Hello! I'm Mark Olsen, and welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.
This edition of our newsletter is being released mere hours before the 2017 Academy Awards. Which means that soon every wish, hope, hex, presumption and wild guess will be proved right, wrong or indifferent.
And in this final stretch, we've been busy. Amy Kaufman and Josh Rottenberg took a look at one big difference about this year's best picture nominees: "Nearly all of them have performed well beyond expectations at the box office."
I wrote about the five nominees for the foreign-language Oscar and how the directors behind four of the films were reacting to the fact that the fifth, Iran's Asghar Farhadi, was not coming to the ceremony because of the recent travel ban. On Friday, all the directors in the category released a joint statement "to express our unanimous and emphatic disapproval of the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today."
I also spoke to Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, hosts of this year's Film Independent Spirit Awards.
I apparently have been so eager to see the end of awards season that I obliterated the months of March and April entirely. Last week, I noted an upcoming event as happening in May, when in fact our screening of "Trainspotting 2" with a Q&A with director Danny Boyle is on March 6. Look for updates at events.latimes.com.
The new film "Get Out" is the debut feature for writer-director for Jordan Peele, one-half of the sketch comedy team behind "Key & Peele." He has created a horror satire that, in telling the story of a young black man (British actor Daniel Kaluuya) meeting the family of his white girlfriend (Allison Williams), becomes a potent look at some of the core issues of the moment. It manages to be smart, aware, funny and scary, often all in the same scene.
In his review for The Times, Justin Chang said that the film "feels like a long-overdue response to Hollywood's collective failure. This is surely the nerviest, most confrontational treatment of race in America to emerge from a major studio in years, and it brilliantly fulfills the duty of both its chosen genres — the horror-thriller and the social satire — to meaningfully reflect a culture's latent fears and anxieties."
Amy Kaufman talked to Williams about how the role plays off what people think they already know about the actress. The film's examination of privilege wasn't lost on Williams, who said, "I think the people who most need to learn about race are the ones doing most of the talking."
In her review for the New York Times, Manohla Dargis called the film "an exhilaratingly smart and scary freakout" while adding that Peele's "greatest stroke in 'Get Out,' though, is to have hitched these genre elements to an evil that isn't obscured by a hockey mask, but instead throws open its arms with a warm smile while enthusiastically (and strangely) expressing its love for President Obama."
At The Ringer, K. Austin Collins added, "The curious thing about 'Get Out,' however, is the ease with which it slips back and forth between the uncertain creepiness of mundane racism and the outright […] of a horror movie. In the end, the movie suggests, it's all grotesque."
And at Vulture, Emily Yoshida specifically tied "Get Out" to the Oscars and Grammys when she said, "There's never been a more appropriate film to be released over Oscar weekend, the pinnacle and grand finale of awards season. Awards season is a time for everyone to fret about liberal Hollywood elites, especially liberal Hollywood elites themselves. … And most important, it's a time to give lots of stage time and verbal compliments to people of color before handing the trophies to white people."
'I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore'
Winner of the grand jury prize at Sundance, "I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore" is a sneaky little movie, a grunge "Scooby-Doo" thriller with a soft heart and a bit more on its mind. In the film, Melanie Lynskey plays a women who becomes fed up with everyday rudeness and minor indignities after her house is robbed. Enlisting an oddball neighbor (Elijah Wood), she sets out to get her stuff back and bring the creeps who stole it to justice.
In reviewing the film for The Times, Justin Chang wrote that he particularly enjoyed "how consistently the film challenges our worst assumptions about humanity even as it confirms them."
Justin also took note of the fact that despite its Sundance prize, the film is forgoing a traditional theatrical release and heading straight to Netflix. As he notes, "A brave new world of cinema distribution clearly awaits us, and I'd be lying if I said I felt entirely at home in it myself."
We had what may prove to be a rare theatrical screening of the film for our recent event that included a Q&A with Lynskey. I also spoke to director Macon Blair during Sundance and should be posting something from our conversation soon.
Directed by Sara Jordenö, "Kiki" is a look at the contemporary underground ballroom dance scene in New York City. And while the movie has an outward sheen of exuberant performance, it also examines the often-tough reality of those involved.
In his review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote that in its focus on LGBT people of color, "it's a film of unmistakably and unapologetically political intent." With the recent turn in official attitude and policy, "the movie's pleasures remain undimmed, and perhaps even burn a little brighter. … It leaves you with the bracing sense that however tough and resilient its subjects might be forced to become, their hope of a better, more tolerant future will never go out of style."
At the Playlist, Katie Walsh wrote about the film when it played at Sundance in 2016, noting then that the film examines and celebrates "a cultural form derived from groups of LGBT people of color who have had to create their own families, clubs, and societies when they weren't accepted in others. 'Kiki' never lets you forget that, and never fails to pay homage to the past historical context of the scene while looking towards its future."
The Times' Tre'vell Anderson took a look at what went into the making of the film. And for any of those who may want to write off the film as a modern-day update of the landmark doc "Paris is Burning," co-writer and star Twiggy Pucci Garçon has this to say: "Like Tina Turner is Tina Turner and Beyoncé is Beyoncé, 'Paris is Burning' is 'Paris is Burning' and we're 'Kiki.'"
Olivier Assayas in Los Angeles
It's not a secret that Team Indie Focus (meaning Mark) believes Olivier Assayas is among the most consistent and exciting filmmakers working in the world today. So the surprise announcement at the end of the week that Assayas will be appearing next weekend at L.A.'s Cinefamily was most welcome.
There is going to be a mix of films by Assayas, including "Clouds of Sils Maria," "Irma Vep" and "Demonlover" and a few things he has selected, including films by Guy Debord and Bo Widerberg's 1969 "Adalen 31." Who knows when some of these films will screen in Los Angeles again? Do not miss this chance to see these great movies. (Another reason these events are must-attend: A former film critic, Assayas is also always great when talking about movies.)
Assayas also will be appearing at LACMA with star Kristen Stewart on Monday, March 6, for a screening and Q&A of their new film, "Personal Shopper."