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🎬 Marriage Story, Joker, Little Women, Airplane! and more

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ESJ's Movie Project

January 24 · Issue #52 · 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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I didn’t intend to catch up on all the Best Picture nominees this week, but turns out I did. Scroll down for my reviews of three of them, plus my ranking of how they all stack up against one another.

👨‍👩‍👦 Marriage Story
Pictured: You know, I think there's something between us.
Pictured: You know, I think there's something between us.
I was all ready to consider Leonardo DiCaprio my pick for Best Actor at the Oscars, but after seeing MARRIAGE STORY, I think Adam Driver has a real shot — and what’s more, he would deserve it. Both Driver and Scarlett Johannsen are fantastic in this movie, which is profoundly sympathetic to both sides of a marriage that is falling apart gradually, and then all at once. The workmanlike direction and screenplay are both solid, while the LA vs. NY dynamic is not as cleverly spelled out here as it is in Annie Hall, which appears to have been a major influence on writer/director Noah Baumbach. But the entire ensemble cast is great, there are several scenes that I would consider to be absolutely perfect, and Driver and ScarJo elevate every line they’re given; by the end, you just want both of them to be happy — an almost impossible demand. Recommended.
🤡 Joker
Pictured: I'm looking at the clown in the mirror, I'm asking him to change his face...
Pictured: I'm looking at the clown in the mirror, I'm asking him to change his face...
I don’t mind, in concept, that JOKER extensively quotes other movies, particularly those directed by Martin Scorsese in the 70s and 80s; remixing existing works of art can be a great starting place for something new. Unfortunately, Joker is like a high school essay that’s 90 percent block quotes: It doesn’t *do* anything interesting with the inspirations it quotes, or the social issues it feigns to be in conversation with. The rise of the Joker, as a character, is an ending in search of a reason, and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is big, but rarely interesting as the script lurches toward the birth of a villain. The one thing I really liked about the film was its use of light and color: Unlike almost every Marvel movie, you could pluck a random frame out of Joker and admire it as art — and, fortunately, you wouldn’t have to sit through the dialogue while doing so. I know that that visual mastery counts for something, but how this movie won the Golden Lion at Cannes and was nominated for Best Picture escapes me. I guess I just don’t get the joke.
👩‍👩‍👧‍👧 Little Women
Pictured: The March sisters' hat and dress coordination game is strong.
Pictured: The March sisters' hat and dress coordination game is strong.
I have never read LITTLE WOMEN and knew almost nothing about the story — except for the one major plot detail that Rachel spoils for Joey on the Friends episode “The One Where Monica and Richard Are Friends.” Anyway, that lack of familiarity had me apprehensive, especially given that Greta Gerwig’s new movie swiftly jumps backwards and forwards in time, only explicitly labeling the change once and trusting the audience to intuit the rest. Fortunately, even as a newbie, I had no difficulty following the story and found myself completely, pleasantly immersed in it. The entire cast is excellent, particularly Saiorse Ronan as Jo March and Florence Pugh as her younger sister Amy. I suspect I would appreciate the script’s structure — and its ending — more if I had read the book first, but as is, I was very impressed by the way Gerwig juggled all the characters and subplots with frequent breaks for comic relief. Recommended.
🔢 Every Film Nominated For Best Picture This Year, Ranked
📰 Spotlight
Pictured: An office with more natural light than 99% of real newsrooms.
Pictured: An office with more natural light than 99% of real newsrooms.
Investigative journalism movies are all, in essence, detective stories. And like the best of them, SPOTLIGHT doesn’t shy away from the process: Knocking on doors, earning people’s trust, trying to make sense of the clues. By the time of the movie’s release in 2015, it’s a safe bet that most everyone in the audience knew how a dramatization of the true story about rampant sexual abuse in the Catholic Church would end. But witnessing that process is powerful: The truth doesn’t walk up and introduce itself, and seemingly reasonable people will smile and nudge their way through suppressing a free press. I also really admire the film’s willingness to show tension and polite disagreement in the newsroom; our heroes here are not Sherlock Holmes-style savants, but imperfect people trying to get their heads around one of the biggest stories of the century.
✈️ Airplane!
Pictured: "That's impossible! They're on instruments!"
Pictured: "That's impossible! They're on instruments!"
I have lost count of the number of times I’ve seen AIRPLANE!, but this week I saw it with a live audience for the first time, at the palatial Castro Theatre in San Francisco. It was an incredible experience that made me appreciate the film more than I ever have before. In a post-screening Q&A, co-writer/co-director David Zucker pointed out that different parts of the audience were laughing more at different scenes, and everyone has their favorite parts (for me, it’s this scene and this one). The jokes are so dense and so clever that you can rewatch Airplane! over and over and catch new stuff each time. I’d also like to highlight the fact that every character in this movie accepts their ridiculous circumstances with a deadpan dramatic gravity. There’s none of the winking attitude common to today’s spoofs, which makes everything ten times funnier. Make more movies like this one, Hollywood! Surely, I am serious.
🏆 Every New Movie I've Seen in 2020 (So Far), Ranked
The current top 3
The current top 3
(new additions in bold)

  1. Marriage Story
  2. Little Women
  3. 1917
  4. Joker

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