After completing a trilogy of independent horror films that used the archetypes of the vampire (Habit), the werewolf (Wendigo), and Frankenstein’s monster (No Telling), filmmaker Larry Fessenden widens his scope in the global warming parable The Last Winter. Set against the backdrop of wide open Alaskan snow country, an oil drilling expedition has been stalled by ecological scientist Hoffman (played by James Le Gros) in response to the erratic temperature shifts and melting permafrost. The bigwigs send in aggressive team leader Pollack (Ron Perlman) to resume production immediately. As tension grows between the environmentalist and the company man, an eerie paranormal force seems to monitor them. Soon, members of their party believe there’s “something out there” in the increasingly chaotic wind and storms, and it’s unclear whether it’s avenging phantoms rising up out of the ground or that their isolation has led to a maniacal cabin fever.
The mood of slow creeping dread builds to apocalyptic proportions. Hoffman and Pollack eventually form an uneasy alliance to work together to save themselves and their team from whatever force besieges them, and the film ultimately reveals itself as a grand scale tragedy where Hoffman, the sensitive man of philosophy and science, and Pollack, a bold and confident man of action, reach a terrible impasse as the world collapses around them. The specters Fessenden creates, which at the climax resemble powerful and impassive beasts, are ultimately stand-ins for the real-life nightmare of global warming. The hard-hitting resolution appeals to the conscience of the viewer, as does Fessenden’s lingering mood of introspective melancholy.
How did you conceive of The Last Winter?
I always say my films are mosaics of ideas, with a number of elements that come together. I originally imagined a Muslim and a white guy stuck out in the middle of nowhere with some forced interdependency between them, just to show the humanity beyond the labels. And then I had a long-standing preoccupation with global warming, and with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)—which is constantly being disputed in Congress as to whether they can drill oil there. In addition, I was disappointed the snow melted while I was making Wendigo, and wanted to go to somewhere far north where I would have guaranteed snow for the duration of the shoot. I had a lot of other ideas and was curious to see if I could develop them with someone else, so I invited Robert Leaver to be a co-writer on the project. I had known him for a couple of years, and found him to be a great dynamic spirit. We would meet and talk. He would take vigorous notes of the day’s work. I would critique them, there was a back and forth. This was right after 9/11, so we were in a specific mood: very tenuous, despairing, fraught with angst, and determined to make sense of the future.
What was your relationship to the landscape, which one of the characters describes as “pure white nothingness”?
Robbie and I imagined Alaskan pine forests being threatened by the oil companies—but when my producer Jeff Levy-Hinte and I did our location scouting up in Alaska, we saw this vast, barren white landscape. That’s what inspired my sense of claustrophobic horror, that oxymoron of feeling claustrophobia in great open spaces. I found it as frightening and desolate as any moonscape. When we flew in this tiny airplane over ANWR, it was just endless white. Mind you, in the summer it is beautiful, with a diverse ecosystem and subtle in its colors. That’s where the caribou roam, and fish are flowing in the streams. It is in fact a rich environment. “Pure white nothingness” is a direct quote from a senator with his own asinine criteria of what defines beauty, and therefore what is worth protecting. This is an essential place in that it is literally unaltered by humans.
We ultimately filmed in Iceland as opposed to Alaska or Canada, which were the logical places to look. Alaska has no film infrastructure to speak of, and Canada was not as flat or as snowy as I envisioned. The one great thing about our Canadian scout is we actually got onto an oil rig and were able to soak in the atmosphere. The workers were wonderful and welcoming and we got a lot of Super-8mm footage of the rigs that I wasn’t quite able to incorporate into the movie. But they were great people. This wouldn’t have happened in Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. The oil companies up there were paranoid and secretive like they know they’re doing something wrong. We were there two days into the Iraq war and they were all gung-ho in the hotel where we stayed. It was Fox news in the mess hall 24/7 there. I guess that’s why we chose Iceland.
Nature seems to be as important a character as Pollack and Hoffman.
Some filmmakers are intrigued by human interaction. I am interested in human activity against a larger context, against the backdrop of nature. I do feel in our current reality, where human arrogance has discounted nature and is perhaps only now waking up to the repercussions, this is becoming a more viable theme. Nature is making our lives more difficult with more erratic storms, more blistering heat and vicious cold, drought, flooding, and so on. Environmentalism has always been not about protecting the planet, but about protecting the circumstances in which people, plants and animals can flourish. We are talking about making a sustainable future for people. The Iraq war and the terrorist threat can come and go, but if we lose the hospitality of nature, we are lost as a species. If you think about in most films, from Lord of the Rings to Gone with the Wind, no matter how devastating the slaughter, there’s always some character who wanders off and looks at the sunrise as the new day begins. Renewal is possible. Nature is constant. Well, what if you didn’t have that assurance? When you don’t have that replenishing of spirit, you’ve lost all that humankind has shared throughout history.
One could assume you side with Hoffman’s arguments against Pollack. How do you go about giving dimension to the other side?
I understand Pollack’s psychology, and relate to certain things like his enthusiasm, his impatience. As a filmmaker, I am very impatient with union rules when you want to get the job done. You don’t want to hear about 12 hour days or meal penalties. Imagine translating that to some nudging environmentalist telling you not to do this and that. Pollack is a wonderful character. But in the end, we can see that he makes decisions that are not thought out; he is reactionary. He’s in a great American tradition that has run its course. We need to rethink how we approach problems. On the other hand there’s Hoffman, who seems to have the knowledge or the inkling but not the authority. Hoffman says in many scenes the same thing: “I think there’s something wrong. I’m not sure quite what.” We all laughed about these redundancies in the script. But that’s part of my point: Language doesn’t have much impact in real life. These are the problems with global warming, because nothing can be scientifically proven beyond a doubt. People aren’t feeling it day to day, though maybe that’s changing. But for Hoffman, this frustration leads to a melancholy, and his musings about monsters.
What did Ron Perlman and James Le Gros bring to their roles?
I saw Hellboy while I was thinking about casting The Last Winter, and Ron brought humanity, humor and gruffness to the red giant. These were qualities I wanted in Pollack. When he showed up for our movie, it was such smooth sailing. There was a great exchange of ideas. He challenged me on some things; not about the character but about the script and certain redundancies. I told him I wanted those waves of communication that don’t work, and you can’t just say something once because it never gets through. Ron is at a stage in his career now where he has played the beasts and the monsters—I think he was happy to just play a real character, without makeup. As for Hoffman, well, in every movie I make, there’s always a character that might have been played by myself, and the actor doing him becomes self-conscious. Le Gros kept teasing me: “I know you could do it better,” but of course I couldn’t—he brought great subtlety to the part that I wouldn’t have done. He’s also a smart collaborator when you’re actually talking about the script with him. After chatting recently, he told me that every role he does is based on another person. Hoffman was based on a friend of his. It’s a very specific performance. I like that because Hoffman is not Le Gros. He’s in a different zone.
Can you describe your use of monsters as metaphor in The Last Winter?
In all my films I am exploring the tension between reality and perception. It’s possible that I didn’t push the spectral qualities of the monster element far enough [in The Last Winter] because some people still take it all so literally. They look at the creature as an explanation, as though I were suggesting that global warming is perpetrated by mean looking deer creatures. Honestly, I can’t help these people. My hope is that audiences see these elusive phantoms as a manifestation within Hoffman’s mind. The world is collapsing because of CO2 pollution that has been created from years of industry, and characters perceive phantoms coming out of the ground. In my earlier film, Habit, the main character is a confused, despairing alcoholic who is losing his mind, and slowly comes to believe his girlfriend is a vampire. You could say my movies are ultimately about how we create an alternate storyline to the reality that is actually happening. It is like imagining there is a God by your side during your darkest moments. It’s that human desire to create myths to make sense of an arbitrary world.
Fessenden and I also briefly touched base on a few topics related to environmentally sound film and video production. His book, Low Impact Filmmaking, is a guide for filmmakers and producers to “have access to environmentally conscientious and money saving resources that offer a way to reverse the trend toward waste in the motion picture production business.”
Environmentally Sound Moviemaking
Environmentally Sound Filmmaking is feasible and necessary. In all walks of life there has got to be a change. Practically speaking on a film shoot, it requires a Production Assistant (PA) with the right personality to oversee that whole aspect of the production. In general, independent filmmaking is a stressful, rushed and imperfect enterprise and the first thing to go is the planning and protocol essential to low impact approach.
Print all scripts double sided. Recycle old schedules and scripts when printing “sides”. If people aren’t using their sides or call sheets, don’t print them.
Craft service and catering is where the most difference can be made. The greatest offense is bottled water. Ten years ago there was no such thing. Each production can come up with a solution. On a recent film I produced, I Sell the Dead, we had a water cooler on set and encouraged people to refill their bottles. Eventually we provided cast and crew with sports bottles to refill.
The wood for The Last Winter set was all purchased by a country club and every last splinter was reused. When you live on island and have to import every two by four, you come to treat it as a valuable commodity. Meanwhile in NY, you can find enough wood to build a whole set in any construction site dumpster.
Filmmaking is wasteful by definition because it is impermanent and systems take time to perfect. Plenty of people in the arts want to participate in helping the world but people are not informed. What is recyclable anyway? That’s why you need to designate a PA to oversee the environmental efforts.
Low Impact Filmmaking
I wrote a book on the topic in 1992. It’s dated now, but sadly, the topic is more urgent than ever.
2019 Oscar Nomination Predictions
How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways.
How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways. The hastily introduced and unceremoniously tabled (for now) “best popular film” Oscar. The impending commercial-break ghettoization of such categories as best cinematography and best film editing, but most certainly not best song and best animated feature. The abortive attempts to unveil Kevin Hart as the host not once, but twice, stymied by the online backlash over years-old anti-gay Twitter jokes and leading AMPAS to opt for George Glass as this year’s master of ceremonies. The strong-arming of its own membership to deter rank-and-file superstars from attending competing precursor award shows. If these end up being the last Oscars ever, and it’s starting to feel as though it should be, what a way to go out, right? Like the floating island of plastic in the Pacific, the cultural and political detritus of Oscar season has spread far beyond any previous rational estimates and will almost certainly outlive our functional presence on this planet. And really, when you think about it, what’s worse: The extinction of mankind or Bohemian Rhapsody winning the best picture Oscar? In that spirit, we press on.
There will be plenty of time, too much time, to go deep on the many ways Green Book reveals the flawed soul of your average, aged white liberal in America circa 2019. For now, let’s just admit that it’s as sure a nominee as The Favourite, Roma, and A Star Is Born. (There’s snackable irony in the fact that a movie called The Front Runner became very much not an Oscar front runner in a year that doesn’t appear to have a solid front runner.) And even though few seem to be predicting it for an actual win here, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman has an almost spotless precursor track record, showing up almost across the board among the guilds. Predicting this category would’ve been easy enough when Oscar limited it to five films, but it’s strangely almost as easy this year to see where the line will cut off between five and 10. Adam McKay’s Vice may be without shame, but you don’t have to strain hard to see how people could mistake it for the film of the moment. Bohemian Rhapsody is certainly lacking in merit, but, much like our comrade in chief, Oscar has never been more desperate for people to like and respect him, and a hit is a hit. Except when it’s a Marvel movie, which is why Black Panther stands precariously on the category’s line of cutoff, despite the rabid enthusiasm from certain corners that will likely be enough to push it through.
Everyone can agree that Bohemian Rhapsody will be one of the best picture contenders that doesn’t get a corresponding best director nomination, but virtually all the other nominees we’re predicting have a shot. Including Peter-flashing Farrelly, whose predictably unsubtle work on Green Book (or, Don and Dumber) netted him a widely derided DGA nomination. The outrage over Farrelly’s presence there took some of the heat off Vice’s Adam McKay, but if any DGA contender is going to swap out in favor of Yorgos Lanthimos (for BAFTA favorite The Favourite), it seems likely to be McKay. As Mark Harris has pointed out, Green Book is cruising through this awards season in a lane of its own, a persistently well-liked, well-meaning, unchallenging throwback whose defiant fans are clearly in a fighting mood.
Had Fox Searchlight reversed their category-fraud strategizing and flipped The Favourite’s Olivia Coleman into supporting and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone into lead, the five best actress slots would arguably have been locked down weeks, if not months, ago, unless Fox’s bet-hedging intuits some form of industry resistance to double female-led propositions. As it stands, there are four locks that hardly need mention and a slew of candidates on basically equal footing. Hereditary’s Toni Collette has become shrieking awards show junkies’ cause célèbre this year, though she actually has the critic awards haul to back them up, having won more of the regional prizes than anyone else. The same demographic backing Collette gave up hope long ago on Viola Davis being able to survive the Widows collapse, and yet there by the grace of BAFTA does she live on to fight another round. Elsie Fisher’s palpable awkwardness in Eighth Grade and winning awkwardness navigating the Hollywood circuit have earned her an almost protective backing. But we’re going out on a limb and calling it for the rapturously received Roma’s Yalitza Aparicio. Voters could, like us, find it not a particularly great performance and still parlay their good will for her into a nomination that’s there for the taking.
Should Be Nominated: Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In), Toni Collette (Hereditary), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Regina Hall (Support the Girls), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Take Toni Collette’s trophies thus far in the competition and double them. And then add a few more. That’s the magnitude of endorsements backing First Reformed’s Ethan Hawke. And his trajectory has the clear markings of an almost overqualified performance that, like Naomi Watts’s in Mulholland Drive, cinephiles decades from now will wonder how Oscar snubbed. If Pastor Ernst Toller and Sasha Stone are right and God is indeed watching us all and cares what the Academy Awards do, Hawke’s nomination will come at the expense of John David Washington, whose strength in the precursors thus far (SAG and Globe-nominated) is maybe the most notable bellwether of BlacKkKlansman’s overall strength. Because, as with the best actress category, the other four slots are basically preordained. Unlike with best actress, the bench of also-rans appears to be one solitary soul. A fitting place for Paul Schrader’s man against the world.
Closest Runners-Up: Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)
Every Oscar prognosticator worth their bragging rights has spent the last couple weeks conspicuously rubbing their hands together about Regina King’s chances. The all-or-nothing volley that’s seen her sweep the critics’ awards and win the Golden Globe, and at the same time not even get nominations from within the industry—she was left off the ballot by both SAG and the BAFTAs—are narrative disruptions among a class that lives for narratives and dies of incorrect predictions. But despite the kvetching, King is as safe as anyone for a nomination in this category. It doesn’t hurt that, outside the pair of lead actresses from The Favourite, almost everyone else in the running this year feels like a 7th- or 8th-place also-ran. Except maybe Widows’s Elizabeth Debicki, whose fervent fans probably number just enough to land her…in 7th or 8th place. Vice’s Amy Adams is set to reach the Glenn Close club with her sixth Oscar nomination, and if she’d only managed to sustain the same loopy energy she brings to Lynne Cheney’s campaign-trail promise to keep her bra on, she’d deserve it. Which leaves a slot for supportive housewives Claire Foy, Nicole Kidman, and Emily Blunt. Even before the collapse of Mary Poppins Returns, we preferred Blunt’s chances in A Quiet Place.
Should Be Nominated: Sakura Ando (Shoplifters), Zoe Kazan (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Rachel McAdams (Disobedience), and Haley Lu Richardson (Support the Girls)
The same people who’re curiously doubting Regina King’s nomination chances seem awfully assured that Sam Elliott’s moist-eyed, clearly canonical backing-the-truck-up scene in A Star Is Born assures him not only a nomination but probably the win. Elliott missed nominations with both the Golden Globes and BAFTA, and it was hard not to notice just how enthusiasm for A Star Is Born seemed to be cooling during the same period Oscar ballots were in circulation. Right around the same time, it started becoming apparent that BlacKkKlansman is a stronger draw than anyone thought, which means Adam Driver (who everyone was already predicting for a nod) won’t have to suffer the representationally awkward fate of being the film’s only nominee. Otherwise, the category appears to favor previously awarded actors (Mahershala Ali and Sam Rockwell) or should have been previously awarded actors (Chalamet). Leaving Michael B. Jordan to remain a should have been previously nominated actor.
Get beyond the best picture hopefuls BlacKkKlansman and If Beale Street Could Talk, which seem deservedly locked, and A Star Is Born, which is even more deservedly iffy, and you’ll see the screenwriters’ branch deciding just how seriously to take themselves this year, and whether they’re feeling like spiritually reliving the moments that found them nominating Bridesmaids and Logan. If so, then expect Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther to factor in here. If they most definitely don’t feel frisky, then maybe the foursquare First Man has a shot at reversing its overall downward trajectory. If they’re seeking that “just right” middle ground, then Can You Ever Forgive Me? and The Death of Stalin are in.
It’s not unusual for some of the year’s most acclaimed movies whose strength isn’t necessarily in their scripts to get nominated only in the screenwriting categories. First Reformed, which even some of its fiercest defenders admit can sometimes feel a bit like Paul Schrader’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” greatest-hits package, stands to be another of them. But it’ll be a close call, given the number of other equally vanguard options they’ll be weighing it against, like Sorry to Bother You, which arguably feels more urgently in the moment in form, Eighth Grade, which is more empathetically post-#MeToo, and even Cold War, which had a surprisingly strong showing with BAFTA. Given the quartet of assured best picture contenders in the mix, First Reformed is going to have to hold off all of them.
Reflections in a Quilt: John McPhee’s The Patch
There’s something uncommonly relaxing about many of McPhee’s patient elaborations of things known and unknown.
“But beyond the flaring headlines of the past year, few are aware of who Richard Burton really is, what he has done, and what he is throwing away by gulping down his past and then smashing the glass.” This is one of those quotes, which, through its sheer heft and style, threatens to turn any accompanying review into a redundancy. To find other lines that meet its towering standard, seek its source: The Patch by John McPhee. There’s no shortage of arresting remarks in this nicely heterogeneous collection of writing. One sinks into the book, riveted, but also races across it as its fascinations multiply.
The first section is called “The Sporting Scene.” Those typically uninterested in sports or sports writing, like myself, shouldn’t be deterred by the title. As I discovered through other recent encounters with McPhee’s ballyhooed writing, the author has a knack for inexorably moving readers beyond their biases. Two-part New Yorker articles like “Oranges,” “The Pine Barrens,” and “Basin and Range,” which were later turned into books, are studious and propulsive. Fine-grained matters of geology or citrus aren’t exactly simplified in these articles, but wading through the density becomes an irresistible prospect thanks to the author’s intelligibility, wit, enthusiasm, and atmospheric touches. For an example of the latter, consider McPhee’s focus on the “unnatural and all but unending silence” of the Floridian orange groves that he visited. What’s more, he often conveys a certain sense of respectful understanding, as when he mentions that he has “yet to meet anyone living in the Pine Barrens who has in any way indicated envy of people who live elsewhere.”
Similar virtues spruce up the “The Sporting Scene.” Its pieces include emphases on fishing, football, golf, and lacrosse. McPhee honors the athletic endeavor by carefully illuminating its particulars. He busily supplies facts, anecdotes, ideas, and biographical details. In “The Orange Trapper,” for instance, he discusses his hunt for errant golf balls. It’s an engaging topic. He has learned, among other things, what occurs when you take a saw to a golf ball. You find the world: “Core, mantle, crust—they are models of the very planet they are filling up at a rate worldwide approaching a billion a year.” Other jolts arrive through the often remarkable conclusions to his paragraphs and pieces. The ending of “The Orange Trapper” is an especial wonder—a thrilling mobilization of words that elicits laughter and awe.
There are also bears: “Direct Eye Contact” is a compact assortment of hopes and advisements concerning bears in New Jersey, and it concludes on a sweetly uxorious note. Indeed, one never knows where any of these pieces are going. In “Pioneer,” meanwhile, McPhee ponders Bill Tierney’s choice to begin coaching the University of Denver men’s lacrosse team. “How could he leave Princeton?” McPhee asks. “It can be done. And Tierney knew what he was doing.” Those lines showcase the occasionally pithy, pleasantly chiseled style of his prose. It’s a considered design that favors clarity, structures hairpin turns toward new discursive trails, and pairs well with punchlines. In “Phi Beta Football,” one of McPhee’s colleagues promises to deliver him “a nice piece of change” if he figures out a suitable title for his book. “I went away thinking,” McPhee tells us, and then adds, “mostly about the piece of change.”
The recounting of sporting events is likewise augmented by the author’s playfulness. “Pioneer” throws us this line: “But Syracuse exploded—one, two, three—and the game went into ‘sudden victory’ overtime, the politically uplifting form of sudden death.” So transporting and genial is McPhee’s writing that the specifics of any given match never weigh down the reading, nor do his more elaborate remarks. “It’s a Brueghelian scene against the North Sea,” he declares in “Linksland and Bottle,” his piece on the 2010 British Open, “with golfers everywhere across the canvas—putting here, driving there, chipping and blasting in syncopation.” What’s even better is his sensitivity, in the same paragraph, to the fine distinctions between the manner of Scottish and Californian galleries as they observe rounds of golf. Suddenly, his words become almost numinous, and no grace is lost.
The second section of The Patch is called “An Album Quilt” and it encompasses a dizzying mixture of short pieces. None are available in any of McPhee’s other books. In an introductory statement, the author compares these pieces to the dissimilar blocks of a quilt. He notes that he “didn’t aim to reprint the whole of anything”; he sought out “blocks to add to the quilt, and not without new touches, internal deletions, or changed tenses.” This section is quite distinct from “The Sporting Scene,” but no less extraordinary in its overall effect. A piece about Cary Grant starts things off. Boyhood encounters with Albert Einstein are up ahead.
There are more standouts than can be briefly mentioned here, including an evocative overview of the craftsmanship that McPhee discovered within the original Hershey’s Chocolate Factory. The author’s clipped expressions of wonder enliven that piece: “Gulfs of chocolate. Chocolate deeps. Mares’ tails on the deeps.” A little later, he mentions “granite millstones arranged in cascading tiers, from which flow falls of dark cordovan liquor.” One can imagine Don Draper reading through this with poignant interest. In another entry, a series of succinct blurbs about tennis luminaries, Rod Laver’s childhood is crisply set against his eventual stardom: “Had to wait his turn while his older brothers played. His turn would come.”
And so one just leaps from piece to piece, and, along the way, discovers scenes from different periods in McPhee’s life and career. An encounter with two New York City policemen—this likely occurred in the ‘60s or early ‘70s, given the “familiar green and black” on the cop car—is particularly memorable. It begins with the author’s recollection of locking his keys inside his car, which, he notes, had been parked “in a moted half-light that swiftly lost what little magic it had had, and turned to condensed gloom.” After that characteristically precise fusion of atmosphere and psychology, he describes scrounging around for wire so as to open the door. The sudden arrival of the policemen created a dilemma: Would they view McPhee, who had been wedging a coat hanger into the car, as a thief or the hapless owner? “The policemen got out of the patrol car,” McPhee tells us, “and one of them asked for the wire.” From there, the situation undulates a couple more times before concluding through a sparkling punchline that’s supplied by one of the officers. The story is over before you know it, but its brisk and detail-oriented pleasures are echoed throughout much of the book.
In the title piece, meanwhile, McPhee movingly writes about his father, but also about fishing a pickerel out of a patch of lily pads. Here and elsewhere, granular descriptions become byways into a range of enthusiasms, histories, and hearts. The author, of course, frequently registers himself through the infinitesimal details, and through the humor that he yokes to affection. “‘Fuck you, coach!’ Quote unquote” is a message that McPhee once emailed to Bill Tierney. Great warmth radiates below the mantle of those words.
This, among sundry other qualities, keeps one reading. There’s also something uncommonly relaxing about many of his patient elaborations of things known and unknown. And there is, both within the book’s individual pieces and across its varied totality, a sense of constant renewal and revelation. As McPhee notes down somewhere amid the blocks of his quilt, “I could suddenly see it, almost get into it—into another dimension of experience that I might otherwise have missed entirely.”
John McPhee’s The Patch is now available from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018
Our most-read articles of 2018 comprise pretty much everything we do best.
Like last year, it wasn’t the most highly praised or viciously excoriated film, album, or TV show that garnered the most attention among Slant readers in 2018. It was a so-called “average” star rating of a video game that led to our most-read—or, rather, looked at—article of the year. More predictably, lists proved to be increasingly popular, particularly among cinephiles. Aside from a few pieces that didn’t make the cut—like our career-spanning interview with Jodie Foster and our five-star review of Synapse Films’s Blu-ray restoration of the original Suspiria—this list comprises pretty much everything we do best. Alexa Camp
10. The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century
Into the new millennium, horror films have retained their power to shock and outrage by continuing to plumb our deepest primordial terrors, to incarnate our sickest, most socially unpalatable fantasies. They are, in what amounts to a particularly delicious irony, a “safe space” in which we can explore these otherwise unfathomable facets of our true selves, while yet consoling ourselves with the knowledge that “it’s only a movie.” Budd Wilkins
9. Album Review: Mariah Carey’s Caution
At a mere 10 tracks, Caution is Mariah’s leanest album in 25 years. With the exception of the formulaic “With You,” which sounds like an outtake from E=MC2, the R&B and adult contemporary-style ballads that launched (and re-launched) her career have been largely replaced here by textured, midtempo grooves. Caution feels like the album Mariah has wanted to make all along: one that throws caution to the wind and sees her embracing her inner weirdo. And, ironically, it took her ending up back at Sony Music to do it. Sal Cinquemani
8. Game Review: Far Cry 5
With this entry, the Far Cry series has suddenly decided to crib story ideas from real American nightmares: the Ammon Bundy standoff, Jonestown, the Heaven’s Gate cult, Waco, the Westboro Baptist Church. It indulges a certain level of ejaculatory N.R.A. fantasy about a day when the Second Amendment saves the world, when all those guns hoarded by frightened men, all those survivalist bunkers, all that cynical preparation for the collapse of society proves useful. A regular supply item in this game is called a Prepper Pack. Major secrets are hidden in bunkers filled with canned food and ammo. These little hat tips toward the gun-toting survivalist sect might’ve been worthy of an eye roll had the game come out, say, prior to 2016. But at this particular moment in American life, those tips of the hat feel downright sinister. Justin Clark
7. All 90 Best Picture Oscar Winners Ranked
It’s a rare type of cinephile who wasn’t introduced to the idea of film as more than just idle entertainment by the ritual of the Academy Awards. And it’s an even rarer type of cinephile who didn’t soon thereafter vehemently reject the Oscar as the ultimate barometer of a film’s artistic worth. Those of us who started off with The Godfather, Schindler’s List, All About Eve, or Casablanca all eventually got around to Out of Africa, Around the World in 80 Days, The Greatest Show on Earth, Cimarron, and Cavalcade. First loves being first loves, we still find ourselves regressing if for only one night a year, succumbing to the allure of instant canonization even as it comes in the form of repeated slap-in-the-face reminders of Oscar’s bracing wrongness: Gladiator, Braveheart, Chicago, Crash. In that sense, consider this project part cathartic exorcism and part sheepish capitulation to the role the Oscars have played in our lives. If we had to sit through every one of these movies, the least you can allow us is the chance to show you our scars. Eric Henderson
6. Film Review: Aquaman
The best point of comparison for Aquaman is Black Panther, another superhero movie about a king of a forgotten realm reclaiming his throne. But whereas Ryan Coogler’s surprisingly affecting superhero film restored weight to both the choreography and the drama of the genre, Aquaman remains adrift, so much fantasy flotsam and jetsam floating before our eyes. Pat Brown
5. The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time
When compiling this list, my colleagues and I elected to consider more than historical context. Greatness, to the individual, isn’t just about impact on some nebulous past. It’s as much about feeling, about the way a video game can capture the imagination regardless of genre or release date or canonical status. The titles on this list come from every corner of the medium—represented for the precision of their control or the beauty of their visuals or the emotion of their story. We’ve chosen to cast a wide net, so as to best represent the individual passions incited by saving planets, stomping on goombas, or simply conversing with vivid characters. Steven Scaife
4. Film Review: Avengers: Infinity War
What is this, a crossover episode? After 18 films, the overlords at Marvel Studios have gathered almost all of their indentured servants, err, star-studded stable together into the ever-crashing, ever-booming, and ever-banging extravaganza Avengers: Infinity War. Whether you look at this whirling dervish and see a gleefully grandiose entertainment or a depressing exemplar of the culturally degraded present moment will depend on your investment—in all senses of that term—in Marvel’s carefully cultivated mythos. Keith Uhlich
3. TV Review: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan
If Jack Ryan never gets around to offering its audience a definition of a swift transaction, that’s because all that matters to the series is that it’s a tool used by bad guys, whom only Jack Ryan can stop. Despite paying cursory service to humanizing its principal characters, Jack Ryan is mostly interested in a battle between broad notions of good and evil. It thrives on the tension of Jack’s chess match with bin Suleiman, reducing an entire nation’s efforts to combat terror to a personal beef between two archetypes. Michael Haigis
2. Every Pixar Movie Ranked from Worst to Best
If The Incredibles was essentially a superhero riff on male mid-life crisis, Incredibles 2 primarily concerns male anxiety about women taking over traditionally masculine roles. Brad Bird’s film also touches heavily on the uncertainty and doubt that many women feel about pursuing their dreams at the expense of spending time with their families. These are weighty topics to pursue in an animated action-comedy, and Bird, with a light tone and deft touch, manages to give them their due. This is a fleeter, funnier film than the original, and the director gets considerable comedic mileage out of Jack-Jack’s wild capriciousness, as evidenced by Incredibles 2‘s single most hilarious sequence, in which the baby uses its multifarious abilities—fire, lasers, multiplying, turning into a gremlin—to battle a feral raccoon just for the hell of it. On the occasion of the film’s release, join us in revisiting the Pixar canon, ranked from worst to best. Keith Watson
1. Game Review: Red Dead Redemption 2
For all of the significant improvements Red Dead Redemption 2 has made to an open-world template, however, it still maintains Rockstar’s bullish commitment to a clunky control scheme. Across what’s now four games and two console generations, the company’s characters have lumbered along in what’s meant to convey the weight of a real person in contrast to the light, effortless controls of so many other games. But the result is artificial rather than convincing. Studios like Naughty Dog have proven capable of giving characters a consequential sense of weight without making it a challenge to navigate around a table or requiring you to hold down buttons to move at acceptable speeds. Coupled with middling gunplay feedback and a few too many stealth segments, the chunky act of playing Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t feel good so much as it feels, eventually at least, tolerable. Scaife
2019 Oscar Nomination Predictions
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