It’s that time of year again, and in preparation for it, I provided a kingdom-based framework for evaluating movies. No, it was not determined by how much sex or profanity were in the movie but in light of the purpose for which movies exist in the Kingdom.
With that three-prong framework in mind, here are my rankings of the 2022 nominees for Best Picture, starting with the best and ending with the … err…less best.
1. CODA. I haven’t cried watching a movie in years, but that’s not the only reason I rated this movie at the top of this year’s nominees. CODA is entertaining and engaging. You care about the characters and their stories. The movie has an excellent message about family, responsibility, and the life of the deaf. If you watch only one movie on this list, it should be this one.
2. King Richard. A very entertaining movie about the tension between family and success. If you are torn between praising and cursing Richard Williams in this movie, you get it. The movie was engaging and the message honest.
3. Don’t Look Up. I love dark comedies, which is probably why I have this movie in the third spot. I love serious messages presented tongue-in-cheek. The message in this movie couldn’t be more timely, particularly if you are an evangelical, stop-the-steal, covid-denying, Trumper.
4. West Side Story. This was the last of the nominees The Wife and I saw, and for good reason: I didn’t expect much from the sequel. But we were very pleasantly surprised. Great music and great message. Don’t miss this one, even if you saw the original.
5. Nightmare Alley. Fascinating movie with an ending that hits you like a sledgehammer. The message: it doesn’t matter how much you try to bury your past, wherever you go, there you are.
The Wife and I watched the movie, Red Notice, tonight. It’s not going to win any Academy Awards, but within the genre of brain candy, it was entertaining enough. What inspired this post was not the movie per se but a scene that is representative of a trend becoming more apparent in movies today. It’s a trend too silly to take seriously but not too insignificant to ignore.
The movie stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot as . . . (spoiler alert) . . . three art thieves in search of a 2,000 year-old decorative egg that Marc Antony (the Roman not the singer) gave Cleopatra and was later was lost to history. I long ago grew bored with thinly veiled plots designed to support two-hour chase scenes. But this movie’s action scenes, twists, and turns, succeeded in holding my interest, even if it didn’t engage my intellect.
What I found most interesting though was one scene in which Gadot physically defeats the 6′ 5″ 260 lb Johnson and 6′ 2″ 190 lb Reynolds in a knock-down drag-out. Now, of course, Hollywood tried to made it all look realistic enough so viewers don’t call “B—S—“. But I am more interested in the message than the creative sleight-of-hand.
I get that most of the chase scenes and stunts portrayed in movies aren’t really possible. They stretch the possible while trying not to break it, knowing that excitement camps out on the border between reality and our imagination. Got it. But there was an obvious message in this scene, and it’s the effort to eradicate gender inequality by suggesting this woman could physically overpower these two men.
As I said, it’s silly. And when it’s exposed for what it is, even the most progressive, gender sensitive, post-modern will admit it’s silly. It is significant though because it shows where the gender-confusion of our generation is headed. In short, if we fail to recognize gender differences, we will be led into the land of make-believe, and we will all become fools.
Some movies are intended for consumption; others are intended to consume. The Mauritanian is of the latter sort. It will consume your thoughts long after the movie ends. The issue is torture, and more specifically the use of enhanced interrogation at Guantanamo Bay in the years following 9/11.
I’ve written before about torture, and why it is an issue that requires a more nuanced ethical approach than simple absolutism offers. The Mauritanian takes up the issue of the real life story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a man picked up in North Africa in the months following 9/11 for his alleged association with Osama Bin Ladin. He was taken to Jordan and then to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was held by the U.S. Government for 14 years (through both the Bush and Obama administrations) without charges ever being brought against him.
When I began watching this movie, I fully expected a strong helping of the typical Hollywood hubris combined with twisted facts to support a hard-left premise. What I got was something more honest and penetrating. The Bush and Obama administrations must have both thought Slahi guilty, but if they did, why not indict him and put him to trial? The suggestion offered by the movie is probably accurate: the evidence was merely circumstantial or inadmissible. And without spoiling the movie, I can say that the best evidence against Slahi was certainly and rightly inadmissible.
It had been so long since I had seen a really good movie, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps I had reached that age where I would stop liking movies. You ever wonder why your parents don’t go to the movies anymore? I’ve never heard a good explanation, but there must be a reason, right?
Well, the good news is that if there is such an age, apparently I have not reached it yet. After a long drought, I can honestly say that the last five movies I’ve watched were excellent, and all but one had a good message, and by “good” I mean one that was either consistent with Truth, promoted virtue, or asked the right questions.
I like thoughtful movies. I long ago lost any desire for two-hour chase scenes and mind-numbing shoot-em-ups. I like movies with a message, supported by symbols and images to assist in conveying the message. I even enjoy movies with the wrong message. The Coen brothers and Woody Allen are my favorites, and I almost never agree with their message. But sometimes the message is so misguided it pollutes the whole movie. Such is the case with Nomadland.
Frances McDormand is Fern (presumably because a fern will grow almost anywhere), a widow, who, after her husband dies and the recession destroys the town where she lived, puts everything in a storage facility and sets off into the American West in a van, where she will live, stopping for a season at an RV park or national park.
For the first half of the movie we feel sorry for Fern, even though some of the sympathy is lost when she turns down the opportunity for help from the Baptists homeless ministry, subtly signaling she doesn’t really need help.
In one scene, she gathers around at an RV park site with other nomads while a more experienced woman teaches all present the finer points of defecating into a bucket because when you live in a van where else are you going to scat, in the glove box? It was at this point The Wife pulled the rip chord and told me she had had enough. I hung in there though because I knew I hadn’t got the message yet; this was not just a film about the plight of the homeless. There was something else going on here.