No analysis (yet). No rambling pretence. Here they are, in all their glory: the 90th Academy Award nominations.
This morning at the crack of dawn, a half-dozen of Hollywood’s elite will announce to the world the nominations for the 90th Academy Awards. What movies can you expect to be up for the treasured trophies this year? It’s a more contentious year than most, but while the winners are likely to hold some unpredictable surprises this year, it’ll be the same batch of movies showing up in category after category.
In a just world, Frances McDormand would have the cult-like adoration other living legends like Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren do. Her performances are consistently things of brilliance. When the movies are weak, she’s the best thing about them; when they’re strong, it just makes her up her game.
Between her performances in Blood Simple, Mississippi Burning, Fargo, Almost Famous, Wonder Boys, North Country, and Olive Kitteridge, it was incredibly unlikely she could give a performance that surpassed them all. Then Martin McDonagh wrote Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Rotten Tomatoes is a fickle creature. It’s easy to think that because the site aggregates all the major reviews for a film and give a percentage of good reviews, it’s an accurate read on a movie’s reception.
Here’s the thing, though: Since they only attach a “fresh” or “rotten” label to each review, scores can look inflated when people universally land somewhere near the middle.
If 100% of critics feel a movie’s just not quite good enough to recommend, it gets a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Conversely, all it takes is every critic saying “it’s not bad” or “it’s worth watching once” for a movie to look like cinematic perfection.
Hey, unrelated question: Did you see Lady Bird got 100% on Rotten Tomatoes?
“Adult fairy tale” is one of those suspicious terms often used to give more credit to a silly premise than it deserves — but every now and then, it’s actually used to defend a fantastical movie stuffy mainstream adults would likely dismiss otherwise, like 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth.
That triple Oscar-winner was directed by jack-of-all-trades Guillermo del Toro. It was the most powerful filtering of del Toro’s visions of an already-storied career. After a Hellboy sequel, Pacific Rim, and Crimson Peak, del Toro has now returned to that unnerving space between genres, crafting another adult fairy tale that reaches out to childhood emotions within audiences while still incorporating severed fingers and a dead cat.
Aaron Sorkin is one of the very few writers famous enough to be a household name. Between A Few Good Men, Sports Night, The West Wing, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs, there are few acclaims he hasn’t earned and few challenges he hasn’t tackled. Of course, at the end of the day, those kudos and trials are all tied solely to writing. Until Molly’s Game.
Trying his hand at directing for the first time, Sorkin shows a mastery that would be surprising from pretty much anyone except him. His flourish for energetic dialogue and innovative act structures translates into a competent, bouncy movie that never slows down to be less than entertaining.
Based on the memoirs of the “Poker Princess,” Molly Bloom, Molly’s Game tells the tale of a whip-smart Olympic skier who, after his athletic career in sidelined, found another path in life that led to her running elite, high-stakes poker games which ultimately lured athletes, mobsters, and Tobey Maguire.
Because Sorkin could never tell a good story simply, Bloom’s story is framed by the devise of her being arrested by the FBI. Molly (Jessica Chastain) seeks the legal counsel of Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), and explains her innocence through the flashbacks that make up the bulk of the film.
It all allows for Sorkin to jump around in time with his typical hyperactivity, which translates into a movie as much fun to watch as to listen to. As much as directors like David Fincher, Rob Reiner, and Danny Boyle have all showed the upmost respect for Sorkin’s writing, the man most in sync with Sorkin’s mind in Sorkin himself.
Chastain gives one of her expectedly strong performances as Molly, taking us on a complex journey of a woman who, despite appearances, always took the most difficult road to remain ethical in a criminal world. Elba is a wonderful foil for her, bringing far more personality to the kind of generic lawyer role a movie like this should know well enough to avoid.
If Chastain and Elba were the only two characters in the movie, the cast would be strong enough to create greatness, but Sorkin doesn’t take that for granted, adding Kevin Costner as Molly’s father, Michael Cera as Player X (a composite of Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Ben Affleck), and more supporting roles filled by Chris O’Dowd, Graham Greene, Joe Keery, and Brian d’Arcy James with aplomb.
Sorkin has always had an affinity for strong female lead characters and the care he puts into Molly makes Chastain’s job much easier, but he’s unable to give that same attention to other characters who need them, leaving stock characters feeling like stock characters.
That said, only Sorkin could make scenes of poker games feel so alive. Between the crackling dialogue, the unpredictable story, and secret clues dropped through the course of the movie, Sorkin’s script for Molly’s Game is one of the best things he’s written recently. Most will continue to only know him as a writer for now, but if his directing continues to create things like Molly’s Game, he may not be known just for his writing for long.
4 / 5 stars
Gary Oldman is one of the great chameleons of our time. Over the last three decades, he’s played Sid Vicious and Lee Harvey Oswald, Beethoven and Dracula, Commissioner Gordon and Sirius Black. Unfathomably, he somehow even convincingly played a dwarf in the otherwise terrible Tiptoes. He disappears into every role he plays, whether it’s a literary titan in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead or whatever the hell he was in The Fifth Element.
Despite it all, he’s never earned that coveted Oscar. (He received his first and only nomination just five years ago, for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.) Barring any unforeseen circumstances, he’ll get his second when the Academy Award nominations are read in three weeks. Based on his stunning portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, he may very well win.