Bullet Train

Columbia Pictures
Director David Leitch’s first feature film was Atomic Blonde in 2017, followed by Deadpool 2 in 2018 and then Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw in 2019. Of course, he also did a Celine Dion music video in there, too, but let’s focus on the movies. As one can tell from his first three movies, Leitch has a style, one greatly influenced by his background as a stuntman and a martial arts expert, one that can easily be described as—how I shall I put this—insane. Each of his films are manic, high octane, ultra violent, darkly comic and action-packed fight fests, with tons of guns, car chases, dizzying camera movements and over-the-top performances that cater to those audiences who not only wish to escape the real world, but wants to kick it in the nuts as it leaves.

Now I sort of liked Atomic Blonde, mainly for the late ‘80s Berlin setting, Charlize Theron’s fantastic performance and the killer soundtrack, but Leitch’s style took all the fun out of it for me, as the extended fight sequences grew old and the script, with all of its convoluted plot twists, couldn’t get out of its own way. But we discovered that Leitch had a dynamic style, all neon and kinetic, a kind of filmmaking that felt like a shot of adrenaline. The success of Deadpool 2 led to doing a Fast and Furious movie, which also did very well for him. But those were prized franchises with built-in audiences and already-set tones. I was looking forward to seeing what Leitch could do with another Atomic Blonde-type opportunity, a script that was borne from something original, not a sequel or a comic book film.

And along comes Bullet Train.

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Windfall

Netflix
The pandemic proved to be quite a creative time for artists, who were forced to sit still for the first time in their lives. While the upside was the instant percolation of ideas and completion of projects and screenplays that would otherwise have taken months, if not years, the downside of the pandemic for filmmakers was the conundrum of, “I’ve got a great script…now what?” Because of production restrictions, full-blown movie sets have only recently come back, so, filmmakers who really wanted to work during the pandemic had to be creative. And thus a new genre was borne, loosely known as “pandemic cinema.” Although it is true that most of the films nominated for Best Picture were also shot during the pandemic (and some, like Belfast, even written during it, too) and could legitimately be called pandemic films, there’s a whole other breed of specialty, specifically unique to the pandemic genre of film that COVID hath spawned, that of the intimate story with just two or three actors, and shot in a single location. Films like Malcolm and Marie, Host and Songbird are just three examples of films that went from script-to-screen in record time, assisted by their minimal production needs. The latest example of this type of film is Windfall, written by Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker, and directed by Charlie McDowell, debuting on Netflix on March 18.

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Deep Water

Hulu/20th Century Studios
For a director who has only made nine films in forty-two years, Adrian Lyne has mastered the art of choosing a lane and staying in it. With the exception of Jacob’s Ladder (1990), Lyne’s films have all centered on female sexuality in some way, shape or form, and often that sexuality is weaponized, sometimes with fatal consequences. Lyne’s most famous film, Fatal Attraction (1987), wrote the book on the modern sexual thriller, and his last film, Unfaithful (2002), continued familiar themes of infidelity and murderous female sexuality. Although Unfaithful was twenty years ago, Lyne hasn’t missed a beat in his latest film, Deep Water, as the eighty-one-year-old treads some very familiar ground in this film that is so reminiscent of his earlier films that it could be called nostalgic if it weren’t so horrifically cringe-inducing.

Written by Euphoria’s Sam Levinson and Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium Zach Helm and based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, Deep Water stars Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas as married couple Vic and Melinda, who have an interesting arrangement. Apparently, in exchange for not agreeing to a divorce, Vic allows Melinda to have affairs with anyone she wants—and not discreetly. Even though he has seemingly allowed this, Vic is clearly upset with his wife’s behavior and he takes to threatening each one of his wife’s paramours. The couple is the subject of gossip among their group of friends, and, when one of Melinda’s former “friends” goes missing, the gossip intensifies. But no amount of gossip or missing and presumed dead lovers stops Vic and Melinda from playing their game, even though Vic’s timebomb of tolerance is clearly about to detonate.

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Santa Barbara Film Festival 2022

Last week, I covered the Santa Barbara International Film Festival for AwardsWatch.com. I had a great time, and thought it would be fun to share some of the pictures and videos I took from the red carpet and from inside the Arlington Theater, where I attended several tributes and panels, including one of me asking Penelope Cruz a question on the red carpet AND a clip of Oscar nominee Troy Kotsur (CODA) that has been viewed over 27,000 times on my Twitter page:

Kristen Stewart, Spencer

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My Top 10 Law & Order Episodes of All Time (from the first 20 seasons)

On September 13, 1990, a show premiered that would change the face of television. Law & Order would come to define the police and legal procedural and would spawn a multitude of spinoffs, including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which, currently in its twenty-third season, is the longest-running primetime U.S. live-action series in the history of television. It is undeniable that the multitude of police and lawyer dramas—not just in the Law & Order universe– that have existed in the past twenty years and continue to exist now owe their existence and success to some degree to L&O creator Dick Wolf’s original vision.

Although many would try to fill the void left when the original series went off the air in 2010 after twenty seasons (and six Emmys), no show could truly recapture the special something Law & Order had. Whether it was the formula, the format, the characters, or the stories, there was something unique in that original show that no other show could truly match. This is probably why, after a twelve-year hiatus, Wolf is bringing back the original series with all-new episodes this February.

N.B.C. will premiere the twenty-first season of Law & Order on February 24, following their Winter Olympics coverage. While everyone is pretty tight-lipped about details of the series, we do know that it will be a continuation, not a reboot, and it will have the same format as the beloved original series, focusing the spotlight equally on “the police who investigate crime, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders.” Sam Waterston will be returning as Law & Order legend, D.A. Jack McCoy, and Anthony Anderson will reprise his role as Detective Kevin Bernard.

But before we jump into this new old world again, we thought it might be worthwhile to take a moment to reflect on the brilliance of the original twenty seasons. Yes, we’ve culled through all 456 episodes to narrow it down to the absolute ten best, the ten episodes that best capture the essence of Law & Order and are the most memorable, the most re-watchable. Whether you have never seen a single episode or you are a die-hard fan, these ten hours will kindle or re-kindle your love of the show that launched an empire, and remind the world of the days when network television was still king.

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Death on the Nile

Twentieth Century Studios
You can’t go wrong with a classic murder mystery, and it doesn’t get more classic than author Agatha Christie, the certified queen of the genre. There’s a reason why Christie’s The Mousetrap is the longest-running play in the world, still packing in audiences in London’s West End in its 70th year. The formula which Christie practically invented, in which a clever detective identifies a murderer from a group of suspects who have equally legitimate motives, has been replicated for decades in popular culture, in everything from the board game Clue to the popular television show Murder, She Wrote to the recent box office smash Knives Out. If there’s one thing audiences just don’t tire of, it’s a whodunit.

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Where to watch every Oscar-nominated film

Where to watch every Oscar-nominated film (excluding the shorts). You have until March 27 to get caught up!

Ascension: Paramount+
Attica: Prime Video (free to members) or rent for $9.99 for non-members
Being the Ricardos: Prime Video (included for members)
Belfast: buy on Prime Video $19.99
CODA: Apple TV+
Coming 2 America: Prime Video (included for members)
Cruella: Disney+
Cyrano: only in theaters, will be opening wider on 2/24
Don’t Look Up: Netflix
Drive My Car: only in theaters, will be on HBO MAX starting 3/2
Dune: rent on Prime Video $5.99
Encanto: Disney+ or rent on Prime Video for $5.99
The Eyes of Tammy Faye: HBO Max or rent on Prime Video for $3.99
Flee: Hulu or rent on Prime Video for $5.99
Four Good Days: Hulu
Free Guy: rent on Prime Video $3.99
The Hand of God: Netflix
House of Gucci: buy on Prime Video $19.99
King Richard: buy on Prime Video $19.99
Licorice Pizza: only in theaters
The Lost Daughter: Netflix
Luca: Disney+ or buy on Prime Video for $19.99
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom: only in theaters
The Mitchells vs the Machines: Netflix
Nightmare Alley: Hulu or HBO Max
No Time to Die: rent on Prime Video $5.99
Parallel Mothers: only in theaters
The Power of the Dog: Netflix
Raya and the Last Dragon: Disney+ or rent on Prime Video for $3.99
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Disney+
Spencer: rent on Prime Video $2.99
Spider-Man: No Way Home: only in theaters
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised): Hulu or Disney+, rent on Prime Video for $5.99
Tick, Tick…BOOM!: Netflix
The Tragedy of Macbeth: Apple TV+
West Side Story: only in theaters now, will be on Disney+ on March 2
The Worst Person in the World: in theaters
Writing with Fire: currently unavailable; coming to PBS on March 28

My Oscar Nominations Reactions

Don’t want to get too deep here, but wanted to share some quick thoughts about this morning’s Oscar nominations. I’ll break down my reactions into four categories:

DISAPPOINTMENTS:

-Peter Dinklage missing for Best Actor. I would have loved him to be in the top 5, certainly in place of Will Smith or Javier Bardem. What Dinklage did in Cyrano was exquisite. By the way, Cyrano comes to theaters on February 28, so go, so you can see for yourself.

-Jared Leto missing for Best Supporting Actor. Yes, there are most definitely two camps on this outrageous performance, and most critics agree he is much more deserving of his Razzie nomination than an Oscar, but I personally really enjoyed his performance, he truly disappeared in his role in House of Gucci and I would have loved to have seen everyone’s head explode. Ha.

A Hero missing for Best Original Screenplay and Best International Film. This quiet but enormously powerful film from Iran deserved to be included, especially for screenplay over King Richard.

-Speaking of King Richard, I have no clue what everybody loves so much about the film, and its inclusion in Best Picture and the likely scenario where Will Smith wins the Oscar for Best Actor truly confounds me.

-I’m equally disappointed to see Don’t Look Up included in Best Picture, especially when The Tragedy of Macbeth was right there. I just don’t understand how it could be considered one of the year’s 10 best films. Here’s a graphic illustration that sums it up perfectly:

Courtesy Rotten Tomatoes

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My Oscar Nominations Predictions

Hold onto your hats, the nominations for the 94th Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, and all indications are that everything is up for grabs. Most critics have no idea what’s going to happen, other than Jane Campion walking away with Best Director, so it should be a lot of fun!

That being said, here are my predictions for the major categories.

BEST PICTURE:
Being the Ricardos
Belfast
CODA
Dune
King Richard
Licorice Pizza
The Power of the Dog
The Tragedy of Macbeth
West Side Story

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