Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson best known for the 2011 comedy A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, Isn’t It Romantic is a very creative romantic comedy that satirizes the genre itself and is helped by a well-written script and a charismatic performance given by comedic actress Rebel Wilson. The story follows an Australian architect living in New York City named Natalie, played by Rebel Wilson who is best known for her role in the Pitch Perfect film series, who is disappointed in her life as a disrespected architect and tells her assistant Whitney, played by Betty Gilpin, how much she despises romantic comedies as unrealistic. However, she does not realize that her best male friend Josh, played by Adam DeVine who is often in movies with Rebel Wilson, actually likes her more than just a friend. Her life changes after she hits her head in the subway and wakes up to the realization that she is in a PG-13 romantic comedy in which life seems perfect. Horrified by the prospect of being stuck in such an fake world, Natalie believes the only way to escape this alternate reality is to fall in love just like in a romantic comedy. A very handsome and wealthy Australian man who was a mean client in the real world named Blake, played by Liam Hemsworth, begins to fall in love with Natalie and treats her like a princess stereotypical of a romantic comedy. There are several scenes which are highly effective in making fun of romantic comedies, especially a sequence in which you wakes up in the morning with Blake but never experiences the sex because it is a PG-13 romantic comedy world. Also bizarrely, her best friend Josh begins a whirlwind romance with a beautiful supermodel named Isabella, played by Priyanka Chopra. With their quick engagement, Natalie realizes that she may in fact be in love with Josh even in the real world and sees that he has affection for her too. The major theme that comes across eventually is that Natalie must love herself in order to live in an enjoyable life. Overall, I found it to be an entertaining light-hearted film that uses the innovative twist of poking fun at romantic comedies to craft a wholly unique comedy headlined by the perfectly comedic Rebel Wilson.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez best known for 2005’s Sin City and produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau best known for 1997’s Titanic and 2009’s Avatar, Alita: Battle Angel is a fairly underwhelming science fiction film that has visually stunning special effects and CGI but is bogged down by an uninspired and formulaic script. Set several hundred years in the future when Earth has been devastated from an alien attack, the film follows the powerful warrior cyborg Alita, played by Rose Salazar, who is discovered by the scientist Dr. Dyson Ido, played by two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz. He adopts her like his daughter who died years ago and unintentionally allows her to be discovered by the malevolent leaders of the city of Zalem which hovers above Iron City and is forbidden for anyone from the Iron City to enter. As she is pursued by the powerful Iron City businessman Vector, played by Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, and his associate Dr. Chiren, played by Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly, Alita falls in love with a human named Hugo who introduces her to the extremely popular sport of Motorball. Against the wishes of Ido, she decides to become a legal bounty hunter known as a Hunter-Warrior and try out to become a competitor in Motorball. With increasing CGI violence in which Alita skillfully fights off cyborgs and robotically enhanced humans, the influences of Japanese manga, which the film is based upon, and Asian martial arts become readily apparent, contributing to the movie’s unique cinematic style and aesthetic. Overall, despite the advanced use of CGI, I found it to be less of a fully fleshed-out movie that rises above the rest of the sci-fi genre and more of a way to set up for commercial success that it will obviously try to take advantage of with sequels. Furthermore, I often felt myself distracted from the story as a result of the visuals bordering on the uncanny valley in which the attempt at realism does not necessarily work effectively; on a similar note, I found the extremely large eyes of Alita to be often absurd and unnecessary.
Directed by Oscar-winning Polish filmmaker Paweł Pawlikowski best known for 2013’s critically acclaimed Ida, Cold War is a breathtaking romance drama that is truly remarkable for its beautiful black-and-white cinematography and outstanding lead actors who give brilliant performances as star-crossed lovers. Based on the lives of the director’s own parents, the relatively short film with mostly Polish dialogue follows the heated and complex romantic relationship between two Polish citizens, the musician and composer Wiktor, played by the terrific Tomasz Kot, and the beautiful singer Zula, played by the seductive Joanna Kulig. We first meet them in the years following World War II in the ruins of communist Poland when they are part of a traveling folk music group that later espouses the virtues of communism throughout Eastern Europe and Russia. After their romance begins behind the Iron Curtain, we follow them as individuals who get separated and reunited several times across several European countries over the course of four decades concluding in the late 1960s. Wiktor eventually escapes Poland and lives for a while in Paris as a struggling musician working in nightclubs but never really feels happy after Zula decides to remain back home in Poland. With brilliantly subtle directorial vision, the audience is able to feel the passionate and emotionally powerful romantic interactions between the two as they are reunited several times throughout the course of the plot. Furthermore, the filmmaker makes the perfect decision to make the film black-and-white with the older boxy proportions to vividly express the difficulties of those living in the rather bleak and the confining communist countries during the Cold War. At the same time, the movie depicts a truly beautiful love story with a contemporary jazz soundtrack for the times and astounding cinematography that helps bring to life both the dark and light of both sides of the Iron Curtain. Overall, I found it to be one of the most beautiful romantic movies in recent memory as a result of the first-rate acting performances and contemplative directing and cinematography, and it is thereby highly deserving of the Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director, and Best Cinematography.
Directed by Barry Jenkins who is best known for the Academy Award-winning 2016 movie Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautifully shot and emotionally intimate independent drama that quite effectively critiques the American criminal justice system and racial injustice. Set in the 1970s in predominantly African American Harlem, the plot revolves around a heartbreaking love story between Tish, played by brilliant newcomer KiKi Layne, and Fonny, played by the terrific Stephan James, two young black people who find themselves in tragic circumstances the result of the color of their skin. It is a rather straightforward story but one that elicits a powerful response from the audience, primarily as a result of the outstanding acting performances and craftsmanship of the filmmaker. Resembling Jenkins’ unique narrative structure used in Moonlight, the movie takes a non-linear approach to telling the deeply personal account of Tish and Fonny’s beautiful romance that flourishes despite the adversities that they must overcome. After showing glimpses of the racism that they experience on a daily basis, Fonny is confronted head-on by institutional racism and the flawed criminal justice system after he is arrested for a crime he did not commit. At the same time she has to deal with her fiancé being falsely imprisoned, Tish discovers she is pregnant with Fonny’s child and faces the harsh reality that she may have to raise their child by herself. In a particularly poignant and heart-wrenching sequence, Tish fearfully tells her family about her pregnancy and is somewhat surprised by the level of support given by her parents, but things began to go awry when she tells Fonny’s parents. Her sympathetic and strong mother Sharon, played by the excellent Regina King who won a Golden Globe for her role, has to defend her own daughter against the extremely vicious mother of Fonny who renounces the out-of-wedlock baby as a product of sin. The film’s potency to really capture the racism and injustice felt by the characters is also derived from the source material, the 1974 novel of the same name written by the acclaimed African American author and activist James Baldwin. Overall, I found it to be one of the more emotionally impactful movies, remarkable for capturing the personal side effects of systemic racism and the closely related broken judicial system that unfortunately continues even in today’s modern society.
The third remake of the original 1937 movie of the same name later made into a 1954 version starring Judy Garland and most recently a 1976 version starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, A Star is Born is a terrifically well-made movie remarkable for Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut and the breakthrough acting performance of Lady Gaga. The updated story follows hugely successful yet troubled country singer Jackson Maine, played by Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper, who makes a surprising discovery at a drag bar following one of his concerts of a new talented singer named Ally, played by pop superstar Lady Gaga in her dazzling acting debut. Over time, Jackson encourages her to perform her own songs that she has written over the years, despite her misgivings over her appearance, and she becomes a musical star in her own right. As she rapidly rises to fame, the wild Jackson suffering from debilitating substance abuse begins to fall in love with Ally, but he starts to get jealous of her newfound stardom after she signs with a record label with a new cutthroat manager. Jackson’s much older brother and manager Bobby, played by the gravelly voiced Golden Globe nominee Sam Elliott, is especially worried about Jackson and cautions Ally that he can sometimes go out of control. Along his tumultuous journey and her rocketing success, Jackson runs into his old friend played by Dave Chappelle as well as having a tense relationship with Ally’s father played by Andrew Dice Clay. With the help of Ally, he realizes that he must do something to turn his life around and accept Ally’s successful career. Although it is an age-old story of fame and romance, the film is able to set itself apart from its predecessors by presenting a story relevant to today’s culture at the same time providing magnificant firsts, for first-time director Bradley Cooper and first-time actress Lady Gaga. Furthermore, I was particularly struck by the terrific performance of Sam Elliott who provides an heartfelt anchor to the storyline and a veteran quality to the movie. Overall, I found it to be an excellently heartbreaking and enjoyable cinematic experience that incisively explores the complexities of fame and pays great homage to the music industry.
Based on the 2013 best-selling novel of the same name written by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians is a terrific romantic comedy that transcends the stereotypes of the genre as a result of its talented diverse all Asian cast and its spectacular setting and visuals. The plot follows the romance between a beautiful young NYU economics professor Rachel Chu, played by Constance Wu best known for her role on the ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, and a handsome man from Singapore named Nick Young, played by Malaysian British model and television host Henry Golding. He invites her to join him for a friend’s wedding in Singapore where she will also meet his extensive family. Unbeknownst to Rachel, she quickly discovers that her boyfriend comes from an extremely wealthy Singapore real estate development family. She experiences difficulties relating to the large family that can be quite demanding and snobbish, especially Nick’s intimidating mother Eleanor, played by critically acclaimed Malaysian Chinese actress Michelle Yeoh best known for her role in 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Although Nick tries to relieve some of the stress, Rachel as the daughter of a working-class single mother in New York struggles with keeping up appearances and staying with Nick who is pressured to marry one of his own. Over the course of the film, she encounters an eccentric cast of characters, including her hilarious college friend played by comedian Awkwafina, her friend’s ostentatious father played by Ken Jeong best known for his breakout role in The Hangover franchise, Nick’s spoiled cousin played by The Daily Show’s Ronny Chieng, and a truly obnoxious family friend of Nick played by Jimmy O. Yang from HBO’s Silicon Valley. The highly entertaining and often funny as well as several occasionally highly dramatic scenes are set against the beautiful backdrop of the glamorous city of Singapore and the over-the-top wedding festivities that could only be put on by one of the world’s richest families. It is very much a fish out of water story about a whirlwind romance and the complicated family relationships involved with a couple of such different backgrounds. Overall, I found it to be one of the best romantic comedies in years that was filled to the brim with lighthearted and heartwarming moments of laughter and dramatics.
Based on the 2007 novel of the same name written by critically acclaimed British author Ian McEwan who also wrote the novel that was adapted into the Academy Award-winning 2007 film Atonement, On Chesil Beach is a beautifully shot and acted British drama that explores a young couple’s romance and sexuality shortly following their marriage. Set on their wedding night in the summer of 1962 at their honeymoon hotel and the nearby spectacular Chesil Beach located on the southern coast of Dorset, England, the movie follows the love story of Florence, played by Academy Award-nominated actress Saoirse Ronan, and Edward, played by up-and-coming actor Billy Howle. Following a rather slow pace imitating their gradual romance over the years, the story is mostly told through a series of flashbacks to the pivotal moments in their courtship through the past several years. Like Florence, Edward is shown as a young accomplished student who studies at Oxford and has great ambitions in life. Despite overcoming several challenges while dating, including Edward’s mother’s grave mental health, their inexperience with physical intimacy as virgins in their early twenties poses a crucial problem on their honeymoon as they are about to consummate their marriage. They have drawn-out arguments over the course of the night as Florence tries to grapple with her awkward fear of sex even with her true love Edward who is eager for intimacy. As the characters have deeply philosophical dialogue about love and sex, the filmmaker uses evocative cinematography with sweeping shots of the famous beach to convey a tender yet heartbreaking story. Overall, I found it to be a particularly well-made film that felt like a typically British drama complete with outstanding emotional acting performances and a somber story with great heart.
Directed by Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio who just who won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for 2017’s A Fantastic Woman, Disobedience is an emotionally evocative drama exploring the complex intersectionality of love and religion and is anchored by terrific acting performances. The plot follows the return of an ostracized photographer living in New York named Ronit, played by the always brilliant Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz, to her strict Orthodox Jewish community in London after the death of her father who was the beloved rabbi and leader. Neither really wanting to be there or being welcomed back by the close-knit religiously conservative community, she must confront the very reasons she was forced to leave the group and grapple with the repercussions. She is shocked to learn that one of her former best friends Dovid, played by Alessandro Nivola in a standout performance, who is the heir apparent to her father, is married to Esti, played by Oscar-nominated actress Rachel McAdams. It is later revealed that Ronit and Esti were engaged in a sexually intimate relationship that was discovered and resulted in Ronit’s banishment. Involved in such an obviously grevious sinful act as homosexuality among the Orthodox, the now liberalized Ronit is never completely recognized by the community and is feared because of her tainted reputation. The somber and repressed Esti tries to hide her affection for Ronit, but, ultimately, she cannot deny her desires and acts out on her sexuality with Ronit despite the high costs, including affecting her husband and his status as the possible lead rabbi. The filmmaker does a remarkable job of showing what life must be like living in an insular Orthodox Jewish or any other conservative religious group and how the traditional rules and norms impact the individual. It vividly portrays the anguish and suffering of the two lead female characters who must deal with their frowned-upon love for one another. Overall, I found it to be a truly exceptional film with top-notch acting performances that brought to life the struggles of living in a extremely conservative community that has heartbreaking results for those involved in forbidden love.
Directed by Richard Loncraine who is best known for romantic comedies and 2006’s thriller Firewall, Finding Your Feet is the quintessential British romantic comedy revolving around a group of senior citizens looking for joy and love and is brought to life by the highly talented cast. We first meet one of the protagonists Sandra Abbott, played by Oscar-nominated actress Imelda Staunton, after she discovers that her husband of many years has been cheating on her with her best friend. She moves out of her wealthy enclave to go to London and stay with her older sister Bif, played by Celia Imrie best known for 2012’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Unlike Sandra, Bif is very much a free spirit who is happy to live a modest life in a crowded inner-city apartment and has a group of eccentric friends who all take a dance class at the local community center. Eventually, Sandra is convinced to participate in the dance class in order to get over her pending divorce and reconnect to others her age and outside her comfort zone. Through a series of charming scenes marked by typically dry British humor, she meets Bif’s friends and dance classmates, including the down-to-earth and delightful Charlie, played by acclaimed British actor Timothy Spall, the jovial Ted, played by David Hayman, and the flirtatious Jackie, played by comedic actress Joanna Lumley. The romantic part of the movie comes into play as Sandra begins to fall in love with Charlie; at that very moment, Sandra evolves from being preoccupied with wealth and social status to falling for a man who has very little wealth and lives on a river barge in London. Their romance is complicated by unforeseen circumstances, including Sandra’s husband trying to make amends and Charlie’s past love life. Although much of the movie is an innocent feel-good movie, there are some sentimental moments in which life is brought down to earth through the universal aspects of aging, including grief and loss of loved ones. Overall, I found it to be a delightful British film filled with witty innocent humor and a realistic pinch of bittersweet emotions that is elevated by a terrific cast of characters.
Nominated for the 2018 Oscar for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay, Call Me by Your Name is a beautifully crafted film flowing with powerful emotions about forbidden love between a teenager and a young graduate student during the summer of 1983 in the Italian countryside. Elio Perlman, played wonderfully by Timothée Chalamet who is nominated for an Oscar for his performance, is a seventeen-year-old Jewish American-Italian who lives in a rural Italian villa during the summers with his Italian mother and American father who is an archaeology professor, played by the always terrific Golden Globe nominee Michael Stuhlbarg. A very bright young man, Elio spends most of his time alone idyllically reading books and transcribing classical music until the arrival of American graduate student Oliver, played by Armie Hammer who was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance, who lives with the family for six weeks to help Professor Perlman with his academic work. While in a quasi-romantic relationship with a girl his age named Marzia, Elio is still exploring his love life and embarks on a journey of self-discovery as he becomes closer and closer to the older and handsome Oliver. Initially, the two are rather distant, but, over the course of the slow yet mesmerizing plotline, they begin to fall in love as they leisurely spend time together cycling through the countryside or swimming while engaged in intellectual conversations. Although at first he is somewhat confused by his emotions and homosexual attraction to Oliver, the remarkably mature Elio embraces his romantic and sexual desires by subtly making advances on the carefree and flirtatious Oliver. Through the use of gorgeous cinematography, beautifully subdued music, and immersion in very emotional moments, the acclaimed Italian director Luca Guadagnino expertly portrays an evocative romance, complete with the typical ups and downs experienced by any heterosexual couple. In one of the most poignant scenes, Elio’s compassionate father tries to comfort Elio as he grapples with the heartbreak of the inevitable conclusion to his time with Oliver as Oliver returns home where it would be extremely difficult to continue their amorous relationship. His father displays a complete understanding of Elio’s touching romance with another man and tells him that he too experienced pain over forbidden love. His advice to his son is to cherish the fact that he was lucky enough to share such great joy with Oliver. Overall, I found it to be a truly remarkable movie made possible by stellar acting performances and a heartwarming story with a powerful message about love set against the breathtaking beauty of Italy.