Friday, November 17, 2023

Hidden Lives

        Franz Jägerstätter was a farmer from the Austrian village of St. Radegund. Though happily married and content to live the simple country life, he felt called by his own moral compass to refuse military service under Hitler's Third Reich. This simple act was seen as such a threat to the Nazi regime that he and many other conscientious objectors were arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for their „crimes.“ Franz Jägerstätter was executed by guillotine in August, 1943. He was only 36 years old.

        Franz's story was eventually adapted into a major, acclaimed film in 2019 (called A Hidden Life), directed by Terrence Malick, one of the most influential directors of the late 20th and early 21st century. Many, myself included, consider the film to be a deep and underappreciated masterpiece.

        Mollie Kyle was born in 1886. By virtue of timing and her Osage heritage, she shared in the immense oil wealth her people had recently obtained. Tragically, this very wealth made her a prime target for one of the most insidious crimes committed against American Indigenous peoples in US history. After suffering the devastating loss of her entire family and the terrible betrayal of her own partner, she died in 1951 at the age of 50, a life considerably shortened by grief and illness.

        This Autumn, in the year 2023, Mollie's story was brought to film by a team headed by Martin Scorcese, Leonadro DiCaprio, and Robert De Niro, three of the most famous figures of American cinema. The movie, Killers of the Flower Moon, is already considered a serious awards contender, with Lily Gladstone, an actress of Blackfeet heritage who portrays Mollie, standing a decent chance to be the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar for acting.

        How does this happen? What about these two hidden lives endured long enough to be immortalized (in a sense) in film by some of the finest artists of our time?

        I can't help but see resonant parallels between Mollie Kyle and Franz Jägerstätter. Theirs truly were small lives, relatively normal and powerless (Mollie's wealth notwithstanding). Had they had better timing and lived in unremarkable times and places, I see no reason why their lives could not have been longer, healthier, hopefully happier, and perhaps just as unremarkable and unremembered. And I would not sitting here, thinking about them, writing this article.

        But they didn't live in unremarkable times, did they? Franz, the sort of quietly pious person whose lives fill centuries upon centuries of Central European history, just happened to be there at the height of the Nazi's power, in the middle of the greatest death machine the continent ever witnessed. Mollie had the misfortune of being not just a woman and indigenous, but wealthy, at the very tail end of centuries of active genocide committed by the United States against all Indigenous peoples within its borders, effectively painting three massive targets on her back from birth. Neither of them chose or likely even wanted to live in times and places of horrid suffering. Both would have likely preferred to just exist as they were and let the rest of the world be. Yet the rest of world insisted that such a fate would be denied them.

        There is, of course, one clear difference that must be highlighted- Franz Jägerstätter chose his fate in a much more active way than Mollie did. Part of what has made his story so controversial (both in real life and in discussing the film adaptation) is that being a conscienscious objector is very much a choice. It is a deliberate act to NOT conform to the status quo. So we must be careful and not try to make a perfect 1-1 comparison of a Native American woman in Oklahoma and a White, Christian man in Central Europe. That said- and I don't want to get lost in the weeds on this- I do believe that, even though his was a much more active choice, the very fact that he faced that choice- that refusing military service in his case went beyond facing just a fine, or a stint in jail- is itself a condemnation of the situation he was in. No one should ever have to even contemplate that sort of option for simply not wanting to fight in a war.

        And we return to my question. How did these two stories survive, and what meaning can we draw from them? In both cases, so many in similar situations who faced tragedies just as grave or made choices just as important, truly have disappeared in the sands of time and will never have their stories told. As is repeated in various forms over and over again in the film, it was easier to be convicted for killing a dog in America than for killing Indigenous peoples (and in many places, it still is). The cost of centuries of genocide will never be truly measurable. How many Mollies suffered similiar or worse fates whose names are lost forever?

        The fact that we know so much about Mollie herself is, in many ways, a mere product of good timing. Her family's ordeals just happened to be one of the final straws that prompted action from the federal government, where at least some facts and some perpetrators were able to be identified, arrested, and sentenced. Mollie was able to see a tiny (and, granted, inadequate) measure of justice, and- at least initially- escaped the horrific, slow poisoning her tormentors had planned for her. As a result, her family's part of the Reign of Terror is the one we know the most about for certain, while so much else- even hard numbers of how many victims it claimed- is unknowable.

        Perhaps that makes it all the more precious that we at least can know her and her family, to a limited extent. She tried to hold onto to the disappearing traditions of her people, in spite of the fact that she was one of the generations forced to Christianize and attend English schools. She was by all acounts an incredibly loving mother; her children- and this is a detail I wish had been included in the movie- recalled that one son suffered ear aches, so she would often blow gently on them until he fell asleep. I find such small things infinitely precious, especially in the face of those who would stamp out genuine love for the sake of power and money.

        Franz is threatened even more explicitly with oblivion; he is repeatedly told, by friends, family, townspeople, judges, soldiers, even Church figures, variations of „This won't matter,“ „you can't change anything,“ „no one will remember you,“ „no one will care.“ and so on and so forth. Many have been told such things when they tried to go against the grain. And certainly, in many individual cases, an act of resistance does not provoke immediate change, and the person is indeed ground up by the wheels of time.

        But that did not happen to Franz. We do remember, and we even have a movie now to help us in the remembering. He didn't end the war or directly change Nazi politics with his sacrifice, but- when taken together with all the other acts of resistance documented and memorialized- it has made something of a difference. He didn't know this at the time, of course. He wasn't playing some 5-dimensional chess game in his head to win post-mortem fame; he just felt compelled to do what was right. Just as Mollie surely did not see, wish, or expect her story to be tragic and gripping enough to merit a major movie; she simply wanted to survive and love and enjoy her family.

        It is true that so much of our world is built on the toiling of the hidden lives we never have a chance to recall or honor. We will never know just how many people we owe the debt of our lives to. Yet sometimes, fragments survive. Single stories can function as a stand-in for the others we will never know. Films, just as much as books, plays, and music, provide some of the best avenues to help these stories endure, to provide us with flickers of light in dark times. As such, I am deeply grateful for the existance of A Hidden Life and Killers of the Flower Moon, of the craft and care on display in each. Ifind it deeply powerful, and even not a little hopeful, to consider the stories of Franz Jägerstätter and Mollie Kyle, to be grateful that their fames will not be so easily forgotten. Provided, that is, that we all keep at the work of remembering, which is its own herculean task at times. But we must try, at least.


Thursday, September 21, 2023

Barbenheimer Redux: A Way, Way Too Early Look at Next Year's Oscars

**as of this writing, the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes are active and ongoing. The rich and wealthy only win when the rest of let ourselves be tricked into fighting with each other over unimportant minutia. The rich and powerful hold all the cards and are never to be trusted. Ever.**

**If art matters to you, do what you can to show support, and consider donating to the Entertainment Community Fund**

        It's been two months and I am still in the grip of Barbenheimer fever, so....what the hell. I think it's time for a way, WAY too early prediction round for next year's Oscars.

        Now of course, all sorts of caveats apply. The strikes remain ongoing and with numerous film releases shifted already, there is no guarantee that a) the Oscars happen at all, and b) they will happen in a recognizable format, or that there will be artificial limits on what films are considered. Also, it's September.

But I still want to do this, mostly because I already see a not-insignificant chance that we could see a Barbenheimer redux come awards season, with Barbie and Oppenheimer duking it out across the awards circuit for most of the major hardware.

        For reasons wholly unique to me, this thought hits my nostalgia buttons just right by taking me back to the 2010 Oscars. I don't know why, but that year the Oscars resonated with me in a way they never had before. It was an absolutely banner year at the movies, as well as a groundbreaking one (it was the first time the Academy went over five films for Best Picture). Major nominees included Inglorious Basterds, Up, Up In The Air, A Serious Man, and District 9. The animated category was headlined by Up, but also nominated were Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and the deeply, profoundly underappreciated Secret of Kells.

        But of course, the headliners- and, in the end, the biggest winners- were James Cameron's box office behemoth Avatar against the low-budget, politically-topical, arthouse war drama The Hurt Locker, directed by none other than Kathryn Bigelow, Cameron's ex. My then-best-friend came over to watch the ceremony and were each in opposite corners. He was all-in on Avatar, I was pulling for The Hurt Locker. Meaning I was especially pleased when The Hurt Locker ended up with the most awards, 6 to Avatar's 4, included the top two, Best Picture and Best Director, the very first time a woman won that particular award. It was one hell of a night.

        Obviously, the comparison is not 1-1. While Barbie has utterly cornered the market for crowd-pleasing blockbusters by unassailably attaining the top spot as the year's highest grossing film, Oppenheimer is very much NOT a small, arthouse drama ala Hurt Locker. Nolan goes neither small, nor low-budget. Also, Greta Gerwig and Christopher Nolan are not exes (as far as we know).

        Nonetheless, I had a lot of fun thinking up potential category showdowns, and in the midst of the strikes it's worthwhile to remind us how fun movies and award races can be. So let's do this, for the hell of the thing.

        To set the parameters, I will seperate this into two main section; technical awards first, then the heavies (Acting Awards, Screenplay, Best Picture). I am basing this off the award categories as officially named in last year's Oscars, so if the Academy switches anything around between now and then, it's on them.

The Technical Stuff-

Best Visual Effects:

        I am not sure if Nolan's physical re-creation of the Trinity test would fall more into the realm of visual effects or production design, but I will consider it the former for my purposes, and if the Academy sees things the same way I could actually see Oppenheimer taking this one home. However, I think the film deserves an edge here for more than just that (admittedly very central) particular scene. There is a lot more going on visually in the movie than you usually get from a scientist-oriented biopic, from the flashes of imitated atomic effects to much more subtle touches, like the overlay of drops of water on a table of maps. It all works, both big and small, so I would not feel too unsafe calling this one.

        I don't see Barbie being a threat or even a potential nominee here. That film's strengths in the visuals department center around its production design, which, speaking of....

Best Production Design:

        Honestly, Barbie's to lose. Barbieland is one of the best, funnest, and most interesting places I saw created by a movie this year. The attention to detail is astounding and the design alone achieves fantastic amounts of world-building without ever needing to waste dialogue on it. I definitely think Oppenheimer will be nominated- the re-creation of the 30's and 40's settings are perfect- but it won't win.

Best Costume Design/Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

        Every year there's basically That One Film that seems designed to waltz away with either of these awards. It almost feels too easy to say Barbie feels like That Film in either category, even though it currently does. So far there's not a particularly prosthetics-heavy competitor ala The Whale that I see as major competition, and the costumes are QUITE literally front-and-center for much of the movie (plus, they're part of the film's fun).

        My call? Barbie gets nominated in both, Oppenheimer likely gets a nom for Costume, but I see Barbie taking at least one, possibly both.

Best Film Editing:

        I honestly don't see Barbie competing here. Oppenheimer absolutely will. Nolan doesn't perhaps play quite as much with time here as he usually does, but the cuts between timelines and branches of the narrative are central to how the tension of the film builds, especially as it regards Oppenheimer's (often very contradictory) inner turmoil as he ages and his legacy becomes tied more and more to the bomb. I think Oppenheimer walks away with this one, which, traditionally, instantly makes it the heavy favorite for Best Picture (but we'll get to that).

Best Sound:

        Oppenheimer all the way and it won't even be close.

Best Cinematography:

        It might be safe to assume Oppenheimer will be a favorite here, but I feel less certain calling it now then in other categories. Another film, perhaps one helmed by a beloved veteran, could get this as a consolation. Flowers of the Killer Moon has Rodrigo Prieto working the lenses, and he's yet to win. Robert Yeoman will likely get a nom for Asteroid City. I see Oppenheimer being a competitor here, but I'm hedging my bets and won't call it yet.

Best Original Song:

        Barbie features a song by Billie Eilish, so.....yeah, I think this one's pretty straightforward.

Best Original Score:

        Ludwig Göransson will win for Oppenheimer. Or we riot.

        Going into this I assumed (especially with Dune out of the picture) that these categories would be overwhelmingly Oppenheimer's to lose, but as you can see I now don't think it'll be that lopsided. Oppenheimer is more heavily favored, but between Production, Song, Makeup, and Costumes, I think Barbie has plenty of room to gather up gold.

        Now we move on to The Heavies, and here's where it starts to get interesting.

The Heavies-

Screenplay (Original and Adapted):

        Unless the Academy gets funny here, I see these two getting nominated seperately and being the heavy favorite in their respective categories. Oppenheimer clearly lands in the Adapted corner and I suspect it's biggest competition will be Killers of the Flower Moon. Flower Moon is not out yet, but it got rave reviews from the festival circuit, so while I see Oppenheimer as the favorite as of now, that could very well change.

        Barbie SHOULD be nominated for Original- it would be fucking absurd to put it in Adapted- but the Academy has pulled weirder shit before. For now, though, I assume Barbie WILL be nominated for Original and I see it as the heavy favorite.

The Acting Categories-

        Here we might see some of the most intriguing competition of the night, depending on how the nominations play out, so let's go bit by bit, starting with the Actress categories.

Best Supporting Actress:

        The only possibility for even a nom for Oppenheimer in either Actress category is Emily Blunt's Kitty in Supporting. Frankly, Blunt has had better performances and better characters- writing woman anything remains a deservedly critiqued weak spot of Nolan's- but she does make the most of what she's given and her confrontation with Jason Clarke fucks, so she definitely could swing a nomination, but I highly doubt she will win even if she does.

        So, does Barbie have a shot? If anyone from Barbie gets a nod in Supporting, America Ferrera would make the most sense. She truly sells The Monologue and that is the sort of thing tailor-made for Oscar clipping. It's too early to say if she's a favorite to win, but I think a nom would be more than deserved, especially since I'm not terribly confident the Academy will otherwise manage to nominate a large number of non-White performers in these categories.

Best Actress:

        Margot Robbie will absolutely be nominated. It would be her third time on the roster and, especially after being snubbed for Babylon, might be seen by many to be „due.“ BUT....again, haven't seen it yet, but the positive buzz around Flower Moon has very much included its female lead, Lily Gladstone. To date, there has been only one American-Indigenous person nominated for a female acting role (Yalitza Aparicio for Roma), and no Indigenous person from any continent has ever won in any acting category. Gladstone will almost certainly be nominated, so if I'm being honest, I will likely be rooting for Gladstone no matter what. Margot Robbie is a star's star and she'll be fine.

Best Supporting Actor:

        Michael Cera as Allen, done and dusted.

        Just kidding.

        Naw but seriously. Robert Downey Jr. will be nominated, and he will win. He doesn't chew the scenery in Oppenheimer so much as imbibe it into his being and then project it outward through a blood-chilling sneer. He's been nominated twice before, but it's been an age since the last one and his career trajectory has been nothing short of remarkable. He's as due as it gets.

        Robert De Niro will get a legacy nomination for Flower Moon. Ryan Gosling will in all likelihood be nominated for his turn as Ken, the only question is whether it's for Lead or Supporting. Ken really, really should only be considered a Supporting role, hence me putting this blurb here, but I can see the Academy going either way.

Best Actor:

        He might be as rock-solid a lock as Downey but....from where I'm standing, Murphy is almost as secure here as his co-star, even if he ends up in competition with Gosling. Leo will definitely get a nomination for Flower Moon, but like with De Niro, given that he's won already, it will be a legacy nomination.

        Alright. Now for the Biggest of the Biggies.

Best Director:

        Gerwig and Nolan will both be nominated. This is an absolute certainty. Scorcese will almost certainly be nominated as well, but, again, it'll be a legacy nod. Wes Anderson might get nominated, might not. Doesn't matter. This will come down to Greta and Chris.

        It took ages, until he made a straight WWII flick, for Nolan to finally get a directing nomination. It would certainly track if he were to then finally win via making his second WWII-centered film. Greta was nominated straightaway for Lady Bird, but then passed over for Little Women. There have still been only 7 nominations total for women in this category and exactly two wins, both within the past 13 years, still absolutely not enough. Both would, under wholly neutral circumstances, be equally deserving.

        Under earlier circumstances, Nolan would have absolutely been the favorite. However, I think Gerwig has the edge here. Barbie stands far and away atop the box office pile and she has bragging rights for the foreseeable future for shattering all sorts of records for profits of female-helmed films. That alone could make Barbie a watershed in finally breaking much of the film industry out of the "Women Things Don't Sell" thinking that is still depressingly dominant. There will be plenty making the argument that Barbie/Barbenheimer "saved cinemas," and Barbie was by far the more crowd-pleasing of the two, so making Gerwig just the third-ever woman to win Best Director would certainly be a fitting, final crowning moment. It would definitely be about as obviously „feel-good“ as these things get.

        Plus, while it is certainly possible that either Oppenheimer or Barbie could sweep Directing and Picture in tandem, this is one of those years where the tiny (and of course, ineffably accurate) voices in my head say the awards will split. And, not to tip my hand too much, but I think "Barbie, Best Picture Winner" is still a step too far for too many Academy voters. Hence, Gerwig will take this one as a none-too-shabby consolation prize.

Best Picture:

        I already admitted it, but here it is in plain English; I very much think that, like Directing, this one comes down to Barbie vs. Oppenheimer, and I currently think Oppenheimer is more likely to land The Big One. Nolan is certainly due to win AN Oscar, but while he has been snubbed plenty in the Directing category, my predictions here would have him taking home two seperate awards, one for Screenplay, the other here, as one of the film's three producers.

        There are a couple reasons why I think it has the edge. On the more superficial level, it's a WWII-centered feature featuring a lot of Big Men saying Big Things, which is all you need to hook what remains of the decrepate, White-as-paste old guard still alive and puttering around the Academy back rooms. This, plus the fact that it has a more „serious“ subject matter concerning atomic weapons and scientific development that doubles as current political commentary, which is always a major plus for all Academy demographics. Comedies have always fared poorly when it comes to the Oscars, and Barbie is far more a comedy than it is anything else, so I think this WILL hold it back, or at least hold it behind Oppenheimer, in the ranked voting.

        Plus, for all the love I have for the production in Barbie and how much fun it has with its settings, there is an argument to be made that Oppenheimer is more interesting, compelling, and groundbreaking as a cinematic experience, that feels like a Movie. To be fair, those are some pretty loaded phrases that mean widely different things to different people. But I must admit that, after multiple viewings of both films, I find myself revisiting Oppenheimer the most, dissecting decisions regarding editing, shot composition, counter-intuitive sound design, the tiny folds of repetition and self-reference built into every nook and cranny of the screenplay. That's a level of continual analysis I just don't feel the need to apply to Barbie.

        My initial takeaway was that both movies were very nearly equal, but by now, Oppenheimer now holds a clear, if small, lead in my estimation. But to be clear, this is not me saying that it would be bad if Barbie won. Either film winning Best Picture- and I do think it will be one of the two- would be absolutely wonderful, each one groundbreaking in its own way and worth celebrating. But if I had a vote, I would place Oppenheimer above Barbie, and I currently suspect enough Academy voters will ultimately do the same.

        And, well, there it is! To round out the fun, here's the tally of nominations and wins I have these two pegged for, as of this writing:

Oppenheimer: 13 Nominations, 8 Wins (Visual Effects, Editing, Sound Design, Score, Adapted Screenplay, Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, Picture)

Barbie: 10 Nominations, 6 Wins (Production Design, Costumes, Makeup, Original Song, Original Screenplay, Director)

        We'll all meet back here come Spring next year to celebrate how perfectly right and on the money every single one of these predictions ended up being. ;)

-Noah Franc

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Barbenheimer: Power and Patriarchy

**as of this writing, the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes are active and ongoing. The rich and wealthy only win when the rest of let ourselves be tricked into arguing with each other over unimportant minutia. They hold all the cards and are never to be trusted. Ever.**

**If art matters to you, do what you can to show support, and consider donating to the Entertainment Community Fund**

        I meant it when I said that Barbie and Oppenheimer might just be masterpieces. And as amazing as that is, it's even weird that my quips about them being „the perfect double feature“ ended up being not too far off the mark. I know that, on a purely surface level, that idea seems nuts. Oppenheimer is an old-school, grande historical procedural set in the mid-20th century that deals with quantum physics, the devastation of war, and fears of the literal annihilation of the entire planet, with a somber tone and sound design to match. Barbie literally sprays glitter at the camera, has a production design decked out in the most deliberately plastic sets you can imagine, and is snappy and fun and filled with wink-wink-nudge-nudge metahumor. While Oppenheimer obsesses over igniting the atmosphere, Barbie is (at least at first) only concerned with her feet. And cellulite.

        But once I'd left my first screenings and starting scratching at the surface just a little bit, it struck me that both films are, at their core, remarkably astute and challenging examinations of power, power structures, and their inherently corrupting influences on both societies and the individuals within them. And also, of course, patriarchy.

        The patriarchy part is certainly more explicit in Barbie. We are presented at the start with an alternative Barbieverse where gender roles are entirely flipped; women (not ALL of whom are named Barbie) hold exclusive access to power and prestige and define the society they exist within, whereas the men (not ALL named Ken) are conditioned to define themselves solely around what attention they receive from their assigned Barbie. Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling might be the central narrative Barbie-Ken pair, but there's a bright and varied supporting cast around them to accentuate the established matriarchy.

        Much of this is conveyed through phenomenal production design, easily the year's best to date. Barbieland is a masterful use of taking a mishmash of pop culture IP and shaping it into a clear and coherent design that very much feels like a place that could exist. The extra effort to have things just "happen," to have characters move the way dolls do when being picked up and put down, are wonderful to watch, especially in the first act. It is "unreal" in its effect, but in a self-consistent way that allows your brain to buy in, which is what any fantasy film needs to do. It's no wonder the movie hurries so fast to get back there after its real-world-centered second act.

        The screenplay is also aces, packed to the gills with sharp, observative humor than goes well beyond the most obvious, self-referential, „Mattel makes the rules“ jokes everyone knew was coming. The beginning montage features an extended clapback at the heinous Citizens United ruling, an early real-world scene provides a fantastic backdoor dig at genital-obsessed transphobia, we get insanely clever use of „Closer to Fine,“ and there's even a dig at the Snydercut weirdos we were all forced to think about from a few years back. All stuff I was absolutely not expecting to get out of a Barbie film, but I am pumped it's there.

        The central force, though, is the divergent arcs of Robbie's Barbie and Gosling's Ken, a humorous take on a reverse Innocence Lost/Power Gained dynamic. Ken's first exposure to patriarchy- and to the notion he could actually REVERSE the disempowerment he's felt without being able to name it- is literally treated like a drug or virus, entering an untouched, unprotected system with no defenses to hold it back. This is the direct, textual explanation for how Ken is able to corrupt all of Barbieland with his newfound (and exceedingly piecemeal) knowledge. It's the pink-and-pastel version revealing how marginalization of a group can all too easily reproduce itself within the marginalized group and directed onward towards others. Ken's response to a realization of his previous disempowerment almost instinctually re-create that same imbalanced power dynamic, but just in reverse.

        However, it's also far more nuanced and complex than the simple „man-hating feminism“ critiques that the film was always going to have tossed in its direction. Yes, Ken reacts from a place of pain, and instead of rectifying the genuine mistreatment of the Kens merely replaces one wrong with a worse one. But as the film clearly understands, this dynamic, which repeats itself with depressing frequency in our own world, usually (though not always!) comes from an unconscious part of ourselves; we (usually) don't actively seek to do harm, but when we react out of ignorance or instinct, we often do anyway.

        The film is not able to offer a wholly satisyfing, in-world solution to this; the Barbies retake control, but aren't yet willing to contemplate full-scale Ken-quality, while a man remains in control of the real-world company. The focus, in the end, is on a more radically individual self-realization as a key to freeing oneself from toxic dynamics. Messy, complicated, often achy, but necessary.

        This lack of a more radical in-world shakeup is one reason why some argue that Gerwig was, in the end, unable to make something deeper or meaningful than „just a toy commercial.“ And there were absolutely certain limitations baked into the project from the start, let's be perfectly clear about that; this film was greenlit by Mattel in the hopes that it will push products, full stop. That always mattered more to them then gifting the world a great artistic achievement. They are literally already marketing their new „Weird Barbie“ doll, which explicitly misses the point of what made Weird Barbie „Weird Barbie“ within the text of their own film. Corpos will always corpo.

        The film has OODLES of queer subtext (and sometimes just text), but some have found both that and the film's brand of feminism too white, or that the focus on the Ken/Barbie duality pushes out trans and non-binary persons. This is a topic I, as a cishet White man, am particularly unsuited to tackle. But I think it does bear mentioning that the wonderful critic Emily St. James, herself a trans women, wrote openly about her mixed feelings about the film's gender duality while also lauding the fact that a trans actress (Hari Neff) plays one of the main Barbies. Could the film have tackled gender differently? She though yes, perhaps, BUT she also said that the final sequence of Barbie deciding to become human reminded her of coming out as trans, and made her cry in the theater to boot.

        And she's not the only one to have that deep, visceral reaction, beyond any standard critic of the film. Both that ending scene and America Ferrera's earlier monologue about the burdens of just „being female“ have touched a lot of viewers, including my own wife, who found herself completely overwhelmed by it during our first screening. And from what I'm seeing, a LOT of people- cishet women, queer women, trans peoples, non-binary peoples, and even plenty of men- have reacted to the film in similar ways. I genuinely don't think the film would have been the smash success it is without that reaction.

        Taking that all together, I feel that, even though I am sympatico with some of the criticisms and do have a few structural nitpicks of my own with the film's narrative, it's clear to me that Gerwig brought us the absolute best Barbie film we could have possible received and still had the official go from Mattel.

        My personal obsession with Barbenheimer, however, has come to revolve around the dual figures of Ken and Oppenheimer, prime examples of the corruding influence of patriarchy and toxic masculinity. In some key moments, their characters function as near-identical twins of each other.

        Yes, I am about to compare Ken and Robert Oppenheimer. No, I am not high. Bear with me.

        As I've already said, both these movies are grappling with the nature of power in extremely similar ways. Sure, the specifics are different; reverse-patriarchy in a fictional plastic world and the WWII/Cold War dynamic driving arms development aren't the sort of 1-1 comp you'd be permitted to write your Masters thesis over. But, at least in the cases of these two films, the primary male character is defined almost entirely by an endless and contradictory internal struggle; both desire power, recognition, and admiration, but once faced with the prospect of actually having what they said they wanted, they find themselves unable to cope.

        Ken is, of course, more over-the-top; every possible emotion is turned up to 11, as he huffs and puffs and bluffs across the Mattel multiverse. He reacts like a kid dropped into Christmas Land when he first discovers patriarchy and male privilege, then reacts in an equally over-the-top manner when his own shortcomings are made plain. He didn't know what the time was when asked- if he can even tell time- so he acquired three watches. He feels Barbie failed him, failed to appreciate him, so he takes over her house, tosses out her vintage Barbie outfits, and brainwashes an entire mini-state. Still not satisfied? Might as well choreograph a massive song-and-dance number about blond fragility that involves all the Kens.

        Oppenheimer plays a much more subtle game, but the same signs are there. Cilian Murphy's portayal of the title figure is a masterpiece of subtle, almost reptilian acting. There are a thousand ways his character and reactions to events can be interpreted. He is a true cipher, seemingly able to switch gears almost on a whim in a given situation to try and elicit the reaction he wants. The real money question, though, is which parts of him we see are genuine, which calculated, and which ones the unconscious reactions of an overactive, preoccupied mind.

        After two viewings- and I reserve the right to revisit this as time goes on- I think the shifts in his character reflect the same deep ambivalence to power that plagues our Ken. Unlike Ken, Oppenheimer is VERY smart, driven, ambitious, and very much enabled by patriarchy. His personal ego is a constant reference point throughout the film; he isn't even hired yet by General Groves before he sits him down and starts explaining how the entire US military apparatus has been going about the Manhattan Project all wrong. Which is certainly A Tactic.

        Indeed, the fact that all his genuis and professional reputation ends up devoted to the creation of the ultimate WOMD makes it all the more fascinating that the film's opening sequence- a whirlwind tour of young Oppenheimer's education and encounters with prominent physicists in Europe- follows the vein of a Theory of Everything/Beautiful Mind biopic. This even though- whatever important research he may have done as a student- Oppenheimer's legacy does not reside in any particular atomic theory or technical breakthrough or crucial scientific discovery he himself pioneered. His legacy is the bomb, but even there, his achievement was not the literal bomb itself, but rather his overhead management and coordination of the vast, logistical and bureaucratic maze that allowed its construction to happen. It almost feels like a bait-and-switch. The atomic bomb is very much not the sort of „purely good scientific discovery“ that this kind of scientist-centered biopic tends to focus on.

        Oppenheimer succeeds in nearly everything- for a time- and attains status, fame, prestige, and certainly some authority. And he knows it, too; in another scene, he quite directly claims to be a 20th-century prophet. However, like Ken, whenever he IS in a position of power and authority, part of him seems to lose itself in the process. A seemingly endless stream of contradictions appear in his words and actions. Early on, we experience Oppenheimer as not just a precocious scientist, but also a philosophical and intellectual idealist. One line of his- „We embrace the revolution in physics, why can't we embrace it everywhere else“- is about as perfect a screenwriting distillation of character motivation as it gets. But time and again, those ideals get tossed to the side, previous associations broken off or offered as sacrificial lambs to shady government bureaucrats, once they become an impediment to his rise. His spontaneous decision to just lie to Pash (a scene that positivels crackles with malicious energy) is a case in point. As is his decision- seemingly on the spot- to just abandon a union drive that he had every right to pursue and had pulled loads of his students into.

        His deepest ambivalence, and even guilt bordering on masochism, is towards the primary product of the authority and status he gains; the bomb. In one scene, he says that humanity will HAVE to use it, because otherwise they will never truly fear it. Later comes his insistence is that „the scientists“ (him included) have simply made the bomb, and carry no weight over when and how it will be used, a sort of „washing of the hands.“ Then he's literally in the room as its usage is being decided and he later claims to have „blood on his hands“ as a result, even though he likely never had enough actual clout to stop the bombing even if he wanted to. Which of these reactions are genuine? Which are ones he's offering as justification to others, or even to himself?

        He defends himself anew from at least some associative guilt during the crucial securty clearance hearing in the later part of the timeline, where he is challenged over his opposition to the H-bomb program and gets defensive about the reservations many had about the bomb's usage. Yet, when we go further back and see the moments where he was offered chances to object- signing or presenting petitions, going to the media, working government contacts, etc.- he hesitates. He tries, haltingly, in the room with both the Secretary of War and President Truman himself, to present a case for a more conservative, globalist approach than the purely nationalistic arms races that ended up happening. But even then, where he's literally in the room where it happens, he seems unable (or unwilling) to argue what HE thinks, to say „Mr. President, I believe this course is best because...“ It's always „Some scientists feel,“ „some in the community argue,“ „there are those,“ and so on.

        Like Ken, he's the dog that somehow caught a car and then didn't know what should come next. He hides it better, of course, and in doing so is able to retain something of that mythical air he wanted; he's confronted several times with questions about what he, Robert Oppenheimer, personally believes, and he always manages to never really answer the question. He always seemed to want to be The Man of Hour, which he literally is for a time. But the panopticon of horrors opened up on the way there leave him with doubt, despair, uncertainty, the feeling that perhaps he doesn't really belong, never did, and never will, and maybe he really did guarantee the world will end in flame.

        Now, on the exact opposite end of the spectrum, there's Lewis Strauss, portrayed with phenomal charisma by Robert Downey Jr. His performance is every bit the work of art that Murphy's is, and it WILL net him the Supporting Actor Oscar. This iteration of Strauss is just as ambitious and egotistical and driven as his counterpart. But while Oppenheimer starts to blink once he finds himself standing in the light, Strauss knows exactly where he wants to go and refuses to contemplate anything getting in his way. Yes, he makes that speech about how real power is in the shadows, but he's fooling nobody; he wants the sun every bit as much as Oppenheimer does.

        Strauss has known struggles Oppenheimer never encountered- we have no reason to doubt that his humble beginnings and lack of formal education have made it a fight for him to ascend the halls of power- and that gives him a lot more bite. He, too, is driven by fear and doubt, but it is of an entirely different nature to Oppenheimer's. Strauss NEVER doubts that he deserves to make it, that he BELONGS in the upper echelons of power (A CABINET POST!). What he fears is everyone around him not accepting that, of conspiring to deny him what is rightfully his. So he connives, he schemes, he lies, he very adamently insists on the (debatably) less-Jewish pronunciation of his last name. And he seemingly never doubts that Oppenheimer and his „cult“ are out to get him.

        This paranoid conviction is turned back on him at the very end, in one of my favorite moments in the film. An early scene where Albert Einstein, after speaking with Oppenheimer, seems to ignore Strauss is revealed to have become something of a slow-burning obsession within his mind. For Strauss, it's a catalyst for believing that Oppenheimer turned the whole scientific community against him, thus denying him the Cabinet post (A CABINET POST!).

        And then, right before his aide opens the door to the reporters waiting outside, he suddenly drops the line that, maybe, they hadn't talked about him at all. Maybe, in his words, they were focused on something „more important.“ He then opens the door and the flashes of cameras instantly fill the screen. There is then a cut to Strauss' face and he clearly flinches, just for a moment.

        Now, the most immediate (and, possible, more correct) interpretation of this is that Strauss is reacting to the flashes of light. But maybe- just maybe- he's flinching at a much deeper cut, at being confronted so directly with the notion that Lewis Strauss just might not be that important to occupy the minds of the Oppenheimers and Einsteins of the world. It's a testament to the power of Downey's acting and to the quality of the film around him that I can find such fascinating interpretations of a single shot, yet where it's still open enough that I can't be too sure.

        Both Oppenheimer and Strauss are shaped by the world of pre-WWII geopolitics and the milieu of scientific discovery they grew up in. They are both attracted to the power, both implicit and practical, that comes with associating with the most terrible weapons humanity has ever created. And though this particular movie would NEVER have said it openly, their lives are very much defined and shaped by patriarchy, by the forms of masculinity that defined what it meant to be a man of consequence- and that time, it was ONLY men allowed- in mid-20th century America. They are under the same shadow that plagues Ken, and come to....well, not equally destructive ends. Let's be fair here. But the trajectory is the same.

        Perhaps, in the end, Oppenheimer is making the case that it never really mattered what Oppenheimer, Strauss, or any other individual thought about the course of the war and the development of atomic weapons. There is a visceral power to the first two acts of Oppenheimer, leading up to and including the Trinity Test, which very much can be said to be one of the most consequential moments in world history. The combination of the editing, Göransson's dynamic score, and the pathos in the performances makes the blood pump, offering a sense of physical propulsion as centuries of scientific discovery in various fields all rapidly converge on a single point of creation that opens up an entirely new world. It is understandable that so many, including characters in the film, lament the development of the bomb as a horrific cheapening of pure discovery (not to mention the real-world harm inflicted on people both in Japan and living near Los Alamos). Yet it may very well have been inevitable. Oppenheimer was- perhaps- merely a pawn of greater forces, the last figure needed to put the right pieces together.

        And these forces roll onward. Nuclear war is still a threat, yes, but when I contemplate that final image of a fire rolling across the Earth, I begin to think on climate change, and the continued refusal of humanity (as of this writing) to finally commit to a sane course of action, to turn away from catastrophe.

        And all the while, the Oppenheimers find themselves trapped in horrors of their own design, and the Kens find themselves disempowered and trapped in unrealities, but with neither able to quite grasp what brought them there. And even more disconcerting, there is no guarantee they can find their way out, find a place that is healthier for them and for the world they inhabit. Though, if we're being honest, Ken might actually have a decent shot. Oppenheimer, I'm not so sure.

        It's because of such deep subtleties and expansive possible interpretations that can be read into both films that has been watching and re-watching them such enriching experiences. I thought Barbenheimer would be fun, but not this challenging, this enriching, this enlightening. It's for moments like these that I stick around and keep on going to the movies.

-Noah Franc

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Barbenheimer: The Aftermath

**as of this writing, the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes are active and ongoing. The rich and wealthy only win when the rest of let ourselves be tricked into fighting with each other over unimportant minutia. The rich and powerful hold all the cards and are never to be trusted. Ever.**

**If art matters to you, do what you can to show support, and consider donating to the Entertainment Community Fund**

    It started as just a funny, almost throwaway, "Haha, how weird are we" idea.

    When I mentioned to my old Cinema Joes co-hosts that my wife and I would be in New York City late July, we figured we should make sure to meet up and see a movie. As it happened, we would be there just for the week of the 21st.

    "Hey," said Alex, "That's Opening Day for Barbie AND Oppenheimer. Why not....see both?"

    I figured nothing on Earth would be more hilariously incongruent that Greta Gerwig's Super Feminism spin on glitzy, plastic, pastel Barbie and the latest iteration of Nolan And His Serious Men Do Serious Things. I almost immediately starting joking about this being the „most perfect double feature since Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbor Totoro.“

    After awhile, though, I started to notice that we were not the only ones who'd stumbled onto this idea. Indeed, not only did the idea of a Barbie/Oppenheimer double-feature seem to be something a lot- a LOT- of people were seriously planning on doing, the jokes and memes and fake posters became such a viral hit that the inevitable mash-up name was soon coined.

    And thus, Barbenheimer was born.

    Well, Opening Day has come and gone- ours even including a pop-in by Greta Gerwig herself, for a healthy extra dose of unreality- and Barbenheimer is no dud. Indeed, it has proven itself a massive, potentially groundbreaking, social and cultural Moment on a scale I'm still struggling to wrap my head around. Both movies smashed opening weekend expectations and are still going strong. Barbie in particularly is steamrolling one record after another. As of this writing, it's already landed Gerwig the honors of biggest opening weekend ever for a female-helmed film, as well as the first-ever billion-dollar film directed solely by a woman, and I feel safe predicting it will end up the year's highest-grossing film. Oppenheimer won't reach quite the same highs- a 3-hour Nolan biopic was never going to hit the billion-dollar club- but it has kept pace in exceeding every prediction made and its success is just as inequivocable.

    Barbenheimer is, indisputably, The Movie Moment of 2023.

    Best part of all? The cherry on top? Both movies...happen to be good! Like, really good. Fucking amazing actually. Like, "If we didn't already have Spider-Verse out these would already top my Year's List" good. "I've already seen both films a second time and might just go a third time" good. (I'll stop now)

    Beyond the memes and the staggering box office totals, it's the near-equal quality of both films that still has me in awe of the Barbenheimer phenomenon. It's rare enough for two movies to simultaneously capture audiences like this; I honestly can't remember an equivalent moment like this within my lifetime. It's even rarer for both those movies to not only be good, but "best of the year" good, maybe even "masterpieces for their respective genres" good.

    We've had years where two or three separate films hit that Zeitgeist soft spot and proved real game changers, but never something like this, with two such films releasing on the same day and- rather competing for box office oxygen- somehow lifting each other up through some strange cinematic symbiosis. The release of the first Harry Potter and LOTR movies in 2001- with 9/11 still fresh in everyone's minds- might be the closest comparison from my lifetime, as it broke down the invisible walls that had previously kept fantasy out of the mainstream and arguably defined the template for franchise filmmaking that later made the Superhero Boom possible. But even that is but a faint comparison; the movies were not released at the same time, were never box office competitors, the internet (such as it was) was a whole different planet from today, etc. Plus, while the LOTR trilogy still stands as a masterpiece of filmmaking craft, the Harry Potter movies.....don't, and, well....let's leave it at that.

    Now, I have also seen the articles and posts about some staggeringly strange and/or awful behavior from certain moviegoers that might have let the Barbenheimer juices get to their head. Or, as some have argued, perhaps in a „Post-COVID + Streaming World“, too many have just forgotten how to behave in a theater. Possibly true, possibly not, but I don't get the sense this is dimming the moment. There are always idiots about, and when huge numbers of people gather for something like this, there are bound to be a few more idiots too.

    There is also cynicism about the films. Some say Barbie, no matter how good, can't overcome the fact that it was (very explicitly) envisioned by Mattel to be a spectacularly expensive toy commercial. Oppenheimer has been criticized as being far too apologetic about, or uninterested in, the costs of both Los Alamos (infringement on Native American rights, lack of radiation protection for workers and other locals) and the atomic attacks on Japan. Plus, any Nolan film is subject to (not wholly undeserved) scrutiny over how the story treats women.

    Some of these critiques are fairer that others- and some fall into the „tell me you didn't watch the movie without saying you didn't watch the movie“ barrel- but for space's sake let's hold off the meatier thematic discussion for another post. What I'm trying to get at here is that even if one movie or the other falls short for certain viewers, and even if some people really have forgotten how to behave, there seems to be nothing quite able to dim the supernova of the moment.

    And from where I'm standing, with all the worry and stress over the future of filmmaking and storytelling, the complications AI bring to the picture, all the absolute bullshit the wealthy powerbrokers of the industry are trying to pull in the face of historic strikes.....I think it's kind of beautiful and something of a fucking miracle for us to have this moment to enjoy, where two seemingly different (though, as I will later argue, not that different) masterpieces of the craft of filmmaking are here to remind us just how special movies can be, and how- box office records aside- much as the wealthy want to, you really can't put a price on that.

    So let's enjoy it, everyone. I wasn't kidding when I said I was seriously contemplating a third go-around. Our world needs to be fought for, but we can't keep up the strength for it if we don't treat ourselves when we get a chance like this.

Noah Franc

Thursday, February 23, 2023

My Top Ten Films of 2022

        It's that time of the year again....the dead early months of a new year where we have nothing better to do than look at the previous year that's over and gone! Yay!

        But really folks, 2022 was actually a very, very stacked year. There was absolutely minimal daylight between the films in the upper half of this list, any of my honorable mentions are justified being on other Top Ten lists, and there are STILL numerous, highly-regarded, awards-nominated films that I haven't had the chance to get to yet. This is a year that could very well end up looking a whole lot different for me in a few years once I'm caught up. But for now, this is the ranking of my current favorites.

Honorable Mentions: Turning Red, The Northman, Sunday Runoff, The House, Three Thousand Years of Longing

10. Avatar: The Way of Water (James Cameron)

        I'm just gonna say it up front; this is here exclusively thanks to the massive, „Whale Hunters Can Get Borked,“ action-smorgasborg of a finale. Sure, the 3-D is once again jaw-dropping, the world-building effective and immersive, and in spite of all its narrative simplicity and occasional shortcomings, these characters do work in the context of the film. That's all well and good. But none of that raises the film above its constituent elements. Certainly, none of those factors have made me think twice about wanting to see the film again.

        But that finale? Absolute chef's kiss of a sendoff and one of the single greatest big-screen experiences of recent years. And for that alone, this film has earned my admiration and praise. It is a wonder and delight to experience, enjoyable in the most cathartic way possible. I'm sorry I doubted you, James.


9. Belle (Mamoru Hosoda)

        Hosoda always manages to make something interesting and memorable. Though if I'm being nitpicky, his early films still hold more weight for me. And it IS rather unsettling how the middle portions of this film ape Beauty and the Beast wholesale. Also Hosoda retains an optimism about humanity in the digital age that is, let's say, something of a stretch post-2016.

        NONETHELESS. When he wants to hit you right in the Feels, he always manages it. I don't know if the narrative direction of the film succeeds to the same extent that, say, Summer Wars does, but when it goes for broke and the main character overcomes all her shyness and trauma to lead the masses in a gentle, melodic song....damn if it doesn't hit the perfect sweet spot. Plus, as with all his films, his work is absolutely gorgious to look at.

8. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Rian Johnson)

        All aboard the Benoit Blanc Train, CHOO-CHOOOOOO!

        I love how Rian Johnson has managed to create a whole new character-driven whodunnit franchise, based on absolutely no previous IP, almost on the fly. Sure, the social commentary of the films is a bit on the nose, but honestly, most of humanity has spent the past decade proving they will ONLY listen if you hit them square on the nose (and even then it's iffy if the message is retained). Craig has truly found his element as a weirdo, gay, middle-aged Kentuckian with a penchant for ruining people's mystery games, but what puts both this film and its predecessor over the top is that each one pairs him up with a woman of color with the mettle and will to tackle injustice. I could watch a million of these and never get bored.

        Also, in the light of the, let's say, unique way the ending plays out, I motion to formally replace the phrase Tchekov's Gun with Johnson's Mona Lisa in the greater cultural lexicon. I will elaborate no further; those who have seen the film will understand why.

7. Nope (Jordan Peele)

        I find it absolutely fascinating how increasingly cerebral and dense Peele gets with each new entry in the latest „Horror as Social Comedy“ (also known as „Horror“) phase of his career. Each one adds on new layers of commentary on the nature of racial and social inequalities, the nature of filmmaking and where it intersects with business, how movements for justice can be so quickly turned on their heads, and so much more. Get Out remains the most „accessible“ of the three to date, but you can spend hours dissecting all of them and still leave plenty of stones unturned.

        Nope is on a whole other plane of existance though, a riveting and fantastically shot monster-mystery about the capacity of humanity to fool itself into thinking it can control what is so clearly beyond its understanding. Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer are the perfect leading duo, two siblings with a believable, lived-in dynamic that allows us to infer much and to understand why they decide to react to the situation the way they do.

6. The Woman King (Gina Prince-Bythewood)

        This is the film on the list that felt most like a throw-back to old-school Hollywood scale in the best way possible. A story that sprawls through space and time, this chronicle of a real-world, all-female military unit and one girl's journey of self-realization via its ranks, this has some of the best music, action, and ensemble work of anything that came out this year. There are more narrative nitpicks I could make with this film compared to others on this list, but in the moment, when the spectacle is playing out in front of you, there was nothing that could keep me from feeling invested in how it all would play out. And that- being able to rise above any possible tears in the fabric- is the stuff classics are made of.

        Also, I....I may be desperately in love with Lashana Lynch. I could not take my eyes off her for one second in every scene she was in. Does my dear Saoirse Ronan have cause for jealousy???

5. The Batman (Matt Reeves)

        I expected it to be awhile yet until another Batman iteration would be able to stand alongside Nolan's modern classics, but, amazingly, Matt Reeves pulled it off, the bastard. All the classic elements of what we all inevitably associate with Batman are here- though Pattinson's take on Bruce Wayne is a touch more gothic than most- but it never feels tired or repetitive. Each character and story aspect is able to feel different in just enough ways for this to work as its own mystery thriller that builds and builds over a runtime that, while long, never feels overdrawn. Paul Dano and his utterly terrifying smile is absolutely perfect for this new, alt-right-flavored version of the Riddler, and I think it's clear to all of us that Colin Farrell was nominated for the wrong film. I had the sudden urge to rewatch this one two weeks ago, and it was a very good decision.

4. Prey (Dan Trachtenberg)

        Fucking hell, man. I have long since internalized the lesson that all new Predator and/or Alien films are to be avoided like the Goddamn plague. And I was all set to ignore Prey forever....but then the hype train started up, I was made aware that it centered a Native American woman and featured a legit Native cast, and in spite of myself I took out a flyer....

        ….and the result was one of the best films I saw all year and one of the best pure action films this side of John Wick. Like its both its heroine and the titular Predator, this movie is a lean, mean, fighting machine, with great music, perfect setup, a great camraderie between its mains, and effective and brutal fight scenes that cover quite a lot of ground in terms of variety. This should absolutely be the movie that puts Amber Midthunder on the map and makes her a fucking star.

        And that's all there is to say. A Predator film has cracked my Top Five. Fucking hell.

3. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Ryan Coogler)

        I haven't found the emotional courage to rewatch this one yet, because I know it might break something in me. This movie should either not have existed at all, or been a disaster. There were certainly enough reasons for either to end up being the case, and even though I picked Coogler as my favorite director of the 2010's....I confess, I was worried.

        Somehow, they pulled off a miracle, and made a movie that works as a great sequel to a modern classic, while ALSO being an emotional sendoff and tribute to a good man taken from the world far too soon. Every part of the film, from the design to the music to the characterizations, is an evolution from the first, not just the retreads most sequels tend to fall victim to. There is real emotional pain in seeing the two singular places on Earth untouched by colonialism come very, very close to destroying each other via the same feaux-Darwinist, dog-must-eat-dog principles, and only just managing to pull themselves back from the brink. It's an amazing accomplishment that defies ranking or direct comparison to other comic book movies, MCU or otherwise.

2. The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh)/

        Ah. There's my McDonagh. I was one of the few people on Earth willing to go to the mat to defend Three Billboards, though like with my Hobbit defenses, that effort has not aged well. This, though, this is what made McDonagh one of the best playwrights of the 21st century, what underwrote the masterpiece that is his debut film In Bruges; pure, undiluted Irish self-loathing and an endless capacity for self-sabatoge.

        The whole gang is back. Not just McDonagh, but also Farrell and Gleeson as another duo trapped by their own flavors of patheticness. Even Carter Burwell is back with another fantastic score, one of the year's best. However, what I think really elevates the material and grounds it, keeping it from sinking too far down the sinkhole of its own nihilism, is the presence of Kerry Condon. As Siobhán, Pádraic's sister and most likely the only person on the whole island with anything close to intelligence and a moral compass, she gives the perspective of the „eyes unclouded“ that this sort of story always needs. She was the one character I wanted to make it through okay, and thank God she did. Not much else does, though, which is just the way things go in McDonagh's version of the green country.

1. Everything, Everything, All At Once (The Daniels)

        Sometimes, picking out my number one out of a pool of equally-worthy competitors is an agonizing blood sport. Sometimes, it's astonishingly easy. EEAAO was the easiest pick I've had for my #1 since at least Mad Max: Fury Road, with nothing ever really coming close to knocking it off its perch. This is everything I want in a movie, the reason I keep going to cinemas and don't just sit back and take whatever the streaming services permit me to enjoy. It literally does try to encompass EVERYTHING; comedy, drama, fantasy, action, random references to media I grew up with, awesome music, challening philosophical or theological content, at least a little mystery at the start, and by the end the feeling that I have experience a grand journey of the sorts that is only possible via great storytelling.

        Thankfully- and this too is worth appreciating- much like Parasite a few years back, this is an instant classic that IS getting its due now, when it's out and fresh, and there is no need to wait a generation before people finally catch on to its brilliance. It profited well in theaters and has been one of the biggest awards contenders of the season. As it absolutely should, because this is a masterpiece that everyone- and I do mean everyone, everywhere, all the time- has to see and experience at least once.