceptance speech where he complained about the evils of milking cows was a little strange.

Best Actress: Judy Garland may have never won an Oscar, but Renee Zellweger did for portraying the actress in her dramatic biopic Judy. It still blows my mind that this home-grown Texan could portray the late actress’s final years in show business and pull it off with the conviction and appeal that made Garland a household name in the first place. Congrats to Renee for winning her second Oscar. Here’s to never forgetting an unforgettable performance.

Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt rightfully won his first acting Oscar for playing a quietly disturbing stunt double in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Having recently revisited Pitt’s psychotic portrayal of a man’s splintered persona in David Fincher’s 1999 hit Fight Club, I was surprised to find out that he’s only been nominated for three acting Oscars prior to his first win, including 12 Monkeys, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Moneyball. Pitt’s nominations don’t do justice to his commitment in the roles that he plays. Either way, congratulations to Pitt for his well-earned win. He taught me a lesson about never paying an uninvited visit to Cliff Booth at night.

Best Supporting Actress: As expected, Laura Dern won Best Supporting Actress for playing a sensitive yet savage divorce lawyer in Marriage Story. Having re-watched Dern and her co-star Scarlett Johannson in both Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit, I’m still baffled as to how Dern could have the edge over Johannson, especially when you see her passioned and sensitive performances in both of the movies she’s nominated for. If you want to talk about talent that wasn’t even nominated, Jennifer Lopez gave a commanding performance as a stripper with attitude and swagger in Hustlers. Either of those women could have walked away with the Oscar and it would have made perfect sense. But Dern has a couple of scenes in her office and in the courtroom and suddenly she’s an Oscar frontrunner? Why? What did she do that was so special compared to her fellow nominees, or even her fellow co-stars?

Either way, congrats to Dern for winning Best Supporting Actress. I could think of five other movies she deserved to win the Oscar for more so than this one, but I guess the path doesn’t matter as much as the destination does.

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Best Animated Feature: Like clockwork, Toy Story 4 won Best Animated Feature, despite the fact that How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and Klaus were both better films. If the Academy keeps this up, they should save the viewers some time and simply rename this category to the Disney-Pixar award. At least then they’d be honest.

Best Documentary Feature: Okay, I got this one wrong, but to be fair this category was already a toss-up in the first place. I figured the Academy would go with a film as unique and creative as the one that followed one of Bekirlija’s last beekeepers in Honeyland. I should have known the Academy would have gone political and given the Oscar to the Obama’s first documentary produced under their new production company, American Factory. Earning an Academy Award is officially the newest thing that the former President can claim that the current President cannot.

Best International Feature: Of course since Parasite won Best Picture, Best International Feature was obviously going to be a shoo-in. I do find it odd that it technically has won two best film Oscars on one night, but either way, it isn’t undeserving. If you haven’t gotten the memo by now, you need to watch Parasite at your earliest convenience if you haven’t done so already.

Best Original Screenplay: Again, Parasite upsets in the original writing category after securing its win at the WGA’s. When I predicted Quentin Tarantino would win for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, I did so only knowing that the Academy almost never awards writing Oscars to foreign-language films. In fact, the last time a foreign-language film even won the original writing Oscar was Spain’s Talk To Her in 2002, and after that eight other films were overlooked in this category before Parasite finally won last night. Again though, it deserves the win as Bong Joon-Ho’s writing is just as clever and captivating as his directing is for the film. I just hope Bong Joon-Ho doesn’t go too crazy with celebrating. I would like him to not die of alcohol poisoning and keep making more movies as wonderful as Parasite.

Best Adapted Screenplay: In another stunning upset, Taika Waititi wins the Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Jojo Rabbit and shuts Greta Gerwig out for Little Women. If Academy voters are smart, they’ll hide out in their bunkers and wait for rage Twitter to blow over. Little Women fans are going to be upset about this one for a while.

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

Best Film Editing: Yet another category I got wrong. I thought Yang Jin-Mo was going to win for seamlessly assembling various perspectives into one cohesive and tragic narrative in Parasite, but I neglected how exciting and dizzying Ford v Ferrari was while simultaneously being coherent enough to follow all of the fast-paced racing action. Michael McCusker (Walk The Line, 3:10 To Yuma) is not undeserving by any means, and I’m happy he can finally call himself an Oscar-winner. At the very least, Ford v Ferrari’s best editing win makes more sense than Bohemian Rhapsody’s win did last year.

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins rightfully earned his second Oscar for his masterful one-shot technique in Sam Mendes’ emotionally stirring war epic 1917. If any other nominee won, rioting from the cinematographer’s branch would have been the only appropriate reaction.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Bombshell won best makeup, as expected. Thank you, next.

Best Costume Design: I thought Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’s timely wardrobe would appeal to the Academy as it does to its colorful and charismatic characters. I figured since Jacquelin Durran already won once for Anna Karenina that the period piece play wouldn’t work as well on the Academy this time around. I should have just went with the period piece, because Little Women won as predictably as Anna Karenina did in 2012. Jenny Eagan was also not nominated for Knives Out, which means that in a way, I lost twice in this category.

Best Production Design: In a happy upside, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood won the Oscar for Best Production Design. Nancy Haigh deserves her win for accurately recreating 60’s signage and movie sets. That is, before Quentin Tarantino covered it all with blood and splattered brains.

SOURCE: WARNER BROS. PICTURES

Best Musical Score: As predicted, Hildur Guonadottir won for providing the haunting, eerie string themes for Joker’s descent into madness. I’m just frustrated Thomas Newman has to go through his 15th nomination for 1917 and still not win a blasted Oscar. But in either case, congratulations to Guonadottir for making a beautiful yet unsettling theme for the Joker’s mental and moral decay. Meanwhile, let’s hope the 16th time is a charm for Newman during a future ceremony.

Best Original Song: Elton John won his second Oscar for his uplifting and empowering theme “I’m Gonna Love Me Again” for Rocketman. Thankfully so, because I don’t know how fans might have reacted if Bohemian Rhapsody won four Oscars and Rocketman didn’t win at least one. Either way, congrats to him for his well-deserved win. He made everyone feel the love tonight.

Best Sound Editing: Ford v Ferrari beat out the rest of the nominees for Best Sound Editing. I personally made the case for 1917, but Ford v Ferrari admittedly did have some exemplary sound editing in it. I’m not as frustrated by the loss like I was last year when Bohemian Rhapsody unbelievably won this award over A Quiet Place. I doubt any nominee winning this year could top my shock any more than that win did last year.

Best Sound Mixing: If that “Wayfaring Stranger” scene in 1917 didn’t convince you that it deserved to win for sound mixing, then nothing ever will. Thankfully, Academy voters saw that scene and was as moved as I was and rightfully awarded the film with the Oscar anyway.

Best Visual Effects: What did I tell you? What did I bloody tell you? The Academy can’t support outstanding visual effects to save its dang life if it means awarding it to a superhero movie. They did just that this year by giving the best visual effects Oscar to 1917 instead of the vastly more grand-scale Avengers: Endgame. Granted, I do not feel 1917 is a better film than Endgame is, but that’s like comparing apples to oranges. After all, 1917 is a grounded war eulogy while Endgame is the epic conclusion to a superhero saga that was several years in the making. Still, recognize the better work when you see it. 1917 may be the more moving film, but you’re bonkers if you think that film compares visually to the sensation and spectacle of Avengers: Endgame. At this rate, Disney should just buy out the Academy and give themselves the visual effects Oscar every time they’re nominated just to get a fair chance in this category.

Disclaimer: I’m kidding, of course. I don’t want Disney to get even more power-hungry than it already is. But still, I hope you understand how hot-blooded I am about this snub, especially since this is hot off of the heels of Avengers: Infinity War losing to First Man in 2019.

And finally, the shorts. I don’t know what is going on with me, but I’ve been on a roll with these categories as of late. Last year, I unbelievably got all of them right as opposed to most ceremonies where I get most of them wrong. This year I’m continuing the good streak as The Neighbor’s Window, Hair Love, and Learning To Skateboard In A Warzone (If You’re A Girl) all won Best Live Action, Best Animated and Best Documentary Short respectively. That helped boost me in predicting 16 out of 24 of the categories correctly this year. Not my best Oscar performance, but definitely not my worst.

Thank you all for tuning in yet again this year, fellow Oscar lovers. Now go and see Parasite. You obviously need to.

– David Dunn

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Why So Snubby?

SOURCE: WARNER BROS. PICTURES

Another year, another Oscars ceremony without a host. This is a year of many firsts for the Academy Awards. For one thing, this is the first year in quite a while where they’ll be hosting the ceremony in early February as opposed to late February/early March, so they’ll essentially be airing it in back-to-back weekends between the DGA’s and the WGA’s. This is also the first consecutive year to conduct the ceremony hostless, a trend they’ll be keeping up from the previous year when Kevin Hart was dropped from the show. And perhaps most surprisingly, this is the first year where the film to get the most nominations is not a period piece or a biopic, but a comic-book film.

Yes, dear reader: the critically-lauded Joker received not one, not 10, but 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Since the Academy has an especially sordid history with snubbing one comic-book film after another (with the likes of The Dark Knight, The Avengers, Captain America: Civil War, Logan, and many more), I’m surprised they recognized Joker with so many nominations. Granted, none of them are undeserving. Joaquin Phoenix has certainly earned his Best Actor nomination, as did Todd Phillips for his Best Director nomination. Besides those nominations, Joker is also nominated for Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Cinematography, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Costume Design, Sound Editing, and Mixing.

Following up Joker with 10 nominations is the Sam Mendes WWI drama 1917, the Martin Scorsese gangster epic The Irishman, and the hotshot Quentin Tarantino love letter to 60s cinema Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Again, none of these Best Picture nominees are surprising in the least. The Academy laps up Martin Scorsese just about as many times as they do Meryl Streep, and war pictures have a great track record with getting nominated by the Academy as well. Pay attention to 1917 and The Irishman in the technical categories especially. They stand a really good chance at snagging a few of those awards.

The biggest surprise out of those three films was how many nominations Once Upon A Time In Hollywood racked up. With 10 nominations, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is officially Tarantino’s most nominated film, right after Inglorious Basterds with eight nominations. Not that it wasn’t deserving. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt alike were both spitfires in the movie, and Tarantino was arguably at his best behind both the script and the director’s chair. But sweeping the technical nominations was especially unexpected. A few of them, such as cinematography and costume design, were a given. But sound editing, mixing, and production design? That came from left field out of nowhere.

Next up with six nominations apiece is the WWII satire film Jojo Rabbit, the coming-of-age drama Little Women, the heartbreaking divorce homily Marriage Story, and the eerie yet entertaining Parasite. Parasite is certain to have the newly-named International Feature Film award on lockdown, and director Bong Joon-Ho is an early favorite in the directing category as well. Little Women was a little unexpected for best leading and supporting actress, adapted screenplay, costume design and original score, but since no female directors are nominated for Best Director this year, it’s kind of necessary to give this much love to a female empowerment film. Marriage Story, meanwhile, swept in most of the acting categories, with Scarlett Johannson even being nominated twice for both Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit. Do any of these films stand a chance against the heavyweight titans of Joker, 1917, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, and The Irishman? We can only wait until Oscar night to find out.

And the last, but certainly not least, Best Picture nominee is the racing drama Ford v Ferrari, which is also nominated in the sound and film editing categories. The most shocking thing about this nominee isn’t that it only has four nominations (against everything else, that’s more or less to be expected). What’s shocking is that Christian Bale, who gave a stellar performance as Ken Miles, isn’t nominated for Best Actor. And to be fair to the other nominees, I haven’t seen Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory or Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes. But they don’t stand a snowballs chance against their peers, so you have to wonder why Bale wasn’t even being considered over them?

SOURCE: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Speaking of snubs, this year has no shortage of them just like with any other given year. The biggest snub Disney fans will notice is that Frozen 2 isn’t nominated for Best Animated Feature, although it is still nominated for Best Original Song with “Into The Unknown.” Jordan Peele’s thoughtful and observant horror film Us was given a resounding zero nominations, not even for Lupita Nyong’o for her hypnotizing dual performance as a petrified mother and her murderous doppelganger. Perhaps most shockingly, Uncut Gems was nominated for a big, fat “nothing” for this year’s ceremony, not even a Best Actor nomination for Adam Sandler’s mesmerizingly brazen performance. Thanks a lot, Academy. We’re going to get Grown Ups 3 now because of you.

But the most maddening has to be the absence of Rian Johnson’s masterful murder-mystery Knives Out, a movie that challenges us socially and politically as much as it does narratively and thematically. Knives Out was brilliant in just about every which way it could be, from the performances and the cinematography to the music and the editing. Even the bloody costumes and set designs were among the most colorful and stylish production jobs of the year. But nope, no nominations for those categories either. I get that five nominations limit what you can include in these categories and where. Still, I would have been fine to knock down a few nominations from Joker if it meant a few more nominations for Knives Out. At least Rian Johnson was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, so he can now call himself an Academy Award nominee at the very least.

Overall, this is a decent year for the Oscars. I’m glad to see comic-book movies like Joker get a little more love this time around, even if it is arguably a little too much love. Regardless, we have a lot to look forward to and many more surprises and snubs coming our way. Get ready, folks. At least there won’t be a host on February 9.

– David Dunn

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Top 10 Films Of 2019

“Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?”

– Arthur Fleck, Joker

It’s not just you, Arthur. By nearly every definition, 2019 sucked, and it looks like 2020 is only going to get worse. Not only has the usual political discourse ruined relationships and family reunions (with ongoing arguments intensifying relating to healthcare, taxes, civil rights, and whether an immigrant can be considered a person), but with the 2020 elections ramping up, more idiots from both sides of the aisle are shouting at each other louder than ever (especially the President himself). By nearly every metric, 2019 has been one long, pulsating, cancer-sized headache, and 2020 is only going to grow into an even bigger one.

Normally this is where the optimist in me would pipe in and say “But at least we have the movies!” Nope. Not this year. In a year full of crappy sequels, prequels, reboots, and remakes nobody asked for, most of the legitimately great movies came out at the tail end of the year between late November and December. Of course, this is not a new trend in Hollywood: studios like to release high-profile releases late in the year so they can get more consideration closer to awards season. Still, this year seems particularly worse even by Hollywood’s already desperate standards. On Christmas week, eight high-profile releases (count them: EIGHT) were released all at once, including Richard Jewell, Bombshell, Uncut Gems, A Hidden Life, Little Women, 1917, Just Mercy, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Good lord, is that enough movies for one week? I’m lucky I caught even a handful of them before the year ended. To be honest, part of me just wanted to say to hell with it and just go with my original top 10 and forget the rest. But that wouldn’t be responsible film journalism, so I powered through and fit in as many screenings as I could before January 1 rolled around. Yay me.

As with any other year, these are my 10 favorite films that came out in 2019. A few disclaimers here. One: my list equals my opinion. There are going to be several films that many cinephiles will feel belongs on this list and will wonder why they aren’t on here. There are two possibilities: either I didn’t see the film in question, or it just wasn’t good enough to make my top 10. I know some of you probably loved Harriet and The Lighthouse, but I saw both of those movies on the same night and disliked both of them equally. Sorry to disappoint.

Also, as evident in my earlier rant, I have not seen every film released this year, despite how much I tried to do so. Probably the biggest releases that slipped past my radar this year includes 1917 and Rocketman, but what can I say? Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker came out, and I have priorities.

So without further adieu, let’s wrap up the year – and for that matter, the decade – with my top 10 favorite films of 2019, starting with…

10. Uncut Gems

SOURCE: A24

A tense, anxious, and heart-racing crime thriller that keeps building on the pressure and never lets up. Adam Sandler gives an unexpected breakout performance as Howard Ratner, a desperate Diamond District jeweler who’s neck-deep in debt to several dangerous loan sharks. Sandler does a brilliant job in completely immersing himself in this self-absorbed and egocentric character, a man consumed by his own greed and selfish desires. This is a man who starts the movie in a hole six feet deep, digs himself out of it a little bit, then digs himself like 15 feet deeper. Writers and directors Josh and Benny Safdie do a mesmerizing job showing this man’s life spiraling out of control. Just when you get a moment to breathe for even a second, the film escalates to even further stress and insanity. A little too quick-paced for some viewers, but Uncut Gems is a taut masterwork to behold. Sandler better get nominated for an Oscar next year. He’s earned it. Three and a half stars.

9. Shazam!

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

A dazzling and spectacular action movie that fulfills the inner child fantasy of being a superhero. When 12-year-old orphan Billy Batson (Asher Angel) comes into contact with an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) that bestows him with supernatural abilities, Billy becomes a powerful superhero named Shazam (Zachary Levi) and is told to use his newfound powers for good – or at least, however much good a 12-year-old is capable of inside a 30-year-old’s body. Asher Angel and Zachary Levi do wonderful jobs in playing the different sides of Billy Batson, with Asher portraying the rebellious and mischievous little pre-teen and Zachary playing the grown-up man-child that just smiles and has fun with every new superpower he discovers. Director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation) tells a unique, emotional, and hilarious coming of age story in this out-of-body superhero experience. Shazam! is a fresh, bold, and surprising lightning-in-a-bottle superhero epic that’s akin to the unexpected success behind the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Three and a half stars.

8. Parasite

SOURCE: CJ Entertainment

In many ways, Parasite is like a caterpillar: it starts off looking like one thing, but then it slowly evolves until it changes into something completely different. When an impoverished family begins to infiltrate a rich family’s life, they soon realize that this family isn’t everything they appear to be, and they discover hidden secrets that they would much rather have stayed buried. Writer-director Boon Jong-Ho (Snowpiercer, Okja) illustrates this unusual and elusive tale with mystery and deceit, constantly questioning each family’s motives and flipping between who you should feel sympathy towards and why. The cast is skilled and meticulous in their mannerisms and changes in behavior, with Song Kang-ho and Choi Woo-shik being the most memorable as the poor family’s father and son. Parasite is an unexpected, unpredictable master analysis on classism and economic structure, and it constantly keeps you guessing until the film delivers its jaw-dropping conclusion. Parasite makes you question who the real villains are by the time the end credits roll. Three and a half stars.

7. Ford v Ferrari

SOURCE: 20th Century FoxA David-and-Goliath-sized underdog tale that tells the rivalry of not two massive automobile tycoons, but rather creators versus corporations. When Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) decides he’s going to unseat Ferrari as the Le Mans Grand Prix champions, he recruits automotive designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and hot-headed racer Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to build the fastest racecar in existence. The cast is exceptional, with Christian Bale in particular outshining the rest of his talented cast with his hotshot attitude and constant need to go against the grain. Director James Mangold (3:10 To Yuma, Logan) tells this story like an industrial western, with the tension and anticipation building up like a lone cowboy stepping out of the saloon to duel with the outlaw. The racing scenes are among the most exciting ever put on film and places you in the driver’s seat as the rubber tires burn against the pavement. Ford v Ferrari is an excellent film: dramatic, moving, and dripping with enthusiasm, like oil gushing from an exhaust pipe. Four stars.

6. Marriage Story

SOURCE: NetflixA tender, heartfelt, and raw picture that shows the devastation that comes from divorce and the healing that comes after it. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver star as Nicole and Charlie Barber, a theater couple who slowly come to the realization that their marriage is falling apart. Sharing custody of their only child, Henry (Azhy Robertson), the duo must work to divorce respectfully so they can remain friends while continuing to raise their son. Writer-director Noah Baumbach (The Squid And The Whale, Frances Ha) illustrates an intimate and heartbreaking narrative that never feels melodramatic or out of step, but instead genuine and vulnerable in a way that only couples can truly empathize with. Scarlett Johannson and Adam Driver give vivid, grounded, and provocative performances that treats its subject matter seriously while not placing all the blame on either one parent or the other. Marriage Story is not a happy film by any means, but it is a real one and it shows that there is hope after people’s lives fall apart. Four stars.

5. Joker

SOURCE: Warner Bros. PicturesA captivating tragedy-turned-comedy that shows one of comic book’s greatest villains’ descent into madness. Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a clown, aspiring comedian, and son to a loving mother who falls from grace and becomes Gotham’s infamous clown prince of crime, the Joker. Director Todd Phillips (The Hangover trilogy) tells a haunting origin story that doesn’t play so much like a comic book flick as it does a psychological breakdown, not unlike Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, The King Of Comedy, or Shutter Island. Joaquin Phoenix plays both sides of Arthur Fleck and the Joker in a beautiful and mesmerizing fashion, playing a meek and cowardly fellow in one beat and then a deranged and psychotic killer clown in another. Joker is not so much a Batman prequel as it is a social observation on humanity’s flaws and how they whittle away at our moral integrity and sense of self. The fact that it just happens to feature a comic book character is just the icing on the cake. Four stars.

4. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

SOURCE: Sony PicturesA movie that feels equally as crazy and side-wined as Quentin Tarantino’s life has been, but in many ways, also serves as a personal and heartfelt homage to the movies. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play a big-time TV star and his stunt double in the dog-eat-dog world of 1960’s Hollywood as they look for work in this devilishly wacky and zany dark comedy. Tarantino’s trademark violence surprisingly takes a backseat to the rest of the film’s wit and charm, all while Tarantino packs twice as much satire and self-awareness as he possibly can in the pages of his screenplay. DiCaprio and Pitt are equally exemplary in this film, with DiCaprio being the ecstatic and self-absorbed Hollywood has-been and Pitt being the sly, slick, Cool Hand Luke-type of character. Oh, and Charles Manson and his murderous cult are involved in this movie as well. If movies, murder, and the Manson family tied into one storyline doesn’t describe a Quentin Tarantino movie, then nothing ever will. Four stars.

3. Us

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

A brilliant, haunting, and harrowing horror experience that says a lot about the current state of our political culture while at the same time not playing specifically to either side of the fence. When Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) and her family go out to their Lake House in Santa Cruz for a fun family vacation, they suddenly find themselves haunted by their twisted doppelgangers later that night. Now on the run from their literal selves, Adelaide and her family need to survive and discover where their Tethered counterparts came from. Lupita and her on-screen family do a phenomenal job in portraying the duality of their mirrored families. Even her on-screen children, Shahadi Joseph and Evan Alex, are mesmerizing in portraying their fearful selves in one beat and their psychotic and violent alter-egos in another. This dizzying and creative premise comes from Get Out writer-director Jordan Peele, who uses this idea to tell a socially relevant story about political partisanship and socioeconomic divide. Us is a thought-provoking, contemplative cinematic experiment that makes you think for hours on end about what monsters you might have created without even realizing it. Four stars.

2. Avengers: Endgame

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

It’s hard to maintain excitement for a colossal 22-movie saga over the course of 11 years, not to mention build up to an emotional payoff that no franchise has aspired to before. Yet Avengers: Endgame knocks it out of the park in every way imaginable and more. After Thanos (Josh Brolin) wipes out half of all life in the universe in Avengers: Infinity War, the remaining Avengers have to team up to undo Thanos’ actions and save everything they hold dear. The beginning of Avengers: Endgame is very mournful and reflective as it stays on the Avengers’ failure and how much it has cost them: as somber as a funeral and twice as quiet. It isn’t until the third act where the movie explodes into the pure comic-book fun and madness that you’ve become accustomed to throughout the franchise, and it left me feeling fulfilled to every bone in my body and then some. To say Avengers: Endgame meets our gargantuan expectations is a severe understatement. It is nothing short of a cinematic epic not unlike Ben-Hur or The Lord of the Rings – one that we definitely won’t forget anytime soon. Four stars.

1. Knives Out

SOURCE: Lionsgate

I didn’t know a movie could be this creative, this captivating, this intelligent, clever, crafty, ingenious, deceptive, cunning, surprising, emotional, poignant, and socially relevant in 2019. Daniel Craig plays Benoit Blanc, a Kentuckian detective trying to solve the suspected murder of famed mystery writer William Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). Writer-director Rian Johnson (Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) manages an all-star cast that is just as funny as they are infuriating, with Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ana De Armas, and many more offering stellar and memorable performances. Johnson puts his characters through one puzzling scenario after another and giggles mischievously as he manipulates his audience’s unsuspecting emotions, like how a maestro conducts his orchestra or how a puppeteer commands their puppets. Knives Out is a movie that’s best seen knowing as little as possible about it, because it flips the script so many times that it becomes dizzying by the time you arrive at the film’s head-spinning conclusion. Enough praise could not be said about this film and Rian Johnson’s masterful handling of it. It is nothing short of a masterpiece and my pick for the best film of 2019. Four stars.

And finally, this year’s special prize. Every year, I recognize one limited release film that did not get as much attention as many wide releases did, yet achieved more emotionally despite its smaller viewership. This year’s special prize goes to a movie that is as controversial as it is conversational, as charming as it is challenging, and as irreverent as it is important. That film is…

Special Prize: Jojo Rabbit

SOURCE: Fox Searchlight Pictures

For the life of me, I cannot understand why Jojo Rabbit bombed so precariously at the box office. Sure, it tells a relatively uncomfortable story about fascism and Nazi Germany. Sure, the movie centers around a 10-year-old boy in a day and age where child actors aren’t really that reliable. And yes, the movie does feature a 44-year-old New Zealander playing a child’s fanciful version of history’s most hated human being, Adolf Hitler. Yet, there is so much more to this movie than its mere appearances. Writer-director Taika Waititi deconstructs humanity’s most hateful period in a tone that is equally as jeering as it is joyful, like when Mel Brooks hilariously mocked racism in 1974’s Blazing Saddles. He’s also surprisingly brilliant as Jojo’s imagining of Adolf Hitler, playing a fun, cartoonish parody of the tyrant in one moment, and the more egotistical and maniacal variation of him in another. But even more impressive is the 12-year-old Roman Griffin Davis as the titular Jojo, having to witness the horrors of the holocaust through the innocent eyes of a child. For many, Jojo Rabbit will be mistaken as making light of Nazism and the hateful legacy that it inspired. Those viewers will have misinterpreted Jojo Rabbit and its genius. It’s a story of humanity, it’s a story of hope, and it shows that there is the potential for good in every human being – including a 10-year-old Nazi named Jojo. Four stars.

And that’s all of got for 2019, folks! Really, for the decade. As always, thanks for sticking with me through thick and thin. Whether you’re a consistent follower or a more casual reader, I appreciate all of you for reading my reviews and tuning in to hear my opinions about ongoing film and pop culture topics. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

I’ll see you at the movies, in 2020, and beyond.

– David Dunn

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“FORD V FERRARI” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

Two men, a Mustang, and a wrench.

Ford v Ferrari feels like one of those epic underdog stories not unlike David and Goliath – and despite what the title suggests, Ford is not David and Ferrari is not Goliath. No, this story is about innovators versus CEOs, workers versus corporations, creators versus the companies who own creators. Five decades ago, two men, a Mustang, and a wrench beat not one, but two million-dollar corporations on the race track and in life. Yet, to this day the names we see imprinted on the side of cars are Ford and Ferrari, not Shelby and Miles.

If you ever met these men in real life, you’re prone to either love them or hate them, depending on whether you work on the creative or corporate side of the race track. Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is a 40-year-old automotive designer and former race car driver who was forced to retire early after developing an intensified heart condition. Ken Miles (Christian Bale) is a hot-headed Brit who has just as much of Shelby’s talent behind the wheel and twice the temper. If these two were parts in a car, Shelby would be the pistons and Miles would be the fuel – when you put them together, combustion is imminent.

These two men are recruited by Henry Ford II (yes, that Henry Ford, portrayed by Tracy Letts) for one purpose: to beat Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans Grand Prix, a 24-hour race held on a wildly turbulent track in France. Any other man would think Ford was out of his wrinkly, white-haired mind. But Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles are not most men. They take the challenge head-on, and they have to get past not just Ferrari, but Ford to build one of the fastest race cars in automotive history.

Ford v Ferrari feels like one of those classic American stories you should have learned at some point in high school – a classic longshot tale, not unlike Rocky battling it out with Apollo Creed or Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes. Yet, I have never heard of either Carroll Shelby or Ken Miles. I suspect you may not have either. That’s part of what makes their story so surprising, because they’ve contributed a big part to America’s industrial innovation. Not only did they develop the vehicle that would later become the GT40 Mustang, but they also helped unseat Ferrari as the Le Mans Grand Champions, a title they’ve held onto for nine years before Ford entered the race.

If nothing else, Ford v Ferrari illustrates a story of the everyman – the American innovator who wants to push boundaries, pave paths, and create new ways forward, but are constantly hindered by the people wanting to be stuck in the past. I was surprised to find that this film’s biggest antagonists were not Enzo Ferrari or his driver Lorenzo Bandini, but rather Henry Ford II and his scumbag senior executive Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas). Rarely do you see a face in film that is as punchable as Josh Lucas’. His character is as scuzzy and as filthy as they come, a greedy, self-centered cretin that cares only about the bottom dollar and not much for the people that helped get him there. If Jacob Marley ever saw this man in real life, he would give Ebeneezer Scrooge a pass on Christmas Eve and would send the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future on him instead.

As much as I despise his character, however, Josh Lucas serves a vital role in the conflict of Ford v Ferrari – it’s not the industry we’re fighting, but often the people who control the industry and the people within it. When Shelby and Miles are knee-deep into engineering their Mustang, they’re artists perfecting their craft. When Shelby and Miles are driving at dangerously high speeds, they’re in Heaven. When they’re arguing with a snobby auto exec on who belongs in the driver’s seat, their brakes are punched to a screeching halt.

These characters are very relatable not just because of their situation, but because so many of us have found ourselves in circumstances similar to Shelby’s and Miles’. Their conflict is not just written very well, but also portrayed very well. Christian Bale, in particular, can’t help but outshine the rest of his talented cast. He has the physique and the fighting spirit from his Oscar-winning performance of Dicky Eklund in The Fighter, but in the same sentence possesses the same introversion and comedic timing as Michael Burry in The Big Short. Whether he’s exchanging jabs with Carroll Shelby at a pit stop or sharing a sentimental moment on the road with his son, you’re invested in Miles’ story and his constant desire to go against the grain.

This film is directed by James Mangold, who has been on a winning streak as of late with some of his most recent projects. He previously directed the Academy Award-nominated Walk The Line and 3:10 To Yuma, and he more recently wrote and directed the last entry in Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine trilogy, Logan. Ford v Ferrari possesses all of the grit his previous films have with even more relevance and authenticity. It doesn’t surprise me that the film feels like an industrial western, because when Ken Miles steps out onto race track and gets in his car, it has the tension and anticipation that builds up like a lone cowboy stepping out of the saloon to take on the outlaw with a draw of his pistol.

Ford v Ferrari is an excellent film: dramatic, moving, exciting, riveting, and dripping with enthusiasm, like oil gushing from the exhaust pipe. If I had one criticism, it would be that the first act takes too much time to build up its stakes and doesn’t move as promptly as I felt it could have. But I would rather a film have too much interest in its subject rather than too little. Most men in life, like Henry Ford and Enzo Ferrari, are most interested in winning the race that’s ahead of them. Shelby and Miles are just grateful to be on the race track.

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