1. “Angelina Jolie Pitt: Diary of a Surgery.” For The New York Times, the actress pens an op-ed about her decision to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes.
“I went through what I imagine thousands of other women have felt. I told myself to stay calm, to be strong, and that I had no reason to think I wouldn’t live to see my children grow up and to meet my grandchildren. I called my husband in France, who was on a plane within hours. The beautiful thing about such moments in life is that there is so much clarity. You know what you live for and what matters. It is polarizing, and it is peaceful. That same day I went to see the surgeon, who had treated my mother. I last saw her the day my mother passed away, and she teared up when she saw me: ’You look just like her.’ I broke down. But we smiled at each other and agreed we were there to deal with any problem, so ’let’s get on with it.’”
2. “Don Draper’s Gonna Die!” Well, maybe not die exactly. But when the final season of Mad Men draws to a close, that cocky, depressive adman that Jon Hamm made—and that made Jon Hamm—is going to disappear. Which means two things: It’s time to sit down and savor that character’s closing notes, and then it’s time to get excited for everything Jon Hamm is going to do next.
“It was a few years ago, and Hamm and [Jennifer] Westfeldt were on their way out of Orso, a restaurant in New York. Hamm looked up, into the grinning face of James Gandolfini, who was just stepping out of a chauffeured car, arriving for dinner. ’I’m like, ’Oh, Jesus.’ He was just the nicest guy, always very sweet and friendly. But the first thing you think is you’re going to be murdered.’ Gandolfini offered to have his driver take them home—a tip of the hat from a Difficult Man Emeritus, now out of the game, to a younger member still in the thick of it. Sometime later, in Boston, Hamm ran into Bryan Cranston, himself only recently freed from the yoke of Breaking Bad. ’It’s hard, man,’ Cranston told him. ’It’s hard to let it go. It’ll hit you a couple of different ways at different times.’ So far, it seems to mostly be disorienting. Shooting for the second half of season seven ended way back last summer. ’The whole last season was like senior year in high school,’ Hamm says. ’’We’ll stay in touch!’ ’I’ll text you!’ ’We’ll see each other all the time!’ And it’s like, ’Will we really?’’”
3. ”’Yoga Pants Are Ruining Women’ and Other Style Advice from Fran Lebowitz.” Sartorial tirades from one of the most tailored and opinionated dressers in all of New York City.
“To me, the main difference between young people now and the people I was young with isn’t so much style, it’s the relationships they have with their parents. Their parents like them much more than ours liked us. Our parents weren’t our friends. They disapproved of us. All our parents cared about was how we behaved, not how we felt, not what we wanted. But now I see my friends on the phones with their, what, 30-year-old kids? And they’re talking about feelings. You would think this kind of relationship would make this adult children more relaxed, but instead they’re more concerned. Parent-child relationships have become so collegiate. And so when these grown children go into the world, they expect a certain amount of attention. And they’re very disappointed.”
4. ”The Jinx: Not My Documentary Renaissance.” Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling’s gotcha documentary series explores the porous boundary between bad art and bad journalism.
“The problem comes when one actually watches The Jinx. The series is so manipulative, so plodding, so pointlessly morbid, so self-congratulatory, so obviously geared to deliver one, single news-making/ratings-grabbing moment that it casts a pall over these essential questions. In the last episode we find the filmmakers grandstanding on camera that their ’number-one priority’ is to deliver ’justice’ after discovering a previously unseen letter that basically nails [Robert] Durst. Jarecki’s nervous exuberance for his pending gotcha confrontation with his subject is barely contained behind a mask of documentary sobriety. We haven’t seen such thinly veiled glee since the Catfish guys ’discovered’ the twist on camera in their ’search for the truth’. (Coincidentally, Jarecki and Smerling were two of that film’s producers.) That he peppers the final episode with pleas for justice by the interview subjects most affected by Durst’s continued, improbable freedom is self-congratulation to the extreme.”
5. “Nostalgia for the Future.” For The New Inquiry, Nadia Awad on how images of Palestine circulate globally as long as they don’t picture return.
“At the nexus of activism, occupation tourism, brand-making, and war journalism lies the current transnational visual production of Palestine. The Israeli security industry’s pathetic efforts to police virtual space have only amplified the global desire for those elusive ’facts on the ground.’ Google Earth completely omits parts of Palestine or prevents visualization from a particular proximity. The clinical, relentless deletion of Palestinian referents, including names of towns, pages commemorating particular events, and Vines of protests, compliments Israel’s recent habit of declaring war through Twitter. Aerial videos of Gaza’s destruction appear on the army’s YouTube channel while reservists live-tweeted massacres during the last siege on Gaza. Settlers even arrived on hilltops, carrying lawn chairs, popcorn, and binoculars, to relish the ‘theater’ of the Gaza’s latest war. The army’s total control over air, water, and land is paralleled by its virtual control over digital representations of Palestine.”
Video of the Day: Slow West gets an official trailer:
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Costume Design
Honestly, we’re so gobsmacked by AMPAS’s skullduggery that we can’t even see what’s right in front of us.
In less than a week, AMPAS has successfully stoked the anger of just about every creative in Hollywood, and perhaps sensing a widespread boycott of the Oscar telecast in response to the banishment of four awards to commercial breaks, the academy has now “clarified” its latest attempt to reboot the Oscars for the TL;DR generation. Yesterday, in a letter signed by the academy’s board of governors—which includes president, director of photography, and hater of cinematography John Bailey—members were assured that the four winning speeches will in fact be included in the broadcast, but with all the walking and talking that it takes to announce the winners edited out. Also, those four categories may or may not be given the short shrift in 2020, as apparently there’s a “rotation” system in place that will, I guess, leave the door open for us to not see Lady Gaga walk on stage next year to accept the best actress award for her performance accepting the Golden Globe this year for “Shallow.”
Honestly, we’re so gobsmacked by AMPAS’s skullduggery that we can’t even see what’s right in front of us. Case in point: When I sat down to write this article, I thought this award was going to be a slam dunk for Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody, but as it turns out, the film isn’t even nominated for its costumes. Because sanity prevailed when voters decided they didn’t find any kind of magic in Brian May pulling out his old Queen outfits for the making of Bryan Singer’s film, maybe it will prevail again and AMPAS will take the Oscars off its planned keto diet. And if it doesn’t, we’ll take some solace in three-time Oscar winner Sandy Powell—who for the third time in her career has been nominated twice in the same year—collecting this award for her gloriously ostentatious, stitch-perfect garbs for The Favourite.
Will Win: The Favourite
Could Win: Black Panther
Should Win: The Favourite
Berlinale 2019: Out Stealing Horses, A Tale of Three Sisters, & Öndög
These films suggest the cinema as another place where we can simulate and reflect on life within and surrounded by natural landscapes.
On the way into Berlin from Tegel Airport, one of the first signs of the city you see is a large tract of land divided into rectangular plots, on each a shed in a variable state of repair. In fact, you can find such areas dispersed throughout the city. Visitors can easily mistake these colonies for third world-style shantytowns, but in fact they’re the bougiest things imaginable: privately owned allotments, known as kleingärten, that aren’t used as primary residences. It’s an institution that allows urban dwellers with enough money to simulate life “on the land,” a slice of rural life plopped down within the city.
As goes Berlin, so goes Berlinale. Several films in this year’s competition suggest the cinema as another place where we can simulate and reflect on life within and surrounded by natural landscapes. There’s a certain nostalgia in these films’ contemplation of the relationship between people and nature—in an age where our actions have precipitated an ongoing ecological cataclysm, the depiction of natural spaces almost immediately invokes the past.
A particularly wistful note is struck by Hans Petter Moland’s Out Stealing Horses, a film about—stop me if you’ve heard this before—sexual awakening set during a rural Scandinavian summer. The film begins in the dark, cold New Year’s Eve of 1999, as an aged and lonesome Trond Sander (Stellan Skarsgård) hides out in Sweden from his troubled recent past. When the 66-year-old Norwegian meets his closest neighbor, Lars (Bjørn Floberg), the film flashes back to the summer of 1948, which Trond spent at his father’s country house in Norway. In voiceover, Skarsgård’s weathered baritone guides us through his character’s reminiscences concerning the tragedy that befell a neighboring family, and how his relationship with his father (Tobias Santelmann) was altered forever when they both became entangled in it.
Although the bulk of its action takes place in the postwar Norwegian woods, Out Stealing Horses regularly brings us back to 1999, contrasting the gray-and-blue perpetual night of a Swedish winter with the variegated colors of summer. Such blatant romantic symbolism doesn’t initially detract from a film that seems at the outset to promise a thoughtful contemplation of mortality. But as the symbols start to multiply—winter for old age and impending death; summer for youth; flowers, birds, and bees for burgeoning sexuality; thunder for emotional turmoil; water for femininity—and the melodrama becomes conventional and bloated, Moland and co-screenwriter Per Petterson’s subordination of natural objects to human meanings becomes increasingly one-dimensional.
Emin Alper’s A Tale of Three Sisters opens with a car driving into a remote, mountainous area of central Anatolia in Turkey. The car, whose hood takes up the foreground of the frame, belongs to Mr. Necati, a well-to-do city dweller on whom Sevkit (Müfit Kayacan) and his three daughters rely for their livelihood. The four live in a small village nestled in the mountains, and since their mother’s death, each of the three girls has tried and failed to serve as Necati’s family’s maid in the city. Nurhan (Ece Yüksel) and Havva (Helin Kandemir) have just returned from their stint, one that ended because the irascible Nurhan was beating the Necati children, and Reyhan (Cemre Ebuzziya) was returned some years ago when she got pregnant, upon which her father swiftly married her off to Veysel (Kayhan Açikgöz).
Veysel, a reluctant and lazy shepherd by trade, is a hapless fool, the kind of guy who will accidentally piss on a grave, then worriedly pose to his village superiors the question: “Is pissing on graves a sin?” Sevkit and the other men regularly laugh at his expense, and Reyhan and her sisters have little patience for her husband-of-necessity. The village’s mistreatment of the earnest but perpetually outmatched Veysel will have tragic consequences.
Tale of Three Sisters isn’t interested in tidy narrative resolutions. Much of the film consists of evocative scenes set amid the glowing brown-red hues of the area’s mountains and the hearth of Sivket’s family home—one of the most memorable of which is a comic, sexually suggestive sequence involving a huge jug of ayran, a foamy yogurt-based drink popular in Turkey. The film works its way toward a kind of moral resolution, though at times the journey there is a bit of a slog. Sevkit is a domineering father, his words taking over both his home and the film, which occasionally feels as tedious as his daughters find it.
Öndög, by Chinese director Wang Quan’an, is a film that takes an elemental approach to the human condition. A good portion of its running time is made up of long exterior shots of the Mongolian plains held for minutes at a time, the frame cleanly divided between the elements of earth and sky. The action, such that it is, often takes place at dusk, which flattens the silhouettes of the diminutive human figures against the blue-orange twilight sky; at times they look like shadow puppets inching their way across an ersatz, cardboard stage. The film’s aesthetics are grandiose in the same measure that they are playful.
Naturally, Öndög is concerned with life and death, and in a manner that evokes cyclical time. It opens with a pair of deaths—a woman’s body is discovered in a field, and a sheep is slaughtered on camera—and it closes with a pair of births (no spoilers here, but, then again, it’s doubtful spoilers can exist in cyclical time). Landing upon the same symbol of eternal recurrence as Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, Wang evokes dinosaur life: One character shares with another that the ancient reptiles were first discovered in Mongolia, making Mongolians their descendants, destined in millions of years to be discovered again, by dinosaur scientists.
Though the film opens with police discovering the aforementioned woman’s body and a young officer (Norovsambuu) left alone in the field to guard it until it can be retrieved, it leaves this plot thread unresolved, subsuming itself in the anti-drama of the herdswoman (Dulamjav Enkhtaivan) who’s asked to keep the officer company. Roaming around the plains on her distinctive camel and tending to her livestock with only the occasional help of a neighboring, motorcycle-riding herdsman (Aorigeletu), the herdswoman is a model of autonomy and self-determination. She’s faster and better with a gun than the police, and flat-out ignores the herdsman’s constant suggestions that she needs to find a man.
Quan’an addresses eternal, cosmic themes through a portrait of rural characters living in a desolate setting, but even if his interest is in the primeval, he doesn’t make his characters “primitive.” They live closer to death and to birth, but they still play Elvis songs on their cellphones, call the police when they’re in trouble, and have medical abortions. And Öndög’s portrait of the human condition also isn’t portentous or overly self-serious; for one, this is a film that will give you a new appreciation for the inherent humor of camel sounds. Slow but never tedious, set under sky and stars but not in the least bit sentimental, Öndög is the festival’s most profound story of human life on the land.
Berlinale runs from February 7—17.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Actor
Throwing questions of artistic merit out the window, opponents of a Rami Malek win have dutifully cast doubt on his ideological purity.
Given how this accursed Oscar season has thrown one obscenity after another at everyone who has any investment whatsoever in the institution of the Academy Awards, it’s as though AMPAS is inviting the world to burn the Dolby Theater down on Oscar Sunday, as Mélanie Laurent’s Shosanna does to the Cinema Le Gamaar at the climax of Inglourious Basterds. And at this point, considering that one of the four awards being banished to commercial breaks is cinematography, and that AMPAS president John Bailey is himself a cinematographer, the presumption of self-sabotage seems credible.
Such are the affronts to progress toward anything other than ABC-Disney’s maniacal bottom line to reverse the show’s declining ratings, and the deadening effect every bad idea has had on our souls, that Rami Malek winning the best actor Oscar for leading with his teeth throughout Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody slots toward the bottom of our shit list. Malek, who cemented his frontrunner status with a BAFTA win last weekend, may be taking a page, if not the whole ream, from Eddie Redmayne’s shamelessly charming campaign playbook. But in the category’s absence of Ethan Hawke, who ran the table with critics for his performance in First Reformed, is anyone’s reserve of outrage bottomless enough to howl about the inevitable results here, beyond wounded fans of A Star Is Born? (Though, don’t get us wrong. We’re happy to give Bradley Cooper the award if it keeps him from going behind the camera again.)
Throwing questions of artistic merit out the window, opponents of a Malek win have dutifully cast doubt on his ideological purity. You don’t have to flash back to Casey Affleck to regard this tack as a grisly mistake, even if you don’t happen to believe Malek got Bryan Singer kicked off of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody for preying on underage boys. This is an Academy that nominated Green Book for five awards. Good intentions are still more than enough, and what you say is still as important, if not more so, than what you do. And if portraying Freddie Mercury as a misguided homosexual who just needed to find Britain’s one good gay somebody to love leaves a pretty foul taste in our mouths, at least Malek has managed to avoid letting the N-word slip from his mouth on the promotional circuit.
Will Win: Rami Malek, Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: Christian Bale, Vice
Should Win: Any actor willing to publicly stand up in support of airing all 24 categories.