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🎬 It's a Wonderful Life, My Fair Lady, Love Actually and more. PLUS: Golden Globes predictions

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ESJ's Movie Project

January 3 · Issue #47 · 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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Happy new year! I’m cheating the format a little bit in this week’s newsletter: I saw some of these movies more than a week ago, but saved them for today so that I could focus on Star Wars in Monday’s bonus edition.
Also: Ahead of the Golden Globes on Sunday, I’ve got a bonus section for you this week: Who I’d vote for in each of the movie categories if I were a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and who I think will actually win.
Please do not use my picks to wager on the actual winners, however, because (a) I haven’t seen a bunch of the nominees; and (b) the HFPA are a lot of tasteless easily-charmed nitwits who usually make the wrong choices. Case in point: They’ve invited Ricky Gervais back to host the show for the fifth time this year.
So yeah, the Golden Globes are a joke and no one should take them seriously. I’ll be watching on Sunday.
❣️ Love, Actually
Pictured: When the British prime minister was a hot mess, unlike now when he is just one of those things.
Pictured: When the British prime minister was a hot mess, unlike now when he is just one of those things.
Hard as it may be to believe, I had never seen LOVE, ACTUALLY until last week, and even though I was aware of certain iconic moments — like Hugh Grant dancing and Andrew Lincoln holding cue cards — I had no idea about the plot or the characters or the creative structure of the movie. And I have to say, even though I didn’t enjoy every one of the intersecting storylines, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and I really enjoyed myself. Love, Actually is positively stacked with talented, likable actors, most of whom make the most of their limited screen time. I especially liked Liam Neeson as widower stepdad Daniel and Bill Nighy’s faded pop star trying to cash in with a big Christmas single (which I interpreted as a jab at Paul McCartney creating the atrocious song “Wonderful Christmastime” and there is nothing you can say to convince me otherwise). The overall MVP of the movie, though, has to be Emma Thompson, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who has seen it. What an incredible actor.
🏙 The Apartment
Pictured: How the FDA calculates what a "serving size" is.
Pictured: How the FDA calculates what a "serving size" is.
Here’s what I wrote the last time I watched and reviewed The Apartment, in 2018. Can now confirm that yes, this time was even better:
THE APARTMENT gets better every time I watch it. The writing in this film sizzles in every scene, humor-wise and otherwise-wise. I believe that writing good comedy is harder than writing good drama, and The Apartment does the seemingly impossible task of alternating between the two, with a stellar romance as a garnish. It quickly makes us fall in love with these characters, and then takes their problems seriously when the circumstances call for it. Some movies and TV shows that deal with office romances have aged poorly, and I’d argue the twin villains of The Apartment — Fred McMurray’s Mr. Sheldrake and the general pressure from Baxter’s colleagues to be their “buddy boy” — have, in fact, become even more appreciable in the era of #MeToo, even though everything here is seemingly consensual. If only every man had a Dr. Dreyfuss next door, reminding him to be a mensch.
😇 It's a Wonderful Life
Pictured: There is no Donna, only Zuzu
Pictured: There is no Donna, only Zuzu
The ending of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE has become so famous and so commonly referenced and parodied that the preceding two hours of this very famous movie are, for lack of a better word, underappreciated. This is a dark, complex, emotionally fraught story that happens to end at Christmas, not really a “Christmas movie” at all, and I wish more filmmakers learned from its example. Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are not only charming, talented actors, but the characters they’re portraying stand out amid the fictional, idyllic Bedford Falls. Stewart in particular, despite his singular accent and old-fashioned values, comes across as a real person and not a caricature of the good boy from the small town, which is unfortunately rare in Hollywood productions. The marriage of his great performance with the sharp writing creates a character who we actually care about — and when things go wrong for him again, and again, and again, the person he becomes in the movie’s penultimate act is grimly believable.
☔️ My Fair Lady
Pictured: The scene at Arsecot — I mean, Ascot
Pictured: The scene at Arsecot — I mean, Ascot
After more than 30 years of ignorance, I have finally watched MY FAIR LADY, one of the most beloved musicals of the 20th century, and my feelings are mixed. There’s a lot about this movie that works: Audrey Hepburn’s turn as Eliza Doolittle, the luscious earworm songs like “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and the exquisite sets and costuming. On the other hand, I wrestled with the fact that Rex Harrison’s character Henry Higgins is so deeply, intentionally unlikable — and that he appears to be the protagonist. The movie gives him more to say and to do and to think than Eliza, and the story cares more about whether his desires are fulfilled, not hers. I sort of admired the fact that the writers leaned so hard into his worst traits, but the ending made me question if they really agreed that that’s what they were doing. The good outweighs the bad here, but I’m not sure I could restfully sit through another three-hour viewing of this version of the musical.
☀️ Little Miss Sunshine
Pictured: "So ... anyone want to listen to a podcast?"
Pictured: "So ... anyone want to listen to a podcast?"
It’s been years since I’d seen LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and I’d forgotten all but the most famous scenes — e.g. the mini-heist in the middle of the movie and the climactic performance at the titular child beauty pageant. Although those are still wonderful, the whole movie deserves to be revisited. Steve Carell, Abigail Breslin, and Toni Collette all turn in grade-A performances, and (not unlike It’s a Wonderful Life) the movie smartly balances humor with darkness to give the ensemble cast an unusually powerful dose of humanity. And this is a small thing, but I also love the way the directors matter-of-factly shoot the old VW bus trundling across the gorgeous American southwest. No one ever remarks on how perfect their scenery is because they are imperfect people with too much going on inside to register the roadtrip as more than a chore.
🔤 Arrival
Pictured: When you're really, really, really bad at Pictionary.
Pictured: When you're really, really, really bad at Pictionary.
I highlighted this film in my newsletter about 30 movies I loved in the 2010s. Here’s what I wrote about it the last time I watched it, in 2018:
ARRIVAL (2016) is one of my favorite sci-fi movies to come out in my lifetime. Like so many great genre pictures, it hinges on a deceptively simple idea: What if, when the aliens arrive, we don’t start firing our guns right away? Even in 2016, this may have sounded implausible, but Arrival accepts that challenge with gusto. The geopolitical challenges are discussed frankly and constantly felt, balanced against the wonder and intimidating mystery of these visitors; the risk that humanity might shoot first and cooperate never makes for a far scarier villain than any creature. Amy Adams is so convincingly understated as linguist Louise Banks that, even knowing on this viewing how things turn out, I was able to surrender myself to the experience of her discovering the truth. If I had one big nit to pick with the film, it would be the section narrated by Jeremy Renner’s character Ian, which feels out of place and maybe inserted by writ of the studio, to speed up the story. But with the exception of that interruption, I enjoy Arrival so, so much and I hope it gets more attention in the years to come.
One update to that review: The Renner monologue is still not great, but I’ve stopped caring. This movie is amazing.
🏆 Every New Movie I've Seen in 2020 (So Far), Ranked
(no new additions this decade)
🌎 Who I'd Vote For in the 2020 Golden Globes, and Who I Think Will Win
Pictured: My Sunday evening plans, minus the suit jacket.
Pictured: My Sunday evening plans, minus the suit jacket.
A couple notes:
  • Movie categories only
  • ➡️ = my picks
  • ➡ = what I think will actually win on Sunday
  • * = I haven’t seen this movie yet
As you’ll see, there are a lot of asterisks below, so many many many of these choices are ill-informed. Based on the winners, I’ll try to be better-prepared before the Oscars in February.

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
➡️ Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”)
*Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story”)
*Saoirse Ronan (“Little Women”)
*Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”)
➡ Renée Zellweger (“Judy”)
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama
➡️ Christian Bale (“Ford v Ferrari”)
*Antonio Banderas (“Pain and Glory”)
*Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”)
➡ *Joaquin Phoenix ("Joker”)
*Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes”)
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Ana de Armas (“Knives Out”)
➡ ➡️ Awkwafina (“The Farewell”)
*Cate Blanchett (“Where’d You Go, Bernadette”)
Beanie Feldstein (“Booksmart”)
*Emma Thompson (“Late Night”)
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Daniel Craig (“Knives Out”)
Roman Griffin Davis (“Jojo Rabbit”)
➡️ Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Taron Egerton (“Rocketman”)
➡ *Eddie Murphy (“Dolemite Is My Name”)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture
*Kathy Bates (“Richard Jewell”)
*Annette Bening (“The Report”)
➡ *Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”)
➡️ Jennifer Lopez (“Hustlers”)
*Margot Robbie (“Bombshell”)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture
➡️ Tom Hanks (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”)
*Anthony Hopkins (“The Two Popes”)
➡ Al Pacino (“The Irishman”)
Joe Pesci (“The Irishman”)
Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Best Director – Motion Picture
➡️ Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite”)
*Sam Mendes (“1917”)
*Todd Phillips (“Joker”)
➡ Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”)
Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
➡ *Noah Baumbach (“Marriage Story”)
Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won (“Parasite”)
*Anthony McCarten (“The Two Popes”)
➡️ Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Steven Zaillian (“The Irishman”)
Best Original Score – Motion Picture
*Alexandre Desplat (“Little Women”)
*Hildur Guðnadóttir (“Joker”)
➡ *Randy Newman (“Marriage Story”)
*Thomas Newman (“1917”)
➡️ Daniel Pemberton (“Motherless Brooklyn”)
Best Original Song – Motion Picture
*Beautiful Ghosts (“Cats”)
I’m Gonna Love Me Again (“Rocketman”)
➡ Into the Unknown (“Frozen 2”)
Spirit (“The Lion King”)
➡️ Stand Up (“Harriet”)
Best Motion Picture – Animated
Frozen 2
*How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
The Lion King
*Missing Link
➡ ➡️ Toy Story 4
Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language
The Farewell
*Les Misérables
*Pain and Glory
➡ ➡️ Parasite
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
*Dolemite Is My Name
➡ Jojo Rabbit
➡️ Knives Out
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Rocketman
Best Motion Picture – Drama
➡️ The Irishman
*Marriage Story
*1917
➡ *Joker
*The Two Popes

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