No Bears: #FreeJafarPanahi

Director Jafar Panahi, who is currently imprisoned in Iran for 6 years, made another film wherein Panahi plays himself in a exploration of Iranian culture. The film takes place in two locations, a town on the edge of the Iranian Turkey border where Panahi is staying and a city in Turkey where the film Panahi is directing remotely is shooting.

Jafar Panahi is staying in a town with questionable internet coverage, despite the sheriff assuring him the coverage was impeccable. Unable to connect and continue directing his newest film across the border, he explores the village that he is staying in with his camera in toe. He wanders above the buildings and takes pictures of those he meets or sees.

That night, his assistant director arrives with a hard drive of the daily shoots. The two take a drive and discuss Panahi’s inability to leave the country and the negative impact that it is having on the filming process. They come across the road that the local smugglers use and Panahi and his assistant drive down the road and flirt with the idea of smuggling the director across the border. Panahi decides he is unwilling to do so and returns to his temporary home in the village.

The next day, Panahi is confronted by some men from the town insisting that he took a picture of a certain couple, and that the picture can be used as evidence against them. The women in this village are betrothed to someone at birth, and the belief is that this woman has been with a different man. Panahi assures the men that he has no such picture. They leave, but clearly are unpersuaded.

The drama that Panahi experiences in the village in which he is staying is mixed with the drama from his film. In the film a couple are attempting to procure passports to escape the country and fly to Europe to begin a new life. The couple comes to odds when one of them acquires a passport, but the other does not. Their love is tested by this potential distance between them.

No Bears attempts to draw a comparison between the couple in Panahi’s film and that of the star-crossed pair in the village which he is staying. In this point the film fails to deliver what it set out to do. Because Panahi is the sole viewpoint, the stories of the four lovers are underdeveloped. The couple in the village is especially underserved as they are not even the secondary point of view of their own story. Instead, the film focuses on what the men of the village think about them.

The other goal of No Bears that Panahi succeeds on is a critique of the culture in both the small village but also in the region at large. Panahi leaves no question that he is against the assigning of marriage partners at birth. He brings such up at a ceremony where he is required to swear that he is telling the truth. On the larger scale though, No Bears accuses the government of not providing for their people and entrapping them in the country.

Panahi’s output since his initial arrest in 2010 has centered around the director playing himself and that conceit has allowed him to take exceptionally personal shots at the country that imprisoned him. No Bears is another film along that line, and while it gets a little lost in some of its side stories, the film is solid. Not Panahi’s best but a strong addition to this phase of his career.

#FreeJafarPanahi

★★★½

Infinity Pool: A Wild Premise and the Modern Horror Queen

Brandon Cronenberg, son of acclaimed Canadian director David Cronenberg, returns for his third feature film Infinity Pool. Brandon follows in his father’s footsteps in making science-fiction/ horror hybrids, but while David’s films make heavy use of practical effects for literal horrific imagery, Brandon’s films exist in the more theoretic though they are just as visceral. Infinity Pool continues in that tradition by utilizing a low-concept premise to deliver something devilishly twisted.

James and Em Foster (Alexander Skarsgård and Cleopatra Coleman) are on vacation in a swanky beach resort in an extremely poor country. James is a writer infamous for one book six years ago who has been surviving off his wife’s fortune in the years since. One morning near the end of their trip, James meets Gabi (Mia Goth) who along with her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert) become quick friends of the couple.

The two couple borrow a car and go for a joy ride outside of the resort, something which is expressly forbidden, and have a day of drunken partying on a beautiful, deserted beach. After nightfall, they head back to the resort with James, the most sober, behind the wheel. A glitch in the car’s lights leaves James temporarily unable to see, and it is in that moment that a local happens to cross the street in front of the car. Visibily shaken, James and Em want to inform the authorities, but Gabi and Alban, having been to the resort before refuse saying they do not want to end up in jail in such a backward country.

The next morning, James and Em are awoken to violent raps on their door, and it appears that they were unsuccessful in evading the law and James is forced into custody. In custody and staring down a serious punishment, Infinity Pool introduces the science-fiction element that becomes the crux of the remainder of the film.

Infinity pool gets extremely dark through it’s science-fiction element and it is when the film delves deep into those themes that is at its best. The conundrum proposed to James while he is in the foreign jail is innovative and his robotic response to the decision leaves Em, and the audience, uneasy of his coldness. While this piece of science fiction is revisited on a couple of occasions, it is never as dark as the first visit, and the revisits are less purposeful. The film could have definitely explored the consequences of the punishment more, but instead it occupies its time with other less interesting debauchery.

It should come as no surprise after her work last year that Mia Goth is the standout performer of the film. Her ability to be over-the-top and unhinged makes her the modern-day queen of horror. Gabi goes from the girl next door persona to a deranged gun wielding maniac, Mia Goth can do both with great prowess.  

Infinity Pool belongs to a relatively modern subgenre of horror. One in which the goal is not to scare its viewers, but instead to shake and unsettle them. Brandon Cronenberg successfully creates those feelings, and while the premise could have been explored more deeply, the horror queen herself Mia Goth makes what made it to screen ever entertaining.

★★★

Living: More than Just a Lead Performance

Oliver Hermanus’s Living is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 Ikiru, a film which this reviewer has shamefully never seen. The film has been bubbling in the Oscar conversation for a few select categories for months now, but upon wide release it seems that it’s being underdiscussed if anything.

Bill Nighy stars as Williams, the head of the Public Works department in 1950s London. He seems to be built ideally for bureaucratic work with a nose to the grindstone mentality that has little interest in helping people unless they have first gotten the necessary paperwork from the Parks department.

Williams’s normally untouchable routine is broken one afternoon when he must leave early for a doctor’s appointment. It is at that appointment that he learns that he has terminal cancer and will pass away in six months, eight to nine at the most.

Unable to process, he skips work the next day and happens to meet a young man to whom he spills his predicament. Williams had earlier that morning withdrew a large amount of cash, and he’s in need of someone to show him how to have a good time. The two men go out on a rager jumping from club to seedier club.

The next day, Williams runs into his recently former associate, Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood) and the two go out for lunch while Williams writes her a recommendation. Williams feels a strong connection with Miss Harris, and they build a friendship which gives him a reason to change his outlook on life for the last few months.

Bill Nighy is the standout performance of the film as the elderly Williams. He captures the meek voice of a man who has never lived but slowly opens up as days go on as he lives his life away from work for the first time. Nighy displays remarkable range despite adhering to Williams rather quiet demeanor.

Aimee Lou Wood is also worth calling out as Miss Harris. She may act as the manic pixie dream girl for Nighy’s Williams, but instead of the traditional MPDG persona, she plays someone much more grounded. She doesn’t feel amiss from the 1950s society that she belongs to, yet she is able to be the catalyst which Williams uses to evolve. Balancing these decisions is difficult, yet Lou Wood delivers remarkably and should be getting more attention.

An interesting decision that Hermanus makes with the film is to change the perspective for the third act of the film to that of Peter Wakeling (Alex Sharp), a young professional who started working in Williams’s department right when Williams learned of his diagnosis. The film does this to highlight the impact that Williams had on those around him after going through his awakening. While the purpose for this perspective change makes sense with respect to the film’s narrative and deeper meaning, it is still a little jarring when the perspective change takes place.

Living is a simple film with simple themes, and yet the combination of Nighy’s acting and Hermanus’s direction produces a film that feels seminal. The film worms its way int to the subconscious and affects the viewer much the same way Williams’s diagnosis impacted him.

★★★★

Oscar Nomination Prediction 2023

The Oscar nominations go live early Tuesday morning, so in the tradition of online movie reviewers, I’m giving my predictions on who will see the nomination.

Best Picture

All Quiet on the Western Front has proven to be the international film that will make this year’s list after it’s stellar performance at the BAFTAs. After that, it’s only the 10 slot with a big question mark. My heart wants Women Talking, but my brain thinks this year women directors will find themselves shut out.

  1. Everything Everywhere All At Once
  2. The Banshees of Inisherin
  3. The Fabelmans
  4. TÁR
  5. Elvis
  6. Top Gun: Maverick
  7. Avatar: The Way of Water
  8. All Quiet on the Western Front
  9. The Whale
  10. Triangle of Sadness

Best Director – The top 4 are all locks, and again after the BAFTA nomination performance, it’s hard to count out Edward Berger as the final slot. Another unfortunate major category without a women included (sorry Sara Polley and Charlotte Welles).

  1. Daniels – Everything Everywhere All At Once
  2. Todd Field – TÁR
  3. Steven Spielberg – The Fabelmans
  4. Martin McDonagh – The Banshees of Inisherin
  5. Edward Berger – All Quiet on the Western Front

Best Actress

After the big 2 up top, the rest of the slots could give. Deadwyler gave a performance more than worthy of her slot, but the question is how many people saw Til? Michelle Williams used to be a lock, but some poor showings in prior awards nominations puts her on the chopping block, but I assume we’ll see her on Tuesday morning. With the last slot, I’m guessing Viola Davis will get in over Ana de Armas in the reviled Blonde, and Margot Robbie in Babylon (which would be my personal pick for the 5th slot).

  1. Cate Blanchett – TÁR
  2. Michelle Yeoh – Everything Everywhere All At Once
  3. Danielle Deadwyler – Til
  4. Michelle Williams – The Fabelmans
  5. Viola Davis – The Woman King

Best Actor – Another category with 4 slots locked up, the question comes to the 5th slot. While most outlets are predicting a Tom Cruise nomination for Top Gun: Maverick, I feel this will be the lone acknowledgement for the best film of the year with Paul Mescal sneaking in for Aftersun.

  1. Brendan Fraser – The Whale
  2. Colin Farrell – The Banshees of Inisherin
  3. Austin Butler – Elvis
  4. Bill Nighy – Living
  5. Paul Mescal – Aftersun

Best Supporting Actress – An interesting batch this year, I’d call the first 4 relatively safe, but anything could happen in this category. The big question mark is who will take that last slot with Stephanie Hsu attempting to get Everything Everywhere All At Once two nominations in this category, but I’m going with Dolly De Leon from Triangle of Sadness.

  1. Kerry Condon – The Banshees of Inisherin
  2. Hong Chau – The Whale
  3. Jamie Lee Curtis – Everything Everywhere All At Once
  4. Angel Bassett – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
  5. Dolly De Leon – Triangle of Sadness

Best Supporting Actor

Ke Huy Quan is the easiest bet for a win now. The Banshees of Inisherin look to be a lock to get 2 nominations in with Gleeson and Keoghan both looking obvious. The main question in this category is the 5th slot, which will be a large step down from the top 4. It’s looking now like Eddie Redmayne (who I still secretly can’t stand after his The Danish Girl performance) will provide The Good Nurse with it’s only nomination of the night.

  1. Ke Huy Quan – Everything Everywhere All At Once
  2. Brendan Gleeson – The Banshees of Inisherin
  3. Barry Keoghan – the Banshees of Inisherin
  4. Paul Dano – The Fabelmans
  5. Eddie Redmayne – The Good Nurse

Best International Feature Film – An interesting category this year, The top 3 slots are pretty much a given (and their order is as well). I’m predicting a bit of an upset with Corsage, but I think a stellar performance from Vicky Krieps will propel the film into the conversation.

  1. All Quiet on the Wester Front
  2. Decision to Leave
  3. Argentina, 1985
  4. The Quiet Girl
  5. Corsage

Best Animated Feature

Another category with 4 slots locked in. The 5th slot could go to a variety of options, but I’m putting faith in GKIDS to get a foreign film into the category with Inu-Oh (it helps that I really connected with the film). I see it just beating out Wendell & Wild for the slot.

  1. Tuillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio
  2. Turning Red
  3. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
  4. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
  5. Inu-Oh

Best Documentary Feature – The real question with this category is whether the voting block will break their unofficial veto on musical documentaries to nominate the wonderfully innovative Moonage Daydream. If it doesn’t get in look to The Territory or Descendant to fill the last slot.

  1. All The Beauty and the Bloodshed
  2. Fire of Love
  3. All that Breathes
  4. Navalny
  5. Moonage Daydream

Best Original Screenplay – All of my predictions for this category show up above in my best picture guesses, with Elvis being the lone film on the outside looking out (it is much more about the imagery than the writing). It’s hard to imagine any other film breaking into this category with Babylon and Aftersun looking quite a way up from the 6 and 7 slots.

  1. Everything Everywhere All At Once
  2. The Banshees of Inisherin
  3. The Fabelmans
  4. TÁR
  5. Triangle of Sadness

Best Adapted Screenplay

The category for Sarah Polley’s revenge after being snubbed in the above categories. All Quiet on the Western Front will continue it’s post BAFTA dominance as an international film. The 5th slot will likely go to Living even though She Said found a surprising BAFTA nomination.

  1. Women Talking
  2. The Whale
  3. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
  4. All Quiet on the Western Front
  5. Living

Best Cinematography – This is the hardest category to predict with the precursor awards being all over the place. Top Gun: Maverick is the only lock with the other 4 being any of about a dozen options. I leaned closer to the films that would receive a bunch of nominations, but don’t be surprised if films like Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, Empire of Light, and The Batman find their way in.

  1. Top Gun: Maverick
  2. All Quiet on the Western Front
  3. Avatar: The Way of Water
  4. The Fabelmans
  5. Elvis

Best Editing – Similar to Cinematography, this category is pretty wide open. The top 2 are obvious but after that it opens wide up. Elvis, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Fabelmans all fall into the category of most-editing equals best-editing which Academy voters tend to fall for.

  1. Top Gun: Maverick
  2. Everything Everywhere All At Once
  3. Elvis
  4. All Quiet on the Western Front
  5. The Fabelmans

Best Production Design

The first category that the commercial flop though visually stunning Babylon has a real chance in, and it is a frontrunner.  The rest of the category is filled with Oscar favorites for other categories.

  1. Babylon
  2. Avatar: The Way of Water
  3. Elvis
  4. All Quiet on the Western Front
  5. The Fabelmans

Best Sound – The consolidation of the sound category makes it much easier to guess, and this year the top 5 seem pretty solid, though I guess The Batman could sneak in if the Academy really takes to that film.

  1. Top Gun: Maverick
  2. Avatar: The Way of Water
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front
  4. Everything Everywhere All At Once
  5. Elvis

Best Visual Effects

The backlash on Marvel movies appears to be strong in this branch this year between the VES and BAFTAs shutting out Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Maddness. So that leaves the 5th slot wide open. I’m taking a wild guess on the slot and predicting an upset from Nope.

  1. Avatar: The Way of Water
  2. All Quiet on the Western Front
  3. Top Gun: Maverick
  4. The Batman
  5. Nope

Best Original Score – This is Justin Horowitz category to lose and finds Babylon locked for the top slot. My main question for this category goes to the last slot. John Williams may seem like the obvious pick for The Fabelmans, but I have to go with the most atmospheric and innovative score of the year in Volker Bertelmann’s work for All Quiet on the Western Front.

  1. Babylon
  2. Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio
  3. Women Talking
  4. The Banshees of Inisherin
  5. All Quiet on the Western Front

Best Costume Design – Is now where I admit that I haven’t seen Black Panther: Wakanda Forever yet? Regardless I have to go with the expects and put this as the front runner. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris gets in with the “only for costumes” slot that pop up once every year or two, and sits around some heavy Oscar contenders. As mediocre as it was, don’t be surprised if Amsterdam finds its way into one of these slots on Tuesday.

  1. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
  2. Elvis
  3. Babylon
  4. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
  5. The Woman King

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Makeup and Hairstyling tends to be all about the prosthetics and my high contenders all make substantial use of them. Crimes of the Future might be a long shot at my number 5, but I just feel in my ear covered body that it will get in.

  1. The Whale
  2. Elvis
  3. Amsterdam
  4. The Batman
  5. Crimes of the Future

Best Original Song – Time for my standard “I’m not a music critic” stance, but this year’s list of songs seem pretty easy to guess with the RRR sensation “Naatu Naatu” looking like an easy frontrunner. Diane Warren will continue her undeniable streak at the Oscars and will force me to watch a film I’ve never heard of before in Tell it Like a Woman.

  1. “Naatu Naatu” – RRR
  2. “Hold My Hand” – Top Gun: Maverick
  3. “Lift Me up” – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
  4. “Applause” – Tell it Like a Woman
  5. “Ciao Papa” – Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio

Best Narrative Short/ Animated Short/ Documentary Short – I haven’t seen these films and can’t make a comment.

Saint Omer: The Chimera of Motherhood

France’s 2022 submission to the Oscars for Best International Film Saint Omer is an emotional delve into the relationships between mothers and daughters masquerading as a courtroom drama.

Kayije Kagame plays Rama an academic who travels from Paris to Saint-Omer to observe a court case with the intention of writing a new book on it. A few days before the trip she, her partner, and her two sisters have a get together at Rama’s mother’s house. In this scene director Alice Diop starts hinting at the theme for the film. It’s apparent that Rama has a more tepid relationship with her mother than her siblings do.

The trial Rama attends for research is of Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanga) a woman from Senegal who drowned her 15-month-old infant daughter in the sea. The first day of court plays out in seemingly real time as the judge (Valérie Dréville) reads the details of Coly’s case and inquests her background to try and find meaning to the infanticide. This plays on for an extended period which introduces the uneasiness that punctuates the rest of the film.

After the first day of the trial, Laurence’s mother Odile (Salimata Kamate) introduces herself to Rama, their shared Senegalese background creates an instant bond between them. They agree to meet for lunch on the following day. When they meet for lunch, Odile exposes what was previously hinted at, that Rama is pregnant. This connects Rama to Laurence in a more intimate way.

Saint Omer is deeply concerned with the relationship between mother and daughter. “We carry on the cells of our mother’s and our daughters who will in turn carry on us.” Laurence’s lawyer speaks the theme of the film as a closing statement to the trial. She refers to mothers and daughters as chimeras who share each other’s cells and are thus intimately connected.

What happens when a mother is maybe not physically abusive but emotionally distant? Rama’s mother appears to have been that, and Laurence makes the case that her mother was as well.  Rama’s trauma from her mother is hinted at through flashbacks but never spoken explicitly, but it influences her to this day, and she worries that she will become a version of her mother to her unborn child. Is Rama destined to repeat the sins of her mother, or worse the sins of this woman on trial in whom she sees herself? Diop is greatly interested in these relationships and the permanence of damage that is done.

Alice Diop transforms the traditional courtroom drama into something much more personal and introspective. The film uses the trial as a catalyst for Rama, an unconnected observer, to explore her inner demons and question what it means to be a mother and a daughter.

★★★★

A Man Called Otto: A Quaint but Pointless Remake

A Man Called Otto is Marc Forster’s remake of the 2015 Swedish film A Man Called Ove (dir. Hannes Holm) a quaint slice of life picture about the curmudgeonly, suicidal Otto.

Tom Hanks plays the titular Otto, a man who has lost the enjoyment he once found in life and instead has become bitter to the world around him. He begins his day by doing rounds through his gated community where he rebels against delivered ads, fixes other’s mistakes in recycling, and is genuinely rude to his neighbors who continue to try and reach out to him.

He attends his last day of work at a factory, where it is made clear that he was forced into retirement rather than choosing the decision on his own, after which he returns home with a length of rope and the intention of hanging himself. Work must have been an outlet for Otto’s meticulous nature and losing that left him with very little to do.

Just at that time the arrival of his new, and parallel parking challenged, neighbors convinces him to leave his apartment and park for them out of frustration. This good deed, even if done out of a selfish manner as Otto does not suffer incompetence well, changes his life as it introduces him to Marisol (Mariana Treviño) the Mexican woman who makes it her personal responsibility to befriend the socially prickly Otto.

The film continues from there with Marisol slowly thawing Otto’s frozen heart. While doing so, the film makes increasing use of flashbacks to tell the story of Otto(played by Truman Hanks in flashbacks) and his late wife Sonya (Rachel Keller). This provides context for some of Otto’s rudeness while fleshing out the story of the film.

Tom Hanks may be one of the great actors working today, but in this film his performance is greatly overshadowed by Treviño’s, who is new to the Hollywood system. Her constant quips at the sullen Otto’s expense provide most of the laughs for the film.

A Man Called Otto falls for the common plight of foreign films remade into English only a few years later in that the film offers very little new outside of the language change. One could easily just watch A Man Called Ove, assuming they are amiable to reading while they watch, and get the same value out of it.

This pointlessness is further exemplified by the fact that the film feels very slight. Otto’s story is interesting enough to keep one in their seat for two hours, but it has little staying power. A Man Called Otto is fine January viewing but will not be remembered come year end.

★★½

Women Talking: A Literal Masterpiece

Sarah Polley returns to the feature director’s chair for the first time in ten years, Stories We Tell, and her first narrative film since 2011’s Take This Waltz with the awards favorite Women Talking. Her new costume drama utilizes an all-star cast to create a captivating piece of cinema despite the film living up to its title and being almost exclusively women talking.

The film takes place in 2010 in a Mennonite village directly following an incident where the women of the community caught a man tranquilizing and sexually assaulting a woman. The man gives up a list of other men who are guilty of the same practice and is arrested by the local town. When all but one of the other men go to town to bail the guilty parties out, the women of the town gather to discuss their options going forward.

Forgiving the men, staying and fighting them, or leaving are the choices that the women consider, and despite being illiterate they organize a vote for all the women to decide their fate. When the vote returns, it results in a tie between fighting and leaving so three families convene to discuss their eventual decision.

Ona (Rooney Mara), Salome (Claire Foy), Mariche (Jessie Buckley), and Janz (Frances McDormand) along with a handful of other older girls and women and the only man still in the village August (Ben Whishaw), whose only job is to take the minutes of the meeting, lock themselves in a barn to discuss their future.

Janz immediately gives an ultimatum that forgiving the men is the only option she will accept as it is the only way that they can still attain heaven according to their faith. When the rest of the women rebuke the idea, Janz storms off leaving the remaining women to deliberate between the other two options. The film proceeds from there with the women conversing with only one short break for them to perform their traditional duties.  

While the bulk of the film may seem actionless, the emotion displayed by each woman is entrancing as they grapple with an unknown future. Claire Foy declaring that if she should stay, she “will become a murderer” is devastating. Rooney Mara aptly captures the horror of her situation, an unmarried woman who has just realized that her pregnancy was due to the evils of men and not the supernatural. The terror that the women have endured becomes palpable because of the exquisite acting.

Much has been made about the color grading of Polley’s film, and while the decision is stark, it is both not without reason and not as distracting as out of context screen shots make it appear. The washed-out color leaves the film almost monochromatic echoing black and white filmmaking of the past. This homage to an older time reflects the out of time feeling that the Mennonite community exhibits, and especially the ancient mentality that would allow men to do this to women without consequence.

Highlighted by the unnerving acting trio of Mara, Foy, and Buckley Women Talking is a tour-de-force for a post #MeToo world.

★★★★½

Broker: Koreeda’s unique retread

Japanese auteur Hirokazu Koreeda returns to some recently treaded waters in both plot and theme with his South Korean drama Broker. While the comparisons to his Palme d’Or winning film Shoplifters (2018) are undeniable, he manages to create something fully unique and wonderful despite the similarities.

Broker much like Shoplifters revolves around an abandoned child as its inciting incident. So-young (Ji-eun Lee) is a young woman who leaves her baby Woo-sung in a baby box at a church, an actual thing in which one abandons babies in South Korea, where he is found by Ha Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho best known for his role in 2019’s Parasite) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won). The two men instead of processing the baby into the church’s orphanage, delete the footage of the drop off and take the baby home to sell on the black market.

In a slight change of feeling, So-young returns to the church to see her baby but finds it not there. Ha Sang-hyeon out of a sense of obligation tells So-young where her Woo-sung is and that he intends on selling him. They agree to do so as a team, splitting the money 50/50, and set out on a trip to a potential buyer.

Unbeknownst to the three brokers, two police officers Soo-jin (Bae Doona) and detective Lee (Lee Joo-young) know about the intent to traffic the young baby and follow the group on their journey to catch them in the act.

Throughout the rest of the film, Broker continues to layer on additionally plot points to build tension for the group of would-be criminals. This crescendos in intensity, but without ever overshadowing the small personal revelations of the characters that are the primary selling point of the film.

Another way in which Broker mirrors Shoplifters is in its examination of what makes a family and especially the power that can exist in non-traditional families. So-young and Dong-soo both grew up without a traditional family and have resorted to less than legal means to sustain themselves in their adult lives because of this lack of foundation. San-hyeon on the other hand has an ex-wife and daughter that he feels bad about not being a part of their life. All three brokers have every reason to be jaded about they concept of family, yet together they find a sense of belonging.

It is clear that they have not been completely disillusioned by the concept of family based on their pickiness in selling off Woo-sung. Finding a loving family for the baby none of them can take care of is of primary importance, the cash payment while still essential to them is only secondarily so.

Koreeda’s films always take place in the moments between what little action there is, and this remains true even in Broker’s slightly more active plotline. The tension in wondering if the brokers will get caught by the following police is interesting, but nothing compares to the meticulous work he puts into the dialogue between characters. They slowly reveal themselves to each other and by proxy the audience as a way of revealing universal truths.

★★★★

The Best Films of 2022

It’s list time again! I love films and I love sharing my love of films with others. As I’ve done for the past decade, I’ve put together a list of what I consider to be the best films of the year that just ended. This was a rather average year for film. I genuinely adore my number one film, but the rest of the list is primarily a 3 ½ to 4-star level, so good to great, but not exceptional. Of the films on this list, 8 of them were directed by women, which while not as high of a percentage as I strive for, it substantially beats the industry average which continues to hover around 10% penetration for women. As always, living in Seattle there are some films that don’t make it out here in time, so films which may have made this list, but I was unable to view include: The Blue Caftan, Broker, Close, Joyland, Living, No Bears, One Fine Morning, Return to Seoul, Saint Omer, and Women Talking. Now without further ado, the list.

25. Triangle of Sadness (Dir. Ruben Östlund)

Swedish director Ruben Östlund follows up his Palme d’Or winning The Square with another Palme winning condemnation of the rich in Triangle of Sadness. The film is broken into three parts, and each elevates the prior while becoming more and more class conscious. The highlight sequence is what the trailer made infamous, a stormy night on a yacht ends in the repeated vomiting of the rich guests all while the captain (played by Woody Harrelson), seemingly unaffected by the turbulence, quotes Marx over the intercom to the highly capitalist boarders.

24. After Yang (Dir. Kogonada)

Five years after his debut film Columbus, director Kogonada returns with After Yang, a film just as deliberate and ponderous as his previous work, but this time with a science fiction twist. The film takes place in the near future where a family A.I. stops working and a man’s journey to fix it. The film uses this journey to turn a mirror on the human condition from the viewpoint of an impartial observer. Colin Farrell continues to deliver stellar performances in off kilter science-fiction films (think his work with Yorgos Lanthimos), and After Yang might be his best yet.

23. Turning Red (Dir. Domee Shi)

Disney and Pixar have frustrated me over the past handful of years. The story telling which had been a strength of Pixar in general had gotten stale as the same voices created film after film. Thankfully Turning Red changes things up by looking to the up-and-coming Domee Shi (known for the short film Bao) for direction. The film is an unabashed first period allegory, and its honesty about the embarrassing moments in any true coming of age story is heartwarming from a studio that can often feel too polished.

22. Elvis (Dir. Baz Luhrmann)

As a rule, I don’t love, or even really like, the music biopics that have been in vogue the last few years, but Elvis has director Baz Luhrmann as a wild card to elevate the film from the tired genre. Luhrmann’s films all have a frenetic energy and Elvis is no different. The film makes use of an extremely short average shot length to heighten the story of the rock star’s life. Austin Butler gives a miraculous performance as the legendary singer, and Tom Hanks gives a memorable, though debatable if good, performance as well.

21. Inu-Oh (Dir. Masaaki Yuasa)

Part anime folk tale, part larger-than-life rock opera, Inu-Oh was the best 2022 animation had to offer (Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio just misses this list). The film combines beautiful hand-drawn animations with a soundtrack of hair metal inspired jams that is surprisingly catchy despite being entirely in Japanese. The film does start a bit slow before the two main characters meet, but once they do its nonstop sensory bombardment is a joy to behold. An innovative take on the power of storytelling Inu-Oh captivates the imagination.

20. The Fabelmans (Dir. Steven Spielberg)

From a craft standpoint, The Fabelmans is unimpeachable. The editing is exquisite and the cinematography brilliant. Michelle Williams is the obvious standout actor as the highly emotional matriarch of the Fabelman family. The energy she brings to the family dynamic provides much of the conflict for the film, and a less ambitious performance would not have served the film nearly as well. The only think keeping The Fabelmans so low on this list is that the script comes off awfully self-aggrandizing. Spielberg may be a genius, but one would hope he had the humility to not boastfully declare himself so.

19. Hit the Road (Dir. Panah Panahi)

First time filmmaker Panah Panahi (he previously worked as an Editor on the Jafar Panahi film 3 Faces) created a wonderfully personal story of a family on a road trip to say goodbye to the eldest son. The three other family members maintain a highly chaotic energy throughout the trip in the face of the upcoming loss. These energetic dispositions allow a lot of introspection into the lives of these people and creates a loving picture of a family on the precipice of a major change.

18. Babylon (Dir. Damien Chazelle)

Damien Chazelle’s most ambitious and messiest film is a depiction of Hollywood excess and debauchery during the rise of the talkie films. Babylon is the most uneven film to make my year end list, but when the film is on, it’s one of the best films of the year. The first half of the film in general left me speechless by its adoration for what Hollywood can be. Margot Robbie while already a star proves she deserves the honorific. Even when the film slows down, the driving beats and squawking horns that make up the best score of the year leave the film in the highest regards. It is only a monumentally awful ending that keeps Babylon so low on this list.

17. Fire of Love (dir. Sara Dosa)

The first of this year’s documentaries to make my list, Fire of Love is as much an informative documentary on the destructive power of volcanoes as it is a heart wrenching love story of two soul mates who died doing what they loved together. Fire of Love is full of warmth from focusing so intently on the Krafft couple. Miranda July lends her unique voice to the film as narrator and transforms the film into something deeply emotional, but while the love story is what stands forward, the dangerous reality of the couple’s occupation is never forgotten.

16. EO (Dir. Jerzy Skolimowski)

The spiritual successor to 1966’s Au hazard Balthazar (dir. Robert Bresson) EO is simply a story of a donkey. Despite the almost complete lack of dialogue, EO is a highly scripted film. Director Jerzy Skolimowski does not seek to tell the story of a random donkey but a very specific, fictional donkey who is constantly given the power to roam the countryside and find various slice of life vignettes. Through the eyes of the animal Skolimowski turns the camera on Eastern European culture. A deeply heartwarming film EO deserves to be spoken of with its predecessor.

15. Cow (Dir. Andrea Arnold)

Andrea Arnold (American Honey and Fish Tank) leaves the world of narrative film making to make her first documentary in Cow. The storytelling Arnold achieves using no dialogue and no human actors is commendable. Cow 29 (we’re never given a name aside from the branding on the left butt cheek) lives the tragic story of a cow forced to give birth and then separated from her offspring. While normal for a dairy cow, Arnold knows that the audience won’t be able to help but personify the girl and feel for her as they would a human in the same situation. All this is done with nothing but closeup photography and careful editing.

14. The Northman (Dir. Robert Eggers)

Revenge tales have been around for decades, but while most use an awful circumstance as a basis for delivering later catharsis, The Northman subverts this formula and focuses on the self-destructive nature inherent in making revenge your only goal in life. Alexander Skarsgård expertly captures this desperation and believably refuses to acknowledge the reality of the situation that has motivated his entire life. Eggers combines this innovative take on the revenge film with his immaculate style to create a fully unique piece of filmmaking.

13. Avatar: The Way of Water (Dir. James Cameron)

Spider as a character didn’t work for me, I didn’t buy Sigourney Weaver as a teenager, and Neytiri was completely wasted, but when it comes to what people expect of an Avatar sequel, the spectacle, The Way of Water delivers and then some. Pandora is once again realized in perfect clarity, and the movement to the water for this sequel just makes the visuals more impressive. This combined with 3D the best it has ever looked create a cinema watching experience that is unmatched.

12. All Quiet on the Western Front (Dir. Edward Berger)

French auteur François Truffaut is credited with saying that “there’s no such thing as an anti-war film.” The implication being that any depiction of war would inherently glorify it. 2022’s All Quiet on the Western Front argues the opposite as every moment of this beautiful film makes war seem completely miserable. This is accomplished not only with meticulously crafted visuals, but with a year’s best sound design creating a hellish soundscape through the non-diegetic decisions highlighted by the eerie Volker Bertelmann score.

11. Armageddon Time (Dir. James Gray)

A small yet deeply personal coming-of-age tale about a young boy growing up on the right side of the tracks witnessing the difficulties of his friend on the other side. Paul (Banks Repeta). a young jewish boy, finds a comradery with Johnny (Jaylin Webb), a young black boy, as they both find themselves in constant trouble at school. Through their friendship, Paul comes to terms with the racism that’s still heavily present in 1980 America. While this could take on a preachy tone, Gray centers the viewpoint on Paul who is wide-eyed enough to keep the film full of innocence.

10. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Dir. Laura Poitras)

A stunning documentary about both the life and current activism of photographer Nan Goldin. Untwisting the two throughlines, it is clear that Nan agreed to the documentary as a way to amplify her fight against the Sackler family and their contribution to the ever-growing opioid epidemic that ravishes the country. Through that access though Laura Poitras is able to bring to light the decades long work of one of the nation’s most important cultural photographers. Poitras blends these two topics seemingly only connected through Nan herself in a way that provides more power to them both.

9. Decision to Leave (Dir. Park Chan-wook)

Park Chan-wook’s foray into neo-noir filmmaking proves that he is a master of all genres with a darker hint to them. Decision to Leave employs many of the genre’s staples: it stars a grizzled detective who falls in love with a femme fatal while attempting to solve a case she is related to. What the film utilizes that separates it from a sea of neo-noirs is a deft hand with melodrama. The melodrama never feels saccharine in Chan-wook’s hands, but they do elevate the attachment to characters and intrigue of the mystery.

8. The Quiet Girl (Dir. Colm Bairéad)

The Quiet Girl follows Cáit (Catherine Clinch) one of many siblings living in an overstuffed and impoverished household. Neglected by her family, she struggles in school and altogether lives a poor life. It’s only upon going to spend the summer with distant relatives that she is shown what love is and she begins to flourish. Watching Cáit slowly accept love into her life and emerge from her shell is the highlight of the film. The Quiet Girl manages to capture warmth and familial love in an extremely special way.

7. She Said (Dir. Maria Schrader)

Just as good if not better than Spotlight in my opinion. By centering the film on women reporters and victims, She Said enhances the Oscar winning, investigative journalism film by adding a deeper sense of heart. Zoe Kazan is excellent as the lead reporter Jodi Kantor and plays up the reporter in over her head quite well. Her performance is supported perfectly by Carey Mulligan’s more experienced and hard-edged Megan Twohey. Together they deliver a powerful one-two punch in this important retelling of recent history. Special callout to Nicholas Britell and Caitlin Sullivan who put out one of the best scores of the year even if it appears they won’t be getting any awards recognition for it.

6. Everything Everywhere All at Once (Dir. Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan)

In their combined follow up to Swiss Army Man (2016) (Daniel Scheinert did have 2019’s The Death of Dick Long as a solo film in between), Daniels delivered a film just as if not more heightened than their feature debut, yet somehow more relatable to the mainstream. Everything Everywhere All at Once hinges on the performance of its lead Michelle Yeoh to take audiences on a journey to the edge of the world and to worlds beyond that. Yeoh delivers on those lofty goals and creates a perfect viewer conduit for the wild imaginations of Daniels.

5. Girl Picture (Dir. Alli Haapasalo)

I don’t have a great explanation for why this Finnish lesbian romance is so high on my list, but upon leaving the theater after watching it I was all smiles. The film’s focus on female friendship and a young lesbian romance was refreshing in a heteronormative movie landscape. Mimmi‘s (Aamu Milonoff) volatile nature as she gets in fights at school, messes around at work, and falls in and out and back in love make her the standout performance, but all three young leads are remarkable in their honesty.

4. Vortex (Dir. Gaspar Noé)

If provocateur Gaspar Noé releases a film it will indubitably make my year end list, and Vortex is no different, even though this one has a much more somber tone than his standard fair. The film utilizes a unique dual screen setup to capture the day-to-day goings on of a couple dealing with the women’s onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Notably, Italian auteur Dario Argento plays one of the leads in a stunning declaration that he can act just as well as make excellent films. Like many of Noé’s films Vortex is a brutal watching, this time just for more emotional reasons.

3. TÁR (Dir. Todd Field)

I’m an auteurist at heart, I believe most films are a product of their director first and foremost, but TÁR is one of those few exceptions. TÁR is 100% Cate Blanchett’s film. The film focuses on one of our greatest working actors for the entire three-hour duration of the film while she slowly begins to reckon with the decisions she’s made over the course of her career. Blanchett’s perfectly captures the fictional composer who exudes charisma while preparing for a new performance and pursuing affairs.

2. The Eternal Daughter (Dir. Joanna Hogg)

The third feature in director Joanna Hogg’s Souvenir series adopts a more mysterious tone than its grounded predecessors. It also trades a mother daughter casting choice of Tilda Swinton and Honor Swinton Byrne for dual roles for Tilda as both mother and daughter. While the film is full of Hogg’s trademark slow conversations with meaning carefully hidden behind meticulously chosen dialogue, the aforementioned changes lead to a single static shot that’s the most emotional moments of the year (at least that doesn’t come from the next film).

1. Aftersun (Dir. Charlotte Wells)

Number one with a bullet, the directorial debut of Charlotte Wells is a meandering memory captured largely on standard def camcorder. What makes Aftersun so special is the underlying emotionality of the film. What may look like just home movies of a father/daughter trip to a Turkish resort takes on a much deeper meaning because of the implications of the present. It’s likely that this is the last time the two main characters ever saw each other and witnessing their personal mostly, but not completely, hidden feelings feels like prying into things which should never be shared. Calum (Paul Mescal) is doing everything in his power to create a wonderful memory for Sophie (newcomer Frankie Corio), but his personal dramas have a way of seeping out in a way that affects Sophie for years to come. Aftersun is the best cinema had to offer this year, and is the best film of the young decade thus far.

2022 Oscar Predictions and Picks

I love the Oscars. For the past five years, I have made it my goal to watch every single film nominated for an Oscar, and this year I finished with a week to spare. In time for Sunday’s ceremony, here are my predictions and my personal picks for this year’s event.

Visual Effects

My Prediction: Dune
My Pick: Dune; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

A lot of the technical awards are going to be easy Dune picks and predictions. The film is beautiful and much of that comes from the visual effects.

Costume

My Prediction: Cruella
My Pick: Cruella; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

While I didn’t love Cruella as a film, the creative costuming throughout the film, especially as Cruella was making her name are fetes to behold and are a good choice for a winner.

Makeup and Hairstyling

My Prediction: The Eyes of Tammy Faye
My Pick: Cruella; Would I pick a non-nominated film? Yes – Spencer

Makeup and Hairstyling tends to be highly correlated with prosthetic usage, and while I think that trend will continue with The Eyes of Tammy Faye, I don’t believe the prosthetics looked especially convincing. I would personally recognize the unnominated Spencer for it’s excellent natural looks transforming Kristen Stewart into princess Diana.

Production Design

My Prediction: Dune
My Pick: Dune; Would I pick a non-nominated film? Yes – The French Dispatch

Another technical win that should be a sure thing for Dune, but in a year in which Wes Anderson directed a movie, it feels wrong not to give it to The French Dispatch.

Sound

My Prediction: Dune
My Pick: Dune; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Another easy to predict and well-deserved technical category for Dune to run away with.

Original Song

My Prediction: No Time to Die (No Time to Die)
My Pick: No Time to Die (No Time to Die); Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

I hate picking this category. I feel that I have a good eye for what makes a film good, but this category is about the quality of the song, the movie is an afterthought. That said, this year is a pretty easy pick of the most recent Bond themes, No Time To Die by Billie Eilish.

Original Score

My Prediction: Dune
My Pick: The Power of the Dog; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Jonny Greenwood’s other worldly scores are not the type that may resonate with the academy, but the mood inducing musical snippets were the perfect accompaniment for Jane Campion’s neo-western. Instead, I think the academy is much more likely to embrace the more standard Hans Zimmer score for Dune.

Editing

My Prediction: Dune
My Pick: The Power of the Dog; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Another technical award that I anticipate Dune walking away with at the end of the night, but I believe that The Power of the Dog has a much more subtle but effective editing technique. Every shot in the later film feels personally plucked to build the mood and accentuate each character.

Cinematography

My Prediction: Dune
My Pick: The Power of the Dog; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Similar to Editing, Cinematography is another technical category that will go to Dune, and not unwarrantedly, but I personally found more joy in the quieter craft work of The Power of the Dog.

Short Film, Live Action

My Prediction: The Long Goodbye
My Pick: The Dress; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

This category tends to go to the most heavy-handed message film, and The Long Goodbye fills that quota for the year. The Dress was the more nuanced film that I’d love to see win, but will sadly lose to the more forceful short.

Short Film, Animated

My Prediction: Robin Robin
My Pick: Bestia; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Robin Robin is a cute, animated, animal film and will likely win because of that. Bestia on the other hand asks much more of the audience but delivers a richer experience for those willing to meet the film where it is at.

Short Film, Documentary

My Prediction: Audible
My Pick: Audible; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Gold Derby may not agree with my prediction, but in the year of CODA I find it hard to believe that Audible, the short film about a deaf high school football team wouldn’t resonate with voting academy members. It doesn’t hurt that it is the best film of the bunch either.

Documentary Feature

My Prediction: Summer of Soul
My Pick: Flee; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Summer of Soul is an excellent concert documentary expertly edited to include historical context with amazing performances. The film is an masterwork of editing, but Flee is the stronger overall film.

Animated Feature

My Prediction: Encanto
My Pick: Flee; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

The Disney/ Pixar monopoly on this category has become a little ridiculous. Encanto was the best they put out this year and as such is the odds-on favorite to win, but Flee used the medium to tell a story that couldn’t be told any other way. The documentary telling the life story of a refugee was heartbreaking and would win from a fairer academy.

International Film

My Prediction: Drive My Car
My Pick: Drive My Car; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

In any other year, the wonderful The Worst Person in the World would be an easy frontrunner with its Best Original Screenplay nomination boosting its name recognition, but this year both the Academy and I will agree that Drive My Car is just a little bit better. It is hard to bet against any international film that also has a Best Picture nominee, and the slow burn meditation on grief will justifiably take home the award at the end of the night.

Adapted Screenplay

My Prediction: CODA
My Pick: The Power of the Dog; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

The Power of the Dog is too subtle for its own good to win this category. The deliberate pacing that Campion uses in creating the slow burn drama shows incredible restraint and precision in screenwriting. Such finesse is likely to be overlooked in favor of the more traditional plot structure Sian Heder implements in CODA.

Original Screenplay

My Prediction: Belfast
My Pick: Licorice Pizza; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Belfast is a middling film that seems to have an unending supply of good graces in its corner. That support will once again block Paul Thomas Anderson from receiving his first Oscar for a tightly delivered coming of age comedy that deserved to have its screenplay recognized.

Supporting Actor

My Prediction: Troy Kotsur (CODA)
My Pick: Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog); Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Early this season this award seemed to be a given for Smit-McPhee, but now everything points towards Troy Kotsur. Kotsur did a great job, but I feel like he was limited by the simplicity of the screenplay. Smit-McPhee on the other hand really got to show off his acting chops with the nuanced role of Peter Gordon in The Power of the Dog.

Supporting Actress

My Prediction: Ariana DeBose (West Side Story)
My Pick: Kirsten Dunst (The Power of the Dog); Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

Ariana DeBose is the easiest prediction of the night. She has won everything up until now, and it will be no surprise when she takes home Oscar Gold. That said, I think Kiki’s performance in The Power of the Dog had an otherworldly quality to it that moved me more than any other supporting performance this year.

Lead Actor

My Prediction: Will Smith (King Richard)
My Pick: Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog); Would I pick a non-nominated film? Yes – Peter Dinklage (Cyrano)

Will Smith seems to be running away with this award because like normal the Academy is confusing “best” with “most”. Smith’s Richard Williams is certainly the most acted performance of the year, and while it is not bad, it is not what I would choose as the best. For best I would personally vote for the much quieter performance by Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog, or if an option the wonderfully emotional rendition of the titular Cyrano by Peter Dinklage.

Lead Actress

My Prediction: Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye)
My Pick: Kristen Stewart (Spencer); Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

This category has been a mess to predict all award season. I personally believe Kristen Stewart put in the best performance (by quite a large margin) as the troubled Princess Diana on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and she seemed like the early frontrunner. After a series of nomination snubs however it seems more likely that another actress would take the win and treading lately is Jessica Chastain for the mediocre film The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

Director

My Prediction: Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog)
My Pick: Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog); Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

While the winds have largely moved away from The Power of the Dog, and Campion’s speech at the Critics Choice Awards didn’t do her any help, this award is still going to go to Campion for her phenomenal directing work. The film succeeds primarily because of the controlled approach of Campion’s direction.

Picture

My Prediction: CODA
My Pick: Drive My Car; Would I pick a non-nominated film? No

I’m buying into the late surge that last weekend foretold and predicting a CODA win over The Power of The Dog. I think CODA is a really good film (I would rank it right in the middle of the best picture nominees), but it didn’t blow me away like a few films did this year. The film that left me speechless after viewing it, that I would have voted for best picture is the three-hour slow burn masterpiece that was Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car. That film’s deliberate pacing to contemplate grief will stick with me for years to come.