Gut Reaction: Star Wars: Episode IX Trailer

Usually when there’s a pop culture moment taking off online (e.g. breaking news of college admissions scandals, “Old Town Road” remixes trending, or Times Up-ing the next male Hollywood exec), I’m typically at work sitting at a desk and having to sneakily thumb my way through all the nonsense on my tiny iPhone SE screen, not letting my coworkers onto the fact that I’m nearly addicted to keeping abreast on such “news.” However, all that secrecy goes out the window when something truly monumental happens. And that is, of course, when a Star Wars trailer drops; and not just any Star Wars trailer, but the trailer to the closing chapter of the Skywalker-centric saga. I went full-screen, volume up (headphones on, because I’m still a polite coworker), and didn’t try to hunker over the screen to hide it. No, when it comes to Star Wars I wear my fandom on my sleeve. And then I watched and savored the next two minutes with bated breath.

What can I say? I loved it. I loved what we got, and what we didn’t get. It felt like the perfect amount of tease for a so-called “teaser” trailer. And once that Princess Leia theme kicked in, full body chills and watery eyes ensued. We got just enough glimpses of the characters we care about (although I’m not sure if we see Rose?), including the one and only Lando Calrissian; that put a smile on my face (Nice to see you, Billy Dee!). As well as the late great Carrie Fisher, which my emotions can’t process just yet, except for wanting to cry like Rey. It appears that we’ll be getting Rey, Finn, and Poe together for a while, and some sort of face off between Rey and Kylo Ren. Even though Kylo killed the love of my life Han Solo, I’m still pulling for him to turn back to the good side just in the nick of time à la Anakin Skywalker. Yet, all that may be ruined when Luke’s voiceover reminds us, “No one’s ever really gone.” Initially we assume he’s talking about himself being a Force Ghost (like the fallen Jedi before him), but by the end of the trailer we get a blackout and only hear maniacal laughing, letting us believe that it’s none other than Emperor Palpatine. Welp, that’s no good. We hear a slight riff of the First Order theme mixed into the final notes of the score, and then we get it folks: the title reveal. The Rise of Skywalker. Cue those chills once again!

What does it all mean? Is Luke going to be back in some form in a bigger way? Or is it alluding to the rising of his legacy via a new generation of Jedi, as nodded to in the ending to The Last Jedi? My bets are on the latter, though sometimes it’s just as fun to under-analyze and simply see what happens come December. Either way, I’m ready…and also not ready whatsoever for this incredible saga to come to an end.

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RANKING THE 2018 BEST PICTURE OSCAR NOMINEES BASED ON MY TEARS

Somehow in the flurry of work, life, and avoiding the horrors of the world, I forgot to release my special Oscars list of all the times I cried (or did not!) while watching the past year’s Best Picture nominees. That’s right, it’s (past) time for the 3rd Annual Movie that Made Me Cry the Most Awards! Let me preface this list with a disclaimer that this was not a good year for making me cry (do better, movies!). That, or my blood has gotten colder. Hard to tell at this juncture. Typically, the nominees tend to be real bummers or have a natural emotional gravitas at its core, but this year most were going for something different. There were attempts to be uplifting, or satirical, or just a reminder that, yeah, Queen made good music…we knew this! No need to make a movie telling us! There were no Manchester By The Seas or Call Me By Your Names…but a couple were close. And this year there will be a slight twist given that I can factor in the results from last night’s telecast. So, let’s get into it. Here’s my ranking of the cry-iest movies, on a scale from “I feel nothing” (0) to “Holy crap, I’m going to die from dehydration” (10). Also, I do not shy away from profanity or revealing key plot details, so read at your own risk!

9. Vice

This movie is a mess. It doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Satire? Drama? Slapstick comedy? I could almost cry from the eerily spot-on makeup job, as well as having to be reminded about how much Dick Cheney sucks, but alas, I did not cry. 0/10 Cries

8. Green Book

Ugh. Can I pass on my own list? Mahershala Ali is really great at what he was asked to do in this film—there’s no doubt that he is one of the greats in this business (just watch his “old age” acting in True Detective season three, it’s a sight to behold). But man, this is a very tidy movie about a racist guy who solves all of his racist thoughts by the end of the movie! It has no substance or realism to it, which, quite frankly, I find offensive. Then, there’s the dude who wrote this who sucks, including that time he tweeted anti-Muslim 9/11 conspiracies. This asshole now has more Oscars than Marty Scorsese. SCORSESE! Aaand he has a terrible songwriting career…look. it. up. I could have cried after this was awarded Best Picture last night. Quite frankly it’s soul crushing knowing that so many Academy voters thought this was not just an okay movie, but the best movie of the year. Spare me, please! 0/10 Cries

7. Bohemian Rhapsody

Where do I even begin with this one?! This was also not a good movie! First of all, known pedophile Bryan Singer was hired as the director. That was the movie’s first mistake. Then he got fired from the movie…but not because he is a pedophile. It was because he stopped showing up to set! Besides all that drama, the movie is just a series of “and then this happened and then this happened” all while glossing over the fact that Freddie Mercury is gay (like, they barely touch on that), but then he has AIDS, tells the band (this did not happen this way), then plays the Live Aid concert, which is essentially just a shot-for-shot remake of the actual thing…to which I say, just watch the real thing on YouTube! It really is that great of a concert performance on its own. And don’t even get me started on Rami Malek winning Best Actor when half of his presence on screen is lip-syncing! Sure, his mannerisms are like Freddie’s and he (sort of) looks like Freddie, but no. No to all of this. I’m tempted to say that this movie almost made me cry because it’s starting to make me resent Queen, which is the biggest tragedy of all. Also 0/10 Cries

6. BlacKKKlansmen

I really dug this one. John David Washington is great. Adam Driver is great, obvs. Even Topher Grace is great! But didn’t make me cry. Though Spike Lee’s after-party responses to Green Book winning almost made me cry from laughter. 0/10 Cries

5. Black Panther

Okay, here we go. Not only was this the highest-grossing movie of 2018, but it also made me a little teary-eyed. And no, it wasn’t the moment I saw Michael B. Jordan’s chiseled body. It was when Jordan’s Killmonger, a complex antagonist, submits to his defeat and claims how he’d rather die than live a life in chains. That shit got me. 2/10 Cries

4. The Favourite

I did not cry while watching this film, which was my favourite of the year. However, my eyes got a bit moist when Olivia Colman surprisingly (and deservingly) won Best Actress. She is the most delightfully odd person and I stan her and when she got emotional, and then addressed her husband who was emotional…well I got emotional too what do you want from me?? 3/10 Cries

3. Roma

Roma is so beautiful! And at times it is so beautifully sad. You would basically be a monster if you didn’t muster up a few tears watching Cleo deliver her baby in that sterile, emotionless hospital delivery room and then watch her learn that her child is dead. I’m so sorry to bum you all out. 5/10 Cries

2. A Star Is Born

Before I get into the tears, DID YOU SEE THAT PERFORMANCE LAST NIGHT? Fuuuuck. Damn. But, I digress. Y’all, this move is sad! I have never seen an earlier iteration of A Star Is Born so I did not know we were going…there. Sweet Bradley. And that poor dog had such a huge steak to eat, I hope he is okay. But yeah, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper have really really good chemistry in this, and the crying really stepped up its game when Gaga delivers that heart-wrenching solo performance at the end, looking straight into camera aka your soul. I live for this kind of drama! 7/10 Cries

1. Paddington 2

When Aunt Lucy shows up at the door it was like she was opening the floodgates to my heart…and my tear glands. I also cried when Paddington thinks the Brown family forgot about him and he believes he’s going to be stuck in prison fore—wait, what’s that? This wasn’t nominated for Best Picture? Are you sure? Not even a single award?? Oh. Okay. Um. Well do better next time, Academy voters. You don’t know what you’re missing. Still, 10/10 Cries for me!

Best Picture Wishlist

The Oscar nominations are a mere 12 hours away, and I’ve seen a few more top contenders of late, so here are the 10 films that I hope make it into the Best Picture race. I know it’s extremely unlikely for a few of these—if it were a fair world, Paddington 2 and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse would easily knock both Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody out of contention this year. Here’s hoping!

Black Panther

BlacKkKlansmen

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The Favourite

If Beale Street Could Talk

Paddington 2

Roma

Sorry to Bother You

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

A Star Is Born

Favorites of 2018

In no particular order, here are my favorite movies, shows, and performances from the last year…

Favo(u)rite Films

Black Panther: The soundtrack. The villain. The villain’s complicated but understandable worldview. The women. The vibrant world of Wakanda. This is what a solid, live-action superhero movie looks like.

The Favourite: You’ll never hear the words “Rub my legs” the same again. I love a good historical drama, but I especially love a historical drama through the eyes of director Yorgos Lanthimos who turns history into a dark comedy, chock-full of the crass reality of early eighteenth-century life. Darkly lit settings, gross diseases, duck races, and a moment of strange break dancing are just a few of the reasons that make The Favourite a unique film. Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult, and Joe Alwyn make this grim and witty tale about class and power politics even better, and then it leaves you pondering just how far you’d go for (what you think is) power.

Game Night: An unexpected, R-rated delight, full of fun performances from the whole cast. But perhaps Billy Magnussen and Jesse Plemons take the cake for the biggest laughs. Plus, love that Freaks and Geeks alum John Francis Daley co-directed.

Love, Simon: It’s hard to think that before 2018 we hadn’t had a gay lead in a studio teen film. Luckily, Love, Simon changed that with a charming story that gives us realistic young people to root for, even if they’re making mistakes along the way to adulthood. Props to Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel for being the couple and parenting role models that dreams are made of.

Paddington 2: The bear with the most returns in an even stronger sequel to a very strong debut in 2015. Though the plot surprisingly places Paddington in prison (he didn’t do it!), Paddington 2 is cute as hell. Ben Wishaw continues his voiceover work to make Paddington the most earnest and forthright character we’ve seen in recent years and Hugh Grant shines as a multi-talented villain.

Solo: A Star Wars Story: Although time has proved that Solo didn’t really make much of an impact in the cultural zeitgeist this year (as say, Black Panther has), I found this to be an entertaining romp. It’s also a really beautiful looking film. Alden Ehrenreich did the impossible—he stepped into the shoes of Harrison Ford and did a pretty darn good job at it too.

Sorry to Bother You: Sorry to Bother You is a weird, timely, and Black Mirror-esque allegory about race, labor, power, and the media. And for that, it’s unlike anything else this year. It also shows how great a villainous sociopath Armie Hammer can play, undoing the crush you may have developed while watching last year’s Call Me By Your Name.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Mind-blowing animation. Ace voice acting. Deeply funny and earnest. Spider-Verse gives us thought-out characters and beautiful set pieces, and I came out of the viewing loving teen lead Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore, and Jake Johnson’s Peter Parker. Worth seeing in theaters if you have the chance.

Three Identical Strangers: A different type of documentary, Three Identical Strangers is full of quasi-reenactments and confessionals that make for really interesting storytelling, not to mention the most energetic and fun beginning to a story I’ve seen in awhile. The title gives away part of the story, but there is so much more under the surface that will leave you shocked, heartbroken, and angry.

To All the Boys I Loved Before: Lara Jean is basically a new teen movie and Rom-Com icon thanks to this surprise Netflix film. Lana Condor is a standout as Lara Jean and gives her that relatable humanity that so many young girls (and grown women) crave to see in pop culture. Not to mention, Noah Centineo, also known as Mark Ruffalo’s Looper, is the teen crush that young girls (and grown women) also crave to see. The story is sweet, but perhaps the sweetest moment is Lara Jean talking to her dad, played wonderfully by John Corbett, talking about Lara Jean’s late mom set to Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Cue the crying.

Favorite TV Shows

American Vandal: Season one of American Vandal was so unexpectedly good that it seemed a second season was going to just be a re-hash of the same sort of thing. Wrong! Instead of focusing on “Who drew the dicks?” in the first season, we go to the main mystery of “Who is the Turd Burglar?” in season two. It might sound like frat-bro humor, but I assure you the whodunit of the Turd Burglar is so much more. The show also creatively incorporates a few past characters of season one and brings them into the excrement-chasing fray of a new school in the Seattle area. The only downside of season two was later learning that Netflix cancelled the series and we’ll never know what crime involving a body part or bodily function season three could have brought us.

The Americans: Farewell to the Jennings family. The final season of The Americans came back in full force after a somewhat lackluster fifth season (although still great by comparison to many TV dramas), and ended on a high note. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys proved again why they are so deserving of their recent Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, while other cast members like Noah Emmerich deserve more love. But all said and done, the series gave fans a satisfying ending that both punished and relieved our leading family. And, on point as ever with their music selections, the show used U2’s “With or Without You” perfectly—even though it’s being used quite literally in one of the season finale’s final scenes, its presence only elevated it to make it one of the best television sequences, perhaps ever.

Atlanta: Two words: Teddy Perkins. Perhaps the most talked about episode of television this year. Beyond that, the second season of Atlanta brought us many great moments, like the mythical “Florida Man” in the season opener, the mythical Drake in a great Van-focused episode, and the hilarious Bibby the barber in the “Barbershop” episode, in what was my personal favorite episode of the season.

Glow: I just think this show is so much fun. It’s like the adult version of watching camp movies as a kid, but with the addition of glorious 80s hair, cocaine, Marc Maron, and spandex. This season, Ruth and Debbie still shine, Bash deservedly gets more airtime (and playing to my heart, makes reference to The Muppets Take Manhattan), and we get a real “GLOW” episode within an episode, which includes a beautiful studio-film era dance set-piece featuring two of GLOW’s lesser-seen ladies.

The Haunting of Hill House: For a show with a lot of creepiness and scares, it sure did make me cry a lot. I especially loved seeing Carla Gugino and Henry Thomas on screen in emotionally developed characters. And a job well done on casting two generations of actors for the central kids that felt fluid and believable.

Homecoming: Not only does Homecoming break the norms of a “drama” by giving us half-hour episodes, making for a breezy 5-hour binge, it also breaks many formatting molds. Without giving too much away about this story involving America’s military complex, pharmaceuticals, government investigations, and ordinary people, there are some really interesting cinematic choices at play here from director Sam Esmail that reflect tone, time, and mood, plus grade-A performances from Stephan James, Julia Roberts, Bobby Cannavale, and Shea Wigham.

Killing Eve: Beyond the excitement of watching charismatic Sandra Oh in an unexpected show, not to mention as an MI5 agent in a British show, Killing Eve introduced us to Jodie Comer as the truly horrifying yet oh-so-stylish serial killer, Villanelle. With other stellar performances that gave this dark show lots of dark humor, we have the great Phoebe Waller-Bridge at the helm of this series as creator and writer to thank. It’s all a recipe for a devilishly delicious 8 hours of primo television as female lead hunts the other female lead, and vice-versa.

Queer Eye: After 2017, we desperately needed something goodhearted. Well, we got it in early February, and then again in June, with the rebooted version of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The later batch of episodes feels a bit more contrived and schmaltzy than the first, but you can’t deny the chemistry and earnestness of this fresh-faced Fab Five and the diverse group of men they work with.

Sharp Objects: For some, this was too much of a slow burn. For me, it was an intoxicating tale with powerful and sinister performances, complemented by my experience listening to Vanity Fair’s “Still Watching” podcast, which explored all the symbolic layers that one could find, say, in a creepy dollhouse. Extra points for rewarding viewers who watch the credits.

Succession: I discounted this series from the initial trailers—I was not interested in watching a rich, media-mogul and his family be rich assholes thanks to our very own rich, media-adjacent family in the White House. Of course, there’s something much more fun about watching a fictional family instead. The devious backstabbing, the ridiculous rich-people traditions, and the ultra dysfunctional family at the center of this dramedy are extremely entertaining, as are the opening credits and score, which craft the right tone. The icing on the cake? My two favorite performances of the year: the very strange character of soon-to-be-member of the family Tom, played by Matthew Macfadyen, and his relationship with cousin Greg, played by Nicholas Braun.

Survivor: David vs. Goliath: It’s hard to believe that we’ve had 37 seasons of Survivor, but here we are. That many seasons later, however, the show has managed to keep twists coming and find new castaways that viewers love and want to see win a million dollars. It’s the characters that developed this season, plus fun editing that we’ve never seen before, that made this a fun season with all first-time players.

 Wild Wild Country: Two words that entered the 2018 zeitgeist? Tough titties. This Netflix documentary, which focuses on a subject I knew nothing about, truly is a wild ride. There is no clear side to root for, but it will provoke you to think about what it means to find meaning in something bigger than yourself, as well as what it means to have a way of life you’ve known for decades be turned upside down.

Favorite Performances

The cast of The Haunting of Hill House

Jennifer Garner in Love, Simon

The cast of Homecoming

The cast of Sharp Objects

Charlize Theron in Tully

Ben Wishaw in Paddington 2 and Mary Poppins Returns

Hugh Grant in Paddington 2

Hayley Atwell in Howards End

Matthew Macfadyen in Howards End and Succession

The cast of Succession

Travis Tope in American Vandal

Jodie Comer in Killing Eve

Sandra Oh in Killing Eve

Lily James in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Jesse Plemons in Game Night

Billy Magnussen in Game Night

Lana Condor in To All the Boys I Loved Before

Noah Centineo in To All the Boys I Loved Before

Alden Ehrenreich in Solo: A Star Wars Story

Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Solo: A Star Wars Story

Thomas Haden Church in Divorce

Molly Shannon in Divorce

The cast of Sorry to Bother You

The voice cast of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs may be a collection of short films about life in the Old West, but each chapter of the titular book within a film has a lot in common with each other—and in common with life today. Now, the Old West is much different from our contemporary lives, especially on a material and a daily-way-of-life level—but what has really changed? We still migrate in order to find a more prosperous life somewhere yonder. We still hope that we might catch a lucky break and strike gold, or at least a metaphorical gold. We still work ourselves to the bone and struggle to make it by, and sometimes go to drastic measures to stay alive. We still may be uncomfortable around others not quite like us, perhaps making us act in unthinkable ways. We still are depleting the land we settle on. Yes, it’s all pretty bleak stuff, but these themes are at the core of the anthology.

There is something very raw and unnerving about most of the vignettes in Buster Scruggs, but there is also something extremely transfixing. While the wry charm and dark wit that you’d expect from directing pair Joel and Ethan Coen remains, many of the stories leave you feeling cold, with your gaze paralyzed on the screen. (And no it’s not from watching the “Meal Ticket” segment, where Liam Neeson and Harry Melling do an excellent job portraying despair and exhaustion during a frigid winter.) Maybe it’s the thought of transporting yourself to that time and realizing you’d never make it, or on the flip side maybe you’d do exactly what these characters do in order to live another day.

“Meal Ticket” is especially dark, with an ending that you fear is coming all along but don’t want to believe will happen. But, oh boy, does it happen. Throughout the stories, the Coens cut away from some of the most brutal moments, but one easily fills in the blanks. These visual omissions don’t make it any less visceral of a viewing experience. Thankfully, after “Meal Ticket,” we go to Tom Waits in “All Gold Canyon,” a somewhat more optimistic story—at least by way of soothing scenery and the simple enjoyment of watching Waits on screen with that scruff and deep growl hollering “Mr. Pocket!” over and over. The pleasantness, of course, is short-lived.

“The Girl Who Got Rattled” is another standout, and seems to be leading toward a less-depressing outcome…until it doesn’t. It’s a reminder of the brutality that can accompany exploration and the unknown—and catching an unlucky break. And much like every life lived, an instant can change everything. Just ask doggo President Pierce!

Ultimately, Buster Scruggs is about survival. It’s about the hopes and wishes we have for the future if we survive, and, much scarier and even harder to cope with, the anxieties and fears that live with us in the moment as we survive, grasping to get to the former. Perhaps that’s the harshest realization from Buster Scruggs, that the Manifest Destiny permeating in the Old West was just as much intoxicating as it was fatal. And in the end, after enduring the fears and struggles and hopes, all that happened to these people was that they became ink to paper, bound in a book. Which, sadly (optimistically?), is all we can ever hope to become.