LESSON #1: DARREN ARONOFSKY IS AS AUDACIOUS AS THEY COME— Love or hate his films (and there is a lot there for both emotions), but Darren Aronofsky has cajones, talent, and personal integrity to make bold films his way and for his own artistic expression. mother! is the latest chapter of a brazen filmography of Noah, Black Swan, The Wrestler, Fountain, Requiem for a Dream, and Pi. The guy is operating at another level and uses a different elevator of crazy. Recognize the skill through any love or hate you harbor to his films.
LESSON #2: GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S THE SHAPE OF WATER IS YOUR FIRST OSCAR CONTENDER— The master of creature creation’s romantic fantasy film won the prestigious Golden Lion award as the top film of the Venice Film Festival. Put it at the top of the standings while it also competes at the ongoing Toronto International Film Festival. If The Shape of Water were to win at TIFF, hot damn, you can switch the word from “contender” to “frontrunner.” In other categories, Venice awarded its acting prizes to Kamel El Basha for The Insult and Charlotte Rampling for Hannah, its screenplay award to Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, and the best director prize to Xavier Legrand for Custody. Within the next week or two, I will report the TIFF winners in this very column.
LESSON #3: “WHITE PRIVILEGE” WILL BE THE MOST POLARIZING SUBJECT MATTER AND NARRATIVE THIS AWARDS SEASON— I screened and reviewed the Ben Stiller vehicle Brad’s Status this week and if I had to retitle the film, it would be White Privilege: The Wake-Up Call. The movie has a strong introspective quality about it, but its message is going to fall on so many deaf ears to any demographic that’s not a middle-aged white male. Consider that a crutch and a hindrance, even if the film was good. I fear the same thing will happen to an even higher profile film this awards season, namely George Clooney’s Coen brothers collaboration Suburbicon. Clooney was stumping for the film and Venice and found himself answering the sticky white privilege labels and questions. To his great credit, he’s sticking to his guns about the purposeful satire and commentary of this film. The film may work, but does that mean it will play that way to general or even voting audiences? I’m betting the white privilege labels aren’t far behind for Alexander Payne’s Downsizing and even mother! too.
LESSON #4: PATTY JENKINS DESERVES THE SUCCESS COMING HER WAY— Warner Bros. made it official this week signing Patty Jenkins to return as the director of the Wonder Woman sequel. The first film’s runaway success netted her a $7-9 million payday, the highest ever for a woman director, and a little percentage of the back-end profits for good measure. Slowly but surely, the pay gap can and should close. Patty Jenkins deserves this reward and I’m glad she’s one of the leaders for equal professional standards. Kudos!
LESSON #5: THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO GET A FILM DONE RIGHT— I’ve talked in this column over the summer about the many news items of production ups-and-downs. Instances include when Justice League called on Joss Whedon to step in for extensive reshoots or the dismissals of two different Star Wars directors. This week, all signs point to J.J. Abrams returning to the director’s chair for Episode IX and delaying the film an additional seven months to reshuffle the deck. On the smaller side, ace composer Johann Johannsson is leaving Blade Runner 2049 less than a month before its release. We take those breaking stories as signs of trouble and possible evidence of a lemon to come. We’ve been doing it in the internet age since Titanic was delayed from a July 4th weekend opening to Christmas in 1997. Sometimes those fears become justified. Maybe, just maybe though, the delays are the right moves to ensure a proper finished product. Maybe a little more patience and extra time used to fine tune a film can finally win in the age of instant gratification, manic buzz, and “what have you done for me lately.” We are a voracious audience sometimes, myself included, but maybe we can soften our Chicken Little-level overreactions. Call this an early New Year’s resolution for this writer.
DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends. Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.