Cast: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever
Screenplay: Noah Baumbach
137 mins. Rated R for language throughout and sexual references.
Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [PENDING]
Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role [Scarlett Johansson] [PENDING]
Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role [Adam Driver] [PENDING]
Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role [Laura Dern] [PENDING]
Academy Award Nominee: Best Original Screenplay [PENDING]
Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) [PENDING]
IMDb Top 250: #194 (as of 1/14/2020)
It must be a pretty good feeling to live in the Baumbach/Gerwig household right now, with writer/director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, The Meyerowitz Stories) and his wife, writer/director Greta Gerwig, both having films in the Best Picture race for Marriage Story and Little Women, respectively. It definitely raises the odds for them.
Marriage Story is the tale of a marriage at its end, focusing on the downward spiral between husband and wife Charlie (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Dead Don’t Die) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson, Her, Sing). It’s also a love story that uses the pain of divorce to highlight the beautiful moments that the relationship gave them both. As Charlie starts to see the mistakes he makes with not listening to his wife’s needs, Nicole finds herself down the career path she’s always wanted, and they find that they are going in different directions. Charlie struggles to find adequate representation for the divorce proceedings while Nicole hires a shark attorney, Nora (Laura Dern, Jurassic Park, TV’s Big Little Lies). While Charlie and Nicole both want the process to go as painlessly as possible, they find that they are in a system designed to turn their divorce into a war zone.
Marriage Story accomplishes something that is incredible in its storytelling, but it also makes it look easy. Baumbach is able to tell a story about divorce that is, at its core, a love story. Similar to how Taika Waititi told a story about hate that became a story about love with Jojo Rabbit, Baumbach is able to use tragic circumstances to really show how powerful its inverse is. Using his own real-life divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh as a guide, he crafts a screenplay that gives us equal moments of sadness and joy, and his direction is simple enough to focus on his powerhouse performers.
Speaking of powerhouses, I love that everyone in the film is firing on all cylinders here. Driver and Johansson have such great chemistry and they don’t try to out-act the other, instead letting each other have their moments of grandness amidst the strain, struggle, and fighting. There’s a scene near the end of the film that features the two stars in a contentious conversation that is one of the most well-acted scenes of the decade.
Even the supporting cast is spectacular. From the likely-winner Best Supporting Actress Laura Dern to Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, TV’s Shades of Blue) and Alan Alda (Bridge of Spies, TV’s M*A*S*H) who play potential lawyers for Charlie, everyone in this film is pitch-perfect, and again, none of them are competing for the spotlight. That’s key here. Everyone is as good as they need to be while also supporting the other players. It’s a real teamwork-heavy acting showcase.
Marriage Story is not a happy film even if it is a beautiful one. It plays with the inverse of a marriage crumbling but also seeing all the beauty that the marriage brought in a fascinating way. With an opening that feels like Pixar’s Up, this movie should have had investors from Kleenex because it will break your heart and then tape it back together. While it runs a little longer than it needs to be, it’s a fascinating case study of a relationship that I cannot recommend enough.
Nominations are officially out for the 92nd Academy Awards, and the #2020oscardeathrace has officially begun. The nominees are listed below, which some notable snubs and surprises throughout. Every year, I take part in a challenge called the Oscar Death Race, in which one attempts to see every nominated film by the night of the Academy Awards. It isn’t easy, and there’s usually a couple remaining films each year, but I love it. Take a look, and let’s get started.
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson
Screenplay: Taika Waititi
108 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and language.
From the moment I first heard that Writer/Director/Actor Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok) was planning on writing, directing, and acting in a Nazi comedy about a boy with an imaginary friend who happens to be Adolf Hitler, and that Waititi would be playing Hitler, I was immediately concerned, confused, and a little unsure what to think. Then, the first still came out, and it didn’t really help. In my mind, I’ve never been let down by Waititi, but it’s a tall order to accomplish something like Jojo Rabbit. Thankfully, wonderfully, Waititi is able to do the impossible yet again, making a film about hate that becomes about so much more.
Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) doesn’t have many friends outside of his buddy Yorki and his imaginary friend, Adolf. When he attends a Hitler youth training camp, he hopes to impress Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell, Moon, TV’s Fosse/Verdon) by showing off his fierceness and prowess, but things do not go the way he plans. His mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson, Her, Sing) seems to have an alternative idea of the war and Nazism, but she hides it. Jojo learns that’s not all she hides when he comes across a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace, The King), in a hidden space in her room. As Jojo struggles with how to treat his treasonous mother and the girl in the crawl space, he is forced to make a choice that could alter everything he’s ever known.
It’s been stated a lot, but the first ten minutes of this movie made me pretty uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s the very way it sets up the world of wartime Germany near the end of WWII. It puts you right in Jojo’s world, and that world was not one I felt okay being in until the plot really started to move. Davis does good work in his first major role as Jojo. It’s a tough character because even though he’s a child and seemingly doesn’t know any better, he’s still a Nazi child. His worldview has been painted for him with signs of Jewish evil and demons and some truly disturbing things. It’s not an easy viewing and even though it has some really funny moments, it’s also a movie I felt strange for laughing during.
As with a film like 1917, which I recently reviewed here, Davis is surrounded by an incredible supporting cast, ranging from Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect, Isn’t It Romantic) as Fräulein Rahm, an instructor at the youth camp (the best she’s ever been), to Alfie Allen (John Wick, TV’s Game of Thrones) as Finkel, the second-in-command to Rockwell’s Klenzendorf, who finally gets to stretch some comedic muscles and does a very fine job. Rockwell is awesome in this movie, and he yet again excels at playing those fringe characters who are really bad guys but he puts an emotional spin on them to really connect with the audience.
It is Waititi’s Adolf that is most interesting in that he’s playing an imaginary friend who looks like Hitler but is very much just a visage of Jojo’s interpretation of how Hitler would be to him, a child. Waititi’s portrayal of this imaginary friend rides the line very nicely between silliness and seriousness, and he’s essentially just Jojo, so it never felt like an out-of-place idea to have Hitler appearing in the film.
I can’t think of anyone else that can make a movie quite like Taika Waititi. His eye is unique and his style works well with certain stories. With Jojo Rabbit, he mines real-world events and circumstances for comedy, pointing out the ridiculousness of the beliefs that Jojo has, and he pushes them into the audience consciousness. He views wartime Germany as a bustling and more happy place that most films have chosen to, but it makes sense. To Jojo and the other townspeople, they are really winning, whether they really believe it or not, their wanting to believe it is too strong for most. There is a bubbling-under-the-surface fear that is present and permeating, and that foreboding feeling like things will not turn out that way, but it’s covered in a layer of liveliness, something that we don’t usually get in these types of films.
Jojo Rabbit is surprisingly good, but after this any hits, it’s tough to doubt Taika Waititi’s abilities in any way. He has consistently made great films across his career, and Jojo Rabbit is no exception. This isn’t always the happiest viewing experience (Waititi mixes tones elegantly enough to hit hard when the film requires it), and I found myself more nervous-laughing than downright bellying over with giggles, but that’s not what this film requires. What it does require is your attention, though. Go see Jojo Rabbit as soon as you can.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows, click here.
For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.
2019 was crazy. The end of another decade! Another year where everything in my personal and professional life. Now, as we awkwardly segue into a new decade, let’s take a look back at the year that was in film. If you enjoy reading my list, give a listen to St. Paul Filmcast, where Nick Palodichuk counted down the best of 2019, the best of the decade, and more!
Now for our obligatory stipulations and notes:
-I did not see every film that was released in 2019. That would be an impossibility, but I did see quite a few. Of course, as always, life happens and some films were missed. So if you don’t see something on this list, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong. It just means I may have missed something it…or it doesn’t belong.
-These are my personal selections of films from the year. These are not predictions for Best Picture at the Oscars or films that are undeniably the 10 best films of the year, hands down, full stop. Some films have different placements at the end of the year than they would have based on their initial scoring, and even though some of them had major flaws, enjoyment can go a long way.
I said in my initial review for Us that, while I think Get Out is an overall better film for Jordan Peele, Us is the one I find myself going back to more often. Peele takes a classic story of doppelgangers and turns it into a story of classes and the versions of ourselves that we hide away. Us is a great example that it’s not the story you tell but how you tell it that creates a truly great film. It’s the best horror film of 2019, a year where the gems were tougher to find. It’s genuinely one of the more enjoyable experiences of the year as well, mining everything from its premise.
9. Jojo Rabbit
Director Taika Waititi had a nearly impossible task of creating a film about Nazi Germany starring a Nazi child who has an imaginary friend who happens to be Adolf Hitler that pokes fun and also creates a worthy narrative. He succeeded in ways I never would have thought with Jojo Rabbit. It isn’t as funny as other Waititi films but it certainly has heart in all the right places. The film takes a story that starts celebrating hate and turns it into a story that celebrates love. It’s truly a cinematic achievement that proves Waititi can do just about anything.
I can’t believe how much I loved Toy Story 4. I’ve never been a giant Toy Story fan but I found myself being won over by Toy Story 3, and while I felt it was a great film with a serviceable ending to the series, I now realize how much better Toy Story 4 is at ending the story. What Toy Story 4 does better is that it understands that Andy’s never been the character we’ve been following. It’s always been Woody. The focus of this fourth installment is paying off the character beats that the first three films set up for Woody. It’s a heartfelt, emotional, and very funny new film in a franchise that has continued to impress audiences.
7. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Can You Ever Forgive Me? surprised the hell out of me when it came out last year. Not only was it the best performance of Melissa McCarthy’s career, but it was also a great showcase for director Marielle Heller, who crafted a film that, on the outset, sounds kind of boring. When she decided to tackle a Mr. Rogers biopic, I was unsure, but the inspired choice to cast Tom Hanks as the legendary television personality worked incredibly well. Hanks elected to play the essence of Mr. Rogers and not do an impression, and that decision also paid off nicely. There’s one specific scene in the film that pushed it past mere biographical film and into a life-changing experience, and if you’ve seen it, I think you’ll know which one: the diner scene. I won’t get any further into it so you can enjoy it for yourself, but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, like the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, was a life-changing experience.
Rocketman was the first film this year that I felt could have been my favorite of the year, and it outlasted quite a few as the year went on. This Elton John biopic is really more a musical based on John’s work than a 100% true-to-life biopic. Again, it gets more of the essence of Elton than a certifiable account, and for that, it’s all the more magical. Dexter Fletcher showcases his unique voice once again with his second collaboration with Taron Egerton, who may miss out on the awards love this year, but he’s on the path to being a true superstar performer. If the film has any one problem, it’s that its framing device, a very Dewey Cox-inspired look back at his whole life, is a bit simple, but it works. Check out Rocketman. Absolutely.
Just like a parasite itself, this movie stayed with me, feeding off me. I simply cannot stop thinking about it. Bong Joon Ho creates a strange amalgam of comedy, horror, suspense, and drama in this unique and singular experience that needs to be seen to be believed. Parasite is better when you don’t know as much, so I’ll leave the details out of it, but this movie, like Us, is a film about many things, most notably and powerfully class, the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-notes, and its title is evocative of so many element in the film. Parasite deserves to be on everyone’s Top Ten of the year.
I mean, c’mon! Avengers: Endgame is absolutely incredible. Sure, you can make the argument that it only works as well as it does because of the previous twenty-some films that came before, but it’s an accomplishment that Kevin Feige and the Russo brothers stuck the landing. It’s a big-budget television series and this is the series finale that works especially well. The snappy and quick editing help to gloss over some of the sillier and nonsensical things in the films, and it’s just damn fun. That means a lot. It’s a three-hour movie that rushes by, and even though it’s the twenty-second film, it never feels like a slog or a rehash. A pitch-perfect ending that makes me only more curious for what’s next.
I was blessed to see 1917 in 2019 (the film doesn’t open wide until later this month), and it’s a powerhouse World War I film, and one of the best war films ever made. Director Sam Mendes clearly learned a lot from his time with the James Bond franchise, and working with Director of Photography Roger Deakins, he was able to plan out a war epic that’s made to look like a single shot. The amount of work that goes into a movie like 1917 is staggering. I couldn’t make a movie like this. There are few who can. It’s a surprisingly-touching film about wartime brothers and the cost of something as simple as delivering a message. 1917 is an epic experience.
The Farewell is quite different from 1917 in terms of its overall style, choosing to go small instead of big, but that doesn’t change its overall impact. Lulu Wang takes an interesting story and populates it with layered and warm characters who deal with a problem that there really is no right solution to. The film follows Awkwafina’s Billi as she learns that her grandmother is dying and her family has chosen not to tell her, instead fabricating a family wedding in order to see her one last time. It’s a film about culture clash and ethical questions that is surprisingly funny at the same time, and the ending absolutely broke me. Seriously, Kleenex should have invested in this film. The Farewell flew under some radars in 2019, but it shouldn’t fly under yours. Seek it out immediately.
Here we are. My favorite film of the year. I cannot deny how many times I have watched Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. It keeps drawing me back in, and each time I see it, I discover something else I like about it. Quentin Tarantino has crafted the ultimate hangout film that feels like it was pulled right out of the 60s, and some of my earlier criticisms have softened each time I’ve watched it. I get why some out there won’t like this movie. My wife wasn’t big on it, but for me, this movie is built on a central relationship between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth, a relationship stronger than just about any other in 2019. It’s an awesomely fun time at the movies, and it’s my favorite film of 2019.
So there you have it. These are my favorite films of the year. I’m looking forward to the #2020oscardeathrace to begin, and the list may change a bit once that happens. No one sees everything. So what is your Top Ten Films of 2019? I’d love to hear it. Thanks again for a great 2019 and we will see you in 2020 (which is, of course, right now).