Category Archives: Special Features

Best TV Shows of 2022 So Far

Though I’ve done better this year at keeping up with television, notably absent from this list are some of the shows that tend to dominate the cultural conversation like Succession, Abbott Elementary, The Staircase, Hacks, Euphoria, Our Flag Means Death, Better Call Saul, and more. Nevertheless, here are some of the best series of the first half of the year.

Continue reading Best TV Shows of 2022 So Far

Best Movie Performances of 2022 So Far

Every year brings new, exciting performances from actors old and new, and 2022 has been no different in its first six months. Here are the best. *Note: I have not yet seen Elvis but, by all accounts, Austin Butler would belong on this list

Honorable Mentions:

  • Joel Kim Booster, Fire Island
  • Mia Goth, X
  • Justin H. Min, After Yang
  • Glen Powell, Top Gun: Maverick
  • Kali Reis, Catch the Fair One
  • Alexander Skarsgård, The Northman
  • Emma Thompson, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
Continue reading Best Movie Performances of 2022 So Far

Japan’s Warrior Filmmaker: The Films of Akira Kurosawa – One Wonderful Sunday

One Wonderful Sunday (Postwar Kurosawa 2)

  • Starring: Isao Numasaki, CHieko Nakakita

Grade: A

One Wonderful Sunday is a contemporary Kurosawa film set against postwar Japan as it was under allied occupation. It follows a young couple having a date on a tight budget of 35 yen between the two of them. Prior to the war, Yuzo (Isao Numasaki) and Masako (Chieko Nakakita) dreamed of opening their own café with affordable drinks and pastries. However, the war changed things. 

Continue reading Japan’s Warrior Filmmaker: The Films of Akira Kurosawa – One Wonderful Sunday

Japan’s Warrior Filmmaker: The Films of Akira Kurosawa – No Regrets for Our Youth

No Regrets for Our Youth (Postwar Kurosawa 1)

  • Starring: Sutsuko Hara, Denjirō Ōkōchi, Susumu Fujita, Haruko Sugimura

Grade: C

Following the end of World War II, while Japan transitioned to being under occupation by Allied forces, Kurosawa began exploring the state of his country and its role in the war. With No Regrets for Our Youth, he examined the sociopolitical climate at home as Japan’s militarism changed and the war raged. He accomplished this by drawing inspiration from the 1933 Takigawa Incident, in which a professor at Kyoto University was fired for perceived Marxist teachings. Yet Kurosawa uses his version of the Takigawa Incident as a jumping off point for a greater story he has to tell. 

Continue reading Japan’s Warrior Filmmaker: The Films of Akira Kurosawa – No Regrets for Our Youth

Japan’s Warrior Filmmaker: The Films of Akira Kurosawa – The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (Early Kurosawa 4)

  • Starring: Denjirô Ôkôchi, Susumu Fujita, Ken’ichi Enomoto, Masayuki, Mori

Grade: C

There’s something to the brevity of Kurosawa’s The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail that gives the film a sense of intimacy. Since it was filmed during WWII, mostly on one set, and with a runtime that doesn’t break an hour, it nearly comes across as a stage play more than a film. This is fitting given it’s an adaptation of a famed story that was popular in Noh and Kabuki theater. The story follows a Lord with his samurai retainers in 12th century Japan sneaking past enemy territory disguised as monks. Along the way, they must convince a brigade of guards that they are in fact monks and not a party for the Lord with a price on his head. 

Continue reading Japan’s Warrior Filmmaker: The Films of Akira Kurosawa – The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail

Japan’s Warrior Filmmaker: The Films of Akira Kurosawa – Sanshiro Sugata Part Two

Sanshiro Sugata (Early Kurosawa 3)

  • Starring: Denjirô Ôkôchi, Susumu Fujita, Yukiko Todoroki, Ryûnosuke Tsukigata, Takashi Shimura

Grade: C

Akira Kurosawa’s first sequel was 1945’s Sanshiro Sugata Part Two, a continuation of his debut film about martial arts and the feud between jiu-jitsu and judo disciplines. Susumu Fujita reprises his role as Sanshiro, who is now a renowned judo expert still under the tutelage of Yano (Denjirô Ôkôchi), but the film’s main drama is slightly different than the first film. Now, Sanshiro experiences the weight of celebrity and has to contend with what the rise of judo has done to the state of Japanese martial arts while new and dangerous enemies emerge to challenge him. 

Continue reading Japan’s Warrior Filmmaker: The Films of Akira Kurosawa – Sanshiro Sugata Part Two

Every 2022 Oscar Nominee Ranked

53. Being the Ricardos (Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor)

Your mileage will surely vary on this one depending on your level of tolerance for Aaron Sorkin. As for me, any film that features a third-act deus ex phone call and a completely pointless series of talking head interviews – populated by actors, not the real people! – is enough to jump ship for good. Yes, Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, JK Simmons (all of whom received acting nominations, and Kidman could very well win Best Actress) and Nina Arianda are quite good in each of their roles, getting at the heart of their characters beyond simple pantomime. Being the Ricardos is the only Oscar-nominated film that I initially disliked and subsequently despised whenever I would come back to thinking of it later on.

52. Four Good Days (Best Original Song)

Poor Diane Warren. Year after year, the Academy continues to trot her out to the Oscar ceremony for her songwriting, only to pull the rug out from her and award someone else. She certainly won’t be winning for “Somehow You Do”, and perhaps it’s a coincidence that the film it was written for is as lazy as the Academy’s box-checking nomination. Premiering at Sundance back in 2020, Four Good Days is a collection of misguided scenes and character beats that would feel like too much for a Lifetime Original Movie. Mila Kunis and Glenn Close do their best, but the material they’re given is so ham-fisted and tired that these very capable actresses could do this work in their sleep.

51. Lead Me Home (Best Documentary Short)

It’s unfortunate that this documentary short will most likely win its category simply because it concerns a pressing current issue that hits close to the homes of many of the Academy’s voters. To be clear, the film shows a side of America’s homeless population that isn’t always shown, and the result is often heartbreaking. But Lead Me Home asks nothing of the homeless crisis beyond “did you know that homeless people are real people?” The film could have expanded on America’s broken system and why more and more people are finding themselves unable to afford homes that are only getting more and more expensive. Perhaps, if the filmmakers were to develop the short into a feature, they could investigate these issues. But, as it stands, Lead Me Home ultimately feels like a puff piece for the national news.

50. Coming 2 America (Best Makeup & Hairstyling)

When last we saw Eddie Murphy, he was courting a Best Actor nomination for his turn in Dolemite Is My Name in 2019. I don’t know who convinced Murphy and Arsenio Hall to reunite (along with Dolemite director Craig Brewer) and make a sequel to Coming to America more than 30 years later but it’s clear that nobody had more than a passing interest in making a film that justifies doing so. Lazy jokes and cultural observations abound throughout Coming 2 America‘s unforgiveable 110-minute runtime, with the only joke that elicited a laugh from me revolving around a Shake Weight. Were it not for the film’s admittedly solid use of prosthetics and makeup, this film would rightfully be placed amongst the ash heap of history, along with many of Murphy’s other misbegotten films.

49. Don’t Look Up (Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Editing)

Nearly 3 months after watching it for the first and only time, the rotten taste of Don’t Look Up has mostly washed out of my mouth. But I simply can’t forgive the film’s lazy approach to satire, the wasted potential of its A-list cast, or its insane editing, which landed it a Best Editing nomination. (If any professional film editors are reading this, I would love to be enlightened on the film’s editing merits, or lack thereof. Please reach out to me.) Thankfully the Academy didn’t feel as strongly about it as I had feared, only giving it four nominations when many more could have easily happened. That it stands little-to-no chance of winning any of those four awards is extremely comforting.

48. When We Were Bullies (Best Documentary Short)

I have no doubt that director Jay Rosenblatt set out with the best of intentions when conceiving When We Were Bullies. The film interrogates a specific incident from Rosenblatt’s time in fifth grade wherein a classmate was bullied. Far be it from me to demerit someone else’s way of healing with something that’s haunted them for decades, but the resulting film is dramatically inert. There’s nothing wrong with a small-scale documentary that only deals with a handful of characters, but Rosenblatt makes too many questionable narrative decisions to make this a memorable experiment.

47. Bestia (Best Animated Short)

There’s always at least one animated short every year that provides enough nightmare fuel to last until next year’s ceremony. In 2022, that designation goes to Bestia. A stop-motion curio that’s supposedly based on true events from the dictatorship in Chile, Bestia focuses on one woman’s career under the secret police, and her relationship with her dog. But it’s not just the visuals that are unsettling here, as each human character is a kind of unflinching porcelain shape, and everything else is either covered in felt or shaped out of paper. Bestia portrays a person with a terrible occupation, plus some disturbingly strange habits, all to middling effect.

46. On My Mind (Best Live-Action Short)

Director Martin Strange-Hansen’s short is incredibly simple on its surface, but packs an emotional punch with its conclusion. When a despondent man walks into a bar, he notices a karaoke machine and requests to sing the song before he goes to visit his wife. Strange-Hansen’s heart is in the right place, and Rasmus Hammerich gives a fine performance, but the film is filled too much with petty roadblocks to keep the drama going for its 18-minute runtime.

45. The Hand of God (Best International Feature)

Paolo Sorrentino’s semi-autobiographical story feels like (at least) two films mashed together, and only one of those is relatively successful. The first half establishes Fabietto (Filippo Scotti), his family, and his love of soccer great Diego Maradona in Naples, Italy. Far too many plot threads and characters are introduced far too quickly early on to get a handle on the themes of the film. The second half slows down and focuses better, but by then I had mostly checked out. The Hand of God also isn’t helped by Fabietto feeling like a dry lump of clay, though Scott does his best in a few key scenes. At least Sorrentino makes the most of the Naples scenery, along with Daria D’Antonio’s cinematography, to make a visually invigorating film.

44. Free Guy (Best Visual Effects)

I imagine that Free Guy received its nomination not because it had the best visual effects to choose from but because it had the most visual effects. Especially in its early scenes, there’s hardly a single frame that doesn’t have some sort of computer-generated imagery – it does take place inside a video game, after all. It’s important to note that the film likely took the place of fellow short-listed films like The Matrix: Resurrections and Godzilla vs. Kong, films that incorporated their effects more smoothly and effectively. Still, you can’t be too mad at Free Guy; it’s the kind of turn-your-brain-off popcorn film that is typically relegated to the Visual Effects category with virtually zero chance of winning.

43. Ascension (Best Documentary Feature)

In Jessica Kingdon’s feature debut, what begins as a shockingly subversive way of showing the sheer amount of stuff we make in the world – most of it likely going to waste – eventually loses its focus. The film deals with the myriad ways that China perceives work, and the ways that that definition is rapidly changing today. From mind-numbingly monotonous factories to sex doll decorators to bodyguard training, every occupation is shown with an observant eye, and Kingdon lets events fold completely naturally. Though there is plenty of interesting material to be found here, it’s not enough to justify its 98-minute runtime.

42. Nightmare Alley (Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design)

There’s lots to like about director Guillermo del Toro’s follow-up to his last film, which won 4 Oscars, including Best Picture. In fact, a lot of what worked in The Shape of Water is evident in Nightmare Alley as well, like the production design, costumes, and cinematography. But where Nightmare Alley suffers is in its predictable script, which feels like a distillation of every grifter story you’ve ever seen. Del Toro imbues the first half with some interesting details but fails to make all of it feel fresh.

41. Boxballet (Best Animated Short)

A wordless animated film from Russian director Anton Dyakov, Boxballet is a surprisingly endearing tale of how opposites attract. The animation is perhaps the most “traditional” of this year’s nominees in the Animated Short category, but the characters are uniquely designed to emphasize their features. In essence, Boxballet is a love story between a boxer and a ballet dancer as they find mutual solace in the way they’re perceived by the world around them.

40. Belfast (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Sound, Best Original Song)

Belfast could potentially win Best Picture, or it could go home empty handed on Oscar night. Writer and director Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical account of his childhood in the titular Irish town checks all of the boxes of an awards favorite: great performances, a historical backdrop that provides plenty of drama, and a dynamic visual style. And while my initial feelings on the film were positive as I left the theater, I slowly began to realize the film’s flaws. Chief among them being the screenplay, which throws out a lot of ideas and plotlines without fully investing in any of them. Judi Dench, Ciaran Hinds, Jamie Dornan, and Caitriona Balfe all give magnetic and memorable performances, but they’re left stranded by a script that puts weight on everything and nothing simultaneously. There’s a version of Belfast that could be a great, worthy Best Picture winner; instead it’s just a collection of fleeting memories.

Japan’s Warrior Filmmaker: The Films of Akira Kurosawa – The Most Beautiful

The Most Beautiful (Early Kurosawa 2)

  • Starring: Takashi Shimura, Sôji Kiyokawa, Ichirô Sugai

Grade: C

The Most Beautiful is a wartime propaganda film about women working in an optics factory directed by Kurosawa in a pseudo documentary style. He was originally approached to make a film about Zero fighter pilots but, at that stage of the war, it wasn’t feasible to loan out Japanese military assets for the sake of a film shoot. He instead made The Most Beautiful, a film that stands as a unique outlier in his filmography. While it isn’t necessarily good, especially in comparison to the rest of Kurosawa’s work, The Most Beautiful does have some things going for it and is a curious example of an instance where a filmmaker may not fully believe in the material he’s creating. 

Continue reading Japan’s Warrior Filmmaker: The Films of Akira Kurosawa – The Most Beautiful