The San Diego Film Critics Society Gives Some Love To Buster Scruggs!


On Firday, the San Diego Film Critics Society announced their nominations for the best of 2018 and, to their credit, they showed a lot of love to the Coen Brother’s fascinatingly strange western anthology film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs!

(That’s Buster up at the top of the post.  He’s only in the movie for about 20 minutes but you’ll never forget him.)

Here are the nominations from San Diego!

Best Picture
THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
THE FAVOURITE
GREEN BOOK
LEAVE NO TRACE
A QUIET PLACE

Best Director
Bo Burnham, EIGHTH GRADE
Debra Granik, LEAVE NO TRACE
John Krasinski, A QUIET PLACE
Peter Farrelly, GREEN BOOK
Yorgos Lanthimos, THE FAVOURITE

Best Actor, Male
Christian Bale, VICE
Ethan Hawke, FIRST REFORMED
Viggo Mortensen, GREEN BOOK
John C. Reilly, THE SISTERS BROTHERS
Lucas Hedges, BOY ERASED

Best Actor, Female
Carey Mulligan, WILDLIFE
Glenn Close, THE WIFE
Lady Gaga, A STAR IS BORN
Melissa McCarthy, CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
Elsie Fisher, EIGHTH GRADE

Best Supporting Actor, Male
Joel Edgerton, BOY ERASED
Mahershala Ali, GREEN BOOK
Richard E. Grant, CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
Sam Elliott, A STAR IS BORN
Timothée Chalamet, BEAUTIFUL BOY

Best Supporting Actor, Female
Alia Shawkat, BLAZE
Nicole Kidman, BOY ERASED
Nina Arianda, STAN & OLLIE
Thomasin McKenzie, LEAVE NO TRACE
Zoe Kazan, THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS

Best Comedic Performance
Awkwafina, CRAZY RICH ASIANS
Hugh Grant, PADDINGTON 2
Jason Bateman, GAME NIGHT
Jesse Plemons, GAME NIGHT
Ryan Reynolds, DEADPOOL 2

Best Original Screenplay
Bo Burnham, EIGHTH GRADE
Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski, A QUIET PLACE
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, GREEN BOOK
Wes Anderson, ISLE OF DOGS

Best Adapted Screenplay
Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, Peter Fellows, Fabien Nury, THE DEATH OF STALIN
David Lowery, THE OLD MAN & THE GUN
Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini, LEAVE NO TRACE
Joel Edgerton, BOY ERASED
Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty, CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

Best Documentary
FREE SOLO
LOVE, GILDA
RBG
THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS
WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?

Best Animated Film
HAVE A NICE DAY
INCREDIBLES 2
ISLE OF DOGS
RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Best Foreign-language Film
CAPERNAUM
COLD WAR
THE GUILTY
ROMA
SHOPLIFTERS

Best Costume Design
Sandy Powell, THE FAVOURITE
Guy Speranza, STAN & OLLIE
Lindy Hemming, PADDINGTON 2
Mary E. Vogt, CRAZY RICH ASIANS
Mary Zophres, THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS

Best Editing
Christopher Tellefsen, A QUIET PLACE
Jamie Gross, David Egan, GAME NIGHT
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
Patrick J. Don Vito, GREEN BOOK
Yorgos Mavropsaridis, THE FAVOURITE

Best Cinematography
Alexander Dynan, FIRST REFORMED
Alfonso Cuarón, ROMA
Bruno Delbonnel, THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
Joshua James Richards, THE RIDER
Magnus Nordenhof Jønck, LEAN ON PETE

Best Production Design
Adam Stockhausen, READY PLAYER ONE
Fiona Crombie, THE FAVOURITE
Hannah Beachler, BLACK PANTHER
John Paul Kelly, STAN & OLLIE
Tim Galvin, GREEN BOOK

Best Visual Effects
BLACK PANTHER
CHRISTOPHER ROBIN
ISLE OF DOGS
PADDINGTON 2
READY PLAYER ONE

Best Use Of Music In A Film
BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE
BLAZE
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
GREEN BOOK
A STAR IS BORN

Best Ensemble
THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
BOY ERASED
THE FAVOURITE
GAME NIGHT
GREEN BOOK

Best Breakout Artist
Thomasin McKenzie, LEAVE NO TRACE
Elsie Fisher, EIGHTH GRADE
Rami Malek, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
Charlie Plummer, LEAN ON PETE
Bo Burnham, EIGHTH GRADE

What If Lisa Had All The Power: 2018 Emmys Edition


Hi, everyone!

I meant to do this a lot earlier in the month but with the combination of the 4th of July and some other things I had to attend to, I didn’t get the chance until now.  In just a few hours, the 2018 Emmy nominations will be announced.  Hopefully, it’ll be a good morning for Twin Peaks!

Anyway, here’s who and what I would nominate in the major Emmy categories if I had all the power.  Please notice that I just said major categories.  There’s like hundreds of different Emmy categories, the majority of which aren’t ever awarded during the prime time awards show.  As much as I’d love to post every single category, it’s late and I’m not sure that you really care who I think should win Outstanding Art Direction For An Informational Program, 30 Minutes Or Shorter.

Anyway, here are my picks.  Obviously, I’ve only nominated films and TV shows that I actually watched during the 2017-2018 season.  For the most part, I also limited myself to the shows and performers that have actually been submitted for Emmy consideration.  You can see a full list of all the submissions here.

Anyway, here are my nominees.  (Winners are in bold.)

Programming

Best Comedy Series

Atlanta,

Barry,

Brooklyn Nine-Nine,

The End of the Fucking World,

GLOW,

New Girl,

Silicon Valley,

Young Sheldon

Best Drama Series

The Americans,

Game of Thrones,

The Crown

Legion,

Ozark,

Stranger Things,

Trust,

Westworld

Outstanding Limited Series

The Alienist,

American Vandal,

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,

Genius: Picasso,

Howard’s End,

Picnic at Hanging Rock,

The Terror,

Twin Peaks: The Return

Outstanding Television Movie

(I cheated with this category.  Jesus Christ Superstar was submitted in the category of Outstanding Variety Special.  I felt it belonged here and since it’s my list, I went with it.)

Cocaine Godmother,

I Am Elizabeth Smart,

Jesus Christ Superstar,

Psych: The Movie,

Sharknado 5,

The Tale,

USS Calllister (Black Mirror)

When Love Kills: The Falacia Blakely Story

Outstanding Reality Competition Program

The Amazing Race,

The Bachelorette,

Big Brother: Celebrity Edition,

Dancing With The Stars,

Hell’s Kitchen,

Project Runway,

Survivor,

World of Dance

 

Performers

Best Actor (Comedy)

Bruce Campbell in Ash Vs. Evil Dead

Donald Glover in Atlanta

Bill Hader in Barry

Pete Holmes in Crashing

Alex Lawther in The End of the Fucking World

Andy Samberg in Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Best Actor (Drama)

Jason Bateman in Ozark

Tom Ellis in Lucifer

James Franco in The Deuce

Ed Harris in Westworld

Donald Sutherland in Trust

Jeffrey Wright in Westworld

Best Actor (Limited Series)

Antonio Banderas in Genius: Picasso

Daniel Bruhl in The Alienist

Darren Criss in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Tyler Kitsch in Waco

Kyle MacLachlan in Twin Peaks: The Return

Jimmy Tatro in American Vandal

Best Actor (Movie)

Matthew Broderick in A Christmas Story Live!

Dule Hill in Psych: The Movie

John Legend in Jesus Christ Superstar

Al Pacino in Paterno

Jesse Plemons in USS Callister (Black Mirror)

James Roday in Psych: The Movie

Best Actress (Comedy)

Jessica Barden in The End Of The Fucking World

Melissa Barrera in Vida

Alison Brie in GLOW

Zooey Deschanel in New Girl

Justina Machado in One Day At A Time

Ella Purnell in Sweetbitter

Best Actress (Drama)

Claire Danes in Homeland

Claire Foy in The Crown

Rose McIver in iZombie

Krysten Ritter in Marvel’s Jessica Jones

Keri Russell in The Americans

Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld

Best Actress (Limited Series)

Hayley Atwell in Howard’s End

Natalie Dormer in Picnic at Hanging Rock

Jennifer Ferrin Mosiac

Anna Friel in The Girlfriend Experience

Sarah Gadon in Alias Grace

Louisa Krause in The Girlfriend Experience

Best Actress (Movie)

Alana Boden in I Am Elizabeth Smart

Laura Dern in The Tale

Parisa Fitz-Henley in Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance

Kelly MacDonald in The Child In Time (Masterpiece Theater)

Maya Rudolph in A Christmas Story Live!

Catherine Zeta-Jones in Cocaine Godmother

Best Supporting Actor (Comedy)

Andre Braugher in Brooklyn Nine Nine

Brian Tyree Henry in Atlanta

Marc Maron in GLOW

Stephen Root in Barry

Henry Winkler in Barry

Zach Woods in Silicon Valley

Best Supporting Actor (Drama)

Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones

Noah Emmerich in The Americans

Brendan Fraser in Trust

James Marsden in Westworld

Zahn McClarnon in Westworld

Matt Smith in The Crown

Best Supporting Actor (Limited Series)

Tyler Alvarez in American Vandal

Miguel Ferrer in Twin Peaks: The Return

Robert Forster in Twin Peaks: The Return

Michael Horse in Twin Peaks: The Return

David Lynch in Twin Peaks: The Return

Finn Wittrock in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Best Supporting Actor (Movie)

Corbin Bernsen in Psych: The Movie

Brandon Victor Dixon in Jesus Christ Superstar

Aldis Hodge in Black Museum (Black Mirror)

Jason Ritter in The Tale

Jimmi Simpson in USS Callister (Black Mirror)

Skeet Ulrich in I Am Elizabeth Smart

Best Supporting Actress (Comedy)

Stephanie Beartriz in Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Suzanne Cryer in Silicon Valley

Sarah Goldberg in Barry

Rita Moreno in One Day At A Time

Zoe Perry in Young Sheldon

Hannah Simone in New Girl

Best Supporting Actress (Drama)

Summer Bishil in The Magicians

Lena Headey in Game of Thrones

Margo Martindale in The Americans

Thandie Newton in Westworld

Aubrey Plaza in Legion

Tessa Thompson in Westworld

Best Supporting Actress (Limited Series)

Penelope Cruz in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Laura Dern in Twin Peaks: The Return

Dakota Fanning in The Alienist

Judith Light in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Julia Ormond in Howards End

Naomi Watts in Twin Peaks: The Return

Best Supporting Actress (Movie)

Sara Bareilles in Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert

Ellen Burstyn in The Tale

Michaela Coel in USS Callister (Black Mirror)

Anna Gasteyer in A Christmas Story Live!

Anjelica Huston in The Watcher In The Woods

Letitia Wright in Black Museum (Black Mirror)

Best Guest Actor (Comedy)

Bill Burr in Crashing

Josh Hamilton in Sweetbitter

Lee Majors in Ash vs. Evil Dead

Wallace Shawn in Young Sheldon

Danny Trejo in Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Gerald Webb in Barry

Best Guest Actor (Drama)

Michael C. Hall in The Crown

C. Thomas Howell in Marvel’s The Punisher

Matthew Modine in Stranger Things

Denis O’Hare in American Masters

Jimmi Simpson in Westworld

Jonathan Tucker in Westworld

Best Guest Actress (Comedy)

Gail Bean in Atlanta

Rashida Jones in Portlandia

Nasim Pedrad in Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Sheridan Piece in One Day At A Time

Elizabeth Perkins in GLOW

Wrenn Schmidt in Sweetbitter

Best Guest Actress (Drama)

Jodi Balfour in The Crown

Donatella Finocchiaro in Trust

Marlee Matlin in The Magicians

Lily Rabe in Legion 

Diana Rigg in Game of Thrones

Mageina Tovah in The Magicians

Film Review: Game Night (dir by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein)


In this time of division and conflict, can we all agree that Game Night is a damn funny movie?

The film tells the story of three couples who regularly get together for, as the title suggests, a game night.  Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and Sharon (Sharon Horgan) are quirky and a little bit daffy.  Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and his wife, Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) are generally dependable and Michelle has a really interesting story about the time that she met a man who may have been Denzel Washington but probably wasn’t.  Meanwhile, Annie (Rachel McAdams) and Max (Jason Bateman) are an ultracompetitive married couple, frustrated in their attempts to conceive a child but always confident in their ability to win any game that they play.  At one time, Gary (Jesse Plemons) and his wife used to be a part of the group but, after they got divorced, Max and Annie stopped inviting him.  You really can’t blame them.  Gary’s seriously creepy.

And then there’s Brooks Davis (Kyle Chandler).

Brooks is Max’s brother and, at first glance, he would appear to be everything that Max isn’t.  Brooks appears to have a lot of money.  He claims to have a successful career, even if no one’s quite sure what he does for a living.  He drives a nice car.  When he comes to town to visit his brother, he rents out a mansion.  Brooks is the type of older sibling who always has an embarrassing story or two to share about his younger brother.  In fact, Max feels so inadequate when compared to Brooks that it’s even interfering with Max and Annie’s efforts to have a child.  When Brooks invites everyone to come to his house for a very special game night, Annie and Max are determined to beat Brooks at whatever game he’s planning on having them play.

It turns out that Brooks has hired a company to put on an interactive role-playing game.  While listening to a fake FBI agent (Geoffrey Wright) explain the background of the mystery that they’re about to solve, the couples are shocked when several masked men burst into the house.  Everyone’s impressed as the men beat the fake FBI agent unconscious.  When the men start beating up Brooks, everyone praises Brooks for the realism of his game.  After Brooks is dragged out of the house, the couples set out to solve the mystery of who is behind this kidnapping.  As for the fake FBI agent, he lies on the floor motionless.  Even when Ryan kicks his body, the agent doesn’t move.  Everyone agrees that the agent is a really good and committed actor.

Of course, the joke is that Brooks really has been kidnapped but nobody realizes it.  It’s a good joke but, to the film’s credit, it’s not the only joke.  In fact, Game Night actually get funnier after everyone eventually realizes that they’re no longer playing a game.  Ever after they realize that Brooks actually has been kidnapped, Annie and Max are so competitive that they still keep trying to outdo everyone else.

Annie and Max also discover that they have no choice but to involve their creepy neighbor and former friend, Gary.  Jesse Plemons doesn’t have a lot of screentime but he gives a performance that is so exquisitely strange and awkward that he ends up stealing the entire movie.  Watching Plemons, you both feel sorry for Gary and understand why no one wants to play with him.  His desperation to be apart of the group is both exasperating and somewhat touching.

In fact, the entire cast does a good job, bringing their often clueless characters to life.  Max and Annie are a likable couple and Bateman and McAdams have a natural chemistry that makes them a lot of fun to watch.  There’s a great scene where Max and Annie, still thinking that they’re just playing a game, subdue a group of criminals in a bar.  Max and Annie’s clueless joy is intoxicating.  They’re having fun playing at being tough and we’re having fun watching them.  Of course, it eventually turns out that the gun that Annie thought was a toy is real and loaded and … well, things get a little bit messy.  While the scene where Annie and Max try to figure out how to dig a bullet out of a man’s arm may have made me cringe a little, it also made me laugh.  That’s a credit to both Bateman and McAdams, who made the scene both real and funny at the same time.

Anyway, I really enjoyed Game Night.  Clocking in at 100 minutes, it’s a briskly paced and good-natured comedy that never makes the mistake of lingering for too long over its own cleverness.  Director Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley both redeem themselves for 2015’s Vacation.  If, earlier this year, you missed this one when it was in theaters, see it now and have a good time.

Playing Catch-Up: Zootopia (dir by Byron Howard and Rich Moore)


zootopia

Speaking of animated films

I finally got a chance to watch Zootopia last night and oh my God, what a sweet and wonderful little film it turned out to be!

Zootopia is an animated film from Disney and it started out with a premise that sounds very Disney-like.  Zootopia takes place in a world where there are no humans.  Instead, animals walk and talk and scheme and plan and joke and dance and … well, basically, do everything that humans do.  Except they’re a lot cuter when they do it because they’re talking animals.

Judy Hopps (voiced by Gennifer Goodwin) is a rabbit who happens to be an incurable optimist.  (We should all try to be more like Judy.)  Even when she was growing up on the farm, Judy knew that she would someday move to the sprawling metropolis of Zootopia and become the first rabbit on the city’s police force.  When she finally does graduate from the police academy, Judy gets a lot of attention as a trailblazer.  But she quickly discovers that she’s only been hired to be a token, a political tool to help the city’s mayor, a blowhard of a lion named Lionheart (J.K. Simmons, voice the role that he was born to voice), win reelection.

See, Zootopia may look like a wonderful place to live but, as quickly becomes apparent, it’s a city in which the peace is very tenous.  Animals that are traditionally prey — like Judy and her fellow rabbits — may live with the predators but they certainly don’t trust them.  And the predators may not eat the prey but they certainly don’t respect them.  Underneath the cute face of every talking animal, there lies prejudice and resentment.  Lionheart is a predator who needs the votes of prey to remain in office.  What better way to win their trust then to make Judy Hopps a police officer?

Judy may be a member of the police force but that doesn’t mean that she’s going to be allowed to actually do anything.  While every other member of the force gets an exciting assignment, Judy is assigned to traffic duty.

However, an otter has recently vanished.  He’s just the latest of 14 predators to vanish in the city.  With the help of seemingly sympathetic deputy mayor, Judy gets herself assigned to the case.  But there’s a catch.  She has 48 hours to find the otter.  If she doesn’t find that otter, she’ll resign from the force and go back to the farm.

Luckily, Judy is not working alone.  She knows that the last animal known to have seen the otter is a fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman).  Nick’s a bit of a con artist and, as a predator, he wants nothing to do with Judy and she doesn’t quite trust him.  But, events — which I’m not going to spoil here — force them to work together and uncover the darkest secrets of life in Zootopia…

If Zootopia sounds cute, that’s because it is.  It’s perhaps one of the most adorable films that I’ve ever seen, full of wonderful animation and memorable characters.  But, at the same time, there’s a very serious theme running through Zootopia.  Zootopia is about more than just talking animals.  It’s a film about prejudice, racism, sexism, and intolerance.  It’s a film that invites us to not only laugh but also to reconsider the world around us.

Zootopia is currently on Netflix and, if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.  It’s great for children and adults.

The Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Go Crazy For La La Land!


la-la-land

Oscar season continued today as the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics announced their picks for the best of 2016!  What films and performers were honored in America’s capitol?

Here the complete list!

Best Film

Best Director

Best Actor

Best Actress

  • Amy Adams (Arrival)
  • Annette Bening (20th Century Women)
  • Ruth Negga (Loving)
  • Natalie Portman (Jackie) — Winner
  • Emma Stone (La La Land)

Best Supporting Actor

Best Supporting Actress

  • Viola Davis (Fences) — Winner
  • Greta Gerwig (20th Century Women)
  • Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
  • Molly Shannon (Other People)
  • Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

Best Acting Ensemble

Best Youth Performance:

  • Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) — Winner
  • Lewis MacDougall (A Monster Calls)
  • Sunny Pawar (Lion)
  • Hailee Steinfeld (The Edge of Seventeen)
  • Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch)

Best Voice Performance

  • Jason Bateman (Zootopia)
  • Auli’i Cravalho (Moana)
  • Ellen DeGeneres (Finding Dory)
  • Ginnifer Goodwin (Zootopia)
  • Liam Neeson (A Monster Calls) — Winner

Best Motion Capture Performance

  • Liam Neeson (A Monster Calls)
  • Mark Rylance (The BFG) — Winner

Best Original Screenplay

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Eric Heisserer, Based on the Story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang (Arrival) — Winner
  • August Wilson, Based on his Play (Fences)
  • Luke Davies, Adapted from the Memoir “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley (Lion)
  • Patrick Ness, Based on his Novel (A Monster Calls)
  • Tom Ford, Based on the Novel “Tony and Susan” by Austin Wright (Nocturnal Animals)

Best Animated Feature

Best Documentary

  • Gleason
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • O.J.: Made in America
  • 13th — Winner
  • Weiner

Best Foreign Language Film

  • Elle — Winner
  • Julieta
  • The Handmaiden
  • The Salesman
  • Toni Erdmann

Best Production Design

Best Cinematography

Best Editing

Best Original Score

The Joe Barber Award for Best Portrayal of Washington, DC

Here Are The Annie Nominations!


Kubo_and_the_Two_Strings_poster

The nominations for the Annie Awards were announced yesterdat!  The Annie Awards honor the best in animation.  Looking over the list of nominees, my initial thought is, “Wow, that’s a really long list!”  So, I’m just going to post the nominations for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Achievement For Voice Acting In A Feature Film.  You can view the complete list over at one of my favorite site for Oscar news, Awards Circuit!

Anyway, here are (some of) the Annie nominations!

Best Animated Feature:

Finding Dory

Kubo and the Two Strings

Kung Fu Panda 3

Moana

Zootopia

Voice Acting In An Animated Feature

Art Parkinson in Kubo and the Two Strings

Auli’i Cravalho in Moana

Katie Crown in Storks

Zooey Deschanel in Trolls

Jason Bateman in Zootopia

Film Review: The Gift (dir by Joel Edgerton)


The_Gift_2015_Film_Poster1

Because of the nature of The Gift, this post is going to contain minor spoilers.  There’s no way to talk about what makes the film work so brilliantly without giving away a few plot points.  Such is the nature of the beast and all that.  So, if you don’t want to deal with spoilers, allow me just to say this: Go see The Gift.  See it tonight.  See it tomorrow.  See it this weekend.  But, definitely — go see it!

(And if anyone tells you that The Gift is not worth seeing than that person is not really your friend and you need to start hanging out with a better class of people.)

Ryan has already reviewed The Gift and, having watched the film earlier today, I agree with everything that he had to say.  That’s why I am happy to add my voice to his and encourage you to see The Gift.  With this week pretty much dominated by ruminations on the colossal failure of The Fantastic Four and the upcoming weekend guaranteed to be dominated by the release of both Straight Outta Compton and The Man From UNCLE, there’s a definite risk that The Gift is going to get lost in the shuffle.

And that’s unfortunate.  Much like the thematically similar UnfriendedThe Gift comes disguised as a conventional thriller but, once you start to unwrap it, you discover that there are layers and layers of subtext and The Gift is actually one of the best and most thought-provoking films of the year.

Like many great Lifetime films, The Gift opens with a married couple living a deceptively wonderful life.  Simon (Jason Bateman) is friendly and charming and appears to be on the verge of getting a big promotion at work.  He and his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall), appears to be happy and in love.  They have also got a friendly dog named Mr. Bojangles and they’ve just moved into a beautiful new house.  After spending the last few years in Chicago, they’ve relocated to Simon’s home state of California.  They’re looking forward to starting a family.  Everything’s perfect.

And then, while out shopping for furniture, they run into Gordo (Joel Edgerton).  Gordo explains that he went to high school with Simon.  (At first, Simon swears to his wife that he doesn’t even remember Gordo but that soon proves to be false.)  The socially awkward Gordo starts to send Simon and Robyn progressively more and more extravagant gifts.  After Simon tells Robyn that Gordon was known as Weirdo in high school, Robyn starts to feel sorry for Gordo and insists that Simon try to be friendly towards him.  Simon, however, remains weary of Gordo and his intentions.  At first, it seems like Simon is just being cautious but, as the film unfolds, we discover that Simon has his own reasons for wanting to avoid his old classmate.

The more Gordo tries to insert himself into Simon and Robyn’s life, the more we start to see the cracks behind their “perfect” marriage.  Robyn, it turns out, had previously suffered a miscarriage and has a history of abusing prescription medicine.  Meanwhile, it’s revealed that, behind Simon’s fast smile, there lies a condescending control freak.  (Gordo mentions that Simon ran for senior class president on a “Simon says” platform.)

There’s more to Simon and Gordo’s relationship than either one of them is initially willing to admit.  In high school, Simon was a bully and Gordo was his number one victim.  That Gordo wants revenge on Simon should not be surprising.  That’s obvious from the trailer.  No, the genius of the film is to be found in the way that it subtly reveals that, as an adult, Simon is still as much of a jerk and a bully as he was in high school.  He’s just gotten a lot better at hiding it. The same traits that made Simon a bully in high school have helped him to find material success in the real world.   When Gordo reeneters his life, Simon can no longer hide who he really is.  Gordo is not just his former victim.  Gordo is proof of what lies underneath Simon’s perfect facade.  When Robyn finally convinces Simon to apologize to Gordo, Simon cannot do so convincingly because he’s not so much sorry as he’s just inconvenienced.  When Gordo refuses to accept the apology, Simon’s mask falls away and he reveals his true nature, setting up the film’s devastating conclusion.

(I’m not going to spoil how the film ends but I will tell you that it left me breathless and stunned.  It’s not a happy ending but it is absolutely the right ending for the story that’s being told.  As both the film’s director and writer, Joel Edgerton deserves a lot of credit for staying true to the movie’s theme.)

Rebecca Hall is well-cast as Robyn but, ultimately, the film is dominated by the performances of Jason Bateman and Joel Edgerton.  (Interestingly enough, both Bateman and Edgerton are made up so that they superficially resemble each other, allowing Gordo to literally become the personification of Simon’s ugly side.)  Edgerton transforms Gordo into a character who is both scary and pathetic at the same time.  Meanwhile, Jason Bateman — oh, where to begin?  For the longest time, it’s been impossible for me to look at Bateman without flashing back to that scene in Juno where he hit on Ellen Page.  Now, however, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at Jason Bateman without hearing him yell, “Accept my apology!”  Jason Bateman has played a lot of less-than-sympathetic characters but Simon … well, Simon may be the worst.  As an actor, Jason Bateman deserves a lot of credit for not shying away from revealing the truth about Simon.  It takes courage to play such an unlikable character and talent to make that character compelling even when the viewer can’t stand him.

The Gift is an excellent and thought-provoking thriller, the type of film that will both make you jump with fright (I screamed during a certain shower scene and that’s all I’ll say about that) and leave you with much to think about after the end credits roll.

It’s a film that you need to see now.