CVIndependent

Mon03302020

Last updateMon, 23 Mar 2020 12pm

The Best!

1. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood: Quentin Tarantino said a lot of interesting things while promoting this movie, including a threat that he would only be directing one more film after this (and he’s backing away from that being his R-rated Star Trek idea, to the surprise of absolutely no one). So … depending on what he does next, this could be the last “big” movie from QT. If so, I’d say it’s a fitting finish. It’s also the best movie of the year.

2. Uncut Gems: Adam Sandler goes full-throttle nuts in what is easily the best performance within the best film of his career.

3. Midsommar: The horror genre had a banner year thanks in part to Ari Aster, who took terror out of the night and put it in broad daylight for this warped breakup movie. Florence Pugh—who gets my vote for Performer of the Year thanks to this, Little Women and Fighting With My Family—has established herself as a sure bet.

4. The Lighthouse: While this is more of a psychological thriller, there’s plenty of horror in watching farty Willem Dafoe and squirmy Robert Pattinson driving each other crazy on a remote island during a lighthouse-watch stint.

5. Marriage Story: Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver break hearts in Noah Baumbach’s best movie to date, courtesy of Netflix.

6. 1917: Director Sam Mendes delivers perhaps his best film yet, about two British World War I soldiers trying to save 1,600 men before they advance into a German trap. It’s done to look like one continuous shot … and done well. This won a couple of Golden Globes, and while the Golden Globes are idiotic, 1917 is definitely award-worthy.

7. Waves: Startling performances all around and a tremendous visual flair make Waves a solid step forward for director Trey Edward Shults (It Comes at Night). Taylor Russell and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (also great in this year’s Luce) sparkle in this film.

8. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The year’s most heartwarming story, with Tom Hanks playing Fred Rogers, and director Marielle Heller creating sweet vibes.

9. Honey Boy: Shia LaBeouf returned with a vengeance this year, supplying both the screenplay and a gripping performance as his own dad in this autobiographical take on his pre-adolescent and teen years. Talk about public therapy. (The film was produced by Amazon and will be streaming soon.)

10. Us: As I said above, horror had a nice year, and Jordan Peele continues his march away from comedy toward scariness with this chilling doppelganger thriller.


The Worst!

1. Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker: The Force Awakens was written by Lawrence Kasdan, the guy who wrote The Empire Strikes Back. This one was co-written by J.J. Abrams and the meathead hack who penned Batman v Superman. That’s right: They handed the storytelling power for one of cinema’s all-time-great storylines to the man who crapped that monstrosity out of his computer. You thought the Return of the Jedi Ewok hoedown was a bad conclusion to the first trilogy? Well, say hello to Palpatine’s Hellraiser Disco Rave Extravaganza.

2. Rambo: Last Blood: It’s been fun seeing Rocky again in the Creed films. As for Sylvester Stallone’s other HGH-enhanced alter ego, the last two efforts in the series have seen … let’s say, diminishing returns, as his hair got shorter (just like Samson in the Bible!).

3. Glass: Just when M. Night Shyamalan was starting to restore my faith in his abilities, he unleashes this, a case study in how not to invent a movie franchise on the fly.

4. Cats: So I was watching this and just trying to survive. Suddenly, things picked up a bit when a song that actually contained a pretty melody sprang from the speakers. Turns out it was the song Taylor Swift wrote, a blossoming flower in the middle of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sewage dump. Taylor came out of the sky later in the film as a CGI human-cat monster and tried to save the movie, but all was lost by then.

5. Yesterday: I just couldn’t get behind this movie. The central character is a plagiarist asshole, and I hated his renditions of Beatles music. Stay home, and listen to the reissue of Abbey Road.

6. Dumbo/The Lion King/Aladdin: While Aladdin was just slightly bad, Dumbo was terrible, and The Lion King was a complete waste of time. Disney, I love you, but you have to stop with this nonsense. Don’t worry; you will still make money. Hell, the amount of dough I drop on coffee mugs in your souvenir stores rivals what these stupid movies made.

7. Hellboy: Maybe they should’ve let David Harbour be funnier in the title role? He kicked comedy ass when he hosted Saturday Night Live. But here, he’s a total dud as Ron Perlman’s replacement.

8. Mary Magdalene: Jesus was a lot of things, but super-boring wasn’t one of them. This pretentious slog was just an excuse for Joaquin Phoenix to hang out with girlfriend Rooney Mara and get paid.

9. The Dirt: The only thing cool about watching this shitshow was the knowledge that Mötley Crüe was over as a band. Now comes the news that those fucksticks will be touring again, which takes away any good vibe that could be experienced watching this.

10. The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot: Some critics had the audacity to call this Sam Elliott film one of the year’s best. To those folks, I say: Mushrooms can apparently be a fun recreational drug sometimes, but you shouldn’t take them when you are writing your reviews or operating a band saw.

While they didn’t make the year’s Top 10 worst list, boos go out to Godzilla: King of the Monsters for being soul crushingly dull, and Joker, perhaps the year’s most overrated mediocre film. I was very excited for both … almost as excited as I was for the new Star Wars.

Screw you, J.J. Abrams!!!

Published in Previews and Features

Adam Sandler is having a pretty good 2019. He made a triumphant return to Saturday Night Live; he re-teamed with Jennifer Aniston for the fairly watchable Murder Mystery on Netflix; and, oh yeah, he has just made what is, by far, the greatest film of his beautifully erratic career.

With Uncut Gems, Sandler joins forces with directors Benny and Josh Safdie (makers of the excellent Robert Pattinson vehicle Good Time) and delivers the kind of dramatic performance—fully committed and thoroughly proficient—he’s hinted at in the past with strong efforts in Punch-Drunk Love and The Meyerowitz Stories. As Howard Ratner, a New York City jewelry-store owner and gambling addict, Sandler catapults himself into the upper echelon of today’s fine actors. Not bad for the creative force behind Grown Ups 2.

It’s 2012, and Howard has gambling debts with a bunch of criminals, including Arno (Eric Bogosian), a relative who doesn’t give a shit that they’re related: Arno is owed money, and Howard will suffer greatly if he doesn’t deliver.

Howard’s solution is to obtain a black opal from Ethiopia, worth upwards of $1 million. That opal could free him of all his debt and set him on the path to prosperity, especially because NBA star Kevin Garnett (yes, that’s Garnett playing himself) is ready to give him all kinds of money, because he thinks the stone has powers.

Simply selling the stone at auction and solving his problems would be too easy for Howard; Sandler portrays him as a hyped-up, out-of-his-mind kook who screws up at every turn. Whether it’s with his store, his soon-to-be-gone wife (Idina Menzel) or his well-meaning mistress (Julia Fox), Howard is completely incapable of doing the right thing.

Sandler’s comedic abilities come into play, because Howard is so messed up that it’s often funny, and Sandler constantly mines the humor in that darkness. But in the end, Sandler isn’t in this for laughs—and Howard winds up being a complete character study: a sad man, addicted to chaos, who doesn’t know when to quit.

This is one of those roles that couldn’t have been played better by anybody else. Sandler was the actor the Safdies had in mind when they were writing the script, and while it took a couple of tries, they finally got their man—and they delivered a masterpiece.

The film doesn’t just thrive thanks to the performances; it’s bursting with style and originality. The Safdies adopt a visual and sound style that makes Howard’s crazed adventure a swirling trip. It’s edited with the sort of electricity that keeps one riveted, with psychedelic trips inside opals—and even Howard’s colon. Apart from being one of the year’s best films, it’s also one of the most original.

So what in the hell is going on with the awards so far? After the National Board of Review named Sandler its best actor, he got snubbed by both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild. (The critics guild I belong to, the Las Vegas Film Critics Society, recently named him Best Actor.) Sandler more than deserves his first Oscar nomination here. His work stands alongside Leonardo DiCaprio’s in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood and Adam Driver’s in Marriage Story as the year’s best.

How will Sandler top this work? Honestly, I don’t think he can, but that’s not a dig on him: Uncut Gems is an example of finding an actor, finding his strengths, and displaying them in a way that amounts to perfection. Sandler will do more great things in his career, but it won’t surprise me if this is his apex.

Uncut Gems opens Friday, Dec. 24, at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews