Thursday, January 10, 2019

Movie Dearest's Top 10 of 2018


Movie Dearest creator Kirby Holt names his favorite films of 2018.

One thing that can't be said about 2018 is that there was a shortage of good movies. The following are my Top 10 favorite films of the year, a globe-spanning collection that incidentally features a preponderance of strong female protagonists, starting with...

1. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
I'm not sure what I would have said if I was told a year ago that my top movie of this year would be a true story about a bitter, washed-up author who forges literary artifacts and sells them with the help of her flaky gay friend. But then I wouldn't have known how finely-crafted (by director Marielle Heller), sharply written (by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, based on the memoir by said bitter, washed-up author, Lee Israel) and transformatively performed (by Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant) it truly would be.

2. Leave No Trace
Debra Granik's quiet, simple tale of a PTSD-stricken Iraq War vet (a never-been-better Ben Foster) and his devoted young daughter (stunningly natural newcomer Thomasin McKenzie) and their at-times perilous trek to find him peace and her security is simultaneously heart-breaking, heart-warming and, ultimately, haunting.

3. Hereditary
With his hit feature debut, writer/director Ari Aster gave us everything you could ever want in a great horror movie: WTF-worthy twists, gruesome on-screen deaths, pants-wetting moments of pure terror... all that and (not to be spoiler-y) so much more, topped off with a go-for-broke, bravura performance from a fearless Toni Collette.

4. The Guilty
Claustrophobic, taut and intense, this Danish thriller (from another first-time feature director, Gustav Möller) about a disgraced police officer (Jakob Cedergren), working dispatch duty while he awaits a disciplinary hearing for his own sins, gets caught up in a kidnapping case that rapidly, horrifically turns out to be not at all what it seems.

5. Eighth Grade
One can't help but wonder how a male comedian pushing 30 channeled the awkward soul and heart of a modern pre-high school teen girl so well, but Bo Burnham did it (and yes, this is his feature directorial debut as well). Elsie Fisher is nothing short of terrific as our young heroine, with the unsung Josh Hamilton brilliant as her befuddled dad.

6. Shoplifters
As someone whose 'day job' is in retail, I never thought I'd say this: "I love Shoplifters". Hirokazu Koreeda's Palme d'Or winner from Japan centers on a ragtag band of misfits, a 'family' forged on the fringes of society, in a tale that easily could have wallowed in poverty but instead finds joy in the most unlikeliest of places.

7. Three Identical Strangers
A feast for fans of "stranger than fiction" documentaries, filmmaker Tim Wardle tells the amazing but true story of triplet brothers, separated at birth, who reunite by chance years later. Yet their story doesn't end there, with each new shocking revelation making this one of the most "twisted" documentaries in history.

8. Border
With its startling imagery and several disturbing plot points, this grim fairy tale from Sweden will not be for everyone. But I found this to be a fascinating glimpse into an alternate reality where trolls live among humans, yet which one, truly, is the monster? Eva Melander, transformed via some truly impressive makeup effects, is mesmerizing.

9. The Favourite
Chicanery and duplicity run amok in the royal court of Queen Anne of Great Britian in this deliciously catty, visually delirious period piece from director Yorgos Lanthimos. A regal trifecta of great performances from leading ladies Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are the sublime icing on this richest of cakes.

10. Mary Poppins Returns
As the iconic original holds a very special place in my heart, I am happy to report that this belated sequel is as close to "practically perfect" as any follow-up could be, owing a large part of that success to the "supercalifragilistic" Emily Blunt as everyone's favorite high-flying nanny. Can you imagine that, indeed.

Honorable Mentions – The Next 10:
Why stop at just 10? In alphabetical order...

* If Beale Street Could Talk, post-Moonlight Barry Jenkins' styled, sensual adaptation of the James Baldwin novel.

* Isle of the Dogs, the latest loony toon from the insanely original mind of Wes Anderson.

* Love, Cecil and McKellen: Playing the Part, two exceptionally well-made bio-docs about two indelible gay icons from across the pond, photographer/designer Cecil Beaton and actor/activist Ian McKellen.

* A Moment in the Reeds, this Weekend in Finland is just as swoon-worthy and sexy AF.

* Paddington 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet, two family friendly sequels just as lovable and funny as the originals... and with more Hugh Grant and Gal Gadot, respectively.

* Shirkers, another transfixing true life adventure. Shirkers is about the making... and disappearance... of Shirkers, Singapore's first independent film.

* 22 July, Paul Greengrass (United 93) puts you in the middle of another terrifying act of terror, the 2011 Norway attacks, in this harrowing docudrama.

* Upgrade, 2018's best movie you've never heard of, a high tech Death Wish starring future big time movie star Logan Marshall-Green.

Honorable MentionsWhat the heck, here's 10 more: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Crazy Rich Asians, Hearts Beat Loud, Jane Fonda in Five Acts, The Kindergarten Teacher, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Searching, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, A Star Is Born and Vice.

By Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

And the 2018 Dorian Awards Go To...

The Favourite

Alfonso Cuarón for Roma

Olivia Colman in The Favourite

Ethan Hawke in First Reformed

Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Can You Ever Forgive Me?


The Favourite by Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara

Won't You Be My Neighbor?




A Simple Favor


Schitt's Creek

Sandra Oh in Killing Eve

Billy Porter in Pose


Schitt's Creek

Mj Rodriguez, Billy Porter & Our Lady J, "Home" from Pose

RuPaul's Drag Race


Hannah Gadsby

Ryan Murphy

Harvey Fierstein

Presented by GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, the 10th Annual Dorian Awards honor the year's best in film and television. GALECA is comprised of over 200 gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and ally entertainment journalists in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK, including myself and Movie Dearest contributor Chris Carpenter. Click here for the full list of this year's nominees.

Winners will be honored at GALECA’s annual Winners Toast on Saturday January 12th in glamorous Hollywood.

Friday, January 4, 2019

GALECA's Dorian Awards Celebrate Their 10th Anniversary with a Few 'Favourites'

GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics has announced the nominations for their 10th Annual Dorian Awards and the clear favorite is... The Favourite. The lush period piece received eight nominations, tying with last year's big winner Call Me By Your Name as the most-nominated film in Dorian history. Joining it in the Film of the Year category are Can You Ever Forgive Me?, If Beale Street Could Talk, Roma and A Star Is Born.

On the TV side, Killing Eve and Pose netted four nominations each, including TV Drama of the Year, where they are competing against American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, The Handmaid's Tale and Homecoming. TV Comedy of the Year contenders are Barry, GLOW, The Good Place, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Schitt's Creek. See the comments section below for the complete list of nominations.

GALECA (of which Movie Dearest's own Chris Carpenter and myself are long-standing members) will announce the Dorian Award winners in all categories (including this year's recipient of the "Timeless Award" for lifetime achievement) on Tuesday January 8th, followed by a special award presentation ceremony, hosted by pop culture pundit Frank DeCaro, on Saturday January 12th.

For more information about GALECA, you can visit the official website as well as do the social network thing via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Reverend's Preview: Glitz, Glamor, Glenn Close & Gay Movies in Palm Springs


Glenn Close continues to enjoy an impressive career on stage and screen. She is rightly considered a cinema icon after her diverse turns in such films as Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons, The Big Chill, Guardians of the Galaxy, Albert Nobbs, and this year’s acclaimed The Wife. It is therefore most appropriate that she will be honored with the Icon Award at the 2019 Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF), during its 30th anniversary year.

This glamorous annual gala has grown from a fairly small-scale event in the middle of the Southern California desert to one of the three largest film festivals in North America. It was founded by the late Sonny Bono, who served as mayor of Palm Springs for several years. The fest has also become a must-appearance event for each year’s likely Academy Award contenders, including Close.

Other honorees will include actor Rami Malek who will receive the Breakthrough Performance Award for his performance as bisexual Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, and Melissa McCarthy, who will receive the Spotlight Award for her role as a lesbian literary forger in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (one of my favorite movies of 2018) and director Alfonso Cuarón for his autobiographical Roma.

Finally, the Vanguard Award, a group honor distinguishing a film’s cast and director in recognition of their collective work on an exceptional film project, will be awarded to the film Green Book. It’s the story of Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), the world-class African-American pianist about to embark on a concert tour in the Deep South in 1962 and Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), the tough-talking bouncer hired to drive him.

PSIFF attracts over 135,000 attendees each year with its mix of world and US premieres, celebrated international features and acclaimed documentaries. These include a number of films of LGBTQ interest and/or directed by LGBTQ filmmakers. The 2019 event will continue this tradition, with 15 LGBTQ features set to screen.

Making its US debut will be Giant Little Ones, from Canada. I was able to screen this film in advance and found it a refreshing update of standard coming-of-age movie tropes. Written and directed by Keith Behrman, it relates the story of longtime best friends Franky (played by charismatic Josh Wiggins) and Ballas (the very hot Darren Mann). The boys are teammates on their high school’s swim team, and the movie is replete with locker room and body-shaving-in-the-shower scenes. Suffice it to say the actors are older than the characters they are playing, lest one think me a perv.

Franky is intent on losing his virginity to his girlfriend following his 17th birthday party but unexpectedly loses it to Ballas instead. This leads to confusion for Franky and denial on Ballas’ part, which drives a wedge between the boys. This eventually takes a sadly violent turn, but the movie ends on a hopeful note for all concerned.

The film’s principal characters also include Ballas’s knowing sister, Natasha (an excellent Taylor Hickson), who becomes Franky’s ally and eventual girlfriend and Franky’s female-to-male transgender friend, Mouse (humorously yet sensitively played by Niamh Wilson). Giant Little One’s excellent cast also includes name actors Maria Bello (of TV’s NCIS, Prime Suspect and ER fame) as Franky’s mother and Kyle McLachlan (Blue Velvet, Dune and Twin Peaks) as his gay father. The movie also features a cool, club-thumping music score by Michael Brook.

Behrman’s screenplay takes a more fluid “love without labels” approach to Franky’s budding sexuality, which I appreciated. I wish there had been encouraging films like this and 2018’s earlier Love, Simon way back when I was 17-years-old.

Additional Films of LGBTQ Interest:

  • Anchor and Hope (Spain), about the efforts of a bohemian lesbian couple to have a baby with the help of their male best friend. Charlie Chaplin’s progeny Geraldine and Oona Chaplin co-star in this North American premiere.
  • The Angel (Argentina/Spain), in which a 17-year-old youth with movie star swagger becomes a notorious thief. Kind of a same-sex Bonnie and Clyde.
  • Carmen y Lola (Spain), a love story between two gypsy girls.
  • Diamantino (Portugal/France/Brazil). After the world’s premier soccer star loses his special touch, he sets out on an odyssey where he confronts neo-fascism, the refugee crisis, genetic modification and more.
  • Eva and Candela (Colombia), a portrait of two strong, independent women: a female director and a movie star who team up to take on the film industry.
  • Knife+Heart (France/Mexico/Switzerland). French pop star Vanessa Paradis, a.k.a. Johnny Depp’s ex, headlines as a gay porn producer who seeks to win back the affection of her female lover with the help of one of her gay collaborators.
  • Light in the Water (USA) is a documentary set in 1982, soon after the first Gay Games, and focusing on the West Hollywood Swim and Water Polo Club. With Speedos galore!
  • Riot (Australia), a vivid re-telling of what became known as “Australia’s Stonewall” in 1978.
  • Socrates (Brazil), about a 15-year-old boy who must survive on his own in Sao Paulo’s margins, after his mother’s sudden death.

There are far worse places to spend the dead of winter than sunny Palm Springs, even while in a darkened movie theater.

The 30th Anniversary Palm Springs International Film Festival will be held Thursday, January 3 through Monday, January 14 at various locations throughout the Coachella Valley. The Festival Awards Gala, The Palm Springs International Film Festival’s signature showpiece event and fundraiser will be held on Thursday, January 3 at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

For more information about PSIFF 2019 and to purchase passes or tickets, call 800.898.7256 or visit their website.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: LGBTQ Movies & Viewers Taken Seriously in 2018

Comedian-actor Kevin Hart had no sooner agreed to host this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, to be held on February 24th, than he was forced to step down due to pressure over anti-gay jokes and comments he made in the past. This sent a strong message in the middle of Hollywood’s awards season that LGBTQ movies, filmmakers, and viewers are being taken more seriously than ever. It’s about time.

A number of 2018 movies currently nominated or being considered for awards by the Academy, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, movie industry guilds, and critics’ groups have LGBTQ content or other relevance. Most prominent among these are the Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, the true story Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and the somewhat twisted historical epic The Favourite.

British actor Richard E. Grant is enjoying a long-overdue time in the awards spotlight thanks to his enjoyable turn in Can You Ever Forgive Me? Grant has been a familiar face to moviegoers for decades courtesy of his memorable performances in such diverse films as Hudson Hawk, Gosford Park, Logan, Withnail & I, and Spice World. He has already won multiple awards for his latest and is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

Grant plays gay in Can You Ever Forgive Me? opposite Melissa McCarthy, another awards favorite this year. McCarthy incarnates lesbian writer Lee Israel, who began forging letters by such collectible, quotable favorites as Cole Porter, Marlene Dietrich, Fanny Brice, and Dorothy Parker to make ends meet after Israel’s writing career stalled. McCarthy is currently up for the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama as well as a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Although Bohemian Rhapsody divided both critics and LGBTQ moviegoers, most were unanimous that star Rami Malek nailed his role as Freddie Mercury, the late, bisexual leader of famed rock band Queen. He is also a current Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor in a Drama and a SAG nominee for Best Actor in a Leading Role. In fact, all the actors in Bohemian Rhapsody were nominated by SAG as Best Cast in a Motion Picture. This was something of a surprise, since the Best Cast award is essentially SAG’s version of Best Picture, but it bodes well for Malek’s and the film’s Oscar chances. While Bohemian Rhapsody was largely helmed by out director Bryan Singer, he was replaced late in production as a result of sexual abuse allegations against him.

Finally, The Favourite has definitely emerged as an awards season favorite. This history-inspired dramedy involves England’s Queen Anne and two women literally battling for her affections. Actresses Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are equally fantastic in these roles, and all have been equally nominated for Golden Globe and SAG awards. I expect such will be the case with this year’s Academy Award nominations (to be announced on January 22nd) as well.

I also fully expect our reigning LGBTQ goddess, Lady Gaga, to be among the Oscar nominees for Best Actress as a result of her riveting performance in Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star is Born. It will be her first nod for acting but she was previously nominated for Best Original Song. All in all, this Hollywood awards season is shaping up to be the gayest ever!

My Picks for the Best & Worst of 2018:

A number of my fellow critics consider last year so strong cinematically that they have been expanding their traditional top ten lists to include 20 and even 30 films. I won’t go that far, but here are my top 10+ for 2018. As I have occasionally done in the past, I’ve incorporated some additional films I considered equally great and that share similar genres or themes. It was an impressive year for biographies, autobiographies and documentaries in particular.

1) First Man (Universal). Talented director Damien Chazelle, an Oscar winner for 2016’s La La Land, followed up with this equally dazzling but sadly underseen biography of astronaut Neil Armstrong. Ryan Gosling gives an almost meditative performance as the famed first man on the moon, with a very strong turn by British actress Claire Foy as his down-to-earth wife. First Man is grippingly visceral while also unexpectedly emotional in its exploration of marriage, grief and heroism.

2) Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Fox Searchlight). Another enlightening biopic though about more obscure figures. I went in knowing very little about lesbian writer-turned-literary forger Lee Israel (a superb, serious turn by Melissa McCarthy) and her gay collaborator Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). One of the rare, transformative movies where I ended up loving two characters I initially despised. I expect most viewers will come out feeling the same.

3) Tea with the Dames (Sundance Selects) and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Focus Features). These lovely, insightful and even inspiring documentaries about British actresses Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, and Joan Plowright as well as beloved U.S. children’s TV host Fred Rogers, respectively, feel more like sitting in a room relaxing with old friends than watching a movie. Delightful.

4) A Moment in the Reeds (Wild Beast Productions). The best gay love story I’ve seen in several years (sorry, Call Me By Your Name) also deals with potent issues of ethnicity and family. Set in his native Finland, writer-director Mikko Makela weaves a sensual, timely tale. It is also one of the first queer films to be made in Finland.

5) The Favourite (Fox Searchlight) and Vice (Annapurna Pictures). Two powerful yet thoroughly entertaining historical dramas about political machinations and the abuse of power. The Favourite adds lesbian intrigue and fabulously bitchy dialogue to Queen Anne’s 18th-century court, while Vice explores the unexpected rise to power of former US Vice President Dick Cheney (an amazing performance by Christian Bale).

6) Roma (Netflix). Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron’s black and white valentine to his Mexican upbringing and, in particular, the young housekeeper/nanny who helped care for him. It is deeply personal, so sad and joyful in equal measure but beautifully made.

7) Eighth Grade (A24). A devastatingly accurate yet hilarious and ultimately poignant look at early adolescence via one special girl, Kayla. Writer-director Bo Burnham makes an impressive, sensitive feature film debut as does teen actress Elsie Fisher. In the end it will have viewers joyfully proclaiming “Gucci!”

8) Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Paramount Pictures) and Ready Player One (Warner Bros). The two most purely exciting, visually dazzling big-screen adventures of the year. Fallout finds Tom Cruise and his compatriots in great form in their latest series entry, while Steven Spielberg successfully returned to his fantasy roots with the “rad,” 1980’s-referencing Ready Player One.

9) If Beale Street Could Talk and Sorry to Bother You (both from Annapurna Pictures). Out of a significant year for black-themed films and African-American filmmakers (see also Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman), these were the standouts for me. Though very different from one another in time period and tone, they offer bracing glimpses into black people’s relationships and cultural impact then and now.

10) Christopher Robin and Mary Poppins Returns (both from Walt Disney Pictures). Both of these wonderful family films are nostalgic and sentimental in just the right doses. Resurrecting Winnie the Pooh, in CGI form, and the magical “practically perfect” nanny, in Emily Blunt form, proved a masterstroke. There is also a significant amount of gay talent behind the scenes of Mary Poppins Returns, including director-choreographer Rob Marshall plus songwriter-partners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

The worst movie-watching experiences of 2018 for me were downright painful. Here they are in alphabetical rather than dishonorable order:

  • Book Club (Paramount Pictures). Although it was a hit among the 60 and over crowd, this alleged comedy was rarely funny and wasted the talents of its lead quartet of prominent, award-winning actresses: Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, Candice Bergen and Diane Keaton.
  • First Reformed (A24). I’m a religious person as well as a longtime fan of writer-director Paul Schrader but I found his latest spiritual odyssey bewildering and distasteful, despite a fine soul-searching performance by Ethan Hawke.
  • Halloween (Universal Pictures). A completely unnecessary sequel to/reboot of the original 1978 horror classic. I was surprised by how well both fellow critics and audiences took to this thoroughly predictable, non-innovative piece of schlock.
  • Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (Universal Pictures). Not even Cher could enliven another unnecessary, strained sequel for which, to my knowledge, not even gay ABBA fans were clamoring.
  • Pacific Rim: Uprising (Universal Pictures, again!) I really liked the first entry in this wannabe sci-fi series but this weak sequel full of uninteresting, stock characters likely killed off any further kaiju vs. giant robot spectacles.

By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.