Dolemite Is My Name

Netflix

Four of the last ten Best Picture Oscar winners have been about artists, performers or Hollywood in some shape or form. Artists love to bask in their own glow, so to speak, and if there’s an opportunity to make a movie about the making of a great film or tell the life story of a performer, they will take it. In fact, Hollywood doesn’t even care if the subject is good or not. Two years ago, James Franco made a movie about the worst film of all time and even THAT got nominated for an Oscar.

The only thing Hollywood loves more than movies about itself? Comebacks. Which is why Dolemite Is My Name (in theatres 10/4, on Netflix 10/25) just might be the early Oscar frontrunner, even in September.

Eddie Murphy is in his third career. From 1980 to 1994, he was the world’s biggest star, conquering movies, TV and stand-up comedy specials long before Netflix was even a thing. Then, in 1996, he put the filthy mouth and adult action movies behind him and embarked on a new career as voiceover and PG-13 goofy comedy star, starring in three franchises, Shrek, Nutty Professor and Dr. Doolittle. Then, in 2006, he changed it up again by taking a small supporting role in the musical drama Dreamgirls, a dramatic role that earned him universal kudos for the one thing we hadn’t seen from him yet: serious acting.

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Judy

Roadside Attractions

The main narrative about the new film Judy (opening 9/27) will inevitably be about its star, Renée Zellweger, and how the film marks a career comeback for the Oscar winner, who seemingly fell off the face of the earth a few years ago. What really happened is she just took a 6-year hiatus from making movies from 2010-2016, which, in Hollywood, is tantamount to career suicide, especially when you’re a woman at the peak of your career (i.e. that small window women have for playing lead roles). Never mind that she’d been working non-stop since 1992, starred in a Best Picture winner (Chicago), won an Oscar herself (for Cold Mountain) and was one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood—all anyone wanted to know was where she was, what she’d been doing and would she ever be able to come back? In all honesty, it was going to take a lot to get Zellweger back to where she was, especially at 50, in a business that ages people faster than professional football. But she has found a way. She’s back with a vengeance, starring in a new Netflix series, What/If, and, most important, getting all of Hollywood buzzing with her extraordinary performance as Judy Garland in Judy, a role seemingly gift-wrapped just for her and for this moment.

It’s almost too good to be true, Zellweger, emerging from career isolation, playing Garland, the faded superstar who made one last grab for glory (and money) in her last days. While this is far from being Zellweger’s final role (we hope), her performance in Judy is most certainly her best professional achievement yet, a grand statement and impressive feat.

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Hustlers

STX Films

Let’s get this out of the way right at the top: yes, Hustlers is a high-profile movie about women, made by women and starring women. From a business standpoint, although it’s not a big studio movie, that’s still a great

(Not counting all the fur)
thing. It also could be considered an empowering movie, because it’s about women taking control of their own destinies—and succeeding— in a profession that has long been controlled by men. Again, that is a good thing. There are no major male characters and the stars of the movie are two women of color, one of them who’s actually FIFTY. So, yes, Hustlers is, on paper, a great step forward and deserves to be lauded for all of those things.

Which makes it so ultimately frustrating that the movie is so bad.

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Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

CNN Films

It feels like it doesn’t take much anymore to become famous. Andy Warhol would have either been intrigued or horrified by YouTube if he were alive today. Being famous for who you are and not what you do seems to be the American way in the 21st century so far.

Which is why it’s so refreshing to be reminded of what a true artist looks like, someone with a real talent, who honed a career not out of how many likes she got, but for how many records she sold and how many her music affected.

Even though there have been many singers through the years who have been popular and successful, it just feels like Linda Ronstadt has always been different. It’s simple enough to say that, but when you look at her life and her career in its entirety, as is presented in the new documentary, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, you realize the breadth and scope of her talent and depth of her desire to stay true to her art and to who she is. And it’s a heartbreaking sadness, what she’s going through now, as Parkinson’s has robbed her of the one thing that she always believed defined her: her voice. But, as we learn in this documentary from directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, we see that she’s so much more than that. Besides all the awards and gold records, she played a vital role in the music industry in the 70s and early 80s in so many ways that a mere 95-minute documentary can’t even begin to cover what a legendary influence and talent Linda Ronstadt is.

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The Peanut Butter Falcon

Roadside Attractions

I have so many feelings about The Peanut Butter Falcon. After initially resisting it, I was finally bribed into going by a friend who champions this movie so much that he was willing to send me the cost of my ticket. And now that I’ve seen it, it’s time for me to offer my professional critical opinion.

But it’s not quite as easy as that.

If I were to critique this movie in a vacuum, as if it were a film school assignment where I were to judge it solely on its technique, acting, production values and screenplay, The Peanut Butter Falcon would receive a middling shrug of a write-up, as my reaction to this movie, strictly from a craft standpoint, would be average at best. But I don’t live in a vacuum and even though we may watch movies in a darkened room, we don’t exist in one and movies, like everything else, have to find their place in this world. Movies are reflections of their times, no matter how escapist they may try to be, and it’s nearly impossible to take in a movie without judging it against its time and place where it finds its audience.

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