Monday, December 25, 2017

The Last Day of Christmas Catch Up: The Shape of Water, Get Out, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (again)

It’s Christmas Day and the end of my 12 Days of Christmas Catch Up. It’s been a very unusual 12 days. Day 1 began by watching “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and on the 2nd day of Christmas Catch Up, I ended up in the emergency room with a debilitating migraine brought on while writing my thoughts on the film. Stress induced they said. Not eating properly, they said. So what did I do that very night? I watched “Beach Rats” with the lights off. The blog must go on.

I felt fine for a couple of days, watched the incredible “God’s Own Country,” and on the 8th day of Christmas Catch Up had another migraine. I dulled that pain by watching “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II,” again in the dark before forcing myself out of the house to the theater with plenty of ibuprofen to see “Pitch Perfect 3.” On the 9th day of Christmas Catch Up I saw “The Shape of Water,” but not “Darkest Hour,” (more on that later) and on the 11th day of Christmas Catch up, once again watched “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

I decided not to continue watching Oscary films after that. On the dock were “Good Time” and “The Beguiled,” two films that were perfect for this series. They came out early in the year and will more than likely be forgotten come Oscar time. Unless “The Beguiled” might sneak in for costume and screenplay. But instead, I decided to read a bit of one of my Christmas gifts, “I Lost it at the Movies,” written by the remarkable The New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael as well as watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” last night with my parents. Ironically, I believe that was a film Kael hated.

As this series ends, I am closer to understanding the year of cinema that was. There were some really great films, yes, but something still seems a bit off of of the zeitgeist. A film theory, or what have you, I have rarely prescribed to discuss. Most of the films of 2018 were made in a time where Hilary Clinton was supposed to be President, and I think that certainly made a difference in what we saw. Filmmakers like Jordan Peele, Sean Baker and Martin McDonagh certainly saw the writing on the wall. But if you look at the rest of the films out there, they certainly don’t seem to reflect the real truth of our divided and angry world.

I’ve considered putting Awards Wiz to bed after this Oscar year, but thinking about the art that must be ahead in 2018, I’ve reconsidered. For now. That being said, something has to change. I can’t continue with a migraine a week. Much of what needs to happen won’t be discussed here, but creating art must play a part. It has been a year since I’ve played a major acting part on stage. And while I did direct for the first time since 2000, if only a ten minute play, my brain is rebelling.

On Friday, a day I took off work to watch “The Shape of Water” and “Darkest Hour” I was a bit disheartened when I made a completely rookie moviegoing mistake. For those of you who don’t know, I live in Oxford, MS a place where the local Malcos or the studios..or SOMEONE doesn’t deem our town fit for the likes of “Lady Bird,” “The Shape of Water,” “Darkest Hour,” “The Disaster Artist,” “Mollys’ Game,” etc, etc.  My saving grace come this time of year has been the Malco Ridgeway, a little less than an hour and a half away in Memphis, TN. Driving to Memphis on Friday I had a thought…should I go ahead and buy my ticket? Could a 12:00PM showing on a Friday sell out? I opted to see “The Shape of Water” first, waited to get my ticket on site and believe it or not, it never sold out.

While I was in line to buy my ticket I thought, should I get my ticket to “Darkest Hour” now? Nah…I think I will have 30 minutes between screenings. As the film approached its ending I wondered…hmmm…Does “DH” start at 3:10 or 3:30? It’s getting really close to time! When I left the theater and got back in line I quickly realized the error of my ways.

“’Darkest Hour’ is now sold out,” proclaimed the box office attendant. This could not be possible. Did they not know that I had been planning this for weeks? That I am the editor of Awards Wiz? Did they not know that for some reason this season the studios and PR folk have deemed me unworthy of an email response to my desperate pleas of being unable to publish a Top 10 without seeing these films by the end of the year?! No…they did not know who I was. And, luckily I had the sense not to tell them that momentarily inflated version of myself. I tucked my Oscar tail between my legs and headed back to Oxford.

“The Shape of Water” was exactly what I had hoped it would be. It is classic storytelling but at the same time completely original. It’s a romantic thriller that almost feels as if it could’ve been made decades ago, if it weren’t for the unabashed sexuality and stunning visual effects.

I have been a fan of Sally Hawkins for quite some time. I campaigned for her back when this site was a baby and she was in the running for Best Actress for “Made in Dagenham” and again with “Happy-Go-Lucky.” Now, she should not only get nominated (it would be her second, “Blue Jasmine” being her first, in supporting) but is actually in the running for a win. It all depends on how things go.

It’s been said other places that Oscar bloggers are afraid to firmly call someone or some film as a frontrunner, but I can see this film winning Best Director and Best Actress with several “below the line” awards to boot.

Yes, Frances McDormand is incredible as well. Same with Saoirse Ronin in “Lady Bird,” (I have yet to see “I, Tonya” or “The Post,”) but over the past few days I continually go back to a scene in “The Shape of Water” where Hawkins is trying to convince her best friend and neighbor, played superbly by Richard Jenkins, to help save her monster who is certainly going to be destroyed at the hands of Michael Shannon’s villain, Strickland. Hawkins is so vibrant with intention in this and every scene, completely invested in the life and desires of this character. It’s one of many awards worthy performances in the film. Shannon is much more layered than I expected from the way people have been talking about him. Michael Stuhlbarg and Octavia Spencer are great as well. I am guessing that Spencer will get a nomination for supporting--she’s great, and everyone loves her. Once the Academy latches on to someone they like to nominate, they nominate them. For the supporting male slot, I think Jenkins gets the nomination. If for some reason “Call Me By Your Name” continues to lose momentum, and neither Stuhlbarg or Hammer get in, Shannon could sneak in for a 2nd “Water” nomination.

All signs are pointing to a Best Director win for Guilermo Del Toro, but I’m not quite ready to go there. People have started to predict the split now, but this year is so unpredictable, who knows? As much as the progs wanted to push a Nolan win for “Dunkirk,” I’m not sure he will be nominated to tell you the truth.

I made a decision once I got home to put all of the worry about my Top 10 and seeing all of this year’s films by my self imposed deadline aside and rewatch “Get Out.” I had listened to Awards Daily’s recent “Get Out” love letter podcast and having just seen “The Shape of Water,” which was incredible, by the way, felt it would be an even better addition to the double feature of the day than “Darkest Hour” would have been. To be honest, I was going into “Darkest Hour” expecting to not only loathe it but also set myself up with ammunition to fight for a Timothee Chalamet win over Gary Oldman for “Call Me By Your Name.” Not exactly the Awards Wiz way. At least not in theory.

My revisit of “Get Out,” proved a couple of things to me. So far I have not seen a better film this year. It is, put simply-- perfect filmmaking. When I saw the film this summer for the first time I mentioned to a coworker who happened to be black that I loved it, and she was incredibly taken aback by that, asking me “why?” I’m not quite ready to delve into the implications of that question or what it might mean for the Oscar race. But I would like to answer the question now.

The film creates a conversation that so many people are afraid to have. It’s funny. It’s terrifying. It puts a much needed mirror in front of white liberalism. White liberalism: a place I live. It’s remarkably acted and completely original. Alison Williams and Catherine Keener are absolutely terrifying, particularly on a second viewing, giving two of the best female performances of the year and not even being considered for awards. Daniel Kaluuya is not new to acting by any means, but he still feels like a discovery. The scene in which he first goes to the sunken place is one of the most terrifying and brilliantly directed and  acted scenes I have seen in years. Maybe since “Black Swan.”

“Get Out” started this Oscar season and no film has touched it since. Don’t be surprised if this is the last film standing come Oscar night.

As I mentioned I saw “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” again, and I am still completely baffled that there is a backlash to this film. On my second viewing I believe wholeheartedly that this is the best Star Wars film since “The Empire Strikes Back” and one of the best films of the year. There are so many things about this film that make it wonderful. Some of which I mentioned in my initial thoughts. I’m not going to waste time with a rebuttal of the negativity that is out there, but I would like to discuss two points that come from a place of fandom. SPOILERS ahead.

The Force. Everything about the Force in this movie is a major step forward for the series. From Rey’s first lesson with Luke talking about balance and energy, to the mind bridging. To Leia’s embracing of her own powers. To the ending and Luke’s final destiny.  I was a bit scared when we saw the Jedi texts, but for some reason nothing regarding the force ever goes into Midi-chlorian territory. It is simplistic and powerful. And also about moving rocks.

And finally, the thing I think takes this film well beyond it’s predecessors of late is the characterization of Luke. Something that seems to have irked some fanboys/girls the most.

When Luke faced his father in “Return of the Jedi,” some time had passed since “The Empire Strikes Back” but in terms of his training, Luke had to step up to the task at hand. I’ve had people tell me that Luke was their childhood hero, that he wouldn’t be as cowardly as he is portrayed in “The Last Jedi.” Ummm….did you watch the same films I did?! Luke was a whiny, self centered, spoiled brat. That being said, the truth about his father shook him to the core, and the need to save his friend Han and save the galaxy, took precedent over his defects. So, he manages to save the galaxy, help his father turn from the Dark Side although unable to save him from death.

So what happens between “Jedi” and “The Force Awakens?” A boy, who was forced into manhood faces the reality of what just happened and steps into a role as Jedi Master/trainer he is simply not ready for. Therefore you get the cannon that JJ Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, and Rian Johnson created. It is brilliant and completely in character.

As of now, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is in my Top 10.  My biggest issue with the film is the visual effects. There are some moments that do not rise to the level they should for a film this big. With the money they had to make this, it should have looked perfect. Here’s hoping Abrams will go back to a more realistic effects approach in Episode IX and that Johnson will get better at it before his standalone trilogy.

There you have it. Not quite caught up, but better off than 12 days ago.

Merry Christmas to you all. I’m hoping to see a couple of more movies before the end of the year and then slowly finish watching some of the things I’ve missed as we gear up toward Oscar nominations January 23rd.

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