It’s that time of year again.
As a voting member of the Writers Guild and various film organizations, I’m always sent stacks of screeners, links to streamers and piles of scripts in December/January for films that qualify for all the awards celebrations that pile up in advance of the Oscars. So it’s a cornucopia of films!
Or, as my beloved daughter calls it, Movie Jail.
And yes, I would try to share the largesse with the family. Every day. For weeks. So she has a point. But you want your child to be culturally literate, right? And you only shared the really good ones, right?
But you’re lucky. Because I’m not going to force you to watch all these films. I’m just going to cajole, persuade and beg you to check them out.
And yes, theaters are still closed. But a good number of the films I’m going to talk about in the next couple of weeks are already on streaming platforms or will end up there soon enough.
So with no further ado — and with a nod to the fact that I have only begun to dig through the treasure trove — here are a couple of really good films to look out for. And I promise, no spoilers, just enough to whet your appetite:
“Nomadland.” I committed to watch this because I worship and adore Frances McDormand, aka Police Chief Marge “You betcha!” Gunderson who captures the bad guy when he’s feeding that leg through the woodchipper in “Fargo.” She won an Oscar for Marge and another one for her performance as a desperate mother in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” I have seen her in everything from a truly odd staging of a musical from The Wooster Group where, dressed in an ill-fitting prairie schmatte, she sang along to an old vinyl record… for an hour… to a Zoom production of various Greek plays for first responders where she played both male and female Greek heroes. So I’ve earned my status as a certified fan.
I was not, however, a total fan of Chloe Zhao, the director. I’d been on a judging panel for a grant years ago that reviewed one of her very early scripts and found it flat. I didn’t really care for her film “Songs My Brothers Taught Me,” finding it too “doc-ish” for my tastes. If I want to look at doc footage, I’ll watch a doc. I want a little more art production in a narrative feature. But Chloe specializes in using non-actors in stories she devises and then filming them doc style. And it was just a whole lotta meh to me.
Apparently she started to find her footing with “The Rider” — another film set in the West using non-actors. And I intend to go back and watch it. Because here in “Nomadland,” she cracked the code. As usual, she’s done all her research and found the world and all the real characters that inhabit it. But then she inserts A-list actors who have the skill and willingness to become a part of that world — to join these folks where they live — and who then inject their own magnetism and pathos into the story. As a result, this story about older folks who’ve suffered terrible losses – from the death of a spouse or other family members to the dying of an industry or a community – is absolutely grounded in truth but soars because of the contributions from the trained actors.
And the subject couldn’t be more relevant. Our country is full of folks who feel disenfranchised right now and this film opens up that subject in an extraordinary way. The cinematography is also gorgeous. She’s taken a page from a favorite filmmaker of mine – Terence Malick (“Days of Heaven”) — and set almost everything at “magic hour,” that hour just as the sun is setting when the light blooms and everything looks gorgeous.
It’s won masses of awards already and will no doubt wait until it can be released in theaters so keep your eye out for it.
“Sound of Metal.” This one is out right now on Amazon and is a stunner. You will probably remember Riz Ahmed from “The Night Of” that wonderful limited series about the studious Pakistani kid who took a chance and went home with a much more experienced woman — and woke up next to her dead body. He’s charged with her murder and defended by John Turturro (in a wonderful turn as an ambulance chasing lawyer with a terrible case of eczema.)
Well Riz is unrecognizable in “Sound of Metal.” As the title suggests, he’s a “heavy metal” drummer and as any poster will tell you, he begins to lose his hearing as a result. Now, I’m not a heavy metal fan. And as the film began, I turned to my husband and said I’d be more invested in this if he played the cello. Seriously, I’m a Scarlatti girl. Anything by J.S. Bach. Or Miles Davis. Or the Beatles. In other words, I’m old. And heavy metal? To quote my neighbor in New York, “He should lose his hearing for playing that drek.”
But this isn’t a film about heavy metal or even about hearing loss although, as the poster will tell you, that happens. Like “Nomadland,” this is a film about how human beings react to change. And like “Nomadland,” the actors are inserted into a real world that grounds the film and that they in turn elevate.
And yes, both films have their dark moments but this is only to highlight the spiritually transcendent moments of light and hope that the filmmakers discover.
And yes, everyone is clamoring for comedy and distraction and I intend to embark on “Bridgerton” this weekend. Looks absolutely dishy.
But we also need catharsis. We need to see actors opening themselves up to the sorts of losses we’re all experiencing and somehow finding a way through to something new, something better. As Aristotle told us, drama is supposed to mirror life and then take us through our tragedies to enlightenment. And these two films do that brilliantly. Don’t miss them.
(Thank you so much for all your emails. Reach me at WelcomeToThePandemic@gmail.com. And find me on Twitter at @epagenyc or on Facebook at ElizabethPage.)