Movies to See Right Now

Sally Hawkins in THE SHAPE OF WATER

The Oscar nominations are out, and I recommend some (not all) of the nominated films. I’ve also written If I Picked the Oscars – before the nominations were announced. The best movies of the year are in theaters right now, and here are the very best:

  • 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.
  • The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro’s imaginative, operatic inter-species romance may become the most-remembered film of 2017.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Don’t forget what is sure to be one of the best Bay Area cinema experiences of 2018 – the Noir City festival of film noir in San Francisco. Don’t miss out on Noir City’s bang up final weekend, with The Man Who Cheated Himself, Roadblock, The Big Heat and wickedly trashy Beverly Michaels in Wicked Woman.

Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford in THE BIG HEAT

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.
  • Diane Kruger’s award-wining performance in the German thriller In the Fade.
  • 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.

In a tribute to Noir City, my DVD of the Week is I Wake Up Screaming, an early noir with a groundbreaking performance by the tragic Laird Cregar. I Wake Up Screaming plays occasionally on Turner Classic Movies. The DVD is available with a Netflix subscription, or you can buy it from Amazon. I Wake Up Screaming is on my list of Overlooked Noir.

On February 5, Turner Classic Movies airs one of the greatest political movies of all time – The Times of Harvey Milk, the documentary Oscar winner from 1984. It’s the real story behind the 2008 Sean Penn narrative Milk – and with the original witnesses. If you pay attention, The Times of Harvey Milk can teach you everything from how to win a local campaign to how to build a societal movement. One of the best political movies ever. And watch for the dog poop scene!

THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK
THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK

It’s Election Eve…

THE WAR ROOM
THE WAR ROOM

It’s the eve of the Presidential election, and we need to find some relief from the current soul-sucking campaign in historical or fictional politics.  So here are three great movies about political campaigns:

  • The Candidate (1970):  Probably the best political movie of all time.  Robert Redford stars as an activist ideologue who resists following his father’s path into electoral office.  Once he’s in, he embraces winning with the help of a savvy consultant (Peter Boyle).   Anyone who has run a campaign will relate to this roller coaster.   Especially if you’ve set up an event with a bad sound system.  Or if you’ve been late to live television appearance.  Or if you’ve swiped an opponent’s literature when door-hanging.  Some scenes were shot on location in the Bay Area, including a banquet in a San Francisco hotel and a speech in San Jose’s Eastridge Mall.  The Candidate is available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.
  • The Last Hurrah (1958):  The master director John Ford is famous for westerns, but this portrait of an embattled incumbent is a classic of political cinema.  Spencer Tracy plays the leader of an urban political machine. He’s got years of accomplishments and a machine in his favor, but his newspaper-owning antagonist is running an empty suit against him in a campaign increasingly fought on the newfangled medium of television.  He’s been so successful for so long that his ward heelers have become complacent, and he’s smelling the campaign getting away from him.  The Last Hurrah is available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.
  • The War Room (1993): the brilliant documentary of the FIRST successful Clinton for president campaign. We get to watch from the inside as the first Baby Boomer takes out a sitting President from the Greatest Generation, aided by the new masters of the spin and the newly emerged 24-hour news cycle. Remember – this was the campaign steered by the on-again-off-again-on-again whims of H. Ross Perot. What seemed at the time as cut throat tactics are quaint today. And viewers will become wistful for time when you could kill a news story, no matter how sensational, if it were unverified or untrue. The War Room is available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon Instant, iTunes and Hulu (subscription).

Plus tonight, Turner Classic Movies brings us two brilliant political documentaries:

  • Primary documents the Wisconsin Democratic primary election campaign in 1960. This was a key stepping stone in John F. Kennedy’s road to the White House because it was a chance for him to demonstrate that he appealed to voters outside the Northeast. Kennedy’s rival Hubert Humphrey was favored because Wisconsin neighbors Humphrey’s home state of Minnesota. Primary is both a time capsule of 1960 politics and an inside look at the Kennedy family unleashed in a campaign. There’s an amazing scene where Humphrey appeals to a handful of flinty farmers in a school gym – he’s giving his all and he ain’t getting much back. Only 60 minutes long, Primary has been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. The great documentarian D.A. Pennebaker, who went on to direct Monterey Pop and The War Room, shot, edited and recorded sound for Primary.
  • The Times of Harvey Milk – the documentary Oscar winner from 1984. It’s the real story behind the 2008 Sean Penn narrative Milk – and with the original witnesses. If you pay attention, The Times of Harvey Milk can teach you everything from how to win a local campaign to how to build a societal movement. One of the best political movies ever. And watch for the dog poop scene!

    THE LAST HURRAH
    THE LAST HURRAH

Movies to See Right Now

THE HANDMAIDEN
THE HANDMAIDEN

We’re at the beginning of a very promising Fall movie season.  Critical favorites Moonlight, The Handmaiden and Certain Women are already out.  Aquarius, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and, possibly, Loving open today in theaters.  Arrival (already an Oscar favorite along with Loving) and The Eagle Huntress open in a week.  Top choices:

  • The Korean period con artist movie The Handmaiden is gorgeous, erotic and extraordinarily entertaining.
  • Sonia Braga is still luminous in the character-driven Brazilian drama Aquarius.
  • John Travolta, Ethan Hawke and Jumpy the dog sparkle in the spaghetti western In a Valley of Violence.
  • Mascots is the latest mockumentary from Christopher Guest (Best in Show) and it’s very funny. Mascots is playing in very few theaters, but it’s streaming on Netflix Instant, too.

Also in theaters or on video:

  • The remarkably sensitive and realistic indie drama Moonlight is at once a coming of age tale, an exploration of addicted parenting and a story of gay awakening.  It’s almost universally praised, but I thought that the last act petered out.
  • Not much happens in the talented and idiosyncratic filmmaker Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, but it’s well-acted and feels real.
  • The indie drama Men Go to Battle is an insightful tale of two brothers that exceptionally illustrates the QUIET of pre-electric and pre-motorized North America. Men Go to Battle is available to stream from Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.
  • If you are entertained by the epically disgusting, you can catch the horror comedy The Greasy Strangler before it hits the midnight cult movie circuit. The Greasy Strangler can be streamed from Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.
  • The end of the thriller The Girl on the Train (starring Emily Blunt) is indeed thrilling. But the 82 minutes before the Big Plot Twist is murky, confusing and boring.

My Stream of the Week is Meet the Patels, a documentary funnier than most comedies. Meet the Patels is available to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

On November 7, the eve of the Presidential election, Turner Classic Movies brings us two brilliant political documentaries:

  • Primary documents the Wisconsin Democratic primary election campaign in 1960. This was a key stepping stone in John F. Kennedy’s road to the White House because it was a chance for him to demonstrate that he appealed to voters outside the Northeast. Kennedy’s rival Hubert Humphrey was favored because Wisconsin neighbors Humphrey’s home state of Minnesota. Primary is both a time capsule of 1960 politics and an inside look at the Kennedy family unleashed in a campaign. There’s an amazing scene where Humphrey appeals to a handful of flinty farmers in a school gym – he’s giving his all and he ain’t getting much back. Only 60 minutes long, Primary has been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. The great documentarian D.A. Pennebaker, who went on to direct Monterey Pop and The War Room, shot, edited and recorded sound for Primary.
  • The Times of Harvey Milk – the documentary Oscar winner from 1984. It’s the real story behind the 2008 Sean Penn narrative Milk – and with the original witnesses. If you pay attention, The Times of Harvey Milk can teach you everything from how to win a local campaign to how to build a societal movement. One of the best political movies ever. And watch for the dog poop scene!
THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK
THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK