With all due respect to Palm Springs, Pixar’s Soul is the best movie to come out during the pandemic.
I’m still not quite sure how a media Death Star like Disney ended up producing one of the most internal, challenging movies I’ve ever seen and that dwells on subject matter that’s often way too difficult to confront (What is our purpose in life? How do you live a meaningful life? Why are the New York Knicks the way they are?). But I’m glad that they did, even if it reduced me to an existential puddle who also weeped openly about a character who is a talking cat.
Did the joke about the lost soul of a day trader hit entirely too close to home? You’re gosh darn right it did. And did I ball my eyes out during the final montage of the main character’s life? Hoo boy.
One of the things that has stuck with me most about Soul, however, is the idea of finding your spark. It feels so especially salient now, nearly a year into a pandemic that (at least for me) has caused me to go through entire life cycles of hobbies in search of my own (my sourdough starter ended shortly after the Trump presidency; I never did finish that 1,000-piece puzzle; I’ve been producing fewer and fewer listicles for this eminent newsletter, etc. etc.). And what about all of us who derive energy and inspiration from the very people we’re not able to see right now?
As awed as I was by Soul’s discussion of capital-D Difficult concepts about life, death, and the meaning we find in between, I think I got just as much out of its exploration of Joe’s love of jazz and what it means to pursue your ambition by immersing yourself fully in what brings you joy (and the ways in which that dedication can hamper other parts of your life). And on top of that, it was worth it just for the reminder to take a breath and look around you—which, in Soul, was a New York City that looked more real than any movie set in NYC that I’ve seen since Spider-verse.
So for me, Soul is on the Mount Rushmore of pandemic movies, right up there with Palm Springs and whatever else you happened to have streamed this year (Tenet? Chicago 7? Mank? Sure, go ahead, so long as it’s not The Midnight Sky). One month of Disney+ is worth it to watch Soul and then binge as many of the Mighty Ducks movies as you have the appetite for.
Guys (and, since this is the Academy we’re talking about, I really do mean “guys”), we need to talk. Are we sure that Joaquin Phoenix is good in Joker?
Two things up front, both of which we can hold in our heads at the same time: First, Phoenix is one of the best actors of his generation (and also probably an alien). Second, Joker is a mediocre movie at best and morally irresponsible at worst.
But putting all that aside, are we certain that America’s foremost anti-cow-insemination scoundrel was a great actor, much less the ~best~ actor, in Todd Phillips’ gritty Taxi Driver reboot?
Acting weird doesn’t make you a great actor. If we’re going to give Oscars to off-the-rails performances of characters with a destructive persecution complex, then Adam Sandler would have had himself a night on Sunday. And Phoenix himself has played memorably weird characters in the past but, unlike Joker, all of them had an unmistakable depth and generated unique insight into what it means to be human. I still can’t tell you what half of The Master was about, but I know there was something true about Phoenix’s Freddie Quell. The same goes for his roles in Her, in Walk the Line, hell even in Gladiator.
But all those roles had what Phoenix’s Joker didn’t—they were interesting. You trusted that Phoenix didn’t just have a reason why his character was behaving like he was, but that it was a good reason. Even not having a reason at all can be enough, but that wasn’t what we got here.
Instead, Phoenix’s Joker was a hollow pastiche of victimhood and trauma. Few actors have pushed the envelope quite like him, and he was rewarded for it on Sunday. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t for his best performance.
GUYS. THIS MOVIE. Okay first, we have to talk about the CGI. I mean… their eyes. THEIR EYES. It’s haunting and frightening, but not really in a beautiful way? Like it’s more of a “we decided this movie needed to cost 250 million USD so that if it makes less than 1 billion USD we all get fired” kind of way.
But it’s not all bad. Just look at the star-studded cast. It’s got Emmy winners and Oscar winners and Tony winners (probably… I’m worried if I google the Tony’s I’ll get targeted ads for sequined dinner jackets for the rest of my life). Folks, it’s more A-list talent than my 8th grade birthday party when one of the popular kids came by for a minute.
And of course, the plot is one we all know and love. There’s betrayal and character growth and lengthy dancing montages—and, as required by federal law, a weirdly sexualized feline. It is EVERYTHING fans are looking for in a family film this year.
And then there’s the nostalgia factor. Maybe you first saw the tale on Broadway. Maybe you’ll prefer the 90’s version. But no matter what, we can all agree that this whole thing was very strange and probably unnecessary. Now, to take a big gulp of my covfefe and check out the latest Kanye new–