All Quiet on the Western Front: This is a remake of the 1930 Best Picture-winning film of the same name (which I’ve also seen.) As this is a film set at the end of World War I, I should note that I’m not a big fan of war movies (I did like Saving Private Ryan though.) Most war movies have muted colors which I don’t find appealing to watch. So, I was planning to skip this movie unless it was nominated for Best Picture. While watching, I didn’t care about the characters or the plot until the second half of the movie which had a superbly choreographed battle scene involving flamethrowers. Fun fact: Last year’s West Side Story was also a remake of a Best Picture-winning film, but it lost to CODA. My take: All Quiet on the Western Front is not the frontrunner for Best Picture.
Avatar: The Way of Water: This sequel to the 2009 box-office hit introduces the avatars’ children, one of which is conceived and born miraculously. The Na’vi people protect themselves from the threat of the U.S. military, who have developed new avatars to infiltrate Pandora. No one is really talking about this movie, and I can understand why. I didn’t really care about the plot or the characters for that matter given how generic the storyline is. Innovative storytelling would have helped a great deal, given that even the most innovative visual effects aren’t usually enough to emotionally engage me.
The Banshees of Inisherin: SPOILER ALERT — This quirky dramedy starring In Bruges actors Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleason is set on the fictional island of Inisherin off the western coast of Ireland. Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (played by Brendan Gleeson) characters have been lifelong friends, but one day Colm just up and decides he doesn’t want to be friends with Pádraic anymore. It’s a bit of head scratcher what exactly is wrong with Colm, who just seems to become a total prick out of nowhere. Pádraic doesn’t understand why Colm can’t just be nice, and Colm says he wants to avoid Pádraic’s dull personality so that he can focus on composing songs on his violin to leave a memorable legacy. Colm even threatens to chop off his own fingers if Pádraic ever talks to him again. This simply makes no sense as Colm continues to be a prick but also sabotages his own ability to play the violin. The final straw is when Pádraic’s beloved donkey Jenny chokes to death on one of Colm’s chopped-off fingers. What a waste — the donkey was so cute and just wanted company, and this movie just had to kill her off. This movie feels more like a stage play as the setting doesn’t drastically change, it’s more of a character-driven story, and it’s relatively dialogue-heavy.
Elvis: When I was a kid growing up, I was super into Elvis. I listened to his 30 #1 Hits compilation album over and over. When I saw the trailer during the previews before Top Gun: Maverick, I saw Austin Butler in the role and just didn’t buy it at the time. He looked too slick, and his face type was not enough like the real Elvis to me. However, that became a moot point when I actually saw the movie. Butler did an incredible job encapsulating the Elvis persona — a skinny kid who many people would see as just poor white trash from Mississippi except he has an incredible talent. Tom Hanks adeptly portrays Elvis’ manager Colonel Parker who takes advantage of Elvis’ talent for his own personal gain. Watching Austin Butler light up the screen with his performance is like watching the Elvis sensation for the very first time, and it is incredibly exhilarating. By the end, you grow to resent Colonel Parker who was getting rich off Elvis while Elvis’ health plummeted toward his premature demise in 1977. As with many biopics, it is a bit long and many will judge it for the parts of Elvis’ life it does and does not include. However, with Baz Luhrmann’s colorful and artful direction, this production is one for the money!
Everything Everywhere All At Once: Don’t get me started on the Multiverse. Have I seen previous films referencing the Multiverse? Yes. Many say that this movie captures the concept of the Multiverse better than its predecessors. I did enjoy the first fight scene when the husband single-handedly fights all the officers who come to arrest his wife. However, afterward, the cacophony of simultaneous Multiverse events is tiresome. In addition, I find the exploration of this concept to be secondary to the many tasteless plot elements in this film. Yes, it is intended to be a comedy and not to be taken seriously all the way through. Still, watching fight scenes that involve rubber dildos and a universe where humans have hot dog fingers was so ridiculous and just not that funny to me, probably because they seemed like the next step in the ridiculousness after all the other ridiculous Multiverse ideas. If you’re a Millennial, you will like this movie because it is fast-paced and doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you’re a Baby Boomer, you might watch this movie and ask yourself during the credits, “What the hell was that??” This movie is just not for everyone.
The Fabelmans: This semi-autobiographical film about director Steven Spielberg’s time as a young child and teenager is mostly a feel-good movie albeit with many of the familiar dramatic tropes associated with 1950s/1960s American life. Divorce has been done before. Semi-autobiographical films have been done before. Movies about making movies have been done before. Still, there is a nuanced and largely unspoken message here about growing up — when do kids realize their parents are human and not perfect? The acting is pitch perfect all around. The main character Sam Fabelman (modeled after Steven Spielberg) does not have as many lines as you might expect. His parents end up carrying much of the plot. This feels intentional — a lot of times kids observe their parents and don’t speak much about it, but there is so much they are thinking at the same time. In some ways, it’s conventional fare with familiar plot points. However, it is also unusual for Spielberg — not only is he telling his life story for the first time, he is also taking a break from his tried and true slate of action-adventure blockbuster films. The pandemic has pushed many older viewers to stay home who might otherwise watch prestige films. Being the realistic, bare-bones film that it is, The Fabelmans was a box-office bomb, costing $40 million to make but only raking in $10.3 million or so. It’s sad when art like this doesn’t even break even. In the future, will studios line up to produce a film that has Oscar potential but loses so much money? Studios have been willing to take losses on prestige films before, but that might not last. Either way, I think The Fabelmans is worth a watch in any setting.
Tár: Despite the high-brow content and language, Cate Blanchett’s dynamic and nuanced performance as fictional conductor Lydia Tár makes the movie surprisingly accessible. Her multi-dimensional character comes off as pretentious in parts but relatable in others. It is interesting to see an example of a self-described “U-Haul lesbian” challenging one of her students’ opposition toward white, straight, cisgender males. The main theme is about power. The ending is strangely abrupt.
Triangle of Sadness: This is another offbeat movie with a slightly misleading title. “Triangle of Sadness” is a term used in cosmetic surgery and fashion that refers to a part of the face that wrinkles and can be treated with Botox in 15 minutes. The movie is actually a dark comedy that satirizes luxurious lifestyles — think Glass Onion but on a cruise ship and without the murder mystery aspect. And I guess it’s a cross between Titanic and Survivor with political commentary thrown in. The beginning of the movie involves a male model who butts heads with his higher-salary model girlfriend. Their debate over gender roles is a stale one with few original talking points; so, it’s one I didn’t really care about. The second part of the movie features an ensemble of mostly European passengers as well as a cruise ship captain (played by Woody Harrelson) who just doesn’t give a $#!t. While the ship enters into turbulent waters that cause the passengers to blow chunks in plain sight and slip around on the floor like butter on a hot tin pan, the socialist ship captain casually debates politics with a Russian capitalist over the PA system. A band of sea pirates throws a grenade onto the ship which soon detonates. We then see just a handful of survivors who have made it ashore on an apparently deserted island. No, this is not Lost. As a plot twist, the Filipina toilet attendant takes charge of the entire group. It’s a bizarre movie, and I really didn’t appreciate the gratuitous vomiting. A better name for this film would be Triangle of Seasickness.
Women Talking: This film about the women of a Mennonite colony exceeded my expectations. Given that the song “Daydream Believer” plays on the radio of pickup truck passing by, it is set in 1967 at the earliest. Still, there are themes in this film that are very relevant. When women face violence (specifically sexual violence), what is the Christian response? The chemistry among the actresses is dynamic and engaging as the characters debate whether to stay at their colony in Bolivia or to flee from future attacks. The male teacher’s monologue on the potentially violent nature of boys and their capacity to learn to be peaceful toward women was incredibly touching. Very nice movie.
MY PICK – Top Gun: Maverick: Say what you want about Tom Cruise’s Scientology nonsense, but the man brings so much value to the silver screen. Top Gun: Maverick improves on its source material with higher production value as well as a more mature storyline. It’s a tasteful and respectful portrayal of the U.S. military — the enemy is unnamed and yet the goals are the same. Tom Cruise goes above and beyond for his roles, fully immersing himself in the ways of an air force pilot and doing most if not all of his stunts. You will wince as if bracing for impact and then you will feel the satisfying sensation of relief when things go according to plan. The comic relief is well-timed and natural. I was hoping this would at least be nominated for Best Picture. I think it deserves to win it all this year, but I doubt that will happen.