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🎬 Harriet, Jojo Rabbit, Wallace & Gromit, and more

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ESJ's Movie Project

November 8 · Issue #38 · View online
I'm reviewing every movie I watch, and watching every movie I own. Settle in, this is going to take a while.

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We’re entering the first movie awards season in which I will be a member of the WGA (by way of Vox Media, where I work), which means I have started getting invites to private screenings for the movies that studios want to put up for awards. And let me tell you, the ability to see even more movies — in the theater, some before they come out, FOR FREE — is a dangerous thing to offer me.
Anyway, I am currently registered for 10 screenings over the next month.

👦🏼 Jojo Rabbit
Pictured: Guess who's kampfing to dinner?
JOJO RABBIT is subtle with a capital B, but I still enjoyed most of it. Vacillating between farce and drama, it’s a sketch of Germany towards the end of World War II — as seen through the eyes of a Hitler-worshipping 10-year-old. Its abrasive sense of humor worked for me, and I’m a huge fan of director Taika Waititi’s vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows, so I was most excited to see him back in a substantial comedic role, even though it is playing … (checks notes) … Adolf Hitler. Your mileage may vary on whether this is a problem, but: Both Watiti and costar Sam Rockwell, playing a washed-up Nazi captain, are so likable that one is prone to momentarily forget that they are literally Hitler and a Nazi captain — call it the “Tyler Durden problem.” Still, the performances all around are quite good (especially Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo and Scarlett Johansson as his mother), and I would like to order a spin-off TV series about Jojo and his adorkable friend Yorki, please and thank you.
🐰 Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Pictured: Wallace picks up all the pretty ladies (and several dozen rabbits) in his car.
Guess I had rabbits on the brain this week! Despite loving the characters as a kid, I had missed WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT when it hit theaters in 2005 and never made time for it — until this week. I’m so glad I did, because especially for anyone who already knows the characters, this is a delightful movie, packed with gags and lovingly animated in stop-motion. I could see this one entertaining a crowd of all ages, and as an adult can really appreciate just how much work went into the craft on display here. And if you haven’t ever seen the original Wallace & Gromit short films, definitely check them out — they’re currently available on Amazon Prime. Best enjoyed with cheese and crackers.
⚰️ The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
Pictured: "OK, fine, if you hate the hat that much ..."
Since the last time I saw THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY — about seven years ago — I had forgotten almost all of it, which was a blessing in disguise. I recognized scenes here and there, and of course the score composed by Ennio Morricone, but recalling little else made it the iconic western epic feel as fresh as ever. The story is less focused than A Few Dollars More, with frequent diversions en route to the final graveyard scene, but there’s no denying that this is the movie in the trilogy that feels the grandest and most important, in no small part because of how much Sergio Leone had grown as a filmmaker over the preceding years. He plays so often with surprising reveals and reversals of fortune, including for comedic effect, that the status quo never feels settled over the entire three-hour runtime.
🛤 Harriet
Pictured: A new event for the 2020 Olympics, the 200m fully-clothed fully-armed river crossing.
On paper, HARRIET does everything right: It’s a lean biopic led by an incredible actor — Cynthia Erivo — that creatively tells the story of Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and subsequent return trips to the South as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. However, in spite of Erivo’s magnetic performance (and incredible singing voice, which gets put to good use), the movie rarely jolts the viewer in the way a modern movie about its subject material should. Tubman’s former “owners” are a bit too silly to be scary, and we don’t get enough quiet time with her to understand more than her surface desires. In my view, a great biopic should encourage the viewer to better appreciate the fullness and humanity of a person’s life, while Harriet turns its subject into a sort of superhero, putting her at a remove from the rest of us. All that being said — I was never bored, and Erivo’s performance on its own is good enough to make this movie worth seeing.
🏆 Every New Movie I've Seen in 2019 (So Far), Ranked
(new additions in bold)

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

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