In Slate’s annual Movie Club, film critic Dana Stevens emails with fellow critics—this year, Justin Chang, Odie Henderson, and Alison Willmore—about the year in cinema. Read the previous entry here.
Children of a Lesser Species,
Evie here, bovine star of the New York Film Critics Circle award-winning Best Picture, First Cow. I have briefly taken over Odie’s post as per our agreement, which said if he liked my movie, I could join the Movie Club and berate him. There’s just one small problem: Odie didn’t like First Cow. Granted, he found it “remotely interesting” and thought the scenes with me and John Magaro’s Cookie were “kinda sweet.” But after hearing him mutter something about “half-assed zeppoles” and “replacing the batteries in this movie,” I realized he was right to avoid the latest film by a director who just doesn’t do it for him. So how did I manage to still get this gig? Well, I know how to sweet talk a Taurus. After all, I am a cow.
Even a stubborn, pig-headed jackass like Mr. Henderson acknowledges that Magaro and Orion Lee have great chemistry together. And even a damn fool like Odie is smart enough to note how great the cinematography is. Alas, he had nothing else good to say about First Cow, and I have nothing else good to say about him. Instead, I’ll spend my last few sentences promoting moi. I have no dialogue—not even one MOO—yet I own this movie. You can bet your last dollar I’m going to win Best Supporting Actress! If you thought Glenn Close looked grumpy when she lost to Olivia Colman, imagine her face when she loses that Hillbilly Elegy Oscar to a cow.
Oily cakes forever,
My esteemed colleagues,
The best way to follow a diva is to quote another diva: “I never tell the naked truth. It’s not interesting.” Those words are spoken by the legendary Catherine Deneuve in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth, my pick for a review that made me feel, to use Dana’s words, like a “credulous dork.” I stand by my review—it’s one of my favorites from this year—and I felt no shame putting it on my Top 10 list. But I appear to stand alone in my affection for it. Which is fine. You know how sometimes you watch a movie and you feel as if it was made just for you? That’s how I felt about this one. I live for grand dame battles royal like The Women and All About Eve. Some would call The Truth a “soap opera” and, as someone who loved his “stories” growing up, I say, inject this shit directly into my veins!
La Deneuve stars as famous actress Fabienne, whose recently published memoirs contain not one shred of truth. At least that’s how her daughter, Lumir (Juliette Binoche) sees it. While Lumir challenges her mother on the veracity of her printed life story (apparently, she’s never heard that line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), Fabienne is appearing in the kind of comeback role written for a famous actress who’ll no doubt bestow her associated gravitas. Kind of like this year’s Sophia Loren vehicle The Life Ahead.* Except here, the story sounds like it was written by our pal Christopher Nolan: It’s a sci-fi movie in which a mother, knowing she has only two years to live, chooses to go to outer space because you age more slowly there. She makes occasional visits to Earth to see her daughter, who gets older while Mom stays the same age. At 73, Fabienne is playing the last iteration of the daughter, who is finally going to have it out with Ms. Dorian Gray from outer space.
My joy comes from watching Deneuve and Binoche deliver their juicy dialogue. The men are treated the way women usually get treated in “guy” movies, which adds to the fun. And though Binoche is great, Deneuve owns every frame she’s in. A repeated motif occurs during the daily rides to the studio, where the camera lingers on Deneuve’s face as she contemplates the mischievous words she’ll use to break the silence. At one point, she throws some fierce shade at Brigitte Bardot and, so help me God, I almost church-fainted.
Speaking of truth-telling, thank you, Justin, for your wonderful story about your first review of a Pedro Costa film. Your comments on impostor syndrome reminded me why I refuse to entertain any notion of that concept. A little painful truth: Whenever I do not agree with the general consensus, or if I only like a movie everyone else loves, someone will say it’s because I’m Black. I had a professional film critic you all know tell me that the reason I gave Boyhood three stars instead of four was because I was Black and could not relate to the film. Never mind that I was once a boy who experienced many of the same things the white main character goes through, including getting a Bible for Christmas! Whether it’s from readers or peers, it frequently boils down to an attempt to delegitimize my opinion and my writing. I won’t allow this to make me doubt my realness. Ever.
This is why Red, White and Blue was the Small Axe movie that truly got under my skin. I understood John Boyega’s desire to become a cop, to change the system from within. I’ve thought about this every day for all 33 years of my career in I.T., a field in which I’ve been the only Black person at numerous jobs. Being the first, or the only, carries a weight that Boyega’s Leroy doesn’t seem to grasp. I was angry at his naïveté—I sided with Leroy’s father, whose victimization by the cops added to his fury that his own son had become “the enemy.” That put my idealism in conflict with the jaded cynicism I carry around as an old timer who’s been through many wringers. When that damn Al Green song hit the end credits, I was practically destroyed from my own inner battle.
Closing out in a different gear: I was too busy wrestling with Evie to take in WW84, but my superhero requirement was fulfilled this year by The Old Guard, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s excellent Netflix action movie featuring Kiki Layne and everyone’s favorite ass kicker, Charlize Theron. Like Black Panther, it’s a superhero movie that made me get all up in my feelings. That response is its director’s stock in trade, and she has a great batch of actors who are willing to create characters you feel for no matter how crazy things get. And they get crazy. The Old Guard is about a group of immortals, which means they get killed many, many times. But it’s also about mentorship, century-spanning love, trusting one’s own strength, and (lest I forget) Furiosa from Mad Max eating the most delicious piece of baklava ever made. Plus, your beloved Martin Eden is in it, and he gets to do more than yell at elites. The only misstep is Theron’s Karen hairdo. Her “can I speak to a manager” coif may be practical for battle, but damn if it’s not distracting as hell.
Somebody bring up Mank! Alison, will you be that somebody?
Correction, Dec. 29, 2020: This post originally misidentified the film The Life Ahead as The Road Ahead.