Sketch a Portrait of a Lady on Fire

First off, a small quibble on the title. The French is Portrait de la jeune fille en feu, or portrait of a young lady/girl. No big deal, but is it too much to ask to have the same title? Does everything have to be marketing? The movie’s in French, so stick to the translation.

That aside, I liked this movie. I very much liked it, though I’m not over-the-moon as so many critics seem to be. Peter Travers:

Some critics have referred to the film as “Call Me by Your Name with corsets.”  But Sciamma, whose exemplary work on Water LiliesTomboy and Girlhood mark her as a major talent, paints the movie with unrivaled delicacy and feeling. From the costumes by Dorothée Guiraud to the stunning camera work by Claire Mathon (who deservedly won the cinematography award from the New York Film Critics Circle), Portrait of a Lady on Fire is enthralling on every level. In her hypnotic and haunting film, alive with humor, heartbreak and swooning sensuality, Sciamma has created nothing less than a timeless work of art

A little much, methinks. Recalls how critics tripped over themselves with Much Ado About Nothing. Very different film here, of course. And not to give any more credit to the dismal Academy Awards than necessary, but the French didn’t even enter Portrait as their official submission — so they didn’t consider it some great masterpiece. Timeless, masterpiece — give me a break.

But did I mention I really liked it? 8/10

PS: That would put it in the top 5 of 2019, but I am annoyed at all this late release nonsense. When it’s time to make my 2020 list, I’ll decide where to put Portrait.

Comparison Notes: Phantom Thread, The Lighthouse, The English Patient, The Little Hours, Shakespeare in Love, Il Postino, La Cérémonie

Anti-“Office” Assistant

Wanting to go to a movie Sunday night, my choices came down to Fantasy Island and The Assistant. Fantasy Island is as close to a sub-zero rating as possible on the Tomatometer, but the Tomatometer is usually broken. Fantasy Island looked kinda fun, and it’s a Blumhouse production after all. But reviewing the zero percent Tomato reviews among top critics convinced me otherwise.

The Assistant, on the other hand, looked like a drag. I didn’t even watch a preview, but the ratings were high. The one factor that drove me to see it: the film’s star, Julia Garner. I hadn’t seen her since Electrick Children, where I said “expect to see more of her.” Finally, lo these years later, I did, and I was happy.

Boy it’s a smart movie. I like movies where stuff happens, and it does here — but not the kind of stuff you think. And it’s a movie-movie. I mean I’m sitting for an hour straight riveted. And I can’t quite explain why — it’s just following her around the office.

Toward the end there’s a falter. A little on the fence on this one, but for now: a high 7/10

Comparison Notes: Secretary (James Spader, 2002), Swimming with Sharks (Kevin Spacey, 1994), Sleeping Beauty, Wall Street

Nowhere to go but Downhill

I oft disagree with the New York Times, and specifically A.O. Scott, but I was amused at the headline “‘Downhill’ Review: A Small Disaster in the Snow,” with the caption “Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus star in this timid remake of a dark Swedish vacation comedy.” From his write-up:

“Downhill” is a vacation-gone-wrong comedy that lives up to its ill-advised title.

“Downhill,” directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (whose previous vacation comedy was “The Way, Way Back”), is a remake of “Force Majeure,” a 2014 Swedish filmdirected by Ruben Ostlund. Comparing the two is a dispiriting exercise. Ostlund’s version is a sharp, relentless satire of masculine insecurity and middle-class complacency, threading genuine discomfort among improbable laughs. The humor in “Downhill” is broader, which is fine in itself, but the movie is also sloppy, timid and unsure of its tone. It isn’t disturbing, just annoying.

I didn’t know that there was a crossover into The Way, Way Back, a small comedy from a few years ago I was quite fond of. Nonetheless, I was immediately irked when I started seeing snippets of Downhill, which even with a very quick glance was an obvious and unnecessary remake of Force Majeur. This is one of those times when I will not be giving the English-language remake the benefit of the doubt. Nope. I don’t need to watch Downhill to be annoyed by it.

My advice: check out the original — one of the better films of that stellar movie year, 2014.

Tom… PAPA!!

My esteemed readers are due some TV posts, so I’ll start with this. I love Tom Papa. I first got to know his wonderfully good-natured comedy from his regular appearances on Live from Here, the continuation of A Prairie Home Companion. The much-beloved A Prairie Home Companion, I will add, no matter what you must now say about Garrison Keillor.

And Live from Here is, too, much-beloved. And so is Tom Papa. The material in “You’re Doing Great!” seems particularly well suited for me at this point in my life. Apt-tastic, if you will.

Tom… Papa!

The Best and Worst of 2019

Just in time for the Oscars, which snuck up on me this year. * = Seen via streaming. Worst to first:

High Life — 2/10 and Honours for Worst Movie of the Year

Aniara — 2/10

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark — 2/10

Fighting with My Family — 3/10

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love — 3/10

Pet Sematary — 3/10

Rocketman — 4/10

The Farewell — 4/10

Honey Boy — 4/10

The Last Black Man in San Francisco — 4/10

The Lighthouse — 4/10

Ad Astra — 5/10

Pain and Glory — 5/10

In Fabric* — 5/10

Hustlers — 5/10

The Irishman*– 6/10

Knives Out — 6/10

Booksmart — 6/10

Ma — 6/10

It Chapter Two — 6/10

Queen & Slim — 6/10

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood — 7/10

Us — 7/10

Uncut Gems — 7/10

Parasite — 7/10

== TOP FIVE ==

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5. The Art of Self-Defense — 7/10

4. Joker — 8/10

3. Honeyland — 8/10

2. Midsommar — 8/10

1.  1917 — 9/10 and Clearly the Best Movie of the Year.  Oddly enough, the Academy will agree.

End Note: An abbreviated list this year. I think there just weren’t as many movies that I felt compelled to see. A small year for movies.

== 1917 ==

1 February 2020: The date I had to wait until to see the best film of 2019, 1917.

The filmmakers of Dunkirk, headed by Christopher Nolan, could learn a couple million lessons from 1917 on how to make a war film. 1917 also easily surpasses Saving Private Ryan. 

I didn’t absolutely LOVE 1917, but in a way I did. I know I’m being wishy-washy, so let me clarify: 1917 is the best and greatest movie of this dismal movie year. On an emotional level it didn’t get to me tremendously, but the sheer cinematic brilliance will keep you rapt. It’s a little dreamlike, and starkly realistic at the same time. The language of cinema, to quote Lynch. And impeccable execution. To all these points: utterly engrossing for 2 straight hours — that’s tough to do. A narrow 9/10.

Comparison Notes: Goodfellas/Swingers (follow/tracking shot), The Revenant, Paths of GloryBirdman, the aforementioned Dunkirk and Saving Private Ryan, Captain Phillips, Elephant