Welcome to the second edition of the sophomore year of The Buzzer-Beater, my weekly Monday column about college basketball and what’s going on around the country. This past weekend, I was in Tucson, Arizona, broadcasting Alabama softball. The Crimson Tide beat ninth-ranked Arizona on Saturday night and now sits at 10-0 overall after the first two weekends of the year. Shout-out to Bailey Hemphill, who had two Sunday homers on her 21st birthday as well as freshman phenom Montana Fouts, who registered two complete game victories and, through four starts, hasn’t walked a SINGLE BATTER all season. When I wasn’t at Hillenbrand Stadium, I watched a good bit of the action on the hardwood. A lot happened this week in college basketball (and it’s time for my yearly movie reviews), so let’s dive right in to the second version of The Buzzer-Beater.
Last weekend, I sat in a hotel and watched the Alabama men’s basketball team face-off against Vanderbilt in Memorial Gymnasium. Historically, Nashville has been a city of nightmares for the Crimson Tide, and fans felt uneasy about the game despite facing a Commodores team that was winless up to that point in conference play.
Alabama won 77-67. We yelled exciting things and had a few celebratory drinks after that one. Things looked good.
Since then, Alabama has not led in a game. A disappointing 82-63 loss at Mississippi State is excusable, but a puzzling home defeat to Florida 71-53 is hard to process. For an entire week, the energy wasn’t there. Alabama would get down by double-digits quickly and wouldn’t be able to claw back. The closest it got in the second half that I remember was nine against Mississippi State and eight against Florida. Then, the “run” would end and the lead would balloon. Why?
Alabama fans shouldn’t be surprised. This seems like a yearly occurrence with this program. The annual February swoon might as well be on the calendar just like President’s Day.
Crimson Tide fans will ask who to blame, and the easy answer is head coach Avery Johnson. After the Florida loss, Twitter lit up with “Fire Avery” comments and “How does this always happen?” questions. I don’t think Avery should be in any danger job-wise. Think about where this program was before he came? Attendance was tragic, and there was zero buzz about the basketball program. People didn’t care. Now, fans do (maybe a little too much), and that’s not a bad thing. Avery did that. He brought that excitement.
And yet, maybe he is partially to blame. According to the Tuscaloosa News’ Cecil Hurt, Johnson said he could tell the energy was down the morning of the Florida game during film. Hurt would later ask how that’s possible, and I’ll echo the sentiment: if you feel the energy down, fire them up! Get the team ready to play! He may have tried, but Johnson clearly didn’t accomplish that task, and that’s worrisome.
As things stand now, Alabama is in a precarious position. The Crimson Tide is 15-10 overall and 6-6 in a tough SEC. The next three are vital: a road game at Texas A&M, Vanderbilt in Coleman Coliseum, and trip to South Carolina. All certainly winnable, but can this team be trusted? Can the energy that has been non-existent the last two games suddenly reappear? There have been times this season when Alabama has looked like a team capable of a March run. Right now, an early exit in the NIT would seem about right.
Do I still believe in Alabama? Absolutely. Heck, this team would probably be in the NCAA Tournament if the field was released today. Kira Lewis, Jr. has been excellent this year, Donta Hall is still a force down low, and John Petty, Dazon Ingram, and Riley Norris (God love him) are still capable of making big plays. The talent hasn’t just disappeared; that’s not how things work.
Still, things have to change now. Alabama is on the edge of the NCAA Tournament and, fair or not, the next three games will tip the scale one way or the other. The energy has to be better. The team has to respond. It may be mid-February, but Alabama’s back is against the wall. The heart and fortitude of this team is about to be tested in a major way, and the response from Avery Johnson’s squad could, for better or worse, forever affect the trajectory of the program’s near future.
Gray’s Top Ten
- North Carolina
- Michigan State
A few changes from two weeks ago, obviously. Duke is number one, and I’m sure nobody is surprised. They continue to destroy the competition. Gonzaga will win out up until the NCAA Tournament, and Virginia continues to smother everybody not named Duke. Kentucky passes Tennessee after the destruction of the Vols on Saturday, despite the mid-week loss to a really good LSU team. Tennessee is fifth, but I still trust Rick Barnes and the veteran nucleus of that squad. I still see them as a Final Four threat. North Carolina continues to win (I don’t fault them for losing to Virginia), but Duke is coming up Wednesday. Can the Tar Heels be competitive in that game? Nevada continues to look strong, as does Houston. Both are in great shape heading down the stretch. Marquette’s offense is utterly ridiculous, and a win over Villanova was huge. The closing stretch has a few potholes, so they need to be careful. Finally, I’ll give the final slot to Michigan State. The Spartans bounced back well after some weird nights last week. A road win at Wisconsin is particularly impressive, especially since Michigan couldn’t do the same. A few teams are right on the cusp of the rankings, and some big contests coming up will surely shift a few things around in this top ten.
Ladies and gentlemen, sound the alarms. Start “Thunderstruck.” Get excited, because it’s time for our yearly reviews of Oscar-worthy movies. Your friends at Random Rankings HQ have watched hundreds of hours of film in preparation for this day, and we still didn’t get to every option (sorry, If Beale Street Could Talk and At Eternity’s Gate). How did we decide what movies made the cut? Here were the qualifications: Any film that’s a contender for best picture, best director, best actor/actress, best supporting actor/actress, and best original/adapted screenplay makes The List; Nomination in any of the categories results in an automatic addition to The List. With those rules in mind, naturally, this ranking is long. We go into great detail about each movie. Every review is well thought out, and they aren’t changing (you’ve seen our usual disclaimer). While overall only a few movies blew us away, overall this was a decently strong field. So, without further explanation, here we go. Spoiler Alert: Some clips shown may contain spoilers for the films. Watch at your own peril.
Rarely do films live up to the description “masterpiece.” In my book, that means complete perfection at every level—story, technical aspects, acting, everything possible. On my favorite movie list, almost none actually achieved the “masterpiece” distinction, despite how much I love them. It’s just hard to do. Enter Roma, the latest passion-project from visionary director Alfonso Cuarón. I’m not sure that I can put into words the experience of watching this film. It’s just so…perfect. Everything is precise; there are no missteps, from the direction to the script to the acting. Roma stars Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, a pregnant maid for a family in 1970s Mexico. Watching this movie, you’d be shocked to discover that Aparicio has had no formal acting training whatsoever and has never appeared on screen before. She is luminous in the role, expertly exuding the quiet grace needed in the scenes around the home while also providing excellent emotional work in multiple heartbreaking moments near the film’s climax. Aparicio is a revelation, and I can only pray that we see her again on the big screen soon. The rest of the cast does really great work too, particularly Marina de Tavira as Sofia (who netted a surprising but well-deserved Best Supporting Actress nomination), the mother of the family. Really, though, it’s Aparicio’s quietly haunting performance that steals the show. Well, that and everything Cuarón is doing behind the scenes. A semi-autobiographical take on his upbringing in Mexico, personal touches from the writer-director litter Roma. The script is flawless, with lots of subtle moments that balance out the big huge reveals that occur in the movie’s final third. Cuarón tantalizes you with a few mysteries early to keep the flow of the film going and then hits you with about half a dozen scenes that will either make you cry or gasp. This particular scene took my breath away for a variety of reasons (specifically plot-wise), but the mastery of Cuarón’s craft is evident with each camera zoom and panning shot. In my opinion, it’s the most unforgettable movie scene of the year, especially in the context of the larger film.
I wish I could write a full essay about Roma. There’s so much I want to highlight, so many great qualities that deserve focus. The cinematography is stunningly gorgeous, as is a more subdued, yet impressive set design. The decision by Cuarón to tell the entire story in black-and-white is a genius one; this movie just works tonally in that medium. There are scenes that are just breath-taking—a field-wide martial arts class, a scary venture into the ocean, a fiery New Year’s Eve, a stunning 180° shift in a movie theater…I mean, it’s all just so excellent, so personal. It’s my easy pick for Best Picture. The best part is that Roma is available on Netflix, so most of the general public has access. My one request is this: don’t watch this movie on your laptop. Instead, hook up your computer to a TV with an HDMI cord, turn out the lights, pump up the volume, and do your darndest to imitate a theater atmosphere. That’s the best way to soak in this film from Alfonso Cuarón that is a masterpiece in every sense of the word.
When I walk into a movie, there are a few things for which I’m looking. First, does the cast overall deliver strong performances? Second, does the plot make sense both immediately and after I’ve had a chance to sit and ruminate? Third, what technical aspects from the director make this film stand out? Finally, there are extra bonus points if I cry. That’s always something that moves it up the list. Widows checks all of those boxes and then some. Based on a television show he watched religiously while growing up, director Steve McQueen pours his heart into this thriller. It’s an interesting idea—an awards-bait movie that’s also a popcorn flick. The story follows a group of women who must pull off one last heist after their husbands are murdered in a job gone wrong, and it’s thrilling from the opening shot.
There are twists and turns that make it riveting, and the surprises genuinely shock. As usual in my reviews, though, I have to gush about the numerous amazing performances. Everything starts with Viola Davis, who I believe is the best actress alive today.
The depth of Davis’ portrayal of Veronica is astounding; each emotion is felt with every stare into a window or harsh word spoken to a member of her crew, and it’s just phenomenal to watch. The supporting cast behind Davis more than holds their own, and it’s hard not to want to single out everybody. Elizabeth Debicki as Alice is a complete revelation; to be honest, it may have been my favorite performance in the film because of how much meaty material Debicki can play with. Daniel Kaluuya is phenomenally terrifying as a mob enforcer, and I think this performance was better than the one a year ago in Get Out.
Liam Neeson, Colin Ferrell, Cynthia Erivo…they’re all excellent, and I wish I could write full pages about each performance. Still, the show-stopping force is Davis, who acts with such gravitas in a heart-breaking role. I’d like to say she’s the best part of the film, but McQueen steals the headlines with a single scene. It’s a poignant, single-take moment that shows the wealth disparity in Chicago, and it took my breath away. This scene marks some of the best mastery of film-making that I saw this year, and it’s a big reason why it’s in the top two. With no Oscar nominations, Widows is THE most over-looked film of the year.
3. The Wife
There are some movies that, when you watch them, were obviously created to showcase the talents of a specific actor or actress. The Wife is that kind of film for Glenn Close, who in my mind is the frontrunner for Best Actress in a Leading Role. While this movie has a lot going for it (including a really solid supporting cast, especially a delightfully maniacal Jonathan Pryce), it’s Close who makes this movie rank so highly on my list. It’s the performance of the year, and it isn’t even close.
The movie starts more understated, with the rage felt by Close’s Joan bubbling under the surface. Every pierce of her eyes sends a chill down your spine, and every forced smile is painful. As the tension grows, so does the obvious anger lying behind Joan’s fixed half-smile. Then, when the climax of the movie comes, Close goes all in. Her emotion is felt with every agonizing bit of dialogue that comes out of her mouth. Rarely does her tone reach yelling, and yet she still demands your full attention.
You’ll sit, stunned, as she lays into her husband following years of emotional abuse. The fury of that scene is worth the price of admission alone. It’s a true tour-de-force performance in every sense of the phrase from Glenn Close, and it’ll stick with you for days, even months, after the credits roll.
4. A Star is Born
For a directorial debut, Bradley Cooper nails this movie. A remake from many past renditions, A Star is Born leans heavily into the love story aspect of its plot, and it just works. Let’s start with Cooper’s direction, which impressed me the more I thought about it afterwards. For a debut picture, it’s really sublime work, and he deserves the accolades that are coming. Somehow, Cooper is even more impressive as Jackson Maine, a singer whose career is slowly slipping away. It’s a heart-breaking performance mainly because it’s easy to see just how much Maine loves Ally (Lady Gaga), and yet can’t get past his self-destructive tendencies. It’s my favorite lead actor performance of the year.
Close behind him is Sam Elliott, who plays Maine’s brother Bobby. Elliott only has a few scenes here and there, but he makes the most of his limited screen time. The last two times Elliott appears will break your heart, and I’d go ahead and say Elliott’s is my favorite supporting actor performance of the year. As for the music, every track really does stick with you. “Shallow” is a lock to win Best Original Song, and there are plenty of other earworms in the soundtrack. Even the songs that are supposed to be “bad” for plot’s sake actually turn out to be pretty solid. The one thing I didn’t love? Interestingly, it’s the performance of Lady Gaga that gives me pause. I felt like she was a touch more wooden that need be in regular scenes. Now, when she sings, Gaga takes you to another world; I just wanted more from her during the everyday dialogue. In terms of the Oscars, the biggest shock was the snub for Cooper in Best Director. I thought he was a certain lock for a nomination, but I was wrong. Without a nomination for Best Editing, I’m not sure where A Star is Born can win besides Best Original Song, which is a shame because I really enjoyed this film. Sure, there are a few things in the script that I found a bit corny, but overall, A Star is Born really hits all the right beats.
5. The Favourite
The first 2/3 of the movie had me thinking that The Favourite might take over the top spot. Then, we got to the climax and the ending. As expected, this movie is totally bonkers. Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the most unique directors out there, and this film is as weird as you’d expect from the man behind The Lobster. The Favourite is also really funny; I’m not one for laughing uncontrollably in a theater, but I did at certain points during this film. The rivalry between Abigail (an absolutely incredible Emma Stone) and Sarah (a slightly-less incredible but still solid Rachel Weisz) as they fight for the attentions of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman, who delivers my fourth-favorite lead actress performance of the year) is supremely entertaining to watch. When both Abigail and Sarah are in the castle, the film flows well and never gets boring.
Then, one of the women disappears, and the plot starts to lose some momentum. The ending itself just kind of happens, which is disappointing considering the amount of fun that’s had watching the first 2/3 of the film. Another performance worth highlighting is Nicholas Hoult, who is an absolute hoot in his role. The other MVP is production designer Fiona Crombie. The set pieces in The Favourite are so intricate and breath-taking that they’re almost characters in the film themselves. Queen Anne’s bedroom is particularly impressive. While the score is fitting but, occasionally, a bit distracting, the biggest takeaway for me is what almost was for this film.
The performances were fantastic (the second-best acting job by a full cast this year) and the first portions of the movie are superb. Had the ending been a little more satisfying, maybe The Favourite would be in penthouse spot. Instead, it’ll have to settle for a top five finish.
6. Boy Erased
The biggest disappointment this awards season, besides the shutout of Widows, is the complete lack of recognition for what I think is the most underrated performance of the year (and yes, I say this despite a Golden Globe nomination). Take a bow, Lucas Hedges. Hedges portrays Jared, a young college student sent to gay conversion therapy by his preacher father (a complex Russell Crowe) and distraught mother (the ever-wonderful Nicole Kidman turning in the second-best work I’ve seen from her behind Big Little Lies).
A movie about conversion therapy is as difficult to watch as you’d expect; scenes featuring Joel Edgerton (who also wrote and directed the film) as the leader of the organization are as problematic and gut-wrenching as any I saw this year. Edgerton himself plays the role of the monstrous minister quite well. There’s one part of the therapy that gets physical and features a “patient’s” little sister joining in the act as well; that disturbed me to my core more than any other scene this year. Well, other than one sexual encounter for Jared early on that will break your heart. There are some issues with the film, as Edgerton’s direction can get a bit heavy-handed. The overuse of Troye Sivan’s original song “Revelation” gets a bit tedious, and the screenplay doesn’t necessarily dive into the heads of the main characters until the climax. Still, this movie works because of two performers—Hedges and Kidman, although the latter to a lesser extent.
Lucas Hedges is just superb; his dialogue drips with heartache as he tries to understand this new chapter in his life. The final scene when Jared is telling his father how a relationship between them will have to go in the future is finely acted, and it’s clear that Lucas Hedges is one of the rising movie stars of this generation. Nicole Kidman’s got two really strong scenes in this movie. The first comes when she tells off Edgerton’s character, and the second is when she comes to terms with having a gay son. They’re both excellent scenes that allow Kidman to shine, especially the second, much more nuanced moment. All in all, Boy Erased is a tough watch. There are scenes that will make you cringe and multiple that will make you cry. In the end, though, it’s the work of certain future Oscar winner Lucas Hedges and the super Nicole Kidman that’ll be the main takeaway. Well that, plus the knowledge that conversion therapy is absolutely terrible.
7. Eighth Grade
This was the toughest movie to watch because I cringed from the opening scene. Starring Elsie Fisher as Kayla Day, Eighth Grade follows Kayla as she deals with the last days of middle school while also preparing for high school. Kayla just wants friends; she wants people to watch her YouTube channel, and she wants her classmates to see that she’s not the super awkward girl they think her to be. The film is achingly honest with its portrayal of middle school life. It hurts to watch because we’ve all been there. We’ve all felt the need to be wanted and liked and the despair that comes when those goals aren’t reached. Fisher gives a natural, genuine performance that tells me she’s a star on the rise, and director Bo Burnham does an excellent job letting the film breathe while also finding a way to capture the anxiety of Kayla’s life.
The script is superb and deserves loads of recognition as well. And then there’s the car scene, which may go down as one of the best scenes of the year. It’s brutal but honest, and it highlights some of Fisher’s best work in the film. It’s uncomfortable to watch because we as the audience know what’s going to happen as soon as the car stops, and yet we can’t look away because we wonder how we’d react in that spot.
All in all, Bo Burnham’s directorial debut was a grand one with a really strong screenplay that deserves accolades. While there wasn’t anything that overtly popped in Eighth Grade, this film did its job—it told a raw, real story that will resonate with viewers long after the credits roll. Also, the Academy shutting out Eighth Grade is extremely disappointing.
8. Beautiful Boy
When the trailer for Beautiful Boy dropped over the summer, I knew it’d be tear-inducing. I watched that trailer a few times with other film students in Ireland, and our whole crew agreed that it looked like it could be really good, they just needed to tell the story right. Spoiler alert: director Felix Van Groeningen told it exactly like tales of drug usage have played out for many families across America. Starring Timothee Chalamet and Steve Carell, Beautiful Boy focuses on a cycle of addiction that rips through a family. Chalamet’s Nic is “taking every drug in the world,” and it’s tragic to see the continuous cycle that comes with his repeated struggles. Carell plays David, Nic’s father, as a desperate man trying to find hope that his son can defeat this wretched illness, and that hopefulness constantly leads to heartache. If you watch this movie and think it’s predictable, then welcome to the world of addiction. The film is a constant cycle, filled with denial, rehab, getting clean, feeling the itch for a quick hit, falling into the hole, and lying about it to those you love. This ritual happens a few times in the film, as it does in real life for families who deal with this kind of situation. It’s heart-breaking to watch, and it’s made even worse because you know what’s coming.
The direction from Van Groeningen features some interesting choices that veer too close to melodrama (the music choices throughout the film are all verging on distracting), but he does a nice job using flashbacks to build the relationship between Nic and David. The performances, as expected, are sublime. Chalamet once again delivers an emotion-filled turn that will haunt you, which makes his Academy Awards snub in the Best Supporting Actor category that much more disappointing. Not only are the facial expressions and words to his family harrowing, but his physical acting is spectacular. Chalamet goes all in when Nic is using, and that makes his appearance when sober all the more striking. Carell is just as fantastic, expertly portraying the grief that comes with the knowledge that his son may just be too far gone. The best scenes of the film, though, are when Carell and Chalamet are together, providing the best acting pair of the season. Each moment between them is filled with simultaneous hope and heartbreak, and there’s the continuous lingering shadow of repeating the cycle once again hovering over each conversation.
The supporting cast is strong too, particularly Maura Tierny as Nic’s stepmother (Amy Ryan plays Nic’s mom and she’s perfectly fine, I just couldn’t get over the fact that Michael Scott and Holly Flax got divorced each time Carell and Ryan shared a scene). In the end, Beautiful Boy told the story it needed to tell. It showed the tragic path of addiction and how that path can destroy a family, especially when they try to help. Anchored by Chalamet and Carell, this movie is one that needs to be seen. You’ll probably cry a good bit too, and you’ll definitely never want to do drugs.
9. Green Book
Green Book isn’t meant to be revelatory. It wasn’t supposed to be some masterpiece that garners lots of awards consideration. And yet, here it is in a pretty solid spot on The List. What makes this movie work? Let’s start with Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, who star as Dr. Don Shirley and Tony Vallelonga, respectively (and who both scored acting nominations).
They give two outstanding performances that play off of each other well. Ali has much more to play with as Shirley, a pianist who hires Vallelonga to be his driver while embarking on a concert tour in the 1960’s Deep South. Ali handles the emotional beats well as he battles with the racial issues that plagued the nation during that time period.
Mortensen is hilarious in his role, providing the off-color comments that make the plot flow easily. The script is pretty solid too, although there are one too many heavy-handed moments that caused me to roll my eyes a bit. While the direction is nothing special, I left the theater genuinely entertained. Green Book works because it’s a heart-warming film that has something to say, and that’s why I enjoyed it so much. Five years from now, it’ll probably be a long-forgotten movie. Right now, though, it takes a solid middle-of-the-road spot on The List.
10. First Man
I’ll start by saying this—First Man should’ve been better. It had all the pieces—Damien Chazelle, the hottest director in town. Ryan Gosling. Claire Foy. Kyle Chandler. It should’ve been more impactful; and yet, the best two things about this movie were Foy’s performance as Janet Armstrong and Justin Hurwitz’s score, which has been stuck in my head for weeks (AND SOMEHOW WAS SNUBBED BY THE ACADEMY?!?). This film about the moon landing felt distant from the get-go, and I couldn’t shake that feeling as I watched in a lightly-packed theater in Baton Rouge. Still, one cannot deny that First Man is a technical masterpiece. Damien Chazelle is at his very best here on that front, and this should rake in all of the technical awards. I think Hurwitz’s score finds a way to elevate parts of the movie that wouldn’t have been as good without it. And the moon landing scene? Breathtaking.
Still, something about this film just didn’t work with me, and I’m not sure why. Ryan Gosling’s understated performance works for the man he was trying to portray (Neil Armstrong), but it wasn’t as powerful as I was expecting, save for the scene when he tries to convey to his sons that he might not come home. The supporting players are forgettable at best, and the pacing of the plot left a lot to be desired. On paper, First Man should’ve been a slam dunk. Instead, it was just a routine layup with a lot of fancy footwork.
11. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
When the credits roll after Can You Ever Forgive Me?, one thought should cross your mind—“dang, Melissa McCarthy can act.” That was my biggest takeaway and easily the biggest surprise in the film. McCarthy’s performance as Lee Israel, an out-of-luck author who resorts to forgery to try to make ends meet, is superb, and it shows why she deserves so many more dramatic acting roles. McCarthy is excellent in a good, raunchy comedy, but no mistake—she’s got serious chops too.
Her co-star Richard E. Grant steals the show as well. Grant plays Jack Hock, Lee’s friend and co-conspirator in the scheme. Grant mixes in humor with an emotion that is tough to balance in a role like this, and he does so masterfully. It’s easy to see why months ago many thought he’d be a front-runner to win Best Supporting Actor.
Still, this movie isn’t anything special. The script is nice, with plenty of funny parts dispersed throughout the plot. Grant in particular gets some great quotes throughout the film. Marielle Heller’s direction is gentle, and she shows some great shots throughout, but there’s nothing that screams feat of cinema. The score from Nate Heller is fine but, again, nothing special. The best movie part, other than the acting, is the ending scene, which is quite hilarious. Still, I wanted more from Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and I unfortunately didn’t get it.
12. Black Panther
Black Panther wasn’t the best Marvel movie of 2018 (it was Infinity War) and, to be honest, that’s a big reason why it’s so low on the list. In a way, my ranking of Black Panther is more of a protest to that opinion. That, and I’m not as convinced as most critics about the “strengths” of this film. First, I didn’t think Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Erik Killmonger was as transcendent as some say. Sure, Killmonger was an intriguing villain, and easily one of the best in the MCU. That being said, I didn’t think Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal was the “show-stopping tour-de-force” that so many reported. If anything, I thought it might’ve been the sixth best performance in the film, behind Danai Gurira (Okoye), Letitia Wright (Shuri), Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa), Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), and Martin Freeman (Everett Ross). Simply put, I thought the praise for Jordan’s acting job in this film was a bit overcooked. Second, I had some issues with the layout of the film. Black Panther did a great job building the world of Wakanda in the first half of the film, and then it completely flies through dozens of plot points in the second half. To me, it just felt a bit disjointed near the climax and ending. There were some exciting parts, such as the Korean car chase scene. I certainly wasn’t bored in the theater as I was for a few other movies on my radar.
Still, I can’t in good conscience put Black Panther higher on The List because I don’t think it deserves to be the Marvel movie that I’m reviewing for this column. That movie should be Infinity War, and I don’t think there’s any question about that.
I had a lot of issues with this Spike Lee joint. The most hyped movie at the Galway Film Fleadh in Ireland that I attended over the summer, I went in excited and walked away disappointed. What went so wrong? Tonally, BlacKkKlansman is a complete mess. In an essay I wrote for my film class in Ireland, I said the following about this movie:
“Pardon if this gets a bit touchy here, but as I watched this movie, I felt like the final message was that America is lost, gone, and without hope for change. Blackkklansman isn’t up for interpretation; it’s made for one side of the political spectrum and will just alienate the other. This movie is Lee saying, more or less, that we’ve got a racist society that will never, ever be fixed. That’s not the message America needs right now. Lee makes the mistake, at least in my opinion, of lumping together white supremicists, Donald Trump, the KKK, and, in an indirect way, Trump voters as racists. That’s not something a lot of people will agree with, and it isn’t fair to the half of the country that voted for him to be president. The ending basically says that Republicans don’t want racial equality and don’t care about anybody that isn’t white. That message is a terrible one to send a country more divided than ever before, because Democrats will eat it up and shout it from the rooftops, which will in turn make Republicans less likely to work with them on issues facing the whole country.
(Note: I watched BlacKkKlansman the day after watching another Spike Lee joint Do The Right Thing, which I feel like handled the conversation of race in a much more nuanced and effective way; plus, it was just a better movie). I stand by this review. BlacKkKlansman is trying to say a lot about today’s political landscape (sometimes in ways that are much too heavy-handed), and yet it also wants to be a comedy. As my teacher wrote in an email he sent to the class, “The way Lee uses the brutality of the imagery of Charlottesville feels totally unearned by the film that has come before.” It felt like fluff piece for one side of the aisle, and I don’t think that’s what’s needed now. Simultaneously, the ending was a real letdown for what felt like an eventually intense climax. As for the performances, the standout is Adam Driver, who deservedly snagged a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
There’s a scene when Driver’s character realizes how his Jewish identity coincides with the hatred the KKK has for African-Americans, and it’s the best moment of the film and features real, nuanced acting from Driver. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Terrence Blanchard’s spectacular score as well; it was one of my favorites this year, and I’m glad to see it noticed by the Academy. Still, BlacKkKlansman didn’t sit well with me. I understand what it is trying to say, but I don’t think the message is passed as well as it could’ve been.
14. Bohemian Rhapsody
Can one sequence save a disaster of a movie? As a whole, Bohemian Rhapsody is terrible. Starring Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in this film about the rise of Queen (don’t be fooled by the fake “Freddie Mercury Biopic” label), Bohemian Rhapsody is a complete mess. If you’re familiar with movie news, you know why. If you’re not, Google “Bryan Singer” and then come back. After Singer was fired as shooting wrapped up, the folks in editing were left to the task of putting this project together. It shows; multiple cuts and edits are to nothing in particular, and the whole thing just looks like a jumbled mess.
(Don’t believe me? Watch this moment: https://twitter.com/reese_stephens/status/1092817401014554624 or watch the last 30 seconds of this scene:)
It reminds me of last year’s bottom-feeder on my list, All the Money in the World, which had to re-shoot the entire movie after the Kevin Spacey allegations. Not great company. And yet, I almost found myself enjoying things during the Live Aid concert scene. Showing most of the set was bold, but I loved it. In the hands of a better director or just in a better overall situation, that moment could’ve been the scene of the year.
Malek himself is solidly good in the role and worthy of his Best Actor nomination. It certainly looks like he’s going to win at the Oscars, although I wouldn’t give him the statuette (justice for Bradley Cooper). Still, Malek ingratiates himself in the role well, especially as the movie goes on; he has a few scenes of over-acting in the early portions. The rest of the cast is…fine? I couldn’t name a single other actor in this film because everybody else was pretty bland. The production design is poor and doesn’t give the early concert scenes a realistic feel, and the script is as heavy-handed as it gets. Historical inaccuracies litter the film, so much so that they can even become a little distracting after just an ounce of research.
Once it was finished, all I could think about was how a) this movie doesn’t deserve anything at the Oscars, let alone a Best Picture nomination and b) there’s something in here that, maybe, could’ve deserved it all. Unfortunately, situations surrounding the film turned it into a disaster and the only thing keeping it from being completely irrelevant to society is a magnetic star turn from Rami Malek.
Let’s start with the good—Christian Bale is magnificent, and I think he’ll win Best Actor in a Leading Role (even though it should go to Bradley Cooper) or come very, very close. It’s truly a classic Bale transformation, and his Dick Cheney impersonation is fantastic. Equally as superb is Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, who nails her imitation goals as well. Amy Adams continues to be the most consistent actress alive today, and she too is very deserving of her Academy Awards nomination in the supporting actress category. Despite what the movie becomes, she nails every role she gets.
Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld is also quite good in the movie (much better than Sam Rockwell, who somehow got a nomination for his shallow and caricature-like take of George W. Bush). That being said, let’s get to the bad. First off, why does Vice exist? What’s the point? As I watched it, I got the same feeling I had about BlacKkKlansman; this movie seems to be for one side of the political aisle, and that’s not what our country needs right now. The movie itself wasn’t particularly thrilling, either. In fact, I almost dozed off in the middle. Lastly, thanks to a voiceover device used throughout the film, we as the audience don’t learn anything about Cheney that we couldn’t look up with enough research. It’s literally the definitely of telling instead of showing. What did I want to get out of the film? Well, where were the answers about who Dick Cheney was and what shaped his political ideologies? What made him so extreme and power hungry, as the movie portrays without much backstory other than influence from Donald Rumsfeld? How did he get from a DUI in 1963 to a Congressional internship in 1968? If you’re going to do a biopic, do a biopic. Don’t just provide fancy visuals for what we could all learn from a Wikipedia page. Dive in and tell the full story if you’re going to do the movie at all (which I’m still not sure why it was created).
Adam McKay has his usual directorial touches throughout but, overall, Vice misses the mark in a big way. But hey, Christian Bale was still fantastic.
16. The Mule
The biggest disappointment of any movie on The List, and it isn’t close. The trailer got me excited for The Mule, but the movie itself just didn’t work. Clint Eastwood as Earl Stone was fine, but everything else was below average at best. The worst performance of the year belongs to Dianne Wiest, who played Earl’s wife and basically serves as an exposition dump. The script was easily the worst of the year from any film I saw, no contest. Sure, Eastwood has some funny scenes here and there. He cracks a few jokes about kids on phones and makes a few parting quips that you can get away with when you’re playing a 90-year old drug mule. Still, this movie was a mess. I was ready to walk away from the theater exhilarated; instead, I left frustrated and dissatisfied.
17. First Reformed
I didn’t get it. Sorry, but I thought this movie was just a bit too weird. Sure, Ethan Hawke gives a solid lead performance, and probably should’ve gotten the fifth Best Actor in a Leading Role spot of the contenders, but the plotting is slow and way too methodical. Hawke’s character’s motivations aren’t clear, at least to me. They didn’t track logically in my opinion. I just didn’t quite get it.
I tried, but this movie just didn’t work. Every year, a movie makes The List that I just don’t like at all (last year it was Phantom Thread). Congratulations, First Reformed, you win that distinction this year.
What movies weren’t “Oscar-worthy” that we loved? Here’s a special shout-out to the films that just missed qualifications:
Support the Girls
Avengers: Infinity War
A Quiet Place
SEC Bubble Watch
Non-Con SOS: 77
Record vs. Q1: 4-2
Record vs. Q2: 7-0
Losses to Q3 and Q4: 0
Non-Con SOS: 15
Record vs. Q1: 8-3
Record vs. Q2: 3-1
Losses to Q3 and Q4: 0
Non-Con SOS: 9
Record vs. Q1: 6-2
Record vs. Q2: 7-2
Losses to Q3 and Q4: 0
Non-Con SOS: 27
Record vs. Q1: 7-5
Record vs. Q2: 4-2
Losses to Q3 and Q4: 0
Non-Con SOS: 55
Record vs. Q1: 0-7
Record vs. Q2: 8-1
Losses to Q3 and Q4: 0
Non-Con SOS: 151
Record vs. Q1: 4-7
Record vs. Q2: 3-0
Losses to Q3 and Q4: 0
Work Left To Do
Non-Con SOS: 90
Record vs. Q1: 3-10
Record vs. Q2: 3-0
Losses to Q3 and Q4: 1
Non-Con SOS: 51
Record vs. Q1: 3-6
Record vs. Q2: 5-2
Losses to Q3 and Q4: 2
W2W4 This Week
Lots of good basketball on tap this week. Let’s dig in to the match-ups you don’t want to miss:
#4 Virginia at #22 Virginia Tech
#15 Purdue at Indiana
#24 Maryland at #21 Iowa
#4 Kentucky at Missouri
Alabama at Texas A&M
#16 Florida State at Clemson
Baylor at #19 Iowa State
#8 North Carolina at #1 Duke
Florida at #13 LSU
#7 Michigan at Minnesota
#3 Virginia at #18 Louisville
#5 Tennessee at #13 LSU
#11 Marquette at Providence
Auburn at #4 Kentucky
#19 Iowa State at TCU
#16 Florida State at #8 North Carolina
#1 Duke at Syracuse
#12 Kansas at #14 Texas Tech
Vanderbilt at Alabama
#10 Michigan State at #7 Michigan
That’s it for this edition of
That’s it for the first edition of The Buzzer-Beater! Alabama softball comes home this weekend, so I’ll be in Tuscaloosa calling all the action, both for TV on SEC Network+ and on the Crimson Tide Sports Network.
Speaking of softball, if you’re a fan of the sport, you should check out my new podcast that I host with my broadcast partner Tom Canterbury called “Out of the Box.” In the first episode, we breakdown Alabama’s team, discuss the SEC, and interview Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy and softball expert Emily Pitek. Follow us on Twitter @OutoftheBox_Pod (https://twitter.com/OutoftheBox_Pod), and check out the premiere episode here: https://soundcloud.com/user-956923235/out-of-the-box-episode-1. Thank you for the support!
See you next week!