What We Learned This Week: The New Future of Movie Theaters “Soapbox Special”

SOAPBOX SPECIAL: The New Future of Movie Theaters

During this last month or so of our collective national and international quarantine, I’ve been holding the topic of re-opening movie theaters from my usual “What We Learned This Week” columns for a “Soapbox Special.” There have been so many articles, so many perspectives, and so many rapidly evolving updates and changes that I couldn’t distill them down into one little lesson or column entry. 

With several regions of America starting to re-open (including my own state of Illinois and city of Chicago), it was time to get on the stump and arm the cannons. I put some of what follows into spoken word recently on an episode of Mike Crowley’s “You’’ll Probably Agree” podcast, but the issue has grown since then. Click into the multitude of links in the lessons for the deeper referenced stories. They are well worth their reads and your attention. The theme of this all can be summarized as cautiously optimistic.

LESSON #1: WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO GO BACK TO THEATERS— I’ll open this rant back in late May with polling from Variety. It featured a survey of consumer comfort. Here are some bulleted results in numerical order:

  • 91% requested hand sanitizer stations
  • 90% say the most important factor is a cure for COVID-19.
  • 86% supported limited screenings for cleaning time
  • 75% support employees temperature checks
  • 70% would rather watch a first-run feature at home
  • 61% would feel better about mandatory face coverings
  • 60% support audience temperature checks
  • 47% were comfortable buying concessions
  • 46% were comfortable using public restrooms at theaters

There’s more there in that article, but those were the highlights. Beyond even that poll, you’ve got more and more segments of the population who won’t feel comfortable with any public event, let alone a movie, without a vaccine in place. Putting any number of these initiatives in place would be costly, especially for theater chain companies reeling on the edge of bankruptcy. 

LESSON #2: WHAT DOES THAT FUTURE LOOK LIKE— Any of those changes from Lesson #1 would make for a very different setting than the “normal” way we’ve been going to the movies for the last century. Many editorials and articles (Seattle Times in May, Vulture in May, and Quartz in June) have tried to talk that out exhaustively with every guess in the clouds. For example, many of us have embraced reserved seating as a way to select our spots, skip crowds, and guarantee seats even if we walk in last minute to avoid 20 minutes of senseless trailers (I know that’s not just me, *wink*). The activity timeline changes upward if we are to stand in a line for temperature checks and even downward if there are no concession lines or needs anymore, which is a tremendous business hit to the theater chains that have been bolstering their kitchen capabilities and choices beyond candy and popcorn for the better part of the last two decades. The other word in there everyone wants to avoid is “crowds.” Can that be accomplished with roped off sections, skipped seats, or an all-reserved seating model (which some older theaters don’t fully have)? In the meantime, you’ve got companies fumbling financial footballs and poking public outcry bears (bravo Michael Phillips) over requiring or not requiring masks (and reversing courses) and other measures before they even open. Do you really trust them to get all of this right on the first try here in July?

LESSON #3: THE OPTION OF AUTOMATION— Piggybacking off of Lesson #2, one potential solution could be artificial intelligence, as crazy at that sounds. According to Variety in May, some theaters in Korea were considering “contact-free” technology.  Theater chain CJ-CGV replaced its human staff with AI robots and automated kiosks for scanning and handling ticket transactions. Concession stands were replaced with app-powered and LED-controlled pick-up/delivery boxes. Leave it to tech-savvy Asia to be the tip of that spear. Could the likes of AMC or Regal pull stuff like that off, again, while teetering on financial failure? How do data-danger-minded consumers feel about that?

LESSON #4: COMPANY SURVIVAL IS PERILOUS— The first three lessons constitute a forecast and some great ideas, but who or what can afford those measures? After months of virtually complete closure, save for some door-front concession hawking, large theater chains, especially AMC (which includes the Carmike brand), are in the financial toilet. Bailouts and loans are hard to come by and “junk” status is hitting stock reports. You even have Amazon interested in gobbling up AMC, which would be quite interesting. It may require a rescue such as that. This peril is international as well with CineEurope reporting a possible $20-31 billion loss for the year. Even reopening isn’t an instant cure. The majority of profits for these companies are dependent on concessions because of the high ticket receipt percentages going back to the studios, a gouge that has been increasing over the years at the high blockbuster level (Thanks, Disney). If the food areas are closed due to viral fears and health code regulations, that destroys earnings. 50% capacities of social-distanced seating doesn’t help theaters either. Even 50% might be optimistic. There are theaters opening at barely 25% capacity

LESSON #5: “TOO BIG TO FAIL” IS LOOKING FAILURE STRAIGHT IN THE FACE— And with that we reach the studios’ level of wallet hit with an inactive theater distribution market. Even with their demanded big bites of the pie, half-filled (or less) theaters do not help them either. This is especially the case at the blockbuster level. No matter the anticipation demand or potential staying power of a really big hit flick with less competition, it is exponentially harder to recoup $200 million-budgeted tentpoles and their $100+ million marketing campaigns if sizable fractions of the screens holding butts are gone or entire chains are shuttered. That’s why the really big stuff like Tenet, Mulan, Fast 9, No Time to Die, and more are not automatically landing on streaming services or VOD outlets. Even at a Trolls: World Tour-equivalent $20 price tag per rental (and its modest success), those giants cannot recoup those huge red balances versus getting a ticket for every head instead of every household. A little thing like The Lovebirds or Irresistible can land in the green with VOD, but not Wonder Woman or Black Widow. A business with a blockbuster class level of movies that once looked too big to fail making its worldwide billions is now failing because they have no place to go and no one able to come to their shows.

LESSON #6: STUDIOS DID SOME THIS TO THEMSELVES— Believe it or not, the studios have slowly damaged their own theatrical success/potential for years with the incremental shortening of the windows between big-screen premieres and home media release dates. Folks my age remember the months of interminable wait back in the VHS and cable TV eras before streaming services were even a glimmer in someone’s eye. For example, Forrest Gump hit theaters over the July 4th weekend of 1994. It didn’t land on VHS until late April 1995 after a long theatrical run and a winter Oscar bump. After that, it wouldn’t hit paid cable for another bunch of months and then years before basic cable made it “free.” By comparison, Joker opened on the first weekend of October last year, hit store shelves the first weekend of January 2020, and no one cares if it comes to HBO or Showtime because Netflix, Hulu, or VOD is cheaper and better. What used to be six months at the minimum (or even an entire year if you were a Disney release) has shrunk to merely 90 days on average. Sure, both Forrest Gump and Joker raked for their times, but it’s an indictment on patience versus money-grabbing. People that are willing to wait can now weather a pretty comfortable amount of time compared to the past for their 4K players and big-screen TVs in their dens. In our current COVID-19 state, we’ve all got nothing but time on our hands to do just that. Why risk health if personal patience versus some “fear of missing out” can pay one $20-30 digital download/disc price to watch a movie repeatedly instead of hauling the entire family plus concessions once, especially for something they don’t deem “big screen worthy?” The studios trying to keep the buzz constant with shorter waits will now see leverage backfire in favor of the consumer. For a current case of that, just look at Disney/Pixar’s Onward and the mere weeks it took to cave from the VOD rental level to dismissively dishing it to everyone in Disney+. With studios building their own streaming shingles, you’re going to see more of that or see more wins for Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.

LESSON #7: THE PRICE POINT OF DIGITAL— Let’s go further with the digital wants of consumers versus the new risks and hassles of theaters. Circling back to that opening Variety polling again, remember that 70% would rather watch a first-run feature at home. And that was back in May. Imagine now knocking on the door of Independence Day, no matter how much antsy-pant anticipation and hope is out there. That same Variety polling screened respondents on online pricing with some keen results. It asked how much a “reasonable” price would be to stream top-quality productions in their home. Here are those results in numerical rank:

  • 47%- $10 
  • 20%- $20
  • 19%- only if it was free
  • 6%- $30
  • 3%- $40
  • 1%- $50, $60, or $80%

That’s 67% holding firm at $20 or under and studios need to do their own projections of math. Regardless, welcome to a more than a little bit of the #firstworldproblems portion of this entire “Soapbox Special.” Movies are wants, not needs, period. They are lovely fulfillment, but non-essential. For every one of those 6% hardcore FilmBros and cinephiles with the disposable income to drop $40 or more to see their precious Christopher Nolan film, over 95% aren’t budging or can’t afford it. Check your privilege. 

LESSON #8: ADAPT OR DIE— One way or another, change is needed at the highest level that trickles down to every screen in America. A popular industry that has weathered the advent of television, cable, and now streaming opponents and competition in its century of existence should be able to survive this. Or can they? With the Paramount Accords lapsed, is it time for studios to buy or build their own sustainable theaters to show off their own wares and keep all the profits they used to share with the chains? If studios instead mine the digital landscape successfully, do we really need multiplexes anymore? That is a question posed recently in The New Yorker by Richard Brody in a good read. They’ll need smaller budgeted films to do that, scaling so many things down. Go back to the roots. You can make a dozen solid indies or five or more star-driven mid-budget programmers like the industry used to do in the 1990s with the cost of a single MCU film. Reverting back to that level of business would require some baths and haircuts, but it would rescue the industry. It’s time to embrace those needs. In another angle, columnist Nick Clement on Back to Movies says the film industry is “f–ked.” In many respects, I highly agree with him and his fantastic stump piece speaking on unemployment and the public state of some of those aforementioned #firstworldproblems. Time and patience are the biggest needs. 

LESSON #9: “ABSENCE AWAY MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER”— I’ve used this lesson before in “What We Learned This Week” and it’s time to end with it again. Shed away all the polling and conjecture. We all know the love for movies is there or we wouldn’t be talking about it. Look at the success of early openings and the lined-around-the-block comeback of drive-in movie theaters. It will be a topsy-turvy year, without question, even with a full return. We’ve had a zero-budget film named Unsubscribe streaking at an empty box office only to be dethroned by revival screenings of Jurassic Park putting it back to #1 in the nation, George Foreman-style, 27 years after it last ruled the multiplexes. If the year ended today, Bad Boys For Life would get the “biggest movie of 2020” championship belt in the record books. Just like Field of Dreams says, “people will come.” They just need to wait. Everyone, for that matter, from the greedy studio execs and sidelined movie stars to the lowly theater ushers and concession stand workers, needs to wait. This has sucked and it will keep on sucking, but the best answer is to wait and get through this better and healthier, personally and financially, than rushing and screwing it all up. The movies will be there. We want all the people to be there too. 


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.  (#135)

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.

 

Patch’s Top 10 Films of 2019

2019 was weird for me when it came to film. In some ways, it wowed me. In other ways, it made me shake my head. Sandwiched in between an epic franchise finale and retellings of classic favorites were some real gems (cut and uncut).  Below is the best of the best, for me at least. As with every year, not everything could make my top ten, so here are my honorable Top 5 Best of the Rest of 2019.

THE BEST OF THE REST

5. Brittany Runs a Marathon

4. Luce

3. Spider-Man: Far From Home

2. Waves

1. Avengers: Endgame


THE FEATURE FILMS

Without further delay, here are my 10 favorite films of 2019. If you haven’t had a chance to see them, hopefully, this list will help encourage you to seek them out soon and draw your own conclusions

10. UNCUT GEMS – One of the surprise performances of 2019 is Adam Sandler in “Uncut Gems”. As a gritty New York gambler, Sandler shows us the life of trying to make a fast dollar, and his performance carries the film all the way to its surprising conclusion. His performance combined with the fantastic cinematography put me right in the tough streets with him, hoping that I don’t get caught saying or doing the wrong thing, for fear I might get a bullet in the chest.

 

9. ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD – Quentin Tarantino is a director that I can respect and value, but also dislike and dismiss based on personal preference. There are few movies I can watch more than once with him in the director’s chair. “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” stands out as one. Tarantino succeeds in crafting his own history, using a combination of real-life celebrities of Hollywood past as well as fictionalized characters representing those personalities that lived so prominently of that era. Two of those characters, Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, and their friendship carry the story, something I didn’t expect from QT. That relationship becomes the catalyst for the film, and it’s the thing that captured my attention more than anything. (Hear our discussion about “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” in Episode 178 here.)

 

8. JOKER – A friend of mine said to me after seeing “Joker”, “if this was about a guy named Arthur Fleck, without the whole Joker origin story, it would have been just as impactful.” I completely agree. What Todd Phillips does in this story is invite us into the chaotic world of mental illness with the pressure of having that mental illness in a world that expects you to behave as if you don’t. Joaquin Phoenix delivers an outstanding performance and journey succumbing to the monster he eventually becomes. It’s a hard movie to watch and one of the few I hesitate to revisit because of the impact it has. But it’s one that will be the most memorable of 2019 for me. (Hear our discussion about “Joker” in Episode 191 here.)

 

7. FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY – I love it when a movie makes me feel happy. What I thought was going to be a nice little throw-away popcorn flick turned out to be one of the most memorable films of the year. It is anchored by Saraya Knight, an up and coming wrestler with dreams of being in the WWE, but the emphasis extends to the importance of family, of being connected to a common set of people, believing in each other’s dreams and how success and failure can shape each person’s life. It also doesn’t hurt that it takes me back to my days growing up watching “rasslin” every Monday night and Saturday afternoon.

 

6. MARRIAGE STORY – What a gut punch. “Marriage Story” acts as a mirror in a lot of ways in exposing the honesty of real relationships. It’s a raw vantage point seeing how two people come to grips with the fact that they, as a couple, aren’t happy, and have to deal with it knowing that there will be collateral damage no matter what. I see that in my marriage, in the hard conversations that expose the messiness of choosing to be together. But “Marriage Story” also reminds me that, at the heart of relationships is the ability to choose, and though I don’t agree with some of the choices made by our main characters, I am reminded that that ability is crucial. The film isn’t pretty, but it’s honest, which makes it a valuable watch for anyone. (Hear our discussion about “Marriage Story” in Episode 203 here.)

 

5. THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON – Independent movies don’t get enough love. I’ve learned to accept that. Limited theater distribution, smaller marketing, and sometimes a simple narrative can hinder the buzz that these films deserve. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is no different. Centering around a relationship between a couple of rejects pursuing a better life, this film invites us to join them on this journey and accept them for who they are as they grow to accept each other. Family doesn’t have to be defined by blood, and this film sells that message in a way that makes a believer out of me. (Hear our discussion about “The Peanut Butter Falcon” in Episode 199 here.)

 

4. PARASITE – I hope that we get to cover this on Feelin’ Film at some point. So much has already been said about this fantastic film. The social commentary is both obvious and subtle at the same time, giving the audience enough to think about but not overselling and overshadowing a fantastically entertaining story. There are so many “wow” moments in this film, twists and turns that keep me wondering what’s really at work here. It’s definitely worthy of the accolades that it has gotten and I hope that more people get a chance to appreciate what Bong Joon-Ho has crafted.

 

3. FORD V FERARRI – I don’t get a chance to see movies in the theaters more than once, so when I do, it’s got to be worth it. “Ford v Ferrari” is probably the most entertaining movie of 2019 for me, and it’s one that I had the pleasure of seeing twice on the big screen. There is a completeness in telling the story of Carol Shelby, Ken Miles, and their pursuit to bring Ford motor company back to relevance in the 1960s. James Mangold, in his meticulous direction, puts us so close to the action of LeMans as well as the intimacy of the relationships he takes care of in this story. I didn’t come away feeling wowed by what I saw, but rather getting a complete story, one that entertained me from start to finish. There wasn’t a single moment that stood out as the big moment, but it wasn’t necessary. Everything worked, and I can’t wait to experience it all again. (Hear our discussion about “Ford v Ferrari” in Episode 198 here.)

 

2. LITTLE WOMEN – What the heck? It’s no secret that period pieces are not my thing, and had it not been for Sam Mendes’ “1917” releasing in early 2020 instead of on Christmas (for my area at least) this was going to be a rental, easily. But as I learned in watching “Lady Bird” this year, Greta Gerwig can make me feel deeply in spite of my preconceptions of what a movie is supposed to be. “Little Women”, driven by a solid female cast, manages to tell a story that is both 200 years old and also still relevant today. Saoirse Ronan anchors the narrative as Jo March, and the supporting cast of her sisters propel it to entertaining heights. Watching the film reminded me of how important it is to understand yourself, how difficult it is for women to navigate a world dominated by men, and how family can bring out the best in a person, even through conflict and pain. (Hear our discussion about “Little Women” in Episode 207 here.)

 

1. BOMBSHELL – Movies that can entertain, educate, and provoke thoughtful discussion will always rise above any other, and “Bombshell” doesn’t miss any of those beats. When corporate America treats sexual harassment prevention training as a box to be checked to avoid liability, its importance is lost. “Bombshell” should essentially replace that training and be standard viewing for any employee working today. Solid female-led performances by Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margo Robbie help expose the toxic environment of Fox, and John Lithgow, portraying the sleazy Roger Ailes puts the exclamation point on that world. Much like last year’s “Hearts Beat Loud”, this film comes at a disadvantage, namely releasing late in the year against “Uncut Gems” and “The Rise of Skywalker”. If not now, hopefully, the early part of 2020 will bring it more of an audience and allow the message of “Bombshell” to explode beyond just the film world. (Hear our discussion of “Bombshell” in Episode 205 here.)


Patrick “Patch” Hicks calls Little Rock, Arkansas home with his family of four (his wife, son and three pets). When he’s not podcasting, he works as a multimedia designer and is also dabbling in the art of writing and directing. You can find him floating around the web on Twitter, Facebook, and his home on the web, ThisIsPatch.com.

 

 

Aaron’s Top 10 Films of 2019

2019 is coming to a close and what a wonderful year of movies we’ve had to wrap up the decade. This year I saw 175 new films, 26 of which were documentaries. Finding room in my Top 20 (much less my Top 10) for every film that I want to sing the praises of is always incredibly difficult and this year is no different. The process of narrowing down my favorites to the top ten films of the year was a painful experience that required a lot of reflection and time. The ranking you see here changed constantly right up until I hit “post”, but now what’s done is done and I have to live with it. Since it’s impossible for me to just settle on ten, you will see some of my favorites of the year in the #11-20 special mention spots.

With regards to my criteria, when it comes to ranking films critically, I do that as part of my membership in the Seattle Film Critics Society (see my nominations here and our award winners here). But on Feelin’ Film we focus more on matters of the heart, so my Top 10 films are often ones that I found the most affecting in 2019 – those movies that provided me an incredibly emotional or memorable experience of some sort. Another thing that factors strongly into my ranking is rewatchability, so think of this list as my favorites of the best.

In order to make this a tad easier on myself, and also because they truly are a unique medium unto themselves, I have listed my Top 5 Documentaries separately. It feels like every year is a great one for non-fiction filmmaking and 2019 was no different. At least two of these below would be featured in my Top 10 of the year if these lists were combined; I had to make some very hard cuts in limiting this list to just a Top 5. But as they say… “it’s what it is.”


THE DOCUMENTARIES

5. UNTOUCHABLE (not the 2019 documentary about Harvey Weinstein) The first documentary I saw in 2019 was this film by David Feige that started making festival rounds in 2016 and finally got its release this year. The film follows Ron Book, a Florida lobbyist and father to a daughter who has been sexually abused, on his campaign that leads to some of the toughest sex offender laws in the nation. The film is special because of the way it gives equal space to the stories of both victims and offenders, as well as their respective loved ones. It is an incredible example of what documentaries at their best can be – not just informative, but balanced and thought-provoking despite covering very difficult to watch & complicated subject matter. While never losing sight of the pain these crimes can cause, it challenges our long-held perception of sex offenders, forces us to see the effects of our strict justice system on them and their families, and offers statistics that question whether our laws are even making a dent in rehabilitation or prevention. (Hear our discussion about “Untouchable” in FF+ here.)

4. LOVE, ANTOSHA – Get ready to cry your eyes out and then embark on a (surprisingly long) quest to watch all of the late actor Anton Yelchin’s films. This film is so well-constructed as a documentary that tells the story of Anton’s life, but its power is in sharing the stories of what he meant to so many people, who could see in him what he maybe never could. It is a beautiful, beautiful tribute to a brilliant artist and wonderful human being gone far too soon.

3. SEA OF SHADOWS – I was blown away by the incredible access to both the bad guys and Mexican governmental agencies that this filmmaking team was able to have. “Sea of Shadows” is a documentary (which feels like an intense geopolitical thriller about cartels and other international criminal groups) that follows journalists teaming with activists and military to expose and take down powerful black-market fish bladder traffickers. The film is engaging and riveting in the way it brings this story of gross human exploitation and the destruction of our planet’s environment/animal kingdom to the forefront of public minds.

2. FOR SAMA – Many films have been made about the Battle of Aleppo, a 4.5 year conflict during the Syrian Civil War, but none like this. Told entirely from a young woman’s perspective, Waad al-Kateab becomes a journalist and documents her life in a sort of video log time capsule dedicated to her daughter Sama. It is an intimate, ground-level perspective otherwise unseen that captures the struggles of Waad’s life as she transitions through falling in love, becoming part of the resistance alongside her doctor husband, and eventually motherhood. It is visceral and painful in a way that caused me to have tears welled inside my eyes for almost its entire runtime. But though it is a horror film, it is also a love story, one that shows the cost yes, but also the deep devotion to justice and freedom that drives the resistance to protect one another and strive to reclaim their homeland from tyranny. It was unforgettable, and I hope that for the sake of retaining our humanity in this world as many people as possible will see it. Tough to get through? Absolutely. But worth it in every way for the beautiful relationships that exist within the chaos, and the inspiring hope these parents bring to not just their own child but the next generation as a whole.

1. APOLLO 11 – For the second year in a row, a documentary provided my most incredible IMAX theater viewing of the year. Composed entirely of newly discovered raw archival footage from the actual launch, mission, and landing, “Apollo 11” is an editing marvel that shares with the world an immersive experience from the past. Presented entirely free of any commentary and backed by one of the best musical scores of the year, this is technical filmmaking mastery at its finest. I held my breath, cried tears of pride and awe, and felt my bones rattle and my seat shake – all part of a spectacular experience that was one of my most memorable ones this decade. (Hear our discussion about “Apollo 11” in FF+ here.)


THE FEATURE FILMS

20. THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART(Hear our discussion about “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part in Episode 149 here.)

19. SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (Hear our discussion about “Spider-Man: Far From Home” in Episode 174 here.)

18. BATMAN: HUSH(Hear our discussion about “Batman: Hush” in FF+ here.)

17. THE FAREWELL(Hear our discussion about “The Farewell” in FF+ here.)

16. A HIDDEN LIFE

15. PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE

14. FORD V FERRARI(Hear our discussion about “Ford v Ferrari” in Episode 198 here.)

13. TOLKIEN(Hear our discussion about “Tolkien” in FF+ here.)

12. MISSING LINK(Hear our discussion about “Missing Link” in Episode 160 here.)


  • I broke this into a Top 11 because I couldn’t bear to cut (heh) “Uncut Gems” from my Top 10. It’s that great. #SorryNotSorry

11. UNCUT GEMS – Remember. To. Breathe. “Uncut Gems” is an E-X-P-E-R-I-E-N-C-E. This is a one-of-a-kind stylish anxiety attack that captures the highs and lows of compulsive gambling like I’ve never seen before. It often feels like complete chaos and manic screaming of dialogue throughout, but that is actually the Safdie Brothers in complete control of a career-best performance from Adam Sandler. It’s terrifying to watch unfold – like a horror movie without the slashing or supernatural – and the gigantic breath I finally took at the end is like the greatest gasp of air I’d ever had. Bonus points for a huge sub-plot involving Kevin Garnett and one of the year’s best scenes where said NBA superstar caresses a rock lovingly.

 

10. BOMBSHELL – There’s always room for a stellar biopic with Oscar-worthy performances and a biting script in my Top 10, and this year it was director Jay Roach’s riveting story of how brave women at Fox News took down its infamous sexually abusive CEO and a culture of toxic sexism. It is a slick, entertaining, and highly uncomfortable film that is so much more than just a history lesson, though. It tells this very important story from a perspective that audience members may never experience otherwise, opening my eyes via dramatization in a way that mundane and cheesy workplace sexual harassment videos never have. I feel empowered to look for, notice, and stand up against sexual harassment of any form anywhere it exists. (Hear our discussion of “Bombshell” in Episode 205 here.)

 

9. TOY STORY 4 –  Shame on me for doubting Pixar and one of the most perfect trilogies of all-time. It took me two viewings, but once I took in the film detached from my expectations of what a Toy Story film “should” be, I fell in love. Not only is it heady and thoughtful in ways the series has never quite tried, it still packs the emotional punch I expect and crave. I laughed my ass off. I cried hard. I became obsessed with Forky. New characters won me over and this fourth entry manages to somehow create a new conclusion that makes perfect sense. (Hear our discussion about “Toy Story 4” in Episode 172 here.)

 

8. JOKER – Todd Phillips’ “Joker” is exceptional, elevating the type of stories we are accustomed to from our comic book characters into previously uncharted artistic territory. As Phillips’ muse, Joaquin Phoenix carries the film with a phenomenal physical performance that imbues the titular villain’s tormented soul with both a growing madness and a painfully affecting pathos. It took a lot of nerve for Phillips to depict a “beloved” villain in this way and style,  knowing that many fans would not approve, but his approach allows for a powerful conversation to be had about mental illness and violence. I was completely enthralled throughout the film, both with its narrative and its artistic elements. I left the theater floored and impressed beyond belief. (Hear our discussion about “Joker” in Episode 191 here.)

 

7. PARASITE – What hasn’t already been said about director Bong Joon-Ho’s delightfully dark social satire? It’s a commentary on class warfare and capitalism that plays out in a funny yet thrilling story that crosses several different genres and surprises at every turn. Worthy of every bit of praise and all of the awards that it is winning this year, “Parasite” is one of the best live-action foreign films of the decade and should be seen knowing as little as possible.

 

6. 1917 – “1917” is an astonishing exercise in immersion that left me utterly shaken. It is a true technical marvel, with emotional power that creeps up slowly, and then forces the viewer to reconcile with the futility of war in a manner that lingers long after the credits roll. Featuring my favorite score of the year and the best cinematography, as well, the film is stunning on every level, a tour-de-force in the genre, and an absolute must-see theatrical experience. (Episode coming in January 2020)

5. THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON – A simple, moving adventure story of friendship and family. Never condescending. My eyes were hardly dry throughout. I love this movie. Every single moment. The cinematography, the score, the acting, but of course the story most of all. And for me, the depiction of people on the fringes – a care center runaway with Down Syndrome and a troubled thief –  who come together and become a non-traditional family is one of the sweetest I’ve ever seen. (Hear our discussion about “The Peanut Butter Falcon” in Episode 199 here.)

 

4. WEATHERING WITH YOU – It’s no secret how much I adore Makoto Shinkai’s “Your Name.” This film also features a central teenage romance with fantastical elements and natural disasters on the horizon but is a much more serious and dramatic work that takes its time moving the story along and has Shinkai exploring the very real issue of climate change (and humanity’s conflicting response to it) through the decisions that its romantically inclined protagonists face. In what has become the norm, Shinkai delivers breathtaking visuals yet again and they perfectly synchronize with another beautiful RADWIMP’s score. There is just something about how Shinkai consistently tells stories that move me deeply and affect my soul in ways that very few filmmakers do. “Weathering With You” is an incredibly layered animated dream and I can’t stop thinking about its characters, their relationships, and the challenging situations they must deal with, but also what my own feelings about those things ultimately say about me.

 

3. ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD –  Where Quentin Tarantino’s storytelling shines the most in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is in the relationship between movie star Rick Dalton & his stuntman/best friend Cliff Booth. Their friendship is touching and hilarious, and their stories are compelling enough on their own to carry a nearly 3-hour long movie. In addition, the satisfying and respectful retelling of Sharon Tate’s tragic murder within this alternate history grounds this film in the time period that QT is clearly making a love letter to. I could watch these characters in this world for hours upon end and never tire of it. Exceptional production value and acting all around plus great messages about friendship and how we remember people make this a slamdunk top film of the year for me. (Hear our discussion about “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” in Episode 178 here.)

 

2. MARRIAGE STORY “Getting divorced with a kid can be one of the hardest things you can ever do – it’s like a death without a body.” I relate very deeply with much of what’s depicted in this story, and from personal experience, I agree that divorce *is* like death without a body. What makes “Marriage Story” brilliant to me, is that Baumbach captures the waves of changing emotions and challenges that many, many couples face perfectly, despite the setting being that of two celebrities parting ways. “Marriage Story” is a reflection of this beautifully flawed couple that gives insight into the awful process of divorce, and it hurts like hell to experience but can also serve as a cautionary tale for those in relationships now. It is the rare film that comes along that has impeccable filmmaking artistry, is entertaining, and has a huge personal relevance, making it an easy choice for this spot on my list. (Hear our discussion about “Marriage Story” in Episode 203 here.)

 

1. LITTLE WOMEN – When was the last time a pure drama, period piece, with Hollywood star power, contending for awards had a PG rating? Greta Gerwig’s masterful retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s classic is a love letter to the source material that is as delightful as it is artistically terrific. Updated with a fun new meta twist that could have gone terribly awry, instead, Gerwig’s storytelling device highlights the theme of owning your own story and hammers home Jo’s arc in an impactful new way, while also portraying Amy’s important story quite powerfully, like we haven’t seen before. The acting is just as brilliant as you’d expect from this supremely talented group of young actors, and supporting roles by such veterans as Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, and Chris Cooper are every bit as perfectly cast. Each and every element of the film adds to its delight – from the production design to the score – and it’s likely Gerwig’s film will go down as the best telling of this famous story for many a viewer, and may just inspire a whole new generation of little women too. (Hear our discussion about “Little Women” in Episode 207 here.)


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Aaron’s 2019 SFCS Award Nominations

Having the honor of participating in an annual film awards voting group is one of the greatest joys in my life. It takes a lot of dedication, time, and sacrifice too. After watching 166 films released in 2019, some of which I greatly did not enjoy and others which I cannot wait to watch again, I’ve finally narrowed down my favorites or best or whatever you want to label them as. Presented below are my nominations for the 2019 Seattle Film Critic Society Awards. In the past, I have attempted to use strategy by not making nominations that I believed would have plenty of support elsewhere. This year, I decided to avoid getting that tricky, and instead have made my choices that I can fully stand behind and proudly champion. Many categories were extremely difficult and caused me great heartache. Where possible, I’ve listed my “Sixth Man” award for that nominee who just narrowly missed my field.

* A note about eligibility – Due to our voting deadline, access to films, and/or personal time constraints, the following late releasing films were not screened by me prior to these nominations: “Dark Waters”, “A Hidden Life”, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”, “Cats”, “Jumanji: The Next Level”, and (to make my daughter happy) “Spies in Disguise”.

* Additionally, I have chosen to remove Animation and Documentaries from my Best Picture lineup in order to allow more room for live-action feature film nominees.

(All nominees in alphabetical order)

BEST ACTION CHOREOGRAPHY

1917
Ford v Ferrari
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Shadow
Triple Threat

VILLAIN OF THE YEAR

Divorce – Marriage Story
Joker – Joker
Mysterio – Spider-Man: Far From Home
Red Dress – In Fabric
Swiper – Dora and the Lost City of Gold

BEST YOUTH PERFORMANCE (under 18 at time of filming)

Anna Pniowsky – Light of my Life
Isabela Moner – Dora and the Lost City of Gold
Julia Butters – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Noah Jupe – Honey Boy
Paola Lara – Tigers Are Not Afraid

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

1917
Alita: Battle Angel
Avengers: Endgame
Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Spider-Man: Far From Home

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

1917
Joker
Little Women
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

I Lost My Body (Dan Levy)
Uncut Gems (Daniel Lopatin)
Joker (Hildur Guðnadóttir)
Marriage Story (Randy Newman)
1917 (Thomas Newman)

BEST FILM EDITING

1917
Apollo 11
Bombshell
Ford v Ferrari
Marriage Story

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Bombshell
Dolemite is My Name
Little Women
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Rocketman

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

1917
Joker
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Shadow
The Lighthouse
*Sixth Man* – Monos

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FEATURE

The Farewell
Monos
Parasite
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Weathering With You
*Sixth Man* – Promare

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Apollo 11
For Sama
Love, Antosha
Maiden
Sea of Shadows
*Sixth Man* – American Factory

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Missing Link
Promare
This Magnificent Cake!
Toy Story 4
Weathering With You
*Sixth Man* – The Lego Movie 2

BEST SCREENPLAY

Bombshell (Charles Randolph)
Joker (Todd Phillips, Scott Silver)
Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
The Peanut Butter Falcon (Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz)
*Sixth Man* – Little Women (Greta Gerwig)

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST

Avengers: Endgame
Bombshell
Ford v Ferrari
Little Women
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
*Sixth Man* – Marriage Story

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Jennifer Lopez – Hustlers
Laura Dern – Marriage Story
Margot Robbie – Bombshell
Nicole Kidman – Bombshell
Zhao Shuzhen – The Farewell
*Sixth Woman* – Taylor Russell – Waves

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Joe Pesci – The Irishman
Song Kang Ho – Parasite
Sterling K. Brown – Waves
Zack Gottsagen – The Peanut Butter Falcon
*Sixth Man* – John Lithgow – Bombshell

BEST ACTRESS

Awkwafina – The Farewell
Charlize Theron – Bombshell
Jessie Buckley – Wild Rose
Saoirse Ronan – Little Women
Scarlett Johanson – Marriage Story
*Sixth Woman* – Lupita Nyong’o – Us

BEST ACTOR

Adam Driver – Marriage Story
Adam Sandler – Uncut Gems
Antonio Banderas – Pain and Glory
Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
*Sixth Man* – Jonathan Pryce – The Two Popes

BEST DIRECTOR

Jay Roach – Bombshell
Josh & Benny Safdie – Uncut Gems
Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story
Sam Mendes – 1917
Todd Phillips – Joker
*Sixth Man* – Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

BEST PICTURE

1917
Bombshell
Ford v Ferrari
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Uncut Gems
*Sixth Man* – Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Total Count by Movie: Bombshell (9), Marriage Story (9), 1917 (8), Joker (8), Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (7), Little Women (5), Parasite (4), Ford v Ferrari (4), Uncut Gems (4), Portrait of a Lady on Fire (3), The Peanut Butter Falcon (3)


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: October 14-27

LESSON #1: THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON MAY BECOME THE MOST IMPORTANT FILM OF 2019— Look at me writing a clickbait headline.  I, and many others, think the world of this film (5-star review), but it is now making an impact far bigger in the grand scheme of things than another Scorsese masterpiece entry or Marvel blockbuster. Thanks to its emerging star Zack Gottshagen, The Peanut Butter Falcon has started a groundswell of hiring and representation for performers with intellectual disabilities, as outlined in a recent article in The Hollywood Reporter. That is absolutely huge and a benefit far greater to the industry than hardware and money. This is, without a doubt, the best industry story I’ve seen this month and maybe this year. Folks, see this film for how special it is and not just because of the “special” people in it. 

LESSON #2: GET THE BIG MONEY OUT OF THE OSCARS— I wonder if casual fans notice as much of the “For Your Consideration” stuff as a film critic like myself does.  I’m guessing people see the extra language on marketing materials and maybe the occasional magazine ad. Folks, let me tell you, the studio-powered promotion machines to get their films front-and-center for awards season are unchecked and on the same level as all the wild political campaigning you see in public life.  While I’m happily inundated with screeners and materials during this time of year as a critic in two awards-voting bodies, I can do the math on the sheer volume of money being spent just to get a name or two mentioned and it’s completely too much. Sadly, these full-court press tactics work on the weak groupthink voters at all the levels of this industry.  Voters should be more discerning rather than easily fickle and the pushiness should stop. More people are finally standing up to say something about it and I’ll join them.  

LESSON #3: THERE ALMOST ALWAYS COMES A POINT WHERE A FREE GOOD THING WILL SOMEDAY COST MONEY— I was as surprised and bummed as any other casual box office statistics fan when levels of the Box Office Mojo site where absorbed by the subscription-required IMDb Pro site. Amazon has owned Box Office Mojo since 2008, where I’m surprised it took this long for such a switch.  The basics are there, but the original site was so much tighter and immersive with its data. The new one is very watered down. Let’s see if it can evolve back into an industry leader.

LESSON #4: EASY ON THE INFLATED TROPHIES, HOLLYWOOD BEAN COUNTERS— Speaking of Box Office Mojo, the congratulatory headlines were inescapable this week that Joker will “officially” become the highest grossing R-rated film of all-time.  Child, please.  I do this often, but go to the inflation-adjusted numbers and slow your roll, folks.  Joker has earned over $250 million domestically and triple that overseas and deserves every success, no doubt.  But wake me up when it touches (let alone climbs near the top of) the Top 200 on the all-time inflation-adjusted list before you start handing out those title belts. It’s not catching The Exorcist at #9 or many more of the R-rated films on that list.  Dream on, Warner Bros.

LESSON #5: EVERYONE NEEDS A BREAK AND SHOULD TAKE ONE— I applaud 23-year-old Timothee Chalamat who spoke to Vogue about desperately needing to take a break from acting after a solid few years of constant work. Other actors have done it for years and it’s always a smart play for physical, mental, and emotional recharge and renewal.  As they say, “absence away makes the heart grow fonder.” Expect a committed and improved Chalamat when you see him after. More actors should do this, if even for the fact of not becoming overused and overexposed, let alone to recuperation.

LESSON #6: DON’T BEAT DEAD HORSES— In the latest log on the fire stoked by many of Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy, something that was ran into the ground will now be dusted off and run into the ground again.  Disney has tabbed Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin to join franchise writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio to reboot the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.  I know I’ve said it somewhere before in this column, but put some time between death and rebirth.  Sure, when you go all the way back to 2003, it will be nearly 20 years since the first movie, but it’s only been two years since its last one.  Wait twenty years after that instead and then dazzle us with a new take in 2037. Go away and try your own “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” We still freshly remember the s–t show.

LESSON #7: SLOW THE F–K DOWN, YOU BINGER— Speaking of taking a break, the entertainment you consume is supposed to be rich and entertaining experience.  Why would you speed it up just to get more? Word around the campfire is Netflix is experimenting with the possible setting of showing its content at 1.5x speed.  Come on, man.  Have some patience.  Part of the magic of film and TV shows is the editing of pace and timing.  Those are crucial and deliberate creative traits. Don’t ruin that because of your impatience.  

LESSON #8: IF YOU WANT CUSTOMERS, GIVE SOMETHING EXCITED AWAY— Verizon isn’t hurting for business or customers, but you know they’ve dropped the swag of swag in offering full-year Disney+ subscriptions to new and existing unlimited data home and wireless customers.  That sure beats a toaster or set of steak knives. Good luck topping that, Sprint and T-Mobile. Well played, Verizon.  

LESSON #9: TURN UP THE BRIGHTNESS ON THE THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE— I won’t jump to the alarmist “ruining the the theatrical experience” level that Edward Norton in implying in a recent interview in The Daily Beast, but the firebrand actor that never minces his words is right.  Improper brightness and poor sound in cheap and untrained theater chains can make a bad enough viewing experience to turn off ticket-paying moviegoers.  If you’re going to pay today’s full prices on the promises of a superior experience to the 4K and HD stuff capable from your couch, you should get it. The luminosity talk in his interview was fascinating.  I notice it too and he isn’t wrong.


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.  (#119)

What We Learned This Week: October 6-13

LESSON #1: PEOPLE ARE NOT GETTING ALL OF JOKER, INCLUDING TOP CRITICS— There is a whole bunch more going on in the Todd Phllips hit than people are understanding.  Anyone who is calling that movie empty, meandering, or plotless doesn’t know what they are watching.  Watching is one thing and absorption is another. Some viewers are good at processing movies quickly or fully and others are not.  You can see that at every level, from a Letterboxd fanboy to a headlining critic.  I’ll be one that says those folks are definitely missing out.  Our guy Emmanuel Noisette lays it all out, so get your Kool-Aid glass ready! 

 

LESSON #2: WILL SMITH NEEDS A NEW AGENT— Dammit, Big Willy.  Even north of 50 years old, you still have charisma for days.  You are a joy in just about every movie you grace with your presence, including Aladdin and Gemini Man this year, but you are picking lackluster and even terrible projects to waste your glowing talent on.  Feelin’ Film host Aaron White recently posted the last decade of Will’s resume via the Silver Screen Riot podcast:

Yikes! That is one heck of a losing streak.  Will, you are rarely the problem, but you need to make some better business and professional decisions.

LESSON #3: MARVEL ARE NOT DIMINISHING ACTING OPPORTUNITIES— Former Friends icon Jennifer Aniston ranted a little this week in Variety and poked the anti-Marvel bear when she cited available roles diminishing in this era of blockbusters.  While she’s plenty right that the “midbudget original movie” market has shrunk and shifted to the streaming platforms (she should know, she makes those movies on Netflix all the time), Marvel is not the problem.  If anything, look at the sizes of the ensembles they bring together. Look how much cache those actors and actresses earn, even for being a bit player. The raised Q-rating they get for being in a fan-friendly movie does wonders for their career.  The wave isn’t missing you, Ms. Aniston. You’re missing the wave. Maybe you need a new agent like Will Smith.

LESSON #4: LEARN A LITTLE MORE ABOUT CINEMA AND SEEK OUT SOME GREATS OF PRODUCTION DESIGNS— All the green screens in the world cannot beat a legit practical set or location that has been artfully created into something fabulous and unique.  Enjoy this stellar video on some of the best production designs ever and seek out where to see some of these movies on the JustWatch app, which has now merged with Letterboxd!  My vote is The Grand Budapest Hotel.  


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.  (#118)

Episode 191: Joker

In one of the most dark and uncomfortable major comic book films ever made, Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix bring a new origin story to the screen for DC’s most iconic villain. Although some critics have expressed a lack of value in what the film has to say, we feel very differently and dig into the film’s depiction of mental illness and violence. We also discuss how the film is a sort of mirror intended to bring about self-reflection and, of course, how the story’s tie to the character’s nemesis Batman worked for us all. It’s a long one, but a good (and dare we say, important) one this week on the podcast and we hope that you’ll give this episode a listen.

Joker Review – 0:03:46

The Connecting Point – 01:51:47


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What We Learned This Week: September 22-October 5

LESSON #1: BE CAREFUL WITH OPEN INTERPRETATION— Had I written this column last week, this first lesson would have be titled “We’re Not Ready for Joker.” I saw all the lead-up buzz, all the fearful theories, and all the wild labels and had to turn it off. I wanted to stop and see the movie before adding more guesswork. After seeing it, I hunkered down in my review to stick to the film as much as possible and I’m glad I did. Too many reviews I’m seeing are diving straight to commentary interpretation and not to the critique of what’s on screen. That’s feeding the buzz monster in my opinion. That’s making a review about theory and not evidence. World of Reel nailed this by saying the hoopla can become the media’s fault and not the movie. Worse, those writers lock that opinion in my-opinion-is-the-only-opinion-that-matters cement and throw the openness of interpretation out the window. Including personal takes in a review is fine, but it can’t be the whole thing and it has to be flexible for discussion or be able to acknowledge other opinions are possible. Be careful, critics (and all fans for that matter). Know that you’re stepping out there for judgment when you go about it with a closed mind to accepting other opinions.

P.S.– Since we’re talking about Joker, here’s my extra plea to #FilmTwitter:

LESSON #2: MARTIN SCORSESE IS OUT OF TOUCH— Storied director and historical film connoisseur Martin Scorese isn’t a fan of comic book movies. Normally, that’s a “to each their own” place, but he went further to say they are are not cinema. More specifically, his damning line in an Empire interview was “It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” Dammit, Marty. I love you and I’m not supposed to use this word, but you’re “wrong.” See Lesson #1 about open interpretation. Try telling that to all of us blubbering in our popcorn during the MCU’s most dramatic moments or being inspired to be better people watching Christopher Reeve or Gal Gadot. Sorry, Mr. Scorsese, but you’re out of touch. If you don’t believe all of us fans, Marty, take the word of peers.  I think Joss Whedon and James Gunn said it best on Twitter:

LESSON #3: WE DESERVE MORE G-RATED MOVIES— I love this article from The Sydney Morning Herald shared in the Feelin’ Film Facebook group (shout out to Caless Davis) on Friday. Family-friendly films on this entry rating level are an endangered species. It’s fair that modern progressive times have created more thematic infusion of heavier themes, but we cannot abandon the base and entry level. We need to demand more all-ages offerings and use our attendance to see that they become successful enough for more to be made. 

LESSON #4: HAND-DRAWN ANIMATION AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL HAS A CHANCE— Speaking of G-rated movies, Walt Disney Animation’s newly installed president (and film director) Jennifer Lee was asked what changes could be coming during her regime.  One of the possibilities was a return to hand-drawn animation.  “Being open” is good enough where we can put the Lloyd Christmas GIFs to good use.  The hope is music to my ears and what a treat a traditional animated film would be!


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.  (#117)

MOVIE REVIEW: Joker

What’s better than one opinion? Two! Aaron and Caless offer a double dose of thoughts on what is sure to be the most polarizing film of 2019.



Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

 

Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.