What We Learned This Week: January 20-February 16

LESSON #1: IF YOU WANT TO LAUGH AT A FILM SNOB HISSY FIT, COME SEE THIS— If you think a few of my Feelin’ Film group social media posts about the work myself and others do is a big heap of #firstworldproblems and #whitepeopleproblems, groovy and uptight Californians have me beat. You have to see this and laugh. The Hollywood Reporter headline reads Hollywood Critics’ Groups Squabble Over Who Is a Hollywood Critic.” The story here is the former Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society has recently re-branded into the less-of-a-mouthful Hollywood Critics Association and the Critic’s Choice Association, who run the popular awards show of the same name are upset about confusing or inaccurate representation and potential dual membership. Lawyers are involved and everything. Face, meet palm. Inclusion should be the winner here, not selfishness. This is the kind of tiff and behavior that gives the rest of us critics a bad name. Let this Chicago Indie Critics founder and director guy over here tell you. There is room for two groups. There is room for a dozen groups. This should be “the more the merrier” for access, audience, and enjoyment and not a playground finger-pointing throwdown. Clean it up, Los Angeles, and unbunch your drawers.

LESSON #2: WE NEED MORE GENUINE BLACK STORIES— Folks, I have to open with a huge shout-out to the work of Feelin’ Film’s new “Black Label” podcast to bolster this lesson. The roundtable of Kolby Mac, Erynne Hundley, Caless Davis, and Emmanuel Noisette are two episodes into their presentation run and their conversations about representation, black voices, and overcoming tropes is essential listening. A victory of what they clamor for arrives in theaters this Valentine’s Day weekend in the form of The Photograph.  Starring Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield, we have a mature and honest ethnic romance free of the forced flaws of baited debates and hammy theatrics too often saddled on this demographic by mismatched voices.  See this movie immediately and give the new podcast a hearty listen. Demand more and we might just get more. We’ve got four vivacious critics doing that here. Join them!

LESSON #3: SAVE A LITTLE SOMETHING FOR THE MOVIE— For the last two years after the Super Bowl, I’ve used this “What We Learned This Week” space for a “No More Trailers” challenge and soapbox.  I’ll link those previous rants and shorten the sermon this year to this lesson.  Less is always more. When I watch the trailer for F9, I feel like I’ve already seen too much of the movie, surprises and all.  It’s the exact example why I advocate not watching trailers to things you know you’re already sold to see.  Save something for the movie. Likewise, Sony has already released Billie Eilish’s James Bond theme song “No Time to Die” nearly two months in advance of the film’s premiere. I understand the promotional aims and needs, but, sheesh, do that two weeks before the movie, not two months.  You’re going to overplay this song before it even gets its proper placement. Save something for the movie. The best tease of the week on the positive end was Matt Reeves’ “camera test” peek of Robert Pattinson in costume for The Batman. Imagine if that Michael Giacchino noir music taste and its scarlet-glow reveal comprised the ONLY teaser/trailer we would ever get for the future blockbuster. Mission f’n accomplished for tone setting and frenzied anticipation.  Your triggered curiosity alone destroys your wallet for the future $9. That would be amazing, but, sadly, we know more and likely too much is coming.

LESSON #4: LET’S SEE HISTORY MAKE A NEW FUTURE— It’s not too late to react to Parasite’s historic Oscar night victories. As the first foreign language film to win Best Picture, it’s name is now forever etched in movie history and trivia game cards.  The challenge to have this historic success actually forge a new direction going forward in the industry. If Parasite becomes a one-year wonder and a thrown bouquet outlier for the rest of the decade, the excitement, good will, and growth possible all fade. Let Parasite be your gateway to more independent and foreign cinema. Don’t be scared of subtitles whatsoever when there is a cognitive benefit to be had. There is a wealth to discover and love. Find it. Celebrate it. Let it make you a better lover of movies. If you need help with that, we’ve got friendly aficionados all over the Feelin’ Film Facebook group.

LESSON #5: THERE IS MORE BEYOND THE OSCARS— For true fans of movies, this was a very good year at the Oscars led by Parasite. Good films, wonderful performances, and eclectic talents were given their due by the Academy and our own Feeler’s Choice Awards that matched the Oscars frequently (Excellent recap show, Aaron and Patch!). But, there’s even more. Before 2019 fades more with the advancing calendar, look back to the Independent Spirit Award winners given the night before the Oscars. In many ways, the likes of The Farewell and Uncut Gems are honored films equal or better than the Oscar winners. Fill your watch list and future queue from the Spirit Award winners before the Academy’s and you’ll get some really good stuff. 

LESSON #6: THERE IS NO SHAME IN SOLITUDE— Lastly, this is Valentine’s Day weekend where it’s also “Singles Awareness Day” because you’re never more aware that you are single than on a cheesy holiday like this one alone. There’s no shame in that. In fact, there’s comfort to be found. Last year, I really enjoyed this piece by the blog Lucy Goes to Hollywood addressing the stigma of going to movies alone. No one who does that is a loser and the experience actually has its own strength and catharsis. I call it an occupational hazard, but it also counts a “me time.” An excellent article on The Stylist by Kayleigh Dray continues the idea of self-care that comes from going solo. Keep that in mind while chasing your couple-dom. You’re doing fine without that extra significant other.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#122)

2020 Oscar Locks

If you’ve spent any amount of time in Feelin’ Film circles, whether it be the Facebook group or our active Twitter community, you’ve likely heard the following phrase: Jeremy is always right. Listen, I don’t know who came up with it and it’s really flattering, but for a guy like myself who just oozes humility, it’s a bit embarrassing. It also happens to be completely true. It’s a pretty heavy cross to carry that would crush most men, but it’s one that I am glad to bear. As everyone’s favorite Uncle Ben said, with great power comes great responsibility. With this in mind, given that it’s Oscar season and knowing that some people like to make Oscar season a little more interesting, I thought I would give back to you, the normies, and provide you with the stone-cold locks to win the major Academy Awards in 2020. So without further ado, for the second year in a row, here are Jeremy’s Oscar locks! You’re welcome.


Best Supporting Actor

Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes; Brad Pitt, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood; Joe Pesci, The Irishman; Al Pacino, The Irishman; Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Should’ve been nominated: Christian Bale, Ford vs. Ferrari

I want to win: Full disclosure, I haven’t seen The Two Popes or A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood so I cannot speak to the work done by Hopkins or Hanks, but I absolutely adored all of the work that the other nominees did this year. The Irishman was stellar across the board thanks in part to Al Pacino’s stunning performance as Jimmy Hoffa and Joe Pesci’s wonderfully understated Russell Buffalino. But Brad Pitt gave my favorite performance in what was (spoilers for later) my favorite movie of the year and so he is my personal pick to go home with the statue.

Will win: Ultimately it looks like this is a two-horse race between Pesci and Pitt that will be won by the man who should be People’s Sexiest Man Alive until he dies, Brad Pitt, as Pesci loses a few votes to Al Pacino from those wanting to reward The Irishman.


Supporting Actress

Laura Dern, Marriage Story; Margot Robbie, Bombshell; Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit; Florence Pugh, Little Women; Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell

Should’ve been nominated: Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers; Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell

I want to win: In my opinion, and I know this is controversial, Margot Robbie gave the best performance of those nominated this year. Her portrayal of the fictional amalgamation of real victims, Kayla Popsil, was absolutely dynamite and made me want to go punch everyone who has ever responded to a woman who has alleged sexual abuse with anything other than love and compassion straight in the throat.

Will win: Laura Dern. The odds are completely in her favor. And she was great in Marriage Story. Of course, she was. She’s Laura Effing Dern. But she was better in Little Women.


Best Actor

Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes; Adam Driver, Marriage Story; Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory; Joaquin Phoenix, Joker; Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood

Should’ve been nominated: Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems; Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name

I want to win: If you would’ve told my 17-year-old self in December of 1997 as I watched the girl I was in love with look up at the screen and drool all over Jack Dawson that I’d ever be on Team DiCaprio, I’d have told you to pound sand. But here we are. 

Will win: Look, Joaquin Phoenix is going to go home with the statuette. Whether you liked Todd Phillips’ Joker or not, there’s no denying that Phoenix gave an absolute powerhouse performance as the Clown Prince of Crime. Plus he lost weight, and you know the Academy can’t resist an actor who went on a diet for a role.


Best Actress

Charlize Theron, Bombshell; Renee Zellweger, Judy; Cynthia Erivo, Harriet; Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story; Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Should’ve been nominated: Lupita Nyong’o, Us; Awkwafina, The Farewell

I want to win: I’m going to be honest, until I read this list, I thought Megyn Kelly played herself in Bombshell, so I’m going to go with Charlize Theron. I do reserve the right to change this to Cynthia Erivo after I watch Harriet with my daughter tonight. 

Will win: All signs are pointing to Renee Zellweger at this point. By all accounts, it’s the one really bright spot in what was otherwise a bland, formulaic biopic.


Best Director

Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood; Todd Phillips, Joker; Bong Joon-ho, Parasite; Martin Scorcese, The Irishman; Sam Mendes, 1917

Should’ve been nominated: Greta Gerwig, Little Women; James Mangold, Ford vs. Ferrari

I want to win: Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is my favorite movie that I saw in 2020. Parasite is the best movie that I saw in 2020. A movie that is equal parts family drama, horror, dark comedy, and social commentary should collapse under the weight of its own ambition, but it’s never less than perfect. I’m not into foreign film because I don’t like to read, but I’ll never miss another Joon-ho project. 

Will win: At this point, I think it’s a toss-up between Joon-ho and Mendes and I wouldn’t be upset with either of them. I’ve already praised Parasite and 1917 is an absolute masterwork in warfare storytelling. I think Joon-ho walks away with it.


Best Picture

1917; Parasite; Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood; Joker; The Irishman; Jojo Rabbit; Little Women; Marriage Story; Ford vs. Ferrari

Should’ve been nominated: Uncut Gems; Avengers: Endgame

I want to win: Here’s the thing, I really liked all nine of these movies. All of them were in my Top 25 of 2020 and all but Marriage Story were in my Top 15. But my favorite was Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. Quentin Tarantino’s patience in telling the story along with his always great writing and some dynamic performances make it a movie I’ll revisit over and over and I’d love to see it win.

Probably will win: This is a tough one. 1917 has a lot of momentum, but so does Parasite. And we all know that the Academy loves a story about its golden age, so I think Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood has a great shot as well. Currently, the odds are on 1917 bit it’s a pretty close race. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood takes home the industry’s most coveted prize on Sunday, February 9th. 

There you have it. Those are my picks. You can trust me or you can look at the odds. But remember, I’m always right.


Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

 

What We Learned This Week: January 1-19

LESSON #1: JANUARY SHOULD BE RENAMED “QUALITY MOVIE HIBERNATION MONTH”— Welcome to the doldrums of winter, folks.  We all know the reality.  This is the dumping ground for movies not good enough for the Oscars and not bankable enough for spring or summer tentpole status.  Annually, expect a cheap horror movie success, a Liam Neeson ass-kicker, and big-stars cashing paychecks on weak projects. Get your enjoyment where you can with Bad Boys For Life, Underwater, Dolittle, and more.  I’m a credentialed film critic with scruples.  I haven’t been to a press screening since before Christmas.  It’s that bad and always is.

LESSON #2: “SNUBBED” IS AN OVERUSED AND UNFAIRLY USED TERM— You know, I’ve been convinced. I’m going to drink the Aaron White Kool-Aid.  When recently talking about film scores I’m listening to in the Feelin’ Film Facebook group, I labeled Matt Morton’s Apollo 11 score as “snubbed,” and Aaron admitted that term is wearing as thin with him as “masterpiece” is for me.  I do need to realize that there’s only room for five nominees each year and that the Oscars are a popularity contest of a still-poorly-comprised voting body.  These aren’t complete snubs.  They have backers and votes, just not enough.  They weren’t intentionally slighted and “snubbed” is too negative.  Better terms are needed.  Challenge accepted, Aaron.

LESSON #3: DIVERSITY AND INDEPENDENT FILM ARE STILL OVERLOOKED AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL— The challenge begins here.  Let’s not use “snub” to still talk about deficiencies in the 92nd Academy Award nominations.  For all of the so-called efforts of weening out inactive members and adding diversity, the results aren’t showing it between Green Book winning last year and this list of extremely plain nominations. Go ahead and get the #OscarSoWhite swag out again. The Academy deserves to be called out for this kind of thing.  Women and people of color (and not just black, just ask the team of The Farewell) are still missing higher recognition.  If you look at what was nominated and from what studio they came from, you will see money and favoritism talking. The movies backed by the distributors with the deepest pockets and most lavish “For Your Consideration” campaigns (especially Netflix and their quartet of The Irishman, Marriage Story, The Two Popes, and I Love My Body) scored the spots. If you were little and independent, like A24’s Uncut Gems, The Farewell, and Booksmart, you were ignored. Those losses are consistent top to bottom and not just in the major categories. It’s a minor miracle little shingle NEON squeezed what it could out of Parasite (6 nominations) and Lionsgate got anything at all for Knives Out and Bombshell. If this were politics, we would be talking about the equivalent of “campaign finance reform” from studios buying unfair favor and nominations. Maybe it’s time to open the ledgers and put some rules and limits on that.

LESSON #4: POLITICS IS GETTING IN THE WAY OF FILM CRITICISM— Speaking of politics, there’s a good chance this lesson and paragraph is the first of a future full “Soapbox” edition of “What We Learned This Week,” but I was highly intrigued recently by a piece from Jessa Crispin in The Guardian that posed the title question “Is Politics Getting in the Way of Assessing Which Films Are Actually Good?”  My instant answer is a resounding yes.  Between overly saturated opinions and the constant ego to share them without tact, there are critics that cannot write without spouting some personal assessment of politics or a movie’s politics.  I could name names for hours. I call it “projecting” and I don’t think a film review is the place for that unless said politics are concretely stated by the filmmakers as intentional and deliberate.  Call that objective over subjective.  If that’s not stated, the critic is projecting and throwing s–t to walls to see what sticks for their own fancy, ego, and thirst for clicks. Don’t get me wrong.  For as much as my website is called Every Movie Has a Lesson, I firmly believe “Every Movie Has Politics” too, but, again, that’s not material for a true film review.  Save that garbage, guess work, or, hopefully, carefully manicured discourse for a hot-button editorial labeled as such.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#121)

What We Learned This Week: December 2019

END OF THE YEAR AND END OF THE DECADE EDITION

Forgive the awards season hiatus! I missed you all and I couldn’t let you go without a quick toast to the end of 2019 and the end of the 2010s!

LESSON #1: IT’S ALL CINEMA— Boy, did I miss one dismissive and hand-wringing soapbox after another with Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest directors of film history.  Rant after rant, click after click, retweet after retweet, boy did ole Marty start a fight.  I don’t mean to sound regressive like #AllLivesMatter versus the true need of something like #BlackLivesMatterbut someone needs to tell Mr. Scorsese that it’s all cinema, from every cheesy and trashy film to every astute and austere film.  That’s from Cats to The Irishman and everything in between. They are made by creators aiming for storytelling, entertainment, and expression.  They just do so to different degrees and for different audiences.  So, respectfully, Marty, STFU.  Because you do great work, I won’t sentence you to Lesson #2 like one of your peers.

LESSON #2: CLINT EASTWOOD CAN RETIRE NOW— Look, I adore Clint Eastwood’s work.  He is essential American cinema (there I go…) and has the legacy and hardware to prove forever.  But, gosh, is he slipping.  With each can he kicks down the road since American Sniper, he’s loosing a grip on the truthful side of his filmmaking to match the purposeful part. Honoring little notes of history is one thing with dramatic license.  Revising and degrading is another.  You crossed a line with Richard Jewell and the treatment of the late Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde.  Go back to that sunset and porch rocker, Clint.

LESSON #3: PLEASE LET ADAM SANDLER TURN A NEW LEAF— Before Uncut Gems, I legitimately and truthfully had not watched an Adam Sandler movie in nine years.  I didn’t need Jack and Jill to give up on him and the repetitive manchild garbage he was making.  I had no regrets abstaining from his career.  Hot damn, though, did he supernova with Uncut Gems.  Please let this career resurgence be a true new trajectory and not a one time thing.  Don’t let him dangle a role of two like Eddie Murphy and go back to the low-hanging fruit garden.  He’s back and I want more.

LESSON #4: IT’S EARLY, BUT GRETA GERWIG REMAINS UNDEFEATED— That women knows how to make good films, period. After blazing bright with Lady Bird and all its crassness, she comes back with a PG-rated and spirited adaptation of Little Women that is an absolute delight.  It’s better than just a nod at girl power.  It’s rich and multi-layered art.  She has earned automatic watch status for whatever comes next for her.  And while we’re talking about Greta Gerwig, Dear Academy, don’t make the mistake the Golden Globes did and nominate more women like her for the excellence in their fields.

LESSON #5: ADAM DRIVER AND FLORENCE PUGH WILL BE THE STARS OF THE 2020s— Even with a big second half and huge 2019, I won’t call Adam Driver the star of this decade, but I have a good feeling he will be the star of the next one.  I’ll give this past decade to Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale before Driver, but few actors have his crossover appeal and towering potential right now.  Need proof?  Pick anything from this year, but especially Marriage Story.  Watch him win the Oscar to kick off his 2020.  As they say, the sky (and for him, the galaxy), is the limit.  His white-hot female equivalent is Florence Pugh who carried a tremendous 2019 with Fighting With My Family, Midsommar, and Little Women. She is a dual Oscar contender for those latter two roles and has Black Widow to start 2020.  We see many ingenues come and go, but, like Driver, her range across genres is formidable and will keep her around and successful for a very long time.

LESSON #6: THIS NEXT DECADE HAS UNKNOWN CHALLENGES AHEAD— The 2010s brought a swell of nostalgia regurgitation like we’ve never seen with peaks and valleys across James Bond, Star Wars, Star TrekMission: Impossible, Jason Bourne, the MCU, the DCEU, TransformersPiratesGhostbustersPlanet of the Apes, Rocky, Rambo, Despicable Me, Men in Black, The Terminator, Toy Story, Ocean’s 8, and every possible Disney re-imagining.  Try as the greedy studios may, surely the noise of all that cannot continue another decade.  Creative bankruptcy has a limit and it’s going to run out and crash hard.  The 2020s have the challenge of creating new properties and experiences because the old stuff won’t last forever.  With the close of a Star Wars saga and a massive MCU phase to finish 2019, we stand at the edge wondering what’s next and what can top what’s been done.  It can’t all be new Avatar movies.  Your decade, your move, Hollywood.  Give us something good.  In the meantime, we’ll be on the couching binging your streaming services.

 


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#120)