Time to change things up. I've (finally) gotten tired of my silly movie award categories, and need a change.
I decided to go with a conventional one-to-five rating scale. But I wanted to use a good symbol, something other than stars (too common), thumbs-up (too cliched) or a maple leaf (too patriotic). I'm using a symbol that's very meaningful to me. (To be honest, it was between ☮ and this, but I could only get the peace sign to work in Blogger.)
Here are the movies and series I watched between the end of the 2018 World Series and 2019 Opening Day, alphabetically, rated on a scale of five.
This drama featured truly great acting, and a certain amount of tension. Ultimately, though, I didn't buy the premise. Would a lifetime marriage really founder on a revelation about feelings that occurred before the couple even met? It strained credulity.
This movie perfectly captured what it feels like to be in 8th grade and an outsider, struggling to somehow be yourself and to fit in at the same time. Sweet, funny, hits all the right notes. Tremendous acting from the young Elsie Fisher. Ranks with "Show Me Love" ("Fucking Amal") as one of my favourite girl coming-of-age movies.
A Most Violent Year
Ponderous, melodramatic, cliched immigrant-struggle/mob movie. Wasn't awful, but you've seen it all before.
I loved this when it was first released, and it remains one of my favourite films of all-time. From the transcendence of the opening credits to the final scene in Central Park, I was gripped. Writing, acting, and directing -- all stellar. Magical realism at its best.
Beatriz at Dinner
Why do I watch dinner-party movies? This film is an excuse to expose white male privilege and an idealized version of its opposite. Low-hanging fruit. Good politics and Salma Hayek save it from the scrap heap, but couldn't make it worth seeing.
I understand that an Afrocentric superhero movie was a Big Event. But doesn't the movie also have to be good? Or are superhero movies supposed to be collections of bad acting, ridiculously cliched dialogue, and boring, predictable plotlines? Did the whole world give this movie a pass because "we need black superheroes"? Demand more.
Call Me By Your Name
Ditto gay romance. This was too boring and cliched to watch. Good acting and visuals saved it from the bottom.
This interesting movie is based on the story of Christine Chubbuck, a newscaster with the tragic distinction of being the first person to commit suicide on live television. The movie doesn't answer the biggest questions about Chubbuck, but it imagines her well, and Rebecca Hall's performance is excellent.
Dawson City Frozen Time
What does a Gold Rush town in the Yukon have to do with the preservation of early film and the 1919 World Series? This is a lovely little documentary about a surprising subject. It didn't live up to the "masterpiece" hype, but it's a solid doc.
Dexter (entire series; currently watching final season)
Despite some horrendous acting from supporting roles and some weak subplots in the early seasons, the voice-over inner life of this series's title character hooked me. Dexter's outsider observations of society, the complicated relationship between good and evil (similar to Buffy and Angel), the nature of love and family, all feel meaningful. When you find yourself rooting against someone trying to expose a serial killer and rooting hard for the killer to get away, you know something effective has taken place. Suspenseful, unpredictable, and full of the very darkest humour.
The Disaster Artist
This movie about the bizarre "director" Tommy Wiseau and the worst film ever made is as hilarious and maddening as it should be. James Franco's portray of Wiseau is amazing. A lot of fun.
We watch this for comic relief after binge-watching heavy series. It's always funny enough to bother.
A funny, warm, open-hearted coming-of-age story, and a story about love and self-acceptance. It's too perfect to be real, but on the other hand, it's a much better fantasy than any standard fairytale. I loved this movie.
Elvis the Searcher
If you think Elvis Presley was just a weird joke -- or you think he only appropriated black music -- see this documentary. Also. if you love rock and roll, see how it was born.
The End of the Fucking World S1
Crime caper, alienated teen edition. Darkly funny, lightly tragic, very perceptive. Where is Season 2??
Frederick Wiseman, a bit out of control. After one-third of this movie, we get the point; then we get it over and over and over again. But hey, it's Wiseman, and it's the New York Public Library. This means it's worth seeing.
I loved the movie, but we absolutely could not stand this show. Doesn't work as a comedy, doesn't work as a crime drama. Just... no.
Paul Schrader's pitch-perfect screenplay and direction, and Ethan Hawke's stellar performance, make this loss-of-faith drama gripping and mesmerizing. No straightforward plot description can do this justice. Truly exceptional. For what it's worth, whoever summarized the plot for Wikipedia did not understand the ending.
The Florida Project
☮☮☮☮☮ or ☮ ?
A raw, funny, tragic look at a family disintegrating in poverty, a child's resilience, and the limits of compassion and empathy in our coldly capitalist world. A brilliant movie -- until the completely inappropriate ending. This is a five-star film marred by a unforgivably zero-star ending.
I absolutely loved The Gates, Christo and Jeanne Claude's installment in Central Park, and was so grateful to still be living in NYC when it took place. I didn't know that Albert Maysles made a film about it! The movie captures the bewildering stupidity of reactions to the project, the artists' persistence in creating it, and the astonishing beauty and power of the work itself.
The Good Place S2
This was... all right. Not nearly as good as S1, and by the end, I knew the show had finished its run. Definitely no interest in S3.
He Won't Get Far On Foot
This biopic of cartoonist John Callahan -- based on his memoirs of the same name (the title itself from a cartoon caption) -- never really rises above the "overcoming adversity" template of disability movies. But Joaquin Phoenix's performance and the wonderful John Callahan himself more than compensates.
A clear-eyed, open-minded examination of dignity in dying through assisted suicide. A sad, powerful, important film. If you already support this, see it to refine your arguments. If you don't, see it, and ask yourself if your personal beliefs must apply to everyone. Also, we all die. It's not wrong to look at what we might need when it happens.
What's good: Benecio del Toro's incredible performance, a non-stereotypical portrayal of a Native American, a hard look at PTSD, an uplifting but credible male friendship. What's not good: the movie is too long and kind of boring. But if you're in the mood, it's worth seeing.
Key & Peele
We also watch this when we need a break from mayhem and murder.
This is a beautiful, brilliant, uplifting documentary about the street cats of Istanbul and the people who love them. It's a nearly perfect film. I deducted one ☮ for the absence of any perspective on humans' responsibility for animal sterilization.
Kills on Wheels
A dark comedy about wheelchair-using assassins, who use the social invisibility of people with disabilities to their advantage. As unsentimental a view of disability as I've ever seen in a movie. Also funny, meaningful, clever, and very well done.
A lovely teen coming-of-age story. Great performance by Saoirse Ronan and always a pleasure to see Laurie Metcalfe in anything. I didn't think this movie lived up to the hype, but it was very good.
This film introduces you to a man whose strength, resiliency, and perseverance seem superhuman, then it leaves you with more questions than answers. Yet another brilliant documentary by Werner Herzog.
Luke Cage S2
I thoroughly enjoyed the first season of Luke Cage, and was eagerly awaiting S2. Then I had to force myself to finish two episodes. Wow, was this bad. What a shame.
The Man Who Knew Infinity
Formulaic, but also very interesting.
An amazing story about the strength and resistance of survivors -- a group of men who were sexually abused while growing up at a Catholic school for deaf children, and how they fought back. It's also a historical perspective on child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church -- which is even older and more horrible than you might imagine. Another stellar documentary from Alex Gibney. See it.
S1-S13: a bland detective, ridiculous endings, everyone is white, and all the murderers are women!
S14-19: some real improvements. A better detective whose wife is a real human being (as opposed to a prop), and a cast somewhat more representative of the UK, and at least some male perps. I don't know why I got so hooked. It isn't that good, but I'll end up watching S20 and beyond.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
An estranged family of dysfunctional adults reunites. Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and (yes) Adam Sandler are all good. Ben Stiller is barely watchable. The story is pretty interesting, plus New York City.
A deep, searching look at a murder and its aftermath in post-9/11 New York City. Amazing writing, acting, and directing. One of the best mini-series we've seen.
Childhood trauma playing out in adult violence, class politics, blind human need, all wrapped up in a dark, suspenseful, Hollywood crime drama. There are some issues -- plot holes, improbable subplots, too many near-death escapes -- but the characters and relationships make it all worthwhile. Jon Voight's performance alone is worth the price of admission. Overall, I found Ray Donovan gripping and addictive.
The Sense of an Ending
Secrets and lies, and how the past never dies. Good movie.
Series Noire S2
This made-in-Quebec series started off a spoof about daytime television writers -- very funny. Halfway through the first season it started deepening, and while still funny, became touching and a little sad. We waited for S2 to be available with English subtitles, then watched the whole thing from the beginning. A crime thriller, goofball comedy, and a poignant drama -- very, very good.
Another bleak northern landscape, another brooding, widower detective. Not as good as Wallander, but better than Hinterland. Includes a solid, realistic portrayal of recovery from sexual assault, and a running theme of how outsiders are treated. Quite good.
The Sopranos (entire series -- currently watching final season)
The show that started it all, and our first time watching it. There are some sour notes -- episodes that are positively cringey -- but overall, the acting and writing are amazing. If it weren't for those clunker episodes, it would be five stars.
James Bond is usually a three-star, occasionally a two. I'm not nuts about Daniel Craig, but his Bond movies have been fun.
Star Trek Discovery (S1)
Very enjoyable Star Trek prequel. Similar to Bond: standard stuff, done well enough.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
A dark, funny, poignant redemption tale. Martin McDonagh's writing and directing, and excellent performances (especially from Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson), make this a really strong, compelling movie.
Wild, Wild Country
This documentary started out very strong but ultimately was not satisfying. There are far too many questions left unexplained. Still, it's a strange and interesting bit of history.
* * * * *
In the comedy-before-bed category, I watched these.
Jane the Virgin, half of S1
I watched half of one season of this show. I thought it was funny, cute, and quirky. Then it became the Latina Gilmore Girls, and I ran away.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) (currently on S4)
My current comedy-before-bed. All the old sitcoms that I've re-watched took a while to find their footing -- but not MTM. This show was funny from the first episode, the characters fully formed, the relationships credible. Mary's character is stronger, more feminist than I remembered. And of course it had one of the strongest ensemble sitcom casts of all time. Great show for future-star cameos, too. It's a pleasure to re-watch it.
New Girl (S1-S4)
This was my comedy-before-bed for a while. It was funny, smart, and quirky, if a little girly for me. After four seasons, some marketing genius must have gotten hold of it. It totally changed focus and tanked.
* * * * *
These series sound perfect for me, but I didn't enjoy them. There was something inauthentic or overly obvious or stilted about them. I'm going to try again.
Hell on Wheels