Monday, December 5, 2022

nanny


My review of Nikyatu Jusu's impressive, if slightly flawed, debut Nanny is now up at Film-Forward.

A sobering and potent picture of a Senegalese immigrant's experiences in New York City mixed with folklore horror elements.

Friday, December 2, 2022

spoiler alert


My review of Spoiler Alert is up now at Film-Forward.

I enjoyed the movie (and almost cried!) and its cast, and I'd recommend it to others, though some of the attempts at cute and clever cues likely lessened the potential impact.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

venice/venice


There's something about the rhythms in the dialogue of Henry Jaglom's films that I just adore. An improvisational feel: not quite real-life, but still performative--almost a "moviefied" version of dialogue. Last Summer in the Hamptons is one of my all-time favorite films, and I remember distinctly watching it over and over when I was a teen. There was something about the mood and distinctive locations of the film--not to mention the magnetism of the actors and the scenes that played out. 


In 1992's Venice/Venice, Jaglom plays a director named Dean, who is at the Venice film festival for the only American picture in competition. Venice/Venice was actually filmed during the 1989 fest in which Jaglom's New Year's Day screened. The young David Duchovny is the star of that film, and also appears here, as an insecure, restless sun-tanning actor, who seems to be aiming for something greater. It's interesting to watch him in retrospect as he later becomes such a famed celebrity and even the titular subject of a pop song. As with Jaglom's other movies, the craft and hierarchies of art, performance, vanity and commerce gets a sort of gentle drubbing. As Jaglom's Dean gives terse, cranky interviews for the press, the alluring Jeanne (Nelly Alard) watches admirably and works up the nerve to talk to him. Of course Dean is attracted to Jeanne (just noticing the similarities in their names now); if Jeanne is attracted to Dean, it's not entirely clear why. Is she so enamored by his films? He isn't attractive so to speak, nor does he seem to be much fun to be around. But there is a push and pull between them--a dynamic--that Jeanne, with her sensuality, wit and sharpness, fosters. It's sort of a compelling romance to watch in its unnerving oddness. 

When the film flips to the vibrant "other Venice" in California (where we see a time capsule of Venice Beach as it was; even one of that summer's ubiquitous Batman logos appears), we are introduced to Dean's lover, Peggy (Melissa Leo). Since her earliest roles, one can see how completely (almost scarily so) committed Leo is to her craft. It is what continues to make her such an exciting actress to watch. Here, with her shaggy golden curls and emotionally open face, she's in such stark contrast to Jeanne's dark sleek hair and air of effortless, sunglasses perched on crown, French posh-ness. But the contrast doesn't fester into a typical combative element between the two women. Instead, Leo delivers a bravura, complicated performance that's a mixture of receptiveness, sympathy, trepidation, and hurt. It creates an engaging connection between the two characters and actors. 


Interspersed throughout this tiny drama are testimonies from women (supposedly all acquaintances of Jaglom) about old movies, romance, and love. Their declarations are sort of cliched and basic desires and wants that they now seem jaded about--nothing comes off as particularly surprising. But the women, staring directly into the camera, in front of a window frame painted puce-pink to match its puce-pink blinds, with their on-the-brink-of-the-1990s styled hair, make-up, and clothing, are a haunting chorus throughout. The movie itself also plays with perception--at one point a table of the actors looks directly at us, in coy proclamation of the falsities of film. The editing feels purposefully rough-hewn and off (are the eyelines matching? does it matter?). Later, there's a pretty amusingly self-indulgent sequence where Dean has a bunch of actresses "audition" as a group for a role to play his wife. The gall, the nerve of him (!), and the perversity of watching these actresses unload. Physics, something that Jeanne has studied, comes into play as a means of locales, chance, and existence. This is a gem of a film, with striking performances, and lots and lots of smartish talking--in that rhythmic, off-the-cuff way that can be so beguiling, well... at least for myself. ***


-Jeffery Berg

 


Friday, November 11, 2022

sam & kate


My review of the film Sam & Kate starring Dustin Hoffman and his son Jake Hoffman and Sissy Spacek and her daughter Schuyler Fisk, is now up at Film-Forward.

Monday, November 7, 2022

2023 grammy predictions!




The Grammy Awards are always usually fairly impossible to predict but just for fun, here we go!

The nominees are expected to be announced on November 15th.

If one looks at who could possibly dominate with wins on Grammy night in respective categories by submissions -- Beyoncé in Dance, Brandi Carlile in Americana, Zach Bryan in Country, and Kendrick Lamar in Rap -- they are the likely frontrunners for Album of the Year, with strong outside chances by Adele and Harry Styles, who are locks in the pop and general fields. 




ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Both Beyoncé & Brandi Carlile submitted a rich array of submissions across genre and categories and are Grammy favorites. They should be in good positions for at least the top 2 to win. Adele, Beyoncé, Brandi Carlile, Harry Styles, and overdue Kendrick Lamar feel like locks. If any of those were to miss, it would be a surprise and would have likely have been the 5 nominees if the category hadn't expanded to 10.

The next group include huge hits like Bad Bunny, and breakout artists like Zach Bryan, Steve Lacy and ROSALÍA who provided one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year and could surprise. 

There is also the solid, but not great, album from industry and tour-favorite Coldplay. 

Strong possibilities:

Taylor Swift is peaking right now with the hotly buzzed and brilliantly-promoted release of Midnights during the voting period and is likely to be nominated for Red (Taylor's Version). Ed Sheeran could get his first nomination here since X.


Adele, 30

Bad Bunny, Un Verano Sin Ti

Beyoncé, Renaissance 

Brandi Carlile, In These Silent Days

Coldplay, Music of the Spheres

Steve Lacy, Gemini Rights

Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers

ROSALÍA, MOTOMAMI

Harry Styles, Harry's House

Zach Bryan, American Heartbreak




RECORD OF THE YEAR

The biggest single of the year is Harry Styles' winsome "As It Was," which on surface is an irresistible pop single about a relationship, but can also be read as a clear-eyed musing of how the world changed in 2020. 



This could shape up to be a competitive category with Beyoncé's anthemic song, Adele's ballad, and the hard-hitting, Marvin Gaye-sampled Lamar track. Carlile's song is also well-performed and produced. Lizzo's disco tune showed remarkable staying power. Lacy's "Bad Habit" broke though mainstream radio. Coldplay and BTS are beloved and this just seems like a harmless, catchy, alt-adult radio tune to hit here. Sheeran and Doja Cat's records were also quite popular.


"About Damn Time," Lizzo

"As It Was," Harry Styles

"Bad Habit," Steve Lacy

"Break My Soul," Beyoncé 

"Easy on Me," Adele

"The Heart Part 5," Kendrick Lamar

"My Universe," Coldplay and BTS

"Shivers," Ed Sheeran

"Woman," Doja Cat

"You and Me on the Rock," Brandi Carlile (with Lucius)





SONG OF THE YEAR

Admittedly, I'm unsure how to predict Taylor's new recordings of her old tracks--it will be interesting to see how that pans out--but she did breathe life into "All Too Well" alongside the high-profile short film she directed. SZA's "I Hate U" is the kind of smoldering tune that could miss in Record but land in Song. Same for Zach Bryan's lovely "Something in the Orange," which is a surefire Country Song nominee and maybe winner. "We Don't Talk About Bruno" was an unlikely soundtrack hit that made a huge impact during the eligibility window. Carlile's tune is lyrically and musically reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, who she performed with in a touching viral video this past summer. 


"All Too Well (Taylor's Version - 10 Minute Version)," Taylor Swift 

"As It Was," Harry Styles

"Bad Habit," Steve Lacy

"Break My Soul," Beyoncé

"Easy on Me," Adele

"The Heart Part 5," Kendrick Lamar

"I Hate U," SZA

"Something in the Orange," Zach Bryan

"We Don't Talk About Bruno," Lin-Manuel Miranda

"You and Me on the Rock," Brandi Carlile (with Lucius)


NEW ARTIST



This category is always weird. Artists that have been recording for years suddenly appear out of the blue. The below feel pretty likely overall and a mix of different genres as well.


Omar Apollo

Zach Bryan

Dove Cameron

Joji

Latto

Ravyn Lenae

Mitski

Stephen Sanchez

Rina Sawayama

Wet Leg



POP ALBUM



Adele and Harry Styles are the only locks here. Elton John made huge impressions and a feeling of fun and goodwill pairing with younger artists on The Lockdown Sessions. Lizzo and Coldplay seem like strong contenders to be nominated even if they possibly miss Album of the Year.


30, Adele

Special, Lizzo

Harry's House, Harry Styles

The Lockdown Sessions, Elton John

Music of the Spheres, Coldplay


POP SOLO PERFORMANCE



Fairly predictable picks here except for maybe breakouts Steve Lacy and Joji.


"All Too Well (Taylor's Version - 10 Minute Version," Taylor Swift

"As It Was," Harry Styles

"Bad Habit," Steve Lacy

"Easy on Me," Adele

"Glimpse of Us," Joji


POP DUO/GROUP PERFORMANCE




It's hard to narrow this category down but for now, Elton John helped usher in a breezy collab with Britney Spears. This would be Britney's first nomination since "Womanizer" if it materializes. Sam Smith and Kim Petras have one of the more ubiquitous tracks of the season right now. Lucius would be an outside choice, but is paired with two Grammy favorites.


"Dance Around It," Lucius (f/Brandi Carlile & Sheryl Crow)

"Hold Me Closer," Elton John and Britney Spears

"I Ain't Worried," OneRepublic

"My Universe," Coldplay and BTS

"Unholy," Sam Smith (f/Kim Petras)

"We Don't Talk About Bruno," Carolina Gaitán, Mauro Castillo, Adassa, Rhenzy Feliz, Diane Guerrero, Stephanie Beatriz & cast of Encanto



RAP ALBUM




Future and Lamar seem like slam dunks here. Megan Thee Stallion still has love and goodwill since her Best New Artist victory. Pusha T's album is fabulous. Jack Harlow's nomination wouldn't really be deserving -- an underwhelming album despite some pleasing tracks -- but he's one of the more mainstream of the choices, so likely to be included.


Come Home the Kids Miss You, Jack Harlow

I NEVER LIKED YOU, Future

It's Almost Dry, Pusha T

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar

Traumazine, Megan Thee Stallion


RAP SONG




Hoping Kendrick Lamar wins this category. An amazing song (and music video). It's the main track he's being considered for overall, despite his equally amazing single "N95."


"Diet Coke," Pusha T

"The Heart Part 5," Kendrick Lamar

"Hot Shit," Cardi B

"Plan B," Megan Thee Stallion

"Wait For U," Future (f/Drake and Tems)


RAP PERFORMANCE



The Grammys have shown a lot of love to all the artists here. Will be nice to see female rappers possibly dominate the category.


"Cash In Cash Out," Pharrell Williams with 21 Savage and Tyler, The Creator

"The Heart Part 5," Kendrick Lamar

"Hot Shit," Cardi B

"Plan B," Megan Thee Stallion

"Vegas," Doja Cat


MELODIC RAP PERFORMANCE



Something tells me I'm underestimating Post Malone overall, but am having trouble placing him in different categories. He seems pretty likely here though, and perhaps for the win. The "Return of the Mack" mix is peaking right now.


"Cooped Up," Post Malone f/Roddy Ricch 

"Die Hard," Kendrick Lamar (f/BLXST & Amanda Reifer)

"First Class," Jack Harlow

"No Mas," Quavo, Anitta, J Balvin, & Pharrell Williams

"Wait For U," Future (f/Drake and Tems)


R&B ALBUM




A little hard to predict, as the nominees I've narrowed down to are unlikely to be top category performers, but a solid group nevertheless. There's been a lot of love for Mary J. this year in particular because of her Super Bowl performance.


Blue Water Road, Kehlani

Good Morning Gorgeous (Deluxe), Mary J. Blige

KEYS, Alicia Keys

Legend, John Legend

Still Over It, Summer Walker



PROGRESSIVE R&B ALBUM




Steve Lacy is the big artist from this group -- but some great, wide-ranging album choices here. 


Before You Go, BLXST

Gemini Rights, Steve Lacy

Hypnos, Ravyn Lenae

Red Balloon, Tank and the Bangas

Wasteland, Brent Faiyaz




R&B SONG

I'm hoping SZA gets in here! Here's where the spread-the-wealth nomination haul for Beyoncé could begin.


"Best of Me," Alicia Keys

"Cuff It," Beyoncé

"Give You the World," Steve Lacy

"Good Morning Gorgeous," Mary J. Blige

"I Hate U," SZA


R&B PERFORMANCE




Both "Black Superhero" and "Hoodie" seem likely Grammy choices if they can break through. Jazmine Sullivan took everyone by surprise when she won R&B album over Grammy darling H.E.R. and the Album of the Year winner Jon Batiste, so could surface here and possibly R&B song for "Hurt Me So Good."


"Black Superhero," Robert Glasper

"Hoodie," Ari Lennox

"Hurt Me So Good," Jazmine Sullivan

"I Hate U," SZA

"Virgo's Groove," Beyoncé


TRADITIONAL R&B PERFORMANCE




Omar Apollo's song is beautiful, and he's an interesting artist to watch this Grammy season. The others are just guesses based on strong previous track records.


"Evergreen," Omar Apollo

"Good Morning Gorgeous," Mary J. Blige

"Keeps on Fallin'," Babyface and Ella Mai

"Plastic Off the Sofa," Beyoncé

"Round Midnight," Jazmine Sullivan


DANCE ALBUM




Unless something truly strange happens, Beyoncé is a lock here (and to win).


Diplo, Diplo

Fragments, Bonobo

The Last Goodbye, Odesza

Paradise Again, Swedish House Mafia

Renassaince, Beyoncé


DANCE RECORDING




Beyoncé likely to easily sweep these two categories, but underestimate H.E.R. at your own peril at the Grammys (the song is pretty lush and great though).


"Break My Soul," Beyoncé

"I'm Good (Blue)," David Guetta & Bebe Rexha

"Intimidated," KAYTRANADA (f/H.E.R.)

"Turn on the Lights Again," Swedish House Mafia (f/Future)

"Waterfall," Disclosure and Raye




COUNTRY ALBUM



The country breakout album of the year is probably Zach Bryan. His aching "Something in the Orange" tune should make a huge impact this season.


American Heartbreak, Zach Bryan

Different Man, Kane Brown

Humble Quest, Maren Morris

Palomino, Miranda Lambert

Where We Started, Thomas Rhett


COUNTRY SONG




Ballerini is a well-respected songwriter in the country world, as is Morris. Walker Hayes song is cheesy, but it's popular and kind of infectious. Bryan seems like the easy winner here ultimately.


"AA," Walker Hayes

"Circles Around This Town," Maren Morris

"Heartfirst," Kelsea Ballerini

"If I Was a Cowboy," Miranda Lambert

"Something in the Orange," Zach Bryan


COUNTRY SOLO PERFORMANCE



Sometimes a performance at a previous ceremony can help land a nomination in the following year. That could be the case for Carrie Underwood. The rest are all much more notable country songs. Kane Brown is another artist to be on the lookout for having a strong narrative this season.


"Circles Around This Town," Maren Morris

"Ghost Story," Carrie Underwood

"Like I Love Country Music," Kane Brown

"Something in the Orange," Zach Bryan

"Trouble With Heartbreak," Jason Aldean



COUNTRY DUO/GROUP PERFORMANCE



Plant and Krauss' follow-up to Raising Sand has been a bit muted, but here's a category where they are likely to show up, and also across Americana.


"Going Where the Lonely Go," Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

"Half of Me," Thomas Rhett (f/Riley Green)

"Outrunnin' Your Memory," Luke Combs and Miranda Lambert

"Rich Man," Little Big Town

"Wishful Drinking," Ingrid Andress and Sam Hunt



AMERICANA ALBUM




Brandi Carlile's performance of "Right on Time" was arguably the finest from the last ceremony. She seems extremely likely to get one of the largest nomination hauls overall, with strong submissions spread across genre (including Producer of the Year). In addition, she could potentially sweep the Americana categories, making her competitive for Album of the Year.


Big Time, Angel Olsen

Entering Heaven Alive, Jack White

In These Silent Days, Brandi Carlile

Just Like That..., Bonnie Raitt

Raise the Roof, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss



AMERICAN ROOTS SONG




"Until I Found You" is such a classic Grammys song in the vein of Norah Jones' "Don't Know Why." I don't personally view it as an American Roots Song, it seems much more like jazzy pop, so not sure if it will factor in here or not. But I'll be interested to see if Sanchez and his tune make a somewhat unexpected splash in the majors overall.

"Carolina," Taylor Swift

"High and Lonesome," Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

"If I Die Tomorrow," Jack White

"Until I Found You," Stephen Sanchez

"You and Me on the Rock," Brandi Carlile (with Lucius)



AMERICAN ROOTS PERFORMANCE





Bonnie Raitt, with 10 wins and 26 nominations, is basically a Grammys legend. I'm expecting her to factor in some of the categories here. Will Taylor Swift be accepted in these categories for "Carolina"? Hard to say, but if so, she could garner a significant tally of noms.


"Carolina," Taylor Swift

"Heavy Eyes," Zach Bryan

"Made Up Mind," Bonnie Raitt

"Until I Found You," Stephen Sanchez

"You and Me on the Rock," Brandi Carlile (with Lucius)


ROCK ALBUM



A lot of older artists here, which is sometimes how the category goes. Red Hot Chili Peppers seem the most likely to land. The Grammys love The Black Keys and Jack White too (who has two albums up for contention). Muse made some cool choices with the release of their album -- giving shine to indie record stores.


Dropout Boogie, The Black Keys

Earthling, Eddie Vedder

Fear of the Dawn, Jack White

Unlimited Love, Red Hot Chili Peppers

Will of the People, Muse


ROCK SONG




Will Brandi break through the traditionally male rock categories? It's hard to say, but I'm expecting her to overperform in general.


"Black Summer," Red Hot Chili Peppers

"Broken Horses," Brandi Carlile

"Taking Me Back," Jack White

"Wild Child," The Black Keys

"Won't Stand Down," Muse


ROCK PERFORMANCE



Going off artist pedigree here: the non-album tracks I'm predicting to show up are by Beck (a really gorgeous cover of Neil Young -- does it feel "rock" enough though?) and Pink Floyd. 


"Broken Horses," Brandi Carlile

"Hey Hey Rise Up," Pink Floyd (f/Andriy Khlyvnyuk)

"Old Man," Beck

"Taking Me Back," Jack White

"Won't Stand Down," Muse



ALTERNATIVE ALBUM




Competitive category. Any one of these could miss, though I feel fairly certain Thom Yorke-fronted The Smile will get in. And there are other strong / notable contenders to show up here as well: Big Thief, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beach House, MUNA, Mitski, Father John Misty, FKA twigs, Florence and the Machine, and Maggie Rogers. Her album was acclaimed but somewhat divisive, yet Bjork is 0 for 15 (!) ... could she finally win (if nominated)? As far as I know, this was her only submission overall.


A Light for Attracting Attention, The Smile

Fossora: Bjork

Ivory, Omar Apollo

We, Arcade Fire

Wet Leg, Wet Leg



ALTERNATIVE PERFORMANCE



The return of Yeah Yeah Yeahs was an exciting one, so I'm figuring they could make it in both Alt categories (I'm just not sure who to swap them out with in album). Arctic Monkeys is the only one who isn't in contention for album, but they have received 5 Grammy nominations in the past.


"Chaise Lounge," Wet Leg

"Certainty," Big Thief

"The Smoke," The Smile

"Spitting Off the Edge of the World," Yeah Yeah Yeahs

"There'd Better Be a Mirror Ball," Arctic Monkeys




SONG FOR VISUAL MEDIA




If the line-up is this, it will be one of the biggest battles of current pop culture superstars. It will be interesting to see who gets in and who wins.


"Be Alive," from King Richard

"Carolina," from Where the Crawdads Sing

"Hold My Hand," from Top Gun: Maverick

"I'm Tired," Euphoria - Season 2

"Nobody Like U," from Turning Red

"We Don't Talk About Bruno," from Encanto



ENGINEERED ALBUM (NON-CLASSICAL)




A category to take note of: sometimes engineered album is a bellwether for an Album of the Year frontrunner (including Beck, Billie Eilish, Daft Punk, Ray Charles, Norah Jones, Steely Dan). 


Black Radio III, Robert Glasper

Fear of the Dawn, Jack White

In These Silent Days, Brandi Carlile

Music of the Spheres, Coldplay (don't underestimate the work of Jacob Collier!)

We, Arcade Fire


MUSIC VIDEO




Giving it up for Kendrick Lamar's brilliant video here. Taylor Swift's opus got so much press and attention, it seems inevitable. "Cash In Cash Out" is definitely one of the more forward-tech videos of the year.

"All Too Well (Taylor's Version - 10 Minute Version)," Taylor Swift

"Cash In Cash Out," Pharrell Williams with 21 Savage and Tyler, The Creator

"The Heart Part 5," Kendrick Lamar

"Unholy," Sam Smith f/Kim Petras

"You Will Never Work in Television Again," The Smile



-Jeffery Berg

Sunday, October 16, 2022

she said

Smart, mainstream adult dramas are in short supply these days--that's one of the many reasons why Maria Schrader's (I'm Your Man) film adaptation of New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey's book She Said is refreshing. Let's just say it's not the typical type of movie to be proceeded by the Universal globe, but Hollywood should be making more movies like this. The film tracks Kantor (played by Zoe Kazan) and Twohey's (Carey Mulligan) sweeping, yet meticulous work in compiling and breaking one of the biggest stories of our recent times: the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandals. The movie shows their process with a sense of sincerity and urgency: Kantor and Twohey hustle from location to location (Weinstein's victims spanning the globe), getting calls--sometimes threats--in the middle of the night, all while raising kids. There are disappointments along the way--those who don't want to be named, interviewed, found. The movie shows the power of teamwork within the hierarchy of the Times. It's a flattering portrait, perhaps in part because the film makes use of the authors of their source material, location and name, with a calm and direct Patricia Clarkson (wonderful casting) as editor Rebecca Corbett at the helm. Meanwhile, in the background, the ominous tumult of 2017 America plays out--Trump's first year in office, the Las Vegas mass shooting, the Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally. Also shown is the Women's March in Washington, D.C., an outpouring of outrage, protest and comradery under the shadow of Trump's inauguration. Ashley Judd, who played a pivotal role in the March, ends up becoming a key person in and ally of Kantor and Twohey's story (the use of the real and the seemingly "real" is sometimes imbued with subtle humor and effective throughout).  This queasy year is presented vividly and accurately--it's before COVID and the overturning of Roe vs. Wade--and part of the film's power is knowing where we are now and where we were a mere five years ago. It's infrequent, perhaps risky, to see our recent past portrayed in a movie--unless it's a documentary (a plethora of which we are served on streaming services constantly). 


Interestingly, I couldn't detect much in common between Schrader's directing on this and I'm Your Man, except for a visual and narrative smoothness and strong work with actors. Samantha Morton in particular, as a former Miramax assistant Zelda Perkins, is haunting and commanding in a single scene. The way she builds her scene in the manner of a slow crescendo and chilling denouement is flat-out breathtaking. Nicholas Britell's music is, as usual, beautiful, but it's jarringly loud and overbearing in the film--sudden string flourishes dig into scenes that don't need them. The editing by Hansjörg Weißbrich is sometimes choppy and clunky, and some scenes with the usually good Jennifer Ehle feel unexpectedly leaden, but overall, there's a swiftness and economy to She Said. The support and teamwork between women is absorbing to see onscreen and the final moment--juxtaposing the nitpicky banality of their work with the intensity of the story itself and its ultimate influence--is powerful. ***

-Jeffery Berg