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The Letterboxd Show 2.27: 2021 Year in Review Roundtable
[clip from The Beatles: Get Back plays]
JOHN LENNON And now your hosts for this evening… The Rolling Stones.
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
GEMMA Hello and welcome to The Letterboxd Show, a podcast about the movies people love watching, from Letterboxd: the social network for people who love watching movies. Usually on the show we are joined by a Letterboxd friend for a chat about their four favorite films, but this episode is a bit different, a bit special, a bit daring. Your hosts Slim and Gemma—that’s me—are pushing the boat waaay out to the top of the lake…
SLIM Gemma, it’s the Year in Review special and we’re calling in the big guns. Not only that, but we’re innovating in podcasting and using the Letterboxd Hotline to speak with these guests.
GEMMA The what?!
SLIM Yeah, the Letterboxd Hotline. That’s trademarked, by the way, so nobody try to get that copyright ahead of us. We spared no expense as the Year in Review special deserves all the new tech.
GEMMA Oh yeah.
SLIM The Letterboxd Year in Review is the ultimate film wrap-up of the year. The moment when the Letterboxd community’s ratings and hearts and reviews all coalesce into one big beautiful summary of a year of movies. And we want to know why these movies placed where they did. So we have opened the Hotline to three experts from within the Letterboxd community who know their stuff about the three highest-rated films.
GEMMA Oh yeah. And then once we’re done with them, it’s our turn, the Letterboxd crew. What were our faves of the year? We will be joined on the Hotline by senior editor Mitchell Beaupre and London correspondent Ella Kemp to interrogate our own 2021 film delights. So just to recap before we open up the Hotline to our experts, the three highest-rated films of 2021, according to the Letterboxd community, in order, were… Number one: Spider-Man: No Way Home.
SLIM Dun, dun, dun.
GEMMA Number two: Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time. And number three: not many of you will have heard of this one because it hasn’t been released in the US or the UK, or indeed anywhere really outside of Indonesia yet. But Indonesian Letterboxd is strong and so is this film. It is a small indie drama called Yuni. I love that. I love it so much. Alright, let’s open the line.
SLIM Open the line I’m motioning to our producer in the studio. [phone ringing] Open the line. I’m doing like the phone sign. The universal phone sign.
GEMMA The red light is blinking! The red light is blinking! I think we’ve got our first caller.
SLIM Gemma, I need you to just take one second. I think we’re getting our first call into the Letterboxd Hotline. Is this Letterboxd Spider-Man expert, ScreenCrush editor and writer of the book, Marvel’s Spider-Man: From Amazing to Spectacular: The Definitive Comic Art Collection, Matt Singer?
MATT No, this is [J.K. Simmons impersonation] Jay Jonah Jameson calling from the Daily Bugle and Spider-Man is a menace! [Gemma laughs] No, it’s me! It’s me!
SLIM It was pretty disgusting how accurate that impression was.
MATT It’s not the hardest one. You just growl and yell really loud and channel that J.K. Simmons voice. It’s all it takes. [Gemma laughs]
SLIM It was incredible. It was incredible.
GEMMA It’s a beautiful thing. So Matt Singer, welcome. Welcome to The Letterboxd Show. It’s pretty big news. And it might be that, you know, a little tiny thing called ‘recency bias’. But nevertheless, Spider-Man: No Way Home, the highest-rated film of 2021 according to the Letterboxd community. Were you prepared for this at all?
[music from Spider-Man: No Way Home plays]
MATT I was honestly pretty surprised when you told me. But yeah, I mean, I guess in one way I’m not—you know, I don’t know exactly the formula that the highest-rated film is calculated by, but I guess purely by the number of people who are seeing the movie all around the world and who are loving it, I guess, when you just sort of look at it from that perspective, it kind of makes sense. I mean, this is an extraordinarily crowd-pleasing movie and an enormous amount of people are seeing it and if a certain amount of those people are going on Letterboxd and logging it and saying that they loved it, I guess that’s how it happens!
GEMMA Yeah, pretty much. I mean, it’s a weighted average. So it’s all the ones and all the fives, and all of those things together end up with a weighted rating that sits just above Hideaki Anno’s Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time. I mean, these are some pretty long movie titles. But yeah, Evangelion [3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time] had it for quite a number of months there, and then Spidey just slipped ahead. And I would suggest that over the next few weeks—and this is not to diminish its 2021 achievement—but over the next few weeks, it will slowly slip back down as more and more people go, “Yeah, I know. I know it’s a 3.5-star movie that was a five-star experience in the cinema. But maybe on my third rewatch, I might, you know, bring their rating down.” But maybe not! I don’t know. But were you emotionally anticipating this third Holland movie? What sort of mental state were you in going into your first watch?
MATT I was, you know, I did my best, sort of, to not spoil myself as best as one can in this world, and doing what I do for a living. So I was kind of curious. I mean, I was pretty confident that yes—I mean, at this point, should we assume that we can talk about some of the things that happen in this movie, now that it’s the highest-rated film on Letterboxd and everybody has seen it?
SLIM Let’s speak freely, I think.
MATT I guess if you don’t want to know, the gigantic thing that presumably everyone on the planet knows at this point, maybe scroll ahead a little bit in the podcast. But I mean, I assumed that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were going to be in it somewhere despite the fact that they were never promised, which is actually, to me, the thing that’s the most interesting thing about this movie—especially in terms of this conversation. In terms of, it’s a highly rated film, and it's crowd pleasing. It’s like, I’m trying to think of an example of another movie that was basically sold by not telling you the thing that’s in it—the thing that everyone’s gonna want to see, you know what I mean? Like, they never said that. And it’s a fascinating exercise in psychology and audience psychology. And in general, I think it might be one of the most under promoted movies of this size, ever. And obviously, there was an enormous amount of hype, and every website on the planet is writing up every little tidbit of news. But you compare this to the original Sam Raimi, Spider-Man, which I will confess to being—I was like, 21… years old… I think when that came out, and that was the most exciting thing that had ever happened in my entire life up until that point [Gemma laughs] And I’m not exaggerating, and I know vividly, I remember vividly like seeing the first teaser for the movie. That teaser came out over a year before the movie came out, though. The teaser came out in the summer of 2001. And in fact, it’s kind of famous now because that was the teaser that had the Twin Towers in it. And so after 9/11 they had to—you know, that teaser vanished and they had to change the poster, and they have to change the movie and all this stuff. But the teaser comes out a full year before the movie. The first teaser for Spider-Man: No Way Home came out in late August of this year! They had Andrew Garfield on 100 different talk shows going, “I’m not in it. I’m waiting for a phone call.” [Slim & Gemma laugh] It wasn’t even that he was like, “Well, we’ll wait and see what happens! I don’t know.” He literally would go on The Tonight Show and be like, “I’m not in this movie. I don’t know what they’re talking about. And that footage you saw was a Photoshop.” So it’s just to me a fascinating sort of object, this movie. As much as we could talk about the movie, it’s like when we talk about it being a highly rated film that people love. It’s just such a fascinating test case of all of this stuff. That was a very long winded digression, but what I was expecting in this movie was Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield are gonna show up in that last scene at the Statue of Liberty, they’re going to help save the day and be like “Okay, bye!” and that was it, maybe they would have two minutes of screen time. And that’s not what the movie—again the movie over-delivered. They show up, they’re in the full last act. They have long dialogue scenes with all the Peter Parkers together. They’re making jokes. They’re being very Peter Parker-y
GEMMA They’re very obsessed with the details of spider-web-ejaculation, I thought.
MATT Yes, there’s jokes about spider webs and all that good stuff. It gave you more than you were expecting. Unless I guess you were expecting the whole movie to be about them. For me I was very pleasantly surprised, even though I didn’t love the movie, I enjoyed it. But to me all the stuff with them was way better than I even thought it would be. And so to me, when we talk about why is this the highest-rated film of the year, I think that is what I would point to, is that it over-delivered and it gave fans everything they really could have wanted from the Peter Parker standpoint and the Spider-Man standpoint and all these characters.
SLIM I think I underestimated how many people loved Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man, because I grew up on Tobey Maguire and I was the same way, like this movie is going to change everything for me, a comic book reader who now has movies—like that was my Batman, pretty much, in theaters. So I think I kind of glossed over the Andrew Garfield ones. So when I was in theaters, people were losing their minds in the theater, and I kind of didn't get it. So I think it’s a lot of those young people, maybe Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man is their Spider-Man, you know? And then the Marvel movies get them into those films and they realized Andrew Garfield’s pretty good actor. So I think it’s a fascinating use case. And I think also my theory, too, is that they learned from Marvel’s [Captain America:] Civil War movie. Which one is that? Iron Man?
SLIM Captain America: Civil War. [Slim laughs] Because I thought it would have been so cool if they kept the Spider-Man reveal until you were in the theater. Because remember, they really showed it in the trailer that he was there.
MATT Yes, yes.
SLIM That would have been such a cool reveal in the theater, the same thing they did with this movie about this one.
MATT Yeah, I mean, that’s the kind of thing that Marvel doesn’t really talk about a lot. But I would love to hear those kind of discussions of like, yeah, how do they decide, we’re gonna make Spider-Man: No Way Home. And we’re going to do basically like live action [Spider-Man: Into the] Spider-Verse. But we’re not going to tell anyone that’s what we’re doing. And we’re going to somehow keep it a secret when hundreds of people work on these movies, from the people on the set, the visual effects, the marketing, the trailer, all of this stuff—and they did have a couple of little leaks here and there, but the amount of effort that must have gone into it.
GEMMA I do have a question for both of you as an outsider in this situation. In terms of the plot of [Spider-Man:] No Way Home, is college in America really this worth getting into? [Slim laughs]
MATT Worth destroying the multiverse over?
GEMMA Yeah… [Gemma laughs]
MATT I didn’t get into the college I wanted and thus I shall destroy the entire multiverse?
GEMMA I was thinking if there was a weakness in the plot, for me, that would be it. But then I read your review, Matt, and I gained a better appreciation for Spider-Man’s specific role in the superhero universe, which is to break things and then to fix them.
MATT Right. To your point like, it is kind of a very silly, silly thing. And I did not give this movie a five star review on, you know, I wrote a review on ScreenCrush where I work but I’m on Letterboxd as well. To me it was like a 3.5-star movie. Very enjoyable, but not without its problems. And the issues I had were kind of these things as well. There’s a lot of kind of weird plot things, a lot of the stuff with the villains and how did they get in this multiverse? Why did certain people come and not others? There’s a lot of moving parts to try to make this whole thing where they all come together make sense. But I think ultimately what it comes down to, in terms of what you’re talking about with the college aspect, and Peter making several incredibly stupid decisions for a guy who’s so smart, he can create devices that shoot webs—a thing he also created. Yeah, Spider-Man’s core appeal, or one of his core appeals, in my opinion, is that he is a kid and he makes mistakes. He screws up constantly! He at least in his mind is the reason his uncle is dead. He had the chance to stop the guy who killed his uncle and he didn’t because he was an obnoxious teenager and he was full of himself. And even after he learns that lesson, “With great power comes great responsibility,” he still makes mistakes, you know? He is not Superman, he doesn’t always come to the rescue in the nick of time. Sometimes the people around him do get hurt and they do die. And so some of the things in the movie that are like that are just, to me, that’s part of the Peter Parker-ness. It’s like, would you or I risk the multiverse to get into a college? Maybe not. Would Peter Parker do it because he’s kind of a dummy at times about this sort of thing? Yeah, he would. [Slim laughs] And he wouldn’t think about it and he would screw up and then he would try to fix it, which is exactly what the movie is about.
SLIM So Spider-Man: No Way Home is not your top pick for the year but what are some movies that you saw in 2021 that maybe are near the top of the list?
MATT One for sure was Dune, was a movie that I absolutely loved.
MATT And like I’m not—while we’ve just been talking about Spider-Man for the last 20 minutes or whatever, like I am a huge Spider-Man nerd, I’ll own that. I’m not a huge Dune nerd. I’ve never read Dune. It was gorgeous! I suddenly understood why David Lynch and all these filmmakers, Jodorowsky, and like every person you love throughout history has tried to make Dune. It translated that inscrutable Dune-ness that I’d never understood. And I totally got it. And I was in love and I was like “We have to get Dune: Part Two, I’m ready for it. Give it to me right now. I can’t believe they didn’t make it already.” So I’m delighted that they get to make another one. So that for sure is one of them. Another one I absolutely adored this year was Pig with Nicolas Cage.
GEMMA I was hoping someone was going to bring Pig to this party.
MATT Just an amazing little movie. The kind of thing that you expect because it’s Nicolas Cage. You know, you sort of expect a very big and crazy performance from him at this point in his career. And when you hear the premise, it does sound like a wacky Nicolas Cage movie, with a guy loses his pig and he kind of goes on a quest for revenge. It just sounds like a bad Nicolas Cage movie. But it is the most melancholy and beautiful and sensitive portrait of this guy and of the whole sort of Portland food scene. Just very, very surprising on so many levels, that movie, and I absolutely loved it. So that was another one. And then the third one that I have to mention is Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.
GEMMA Ah, yes!
MATT I know it’s not exactly the classiest. I probably—I could be wrong—but probably not going to win too many Oscars in a couple of months. Maybe I’ll be wrong!
GEMMA Look, that film gave us Jamie Dornan dancing on a beach.
MATT Truly one of great scenes—
GEMMA If that was the one of the good thing to come out of 2021, truly one of the great scenes of cinema of this past year.
MATT Yes, yes.
MATT I mean, it should be nominated for Best Original Song, I’m sure it won’t. But that song alone was just so magnificent, but there’s just so many great moments. And I’ve seen that movie like five times already. [Gemma laughs] It’s just something that it’s like medicine for the soul. It’s like when I need—when the days are just overwhelming, as they so often are these days, I just go away to Vista Del Mar with Barb and Star and it cheers me up a little bit. So yeah, those would be the couple that I would put right at the very top of my list from 2021.
SLIM Uh oh. Matt, your time is up.
MATT Any time.
GEMMA Yes, that’s right. Slim, we’re getting another call, which means it’s time to move on to the second-highest-rated film of the Letterboxd Year in Review. And it is… [Gemma breathes in] Deep breath for this one… Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time, directed by Hideaki Anno, and it is, I mean, for the longest time, it was almost the top film. And then Spidey just snuck in there.
SLIM Son of a gun.
GEMMA But that’s okay. It’s still right up there. Son of a gun. And it is the highest-rated animated feature of the year as well. But—hello? Is this writer, programmer, podcaster, and quite recent member of the Letterboxd Adult Curatorial Committee, Juan Barquin? [Juan laughs]
JUAN Yes, it is! Hello!
GEMMA Hello! Calling in from Miami, I believe?
JUAN That I am, and it’s actually a nice-not-horribly sunny day for once.
GEMMA This is a truly international show. Juan, welcome to The Letterboxd Show. We have wanted to have you on for quite some time, we will have you back. But today, today only, you’re here for your expertise in all things Anno-san. Imagine that we—imagine just for a moment, I know it’s gonna be really hard, but just for a minute, imagine that Slim and I are Evangelion virgins. [Sim & Juan laugh] We know nothing. [Gemma laughs]
SLIM What is it? How do you explain the series to people and moreover, how do you explain this film to people?
JUAN I was going to ask it’s like—oh god, which one do I—okay, so the original series Neon Genesis Evangelion was just 26 episodes, sort of started off as what a lot of people just think is a basic mecha anime, you know, kids getting into robots and fighting and stopping things from happening to the world. And over the entire duration of the series, it’s really more about the psychological state of its protagonist and also just—not just its protagonist, but its whole cast—and sort of gets into a lot of these deeper themes. And then a lot of people hated the finale… [Juan laughs] And so, surprise! We got a movie instead of the finale—or “instead” in air quotes, “instead” of the finale, which is [Neon Genesis Evangelion: The] End of Evangelion, which gets even more experimental and exciting. And it’s such a dense text that I can’t even start getting into right now, because then, many years later, Hideaki Anno returned to the series with a four-series film called The Rebuild of Evangelion. And so instead of going 1.0, 2.8., 3.0, 3.0.—or +1.0—which is just 4, it’s sort of a retelling of the series, spread out into films with obviously a higher budget, more animation, more effects rather. And slowly but surely, through the films, the first one’s almost like a literal recreation, and then it starts turning into a completely different route of story and narrative and exploration. And so I always like to think of it as like three separate story arcs that are kind of repeating the same story, almost like a rogue-like game where you just end a run, and then you reboot, and just keep going. [Evangelion:] 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time is such a fascinating culmination of not just three different runs of this series, but actually sitting down and looking back throughout every single one of the films, and also the making of the films and also the reception to the films. It’s just, it’s very meta, without necessarily telling you how meta it is, if you’ve never seen the rest of them.
SLIM This fourth movie seems to be, it’s not like in a way that [Spider-Man:] No Way Home, I mean, I’m not trying to compare—for Evangelion fans, I’m not comparing. Everyone calm down. [Juan laughs] But in the way that [Spider-Man:] No Way Home—
JUAN I was gonna say, red flag. [Juan & Slim laugh]
GEMMA Juan’s like, “I’m hanging up,”
SLIM Everyone just un-subbed at the start of that sentence right now. They’re like, “Okay, I’m out.” But in a way that [Spider-Man:] No Way Home is kind of like the combination of many versions of Spider-Man, many different iterations, many years of one character, I guess you could say that this final film is the culmination of many years of feelings with these characters, many different versions kind of, quote unquote, “coming to an end”. Is that a true statement for many of the fans watching?
JUAN I think so. And I feel like, I mean, I would—I don’t know, I don’t have much experience with people who have only watched the four Rebuilds. And I feel like everyone coming to this has, not the baggage of the series, but just like that experience with understanding how emotions have changed over time. And also like, I mean, for me personally, it was kind of nice seeing these two films, like this series and this film, that were so almost cynical and sad and like, just stuck in its own head versus this film that kind of just starts approaching like, maybe life is alright, and the connections we make around us are good. Not to be like “the friends we made along the way or the real journey” but like—[Juan & Gemma laugh]
SLIM This is the “live, laugh, love” of the series.
JUAN Honestly, yes. [Slim & Juan laugh] 100 percent.
GEMMA Oh my god, because you wrote in one of your Letterboxd reviews, “It took Anno 26 years to figure out how to let the story he’s been telling come to a close, for his characters to be happy and finally embrace existence by experiencing life and other people, and it took me nearly 30 years to do the same.” Now, there’s Letterboxd reviews, including yours, often say that Evangelion changed their life, showed them the meaning of life, gave them the will to live, showed them how to live. What is this religion and how do we join? [Juan laughs]
JUAN Um… It’s called mental illness and it usually happens when you don’t medicate for a really long time. [Juan & Gemma laugh]
GEMMA I’m already part of that religion. Ah, yes.
JUAN Well you’re great. You’re set. No, I mean, I really do look at it almost, when I first saw the show when I was like 14 years old, I hated Shinji Ikari with all of my heart because I thought like he was all the things that stupid people call him which is like, “Oh, he’s like a shitty character who just complains all the time and why is he crying,” and this and that. And it’s like, no, that’s real. [Juan laughs] You just don’t realize it until—
GEMMA Shinji—just backing up for the virgins in the audience, aka me and Slim—Shinji is the main, he’s the main kid, right?
JUAN Shinji Ikari is the main character, yeah.
GEMMA Yeah, right. And his dad… his father is an important figure.
JUAN His mother’s dead, his father is a distant asshole. He is generally lonely and only finds really minor connections with people. And one of the recurring images of the series, is this sort of like the idea of a hedgehog where like, if you want to hold it, you’re going to get hit by the spikes, so you can’t ever actually comfort it. So like that’s sort of the idea of Shinji? [Juan laughs]
SLIM Yeah, some of the Letterboxd lists that I see this pop on, Japanese Films That Will Blow Your Mind And Make You Reevaluate The Possibilities Of The Cinematic Artform.
JUAN Honestly, true.
SLIM If that’s not even a pitch for you to maybe try this series, it’s working on me. So I was looking at that list of the new series, and I was kind of like, you know, maybe—as soon the comic book reboots, or relaunches, they’re mainly in comics this way to get you to try it finally. Come in, test the water, it’s fine, you’ll enjoy it. So I didn’t even know that this was part of the reboot until, really, this Year in Review—or relaunch, however you want to phrase it, so I feel like maybe now’s the time for us, Gemma. Now’s the time.
GEMMA Yeah, I mean, it should have been the time four months ago when I was editing Kambole Campbell’s piece for us about this very thing, but I knew enough to commission that piece. I was like, what is this thing? Let’s get our animation correspondent onto it. Okay, so question, a quick question, is this the second-highest-rated film on Letterboxd and the highest-rated animated feature, because like Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won all the Oscars, it’s the last one? Or is it also because—
SLIM They all just un-subbed again, all Evangelion fans just un-subbed a second time during this episode.
JUAN Definitely. [Juan & Gemma laugh]
GEMMA I’m so sorry, everyone. I’m so sorry to all the listeners who are no longer listening to hear my apology. Or is it in and of itself, also, an incredible work of art?
JUAN I mean, I think like, yeah, sure, absolutely. End-of-series bias is definitely going to play into it. Everyone’s flocking to it for a reason. We all want to know what the hell is going to happen with this, again, 26-year endeavor finally ending. But I truly do think it is like a great work of art that just—ah, it’s not even just that it attacks its own history, interrogates its own existence, which other favorite movies of mine this year, but we’ll get into that eventually. [Juan laughs] And I just—not to compare it to [Spider-Man:] No Way Home but like, where [Spider-Man:] No Way Home was just kind of like cherry picking all of these things and like throwing them into a movie, I feel like this one looks at things that happened in the past and is directly trying to engage with—not trying to fix them, but grow from them. And I think that’s so important. Also, it’s just really, really pretty to look at. [Slim & Juan laugh]
GEMMA So it’s pretty to look at, but it’s also on a Letterboxd list that is called, in capital letters, GAY HORROR. Why is that? [Juan laughs]
JUAN Um… oh my god. I don’t know if I would call this one gay horror. I feel like like [Neon Genesis Evangelion: The] End of Evangelion, I truly do consider one of the greatest queer horror films of all time. But I don’t—this one’s like, half a slice-of-life- movie and half like, “Well, now I’m getting over all of my mental-crisis issues.” This isn’t horror! [Juan & Gemma & Slim laugh] It is still gay, but that’s a whole—
SLIM The Letterboxd Hotline is expensive. So we need to hear maybe some bullet points on two or three of your other faves for 2021.
SLIM So maybe if you can think off the top of your head, out of the sky, what are maybe two other movies that were near the top of your list for 2021?
JUAN I can tell you immediately. [Juan laughs] It would be Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.
SLIM Oh my god.
GEMMA Again! Oh my god!
SLIM This is the second this episode!
JUAN I love Barb and Star [Go to Vista Del Mar]. I don’t care what anyone says. I’ve watched it I think five times. Yeah, no, I love it with all my heart. And then my other favorite would be something that is very much in tune with Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 [Thrice Upon a Time] concept of taking your text, reinterpreting it and also quite literally critiquing it, which is [The] Matrix Ressurections!
GEMMA Yes! How many times have you seen it since it came out five minutes ago?
JUAN Um… like three… [Juan & Slim laugh] Not to mention rewatching multiple clips, because God knows I can’t resist.
SLIM Well, Juan, I’m sorry, but we’re getting another call on the Hotline, Juan. But thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. And hopefully we do you proud as we make our way through the series this year.
JUAN Thanks for having me. Good luck on your adventure! [Juan laughs]
GEMMA Oh, yeah, can I pick this call up? Is it my turn to pick a call up on the Hotline?
SLIM Gemma, it’s your turn to pick up the Hotline.
GEMMA Can I press the button? Oh my god, I’m so excited. Okay, I am pressing the Letterboxd Hotline button. Hello? Hi? Is this pop-culture writer and watcher-of-Yuni several times over, Bintang Lestada, calling in direct from Jakarta?
BINTANG Yay! Hi there! Hi guys. [Bintang laughs] It is I, you are correct on that one.
GEMMA Oh my gosh.
SLIM Caller ID works amazingly well on this machine! I don’t know how we did it! [Gemma laughs]
BINTANG It’s technology.
GEMMA It is so exciting to talk to you, not only because I have followed you for a while now on Letterboxd, but also because you might be one of the few Letterboxd members who can help us putting content in celebrate the third-highest-rated film of 2021 according to our community, which is—and I hope I pronounced her name right, but please correct me if I’m wrong—Kamila Andini’s film, Yuni.
GEMMA First of all, I think tell us a bit about Kamilla and her husband and, I guess, their whole filmmaking outfit, because they seem incredibly important to present-day Indonesian indie filmmaking, right?
BINTANG Mhm. Yeah. So first of all, Kamila Andini comes from an industry of filmmaking, because from what I’ve known, her father is this renowned Indonesian director, Garin Nugroho, who directed also kind of a queer film a few years ago. It’s called Memories of My Body, and it gained quite an acclaim too and a few controversies, of course, as we all know, with the whole queer films in cinema, but with Yuni, with Kamila Andini’s Yuni, this film is very special. Very special, because it’s unpretentious and it’s frank, but it also, it captures a lot of heart and turmoil of Indonesian teenagers, especially Indonesian girls. So I think that’s why this film resonates with a lot of us. The whole reception in Indonesia has been very overwhelming, very overwhelming. And I just felt like there are a lot of people who raved about the film, because the film is quite—especially for Indonesian standard—it’s quite revealing, in terms of what it says about Indonesian society, about our taboo culture, especially about the way sex was portrayed in that film. Because in the film, the titular character, is a high schooler. And of course, it’s bound to have controversies. But it was also about, you know, the way the fate of Indonesian girls are supposed to be painted in our society.
GEMMA Because Yuni hasn’t been released far and wide yet, we don’t want to sort of get into too many specifics around plot and spoilers, but we should probably just let listeners know that, at it’s very simplest level it is about an Indonesian high-school young woman, who is brilliant at many high-school topics, so potentially has a university career ahead of her, but it’s also of marrying age. And so the people around her have begun presenting potential suitors. And watching it as someone who’s been able to choose their entire future and, in fact, choose when I got married and who I got married to, obviously, it’s a pretty hard watch in 2021, 2022, to know that this is what is still going on, and it really feels like the very definition of the power of art to open up a world and to show the rest of the world what Indonesian life and contemporary society is like. But inside Indonesia, clearly it is also a powerful piece of art, because not many films have been made like this. Is that right?
BINTANG Yeah. And I think this film, Yuni, especially, it conveys urgency. Because its candidness and its frankness, they’re horrifyingly fitting with the situation in our country. And it basically just, I don’t know, for me it exposed, like, the wrong truth and the system that had been, that has been, damaging our people, especially women. Because in this film, it really forces us to see that survival is forced to be our soul armor, in terms of how we have to define ourselves.
GEMMA It’s truly, sort of, some kind of human slavery, right?
BINTANG Yeah, exactly.
GEMMA The suggestion that a woman’s body is literally her only asset in life in terms of ensuring the survival of her family, or ensuring that the lights stay on in the home. But having said that, like this all sounds really, really deeply serious. But I would also like to say that for me, in watching Yuni, it has the best movie kiss of 2021. [Slim & Bintang laughs] It has the best use of poetry of the year.
BINTANG Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
GEMMA And Yoga, he is honestly the dreamboat of the year. I mean, it’s got one of the single best costuming decisions of the year, when she shows up in that t-shirt that just says “I’m fine.” [Bintang laughs] Yeah, absolutely genius. So this is not to say, don’t put it on your watchlist, because it sounds deeply depressing. There’s also so much joy and some gentle humor and some really, incredibly anxiety-making builds in tension and dread. It’s so finely held. And my favorite thing that Kamila does as a director, is to just frame her actors and let them do their thing. You know, that one scene where all the girlfriends are just lying down and Yuni’s got her head on one of her friends’ bellies.
BINTANG Oh, yes!
GEMMA And the camera doesn’t move. It just does not move and they do their thing. Ah, it’s just dreamy.
BINTANG They’re just like talking about like, “Oh, is the sex good?”
GEMMA Yeah, oh my god!
BINTANG “How do you masturbate?” Yeah, yeah, that was such a special, I don’t know, it was such a special thing for me to see. Because we rarely see something about masturbation as a discussion in a film, especially in a film that has a teenage girl as a titular character. I mean, it was very special. I mean, for me, what I like about Yuni also is that, Yuni is kind of like the whistleblower of this whole discussion, of this whole social condition, of this whole what I said before, rotten truth. But again, Yuni doesn’t scream that to our face. She just lets you show that rotten condition, but she also likes to tell us that, you know, you should look pretty and everything. It’s political, but it’s also very, it doesn’t seem political at all. It’s a very basic definition of show-don’t-tell, so basically. Because it’s very nice to look at. The film is very lush.
BINTANG Gorgeous, gorgeous shots.
SLIM Also when she’s just with the hairdresser and the hairdresser is recounting her story.
SLIM And they’re just sharing that moment with her, taking photos of her. Oh my god, what a moment.
BINTANG There’s a fun little trivia. Before the feature-length film, Yuni was a short, and the hairdresser, the person who plays the hairdresser, she was Yuni in that short version.
SLIM Oh my god.
BINTANG Yeah, I think I still have the link.
SLIM They look so alike in that scene.
SLIM It was like some of the most perfect casting too, between the two of them. It just felt so perfect. Now hopefully, maybe 2022, we get a wider release so more people can experience this film. But you know, the Hotline isn’t cheap. This Hotline, the Letterboxd Hotline, we made it and somehow it’s not cheap. I don’t understand it. But we do want to hear from maybe two or three of your other faves from 2021. Maybe a little rapid fire, give us some suggestions for people to add to their watchlists.
BINTANG I really, really, really, really loved The Power of the Dog by Jane Campion.
BINTANG Like, of course. Jane Campion. We finally watched a Jane Campion film again after 2009’s Bright Star. It was amazing. Janicza Bravo’s Zola, like as a child of the internet, like, it blew my mind away. Like it was so funny, and very disturbing in a way, but it’s very funny. And the last one, I’m going to recommend another Indonesian film that also blew our minds away other than Yuni. It’s called Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Edwin. First of all, such an interesting title. But second of all, it’s a—how do I describe it? It’s as if the film has an ’80s martial arts filter about the oddball of a couple destined by a nightmare. That’s how I would describe it.
GEMMA Jack’s facts has just come through. Jack does the facts for our podcast. He would like you to know that Vengeance Is Mine, [All Others Pay Cash] was so close to making the Year in Review. If just 50 more—50 more people—had watched it and rated it, it would have been in the Action list.
BINTANG I also really liked M. Night Shyamalan’s Old.
SLIM I had fun with M. Night’s Old. I have fun with that movie. You know, I’ve just come to accept how he writes his movies as M. Night and I’m just along for the ride at this point.
BINTANG If it’s a canon to have, quote unquote, “bad movies”, I would accept it. [Slim & Gemma laughs] It seems like he has a lot of fun in making it so, you know, why not?
BINTANG It’s just one of the best premises I’ve ever heard of.
SLIM Gemma, I think the line is lighting up again. So we have to say farewell. Thank you so much for sharing the love of Yuni, and I’m excited for this to get a wider release hopefully this year, hopefully other people will love it also.
BINTANG Thank you Gemma. Thank you Slim.
SLIM Letterboxd Hotline caller ID, Gemma, has informed me that we have two new guests to speak with. We have, one of which, London correspondent Ella Kemp is back. Welcome, Ella.
ELLA Hello! Thank you for having me.
GEMMA We’re very, very, very excited to have you.
SLIM And finally, we also have senior editor and star Cinephile, the game, player back on the show, Mitchell Beaupre, welcome once again.
MITCHELL Thank you very much, happy to be here.
GEMMA Do you say the next bit, Slim? [Gemma laughs]
SLIM Oh yes, sorry. [Slim laughs] Everyone welcome to part two of the show, our Year in Review Spotlights.
GEMMA Exactly. So Ella and Mitchell, here now with us for this Year in Review roundtable with plenty of Jack’s facts thrown in, although actually I tend to think that the Year in Review is pretty much just one long definition of Jack’s facts, but in any case, we four have been poring over the Letterboxd 2021 Year in Review categories and we’ve limited ourselves, we’ve tried to anyway, by picking just two films each from two different categories each. Although as in my tradition, I’ve already broken that rule. They might be the top films in those categories, they might not, but we love them and many of you do too. We’re going to come to you first, Ella, but just before we dive into your two, I wanted to ask off the back of our special guest Bintang, how was Yuni for you, because I know you love a coming-of-age film?
ELLA I love a coming-of-age film. I did love Yuni. I think it’s different to my usual favourite coming-of-age films. I think it’s quieter. I think it’s softer. I think it’s sadder than a lot of the ones that I usually gravitate towards, you know, your, I don’t know, your Booksmart. I don’t know why Boyhood just came to mind as if I gravitate towards Boyhood all the time. But it’s very different to Boyhood! But no, it was great. Very surprising and sad and the kind of thing that feels, not inconsequential, but feels kind of not epic while you’re watching, but then the more you think about it, I think it really kind of gets under your skin and you get angrier and more outraged. It ages very well.
GEMMA Yeah that’s interesting, because Mitchell, out of all of us, you saw it the earliest I think, so you’ve had the longest to set with Yuni. Where is it sitting for you now?
MITCHELL Yeah, I think that’s a really good phrase for that, it ages really well, the film itself, because when I saw it at TIFF, which was in like September, and when I saw it, I kind of had like a similar feeling of like, yeah, I really liked this, but I think I gave it like a three and a half on Letterboxd. It was good, but it just didn’t elevate above that for me. But the longer that time has sat with me, the more—like any time it comes up, my brain immediately is like, “Oh, I love Yuni. Like, I love that movie so much.” And then I see my like rating for it and I’m like, “Oh, why did I rate it… Like I should’ve rated it higher than that.” So definitely, it really does sit with you really well, and it grows on you. Yeah, it’s a really lovely movie. [Slim laughs]
SLIM It doesn’t help that September feels like 12 months away.
GEMMA Exactly. Oh my god. I just came in hard with a five, cos I just knew that’s what it was going to be in six months time.
SLIM Oh, my word.
GEMMA Trust myself on that.
ELLA I respect that.
MITCHELL Yeah, get ahead of the curve. Get ahead of your own curve.
GEMMA Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.
GEMMA Speaking of coming of age, there is a specific kind of coming-of-age film that is not in the teenage years, but is in the sort of late 20s, going into your 30s. And Ella, I think that’s where we’re going to start with you. Aren’t we?
ELLA Oh, yes, please.
GEMMA What is your category? And what is your film?
ELLA My category is Romance. And the number-one movie, the best movie in the world, in this category is The Worst Person in the World. Thank you so much. I’ve waited months to do that, I’m so sorry.
[music from The Worst Person in the World plays]
SLIM So what was your emotional status leaving the theater? I remember this was, there’s at least some buzz on Letterboxd about this movie when it had come out and your review really knocked it out of the park. What was it like seeing this movie and how has it felt since that time?
ELLA Around this movie, I was and always will be a wreck, really, let’s be honest about that. So I saw it at London Film Festival last October 2021. And the film played at Cannes a few months before. And so there was already, it was one of those ones where there was months of both hype in terms of, you know, colleagues and people I admire, respect, within the film world. But friends, so many friends, individually had messaged me being like, “This is the one. This is for you, you are going to love it.” And obviously like, you know, those are even more special. And also, even more infuriating when you know, you can’t see it for months. But it was one of those rare ones that my experience of it just completely, it overcame all of the hype and kind of sidestepped the hype. It didn’t feel like it was responding to anything that anyone had said. It was just this beautiful, special, individual thing. It was as if I was the only person in the world who had seen that film. And that’s how it made me feel. And then I watched it again. And I was like, yeah, only I know this film, only I feel understood, this film is written about me, for me. So that’s where I am. A really normal response to a film. [Gemma & Slim laugh] Really mature and good, really. I love it so much. It’s just so great. And it’s not even out yet!
SLIM It’s not even out yet. So that was actually what I was gonna say, because I saw this, you know, lucky enough to get a screener to watch it. But some of these movies that we talk about in this episode, as a regular Letterboxd user, it can be difficult to see all the movies popping the top of list and then, if you’re Pro or Patron you see where it’s streaming, and it’s nowhere. Some of these movies probably aren’t even going to be out for a while. So it can be difficult to just add these to your watchlist and just hope and pray that eventually it gets added for purchase, you get that email when it comes up. But it’s definitely gonna be worth the wait, in my opinion. I agree. I love this movie too.
GEMMA I have been lately obsessed with unit-stills photography, It’s always been a love of mine. I’m so fascinated by how stills photographers manage to sneak themselves onto a set and quietly do the work of the director and the cinematographer at the same time. In a way that also gives us, film lovers, that very first glimpse into a movie that we’re going to see. And I’m writing about this for Letterboxd at the moment because I love the work of Kirsty Griffin on The Power of the Dog, and I love the work of Eric, who is David Lowery’s regular stills photographer. But I love the poster for this film, because it is a remarkable still with that title The Worst Person in the World, but you’re looking at this smiling, gleeful, running, kinetic young woman. So you’re like, “Well how can she be the worst person in the world? I’m so excited for this film.” And then you watch the film and no spoilers, but let’s just say the stills photography is so inherent in unbelievable ways that just really, really got to the heart of me. Yeah, I love this film. I can’t wait for everyone, for it to come out. And I feel like, Slim, are we in danger of over-hyping the ‘slimfluence’? Given that you’ve seen it, you’re safe here. [Slim laughs] But should we just shut up at this point and move on?
SLIM Well it’s gonna be eight months from now by the time this movie comes out! So maybe the slimfluencing will be fine and people will be like, “Oh yeah, I heard good things about this. I’ll just check it out.” But the photography is insane in this movie. The scene in the town.
GEMMA Ah, the scene in the town.
SLIM That the poster is from. Holy moly, what scene.
ELLA Like magic, actually magic.
GEMMA Actually magic.
ELLA And I don’t want to say what happened, but what I do want to say is for the people who have seen that film and might wonder, in terms of the actual filming and getting it done, yeah, they actually did that. There are no effects. It’s exactly like what it is, it’s the way it looks. There’s no magic. It looks like magic, but they literally just shot it. And everyone just did their job.
GEMMA This is gorgeous. And in terms of the category that it sits in, the Romance category. You know, how does it stack up in terms of—I mean, it’s been—can we just say, last time we had you on the pod, Ella, I don’t know if we’re allowed to go here. But we were talking about your dating history.
ELLA Oh my gosh. [Ella laughs] Let’s go here! Let’s go here! [Gemma & Ella laugh] I know where you’re going. Go on! Go on!
SLIM The Trials and Tribulations of Ella is the alternate title of that episode.
MITCHELL That’s why we’re all here.
GEMMA It’s why we’re all here.
SLIM There is no Year in Review episode, we’re just checking in again. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA So when we last left off—
ELLA I can’t believe I did this. [Mitchell laughs]
GEMMA In the ninth chapter of Ella, according to the French title of Ella’s life film. [Gemma laughs] You were deep in the throes of Coronavirus era, not dating. And as we enter 2022, things have changed!
ELLA Yeah, things have changed. Also, I’m probably aware that I’m recording really loudly. And someone in the next room over might be like, “Oh, is she talking about me?” [Mitchell & Gemma laugh] We’re gonna have a fun conversation in an hour. Yeah, I mean, things have changed. And this is, okay, this is something I love. In all seriousness, guys, let’s focus on the movies here. No, in all seriousness, this is something I love about this film. You know, I watched The Worst Person in the World on my own the first time I saw it, and I really loved it. And it was one of those—we’ve kind of talked about this, when we talk about movies before, in the sense that there are some films that I really love that I feel that I don’t really care who else loves them, because I love them enough, and it doesn’t really matter. And, you know, if people think I have silly taste, that’s fine. Whereas this film, I feel really strongly about it. And that anyone who cares about me, or wants me to like them in any way, they need to be on my level for this film. And my boyfriend is! So that’s great! So, you know, 2022, great film, great company. [Gemma laughs] Everyone’s on the same page. It’s all great guys.
SLIM Starting with a win.
ELLA But one thing I do want to say, why I think this so—this just deserves so much of the Romance list, because it’s not just about—I love completely traditional love stories in film in the most kind of, you know, binary backwards, classic, dated ways. I think it can work and be wonderful and romantic and exciting and all of that. However, what I love about this is that it’s not just one that kind of goes through ups and downs and then endings and breaks but then endings and then one journey, kind of broken up in however rightfully complex or beautiful that might be. It kind of breaks things down into pieces. And I like that Julie’s love life is more kind of determined by how she’s running and kind of figuring things out and dropping stuff and then picking them up. And then there are people that come in and out of her life and they come back again and matter a lot. But it’s not just—the phrase “love of my life” is used in the film, but it’s not—it’s used so different to a lot of other, not just films, but any kind of way that people talk about love. It’s just done really differently. And it’s very fresh and without trying to be deliberately subversive or daring or bold or or trying to do something different. It’s just really listening to the way that kind of the way you might feel sometimes doesn’t always fit with just one kind of thing. And I think it’s wonderful. There you go. There’s some movie talk for you to move away from me. [Gemma & Slim laugh]
SLIM Mitchell, any quick thoughts from your end from The Worst Person in the World before we get to your spotlights?
MITCHELL Yeah, what Ella was kind of just talking about there is the thing that I think is the most lasting for me about the movie, that impressed me about the movie, is that it’s very much not-traditional in the way that it sees the relationships between these characters. It’s extremely layered. And Julie has a relationship with one man in particular, who’s, you know, a little bit older. And one of the things I love so much about the film is that when that relationship is first happening, Julie and us as the audience kind of see him in a particular way. And we get, kind of, we make up our kind of opinions on him in that way. And then as she gets older, she reframes kind of how she views him. And we then have the same kind of response of reframing the way that we see him as well. And that’s something that just happens naturally in real life. You know, as you get older, your perspective on the world changes, your perspective on relationships change, and we see kind of how that develops throughout her life. So it’s really interesting as kind of a coming-of-age movie in a really real way that I think is reflected, it reflects real life in a way that I don’t think a lot of films often do, the way that we kind of just see people and how our views of the world change.
ELLA It’s also so good on a rewatch.
GEMMA And I just want to say for anyone who’s also a lover of art and lover of the process of making art, and who was fascinated by the compromises that we artists have to make in our lives. It’s got a lot to say about that, too. It’s really beautiful. Should we move from Romance to Drama? And should we move from Ella to Mitchell?
SLIM Mitchell, let’s hear about your spotlight for the Year in Review.
MITCHELL Yeah, so the first movie that I wanted to kind of single out is the highest-rated Drama category in our Year in Review. It is the number three film on our Drama list and the number five film on Letterboxd overall list, which is the movie C’mon C’mon from the writer, director, Mike Mills of Beginners and 20th Century Women fame. As you know, rating that highly on both of those lists, it’s clearly a film that’s hit a major connection with the Letterboxd community, which isn’t at all, I don’t think a surprise, considering kind of if you know Mike Mills, from his other movies, there’s a delicacy to his work and a really personal touch to his work that he’s drawing often from his own life. Beginners was kind of about, you know, in some way inspired by the relationship with his father and then 20th Century Women was about the relationship with his mother. C’mon C’mon is kind of inspired, it’s not autobiographical in any way, really. But it’s inspired by his relationship with his kid, which in the film is reflected with Joaquin Phoenix as the main character. And the film is really charting this kind of bond that he develops with his nephew, because his sister has to go away for a little bit. And Joaquin Phoenix is charged with taking care of the nephew played by Woody Norman. And we really just see over the course of the film, the two of them in that bond grow. And it’s really, kind of on paper, it’s a really simple film, it’s, you know, not really much more than that, there’s not like a lot of plot going on. And that really tends to be the case with Mike Mills, he doesn’t complicate his work with a lot of moving parts, he really just narrows in this focus on characters and their relationships. And that kind of really comes through as we see the complications of this relationship and that bond kind of growing. And the thing that really sticks out the most for me about his work in general, and especially in C’mon C’mon is how he tackles emotion and expressing emotion and kind of encouraging the audience to be in touch with their emotions. And with it being such a personal story for him, that almost comes with the risk of it being so personal to the audience, like maybe you wouldn’t be able to connect with it, because it almost feels like this is like his movie, right? And we just don’t have any way in, but it ends up going kind of the reverse way, which is something that I love so much about his films in general, is that making something so personal ends up building that bridge where it connects with audiences. And I think that’s something that you see, when you look through Letterboxd reviews of C’mon C’mon, you kind of see the thing that Ella was just talking about with The Worst Person in the World, so many people watching C’mon C’mon are writing and saying, you know, “This movie was made just for me. This movie is like my movie.” And I mean, I felt the exact same way when I was watching it. And it’s so remarkable because he made it for him. Right? That’s his, that’s coming from him. But because it’s so personal, he really builds that bridge for it to connect with everybody. So everybody, I mean, obviously, not everybody, everybody, but, you know, a lot of people feel that same thing that this movie was made for me, this really touches me.
SLIM We have this beautiful interview that you’ve done with Mike Mills. And I was watching this and I remembered—so usually, when I watch movies, maybe the last 20 minutes or so I’ll start poking around on Letterboxd to see what my friends have said.
MITCHELL A responsible thing to do.
SLIM Like am I lining up with things? Or am I different? [Slim laughs] So and then I was like, oh, that’s right. We have this Mike Mills interview. Maybe it’s time for me to reread that. And he has this amazing quote in there: “Feelings are my genre.”
ELLA Oh my god.
SLIM And just as the movie was ending, I was like, oh my god, am I in love with Mike Mills right now? [Mitchell laughs]
ELLA Yes! The answer is yes.
SLIM It just felt so right. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA Yes, you and Miranda July.
SLIM I was just so smitten with his film, how it looked. Oh my god, it’s gorgeous. And just how so many scenes just kind of sat there, you know? And you’re with the actors. You’re with the characters. You’re with the moment. I was just so in love with this movie when I finally saw it. So yeah, great interview. And I think this is available digitally now officially for people to purchase. So it’s out there in the world.
GEMMA Yeah, that’s how I watched it. And I mean, what a beautiful—I haven’t even formulated any words about this on Letterboxd yet.
ELLA Me neither.
GEMMA I’m still letting it sit with me. Yeah, but some of my favorite reviews are the ones that absolutely get that this film, which is about an uncle and a nephew is a film about mothering and motherhood. And that comes through really clearly I think in your interview with Mike, Mitchell. But it really comes through clearly in the Joaquin character’s phone conversations with his sister, played by Gaby Hoffman, where he’s like, “This happened and this happened.” She’s like, “Yeah, that happens. It all happens.” [Gemma & Mitchell laugh]
MITCHELL Yeah. One of the things that I think makes C’mon C’mon stand out so much is like it’s this relationship between these two men, one an adult male and one a younger one, but the Gaby Hoffman character, Gaby Hoffman plays the mother, that’s a character who in a lot of movies, she would disappear at the beginning, and we would like never really see her again, or very rarely see her again. But she’s always coming back into it. Even if it’s with the phone call. You know, she has so much interiority, which I think is something that I love about Mike Mills in general, he never forgets about the women in his stories. He never forgets about any of the characters. Like I think about Beginners, which is about Ewan McGregor and like his relationship with his father and his relationship with Mélanie Laurent’s character, but you have those flashbacks in Beginners, with him as a young child and about his mother. And when I watch Beginners, I think so much about my relationship with my mother and growing up with my mother, and I see myself in those scenes. And it’s like, in Beginners, he didn’t have to have any of those scenes in there. You know, you didn’t need that for the story that he was telling. Just like in C’mon C’mon, it doesn’t need to be told with Gaby Hoffman being an important part of the story. But that’s an important thing for him. And that translates so well with the audience. And it just makes it stand out so much from other types of movies that are similar to this one.
GEMMA In the Letterboxd Year in Review, we often will pick out themes that we’ve noticed, and films that tie them together. And C’mon C’mon sits in a list that’s black and white with a splash of color. And it only just makes it into that list. And only for one absolutely devastating use of color in the closing credits. Yeah, I had to go and sort of figure out what that was all about. And it turns out that one of the beautiful young people that Joaquin’s character and his podcast, his public-radio mates are talking to in New Orleans, like these are real kids. And that young nine-year-old beautiful child was gunned down after they filmed those interviews in New Orleans, which is just devastating but also what a beautiful, brief, spectacular, artistic decision to make and the closing credits, of all things.
SLIM Yeah, it was a nice little tribute.
ELLA That’s amazing.
SLIM Gemma, is it Gemma’s turn?
GEMMA Is it my turn?
SLIM Is it Gemma’s turn to talk about your spotlight? Normally I would kind of already make a prediction of what your spotlight would be. But I think we’ve already covered that over the season. Why don’t you tell us? What’s your big first spotlight of the two for this episode?
GEMMA Yeah, well, I thought I would spare you another spiel on The Power of the Dog. And also, I was gonna push the boat out, but I ran out of time to watch Clifford the Big Red Dog, I was really gonna throw a favor to Mitchell. [Gemma & Slim laugh]
ELLA Oh my god!
SLIM Clifford retrospective episode. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA Look, let’s just do a live-action-animation hybrid episode and we’ll just devote it to Clifford [the Big Red Dog] and you can come back to that, Mitchell.
MITCHELL I’m down. I’m very down, any time.
GEMMA You know me, I set the rules of this podcast and then I personally always break them. So for my first movie spotlight, I’ve actually chosen two. And I’m really sorry about it, but it makes a lot of sense. [Slim laughs] I have chosen for the Documentary Films, and the Documentary Miniseries categories, and both are number one in their respective sections. Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) and [The Beatles:] Get Back, the Peter Jackson billion-hour-long Beatles making-of Let It Be. And I just thought, there’s something beautiful that happens in every movie year, in fact, in every film festival. And we talk about this a lot, that suddenly there are mirrors. You know, there are films that are in conversation with each other without realizing it. And for me, these two titles are the perfect bookends of the year 2021. So we started with Sundance January 2021. A long, long time ago, several Coronavirus mutations ago, in the thick of yet another winter-outbreak. Right in the midst of that dark, dark time, Questlove came along, Ahmir Thompson, and made life a bit more beautiful and celebratory, and also took the piss out of white people celebrating Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon in the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on July 20th, 1969. Because at that time, in that same summer, there was an extraordinary concert series taking place in Harlem. And it was filmed. And then those film cans sat in someone’s attic for another 50 years. And so we know about Woodstock, we even know about the Beatles recording, but we never knew about this incredible concert series until he came along. And interestingly, Questlove hadn’t directed anything before and wasn’t going to direct this. He was going to be one of the interviewees, I believe. And then he was just basically asked and asked and asked again, to take the helm and made it also during the time of Coronavirus. So people are wearing masks in the film. So it’s an official Covid-era movie. And all the more spectacular for it, because it does what we haven’t been able to do, which is drop us right in the middle of a spectacular live music event. And reclaim history. And yeah, I said it before and I’ll say it again, I think apart from all of the actual musical performances, my favorite moment is when they’re just going around interviewing all these people in Harlem about the moon landing, and they’re like, “I don’t care. We’re trying to solve crises on Earth, and these white people like going to the moon. Why? It makes no sense.” Anyway, I love it. Love it so much.
SLIM Streaming on Hulu right now. So if anyone hasn’t seen that yet, in the States, at least it’s readily available.
GEMMA Yeah. And it’s just utterly, utterly joyous. And so well filmed. And one of the reasons it’s so well filmed is because the cameras are aimed at the audience as much as they aimed at the stage. And oftentimes, you get the performances captured from multiple angles, but you don’t often get those really beautiful long shots of, you know, not just the wide shots of the crowd, but the close ups of people just absolutely loving and losing their shit. And then we finished the year with Peter Jackson’s 32-gazillion-hour-long look into The Beatles making their final album, which happened in the same year, January of ’69. And it’s just so fascinating because it kind of does a few things in terms of unraveling history. History that, you know, as a woman in the music industry, for me, it’s that the whole Yoko-ness of girlfriends, of hangers-on, of groupies has always been extremely problematic. And this movie kind of undoes that because Yoko is there. And there’s this amazing conversation—
SLIM She’s been vindicated.
GEMMA Yeah, she’s been vindicated. I mean, sure, she and John were kind of high most of the time but there’s this amazing moment. This is incredible conversation and it’s possibly because Linda is sitting right next to him, but where Paul McCartney says, “Look, if John has asked to choose between Yoko and The Beatles, of course he’s gonna choose Yoko and as he should.” And you’re just like, there, there it is. Can we please erase the last 50 years of history, where for some reason, the female partner of a great artist has made it a problem. Like she did not end The Beatles. I don’t know what ended The Beatles, maybe it was George’s pink polo neck. [Gemma laughs]
ELLA I’d like to say that I bought myself one after watching it. [Mitchell & Gemma laugh] I bought a pink one, a yellow one, and a red cord shirt with white buttons.
GEMMA Yes! I’m just gonna tell you, I’m just gonna wrap this up. And I’d love to hear your thoughts. But with a few of my personal highlights of [The Beatles:] Get Back. When George asks for a glass of white wine. When George tells Paul he likes his beard. When George wears the pink polo neck. [Ella laughs] When George says “Jazz really moves me in a fantastic way.” And then when George says, and like this is the crux of the whole thing, right? “Whatever it is that will please you, I will do it.” [Ella gasps]
ELLA I’m gonna cry!
GEMMA Oh my god.
ELLA I love him.
SLIM One of my notes was Peter Sellers’ cameo.
GEMMA Oh, yes!
SLIM I just felt like one of the worst cameos.
GEMMA That guy.
SLIM And he just looks like nobody invited you, and he’s just like, everyone’s waiting for you to leave. [Slim & Gemma laugh] I just felt so bad for him when he walked into that recording that day.
GEMMA Don’t feel bad for Peter Sellers, that guy, I mean, he was a genius, but he was also a fucking asshole! Oh my god. Major problem. [Slim laughs] Anyway, also how great is it that it’s also about the art of filmmaking as well? Because never has there been a documentary where the crew was more prominent and more fantastically dressed, and have more opinions than in [The Beatles:] Get Back?
SLIM One of the other things too, I noted, and there’s been some—you know, Justin LaLiberty on a previous episode, you know, he’s worked very hard on restorations. I think he has some qualms about how they use AI to quote, “restore” the, what is it? 16mm? I can’t remember what they filmed on. But to me, it looked insane! It looked insanely good in 4K, like it just boggles my mind, the technology that’s out there to, quote, “clean up the film,” you know, they did a lot more than clean up the film. And it just is insane. And I think Peter did some of that work on his war documentary with the footage that he did previously, but it’s just mind blowing. when you have some money and computers, like what you can do. It’s crazy stuff. Is it my turn?
GEMMA There’s also—
SLIM No, go ahead Gemma.
GEMMA Yep, that’s enough on that. No, no, no, no. It’s all good.
SLIM Gemma makes this amazing impassioned speech on women and then I’m coming in, “That’s enough, Gemma, it’s my turn to talk. Thank you!”
MITCHELL “It’s my turn to talk about Godzilla vs. Kong!” [Slim & Gemma & Mitchell laugh]
SLIM Speaking of giving your soul over to the devil, when we were putting the Year in Review together, I saw a movie… Argentinian movie, was the number-one-rated horror movie, History of the Occult. And I had never heard of this movie. So me being a horror lover, I had to go do some digging, you know, phone up some industry contacts and say how do I get my hands on this movie? So I watched this movie. I’ll read the synopsis really quick. “It’s 60 minutes to Midnight’s’ last broadcast,” It’s like 60 Minutes. “The most famous journalism show on TV. It’s 60 minutes to Midnight’s last broadcast, the most famous journalism show on TV. Tonight’s is Adrian Marcato, who might expose a conspiracy that links the Government with an actual Coven.” And in my review, I kind of called it out as like, if Shudder had bought the rights to this movie, they would hype this movie up and it would be featured in the Shudder app for a couple months. It’s very low key. It combines live television, with psychotropic drugs, the Occult, it’s set in black-and-white for the most part, political intrigue. And it’s this investigative team that finds something potentially nefarious and they’re not in-set, it’s like real time, pretty much. The 60 Minutes show kind of progresses while this team of journalists are watching in a secret location, hoping that they can kind of pull it off on live television. As it does with live television, things go awry. And it’s revealed, you know, they’re trying to bring people to justice but there’s something bigger at play going on, it all unfolds seemingly in real time. So I was pretty blown away by this entire movie.
GEMMA Is this the only film in this episode that only you have seen, Slim?
SLIM It might be! I think only Aaron might have this logged, from the Letterboxd crew. There was only four people that I follow that have logged this.
MITCHELL I think Jack saw it too. I think Jack has seen like 95% of the movies that are in the Year in Review.
SLIM Crazy percentage, yeah.
SLIM I just read that one of the companies had bought the rights and unfortunately kind of like also called out when they bought the rights to the digital distribution, they call it the ‘remake rights’ and I did kind of feel like this, as I’m watching it—it’s a small Argentinian production, like some American company is going to come in and make an American version of it’s probably gonna just usurp all the kind of like cool, niche, buzz about this. So when this is available, I hope people kind of check it out and get it in on the ground floor because it is a lot of fun if you’re into the kind of funky low-budget horror stuff.
GEMMA This sounds absolutely amazing, and maybe a remake won’t be so horrible if it’s got like Vera Farmiga and some other modern-day horror geniuses in roles. What do you think?
SLIM Maybe it’ll get people to watch the original.
SLIM Maybe it’ll get people to watch the original. I mean I’m thinking, right off the top of my head, the lead anchor, Tom Cruise. [Gemma laughs] We get Tom in there.
GEMMA I thought you were gonna say another Tom, and I was gonna be like “No, that’s enough. Get off. You’re done.” [Slim laughs] Should we move to Comedy?
SLIM Let’s do it.
GEMMA It’s been a weird year for comedy. We’re not getting a lot of stand-up specials at the moment. But I know that you love your comedy, Ella.
ELLA Oh, I do. I love to laugh. I love to laugh. [Gemma laughs] And boy, did I laugh in 2021. [Ella laughs] In my defense, my carbon energy is like this is exactly [Bo Burnham:] Inside. Like I don’t know if any of you have seen [Bo Burnham:] Inside. Everything about the way I am right now, is Bo Burnham’s fault, like it just is. You know, like that special, it changed my year. I’ve watched it four times. It came out last June, I think? May or June or something. [Ella sighs] Look, okay, so, Bo Burnham, he made a comedy special in 2016, I believe called [Bo Burnham:] Make Happy, which I have loved dearly for a very long time. And one of the things that I love so much about [Bo Burnham:] Make Happy is that it seems very final, it’s very dramatic. And you very much get the sense at the end of it that Bo Burnham was never going to make a comedy special because it makes him deeply unhappy. Then he goes on to make Eighth Grade, spectacular. He’s wonderful fiction filmmaker, director and screenwriter and all these things. And then, in the middle of last year, you know, we’re all minding our own business and, and the guy goes and posts a picture of a door on Instagram. Everyone’s like, “Oh, that’s neat. He’s posting a picture of a door.” But if you if you knew that that was the door at the end of [Bo Burnham:] Make Happy. And I think that’s when my 2021 kind of shifted, and it stopped belonging to me. And then, you know, belongs to Bo Burnham. So with [Bo Burnham:] Inside, Bo Burnham basically took—so he ends [Bo Burnham:] Make Happy, by leaving the stage, and certainly walking straight from the stage where he’s pulling to, you know, to an audience in a kind of standard venue, he leaves a stage and he goes into his own, kind of, not a workshop, like his own little side-house away from his house where he writes and is I don’t know, is funny. And so that’s where he finished, [Bo Burnham:] Make Happy, [Bo Burnham:] Inside takes place entirely in this little room, this little house were at least in the in the world of [Bo Burnham:] Inside, where he locked himself in, on his own, during the pandemic. And so it’s this time capsule of lockdown, of the pandemic, of everything we’ve kind of been dealing with over the last two years. And I think when it first came out, when it was first announced before it came out, I remember thinking to myself, I was like, you know, I will watch and begrudgingly love everything this man does. But I don’t need another—because, you know, but summer 2021, we’ve been dealing with this for like over a year already. And there had been a lot of art made about the pandemic already. And I thought, I just—Bo Burnham is very neurotic, which is one of the things I love most about him. But also, you know, we’ve all become more neurotic in the last year and a half. So it’s like, I don’t know if I need more of that. But I just, I think it’s incredible. I think it’s an amazing piece of art about being trapped with yourself in a global pandemic, and it also doesn’t address the pandemic, which array in terms of things very much clearly about that. It’s very good about like, being trapped with yourself in the current context of the world, but also being trapped with yourself when you create and you can only rely on yourself to make work, be happy, make friends, keep and maintain relationships, entertain yourself, distract yourself, like heal yourself and do all of these things. And it just bottles all of it. And I think it’s just, I think it’s amazing. And at the same time, the music’s really good. You know, Bo Burnham has always done musical comedy, and I think he has quite a distinctive voice. And I know some people don’t like it. I personally love it. So this is not for those people, sorry. [Ella laughs] But everything that he’s kind of been nurturing and working on, and kind of, I suppose, sharpening over the last few years is just at his most sophisticated and slick and, and ambitious, and just excellent in this. Which is my, when it came out on Netflix—so none of the songs of [Bo Burnham:] Make Happy are on Spotify. And this is a great sadness of mine. And it’s a problem. And I thought this might happen with [Bo Burnham:] Inside and I was quite distressed about it. But then a few months later, and all of the songs for [Bo Burnham:] Inside were released on Spotify. And then they turned into vinyl, and then it played in cinemas for a bit. And it’s become a whole thing! And I just think, you know, like honestly, fairplay. You really should know when you can take it out of that room. And it’s like recognizing how good your art is, and kind of expanding it. And I think, particularly after [Bo Burnham:] Make Happy and everything, I do think there are some artists like that, for me at least, as much musicians, as filmmakers, everything, where I love everything they do. And I want to support them so much beyond just watching the things. And it seems like it’s—I don’t know what the logic is, but is it worth the effort or the hassle or they don’t they don’t want to expand beyond that one piece of work. And, I love that someone clearly just managed to convince him being like, “This is amazing. You have to do more with it, let it live on, let it come out of the bubble.”
GEMMA Okay, diving straight into the controversy. On Letterboxd there were a number of viewers of [Bo Burnham:] Inside who felt let down or in other ways, I guess, put out and upset by what looked like a privileged white men with all the available resources to be able to buy funky new toys and tools to make his numbers more and more interesting and exciting, visually. Having mental health problems in a pandemic, where people who are in far worse personal circumstances, you know, don’t have those privileges. And I found those reviews really challenging. And I guess I speak from a place of privilege in saying that too. And that they were essentially saying it’s sort of not okay to make art, if you’re kind of doing okay materially. Yeah, I’m still kind of muddling that conundrum, even this far down the track. Love your thoughts.
ELLA I think—I don’t know. I do, I completely understand it. And I think that applies so much in terms of all the kind of music we listen to. Like how many sad white men with guitars have made millions over decades? [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA Too many. Too many.
ELLA Yeah, it’s like, I will give them all my money every time. I think, for me, I kind of see it in the way that I see—I’m also coming at this from an extreme place of privilege as well, where like, you know, very little in the grand scheme of things has gone wrong for me. I’ve watched [Bo Burnham:] Inside four times in the pandemic, I’m fine. But I’m coming at this in terms of like why Bo Burnham maybe made this in two different ways, I think. The first way would be I think in the same way that why everyone’s still right to make art about heartbreak over and over and over and over again, because however small or big it is for you, nobody else knows how it feels, like if they might be able to somewhat connect, you know, like Mitchell, what you were saying about Mike Mills and C’mon C’mon and it’s obviously about his kid, and if you can find something to connect with in that, that’s wonderful. But it is his story. And I think privileged white men making art about their own neuroses, they can’t make out about anything else! They don’t know anything else. And I think as someone who writes, to do that to an extent. It’s like, if you don’t put it into art, be that in film, or music, whatever. Where are you going to put it? Like, there’s nowhere to put it! And it’s a lot, I think. And I think it is, you know, that’s one part of it in terms of suffering and neuroses—I’m getting really big here. This is just a very non-backed up theory whatsoever. [Gemma & Mitchell laugh]
GEMMA Do we need to get a psychiatrist on the Hotline?
ELLA Ohhh, so sorry. I just think it’s relative, in the sense that, it’s catharsis and then it’s a bonus if anyone else connects with it. And I think with Bo Burnham, a lot of people do connect with it. And but I do think there’s another side to it, which I really noticed with [Bo Burnham:] Inside. He’s been talking about his neuroses for decades, and addresses this in a lot of interviews he did after Eighth Grade saying that he stopped doing stand up because he would get panic attacks on stage. And I think, in [Bo Burnham:] Inside, you can really—it feels more sinister to me. I am more worried for him in this—again, it’s all relative. I’m not that worried for Bo Burnham, but I’m more worried for him in this than other things I’ve seen him do. Because I think it’s such a, it’s a coping mechanism completely. I’d rather he makes art, and that’s irritating and about things that fundamentally he’s fine. I’d rather he does this and feels better, rather than doing something much more dangerous and upsetting and bad and whatever else. I want to think about Demi’s review of [Bo Burnham:] Inside. Because I think he just absolutely nailed it in far more eloquent ways than I could. And even just his first sentence, I’d recommend you read the whole review that Demi wrote of this on May 30th. But at the start, he says, “There’s something poisonous about being forcibly stuck inside as a person who have used creative work as their life’s goal. When there’s nothing to do but create, your mind starts to eat itself and make you feel bad for not being able to create even more.” So it’s this horrible cycle, and it’s poisonous, and then eats you up. And then with Bo Burnham as well, where he’s so far into his career, and it’s so reliant on an audience that it’s like, what else is he going to do? I’d love to see him do something else, but I don’t know—you know, we’re quite far down the line at this point. So to circle back, I don’t know. [Gemma & Slim & Mitchell laugh]
SLIM Mitchell, any thoughts before we get to your spotlight?
MITCHELL I mean, yeah, it’s a heavy topic. And I think that the kind of takes Gemma’s talking about like, I think they’re fair. If hearing a rich, cis, straight, white guy complaining about how hard things are for him just isn’t something that you’re interested in, like, solid. That’s fair. I don’t think that like that’s a voice that we need to hear necessarily, but for some people, maybe it is what they need to hear, like Ella was saying. Mental health struggles, anybody can connect with certain things. So if you’re not interested in listening to that you don’t have to, right? But, I mean, I personally, I have a kind of weird journey with Bo Burnham. And with this special in particular. I was not really a fan of his before. I didn’t really like his comedy. I was impressed with kind of technically and dictatorially the way that he would do his specials and stuff, but his style of comedy, or the content of his comedy was just like a little bit juvenile for me before. So when [Bo Burnham:] Inside came out, and everybody was hyping it so much, I didn’t watch it for a long time, because I just didn’t think that it was gonna be like for me. And I didn’t mind that other people liked it, but I just didn’t think that was my thing. And my partner, Samm, who also works for Letterboxd, they watched it, and they were obsessed with the songs they got really into the songs and when it came out on Spotify were like playing the songs, and so just kind of by osmosis of being around them, hearing the songs, the songs got stuck in my head. I thought the songs are really funny and catchy. And so for literally months, like six months, I was constantly listening to the songs on Spotify, without ever having watched the special, like just listening to the songs over and over again. [Gemma laughs] To the point where my end-of-year Spotify-wrapped, my number one artist was Bo Burnham.
ELLA Oh my god!
ELLA It’s not even mine! It’s not even mine!
GEMMA This is amazing!
MITCHELL But so then I finally watched the special, like a month ago, and I mean it’s really impressive. And I think that it really has what Ella is talking about. You know, with these struggles that he’s had. I mean, there’s certainly things that I really relate to in them. And I think, I mean, I think the special is really impressive just even from a technical level, the way that he composes everything as if they're their own individual vignettes, like he makes particular music videos out of every song. I think it’s really impressive. And as somebody who was not a Bo Burnham fan, I was really, really impressed with the whole thing and I still every single day listen to the song. And honestly, listening to the songs has been a really cathartic kind of coping mechanism for me too. It’s a thing that I listened to just because it taps into something in me that soothes me even when it’s talking about the more difficult stuff.
[White Woman’s Instagram by Bo Burnham fades in]
GEMMA I just want to say that one of my great joys of 2021 has been getting ‘White Woman’s Instagram’ stuck as an ear worm pretty much daily. It’s like maybe I’m childish, people claim it’s an anti-feminist song, because it’s sort of belittling a practice that a certain—
ELLA Cancel me.
GEMMA Section of womanhood. Yeah, exactly. Cancel me. I love it. I get the giggles every time. I sing it while I’m making my coffee in the morning. It just brings me so much joy. Speaking of comedy, I was gonna say, let’s just keep rolling with Comedy and move to Mitchell’s second choice, which is also from the Comedy Features category, right?
MITCHELL Which is the number nine film on the list. Emma Seligman’s film and I—so Shiva Baby, we’re talking about kind of [The] Worst Person in the World, the fact that a lot of people aren’t even able to see it yet. A lot of people haven’t been able to see it yet, it comes out in like theaters, I think finally, like February 4th for people to hopefully be able to start watching it. Shiva Baby, I first saw back in the fall of 2020. It played at New Fest, the New York Queer Film Festival. I saw it there and I mean, it immediately blew me away. It’s so funny, so, so funny. This like cringe comedy. The film is kind of about this young woman played by Rachel Sennott who has to go to a Shiva and when she is there, she’s kind of swarmed by all of the people in kind of her culture, her community, her parents who are asking her questions about what she’s doing with her life, what are her relationships like, when is she going to get a husband and settle down, what’s she doing for a career, all the people that are disconnected with it. But at the same time, also at the Shiva is her ex-girlfriend who she clearly has some sort of tension with, things didn’t go well. Also at the Shiva, is her current sugar daddy, who she just left having a little session with and so she’s dealing with all of these things all at once. It’s all kind of colliding and Emma Seligman creates this hilarious cringe comedy out of it, but it’s also so unnerving the entire movie. When Jack and I were kind of going through the list and deciding, looking at kind of genres and does this this actually, should this actually be considered a comedy, should this movie could be considered a drama, should so-and-so movie be considered sci-fi, whatever, whatever, whatever. And looking at Shiva Baby, it’s like, okay, it’s on the Comedy list for sure, it’s obviously a comedy. But it also could just as easily apply to the horror list because I think it’s so anxiety-inducing to a degree that I don’t know if any film has really captured that, in a while at least. This is a little bit controversial, maybe I’m not mentioning a Letterboxd take, but a Twitter take that was very popular, was referring to Shiva Baby as “Uncut Gems for hot Jewish sluts.” [Slim & Gemma laugh]
GEMMA I was so hoping you’d say that! [Mitchell laughs]
ELLA I think about it all the time!
MITCHELL I know Ella interviewed Emma Seligman, and Ella mentioned that tweet directly to Emma in her interview with Emma earlier this year for—or earlier last year, I guess, for Letterboxd—and I think that that tweet “Uncut Gems for hot Jewish sluts” is literally in however many words that is, this distillation of exactly what Shiva Baby is. It is hilarious, it’s sexy, it’s funny, it is also so anxiety-inducing you want to just scream and it’s only like 80 minutes long. And it’s on HBO Max now, so if you got HBO Max, pretty much anybody can watch it. And I think no movie—I mean, it’s just lasted this whole time. It started premiering and festivals in 2020 and it still has such a high rating on Letterboxd, everybody loves it. Culturally, it’s very Jewish, but it also is, you know, very universal. Like I have Jewish friends who watched the movie and are like “That is literally what it’s like.” It’s like one of my best friends, this guy Ross, who is on Letterboxd—shout out Ross. It’s his favorite movie of the year, he has not stopped talking about it all year. But it’s also as somebody who is not Jewish, I watch it, and I see, like so many elements of it that I relate to you. We can all kind of relate to being in a group setting with people, where you just feel like you can’t be yourself, you can’t be honest, and everybody’s just kind of nagging you. And the way that that tension rises is just so brilliant throughout the movie.
GEMMA I mean, we have our resident Jewish girl right here, so, you know, Ella. Talk about the authenticity of this film.
ELLA Uh, I just, okay. I mean, the thing that I love is I don’t consider myself a particularly religious Jew. Wow, I said that the exact same way Lady Gaga says she’s “not a particularly ethical person”. [Mitchell laughs] I mean, it’s true! Let me try that again. I don’t consider myself a particularly religious Jew. But how am I gonna finish? I don’t know. Anyway. But I see myself in Shiva Baby. And I think that’s what makes it so, like, that’s what makes it such a good Jewish film, because it’s not kind of showing you like ‘Oh, this is how we pray. And this is how we eat,’ whatever. But it is the kind of mannerisms and people’s personalities, it is the overbearing relatives, and like the eyebrows that kind of just like roll back into your skull when you mentioned the word ‘feminism’ and that, you know, you’re not a doctor. And yeah, she was your ex-girlfriend. No, no, she wasn’t your best friend I thought she was. And then when your mom’s being a bit too loud. I know all of these things happen in every culture. It’s not exclusive at all. But it’s quite acute for Jews that I know and the Jew that I am. And I think this is something that was when I interviewed Emma, we were talking about that. It’s just like, it’s not trying to kind of put Jews on the map and do anything for kind of representation. It’s just, it’s just innate. It’s so—it’s overbearing, it’s annoying. Obviously, all of that does translate on screen and then you’re just like, “Oh, yeah, I guess that’s what it’s like to be a Jew. And that’s what it’s like to be a young woman with frizzy hair who doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life.” [Mitchell laughs]
GEMMA Oh my god. I saw this movie because Ella screamed at me via DMs that I needed to see this movie. [Ella laughs]
ELLA It’s quite a recurring theme, I’m sorry. [Gemma & Mitchell laugh]
GEMMA I mean, it was this one and The Worst Person in the World are two films that Ellis screamed in capital letters at me that I had to watch.
ELLA You’re welcome!
GEMMA And she’s two for two, batting two for two at the moment, so I’m all over it. Yeah, thank you very much. I love so much about this film, but specifically the scene around the table that’s got the bagels and everything at the Shiv, when the sugar daddies partner—anyway. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, you just need to watch the choreography of that scene. It’s extraordinary. But I was gonna say, can we all just agree that Rachel Sennott?
GEMMA That’s all I have to say.
ELLA So true!
MITCHELL Very much so, yes.
GEMMA I have been just IMDbing her because I want to know, like, I know she’s done some TV. But I want to know, what are we going to see Rachel Sennott in next?
GEMMA And not just because she’s brilliant in Shiva Baby, but because she has been brilliant, this entire pandemic, outside of Shiva Baby, all across social media. This woman, never has there been a better match, I think, between lead role and lead actress in terms of what she herself has brought to the world of promoting this film. She did this on documentjournal.com, she did this amazing ‘Everything you need to know about dating during the quar’, right near the beginning of like back in April 2020. And she’s talking about how right after the quarantine began, “I saw a lot of bragging from the 1%, the 1% being girls with boyfriends, rubbing it in our faces but during the lockdown, they’ll be able to have sex, talk to someone, be held, kiss each other on the mouth, et cetera. It seems like having a boyfriend is the best case scenario. But speaking as someone who’s been inside with a guy for over an hour before, it’s going to turn into a nightmare.” [Ella laughs] Like this woman is genius. And if you’re casting films, you could do no better than to have her on your publicity team.
ELLA I mean, the Shiva Baby universe is expanding.
ELLA Emma and Rachel are working together on a spin-off series for HBO, I’m pretty sure, called Sugar, or something.
GEMMA This is exciting.
ELLA Yeah. And they are also working together on another coming-of-age film not related to Shiva Baby, I don’t want to get the title wrong. It’s either called Bottoms or Bottoming or it’s something along those lines. A queer teen Fight Club. That’s what it’ll feel like. [Mitchell laughs]
SLIM Excuse me? What a pitch.
ELLA Yeah, yeah, yeah.
GEMMA Oh my god.
ELLA “Two unpopular queer girls who start a fight club to have sex before their high school graduation.” That is the official log line. [Slim laughs] Okay, I’m done now.
MITCHELL And I think they're co-writing that one together too, which is going to be even better.
SLIM Wow. Okay.
GEMMA And we also have two picks to go before we wrap up this absolute bumper Year in Review. Sorry to slim, you’re editing this. I hope that—
SLIM It’s going out unedited, just going out to the world. [Mitchell & Ella & Gemma laugh]
GEMMA Just before we get to—I’m really looking forward to diving into your second pick Slim. So I’m just going to very quickly touch on my number two.
GEMMA I could have chosen Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, because nobody has talked about Everybody’s Talking About Jamie enough, frankly. For me, it’s just Richard E. Grant, that beautiful song that they added to the movie that shows the history of AIDS activism in the UK. I’d love to talk about The Green Knight, but let’s just say magic-sex-belt pick 2021. That was beautiful. Thank you David Lowery. Cleaners is an extraordinary, amazing little film. And I just don’t know why Netflix released The Lost Daughter on the 31st of December, because she has not made it into any or many or any of our Year in Review lists. But let’s just put that at the top of our 2022 watchlists. But looking at all these films, and I guess talking about a lot of films that are not yet available to see, I thought I’m gonna dive into the Most Popular section and find something in there that I remember having loved in 2021. And you know what? I surprised myself, but it is Cruella.
GEMMA It is Cruella. I loved it.
ELLA I can’t believe that. [Gemma laughs] Same!
GEMMA Oh, good! Great! I thought you’re gonna say you can’t believe—
ELLA I know!
GEMMA I mean, it was just so good. And I was trying to sort of formulate my thoughts about why I loved it. But instead I’m going to read a review from Chvrches, a previous Letterboxd Show guest, three guests. And they write, she writes, “I actually really enjoyed this and don’t understand why I have seen so many people panning it?! The costuming is obviously amazing (always here for a bit a of Vivienne/McLaren/McQueen homage) and I liked the reinterpretation of the Cruella character. Fun; killer soundtrack; solid performances. Cute smol dog in rat costume. A better origins story than basically any of the comic book ones we’ve been subjected to these past years…” That is my review in a nutshell. I’m just going to plagiarize that and then the moderating team can report me and take me off Letterboxd, but I don’t know. I don’t care. But I think Craig Gillespie, Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Mark Strong, like the whole gang, John McRea, speaking of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. They just did a gangbusters job. I bloody loved it! That’s all I have to say.
ELLA No, but the thing is, like I’m kind of worried about saying that it’s so much fun now because I completely agree with you, Gemma. And I thought this at the time and just didn’t overthink it. I thought it looked amazing, sounded amazing. I mean, I think it has a lot in common with I, Tonya.
ELLA Craig Gillespie’s previous film and a lot of the kind of pacing and the energy of that I felt was quite similar. But then after Cruella came out, so many of my friends were kind of—I think they were hurt by me personally for having it hyped up so much. They were like, “Why have you lied? Why have you done this?” And they were getting so angry. And I was like, “Oh, I mean, I stand by what I thought.” So I’ve kind of just kind of retreated on the film. But no, I agree with you, Gemma. I think it’s fantastic. I think Emma Stone nails the accent. And I know we talk about this every time that anyone does an accent that isn’t theirs, but it’s so important for Cruella, like her voice is just as important as her hair and everything she wears and everything. And it is honestly spectacular, I’d say. A very fun film.
GEMMA And Paul Walter Hauser is gorgeous in it and Joel Fry is gorgeous in it. And, like, she’s a shit friend, and that’s what she has to learn.
ELLA Absolutely fantastic.
GEMMA And people sort of say, it’s sort a Joker for girls. And I’m like, no, no, it’s not because she learns how to be a friend and a human and also a psychopath. It’s all part and parcel, but…
ELLA And also, Emma Thompson.
GEMMA Yes! Oh my god. Also Emma Thompson, just… Emma Thompson.
ELLA An amazing standoff.
GEMMA Yeah, yeah, yeah. Incredible. I like Emma Thompson as a baddie. So that’s me. But speaking of popular, finishing out the year, and in several categories, including Most Popular, but I’m really glad we’re going sci-fi for your last pick, Slim. I’m glad we get to go Horror and Sci-fi. We’ve really covered a lot of the bases here.
SLIM We have to.
GEMMA Why don’t you dive in and tell us?
SLIM All we have is now, Gemma, all we have is right now. And all we have is [The] Matrix Ressurections. This year, I had gone through the OG trilogy for another podcast that I do. And I felt kind of bummed by the time I got to the third one. I think they announced [The] Matrix 4, like maybe a couple months back, and they’re like, “Oh, by the way, we made a new [The] Matrix 4 movie and it’s coming out soon on HBO Max.” Like, what? And then you watch the trilogy, and I’m like, ah, you know, maybe the trilogy didn’t end really that well. I’m not really that hyped for the movie anymore. But then I sat down, and I had a brand new [The] Matrix movie that I was watching at my house. You know, like it just felt like a really cool strange moment. [Gemma laughs in agreement] Like, this is weird. I’m watching some brand new Matrix movie, I grew up on The Matrix movie, the OG one. And now I get to like do that again at home? This is so cool. And I love that—first of all, I loved it. Gave it four and a half stars. I love that Lana didn’t conform to people’s expectations of what a sequel should be, or what a [The] Matrix sequel should be. It didn’t have the same action that people were expecting, like “Oh, it doesn’t have good action scenes.” Everything looked different, like it was obviously shot with RED cameras. You know, I love that Lana leaned in on all that stuff. And, you know, the subversive writing. And I loved the scenes between Neo and Trinity towards the end. Like I was sobbing.
GEMMA Well, speaking of romance. Was this in our Romance category?
ELLA So romantic!
SLIM It should be number one. It should be number one. It should be a tie, number one, [The] Matrix Resurrections.
ELLA It’s beautiful.
SLIM Ella, you thought the same way when you saw this, right? I won’t speak for you. But I think you did, right?
ELLA I was blown away by this film. I also rewatched the trilogy a few days before to get ready. And I like [The Matrix] Reloaded. I think it’s really fun. I really dislike [The Matrix] Revolutions. And I thought this was spectacular. Honestly, I think, I thought the first—I mean, as you say, Lana really kind of deconstructs the ideas of the sequel, and just how to reboot and remake anything. And it’s so smart. And I think it’s so rare to be able to be self aware, in that way, in your script, without just being very plainly really annoying. And I thought it was just so clever. And it was just really woven in, and just very smart. And then it just shifts and it’s just like this incredible romance, which is just so pure. And it’s so powerful! I was honestly, I was blown away. I’ve been thinking about it all the time since I went to see it in cinema. And it’s like you’re saying, sitting at home kind of watching it, I get this feeling with some filmmakers that I just catch myself. And I’m like, we’re so lucky to be alive at the same time as them. And it’s like, Lana Wachowski is probably not done. And isn’t that just amazing to think about? It’s like, she’s just making movies while we’re watching them, you know? And it’s just, yeah, I thought it was incredible.
SLIM I think also one of my things that I loved about it was, over the years, a lot of The Matrix lore, and the pills have been co-opted. And this was Lana really “Eff-you. Like, I get to say what this is about. This is not about you. It’s never been about you. It's about me and people like me, and this is my narrative and I own it.” And I thought that was so bold of Lana to do that. And it worked so well.
GEMMA It’s that tweet to Elon Musk and what’s-her-face Trump, in a nutshell, right? It’s in a movie. It’s a movie link version of that extraordinary “Fuck both of you.”
SLIM It was the moment when Lana was like, “I think I am going to do [The] Matrix 4, actually, thank you so much.” [Gemma & Slim & Ella laugh]
GEMMA It’s not just the use of the RED cameras and it’s not just that Neo never, never puts his hand on a gun, and doesn’t actually do a lot of action and doesn’t do a lot of smiling actually, he’s just kind of a bit of a sad-sack for the whole film, which is kind of lovely. But it’s also like the projections of the previous films, sort of throughout most of the first half of this film. It’s like, how are you doing and getting away with it? It’s incredible! And there’s little beautiful moments like when Bugs has Neo and she gets consent to touch his body and she asks how he’s doing. There’s just so much humanity woven through every single moment. The way that therapy speakers kind of both weaponized against but also used in-aid-of humanity and advancing romance and advancing peace. And I don’t know. Mitchell, Mitchell, what’s your [The] Matrix take?
MITCHELL Yeah, I mean, I love it, I really, really love it. I am not a big blockbuster kind of person, I am very much not a big, bringing back all these IPs from so many years ago, and just making a new version of whatever kind of person, like that stuff, aggravates me to no end. It’s very rare that I like any of those kind of movies, unless they’re Mad Max: Fury Road. [Gemma laughs] But with Lana doing this, and particularly with, I mean, speaking as a non-binary trans person, I have a very particular relationship with The Matrix. And I think that the way that she kind of evolves that is really fascinating, the way that she takes, partly what Slim was talking about, about kind of the response to The Matrix. And the way that she kind of attacks that is really, there’s so much anger in this new one directed in the right places, but then also that embrace of love, and that embrace of what the original matrix was all about to begin with, which is the idea of connection and the idea of recognizing, not only somebody else in the connection, that you can have somebody else, but the connection that you can have with yourself, and this idea of really just saying, like, fuck you to anybody who wants to do anything against that. I feel like the first [The] Matrix was really about kind of actualizing yourself as a trans person. And then this new one [The Matrix] Resurrections is very much about the fact that even after you’ve recognized yourself in that way, the battle is not over, unfortunately, you’re still fighting that battle every single day, and there’s so many of these different elements who are going to try and take that from you, or try to weaponize that against you, and try to push you back down. But you still just keep fighting that battle. Because that’s all you can do. And you can find people that are going to support you in that battle. And—I’m getting a little bit choked up. And I think it’s really powerful. And you can really feel her in that and watching it, as a trans person myself, it really meant a lot to me to see that on screen again, and see the way that she’s kind of taken the same idea of The Matrix and made something completely new with it, while still feeling like an evolution from what was there before, it doesn’t take anything away from what was there before. So you can still have that original one be exactly what it is, and then have this new one be exactly what it is. And it can be just as emotional and powerful.
SLIM Yeah. Thanks for sharing.
GEMMA Yeah, bringing this whole episode full circle, there’s a such a strong link between the end of Evangelion and the end of [The] Matrix, in terms of these filmmakers who have had such intensely personal experiences with living and the almost impossible task of living, especially these last couple of years, who have both ended these series optimistically, even even while, The Matrix especially, has this suicidal ideation knitted all the way through it. I mean, when those bodies, when those bots start leaping from buildings, it’s just horrifying. And yet it finishes so hopeful and so optimistic. And and also as sort of saying, like there’s that moment where they say, “You ruined everything, we had grace, we had style, we had conversation, not this do-do-do-do.” Like indicating that we’re just all on our phones, but there’s this sort of gorgeous sense at the end that it is possible to live with the machines that we have become a slave to if we remember our humanity and—is this depart where we all cry across 10,000 miles? [Mitchell laughs]
SLIM That scene where they jump off the roof, that was my Spider-Man: No Way Home moment. That was like one of the moments of the year, 100%.
MITCHELL Yeah, people talk about like the action in [The Matrix] Resurrections not being good or whatever. And sure, maybe it’s not, you know, as meticulously choreographed as the first one, because she didn’t want it to be. I mean, it’s barely even an action movie. Like it’s so much more just a drama, but like that sequence, that is more effective than I think any action scene in any of the Marvel movies that I’ve ever seen. Like that scene is—I was watching that and my jaw was completely dropped.
MITCHELL I was like, I don’t even know what’s happening right now.
ELLA I couldn’t believe it. I kept shaking my head. I was like—this isn’t—how are we here?
GEMMA Yeah, same!
ELLA I was like, this is insane. I was like, am I dreaming this? Is this an actual [The Matrix] movie that I’m watching in 2021, where this scene is happening? And like we’re just going to leave the cinema and just not talk about it again? [Mitchell & Slim laugh]
GEMMA Nope, that’s what The Letterboxd Show is, that’s what Hotline is for. You can call us and talk about that scene anytime.
ELLA Thank god!
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
GEMMA Thanks so much for listening to The Letterboxd Show and thanks to all our guests, an absolute bumper crop. Matt Singer, Juan Barquin, Bintang Lestada, Ella Kemp, and Mitchell Beaupre. And thanks for the whole Letterboxd crew behind the scenes who spend Christmas putting the Year in Review together, every year, while the rest of us scarf turket and watch more movies.
SLIM Thanks to our podcast crew, Moniker, for the theme music ‘Vampiros Dancoteque’, Jack for the facts, our booker Linda Moulton for looking after our guests, and Sophie Shin for the episode transcript. And to you, for listening along this season. You can follow Slim—that’s me—Gemma and our HQ page on Letterboxd using the links in our episode notes.
GEMMA And I’d also like to thank you, Slim, for inventing the Letterboxd Hotline. [Slim laughs] That was an exciting piece of tech that I hope we get to deploy on some other shows in the future.
SLIM We’ll see, stay tuned. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA Speaking of which, this is also the end of our current season. We’re taking a little break, and we’ll be back after the Sundance Film Festival with renewed vigor. If you miss us over the next few weeks, why not go back and listen to some episodes you may have skipped over. Or if you’re completely up to date on The Letterboxd Show, feel free to listen to Slim’s other show, 70mm Pod, which recently celebrated 100 years, it’s been 100—no, sorry. 100 episodes. [Slim laughs] 100 episodes! That’s just greedy. Congratulations.
SLIM Thank you. You know, if I can be frank, there would be no 70mm Pod without Letterboxd. That’s the whole reason we kicked off the show, so it’s simpatico.
GEMMA It was one long audition to join the Letterboxd crew.
SLIM 100 episodes. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA It took 100 episodes but you’re part of the family now, Slim. It’s a wonderful thing. The Letterboxd Show, speaking of families, is a Tapedeck production. And that’s it. That’s what The Letterboxd Show does, weaponizes every idea, every dream, everything that’s important to us. [Slim laughs]
[clip of The Matrix Resurrections plays]
SMITH I’m sure you can understand why our beloved parent company, Warner Bros, has decided to make a sequel to the trilogy.
THOMAS ANDERSON What?
SMITH They informed me they’re going to do it with or without us.
THOMAS ANDERSON I thought they couldn’t do that.
SMITH Oh they can. And they made it clear they’ll kill our contract if we don’t cooperate.
THOMAS ANDERSON really?
SMITH I know you said the story was over for you, but that’s the thing about stories… they never really end, do they? We’re still telling the same stories we’ve always told them, just with different names, different faces. And I have to say, I’m kind of excited. After all these years to be going back to where it all started. Back to The Matrix…
[Tapedeck bumper plays] This is a Tapedeck podcast.