Since the beginning of 2016, Zoey Deutch has acting credits in 15 films and TV series. She’s rising like a rocket through the comedy scene, starring in romantic comedies like Set It Up, post-apocalyptic comedies like Zombieland: Double Tap, and TV comedies like The Politician. Deutch’s latest release, Buffaloed, acts as the greatest vehicle for her growing starpower, morphing into a film that only works because of Deutch’s existence.
Buffaloed, which premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Fest, follows Peg (Deutch), a young, fast-talking hustler and recently incarcerated woman. After being released from prison for scamming hoards of Buffalo Bills fans through fake ticket sales, Peg takes a job as a debt collector, working from the scummy and grubby Wizz (Jai Courtney). Written by Brian Sacca and directed by Tanya Wexler, Buffaloed works better as the film rolls along, as Peg deeper into the world of debt collection.
Soon after realizing Wizz is one of the worst people alive, Peg leaves that debt collection agency and opens her own, recruiting those that “have talent,” or several outcasts, religious fanatics, and ex-cellmates. Deutch, with a heavy amount of debt herself, is working to get rid of her own past mistakes, while also providing a new life for herself, her brother (NoahReid), a local bar owner, and her mother (JudyGreer), a hairdresser that she lives with. Peg’s new business catches the attention of Wizz, and an all-out turf war follows. Peg (and Deutch) is at her best when she’s chatting with the other debt collectors, when she’s chatting with those on the phone, and when she’s wiggling out of an improbable situation.
Deutch’s performance lives on the line between incredible and off-the-rails crazy. It’s a haywire acting job that more people should see, for Deutch deserves a bigger and better audience. Her manic nature turns into pure comedy, and her likability only increases the more time she’s on screen, despite her awful decision making. It reminded me of Leonardo Dicaprio’sWolf of Wall Street role or even Adam Sandler’sUncut Gems performance. It’s closer to that tier of acting than you’d expect from an actor who’s young and largely new to bigger budget films.
The supporting cast fills their roles allowing Deutch to shine, with Courtney, Greer, and lawyer/love interest Jermaine Fowler doing a lot with a little. Courtney in particular dials up the scumminess to absurd levels, making him a formidable villain in the midst of the malicious business of debt collection. The writing gives audiences room and information to breathe, never moving too fast or leaving you in the dark, using The Big Short style of explaining the different elements of debt and all of the major players involved. By the end, it’s hard not to be endeared by the filmmaking, the script, and these characters, despite their flaws, their ulterior motives, and their chosen occupations.
Deutch is in the process of becoming a star. She looks one box office hit away from becoming a household name. Much of the general population will already recognize her from her Netflix appearances and her supporting roles on more expensive films, but her name is one that is on the tips of people’s tongues. Buffaloed shows what Deutch can do when given the chance to put her comedy chops on display, giving a physical acting performance that might blow you away. Seek out this film. She’s that good.
Buffaloed keeps you smiling at the end, with a relatively realistic and positive outcome. Deutch deserves the same. So let’s give her more chances to strut on-screen, more opportunities to lead a film, and more times to be the heroine we never knew we needed. I’m sure we’ll all be much happier with Deutch as the center of attention.
There are certain movies that floor you. You can’t imagine getting up out of your seat as the final scene fades or cuts to black. The experiences feel ethereal, too good for this world. Downhill is not one of those movies.
The comedy from writer/directing duo Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, and starring a killer pair in Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, starts with a strong premise, likely because it’s adapted from an already successful foreign film, the Swedish Force Majeure. The Swedish film, written and directed by Ruben Östlund, opened to massive critical acclaim, ending up on many critics’ top 10 movies of 2014. This version will not have the same fate, instead dying in people’s mind within 48 hours, if not as soon as a 30 minutes after the film ends.
Though the movie retains much of the fault, part of the blame rests on us. We hear about a movie with Ferrell, Louis-Dreyfus, and written by the duo behind The Way, Way Back and The Descendents, and our eyes widen. Expectations have been raised to insurmountable levels, especially with the success and prominence of Force Majeure. When we go into a film like this with specific ideas of what it will look like, frustrations only grow when expectations are failed to be met.
Looking at Downhill outside of expectations, originals, and past works by the comedians, the film is…fine. It looks good and features fine, if not good, performances by the supporting cast. Ferrell and Louis Dreyfus give admirable performances, with the Veep actor providing us the most amount of acting acting. She deserves more dramatic roles, and more opportunities to show her ability to deftly balance tense moments of dark comedy. A cameo by Kristofer Hivju, father of Force Majeure, might be the second-best scene in the film, behind a brief but hilarious plotline of Dreyful taking a personal day.
The film now has become a box office bomb, disliked by critics and audiences, two group that rarely agree. Its biggest problem is its lack of one, as the film doesn’t make you feel anything either way. There’s no highs or lows, only middling existence. No laugh-out-loud jokes or biting drama to make you cry. A lack of relatability and a lack of originality make Downhill a overwhelmingly average and competent piece of filmmaking, from the minds of two men known for their sharp wit and character development.
It makes me wonder how this film would be perceived outside of expectation, though. If I went in cold, seeing these actors for the first time, with no prior knowledge of Force Majeure or this directorial duo, would the movie still feel so utterly disappointing? This isn’t anything new to criticism, to moviegoing, or even to media consumption, but it felt like a reminder to me to limit my expectations. Sometimes, you don’t need to consume all of the reviews, the ratings, and the scores before you see a film. You don’t need the research.
Without expectations, Downhill still would be a film existing somewhere between good and bad, a purgatory of monotony between hating a film and being transformed by one. But it certainly would have been a more enjoyable experience, and sometimes at the movies, that’s all we’re looking for.
As I sat in a sold out showing of Bad Boys for Life, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling. The crowd cheered within the first 15 minutes, and kept the excitement for the entire 124-minute runtime. It mirrored some of the early Avengers movies, the way that people react to franchises with larger budgets, more films, and way more star-power. But, it didn’t matter, because the idea of one last run with these actors we’ve known for the entire 21st century gave all of us too much interest and in the end, too much joy.
The ‘Bad Boys’ franchise rests solely on the shoulders of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, two men in their 50s fluctuating between A- and B-list status. The original Bad Boys came out 25 years ago and Bad Boys II wasn’t far behind, released in 2003. Both of the first two films were panned by critics, with this new installment far surpassing the others on aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and though this shouldn’t be the ultimate barometer, it is the most popular for the regular moviegoer. Bad Boys for Life is the first in the franchise to be certified fresh on the site, the first to be directed by someone other than Michael Bay (6 Underground), and becoming one of the highest box office debuts in the month of January.
For some reason, we love the idea of “running it back” one last time. We go to high school and college reunions 25 years later. We play endless video games against friends growing up. We eat the same meals over and over again. Jokes that were told 15 years prior still make us laugh with friends we haven’t seen in months. And so, movies about taking “one last ride” or “one last mission” or “one last chance at love” become irresistible. For example, Wild Hogs, a film with no real stakes, plot, or critical positivity, ended up making over $250 million at the box office. Almost every heist movie ever made follows the “one last job” mantra and trope, but we still head to the theater in droves. Bad Boys for Life was supposed to be that “one last mission” but because of its success, Bad Boys 4 is now already in the works.
We love these films and these circumstances in life because the stakes are at their absolute peak. It’s a Game 7 for a chance to be a world champion. It’s a do-or-die, a road back to prison or off to the beaches in the Caribbean. Somehow, the last time becomes the most important time. These high stakes sold audiences and critics alike on the Smith and Lawrence combination back again in Bad Boys for Life, with even the characters stating that this is 100% the last go-around.
Smith and Lawrence are joined in the film by old friends like Joe Pantoliano as Captain Howard and new faces like Paola Nuñez, Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton, and Alexander Ludwig as the team surround the two veterans. Introduce worthy villains in mom-and-daughter Mexican mobsters Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo) and Armando Armas (Jacob Scipio) and you have yourself a movie. Complete with a cheesy-turned-funny script helmed by Chris Bremner, the film leans heavily on the leads’ age, joking about their eyesight, their fitness, their technological issues, and their mutual understanding that retirement is coming fast.
More than anything, you buy into this film because it’s fun to watch. It’s a joy to reminisce and it’s a blast to be with these guys for one last time. Lawrence takes on the comedic elements, proving he’s still a commendable funnyman, and Smith shoulders the action scenes, giving us a glimpse at how incredible Gemini Man could have been. The two still show their top notch chemistry and play off one another to the audience’s satisfaction. The action sequences find the two in solid form, and the set pieces put against the Miami backdrop make for a gorgeous, ritzy landscape.
Directing duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah capture the Miami Vice style of a cool, crime-action buddy content, making these characters the best of the best, hilarious, and in this case, past their prime. The directors deserve credit for taking a franchise that looked dead in the water into a welcome, January surprise.
A film that shows its co-stars having 90s amounts of fun, Bad Boys for Life lets the audience in on the joke, and winks at moviegoers every chance it gets. The cast and crew looks to be having a ball, and the audience follows suit. Even if Columbia Pictures ends up making a sequel to Bad Boys for Life, we will always have this version of Smith and Lawrence for their (supposed) one last ride.
Since 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has released 23 feature films. The combined budget for these films hovers around $4.5 billion while the combined box office adds up to more than $22.5 billion. Audiences love these movies, and our view of a superhero has morphed in the process. We look for superheroes to have at least one of a variety of traits, including but not limited to super strength, teleportation, mind control, suits with super armor, a godly hammer, or even just an array of assassin skills. With each new film, our expectations for a superhero and their abilities raise
Enter writer/director Julia Hart (Miss Stevens) and actor Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Motherless Brooklyn) and their film Fast Color. Hart’s movie focuses in on Ruth (Mbatha-Raw), a woman who has powers she cannot control, which cause earthquakes. Her abilities cause destruction, and we her on the run from the law and from scientists hoping to capture and study her.
After a couple close calls, she decides to head home, finding her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) and abandoned daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney) living somewhat happily. Both also have these powers, and can see “the colors,” which Ruth hasn’t seen in years once she lost control of how to use her superhuman features. The women decide to help Ruth take back her life, her body, and her powers, as Ruth hopes to reconnect to her mother, her daughter, and herself in the process. The setup looks like a far cry from those Marvel movies we’ve come to know and love.
The difference between Marvel and Fast Color is in the protagonists. In most superhero or at least superhuman films, those with the powers save someone or something. They are protectors, last lines of defense. In Hart’s film, the superhero needs saving. She asks for help, and she’s the destructive force in the universe. An oddly poetic story follows, which pushes the narrative that we all require saving from time to time, and that superhuman abilities don’t need to translate into saving the world.
Mbatha-Raw gives more of herself as the film progresses, and the performance actually becomes much better after a few weeks of reflection. Fast Color is the first superhero movie, outside of Black Panther, that stuck itself in the corner of the mind, existing more as a thought-provoker than a one-time explosive experience. Hart’s film also becomes more beautiful as Ruth rediscovers her powers, and finally sees “the colors,” a worthy wait for the audience. Once she, and we in turn, see them, it all begins to have meaning on a deeper level and resonance beyond just a mother/daughter story.
Though it falters during a few scenes and the dialogue can be a bit shaky, Fast Color holds a weight in its hands, and changes how you think about the (de-glamorized) superhero as human instead of godly. It puts a face to a genre that usually is filled with masks and suits. It shows the pains and difficulties, instead of the heroics. Ruth’s gender and ethnicity only add to the nuance and importance of Fast Color, as you learn that she deserves screen time just as much as the Avengers, the Eternals, and any other group of people we assign admiration and value to as a society.
Fast Color and its hero have more than superhuman powers, they have drive and purpose, and intent to do good in the world. If more movies follow suit, a new superhero will be formed, one void of perfection and full of promise.
Though film has always been a part of my life, it used to be something in the background, existing as a sort of comfort. As I played with my trains, my building blocks, or even chess with my mom, a movie would be playing as well. I grew older, and paid more attention to these movies, giving them my time and energy, becoming absorbed with directors like Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater. Entering middle and high school and coming-of-age myself, these films became a part of our shared story, and became influential in my life.
From 2010-2019, film became a passion of mine. It became an aspect of my life that I truly cared about, a subject in which all I wanted was to learn, a special feeling and moment. Many incredible films didn’t make my list, including Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Linklater’s Before Midnight, and even Taika Waititi’sHunt for the Wilderpeople. Not necessarily the most influential or most award-worthy movies, this list represents movies that helped me grow up and helped my continually fall in love with film.
10. Sing Street — d. by John Carney
Take 80s music, with a special love for Duran Duran. Combine those tunes, both original and covers, with a classic coming-of-age story. The finished product is director John Carney’s Sing Street, a film that aims to please. The teenage performances remain solid across the board, the script features whip-smart writing, and Carney captures an air of essence and nostalgia for an entire generation. If you like musicals, you’ll love it. If you don’t like musicals, pretty sure you’ll still love it.
9. The Florida Project — d. by Sean Baker
The concept behind Sean Baker’sThe Florida Project is a simple one: look into the lives of those living just outside of Walt Disney World. Baker gives us this slice-of-life glimpse by tracking the tot-sized residents and their parents living in a local motel, run by the go-to indie leading man of Willem Dafoe. The Florida Project feels important when you’re watching it, as you know these families are much more real than just actors on a screen. Poignant, precious, and heartbreaking, the film deals us the significant themes of family, abuse, and poverty, all in the gorgeous backdrop of the happiest place on Earth.
8. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl — d. by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
In terms of quirky comedy-dramas about high schoolers dealing with traumatic life experiences, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl still finds a way to be new and different. The script by Jesse Andrews segments the story, allowing you to settle in with these characters, spending time with them in the little moments. The chemistry between Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (RJ Cyler) sets the film apart, with their spoof movies being remarkable and memorable. An entire film composed of these miniature films would be good enough, but the rest of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl provides careful measures filled with sweetness and heart.
7. Coco — d. by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
Something happens when you’re watching Pixar’s Coco. You become enveloped by this young boy, his family, and their collective story. The film embraces you in a loving hug, one that leaves you with tears in your eyes and a huge grin on your face. The film features catchy yet sweet original music, Pixar’s always incredible animation, and a relatable narrative which pulls you into this world. A Latino story with a Latino cast, Coco gives an added voice and face to Mexican culture and family life, something that was and still is much needed in Hollywood.
6. Whiplash — d. by Damien Chazelle
The most anxiety-inducing film of the decade, Whiplash runs at breakneck speed, giving you unforgettable stretches and bone-rattling performances. J.K. Simmons pulls you apart, as you feel the criticism seeping into your mind, with Miles Teller giving a star-turning leading performances that almost matches Simmons’ intensity. You never once take your eyes off the screen. You never once think to run to the restroom. The film takes hold of you and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. In a strong year for film (2015), Whiplash will always have my vote for Best Picture.
5. We the Animals — d. by Jeremiah Zagar
A gorgeous film with striking cinematography, interesting animation, and a complicated tale of growing up without support, We the Animals might be the most underrated film of 2018. Adapted for the screen by author Justin Torres, this semi-autobiographical queer coming-of-age tale exists in the stillness of youth. The film never rushes through its scenes or its story, allowing the characters to simply be in this world. Fantastic acting from child and adult actors alike, We the Animals must be seen, for it’s far too important to be ignored.
4. Shoplifters — d. by Hirokazu Koreeda
A film overshadowed by the foreign film success of Roma, Hirokazu Koreeda’s Shoplifters absolutely floored me. The film’s portrayal of a makeshift family, one formed out of necessity, heartbreaks its audience. The performance by Lily Franky as the father of this poverty-living family should be considered among the performances of the year. The backstory unfolds throughout the film, giving us bits and pieces instead of a traditional introduction to these people. Shoplifters is an example of careful filmmaking with a focus on trying to answer the question of family and what that word means in this big world.
3. Frances Ha — d. by Noah Baumbach
Noah Baumbach. Greta Gerwig. Adam Driver. A stunning black-and-white New York with a quick trip to Paris. Frances Ha includes all of those items and much more, forming into an essential film for lovers of offbeat humor, struggling in your 20s and 30s, and pursuing your dream in the Big Apple. In my mind, Baumbach’s finest work until 2019’s Marriage Story, the film finds the writer-director in fantastic form, showcasing his skill for penning conversations that you’ve had in your life. A necessary film for New York residents.
2. Moonlight — d. by Barry Jenkins
Likely the most important film of the 2010s, Moonlight transcends the classic narrative structure, providing audiences with a story that has never been told with this vision, heart, and consideration. A Mahershala Ali performance for the ages, the actor became a cultural touchstone, and the scene of him in the water remains copied constantly. The film vaulted Barry Jenkins into one of the world’s best filmmakers, a director that makes movies that matter. Moonlight tells a touching, quintessential American story, laced with LGBTQ significant. A gorgeous portrait of a life worth living, Moonlight deserves your attention.
1. Inside Llewyn Davis — d. by the Coen Brothers
Inside Llewyn Davis might very well be the Coen Brothers best film outside of No Country for Old Men, featuring one of the most soulful, melancholic, and impressive performances of the decade in Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of a folk singer attempting to realize his professional dreams. With solid role players in Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver, and Carey Mulligan, the cast takes the Coens’ smart script to new heights, culminating in a piece of art that gets better with rewatches. Inside Llewyn Davis is an example of directors and actors working at their highest abilities, creating a near perfect piece of filmmaking.
What a year! After seeing over 100 new releases, some which blew my mind, some which didn’t shake my brain at all, I can say with confidence that I loved in film in 2019. We were given films by the greats including Martin Scorsese and Pedro Almodovar, as well as films from rising stars like Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig, and the Safdie Brothers. I laughed. I cried. I left the theaters confused several times. A fantastic year for film.
A simple hobby that has transformed into something much more, film criticism is such a messy, enjoyable, frustrating, and passionate way to spend time, and I’m glad several people find my writing good enough to publish. It’s been quite an honor, and quite a year.
My top 10 films of the year is a list that has changed too many times to count. It features movies I loved, I respected, and I found important to me, to others, and to society. Let’s start with some honorable mentions and countdown from 10.
Sword of Trust: a concept that is both hilarious and fascinating, this film written and directed by Lynn Shelton brought me a huge amount of joy. Marc Maron was made to play a pawn shop owner.
The Irishman: undeniable in its acting and ambition, Scorsese’s monster of a film features incredible supporting performances from Joe Pesci and Al Pacino. The final hour left me in a state of provocation and questioning.
Her Smell: Alex Ross Perry’s five vignettes on a rocker with a huge ego are some of the tensest minutes I’ve felt this year. Elisabeth Moss gives all of herself, and this film deserves more awards recognition. People will be watching this long after we’re gone.
The Peanut Butter Falcon: one of the most enjoyable times I had in a theater in the last few years. Shia LaBeouf and Zack Gottsagen are both splendid and boy oh boy did I leave with a big smile on my face.
10. Knives Out by Rian Johnson
Funny, quirky, and just plain smart, Rian Johnson’s whodunit gave me and entire audiences a reason to truly laugh at the movies. Incredible set design and fantastic performances abound to make Johnson’s follow-up to The Last Jedi a holiday favorite in 2019. It’s the perfect film to take a date to, to take your grandparents to, and even to take your kids to, making it an accessible murder mystery, three words rarely put together. There’s a reason we haven’t seen a good whodunit in recent years, and why Agatha Christie continues to be the gold standard: it’s difficult to write and and make a sensible one! Most of all, Johnson achieves a sense of realism regardless of its ridiculousness. It makes sense! Featuring a Daniel Craig performance for the ages including a doughnut scene that should be performed in monologue classes, Knives Out only gets better with time.
9. The Farewell by Lulu Wang
When I bought a ticket to see Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, I didn’t know much about it. I knew that Awkwafina was starring, and that someone’s grandma was sick. It became the emotional event of the year, and for those of us that have lost grandmas to cancer, a powerful love letter to these women that help mold us. Solidly acting with an incredible performance from grandma Zhao Shuzhen, Wang’s autobiographical work tears your heart open, filling it with compassion, care, and a family’s desire to make the right choices. The film completely wraps you in the arms of this family, and by the end of it, you feel like this decision is as much yours as theirs. You want to be at their big dinners. You want to be practicing Shuzhen’s yoga techniques. And you certainly want to be invited to every wedding moving forward. Thank you Lulu Wang for reminding me how much I love my my grandmas.
8. The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open by Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Maija Tailfeathers
In 2019, one of the best pieces of filmmaking that Netflix released, and got lost in the shuffle, was Your Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, written and directed by Canadian women Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers. Playing out in real time with Tailfeathers starring opposite fellow indigenous Canadian Violet Nelson, the film follows two women in the aftermath of an assault to Nelson. Tailfeathers happened to be walking by, and so the two experience the next 90 minutes together, figuring out the following course of action. Serious, moving, and real, the story works as any coincidental relationship and any situation in life would, with arduous difficulty in making important decisions. It deals with weighty themes like assault and abuse with a tender yet firm sense of reality, deciding to let you sit with these characters instead of rush with them. This film is one of the most important in 2019, and I personally urge you to seek it out.
7. Little Women by Greta Gerwig
Breathing fresh air into an adaptation we’ve seen plenty of times, Greta Gerwig continues to make solid films. She is one of our best directors currently working, and in my opinion, one of the best writers in Hollywood. She crafts this oft-told story in a gripping way, and the time you spend with the March sisters is a special treat. The subtlety in the performances sticks into your mind, with Florence Pugh and Timothee Chalamet stealing scenes. I’d watch Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan do any movie together, though. They have the ability to go down with the great pairings in history, and their constant excellence is tremendous. Gerwig toys with several themes in the film, but her intentionality to focus on wealth drives home the film. Ronan as Gerwig’s muse is one of the revelations of the decade.
6. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino
The warmest of Quentin Tarantino’s nine films, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood features the best stretch of filmmaking in 2019. As Margot Robbie travels through Westwood as Sharon Tate to see herself in a film, Leonardo DiCaprio performs scenes on a TV western set and Brad Pitt continues his “cool guy of 2019” campaign while dealing with the Manson family at Spahn Ranch. A sequence smack in the middle of the movie, these three actors each flash their brilliance in hilarious, sentimental, and enjoyable scenes that show just how far Tarantino has come as a filmmaker. It’s a section of the film that can be rewatched countless times, each time noticing a little bit more of the perfection. This film will be near the top come Oscar season and for good reason. Give Pitt an Oscar!
5. Uncut Gems by the Safdie Brothers
A couple of times each decade, Adam Sandler rises up from the depths of Netflix vacation to make a film worthy of critical acclaim. For many, Uncut Gems will be the first time they’ve seen Sandler in a serious role, and he sure is impressive in this one. Radiating all sorts of big energy, he gives a mania to this role as New York jeweler and gambler, somehow making this scummy criminal into a likable leading figure. Joining him is Kevin Garnett in the best performance by an NBA star since Ray Allen in He Got Game, Julia Fox as a newcomer people can’t stop talking about, and Lakeith Stanfield with an amount of chill that fits into this non-stop film by the Safdie brothers. A film that makes you anxious, excited, and overwhelmed all at once, Uncut Gems creates a world of insanity similar to Good Time with an incredible score to match it. And you learn a bit about gambling and the NBA scene in the early 2010s!
4. Parasite by Bong Joon-Ho
Bong Joon-Ho’sParasite handles themes of poverty, classism, family structures and values, love, murder, and revenge to name a few with a measure of grace only achieved by a filmmaker who has a clear vision. A shoe-in to be South Korea’s first-ever Oscar nomination, the film constantly keeps you guessing, and the best way to see it is with an open mind and a lack of knowledge regarding the plot and characters. Killer performances resonate in every scene and it’s clear-cut the most fascinating movie I saw in 2019. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it immediately. Put it at the top of your list. The movie will make history, and deservedly so.
3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire by Céline Sciamma
A film bursting with love, Portrait of a Lady on Fire demands an audience. The well-matched leads give life to Sciamma’s simple screenplay and you have a desire to live in this beached world for much longer than the runtime. It truly is a gorgeous film, an ode to forbidden lesbian love and to the restorative power of relationships. The depth in which the film operates brings it to another level, and we should be happy this story exists in our shattered world. Something to note: instead of opting for over-the-shoulder shots in conversation and in focus of its characters, the cinematographer and Sciamma allow these women to fill up the screen. Each woman is the center of the screen in every situation, as though they’re talking directly to you, and this story is the all that we need to focus on, with nothing to distract us. If multiple characters are on screen, they even have them block one another, creating some truly beautiful moments. It’s a specific tactic that pays off big time, and these women fill the screen with poise, beauty, and a whole lot of love.
2. Marriage Story by Noah Baumbach
The best script of the year, Marriage Story finds Baumbach in top form, taking the snappy writing of Frances Ha and mashing it together with semi-autobiographical experiences. Adam Driver gives the performance of the year and for the most part, Scarlett Johansson matches his step for step. The supporting cast shines with Alan Alda and resident 2019 Monterey queen Laura Dern providing memorable moments. It picks you up only to crush you back down, wrestling with your heart and emotions, giving you time to think about all of the fights you’ve had in your own life. With a score and even some singing as supplement, Baumbach makes another movie that gives more than it takes, and provides us with more relatable characters in film. The best part of the movie, though, is that you relate to both of them.
1. The Last Black Man in San Francisco by Joe Talbot
One of the most gorgeous films I’ve ever witnessed, The Last Black Man in San Francisco gives us all the opportunity to witness what Joe Talbot and friend/collaborator/lead actor Jimmie Fails can accomplish with a bit of capital. The San Francisco natives made a film that breathes beauty and community, shifting within themes of gentrification and belonging and family. The culmination creates an accurate picture of the city on the bay in all of its frustration, wealth, hills, creativity, and glory. Led by a strong yet solemn lead performance by Fails, the film gives supporting actor Jonathan Majors a chance to shine, representing our common need to be accepted and loved by our community, or to even find a community we can call our own. The film should live on in Northern California as one of the best films to show the city of San Francisco as a character worth watching, and firmly establishes Talbot and Fails as two filmmakers with heartfelt intentions and tremendous abilities.
The most enjoyable double-feature of 2019 doesn’t feature any Martin Scorsese, Brad Pitt, or Adam Driver. These films likely won’t win any awards or even be nominated for any Oscars. These films trade mobsters and marriage for swords and salads. Sword of Trust followed by Brittany Runs a Marathon will bring you laughter, and four hours of pure joy.
These films star the top (and my favorite) comedic duo currently working in Hollywood: Jillian Bell and Michaela Watkins. In Sword of Trust, the duo joins Marc Maron for an exploration of conspiracy theorists and the Wild West of those who believe the South won the Civil War.
Bell and Watkins play a lesbian couple in possession of an old sword, one they are trying to pawn off for a large sum of cash. Maron plays the pawn shop owner, who is roped into the whole affair in pursuit of money himself. The whole film is absurd, and absolutely hilarious.
Bell and Watkins balance each other out as a couple in that film, with Bell being unknowing, a bit ditzy, with a confused look splattered onto her face. Watkins is the firmer of the two, doing the talking in high-pressure situations and taking control in steering conversations. They complement one another in every scene, and their banter-laced chemistry feels unrehearsed.
In Brittany Runs a Marathon, Bell fills the title role of couch-potato-turned-marathoner and Watkins plays her slightly older and motherly upstairs neighbor, a recent divorcee. Though the film is inherently less funny than Sword of Trust, it provides more inspiration and feelings of warmth, leaving you with a feeling that the world is a better place than it was two hours prior.
Again, Bell and Watkins act as opposites, though we find out they’re much more similar than we originally thought. Bell is carefree with a individualized resolve, while Watkins is bound to her children and her past, looking for friendship and support from those around her. Both actors continue to be funny, endearing, and understanding in each and every role they play, especially in these two films.
The key to the Bell-Watkins duo is in their conversations together. In every scene in which these women communicate, they speak like old friends who are catching up. They converse as though they’ve known one another for ages, yet could be meeting for the first time and enjoying one another’s company. They talk over each other in Sword yet listen intently in Brittany. They look to actually make each other laugh, and their genuine smiles warm up the screen.
Yes, they’re funny and their timing deserves applause, but the duo provides heartfelt moments in each film. The sincerity shines through and you’re left feeling happy that the duo exists at all. Though these films might not be the best films of the year, they certainly make for the most pleasant way you can spend four hours. These women are to thank.
Though both actors have been in Hollywood for quite a few years now, they are seeing more leading roles and deservedly so. Their established rapport shouldn’t be overlooked or understated, and if you see their names on a movie poster, you most likely won’t be disappointed with the film.
All of this might be speculation on my part, but from the looks of the video below, this friendship is lovely and we should finance any filmmaker who wants to put these two actors in a movie together.
You’re sitting on an airplane. A JetBlue airplane to be exact. The perfect airline when you don’t want to spend too much money, but you still would like the illusion of luxury. You’re flying from New York to Los Angeles or vice-versa. You forgot your book at your apartment and your Kindle just lost power. Your phone, laptop, and aforementioned Kindle chargers are in your checked baggage. You have six hours to kill.
You really only have one option in this scenario. Maybe it was your first option anyways. You turn on the in-flight entertainment system, stapled to the back of the seat in front of you. You adjust the brightness, because it might be a red-eye flight and you’re a little sleepy.
Like every other person on the plane in your situation, you start the search for the perfect in-flight movie. You jump from the different tabs, and if you’ve had a busy year, you hop onto the “New Releases” tab on the mini monitor.
For the sake of this ranking, we’re throwing documentaries out the window-side window. But, if we want to rank the docs on the JetBlue “New Releases” tab, this would be the list in terms of watchability:
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
The Panama Papers
Now, what’s the criteria for the best movie while watching on an airplane? For this, we are going to look at a few different factors.
How comfortable do you feel while watching the film? You don’t want to be watching something that will make your seat neighbors feel awkward, which makes you feel uncomfortable, which makes asking for them to move so you can go to the bathroom even more horrible. For example, Her is a fantastic film, but a horrible in-flight watch. The surrogate scene is the epitome of uncomfortability. You score this out of 5. Her would have received a 1/5.
How engaged are you during the film? No one wants to watch a boring film while on a flight. Flying, even though it’s an amazing technological achievement, are inherently boring. You’re watching movies out of necessity, simply because there’s nothing else to do. You want to be entertained. You score this out of 5 as well. For example, Fast Five would score a 5/5 in this category. It’s entertaining as hell.
If turbulence occurs, will this film distract you? Turbulence was awful, is awful, and will remain awful. You want a film that will distract you from that turbulence, not add to the nausea. You score this out of 5 as well. For example, a space movie like Ad Astra or Gravity or really any space movie would score 1/5 in this category, because you’d feel more nauseous if there was unexpected turbulence. Comedies score high in this category.
Will you feel like you adequately used your time by watching this movie? Basically, this is asking is the movie is good or not. A bad film is still a bad film, even if you’re on an airplane with nothing else to do. Score this out of 5.
There you have it. That’s the scoring system. The maximum number a film can receive is 20 and the minimum number a film can receive is 4.
Here are the 14 films:Annabelle Comes Home, Godzilla: King of Monsters, Late Night, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, Plus One, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Sword of Trust, The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, The Lion King, Ugly Dolls, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Yesterday.
Movies Scoring 0-10: That Was The Longest Flight
We aren’t going to spend lots of time on these movies so let’s just run through them.
#14: Ugly Dolls — A bad movies with ugly animation and unfunny jokes. You want to be laughing, not cringing while on a flight. 5/20
#13: Annabelle Comes Home — You might already be scared because you’re on a plane, so why would you intentionally scare yourself more? 6/20
#12: The Art of Racing in the Rain — You either a) read the book and so you already know what’s going to happen or b) have not read the book and are watching a story narrated by a dog played by Kevin Costner. 8/20
#11: The Lion King — This live-action remake falls under the “I already know what’s going to happen” category which makes it much less engaging. It won’t leave you feeling like you spent your time on the flight wisely, making you wish you started your laptop. 10/20
Movies Scoring 11-15: Eh, I Survived My Flight
Let’s give these some scores on some categories, shall we?
#10: Spider-Man: Far From Home — 11/20
Comfortable: Very much so. No one will judge you for watching Tom Holland and Zendaya save the world, while Jake Gyllenhaal crushes his villainous role. Sort of a movie catered to teens, though. 4/5
Engaged: The film does a good job of keeping your attention. It has some laughs, some big set pieces, and some decent-sized stakes. You won’t be glued to the screen though, and you won’t mind taking a bathroom break in the middle. 3/5
Turbulence: This is a major problem. As Spider Man is swinging through the air, you are also metaphorically and physically bumping through the air. 1/5
Time: You won’t feel bad for watching it but you won’t go running to tell your friends. 3/5
#9: Godzilla: King of Monsters — 12/20
Comfortable: There have been so many Godzilla and King Kong movies that you really won’t be judged. Your neighbors could think you’re watching any one of them. They’ll understand. 4/5
Engaged: Somewhat. The huge action sequences will be great and the actors are giving far-too-committed performances. 3/5
Turbulence: Again, not great. If it’s during an action sequence, you’re in for a bad time. If it’s during one of the “let’s save the world” monologues, you’re safe. 2/5
Time: Just fun enough to watch that you won’t be regretting it. 3/5
#8: Pokemon: Detective Pikachu — 13/20
Comfortable: For the most part, yes. Will some people think you’re a little nerdy? Yes, but who cares. Will most people not care? Also, yes. 4/5
Engaged: During the time I was watching this film, the snack and drink carts came by. I never paused it. 2/5
Turbulence: Yes, almost the whole time. There’s a shocking amount of non-action in this film. Unless you’re watching the part where the ground starts moving, you’ll be more than fine. 4/5
Time: It’s a Pokemon world. We’re just all living in it. 3/5
#6: The Last Black Man in San Francisco — 14/20
Comfortable: Yes, yes, yes. It’s a fantastic film with high critical praise about gentrification and community and family and belonging. Fantastic. 5/5
Engaged: Unfortunately, if you’re tired, it might put you to sleep, as it’s a dialogue-heavy film. It lacks action and/or comedy to keep you awake. It might be one of the best films on the in-flight system but not for plane-watching. 2/5
Turbulence: You’ll feel about the same. It won’t help you tons or hurt you tons. 3/5
Time: It’s a super solid film with a beautiful score and gorgeous cinematography, what else can I say? You’ll wish you were in a theater. 4/5
Movies Scoring 15-20: Wait, That Flight Was So Short!
#5: Late Night — 15/20
Comfortable: Mindy Kaling is beloved in many circles of life, as The Office and The Mindy Project are highly watched, highly acclaimed shows. 4/5
Engaged: Not as engaging as you hope for, but still engaging enough. The story has some lulls, but keeps your attention for the most part. Kaling and Emma Thompson are quite lovely. 3/5
Turbulence: It will make you laugh and so you’ll feel better about the turbulence. You won’t feel like the situation is nearly as awful. 4/5
Time: A solid film with a solid premise with a solid cast with solid jokes. 4/5
#4: Plus One — 16/20
Comfortable: A rom-com pretty comfortable. And it’s all about weddings, which is a situation in at least 50% of all movies. 4/5
Engaged: Though this movie is largely enjoyable, you won’t be stuck in your seat, watching without distractions. You won’t rewind if your headphones fall out. 4/5
Turbulence: No action, all talk. You’ll (hopefully) laugh through the bumps. 5/5
Time: A truly inventive and heartfelt romantic comedy that makes you want to watch more romantic comedies. Enjoyed the hell out of it. 4/5
#3: Sword of Trust — 18/20
Comfortable: It just looks like any other comedy. If anything, people will ask you what you’re watching because truly no one has seen this movie. 5/5
Engaged: If you buy into the plotline, it’s an enjoyable movie with pace. You’ll laugh a ton and be invested in the story. Not lots of action but it’ll keep you eyes on the screen. 4/5
Turbulence: Again, you’ll be laughing. Wait what turbulence? 5/5
Time: You’ll feel like you found a gem of a film. You’ll tell your friends about it when you get off the flight. You might even use the in-flight Wifi to post on Twitter. It’s not the best film of the year, but it’s real good. 4/5
#2: Once Upon a Time In Hollywood — 18/20
Comfortable: This is possibly the most recognizable film on the list, outside of The Lion King or Spider Man. It has major star power in Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Margot Robbie. The only issue is the violence towards the end of the film. 4/5
Engaged: To me, this is the highest quality film available during your JetBlue flight. The actors give incredible performances, the cinematography explores different perspectives of Los Angeles, and the story grabs your attention. 5/5
Turbulence: If you were watching the last 20 minutes during turbulence, it’d be unfun. Everything else is more than ok. 4/5
Time: This film will be nominated for Best Picture, and millions of people watch the Oscars so you’ll feel like it’s time well spent. Also, the film is over two hours so you’ll have made a real dent in your flight time. 5/5
#1: Yesterday — 19/20 — THE BIG WINNER
Comfortable: With friendly faces like Ed Sheeran, James Corden, and Kate McKinnon in the mix, people will know you’re watching actors they also enjoy. 5/5
Engaged: It’s just not the greatest film overall. The seemingly endless amount of Beatles songs will keep you watching, though. It has enough comedy, enough romance, and enough goodness. Himesh Patel offers a fantastic performance. 4/5
Turbulence: Nothing gets you through Turbulence like the music of the Beatles. 5/5
Time: You’ll feel much happier after watching the film and that is the greatest gift an in-flight movie can give you. For a bit, you might even forget you’re flying. You’re just along for the ride. It’s the perfect in-flight movie. 5/5
Shockingly, JetBlue is not yet a sponsor of Peach Fuzz Critic. What’s your go-to in-flight movie?
This last week, I’ve had the honor of covering NewFest, NYC’s premiere LGBTQ film festival in its 31st year. I’m covering the festival for Ready Steady Cut, so that’s been my primary focus. As always, let’s break it down:
When I was 12 years old, the Scrubs episode titled ‘My Last Words’ premiered. There are a few different storylines of the episode, but only one that this article is discussing: Turk and J.D. talk with a man during the last hours of his life. Scrubs never did mess around with titles and ‘My Last Words’ is exactly what it sounds like.
Things to note:
‘My Last Words’ was the back half of a two-episode premiere, jammed together with ‘My Jerks’, an episode that kicked off Season 8, the last great season of the show. ‘My Jerks’ is fine, but it lacks an emotional punch and is playing up to more laughs. Watching these two episodes together does create a tremendous building of emotion though, and so I stand by that decision, whoever made it.
These two episodes were the first to be shown on ABC, after the show moved networks from its longstanding home of NBC.
As I stated, I was 12 years old and about to turn 13, which means I was in 7th grade. Very impressionable and turbulent time for a kid, and I was unsure of what I liked or why I liked it.
It felt like Scrubs was always on during this time of my life. I was constantly watching the show, though I wasn’t always keeping up on a week-by-week basis. It was an all-consuming phase.
I found out that 6.7 million people watched this episode. If we say that one out of every two people cried, which is likely, that means at least 3.35 million people cried at the same time that I cried. That is just wild to think about.
Scrubs had already been going for close to a decade. It started in 2001 and this was 2009.
This episode in particular
Scrubs came out 18 years ago, two days ago. Dr. Cox wouldn’t be proud of my tardiness. Each episode followed a pattern: happy, funny stuff to start, a little bit of heavy/sad news in the middle given usually by a J.D. voiceover, more funny stuff, and then really heavy/sad news at the end given by another J.D. voiceover. Shea Serrano details it with some hilarious eloquence for a piece at The Ringer.
Because of the above pattern, you can brace yourself for the sad times. You know that they’re coming and they become less sad. That is how it works for almost all situations in life, except for one: death.
The show has never shied away from death, as it’s featured in dozens of episodes. Patients dying is a regular part of working at a hospital and I’m assuming creator Bill Lawrence wanted us to know that.
In this particular episode, Turk and J.D., perennial best friends played by real-life best friends Donald Faison and Zach Braff, are having their annual steak night. It’s a big occasion with a song and dance.
They are also dealing with interns, one of them being a fresh Aziz Ansari. But that’s about it. Several main characters are not even mentioned or shown in the course of the episode, an oddity for the show.
This episode is fully about Turk, J.D., and their talks with a patient named George Valentine. Glynn Turman was tapped to play Valentine and boy was that a good choice by the casting director.
Valentine is in Sacred Heart because he’s dying and these are his final hours. He has a terminal illness and is going to drift off into an endless sleep on this particular night. Steak night night. This episode doesn’t have all of the funny parts of other episodes. There aren’t lots of “lighten the mood” moments. It’s about death and that’s it.
Why I cried
When J.D. finds out why George is in the hospital, he says, “We think of hospitals as places where people go to heal, but they’re also places where people go to die.” Unpacking the gravity of that sentence is an entire different article, but it hits you as if you forgot you were standing on the tracks.
Scrubs does that to you, as you often forget the bleakness of situations because you’re too busy laughing at “Giant Doctor” or Dr. Cox’s demeaning remarks or J.D. daydreaming once again. You don’t forget in this episode. Upon rewatch, it was the same arresting feeling I felt 10 years ago, and knowing the end didn’t make watching it any easier.
The three talk about death and how none of them are scared of it. The doctors have lost their fear over time, and George has had a good, long life. All he wants is an ice cold beer before he goes.
When J.D. and Turk find out that George doesn’t have family coming to stay with him in his final hours, they stay instead. “When you get down to it, taking care of a patient means more than anything, even steak night,” says J.D. It’s the reason they’re such good doctors and after seven seasons of learning, they’ve grown not just as medical professionals, but as people as well.
They pull up chairs and sit with George, talking about their fathers, their college days, and their views of an afterlife. J.D. even gives a rundown of his and Turk’s first day in heaven, a small respite to the sadness clouding the screen.
“I’ll tell you one thing. I sure didn’t think I’d go like this,” says George, finally speaking up after letting the two friends spout on. George’s entire life “boils down to these four pages”, or his will. He’s grappling with death. We see a man struggle in (almost) real time, a focus on a singular death in a show filled with dying.
Finally, someone says what every audience member is thinking. First J.D. pipes up, and then Turk affirms.
“George, I’m terrified of dying.”
It’s a moment I’ve remembered for the last 10 years, and a reason I’ve always defended Scrubs. The comedy might miss at times and some dialogue might not work in today’s climate, but scenes like the on in “My Last Words” are unforgettable. They’re so important to watch and experience, and to see them while you’re young, it makes them all the more memorable.
This episode of Scrubs was the first time that a television show or a movie made me cry. I remember tearing up, curled up on our old green couch and covered by a homemade, blue-and-white checkered blanket. It wasn’t the waterworks, but tears were shed, and this so-called comedy was the reason.
It sounds weird but I didn’t realize that fiction could make you cry. I didn’t understand the power of film and television. Maybe I just didn’t allow other stories to affect me, too closed off by how I thought I was supposed to react. I’m not completely sure why this put me over the edge. I felt the wave crashing upon me once again though, 10 years and lots of life experiences later.
Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark” is still, and always will be, one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard, a go-to when life takes a wrong turn, when disappointment hits or when heartbreak comes.
J.D. says something though at the end of the episode that has particularly stuck with me.
“I would just hope that my last thought was a good one.”
Busy, busy, busy week for the young Peach Fuzz Critic. On this site, I wrote about Ad Astra, James Gray’s space odyssey featuring the everlasting Brad Pitt. I attempted to dissect the many questions Gray is posing and some of the answers to those questions.
On Cinema Sentries, I wrote about Los Tigres del Norte and their historic trip to California’s Folsom Prison. I watched a little film called Koko-di Koko-da, a Swedish horror-comedy-thriller flick that was just fantastic.
That’s about it! Thanks for following along. I’ll be doing this little recap each and every week so just you (mostly I) can remember the writing I did over the last seven days.
During one of the film industry’s “worst” summers at the box office, first-time director Gene Stupnitsky’s Good Boys stood out above the rest. It broke through the flop-machine of comedies from Seth Rogen’s other project Long Shot to Mindy Kaling’s Late Night and everything in between: movies with big names that received rave reviews, yet failed to reach the audiences they hoped to snatch up.
The budget for Good Boys was $20 million. How much it made on its opening weekend? $21 million. The almost-perfect storm of Rogen’s stamp of approval, middle school humor that grosses its viewers with both sweetness and a slew of sex jokes, and a well-made trailer signifying the end of summer led to a surprise success, a feel-good film that both critics and audiences have gushed over.
It was easy and enjoyable. The performances from the bean bag boys along with the entire supporting cast were just lovely, and the ending provided a gentleness I could feel coming yet still led to a smile on my face. The ridiculousness of the boys taking sips of beer and running through crowded highways made me laugh just enough for me to leave the theater feeling it was money well spent.
Yet 20 minutes later, I couldn’t tell you all three of the main characters names. I couldn’t recall specific lines of dialogue, or even tell you what the conflict (or the overcoming of that conflict) of the story turned out to be. I forgot it almost immediately, looking back with fondness on a memory that feels vague because of its age.
It felt like a movie from my childhood, relatable in terms of the feelings associated with seeing the film and all the now disassociated scenes and songs, but not recognizable and certainly not memorable. To me, it was a Netflix movie you decide to watch because it’s simply there, and you forget the next day because it’s not in front of you anymore.
I’ve seen Good Boys before. We all have. We’ve seen it in theaters, and we’ve certainly seen it on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Iterations of middle school boys doing dumb shit pass more frequently than we even realize. This doesn’t make it less enjoyable, nor does it make it less necessary. At this time, it might even have a larger impact in creating a ray of light on another awful news day. The originality of the bean bag boys feels a bit washed, dried, folded up, and shoved right back into the machine, and that doesn’t sit well.
Compare this film with Booksmart for example. Both films were made with first-time directors: Stupnitsky and Olivia Wilde. Both films were released by mid-major studios: Good Universe and Annapurna. Both films are raunchy comedies focused on young friend groups having one wild day (or one wild night). Both are “certified fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes. Both films even have doses of Molly Gordon, for good reason, peppered in.
Though differing marketing campaigns and distributors should be noted, it’s a harsh comparison once you look at the box office results. Booksmart, made by a female director and showcasing a fresh (and mostly) female cast, operating on a $6 million budget, grossed a total of $23 million after 77 days in theaters. In contrast, after 22 days in theaters, Good Boys, made by several hordes of white men, has grossed $75 million and counting. I’m glad a mid-major comedy is making money. I just think it’s the wrong one.
Not all critics lauded Stupnitsky’s film, though. It was hardly enough to garner an R-rating. The 25th “FUCK” by the bean bag boys was an endless echo. The runtime was 89 minutes yet it could have been 60, maybe even a clean 30. The heralded kissing party was, somehow, underwhelming. And I’m skeptical that these boys would even be friends.
I liked Good Boys and I look forward to half-watching it on Netflix while making dinner 3 months from now.