ENJOY THE MOVIES
Give your soul to the dance. Give your soul to the cinema. The fall movie season is well underway, kicking off with all the big film festivals - Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. I returned for my second year to Venice to attend the 75th Venice Film Festival and watched a total of 26 films in eight days before flying over to TIFF to catch a few more. The films I saw in Venice really stood out above the rest, better than almost every else from earlier this year (give or take other Sundance & Cannes films). This iconic festival is known as the very first film festival, and they have a legacy to live up to by bringing the best films from around the world every year. The fest is over, the awards have been handed out, but the films will still live on. To wrap up my coverage of Venice, here's my favorite films of the festival - those films that have remained on my mind.
This latest episode of our The First Word podcast is a special episode recorded from Venice discussing the Venice Film Festival and a few of the films that premiered there at the beginning of the festival. The 75th Venezia just wrapped up this weekend, but earlier at the festival after the first weekend, Alex connected with Anton Volkov for a chat about their time in Venice. They discuss early thoughts on Damien Chazelle's First Man, Alfonso Cuarón's Roma, Yorgos Lanthimos's The Favourite, and Rick Alverson's The Mountain. We also discuss our experiences at the festival and the history of it. This special episode only features Alex and Anton, as Mike is busy working on his documentary back in Chicago. Tune in below for our Venice chat.
In a world of movies about popstars and how inspiring it is to make your dreams of fame and glory come true, Vox Lux gives us the exact opposite. The second feature film made by actor Brady Corbet (of The Childhood of a Leader), Vox Lux tells the story of a young girl who quickly becomes a mega-famous popstar after an odd beginning: she survives a horrible school shooting and sings with her sister at the memorial ceremony. The song goes viral, she gets discovered by a shady manager, the rest is history. I didn't realize that Brady Corbet was such a genius, but my goodness this film is something else. It's extremely smart and provocative and true and shameless in its expression of this truth. It's so brutally honest and so accurate in what it says about society, that it's going to seriously piss people off. Either they just don't get it, or don't understand it, or they don't like seeing this much searing truth presented this way. But I think it's brilliant.
The 75th Venice Film Festival wrapped up this weekend on the Lido, and the awards were handed out. The top prize at Venice is a Golden Lion (in honor of the iconic lion that is the symbol of the city) and it's one of the greatest achievements in cinema, along with the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. This year's big winner is Alfonso Cuarón's Roma taking the Golden Lion, his epic new B&W drama that floats through Mexico in the 1970s, taking us back to his youth. This is also a big win for Netflix, which produced and will be releasing the film later this year. I was rooting for Jennifer Kent's The Nightingale to win, but it at least received a Special Jury Prize which makes me happy. The full list of Venezia 75 winners can be found below.
This year at the 75th Venice Film Festival has been exhausting. It's a challenge to keep up with all the 8:30AM morning screenings and 10:30PM evening screenings every day, but it's not only that. There have been so many long films that it seems especially grueling. The length of films is a never-ending discussion, something that audiences have debated for decades. We all know the basic rules: no film can (or should) run for more than 3 hours, and no film should be shorter than 80 minutes (with the sweet spot usually being ~90 minutes, an hour and a half). It's a different discussion in Hollywood than it is at film festivals, because at festivals many filmmakers tend to express themselves by not holding back, giving us as much footage as possible. Do we really need to watch so many 3 hour films? Are they really worth it? (Of course they are!) Don't worry, there's no definitive answer to this, but the thought has been on my mind over the past week.
It fills me with so much energy and excitement and enthusiasm when I watch an incredible film. Sometimes you can tell from the first few minutes that a film is going to be amazing. There's just something about the filmmaking and opening scenes that shows how massively talented and in control the filmmaker is, and as the rest of the film plays out, it only gets better and better. Jennifer Kent's new film The Nightingale is phenomenal, one of the best films of the year. I don't even think the word "masterpiece" can do it justice, it's such a riveting, enlivening, extraordinary cinematic creation that it's worthy of more rigorous lingo and more thorough praise. I loved every last second of it — and I mean LOVED it — and the film features two of my favorite performances of the year. It's also an important, affecting film that addresses racism and sexism head on, showing that we haven't changed much in 200 years but we can - and will - through compassion.
He's at it again with more brutal violence. Filmmaker S. Craig Zahler is back at the Venice Film Festival again this year after premiering his film Brawl in Cell Block 99 starring Vince Vaughn last year. His latest is Dragged Across Concrete, a 2-hour-and-40-minute-long slow burn drama about two cops who get into some crazy stuff after they're suspended from the force. Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson star as the two police officers, who finish a drug bust at the start, but get in trouble for being a bit too violent to the perp during their apprehension. What follows is an extremely slow burn film that builds up with the payoff punch line coming at the very, very end. With this film, Zahler has finally gone a little too far with his slow burn-plus-brutal violence indulgence, and the film comes close to making some shady statements along the way.
Sometimes a little cheesiness is just what we need. A Star is Born is the third remake of the classic 1937 film directed by William A. Wellman. This new version is another contemporary update, focusing the story on two musicians who fall in love. Bradley Cooper makes his directorial debut and stars in A Star is Born as alcoholic musician Jackson Maine. He randomly meets and falls for a young woman named Ally, played by real-life popstar Lady Gaga, originally known as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. This movie is so incredibly cheesy, and cliche, and surface level in every way, yet it's also so enjoyable, and so catchy, and so charming. The singing makes it all worth it, even though the rest of it is only okay. But audiences are going to fall head over heels for this epic love story, no doubt, because sometimes a little cheesiness isn't so bad.
"Tremble tremble!!! The witches are back…" Dario Argento's original Suspiria from 1977 is a horror classic, perfectly packaged and stylish and one-of-a-kind in every way. Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash, Call Me By Your Name) has created a brand new Suspiria, a layered, immensely complex, intense story of witches in Berlin seeking more to join their coven. And it's also stylish and one-of-a-kind in every way. His film may be a remake, but it's much different, and it's an extraordinary work of art - not just cinema, but truly a piece of art. Something that should be hung on the walls in one of the world's best museums and admired for decades to come. This film is going to seriously fuck up some viewers for life, with so much haunting nuance and intricacy and creepiness that it will be hard to ever forget what it shows.
Gather ’round everyone, take a seat by the fire, for Joel & Ethan Coen have some fun new tales to tell. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a six-part Western anthology film, the latest feature from the Coen Brothers. They've made Westerns before (most notably True Grit in 2010) but this is something else entirely - six different stories, each with their own unique characters, and locations, and ideas to consider. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is as intelligent, contemplative, comedic, and as beautiful as everything from the Coens, but it goes beyond that. These six stories are actually parables about humanity and the way people cheat, lie, deceive each other, and the way men are greedy, confused, ambitious, unsure, and careless. And they're all gorgeously filmed, captivating to watch, which is no surprise considering the Coens are filmmaking masters.
There's nothing like a Yorgos Lanthimos film. The more films he makes, the more refined and interesting and bold he gets. The Favourite is Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos' latest work, an English-language feature set in early 18th century England, following a capricious Queen and her wacky days in her castle. It's the pinnacle of amusing absurdity, giving us even more ridiculousness (this time going back into the past) to chew on and laugh at with utter joy. This extensive, opulent, hilarious comedy is about a Queen being played by her subjects, specifically two women who work closely with her. It is delightful decadence, with so many crazy, bizarre, funny moments throughout - though it overstays its welcome. Unlike Lanthimos' past films, this one isn't that meaningful, it's all made to be enjoyed as something absurdly fun and entirely harmless.
"We choose to go to the moon… We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…" We all know the story. But do we really know the story? What more is there to tell, to show us? First Man is the latest film made by Damien Chazelle, telling the story of astronaut / test pilot / engineer Neil Armstrong and his iconic mission in Apollo 11. After making three films previously, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, Whiplash, and La La Land, Chazelle continues to astound - he only gets better and better with every film he makes. First Man is an exceptionally beautiful, intimate look at how the determination and courage of men once took us farther than we have ever been before. In a word: breathtaking. A masterfully balanced mix of spectacle and quietness and perseverance.