‘The Sky Is Everywhere’ is not your typical YA adaptation


Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

The Oscar nominations were announced this week, with final voting starting March 17 on the way to the ceremony on March 27.

Josh Rottenberg gave an overview of the nominations, from the 12 nominations for “The Power of the Dog” to the nomination for Troy Kotsur, only the second Deaf actor ever recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for his work in “CODA.”

“At a moment of deep existential anxiety for both the academy and the film industry as a whole, the message couldn’t be clearer: For all the challenges they face in this ever-shifting entertainment landscape, movies — and not just the ones with characters wearing spandex — still matter to a lot of people outside the bounds of Hollywood,” Josh wrote.

Glenn Whipp ran down the notable snubs and surprises, from Lady Gaga missing out on a lead actress nod for “House of Gucci” to the surprising nomination of Judi Dench as supporting actress for “Belfast” while co-star Caitríona Balfe was unexpectedly left out in the cold.

Justin Chang ranked the best picture nominees, from his least favorite, “Don’t Look Up,” to his top choice, “Drive My Car.”

As he put it, “This year’s best picture race boasts a revisionist western, a science-fiction epic, a song-and-dance musical, a grim neo-noir, a shaggy ’70s comedy, an inspirational sports drama, an apocalyptic satire and three major prize winners from the Sundance, Cannes and Toronto film festivals. Academy voters obviously didn’t plan it that way, but it strikes me as an awfully healthy something-for-everyone representation of the year in cinema. And, in a time when moviegoing options for non-Marvel-obsessed adults have never seemed more endangered, that’s hardly nothing.”


Mary McNamara took a look at depictions of family among this year’s nominees: “For more than two years, we have watched the pandemic sweep through families. … So it’s not surprising that the nominated films deal with a wide variety of familial relationships. In ‘Belfast,’ ‘CODA’ and ‘King Richard,’ families struggle against forces external and internal; each deals with issues of social division and features parents clashing over what being a family means under such circumstances.”

Christi Carras spoke to Kotsur, who said of his “CODA” co-star Marlee Matlin, the Deaf performer who won an Oscar in 1987, “When I received the nominee information, I knew that I wasn’t alone because Marlee had inspired me. … It’s a tough journey as a Deaf actor. There’s so few opportunities out there, and she kept on going. She was persistent. And then so was I with my own career as a stage actor. So here I am today.”

Michael Ordoña spoke to Ariana DeBose, nominated for playing Anita in “West Side Story,” the same part Rita Moreno won an Oscar for in the original 1961 film. DeBose stood up for the depiction of her character as Afro-Latina, as she is, and is a rare Oscar nominee who is openly queer.

“Representation is something I really talk about,” she said. “I believe if young people can see themselves in the media they consume, then it shows them they have possibilities. It’s one of the reasons this moment is so special.”

I was able to speak to Jane Campion on the day of the nominations. She was sound asleep in Sydney, Australia, when the announcements came out, and I turned out to be the one to inform her that she was the first woman ever to be nominated for directing for a second time.

“That statistic I hope is just going to be blown out of the park, that there’s just going to be so many more women,” she said. “I’m really thrilled these last couple of years, just to see so many women do so well in the academy’s and different festivals’ prizes. … I think that women are emboldened and it’s a great moment for all of us. For me, I feel emboldened too. I feel emboldened to do a project like this, which for a change has got quite a lot of men in it. And I don’t think I would’ve felt that without feeling how many other women were now making films and exploring the female space, and whatever space they wanted to, really.”


Among the nominees for documentary was “Summer of Soul,” Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s debut feature as director. Thompson also happened to be our guest this week on The Envelope podcast. Thompson spoke about how a film depicting events in 1969 came to take on new meaning as he was working on it in 2020: “How do you make this resonate with [audiences]? That this is not just another history film about old people in their time. Once George Floyd comes to the conversation, I’ll just say that you really, truly couldn’t tell what was real on television and what was our film footage. It was interchangeable.”

Also: The Times is launching a new newsletter on Feb. 19, L.A. on the Record, covering the world of local politics. For political junkies and anyone interested in how things get done in the city, you can sign up here:

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‘The Sky Is Everywhere’

Josephine Decker is a bold and expressive filmmaker known for probing dark, emotional corners in movies such as “Madeline’s Madeline” and “Shirley.” That’s why it was initially surprising to learn she was directing an adaptation of Jandy Nelson’s YA novel “The Sky Is Everywhere” from a screenplay by Nelson. With the story of teenager Lennon “Lennie” Walker grieving the death of her older sister, Decker has made a movie that is — remarkably — both different and new, yet entirely in keeping with her previous work. The cast includes Grace Kaufman, Cherry Jones and Jason Segel. The film is in limited theatrical release and streaming on Apple TV+.

For The Times, Katie Walsh asked, “Remember feeling so freely and so much? ... ‘The Sky Is Everywhere’ is impeccably crafted, and Decker approaches the material with the kind of wholeheartedness it deserves. Executing this halfway just wouldn’t have done it justice. Ava Berkofsky’s cinematography is rich and thoughtful, much more than just a gorgeous background for the fantastical animated elements. Kaufman is a really fascinating leading lady too, her Lennon messy, flustered and possessed of an enthralling on-screen gravitational pull.”

For IndieWire, Kate Erbland wrote, “In the hands of director Josephine Decker, a filmmaker uniquely suited to depicting personal expression on the big screen, the film version of ‘The Sky Is Everywhere’ makes for a satisfying and special take on a particular sub-genre of YA story. … [Decker] brings love and care to all of her characters, and that’s what makes the difference between a maudlin YA weepie and a feature that holds emotional resonance for a wide audience. In short, it’s not just for kids, and Decker’s own wild creative streak sets ‘The Sky Is Everywhere’ a cut above other films ostensibly of its kind.”

For the Hollywood Reporter, Lovia Gyarkye wrote, “Kaufman capably embodies Lennie’s journey; her performance, which grows more sure-footed as the film proceeds, grows on you. One of Decker’s skills as a director is her focus on body language, and Kaufman suggests her character’s moods — especially joy — via triumphant, dramatic movements. Lennie’s is not the only growth rippling beneath the surface of ‘The Sky Is Everywhere.’ Although the film contains elements of Decker’s signature directorial style, it also reflects her attempts to evolve on a slightly different path. She’s having fun, and it shows.

A girl wearing a yellow hooded jacket sits among flowers.
Grace Kaufman in “The Sky Is Everywhere”
(Apple TV+)


Directed by Steven Soderbergh — his seventh film in the last five years — from a screenplay by David Koepp, “Kimi” stars Zoë Kravitz as a woman who works in the solitude of her apartment as a data analyst for a tech company behind an Alexa-style device. When she thinks she overhears a crime, she must face down her phobias to solve the mystery. The film is streaming on HBO Max.

For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “Much of the pleasure of ‘Kimi,’ which compacts a lot of information and ideas into a brisk 89 minutes, comes from the way it repurposes an old-school genre template with up-to-the-minute materials. … ‘Kimi’ becomes a kind of cautionary tale for the COVID-cautious: The world, it suggests, might be a big and scary place, but it’s a world that we, like Angela, must reconnect with in our own time. After all, it may be no more perilous a place than our own digitally booby-trapped houses and offices, as the movie makes clear with an unduly satisfying finale and perhaps its slyest reference: When someone is always watching or listening, you’re never truly home alone.”

For the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, “However scary that world and however freaky Angela’s situation, Soderbergh never lets the movie get too heavy. Even as the vibe shifts and the atmosphere grows more ominous, he maintains a lightness of touch and a visual playfulness that keeps the movie securely in the realm of pop pleasure. There’s a lot to enjoy about ‘Kimi’; I’d watch it a third time just for the delirious 180-degree camera move that bookends it. But I especially love how it turns another staple from classic noir and the paranoid thriller, the (usually) male protagonist who nobody believes, into a woman whose paranoia is as righteous as it is right.”

For Vulture, Alison Willmore wrote, “‘Kimi’ — which is as crisp and effervescent as one of the high-end kombuchas Angela likes to drink, and which doesn’t linger on the palate much longer — was shot last spring, and rather than center or banish the pandemic from view, the film turns it into a backdrop, showing the ways it has worsened existing issues in Angela’s life while making it easier for her to disguise them. Agoraphobia is harder to spot when nobody’s going out, though Angela feels pressure to force herself back toward the normalcy everyone else is slowly returning to even though she isn’t ready.”

A woman wearing a jacket over a pulled-up hoodie walks on a sidewalk.
Zoë Kravitz stars in the thriller “Kimi.”
(Warner Bros.)

‘Death on the Nile’

With his three Oscar nominations for “Belfast” earlier in the week, Kenneth Branagh became the first person to be nominated in seven different categories at the Academy Awards. As fate would have it, the long-delayed adaptation of “Death on the Nile” — beset by COVID-related release delays and multiple PR crises among its cast — comes out now too. Directed by Branagh from an adaption by Michael Green of the novel by Agatha Christie and a sequel to the hugely successful “Murder on the Orient Express,” the film finds Branagh again playing the detective Hercule Poirot alongside a cast that includes Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Annette Bening, Letitia Wright, Emma Mackey, Russell Brand, Sophie Okonedo and others. The film is in theaters now.

For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “Ah, Poirot. Branagh clearly loves this character, leaning into the famously persnickety mannerisms even as he insistently locates an emotional core beneath the immaculate white suit and whiskers. Maybe too emotional; I remain skeptical of these movies’ insistence on fleshing out details of Poirot’s romantic past, elaborated here in a black-and-white prologue set during the detective’s World War I military service. These are sweet, humanizing but also franchise-padding touches, and I object to them on more or less the same grounds that I object to the recent sentimentalizing of James Bond, brilliantly played as he was by Daniel Craig. We return to these sleuths again and again because of how good they are at what they do, not how bad they are at love.”

For Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson wrote, “Branagh, though, doesn’t see much of anything as a joke, and won’t tolerate any frivolity. The talented actors he’s hired do their noble best to crisp up the movie’s sodden sog, but they can only fight so hard. It doesn’t help matters that much of the movie was studio-shot against green screen. Just as in ‘Murder on the Orient Express,’ everything in ‘Death on the Nile’ looks distressingly synthetic, digitally gleaming as if everyone involved is on a ‘Star Trek’ holodeck adventure. What should feel like a transporting bit of virtual tourism is instead yet another journey into the uncanny valley, under the harsh glare of an artificial sky.

For Entertainment Weekly — and let’s pause to acknowledge the end of its print edition, a touchstone for generations of film fans — Leah Greenblatt wrote, “’Death on the Nile’ cracks at least one cold case before the title credits roll: the source of Hercule Poirot’s mustache. … Giving Poirot a backstory at all sounds almost renegade in the world of Christie, whose neatly contrived novels tend to take place in a perfect drawing-room vacuum. And ‘Nile’ ... seems torn between honoring tradition and tweaking it: In a post-‘Knives Out’ world, is a movie like this meant to be a classic whodunit for the whole family, or something more deliberately meta and modern? Branagh mostly lands on the former: a sort of sumptuous dinner-theater redux studded with stray bits of caricature, camp, and many CG pyramids.”

For IndieWire, David Ehrlich wrote, “Expensive but never fancy, and solid enough to emit a faint whiff of sophistication, this entire project is powered by the same eccentric confidence that allows Branagh to play Hercule Poirot like a neutered Pepé le Pew. The director-star’s faith in the enduring sturdiness of Christie’s storytelling gives him permission to ease up on the throttle, cool it with the dutch angles, and let viewers get swept along the gentle currents of the Nile as Poirot surrenders to a natural force of a different kind. This whodunnit has stood the test of time like a wonder of the ancient world, but Branagh’s version of it won’t be remembered for the murder that Poirot solves so much as it will for how that murder solves him in return.”

A closeup of a man who has a handlebar mustache and is wearing a suit.
Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in “Death on the Nile.”
(20th Century Studios)