You Were Never Really Here

I went into this one purely on faith in recommendations, because on paper this movie did not sound like something I would want to watch. And that is why recommendations are good! You Were Never Really Here is the rough story of a troubled, bloody hitman on a mission to rescue a mysterious teenage girl from an underage prostitution ring. “I hear you’re brutal,” another man says to him at one point. “I can be,” he simply responds. So this sounds like you know what this is, right? And if you’re me you’re thinking, ehhh I don’t know. Even with Joaquin Phoenix in the lead, is this really going to be able to overcome itself? Oh boy is it. Because You Were Never Really Here transcends its genre, or just flatly does something entirely different with it. This is what you get when a movie with this plot is written and directed by a female filmmaker: something else.

Lynne Ramsay is fascinated with violence, but absolutely never, ever with glorifying it. The violence in her movie is never cool or badass, it only hurts. We spend far, far more time looking at the mental wounds violence has inflicted on the main character, physical wounds too, than actually seeing it carried out. In fact his big fight scenes are all elided, stunningly cut down into these dispersed stationary shots like you’re turning several pages of a book at a time, following along just behind him in the aftermath, or skipping ahead to spaces similarly devoid of action, just holding a bad promise. What it means is that this ultimately isn’t a film about violence after all, but a film about trauma. We don’t see any girls abused. We don’t see young Joe abused either, although the very present and troubling flashbacks make it clear his nightmare started early, and what he experienced in Iraq just continued the breakage that his father began.

This is a movie with the rhythm of PTSD, simultaneously numbed and sharply jerking and fearful and nauseated, disassociated, attacked and attacking, fierce and sad and lost. As you can see I’m still talking about the editing—Joe Bidi’s work is that good! And on the score is Jonny Greenwood, the film world’s current favorite brilliant, with his compositions like auditory cinematography. Speaking of the camera, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Joaquin Phoenix filmed under the direction of a woman, and he’s developed this punished physicality that renders his body into something like a dank knotted rope around a tree with the bark grown over it. He hurts just to watch. He’s perfect for this project, in other words.

Support the Girls

Support the Girls follows the general manager and several of her servers at an independent Hooters-style establishment in Texas over about a day and a half, during which it feels like approximately everything in the world manages to happen in one chunk of real estate along the interstate. So in other words: working as a woman in the service industry. It is funny and smart and deeply lovable, with one of the best, most cathartic endings of a movie released last year, leaving me probably looking a little manic, damp mascara smudged above a tired cheek-cracking grin. This movie is fantastic, and you can stream it on Hulu right now.

I love that Support the Girls is on Hulu. It’s accessible. It isn’t flashy or avant garde—just that straight-forward sort of small film that somehow seem best suited to renew your faith in the medium when they’re done this well. It’s kind of a little masterclass in scripting and directing an indie comedy without self-conscious embellishment, just good old fashioned sound movie-craft. An honest vision, shining performances, stable story structure and a 94-minute runtime—you can achieve wonders with that. Without ever feeling complicated, this is simultaneously a romping workplace comedy, a perceptive and heartfelt character study, and a completely unpretentious commentary on sexism and capitalism and racism and really, pick your -ism, because they’re all the lived reality of these girls.

I’m so about the new breed of feminist movie, where they’re simply about women living their absurd, shitty lives. There’s no message here about how these women can have it all, that they’re superheroes!, because they aren’t. They’re just trying to get through the fucking day. And the care and love they show each other isn’t some fluffy message about empowerment, it’s just what women do. It’s as honest as when they let each other down, which we do too. Some members of The Sisterhood are stupid bitches, and some will dazzle you with their fierceness, their kindness, or how they’re just….total weirdos. Most are gonna kinda be all of that, depending on how long a week it’s been.

Support the girls.


The 91st Annual Academy Awards are tonight, and I have some notes.

Nominees are sorted in order, with the best of the year coming first. And since I was already doing what I want, there are ten best picture nominees and six for each following category.

(My own personal favorites may be different, but that’s an even more indulgent project.)

Enjoy the TOSCARS.

Best Picture
First Reformed
The Favourite
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Cold War
The Rider
Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Support the Girls

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Kore-Eda Hirokazu, Shoplifters
Chloe Zhao, The Rider
Marielle Heller, Can You Ever Forgive Me
Paweł Pawlikowski, Cold War

Best Actress
Olivia Coleman, The Favourite
Sakura Ando, Shoplifters
Carey Mulligan, Wildlife
Regina Hall, Support the Girls
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Helena Howard, Madeline’s Madeline

Best Actor
Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
Bradley Jandreau, The Rider
Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here
and Bradley Cooper, he really did a great job in A Star Is Born

And those were the only great leading man performances this year, so we’ll fill the rest of the slots with two more great female performances:
Joanna Kulig, Cold War
Rachel McAdams, Disobedience

Best Supporting Actress
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Elizabeth Debicki, Widows
Anne Hathaway, Ocean’s 8
Haley Lu Richardson, Support the Girls

Best Supporting Actor
Nicholas Hoult, The Favourite
Richard Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Armie Hammer, Sorry To Bother You
Daniel Kaluuja, Widows
Hugh Grant, Paddington 2
******* [This is my spot for Steven Yeun in Burning. Have I seen Burning? No not yet! So why is Steven Yeun here? Because critics I like liked him in this a lot, and I just bet I will too. To be continued once I actually see Burning.]

Best Screenplay
Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara, The Favourite
Nicole Holofcener & Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman, Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Steve McQueen & Gillian Flynn, Widows
Boots Riley, Sorry To Bother You
Paul Schrader, First Reformed

Best Cinematography
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
James Laxton, If Beale Street Could Talk
Robbie Ryan, The Favourite
Łukasz Żal, Cold War
Alexander Dynan, First Reformed
Ashley Connor, Madeline’s Madeline

Best Editing
Joe Bini, You Were Never Really Here
Jaroslaw Kaminski, Cold War
Yorgos Mavropsaridis, The Favourite
Ben Rodriguez Jr., First Reformed
Sandi Tan, Shirkers
Peter Lambert, The Death of Stalin

Best Production Design
Fiona Crombie, The Favourite
Eugenio Caballero, Roma
Fernanda Guerrero, Dirty Computer
Keiko Mitsumatsu, Shoplifters
Marcel Slawinski & Katarzyna Sobanska-Strzalkowska, Cold War
Grace Yun, First Reformed

Best Score
Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk
Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow, Annihilation
Ludwig Goransson, Black Panther
Jonny Greenwood, You Were Never Really Here
Alexandre Desplat, The Sisters Brothers
Erik Friedlander, Thoroughbreds

Best Original Song
It’s ‘Shallow’. From A Star Is Born. You know the one.

Best Costumes
Ruth E. Carter, Black Panther
Sandy Powell, The Favourite
Giulia Piersanti, Suspiria
Andrea Flesch, Colette
Deirdra Govan, Sorry To Bother You
Kazuko Kurosawa, Shoplifters

I don’t know enough/haven’t seen enough of the other categories to make judgements, but I do have opinions on things that aren’t awards but would be if I ran things:

Best Ensemble Cast
The Favourite
Paddington 2
Support the Girls

Best Use of An Existing Song (so, Music Direction)
Elton John’s ‘Skyline Pigeon’ in The Favourite
Enya’s ‘Sail Away’ in Eighth Grade
Cynthia Erivo singing ’This Old Heart of Mine’ in Bad Times At the El Royale
‘Are You Washed In the Blood?’ in First Reformed
Rosie & the Originals’ ‘Angel Baby’ in You Were Never Really Here
Bill Haley & His Comets’ ‘Rock Around the Clock’ in Cold War

Best Trailer
First Reformed
If Beale Street Could Talk
The Favourite
Sorry To Bother You
A Star Is Born


Note: Reviews for all of these movies can be found in the archives, with the exception of Support the Girls and You Were Never Really Here, which I just caught this weekend and haven’t had time to write up yet. Coming soon! They were both real good in REAL different ways.

The Rider

For maybe the first 15 minutes of The Rider, I thought that it may not be the movie for me. “I’ll get up soon and make a hot toddy,” I thought to myself. Reader I never got up. This film had already grabbed me even then, I just hadn’t realized. I stayed in place, sat still, watching it, until the very end, and then finally moved to bend my head onto my knees and cry and cry. I felt like a clear Dakota wind might blow me apart but it was alright, the pieces of my slip-shod soul would just rest in the grasses with the broken reverent hearts of sorrowful cowboys forever more.

There’s a somewhat popular adage that directors who are not from a community somehow tend to be the ones to produce the truest works about it, their sensitivity unfettered from sentimentality. Of course this is only the case with the most empathetic and intelligent directors, which Chloé Zhao has just proven she is beyond a shadow of a doubt under a wide prairie sky, and I would like to add her to the Sean Baker list with full rights and privileges effective immediately.

Like Baker’s The Florida Project last year, the veritas nature of this movie’s production is astounding, even before combined with the care and insight this “outsider” director had in depicting a world that was not her own—all of this speaking to an absolutely gobsmacking amount of directorial talent) For only her second movie, Zhao, a filmmaker raised in the bustle of Beijing, stepped onto a remote Lakota-Sioux reservation in the American West, and worked with a cast of non-professional actors to craft an intimate, poetic Western on masculinity and identity, recreating for her cameras the real, lived story of her lead, young injured rodeo star Brady Jandreau (‘Brady Blackburn’ in the film).

This boy, this incredible boy, stepped in front of a camera for the first time in his life and turned in my second favorite male performance of the year, following only Ethan Hawke in First Reformed. He’s magic. I firmly believe that there are some people in this world who are Horse Trainers, and that their energy comes from somewhere in the earth and wind that the rest of ours doesn’t. Brady is the first person I’ve ever seen break an audience like he breaks a horse, with just a pure, quiet talent for drawing your attention, and holding it.

So it seems a spare and tender modern cowboy myth out of the Badlands is a movie for me after all.

Velvet Goldmine

I know….so little…about David Bowie and his whole scene, but I know about GLAMOUR and MELODRAMA, and from someone who signed in to this loopy queer rockstar wedding as a last minute guest of Bryan Ferry, whom I’d just met at an underground throwback cabaret singing smoky torch song versions of his art pop ’70s hits, I can only extrapolate what watching this must be like for the actual Bowie glitterati. Basically, wild. Wilde, also, apparently, as in Todd Haynes’ horny glam rock fantasia Oscar Wilde who was seemingly sent to our planet like some sort of Gay-El to bless us with a line of shimmering pop idols. I mean I probably only “got” about half of it, but I did love this dazzle-eyed Orson Wellsian music video of a movie, like I would.

If you would like to guess that the deliciously mysterious Jack Fairy floating through the story was my favorite character, be my guest as you would be correct. Later when I was reading up on the originals/influences on these characters I would have cause to search “young Brian Eno”, which was an additional gift Jack Fairy provided me. I enjoyed Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ alter ego Maxwell Demon more than his Brian Slade, which was probably the point. I just enjoy Ewan McGregor all the time, full stop. That man is always getting naked and grinning in movies and I respect that. Deeply surprised by Christian Bale in this, both because I didn’t know he was, and then when he wasn’t playing a morose journalist in the ’80s frame he turned into a crushingly needy and awkward young fanboy on the ’70s concert circuit, which I would never have expected was a role he had in him!

But the biggest surprise might have been later on Wikipedia, when I learned the band covering the Roxy Music songs was, to quote a skit from the sketch comedy group at my college with a similar plot point: “fucking Radiohead.” God what an outrageous project this movie was. Good show, everyone.