Movies to See Right Now

Sally Hawkins in THE SHAPE OF WATER

It’s February, and here’s the good news: this is when you can binge the Oscar-nominated movies.  Here’s the bad news: this is when movie distributors hold their noses and slip the really bad new movies into theaters.   So binge away on the best of the year.  ( I’ve also written If I Picked the Oscars – before the nominations were announced.) The first two are, deservedly, the Oscar favorites:

  • The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro’s imaginative, operatic inter-species romance may become the most-remembered film of 2017.
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri a powerful combination of raw emotion and dark hilarity with an acting tour de force from Frances McDormand and a slew of great actors.
  • Steven Spielberg’s docudrama on the Pentagon Papers, The Post, is both a riveting thriller and an astonishingly insightful portrait of Katharine Graham by Meryl Streep. It’s one of the best movies of the year – and one of the most important. Also see my notes on historical figures in The Post.
  • Pixar’s Coco is a moving and authentic dive into Mexican culture, and it’s visually spectacular.
  • Lady Bird , an entirely fresh coming of age comedy that explores the mother-daughter relationship – an impressive debut for Greta Gerwig as a writer and director.
  • I, Tonya is a marvelously entertaining movie, filled with wicked wit and sympathetic social comment.
  • Phantom Thread, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, is Paul Thomas Anderson’s rapturously beautiful story of a strong-willed man and two equally strong-willed women; unexpectedly witty.
  • The Florida Project is Sean Baker’s remarkably authentic and evocative glimpse into the lives of children in poverty, full of the exuberance of childhood.
  • Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman brings alive Winston Churchill in an overlooked historical moment – when it looked like Hitler was going to win WW II.
Frances McDormand and Peter Dinklage in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Here’s the rest of my Best Movies of 2017 – So Far. Most of the ones from earlier this year are available on video.  Other current choices:

  • The Disaster Artist, James Franco’s hilarious docucomedy about the making of one of the most unintentionally funny movies of all time.
  • The Final Year, a wistful inside documentary about the Obama Admistration’s foreign policy during his last year.
  • The ambitious satire The Square.
  • Call Me By Your Name is an extraordinarily beautiful story of sexual awakening set in a luscious Italian summer, but I didn’t buy the impossibly cool parents or the two pop ballad musical interludes.

My Stream of the Week is the riveting psychodrama Phoenix, with its superb performance by Nina Hoss and its WOWZER ending. Phoenix was one of my Best Movies of 2015. It is available to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon Video, YouTube and Google Play.

On February 13, Turner Classic Movies presents Babette’s Feast (1987), one of my Best Foodie Movies. Two aged 19th century Danish spinster sisters have taken in a French refugee as their housekeeper. The sisters carry on their father’s severe religious sect, which rejects earthly pleasures. After fourteen years, the housekeeper wins the lottery and, in gratitude, spends all her winnings on the ingredients for a banquet that she prepares for the sisters and their friends. As the dinner builds, the colors of the film become warmer and brighter, reflecting the sheer carnality of the repast. The smugly ascetic and humorless guests become less and less able to resist pleasure of the epicurean delights.The feast’s visual highlights are Caille en Sarcophage avec Sauce Perigourdine (quail in puff pastry shell with foie gras and truffle sauce) and Savarin au Rhum avec des Figues et Fruit Glacée (rum sponge cake with figs and glacéed fruits). This was the first Danish film to win Best Foreign Language Oscar.

Babette’s Feast

Stream of the week: PHOENIX – riveting psychodrama, wowzer ending

Ronald Zehfeld and nina Hoss in PHOENIX
Ronald Zehfeld and Nina Hoss in PHOENIX

In the German psychological drama Phoenix, Nina Hoss plays Nelly, an Auschwitz survivor whose face has been destroyed by a Nazi gunshot; her sister has arranged for plastic surgery to reconstruct her face. When Nelly gets her new face, we accompany her on an intense quest.

Writer-director Christian Petzhold is an economical story-teller, respectful of the audience’s intelligence. Watching a border guard’s reaction to her disfigurement and hearing snippets from the sister and the plastic surgeon, we gradually piece together her back story. The doctor asks what seems like a very good question – Why would a Jewish woman successfully rooted in London return to Germany in 1938? The answer to that question involves a Woman Loving Too Much.

The sister plans to re-settle both of them in Israel, but Nelly is obsessed with finding her husband. She does find her husband, who firmly believes that Nelly is dead. But he notes that the post-surgery Nelly resembles his pre-war wife, and he has a reason to have her impersonate the real Nelly. So he has the real Nelly (who he doesn’t think IS the real Nelly) pretending to be herself. It’s kind of a reverse version of The Return of Martin Guerre.

It’s the ultimate masquerade. How would you feel while listening to your spouse describe you in detail to a stranger?

Nina Hoss is an uncommonly gifted actress. Here she acts with her face fully bandaged for the first third of the film. We ache for her Nelly’s obsessive need for her husband – and when she finally finds him, she still doesn’t really have him.

As the husband, Ronald Zehfeld shows us the magnetism that attracts Nina, along with the brusque purposefulness that he thinks he needs to survive and flourish in the post-war Germany.

Christian Petzold and Nina Hoss collaborated on the recent film Barbara (he won the Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear for his work). About Barbara, I wrote

“Given that’s it difficult to imagine how anyone else could have improved Barbara, I’ll be looking for Petzold’s next movie.”

Well, here it is, and it’s gripping.

The ending of the film is both surprising and satisfying. Several people in my audience let out an audible “Wow!” at the same time.

Phoenix was one of my Best Movies of 2015. It is available to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon Video, YouTube and Google Play.

Movies to See Right Now

Charlotte Rampling in 45 YEARS
Charlotte Rampling in 45 YEARS

This weekend  45 Years becomes the final film on my Best Movies of 2015 to have been released in the Bay Area. Don’t miss Charlotte Rampling’s enthralling Oscar-nominated performance.  And five more from my 2015 list:

  • The Revenant, an awesome and authentic survival tale that must be seen on the BIG SCREEN.
  • Creed, the newest and entirely fresh chapter in the Rocky franchise; it’s about the internal struggle of three people, not just The Big Fight.
  • The Irish romantic drama Brooklyn is an audience-pleaser with a superb performance by Saoirse Ronan.
  • Spotlight – a riveting, edge-of-your-seat drama with some especially compelling performances.
  • The Big Short – a supremely entertaining thriller – both funny and anger-provoking.

Plus two more good choices:

  • The Hateful Eight, a Quentin Tarantino showcase for Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins and Jennifer Jason Leigh, but a movie that’s not for everyone.
  • Carol – a vividly told tale of forbidden love.

I’m not a fan of Joy or The Danish Girl.

My Stream of the Week is the riveting German psychodrama Phoenix with its WOWZER ending. Phoenix is one of my Best Movies of 2015. It is available to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon Video, YouTube and Google Play.

This Sunday, January 31, Turner Classic Movies presents the ultra-suspenseful Diabolique from “the French Hitchcock” Henri-Georges Clouzot and the American film noir Phantom Lady, with Elisha Cook, Jr.’s orgasmic drumming scene – how did they get THAT by the censors?

Also this week on TCM: Lawrence of Arabia, The Sting, The Third Man, Cool Hand Luke, East of Eden, The Dirty Dozen.

Elisha Cook, Jr. and a nice of gams in PHANTOM LADY
Elisha Cook, Jr. and some nice gams in PHANTOM LADY

Stream of the week: PHOENIX – riveting psychodrama, wowzer ending

Ronald Zehfeld and nina Hoss in PHOENIX
Ronald Zehfeld and Nina Hoss in PHOENIX

In the German psychological drama Phoenix, Nina Hoss plays Nelly, an Auschwitz survivor whose face has been destroyed by a Nazi gunshot; her sister has arranged for plastic surgery to reconstruct her face. When Nelly gets her new face, we accompany her on an intense quest.

Writer-director Christian Petzhold is an economical story-teller, respectful of the audience’s intelligence. Watching a border guard’s reaction to her disfigurement and hearing snippets from the sister and the plastic surgeon, we gradually piece together her back story. The doctor asks what seems like a very good question – Why would a Jewish woman successfully rooted in London return to Germany in 1938? The answer to that question involves a Woman Loving Too Much.

The sister plans to re-settle both of them in Israel, but Nelly is obsessed with finding her husband. She does find her husband, who firmly believes that Nelly is dead. But he notes that the post-surgery Nelly resembles his pre-war wife, and he has a reason to have her impersonate the real Nelly. So he has the real Nelly (who he doesn’t think IS the real Nelly) pretending to be herself. It’s kind of a reverse version of The Return of Martin Guerre.

It’s the ultimate masquerade. How would you feel while listening to your spouse describe you in detail to a stranger?

Nina Hoss is an uncommonly gifted actress. Here she acts with her face fully bandaged for the first third of the film. We ache for her Nelly’s obsessive need for her husband – and when she finally finds him, she still doesn’t really have him.

As the husband, Ronald Zehfeld shows us the magnetism that attracts Nina, along with the brusque purposefulness that he thinks he needs to survive and flourish in the post-war Germany.

Christian Petzold and Nina Hoss collaborated on the recent film Barbara (he won the Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear for his work). About Barbara, I wrote

“Given that’s it difficult to imagine how anyone else could have improved Barbara, I’ll be looking for Petzold’s next movie.”

Well, here it is, and it’s gripping.

The ending of the film is both surprising and satisfying. Several people in my audience let out an audible “Wow!” at the same time.

Phoenix is one of my Best Movies of 2015.  It is available to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon Video, YouTube and Google Play.

Best Movies of 2015

Domhnall Gleeson in EX MACHINA
Domhnall Gleeson in EX MACHINA

Visit my Best Movies of 2015 for my list of the year’s best films, complete with images, trailers and my comments on each movie – as well as their availability to rent on DVD and to stream. My top ten movies for 2015 are:

  1. Ex Machina
  2. Wild Tales 
  3. Leviathan
  4. Brooklyn
  5. Youth
  6. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl 
  7. Creed
  8. Spotlight
  9. Phoenix
  10. The Martian

The other best films of the year are: The End of the Tour, Love & Mercy,  The Big Short, Corn Island, Mustang, I’ll See You in My Dreams,  ’71, The Look of Silence and  The Grief of Others.

I’m saving space for these promising 2015 films that I haven’t seen yet: The Revenant, Joy, The Hateful Eight and 45 Years.

2015 at the Movies: most overlooked

MEET THE PATELS
MEET THE PATELS

This blog exists because I’m an evangelist for outstanding films that may be overlooked by people who will appreciate them.  You don’t need ME to tell you that The Big Short, Creed, Spotlight and The Martian are good movies.  What’s important to me is that you don’t miss the less well-known gems:

  • The unforgettable coming of age dramedy Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. It’s available streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play and now available to rent on DVD from Netflix and Redbox.
  • The extraordinary Russian drama Leviathan, a searing indictment of society in post-Soviet Russia. Leviathan is available streaming on Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Flixster.
  • The hilariously dark Argentine comedy Wild Tales. It’s available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu and Xbox Video.
  • The gentle, thoughtful and altogether fresh dramedy I’ll See You In My Dreams with Blythe Danner, available to stream from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.
  • Phoenix from Germany – a riveting psychodrama with a wowzer ending.  It is available to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon Video, YouTube and Google Play.
  • The brilliant psychological drama 99 Homes, available on DVD early in 2016.
  • The delightful family centric Meet the Patels – a documentary funnier than most comedies.
  • The character-driven  suspense thriller The Gift.
Rebecca Hall, Jason Bateman and Joel Edgerton in THE GIFT
Rebecca Hall, Jason Bateman and Joel Edgerton in THE GIFT

 

Talk about overlooked – one of the year’s very best films, the exquisite and lyrical Georgian drama Corn Island, didn’t even get a US release. Neither did some other wonderful films that I saw at Cinequest: the narrative feature The Hamsters and the documentaries Aspie Seeks Love, Meet the Hitlers and Sweden’s Coolest National Team. Here’s hoping that I can tell you where to see them soon.

CORN ISLAND
CORN ISLAND

Movies to See Right Now

Ronald Zehfeld and nina Hoss in PHOENIX
Ronald Zehfeld and nina Hoss in PHOENIX

The German psychological drama Phoenix is taut, intense and has a superb ending – surprising and satisfying. Phoenix may only be in theaters for another week or so.

Going Clear: The Prison of Belief, documentarian Alex Gibney’s devastating expose of Scientology, originally shown on HBO in April, is now in theaters.

Other possibilities:

  • The End of the Tour is the smartest road trip movie ever, starring Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg. Be sure to see it. It’s the only movie on my list of Best Movies of 2015 – So Far that’s currently playing in theaters.
  • Joel Edgerton’s The Gift is a satisfying thriller – and much more.
  • In Mr. Holmes, Ian McKellen is superb as the aged Sherlock Holmes, re-opening his final case.
  • Woody Allen’s Irrational Man is not bad, but empty.

My Stream of the Week is I’ll See You In My Dreams, available to stream from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

On September 17, don’t miss the Turner Classic Movies cablecast of the classic film noir Nightfall (1956). Aldo Ray plays a hard luck guy who is framed and hunted by both the bad guys and the cops when he meets a beautiful but broke model (Anne Bancroft). It’s a crackerjack plot, and the final confrontation involves death by snow plow. Nightfall is one of my Overlooked Noir.

Anne Bancroft and Aldo Ray in NIGHTFALL
Anne Bancroft and Aldo Ray in NIGHTFALL

PHOENIX: riveting psychodrama, wowzer ending

Ronald Zehfeld and nina Hoss in PHOENIX
Ronald Zehfeld and nina Hoss in PHOENIX

In the German psychological drama Phoenix, Nina Hoss plays Nelly, an Auschwitz survivor whose face has been destroyed by a Nazi gunshot; her sister has arranged for plastic surgery to reconstruct her face.  When Nelly gets her new face, we accompany her on an intense quest.

Writer-director Christian Petzhold is an economical story-teller, respectful of the audience’s intelligence.  Watching a border guard’s reaction to her disfigurement and hearing snippets from the sister and the plastic surgeon, we gradually piece together her back story.  The doctor asks what seems like a very good question – Why would a Jewish woman successfully rooted in London return to Germany in 1938?  The answer to that question involves a Woman Loving Too Much.

The sister plans to re-settle both of them in Israel, but Nelly is obsessed with finding her husband.  She does find her husband, who firmly believes that Nelly is dead.  But he notes  that the post-surgery Nelly resembles his pre-war wife, and he has a reason to have her impersonate the real Nelly.  So he has the real Nelly (who he doesn’t think IS the real Nelly) pretending to be herself.  It’s kind of a reverse version of The Return of Martin Guerre.

It’s the ultimate masquerade.  How would you feel while listening to your spouse describe you in detail to a stranger?

Nina Hoss is an uncommonly gifted actress.  Here she acts with her face fully bandaged for the first third of the film.  We ache for her Nelly’s obsessive need for her husband – and when she finally finds him, but she still doesn’t really have him.

As the husband, Ronald Zehfeld shows us the magnetism that attracts Nina, along with the brusque purposefulness that he thinks he needs to survive and flourish in the post-war Germany.

Christian Petzold and Nina Hoss collaborated on the recent film Barbara  (he won the Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear for his work).  About Barbara, I wrote

“Given that’s it difficult to imagine how anyone else could have improved Barbara, I’ll be looking for Petzold’s next movie.”

Well, here it is, and it’s gripping.

The ending of the film is both surprising and satisfying.  Several people in my audience let out an audible “Wow!” at the same time.