films reviews

Best Picture Winners, 2022-2011

I’ve been trying to catch up on Oscar Best Picture winners over the years for a while now, and thought I’d do a lil blog with brief reviews and thoughts, organized by decade. I review movies I watch on Letterboxd if you want to follow me there.

There will be spoilers in this! You’ve been warned. It also won’t be every 11 years, I’m just getting to 2011 on this installment so the next one will be 10 years, 2010-2000. Capiche?

2022 – Everything Everywhere All at Once

This is what I wrote before EEAAO won:

I’ve watched all the nominees except for Avatar 2. I will not be watching Avatar 2.

Out of all the nominees I think it’ll be a close race between Everything Everywhere All at Once and Banshees of Inisherin. Which is fun because they are very different films. I would be happy if either one won. The other films were all pretty good, except for The Fabelmans, which was kind of a disappointment.

What I’m writing now: GLAD EEAAO WON. Great film, great performances. 4.5/5

2021 – CODA

I think this film suffers a bit by being released on AppleTV, only because it feels like a Hallmark movie at many points. But in the end I really enjoyed it, and while it’s certainly formulaic, sometimes formula is good because it creates a frame from which you can explore character, and I think this film does a great job of giving us interesting characters who must fend for themselves in the unique world of being deaf. I may not be deaf, but I understand what it feels like to be alone in a crowded room. Lots of great scenes, especially in the 2nd and 3rd acts, even if the ending part is a little contrived and probably shouldn’t have ended the way it did. 4/5

2020 – Nomadland

I had no idea what this film was going be about, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a type of people I’ve seen and talked to numerous times in my life growing up in southwest Idaho: poor, destitute, forgotten by middle-class America. People who hate the government and shit in buckets. Another film about being alone among people. Excellent performance by Francis McDormand and all the supporting cast, many of whom are actual van living nomads. I’ll always have a place in my heart for these folks, even if I spent much of my adulthood trying desperately to get away from that life.

Also, the fact that Chloe Zhao made this AND the Eternals is very weird. 4.5/5

2019 – Parasite

I honestly don’t have much to say about this film other than I enjoyed it very much. Such an interesting premise with some wild twists and turns. I watched the black and white version which was cool, and one day I’ll watch it in color to see if it feels any different. Seeing the entire family immediately go in on the con in the beginning was great too. I love films where the characters are gung ho for anything, even if it means their own downfall. Great film. 4.5/5

2018 – Green Book

A lot of controversy around this film due to a variety of things that you can google on your own. That said, I liked it. Yes it has problems and is a little tropey, but Viggo and Mahershala give such great and opposing performances that it feels like an alternate version of The Odd Couple. Juxtaposing that with the utter lunacy of the Jim Crow south made for a film with some obvious plot points and characterizations, but one that I still liked sitting through. Plus, Tony folds an entire pizza in half to eat it at one point and that’s what I aspire my life to be like from now on. 3.5/5

2017 – The Shape of Water

This was also enjoyable to watch. I liked the spin on the classic monster movies of the 50s. I don’t really think it was Best Picture worthy though, it honestly felt a little hollow to me. Like a fable that didn’t really have a moral at the end besides it’s okay to fuck fish people. But the fish guy was cool looking and the leading lady is like Amelie if Amelie jerked off every morning in the bathtub. You go, girl. 3.5/5

2016 – Moonlight

This is probably the best film I’ve ever seen. Beautiful, touching, kind, this film has it all AND is beautifully shot and lit. I appreciate so much about this film. It is a film about so many things, but most of all it’s a film about men supporting men. You think about the Chiron/Kevin stuff, but Juan from the start was so supportive of Chiron. And then to find out almost in passing in the second act that he’s dead is just such a brilliant movement in the film. That relationship could’ve been its own film!

Ah I could talk about this film for hours. I had already seen it before writing this but I’m glad I watched it again, I think I found new things in it that I hadn’t before. 5/5

2015 – Spotlight

Another movie I knew nothing about going into it. A very important story to be told, for sure, and some good, subdued acting, except for John Slattery, who was basically playing Roger Sterling with a hint of a Boston dialect. Again, not sure if it was Best Picture worthy, but I appreciated the “just the facts” style of storytelling on these types of movies, where the plot is just getting the thing done with bits and pieces of character development thrown in. 3.5/5

2014 – Birdman

I’m still trying to decide if I liked this film. I think I did. It was a little hard to watch as someone who used to do theatre (not Broadway-level, but still). I think Michael Keaton did a great job and everyone else did well, but I also kind of felt afterward that I was taken for a ride. Which is what movies do, but I’m looking back and wondering what it was I watched. Slightly bamboozled, if you will.

That said, there were some truly enjoyable moments, like the above framed clip plus almost everything Zach Galifianakis did. 3.5/5

2013 – 12 Years a Slave

I couldn’t watch this film. I started it but the brutality was too much and I don’t think I can sit and watch a Black man get whipped and tortured and be enslaved for two whole hours. (I was also honestly kind of confused by the opening, which didn’t help.) I want to watch more films with Black people now, in modern times, experiencing life now, with all the trials and tribulations that follow. We shouldn’t forget slavery, of course, but we don’t need to keep visualizing it like this. Let’s celebrate Black people and not watch them get whipped all the time!

I’ll come back to it some other time.

2012 – Argo

In a lot of ways, I think this film is pitch perfect. Great cast, a LOT of tension throughout the film, from start to finish. Everything that happens on screen is serving the plot and there were numerous times when I felt actually nervous about what was going to happen, or not happen. That’s not a common thing for me. Most of the criticism I see about the film is how it doesn’t explore the deeper issues of the Iran hostage crisis, which is a salient point, but also, I don’t think this film is as much a political thriller as it is an “escape from prison” type film. Which is reductive, sure, but it has to be to serve its point. I’m sure there are plenty of other films and media that explore the complexity of the Iran hostage crisis with sufficient depth and nuance. Argo is a movie about getting people out of Iran. 4/5

2011 – The Artist

This film was a delight to watch. I truly had a blast watching it. I’m not a big “silent era” movie fan but I think they did a great service to the genre and time. Lots of great cinematography, shots you just don’t see anymore because they’re out of style (I guess). I think Uggie the dog deserved an Oscar nomination. Berenice Bejo is … the most attractive woman I’ve ever seen? In my life? Jean Dujardin did some excellent mugging and even though the plot was thin, it was supplanted by a certain joie de vivre (France!) that other films lack. 4/5

If I had to pick a “winner” of these winners, I’d probably pick Moonlight, with EEAAO second and Argo third.

I’ll be back soon with 2012-2002, yeah? A lot of those films I’ve already seen but some of them I think I need to or want to see again. No Country for Old Men? Don’t mind if I do!

films reviews

Some Thoughts on The Whale & Being Fat

Last night I saw The Whale. I’m going to assume you know the basics about the movie. I’ll probably spoil a bit of it too, because I don’t know how to talk about things without talking about the thing. So be warned.

Also, obligatory CW for weight talk and fatphobia.

I enjoyed the film quite a bit–Brendan Fraser was excellent and captivating, Hong Chau was even more so (and I didn’t recognize her from The Menu! Such different characters, I love it). Everyone else did fine jobs, if a little theatrical. The script was clearly a play turned into a movie by the guy who wrote the play.

Side note: The movie/play was written by Samuel D. Hunter, who is an north Idaho native (hence the Moscow, ID references). He writes a lot of plays about Idaho and is kind of a theatrical celebrity there. I didn’t know he wrote this but to be fair he did write it around 2013, a few years after I left Idaho. Plus if Wikipedia is correct it never premiered anywhere in Idaho. (I’m fairly certain some of his later plays did premiere in Idaho though.) I have … thoughts about this, about a man who grew up in Idaho writing plays on the east coast about Idaho and having very few of those plays ever premiere in Idaho. I honestly don’t know if that’s a fault of Sam or of the dearth of spaces for world premiere plays by a Julliard graduate in Idaho.

In any case, this is a play/film about a very obese man in the last few days of his life. He is taken care of by his widow’s sister, Liz, and is visited by his estranged daughter, Ellie, a New Life church dude, Thomas, and eventually his ex-wife, Mary. Again, many of these interactions feel more theatrical than film, with the exception of Charlie and Liz, who feel like two people who are in a situation together.

That’s probably not very clear; what I mean is that sometimes when two characters appear in plays, they talk to each other in these sort of psychological status games because in a play, there aren’t many other pressures out there. In a film, you can have a scene where a man is trapped in a sinking submarine and the water is rising and about to drown him. That is a pressure outside of man. (Man vs Nature, I suppose.) You can’t really do that in a play, so plays (especially contemporary/”realism”/living room plays) tend to have characters talking to each other a lot and trying to win, or not win, in the case of Ellie, who is clearly a foil to Charlie and written so abruptly unlike him that it’s a little jarring. It’s one thing to be angsty and 14, and another thing entirely to be angsty and 17. Hunter does set up the reason why she’s like this (or a reason, at least), but it still feels like the raw angst of a younger teen.

There is also a lot of symbolism in this film, some of it very overt, which again feels like it’s straight out of a play. Charlie needing to hear his daughter’s essay before he dies is a good example. That sounds like a necessity born out of a play. It’s not a bad idea, per se, it just feels strange from a film perspective. Though, it is also a film about a man who clearly cannot or does not want to leave his house, so him having something close to cling to in his final hours makes sense. (The reveal of him having $120k in the bank also feels theatrical, but I digress.)

Alright let’s talk about the elephant, or whale, if you will, in the room: Charlie’s fatness. Charlie is 600lbs and has, at least, a disordered eating disorder, or, at worst, a food addiction. I think it’s the latter, since it is obviously affecting the people around him and he cannot and does not want to quit. A lot of people who hate this film criticize it for fatphobia. Specifically, some people seem to think that Darren Aronofsky and/or Samuel Hunter are fatphobic. I’ve seen critiques that Aronofsky’s lingering shots of Charlie’s obesity are an example of this.

So, I’ve never been 600lbs, but I have been 308lbs, as late as August of 2022. I’ve always had issues with food, which I won’t go into great detail about, but which resulted in me being fairly overweight my entire life, with a few exceptions where I was a decent weight but thought I was overweight because, you know, mental health issues. There are a couple of scenes in The Whale where Charlie binge eats, and Aronofsky intentionally alters the shot during these moments, and I think people are getting the wrong idea about why he’s doing this.

Lately I’ve been talking with my therapist about my own binge eating, and why I do it. It took some steps to get here–not out of fear, but out of my own brain literally having to make new connections to find the links. Ironically, before I watched The Whale I had binged on some ramen. I love eating ramen raw with the seasoning sprinkled on top. It’s my weird guilty pleasure. I’ve been mostly embarrassed by this until one day I was at H Mart (an Asian grocery store if you don’t know) and saw that you can buy packages of crushed up ramen noodles with seasoning as a snack. So fuck embarrassment, Asians have been doing this for a while! But since I eat it dry, I can down like three or four of them without breaking a sweat.

Anyway, one of my “breakthroughs” if you will was after I learned about “parts” and parts integration. It’s a whole other blog post to talk about parts but the gist is that some psychologists believe that our brain has different “parts” or centers which are initially separate when we’re kids but eventually form a cohesive whole. This is an explanation for why Dissociative Identity Disorder exists: because if you are subjected to intense trauma at an age prior to when your parts integrate, they literally can remain separate, forming different personalities, some of whom exist solely to shield other parts of you from that trauma. That is a simplified way of explaining it, of course; I am not a psychologist.

At some point in the past couple of years, I came to realize that when I binge eat, my desire to do so does not come from my frontal, higher reasoning lobe. It is an impulsive, lizard brain thing — a different part of my brain, if you will. And that part somehow shuts down my higher reasoning brain and before I know it, I’ve finished two bags of gummy bears and a bag of Doritos. It’s like a stupor.

When I see Aronofsky shift the camera slightly when Charlie begins to binge eat, I interpret it as this shift, from higher, reasoning Charlie to impulsive, protective Charlie. The way he looks like he’s zoned out when he’s eating is the same kind of weird zen-esque mental state I get into when I binge eat. In other words, I don’t think those scenes are fatphobic. I think they are an equivalent to the scene of the alcoholic getting drunk. They are Charlie’s coping mechanism, and Liz knows this (even if she’s a bit of an enabler).

There are other scenes where it feels like Aronofsky is playing with the grandeur of Charlie’s size, such as when he stands up for the first time and there’s this swell of music and we see just how big Charlie really is. This seems a little more fatphobic but also, in a strange way, feels like a sort of nod of respect to the human body. Like, science and biology aside, it is wild that we can become 600lbs. I’m not saying that with distaste at all. It’s a miracle that we can achieve that, just like it’s a miracle that some guy can run a 200mi ultramarathon. And both of those extremes can veer toward death. There is I think an obvious moderation between being extremely fat and extremely thin, or being extremely lazy and being extremely fit. But to watch people achieve the extremes is truly extraordinary. The human body is amazing.

It’s absolutely terrible that people treat fat people with the level of vitriol and disrespect that they do. I was fortunate that my 308lbs seemed to hang on my body in such a way that nobody said anything about it, but I could see it, and feel it. And, in a way, I was unfortunate that nobody said anything. I wish people had, in hindsight. I probably would’ve hated it at the time, but it would’ve been nice if someone had said, “Hey, you look like you’ve put on a bit of weight, is everything alright?”

One of the things I liked about The Whale is how everyone (besides Ellie) truly cared for Charlie. Charlie was the only one who didn’t care about himself, but Liz and Thomas and even Dan the delivery driver cared about him. I think Ellie did too, at the end. It was just one of those nice reminders that people are generally looking out for you, but it’s hard to see that if you’re not looking out for yourself.

Other people commented about why an obese actor wasn’t cast as Charlie. I feel like seeing Charlie in the movie explains why. Imagine being 600lbs, waking up early every morning and going to a film shoot for 10-12 hours for a month. Charlie could barely stand on his own and you’re going to ask a real 600lbs person to attempt to stand on their own for several takes? I know that people want representation in film and media but I don’t think this is the fight, because in reality being in a film takes a lot of hard work and dedication that, honestly, go against the lifestyle of most 600lb people. I’ll probably catch some flak for saying that but it’s true. You don’t get to 600lbs by doing things, that’s the whole point.

Also, think of all the 600lb people in the world and how many of them would’ve given the level of acting that Fraser did. Aronofsky already spent 10 years trying to find the perfect Charlie, don’t you think he spent at least some of that time looking at casting an actual fat person in the role?

Anyway. The last bit of criticism I read is that Fraser did okay but people are lauding his performance because it’s his big comeback. I think this is a shitty thing to think and I hope I never have to hang out with those critics because they suck.

I just wanted to write this as someone who has dealt with my weight my entire life, and dealt with binge eating and how I felt that was portrayed in this movie. Which I thought was well made and well thought out. I think the movie suffers in other ways (part of me wishes it was just a Charlie & Liz film) but by the end of the film I was awestruck and had to sit with my thoughts for a while. I think it’s worth a watch. Charlie is a difficult man to watch at times but I think it’s important to humanize fat people. We don’t need to put fat people up on a pedestal, we need to show them being human. I think Darren Aronofsky does a decent job of that in this film.