Discovering good movies, one bad movie at a time

Worse films have won the Best Picture Oscar than 1933’s Cavalcade, though not many. I think there is a real argument to be made, though, that it is the most defective movie to win that award. Sure, 1929’s The Broadway Melody and 1931’s Cimarron are both weaker technically, with their janky early sound hiccups, and […]

I have a my disagreements with legendary film critic Pauline Kael, some of them fairly intense, but one thing I’ll never fault her for: she could write a hell of a sentence. And there’s no sentence of hers I co-sign more eagerly than the one that she used to start her review of Rain Man, […]

Fred Zinnemann is the epitome of a certain kind of film director. He was a workhorse – not a hack, not somebody who’d just show up and do the job in the most uninspired way, but somebody who still did obviously view it as a job. There’s nothing flashy in a Zinnemann film, but they’re […]

There’s no way around the elephant in the room, so it’s best just to start with it, and clear it out: yes, Shakespeare in Love won the Oscar for Best Picture, and because of that, Saving Private Ryan did not. If you click on that link and compare my star ratings, you’ll note that I […]

As of 18 January 2020, 563 films have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and 1967’s Doctor Dolittle is the worst one of them. This is not, we must immediately make clear, an example of a film that’s not very good that still got that nomination, and several others, because it was […]

First, let’s address the misconception that seems to be all over: there haven’t been “so many” film adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved 1868 novel Little Women. In the 92 years of sound cinema, there have been three: the one directed by George Cukor in 1933, the one directed by Mervyn LeRoy in 1949, and […]

Clint Eastwood, a director I have admired and enjoyed far more often than not, has always had two pronounced weaknesses. One is that he directs like an actor, famously remaining hands-off and letting his cast find their characters, while using few takes to avoid draining their freshness. And this only works with a certain kind […]

The new anti-death penalty film Clemency offers no surprises; some unexpected emphases, maybe, but no surprises. And given what message movies are, and what Oscarbait is, surprises weren’t the point, of course. The only thing we can really hope for is that the execution of the not-surprises will be effective, and in this case, I […]

As a story, The Two Popes is a confused and messy thing. “Popes! They’re just like us!” it declares in its pizza party scene, or the moment when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), the future Pope Francis, whistles “Dancing Queen” by ABBA in the Vatican men’s room. But it’s also about the intractable battle […]

I find Sam Mendes to be a frustrating director far more often than not – he lets his actors get away with a whole lot of very easy choices, and he gravitates towards projects with the most desperately banal bourgeois middlebrow sensibilities – but if one of the signs of a great film director is […]

There is one truly sublime moment in Just Mercy, near the beginning. Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a legal intern on the verge of taking the bar, has been sent to meet with Henry (J. Alphonse Nicholson), a young man of about Bryan’s age on death row, to give him the news that there is […]