This week’s picks give “advice” to struggling businesses and search for truth in a cold, dark world.
There isn’t much movie news to bring you this week, but since Binge Blog didn’t run last week, I’m going to bring you my Oscar picks instead. To clarify, these are who I think deserve to win, not who will necessarily walk away with the trophy. And I’m not doing every award because you can’t make me.
BEST ACTOR: Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody” (A weak category overall this year, with one massive snub we’ll talk about below.)
BEST ACTRESS: Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali, “Green Book” (But Sam Elliott is equally deserving, in my opinion.)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Emma Stone, “The Favourite”
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (Maybe my hottest take: This is the best superhero movie with a black protagonist of 2018. Sorry, “Black Panther.” You’re great, too. This is better.)
VISUAL EFFECTS: “First Man” (I’m including this because I need to vent about how “First Man” was jobbed for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director and Best Original Score. It rules in 100 different ways, and it made be bawl, and I implore you to seek it out.)
BEST DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”
BEST PICTURE: “Roma” (#JusticeForFirstMan #AndAlsoAnnihilationButThatIsMoreUnderstandableIGuess)
I hope these are less controversial than my candy takes, but I somehow doubt it. Hopefully my recommendations make up for it.
“Nathan For You” (2013-2017)
Hulu, rated TV-14, 30 minutes, 32 episodes
I have spent 15 minutes trying to figure out a way of describing the totality of what “Nathan For You” is, but the beauty of the show is it cannot be easily summated in a sentence.
So here is what I will say instead. “Nathan For You” is Nathan Fielder’s vehicle for pitching out-there ideas to different small businesses. (He graduated from one of Canada’s top business schools with “really good grades,” he says in the show’s title sequence, as his report cards show C’s and B’s.) These take the form of a gas station offering rebates on gas if customers hike up a mountain and find the single rebate box placed there, or convincing a real estate agent to advertise that all her houses are haunted, or creating a coffee shop called Dumb Starbucks that is technically parody and therefore an art exhibit and exempt from lawsuits from (Actual) Starbucks.
There are also moments within the implementation of ideas that seem surreal. “Come on, these must be scripted,” you think, but the show swears they are not, and honestly, Nathan’s reactions to them are too visceral for them to be fake. Like when the owner of the gas station tells Nathan he drinks his grandson’s urine for good luck. Or when the real estate agent, out of nowhere and after quite some time has passed in the “ghost realtor” scheme, tells Nathan she once had a sexual encounter with a spirit while on vacation in Switzerland. These revelations have nothing to do with the task at hand. Nathan is just skilled at finding the absolute weirdest people on the planet.
“Nathan For You” is also not a business show at all. It is, perhaps, the show that has made me laugh the hardest and most consistently of any show of my adult TV-watching life, and it is also, perhaps, the show that has made me feel the most sympathy for its main character, Nathan, who is socially awkward and obviously desperate for relationships, of both the romantic and platonic kind. The show is as much as it is Nathan’s search for companionship as it is his ideas, though the show would never admit that.
How much of the Nathan we see is a character, and how much is the real Nathan Fielder? We’ll probably never know, as the line between them is drawn razor-thin, especially in the movie-length series finale “Finding Frances,” which sees Fielder traverse the country in search of the long-lost love of a Bill Gates impersonator he met earlier in the series. (Don’t ask.)
Watching the character spiral is part of the show’s intrigue and what take the show from “entertaining” to “art,” but if you’re just in it for the jokes, don’t worry, you’ll be plenty satisfied. The best way to convince someone to watch this show is to watch a short clip of it, I think, so here you go (NSFW, unless you work at a cool and chill place):
Yeah. That’s the stuff.
“First Reformed” (2018)
Amazon Prime Video/Kanopy, rated R, 113 minutes
If you have heard of this movie, you have probably heard of it because of Ethan Hawke’s performance as the disillusioned Rev. Ernst Toller getting snubbed by the Oscar nominations. This is a valid complaint, because Hawke rules, both generally and in “First Reformed.” But there are more reasons to see this oddball of a thinking person’s film, and people deserve to know what they are, because the film stands on its own merits.
Reason one: Amanda Seyfried is in this movie. Amanda Seyfried kicks ass, and has since her “Mean Girls” days. In this film, she plays Mary Mensana, a woman who tries to convince Toller to talk to her husband, Michael. See, Mary is pregnant, and wants to keep the baby, but Michael wants her to get an abortion, because… well, the reasons why set up the rest of the film. Let’s just say the movie’s themes are quite different than what I expected. Anyway, Mary wants Toller to convince Michael to let her keep the baby, and Toller and Michael agree to meet. Does Toller succeed? I guess that depends on what is meant by "succeed."
Reason two: Cedric Kyles, aka Cedric the Entertainer, is in this movie. He plays Joel Jeffers, a priest at a megachurch across the street from Toller’s tiny congregation. It is a meta bit of casting to have a man with “entertainer” in his name play a religious superstar. But if you are religious and worried that “First Reformed” is designed to crap on Christianity, there’s no need. The film asks a lot of questions — important question, I would argue — but never acts like it has all the answers. It wants you to ponder, not lose your faith. Christianity Today loves it, in case you need more convincing. And Cedric is good as Jeffers, a surface-level nice guy whose priorities, it turns out, may be slightly backwards.
Reason three: “First Reformed” is written and directed by Paul Schrader, the guy who wrote “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull” and directed “American Gigolo” and “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.” He, unlike Hawke, did receive an Oscars nomination, for best original screenplay. And it’s a tough thing, writing about big ideas, because if you’re not smart enough to write about these ideas intelligently, the script is going to sound like a high school theology class. It’s the same problem movies about supposed geniuses face; You have to be a genius for your characters to think like a genius. Thankfully, Schrader is sharp enough to make the heavy conversations work, and in some cases devastate.
Reason four: This film has some real what-the-f*** moments, and the ending is one of them. It didn’t work for me when I saw it, but many other people think it is great. No matter on which side of that line you fall, it’s good that pivotal scenes can provoke a split reaction in the masses while the film itself remains almost universally loved by critics. (It’s at 4 out of 5 stars on Letterboxd, so film audiences like it too.)
Reason five: ETHAN HAWKE ARE YOU KIDDING ME. HE REALLY DID THAT, HUH. HE DID THE DAMN THING. WOW, WHAT A REAL ONE.
I'm being intentionally coy about where the film goes, but trust me when I say that Hawke puts all of himself into the character of Toller. I use the word visceral a lot (too much) but there’s no word better to describe his performance. He’s unfathomably good in a role that demands so much from him, emotionally and physically. If you miss this performance, you’re missing an acting masterclass, and you have no one to blame but yourself.
I don’t think this was the *best* movie of 2018 — how you feel about it will likely depend on how the final act lands for you — but it might have been the most astounding, which counts for almost as much as far as recommendations are concerned.