by Julian Spivey
Director: Shawn Levy
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Walker Scobell & Mark Ruffalo
Runtime: 1 hour & 46 minutes
The hardest films to review are the ones you come out of feeling, “that was fine.” It’s because you don’t have a whole lot to rave about and you also don’t have much to complain about. Director Shawn Levy’s “The Adam Project,” starring Ryan Reynolds, is fine.
“The Adam Project” is a science-fiction action movie that’s Netflix’s current flavor of the month. It stars one of Hollywood’s most congenial actors these days in Ryan Reynolds giving what I hear is a very Ryan Reynolds performance (he’s honestly not an actor I’ve seen in a whole lot, so I’ll take the word of others on that). He’s re-teamed with Levy, whom he just did last year’s “Free Guy” (which I also hear is “fine”) with, on the film about a fighter pilot Adam Reed in dystopian (it’s always dystopian!) 2050 who time travels back to current day 2022 (even though he was aiming for 2018) in an effort to stop time traveling from happening because of all the trouble its led to in his world. His dad Louis Reed (Mark Ruffalo), who died when he was around 11-years old, accidentally developed a way to time travel and his business partner Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener) took advantage of it and basically runs the world in 2050.
When Adam reaches 2022, he runs into his 12-year old self, played by Walker Scobell, who was coping with the grief of his father’s recent death by running his mouth a lot causing bullies to beat him up. Twelve-year old Adam reminds me a lot of what I suspect a pre-teen David Spade might have been like. In addition to stopping time travel adult Adam is also trying to find his wife Laura (Zoe Saldana), who is presumed to have died in a time traveling accident, but Adam doesn’t believe it to be true. He’s right.
Reynolds and Saldana don’t have a whole lot of screen time together, but they do have terrific chemistry making the scenes they’re in lovely to watch.
The film really picks up about halfway through when both Adams meet up with their father in an effort to stop Sorian. This also leads to one of the more annoying parts of the film where 2050 Sorian, played by Kenner as her current 62-year old self, teams up with her 2022 self, which is done by CGI that just doesn’t seem right. I’m not even sure I’d call the CGI bad. I just don’t really like the idea of seeing actors and actresses as their younger selves on screen via technology. There was an entire interesting article written by Sam Adams in Slate about this deepfake.
“The Adam Project” makes for a breezy, less than two hour watch if you’re just wanting to pass the time and check out something new. I don’t really feel like it’s something anyone is going to feel the need to watch a second time – unless you’re just really a major Reynolds fan.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Jane Campion
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst & Kodi Smit-McPhee
Runtime: 2 hours & 5 minutes
Director Jane Campion had reportedly considered retiring before someone gave her a copy of author Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel The Power of the Dog. She decided it was a story she had to turn into film and now it’s the most nominated film for the 94th annual Academy Awards with 12 nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Campion, who becomes the first female director in history nominated for that honor multiple times.
“The Power of the Dog” is a Western, yes, it’s a Western despite what some might have claimed, you know how I know – it’s set in the American West of 1925 Montana and features cattle ranchers! Not all Westerns are gunfighter shoot ‘em ups. Anyway, the film revolves around brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons) and their cattle ranch, which is Phil’s entire life. George seems to want to be more of a business and family man and has his eyes set on a local widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst). Rose has a teenager son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who has a lisp and effeminate mannerism and the first moment between Peter and Phil certainly does not go well with the volatile (and let’s face it Grade A Asshole) Phil immediately mocking the boy for his lisp and mannerisms.
When George marries Rose and brings her to the family ranch, Phil immediately hates the idea viewing her both as a gold-digger and a block between him and his brother, whom the film leads us to believe were much closer during their earlier life. Phil begins to taunt Rose and wage mental warfare against her to the point of driving her to alcoholism.
George, Rose and Peter come in and out within the story, but the film’s major focus is Phil and Cumberbatch totally owns the performance absolutely making you hate his character, especially for the first half of the film or so. It’s in Phil’s alone moments at a nearby pond that you finally find a bit of humanity in the character when you realize his late mentor Bronco Henry was a bit more than just a mentor to him – though I’m not sure whether it was an actual love affair or an unrequited love.
Around the mid-point of the movie, Phil begins to take Peter under his wings and I’m never quite sure if he’s doing it a) just to piss off Rose b) grooming him in a way similar to how Bronco Henry did with him c) actually developing feelings for the young boy or potentially a mixture of the three.
Some people have had an issue with the gay theme of the film, but honestly if you do, please get a life. If you don’t think cowboys out on the range in the American West didn’t occasionally develop feelings for each other you’re out of your mind.
All four main actors in the film have received Oscar-nominations for their performances and rightfully so. All are spectacular. Even though Cumberbatch’s performance is the best of the film, in my opinion, and certainly its biggest focus it is Smit-McPhee that’s probably the most likely to win an award for his role as the effeminate and at times unnerving Peter.
One of the biggest things Campion’s film has going for it is its beautiful cinematography shot by Ari Wegner, also nominated for an Oscar for her work. Campion’s homeland of New Zealand was a stand-in for Montana in the film and it’s picturesque landscapes are as much of the story as the acting performances.
“The Power of the Dog” can be streamed on Netflix.
by Julian Spivey
Potentially the greatest month of the year for every cinephile with a cable subscription is Turner Classic Movies annual 31 Days of Oscar, which the network dedicated to classic film airs every year in whatever month the Academy Awards is being held – in this case March, with the awards being held on Sunday, March 27. I’ve gone through the complete schedule of programming for TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar and chosen a must-watch for every single day. I realize most of us don’t have the time to watch a movie every day, but if you have a DVR take advantage of it!
March 1 – “The Lost Weekend” @ 7 p.m.
Start the month off with a troubling tale of alcoholism and a terrific performance by Ray Milland as the alcoholic on a weekend-long bender. “The Lost Weekend” won four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director for Billy Wilder, Best Actor for Milland and Best Adapted Screenplay for Wilder and Charles Brackett. It was nominated for three other honors.
March 2 – “The Pride of the Yankees” @ 4:45 a.m.
With the ongoing Major League Baseball lockout by the greedy owners and commissioner “The Pride of the Yankees” might be the closest we get to baseball this year. Director Sam Wood’s biopic of legendary New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig, played by Gary Cooper, is both one of the greatest biopics and baseball films ever made. “The Pride of the Yankees” won the Oscar for Best Editing and was nominated for 10 other awards including Best Picture, Best Actor for Cooper and Best Actress for Teresa Wright.
March 3 – “The Graduate” @ 9:15 p.m.
“The Graduate,” directed by Mike Nichols, is the story of aimless college graduate Benjamin Braddock, Dustin Hoffman in his breakthrough role, and the relationships he develops with the much older Mrs. Robinson, played by Anne Bancroft, and her daughter Elaine, played by Katharine Ross. Nichols won the Oscar for Best Director and the film received six other nominations, including for Hoffman, Bancroft and Ross.
March 4 – “Network” @ 7 p.m.
There’s a lot of reasons today to “be mad as hell as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore,” so why not forget about some of those reasons and watch “Network” on Match 4? “Network,” directed by Sidney Lumet, is a satirical black comedy about a fictional TV network and the lengths it’ll go to to receive higher ratings. “Network” was nominated for 10 Oscars, with Peter Finch winning posthumously for Best Actor, Faye Dunaway winning Best Actress, Beatrice Straight winning Best Supporting Actress and Paddy Chayefsky winning for Best Original Screenplay. “Network” joined 1951’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” as the only film to win an Oscar in three of the four acting categories.
March 5 – “Doctor Zhivago” @ 3:15 p.m.
Director David Lean has a few of his historical epics airing during TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar, but the one that makes this particular list (though try to see them all) is 1965’s “Doctor Zhivago,” a tale of love and hardship in Russia during World War I and the Russian Civil War. “Doctor Zhivago” was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning for Best Adapted Screenplay for Robert Bolt, Best Art Direction (Color) for John Box, Terence Marsh and Dario Simoni, Best Cinematography (Color) for Freddie Young, Best Costume Design (Color) for Phyllis Dalton and Best Score for Maurice Jarre.
March 6 – “Citizen Kane” @ 11 a.m.
“Citizen Kane,” the two-time honoree as “Greatest American Film of All-Time” from the American Film Institute, wasn’t quite the Oscar success you might think given that title, but that may have had to do with newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, whom the film’s lead character Charles Foster Kane is patterned after, tried to put the kibosh on it. “Citizen Kane” won the Oscar for Best Writing Original Screenplay for Herman J. Mankiewicz. It was nominated for eight other honors including Best Picture, Best Director for Orson Welles and Best Actor for Welles.
March 7 – “Wings” @ 7 p.m.
“Wings,” directed by William A. Wellman, was the first ever Best Picture winner at the inaugural Academy Awards, held on May 16, 1929. It was the only silent film to ever win Best Picture until “The Artist” did so in 2011. “Wings” is the high-flying daring tale of combat pilots during World War I. In addition to winning Best Picture, it also won Best Engineering Effects for Roy Pomeroy.
March 8 – “The Philadelphia Story” @ 9:15 p.m.
There’s potentially never been a better lead cast than Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart in “The Philadelphia Story,” directed by George Cukor. All three give career highlight performances in the film that would win Stewart his only career Best Actor statue (he should’ve won a handful of ‘em). The film also won Best Writing Screenplay for Donald Ogden Stewart and received nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress for Hepburn, Best Supporting Actress for Ruth Hussey and Best Director.
March 9 – “Yankee Doodle Dandy” @ 1:15 a.m.
“Yankee Doodle Dandy” is one of my favorite Fourth of July traditions, but I see no problem making room for it in March. Director Michael Curtiz’s biopic of American song and dance man George M. Cohan will make you swell with patriotic pride. The film won three Oscars: James Cagney for Best Actor, Nathan Levinson for Best Sound Recording and Ray Heindorf and Heinz Roemheld for Best Score. “Yankee Doodle Dandy” received five more nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director or Curtiz.
March 10 – “Grand Prix” @ 1 p.m.
Drivers start your engines for one of the greatest racing movies of all-time! Director John Frankenheimer’s “Grand Prix” is the story of the dangerous and daring drivers on the 1966 Formula 1 circuit and features a litany of actual F1 legends in cameos alongside stars James Garner, Yves Montand, Brian Bedford and Antonio Sabato. “Grand Prix” won Oscars for Best Film Editing for Fredric Steinkamp, Henry Berman, Stu Linder and Frank Santillo, Best Sound for Franklin Milton and Best Sound Effects for Gordon Daniel.
March 11 – “Kramer vs. Kramer” @ 7 p.m.
Director Robert Benton’s 1979 legal drama “Kramer vs. Kramer” is the story of a couple’s divorce and its impact on their young son. The couple is the all-time great duo of Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, both of whom won their first Oscars for their performances with Hoffman taking home Best Actor and Streep Best Supporting Actress. The film won three other honors on Oscar night, including Best Picture, Best Director for Benton and Best Adapted Screenplay for Benton. It was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Jane Alexander, Best Supporting Actor for Justin Henry, Best Cinematography for Nestor Almendros and Best Film Editing for Gerald B. Greenberg.
March 12 – “Cool Hand Luke” @ 11 a.m.
If films about criminals are your thing, you’ll definitely want to catch my selections for March 12 and 13. Director Stuart Rosenberg’s “Cool Hand Luke” stars Paul Newman as a minor criminal arrested for cutting parking meters off a pole and is sentenced to two years on a chain gang for doing so and he refuses to bow down to authority at the prison. It’s one of Newman’s finest performances, if not his absolute best. Newman was nominated for Best Actor, but the winner of the cast was George Kennedy for Supporting Actor. “Cool Hand Luke” was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson and Best Original Score for Lalo Schifrin.
March 13 – “Bonnie & Clyde” @ 5 p.m.
Unlike “Cool Hand Luke,” the criminals in director Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie & Clyde” were real life bank robbers and murderers. Penn’s stylistic violence in the film might not seem like much today, but when it was released in 1967 revolutionized film. The lead performances of Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow and Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker are among the best of the era. “Bonnie & Clyde” won Estelle Parsons an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and Burnett Guffey the honor for Best Cinematography. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor for Beatty, Best Actress for Dunaway, Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman, Best Supporting Actor for Michael J. Pollard, Best Director for Penn, Best Original Screenplay for David Newman and Robert Benton and Best Costume Design for Theadora Van Runkle.
March 14 – “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” @ 9:30 p.m.
The filibuster is one of the more controversial things within politics today, but director Frank Capra’s 1939 classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” makes the act look heroic when James Stewart’s Jefferson Smith filibusters to save the day. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” won the Oscar for Best Writing Original Story for Lewis R. Foster and was nominated for 10 more awards including Best Actor for Stewart and Best Director for Capra.
March 15 – “Hamlet” @ 9:15 p.m.
To this date many consider Laurence Olivier’s “Hamlet” to be the greatest film production of a William Shakespeare play ever made. “Hamlet” was produced and directed by Olivier and starring Olivier. He won Oscar for Best Picture and Best Actor and was nominated for Best Director. The film also won Oscars for Best Art and Set Direction for a Black-and-White film and Best Costume Design for a Black-and-White Film. Jean Simmons was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and William Walton was nominated for Best Score.
March 16 – “Marty” @ 7 p.m.
One of Hollywood’s finest indie flicks before they really became a huge deal many decades later was director Delbert Mann’s “Marty,” a tale of a middle-aged butcher and a teacher who have both given up on love before finding it together after meeting at a dance. The film won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Mann, Best Actor for Ernest Borgnine and Best Writing Screenplay for Paddy Chayefsky. It received four other nominations.
March 17 – “Rashomon” @ 3:15 a.m.
Lately the Academy has improved upon awarding international films like South Korea’s “Parasite” winning Best Picture in 2020 and Japan’s “Drive My Car” being nominated for Best Picture this year. One of the greatest international films ever made was director Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 thriller “Rashomon” about a samurai murdered in the forest and figuring out how it happened. “Rashomon” won an Oscar for what is now called Best International Feature.
March 18 – “How the West Was Won” @ 3:45 a.m.
There are certainly better Westerns throughout Hollywood history than “How the West Was Won,” but none on such an epic and far-reaching scope as the film that saw directors George Marshall, Henry Hathaway and John Ford collaborate and one of the most impressive casts of all-time with James Stewart, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Richard Widmark and more in prominent roles. “How the West Was Won” won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay by James R. Webb, Best Sound for Franklin Milton and Best Film Editing for Harold F. Kress. The film was also nominated for Best Cinematography Color, Best Art-Set Decoration Color, Best Costume Design Color and Best Original Score.
March 19 – “Lilies of the Field” @ 11 a.m.
There’s no better way to celebrate the life of the recently departed Hollywood legend Sidney Poitier than with the role that earned him the first ever Oscar for Best Actor for an African-American. Director Ralph Nelson’s 1963 film stars Poitier as a traveling handyman who becomes the answered prayer for a group of nuns wishing to build a chapel in the desert. In addition to Poitier’s win the film was nominated for four other honors, including Best Picture.
March 20 – “There Will Be Blood” @ 11 p.m.
So, most of the movies on this list are 50-plus years old and you want to see something a bit more modern? Then check out director Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 drama “There Will Be Blood” about a ruthless prospector in the early days of the oil business. The film won Daniel Day-Lewis his second Oscar for Best Actor and took home another Oscar for Best Cinematography for Robert Elswit. It also received nominations for Best Picture, Best Director for Anderson, Best Adapted Screenplay for Anderson, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction and Best Sound Editing.
March 21 – “You Can’t Take It With You” @ 4:45 p.m.
“You Can’t Take It With You” was the second of director Frank Capra’s Best Picture Oscar-winning films of the 1930s. In a plot that has Capra written all over it the film tells the tale of the son of a Wall Street banker who becomes engaged to a woman from a family in which his father is trying to force out of their home for a real estate development. In addition to winning Best Picture, “You Can’t Take It With You” won Capra the Best Director honor. It was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Spring Byington, Best Screenplay for Robert Riskin, Best Cinematography for Joseph Walker, Best Sound for John P. Livadary and Best Film Editing for Gene Havlick.
March 22 – “The Grapes of Wrath” @ 7 p.m.
John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is one of my all-time favorite novels and director John Ford’s film adaptation is pretty faithful or at least as much as a film could be of its time. The story of Okies forced to move to California during the dustbowl of the Great Depression to find work won Ford the Oscar for Best Director and Jane Darwell the honor for Best Supporting Actress. The film received five other nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor for Henry Fonda, Best Screenplay for Nunnally Johnson, Best Sound for Edmund H. Hansen and Best Film Editing for Robert L. Simpson.
March 23 – “Harvey” @ 7 p.m.
One of the most fun films on TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar is without a doubt director Henry Koster’s “Harvey,” which sees the legendary James Stewart playing a man who insists he has an invisible six foot tall rabbit named Harvey for a best friend. Josephine Hull won Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film that also saw a nomination for Stewart for Best Actor.
March 24 – “2001: A Space Odyssey” @ 4:30 p.m.
I don’t know what the hell is going on much of the time during director Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but it’s awful beautiful and fun to look out and Hal 9000 is a terrific villain. ‘2001’ was a no-brainer winner for Best Special Visual Effects. The film was also nominated for Best Director for Kubrick, Best Original Screenplay for Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke and Best Art Direction for Anthony Masters, Harry Lange and Ernest Archer.
March 25 – “Fiddler on the Roof” @ 7 p.m.
We haven’t had a musical on the list yet and we’re running out of month! Check out director Norman Jewison’s 1971 adaptation of the Broadway hit “Fiddler on the Roof,” that sees a Jewish peasant with traditional values contend with marrying off three of his daughters with modern romantic ideals while dealing with growing anti-Semitism in pre-revolutionary Russia. “Fiddle on the Roof” won three Oscars for Best Cinematography for Oswald Morris, Best Sound for Gordon K. McCallum and David Hilyard and Best Score for John Williams. It was nominated for five more Oscars, including Best Picture.
March 26 – “Casablanca” @ 10 a.m.
“Casablanca” is considered by many to be the greatest film ever made with its tale of love and honor during World War II directed by Michael Curtiz and perfect lead performances from Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. “Casablanca” won three Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writing Screenplay for Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch. It was nominated for five other awards including Bogart for Best Actor, but somehow Bergman didn’t make the Best Actress cut.
March 27 – “It Happened One Night” @ 6:45 a.m.
Only three films have ever swept the Oscars five biggest categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. “It Happened One Night” was the first to do so in 1935 (the other two were “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The Silence of the Lambs”). The film won Best Picture, Frank Capra won Best Director, Clark Gable won Best Actor, Claudette Colbert won Best Actress and Robert Riskin won for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was 100 percent for its nominations winning all five categories for which it was nominated.
March 28 – “Stagecoach” @ 5:15 p.m.
John Wayne’s arrival as The Ringo Kid in director John Ford’s 1939 Western classic “Stagecoach” was the star-making moment for “The Duke.” “Stagecoach” won two Oscars: Best Supporting Actor for Thomas Mitchell and Best Original Score for Richard Hageman, W. Franke Harling, John Leipold and Leo Shuken. The film received five more nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Ford.
March 29 – “Twelve O’Clock High” @ 9:30 p.m.
Director Henry King’s 1949 film “Twelve O’Clock High” sees a World War II American Air Force unit plagued with fatigue until Gregory Peck’s Brigadier General Frank Savage takes over. “Twelve O’Clock High” would win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Dean Jagger and Best Sound for Thomas T. Moulton. It was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Actor for Peck.
March 30 – “East of Eden” @ 4:45 p.m.
My second selection on this list based on a John Steinbeck novel. “East of Eden,” directed by Elia Kazan, sees James Dean’s Cal Trask fighting for the affection of his father against a favored brother in a plot loosely based on Cain and Abel. “East of Eden” won Jo Van Fleet an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Dean received a posthumous nomination for Best Actor. The film was also nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay for Paul Osborn.
March 31 – “To Kill a Mockingbird” @ 7 p.m.
Schools in some backwoods places across the country are trying to ban Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, so there’s no better time than now to check out director Robert Mulligan’s 1962 film adaptation starring Gregory Peck as admirable lawyer Atticus Finch. “To Kill a Mockingbird” won Peck the Oscar for Best Actor and took home two other honors for Best Adapted Screenplay for Horton Foote and Best Art/Set Direction for a Black-and-White Film for Alexander Golitzen, Henry Bumstead and Oliver Emert. The film received five other nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Mulligan.
by Julian Spivey
There’s been a lot of talk about declining Oscars ratings lately and there are many theories and reasons being bandied about as to why the Academy Awards telecast ratings are in decline. One of those theories I often hear is: “nobody has seen the movies nominated.” Well, I don’t know what people have and haven’t seen, but I do know it’s as easy, if not easier now, to see the bulk of the films nominated than it’s ever been.
There used to be one way to see Oscar-nominated movies before Hollywood’s big night – and that was at the cinema. By the time the 94th annual Academy Awards air on ABC on Sunday, March 27 many will have had the opportunity to have seen all 10 films nominated for the coveted Best Picture honor and everybody with an Internet connection (which is most Americans) will have a shot to see eight of the 10 nominees just via streaming options. According to Variety, the average American household subscribes to four streaming services (and I know some of y’all are sharing passwords to others), so you can probably see these films.
It's simply easier now to see Oscar-nominated movies than it’s ever been. So, please, stop using the excuse that nobody has seen the movies. If you haven’t seen most of them it’s your own fault.
Here’s how you can see the 2022 Best Picture nominees:
“CODA,” directed by Sian Heder, was my favorite film of 2021, but its likely one of the least seen Best Picture nominees because it’s on AppleTV+ (which has stuff worth watching *cough* “Ted Lasso” *cough* but has a much smaller library than basically every other streaming service.) “CODA” is the story of Ruby, the only speaking member of a deaf family, who wants to go to music school, but her family and their fishing business depend heavily on her ability to communicate. Emilia Jones played the lead role of Ruby and was honestly robbed of a Best Actress nomination. Troy Kotsur, who plays her father, became the second deaf actor ever nominated for a performance with his Best Supporting Actor nomination. If you don’t have access to AppleTV+ it’s $4.99/month, but you can also do a free seven-day trial if you just want to see this film.
“Don’t Look Up”
“Don’t Look Up” is likely the most seen of the Best Picture nominees because it debuted on Netflix, still the most popular streaming platform (though sometimes I wonder why), on Christmas Day and skyrocketed to the top of the platform’s top 10 most seen movies and shows. Directed Adam McKay’s global warning satire has been quite controversial, partially due to its subject matter being and partially due to some people not believing it to be good (I need to watch it before Oscars night to see for myself). The film has a stellar cast featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett and more. Odds are you have Netflix, but if not, it has plans ranging from $10-$20 a month.
“The Power of the Dog”
“The Power of the Dog” is likely the front-runner to win Best Picture at this moment because it was the most nominated film overall with 12 nominations. Director Jane Campion’s drama set in 1925 Montana stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a domineering rancher who responds with cruelty when his brother brings home a new wife and her son until the “unexpected comes to pass.” The entire main cast of Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee have been nominated for their performances and Campion could become just the third female director to win Best Director. “The Power of the Dog” is available on Netflix.
Director Guillermo del Toro’s previous film “The Shape of Water” (2017) was the Oscar winner for Best Picture and he’s followed that up with another Best Picture nominee in “Nightmare Alley.” “Nightmare Alley” is the mysterious tale of Stanton Carlisle who joins a carnival where he learns the art of mentalism and takes it on the road for his own act before taking things a bit too far. Bradley Cooper stars in the lead role and it’s maybe somewhat surprising he wasn’t nominated for Best Actor, but the snub I’m more concerned with is Willem Dafoe not being nominated for Best Supporting Actor. “Nightmare Alley” is available to stream on Hulu, which you can get for either $6.99 or $12.99/month depending on the plan.
“West Side Story”
You actually have not one, but two different methods for being able to stream director Steven Spielberg’s remake of the 1962 Best Picture winner (that’s right, we could have our very first Best Picture remake of another Best Picture). “West Side Story” will be available to stream on both Disney+ and HBOMax on Wednesday, March 2, though I understand if you’re a bit like me and are somewhat uninterested in remakes of already classics. If you like animated or superhero movies, I know you already have Disney+. If you want HBO Max, it’s $9.99/month, but there’s a good chance you already have it and may not even know it if you’re already paying for HBO or if you’re an AT&T user (I was surprised to find I got it for free with that).
“Drive My Car”
One of the pleasant surprises for many film watchers with the Academy’s focus on diversity within the voting body has been the addition of international films within the Best Picture category – director Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” even won Best Picture in 2020. Among this year’s nominees for Best Picture is director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car” out of Japan, a probable shoo-in to win the Best International Film category. “Drive My Car” is about a widowed actor who seeks a chauffeur and begins to strike up a relationship with the 20-year old woman who winds up with the job. Hamaguchi also surprised some by winding up in the Best Director category too. “Drive My Car” will be available to stream on HBO Max starting Wednesday, March 2.
Many may have gotten the chance to see director Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi/adventure epic “Dune,” based on Frank Herbert’s popular novel, when it initially premiered on HBO Max and in theaters in late October and spent a month on the streaming service. The film actually did good box office numbers, so maybe you even saw it on the big screen. Those who missed out on it the first time around will have a second chance before the Oscars when it returns to HBO Max on Thursday, March 10.
Like “Dune,” “King Richard” also debuted on HBO Max simultaneously with its debut in theaters in November, so you’ve had a shot at viewing the story of how Richard Williams raised and shaped tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams into the legends they became already. But, if you missed out on the film that has Will Smith considered the potential front-runner to win his first career Best Actor Oscar for his titular role you’ll have another shot at it on HBO Max beginning Thursday, March 24 just a few nights before the Oscars telecast.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” is one of two Best Picture nominees you’ll probably have to leave your house to find and it’s currently only in theaters and unlikely to come to a streaming service before the Oscars (though it might become available to rent via video on demand before then). “Licorice Pizza” was my first venture out to the cinema in more than two years when I saw it in early January and while it’s a bit wandering and pretty plotless, following two young folks around early ‘70s Los Angeles, I found the performances to be terrific, especially the female lead of Alana, played by Alana Haim who should’ve been nominated for Best Actress.
Director Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” is the other of the two Best Picture nominees that you’ll likely only be able to see if you go to your local theater between now and the Oscars with no plans for streaming before then and only a slight possibility of being able to rent via video on demand by then. Branagh’s “Belfast” is semi-autobiographically of his childhood during the troubles of the late ‘60s in the Northern Ireland capital and the experience of it within a working class family. Branagh has been nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay while Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.
So, there’s really no excuse when it comes to being able to see 80 percent of the Best Picture nominees before Hollywood’s big night. Get to watching!
by Julian Spivey
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Willem Dafoe & Cate Blanchett
Runtime: 2 hours & 30 minutes
Director Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” begins with a scene of Bradley Cooper’s lead Stanton Carlisle throwing a dead body into a hole in the floor of a home before lighting it ablaze and walking off into his future. So, we know right from the start our main character has a dark side, but we’re still willing to take the ride with him because the story, written by del Toro and Kim Morgan and based off William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel, is so intriguing and Cooper’s performance so mysterious.
Stanton comes upon a local carnival, where he’s immediately offered work by a carnival owner named Clem (Willem Dafoe), who runs the geek show. I found Dafoe’s performance to be the most intriguing of the entire film because, well, how can Dafoe as a carny master not be, which is disappointing because the carnival aspect of “Nightmare Alley” is less than half of the film. The best part of Dafoe’s performance is a bit of foreshadowing where he explains how he finds new geeks for the show.
Stan quickly falls into carnival life with a clairvoyant act Madame Zeena (Toni Collette) and the brains behind the outfit, her alcoholic husband Pete (David Strathairn) and falls for another carnival act Molly (Rooney Mara). Pete teaches Stan everything he knows about mentalism, but when he dies mysteriously (or maybe I just find it mysteriously in that I have doubts whether it was accidental), Stan and Molly leave the carnival behind for bigger things.
The movie jumps forward two years to find Stan the star of his own clairvoyant act with Molly as his assistant at a big city hotel. It’s during one of these performances in which he’s interrupted by psychologist Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) attempting to prove him to be a fraud. However, when he bests Ritter, he’s approached by Judge Kimball (Peter MacNeill), one of the local wealthy elite, to help his wife Felicia (Mary Steenburgen) communicate with their dead son. Remembering Pete’s warnings about never turning their act into a “spook show,” Molly tries to dissuade Stanton from going through with the act, but he just can’t help himself having turned from carnival act into con artist.
Carnival life might have been dark with its images of geeks biting the heads off of live chickens, but at least the carny’s had their own moral code (well, I’m not sure Clem did), unlike the upper class elite willing to pay good money to be reunited with the deceased, but dangerous if Stanton can’t succeed. I don’t want to spoil anything, but dangerous it does indeed become and there’s so many spirals of deceit playing out at the end you might be surprised by who’s pulling the strings all along.
I figured out before the end exactly how this movie was going to end, but that was OK for me because it’s almost exactly how I wanted it to end. It’s a Rod Serling/’Twilight Zone’-esque ending. The only thing that would’ve made the ending sweeter for me would’ve been for Dafoe to have replaced the character played by Tim Blake Nelson in the finale. But maybe that would’ve been too dark or maybe would’ve given the ending away sooner than del Toro would’ve liked.
“Nightmare Alley” was recently nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It can now be streamed on Hulu.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Nikole Beckwith
Starring: Ed Helms, Patti Harrison & Tig Notaro
Runtime: 1 hour & 30 minutes
Director-writer Nikole Beckwith’s “Together Together,” which had its world premiered almost a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival before seeing a limited released in late April, is an interesting story you don’t often (or really ever) see.
The film, which can now be seen streaming on Hulu, is the story of a single middle-aged man Matt, played by Ed Helms who always seems to be at his best in these small indies, who wants to be a father and seeks out a surrogate Anna, played by Patti Harrison. Matt wants a child. Anna needs the money. But neither of them expects the purely transactional relationship to blossom into friendship, and this is where Beckwith’s film finds its big heart.
The chemistry between Helms and Harrison, who pretty much the entire film relies on as none of the supporting characters have much screen time, is charming as all get out, which makes “Together Together” a breezy watch, especially as it doesn’t overstay its welcome at 90 minutes.
There’s a “will-they-or-won’t-they” develop this friendship into a relationship, despite the 15-20 year old age gap between the characters, for much of the film but it never really gets that far, which might be a bummer for some viewers, but I think is a nice place for the film to leave off. Matt and Anna might spend the rest of their lives together, but will they be together together? I don’t know that I care so much as long as they remain friends because they’re at least meant to be together in that way.
Beckwith’s film is simple. It’s not going to be anything you haven’t seen before, other than maybe it’s overall plot about a man seeking a kid through a surrogate alone (we’ve certainly seen it the other way around). But “Together Together” has loads of charm and is a lovely viewing to spend a lazy afternoon or evening with.
by Tyler Glover
Directors: Jared Bush, Byron Howard & Charise Castro Smith
Starring: Stephanie Beatriz, Maria Cecilia Botero & John Leguizamo
Runtime: 1 hour & 42 minutes
One of the greatest things happening in film today is greater representation for minorities. People that are not white are finally getting to see people like them on their screens (and not in stereotypical roles). It’s the way that life has always been: people from all different ethnic backgrounds have always been around from the beginning of time; film just hasn’t always reflected that. This progress has gone even slower in the world of animation. Disney did not have its first African-American princess until 2009 with the introduction of Princess Tiana in “The Princess and The Frog.” Since then, Disney has taken us to the Polynesian Islands in “Moana,” to the jazz club in “Soul,” and to Mexico on Dia De Los Muertos in “Coco.” While Disney took years to get the ball rolling, it appears they are committed to bringing diversity, inclusion, and representation to their animated films.
Disney’s latest film, “Encanto,” is the latest effort towards representation exploring Colombian culture. “Encanto” in English means “charm” and there could not be a more appropriate name for this film. “Encanto” is 100 percent charming start to finish. “Encanto” follows the story of the Family Madrigal who all live in a magical home that gifts all of them with specific magical powers except for Mirabel. As Mirabel is struggling to find her place in the world and in her family, the house starts to lose its magic and so Mirabel sets out to save the magic.
There is so much to love about this film from top to bottom. The biggest thing I loved about the film was the music. Lin-Manuel Miranda is showing us all why he is one of the biggest names in entertainment today with this score. The songs are all so great that it is difficult to choose just one. If I had to pick, it would be “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” It would not surprise me at all if “Encanto” manages to get an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score and win. The score was that great.
The film also has so many relatable characters. I feel like we all can identify with at least one of the characters. That’s one thing I think the script does splendidly. Grandmothers will relate to trying to do what’s best for the entire family, mothers will relate to trying to keep the peace, people worried about trying to always fulfill people’s expectation to be perfect will identify with Isabella and Luisa. People who are overly emotional will identify with Tia Pepa. Finally, anyone who has ever felt like an outcast will identify with Mirabel. Mirabel is searching for her place in the world and feels like no matter what she does, she messes things up while trying to do so. All of these characters for the most part are incredibly easy to love.
“Encanto” is a film that is beautiful to look at with such vibrant and delightful colors but what I love the most about the film is that it gives us a look into Colombian culture. It shows us that the world is different and that’s a good thing. One thing about Mirabel that is different from other characters is that she is in a leading heroine role wearing glasses. My daughter wears glasses and when she saw Mirabel for the first time, she looked at me and said, “Daddy, she has glasses like me.” That’s what representation is and why it matters.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Emma Seligman
Starring: Rachel Sennott, Danny Deferrari & Molly Gordon
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 1 hour & 18 minutes
Director Emma Seligman’s directorial debut “Shiva Baby,” which she also wrote, is one helluva first feature.
The film must be something close to her because it’s been something she’s worked on for years. The feature version of “Shiva Baby” is adapted from her own 2018 short film of the same name, which was her thesis project while studying at New York University and is only eight minutes long. How Seligman managed to flesh out eight minutes into 78 minutes for the feature is beyond me, but boy did she ever make it work.
The film stars Rachel Sennott as Danielle, an aimless twentysomething Jewish woman making money by prostituting herself via an app and not really knowing what she wants to do with her life. She is attending a shiva with her family in which other attendees include her ex-girlfriend Maya (played by Molly Gordon), Max (played by Danny Deferrari), who is one of her sugar daddies via the app, and Max’s wife Kim (Dianna Agron), who is in tow with their baby and has no idea what her husband has been up to. Also featured in the film are Fred Melamed and Polly Draper as Danielle’s parents Joel and Debbie.
Basically, the entirety of “Shiva Baby” is set at this shiva in a house with way too many attendees and it gets claustrophobic as hell with the setting and feeling of things tightening in on her serving as a terrific state of being for Danielle. It’s amazing how a debut filmmaker like Seligman is able to convey the anxiety of Danielle’s experience so perfectly and this combined with Sennott’s excellent portrayal of a moment in one’s life spiraling out of control really make “Shiva Baby” what it is – an almost fly on the wall experience where the viewer can be on the verge of an anxiety breakdown themselves.
The absolutely most cringe scenes in the film involve Danielle’s awkward conversations with Kim, especially after Kim begins to realize something has happened between Danielle and her husband. At times it’s fairly comical when Danielle is toying with Max in front of his wife with him realizing Danielle can bring him down at any moment and Danielle truly doesn’t care if she does.
I wouldn’t change anything about “Shiva Baby,” but damn if there’s also not another movie within it that I’d love to see and that is the relationship between Danielle and Maya. Sennott and Gordon have such great chemistry together that I wanted more every time they were on screen together. I want to see their story, whether it was their relationship before or whatever they have together after the film’s final scene.
Speaking of the film’s final scene … wow. It’s the cherry on the ice cream as far as cringe-inducing moments in the film. I don’t even want to say anything about it because it was such a fun experience that I hope people just view the film and get to it. I was giddy watching it. It was the best final scene of a film I’ve seen in a while.
I’m really impressed with Seligman’s debut product “Shiva Baby” and can’t wait to see what comes next from this young filmmaker.
“Shiva Baby” is currently streaming on HBO Max.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman & Bradley Cooper
Runtime: 2 hours & 13 minutes
Through no intentions I’ve somehow managed to have never seen a Paul Thomas Anderson movie before seeing “Licorice Pizza,” so now that I’ve completely discredited myself as a film critic, let’s review the director’s latest film.
It may be quite typical of Anderson’s style, but I must first warn you before going into “Licorice Pizza” that there is essentially no plot to this film. If that bothers you you might want to skip it, but you would be missing out on some absolutely fantastic performances, especially given the two leads of this film have never acted in a motion picture before. “Licorice Pizza” is a hangout film and because the characters are so interesting, I didn’t mind spending a couple of hours with them.
“Licorice Pizza” stars Cooper Hoffman, the son of the late Oscar-winning actor and longtime P.T.A. collaborator Philip Seymour Hoffman, as 15-year old Gary Valentine living in the San Fernando Valley of California in 1973. Valentine is a child actor, but he seems to be aging out of that quickly and looking for any get rich scheme he can find. Many reviewers have referred to Gary as a “hustler,” and I guess that’s true, but to me he also comes off something of a con man, a future skeevy used car salesman if you will. Gary is always interesting, but not often likable. I’m not sure if Anderson, who also wrote the script, intended him that way though because the character is based off the childhood of Anderson’s friend Gary Goetzman.
It’s the film’s other lead character Alana Kane, played by Alana Haim of the Grammy-nominated sister pop-rock group Haim, that I found so likable. That being said, Alana Haim is hard not to like, even when playing a fictional character. Kane is something of a lovable loser, she’s 25-years old and aimless working for a creepy photograph at the film’s beginning, which is where she first meets Gary during his high school yearbook photoshoot. It’s the first scene in the film and it may well be the single best one in the entire movie, as the two are flirting from the moment they meet in the photo line until it’s Gary’s turn to take his picture in a long tracking shot that had me smiling most of the way.
I wish Anderson could’ve somehow kept the magic of that opening scene bottled up for the entirety of the film – but isn’t that how relationships work, you have the magic of the meet-cute and then it’s topsy-turvy from then on.
The 10-year age gap between the two characters had led to some controversy, as Gary is a teen and Alana is an adult in the film, but I think it’s mostly folks complaining to complain. Never in the film is Alana predatory, in fact, it’s the age gap that has her mostly just interested in being Gary’s friend for the majority of the film.
The movie is basically told in vignettes and some of them work better than others. The scene with Sean Penn as an aging actor, based on William Holden, trying to re-live his glory days on a motorcycle while being egged on by Tom Waits’ veteran film director could’ve been left on the cutting floor in my opinion, even if it does serve as a form of jealousy between Gary and Alana and leads to one of their coming togethers again. Also, something that could’ve been left on the cutting room floor is John Michael Higgins’ as the Japanese restauranteur with a new Japanese wife each time we see him, who doesn’t speak the language but feels he’ll be understood if he uses an offensive accent. It’s this character that has drawn more controversy to the film and has even led to some boycotts. The character just isn’t necessary.
Then we have a vignette that is among the best parts of the film involving the leads bringing a waterbed, one of Gary’s schemes before the oil embargo of the early ‘70s puts an end to it, to film producer Jon Peters, played chaotically by Bradley Cooper in a performance hopefully not too small for the Academy to ignore come Oscar-season. The fantastic part of the scene is knowing that Alana Haim did most, if not all, of the driving of this big moving truck on her own during the film shoot.
One thing that Anderson absolutely knocked out of the park with “Licorice Pizza” is its soundtrack with tracks of the era and some of the best needle drops I’ve seen in recent years in cinema, particularly with David Bowe’s “Life on Mars?” and “Let Me Roll It” by Paul McCartney and Wings. The soundtrack really enhances the mood and overall likability of the film.
A complaint I have about “Licorice Pizza” is that my distrust of Gary and my full on crush of Alana have me feeling a certain negativity when it comes to the ending. I think a lot of viewers of the film will probably come away feeling differently than I do about it and that will probably lead to a more satisfied ending for them than I had watching “Licorice Pizza.”
by Aprille Hanson-Spivey
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem & J.K. Simmons
Runtime: 2 hours & 5 minutes
Like the rest of the world, I love Lucy. I grew up watching “I Love Lucy” and though it’s from a long gone era – one that as a 33 year old I was never personally a part of – Lucille Ball’s prowess for physical comedy is something that transcends generations.
So when it was announced that the great Aaron Sorkin was going to write and direct a Lucy and Desi Arnaz biopic, I was beyond excited. His quick-paced, witty style would make for perfect dialogue about not only the legend of Ball, but the stellar cast that made “I Love Lucy” what it was – her husband Arnaz playing her on-screen husband Ricky Ricardo and their best friends/neighbors Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance).
When the casting for “Being the Ricardos” was announced, my heart dropped and my face scrunched up in disgust – Nicole Kidman as Ball and Javier Bardem as Arnaz. Now, I have no problem with either of these actors and have admired their work. And while I was sort of OK with Bardem, Kidman seemed like the absolute wrong choice.
I didn’t get it. But thankfully, Sorkin did.
The Amazon original movie “Being the Ricardos” depicts a hell week for Ball, Arnaz and the show in 1952. While all the three main plotlines were true, they happened at different times throughout the years, but luckily for fans, we got to see all portrayed within a five-day span.
The movie tackles Lucy’s second pregnancy and the couple’s demand to incorporate it into a storyline on the show – back when it was unheard of to even mention the word “pregnant” on TV. It also portrayed the red scare where Ball was accused of being a communist, which could have ended her career, and Arnaz’s cheating scandal.
They are all set against the backdrop of filming the episode “Fred and Ethel Fight,” which, truth be told, was close to reality in that Vance (played by Nina Arianda) and Frawley (played by J.K. Simmons) did not get along well.
Weaved within all the drama is a snapshot of Ball and Arnaz’s love story. As a fan, I knew pretty much everything that was discussed, but I didn’t know the nuances or the many layers to both Ball and Arnaz. I think it’s easy to think of Ball as the same person portrayed on screen. It does a disservice to her character to only see one side of her. “Being the Ricardos” shows how complex she was from her tough business sense, her genius understanding of what makes a scene funny and her obsessiveness to get it right, as well as her own insecurities. It also showed her deep love for Arnaz, completely preoccupied with trying to find out if he had an affair, all the while her career could be ending if the public believed she was a communist.
Yes, the two were dysfunctional, but there was also passion and fire that was undeniable. While the show itself will always be classic and funny, its whole reason for existing was to try and help Ball and Arnaz be together and save their marriage.
What made Kidman specifically perfect for this role is that it wasn’t a comedy. This was a drama and Kidman captured the cadence in Ball’s voice and her movements. No, her face didn’t look like Lucille Ball really and there were times early in the movie it was a bit jarring. But, she embodied her and I think it was important to have a skilled actress like Kidman in that role.
Bardem and Arianda were also stellar, but Simmons always steals the show in every movie he’s in.
In a December 21 Smithsonian Magazine article about the movie, it stated Sorkin got his blessing from their daughter, Lucie Arnaz who told him to “take the gloves off” to accurately portray the complexity of her parents' relationship, which ultimately ended in divorce.
“Being the Ricardos” did just that and added to the legacy of Ball for all her fans.