Well hot damn, this bracket did NOT go the way I expected it to! These films were a welcome moment of levity after last week's duo, but I went into this one thinking I had it all figured out and OH BOY WAS I INCORRECT.
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Directed by: Nora Ephron
Written by: Nora Ephron, Jeff Arch, David S. Ward
Starring: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Ross Malinger, Rosie O'Donnell
IMDB Synopsis: A recently widowed man's son calls a radio talk-show in an attempt to find his father a partner.
I originally had When Harry Met Sally on here to represent Ephron, but changed it at the last minute because I forgot that she didn't actually direct it, Rob Reiner did! Oops. Also, my partner had NEVER SEEN Sleepless in Seattle, and I actually couldn't remember the last time I'd seen it either.
Since it came out in '93 I was anticipating for there to be some dated moments, but I legitimately forgot just how awkward some of them are... Don't get me wrong, I adore Ephron and this still remains an iconic rom-com from an era when that actually meant something. But do you guys remember the part where Meg Ryan straight up stalks Tom Hanks?? Because I totally forgot about that!! For how often I say "if a woman did that, you wouldn't be okay with it!" it's only fair that I play that game both ways... If Tom Hanks got on a plane and flew across the country to stalk Meg Ryan because he heard her on a radio and thought she might be the love of his life, this would be a Very Different Movie. But because it was a lady doing the stalking - and not just any lady, but the befuddled and adorable messy package that is Meg Ryan at her peak - we allow it.
(Sidebar, how come Hugh Grant and Meg Ryan were never in a rom-com together? We could've called it Befuddled! I can see the poster now!)
Other fun observations:
1) Why the HELL wasn't this a movie about Meg Ryan and Rosie O'Donnell realizing that Men Are Trash and becoming an adorable lesbian couple instead?? "She likes cats, yoga, and white linen.. but she likes dogs, hiking, and flannel! How will these two sapphic opposites work things out?" Not gonna lie, I'd watch it.
2) I had to look up Ross Malinger to see where the heck he went after this movie, and you'll never guess!!! He's the voice of TJ Detweiller, from one of the most ICONIC 90's cartoons of all time: Recess! (From 1997-1998, that is. From 1998-2001 the character was voiced by Andrew Lawrence). I'm at the point of quarantining where I've reverted to watching TV shows from my childhood so I have actually re-watched Recess pretty recently, and you know what? It fucking holds up. (So does Gargoyles! If anyone's interested...)
3) Speaking of Malinger... It is a testament to the incredible presence and shared chemistry of Ryan & Hanks that their characters are only onscreen together for about 60 seconds and yet we as an audience are riveted and rooting for them. That being said, I think we can all agree that the real scene-stealing duo (besides Ryan & O'Donnell as the Lesbians Who Almost Were!) is Hanks & Malinger. Genuinely fantastic child acting, including a very fun cameo from Baby Gaby Hoffmann.
4) Speaking of cameos, did anyone else remember that Hanks' real life wife Rita Wilson was in this?? And gives WITHOUT A DOUBT the funniest monologue of the whole movie?? Because this is literally exactly what I look when I'm performing a play-by-play of a movie no one's seen or cares about after I've had a bottle of wine. Did we know that Wilson was a great actress? Why isn't she in more things??
Overall, the writing is still a bit clunky when compared to something like When Harry Met Sally. To be honest, I was vaguely reminded of the same feelings I had when watching Cavani's work... Ephron is by no means as sexist, degrading, or brutal, but I did catch myself wondering: is Ephron making these choices because she really believes they're good ones, or because she's been conditioned to believe that they are funny and normal and what people want to watch?
For example, as funny as the above scene with Rita Wilson is, I found myself getting so irritated that the men in her life - "SUCH NICE GUYS" - were laughing and mocking her for feeling emotional about something that clearly meant a lot to her. Frankly I would've hated the entire scene if it weren't for Wilson's laugh at the end, letting us know that she's a good sport and can see the levity in the situation (and again, her hilarious fucking delivery). But like...? Ew, no? Stop mocking women for things that they are passionate about and belittling them because they are comfortable expressing "messy" emotions? Not my favorite.
The Parent Trap (1998)
Directed by: Nancy Meyers
Written by: David Swift, Nancy Meyers, & Charles Shyer (screenplay) & Erich Kästner (book)
Starring: Lindsay Lohan, Dennis Quaid, Natasha Richardson, Elaine Hendrix, Lisa Ann Walter
IMDB Synopsis: Identical twins Annie and Hallie, separated at birth and each raised by one of their biological parents, later discover each other for the first time at summer camp and make a plan to bring their wayward parents back together.
I'm sorry but before I can go on a moment longer, literally all I can think about is how Nancy Meyers is Rosa Diaz's favorite director and how goddamn hilarious that is:
There are two things you should know before going into this:
1) This was my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE MOVIE when I was 11.
2) I have not seen this movie since I was 11.
Also, what the heck was it about the 90's and our obsession with twins? Mary-Kate & Ashley Olson (did anyone else think they were triplets named Mary, Kate, and Ashley Olson? No? Just me?), The Parent Trap, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera (did anyone else secretly fantasize that we would find out they were long-lost twin sisters? No? Just me?) Zach and Cody...? Unclear.
Now, for some observations:
1) Baby Lindsay Lohan is SO FUCKING GAY IN THIS MOVIE HAHAHA
2) JANICE FROM FRIENDS IS THEIR CAMP COUNSELOR LOL!!!
3) Every SINGLE GIRL under the age of 15 when this movie came out tried to replicate this handshake and if she says she didn't SHE IS LYING
4) Was there a single woman in the world we collectively DESPISED more than Meredith Blake?! Also I honestly don't know what's more INSANE, that her character is supposed to be 26 years old or the fact that THE ACTRESS WAS ACTUALLY 28 WHEN THIS FILMED?!?!?!?! (Elaine Hendrix) Seriously though, I was expecting to find more slut-shamey references to her - I mean, they literally play evil saxophone Jessica Rabbit music every time she's onscreen - but then she has this excellent scene with Baby Lohan where she's like "Hey, it's not a crime to be young and beautiful" and Baby Lohan is like "Yeah you're right, it's not. But good relationships are about more than sex. And also you're just like a huge bummer." (Paraphrased)
The point is, Meyers actually makes the very important distinction that just because Meredith is sexy and evil, that does not mean that sexy = evil.
6) You can tell you're officially old when you are more sexually attracted to the real estate in a movie than any of the actual characters. BECAUSE OH MY GOD THAT NAPA VALLEY VINEYARD MANSION IS EVERYTHING I'VE EVER WANTED. (It was filmed at the Staglin Family Vineyards and you can actually go visit it!)
7) Baller fucking soundtrack though, eh?
8) And finally, RIP Natasha Richardson. Goddamn she was an incredible woman, actress, and icon.
And the winner is...
OKAY SO IT OBVIOUSLY LOOKS LIKE SARAH'S ELEVEN YEAR OLD SENTIMENTALITY IS GONNA WIN THIS ONE. I AM AS SURPRISED AS YOU ARE.
But also... and I know I am a MONSTER FOR SAYING THIS, but... maybe Nora Ephron is just a better writer than a director? Because of this was a contest between When Harry Met Sally and Parent Trap, I don't think Meyers would be winning. But EPHRON DIDN'T DIRECT IT, and this is Matriarch Madness after all, not Women Writer's Madness.
Sleepless was, ultimately, a little clumsy and cringey in the re-watch. I mean let's be real, it's actually just a series of vignettes and Meg Ryan monologues, and Ryan really does best when she has a good opposite to bounce off of. Parent Trap had me giggling and reminiscing and actually excited about watching the end, even though we all know what the heck is gonna happen. The "sillier" parts that are in all kids movies to make the dumbest ones laugh weren't even that bad (and hated those kinds of throwaway jokes when I was a child, too, so this isn't me being a cranky old broad. This is just me).
I really don't know what's come over me. Maybe it's the quarantine. Maybe it's the PMS. Maybe it's the fact that sometimes formulaic tropes work! (Just kidding guys. It was the fucking Napa House. That's who the real winner is. No shame.)
It's the Women vs. The Wilderness bracket this week, and it is gnarly AF. What's worse, skinning a squirrel or watching your whole family die? Cutting off the hands of your dead and Ozark-river soaked father's corpse, or stabbing a teenager to death with a 3 inch rusty blade? This is exactly why I'm such a fan of the Great Indoors.
Winter's Bone (2010)
Directed by: Debra Granik
Written by: Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini (screenplay), Daniel Woodrell (novel)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt
IMDB Synopsis: An unflinching Ozark Mountain girl hacks through dangerous social terrain as she hunts down her drug-dealing father while trying to keep her family intact.
For a movie starring Baby J. Law in the performance that garnered her very first Oscar nom, I was really hoping I would like it more. Instead I got those familiar but unpleasant Kelly Reichardt vibes... if your movie isn't character driven and it isn't plot driven, then what's driving it? Landscape-driven stories are not a thing! Knowing how to skin a squirrel is not a substantial character trait!
To be fair, I think Winter's Bone was trying to be plot-driven, which was confusing since there were major plot holes and super important pieces of information left out until the very end that would've dramatically heightened the stakes if we'd had them sooner. I'm all for making the audience "work for it" and not just spoon-feeding details, but I spent most of this movie trying to figure out who was actually related to who and what was wrong with her mom and where the kid's school was located and if that horse ever got fed and why Thump Milton had so many shiny buttons on his vest. I get that it was supposed to be a sparse, stark atmosphere (just like the landscape, OOOOOOOH) but Jesus Christ it kind of just felt like I was watching J. Law go trick-or-treating to random meth dens and scowling at them a lot every time they told her "ye best not be pokin' around where ye ain't shouldn't be pokin' little missy" and then figuring out two scenes later that they were all related to her? Ugh.
It is truly a testament to the talent of J. Law that this movie was watchable at all. Not only was she able to bring some reasonable and realistic humanity in a world full of melodramatically aggressive adults, but I also applaud her for finding incredible little hidden nuggets of humor in an otherwise humorless tale.
...But tbh the real dark horse, scene-stealer for me was when J. Law crashes a good old fashioned Ozarks party and stumbles into real-life blues singer Marideth Sisco, who croons this haunting ballad:
The Nightingale (2018)
Directed by: Jennifer Kent
Written by: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr, Sam Claflin
IMDB Synopsis: Set in 1825, Clare, a young Irish convict woman, chases a British officer through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy, who is also marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past.
HOLY SHIT this entire movie should come with a massive trigger warning - in the first 15 min, the main character is raped twice and then watches her husband and tiny little adorable round-faced BABY get murdered in front of her. Yeah. The baby dies. It's not my favorite.
It's also about an hour too long. I was totally invested on her journey into the uncivilized jungles of Australia to track down the men who wronged her and have her revenge - which she does get, a little - but after murdering the Baby-Killing Asshole, suddenly all her trauma seems to catch up with her, and she completely freezes in the face of The Rapist Asshole.
On the one hand, that's some ballsy writing: It's tragic but it's actually super realistic. On the other hand, the narrative thread totally fizzles out from there, and with little to no redemption. This young woman has endured SO MUCH at this point, and literally murdered a man in the jungle with her bare hands and a small, rusty knife - and now, NOW she freezes? And then breaks down? And then her beautifully acted Indigenous companion that she has learned she has more in common with since she's an Irish prisoner and they both hate the British and he speaks his native tongue and she speaks Gaelic and they have some really fucking beautiful moments of solidarity, HE is the one who goes on to avenge the men for her? And she just, like... checks out? And I get it, Billy had reasons for wanting his revenge too, but I wanted to see her go Kill Bill on those motherfuckers! I felt like they were setting us up for a wilderness road-trip take on Girl With The Dragon Tattoo except there was no revenge-rape scene. There was just a lot of getting raped. :(
Also, despite there being some outstanding little moments that I've never seen in a film before, there were others that just straight up did not make logical sense:
- she keeps waking up with her breastmilk leaking through her dress, a constant (and physically painful) reminder that her baby is dead
- the Irish/Indigenous comparison (I think we can all agree that in the overall scope of human history, black/brown/indigenous folks have suffered far more than white folks, but there was a moment in history where the Irish were also treated quite barbarically).
- utterly haunting Gaelic folk songs
- Clare finally has her confrontation with The Main Asshole guy by barging into the middle of some kind of soldier luncheon (??) and starts this great monologue about how the woman he raped is DEAD and you can't kill what DOESN'T DIE and while it's a great moment but I'm also just like...?? Why the fuck aren't these soldier guys stopping her??
- And then she fucking SINGS A SONG??? And everyone just lets her?? Again, it was a beautiful moment, but it did NOT make any sense at all?? I'm sorry, but it completely took me out of the whole moment.
- Billy gets straight up SHOT IN THE STOMACH POINT BLANK and then rides a horse for several hours, DANCES on the fucking beach, and does not die?? I'll be the first to admit I don't know exactly how gunpowder works, but...??? Pretty sure you'd fucking die??
Overall, I loved seeing Kent's handiwork when it came to Women vs. Wilderness. Her protagonist was resilient AF - but unlike J. Law, she actually was a fully-formed character (and not just J. Law in a thinly veiled disguise). Despite the plot holes and moments that missed the mark, this movie was beautifully crafted. Way too long and fucking traumatizing and I'll absolutely never watch it again, but yeah, it was pretty well-done.
And the winner is...
I actually love how much these movies have in common. They're both about young people whose greatest struggle in life is the fact that they were born female... In Boys Don't Cry, a young trans man from rural Nebraska desperately tries to form his own "found" family and find acceptance; in Whale Rider a young Maori girl suffers the brunt of her grandfather's disappointment that she was born instead of the prophesied savior of their people.
Boys Don't Cry (1999)
Directed by: Kimberly Peirce
Written by: Kimberly Peirce, Andy Bienen
Starring: Hilary Swank, Chloë Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard
IMDB Synopsis: A young man named Brandon Teena navigates love, life, and being transgender in rural Nebraska.
I had to keep reminding myself in Boys Don't Cry that it was made in 1999 (and conceptualized even earlier), so people were NOT ready for an open conversation about the brutal discrimination and violence that transgender folks live with on a daily basis. I watched this film in high school - I rented it from the used book & video store I worked at when I was 15 and watched it when my parents were out of town - and I remember watching it through my fingers. It was so brutal and so harrowing and I knew next to NOTHING about trans folks. Looking back on it now, I had major gender dysphoria and queer shame (vocabulary that I did not have access to when I was a teen), and Brandon Teena's story felt like the inevitable end of the road for confused freaks like me. I know now that I am not trans (I think I fall somewhere more on the genderqueer/non-binary scale), but watching a story like this was groundbreaking for me.
However, there are parts of it that feel like a formulaic 90's drama - falling in love while doing karaoke, LOTS of moody driving scenes, weird intercuts to sped up b-roll footage of the road zooming by. I realize that Peirce was probably utilizing a lot of these more familiar visual tropes to make the story more accessible to a wider audience, since the subject matter was so likely to be off-putting to most. Which is a bummer, because I would've loved to see more weird, arthouse-y flashbacks to what Brandon was like as a teenager, or some insightful drunken monologues from the otherwise pretty generic homophobic bad guys who end up murdering him. Sadly I just don't think 1999 was ready for that - or ready to see how much of themselves were reflected in the villains.
Also I just have to add: it is still REMARKABLE to me how Brandon was able to woo the people in Falls City (particularly Lana and her mother) by doing little else other than literally just being a NICE FUCKING GUY. That was legitimately such a rare and mind blowing concept to them. I mean, Chloe Sevigny literally falls in love with him after like 2 dates because he respects her body, is NICE to her, and GOES DOWN ON HER. THAT'S IT. THAT'S ALL IT TOOK. Realistically, that was probably the BEST SEX Lana had ever had in her life. THINK ABOUT THAT.
Whale Rider (2002)
Directed by: Niki Caro
Written by: Niki Caro, Witi Ihimaera (book)
Starring: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis
IMDB Synopsis: A contemporary story of love, rejection and triumph as a young Maori girl fights to fulfill a destiny her grandfather refuses to recognize.
This is another movie I hadn't seen since high school, and GODDAMN I FORGOT HOW INTRINSIC IT WAS TO MY ENTIRE UPBRINGING.
Without spoiling too much of my memoir... I was raised by Evangelical Christian missionary parents who moved us to the Big Island of Hawaii when I was 12 years old to work for the YWAM Kona Base (Youth With A Mission; the world's largest "non-denominational" Christian missions organization). It was somewhere between a cult and a community college, with global field trips included. While my father was by no means as gnarly as Keisha Castle-Hughes grandfather in the film, I remember deeply resonating with her struggle to be taken seriously as a woman in her spiritual community, and the re-watch was no different.
In a few articles I read, Caro was insistent that this was a story about smashing the patriarchy, not about interfering with traditional Maori culture, which I think is crucial to appreciating it. The Maoris are exceptionally matriarchal, but it would appear that the spread of toxic masculinity has no limits.
It was also interesting to watch two films where the lead actresses were both nominated for Academy Awards, especially since it feels like all the other films I've watched so far haven't been very actor-focused. As a failed actress, I appreciate watching films like this immensely (although it is always a bit of a bummer when the performances outweigh the overall greatness of the film).
And the winner is...
If this was a competition of Hilary Swank vs. Keisha Castle-Hughes, Boys Don't Cry would've won. But it ain't. This is Matriach Madness...
No One Is Reading This Goddamn Blog.
Which normally wouldn't bother me that much, because truthfully, NONE of my projects have a very wide audience and I've made my peace with that.
But we're on lockdown in the middle of a global pandemic with nothing but WiFi and free time and I am losing my goddamn mind. I need to connect with people. I need to watch movies to escape the anxiety and uncertainty. And, although I'm not proud of it, I need affirmation from people on the internet that I am hilarious and that my life is not utterly and completely pointless.
That's fine. I can pivot.
So I've remade my entire bracket, BECAUSE I AM INSANE.
Should I have just let this whole project go? PROBABLY! But before Enneagram's came onto the scene (I'm a hard 8, by the way) there was a little thing called Meyer's Brigg's and I am the DEFINITION of an INFJ. You know what the "J" stands for?? JUDGEMENT. Or, as my mother much more kindly puts it, "closure." I NEED CLOSURE. I CAN'T LEAVE THIS UNFINISHED.
So to appease all you uncultured RUBES (it's okay, I am actually one of you too), I have reworked the entire goddamn thing. I am including the ones I've already watched because my god that was a lot of time, energy, and money. But hopefully now you'll actually recognize the rest of these films.
The New Bracket:
The New Directors:
Sciamma is an out lesbian and feminist, seen here with her former partner Adèle Haenel, who has starred in three of her films (Water Lilies, Pauline, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire).
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” strips sex scenes of visual pleasure, and heavily attempts to underplay what would be conventionally attractive within the patriarchal social structure in these rather intimate moments. This is apparent in scenes where Marianne and Héloïse would kiss, and we would expect a sex scene to follow, but instead Sciamma cuts afterward to both of them lying in bed, passionately looking at one another.
She particularly angles the camera in ways that aren’t exploitative of the characters’ bodies on screen, placing features antithetical to the male gaze, like armpits and stomachs, center frame. But most essentially, Sciamma dials into the transience of every moment, completely eradicating sound and motion from the diegetic space to permeate the inevitability of time and the impermanence of their relationship.
The interlocked gaze that Marianne and Héloïse share symbolizes more than a mutual attraction, but the breaking of a patriarchal barrier, akin to how Marianne sees Héloïse for more than just a pretty face in a painting. It’s a transcendence of Héloïse’s objectification, which she is fatalistically bound to experience in her marriage — but through her role as “an object to be looked at,” we are forced to reflect on the nature of our gaze.
As Héloïse says to Marianne while she poses for the portrait, “If you look at me, what do I look at?” - Vikram Sundar, The Pitt News
When Bong Joon Ho won the coveted Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival for his film Parasite, one person’s vote on the jury held special meaning for him: that of the director Kelly Reichardt. A pillar of American independent cinema, Reichardt favors quiet, minimalistic storytelling, often focused on the margins of society. As she once put it, “My films are just glimpses of people passing through.” Bong has spoken frequently of his appreciation for her work; he called the opening shot of her 2008 film, Wendy and Lucy, “one of the most beautiful opening scenes in the history of the movies.” - David Sims, The Guardian
"I had 10 years from the mid-1990s when I couldn’t get a movie made. It had a lot to do with being a woman. That’s definitely a factor in raising money. During that time, it was impossible to get anything going, so I just said, ‘Fuck you!’ and did Super 8 shorts instead." - The Guardian
“A road movie without the road, a love story without the love, and a crime story without the crime.”— Kelly Reichardt
“Lee and I had crossed that straight line that dad called the law, and I could feel the butterflies in my stomach as I tumbled deeper into a life of crime. After all, murder was thicker than marriage, and Lee and I were now bound by the life we took.”
“I stood near the water thinking about different things, and sometimes catching a glimpse of my life as if I was thumbing through an old photo album.”
"The Night Porter" is as nasty as it is lubricious, a despicable attempt to titillate us by exploiting memories of persecution and suffering. It is (I know how obscene this sounds) Nazi chic. It's been taken seriously in some circles, mostly by critics agile enough to stand on their heads while describing 180-degree turns, in order to interpret trash as "really" meaningful..."
"...That's not to say I object per se to the movie's subject matter, a sadomasochistic relationship taken up again 15 years after the war by a former SS concentration camp officer and the inmate he raped and dominated when she was a young girl. I can imagine a serious film on this theme -- on the psychological implications of shared guilt and the identification of the slave with the master -- but "The Night Porter" isn't such a film; it's such a superficial soap opera we'd laugh at it if it weren't so disquieting." - Roger Ebert
The Night Porter = BAD
Black Snake Moan = (the element of satire cannot be overlooked here) FINE
Secretary = (overly copied & butchered, but still) GOOD
The Night Porter = BAD
The Night Porter = SO SO BAD
The Addams Family = SO SO GOOD
The Night Porter = BAD BAD BAD
50 Shades of Gray = Also so, so, so bad
So I re-watched Persepolis and kept telling myself, aloud: "I need to look up who wrote the graphic novel this is based on, because the artwork is FANTASTIC." About 15 minutes in I realized, "Hey wait a minute! The main character's name is Marjane! Wait! The main character's name is MARJANE SATRAPI! WAIT A MINUTE! I AM VERY SLOW! SHE CREATED THE GRAPHIC NOVEL! SHE IS THE ARTIST! SHE DID LITERALLY EVERYTHING! OH MY ACTUAL GOD!"
Needless to say, I am now low key obsessed with the INCREDIBLY multi-talented Satrapi, and you should be too.
"People are so afraid to say the word 'comic'," she told the Guardian newspaper in 2011. "It makes you think of a grown man with pimples, a ponytail and a big belly. Change it to 'graphic novel' and that disappears. No: it's all comics."
"How To Film A Graphic Novel" by Marjane Satrapi, The Guardian