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by Robert Horton

Contributor

Review: Arctic

There are a couple dozen lines of dialogue in Arctic, plus an assortment of grunts. As it happens, we don’t need even that much spoken information: The simplicity of writer/director Joe Penna’s approach and the magnificence of Mads Mikkelsen’s acting is more than enough to make this survival tale a gripping experience.

One of Penna’s best decisions was to lop off the first act of the story. We don’t know how or why a man, played by Mikkelsen (the superb Danish actor from Casino Royale and the TV version of Hannibal), has come to be stranded somewhere in the frozen North.

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Review: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Batman is wearing a white bat-helmet, his costume dotted with sparkles that set off his fabulous ermine cape. I think at this point there is no question that the Batman from the Lego movies has eclipsed the Dark and Brooding™ Batman of Warner Brothers’ DC film cycle. No wonder Ben Affleck is opting out of the live-action role; he can’t compete with this. As voiced by Will Arnett, the Lego Batman is vain, dimwitted, and very nearly a complete parody of the Dark Knight. It’s the closest thing we’ve come to Adam West’s great TV Batman from the ’60s, and this is a good thing.

Batman has the bling on because he’s dressed up for an outer-space wedding, which is merely one of a thousand points of light in The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, a sequel to the 2014 hit.

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Who We Would’ve Nominated For 2019 Academy Awards

While the Oscars remain the one artistic award show that really matters, it’s frustrating how flawed and exclusionary they remain. Still, only certain types of movies are even considered for nominations — sure, a horror film like Get Out or a comic-book movie like Black Panther can get nominated, but they’re the exceptions that prove the rule (and ones that would’ve received major backlash if snubbed). But even if a movie falls under the category of “Oscar bait,” it still requires a cash-back campaign targeted at voters to stand a chance. It’s a crummy system.

With that in mind, we threw any notion of standard Academy Awards qualifications out the window to nominate our favorite films of 2018 in some of the major categories (with entries marked with a * indicating our pick as the winner).

BEST PICTURE

Actual Nominees

Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

Robert’s Nominees

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
BlacKkKlansman
Burning
First Reformed
Hereditary
Leave No Trace
The Rider*
Roma
Support the Girls
You Were Never Really Here

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Stan & Ollie

Playing a comedy genius is surely 10 times harder than playing another category of intellectual brilliance. If you’re cast as Albert Einstein, you put on a fright wig and spout a few equations — everybody thinks you’re brilliant. Play a famous singer, and they can always dub the voice. In the current At Eternity’s Gate, Willem Dafoe is Vincent Van Gogh: a terrific performance (that just received a Best Actor Oscar nomination), one for which the dedicated actor learned how to paint. But he doesn’t have to convince us he painted the completed canvases — Van Gogh provided the genius we see hanging on the walls around the actor.

But comedy? Comedy is hard. To be convincingly touched by comic genius is an extremely difficult thing to fake—it’s the difference between acting funny and being funny.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Cold War

I saw Cold War last summer at a film festival in Ukraine, where I was on an awards jury. When it concluded, I stood up and declared aloud to no one in particular, “We have just seen the winner of the next Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.”

Of course I didn’t actually do that. Who am I to stand up and make pronouncements in English in a Ukrainian movie theater? (But I did mutter it to myself.)

Cold War has all the attributes of a classic Oscar-winner in that category: It’s accessible; it’s serious but also deeply romantic; it’s got political overtones; and it’s gorgeous to look at.

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Parallax View’s Best of 2018

Welcome 2019 with one last look back at the best releases of 2018, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and friends and a few special invitations.

Sean Axmaker

1. First Reformed
2. The Rider
3. Roma
4. Leave No Trace
5. If Beale Street Could Talk
6. Private Life
7. Burning
8. BlackKkKlansman
9. Hereditary
10. Zama

A second ten (in alphabetical order): Annihilation, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Cold War, The Favourite, First Man, Happy as Lazzaro, Revenge, Shoplifters, Support the Girls, Suspiria

Cinematic achievement of 2018: the decades-in-the-making completion of Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind, left incomplete at the time of his death.

First Reformed – Photo credit: A24

David Coursen (Washington, D.C.)

Best DC non-theatrical Premieres:
An Elephant Standing Still
Family Tour

Singular Blessing:
The Other Side of the Wind

And the 11 best of the rest, listed alphabetically
BlacKkKlansman
Black Panther
Claire’s Camera
First Reformed
Happy Hour
Loveless
Madeline’s Madeline
Private Life
Roma
Sorry to Bother You
Wormwood

The Other Side of the Wind
Peter Bogdanovich, John Huston in Orson Wells’ “The Other Side Of The Wind”

Robert C. Cumbow

The Top 10

(DisclaimerThe list of important 2018 films I have not yet seen is embarrassingly long—so many movies, so little time—and is included here for context: If Beale Street Could Talk; Roma; Black Panther; Transit; Other Side of the Wind; Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Eighth Grade; Mid-90s).

Of the ones I did see, the ones I enjoyed most:
First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
Hostiles (Scott Cooper; technically 2017 but released in Seattle—scantly—in 2018)
The Party (Sally Potter)
The Old Man and the Gun (David Patrick Lowrey)
The Endless (Aaron Moorehead & Justin Benson)
You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay; year’s best example of telling a story in sound design)
Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)
First Man (Damien Chazelle, whom I still don’t like, but I can’t deny how much this film affected me)
Green Book (Peter Farrelly)
Annihilation (Alex Garland)

A Little Respect (because it’s actually been a pretty good year for movies):
Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Coen Bros.)
The Mule (Clint Eastwood)
The Wife (Björn Runge)
Mary Queen of Scots (Josie Rourke)
The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)
The Rider (Chloé Zhao)
Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio)
A Quiet Place (John Krasinski)
A Simple Favor (Paul Feig)
A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper—a few things about this movie made me like it a lot more than I expected to, and persuaded me that Cooper has a directorial eye and instinct to be reckoned with)

2/3 of a Good Movie:
Vice
Hereditary
BlacKKKlansman

1/3 of a Good Movie:
Sorry to Bother You

Music:
Justin Hurwitz, First Man
Max Richter, Mary Queen of Scots

Too many great performances this year to list favorites, so I’ll just mention Cynthia Erivo, a compelling presence in Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale, whose name should be a household word by this time next year.

First Man – Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Jim Emerson

Favorites of 2018
1. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel & Ethan Coen)
2. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)
3. The Rider (Chloé Zhao) / The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard)
4. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)
5. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)
6. Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada)
7. Hereditary (Ari Aster)
8. Bird Box (Susanne Bier) / A Quiet Place (John Krasinski)
9. Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham) / Mid90s (Jonah Hill) / Minding the Gap (Bing Liu)
10. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Photo credit: Netflix

John Hartl

1. Leave No Trace
2. First Reformed
3. Fair Game (director’s cut)
4. Springsteen on Broadway
5. Three Identical Strangers
6. Love, Gilda
7. The Death of Stalin
8. A Moment in the Reeds
9. Sorry to Bother You
10. Outside In

Also recommended: We the Animals, BlacKkKlansman, Return to Mount Kennedy, On Chesil Beach

Leave No Trace – Photo credit: SIFF

Robert Horton

(as published in the Seattle Weekly)

1. The Rider
2. Support the Girls
3. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
4. Lean on Pete
5. First Reformed
6. Roma
7. Hereditary
8. Zama
9. You Were Never Really Here and Leave No Trace
10. First Man

My Top 10 honorable mentions would have the slow-winding Korean gem Burning; the psychotropic Nicolas Cage thriller Mandy; Bo Burnham’s very funny coming-of-age tale Eighth Grade; the Melissa McCarthy film Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which is as much about loneliness as literary scandal; the cutting British comedy The Death of Stalin; the torrid black-and-white romance of Cold War (opens locally in January); Yorgos Lanthimos’s wicked comedy The Favourite; Hirokazu Kore-eda’s prizewinner Shoplifters; Alex Garland’s sci-fi puzzler Annihilation, with a strong Natalie Portman performance; and Charlize Theron’s postpartum workout in Tully.

Support the Girls – Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

Richard T. Jameson

1. Roma
2. First Reformed
3. Leave No Trace
4-12 alphabetical:
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Border
Burning
The Death of Stalin 
Hereditary 
If Beale Street Could Talk
The Rider
Shoplifters 
You Were Never Really Here 

Yalitza Aparicio in Roma – Photo credit: Carlos Somonte

Moira Macdonald

(as published in The Seattle Times)

In alphabetical order:
Black Panther
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
If Beale Street Could Talk
Mary Poppins Returns
Paddington 2
The Rider
Roma
Shoplifters
Widows
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

A splendid second 13: BlacKkKlansman, Crazy Rich Asians, Disobedience, Eighth Grade, The Favourite, Incredibles 2, Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy, Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Searching, A Star Is Born, Where Is Kyra?, Whitney, Wildlife

Shoplifters – Photo credit: Magnolia

Kathleen Murphy

Most Memorable Movies (2018)
1. Leave No Trace
2. First Reformed
3. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
4. Roma
5. Shoplifters
6. Burning
7. You Were Never Really Here
8. The Rider
9. Support the Girls
10. If Beale Street Could Talk
Documentary: Struggle: Life and Lost Art of Szukalski

Burning – Photo credit: Well Go

Amie Simon

1. Suspiria
2. Revenge
3. Apostle
4. Hereditary
5. Mandy
6. Sorry To Bother You
7. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
8. Eighth Grade
9. Love, Gilda
10. Black Panther

Hereditary – Photo credit: A24

Andrew Wright

1. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
2. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts
3. Hereditary
4. Paddington 2
5. You Were Never Really Here
6. First Reformed
7. Roma
8. The Rider
9. Mandy
10. Cold War

You Were Never Really Here – Photo credit: Alison Cohen Rosa/Amazon Studios

Filmmakers and film programmers

Brian Alter (programmer, Grand Illusion)

Best gut-punch ending: BlacKkKlansman
Best film about millennials: Never Goin’ Back
Most depressing film: First Reformed
Best weird film: Mandy
Favorite repertory screening: AGFA’s restoration of Godmonster of Indian Flats

Megan Griffiths (filmmaker, Sadie, The Night Stalker, Lucky Them)

You Were Never Really Here (d. Lynne Ramsey)
Eighth Grade (d. Bo Burnham)
The Rider (d. Chloé Zhao)
Minding the Gap (d. Bing Liu)
Destroyer (d. Karyn Kusama)
Roma (d. Alfonso Cuarón)
Madeline’s Madeline (d. Josephine Decker)
Outside In (d. Lynn Shelton)
Leave No Trace (d. Debra Granik)
Sorry To Bother You (d. Boots Riley)

Jennifer Roth (producer: The Wrestler, Black Swan, Laggies, Mudbound)

Cold War
Shoplifters
Zama
You Were Never Really Here
American Animals
Land of Steady Habits (self-promotion aside)
Can You Ever Forgive Me
Roma
Private Life
The Rider

The Seattle Film Critics Society gave their 2018 awards; you can find them here.

Cold War – Photo credit: Amazon Studios

Polls / Lists

Film Comment
Sight and Sound / BFI
Time Out London
Slant
Roger Ebert.com
Indiewire

Other lists

2018 additions to the Library of Congress National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1928
Rotten Tomatoes Top-rated movies of 2018
Here’s the Parallax View list for 2017

Remembering those we lost in 2018

Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

When you win the Best Picture Oscar, you’ve got a choice: play it safe or take a chance. Moonlight director Barry Jenkins obviously decided to gamble.

Jenkins’ follow-up to his intense 2016 prize-winner is If Beale Street Could Talk, a complex, offbeat adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel. The story revolves around Tish (wondrous newcomer KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), two lovers who’ve known each other since childhood. As the film opens, Tish finds out she’s pregnant while Fonny languishes in prison—two situations we’ll eventually learn more about as the movie skips around in time.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Aquaman

At its most inspired moments, Aquaman plunges straight into the deep end—like when a giant octopus commences an undersea gladiatorial contest by rapping its tentacles across a collection of oversized drums, or when someone offers the movie’s villain a weapon that “converts water into beams of energized plasma.”

I mean, if a movie is going to be this wacky, you really should give in. And I wanted to.

The problem with Aquaman, the latest attempt by the DC Comics faction to match their rivals at Marvel, is that it never picks which wave to surf.

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Review: Mary Poppins Returns

The first soundtrack album I ever knew deeply was Mary Poppins, and of all the delightful songs from that movie, the one that really stirred my childhood self was the chimney sweep’s anthem, “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” It took me a few years to understand that songs in a minor key sound darker than songs in a major key, but even as a kid I sensed that something about that tune was slightly eerie—its philosophical mood gave ballast to the movie’s floatiness.

There’s nothing like that minor-key tone in the new Mary Poppins Returns, no waft of night magic to offset the cheerful candy colors. But otherwise this is a crisply executed and refreshingly old-fashioned musical, drawn again from P.L. Travers’ Poppins books.

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Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The new Spider-Man movie opens with an apology about being yet another Spider-Man movie, which pretty much sets the tone: This is a flip, oh-so-postmodern take on a franchise that won’t stop rebooting itself. An animated Marvel saga, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse tips its hat to the existing Spider-Man movie thread while introducing the idea that multiple universes hold different Spider-Men.

That convoluted concept must be fun for some people, because Into the Spider-Verse has been winning rave reviews (and a nod for Best Animated Film from the New York Film Critics). I’m not raving, but the film is certainly different.

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Review: Roma

The opening shot of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is a self-contained masterpiece—no surprise, considering the mind-boggling opening shots of Children of Men and Gravity, the Oscar-winning director’s two previous features. Here, our focus on a section of elegant floor tiles is interrupted by a wash of water that flows in waves across the floor, a mysterious image that turns out to be a housemaid washing up the exposed entryway at a Mexico City house, a favorite spot for the family dog to do its (apparently prodigious) pooping. As the water accumulates, the image changes, and we can now see the reflection of the sky above the entryway.

The water, the sky, the dog poop—everything will play a role in this intimate yet somehow epic film, which Cuarón has said is based on his childhood memories of Mexico in the early 1970s. 

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Review: ‘The Favourite’

Along with its other wicked attractions, The Favourite serves as a corrective to all those fluffy period movies where pretty costumes and set design function as the cinematic equivalent of a bubble bath. The art direction is plenty handsome here, too, and the film will likely collect a few Oscars for its physical production. But The Favourite uses its lavish backdrops in order to show off the nastiest sides of human behavior—this is a beautiful dinner spread with a rat as its centerpiece.

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Review: Green Book

You know an actor’s in the groove when a simple grunt conveys not only an entire character arc, but a movie’s essential meaning. Such a moment comes late in Green Book, and it’s one of a thousand things to savor about the performances in this film.

The groan emerges from the beefed-up body of Viggo Mortensen, playing a Bronx wiseguy named Tony Vallelonga (aka Tony Lip). It’s 1962, and Tony has been hired by a black jazz pianist, Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), to act as chauffeur during a concert tour. But Tony’s duties are not merely to drive a car; as a nightclub bouncer and a guy who knows his way around a brawl, it’s understood that Tony may have to provide protection for Shirley when the trip ventures into the American South.

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Review: Robin Hood (2018)

The Sheriff of Nottingham is throwing a big party, and Maid Marian asks Robin Hood if he’ll be attending. She tells Robin she “got an invite” to the party, and at that point I think I mentally checked out of the new Robin Hood. It’s bad enough that people use “invite” as a noun in 2018. But unless this is a Mel Brooks version of ye olde tale, using current slang to tell the Robin Hood story qualifies as an automatic tune-out.

The saga of Robin Hood has been around for almost a thousand years, and if it can withstand Kevin Costner’s accent, it can withstand this haphazard new film. The emphasis here is on a youthful Robin, an origin story that shows us how he came to be the legendary robber. 

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Holiday Movie Streaming Picks

The holiday season is already arranged around rituals, so it makes sense that we come back to the same movies every year. In certain households annual showings of A Christmas Story or Elf or It’s a Wonderful Life are as rigorously observed as the lighting of Advent or Hanukkah candles. I’m not necessarily comparing religious belief with the secular comforts of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, but let’s just say there are different kinds of gospel.

A scan of the streaming services reveals a collection of acceptable films, but I’d like to point out how thin the tree is. Netflix has a scattering of bona fide holiday classics, for instance, but after that you’ve got a whole lot of chintzy-sounding movies with “Christmas” in the title. Given the recently announced demise of the classic-film service Filmstruck, it would be nice if someone reminded these providers that movies existed before 1980.

Nevertheless, here are a few titles for the Christmas stocking, and maybe a couple of lumps of coal.

White Christmas

Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye play entertainers who put on a show for their former military commander at a snow-less winter resort. Definitely a time capsule from a vanished era (1954), this Irving Berlin musical has great production numbers, eye-popping color, and the enduring fascination (for me, anyway) of Crosby’s hepcat patter. Netflix

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