I have seen 3 movies recently, and all of them are good. I made sure, because I read the reviews beforehand. The first movie is the Favourite, a period drama about two ladies jockeying for the Queen of England’s favor (or favour) through saucy insults, frequent swearing, and lesbianism. The second is Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse, which is the exact opposite movie, being about a kid who gets spider powers and is coached in using them by different other heroes who also have spider powers who are all shuttled together due to a rip in time and space across different dimensions. The third is Mandy, an surrealist action horror film starring Nic Cage as a man whose wife is assaulted by an evil cult, and goes insane seeking bloody revenge against them.
One of these movies has been nominated for 10 Oscars, one for 1 Oscar, and one was disqualified from entry, and I’ll leave you to figure out which one is which.
All three movies are made by people who know exactly what they want to put on screen, exactly the story they want to tell, and exactly how they want the audience to react, and all three succeed in all three categories. I mean, the Favourite is a dark movie about political and sexual intrigue, which I usually find boring, butt it’s also very funny, all the way through. It tosses in everything, and makes the very, very topical point, I think, that the rich and powerful are not to be trusted. Even while there’s a war going on, they’ll hire a fat guy to strip naked and wear a pink wig in order to throw tomatoes at him for fun. They’ll gamble on duck races. Even those who work their way up from the muck (literally) will happily embrace a life of ordering their social lessers around and kicking bunnies, and engage in all sorts of skullduggery and “harmless” violence to keep their position.
Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse was no doubt rewritten a hundred times by a small crew of screenwriters, but they must have been very good, because the story and characters are perfect, and they hit every single emotional beat out of the park. It’s probably incomprehensible to anyone unfamiliar with Spider-Man, but how many people does that count these days anyway? What drew my wallet to the box office, though, was the animation. This movie is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, in blending 2- and 3-D animation, erasing backgrounds, and flipping between filmic and comic-book-style imagery. Nearly every frame looks like a picture from a comic book, with the amount of color, detail, and action crammed in. Sound effects show up on screen as bouncing words! At one point, Spider-Man throws a bagel, and it hits a guy on the head with a tiny “BAGEL!” noise. It’s inventive, and strange, and a little hard to understand how a major studio threw $200,000,000 at it, but all of that money is visible in the final product.
Mandy also grabbed me for its visual style. I usually don’t pick up B-movies unless they’re very stylish. Otherwise, what’s the point? Nearly every single B-movie is a rehash of some very old tale, and in Mandy’s case, that’s a revenge story. The first half of the movie is dedicated to Mandy and Nic Cage’s home life, and is set to a soft-focus, dreamy, floaty sort of camerawork. It makes me want to move to the Pacific Northwest and built my own cabin and sleep under a giant stained glass skylight discussing my favorite planets with my wife. The second half is set in a sort of nightmare world. Half the time the screen is completely red, and all movements leaves aftertrails. One scene involves Mandy being drugged with LSD and mutant wasp venom (?) by the evil cult, and everything is shot in a blown-out, saturated, slow-motion hallucinatory daze. It either makes you really want to try LSD, or never ever touch LSD with less that a 40-foot pole, and I’m not saying which camp I fell into.
The point is, movies for the rest of the year have a high bar to cross.