ENJOY THE MOVIES
Each year, I am honored to have a chance to return to the beautiful city of Venice in Northern Italy to attend the Venice Film Festival and catch the latest films premiering there. This year's festival is now finished, so it's time to present my picks of my favorite films from Venice 2022. This was my sixth year in a row back to Venice, I even stopped by back in 2020 during the pandemic as I didn't want to miss it. In total, I watched around 26 films at Venice this year, and while it wasn't the most memorable line-up despite some all-timers, I'm always glad to have the chance to watch all these films anyway. The fest kicked off with Noah Baumbach's latest, White Noise (watch the trailer) adapted from Don DeLillo's novel, which bites off more than it can chew though it's still an entertaining film. The festival runs for a full 10 days and I'm watching as much as I can while I'm there, though I can't see everything and I'm trying to avoid the worst films anyway.
The most important question of our times is: how do we solve climate change? It's a tough one to answer. How do we stop destroying our planet, how do we transition to better / safer energy without using fossil fuels anymore? Can society actually transition smoothly? What can we do as an individual to help? Everyone seems to be thinking about this and one person who has been thinking about it quite intently is filmmaker Oliver Stone. Stone has stepped back from making narrative features, but is still making documentaries as he gets older. His latest doc film is called Nuclear, and it just premiered at the 2022 Venice Film Festival as an important climate change feature at the end of the fest. Half of the film is about global warming and how we let this happen and what's going on with the world. The other half offers a viable answer: nuclear power. It's as persuasive as any film can be - nuclear power truly IS the best immediate solution for climate change mitigation and ending fossil fuel use. If you aren't yet convinced, just watch this film when it's out.
It's not often a documentary is good enough to break through and win the top prize at a film festival - but it happens every once in a while. Fahrenheit 9/11 won the Palme d'Or in Cannes before, and another activism doc has won in Venice this year. The 79th Venice Film Festival wrapped up this weekend on the sunny Lido island in Venice, and awards were handed out at a fancy awards show in the Sala Grande. 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 top prizes in cinema along with the Palme d'Or. This year's winner is a documentary film titled All the Beauty and the Bloodshed directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras (Citizenfour). The film is about photographer Nan Goldin, telling her own life story and connecting it to her activism in the fight against the opioid crisis in America. It's not my favorite of the festival, and not my Golden Lion pick (that would be TÁR instead), but many critics have been raving about it. The full list of #Venezia79 winners can be seen below.
Everyone already knows the story of Marilyn Monroe – the 1950s sex icon, blonde bombshell goddess, beloved movie star. But do we really know the real story? Do we really understand all that she went through, all that she was and wasn't, all that she suffered? Of course, this is a taboo topic – don't you dare shame the magnificent beauty that is Marilyn Monroe, she owned that beauty and no one can take that away from her!! Though really, maybe it's something we should be talking about, maybe we should be looking more into her experiences. Monroe lived through a time in which women were objectified, treated as meat, and given little to no freedom to do what they wanted unless men approved of it. This is true regardless of how things look in retrospect all these years later. Blonde is New Zealand filmmaker Andrew Dominik's first feature film in 10 years (since Killing Them Softly), telling the life story of Norma Jeane. But let's make sure this is clear - this is a work of fiction and doesn't accurately represent her life or experiences. It's just a film, don't forget.
It was a bold move for director Darren Aronofsky to return to Venice after the cold reception to Mother! at the festival in 2017. Festival crowds can be brutal especially when you are trying to play games with them. Although Mother! is an ingenious, gracefully structured take down on obsessively religious patriarchy, it was widely misunderstood. The Whale brings Aronofsky justice and turns him in the eyes of viewers from angry cynic to a humanist. It seems like there is a lot of caution towards the project after the Mother! controversy but the good news is that The Whale finds Aronofsky at his best with a more reserved directing style which still delivers a profound emotional impact elevated by the spectacular performance by Fraser.
We need to talk about The Son. This film is definitely a conversation starter, even more so than The Father. After winning two Oscars for his dementia drama The Father, talented French director Florian Zeller has returned with his follow-up - a film titled The Son. It's part of Zeller's trilogy about family and fragility and our connections with each other when things go wrong & times get tough. The Son premiered at the 2022 Venice Film Festival as a highly anticipated competition film, and it's worthy of this debut. It may not be as masterful as The Father, but it is a compelling, devastating, seriously captivating drama. I believe Zeller's point is to make us discuss the film - the whole thing is "we need to talk about this" and for the characters, that's very hard to do unfortunately; but for viewers the emotions and twists in the story will make you talk. It's impossible to not have something to say after this - good or bad, sad or happy, as long as you're honest.
So you want to make a movie that inspired by The Matrix? Sure, that sounds cool, why not. But what more can you add? What can you say to audiences that hasn't been said in four other Matrix movies before this? If there's nothing else to add, if there's nothing unique or clever about the screenplay, that movie will end up becoming especially pointless. And that is exactly the result with Don't Worry Darling. Actress-turned-filmmaker Olivia Wilde's second feature film as a director is Don't Worry Darling, which premiered at the 2022 Venice Film Festival playing Out of Competition. That placement in the line-up should already be a sign this doesn't have much to offer, but now having seen it myself, I can confirm that unfortunately as nice as this movie looks - it's empty. Much like the bottles of wine and champagne that Italian restaurants put in their windows to lure you in, but when you take a closer look they're dusty and dry because they're all for show and someone drank them years ago. With this movie, the "free yourself" commentary is obvious, but it doesn't amount to much overall and feels excruciatingly redundant. That's it? There's nothing more to this?
Honesty matters so much. More than anything, especially right now. But it is quite dangerous; it can be hard to hear, disruptive and upsetting when that honesty stings. But we really need honesty. It can change us, it can make an impact on the world, it can bring us closer together as long as we grow from the emotions we feel when we're hit with that honesty. There's so much about The Whale to talk about, but the discussions about honesty in the film got me the most. I can't deny it, honesty is so important to me, even though it has hurt me so much in my life. Darren Aronofsky's new film The Whale is another knock out. I think it might be his best since The Fountain (which is a controversial statement because not everyone likes this film). It's an emotional, heart-wrenching, deeply felt story told perfectly by a master filmmaker who knows how to get the finest performances out of his actors. I was overwhelmed by emotions, wiping away tears for an hour after.
I will fully admit that before watching this, I thought to myself "this can't really be a film about a gardener, so I wonder what it's actually about?" Alas, I was wrong, and it is indeed a film about a gardener. Ha! Much the same way that Paul Schrader's last film, The Card Counter, is indeed about a card counter / gambler. Master Gardener tells the story of a gardener, played by Joel Edgerton, but as with all of Schrader's films the story heads to some intriguing places and he's not just a gardener. There is much more to him and we discover all this watching the story play out. That said, most of this film is beautiful because it involves Edgerton's character Narvel Roth gushing in his dairy about flowers & tending to gardens. I learned a great deal about flowers, soil, horticulture, nurturing plants, and garden culture all from watching this film. And even if the rest of it isn't that great, at least I seriously enjoyed all the discussion about flowers and gardens.
"Revolutions are not about trifles, but spring from trifles." – Aristotle. This is one of THE most exhilarating films of the year, I want to watch it again and bring everyone. Athena instantly joins the ranks as one of the best revolution films ever made. It is an extraordinarily propulsive, spectacular cinematic experience that starts with an all-timer opening action scene and never lets up. I was totally blown away by this phenomenal urban warfare French thriller that just premiered in competition at the 2022 Venice Film Festival. Athena is a Netflix production, but that isn't an issue here considering it feels like it is a revolutionary film that isn't restrained or diminished by the Netflix sheen that plagues too many other Netflix movies. This is a one-of-a-kind, jaw-dropping work of art that absolutely must be seen on the big screen. If Netflix were better about showing films in cinemas, they'd be hosting monthly screenings of this in theaters all over the world, similar to the way The Rocky Horror Picture Show continues to rock movie theaters decades later. Karim forever!!!!
For the last few years, I've been complaining to colleagues about how film festivals too often fill their line-up with films that are in no way innovative or interesting. Nowadays they end up showing many dry, tedious, dull features that are just so slow and meandering and abstract that many critics of course lose theirs mind over, while everyone else falls asleep within the first 10 minutes. Un Couple is the epitome of this kind of monotonous film that does not belong at any film festival and is ultimately an annoyingly boring and useless creation. It's nothing more than a 60 minute performance of a poem (or technically, letters) intercut with some stock footage shots of flowers and nature. Huh? Why is this playing at the Venice Film Festival? This "film" doesn't belong here. It's not often I get so upset at a film that I write an intensely negative review, but this one bothered me so much and I can't help speaking my mind about it. Even if I'm the only one who feels this way, I have to express my thoughts to put them to rest to move on and exorcise this film from my mind.
One of the most important questions being discussed during the times we're currently living through: is an extraordinary artist's work relevant if the artist is a bad person? It's not a question that any of us can answer simply, though it might seem that the answer is obvious. Todd Field's latest film in 16 years (he previously made Little Children in 2006 before this) is TÁR and it grapples with this very question, exploring the story of an artist and her flaws and eventually her downfall. This film brilliantly and carefully asks this question and let's us analyze all aspects of it, beginning nuanced and complex discussions while also speaking out in both good and bad ways. TÁR tells the story of an acclaimed, award-winning female conductor named Lydia Tár - who lives and works in Berlin and reaches an tumultuous point in her life which brings about her own destruction thanks to her own ego. It is a harsh lesson she must learn, but will she actually learn her lesson?