And the Oscar Goes To… Not a Clue

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Review: Nightmare Alley

I’ve been a big fan of Oscar winner Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water) since he first made his mark with Pan’s Labyrinth back in 2006. He’s a master at creating fantasy-filled narratives in visually striking settings. Nightmare Alley is lacking the fantasy that propelled his previous work. It tries to make up for that with one of the most gorgeous production designs in ages. And Bradley Cooper turns in an awards worth performance as conman Stanton Carlisle who rises from carnival side show mindreader to high society psychic, alongside an all-star cast that also includes Cate Blanchett, Toni Colette, Rooney Mara, and Willem Dafoe. But for all that, it ends up being a whole lot of flash that never pays off.

Arty Chick’s Seven Picks: Week 5

This week’s  picks include a healthy dose of Roman decadence, an obsessive and tragic snoop, a ghostly romance, a grieving mother on the warpath, violent union busting, food to die for, and a woman who’s brutally honest about sleeping her way to the top.  Something for everyone!  One is from Italy, another from Germany. There’s a Korean flick and a Danish one, too. And three of them are Oscar winners.

This week’s picks are:  La Grande Bellezza; The Lives of Others; Truly Madly DeeplyMother Matewan ; Babette’s Feast; Baby Face

Review: Nomadland

Nomadland is not a film that is easy to categorize. It’s a hybrid drama/documentary, an adaptation of the non-fiction book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century“, centered on a 60ish widow whose life has taken a downturn following the 2008 Great Recession, so she lives in a van and floats from campground to campground getting to know the other denizens in the same boat. Directed by Chloé Zhao who helmed The Rider in 2018, it continues her penchant for taking a true story and fictionalizing it with actors alongside non-actors who are part of the real story. The wonderful Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Fargo) stars as Fern. She’s solitary and resolute and not one to feel sorry for herself or her situation. It’s a quietly powerful film, with a dark undercurrent in a subculture of forgotten seniors barely scratching by, but doing it together.

American Pastoral

American Pastoral starts off strong, then takes a turn down a very long, dark and twisted road that I was more than ready to exit by the end of the film’s 108 minute running time. It felt much longer. The film is based on a 1997 Philip Roth novel that tells the story – over several decades – of Seymour “Swede” Levov (Ewan McGregor), a man who seems to have it all: He excels in sports at his New Jersey high school, becomes a successful businessman, marries a beauty queen, Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), and builds a seemingly idyllic life for himself and his family in a small town outside Newark. But his daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning) is a nut job. She gets mixed up with a bunch of radicals in the turbulent 1960s and disappears after being accused of a murderous act. Dawn has a breakdown, then a facelift, and seems content to never see Merry again. But Swede refuses to give up on his beloved daughter and embarks on a years-long quest to find her. The journey takes a heavy toll on Swede – and the audience.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel picks up slightly after the original ended, and if you did not see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel you could be a bit confused as to the relationships. All the same old folks are living in the ramshackle hotel in Jaipur, India, having ditched their old ways of defining themselves and it is going pretty well. Where the first one was about finding themselves, this one is about finding love. As with the first, a pretty straight forward story is elevated by an amazing cast including Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, and this time Richard Gere. It is a lot of fun!

Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis is the real reason to see Lincoln. He is without doubt the best actor on the planet. He doesn’t act — he becomes. All the portrayals of Lincoln before by many fine actors from Walter Huston to Henry Fonda to Brendan Fraser pale in comparison. And there have been more movies about Lincoln than any other President for good reason. He was a fascinating man in command at one of our country’s darkest times, and he was a masterful politician in every way. No wonder Spielberg decided to take a whack at telling it again. And he was smart not to do the “from the log cabin to the theater” history lesson that we have all seen before.