'Inside Llewyn Davis' and 'The Old Man & the Gun' are this week's picks.
Reading tweets from the Toronto International Film Festival makes me jealous every year.
The festival, which is basically a one-stop shop for films premiered at Cannes, Venice and Telluride film festivals, plus a few actual international debuts, is the unofficial start of awards season — the best time of the year. Everyone makes it sound like a magical experience, and I am determined to go one of these years, if only for a film or three and not, say, 25, like the pros. That said, the tweets and reviews do get me hyped for the films to come in the next four to five months. Last year, I did a rundown of some (emphasis on some) of the second-half films I was most anticipating, and I thought it would be fun to do it again.
So, uh, here’s that.
“Ad Astra” (Sept. 20)
I love a space movie. I love movies about father-son relationships. A Brad Pitt vehicle that combines the two, plus performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Liv Tyler, Ruth Negga and Donald Sutherland, directed by the eagle-eyed James Gray (“The Immigrant,” “We Own the Night”)? Yes, please.
“Uncut Gems” (Dec. 13)*
The Safdie brothers, who directed former BB pick “Good Time,” are back with another look at New York City’s underbelly, this time with the one and only Adam Sandler in the starring role. Sandler plays a jeweler who gets in trouble after losing a series of sports bets. The film follows him as he tries to stop his life from spinning out of control. Early reports are that, like “Good Time,” the film starts with the accelerator pushed down and only gets more intense from there. I can’t wait.
*There's no trailer for this one yet. Sorry.
“Queen & Slim” (Nov. 27)
Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith start in a modern Bonnie and Clyde tale that deals with racial injustice and other social issues. Exciting enough on its own, but the film is also directed by Melina Matsoukas. It’s her debut feature, but her credits include directing the music videos for Rihanna’s “We Found Love” and Beyonce’s iconic “Formation” among other smash R&B hits, plus a handful of “Insecure” episodes. I can’t wait to see what visuals she mines from this material.
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (Dec. 6)
This Céline Sciamma-directed French drama is all my favorite critics’ favorite movie of the year, or one of them, anyway. It’s a period piece about an 18th century painter (Noémie Merlant) commissioned to create a woman’s (Adèle Haenel) wedding portrait. Things don’t go as planned, and the two begin to fall in love.
“Parasite” (Oct. 11)
If my favorite critics don’t love “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” they love “Parasite.” The new one from incredible Korean director Bong-Joon Ho (join the #BongHive, everyone) follows the lower-class but street-smart Park family whose lives entwine with the generationally wealthy Kim family when the Park kids offer to tutor the Kim kids for cash. The symbiotic relationship can only last so long, however, when a series of events has one family’s place in the relationship feeling threatened. Dastardly deeds ensue.
“Knives Out” (Nov. 27)
In the words of Stefon, this movie has everything. Rian Johnson at the helm of a murder mystery? Check. Daniel Craig doing more or less a Foghorn Leghorn impression as an old school detective? Check. Lakeith Stanfield as Craig’s smooth-talking partner? Check. Chris Evans as a shit-talk rich dickhead? Check. Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer, Ana de Armas, Katherine Langford and Michael Shannon as Evans’ family members? Check. This movie was basically made just for me, and I appreciate it more every time I see the trailer.
Before we get into the meat of this week’s entry, I have a happy-sad programming note. Binge Blog started because I was annoying my friends by talking about movies, and our arts and entertainment managing editor, Niki Kottmann, gave me the platform to do so semi-professionally. It was her idea to focus it on streaming service offerings. She has not, for whatever reason, told me to stop writing these even though no one reads them, and they are often barely on topic.
She has been a supportive editor since the first edition, making sure I don’t make an ass out of myself while letting me get away with some objectively dumb ideas because she is nice. She is nice and talented, and now she is leaving. Wednesday was her last day at the Observer. She has accepted a features editor job at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, where I am confident she will continue to hone her already-impressive journalism skills. I will miss her, and so will Binge Blog. We’re continuing on — and I have some wild ideas coming — but it will not be the same.
So please, join me in lifting a glass of your preferred drink (it’s Friday, it’s fine) and toasting to Niki. Then watch a few episodes of "Riverdale," the first and one of the only things I have written about that Niki has actually seen, and definitely her favorite. Then, and only then: Dive into this week’s picks.
"Inside Llewyn Davis" (2013)
Amazon Prime Video, rated R, 105 minutes
Maybe my favorite Coen brothers movie, "Inside Llewyn Davis" follow the titular troubadour (Oscar Isaac) as he navigates his way through the Greenwich Village folk singing life in the 1960s, which means a lot of performances, sleeping on friend's couches and learning to be less of an asshole about everything.
It's great for a lot of reasons, Isaac's performance among them, but I want to focus on one in particular: a performance of "Please, Mr. Kennedy" by Isaac, Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver.
Watch it, and then watch it again. You find something new to enjoy every time. Sure, the obvious yodel of Adam Driver's "UH OH!" is a highlight, but then you have Isaac's "Puh-puh-please" after squabbling about it with Timberlake in the preamble. You have them rhyming "hero" with "clear … o." This is all before you realize the song is a protest song against space exploration, for some reason, and the main defense is "I can't go; I'm too tall." What a weird thing this is, but the harmonies slide as if across ice, and the song will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
The rest of the film's songs are good too, my favorite being "Fare Thee Well." (It's unfair that Isaac can out-sing a canary too, huh?) But I've watched that "Please Mr. Kennedy" clip probably 100 times. It fascinates me to no end.
"The Old Man & the Gun" (2018)
HBO, rated PG-13, 93 minutes
The theme of time slipping us by — a theme of all of director David Lowery's films, in one way or another — is never more present than it is in "The Old Man & the Gun." It is supposedly Robert Redford's last starring performance, and he plays Forrest Tucker, a professional bank robber (and a real guy) who has been in and out of prison his whole life. The "out" has mostly come from escaping the joint. Whenever he escapes, instead of going to Australia or somewhere international, he stays in America and goes right back to his life of crime. Tucker, now 70, is no different in his old age.
One other thing about Tucker: He is exceptionally polite while robbing the banks. He operates in clear daylight with a team of friends (Danny Glover and Tom Waits), dressed to the nines, and they never physically hurt anyone. Even though Tucker tells bank managers he has a gun, no one has ever seen him use it or even seen proof of its existence.
When Tucker runs into Jewel (Sissy Spacek) while on the lamb, the two spark an obvious connection, and Tucker is forced to choose between her and his passion before he gets caught by federal agent John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who has been chasing him for years. Why is robbing banks his passion? The film explores his backstory a bit but leaves the question mostly unanswered. Why do I write for a living? I'm not sure. I just do. Some things are beautiful because they are unknowable.
The film also deals with Tucker realizing he's getting older, and it's not hard to see similarities between Tucker and Redford himself. That's why I wouldn't be shocked if Redford returns to the film world in a few years. Some things you just can't quit, no matter how good quitting might be for you.
This is the perfect film to watch on the weekend at about 6 p.m. It's relaxing, and when the movie finishes, dusk will be breaking. That's the most nostalgic time, to me, and this movie has nostalgia in spades. It's light and extremely well made, and it's one of my favorite movies of last year. I bet it will make you smile.
Quote of the Week:
Stephen Beckley Jr. (Robert Longstreet) on a conversation he had with Tucker (Redford) in "The Old Man & the Gun":
"I remember I sat down with him once, and I said, 'Forrest, surely there's an easier way for somebody in your position to make a living.' And he looked at me, and he said, 'Brother, I'm not talking about making a living. I'm just talking about living.'"