The Chair’s Must See Movies 2018

This is NOT a 10 best list.  Frankly, this year one would be hard pressed to talk about the best, as in:

We’ve got THE BEST MOVIES.

It would sound too much like that doll-haired huckster on TV shouting, with far too much certainty, things like:

I’ve got the best people…

I’ve got the best brain….

I’ve got the best words…

(Note to self:  Whenever someone has been reduced to telling you about their WORDS, run…don’t walk…to the exit).

My final thoughts on Electoral POTUS for 2018 #2019isMuellerTime

We like to say movies are all about images but what they really are is a combination of pictures AND words, mostly said by actual human beings, These two essentials are then arranged, ordered, stretched, edited, cut and re-interpreted to the point where they:

TELL A STORY.

But not just any story.  The most memorable must sees of any year show you people engaged on a journey that in some way is so unexpected, or familiar, that it grabs you and holds you even when you have to go to the bathroom and desperately want to let go.

Yup.  Must see movies have that kind of power and I’m just the middle-aged guy to personally testify to that fact.  Because if they’re done right you have a tough time breaking their spell despite what your body is pleading with you to do.

But even more difficult is getting them out of your mind.

Of course, this doesn’t mean they’re THE BEST in any given year.  After all, what is best at this point in time is starting 2019.   (Note: Hopefully.)

PLUS THE LAST AVENGERS MOVIE IN 2019!! (It is the last right? Right? RIGHT?)

Instead it means that in a time when pretty much everything FEELS and IS more important than any one movie, these films would NOT..LET…GO.  They held us, well me, to OUR CHAIR.  #ShamelessSelfPromotion

So screw the critics who want to make you feel dumb or out of it when you think to yourself things like:

Getcha glasses, here comes the shade

– I thought The Favourite was ridiculous and mean, as great as those three actresses were. 

– I felt Mary Poppins Returns was sacrilege and a sad excuse for Disney to make money.

– Nothing about Dick Cheney is remotely amusing, especially when one of our most handsome actors has to so ugly up his person to play him in Vice.

And —

– I wish Clint Eastwood would just STOP.   Or simply make a movie with an animal again.

The 2018 MUST SEES, in no particular order:

Three Identical Strangers

Do not adjust your screens, this is not three Andy Cohens

You know how you turned on the news most days in 2018 and thought/said – you can’t make this stuff up?  Well, no screenwriter could convincingly concoct this story and have it resonate the way it does – which is why it IS absolutely true.

A documentary about three wooly-haired Jewish triplets is crazy enough but what happens when they’re separated at birth, find each other in college and then….

It’s not fair to reveal more than the trailer.  Suffice it to say the story becomes bigger than the three boys and takes you on a JOURNEY…JOURNIES.  No excuses, it’s #Streaming.

Black Panther

Take me to Wakanda

Many of us weren’t interested in superhero comics as kids and even more of us have little interest in superhero movies now.  This does NOT mean we dislike them.  Like many adults, we are simply indifferent.

What the team behind Black Panther did in the most in the most subversive way was to NOT treat the film based on a somewhat obscure Marvel comic from the 1970s as SPECIAL  It was smart enough to know that with the first Black  Superhero Film EVER all that was needed was to tell a STORY that rang true and they could create the most meaningful movie of the genre to date.  That they did, and then some.

Does it suffer a few lags in the middle, a couple of confusing plot twists and several overly long action sequences?  Maybe.  But it also brought suspense and depth to an overdone genre not by adding another star villain but simply by being the best version of itself.

The Other Side of the Wind/They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead

Redeeming Orson

This is the newly finished final cut of the unfinished film Orson Welles started shooting more than 40 years ago and a documentary on the making of said film and of Welles’ final journey of incompletion.

There are more than a few moments of brilliance in Welles’ imperfectly perfect last film.  More than anything, this seriocomic mockumentary of itself and its real life filmmaker shows us once again how far ahead of his time Welles truly was (Note: Decades before reality TV) and just how deep his love-hate relationship with Hollywood ran.

The actual documentary on the making of the movie confirms most of what any movie fan could guess about the filmmaker and his subjects.  It plays as equal parts loving tribute, cautionary tale and historical document of the Hollywood filmmaking community.

There is no other filmmaker who can bridge the gap from the 1930s, up through the 1970s, and then just time into the 21st century so seamlessly.  The fact that Welles does it in two films via Netflix feels like his final middle finger to the town that lauded and then dumped him.  And after watching both pieces of work, that seems more than justified.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Let the Oscar buzz begin

What was the last film you saw featuring a nasty middle aged lesbian writer and an even older gay male party boy who strike up an unlikely friendship in 1970s/80s New York City?  Based on a true story?  Where they bilk collectors out of money by selling fake literary letters while blithely insulting all of the pretentious people you yourself are not fast enough to one-up in real life?

Hmm.  Never.  Though sounds like a typical Saturday for me.  Which is one of the many reasons I LOVED this film and it’s a must see.

The other is the surprisingly multi-layered, in-depth performance of Melissa McCarthy in the lead.  What a pleasure not seeing her spitting out a piece of pie to the camera, going to the bathroom in the middle of the road or flying through the air and squashing someone on her way down.

She and her co-star Richard E. Grant should both get Oscar nominations and every writer, or anyone who thinks they truly understand the writing life, or has ever written or read a book, should see it.  And not look at box-office figures or read the reviews. #GiveMeABreak

BlackKlansman

Talk about a good poster

Speaking of the Oscars, do you know Spike Lee has never even been NOMINATED for an Academy Award as best director??  Hopefully that changes this year.  It’s hard to imagine anyone but Lee bringing the right mix of comedy, irony and politics to what amounts to a story about race in our country.

Yeah, a real Black policeman in the 1970s DID pretend to be an aspiring member of the KKK on the phone to some real KKK members and actually began to rise through the ranks of  his local racists via the white Jewish  detective he got to pose as his physical self.

It’s so strange it works and so specifically scary that it resonates in 2018 politics.  One more reason it’s one of the must-sees of a year that will not have ended a bit too soon.  #DidIAlreadySayThat?

The Cold War

From the Director of IDA

It’s 89 minutes and as special as ANY movie you will see in 2018 or any year.  Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski has gifted us the story of his parents’ turbulent romantic relationship set against the 1950s Cold War in Poland.  But don’t let the title or the poster fool you. Unlike its title, it is intensely romantic, bizarrely strange, tragically quirky and so musically eclectic as to be right on the border of camp.

It is a pleasure to report that a filmmaker can tell a story with giant gaps in time and not confuse his audience; move arcs of characters in completely odd directions that feel perfectly understandable; and get us to buy it all in Polish and French with only English subtitles to guide us.  That and an unwavering bullsh-t detector that never allows for a single false moment.

If there is a film of the year, THIS ONE would be IT.

Ella Fitzgerald – “The Best is Yet to Come”

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Bad Behaviour

There’s an old saying;

People get the government they deserve.

Let’s table that for a moment.

A less troubling but equally important question to ask ourselves during the 2018 holiday season is:

Do we get the movies we deserve?

I mention this because essentially the saying and the question broach the same issue. They ask us to consider whether the situations we now find ourselves in are inextricably linked to and reflective of:

 Who we really are.

Yeah, I’m not ready to look either.

The stock market has just cratered to its lowest December since the Great Depression (Note: The one in 1929).

Our Electoral College POTUS has just announced the US is leaving Syria (against the advice of all our top military brass) to be picked apart by a JUBILANT Russia and China. #YoureWelcomeVlad.

And our government has been arbitrarily shut down this holiday weekend by said EC POTUS, who tweeted the Democrats now own the shutdown! after last week publicly stating  he would be proud to own the shutdown if he didn’t get the money to build his Border Wall Slats Whatever.

I’m with you Charlie Brown

Oh my, it’s confusing.

But not as confusing as to why so many of us will be spending our holidays watching nasty big screen dramedies about such inspiring figures as Dick Cheney (Vice) and England’s Queen Anne (The Favourite).

And yes, this IS much easier to talk about.  And write about.

An Oscar for Rachel Weisz’s eyepatch please #earlypredictions

The latter was a 17th century monarch mired in self-loathing, as well as a toxic lesbian triangle entirely of her own making – and manipulation.

The former was  (in case memory fails) an oil chief who grunted his way into power and self-created a war in Iraq based on “specious” facts.   A man who survives to this day after numerous heart attacks, a pacemaker, and finally someone else’s heart entirely  – all the while reveling in the ominous nickname the majority of the country have for him – Darth Vader.

Pretty much

Well, Merry Christmas to all of you, too!

And — HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

VICE and THE FAVOURITE are certainly not the only movies to see this week but they are among the newest, most touted and certainly most noteworthy.  They’re considered to be prestige pictures and must-see films.

They are also both rotten to their cores – celebrating a kind of ruthless, sociopathic lust to get power and remain in power during which time their “heroes” all wittily revel in the massive carnage they create around them as they crush anyone who dares to question their power.

It’s good to clarify

These films don’t so much take a look at the individuals at their center but serve up their extreme behaviors as a brooding, bloody kind of entertainment spectacle for the masses.  They are in so many ways both Grand Guignol yukfests and serious historical biopics,  each masquerading as the other when it’s most convenient.

When important dramatic questions beg to be answered, better to evaporate into fringe conduct peppered with either hysterical shrieks or guttural grunts.  On the other hand, when an important issue is reduced to egocentric flippancy, what better way is there than to evoke the trappings of the Crown or the White House, amid the deaths of their respective soldiers, in order to drag us back into the urgency of the situation at hand.

Ugh, along with bonus 80s drag #yuck

Just as it might be too soon to laugh at Dick Cheney and his antics in and around Iraq and the Capitol Building it feels faux cheeky to watch three  17th century ruling class lesbians mire around in the mud and curse like sailors for our own amusement.

Yeah, yeah – they said naughty words back then but never to such syncopated snappy effect.  And sure, sure, it was a scream and a half when Cheney shot that guy in the face but what is the point of watching him and his wife get hot for each other in bed while reciting Shakespeare??  God, I’d like to unsee that.

Agh Ew No!

Not to get all Hollywood movie executive – but can’t we at least have SOMEONE to root for or feel sorry for or just plain want to be with for two plus hours?  Even Bale’s Patrick Bateman was more sympathetic than Cheney.  Certainly, he was a lot easier to look at.

Yes, it’s an amazing parlor trick to see a handsome guy like Christian Bale transformed into a bald, bloated bellicose VICE slithering his way to the top with no discernible guilt or crisis of conscience for his misdeeds even as a plethora of facts confront him to the contrary.  It sort of reminds you of….well, turn on the news.

IS IT OVER YET?!

At the same time, watching three ladies so cleverly bitch at each other is a unique screen treat these days, if not quite politically correct.  Though one supposes if you are going to have three  (count ‘em!) lesbian characters engage power in a major motion picture where men are relegated to nothing but sex objects, impotent fools or embattled warriors as mere pawns, you should be given credit for a certain progressiveness – a kind of reversal of gender destinies.

Still, one can’t help but feel like it’s all a crock and we’ve simply devolved into a sadly reflective state.  A period in our culture where we need to minimize real life bad behavior by peppering it with enough humor and absurdity to make it go down easier.  A kind of whistling at the gallows.

What more timely message can the movies give us through which to close 2018?

Jill Scott – “Hate On Me”

To Die For

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 12.38.59 PM

Twenty years ago there was a movie called To Die For in which Nicole Kidman starred as an aspiring TV anchor who hires three teenagers (one of them played by a young Joaquin Phoenix) to kill her loving husband when he kindly asks her to take time off from her job as a weather girl.   It became a cult hit that most people remember fondly but I never cared for it. The twists and turns always struck me as too absurd, even for a black comedy, but then again I’m the guy who thought Gone Girl was ridiculous from the outset and became only more so as it droned on and on and, even as we speak, on some more somewhere else.

Seriously... get gone, girl!

Seriously… get gone, girl!

Still, I couldn’t help but think about To Die For (Note: I refuse to consider Gone Girl for even one more second) in light of our latest terrorist attacks last week in Paris where 12 people were gunned down at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. As best as we can figure this was because Charlie published a series of cartoons that depicted said killers’ historical religious leader in offensive and disrespectful ways. Three of the killers are now dead after murdering eight more citizens and the fourth – the girlfriend of one of the deceased – is the subject of an international man, er woman, hunt and, given that, her time on earth seems limited.

Imminent death clearly didn’t bother the above mentioned quartet – they are believed to have gone to special camps that give you training in this sort of thing with the full expectation that they would eventually die in a blaze of glory but for a higher cause. Hmm, I thought, and then asked myself – what would you DIE FOR???

... and what would you leave behind?

… and what would you leave behind?

As it turns out, not much. Oh, certainly if someone were holding up a gun to the Significant Other, a family member or friend I adored, or perhaps even some passing stranger who looked innocent enough, I’d likely step in during the heat of the moment to thwart the bad guy. I do that weekly against the criminals who cut me off on the road or try to take my parking space, so clearly that’s not too big of a leap to make. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Terrorist acts are planned in the name of an idea and the people involved clearly know they will likely die. So again I ask myself – what would you DIE FOR, Chair?

I'm thinking....

I’m thinking….

As it turns out – uh, nothing. No, really. Not anything. Nada. Blank comes to mind. I’m a pretty principled guy but the idea of putting myself in mortal danger for a belief instead of a loved one is not going to happen. Clearly, I would not have made a good soldier – for this and so many other reasons. And before you go there, I’m going to just say upfront don’t throw Hitler and World War II into the conversation. That was basically about stopping a madman taking over the world.

Politicians and religious zealots of all sorts like to cloak violence in terms of ideas and goals and extreme needs and defenses. But the instigators of most wars can’t cite direct dire need on their doorsteps as the real reason to be killed or to kill. They, meaning many of us, can argue a good case in the name of violent death and destruction but as a former high school debate team member who had a pretty good score card I can assure you that just because you win an argument on your presentation of “facts” does that mean you’re correct. See exhibit “A” below, if you still don’t believe.

Misty water colored memories

Misty water colored memories…

Religious beliefs and the distortion thereof is a sticky subject for public and even private consumption. I never quite understood why. Perhaps this is because I am not religious even though I consider myself Jewish. How can this be? Well, not everything is logical but the best I can figure is that it has something to do with my love of chicken, arguing, guilt, Barbra Streisand, and deli food. And even though I have claimed in my life that I would kill over any one of them, I confess now to meaning it in only the most metaphorical of ways – even at the times when I proclaimed that any one of them were my Gods.

So you can see why I don’t get the outrage over the desecration of a religious leader or even patriotic symbols like, dare I say it, the American flag. Really? Yes. These are ideas, things. Paint a swastika on my door and I’ll be outraged and offended. Continually make AIDS jokes as Eddie Murphy did for a time back in the eighties and I will do my best to never see one of your movies again. But murder and death – really? Are you kidding?

pGkhIoK

It is easy to chalk up those committing acts of terror as insane, demented and otherwise crazy. Most certainly, there are those that fit into those categories. But just as certainly there are any number of other perpetrators and silent supporters of these acts who have reasoned out their positions in rational ways that make a certain kind of intellectual sense. A healthy percentage of these have been used through history to start wars (Note: The Crusades, anyone?) and other international conflicts (Second Note: How about most of the conflicts in the Middle East?). Others have been used to strong-arm those weaker and unarmed into doing what we want them to do on a smaller scale. (Third Note: See the movie Selma).

But it’s A LOT easier to believe in non-violence – or perhaps in all of your minds, cowardice – when you do not believe in Heaven, Hell or Reincarnation. While it would be appealing to spend my life up above eating pizza and listening to Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler records with my S.O., who would clearly also want to sandwich in episodes of Saturday Night Live and Big Bang Theory – but hey, who said there is no compromise in heaven – I just don’t think this is realistic. So here I sit, cynic that I am, wondering: you’re going to risk your life over a cartoon, or some land, or for a natural resource, or for revenge? Really? This of course does not account for the various leaders and zealots who claim to be believers (Note: Not BELIEBERS) but send people to do all of the dirty work for them. Meaning former Vice-president Dick Cheney never served a single day in the military and in fact received not one, not two, not three, not four but FIVE military deferments. Yes, it’s a whole other set of mass destruction when it is not your personal body that is a primary weapon of said mass destruction.

It's not a game of risk

It’s not a game of risk

None of this is to mean that there is not a principle in this world worth fighting for. But dying for and killing for unless you under direct threat – especially when you believe this is the ONE and ONLY stop? I’m not sure. And before you call me an immoral coward consider this – if no one in the world believed in Heaven, Hell, Reincarnation or any sort of After-Life at all, how many terrorists attacks, real wars or random acts of violence do you really believe we’d have? Would there be less or more than are already occurring on any given day? Imagine a world where we’d be forced to truly believe this was THE LAST STOP.

Then ask yourself, if they were taking volunteers, what would you, DIE FOR? But only before asking yourself, what do you want to – LIVE FOR?