Wow, we’re really almost at the end of MOVIE DIARY 2018! This one is the penultimate post and it also features the final special guest of MOVIE DIARY 2018: Tessa Strain! If you’ve been following MOVIE DIARY 2018 you’ll know that Tessa is a frequent special guest, and I figured that since she was the very first special guest of MOVIE DIARY 2018, it’d only be right to close it out with her.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
SPECIAL GUEST WRITER: TESSA STRAIN
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a movie about fuck-ups, and like all movies about fuck-ups, it makes me feel personally indicted! Did it help that I was watching it at the close of 2018, amid the near-constant stream of my peers listing their accomplishments (listen: I’m happy for them) and vowing to better themselves (once I had a coworker get mad at me because I said I didn’t feel like making any New Year’s resolutions, but this year I’m going to join a credit union, there, are you happy?)? No, it did not!
In the darkest, most cobwebbed part of my heart I see myself in Melissa McCarthy’s resentment-fermented Lee Israel, a person who is both totally incapable of thriving on her terms and utterly inflexible about changing said terms. Her anger reads as cynicism, but it actually speaks to a kind of naïveté, a belief that she can will the world into giving her her due. If Tom Clancy can have a two hundred thousand dollar advance, why can’t she have a ten thousand dollar advance? Who doesn’t love Fanny Brice??? Do I find myself making these private negotiations to a nonexistent third party (no surprise Jane Curtin appearance for me, sadly) with regard to my more successful peers? Hahahahaha. Yes.
Lee may be exceptional in her talent, but she’s not exceptional in the sense of being an actual exception (no, she cannot have ten thousand dollars). The world is indifferent to her, and so she finds both remuneration and a kind of satisfaction impersonating people to whom the world is not indifferent, forging letters by famous writers and selling them to credulous collectors. It’s a moral compromise, but not an artistic one. And as far as cosplaying 1920s literati goes, it’s way less mortifying than Midnight in Paris (though somehow more illegal????).
Anyway, what have we learned?
• Sometimes you gotta risk it all for a cat
• It’s always a nice surprise to see Jane Curtin
• You can’t get a $10,000 advance for a book only Barbra Streisand will read
• It’s possible to take a Noël Coward impression too far [, Niles!]
• Keep your friends close, and Richard E. Grant closer
Ok, I’m off to try and grow as a person now, I guess!!!!
Tessa Strain is a writer living in Geoff’s apartment. Her work has appeared in Bright Wall/Dark Room and The Comics Journal. She is @tessastrain on Twitter, where she does a pretty good job, and on Instragram, where she does a bad one.
Here are some very quick bits about the non-2018 movies I saw in 2018 that I still hadn’t gotten around to writing about. It’s all here, though, mostly so I can say that I wrote about every movie I saw in 2018.
The Age Of Innocence (1993)
This movie is lavish and heartbreaking. Show me a better romance where the two romantic leads don’t fuck!
What a devastating moment it is when you realize that you’re Salieri. A really powerful statement on bitterness and its power to fuel us and destroy us.
The Lion In Winter (1968)
Katharine Hepburn plays Eleanor of Aquitane and it’s like firing a machine gun through history. She’s incredible. Every moment with her is the best part of the movie.
I feel like not a whole lot of directors know what to do with Brad Pitt. He’s not a typical straight leading man type. Fincher gets it, mostly. It’s pretty fun watching Brad Pitt in a role where he’s just hot-blooded, loud, and wrong all the time.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
I don’t know, this was fine. It’s a pretty compelling thriller, with that same sort of weird, stilted dialogue that’s typical of Yorgos Lanthimos movies, but I don’t know, I don’t think it really amounted to much of anything. Still better than The Lobster though, so I guess that’s something?
She Done Him Wrong (1933)
I think what’s tight about Mae West is her insistence on letting everyone know that she is DTF. Mae West owns this movie from the moment she steps onscreen, making every single character look like a big dumb ugly idiot (even Cary Grant!) for even sharing the same space as her.
Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
I’d never seen this before, and I was surprised how into it I was! I loved Tootie and her weirdly morbid, but always enthusiastic spirit, and I loved Judy Garland. She’s fun and lively and her singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is so touching and beautiful.
Little Women (1994)
I saw this for the first time a couple of years ago, and I haven’t read the book so forgive me if this is super basic, but... Jo is the best one, right? Like, there’s no contest here, right? It’s not a contest, that’s not the point I know I know, but Jo rules as far as I’m concerned.
Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
I love this one, mostly for how ol’ Kris Kringle cleverly manipulates that American spirit of capitalistic self-interest in these cynical people into a force for bringing in a Merry Christmas for all. Radicalize me, Santa!
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
I guess it’s kind of corny to talk about this one and say that it’s the best Christmas movie, but really, it’s the best Christmas movie. It’s also getting equally corny to harp on how It’s A Wonderful Life is a lot darker than you remember it being, but it is, it gets pretty dark in this! You can have dark undertones and still be a great Christmas movie! It’s what makes It’s A Wonderful Life the best Christmas story, the fact that it never shies away from showing that as good and kind and as upstanding a pillar of his community as George Bailey is, a lifetime of sacrificing his own ambitions for the good of the people of his town has taken such a deep emotional toll on him. I think what saves It’s A Wonderful Life from a totally ruinous and honestly well-earned bleak ending is that George’s sacrifices are finally acknowledged and George finally sees that people see what he’s given up and that they appreciate him. It feels very human and true and imperfect to me, this idea that being a martyr is worth it if people say thank you, and I don’t know if I’ve seen something that explores suffering and self sacrifice like this in any other Christmas movie.
What the fuck was happening in France in 1900? I truly could not understand what was happening in this musical. I mean, I guess I understood the plot of it (rich society playboy-type ends up falling in love with his friend who’s kind of a kid-sister type? Fucked up, imo), but I had no idea why anyone was doing what they were doing or why Gaston was being such a little bitch. I feel like maybe there’s some layer of context that I’ve missed completely, so I’ll own up to that much, but that certainly doesn’t explain why the songs were so boring and aimless. Actually, let me walk that back: the one with horny ol’ uncle Honoré is singing with Madame Alvarez about how they used to be in love and he’s getting all the details confused is good, I liked that one.
SPOILER WARNING FOR THIS NEXT SET OF MOVIES! NOT BECAUSE I “SPOIL” ANYTHING NECESSARILY, BUT BECAUSE THESE ALL CAME OUT IN 2018 SO THEY’RE STILL PRETTY NEW AND YOU CAN NEVER REALLY TELL WHAT PEOPLE WILL BE MAD ABOUT ON A BLOG ABOUT MOVIES.
Paddington 2 (2018)
It’s as cute and surprisingly heavy and affecting as the first one (which I wrote about earlier this year). Paddington is just one of those characters who you can’t help but root for. Since being accepted by his host family, Paddington has become an upstanding pillar of his community, but then he gets framed for robbery and sent to prison! Prison’s no place for a young bear! Brendan Gleeson is so good in this. That scene where he’s helping Paddington make prison marmalade by smashing whole oranges in his fists is a top moment for me. I always feel like such a mark when I cry at these kinds of movies, but I was genuinely moved by that fantasy that Paddington has of taking his Aunt Lucy sightseeing in London, and that payoff at the end where the neighborhood arranges to have her come visit — I’m tearing up as I type this, I’m such a chump, oh my god, I love this movie.
A Simple Favor (2018)
This movie is very stupid, true, but on the other hand, it’s also insane. There’s a whole incest/murder backstory thing going on with the main character and you’re supposed to I guess root for her in spite of all that? And on top of all that it’s Anna Kendrick?? Tough sell for me, honestly. Blake Lively is good as an asshole, though. Let her be an asshole more, she’s better like that.
The House That Jack Built (2018)
I… don’t think this was a good movie, but I honestly haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I’ve seen it. It’s violent and disgusting, yes, though not as much as I thought it would be? I’m not sure, I think your threshold for brutality is up to you, but Matt Dillon is really the most interesting part of the movie. He’s got real range in this one, effortlessly moving from anti-social dweeb to terrifying MRA menace. The movie centers on Jack, a serial killer, and five murders he’s committed over the course of his career. In between each segment Jack has a discussion with a mysterious “Mr. Verge” (It’s short for Virgil, like in Dante’s Inferno… because this is about a man’s descent into hell… the movie… is… dumb) about the nature of art, the act of creation, and being an artist. It’s all a pretty sophomoric attempt at a career retrospective (at one point as Jack and Verge reflect on the power of artists, they are watching clips from other Lars Von Trier movies lol), but I don’t know, I guess I found it kind of earnest and charming? I was also pretty surprised by how funny it all was, and again, that’s just some great work from Matt Dillon, being able to lend a range of feelings to a character who has none.
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
What a beautiful movie. All the performances were phenomenal, and I can’t believe that I was tearing up at pivotal moment delivered by Dave Franco. Jeez. I feel like in a less talented director’s hands, If Beale Street Could Talk could have ended up as some sort of melodramatic, feel-bad, tragedy porn, but Barry Jenkins is so great at imbuing these characters and their lives with a sense of warmth and earnestness that gives the movie a sense of hope throughout. Or maybe hope is the wrong word, I don’t know, because by the end of the movie things still don’t feel that hopeful, but you do understand the importance of going on and living life in the face of these dark times. It’s that resilience that gives this story and these characters a purpose, not the awful circumstances that they face in this country.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
I was really impressed by this one. I was expecting something kind of Oscar-bait-y from this, and it seemed that way a little bit at times I guess, but it never seemed overly maudlin or showy. It was very… atmospheric, I think? It felt very lived in, and I think it also really effectively captured that feeling of the walls closing in around you when you’ve done something wrong and you just can feel inside your bones that you’re going to get caught.The movie also has such a specific time and setting and look, one that I don’t think is depicted too often, and with characters that almost certainly aren’t given as much attention as the typical focus of movies. Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant both turn in tremendous performances in this one, giving us these two aging liars trying to survive and more than just that, trying to leave their mark on this world that’s all too ready to leave people like them in the dust of the past.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)
What a fun treat! Just a real delight of a superhero movie that never once dragged or felt too convoluted. The look of it was really cool, nodding to the comic book aesthetic and embracing that kinetic feel of animated action. All the Spider-people were fun and charming and distinct (my personal fave, predictably was the sad sweatpants Spider-Man), and all the villains were really cool and menacing. I was a big fan of the Prowler’s whole look and that scary sound that would play whenever they’d zoom in on those giant claws, and I loved the Kathryn Hahn Doctor Octopus as this condescending science jerk. Miles was a great main character too, just a likable kid who’s easy to root for. The main story with Miles learning to be a hero managed to feel fresh and fun and impactful and not a run of the mill origin story despite playing with the same beats as your run of the mill origin stories. Also, incredible power move from this movie by giving us seven origin stories (eight if you want to count the Kingpin’s flashback) and making none of them boring somehow. Also also! Shoutout to Brian Tyree Henry, he’s three for three in great movie performances this year! More movies with Brian Tyree Henry, please!