2022-2023 Movie roundup
(Updated 2-13-23: YOUR PLACE OR MINE) It’s screener season in Hollywood, when members of the film guilds are deluged with free screeners for awards consideration. I’ve been doing little movie reviews of some of the nominated films on FaceBook (generating some really interesting and insightful conversations!) and thought I’d file them here, in no particular order, and keep updating.
I’m not a film critic! That’s not the point here. As a professional writer, I am always looking at movies and TV to figure out how I am responding and what storytelling techniques the filmmakers are using to get that reaction from me. And I’m especially, always interested in theme.
The whole bottom line of these Screenwriting Tricks books, classes, posts and videos is to grow as writers with every movie, show, and book we watch or read. It’s the best job in the world!
I watched this on a screener, which is not the way I’d want to see any Spielberg film— but it did mean I was concentrating on the writing. Ideally I’d watch it again before I ventured any statements about the structure, but there are a LOT more screeners to get through, so I’ll do my best with one viewing!
Biopics (yes, I know, it’s fictionalized) are notoriously episodic, and The Fabelmans sometimes feels that way, but mostly because it’s too long. The structure itself is pretty tight: presenting four key events that obviously impacted Spielberg’s early life and passion for film:
The trauma and wonder of experiencing his first motion picture in a theater, and taking up the camera to process that experience
Falling in love with film through the movies he shoots using his sisters, scout troop and friends as cast
Accidently discovering his mother’s emotional infidelity through images inadvertantly captured on his home movies of a family camping trip
Taking a unique revenge on anti-Semitic bullies who tormented him in high school with his documentary of “Senior Ditch Day.”
Laced through that are key scenes showing mentorship/ influence by several important adults in his life: his mother, his Uncle Boris, his “Uncle” Bennie, his father, and (briefly) John Ford, in a shorter resolution sequence.
That “four key events” structure is an effective template for anyone writing a biopic or a memoir to look at—obviously you can have more events, but this is a great example of choosing wisely, organizing those events with an overall focus (how these experiences were life lessons in the power of film), and giving each event enough time for us to experience them fully.
I thought the layers of the bully’s reaction to the Senior Ditch Day film was the most memorable of all of them; I keep thinking about it and how Spielberg himself (really beautifully played by Gabriel LaBelle) wasn’t completely sure of his own feelings/motives.
Besides that, I have lingering ambivalence about Michelle Williams’ performance. I’m a fan, and I thought she was truly phenomenal in one of the great series of the last few years: FOSSE/VERDON.
But this performance as Spielberg’s mother was uncomfortably over the top. I get it, it’s not supposed to be comfortable, and it’s accurate as a depiction of mental illness—something probably biochemical but also the result of repression by a deeplly misogynist society. While she was of a different generation, my mother suffered from the same repression — and I’m wondering what you, all my friends with mothers (!) thought of the character and how Williams played her. I'd love to hear!
YOUR PLACE OR MINE
See anything else that any of the people involved have ever acted in, written or directed. Literally. Anything. Else.
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN
I’m a huge fan of Martin McDonagh and look forward almost obsessively to anything of his that comes out, play or film. Banshees is gorgeously and meticulously designed and shot… you LIVE the lonely beauty and the claustrophobia of that village and that island. Brendan Gleeson is always superb, but Colin Farrell hasn’t been this good in - maybe decades. There are three other unforgettable characters, mythic really, heartbreakingly realized by Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan and (more in a terrifying way) Sheila Flitton. And as Craig pointed out, that quirk of McDonagh’s - there’s always a dwarf, this time a tiny donkey.
So much has gone on these last few years, politically and personally, that I’ve become pretty numb. This film left me roiling, and it’s not comfortable AT ALL. Banshees is a true tragedy, and horror and pity is what it evokes. It is unquestionably one of the best films of the year and possibly THE best (I haven’t seen everything yet!). But it packs such a raw, emotional and existential punch that, weeks later, I’m still not sure I’m glad I saw it. I don’t know if I need to be asking myself things like “Are all men that intrinsically violent and, well, insane?” (In that way this movie is probably the best argument for getting beyond binary and gender I’ve ever seen.)
And I don’t know if I needed to feel any more grief on top of all the other grief. But then again - isn’t NOT feeling — worse?
Two quotes sum up my lingering sense of it:
“A book must be an ice axe to break the sea frozen inside us.” Franz Kafka, Letter to Oskar Pollak
“The heart of a man is stonier.” Stephen King, PET SEMATARY
And how about you all?
Yes, I would 100% rather be posting about The Woman King or Women Talking right now, and I will, but those aren’t movies we could take three kids under 10 to over the weekend, if you see what I mean. So. Avatar was just nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture. And I have no little rage that once again there are NO female directors nominated despite breathtaking filmmaking in the above by Sarah Polley and Gina Prince Bythewood.
Avatar is in large swathes—boring. They could easily have edited an hour out of the first hour. But the 3D is phenomenal. There is no way to see even a fraction of it and not understand that this is pushing filmmaking to a whole other level. The story is dumb and derivative. The dialogue is riddled with groaners. But let’s be realistic: there is a large percentage of that audience who is not there to follow a plot; who have in fact taken enhancements that will almost guarantee that they will not be following the plot. And if I were in California instead of the UK, I would certainly have been more than happy to go see it without children and with edibles, and participate in an even more multidimensional experience. (Although the incomprehensible military plotline with those massive guns and biceps could’ve taken a very dark turn….)
To be fair, I didn’t make it to the end (more precisely, the kids didn’t make it), and the third act is supposed to be the best of the movie.
On one hand I can’t really argue with movies being nominated for expanding an art form. But I still don’t think Avatar is worthy of a Best Picture nomination. Women Talking (nominated) and The Woman King (not nominated) are pushing the boundaries of film even more, taking us into worlds we have never seen before because the male establishment of Hollywood traditionally has not given a flying f&*( about those worlds. So more about them, soon.
Oh, and the oldest thought Avatar was boring but worth seeing part of for the 3-D, too.
This is painful to write, but this one was a devastating disappointment. It’s not that it’s not a good movie on the surface. But if you’re going to document Weinstein, for the love of humanity, don’t make a film about the reporters covering the story! The leads were excellent, but the filmmakers’ focus was all wrong. They completely missed the multi-leveled horror of the crimes of this monster and the continuing repercussions in the film business. In a relatively small industry, hundreds at least and much more likely thousands of women at all professional levels were horrendously effected on personal and professional levels—either by direct contact with this psychopath or by the ripple effect of a work hierarchy that hundreds or thousands of men were complicit in and directly benefitted from, financially and professionally. These Weinstein proteges are still benefitting from his patronage today, while their just as talented female counterparts were diminished, degraded, or driven from the business.
I’m not just disappointed - I’m really worried that because this movie was such a misfire and consequently such a financial flop, backers now won’t finance a movie (much more appropriately a series) about the REAL story. I can just hear it: “#MeToo is over.” Sickening, all of it.
My recommendation: See it, support it, but know that it’s just a tiny fraction on the periphery of the story.
Here’s more of it: Everybody F-ing Knew.
MORE FEMALE DIRECTED FILMS:
Via my brilliant screenwriter friend Stephen Volk:
More female directors that are have been shamefully overlooked this year - Charlotte Colbert (SHE WILL) / Sally El Hasaini (THE SWIMMERS) / Maryna Er Gorbach (KLONDIKE)* / Agnieszka Smoczynska (THE SILENT TWINS) / Georgia Oakley (BLUE JEAN)
I'd add EARWIG, but that is 2021.
*KLONDIKE is probably my film of 2022: unforgettable, haunting masterpiece from Ukraine.
And via authorfriend Maria Alexander: SOFT AND QUIET
Maria is so right on this one —I was also blown away by the filmmaking and visceral, topical themes of SOFT AND QUIET. Not a horror movie but skin-crawling real life horror (I won't say anything more). Shot as real time and mostly one take. Written, produced and directed by Beth de Araújo in her directorial debut, with an all-female but one cast.
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE
This insanely successful and awarded absurdist sci fi action adventure comedy has so much for writers to learn from I’m breaking down some of its tricks in my next posts here. Stay tuned!
It’s going to be hard to find the words to express how much I hated THE MENU. The first half hour moves fast, with gorgeous shots of the island and the food. And then it gets stuck in one room and devolves into this ridiculous, embarrassing, interminably repetitive, static, pointless excess that’s even more masturbatory than the foodie culture it’s supposedly sending up. And PLEASE - the main female character turns out to be a hooker who “likes her work?” I am so sick of a bunch of bro filmmakers being given ungodly money to make this kind of regressive horse****.
What a waste of resources, cast and time - I’ll never get those two hours of my life back. If you like Eat The Rich satire, save yourself and go for the gorgeous, sly, hilarious and thought-provoking THE WHITE LOTUS instead. I wasn’t crazy about GLASS ONION but it was a masterpiece compared to this.
I wish someone had warned me.
I love our book cons and festivals, but I sure do miss the wild scene at Park City. New films all day with great filmmaker Q&As after, wild parties all night, that extra edge of knowing you could die out there in a blizzard while trying to find your way home. And electrifying finds like these: JUSTICE, Doug Liman/Amy Herdy documentary made in secret, doing the real investigation of sexual assaults by Beer O’Kavanaugh that the FBI and Senate should have done.
‘According to the documentary, the FBI to this day hasn’t reached out to those who sent in tips about the allegations against Kavanaugh for formal investigation. "I do hope this triggers outrage," said producer Amy Herdy — ultimately leading to "a real investigation with subpoena powers."‘
‘According to Liman, the chilling effect against accusers remains: "This was the kind of movie where people are terrified," he said. "The machinery that's put in place against anyone who dared speak up, we knew that machinery would be turned on this film... We live in a climate where no matter what we got in this movie, the people who support the status quo would keep supporting it."‘
Bring on the suggestions! I’ll never make it through the screener pile-up without some direction!