The 2019 Esseffies: The Movie Awards with Nowhere to Go but Up

SF Weekly’s sixth annual film awards are 130-percent politics-free, and rising!

Since at least 2016, the dumb-dumbs who voted to put a talentless, rapey game-show host into the nation’s most powerful office keep insisting that politics and entertainment should be kept separate. So out of respect to all those people who should feel new and heretofore unplumbed depths of shame for what they’ve done to our country, we present The Sixth Annual Esseffies, guaranteed to be devoid of any political content whatsoever.

Musical Moment to Die For: “A Cover Is Not the Book,” Mary Poppins Returns
While it’s great that the Academy acknowledged Rob Marshall’s underappreciated film with a few technical nods, it’s somewhat baffling that they chose “The Place Where Lost Things Go” for Best Song. It’s not bad, and was probably chosen for its superficial similarities to the original’s “Feed the Birds,” but it’s the least memorable song in a show full of stoppers. The true Best Song in a 2018 film was “A Cover Is Not the Book,” an expression of pure joy that’s big and bawdy and full of both lyrical and vocal dexterity. In the film, Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda are clearly having more fun than humans should be allowed to have, and for the Oscars it could have made for the nuttiest production number since Robin Williams blamed Canada. The sequence in Mary Poppins Returns was also the subject of no small amount of scrutiny online by people who refused to see the film, and on that note…

Most Pointless Rage: Against the Nostalgia Machine of Mary Poppins Returns
A celebration of love, family, and the power of imagination, Mary Poppins Returns got slammed sight unseen as another example of Disney crassly exploiting childhood memories to make a profit. Meanwhile, three big-budget action movies were its main competition at the box office. Aquaman was based on a boys’ comic book character first introduced in 1941 but who truly entered the public consciousness with the 1970s Super Friends cartoons, and has appeared in two other films since 2016. Next was Bumblebee, based on a boys’ toy and cartoon that were first introduced in 1984, and that character has appeared in five other films since 2007. And finally, the Disney co-production Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was based on a boys’ comic book character first introduced in 1961, and whose title character has appeared in eight other films since 2002.

Aquaman and Bumblebee got a pass from those critics, and Spider-Verse was met with what can best be described as “rapturous praise,” while the film with the adult female title character — and which included no punching, space robots, or nubile flesh — was dismissed as a venal exercise in nostalgia. This was usually coupled with boilerplate “How come Hollywood can’t come up with any original ideas?” complaints, right before those same critics returned to breathlessly examining the latest trailer for Disney’s Avengers: Endgame.

Best John Waters Film Not by John Waters: The Misandrists
It would have to be not by Waters, since he hasn’t made a movie in 15 years — and hasn’t made a good movie in 25 years, if we’re being honest. But with The Misandrists, veteran provocateur Bruce La Bruce manages to avoid the inherent pitfalls of a 50-something cis gay man making a spoof of militant feminist politics with very strong trans themes. It’s funny, thoughtful, works more often than it doesn’t, and probably could have gone even further.

Biggest Moral Dilemma: To Cut or Not to Cut, in Leaning into the Wind
In Thomas Riedelsheimer’s documentary, environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy is working on a new commission called “Sleeping Stones,” which are to be hollowed-out spaces in rock large enough for a human to sleep in. (Not comfortably, but human comfort is never the point of Goldsworthy’s work.) About to start work with his chainsaw early in the morning, he realizes that he’s doing something he’s never done: Cut into the bedrock. Working with loose stones or boulders is fine, because they’re already on their journey, but this is directly violating the earth. Goldsworthy laughingly acknowledges that he may be overthinking it, but it doesn’t make the decision any easier.

Best Unsolved Mystery: Frame 21 of 24 Frames
Shot in glorious black-and-white, the 21st vignette of Abbas Kiarostami’s final film begins with the silhouette of a bush through a shaded window in a room in which a mournful saxophone is being played. Someone noisily enters the room, and the shade rises, revealing a beautiful stormy sky, and a bird on the sill. Although the bird eventually relocates — as is the style of the film — the camera never budges from that window and its evocative, darkening sky, not even as the sounds of the humans behind the camera get more ominous. Did a body just drop? What is even going on inside this house? Kiarostami is no longer with us, so we’ll never know.

Least Necessary Reminder That the Very Rich Are Different From You and Me: Always at the Carlyle
By all rights, Michael Mieles’ piece of promotional fluffery about the upper-crust New York hotel that you’ll never get to stay at should have bypassed San Francisco theaters and gone straight to the Carlyle’s in-room video service. The only really interesting stories about such places tend to be the dirt, but we’re told in the first 60 seconds that the Carlyle is all about discretion and what happens stays there, yadda yadda, so the film is primarily about how great the hotel is for the One Percent, and how in the end, mega-celebrities are just regular people like us. Uh-huh.

The Abridged One-and-Done-Club of 2018
It is a time of upheaval in the Awards world. On Feb. 11, 2019, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that the Oscars for Cinematography, Film Editing, Live Action Short, and Makeup and Hairstyling “will be presented during commercial breaks, with their winning speeches aired later in the broadcast” in order to “keep the show to three hours.” Two days later, SF Weekly announced that having long considered the segment to be a lot of text for a relatively minimal comic pay-off, the annual Esseffies presentation of the One-and Done-Club — the cavalcade of films with single-word titles that tell you little or nothing about the film — would also be truncated in the interest of expediency.

So, just the lowlights: Hal was not about the Smokey and the Bandit director Needham, Barney Miller star Linden, or the computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Traffik was not a remake of the 1989 BBC miniseries Traffik, which was in fact remade in 2000 as Traffic. The movie November was released in February. Moynihan was not about the longtime Saturday Night Live star. Nobody goes on a quest in Quest. Thoroughbreds was not about horses. The characters in Weightless never even attempt to escape Earth’s gravity. Anything is about very specific things. And, as is so often the case, this year’s special mention for No Fucks Given is a Bollywood import: S. Shankar’s 2.0. Um, wait — 2.0 of what, you may ask? Exactly!

The “Why Do You Even Still Have a Career?” Award: Mel Gibson, Yet Again
For all the other horrors of 2018, we can be grateful that Gibson’s onscreen presence was limited to a few festival showings of S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete, which by all accounts was as fun to watch as it would be to experience the title action. That was leavened by a reminder that we live in a godless universe when Warner Bros. signed Gibson to co-write and direct a remake of Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 The Wild Bunch.

A remake of that particular film isn’t the problem — after 50 years, it’s fair game — so much as the fact that it signals Gibson has indeed been forgiven for the horrible things he’s said and done. Remember the virulent racism, or the violence against his child’s mother, whom he said “fucking deserved it” after he broke her teeth? Yeah, that. As his defenders point out, he was drinking in those days, and therefore deserves a second third fourth fifth chance, but that holds less water than ever. Put another way, it is not OK that an abusive, anti-Semitic drunkard can commit heinous acts and say horrible things without suffering any lasting consequences because he’s a powerful white man who was once considered the embodiment of masculine fuckability, and whose initial and all-too-brief downfall occurred before the #MeToo era. To hell with Gibson and his stupid, oft-bearded face.

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