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ESJ's Movie Project - Outrageously, Disgracefully Awful edition

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I didn't have time to see many movies this week (only three! how embarrassing). So let me give you yo
 

ESJ's Movie Project

August 2 · Issue #24 · View online
I'm reviewing every movie I watch, and watching every movie I own. Settle in, this is going to take a while.

I didn’t have time to see many movies this week (only three! how embarrassing). So let me give you your zero-dollars’ worth at the top of this newsletter, with a few bonus paragraphs.
I tweeted on Wednesday that I was glad I saw Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood before it could be harvested for hot takes by Film Twitter, not to mention the dozens of professional critics and bloggers who are under pressure to offer a unique perspective on the film.
A couple qualifications: I believe the desire to critique film (and all art) is inherently valuable, and I do believe that that film has problems that should be discussed and which will alienate some viewers. However, among the group of folks who write and tweet about the movies, the deck is stacked against those who would offer a nuanced review, acknowledging the good and the bad.
The easier way to be noticed in today’s social/media economy is to be negative. As Tristan Harris said on an episode of Recode Decode that I produced earlier this year:
For each word of moral outrage that you add to a tweet it increases your retweet rate by 17 percent. So if you say, “It’s abominable!” “It’s a disgrace!” “Oh these assholes that …” You just get attention.
I’ve thought about that quote a lot in the past few months.
Had I seen a lot of fiery hot takes about Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood before I saw the movie, I wonder if I would have liked it less because I went into the theater primed to be looking for flaws. And what about someone who’s not masochistically committed to seeing as many movies as humanly possible? For them, an apparent “consensus” around this messy movie’s badness might discourage them from ever seeing it, and deciding for themselves if they like it.
Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood will be fine without any help from me; in its first week in theaters, it has already grossed a respectable $55 million in the US. But more generally, as someone who loves talking about movies with other people, I worry about what this means for film culture. If we dismiss ambitious-but-problematic works without seeing them, then we’ll be left with the rare universally-acclaimed gems — and ten tons of inoffensive crap.
Anyway! Here’s what I’ve been watching this week …

The Farewell
Pictured: When I need a break from eating but don't want to put down my chopsticks.
‪THE FAREWELL is a lovely, bittersweet film that will almost certainly be in my top 10 of the year. “Based on an actual lie,” it follows an Americanized Chinese immigrant back home to see her ailing grandmother under the pretense of a cousin’s wedding. And I know that sounds morbid, but it’s way funnier than I expected. I hope the Oscar campaigns for Awkwafina and Shuzhen Zhao — who plays the criminally adorable grandmother — are already underway.‬ Highly recommended.
Dinner at Eight
Pictured: The minimum dress code for sitting in bed, eating bonbons.
‪I suspect the star-studded DINNER AT EIGHT was a big event in 1933. Watching it now with only a passing awareness of the actors, though, I was distracted by its overpacked plot and tonal whiplash. There were several scenes I like — most of them involving Jean Harlow or Marie Dressler — and I admire the ambition of the story, but the end result just didn’t click for me.‬
Easy A
Pictured: The primitive way humans signaled approval before the invention of the 👍 emoji.
‪In under the wire, one last movie for the month of July: EASY A, which has held up a lot better in the past nine years than I thought it would have. Loosely inspired by The Scarlet Letter and more directly related to the high school classics Clueless and Mean Girls, it’s clever throughout and gut-bustingly hilarious in parts. I especially loved the scenes with Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as Emma Stone’s corny but supportive parents.‬
Every New Movie I've Seen in 2019 (So Far), Ranked
(new additions in bold)

  1. Booksmart
  2. If Beale Street Could Talk
  3. The Farewell
  4. Us
  5. Free Solo
  6. Avengers: Endgame
  7. Amazing Grace
  8. The Favourite
  9. Long Shot
  10. The Wife
  11. The Art of Self-Defense
  12. Toy Story 4
  13. Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood
  14. Apollo 11
  15. Shoplifters
  16. The Last Black Man In San Francisco
  17. Aladdin
  18. Spider-Man: Far From Home
  19. Green Book
  20. Slut in a Good Way
  21. Always Be My Maybe
  22. Cold War
  23. Rocketman
  24. Roma
  25. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  26. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
  27. On the Basis of Sex
  28. Shazam!
  29. The Lion King
  30. Fighting With My Family
  31. They Shall Not Grow Old
  32. Yesterday
  33. Mary Poppins Returns
  34. Captain Marvel
  35. Minding the Gap
  36. Tolkien
  37. The Biggest Little Farm
  38. Alita: Battle Angel
  39. The Dead Don’t Die
  40. The Great Hack
  41. Stan & Ollie
  42. Vice
  43. Bohemian Rhapsody
  44. Aquaman
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