Giving thanks for good movies

Michelle Williams makes a face at the camera as her son films a camping trip in a scene from "The Fabelmans."
Keeley Karsten, Sophia Kopera, Michelle Williams and Gabriel LaBelle in “The Fabelmans.”
(Merie Weismiller Wallace/Universal)

I’d love to start in on the Thanksgiving meal prep, but who has time with the 138 holiday gift guides demanding my attention? But hey ... I just signed on board Katz’s Pastrami Tour! ‘Tis the season for a Reuben sandwich, fa la la la la, la la la la!

I’m Glenn Whipp, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, host of the Envelope’s Friday newsletter and the guy who’s here to tell you that, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, dads are not impossible to shop for. A nice, heartfelt note, preferably written in spicy brown mustard on a cured meat, is always appreciated!

Sifting for clues in this year’s Oscar best picture race

What do you do with a movie that begins with an elephant losing control of its bowels, torrentially defecating right into the camera lens, and then heads straight to a party where we’re immediately greeted with an extended shot of a woman urinating on a reveler?

And that’s just the first five minutes of “Babylon,” Damien Chazelle’s unconvincing, unhinged three-hour-plus spectacle centered on Hollywood depravity and debauchery and, OK, sure, the transition from silent movies to sound. Think “Singin’ in the Rain” but with piles of cocaine. “Make ‘em Laugh”? Forget it. Chazelle wants to beat you into submission. And the more he ramps up the movie’s energy, the more miserable you become watching it. Anarchic excess is just not this guy’s strong suit.


All the indulgence and disappointment of “Babylon” (coming soon to a theater near you!) raises the question: What the hell happened to movies this fall? When the weather turns brisk in L.A. (under 80 degrees) and the leaves change color (brown to a dustier shade of brown), we know it’s the beginning of pumpkin spice latte season and Santa Ana winds blowing through the canyons and also ... the annual influx of movies for grown-ups.

This year has had more than its share of disappointments ... but also successes. Let’s focus on those ... which I did in a recent column running through the movies looking to pull in a best picture Oscar nomination, including Steven Spielberg’s terrific “The Fabelmans,” which expands into more theaters this weekend. (And, as a friend pointed out, I forgot to mention James Gray’s moving, melancholy drama “Armageddon Time,” which could have easily landed in the “good movies that might resonate” division.)

An older man sits with his arm around a boy in "Armageddon Time."
Banks Repeta and Anthony Hopkins in “Armageddon Time.”
(Anne Joyce / Focus Features)

Austin Butler can still listen to Elvis, thank you very much

Austin Butler has, as you might guess, a ton of Elvis playlists in his Spotify account. He created the first one three years ago while he was painting a Los Feliz house he had just moved into, right at the beginning of the five months he spent trying to convince Baz Luhrmann to cast him as the lead in “Elvis.”

Butler won the part, and for the next two years he never stopped listening to Elvis. He made playlists to inspire emotions for scenes in the movie. (Loneliness was big in these sets.) He made a playlist of gospel and blues music that Presley loved and listened to. And, for a challenge, he whittled down his 50 favorite Elvis songs, including what may be Butler’s two go-to numbers, “Milkcow Blues Boogie” and “Polk Salad Annie,” songs that never fail to make him happy. It is an impeccable mix, even if it does include “Never Been to Spain,” a song about which we agree to disagree during a long conversation on a recent sunny L.A. afternoon.

So, yes, we talked about The King, for sure. We also talked about Disneyland annual passes, scented candles that smell like “The Pirates of the Caribbean” and what it means to be as real as a doughnut. It’s all in the story, one of my favorites from the past year.

Austin Butler leans on his arms facing the camera for a portrait.
Austin Butler has won raves for playing Elvis Presley in “Elvis.”
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

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Governors Awards return with an emotional evening

The motion picture academy’s Governors Awards returned to its November calendar date for the first time since 2019 on Saturday night, with Martinique-born filmmaker Euzhan Palcy, Australian director Peter Weir and songwriter Diane Warren receiving honorary Oscars, and actor Michael J. Fox delivering an emotional, 12-minute speech while accepting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

In pre-pandemic times, the untelevised event served as something of an unofficial first campaign stop for contenders trying to capture academy voters’ attention. And that was again the case this year, as actors and filmmakers from just about every movie with Oscar aspirations showed up at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Century City to make the rounds. Cate Blanchett, Viola Davis, Michelle Yeoh, Michelle Williams and Jennifer Lawrence were there, just to focus on the lead actress contenders. This year’s horror queen Mia Goth appeared too, wearing a billowy red dress with a 6-foot train and an expression that could be read as either sheer delight or abject terror.

I made the rounds at the event, marveling that Cher ventured east of the 405 and being blown away by Viola Davis’ forceful introduction of the underappreciated Palcy.

Filmmaker Euzhan Palcy attends the 13th Governors Awards.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)


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