Here Are The Nominees of the 2020 Indiana Film Journalists Assosciation!


Bad Education

The Indiana Film Journalists Association (IJA) has announced their nominees for the best of 2020!  They’ll be announcing the winners on December 21st!

What I like about these nominations is that there’s a lot of them.  2020 may have been a difficult year for many but there were a lot of good films released and it does seem kind of silly (as it does every year) to limit things to some sort of arbitrary number.  Why only nominate 10 films when you could nominate 20 or 30?  Many of the nominees below will appear on my own personal best lists in January.

The other thing that I like about these nominees is that the include films like Bad Education and Mangrove.  There’s some debate as to whether or not these films should be considered Oscar eligible.  I feel that they should be so it’s nice to see that the folks in Indiana agree with me!

Here are the nominees:

BEST FILM
Da 5 Bloods
Another Round
The Assistant
Athlete A
Bad Education
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
Dick Johnson is Dead
Emma.
The Father
First Cow
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Minari
The Nest
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Nomadland
One Night in Miami
Palm Springs
The Personal History of David Copperfield
Possessor
Promising Young Woman
Small Axe: Mangrove
Song Without a Name
Soul
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7
The Twentieth Century
The Vast of Night

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Onward
Soul
Wolfwalkers

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
76 Days
Another Round
Bacurau
Beanpole
La Dosis
Song Without a Name

BEST DOCUMENTARY
76 Days
All In: The Fight for Democracy
Athlete A
Boys State
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
Desert One
Dick Johnson is Dead
Disclosure
John Lewis: Good Trouble
The Last Out
Miss Americana
MLK/FBI
Time
Totally Under Control
Welcome to Chechnya

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Brandon Cronenberg – Possessor
Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers – Soul
Sean Durkin – The Nest
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Kitty Green – The Assistant
Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg – Another Round
James Montague and Craig W. Sanger – The Vast of Night
Matthew Rankin – The Twentieth Century
Andy Siara – Palm Springs
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Alice Wu – The Half of It

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller – The Father
Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell – The Personal History of David Copperfield
Charlie Kaufman – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Mike Makowsky – Bad Education
Kemp Powers – One Night in Miami
Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt – First Cow
Ruben Santiago-Hudson – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland

BEST DIRECTOR
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Brandon Cronenberg – Possessor
Pete Docter – Soul
Sean Durkin – The Nest
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Kitty Green – The Assistant
Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Kirsten Johnson – Dick Johnson is Dead
Charlie Kaufman – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Regina King – One Night in Miami
Spike Lee – Da 5 Bloods
Melina Léon – Song Without a Name
Steve McQueen – Small Axe: Mangrove
Matthew Rankin – The Twentieth Century
Kelly Reichardt – First Cow
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7
George C. Wolfe – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Alice Wu – The Half of It
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland

BEST ACTRESS
Haley Bennett – Swallow
Jessie Buckley – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Carrie Coon – The Nest
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Sidney Flanigin – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Julia Garner – The Assistant
Han Ye-ri – Minari
Leah Lewis – The Half of It
Rachel McAdams – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Pamela Mendoza – Song Without a Name
Cristin Milioti – Palm Springs
Elisabeth Moss – The Invisible Man
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman
Aubrey Plaza – Black Bear
Margot Robbie – BIrds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Anya Taylor-Joy – Emma.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jane Adams – She Dies Tomorrow
Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Toni Collette – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Olivia Colman – The Father
Olivia Cooke – Sound of Metal
Allison Janney – Bad Education
Margo Martindale – Blow the Man Down
Talia Ryder – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Youn Yuh-jung – Minari

BEST ACTOR
Christopher Abbott – Possessor
Ben Affleck – The Way Back
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Kingsley Ben-Adir – One Night in Miami
Paul Bettany – Uncle Frank
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Eli Goree – One Night in Miami
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Hugh Jackman – Bad Education
Jude Law – The Nest
Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods
Mads Mikkelsen – Another Round
Jesse Plemons – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Eddie Redmayne – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Steven Yeun – Minari

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods
Bo Burnham – Promising Young Woman
Bill Burr – The King of Staten Island
Peter Capaldi – The Personal History of David Copperfield
Colman Domingo – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Aldis Hodge – One Night in Miami
Caleb Landry Jones – The Outpost
Alan Kim – Minari
Frank Langella – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Orion Lee – First Cow
Ewan McGregor – BIrds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Bill Murray – On the Rocks
Leslie Odom, Jr. – One Night in Miami
Paul Raci – Sound of Metal
J.K. Simmons – Palm Springs
Dan Stevens – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
David Strathairn – Nomadland
David Thewlis – I’m Thinking of Ending Things

BEST VOCAL / MOTION CAPTURE PERFORMANCE
Sean Bean – Wolfwalkers
Tina Fey – Soul
Jamie Foxx – Soul
Oliver Platt – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Donald Ray Pollock – The Devil All the Time
Ben Schwartz – Sonic the Hedgehog

BEST ENSEMBLE ACTING
Da 5 Bloods
Another Round
The Devil All the Time
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
The King of Staten Island
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Minari
One Night in Miami
The Personal History of David Copperfield
She Dies Tomorrow
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Uncle Frank

BEST MUSICAL SCORE
Erick Alexander and Jared Bulmer – The Vast of Night
Terence Blanchard – One Night in Miami
Ludovico Einaudi – Nomadland
Ludwig Göransson – Tenet
Emile Mosseri – Minari
Richard Reed Parry – The Nest
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Soul
William Tyler – First Cow
Jay Wadley – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Isobel Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer – Emma.
Benjamin Wallfisch – The Invisible Man
Jim Williams – Possessor

BREAKOUT OF THE YEAR
Maria Bakalova (actress) – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Max Barbakow (director) – Palm Springs
Emerald Fennell (writer / director) – Promising Young Woman
Sidney Flanigin (actress) – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Alan Kim (actor) – Minari
Orion Lee (actor) – First Cow
Leah Lewis (actress) – The Half of It
Darius Marder (writer / director) – Sound of Metal
Andrew Patterson (director) – The Vast of Night
Tayarisha Poe (writer / director) – Selah and the Spades
Kemp Powers – co-writer / co-director for Soul and writer for One Night in Miami
Matthew Rankin (writer / director) – The Twentieth Century
Andy Siara (writer) – Palm Springs
Autumn de Wilde (director) – Emma.

HOOSIER AWARD
Athlete A
Eliza Hittman, writer / director of Never Rarely Sometimes Always and graduate of Indiana University

ORIGINAL VISION AWARD
After Midnight
Assassin 33 A.D.
Dick Johnson is Dead
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Possessor
Promising Young Woman
She Dies Tomorrow
The Twentieth Century
The Vast of Night
Vivarium

Mangrove

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women- (Dir. Angela Robinson), Review By Case Wright


PMWW.jpg

What does Wonder Woman, S&M, and Polyamory have in common?  Pretty much everything.  Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (PMWW) was…dull.  You’d think with all the whips and ropes that the movie would pull some interest, but the scenes were shot hamfisted and clinical.  I guess that makes sense to a degree because the stars were playing Harvard nerds who liked kinky sex, but man what a snore!

The movie was a Biopic about Professor Marston the creator of the lie detector test and I will forever know this because it was repeated over and over and over and over again.  UGGHHHH.  Professor Marston was a Harvard Professor who was married to fellow professor Elizabeth Marston.  They are social psyche professors who are developing a lie detector test and are determined to bring Olive Byrne into their cult-like love life.  This would be considered very creepy today, not for the S&M stuff, but because of the professor/student boundary crossing.  They aren’t shy at all about their relationship, causing everyone to get expelled/fired.  Honestly, I don’t blame Harvard on this one.  He not only seduced a student, got her pregnant, and they all lived together.  It reminded me of those separatist compounds.

Since no one is working, money gets tight. Eventually, Professor Marston puts his kink into high gear with ropes etc and this gives him the idea of Wonder Woman.  He uses the two personalities of his two wives to give Wonder Woman a dual identity.  It’s not a terrible analogy, just a terrible movie.   Their unconventional marriage is discovered by their suburban neighbors and as a result; they split up for what seemed like 6 days.  I blame the director on that.

There’s nothing wrong with being into an unconventional marriage or bondage, but I just didn’t expect it to be so boring.  If anyone has an interest in S&M, just watch this film and you’ll be so bored of it, you’ll try something much more exciting like papier-mache!  The movie concludes with a bookended plot line of him being investigated for using Wonder Woman to normalize bondage and polyamory and he even admits as much.  So??  I don’t know if I’m supposed to care or not.  Basically, I might be done with sex for good because I like a little excitement in my life and this apparently is a dead end.

HMM2

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Working Girl (dir by Mike Nichols)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1988 best picture nominee, Working Girl!)

Welcome to the 80s!

Yes, Working Girl is definitely a film of its time.  It’s a film that’s obsessed with big things: big dreams, big offices, big money, and big hair.  It’s a movie where the heroes talk about hostile takeovers and where everyone’s dream is to eventually to be an executive on Wall Street.  You know all of those people who claim that The Big Short is the greatest movie ever made?  I can guarantee that the majority of them would totally hate every character in Working Girl.  Working Girl is such a film of the past that it even features Alec Baldwin doing something other than bellowing at people.  In fact, Baldwin’s actually sexy in Working Girl.  It was strange to see him in this film and realize that he was the same actor who currently spends all of his time picking fights on twitter and defending James Toback.

Of course, Alec Baldwin has a relatively small role in Working Girl.  He plays Mick Dugan, the type of blue-collar guy who gives his girlfriend lingerie for her birthday (“I just wish you would get me something that I could wear outside,” she says as she tries it on) and who then proceeds to cheat on her while she’s off at work.  From the minute we first meet Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), we know that she deserves better than Mick.

Tess is a professional administrative assistant.  She’s just turned 30 but she’s not ready to give up her dreams and settle for a life of fighting off coke-snorting executives and coming home to some guy like Mick.  (Speaking of early performances from infamous actors, one of the coke-snorting executives is played by Kevin Spacey.)  Tess has got a bachelor’s degree in Business.  As she puts it, she has a “mind for business and a bod for sin.”

She’s also got a new boss, an up-and-coming executive named Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver).  It turns out that Katherine is 29 years old.  (“I’ve never worked for someone younger than me before,” Tess says as Katherine gives her a condescending smile.)  Katharine encourages Tess to think of her as being a mentor.  If Tess has any ideas for investments, she should feel free to bring them to Katharine.  Of course, when Tess does so, Katharine claims that her bosses shot the idea down.  It’s only after Katharine breaks her leg in a skiing accident and is laid up in Europe that Tess discovers that Katharine has actually been stealing her ideas and not giving her any credit for them.

What is Tess to do?  Well, she does what any of us would do.  She passes herself off as an executive and presents her idea to Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) herself.  Jack is impressed with the idea but he’s even more impressed with Tess.  Of course, complicating things is that Jack was once in a relationship with Katharine and Katharine still thinks that she’s going to eventually marry Jack.  And, of course, there’s the fact that Tess is lying about actually being an executive…

Working Girl is a frequently amusing film, elevated by performances of Melanie Griffith and, in the role of Tess’s best friend, Joan Cusack.  Add to that, Harrison Ford is remarkable non-grouchy as Jack Trainer and Sigourney Weaver appears to be having the time of her life playing a villain.  Even as I laughed at some of the lines, here was a part of me that wished that the film had a bit more bite.  At times, Working Girl tries too hard to have it both ways, both satirizing and celebrating Wall Street culture.  In the end, the film works best as a piece of wish-fulfillment.  It’s a film that says that not only can you win success and Harrison Ford but you can get your bitchy boss fired too.

Despite being a rather slight (if likable) film, Working Girl was nominated for Best Picture of 1988.  However, it lost to Rain Man.

Horror Film Review: Flatliners (dir by Joel Schumacher)


“Our sins have come back in a physical form … and they’re pissed!”

That one line pretty much sums up the original 1990 version of Flatliners.  It’s a good line in that it’s one that you remember and it’s a line that you can use in almost any situation.

Have you gotten a phone call from an unknown caller?  “Our sins have come back in physical form … and they’re pissed!”

Have you and your boyfriend recently been driving across Texas and suddenly noticed that a car has been following you all the way from Lake Dallas to the border of Oklahoma.  “Our sins have come back in physical form … and they’re pissed!”

Have you ever had a stranger fail to hold a door open for you?  There’s only one possible reason for that rudeness.  “Our sins have come back in physical form .. and they’re pissed!”

And don’t even get me started on people who leave negative comments under my reviews.  We all know what’s going on with that!  “Our sins have come back in physical form … and they’re pissed!”

It’s a line that is both oddly memorable and also deeply stupid.  The same description can be applied to Flatliners.  It’s a film about a group of medical students (played by Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt, and Kevin Bacon) who help Kiefer Sutherland investigate whether or not there’s actually an afterlife.  Sutherland believes that there is but he needs an atheist to be a part of the group, that’s where Kevin Bacon comes in.  And he needs a potential love interest and a Baldwin brother to be a member of the group as well, that’s why Julia Roberts and William Baldwin are there.  And, of course, someone has to provide comedic relief whenever things start to get too dark.  Say hello to Oliver Platt!  Anyway, Sutherland’s plan is to die for a minute or two and then have his fellow medical students bring him back to life.  It sounds like kind of a dumb idea but everyone agrees to it.

Anyway, it turns out that the afterlife looks a lot like an overproduced student film, full of weird camera angles, tinted lighting and disembodied voices.  When Sutherland dies, he sees a boy that he used to bully.  Julia Roberts sees her father, who committed suicide when she was younger.  Kevin Bacon sees a little girl that he used to bully.  (There are a lot of bullies in this movie.)  William Baldwin, a sex addict who is chronically unfaithful to his fiancée, sees hundreds of women, all saying, “But you said you loved me.”  Oliver Platt never actually gets to die and therefore, he sees nothing.  He does make a joke about how his vision would probably involve an angry babysitter.  I laughed.

What happens next?  “Our sins have come back in physical form … and they’re pissed!”

Flatliners has an intriguing premise but oh my God, is it ever a silly film.  It’s not really a spoiler to tell you that all of these returned sins want the characters to either atone for their mistakes or make peace with their past.  For Kevin Bacon, this means tracking down the girl that he used to bully and allowing her to bully him.  For Julia Roberts, it means getting an apology from her Dad and understanding that he was addicted to heroin.  For William Baldwin, it means making peace with never being as well-known as either Alec or Steven.  As for Kiefer … well, things are a bit more complicated for Kiefer Sutherland.

Flatliners starts out as a horror film but then it turns into a squishy movie about letting go of bitterness and learning how to forgive oneself.  It’s kind of annoying that the film couldn’t just stick to being scary because the first half of the film does have some effectively tense moments.  However, it all gets lost as the film’s plot sinks into sentimental, New Age-y quicksand.

Flatliners was directed by Joel Schumacher, who generally does well with shallow films that 1) don’t really mean anything and 2) don’t involve super heroes.  And really, the only film that I can think of that’s more shallow than the original Flatliners is the remake.  (But we’ll talk about that later…)  Schumacher’s direction here is not particularly bad — everyone looks good and the film is never boring.  It’s a very, very pretty film and one that doesn’t add up to much.

I would suggest watching it with your sins, especially after they take physical form.  Maybe they’ll be a little less pissed off afterward.

Insomina File No. 16: Kill The Messenger (dir by Michael Cuesta)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Kill_the_Messenger_poster

Last night, if you were awake and unable to get any sleep at 1:45 in the morning, you could have turned over to Cinemax and watched the 2014 conspiracy thriller, Kill The Messenger.

Kill The Messenger opens with one of those title cards that assures us that the movie we’re about to see is based on a true story.  We are then introduced to Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), a California-based reporter who we know is a rebel because he has a precisely trimmed goatee.  Gary is interviewing a suspected drug smuggler (Robert Patrick) at the smuggler’s luxurious mansion.  Suddenly, the DEA storms the house, shouting insults and roughly throwing everyone to the ground, including Gary.  It’s actually exciting and promising opening, one that perfectly establishes both Gary as a truth seeker and the U.S. government as an invading army that’s fighting a war that’s full of collateral damage.

Gary, of course, has nothing to do with smuggling drugs.  He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  If he was treated unfairly by the DEA, it’s just because the government is serious about winning the war on drugs!

Or is it?

Following up on a tip, Gary comes across evidence that, in order to raise money for pro-Amercian rebels in Central America, the CIA not only helped to smuggle drugs into the U.S. but also arranged for the drugs to largely be sold in poor, minority neighbors where, in theory, no one would notice or care.

When the story is finally published, Gary is briefly a celebrity.  Not surprisingly, the government denies his accusations and start tying to discredit him.  However, Gary also finds himself being targeted by his fellow journalists.  Angry over being outscooped by a relatively unknown reporter, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post both launch their own investigations.  Instead of investigating Gary’s allegations, they jealously and viciously investigate Gary himself.

Soon, both Gary’s career and his family are falling apart and Gary finds himself growing more and more paranoid…

Remember when everyone was expecting Kill The Messenger to be a really big deal?  It was due to come out towards the end of 2014, right in the middle of Oscar season.  Jeremy Renner was being talked up as a contender for best actor.  Then the film came out, it played in a handful of theaters for a week or two, and then it sunk into obscurity.  Some commentators even complained that Focus Features buried the release of Kill The Messenger and that the film was ignored because of its leftist politics…

Of course, it’s just as probable that Focus Features realized that The Theory of Everything was more likely to charm audiences than a movie that suggested the U.S. government was behind the drug epidemic.

Or it could have just been that, despite telling a potentially intriguing story, Kill The Messenger was an oddly bland film.  Other than one scene in which he admits to cheating on his wife, Gary Webb is portrayed as being such a saint that it actually causes the film to lose credibility.  (Don’t get me wrong.  For all I know, he was a saint.  But, from a cinematic point of view, sainthood is never compelling.)  This is one of those earnest films that gets so heavy-handed that, even if you agree with what the movie is saying, you still resent being manipulated.  (Of course, some of us have grown so cynical about the media that we automatically doubt the veracity any movie that opens with those dreaded words: “Based on a true story.”)  Watching Kill The Messenger, one gets the feeling that a documentary about Gary Webb would probably be more compelling (and convincing) than a fictionalized dramatization.

(Unfortunately, if you think it’s difficult to get an audience to watch a movie that suggested the U.S. government was behind the drug epidemic, just try to get them to watch a documentary about … well, anything.  I know most of our readers would probably happily watch a documentary but that’s because y’all are the best and a thousand times better than the average person.  Love you!)

Here’s what did work about Kill The Messenger: the performances.  Jeremy Renner, who also produced this film, gives an excellent performance as Gary, especially in the scenes where he realizes that both the government and the press are now conspiring about him.  Rosemarie DeWitt has the traditionally thankless role of being the supportive wife but she still does a good job.  And finally, Ray Liotta shows up for one scene and is absolutely chilling in that way that only Ray Liotta can be.

Kill The Messenger doesn’t quite work but, thanks to the cast, it is, at the very least, a watchable misfire.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace

Film Review: Cut Bank (dir by Matt Shakman)


cb

The image at the top of this post is taken from the film Cut Bank and features Teresa Palmer and Liam Hemsworth.  It’s a striking picture, isn’t it?  If there’s anything positive that can be said about Cut Bank, it’s that it’s a visually striking film.  Some of the film’s images compare favorably with the work of the Coen Brothers in  No Country For Old Men and Fargo.

(Perhaps not surprisingly, the film’s director, Matt Shakman, previously directed two episodes of the Fargo tv series.)

Of course, it’s not just the film’s visual style that will remind you of the Coens.  The plot is full of Coen DNA as well and that’s a bit of a problem.  The thing that sets the Coen Brothers apart from other directors is that only they seem to understand how to best pull off their unique brand of ironic quirkiness.  It’s difficult to think of any other director who could have done A Serious Man, Burn After Reading, or any other Coen film.  It’s telling that whenever other directors have attempted to film a Coen Brothers script — whether it was Angelina Jolie with Unbroken or Steven Spielberg with Bridge of Spies — the resulting film has almost always been overwhelmingly earnest.  (If you try, you can imagine a Coen-directed version of Bridge of Spies, one with Josh Brolin in the Tom Hanks role, Steve Buscemi as Rudolph Abel, and maybe Bruce Campbell as a CIA agent.)  The Coen style is one that has inspired many a director but ultimately, it seems to be something that only the Coens themselves are truly capable of pulling off.

(Though Ridley Scott came close with the underrated The Counselor…)

Plotwise, Cut Bank has everything that you would normally expect to find in a Coen Brothers film.  For instance, it takes place in Cut Bank, Montana and, much as in Fargo and No Country For Old Men, a good deal of time is devoted to detailing the oddness of life in the middle of nowhere.  Also, much as in Fargo and No Country For Old Men, the entire film revolves around an overly complicated crime gone wrong.

Dwayne McLaren (Liam Hemsworth) has spent his entire life in the Montana town of Cut Bank and is looking for a way to get enough money to move out to California with his beauty pageant-obsessed girlfriend, Cassandra (Teresa Palmer).  Dwayne learns that the U.S. Postal Service will pay a reward to anyone who provides information about the death of a postal worker.  One day, while filming one of Cassandra’s pageant audition videos, Dwayne accidentally films both the shooting of mailman Georgie Wits (Bruce Dern) and the theft of his mail truck.

Wow, what luck!

Sheriff Vogel (John Malkovich) throws up as soon as he hears about the murder.  After all, he’s never had to investigate one before.  Town weirdo Derby Milton (Michael Stuhlbarg) is upset that the stolen mail truck contained a parcel that he was waiting for.  Meanwhile, Big Stan (Billy Bob Thornton), who happens to be both Cassandra’s father and Dwayne’s boss, seems to be suspicious about how Dwayne just happened to be in the field at the same time that Georgie was getting killed…

Dwayne’s efforts to collect his reward are stymied by the fact that postal inspector Joe Barrett (Oliver Platt) doesn’t want to hand over any money until Georgie’s body has been found.  Unfortunately, it’s going to be difficult for anyone to find Georgie’s body because Georgie is still alive!  That’s right — Georgie’s been working with Dwayne the whole time…

Meanwhile, it turns out that Derby is not someone you want to mess with.  In fact, he’s just as efficient a killing machine as Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men.  And Derby is determined to retrieve his parcel…

Cut Bank got an extremely limited release in April of this year and it didn’t get much attention.  To a certain extent, I can understand why.  It’s a film that has its moments but ultimately, it’s never as good as you want it to be.  The best thing about the film is that it features a lot of eccentric actors doing their thing.  Any film that allows Bruce Dern to interact with Michael Stuhlbarg deserves some credit.  Unfortunately, Dwayne and Cassandra are not particularly interesting characters and Hemsworth and Palmer give rather one-dimensional performances.  Since you don’t care about them, you don’t really care if Dwayne’s scheme is going to work out.  William H. Macy may have been a despicable loser in Fargo but you could still understand what led to him coming up with his phony plan and you felt a strange mix of sympathy and revulsion as everything spiraled out of his control.  The same can be said of Josh Brolin in No Country For Old Men.  Dwayne, however, just comes across like someone who came up with a needlessly complicated plan for no good reason.

In 2013, the script for Cut Bank was included as a part of the Black List, an annual list of the “best” unproduced scripts in Hollywood.  What’s odd is that, for all the hype that goes along with being listed, Black List scripts rarely seem to work as actual films.  Oh sure, there’s been a few exceptions.  American Hustle was on the Black List, for instance.  But a typical Black List film usually turns out to be something more along the lines of The Beaver or Broken City.  Watching Cut Bank, I could see why the script generated excitement.  The story is full of twists and all of the characters are odd enough that I’m sure readers had a lot of fun imagining which beloved character actor could fill each role.  Unfortunately — as so often happens with Black List films — the direction does not live up to the writing.  Yes, the plot is twisty and there’s a lot of odd moments but the film never escapes the long shadow of the films that influenced it.

Shattered Politics #62: Bulworth (dir by Warren Beatty)


BulworthSo, if you’ve ever wondered what happened to Robert Redford’s Bill McKay after he was elected to the U.S. Senate at the end of The Candidate, I imagine that he probably ended up becoming something like the protagonist of 1998’s Bulworth, U.S. Sen. Jay Bulworth.

As played by Warren Beatty, Bulworth is a veteran senator.  A former liberal firebrand, he may still decorate his office with pictures of him meeting Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King but Bulworth sold out a long time ago.  Now, he just says whatever has to say in order to get elected, including pretending to have a happy marriage. He has become a part of everything that’s wrong with Washington.

Sick of both politics and life in general, Bulworth decides that he’d rather be dead.  But, in order to make sure that his daughter collects on his $10,000,000 life insurance policy, Bulworth cannot commit suicide.  Instead, he arranges for a contract to be taken out on his life.  In two days, Bulworth will be assassinated.

Returning to California for his campaign, Bulworth gets drunk and suddenly starts to say what he actually believes.  He attacks the Washington establishment.  He attacks the voters.  He attacks the insurance companies and comes out for single payer health insurance.  With his desperate press secretary (Oliver Platt) chasing behind him, Bulworth spends the night dancing at a club where he discovers marijuana and meets a girl named Nina (Halle Berry).

(Platt, meanwhile, discovers that he really, really likes cocaine.)

Soon, Nina and Bulworth are hiding out in the ghetto, where Bulworth meets both Nina’s brother (Isiah Washington) and local drug dealer, L.D. (Don Cheadle), and gets a lesson about how economics actually work in the ghetto.  Soon, Bulworth is appearing on CNN where he raps his new political platform and suggests that the solutions for all of America’s problems would be for everyone to just keep having sex until eventually everyone is the same color.

Of course, what Bulworth doesn’t know is that Nina also happens to be the assassin who has been contracted to kill him…

I have mixed feelings about Bulworth.  On the one hand, the film starts out strong.  You don’t have to agree with the film’s politics in order to appreciate the film’s passion,  Bulworth is an angry film and one that’s willing to say some potentially unpopular things.  It’s a film about politics that doesn’t resort to the easy solutions that were proposed by some of the other films that I’ve reviewed for Shattered Politics.  Warren Beatty does a pretty good job of portraying Bulworth’s initial mental breakdown and Oliver Platt is a manic wonder as he consumes more and more cocaine.

But, once Warren Beatty starts rapping, the film starts to fall apart and becomes a bit too cartoonish for its own good.  You get the feeling that Warren Beatty, at this point, is just trying to live out the liberal fantasy of being the only wealthy white man in America to understand what it’s like to be poor and black in America.

Bulworth starts out well but ultimately, it begins better than it ends.

Embracing the Melodrama #42: Indecent Proposal (dir by Adrian Lyne)


This one is just dumb.

First released in 1993 and something of a perennial on AMC, Indecent Proposal tells the story of David (Woody Harrelson) and Diane (Demi Moore), two kids who meet in high school, get married, and end up living what, in Hollywood, passes for an average, middle class lifestyle — which is to say, Diane is a successful real estate broker, David is an architect, and they’re in the process of building their dream house on the beach.  (Just like everyone else you know, right?)  However, the economy goes bad, David loses his job, and they find themselves deep in debt.

Desperately, they decide to take a gamble.  Literally.  They go to Las Vegas and, at first, it seems like everything’s going to be alright.  David has a run of luck and makes a lot of money.  They make so much money that David and Diane end up having sex on top of it.  Now, I have to admit, if I ever won $25,000 dollars in Vegas, I would probably spread it on a bed and roll around naked on it as well.  But only if it was paper money.  Coins would probably be uncomfortable and I’d hate to end up with a hundred little impressions of George Washington’s profile running up and down my body.

But anyway, David and Diane make the mistake of sticking around in Vegas for a second day and they end up losing all of the money that they previously won and you better believe that when the chips are pulled away, Diane is shown trying grab them in slow motion while going, “Noooooo!”  Soon, David and Diane are sitting in an all-night diner and trying to figure out what to do next.  A waitress overhears them and sadly shakes her head.  Obviously, she’s seen a lot of movies about Las Vegas.

Anyway, this movie is too dumb to waste this many words on its plot so let’s just get to the point.  David and Diane meets John Gage (Robert Redford), a millionaire who offers to give David a million dollars in exchange for having one (and only one) commitment-free night with Diane.  David and Diane agree and then spend the rest of the movie agonizing over their decision.  Eventually, this leads to Diane and David splitting up, John Gage reentering the picture and proving himself to be not such a bad guy, and David eventually buying a hippo.

It’s all really dumb.

Anyway, I was planning on making quite a few points about this set-up but, quite frankly, this film is so dumb that I’m getting annoyed just writing this review.  So, instead of breaking this all down scene-by-scene, I’m just going to point out a few things and then move on to better melodramas.

1) Every character in the movie has a scene where they eventually ask what we (the viewing audience) would do if we were in a similar situation.  “Would you have sex for a million dollars?”  Well, let’s see.  Basically, the deal seems to be that you have safe, non-kinky, missionary position sex with a millionaire who you will never have to see again after you get paid.  And you’re getting a million dollars in return.  Would I do it?  OF COURSE, I’D DO IT!  It’s a million dollars, it’s just one night, and it’s not like you’re being asked to fuck Vladimer Putin or something.  If the film wanted to create a true moral dilemma, they should have cast someone other than Robert Redford as John Gage and they should have had Gage propose something more than just one night.  If Gage had been played by an unappealing actor (or perhaps if the film were made today with Redford looking as craggly as he did in Capt. America or All Is Lost) or if it had been a million dollars for Diane to serve as a member of Gage’s harem for a year, the film would have been far different and perhaps not any better but at least all of the subsequent angst would have made sense.

2) What really annoyed me is that, after Diane returns from her night with Gage, neither she nor her husband ever cash that million dollar check.  If you’re going to agree to the stupid deal, at least take advantage of it.

3) Finally, why would you accept a check for something like that?  Did Gage write, “For letting me fuck your wife” in the memo line?  Why not get paid in cash so, at the very least, you don’t have to deal with IRS?

Seriously, this movie is just dumb.

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Two Post Presidents Day Reviews: Frost/Nixon (dir. by Ron Howard) and All The President’s Men (dir. by Alan J. Pakula)


“Now Watergate doesn’t bother me/does your conscience bother you?” — Lynard Skynard, Sweet Home Alabama

As part of my continuing quest to see and review every film ever nominated for best picture, I want to devote my first post Presidents Day post to two films: 2008’s Frost/Nixon and 1976’s All The President’s Men.

During my sophomore year of college, I had a political science professor who, every day of class, would sit on his desk and ramble on and on and on about his past as a political activist.  He protested Viet Nam, he hung out with revolutionaries, he loved Hugo Chavez, and I assume he probably had a Che Guevara poster hanging in his office.  Whenever he wanted to criticize George W. Bush, he would compare him to Richard Nixon and then pause as if he was waiting for the class to all start hissing in unison.  He always seemed to be so bitterly disappointed that we didn’t.  What he, and a whole lot of other people his age, didn’t seem to understand was that Richard Nixon was his boogeyman.  The rest of us could hardly care less.

That was the same problem that faced the 2008 best picture nominee Frost/Nixon

Directed rather flatly by Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon tells the true story about how a light-weight English journalist named David Frost (played by Michael Sheen) managed to score the first televised interview with former President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella).  Both Frost and Nixon see the interviews as a chance to score their own individual redemptions while Frost’s assistants (played by Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell) see the interview as a chance to put Richard Nixon on trial for Watergate, the Viet Nam War, and every thing else under the sun.  That may not sound like a very exciting movie but it does sound like a sure Oscar contender, doesn’t it?

I’ve always secretly been a big history nerd so I was really looking forward to seeing Frost/Nixon when it was first released in 2008.  When I first saw it, I was vaguely disappointed but I told myself that maybe I just didn’t know enough about Richard Nixon or Watergate to really “get” the film.  So, when the film later showed up on cable, I gave it another chance.  And then I gave it a chance after that because I really wanted to like this film.  Afterall, it was a best picture nominee.  It was critically acclaimed.  The word appeared to be insisting that this was a great film.  And the more I watched it, the more I realized that the world was wrong.  (If nothing else, my reaction to Frost/Nixon made it easier for me to reject the similarly acclaimed Avatar a year later.)  Frost/Nixon is well-acted and slickly produced but it’s not a great film.  In fact, Frost/Nixon is epitome of the type of best picture nominee that inspires people to be cynical about the Academy Awards.

Before I get into why Frost/Nixon didn’t work for me, I want to acknowledge that this was a very well-acted film.  By that, I mean that the cast (Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, and Oliver Platt) all gave very watchable and entertaining performances.  At the same time, none of them brought much depth to their characters.  Much like the film itself, nobody seems to have much going on underneath the surface.  Frank Langella may be playing a historic figure but, ultimately, his Oscar-nominated performance feels like just a typically grouchy Frank Langella performance.  Michael Sheen actually gives a far more interesting performance as David Frost but, at the same time, the character might as well have just been identified as “the English guy.”  In fact, a better title for this film would have been The Grouchy, the English, and the Superfluous.

For all the time that the film devotes to Rockwell and Platt blathering on about how they’re going to be giving Richard Nixon “the trial he never had,” this film is ultimately less about politics and more about show business.  Ron Howard devotes almost as much time to the rather boring details of how the interviews were set up and sold into syndication as he does to the issues that the interview brings up.  Unfortunately, for a movie about show business to succeed, the audience has to believe that the show is one that they would actually enjoy watching,  This, ultimately, is why Frost/Nixon fails.  While the filmmakers continually tell us that the Frost/Nixon interviews were an important moment in American history, they never show us.  Yes, everyone has hideous hair and wide lapels but, otherwise, the film never recreates the period or the atmosphere of the film’s setting and, as a result, its hard not to feel detached from the action happening on-screen.  For all the self-congratulatory claims made at the end of the film, it never convinces us that the Frost/Nixon interviews were really worth all the trouble.  Much like my old poli sci professor, Frost/Nixon never gives us a reason to care. 

For a far more interesting and entertaining look at the Watergate scandal, I would recommend the 1976 best picture nominee All The President’s Men.  Recreating the story of how two Washington Post reporters (played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) exposed the Watergate scandal that eventually led to Nixon’s resignation, All The President’s Men is the movie that Frost/Nixon wishes it could be.  Despite being made only two years after Watergate, All The President’s Men doesn’t take the audience’s interest for granted.  Instead, director Pakula earns our interest by crafting his story as an exciting thriller.  Pakula directs the film like an old school film noir, filling the screen with menacing shadows and always keeping the camera slightly off-center.   Like Frost/Nixon, All The President’s Men is a well-acted film with a bunch of wonderful 70s character actors — performers like Ned Beatty, Jason Robards, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, and Robert Walden, and Jane Alexander — all giving effectively low-key and realistic performances.   The end result is a film that manages to be exciting and fascinating to those of us who really don’t have any reason to care about Richard Nixon or Watergate.

Both of these two films were nominated for best picture.  Frost/Nixon quite rightly lost to Slumdog MillionaireAll The President’s Men, on the other hand, lost to Rocky.

Quickie Review: 2012 (dir. by Roland Emmerich)


[guilty pleasure]

When one sees the name Roland Emmerich attached as the director to a film on any given year one almost has to audibly groan. He’s not on the level of Uwe Boll in terms of awful films, but he does give Michael Bay a run for the title of worst blockbuster filmmaker. It’s quite a shame to see Emmerich’s films one after the other get worse and worse. This was a filmmaker who showed some talent in the scifi-action genre with such cult classics as Universal Soldier and Stargate. He would reach his apex with the popcorn-friendly and thoroughly enjoyable Will Smith alien-invasion flick, Independence Day. Since reaching those lofty heights each successive film has been more groan-inducing and worse than the previous one. For a brief moment in 2009 this would change as he finally succeeded in destroying the world that he had only hinted at with previous films such as ID4, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow. The film 2012 was released in late-2009 and, while it was universally lambasted by critics and a large portion of the public, I thought it was his most fun film since ID4.

2012 literally has the world greet it’s apocalypse according to the Mayan Calendar in the year 2012. The first forty or so minutes has Emmerich explaining the details of how the world will end in 2012 either through the film’s lead scientist (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) or through a conspiracy-theorist played with manic glee by Woody Harrelson. The bulk of this film is almost like disaster porn for film lovers who are into disaster flicks. We have earthquakes which sends the whole California coast sliding into the Pacific. Supervolcanoes erupting in what is the Yellowstone National Forest right up to mega-tsunamis that dwarf the highest mountain ranges.

The cast might be called an all-star one, but I rather think it’s more a B-list with such names as John Cusack playing a goofy everyman who must save his ex-wife and two young children right up to Danny Glover playing the lame duck of lame duck presidents (I guess Morgan Freeman was unavailable or already done with disaster films after doing Deep Impact). The performance by this cast ranged from alright to laughable, but even with the latter the sense of fun never wavered. This was a flick about the world ending and Emmerich delivered everything promised.

It’s the scenes of world devastation which made this film so enjoyable for me and has become one of my latest guilty pleasures. No matter how bad the dialogue got or how wooden some of the acting came off the sense of wonder from Emmerich destroying the world on the big-screen and on my TV made this film fun to watch. Maybe those who hated it or thought it was trash were aiming to high. I will admit that the film is trash, but in a good way that past enjoyable disaster flicks of the 70’s were fun. It took the premise serious enough, but the filmmakers involved didn’t skimp on over-the-top destruction. I mean this film’s premise means we get to see in high-definition billions of people die as the planet decides to suddenly switch things around to get a better feng shui vibe to the planet.

Scenes such as the mega-tsunamis topping over the Himalayan mountain range was awesome. But even that scene couldn’t top the super-quake which destroys Los Angeles around Cusack’s character who tries to outdrive the quake and the resulting chasms which appear to chase his limo with is family inside. Seeing Los Angeles and the bedrock it’s on upheave and slide into the Pacific was one of the best disaster porn sequences I’ve ever seen and I don’t see anything topping it in the near future.

2012 as a Roland Emmerich production already has a black mark on it because of his reputation as a filmmaker, but for once he actually made a film that was able to surpass all the glaring flaws from it’s one-note, stereotypical characters to it’s wooden dialogue. He did this by making a film with disaster scenes of such epic spectacle that one had no choice but to just sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s a bad film, but it sure was a fun ride. This is why I decided on a fan-made trailer which best exemplifies this film and not the one made by the studio.

I eagerly await the sequel I fully expect from Hollywood: 2013: Disaster Strikes Back.