Year End Content 2021

This is a bit late because I got to distracted by other things and neglected to make the poster collage thing until the last minute.  Hopefully this means I’ll finally be able to get to the 2022 stuff.

The 2021 Golden Stakes

2021 Top Ten


The Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts – 2021 (2/26/2022)

For six years running I’ve made something of a tradition of going to see the Oscar Nominated Shorts program toured by ShortsTV and doing a write up, but man, I’m conflicted this year.  Hopefully this gets reversed and undone by the time this posts, but four days before this round of shorts opened theatrically the Academy announced that they were planning to cut the live presentation of eight major categories from their broadcast including all three shorts categories.  I don’t have the time or space here to express how outraged I am about this, I’ve probably tested the patience of my Twitter followers with the sheer volume of anger I’ve tweeted and retweeted as a result of this.  To me it’s an absolute betrayal of everything The Academy claimed it stood for and I’m almost embarrassed to spent as much time talking about them as I have and if they go through with this I may well make a concerted effort to stop giving them as much free press going forward.  Still, hope springs eternal that they come to their senses in the next month, and of course it would be a bit odd to give these shorts less coverage to punish the Academy for giving them less coverage so for the time being I will continue this little tradition.

As always, please note that when talking about movies with running times like this even talking about small plot points can be bigger spoilers than they would be when talking about longer works, so if you’re interested in actually watching these maybe be careful about reading.

On My Mind

The first, and by far lightest short on the program is the Danish short On My Mind, and given that it deals with a grieving man turning to alcohol to ease the pain that’s perhaps saying something about what’s to come.  The film begins with a large bearded man walking into a mostly empty bar shortly after it opens and ordering a triple whiskey which he gulps down.  The bar tender and the owner aren’t quite sure what to make of him and as he’s stumbling out he notices the bar has a karaoke machine and asks them to turn it on even though it’s not karaoke night.  The owner, who’s trying to do the books at that time, doesn’t want to but is convinced when the man hands him a 500 Krone note.  The guy then asks the bartender to film him with a cell phone as he does a recitation of the pop standard “You Were Always on My Mind” but keeps getting interrupted.  The guy is not much of a singer but you come to realize that what he’s doing is very meaningful to him and is for a pretty serious purpose.  The song at the center of all this is well chosen and is a pretty good reminder of how great a song it is even if this dude is no Elvis, but obviously the emotional story here is supposed to be the important thing here rather than the music.  I do think the movie takes a step a bit too far into the mawkish with its very final image, but otherwise this is a nice if perhaps not overly memorable little short.


Its Oscar Chances: Quite low.  Interestingly this was directed by a guy named Martin Strange-Hansen, who actually won in this category way back in 2002 for a short called This Charming Man (also named after a song?) but this year his short just doesn’t have the flash or memorability to really stand out and is the only of the five to not address some sort of social or political issue.

Please Hold

The second short is one of two English language shorts in this package and the sole American nominee.  It presents a dystopian science fiction vision of a fully privatized and largely automated criminal justice system.  It begins with a man named Mateo having a police drone fly up to him and tell him he’s under arrest (it instructs him to put handcuffs on himself and says “non-lethal force” will be applied if he doesn’t.  It then sends an automated car to take him to an isolated prison cell with a computer monitor and touchscreen.  The computer never once tells him what he’s charged with, instead only providing him an A.I. public defender that’s completely useless and a variety of ads for expensive non-A.I. lawyers who are presented to him in the form of advertisements.  I won’t give away too much more, but clearly the film is trying to present some of the unfair aspects of the modern criminal justice system and extended them to absurd Kafkaesque scale while also skewering several of the most annoying aspects of technological automation like fine print in terms of service agreements and automated interfaces that have all the hallmarks of terrible customer service lines.  Of course there’s a lot about this vision that is not reflective of the current system.  For one, the principal of habeas corpus does not seem to be present at all in this system: there’s not speedy arraignment and there isn’t even discussion of cash bail, both of which would solve a lot of this guy’s problems and which are both shortcomings that the current system is not really guilty of exactly.  Still, as a cautionary tale about what’s at stake with dehumanizing technology and as a reflection of how unfair the system can be in the abstract the film does have some pretty blunt allegorical power.


It’s Oscar Chances: I’d say very high.  The film is fairly comparable to last year’s winner Two Distant Strangers, which also took a somewhat high concept and darkly satirical approach to a pretty serious set of issues, though that one had Netflix behind it and was made by people with deeper industry connections.

The Dress

The third short hails from Poland and from a filmmaking and concept perspective it’s probably the one I found the least interesting.  The film follows a woman in her early thirties named Julka who’s afflicted with dwarfism and who works at a cheap motel/truckstop and who generally seems to be having a rough go at life.  A glimmer of hope does shine through, however, when she gets a date with a truck driver who seems interesting.  In anticipation Julka looks for a dress to wear to this meeting, but getting attractive clothing that comes in her size is always a challenge.  The eventual date goes well, until it very much doesn’t.  Ultimately this isn’t really a romance so much as a character study, but I’m not sure it ever really probes this character as much as it thinks it does.  The film does a good job of establishing setting as working for this hotel does indeed look miserable but despite being a thirty minute short I feel like a good five minutes could have been cut from this thing, which is a sixth of its running time, and it also doesn’t really know how to begin or end.


Its Oscar Chances: Can’t see this happening.  It’s a rather depressing short and not in a good way and it doesn’t have any kind of real filmmaking hook to make it stand out outside of Anna Dzieduszycka’s performance in the lead.  The deck is definitely stacked against this one.

The Long Goodbye

The fourth short is by far the one that’s been given the most press simply for the fact that it features a legit movie star: Riz Ahmed.  Ahmed apparently has a side hustle as a UK rapper and put out an album called “The Long Goodbye” last year which is a rather angry piece of work about Brexit and the rise of the far right in the UK and uses a divorce metaphor to express a feeling that the country no longer wants its immigrant population.  This short film was essentially made as a thirteen minute promotional clip for the album, which would have been nice to know before I watched it.  In the short Ahmed plays a typical UK citizen (maybe himself?) as they go through a routine suburban morning when suddenly they see vans pull up outside their home and then brownshirt types working with the police burst into their house, round up the whole family, then summarily execute them in the street… then after they’ve left Ahmed stands up and starts angrily rapping a Capella directly to the camera.  That song being recited at the end is called “Where You From,” the tenth track from the “The Long Goodbye” album that acts as something of a monologue about how disrespectful it is to ask a brown person where they’re “really from.”  I don’t think it’s the same recording that’s on the album, it’s recited with more anger and intensity here, but both are around two minutes and recited without musical accompaniment and have a certain slam poetry element to them.  Knowing now about Ahmed’s rap career and the context of that album this short makes a little more sense to me but I would say I was pretty confused watching it as the fourth film in a program of what are otherwise longer narrative pieces while this is kind of a music video.  As a piece unto itself, I would say that the intensity and fear of this raid is well executed in the video but it does seem a little odd to pair straight up genocide imagery with a song that’s essentially commenting on a micro-aggression and the whole thing is slightly derivative of M.I.A.’s “Born Free” video, which features a similar if slightly more metaphorical concept.


It’s Oscar Chances: Very high, but not as high as I thought before watching it.  The celebrity connection is no small thing and if Ahmed has a lot of connections that alone could be enough to sway the race.  However, if people actually watch the shorts they may find this as jarring as I did and its status as a music video of sorts could well work against it.

Ala Kachuu – Take and Run

The final short in this package is the longest at thirty eight minutes, which is just two minutes below the forty minute threshold for what can be considered a short, but I think it earns that extra time.  Officially this movie is Swiss, but it’s actually set entirely in the West Asian country of Kyrgyzstan and does not paint a terribly flattering portrait of that nation.  The film focuses on a woman named Sezim who has just passed an SAT type exam and is learning to drive in hopes of getting a scholarship to study in the capital.  Then she’s kidnapped by three men, driven out to a remote village and forced to marry her kidnapper.  From there she’s essentially meant to be his housewife despite her strenuous objections and when her parents learn what’s happened they do nothing to save her and tacitly approve.  This is a cultural practice called bridal kidnapping or as it’s called in Kyrgyzstan “Ala Kachuu” which translates to “take and run,” and the extent of how common it is today appears to be a matter of much controversy, but few people dispute that it does exist to at least some extent.  I’ll admit that I had no real knowledge of this, so if the film’s goal is to spread awareness, mission accomplished.  The film appears to have been made with unknowledgeable people like myself in mind and really wants to give you a certain sense of shock value for the audience once this kidnapping happens and it really puts you into this woman’s mindset as she finds herself stuck in this situation.  I will say there is probably always some reason to be slightly weary about white people making art about “backwards” foreign practices, so I would not necessarily watch this as a documentary on this subject unto itself, however, as a human story it is very affecting and uses the short film timespan perfectly.


Its Oscar Chances: Probably lower than I want.  In my eyes this is the best of the five but it’s become increasingly clear to me as of late that English language shorts have a massive advantage in this category.  I will say that if “Please Hold” and “The Long Goodbye” somehow cancel each other out this one more than likely has the best shot of the three alternatives.

Final Thoughts:  Kind of an odd assortment overall.  In terms of quality I’d say this is about on par with what I normally expect year to year, certainly an improvement over last year’s rather underwhelming roster.  Lots of grim material, but that’s somewhat expected from this category and compared to the legendarily grim 2018 lineup this is almost sunny (somehow it’s the animated shorts that are “shocking” this year).  In terms of predictions I’ve come to be rather cynical about this category as I often watch them and get it in my head that they’ll go with whatever my favorite was only to see them just go for the one that’s in English.  There are two of those this year and most people are predicting The Long Goodbye because of Riz Ahmed, though I do wonder how many of them have actually watched it.  Celebrity actors aren’t always everything in this (one of the losing shorts last year starred Oscar Isaac, and Riz Ahmed is no Oscar Isaac) but it might matter more here.  If they actually watch the two shorts I think Please Hold would actually have the edge… then again if they actually watch them I’d think Ala Kachuu – Take and Run would win and I’m not going to trick myself into thinking that will actually happen.


On February 6th 2004 I went to see a small independent film that had recently opened at a multiplex I tended to go to because I could easily get to it by bus.  I would have been about fifteen or sixteen at the time and had been a film buff for a while but wasn’t really regularly going to the local arthouses at the time and mostly only went to smaller movies when they crossed over to “regular” theaters.  That movie was called The Station Agent, and it was something of a “little movie that could” and had gotten some nominations from the guilds and the Independent Spirit Awards, which was probably why it was playing at this theater.  In retrospect this movie was a starting point for a lot of people who would become big talents.  It was Todd McCarthy’s debut film and was also a prominent early role for Bobby Cannavale but the person it most prominently introduced me to was of course its star Peter Dinklage.  I wouldn’t say The Station Agent was one of my favorite movies but I did like it a lot and every time Dinklage would show up with something like Find Me Guilty I’d think “whoa, it’s the dude from The Station Agent, good for him.”  Then in 2011 Dinklage got the role that would bring him to the attention not just of film buffs who pay attention to small movies and bit players and to the masses at large: that of Tyrion Lannister on the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”  His work on that show would win him four Emmys and make him close to a household name and give him work in some pretty prominent films, but still, usually just as a supporting  actor or co-star.  But now, in 2021 he’s finally been given a starring role in a big awards contender: a new musical adaptation of a classic tale called simply Cyrano.

The story of “Cyrano” should be familiar… or then again maybe it isn’t.  Like most version of the story this is an adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play about the life of the 17th Century warrior poet Cyrano de Bergerac, who is of course played here by Dinklage.  Traditionally de Bergerac is depicted as a confident swordsman who is nonetheless self-conscious about his large nose and his looks in general and is thus unwilling to confess his love for his childhood friend Roxane (Haley Bennett).  Here of course that central body issue has been switched from a long nose to dwarfism.  So, perhaps out of a desire to selflessly make her happy or perhaps out of a desire to catch her on the rebound he decides to help the man Roxane does have a crush on after “falling in love” with him on first sight, a younger soldier in de Bergerac’s military division named Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) who is good hearted and attractive but is clumsy with his words by writing some love letters for him to sign his own name to and send to Roxane.  However, both are going to compete for her affection with a nobleman named De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn), who is a possessive asshole but who is very rich and who would be the “match” made for her under the traditional strictures of semi-arranged marriages of the day.

Edmond Rostand’s play was in rhymed verse in its original French version, something that sometimes is and sometimes isn’t retained when it’s translated into English.  The dialogue here is primarily in prose and is calibrated to be very contemporary and understandable, almost to the point of being anachronistic.  In place of the verse however the film has added songs that were previously composed for a Broadway adaptation that Peter Dinklage also starred in.  Rather than being composed by a traditional musical writer they were written by Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Matt Berninger, and Carin Besser, three of whom were members of the indie rock band The National and Besser has worked with them as well.  I’m not a huge fan of The National but I do know their sound, which is kind of a bar band blues with a touch of folk and punk and they aren’t necessarily the most obvious choice for a romantic musical set in 17th century France.  The music here doesn’t sound exactly like their usual work, it’s certainly not what I’d call rock and roll, rather it’s orchestrated in much the way you’d expect from a musical but the songwriting does not scream “Broadway” and is instead more of a series of ballads and you can kind of hear some of that The National songwriting beneath the surface.  Peter Dinklage is not primarily a singer but does keep up here and it probably helps that he sings with a very specific type of baritone that’s different from what you usually hear form the stars of musicals but is not dissimilar from Matt Berninger’s, which may well be why The National was brought in to write the songs in the first place.

The film was directed by Joe Wright, a filmmaker whose been fairly prominent in the last twenty years but who’s style I’ve never quite been able to put a finger on until now.  I guess he’s kind of a successor to Kenneth Branagh: a British filmmaker who has some interest in making commercial genre films but who’s at his best when he’s adapting classic and contemporary works of literature.  His early films like his 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was fairly straightforward and so was his follow-up Atonement but that film had this stand-out long single shot (from before those became cliché) which pointed to things to come.  As he got bolder his trick for making period pieces was to go pretty maximalist; he won’t turn things all the way up to eleven like Baz Luhrmann would but he will turn it up to an eight or a nine while most people would only turn it up to a six or a seven and that’s certainly the case with Cyrano.  Wright certainly isn’t afraid of anachronism in his casting and is happy to let some theatrical elements of the original production stand on screen.  Obviously he’s also staging these musical numbers which are perhaps a little more restrained than in some other musicals but which do incorporate some mass dance sequences.

Of course it’s Dinklage’s performance that this film will likely be remembered for and he’s quite good.  I wouldn’t say it’s his absolute best work but he manages to have that signature “panache” during Cyrano’s more confident moments but also makes a believable transition into Cyrano the bumbling simp when Roxanne shows up.  I would say that the rest of the film’s cast, while good, is perhaps a bit undercooked.  Kelvin Harrison Jr. is cool as Christian but I must say that Haley Bennett does not quite have the star power to really feel like someone who’s going to have this many men absolutely losing their shit over her.  Don’t get me wrong, Bennett is a beautiful woman but a more familiar face in that role might have added that certain something to make this all gel a bit more.  I would also say that there’s a certain melodrama to Edmond Rostand’s original play that carries over to this which may strike some audiences as being a bit odd.  The villain played by Ben Mendelsohn is a bit over the top and the story’s ending plays a bit more like an idealized Catholic notion of romance than like something I expect actual humans to engage in.  Some of the contextual viewing that people bring to Shakespeare adaptations and the like may be needed to fully enjoy the film, but I did admire just how much Wright was able to bring this to life.

***1/2 out of Five

Home Video Round-Up 3/1/2022

Faya Dayi (2/9/2021)

I follow the Criterion Collection and Janus Films on twitter, which means that I’ve gotten nonstop promotion for this Janus distributed documentary for months now.  I did eventually see it, so I guess advertising works.  The film is placed in Ethiopia and looks at the trade in a substance called khat, which is a natural stimulant that’s considered a controlled substance in much of the world but is legal in East Africa.  The film is shot in black and white by director Jessica Beshir and is certainly one of the best looking documentary of the year and is more aesthetically minded than most nonfiction films.  However, that vision kind of comes at the expense of clarity.  There are no talking heads or voiceovers here and the film does not stop to explain much of anything you’re seeing on the screen here right down to what khat even is for those who don’t know.  It also doesn’t spend much time really stopping to get to know its subjects except in broad strokes and its slow and meditative approach is generally better for creating a mood than it is for really providing information.  I’m not going to say that’s an invalid approach to making a documentary, I’m sure there are plenty of people who are really going to dig what it’s going for but there are also a lot of people who are going to find it confounding.  Personally, if I’m being honest, I was a bit bored by it.  But maybe I wasn’t giving it a fair shake, it seems like something that’s really better watched in a movie theater at a festival or something than on a television with all the distractions that home viewing entails.

**1/2 out of Five

Four Good Days (2/10/2022)

So, one of the weirder things that’s been happening at the Academy Awards lately is that the music branch has for some reason decided that they are going to nominate the songwriter Diane Warren in the Best Original Song award every single year even when she makes completely forgettable songs in movies absolutely no one cares about.  This year’s beneficiary of that nepotistic tradition is the addiction drama Four Good Day, which is perhaps less egregious than the Christian movie they nominated two years ago but it’s up there.  It was a movie that debuted at Sundance over a year ago to the complete indifference of critics and audience and after it wasn’t picked up by any major or even minor distributors it more or less went straight to streaming.  Truth be told the movie probably is a little bit better than that fate might imply, the film does have two pretty big stars in it in Glen Close and Mila Kunis with the former playing the long suffering mother of a drug addict played by the latter and the events of the film are set over the course of a week or so when the Kunis character needs to stay clean in order to receive a shot that could help her detox and recover and over the course of those days the film paints a picture of just how much of a stress addiction places not only on the addict but on their families.  It’s a topic worth discussing but there have been a lot of movies about that lately like Beautiful Boy and Ben Is Back and this doesn’t really stand out from them and I also think Mila Kunis is pretty miscast here and just generally doesn’t look or feel like a real crackhead and Glen Close is decent but not wildly noteworthy.  Just a generally mediocre movie, but not a worthless one and I mostly respect the effort and there are much worse movies that do get picked up at Sundance and released.

Oh, and I guess I should talk about the song whose award nomination inspired me to watch this thing… it boring as hell.  It’s a downtempo country type thing sung by Reba McEntire that only plays over the credits and has some tenuous connection to the themes of the film.  To be fair, similarly boring songs are known to get nominated for higher profile movies as well, but I do think there’s a difference between voters getting caught up in enthusiasm for a movie and voters shamelessly simping for an individual songwriter.  To think that the Oscar ceremony is perhaps being denied a ratings friendly performance by Ariana Grande and/or Jay-Z over this bullshit…

**1/2 out of Five

Ascension (2/18/2022)

Ascension is an experimental documentary on the subject of China and its new position as an economic superpower and I’m don’t think I got much out of how they went about doing this.  There’s no narration or interviews here, instead it’s more of a montage of vignettes of Chinese life starting footage of people looking for jobs on the street, moving on to sections in factories and manufacturing plants, and then sections depicting the decadence of the country’s upper class.  On some level this isn’t a very subtle message: it’s about the middle kingdom’s evolution from being the world’s manufacturing plant to being a consumer society unto itself.  On another level the message you’re supposed to take from this is not so clear.  So you’re saying that China has poor people but also has rich people?  What a revelation.  In many ways this seems to be saying “Chinese people… they’re just like us.”  Very little of what’s seen here is truly distinct from something you could see in any advanced country outside of some outside details.  Occasionally you’ll see something that feels a bit unique to China’s rapid industrialization like a class intended to train people to be western style butlers for the nouveau riche, that was interesting, but it was also fleeting.  We don’t really get to know many of the actual people we encounter in any kind of detail and the film basically leaves it to the audience to form a narrative out of the fleeting glimpses we get, and that’s a bit of a chore.  I hate to use the “B” word but, yeah, I kind of found the experience boring and its insights banal.

** out of Five

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (2/25/2022)

This year’s lineup for Best International Film at the Oscars seemed pretty obvious given the several high profile foreign films that were eligible but the nominations in that category are never as obvious as they seem.  That branch loves to “discover” things that aren’t on the normal critical and festival radar and every once in a blue moon they do dig up something interesting but all too often their surprise is something like this year’s surprise nominee: the Bhutanese drama Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom.  This film is about a young but slightly arrogant young man who’s become a teacher in order to fulfil a compulsory national service requirement and hopes to emigrate to Australia once this is done, but he manages to piss off someone at the ministry of education so they transfer him to a schoolhouse in a tiny town in a ridiculously remote part of this small mountainous Asian country where they do in fact house a literal yak in the classroom at night.  So, do you think this guy’s trip to rural Bhutan will redouble his arrogant opinions about rural folks or do you think it will humble him and give him a newfound respect for these hard working mountain folk?  Yeah, when you boil this thing down it’s basically a Hallmark movie, or more charitably it’s following that Doc Hollywood/Cars formula.  It has more interesting scenery than those movies and it does avoid going too far down the romcom path and it’s ending is corny in a slightly different way than I expected but it’s definitely a bit of fluff which certainly didn’t deserve that nomination more than A Hero or any number of other movies.  Still, it’s cute and if you’re looking for something simple to watch but culturally distinct it’s a decent enough option.

*** out of Five

The Alpinist (3/1/2022)

I had this whole elaborate plan to make the last 2021 movie I watched and capsule reviewed before closing the book on that year on my blog would be Writing in Fire, the last Academy Award nominee I needed to see… but it turns out the 3/1 release date I had seen wasn’t correct and the movie won’t be out until after the Oscars, so fuck that, I guess I’ll just have to finish off the year with this random mountain climbing documentary that was quickly accessible on Netflix.  So be it.  The Alpinist is a documentary about a twenty five year old mountain climber named Marc-André Leclerc, who was known for making daring solo climbs without ropes.  That’s interesting but… obviously this thing kind of lives in the shadow of the more successful climbing documentary Fee Solo and the movie seems to know this given that it includes a still photo from that movie’s Academy Award win and opens with a clip of that movie’s subject, Alex Honnold, telling an interviewer that Leclerc is a fellow climber that he admires.  In fact Honnold did know Leclerc and is a talking head interviewee in this movie and Leclerc’s life kind of mirror’s Hannold’s: both are reserved introverts dating doting women who like them for being different and have mixed feelings about their partner’s daredevil ways.  Hell, the movie even features some of the same stock footage of previous climbers.  The movie never exactly makes a good case, however, that Leclerc is any more interesting a figure in this world than Hannold is and unlike Hannold Leclerc does not allow the film crew to chronicle one of his major climbs, which is kind of a big sticking point.  So, the whole thing kind of just feels like a second-rate less good version of this other documentary about a very similar person.  The big difference is the uh, ending, which differs from the ending of Free Solo in not very happy ways which does give the film a bit of differentiation, but by then it’s too little too late.

**1/2 out of Five

The Worst Person in the World(2/11/2022)

Joachim Trier is kind of a tricky filmmaker to talk about.  I’ve seen pretty much all of the guy’s movies up to now and certainly acknowledge him as an important voice in world cinema but I’ve generally come away respecting his movies more than I loved them.  My favorite of his for the longest time may have actually been his least known: his debut film Reprise, a really energetic take on the lives of elder millennials in Norway’s literary scene.  From there his movies got to be a bit slower and sadder.  His sophomore effort Oslo, August 31st was more widely praised than his debut but was more of a mood piece steeped in regret and melancholy.  His English language effort Louder Than Bombs was by most accounts a setback.  I think I liked it but it was really a movie that I barely remember and I don’t think I’m alone in that.  Things looked better with his last film Thelma, which was his take on something of a horror film, or at least a film with a supernatural element.  That movie might have done better if A24 had gotten their hands on it, but it never really found an audience.  I wasn’t sure where Trier would go next but was pleasantly surprised to see that his new movie The Worst Person in the World was something of a return to where he started: by taking a slightly satiric look at the lives of upper-middle class Oslo millennials.

The Worst Person in the World is divided into twelve short titled chapters along with a prologue and an epilogue.  The prologue sets up our protagonist, a slightly aimless woman in Oslo named Julie (Renate Reinsve) who shortly after college falls for an underground cartoonist named Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie) who is about fifteen years older than her.  In “chapter one” we then skip forward about four years to when Julie is thirty and Aksel is about forty five and the two are unmarried but in a committed relationship and living together.   From there a lot of the usual questions of modern thirtysomething-dom start entering her life: Does she want children?  Does she want them with Aksel? What does she want in gernal?  Things become even more complicated when she meets a guy named Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) who she has some affinity for but both of them are in relationships and don’t really know each other that well in the first place.

It has been suggested that this is the third in an “Oslo Trilogy” along with Reprise and Oslo, August 31 but I don’t really see it.  Or at least I don’t really see how Oslo, August 31, fits into it aside from the fact that it happens to be set in the same major city as the other two.  I remember that movie being a rather melancholic film more in keeping with the tones of Louder Than Bombs or Thelma while this new film in many ways feels like a return to the witty tone and somewhat youthful energy of Reprise.  The film is not exactly a comedy or even a satire but there is certainly an undercurrent of dry humor to it, much of it poking fun at the particular moment of “discourse” we’re currently in.  Like, one of the chapters in the film is called “Oral Sex in the Age of #MeToo,” which comes from an essay the main character writes and gets published at one point and if you find that chapter title amusing this is probably the film for you.  There are also some filmmaking devices the film employs like a much discussed scene where the character metaphorically makes time stop and a weird hallucination scene in the second act after some characters partake in magic mushroom consumption.  All of this is in service to the film’s overall interest in chronicling this character’s 1/3 live crises in which she still isn’t quite sure what she wants in life and what it means to be in your thirties.

At the center of all this is an actress named Renate Reinsve, who had a small part in Oslo, August 31 but has otherwise mostly worked in films that are not well known outside of Norway.  Here she has quite the challenge because Julie is kind of a prickly character; a self-confessed flake who’s often irritatingly lacking in self-direction and who engages in borderline infidelity at certain points.  Despite all this Reinsve and the screenplay do keep us on this character’s side for much of the movie, not just on her side, we really come to like her and care about her mission of self-discovery.  It’s a movie that oddly compliments another of this year’s high profile films, Licorice Pizza, which also involved an age-gap romance as a means of exploring a woman’s youthful self-discovery.  Of course that movie was about a woman in her twenties rather than thirties, but more importantly there’s a pretty big difference in voice between Paul Thomas Anderson and Joachim Trier.  Anderson’s take on this kind of story is warm and nostalgic while Trier’s take, even if it’s lighter than some of his other recent works, is still kind of dry and formalist and his movie goes to some sadder places, which is perhaps appropriate given that things tend to get a bit “realer” for people as they enter this stage of their lives.  At the end of the day I think I prefer Anderson’s voice, but this movie gives it a run for its money and I could actually see this working better for people looking for something with a little more weight and a bit more serious.

****1/2 out of Five