The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences has announced the latest batch of Grammy nominations, including the following film-music related categories:
BEST SCORE SOUNDTRACK FOR VISUAL MEDIA
BEST SONG WRITTEN FOR VISUAL MEDIA
THE BALLAD OF THE LONESOME COWBOY – Toy Story 4
– Randy Newman
GIRL IN THE MOVIES – Dumplin’ – Dolly Parton, Linda Perry
I'LL NEVER LOVE AGAIN – A Star is Born
- Natalie Hemby, Lady Gaga, Hillary Lindsey, Aaron Raitiere,
SPIRIT – The Lion King – Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Timothy McKenzie, Ilya Salmanzadeh
BEST COMPILATION SOUNDTRACK FOR VISUAL MEDIA
THE LION KING: THE SONGS
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
John Williams received two nominations – Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Symphonic Suite
for Best Instrumental Composition, and Hedwig’s Theme
from the Across the Stars
album for Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella.
CDS AVAILABLE THIS WEEK
Ad Astra - Max Richter, Lorne Balfe, Nils Frahm - Deutsche Grammophon
The Aeronauts - Steven Price - Decca (import)
The Alan Howarth Collection vol. 1 - Alan Howarth - Dragon's Domain
Borsalino/Borsalino & Co. - Claude Bolling - Music Box
Charlie's Angels - Brian Tyler - Sony (import)
Damon and Pythias - Angelo Francesco Lavagnino - Alhambra
First Reformed - Lustmord - Vaultworks
Heisei Gamera Trilogy - Koh Otani - Cinema-Kan (import)
La Trinchera Infinita - Pascal Gaigne - Quartet
Midway - Thomas Wander, Harald Kloser - Varese Sarabande
Mientras Dure la Guerra - Alejandro Amenabar - Quartet
Miriam Cutler Film Music - Miriam Cutler - Quartet
Mutant - Richard Band - Dragon's Domain
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark - Marco Beltrami, Anna Drubich - eOne
Scusi, Lei Conosce Il Sesso? - Angelo Francesco Lavagnino - Quartet
Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon - Tom Howe - Sony (import)
Straight into Darkness - Michael Convertino - Dragon's Domain
Sunset Sunrise - Nino Rota - Quartet
Zoo Folle/Gli Animale...Che Simpatica - Giuliano Sorgini - Quartet
IN THEATERS TODAY
Age Out - Colin Stetson
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood - Nate Heller
Citizen K - Robert Logan, Ivor Guest
Dark Waters - Marcelo Zarvos
Frozen II - Christophe Beck - Song CD on Disney
Hala - Mandy Hoffman
Mickey and the Bear - Brian McOmber, Angel Deradoorian
Retablo - Harry Escott
Shooting the Mafia - Ray Harman
3022 - Jimmy LaValle
21 Bridges - Henry Jackman, Alex Belcher
When Lambs Become Lions - West Dylan Thordson
Dark: Cycle 1 - Ben Frost - Invada (import)
Dark: Cycle 2 - Ben Frost - Invada (import)
Lucy in the Sky - Jeff Russo - Lakeshore
Vikings: Final Season - Trevor Morris - Sony (import)
Animal Among Us - Alexander Taylor - Notefornote
Go Fish - George Streicher - Notefornote
Killing Eve - David Holmes, Keefus Ciancia - Heavenly Recordings (import)
Little Women - Alexandre Desplat - Sony (import)
Marriage Story - Randy Newman - Lakeshore
The Song of Names - Howard Shore - Decca (import)
Uncut Gems - Daniel Lopatin - Warp
Matthias & Maxime - Jean-Michel Blais - Mercury
The Addams Family - Mychael Danna, Jeff Danna - Lakeshore
Bliss - Steve Moore - Relapse (import)
Alien 2 Sulla Terra - Guido & Maurizio DeAngelis - Beat
Big Mama II - Chuck Cirino - Dragon's Domain
Cari Mostri del Mare - Carlo Savina - Kronos
Gail Kubik: Scenes for Orchestra etc. - Gail Kubik - Kritzerland
Gege Bellavita - Riz Ortolani - Digitmovies
I Fratelli Corsi - Angelo Francesco Lavagnino - Kronos
I Ladri Della Notte - Ennio Morricone - Beat
Il Disordine - Mario Nascimbene - Kronos
Il Segno Del Coyote - Francesco DeMasi - Beat
Jesus de Nazaret - Alejandro Karo - Kronos
Lilly's Bewitched Christmas - Anne-Kathrin Dern - Kronos
Lucio Fulci's Gates of Hell Trilogy - Fabio Frizzi, Walter Rizzati - Beat
Mille Milliards de Dollars/Le Crabe-Tambour/Conte de la Folie Ordinaire - Philippe Sarde - Music Box
Musiche Da Film Ennio Morricone - Ennio Morricone - Universal (import)
Noah Land - Leon Gurvitch - Kronos
The Paul Chihara Collection, vol. 3 - Paul Chihara - Dragon's Domain
Saddles, Sagebrush and Steiner: Western Scores of Max Steiner - Max Steiner - BYU
Un Dramma Borghese - Riz Ortolani - Digitmovies
THIS WEEK IN FILM MUSIC HISTORY
November 22 - Benjamin Britten born (1913)
November 22 - Craig Hundley aka Craig Huxley born (1954)
November 22 - W. Franke Harling died (1958)
November 22 - Carlo Giacco born (1972)
November 22 - Francois de Roubaix died (1975)
November 23 - Jack Marshall born (1921)
November 23 - Johnny Mandel born (1925)
November 23 - David Spear born (1953)
November 23 - Bruce Hornsby born (1954)
November 23 - Ludovico Einaudi born (1955)
November 23 - The Magnificent Seven opens in New York and Los Angeles (1960)
November 23 - Jean-Michel Bernard born (1961)
November 23 - Ennio Morricone
begins recording his score for White Dog
November 23 - John Scott begins recording his score for Shoot to Kill (1987)
November 23 - Clifford Vaughan died (1987)
November 23 - Irwin Kostal died (1994)
November 23 - Nicholas Carras died (2006)
November 24 - Alfred Schnittke born (1934)
November 24 - Pino Donaggio born (1941)
November 24 - Manuel De Sica born (1949)
November 24 - Michael Small died (2003)
November 24 - Kan Ishii died (2009)
November 25 - Virgil Thomson born (1896)
November 25 - Stanley Wilson born (1915)
November 25 - Michel Portal born (1935)
November 25 - Eleni Karaindrou born (1939)
November 25 - Daniele Amfitheatrof
begins recording his score for The Last Hunt
November 25 - Maurice Jarre
begins recording his score for Grand Prix
November 25 - Michael Small begins recording his score for The Postman Always Rings Twice (1980)
November 25 - Craig Safan records his scores for the Twilight Zone episodes “The Uncle Devil Show” and “Opening Day” (1985)
November 25 - Chico Hamilton died (2013)
November 26 - Scott Bradley born (1891)
November 26 - Jerry Fielding
begins recording his score for The Killer Elite
November 26 - Bernardo Segall died (1993)
November 27 - Alberto Colombo born (1888)
November 27 - Richard Stone born (1953)
November 27 - Lyle Mays born (1953)
November 27 - Arthur Honegger died (1955)
November 27 - Bernard Herrmann marries Norma Shepherd, his third and final wife (1967)
November 27 - Stanley Black died (2002)
November 27 - Kunio Miyauchi died (2006)
November 28 - Mario Nascimbene born (1913)
November 28 - Gato Barbieri born (1934)
November 28 - Randy Newman born (1943)
November 28 - Bernard Herrmann records his score for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode “Where the Woodbine Twineth” (1964)
November 28 - Laurence Rosenthal begins recording his score to Clash of the Titans (1980)
November 28 - Dennis McCarthy records his score for the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988)
November 28 - Jerry Goldsmith records his music for the Judge Dredd trailer (1994)
DID THEY MENTION THE MUSIC?
ADOPT A HIGHWAY - Jason Isbell
"Logan Marshall-Green, known mostly as an actor (he was a regular on '24,' 'The O.C.,' 'Damnation') has put together a good team. Jason Isbell's score is a huge contribution, merging the disparate episodes into an emotional through line and Pepe Avila del Pino's cinematography makes things like morning sunlight, or twinkling carnival lights, or wide desert spaces look as magical, as strange, as daunting, as they must look to Russell."
Sheila O'Malley, RogerEbert.com
"It’s a question that Marshall-Green frames in curious and unexpected ways, even if the redemptive twang of Jason Isbell’s score appears to answer it from the opening scenes. Russell is an innocent man -- perhaps not under the eyes of the law, but on a more profound level. He’s pure in a way that only seems possible in the movies, and even there it can feel like a stretch (it seems as if 'Harry Potter' was the only book that Russell had in prison, and of course there’s a heartrending scene in which he reads Ella some of Dumbledore’s most relevant wisdom)."
David Ehrlich, IndieWire
"Marshall-Green’s directorial debut is an intriguing story centered on a flawed protagonist, and with more polishing in the second half of the film it could have really sailed. Though Hawke’s engrossing performance and composer Jason Isbell’s ('A Star Is Born') serene score are worth a watch, 'Adopt a Highway' comes off as flat as it is earnest."
Candice Frederick, The Wrap
"Apart from a shift to a wider aspect ratio once Russ leaves California, there’s little stylistic definition to the assembly, which is generally competent in all departments but lacks an assertive personality. While the score by Jason Isbell of Athens, Ga., band Drive-By Truckers will command some interest for indie rock fans, there’s a rather inexplicable decision to let the music overwhelm the dialogue at several junctures. That’s hardly a plus in a movie where we’re anxious not to miss any scrap of information that might provide ballast for a story that’s barely there."
Dennis Harvey, Variety
"That said, Marshall-Green assembled a strong overall team for his debut, and it pays off. Jason Isbell’s original music hums and roars at all the right moments through the film, adding nicely to the depth of Hawke’s performance. Nathan Ruyle's sound design follows suit. The opening sequence uniquely conveys Russell’s backstory through a combination of voiceover from Bill Clinton speaking about the 1994 Crime Bill that included a federal 'three strikes' provision and an artful display of newspaper headlines from the time (the film’s title quietly pops out from these clippings)."
Breandrea July, The Hollywood Reporter
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME - Songs by Sufjan Stevens
"Guadagnino establishes that raw, immediate energy from the very beginning through his use of music. The piano of contemporary classical composer John Adams’ intricate, insistent 'Hallelujah Junction – 1st Movement' engages us during the elegant title sequence, while Sufjan Stevens’ plaintive, synthy 'Visions of Gideon' during the film’s devastating final shot ends the film on an agonizingly sad note. (You’ll want to stay all the way through the closing credits -- that long, last image is so transfixing. I seriously don’t know how Chalamet pulled it off, but there is serious craft on display here.)"
Christy Lemire, RogerEbert.com
"Guadagnino uses a technique throughout of fixing the camera focus and letting his actors move in and out of it, a stylistic choice that reaches its emotional apex with Hammer, at the end of Oliver’s Italian idyll. No words are spoken, but again there’s that layering of detail: We know enough to know the stakes are higher for Oliver, and the camera's shifts from focused to fuzzy subtly convey how full up with feeling he is. Chalamet -- who co-starred in 'Lady Bird,' another coming-of-age picture that would make a toothsome double feature with this one -- brings great physicality to his part, too. But it’s his face that’ll stop your heart, especially in two prolonged close-ups set to original songs by Sufjan Stevens, confessional lyrics simpatico with the actor’s open face. As for words? The script gives Stuhlbarg -- a character actor who elevates everything he’s in -- the monologue of a lifetime, which he delivers sotto voce, all kindness."
Kimberley Jones, The Austin Chronicle
"In this film, as in earlier ones like 'A Bigger Splash' and 'I Am Love,' Guadagnino’s sensual attention to the textures and smells and intimate noises of Italian life builds out a cinematic world that encompasses his characters but is much greater than them. (It’s no accident that Heraclitus’s 'The Cosmic Fragments,' philosophical texts about the world rather than just man, makes a brief but pointed appearance.) The score mingles all kinds of music together -- notably, John Adams’s 'Hallelujah Junction,' the Psychedelic Furs' 'Love My Way,' and two original songs by Sufjan Stevens -- and it feels like this movie is sparkling, as if you’re watching it in 4D. It’s intoxicating."
Alissa Wilkinson, Vox
"Michael Stuhlbarg plays Elio’s father, an anthropology professor who gazes intently at his son, seems to know what’s happening -- and doesn’t interfere. He and Elio have a revelatory conversation near the end, but it’s the very last shot that stays in mind, all but dissolving the boundary between viewer and actor. Everything in 'Call Me by Your Name' registers momentously, from the scene that definitively raises the question, 'Do I dare to eat a peach?' to the ’80s dance numbers to the yearning Sufjan Stevens song over the stunning credits. Chalamet gives the performance of the year. By any name, this is a masterpiece."
David Edelstein, New York
"Leaving us with one of the gorgeous new songs that Sufjan Stevens wrote for the film, this achingly powerful story -- a brilliant contribution to the queer cinema canon -- breathes vibrant new life into the answer that Marguerite of Navarre gave to her own question. 'I would counsel all such as are my friends to speak and not die,' she said, 'for ’tis a bad speech that cannot be mended, but a life lost cannot be recalled.'"
David Ehrlich, IndieWire
"As he’s shown in his the last two films of what he describes as his 'desire trilogy,' 'I Am Love' and 'A Bigger Splash,' Guadagnino is a sensual filmmaker who uses cinematic flourishes to let the narrative unfold at a pace he feels best suits the overall story (those flourishes are assisted by two new original songs by Sufjan Stevens). Guadagnino almost hypnotically lets the audience experience the dance of desire between Elio and Oliver in a masterful manner. When they are together he captures their affection in startling real ways. Guadagnino makes it explicit that their intimacy is more about love than animalistic release. No matter what your personal sexual orientation Guadagnino manages to find those intimate moments whether through a secretive touch, a fumbling first kiss, the stillness before the first move is made, or the eroticism of breaking the physical boundaries that form between all of us. It’s utterly beautiful."
Gregory Ellwood, The Playlist
"'Call Me by Your Name' is a fairly straightforward coming-of-age story that’s at its finest in moments when the relationships -- between Elio and Oliver, but just as crucially between Elio and his archeologist father -- take on larger meanings than their literal context implies, and Guadagnino finds evocative aesthetic expressions for them. The film’s romantic sensibility mixes dreamy crossfades, soft-focus lensing, and diegetic music bleeding into non-diegetic soundtrack cues (among them two new songs from Sufjan Stevens and Maurice Ravel’s oft-heard 'Une Barque sur L’Ocean”'). Guadagnino’s images feel momentous at times, his actors artfully positioned on screen like the Hellenic statues that Mr. Perlman excavates from the Mediterranean. This is especially true of Oliver, an Adonis-like hunk who comes to Elio from a foreign land. Guadagnino shoots Oliver as Elio must see him: statuesque, framed impeccably by windows and doorways, and glistening in the summer sun."
Sam C. Mac, Slant Magazine
"The film’s costumes and production design nail the look of 1980s rural Italy, with Guadagnino actually having shot in and around the picturesque village where he lives. References to political life in Italy, entirely absent from the novel, are also convincing and add texture. Some classical pieces and Sufjan Stevens’ glorious score complete the all-round classy package."
Boyd van Hoeij, The Hollywood Reporter
DARKEST HOUR - Dario Marianelli
"But the MVP here, the one person who’s able to hold the movie together despite all the dodgy bits in its latter half, is composer Dario Marianelli. Wright’s go-to guy has delivered some stunning work for the director in the past, but his score for 'Darkest Hour' is a rare thing of beauty. Throbbing with vigor one moment, tumbling pianos towards despair the next, and then eventually entwining those disparate modes together into the cathartic bombast that accompanies Churchill’s famous speech ('We shall fight on the beaches…'), Marianelli’s music holds the film together, and the people of Britain along with it. At least until Churchill can find his rhythm and take things from there. By the time we cut (briefly) to the evacuation at Dunkirk, we’re all feeling the spirit -- each and every viewer might as well be Mark Rylance loading up his pleasure boat and gallantly sailing into harm’s way."
David Ehrlich, IndieWire
"I’ve been trying to think when there was a historical drama I found as electrifying as Joe Wright’s 'Darkest Hour.' It may have been Steven Spielberg’s 'Munich,' which topped my 10-best list a dozen years ago. They are very different films, of course, and it could be that Wright’s boasts stellar accomplishments in more departments. While Gary Oldman’s phenomenal work as Winston Churchill had been heralded in advance, it is astonishingly equaled by the film’s achievements in direction, screenwriting, score and cinematography. A kindred excellence characterizes the striking collaboration between Joe Wright and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, who together give the film a very nuanced and engaging balance of light and shadow, eloquent movement and meditative stasis. For my money, Delbonnel’s work surpasses even 'Dunkirk' to emerge as the best cinematography of the year so far. Wright’s team also benefits from the understated lyricism of Dario Marianelli’s score."
Godfrey Cheshire, RogerEbert.com
"Some of the director’s success, however, is obviously due to his fine crew. After years of working with Seamus McGarvey the director finds another strong visual collaborator in cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel while production designer Sarah Greenwood finds new ways to bring this familiar WWII era to life. This is the fourth movie Wright and Dario Marianelli have worked on together (Marianelli won an Oscar for 'Atonement') and while it may not be as distinctly memorable as their previous films the Italian composer contributions cannot be discounted."
Gregory Ellwood, The Playlist
"Dialing things back from his relatively garish adaptations of 'Anna Karenina' and 'Pan,' this more elegant film’s style brilliantly marries the classical with the cutting-edge, relying on regular composer Dario Marianelli and his swirling, march-like motifs for much of its energy. Working for the first time with DP Bruno Delbonnel, Wright frames the House of Commons from angles that suggest 18th-century painting, and pushes the contrast to such an extreme that the look -- with its deep shadows and near-blinding highlights -- recalls black-and-white films of the era. At the same time, he innovates, breaking from the walk-and-talk political-drama template introduced by 'The West Wing' (from which 'House of Cards' and so many others still borrow) in favor of a more dynamic, omniscient camera, with which he navigates the halls of power."
Peter Debruge, Variety
"Production values are solid, although Dario Marianelli’s score is intrusive in many instances, laying on the obvious when less could have been more. The film’s actual depiction of Dunkirk is limited to one shot of dozens of boats sailing away from the white cliffs toward France, and there is nothing in this film remotely as exceptional as the jaw-dropping take Wright pulled off in 'Atonement' that evoked the experience of Dunkirk in a single extended shot."
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
THE DISASTER ARTIST - Dave Porter
"Played from its opening whimsical guitar score as a sweet story about friends, the dynamic of a real-life, Apatow-brand bromance is prominent, and makes for a few funny bonding moments, like when Tommy has Greg loudly rehearse a scene in a restaurant as a ridiculous gesture of fearlessness. But it thins out as the story goes along, especially as Greg appears so obedient, and unquestioning to the eccentric Tommy, only to break that type of friendship focus when he meets Amber (Alison Brie). Their friendship has a crucial lack of stakes, despite its unique nature, and the legendary film project that eventually comes between them."
Nick Allen, RogerEbert.com
"Though 'Ferdinand' takes place mostly in and around Madrid, not Mexico, better music (as opposed to Nick Jonas’ bland 'Home' and John Powell’s serviceably generic score) would have gone a long way to enhance its heritage. As it is, audiences have to stick around halfway through the credits (past a bonus scene worth waiting for anyway) to hear anything that sounds remotely Latin. That said, the virtual locations, color palette, and voice work (including a few lines of Spanish-language dialogue) certainly reflect the world of bullfighting, even if the film’s existence could be very bad news for the already controversial sport."
Peter Debruge, Variety
"From the outset, the script by Steven Rogers ('Love the Coopers') pretty aggressively disavows the prospect of there being one objective account of the events on screen, be they 'the incident' in which Kerrigan got attacked, or Tonya’s abuse claims against her mother and later Gillooly. This has the unfortunate effect of desensitizing the audience to some (likely true) despicable behavior -- especially from Gillooly, whom Harding filed restraining orders against -- and turning the film, to many, into a Coen brothers-style comedy about dumb crooks and the yokels who love them. (Composer Peter Nashel’s score oozes with the same kind of wry ominousness as music composed by longtime Coen collaborator Carter Burwell.)"
Todd Gilchirst, The Wrap
"There is unmistakable, idiosyncratic care poured into every frame of 'The Shape of Water,' saturated with del Toro’s offbeat compassion and looping, pattern-recognition intelligence. Under the tidal swells and sighs of Alexandre Desplat‘s emotive, restive score, motifs recur and DP Dan Laustsen‘s striking images often refer back to earlier shots, with an insouciant, incidental ease that could only feel so effortless in such a meticulously considered world. At one point a character is dragged away by a bullet hole in his cheek like he’s snagged on a hook, gasping for air, his glasses glinting like a fish’s unblinking eyes. At another, Strickland makes a nasty speech, embodying the racism and sexism of the time, in which he compares himself to God, which is then given a sly backwards nod by his drily perfect last line. And water is everywhere, in raindrops, bathtubs, boiling pans and mop buckets that sluice blood away into drains."
Jessica Kiang, The Playlist
"Again, the actual animating force of this lushly told bedtime story is Del Toro’s swooning cinephilia, splashed across every available screen-within-the-screen, and expressed through black-and-white musical fantasy sequences, lavish throwback period detail, and the accordion whine of Alexandre Desplat’s wistful cornball score. Thankfully, Del Toro’s most sentimental movie by at least 20,000 leagues still contains some rejuvenating oddball moments and flashes of grotesquerie, like the way Shannon’s cold-blooded G-man keeps yanking at his reattached, rotting digits, or how the fishman, otherwise sympathetic, manages to hungrily break a certain cardinal rule of crowd-pleasing. Remember, this is the same director who’s taken a repeated, twisted pleasure in putting adorable moppets in mortal danger; here and there, we catch glimpses of the perversity of his more wicked genre experiments, like last year’s extraordinarily crafted 'Crimson Peak' and the buckets-of-blood franchise entry 'Blade II.' The beastliness offsets the beauty nicely, like splotches of grisly red on the film’s lustrous, sea foam-green color palette."
A.A. Dowd, The Onion AV Club
"That’s the part that works gorgeously -- their weird mutual attraction and Alexandre Desplat’s murky underwater score -- and I don’t know if I have the heart to say that everything else is a little stiff. As sophisticated as Del Toro can be in blending the supernatural with the sexy (the eroticism here will catch you off guard), this film’s Cold War intrigue plays like a high schooler’s book report. Scowling Michael Shannon embodies yet another meanie: a brutal husband and government agent who stands in the way of blooming love. Russians skulk; paranoia looms; there are tense showdowns in diners that evoke harsh Civil Rights–era realities. This political layer doesn’t feel earned. Didn’t Del Toro realize that interspecies romance with an illegal alien would be timely enough? Regardless, don’t let this overly lacquered context keep you away. 'The Shape of Water' is a movie of too many ideas. For that reason alone, it drinks like a bottomless glass of velvety wine."
Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York
"'The Shape of Water' is also a stunningly beautiful film thanks to production designer Paul D. Austerberry and cinematographer Dan Laustsen, whose consummately immersive visuals are married to a sumptuous score by composer Alexandre Desplat."
Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle
"In James Whale's 1935 film 'The Bride of Frankenstein,' the monster (Boris Karloff) says mournfully, 'Alone: bad. Friend: good!' That's what Guillermo del Toro's latest film 'The Shape of Water' is all about, the loneliness of those born before their time, born different. 'The Shape of Water' doesn't cohere into the fairy tale promised by the dreamy opening. It makes its points with a jackhammer, wielding symbols in blaring neon. The mood of swooning romanticism is silly or moving, depending on your perspective. (I found it to be both.) The film starts in a wavering green underwater world, with a woman floating in what looks like a drowned Atlantis. The image is otherworldly, magical, and Alexandre Desplat's score is wistful and bittersweet. Richard Jenkins narrates, asking helplessly, 'If I spoke about it, what would I tell you' about what happened to the 'princess without a voice'?"
Sheila O'Malley, RogerEbert.com
"Bigotry and meanness flow through every moment like an underground stream, but kindness is always possible, and so is beauty. 'The Shape of Water' is made of vivid colors and deep shadows; it’s as gaudy as a musical (and briefly turns into one), bright as a cartoon and murky as a film noir. (The cinematographer is Dan Laustsen. The score is by Alexandre Desplat.) Its busy plot moves swiftly -- the presence of Russian spies never hurts, especially when one is played by Michael Stuhlbarg -- except when Mr. del Toro lingers over a moment of tenderness, a delicate joke or an eruption of grace."
A.O. Scott, The New York Times
"The sumptuous cinematography by Dan Laustsen makes perfect use of the film’s Cold War–era setting, and Alexandre Desplat’s score is wistfully nostalgic. Elisa and Giles live above a movie theater and spend evenings watching Shirley Temple and Carmen Miranda on the TV, mimicking dance steps as they sit on the sofa. In the film’s most unexpected sequence, del Toro unites its science fiction and musical theater elements for a truly bizarre, woman-and-merman, Broadway-style number set to the Harry Warren–Mack Gordon standard 'You’ll Never Know.'"
Christopher Orr, The Atlantic
"For those few cinema scholars who speak of some motion pictures as 'films,' and others as 'movies,' Guillermo del Toro’s glorious 'The Shape of Water' refuses to go tidily into either box. A ravishing, eccentric auteur’s imagining, spilling artistry, empathy and sensuality from every open pore, it also offers more straight-up movie for your money than just about any Hollywood studio offering this year. This decidedly adult fairytale, about a forlorn, mute cleaning lady and the uncanny merman who save each other’s lives in very different ways, careers wildly from mad-scientist B-movie to heart-thumping Cold War noir to ecstatic, wings-on-heels musical, keeping an unexpectedly classical love story afloat with every dizzy genre turn. Lit from within by a heart-clutching silent star turn from Sally Hawkins, lent dialogue by one of Alexandre Desplat’s most abundantly swirling scores, this is incontestably del Toro’s most rewarding, richly realized film -- or movie, for that matter -- since 2006’s 'Pan’s Labyrinth.'...Yet when Elisa encounters him through the glass on her cleaning rounds, she sees not a scaled, finned, algae-colored beast, but a kindred spirit, one who shares not just her silence, but her misfit perspective, her scars of abuse and her ebullient love of Benny Goodman records. Music is the chief conduit of feeling throughout 'The Shape of Water,' whether in the form of Desplat’s ornate, orchestral jazz compositions, or crackling vintage cuts from the screen musicals Elisa and Giles consume together. Harry Warren and Mack Gordon’s wistful 'You’ll Never Know' may have won an Oscar in 1943 for the lightweight Alice Faye musical 'Hello, Frisco Hello' --briefly glimpsed on a boxy TV screen -- but del Toro’s film has just given it a new, definitive cinematic context, as the recurring leitmotif for Elisa’s inner torment."
Guy Lodge, Variety
"Complemented throughout by a sumptuously melodic score from Alexandre Desplat, with gentle accordion strains that underline the affecting story's disarming sweetness, along with snatches of the classic musical tunes (and corresponding snippets of dance!) that Giles and Elisa love, this meticulously crafted jewel is del Toro's most satisfying work since 'Pan's Labyrinth.'"
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
"Johnson might be stuck with multiple story lines, but each has its own look, its own palette to match the many motifs in John Williams’s ever-invigorating score, which quotes from itself constantly and still sounds fresh. The showstopper is the throne room of the snooty Snoke, with its luminous crimson walls that silhouette an array of elite samurai guards -- it’s like an avant-garde 'Aida.' The climactic throne-room lightsaber battle is choreographed and shot like nothing in this generally flat-footed series. Johnson doesn’t cut on the saber clacks the way Lucas did. He has the fighters go at it in breathtakingly long shots, their whole bodies charged. It feels like the first time since 'The Empire Strikes Back' that the Force has extended to the director."
David Edelstein, New York
"Working on his biggest canvas yet, Johnson -- who has never been short on ambition -- makes the most of the huge sandbox he gets to play in. The Monte Carlo-esque Canto Bight sees the director playfully reference the silent classic 'Wings' as he introduces the audience to this playground for the galaxy’s wealthy citizens, while building a new setting that will be worth returning to and exploring in further detail in subsequent instalments. Visually, it’s not hyperbole to say that 'The Last Jedi' serves up a strong handful of iconic images that will be defining moments in the franchise. The same applies to some of the action sequences, which are aided by Johnson’s fingerprints as he finds dazzling new ways to stage battles after seven movies in the saga. Working with his longtime cinematographer Steve Yedlin, Johnson expands the visual language of the franchise, sometimes with breathtaking results. As for the score, it’s needless to say that John Williams’ work is strong; it’s part of the fabric of the series, but even having done this a while now, there are new motifs and angles with which he deepens the historic sonic palette."
Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist
"'The Last Jedi' possesses the same reverence for the galaxy Lucas created, paying homage in all the right places (from the chills we get from John Williams’ iconic fanfare to the new-and-improved walkers that appear during the climactic siege) while barely advancing the narrative. Ultimately, there’s only so much wiggle room Johnson has to play with a property that seems destined to generate a new installment/spinoff every year until we die -- which means that however many Death Stars or Sith Lords the Resistance manages to defeat, there will always be more, and no matter how few Jedi remain, there can never be none."
Peter Debruge, Variety
"Narratively, Johnson has a tendency to create digressions within digressions, not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that as long as you're skilled enough to keep multiple balls in the air, which he mostly is. The humor does at times strike notes unusual for the franchise, more often to the good than bad, and John Williams' vigorous eighth 'Star Wars' franchise score never sounds rote or tiresomely familiar."
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
THELMA - Ola Flottum
"With its gray skies, moody ambience and ominous orchestral score, 'Thelma' fits the cliché about Scandinavian entertainment being dark as hell — in the best way. It’s also gorgeous."
Sara Stewart, New York Post
"The opening sequence, photographed by Jakob Ihre in bold widescreen compositions, is a visual stunner that immediately draws you in, its ominous tone fortified by Ola Flottum's lush, brooding score. A father and his six-year-old daughter walk across a frozen lake in snowbound rural Norway. She gazes at fish swimming beneath the ice before they proceed into the woods, where he lines up a deer in the sights of his hunting rifle and then turns the gun on the girl, unable to fire. The reasons for that near-filicide will become clear only in the movie's climactic scenes."
David Rooney, THe Hollywood Reporter
"The overwhelming impression walking out of the theater after seeing 'Wonder' is, 'well, that was nice.' The Pullmans seem to genuinely love each other, which is nice. The cast is multi-ethnic without making a big deal about it, which is nice. The cinematography, bright and unadventurous save for one Playtime-inspired overhead shot, is nice. The music, cheerful and unobtrusive and making liberal use one of the The White Stripes’ nicest song, 'We’re Going To Be Friends,' is nice. The fantasy sequences, featuring characters for which Disney, not known for being especially nice about its licensed properties, must have charged quite a bit of money, are nice."
Katie Rife, The Onion AV Club
THE NEXT TEN DAYS IN L.A.
Screenings of older films, at the following L.A. movie theaters: AMPAS, Alamo Drafthouse, American Cinematheque: Aero, American Cinematheque: Egyptian, Arclight, Arena Cinelounge, Laemmle, New Beverly, Nuart, UCLA and Vista.
CRASH (Howard Shore) [New Beverly]
FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (Alan Silvestri) [Cinematheque: Egyptian]
FREEWAY (Danny Elfman) [Nuart]
PULP FICTION [New Beverly]
DEMOLITION UNIVERSITY (Dennis Michael Tenney) [New Beverly]
MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (Bernard Herrmann) [New Beverly]
TROPIC THUNDER (Theodore Shapiro) [Vista]
YOU'VE GOT MAIL (George Fenton) [Alamo Drafthouse]
BRICK (Nathan Johnson) [Alamo Drafthouse]
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (Alan Menken) [Vista]
MIND GAME (Fayray, Seiichi Yamamoto) [Alamo Drafthouse]
MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (Bernard Herrmann) [New Beverly]
THAT DARN CAT (Robert Brunner) [UCLA]
BLADE RUNNER (Vangelis) [Arclight Hollywood]
BLOOD RAGE (Richard Einhorn) [Alamo Drafthouse]
THE LIMEY (Cliff Martinez) [New Beverly]
STOP MAKING SENSE [Alamo Drafthouse]
THE HIDDEN (Michael Convertino) [Alamo Drafthouse]
MULHOLLAND DRIVE (Angelo Badalamenti), PSYCHO (Bernard Herrmann, Danny Elfman, Steve Bartek) [New Beverly]
THE NEW WORLD (James Horner) [Cinematheque: Aero]
THE CRIMSON KIMONO (Harry Sukman) [New Beverly]
PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (Ira Newborn) [Cinematheque: Aero]
ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES (Marc Shaiman) [Alamo Drafthouse]
CHOPPING MALL (Chuck Cirino), PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC'S REVENGE (Stacy Widelitz) [Cinematheque: Egyptian]
EXISTENZ (Howard Shore) [New Beverly]
PULP FICTION [New Beverly]
SANTA SANGRE (Simon Boswell) [Nuart]
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (Nacio Herb Brown, Lennie Hayton) [Cinematheque: Aero]
ELF (John Debney) [New Beverly]
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (Hans Zimmer) [Alamo Drafthouse]
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (Howard Shore), THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (Howard Shore), THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (Howard Shore) [Cinematheque: Egyptian]
MULHOLLAND DRIVE (Angelo Badalamenti) [New Beverly]
RAN (Toru Takemitsu) [Vista]
CITY LIGHTS (Charles Chaplin), THE CIRCUS (Charles Chaplin) [Cinematheque: Aero]
ELF (John Debney) [New Beverly]
TIME BANDITS (Mike Moran) [Vista]
THINGS I'VE HEARD, READ, SEEN OR WATCHED LATELY
Heard: My Cousin Rachel (Jones), The Flash: Season 1 (Neely), Forza G (Morricone), The Great Race (Mancini), Birds Do it, Bees Do It (Fried)
Read: Rostnikov's Vacation, by Stuart M. Kaminsky
Seen: Medium Cool: The Don Is Dead; Out Stealing Horses; The Good Liar; Last Christmas; Ford v Ferrari; Knives Out; The Stalking Moon; Pieces of Dreams; Harriet; The Report; Honey Boy; I Lost My Body
Watched: Westworld ("The Stray"), The Twilight Zone ("The Invaders"), Maniac ("Larger Structural Issues")
There's a micro sub-genre of comedies that have always annoyed me, though I must admit it's such a small sub-genre that I can only think of a handful of them, and none in the last decade or two. I've never quite come up with a good name for this niche -- the closest I can think of is "Aren't We a Delightfully Quirky, Wealthy Family?" The filmmakers who have indulged themselves with these kinds of stories, almost invariably to box-office failure, include Woody Allen (Everyone Says I Love You), John Boorman (Where the Heart Is), Francis Ford Coppola (the "Life without Zoe" segement of New York Stories) and Paul Mazursky (Tempest and the rare hit in the genre, Down and Out in Beverly Hills).
It's not just the class issues that come up when I watch these films -- I genuinely think they're all pretty terrible (Where the Heart Is, though at times lovely to look at, as you would expect from Boorman in his prime, is otherwise nearly unwatchable -- I suspect that Christopher Plummer's homeless-man character has aged particularly poorly), and there's an element of directorial self-indulgence and self-love that is especially grating. I saw the trailer for Mazursky's Tempest again a couple years ago, and it reminded me that, even though I haven't seen the film since 1982, I have no desire to see it ever again.
But I have to admit, as someone who grew up middle class in a very affluent area, there's something that always rubs me the wrong way about the kind of movies that feel like they were made by rich people for rich people. I know, virtually every film is made by rich people (at least, studio films are), and perhaps I'm hypocritical for feeling this way while loving a film like The Thin Man, which takes place entirely in a bubble of wealthy white privilege.* But having just watched the wonderful My Man Godfrey again, I feel like Golden Age Hollywood filmmakers were able to tell stories in that milieu without the smug self-regard that kills the more modern versions of that story (that all the directors I mentioned earlier are "auteurs" in the way most Golden Age filmmakers weren't could be a factor).
This may be one reason why there are two departed but relatively contemporary filmmakers whose work I have never warmed up to despite their great and continued popularity -- John Hughes and Nora Ephron. The class issues aren't the only reason I've never been a Hughes fan -- the only one of his films I like completely is Planes, Trains and Automobiles (though I haven't seen it in 33 years), while even the best of the other ones are marred by his lazy, uneven writing and his pandering to the young audience ("When you grow up your heart dies"). What truly marked the turning point for me with Hughes was the success of Home Alone, and how he responded to it. By then he had been a fairly prolific director and an over-prolific screenwriter, essentially writing instant remakes of his own movies (Pretty in Pink redone as Some Kind of Wonderful, for example), but he was still a filmmaker with a distinctive vision who told stories that seemed to matter to him.
But after Home Alone, Hughes became a hack of the highest order. There was an unnecessary, mysteriously popular and disconcertingly violent Home Alone sequel, Lost in New York (much as I revere John Williams, I would have been thrilled if he'd turned down that assignment). There was his own Home Alone ripoff Baby's Day Out, featuring the indelible scene (which Bruce Broughton found inexplicably hilarious) where the baby holds the flame of a cigarette lighter to Joe Mantegna's crotch for what feels like a full minute. And of course there were the totally mercenary remakes of older family classics -- Miracle on 34th Street, 101 Dalmatians, Flubber.
Hughes was rumored to take only a few days to write a screenplay, and especially in his later work it showed. In Flubber, the flubber apparently achieves some kind of sentience, with a little flubber man dancing in an elaborate VFX setpiece, yet the professor has no qualms about grinding flubber into powder to make basketball shoes fly. Even more illogically, the professor creates flubber in the hopes of becoming rich, but he already has a flying robot sidekick -- complete with video screen with an endless supply of film clips that comment on the action -- an invention that would make him a fortune. This is what happens when you write a script in a weekend.
Some may give Hughes credit for creating -- or maybe re-inventing -- the high school movie as a genre, but I much prefer the high school movies that came after his. To list just a few: Dazed and Confused, Clueless, Election, Bring It On, Crazy/Beautiful, Mean Girls, Napoleon Dynamite, Thumbsucker, Brick, Charlie Bartlett, Juno, Rocket Science, Superbad, Bandslam, Easy A, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Spectacular Now, The Edge of Seventeen, and Lady Bird.
It's probably a stretch to say that class issues are what I have against Hughes' films; I suspect it's just a thin excuse to start this rant. Pauline Kael once mocked Pretty in Pink's portrayal of poverty, mentioning how Harry Dean Stanton and Molly Ringwald had a father-daughter talk in their home in front of a flower arrangement that looked like it would cost hundreds of dollars. For me, it was that "poor" girl Ringwald not only had her own car but her own phone in her bedroom. As someone who grew up middle-class in tract house in an unincorporated area of an affluent town, I'd always felt the class conflicts in Hughes films like Pretty in Pink seemed phony, but I once read an article by someone who grew up in the same area as Hughes and felt his films portrayed them pretty realistically. But I have to say -- it's not hard to see class issues involved when Hughes makes a feature length Dennis the Menace movie (which otherwise wasn't entirely terrible) and makes an evil homeless man the story's villain.
Nora Ephron is a filmmaker who is considered a titan in contemporary romantic comedy, but I can't think of anything genuinely great she brought to the genre, and her use of vintage songs was uninspired in the extreme. (I must admit that I genuinely really liked her final film, Julie & Julia -- even the Amy Adams scenes, which got a bad rap -- and between that and The Devil Wears Prada, I'm a bit disappointed that we don't get a new Meryl Streep-Stanley Tucci comedy every year, since they are a magical team).
The most popular Ephron romcoms are Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail. Tom Hanks is wonderful in Sleepless, and almost makes the film work (I know, it works for a huge number of people), but Meg Ryan's character is essentially a stalker, and I can't really get past that, especially since nothing much really happens in the film. The great romantic comedies are about the collision of personalities, but Hanks and Ryan don't even meet until the end of the film (after she has hired someone to spy on this complete stranger she heard on the radio).
Perhaps even more vexing is You've Got Mail, especially since it is a remake of The Shop Around the Corner, Ernst Lubitsch's 1940 classic which could be the greatest romantic comedy ever made (I recently read a copy of the original screenplay and just reading it made me cry). Lubitsch's film is about two working class people employed at a "parfumerie," while Ephron's remake is about a woman who falls for the tycoon who destroys her family's business. How a filmmaker could turn one story into the other is still a mystery to me.
I was reminded of my class-related issues with contemporary comedies recently when I saw the original 1961 film version of The Parent Trap for the first time. I'm not a particular fan of the remake (Nancy Meyers is another modern comedy director whose work overall leaves me cold, though I felt her last two films, It's Complicated and The Intern, were a huge improvement), and there was one scene in particular that struck me as the height of clueless privilege -- as part of their plan for getting their divorced parents back together, the twin Lindsay Lohans rent a yacht for the night. Clearly, these girls are the same kind of Everykid as Home Alone's Kevin, who lives in an enormous house and whose extended family travels to Paris for Christmas.
However, in the original Parent Trap the twins don't rent a yacht -- they create a mockup, in the backyard, of the Italian restaurant where their parents had their first date. That's charming and clever; renting a yacht is neither.
I've made it a habit to catch as many as I can of the New Beverly's matinee screenings of vintage Disney live-action films, and they are fascinating. I didn't catch the latest screening of Mary Poppins, as it's not a particular favorite (I know it's sacrilege but I much prefer the recent sequel, partly due to the glory that is Emily Blunt), but I do love its gorgeously artificial, often literally painterly look.
The Jules Verne adventure In Search of the Castaways (starring an insufferable Maurice Chevalier) featured lovely matte paintings, nice miniatures, and some pretty bad bluescreen work. The bluescreen shots in many of these Disney films are not technically flawed -- they lack the blue fringes around the actors which are the hallmark of bad VFX of the era -- but it's always visually jarring to have the foreground actors and the background images in equally sharp focus, a problem you never had with traditional rear projection. (Fun fact: Castaways composer William Alwyn is the grandfather of actor Joe Alwyn, who made his film debut as the title character in Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk and who is now nearly ubiquitous in such films as Operation Finale, Boy Erased, The Favourite, Mary Queen of Scots and Harriet).
Seeing the original That Darn Cat was particularly strange. It's actually based on a novel by the authors of Experiment in Terror, and though the former is a Disney comedy and the latter is a gritty thriller, the two stories have surprising similiarites, and the many scenes in the former of the kidnapped bank teller (Grayson Hall, from The Night of the Iguana and the original Dark Shadows) being threatened by her captors are surprisingly grim and are jarring amidst all the traditional Disney cat hijinks.
Blackbeard's Ghost was a much more traditional Disney '60s comedy, with a predictably delightful performance by an overqualified Peter Ustinov in the title role and some lovely matte paintings. It also had a small town gangster subplot similar to the ones found in those Kurt Russell/Disney sci-fi comedies from the 70s, which made me imagine if the movie of Jaws had kept the Mafia subplot from the book but cast someone like Cesar Romero as the main gangster.
*I do have to admit that -- as one who as an unproduced, 25-year-old Caucasian screenwriter was hired to write a film with a largely African-American cast of characters -- I probably shouldn't point fingers at other people's "white privilege." On the other hand, I have never been wealthy, alas.