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Posts Tagged ‘Nomadland’

Soon after starting this blog back in 2009 I started a movie of the month segment.  The first post of every month, usually on the first of the month I would name the best movie I had seen in the previous month.  I started by naming the top few contenders before crowning on the Movie of the Month.  I soon changed to writing a short paragraph review of each film I had seen at the cinema. Then cinemas closed as we went into lockdown following a global pandemic, you may have heard it mentioned once or twice in the past 18 months!  I last posted a movie of the month in August of last year when made two trips to the cinema after the first lockdown.  I managed three movies in November and December between lockdowns two and three but didn’t post about them at the time, so that’s where I will start

November and December 2020

Pixie – The titular Pixie sets out to on a mission to avenge her mother’s death, and escape her small time life by way of a heist, obviously things don’t go to plan. Somewhat derivative, but always fun, and Olivia Cooke is excellent as always.

Wonder Woman 1984 – Sequel to the best of the DCEU, by the standards of the franchise it’s a solid middling entry to the series.  Given how good the great the first movie was, it has to be considered as disappointment.  Gal Gadot remain perfectly cast, Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal are good in supporting roles, but everyone is let down by the story.

Dreamland – It’s impossible to make a dustland-fairytale of 30’s depression outlaws without invoking Bonnie and Clyde. Dreamland also has a hint of Malick’s Badlands at its core. To invoke such films you are always going to fall short, but the movie is engaging thanks to strong performances from Finn Cole and Margot Robbie.

This brings us onto 2021 and the reopening of cinemas in May.

May

Those Who Wish Me Dead – Actor tuned writer, Taylor Sheridan’s second film as a director (he doesn’t count 2011’s Vile) following Wind River (2017).  A rung below Wind River and not in the same ballpark as his masterpiece (as writer) Sicario (2015).  A nice blend of disaster movie and crime thriller, Angelina Jolie is agreat as you would expect, Sheridan regular Jon Bernthal mprovides excellent suport, as do Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult.  The best supporting character is superbly portrayed by Medina Senghore.

Godzilla vs. Kong – I missed Godzilla: King of the Monsters at the cinema in 2017, but caught it on streaming during lockdown, it was really poor!  This new entry to the franchise is better, but that isn’t saying much given the seriously low bar.

Cruella – Emma Stone is fantastic as the young Cruella de Vil, she even manages to outshine Emma Thompson, who as the films villain you would expect to be the more showy part.  The only issue, the film cannot decide if it’s a retelling, or a prequel to 101 Dalmatians.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Mr Do It – Based on a true story is something of a stretch.  The weakest of The Conjuring Movies but still good fun.  Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are both great as ever.

June

Nomadland – Chloé Zhao’s third feature following the sublime The Rider won her the best director Oscar (only the second woman to win), it also won Best Picture and Frances McDormand’s second Best Actress award.  I originally saw the movie via streaming, but thought it deserved a big screen viewing.  It did! 

A Quiet Place Part II – The title tells you what you need to know, this isn’t A Quiet Place 2, this is part 2 of the story.  Picking up directly after the events of the first movie, along with a perfectly judged flashback, it is exactly the film it needed to be. 

Nobody – Writer Derek Kolstad is best known for John Wick, he hasn’t moved far from that premise with this movie.  What if John Wick was played by an ordinary person? That’s pretty much what this is with Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk in the lead.  For some inexplicable reason, it really works, the movie is great fun!

The Farther – Another Oscar winner in the shape of Anthony Hopkins as best actor.  A directorial debut from Florian Zeller based on his own play.  The acting and staging always feels a little stagey, but the structure of the movie outweighs this.  Best to watch without reading too much about it.

Monster Hunter – Video game adaptation from the husband/wife, director/star frequent collaborators Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich.  Far from a masterpiece, but filled with sufficient action and fun to make it worth watching. 

In The Earth – Ben Wheatley’s lockdown take on a folk horror is a tough film to get a handle on.  Not as inaccessible as  A Field in England but falling short of his best work, Kill List, Sightseers and High-Rise.  The performances from the small cast are all excellent.  

Fast & Furious 9 – The Fast & Furious franchise evolved from a retelling of Point Break to Mission Impossible.  The quality of the films varies greatly, but they were never dull, until now.  The bigger the stunts get, the less interesting the film becomes. At least Charlize Theron is having fun!

July

Freaky – What if the director of Happy Death Day remade Freaky Friday as a high school slasher horror? That is exactly what Freaky is, and it is so much fun!  Vince Vaughn is really good (yes, really) but is totally overshadowed by Kathryn Newton who is excellent. 

Black Widow – Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow was never the biggest star in the MCU, but in many ways she was the most interesting.  There is no way of reconciling the fact it took so long for her or any other female character to get her own movie within the biggest franchise in movie history.  Scarlett Johansson is excellent as you would expect, as are co-stars Rachel Weisz and David Harbour, but the MVP by a mile is Florence Pugh who has  genuine chemistry with Johansson.

Another Round – In 2012 Thomas Vinterberg made an outstanding film called The Hunt starring Mads Mikkelsen.  The pair are back with another stunning movie.  Exploring men’s relationship with alcohol, and each other it asks a lot of questions of its characters and audience, to its credit it doesn’t try to answer them.  The winner of the best foreign language movie at the Oscars this year, I think it’s a better film than the (six out of eight that I have seen) nominations for best picture. 

The Suicide Squad – Not to be confused with the 2016 film with a very similar title.   Notably better than that film, but then the bar wasn’t that high!  As before, Harley Quinn remains the most interesting character, although she was the best moments of the film she isn’t as well served, or the film as good as Birds of Prey. The performances are all spot on, but the plot is somewhat thin especially for the 132 minute runtime. 

To name a movie of the month from just two or three choices doesn’t really work, for this reason I will just name one movie of the month(s), and hopefully return to naming a movie each month moving forward. My movie of the Months is:

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Easy Rider (1969) didn’t chronicle the end of the decade/era, and the death of hope and optimism that the 1960’s promised, but it certainly symbolised it. It could be argued that the loss of hope wasn’t followed by despair, but by a new more measured hope with less lofty ambitions, a more weary even cynical hope, but hope none the less. And this is what we saw on the big screen, the cinema of new Hollywood. In truth, a child of the 70s, I saw it on late night TV, and VHS in the 80s and 90s. The Watergate scandal of 1972 may have ground zero for the political and conspiracy thrillers of the time, films like The Parallax View (1974), The Conversation (1974), but the spirit, or lack thereof found a place on screen before that, it found it on the road!  There has always been a link between cars and movies, the two were invented around the same time, and both found popularity in the United States, a country built out of exploration, and a country built on a dream; and as Mark Cousins reminded us The Story of Film: An Odyssey is a (2011) “movies look live our dreams”.


While there had been movies about cars and drivers before, the road movie as we know it was born in the 70s, buit on a foundation from the Golden Age of Cinema. We are not talking the capers of Gone in 60 Seconds (1974), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), or the various Gumball/Cannonball movies (various movies from mid 70’s to mid 80s), I am referring to the existential road movies like Two Lane Blacktop (1971), and Vanishing point (1971). Existential movies, where to drive is to live, to stop is to die. Kowalski (Barry Newman), the hero of vanishing point is just driving, we never understand why. He drives for the sake of driving the way we live for the sake of living.  If you don’t know the film, the plot of the film revolves around a man delivering a car 1,200 miles from Denver Colorado, To San Francisco.  He has a week to get there but for reasons never explained is compelled to do it in a couple of days.  There is little plot, and almost no explanation, but flashbacks give us an idea of what is going on.  The Driver (James Taylor) and Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) in Two Lane Blacktop may not have names but they have more of  purpose, or do they.  They cruise around looking for action in the shape of drag races like the subjects of a Bruce Springsteen song, but when we look a little deeper, they have no purpose, they are racing for money to fund their lifestyle, so they can continue racing.  They are not the unwilling or repentant criminal looking for one last job so they can go clean, they are living day to day, a modern take on the hunter gathers of our past.  But does that make them any different to anybody working a day job, as Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt from Fight Club ((1999) said nearly 30 years later “working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need”.  Are they closer to the breadline than the average wage earner, or do they have a fallback? Both films have an other-worldly character enhanced by uncertainty and ambiguity,  this was lost in the 90s, made for TV remake of Vanishing Point, everything they gave Kowalski by way of motivation, stripped away a layer of meaning from the subtext of the movie. 

Although most associated with America, the genre isn’t exclusive to the nation. By the end of the 70’s the angst and desire had been forgotten, swallowed up by “blockbusters”.  Australian filmmaker George Miller fussed the road ideas of the road, if not the road movie itself with a dystopian future.  For a more recent generation, their knowledge of the Mad Max franchise may not stretch beyond the fourth, and most recent instalment: Fury Road (2015), but it started long before that in 1979. Inspired by the fuel crisis and economic crash of a few years earlier the first film depicted the beginning of society crumbling. Max, the movies “hero” first hits the road for revenge, but by the end of the first movie, he disappears down the road.  Not with the glory of a cowboy riding into the sunset, but a long and dark road, as a man with nothing, and nothing to live for.  Max’s only option for survival it to live, to exist, and he can find this simplicity, only after he has lost himself on the road.  A generation later, the characters of Fury Road think they can find hope, redemption, or even eternity on the road, for most none of this is true. 

Both as surreal and mainly masculine genre, director Chloe Zhao gave her a new take, and grounded and more real take.  Nomadland is loosely based on Jessica Bruder none fiction book of the same name we see real life people living a nomadic existence.  This, like many other road movies was exist in the traditional heartland of the western genre, but this isn’t a pioneering story of A to B, of someone with a destination. It is the story of a person not looking where to live, but how to live.  As the world gets smaller, and cars have begun to lose importance in the world, we may think the days of the road movie are numbered.  I don’t think they are, we may see a day were they become nostalgic chronicling relatively recent past rather than telling their own contemporarily stories, but in the hands of talented filmmakers, this artifice will not prevent the real story, one that is lingering beneath the surface. 

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