I’m back, and boy does that make me happy.
Sometimes it’s difficult to make time for the things you love, especially in moments of intense transition. The last nine months (it really hasn’t felt that long!) have seen me working my first 9-5 job, adjusting to a new city, singing in and volunteering with the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus, donning drag for the first time, and making countless friends along the way.
There have also been plenty of movies. I’ve devoted more time, in fact, to good old-fashioned cinema-going in Philadelphia than I had in previous years, thanks in part to cheaper ticket prices (I’m still milking my NYU student ID card for all its worth) and in part to Cinema Salon, a wonderful film discussion group I’ve joined here.
So, what have I seen? What’d I think of the Oscars? Did the right queen win season eight of RuPaul’s Drag Race? These are the important questions in life, no? Let’s play catch-up.
Carol was the Best Film of 2015
When I walked in to see Todd Haynes’ queer masterpiece Carol at the New York Film Festival, my expectations were high. Word out of Cannes for this romantic drama, based on Patricia Highsmith’s most personal novel The Price of Salt, was extremely positive. Some critics found the film a little too frigid, though, a bit too manicured and polished and reserved.
As I sat and watched, however, I found myself tensing and relaxing, responding to the swells of emotional abandon experienced by Therese (Rooney Mara, all naivete and wide-eyed openness) and Carol (Cate Blanchett, serving hyper-confident, but damaged, glamazon realness) as they navigate the risky waters of a lesbian romance in 1950’s New York. By the final fifteen minutes, I was sitting on the edge of my seat, hands clasped over my mouth, heart fluttering, and then…release.
I won’t ruin the film’s last minutes, but Carol arguably has one of the best final shots of all time, and certainly my favorite closing cinematic scene in the last several years. And that alone might have been enough to push it into the upper echelon of 2015, alongside Diary of a Teenage Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Tangerine, to name a few.
But Haynes’ sublimely detailed, emotionally intuitive direction, coupled with the stirring, shifting lead roles make this simply the best made, most well-conceived film of the last year. Frustrating in its sometimes opaque emotional undercurrents, a cinematic representation of restraint befitting the time period, Carol depicts with sure-handed confidence the extremely different experiences of a blossoming young woman and exhausted middle-aged divorcee. The subjective, soft-focused cinematography by Ed Lachman, a sensuous score by Carter Burwell, and iconic costumes by Sandy Powell only add to an increasingly fraught, whirlwind romance.
Did the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences take notice? Of the above mentioned artisans, the lead actresses, and Phyllis Nagy’s wonderful cyclical screenplay, yes. But Carol also became the most Oscar-nominated film (6 total noms) not to crack the best picture category since the Academy started allowing up to 10 nominees. Which leads us to my next point…
The Academy Got It Wrong. Again.
Okay, okay, I can move past the egregious Carol snubs and mysterious win for Sam Smith’s lame 007 theme song. I can even tolerate George Miller’s best director loss at the hands of The Revenant helmer Alejandro G. Iñárritu, his second consecutive win in the category. But I simply cannot understand how, in a year of films more keenly observed, more emotionally palpable, more subtly affecting, Tom McCarthy’s investigative journalism saga, Spotlight, took the big win.
Critics had been high on the film ever since its premiere, and the trailer, marketed as a thrilling, tense look at the team responsible for cracking the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal in Boston had me intrigued. Upon leaving the theater, however, I couldn’t help but question why people felt so strongly about what amounted, to me, to a bit of a slog.
Spotlight is well-acted by a great ensemble, sure, but it tackles important, interesting subject matter…in an increasingly uninteresting way. The journalistic strategies in the film feel authentic, but consistent ominous threats about the Catholic Church’s blowback to their efforts never amount to any sort of real confrontation. And yet that narrative lack is undermined by long, obvious shots of looming church steeples, omnipresent throughout the journalists’ investigation. We get it: Boston is extremely Catholic, everyone knows a priest, the church is powerful in the community and not to be meddled with. Ultimately, however, there is nothing surprising about the case being investigated because it came out years ago. And while there is much to admire about the film other than its plot mechanics, I struggle to reconcile a narrative built around building a journalistic narrative when there is a significant lack of conflict or tension around the issues being discussed.
Spotlight is fine. Its narrow focus is intriguing. Its ability to renew interest in an all-too-often overlooked epidemic of sexual trauma is admirable. But this is officially the first time that my least favorite film of the best picture nominees – let’s not get started on all the films that should have been in the category (looking at you Creed and Straight Outta Compton) – has ever won. Justice for Carol!
RuPaul Crowned a New Drag Superstar
And her name was Bob.
Bob the Drag Queen to be exact. And she’s a queen for the people: loud, brash, and sometimes obnoxious, to be sure, but ultimately an extremely relatable, funny, down-to-earth gal with a razor-sharp wit.
Did Mama Ru come to entertain this year? After last season’s missteps, namely poor casting leading to a lackluster final three, she certainly turned up the volume by featuring an extremely diverse group of queens with a variety of different skill sets. Look queens like Kim Chi – an incredible Korean-American makeup artist – vied for the crown opposite a Britney Spears impersonator, a grungy, dreadlocked queen from Brooklyn, and a 21-year-old, leggy fashion glamazon.
Unfortunately, for this viewer, Bob, the ultimate victor, paled in comparison to one other contestant: miss Chi Chi Devayne. A southern dynamo with an irresistible Louisiana twang, Chi Chi brought a level-headed sense of reality to the competition, recounting her time committing violence on the street in a gang and consistently turning trash into treasure with her “cheap queen” mentality. She excelled at lip syncs (and admittedly had to rescue herself from elimination multiple times), dance challenges, and even comedy, and yet, she was eliminated on the cusp of the finale, in what seemed, to me at least, a poorly written denouement.
Check out her epic lip sync to “And I Am Telling You” opposite Thorgy Thor (another favorite this season) and try and tell me she isn’t one fierce competitor!
You can’t win ’em all, though, and Bob, the clear, runaway of the season, was a deserving runner-up in my book.
Surely that can’t be it. There’s so much more to say. What is my favorite film of 2016 thus far? What fall releases am I most looking forward to? You’ll have to wait and find out.
All I can say is that I’m happy to be back, and I think you’ll be reading a lot more from me very soon…