Movies to See in New Orleans This Week (PATOIS Film Fest Edition) 3/21/19 – 3/27/19

The Broad Theater is the MVP in local cinema this week (as they often are), hosting the 15th year of PATOIS: The New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival. According to the festival’s official listing, PATOIS will “include new and classic fiction films from Senegal and Zambia, experimental short films from New Orleans, and documentaries highlighting social issues concerning law enforcement violence, immigration, transgender liberation, and gay refugees from Syria. Countries featured in this year’s festival include Palestine, Senegal, Syria, Zambia, Greece, Turkey, and the United States.”

Here are the few screenings at PATOIS we most recommend, as well as a few other films you should seek out on New Orleans big screens this week.

PATOIS Film Festival Selections at The Broad

Touki Bouki (1973) – “A pair of lovers, Mory and Anta, fantasize about fleeing Dakar for a mythic and romanticized France. The film follows them as they try to scavenge and hustle the funds for their escape. A 1973 classic of African Cinema, Touki Bouki conveys and grapples with the hybridization of Senegal.” Screening Sunday 3/24 at 4:30pm. 

I Am Not a Witch (2018) – “When 9-year old orphan Shula is accused of witchcraft, she is exiled to a witch camp run by Mr. Banda, a corrupt and inept government official. A hit at over 50 international festivals, I Am Not A Witch is a must-see for anyone interested in new African Cinema and contemporary female filmmakers.” Screening Saturday 3/23 at 5pm.

Betty: They Say I’m Different (2018) “Explosive 1970s funk pioneer Betty Davis changed the landscape for female artists in America. She was the first, as former husband Miles Davis said, Madonna before Madonna, Prince before Prince. An aspiring songwriter from a small steel town, Betty arrived on the 70s scene to break boundaries for women with her daring personality, iconic fashion and outrageous funk music. […] Creatively blending documentary and animation this movie traces the path of Betty’s life, how she grew from humble upbringings to become a fully self-realized black female pioneer the world failed to understand or appreciate. After years of trying, the elusive Betty, forever the free-spirited Black Power Goddess, finally allowed the filmmakers to creatively tell her story based on their conversations.” Screening Sunday March 24 at 7pm.

New Queer Stories – “Short films by queer and trans people of color.” Screening Saturday 3/23 at 7pm.

Other Films Screening in New Orleans

Us Jordan Peele follows up his instantly iconic debut feature Get Out (Swampflix’s favorite film of 2017) with what looks to be a surreal freak-out about doppelgangers & bunny rabbits.

Climax – Gaspar Noé’s best film to date is an over-the-top arthouse horror about a group of contemporary dancers whose wrap party turns violent when someone among them spikes the sangria with an overdose of LSD. This movie is as #edgy & obnoxious as anything else Noé has ever done, but it also features more death drops than Paris is Burning, so it’s an automatic A+. Playing only at The Broad & AMC Elmwood

Cruel Intentions (1999) – Returning to theaters for a single-week run to commemorate its 20th anniversary, this Dangerous Liaisons riff sparked the mildly-kinky sexual awakening of countless Millennials in my exact age range (not to mention converting us into hopeless, lifelong Placebo fans).

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) – The Old Hollywood staple that made James Dean a star and sold millions of dorm room posters everywhere. Screening Sunday 3/24 and Wednesday 3/27 as part of Prytania’s Classic Movies series.

-Brandon Ledet

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Heavenly Tweetures

Our current Movie of the Month, 2003’s sinister twee romance Love Me If You Dare fits into a thematic pattern I’ve recently noticed in a lot of my personal media consumption: the story of two damned souls who are relatively harmless in isolation but absolute menaces when working in tandem. Films like Sheer Madness, Heathers, Thoroughbreds, and Love Me If You Dare (not to mention one of my all-time favorite novels, Wuthering Heights) establish a canon of stories about young people whose violent, unignorable attraction to each other at the expense of engaging with the world at large leads to deadly, widespread mayhem. Love Me If You Dare is only an outlier in this genre because of its general adherence to romcom tropes and its weakness for twee whimsy. Its story of two young children who bond over an escalating set of dares as they grow into increasingly dangerous adults starts relatively cute & romantic before gradually mutating into an off-the-rails thriller of sorts. Love Me If You Dare’s adherence to romcom tropes & twee whimsy may establish it as an outlier in its own violent-attraction subgenre, but I still don’t know that I’d call the it the most extreme specimen of its ilk. That honor still belongs to Peter Jackson’s 1994 true crime thriller Heavenly Creatures, a film that knows a thing or two about sinister romance & childlike whimsy.

One of the most obvious ways that Heavenly Creatures represents a fucked-up extreme as a tale of violent romance & childhood imagination is its status as a true story ripped from 1950s Australian headlines. In their big screen debuts, then-preteen actors Kate Winslet & Melanie Lynskey star as a pair of misfit schoolgirls who become maniacally obsessed with each other to the point of detaching from reality entirely. Their dual “unwholesome attachment” results in the murder of one of the girls’ mothers, a scandalous tabloid story that made the girls locally infamous for decades. Obviously personally obsessed with the material at hand, Jackson shoots the girls’ murderous attraction to each other with the same funhouse cinematic eye he afforded the over-the-top splatter comedies of his early career, except with a newfound pathos. Jackson’s camera work is as drunk on the characters’ violent chemistry as they are, adapting the same cartoonish aesthetic of his zombie comedies to a newfound, purposeful effect. I could never choose between Heavenly Creatures or Dead Alive as the best title in his catalog, then, as they’re equally, weirdly broad & childish considering the violence of their content. Heavenly Creatures is distinguished there in its immersion in the imagination of two real-life children whose dual fantasy ultimately resulted in a real-life body count. It’s both incredibly impressive and incredibly fucked up how well Jackson manages to put his audience in the headspace of these two extemely particular young women.

The parallels between Heavenly Creatures and Love Me If You Dare are unmistakable once you start looking for them. The two girls in Heavenly Creatures initially bond over their shared history of debilitating illness, whereas Love Me If You Dare also begins with a long-term terminal illness disrupting a family’s functionality. Both films detail children forming intense bonds across class lines, with working class parents initially embracing their children’s intense friendship with better-off classmates for the potential social mobility before the red flags become unignorable. Most substantially, the two childhood bonds established between them are built upon flights of fancy that go too far: in one, the game of escalating dares; in the other, the roleplaying game of the fantasy kingdom of Borovnia. Although it is based on real-life events, Heavenly Creatures is just as prone to reality-breaking whimsy as Love Me If You Dare, bringing to life the made-up fantasy kingdom of Borovnia that the girls’ dual imagination concocted in real life. The clay figures the girls use at playtime are frequently blown up to life-size fantasy figures as they sink further into their escapist imaginations to avoid the dull Hell of reality. While the doomed pranksters of Love Me If You Dare grow up into the real-world adults, the fantasy-prone murderers of Heavenly Creatures shy further away from it. What’s really fucked up about that dynamic is that the young children of Heavenly Creatures are much more honest & active in expressing their romantic, sexual, and violent attraction to each other than the gradually adult players of Love Me If You Dare, even if both pairs’ inevitable downfall is an inability to fully distinguish the border between fantasy & real-life consequence.

Considering its own clash of childlike imagination & deadly menace, it’s tempting to suppose that Heavenly Creatures might’ve taken on a more twee aesthetic if it were released a decade later than it was. Peter Jackson would have been working on the Lord of the Rings films around the time of Love Me If You Dare’s release, a series that is in no way twee or cutesy (or, in my opinion, nowhere near as good as Heavenly Creatures), but a different director handling that same material in the early aughts could’ve transformed it into a twee classic with just a few tonal tweaks. It’s not too difficult to imagine a Michel Gondry or Jean-Pierre Juenet playing around with the same eerie whimsy of the Barovnian clay kingdom in their own retelling of the story. I’d even argue that you get a decent taste of what a twee Heavenly Creatures might have been like in the early childhood stretch of Love Me If You Dare. The debut feature of the much less-accomplished Yann Samuell, Love Me If You Dare never had the chance to compare to the pure cinematic bliss of Heavenly Creatures. No matter what it may lack in craft, however, it’s still impressive how the film manages to match the maniacal energy & deadly stakes of Jackson’s superior work while still mimicking the basic tones & tropes of the early-aughts twee romcom: the most sinister of cinematic balancing acts.

For more on March’s Movie of the Month, the sinster twee romance Love Me If You Dare (2003), check out our Swampchat discussion of the film.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week 3/14/19 – 3/20/19

The story on this week’s New Orleans big screens is music: from local brass to Norwegian black metal to outer-space synths. Shake off that post-Mardi Gras funk and soak in the sounds. Here are the movies we’re most excited about that are screening in the city this week.

Movies We Haven’t Seen (Yet)

Climax I usually have very little patience for shock value schlockteur Gaspar Noé’s edgelord posturing, but I can’t help but be excited for his latest provocation. It appears to be a psychedelic interpretive dance gore fest, like a We Are the Flesh-themed dance party. Also, bless their hearts, A24 is pushing the film into wide release, so you can see all its extremist glory on the corporate big screens of mainstream venues like AMC for an extra layer of sadistic novelty.

Buckjumping A New Orleans music scene documentary about local dance traditions that premiered at last year’s NOFF, screening now as a special presentation in the Seeing Music series at NOCCA this Thursday, March 14.

Apollo 11 The Space Race is a subject that’s had more than its due over the decades of cinema since the Cold War, but this documentary offers something new by pulling raw materials directly from the past. Restoring 70mm footage from NASA’s historic 1969 mission to the Moon and setting it to a spooky analog Moog-synth soundtrack, this promises to be a one-of-a-kind big screen spectacle, despite the over-familiarity of its subject.

Movies We Already Enjoyed

Lords of Chaos – Rory Culkin stars in a true-crime dramedy about the infamous 90s black metal band Mayhem, whose “breakup” story involved a spectacularly violent murder. It’s a darkly funny satire about how hardline shithead metal nerds are mostly just trust fund kids with loving parents & aimless suburban angst – zapping all of the supposed Cool out of their church burnings, murders and animal cruelty by treating them as the edgelord trolls that they were. Screening only at the new & improved Zeitgeist cinema in Arabi, which is continuing its adventurous film programming in a more proper, immersive theatrical environment.

Greta Isabelle Huppert revives the post-Baby Jane psycobiddy thriller in a late-career goof-em-up from once-respected British director Neil Jordan. It takes a little patience for the psychobiddy antics to heat up, but once Huppert is fully unleashed her crazed old-lady-killer cruelty leads to some A+ delirious camp.

Fighting with My Family British comedy mainstay Stephen Merchant writes & directs a shockingly compelling biopic about WWE wrestler Paige in her early rise to power. This is the most I’ve cried and the hardest I laughed in a movie I didn’t expect either from since that Breakfast Club-style reboot of Power Rangers. Even if you have zero interest in pro wrestling as an artform, it’s still very much worth your time.

-Brandon Ledet

Movie of the Month: Love Me If You Dare (2003)

Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before and we discuss it afterwards. This month CC made Britnee, Brandon, and Boomer watch Love Me if You Dare (2003).

CC: When I was a culturally starved teenager, it was incredibly rare for me to program my own media intake. I desperately wanted to watch pretentious art films and feel like an intellectual, but at the time I was living in a FoxNews and Tim Allen comedy world, stifling my artsy-fartsy dreams. However, I do remember one pivotal weekend when I was around fourteen or fifteen where I got to indulge myself on those impulses. Left alone to set my own schedule, I spent an entire few days’ vacation from others’ control sunbathing and eating bagels all day, and binge-watching the Sundance & IFC movie channels all night. I don’t remember most of the movies I watched that weekend, but a few really stood out to me as gems, including the 2003 French romantic comedy Love Me If You Dare. Something about Love Me If You Dare‘s subversive tone (and bizarre ending) struck me as extraordinary and, importantly at the time, sophisticated. This is before I had even seen Amélie, so I had truly not experienced anything like this unconventional, artsy, French romcom before.

Love Me If You Dare is the story of a boy and girl duo (Guillume Canet and Marion Cotillard) who are locked in a life-long game of romantic oneupsmanship. They first meet as children when the girl is being bullied and the boy cheers her up with the gift of a cookie tin. From there they develop a mischievous game, where whoever possesses the cookie tin can issue a dare the other has to complete, no matter how outrageous. They pass the tin back and forth this way with each completed dare, with no end to the game in sight. Told from the boy’s POV, the story follows this game’s escalation from relatively harmless childhood anarchy to catastrophically destructive mayhem as they hit adulthood and sexual maturity. The film is set up like a traditional romcom, but it’s weirdly antagonistic towards its audience in a way that genre usually isn’t. Its sweet setups usually lead to sour payoffs, subverting expectations established by traditional romcom patterns.

Brandon, given this film’s devious deviations from genre, would you even consider this a romcom? Is there any other genre that would be a more apt description?

Brandon: I don’t think I would readily describe Love Me If You Dare as a romantic comedy, but I’m not exactly sure why. It’s romantic; it’s (darkly) humorous. Yet, classifying it simply as a romcom feels no more accurate than it would be to describe Heathers or Heavenly Creatures as such. This is, at heart, the story of two adrenaline junkies whose violent attraction to each other’s mischievous spirits only leads to destruction. Something about the volatile clash of their thrill-seeking energies (and overactive imaginations) is a Biblically destructive force, crushing the lives of any innocent bystanders in their vicinity who are just trying to get through the day while they are daring each other to tear the world apart. It’s like visiting a world where two Bugs Bunnies are anarchically attempting to out-Bugs Bunny each other, when one is already far more than enough. Sure, the hetero romance at its core (where two characters who are obviously made for each other eventually find a way to be together forever) is a textbook romcom dynamic, but the devilish details veer so far off the rails that its romantic beginnings are a faded memory by the time we reach the life-threatening oneupsmanship of the bonkers third act. We’ve covered romcoms for Movie of the Month before with similarly subversive escalations of unromantic danger: the Hitchcock-riffing Head Over Heels & the noirish Mrs. Winterborne, to be specific. Those examples feel like extreme outliers in the genre, however, and Love Me If You Dare‘s own maniacal self-escalation might even best them in its sheer audacity.

If I had to ascribe Love Me If You Dare to a single genre it might be this: twee mayhem. In general, twee is a much more difficult genre to recommend (or even to define) than the romantic comedy, as it was specific to a very distinct time & sentiment. As I was also a culturally-starved teenager in the early aught, I’m personally predisposed to being helpless to twee pop culture. Where more cynical audiences were revolted by the whimsical imagination, visual fussiness, and cutesy musical cues of twee, I found a desperately needed respite from the grotesque, macho muck pop culture was stuck in for the nu-metal end of the late 90s & early 00s (not knowing at the time that I was mostly watching ideas repurposed & repackaged from French New Wave artists half a century prior). I’ll concede that a lot of twee has aged horribly in the last couple decades; I’ve rolled my eyes at many a Zooey Dechanel project & Etsy store as the years have trudged along. However, I don’t think the loosely-defined genre ever got enough credit for how dark & melancholy it was just below its meticulously curated surface. Artists like Wes Anderson, Michel Gondry, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet often handle topics like depression, abuse, dead pets, and terminal illness with childlike vulnerability & outsized emotions – crafting art that looks pretty but is often surprisingly sinister. That’s exactly where I see Love Me If You Dare fitting in. It’s a darkly romantic comedy that starts with themes like cancer, poverty, and nationalist bullying before escalating to full-blown torture, murder, and suicide. How sweet! Even considering similarly morbid twee romances like Pushing Daisies or Amélie, this film reaches a level of destructive mayhem that feels remarkable for its cutesy tone of childlike whimsy.

Boomer, how does Love Me If You Dare fit into the twee romance template for you? Does it feel at home with how you typically experience the genre or does its level of destructive mayhem make it as much of an outlier in that context as it is as a romcom?

Boomer: It’s funny that you mention Wes Anderson, a director that I love; while watching Love Me if You Dare, my roommate got up and left the room twenty minutes in, saying “This is what I see when I look at a Wes Anderson movie” (he’s not a fan). I think that I might have a slightly different idea of what comprises twee filmmaking; my go-to example of the genre is God Help the Girl, the 2014 film project of Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch starring Emily Browning, Olly Alexander (of queerpop band Years & Years), and Hannah Murray (Skins, Game of Thrones, Bridgend) – a musical featuring songs from Murdoch’s 2009 concept album of the same name. As much as I love Belle & Sebastian – they’re one of my top 5 all time bands – when I finally found a copy of God Help the Girl I hated it for the first fifteen minutes before realizing that I could just give into it and have a good time, and a good time I had indeed. I would also note that I, too, am generally disposed to be forgiving of tweeness when I find it, and for much the same reasons, and I’d add Stranger than Fiction, I ♥ Huckabees, and the most recent TV version of Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective to that canon. It’s fine to enjoy things. I even spent this last New Year’s Eve watching a Friday the 13th marathon on TV with my best friend while we listened to Françoise Hardy records she brought back from France; since those films are mostly young adults wandering through the woods, skinny dipping, and angsting about getting laid, having Le premier bonheur du jour play on while little Corey Feldman watched the horny teens next door get down to business turned the whole film series into a franchise of French coming-of-age films that just happened to have a hockey masked murderer show up from time to time (relax Mrs. Voorhees “well, actually” purists: they were only showing III-VII on a loop). So you could say that even when there is no twee, I might end up adding it in myself.

You also mentioned Heathers, and around these parts it’s no secret that it’s my favorite movie of all time. I’ve never really imagined that it fell into the “twee” category (the musical version notwithstanding) simply because it’s so weirdly and unabashedly dark (“Corn. Nuts!”) and even its lighter elements are still part of an all-encompassingly nihilistic worldview, even with Martha doing a little doughnut on the scooter in the hallway of Westerberg High at the end. I understand where you’re coming from, though, as Love Me if You Dare has a lot of the same hallmarks, and I think that the difference for me comes from the fact that, ultimately Veronica recognizes that her suburban dissatisfaction and the town-wide ignorance of parents and school administrators alike has led her to go all-in on J.D.’s menacing plans for the future. It feels right, in the same way that if Julien and Sophie had pulled back from their life-and-death game of dares it would have felt wrong. Any cutesiness that arises from their ever-escalating dare tag is belied by how utterly committed they are to the whole thing: even the first dare endangers a school bus full of children (granted, they were a bunch of racist little shits who deserved a good scare if nothing else). If that level of intensity had ever been subverted, it would be a different story, but by starting with that platform of playful malice and going from there, there’s never a moment where you really question how cute the whole thing is, until the leads are buried in concrete (or are they?). As it stands, I’d say that it’s just as much a subversion of romcom standards as it is of performative cuteness, so it’s equally an outlier for both but the gentle ribbing it gives to both genres is born out of fondness and affection, rather than something like Heathers (which specifically aims to undermine the supposed harmlessness of eighties teen romances à la John Hughes) or my dearly beloved trash masterpiece Head Over Heels (which asks the question: what if the misunderstanding that separates the two romantic leads involved a murder, maybe?).

Britnee, with regards to romances that take themselves more seriously than Love Me if You Dare, they often have a lot of the same tropes that are present here: the angelically perfect parent with vaguely defined medical problems, resentment from the remaining living parent, economic and/or social stratification between the two romantic leads, etc. Do you think these work here, or do they undercut the smirking self-awareness that the movie has? Are there any that I’ve missed or that you felt should have been present here?

Britnee: Love Me If You Dare had a way of making the basic tropes of romantic films very unsettling. Were we supposed to laugh when Julien was being an insanely rambunctious kid while his mother was dying in her hospital room? Was his relationship with his dad supposed to break our hearts or make us roll our eyes and chuckle? I’m still not sure what the answer is. I love how the film challenged my emotions and really got me to question my humor and sensitivity.

Another romance trope that the film pokes fun at is the reunited lovers living happily ever after. Both Julien and Sophie marry other people and have completely different lives with their significant others. Once the two get together for real without prolonging the game, they don’t run off to start a new life. Instead, they drown in cement at a construction site while making out with each other. It’s so wonderful and silly.

What I enjoyed the most about Love Me If You Dare is the beginning of the film that focuses on Sophie and Julien’s blossoming childhood friendship. Their childlike imagination is brought to life on the screen with whimsical visuals and slanted camera angles. Some scenes even looked like they were taking place in a lifesize pop-up book. Their innocent shenanigans (for the most part) were quirky and adorable, but once the two were pulling the same crap as teenagers and adults, they seemed like total monsters.

CC, did you find young Sophie and Julien to be more likeable than grown Sophie and Julien?

CC: Absolutely! If a teacher lectures a child and said child starts to pee themselves, it’s hilarious. If another adult pees on you, it ruins your day and both parties feel a great deal of shame. Sophie and Julian were two troubled children who used their game as a means of coping with poverty and emotional isolation, respectively. As adults we expect them to either “grow up” and stop playing the game or to get professional help. I’m not saying that children aren’t capable of daring each other to commit heinous crimes, but in the context of this film, the crimes Sophie and Julian commit as adults destroy the lives of everyone in their path. It’s one thing to utter a string of scatological expletives during class in elementary school; it’s another to frame someone for attempted murder and call the French equivalent of the SWAT team on them as a prank.

I think what is most frustrating about their relationship as adults is their refusal to admit their feelings for each other. Neither one is brave enough to declare their love and end the game so it just drags on and on, destroying everything in its path.

Brandon, this film feels very French to me, but do you think it had to be set in France to work? Would it have read as “twee” if it were set elsewhere?

Brandon: It’s more than a vague cultural sensibility or sense of morbid whimsy that makes Love Me If You Dare feel distinctly French. It’s that the film feels so in line with French Cinema of its era. The sickly green digital palette of its early 00s aesthetic is unmistakably akin to the look of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s works. The artificial hand-built theatrical sets of the early childhood fantasy sequences are pure Michel Gondry (who was mostly popular as a music video auteur at the time). It’s like a Greatest Hits collection of early aughts twee aesthetics in that way, except that the limited scope of its CGI budget and the . . . moderate visual talents of debut filmmaker Yann Samuel sometimes make it feel like the kind of Greatest Hits collection you find in a grocery store checkout line or gas station CD rack. What truly makes the film special, then, what distinguishes it among its French cinema peers, is the increasingly morbid nature of its central romance. You can see its absurdist dynamic of two volatile minds who are unavoidably drawn to each other reflected in works from other countries: Heathers, Heavenly Creatures, Thoroughbreds – films far outside the realm of twee. Clashing that inevitably tragic relationship dynamic with the overactive imagination of childhood whimsy does feel distinctly French to me, though, even beyond its adoption of twee visual tropes specifically.

Of course, twee has been exported globally to the point where it is no longer explicitly French, if it ever was. Michel Gondry made most of his iconic works in America. Wes Anderson, a hipster Texan, is a cornerstone of the aesthetic. 2010s twee devotees like the Australian dreamworld comedy Girl Asleep and the aforementioned Scottish musical God Help the Girl are twee as fuck, undeniably so. I’d like to think you could export Love Me If You Dare to practically any urban setting without losing what distinguishes it as twee. What I’d be more concerned about losing in that translation is one of the major reasons the film works as well as it does and one of the defining tropes of artsy-fartsy French cinema at large: the bleak ending. It’s almost a cliché to say that Hollywood productions are more inclined to have a happy ending than their French film counterparts, but I could very easily see an American remake of this film sidestepping or undercutting its tragic conclusion while maintaining the twee whimsy free of morbidity, zapping it of its magic.

Boomer, am I being my own worst nightmare (a pretentious art film snob) by assuming that this quirky French romance must have a tragic ending to succeed on its own terms? Is there any satisfying way you can see this story about two thrill-seeking hedonists who express their affection through torturous dares concluding without them dying in each other’s arms, locked away from the rest of the world? Would a traditional “Hollywood ending” have ruined the appeal of the film’s otherwise sinister romance dynamic?

Boomer: If I’m being completely honest, at the moment that Julien (supposedly) crashed into that truck while speeding away from the police and apparently died, I thought the film was over. When it continued and there was more to it, I thought to myself, “Oh, how French.” It’s not that the French are without morality, of course (I saw enough Earth Day demonstrations in Lyonne last year to know that there are things about which they care deeply and passionately), but their different viewpoint on the relativistic ethics of sexpolitik are pretty different from ours (or at least mine; I’m not trying to project onto anyone else in this group). For me, I kept expecting a more American moralistic standpoint to leap out of the shadows and take over this viewing experience; as a result, I expected that this purely hedonistic joy that Julien declared to be better than [insert your drug/sex position/adrenaline junkie activity of choice here] to be his last moment, and that we were being treated to a Hays-lite moralization that “This may look like fun but it is bad and you will be punished.” And to be honest, I wasn’t entirely opposed to that? Interpreting from a purely American perspective is tricky; while I was watching the scene of Julien’s mother’s death, which Britnee mentioned above, I found myself consciously thinking that this would be treated differently in an American film. Here, I think it demonstrates that Julien is deeply unaware of just how unwell his mother really is, and reflects the way that children fail to understand the articulation of the adult world, and that tragic failure to read the situation may even be the instigating factor in his inability to navigate the adult world with any kind of joy outside of his game with Sophie. That’s not explicit (although it would be in an American film), but it gets to the heart of your question: is there anything tragic in this film (like, as you asked, the ending) that is treated with the deference due to tragedy? Even if death at the bottom of a concrete pylon is a tragedy in theory, the film doesn’t treat it this way, instead acting as if living to a ripe (and ribald) old age is just as emotionally satisfying a “happy” ending as being buried alive. Honestly, seeing the elderly Julien and Sophie together is the Hollywood ending, and it’s not nearly as thematically resonant or tonally consistent as (what I assume is) the real ending. That’s not necessarily being artsy-fartsy to say so, but it does underline all of the ways that this differs from the mean.

Britnee, you mentioned above that you found the first act which took place during our leads’ respective childhoods to be more endearing than the rest of the film. I agree, although I wasn’t as cold to the rest of it as you were. How would you have preferred to see this play out? What changes would you have made?

Britnee: The romcom-loving side of me would want to see Julien and Sophie get together for good in the dinner scene when he fake proposes to her. That was probably the most upsetting scene in the entire film. The secondhand embarrassment was so bad and made me hate Julien so much. After the proposal, the rest of the film would be a quirky journey to their wedding day. Julien’s father would have a come-to-Jesus moment and embrace his son on his wedding day, letting him know how proud he is of him and how much he loves him. Sophie’s sister would give a heartfelt toast at the reception explaining how she forgives her sister for ruining her wedding cake. Their families would just come together in the comic style of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Basically, I want My Big Fat French Wedding to be a thing.

I don’t want to seem like I don’t appreciate the darkness of Love Me If You Dare, because I do. I just have to be in the right mindset to watch two people lose their minds on a path of destruction.

Lagniappe

Boomer: Man, Julien’s father is such an asshole.

Britnee: Part of me still doesn’t think that Julien and Sophie really died in the end. It’s very unlikely that they lived, but based on all the other times I thought they died when they didn’t, I just don’t trust them.

Brandon: I do think this movie’s greatest asset is the unpredictability of its storytelling, which makes it feel as if anything is possible from minute to minute, as long as that anything is emotionally cruel. What impresses me most about that unpredictability is that the storyline still manages to maintain a clear, logical progression in its tone & aesthetic; it’s not all chaos. The dreamlike pop-up book sequence Britnee described feels totally in tune with the characters’ childhood imaginations, which later give way to the visual tropes of action thrillers, romantic melodramas, and wedding ring jewelry commercials as they grow into adults. I also greatly admire the trajectory of its central romance, which does not shy away from the impossible scenario these two characters have set up for themselves where “Happily ever after” cannot be achieved without a few casualties, if not the end of the world. For all of the film’s visual showiness as an excited director’s dressed-to-impress debut, its value as an off-kilter feat in morbid, fluid storytelling is what really makes it a gem.

CC: I’m really glad this film held up! Once I saw Amélie a couple years later, it obviously replaced Love Me If You Dare as my favorite darkly whimsical French film, but this still holds up on revisit.

Upcoming Movies of the Month
April: Brandon presents Local Legends (2013)
May: Britnee presents Belizaire the Cajun (1986)
June: Boomer presents Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970)

-The Swampflix Crew

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week 3/7/19 – 3/13/19

Mardi Gras was beautiful and exhausting (check out our own Divine-themed walking krewe to get a taste of what of what I mean) so in the spirit of a soothing recovery, let’s keep this week’s big screen roundup short & sweet. Here are the movies we’re most excited about that are screening in New Orleans this week.

Movies We Haven’t Seen (Yet)
Frenzy (1972) – A London-set serial killer thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock, in what ended up being his second to last feature. Playing Sunday 3/10 and Wednesday 3/13 as part of Prytania’s Classic Movies series.

Greta I honestly have no idea what’s going on in this movie beyond Isaelle Huppert & Chloë Grace Moretz trading some deliciously vicious Lifteime Movie cruelty in a struggle for power. That alone is more than enough to sell my ticket.

Movies We Already Enjoyed

Fighting with My Family British comedy mainstay Stephen Merchant writes & directs a shockingly compelling biopic about WWE wrestler Paige in her early rise to power. This is the most I’ve cried and the hardest I laughed in a movie I didn’t expect either from since that Breakfast Club-style reboot of Power Rangers. Even if you have zero interest in pro wrestling as an artform, it’s still very much worth your time.

Happy Death Day 2U The locally-shot, Groundhog’s Day-riffing time loop slasher is back for a second round, this time pivoting from horror comedy to absurdist sci-fi. This is just as much ofa hoot as the first Happy Death Day, if not only for offering locals another opportunity to see sports mascot The King Cake Baby fulfill his obvious destiny as a horror movie villain.

-Brandon Ledet

Krewe Divine 2019

In 2017, a few members of the Swampflix crew decided to finally grow up and get serious about Mardi Gras. We collectively shed our annual personal crises about what themes to include in our Fat Tuesday costuming by pooling our resources to pray at the altar of a single cinematic deity: Divine. Arguably the greatest drag queen of all time, Divine was the frequent collaborator & long-time muse of one of our favorite filmmakers, John Waters. Her influence on the pop culture landscape extends far beyond the Pope of Trash’s Dreamlanders era, however, emanating to as far-reaching places as the San Franciscan performers The Cockettes, the punkification of disco, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Our intent was to honor the Queen of Filth in all her fabulously fucked-up glory by maintaining a new Mardi Gras tradition in Krewe Divine, a costuming krewe meant to masquerade in the French Quarter on every Fat Tuesday into perpetuity.

Our initial krewe was a small group of Swampflix contributors: site co-founders Brandon Ledet & Britnee Lombas, regular contributor CC Chapman, and repeat podcast guest Virginia Ruth. Last year we were joined by local drag performer Ce Ce V DeMenthe, who frequently pays tribute to Divine in her performances. There’s no telling how Krewe Divine will expand or evolve from here as we do our best to honor the Queen of Filth in the future, but for now, enjoy some pictures from our 2019 excursion, our third year in operation as Swampflix’s official Mardi Gras krewe:

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Eat shit!
Krewe Divine

The Big Easy (1986)

The only reason it’s so difficult for actors to nail a genuine New Orleans accent is that it’s always been difficult for actors to nail a New Orleans accent. There have been so many wildly inaccurate Cajun French & Antebellum South accents attributed to the city in films & television over the years that out-of-towners have a very distorted idea of what New Orleanians sound like. It’s especially strange if you consider that most low-level impressionists already have a perfect New Orleans “Y’at” accent in their arsenal; they just don’t realize that we sound almost exactly like New Yorkers. Of all the wildly off-base, Cajun-fried, Southern belle accents I’ve heard attributed to the city over the years, none have ever matched Dennis Quaid’s in The Big Easy in terms of pure preposterousness. It’s not that Quaid exaggerates the stereotypical inaccuracies of the big screen N.O. accent. It’s that he sounds like no human being who has ever existed on the planet. He turns the bad New Orleans accent into a baffling spectacle, a truly singular “What the fuck were you even going for?” experience for folks down the road. It’s as confusing as it is mesmerizing. It’s also hilarious.

Quaid stars in The Big Easy opposite Ellen Barkin. He’s a spicy Cajun NOPD officer; she’s the federal DA cracking down on the corruption that runs rampant throughout his department. They learn a lot from each other. She teaches him that his “good guys” vs. “bad guys” binary philosophy is a lot less cut & dry than he explains it to be, considering the bribe money local police extort from the public as if they were working for tips. In return, he teaches her the most valuable thing she could learn from a Cajun firecracker: how to fuck good. The Big Easy arrived at the height of the Joe Eszterhas era of the erotic thriller. It shamelessly exploits the cheesy, sleazy backdrop of New Orleans as an excuse for hedonistic sex & violence (the same way it’s exploited in Cat People ’82 & Zandalee). Barkin enters the city as a frigid, nervous woman who does not know how to relax, and Quaid’s space-alien version of a suave Cajun romantic awakens her inner sexual goddess. Meanwhile, the pair continually find horrifically mutilated, bullet-riddled corpses left by cops & mobsters around the city and collaborate on the paperwork that will dismantle that corruption, which are about as strange of aphrodisiacs as I can imagine.

Of course, the main draw of The Big Easy for locals is the 80s era tourism of New Orleans at is sleaziest. The movie wastes no time there, opening with an aerial helicopter shot of the bayou while drunken zydeco music blares on the soundtrack. The first spoken dialogue is of a radio DJ announcing “It’s 2a.m. in New Orleans, The Big Easy, and we’re stirring up that gumbo!” That’s when Quaid & Barkin meet at the scene of a homicide on the steps of the 80s World’s Fair pavilion (blocks away from my office). Other tourist stops include Voodoo stores, Bourbon St. strip joints, Antoine’s, Tipitina’s, the Cabrini bridge, and nighttime drives down Decatur. Chef Paul Prudhomme drops by the hot-and-dangerous couple’s diner table while they down Dixie beers among neon-lit crawfish signs and conspicuous bottles of Tabasco. Local actors John Goodman & Grace Zabriski appear in bit roles. The St. Aug marching band soundtracks a police chase. The pronunciation of terms like “Whre y’at?” & “Tchoupitoulas” are discussed at length in the dialogue. Even the film’s steamiest sex scenes are set to tender zydeco music, because nothing is allowed to touch the screen here unless it’s being served up Cajun style. It’s a dedication to shameless New Orleans tourism that makes The Big Easy especially entertaining as a locally-set novelty.

As laughably unconvincing as Dennis Quad’s accent is in the movie, he becomes endearing as a local-boy novelty through osmosis as you learn to accept the singular, space-alien lisps & rhythms of his made-up dialect. After all, the wildly inaccurate movie-star attempt at a New Orleans accent has in its own way become part of the city’s DNA. We are often delighted by our own shameless cheese, so it’s easy to fall for Quaid’s peculiar “Cajun” charms as he sings at a fais do-do and shows off his various alligator toys: gator plushies, gator dolls, gator lamps, etc. Barkin is also charming in her own right as the outsider to this world, her mannerisms often reminding me of (a much more stable) Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence. The pair even drum up some genuine erotic tension in their clashing personalities, especially in a courtroom sequence where she’s pressured to interrogate him on the witness stand. Mostly, though, the entire production plays like a ridiculous joke – shamelessly mixing its Skinemax-tier sex with its grotesque mafia-violence gore to achieve something beautifully sleazy & New Orleans-appropriate in its B-movie majesty. Quaid has said in interviews that he regrets the quality of his performance in The Big Easy, a mistake he blames on Hollywood’s collective coke problem in the 1980s. I personally think he has nothing to apologize for, as his preposterous “Cajun” accent and old-fashioned N’Awlins hedonism make The Big Easy a true gift for anyone who loves the city – a trashy, campy delight.

-Brandon Ledet

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week 2/28/19 – 3/6/19

We’re exhausted from the Oscars; Mardi Gras might just finish the job and kill us all. In that spirit, let’s keep this week’s big screen roundup short & sweet.

There are still a few great Oscar-nominated movies playing around town but you either already know where to find them or you’ve already seen them. Either way, we’re all tired of talking about them. Here are the few other movies we’re most excited about that are screening in New Orleans this week.

Movies We Haven’t Seen (Yet)

Greta I honestly have no idea what’s going on in this movie beyond Isaelle Huppert & Chloë Grace Moretz trading some deliciously vicious Lifteime Movie cruelty in a struggle for power. That alone is more than enough to sell my ticket.

Happy Death Day 2U The locally-shot, Groundhog’s Day-riffing time loop slasher is back for a second round, this time pivoting from horror comedy to absurdist sci-fi. The first Happy Death Day was a hoot, if not only for offering locals an opportunity to see sports mascot The King Cake Baby fulfill his obvious destiny as a horror movie villain.

Movies We Already Enjoyed

Fighting with My Family British comedy mainstay Stephen Merchant writes & directs a shockingly compelling biopic about WWE wrestler Paige in her early rise to power. This is the most I’ve cried and the hardest I laughed in a movie I didn’t expect either from since that Breakfast Club-style reboot of Power Rangers. Even if you have zero interest in pro wrestling as an artform, it’s still very much worth your time.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – To commemorate the passing of legendary Hollywood director Stanley Donen, The Prytania Theatre is screening his beloved musical on Ash Wednesday, when we’ll all need a good pick-me-up. From my review for our Roger Ebert Film School series: “A comedy about a fictional movie studio’s struggles to transition from the Silent Era to talkies, Singin’ in the Rain takes great pleasure in staging Technicolor recreations of old forms of entertainment like black & white silent romance pictures & traditional vaudeville acts. Hollywood’s favorite subject in general has always been itself, echoing an even more ancient tradition of art about art, and Gene Kelly’s career seems to be an essential part of that introspective self-indulgence.” Screening Wednesday 3/6, 7:30pm at The Prytania Theatre.

-Brandon Ledet

Roger Ebert Film School, Lesson 42: White Men Can’t Jump (1992)

Roger Ebert Film School is a recurring feature in which Brandon attempts to watch & review all 200+ movies referenced in the print & film versions of Roger Ebert’s (auto)biography Life Itself.

Where White Men Can’t Jump (1992) is referenced in Life Itself: On page 159 of the first edition hardback, Ebert nostalgically discusses the value of well-written dialogue. He writes, “The big difference between today’s dialogue and the dialogue of years ago is that the characters have grown stupid. They say what is needed to advance the plot and get their laughs by their delivery of four-letter words. Hollywood dialogue was once witty, intelligent, ironic, poetic, musical. Today it is flat. So flat that when a movie allows its characters to think fast and talk the same way, the result is invigorating, as in […] the first thirty minutes of White Men Can’t Jump

What Ebert had to say in his review(s): “What the movie knows is how the game is played in the tough urban circles where these guys operate. The director, Ron Shelton, who also wrote the screenplay, knows how his characters talk and sound, and how they get into each other’s minds with nonstop taunting and boasting. The language is one of the great joys of this film, not just because of its energy and spirit (most of the characters are gifted verbal improvisers) but because of its originality. The usual four-letter words and their derivatives are upstaged by some of the most creative and bizarre insults I have ever heard in a movie.” -from his 1992 review for the Chicago Sun-Times

Legendary indie scene auteur Spike Lee is nominated for two major Oscar categories this year, Best Director & Bet Picture, which is a remarkable achievement for a film as formally bizarre & politically angry as BlacKkKlansman. It’s a hype cycle that’s stirred up a lot of memories of other times when Lee was a hot ticket in the industry, not least of all because his latest film’s nomination among Pete Farrelly’s disastrous feel-good race relations drama Green Book feels like a repeat of when Lee’s iconic work Do the Right Thing lost the Best Picture Oscar to Driving Miss Daisy in 1990. Spike Lee may be an established legend in the industry by now, making his road to Oscar accolades less of an uphill battle, but Hollywood’s relationship with his deliberately divisive, provocative work has always been oddly hot & cold. They’re willing to nominate him for Oscars, but only as a long-shot underdog against more palatable, bullshit-caked films like Driving Miss Daisy & Green Book. There was apparently even a time when Hollywood was willing to emulate Spike Lee’s aesthetic instead of, you know, funding his work directly. 1992’s basketball court gambling drama White Men Can’t Jump feels unmistakably like watching White Studio Execs attempt to reverse-engineer the wide-audience friendly version of a Spike Lee joint in a boardroom, borrowing his fashion & aesthetic, but ditching all of the pesky politics that get in the way of the fun. Usually, Hollywood settles for undervaluing Spike Lee’s work by awarding its more sanitized rivals like Green Book; with White Men Can’t Jump, the industry instead attempted to transform his work into Green Book, which at least takes more chutzpa.

White Men Can’t Jump stars Wesley Snipes (who also starred in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever one year prior) as a low-level basketball hustler & Rosie Perez (who starred in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing three years prior) as an alcoholic trivia addict. Except that it doesn’t star either of those actors at all. Instead, our POV-centering protagonist is a compulsive gambler played by affable white man Woody Harrelson, who profits off the Southern California black community’s underestimation of white boy street cred. His main value as a basketball hustler is that his unsuspecting marks don’t know to fear his skill on the court because of his lily-white skin. He’s occasionally out-hustled himself and much of the drama derives from his crippling gambling addiction, but that does little to soften to blow of this being a film about how white people can be just as good at basketball as anybody else, so you shouldn’t be too prejudiced against their athleticism. Wesley Snipes plays a loud-mouthed schemer who works countless jobs & grifts to help realize his wife’s dream of moving to the safety of the suburbs. Perez plays an alcoholic trivia nerd who aspires to be the world’s foremost Jeopardy champion in what has to be her best, most outlandish character work outside the plane crash PTSD drama Fearless. Yet, we see the film through the eyes of an annoyingly bland white man anti-hero, one whose vocabulary includes such lovely phrases as “negro,” “faggot,” “reverse discrimination,” “Farrakhan disciple son of a bitch,” and the frequently-repeated refrain “Shut the fuck up,” usually directed at his lovely girlfriend. The movie even pauses dead-still for a minute so he can whitesplain Jimi Hendrix to his hustling partner, which 100% would have been a scene in Green Book if it were set ten years later. It’s very frustrating.

White Man Can’t Jump does have flashes of charm, even beyond the stellar character work from Rosie Perez. If nothing else, it’s an excellent 90s fashion lookbook, modeling an extensive line of Spike Lee-inspired athletic wear on the basketball courts of Venice Beach, CA. The film’s attempt to echo Lee’s focus on slang dialogue often leads to a solid one-liner in an insult comedy context, as this is just as much a trash-talking movie as it is a basketball movie. Besides Rosie Perez’s surreal Jeopardy quest, the best sequences of the film are the documentarian portraits of the buskers, hustlers, and weirdos of Venice Beach and the ceremonial trading of “Yo Mama” jokes between basketball sessions. Those are only incidental, mood-setting details in the greater purpose of tracking the ups & downs of one fish-out-of-water white man’s ego, however, a choice in protagonist that kneecaps the movie before it can even get itself running. Workman director Ron Shelton doesn’t even have the decency to rip off the exaggerated Ernest Dickerson flourishes of Spike Lee’s cinematography, settling instead for the same flat sports drama approach he took with Bull Durham, Blue Chips, and Tin Cup, as if it were a one-size-fits-all technique. I want to say White Men Can’t Jump is worthwhile for Rosie Perez’s character work and for the sartorial pleasures of its 90s fashion lookbook, but the film is ultimately too phony, too repetitive, and too politically awkward to enjoy for any five minute stretch without a vicious cringe interrupting your pleasure. And yet, this is the movie that was playing on TV when I was a kid, not Do the Right Thing. And still, Green Book has a much better chance of winning the Best Picture Oscar this weekend than BlacKkKlansman. Go figure.

Roger’s Rating: (3.5/4, 88%)

Brandon’s Rating: (2.5/5, 50%)

Next Lesson: Ikiru (1952)

-Brandon Ledet

The Swampflix Guide to the Oscars, 2019

There are 37 feature films nominated for the 2019 Academy Awards ceremony. We here at Swampflix are conspicuously more attracted to the lowbrow & genre-minded than we are to stuffy Awards Season releases, so as usual we have reviewed little more than half of the films nominated (so far!). We’re still happy to see so many movies we enjoyed listed among the nominees, though. Last year was an incredibly rare occurrence where three films from our own Top Films of 2017 list were nominated for Oscars, two of which won major awards – Get Out (our Movie of the Year) for Best Original Screenplay and The Shape of Water for Best Picture. That’s astonishing, given the Academy’s historic distaste for the weirdo genre films we passionately seek out. I doubt we’ll ever see that anomaly again (not that I wouldn’t love to be proven wrong). This year’s list of nominees, for instance, has zero overlap with Swampflix’s Top Films of 2018 list; none of our consensus picks even snuck into the technical categories where bizarre phrases like “The Academy Award-Winning Suicide Squad” are born. Still, plenty of movies we enjoyed did land some high-profile nominations, and 50% of the Best Picture nominees were reviewed with great enthusiasm on the site (the less we say about the other 50%, the better). The Academy rarely gets these things right when actually choosing winners, but the last two Best Picture victories (for The Shape of Water & Moonlight) have felt like a welcome change in the tide. Even if the statues ultimately go home with the wrong nominees, though, the list below isn’t half-bad as a representation of the cultural landscape of 2018 cinema.

Listed below are the 20 Oscar-Nominated films from 2018 that we covered for the site, ranked from best to . . . least-best, based on our star ratings. Each entry is accompanied by a blurb, a link to our corresponding review, and a mention of the awards the films were nominated for.

1. Black Panther, nominated for Best Picture, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing

“Representation can and must transcend dramatization and metaphor-making of real world trauma; the past and the framework it created for contemporary existence cannot be denied, but looking to the future is important too. This movie may not be for you, but you will be better for having seen it, and the huge numbers of white Americans who would never pay to see a movie with an (almost) all black cast were it not a Marvel property will also be better for it. This is a film company that has become an indomitable box office powerhouse using that power for good, and that’s worth celebrating.”

2. BLacKkKlansman, nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Adam Driver), Best Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Adapted Screenplay

“It’s been a while since a movie had me ping-ponging from such extremes of pure pleasure & stomach-churning nausea. What’s brilliant about BlacKkKlansman is that it often achieves both effects using the same genre tools. Even when it’s taking the structure of an absurdist farce, its humor can be genuinely funny or caustically sickening. Racism is delivered kindly & with a wholesome American smile here, without apology; shamelessly evil bigotry is presented in the cadence & appearance of a joke, but lands with appropriate horror instead of humor. Lee only further complicates his genre subversion by mixing that horror with actual, genuine jokes, so that the film overall maintains the structure of a comedy.”

3. Roma, nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Yalitza Aparicio), Best Supporting Actress (Marina De Tavira), Best Cinematography, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, and Best Original Screenplay

“The crisp black & white cinematography and the epic scale of its cast of extras could cynically be perceived as an empty attempt to ‘elevate’ domestic labor to the perceived prestige of Oscar Worthy filmmaking. The film is not pretentious or coldly distanced enough to fully justify that cynicism, however, as it’s packed with enough flaccid dicks, dogshit, and general pessimism about the routines & familial dynamic of this kind of labor to be dismissed as ingratiating or watered down.”

4. The Favourite, nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Olivia Colman), Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Editing, and Best Production Design

“The jokes fly faster & with a newfound, delicious bitchiness. The sex & violence veer more towards slapstick than inhuman cruelty. The Favourite is Yorgos Lanthimos seeking moments of compromise & accessibility while still staying true to his distinctly cold auteurist voice – and it’s his best film to date for it.”

5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, nominated for Best Animated Feature Film

“A shockingly imaginative, beautiful, and hilarious take on a story & medium combo that should be a total drag, but instead is bursting with energetic life & psychedelic creativity. I wouldn’t believe it myself if I hadn’t seen the feat achieved onscreen with my own two eyes – which are still sore from the vibrant, hyperactive swirl of interdimensional colors & spider-people that assaulted them in gloriously uninhibited 3D animation.”

6. If Beale Street Could Talk, nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Regina King), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score

“On just a basic level of aesthetic beauty, If Beale Street Could Talk is a soaring achievement. The fashion, music, and portraiture of its vision of 1970s Harlem are an overwhelming sensual experience that fully conveys the romance & heartbreak of its central couple in crisis. It’s initially difficult to gauge exactly how tonally & structurally ambitious the film will become, but by the time Tish is recounting America’s long history of Civil Rights abuses over real-life photographs from our not-too-distant past, it almost feels like an excerpt from the James Baldwin-penned essay film I Am Not Your Negro, a much more structurally radical work from start to end. If Beale Street Could Talk‘s merits as a boundary-testing art piece require patience & trust on the audience’s end, but it’s something Barry Jenkins has earned from us (and then some) with his previous work.”

7. Can You Ever Forgive Me?, nominated for Best Actress (Melissa McCarthy), Best Supporting Actor (Richard E. Grant), and Best Adapted Screenplay

“Marielle Heller’s greatest achievement in this film is in inhabiting Israel’s voice & POV, the same way the infamous forger inhabited the voices of the literary figures whose graves she robbed. No matter how prickly or destructive Israel can be in the film, we never lose sight of the fact that the world let her down first, that life is a bum deal that doesn’t deserve a single ounce of effort whether or not she’s willing to give it.”

8. Shoplifters, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film

Shoplifters is a little less patient, a little more formalist, and a lot more blatant in its themes about the unconventional shapes families form in poverty & crisis, but the overall effect is just as tenderly devastating here as it was in Kore-eda’s earlier film Nobody Knows. I think I even slightly preferred the less documentarian approach here, if not only because Nobody Knows is so punishingly somber while this one is more open to notes of sweetness & sentimentality even if both films share in the same grim themes.”

9. A Quiet Place, nominated for Best Sound Editing

“Disregarding Platinum Dunes’s shaky reputation within the horror community and Cinema Sins-style logic sticklers’ nitpicky complaints about its premise & exposition, it’s remarkable how much personality & genuine familial tension John Krasinski was able to infuse into this genre film blockbuster; it’s the most distinctive film to bear Michael Bay’s name since Pain & Gain.”

10. Isle of Dogs, nominated for Best Animated Feature Film, Best Original Score

“A stop-motion animated sci-fi feature about doggos who run wild on a dystopian pile of literal garbage, the basic elevator pitch for Isle of Dogs already sounds like a Madlibs-style grab bag of the exact bullshit I love to see projected on the big screen, even without Wes Anderson’s name attached. As he already demonstrated with Fantastic Mr. Fox, the director’s twee-flavored meticulousness also has a wider appeal when seen in the context of stop-motion, which generally requires a level of whimsy, melancholy, and visual fussiness to be pulled off well. That’s why it’s so frustrating that Isle of Dogs is so flawed on such a fundamental, conceptual level and that I can’t help but thoroughly enjoy it anyway, despite my better judgment.”

11. Ready Player One, nominated for Best Visual Effects

“I’m baffled by the consensus that Ready Player One is intended to be seen as a fun popcorn movie. To me, it’s a nightmare vision of a plausible near-future Hell that we’re helplessly barreling towards. Maybe that qualifies me as a hater. I wouldn’t know; you’d have to ask a fanboy. I do suspect, though, that the film’s director shares that same point of view somewhere beneath his King Nerd exterior.”

12. Hale County This Morning, This Evening, nominated for Best Documentary Feature

With the fractured, narrative-light meandering of a photojournal in motion, Hale County This Morning, This Evening plays more like a diary than a proper documentary. Ross appears to be gathering moving images to either calcify a concurrent photography project or to supplement those photographs with a curated installation piece. Either way, the experiment makes for rich raw material to pull from in the editing room when repurposed for a feature-length non-fiction piece, no matter how disjointed the result.

13. Solo: A Star Wars Story, nominated for Best Visual Effects

“The dependency upon references to past material (and presumably planting seeds to be reaped in future Star Wars stories, every year from now until you’re dead, so just shut up and give Disney your money already you pathetic fleck of lint) drags this movie down. Although it’s occasionally buoyed back up by strong performances and jokes that actually land, and it somehow manages to stick the landing, there’s just so much here that you’ll want to forget. There’s almost a good film in here, but there’s also definitely a pretty bad one. If you happen to miss the first thirty minutes, you’ll likely have a much better time, but there’s no guarantee.”

14. Cold War, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director, and Best Cinematography

“As impressed as I was with the film’s storytelling efficiency, it felt like the deadly attraction at its core kept getting cut short every time it started to heat up. The result was very pretty to look at, but also frustratedly stilted in its movement.”

15. Minding the Gap, nominated for Best Documentary Feature

“We’re so used to seeing skateboarding highlights meticulously edited into the music video-cool montages that make it seem like the most transcendent sport on Earth. That informal training ground is exactly where Bing Liu cut his teeth as a filmmaker, but Minding the Gap finds him stripping all of that perceived cool away to reach for a difficultly intimate level of honesty & vulnerability.”

16. Avengers: Infinity War, nominated for Best Visual Effects

“I’m sure that future re-watches (especially at home, on a screen that’s smaller and thus better at hiding the flaws of bad computer imagery) will likely leave me with a more positive feeling (and I reserve the right to change my opinion at a later date), especially after the second half of this narrative is released next summer. For now, though, I just can’t bring myself to love this. It’s not because it’s a bummer; I think that was a good choice and I usually prefer that. It’s not because it’s popular, either; that’s never been a problem for me. Ultimately, the problem for me has nothing to do with what’s in the movie, but everything that it’s missing.”

17. A Star is Born, nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Actress (Lady Gaga), Best Supporting Actor (Sam Elliott), Best Cinematography, Best Original Song, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Adapted Screenplay

“Someone with a much kinder ear for the proto-country Dad-rock Cooper & Gaga perform as a duo in the film will likely have a much easier time swallowing its attacks on the Authenticity of high-gloss pop music than I did. Even if not, the improv looseness of the film’s early, pre-popshaming stretch is infectiously charming, enough so that it carries the film though much of its second-half rough patches.”

18. Mary Queen of Scots, nominated for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup

“Had the potential to function like a one-on-one rivalry on Drag Race All Stars, but instead quietly passes the time like an especially subdued BBC miniseries. My desire for the former is certainly more a result of boisterous portrayals of Elizabeth from actors like Bette Davis, Quentin Crisp, and Judi Dench than anything to do with historical accuracy, but dutiful scholarship isn’t really this movie’s main concern anyway.”

19. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, and Best Original Song

“‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ is a wonderful novelty in isolation; it’s the ‘Other Tales of the American Frontier’ that drag this anthology down into regressive tedium as a collection. The Coens’ usual fixation on the philosophy & brutality of Death are perfectly at home with the genre – to the point where they get perilously uncomfortable with its worst trappings.

20. First Reformed, nominated for Best Original Screenplay

“Without Travis Bickle’s moral repugnance making his physical & mental decline a complexly difficult crisis to engage with, Reverend Toller’s unraveling feels like a much less interesting, less essential retread of territory Schrader has explored onscreen before, even if the political anxiety driving it this time is more relatable.”

-Brandon Ledet & Mark “Boomer” Redmond