Vice

Annapurna

I was most definitely in the minority on writer/director Adam McKay’s last movie, The Big Short. I found it to be overly ambitious and bizarre, but most of the world loved it, including the Academy, which nominated it for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Directing and Best Adapted Screenplay, which it won. McKay’s latest effort, Vice, is no less ambitious, but I have a weird feeling the Academy won’t embrace it the way it did its predecessor.

Like The Big Short, Vice takes on a big subject in our modern world and looks at it through a cynical and somewhat satirical lens. McKay likes to revel in irreverence, skewering people in power who make decisions that affect everyone and assailing their motivations. The Big Short was a study in cause and effect—motivation (greed) was clear and the result of actions (economic collapse) was played out. However, in Vice, McKay takes a somewhat different approach to his subject, as not only are the motivations of his subject unclear, but the effects of those motivations are reduced to a sidebar. It’s a weird dynamic, but, somehow, still works.

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Mary Queen of Scots

Working Title

It was hard to watch Mary Queen of Scots so soon after The Favourite. They are completely different stories, and set four generations apart, but they are both about Queens of England and are movies that are unabashedly female-driven. But, other than the fact that both movies also have gorgeous costumes, this is where the similarities end. While The Favourite was bold, beautiful and brilliant, Mary Queen of Scots was dreary and disappointing. Although they both feature incredible performances, if you are looking for a royal treat, one is definitely more sumptuous than the other.

On paper, Mary Queen of Scots is a movie that should be awards-worthy. It stars two of Hollywood’s brightest female stars, Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. Both of them already have Oscar nominations under their belts and I’m sure everyone involved in this production was expecting more awards love for this prototypical Oscar bait period piece from the same production company that produced last year’s Oscar darling, Darkest Hour. [Sidebar: when you use “From Working Title, the producers of Darkest Hour” to advertise the movie, you know they are really reaching] But they forgot something: a good movie is more than one or two great performances. In fact, while we’re talking about Darkest Hour, you can say the same thing about that movie, which was Gary Oldman and nothing much else.

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Anna and the Apocalypse

Orion

Ok, so nobody wanted to go see Anna and the Apocalypse with me, so I went to this British zombie teen musical by myself. Yes, you read that right: British. Zombie. Teen. Musical. Quite a mixture. (Maybe I get now why nobody wanted to see it with me). But I was intrigued by the wonderful trailer I saw for the movie, so I had to go, but I really had no idea what to expect. And what I got was an fresh and spirited take on some massively familiar genres—and ones you don’t often see together. So, let’s break it down:

British:
Anna and the Apocalypse is set in a small town in England at Christmastime. At first I thought it would be like Shaun of the Dead, another British zombie movie that’s REALLY British, but there’s really nothing that makes Anna and the Apocalypse stand out as specifically British, other than the dismal and dreary weather. There also is a weird mish-mosh of accents among the main characters: British, Irish, Scottish, American—not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it just added to the already-weird dynamic of this movie.

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Green Book

Participant Media

In 2016, Andrew Garfield starred in—and was nominated for Best Actor for—a movie called Hacksaw Ridge. It told the little-known story of Army medic Desmond Doss, who fought in some of the most brutal battles of World War II while refusing to carry or fire a gun. That same year, there was another film called Hidden Figures, which told the true story of the team of female African-American mathematicians at NASA, whose contributions to the space program were unheralded for so many decades, even though, without them, America most likely would never have stepped foot on the moon, let alone even flown successfully into space.

I’ll tell you, those two movies really blew me away. Neither of them were great movies, in the realm of cinematic achievement, but what they were was fascinating. They told true stories that were practically unknown to the vast majority of Americans, and, like the true story that was told in 12 Years a Slave, the stories that are both true and interesting are sometimes the best kind of movie. Truth is, after all, much stranger — and more interesting — than fiction.

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Roma

Netflix

I didn’t know how to start talking about Roma, the new film from Oscar-winning writer/director Alfonso Cuarón. At first, I wanted to talk about the power of the personal—how the story is a personal homage to Cuarón’s youth, a memory poem of sorts. Inspiration is another angle to take in looking at the movie as a whole, as Cuarón was clearly inspired by the real-life nanny he had a child and wanted to make a movie about her and her life. Then I thought about the larger themes of the movie, about how every life is significant, how people and events touch our lives and impact us in ways we don’t expect, how love manifests itself in so many different ways.

But then I realized: Roma isn’t a movie to talk about. It has themes, it has a story, it has dialogue and characters, but the movie is about a place and time and a total immersion in them. The last time I had this visceral a reaction to the visual experience of a movie was, well, Gravity, which just happened to be Cuarón’s last film (for which he won an Oscar for Best Director). Roma couldn’t be further away from Gravity, but what they do share is the filmmaker’s passion and talent for putting an audience right where he wants them to be. Gravity was outer space, Roma is Mexico City in 1971.

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The Favourite

Fox Searchlight

The classics exist for a reason. Sometimes the best screenplays are the ones that take a familiar story and put a spin on it, making it unique, original and imaginative. Even stories that are familiar AND based on a true story can be made to be imaginative and clever at the hands of a good writer. Let’s just be honest: a good writer can make anything old new again.

Deborah Davis had never written a produced screenplay before. Tony McNamara is a writer whose entire career had been writing for Australian television. So why should we care about Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara? Because they have written one of the best screenplays of 2018, and if you love snappy and vicious dialogue and inventive, clever, ribald and saucy new ways to tell a familiar story, you will love their movie, The Favourite, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.

And I don’t even know if the writing is the best thing about The Favourite. The direction is energetic and inventive, the production design is absolutely gorgeous, the costumes are magnificent and the acting, well, the acting is devastatingly good. And, on top of all that, The Favourite has found a way to make a movie set in 18th century England relevant to Americans in the 2018—I dare you to not find subtext here.

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