Futurama picked off right where golden age Simpsons left off in terms of quality and humour when it found its footing at around the ninth episode of its first season- the sublime classic Hell is Other Robots where Bender finds himself in robot Hell and the show graces us with its first of many great show tunes. Both shows look at society and satirise much of the media that is at the forefront of our popular culture as well as looking at the facts of life with graceful humour and wit. While the animation style is of course strikingly similar, what connects the show is the similarities in their approach to humour, parody and even emotion. Back in its heyday the Simpsons gave emotional looks into the inner lives of each member of the Simpson family. Homer reconnected with the Mother who had to leave him due to circumstances out of her control in Mother Simpson; Lisa finally got to connect with people her own age as a rather friendless overachieving child in Summer of 4ft2; Marge tried to find social acceptance and self-betterment in Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield and Bart showed that he's not just a thoughtless troublemaker but just someone fed up with trying his hardest but never achieving anything in Bart Gets an F. These episodes show a poignancy to one of the most zany, chaotic shows on television and with many of the show's most talented writers moving on to write for Futurama it makes sense that this show has the same balance.
I've never been a particularly avid viewer of documentaries, not even the swarm of true-crime docs that so many people indulge in a fad I find slightly worrying in the state of the desensitised media consumer. Documentary Now mostly sidesteps this current obsession too, going for something deeper and truly digging into the vast backlog of classic documentaries, that the series co-creators and stars Fred Armisen and Bill Hader clearly adore and wish to homage in their absurd comedic parodies of. Parodies can usually go too over-the-top and in the twenty-first century have been exceptionally lazy and unfunny but Documentary Now manage a delicate balance of intriguing narrative and good humoured fun. With documentaries, the form is utilised to showcase realism so parodying them provides ample difficulty since it is much easier for gags to become heavily overdone and become too absurd but somehow the show manages to find this balance constantly and finds the right source material that is absurd enough as is that serve as excellent sources to mine hilarious jokes from. Once the show opens and the documentary parody is presented with faux seriousness by Dame Helen Mirren who reads every absurd title like Sandy Passage, Juan Likes Rice and Chicken and the most aptly named Batshit Valley. It's even better that she does so with such an air of gravitas that the actor has become known for turning on its head in breezy, fun comedic roles and it's so fun seeing her appear in such a niche show just to read a few silly self-serious opening lines because she can. The cast although spearheaded by Armisen and Hader themselves for the first two seasons (Hader is now busy with the sublime Barry) is filled to the brim with A-list ringers, hinted already with the appearance of Mirren as show host, and appearances from Jack Black, Owen Wilson and even two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett shows how high the quality of this show is that it attracts such big names for absurd guest-spots. With a deceptively niche premise, the show manages to craft exceptionally absurd comedy in narratives that are still genuinely interesting and actually make you care for the characters in the sparse twenty something minute run time of each episode.
The Simpsons in its heyday produced some of the most subversive, absurd and outright hilarious sitcom episodes of all time and narrowing down my top ten has been so difficult and over time I will probably change my mind. There will of course be some contentious opinions as many iconic episodes- there are probably about fifty or more classics- and you could really choose anything between seasons three and eight and they'd be nothing wrong with any of your choices. The ranking may see absurd at times and will be incredibly debatable but that's the problem when a show was so consistently great as The Simpsons was in the 90s and rest assured there will be nothing from season 9 and onward.
We're at the beginnings of awards season and many new limited prestige releases are coming out in abundance for our entertainment but mostly to be in time for upcoming award shows. Some are actually in fact mid-budget films that studios hope will hope that word of mouth from festival circuits will carry them into profitability as we are seeing with Ford v Ferrari and A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood. Knives Out is a peculiar case because although it has high acclaim and has been well-received in festivals, critics don't think it's "serious" enough to be in the running for awards. Unlike the aforementioned films which are the kind of adored biopics the Academy fawns over and instead is a crowd-pleasing whodunit with a gleeful and light touch. I'm so glad that audiences appear to be taking to the film as it shows hope for future non-franchise films aimed at adult audiences and shows the power of an interesting hook that interests viewers regardless of absent brand recognition that mainstream film relies so heavily upon nowadays. Perhaps much of this is owed to its stellar ensemble that's so smartly cast it can grab multiple demographics but among the A-listers and rising stars, comes a breakthrough performance from Ana de Armas as the moral protagonist emerging from an absurd cast of characters to give meaning and depth to a film that has its fair share of stinging satire. Rian Johnson instills scenes with up to the minute dialogue delivered with so much enthusiasm from a delightfully game cast where every player gets their opportunity to deliver venomous one-liners that have sharp insights into the material and social media driven culture of the present day. With its modern spin of a classic sub-genre, Knives Out looks at the familiar themes associated with whodunits as it scathingly critiques class and old money families but present them in a 21st century context with modern language, politics and technology foregrounded in Johnson's rich and endlessly entertaining film.
As soon as the ecstatic first reviews came out for The Irishman I hoped I could experience this film in the cinema where it obviously belongs and I'm so grateful that Netflix has made an effort to give the film more cinematic distribution than their previous films. A Scorsese film with Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro is immediately worth watching but this film comes with a sledgehammer performance from fellow acting icon Al Pacino as well. It feels so great to have this trio of great actors lead such a thoughtful and complex entry into the crime epic genre after years of being relegated to some pretty awful films they should never have had to suffer through. While it's not particularly fair that the film does not have very wide distribution, it does need to be taken into account the cost, budget and run time that make a massive financial risk; after years of being in development hell it's just relieving to see it being released in any capacity at all. With the high quality of the film it's hard to believe it struggled to lift off the ground in the first place, it's bristling with crackling wit, a complex rewarding plot of betrayal, dishonesty and regret, and a brilliantly gifted ensemble with what may be Pesci's finally performance ever and if it is he is ended his career on a massive high note.
Opening with a pair of deceptively warm intra-diegetic voice-overs from each partner in this imploding relationship, Marriage Story’s cut to the reality of the pair in couple’s counselling with Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) refusing to read her version aloud is brutally effective. The loss of love and sentimentalism is portrayed immediately but perhaps would evoke more shock in viewers if it wasn’t the basis of all the film’s marketing. But still watching these two eloquently describe their profound affectation for the other and be unwilling to share these feelings in present day is pretty soul destroying especially with the level of romanticism within these monologues thanks to Noah Baumbach’s endlessly witty dialogue. Although the film is touching on some pretty harsh subject matter, Baumbach’s light touch alleviates much of the tension felt with a balanced sense of humour that is surprisingly laugh out loud for a film about a particularly nasty divorce. It also helps that the film is graced with one of the finest ensembles of the year with standout performances from Johansson, Adam Driver and Laura Dern. The latter of which provides one of the most humourous moments in the film in a brilliant speech about how unfair the perception of mothers is ever since the Virgin Mary that is so on point that I imagine, between this and Renata Klein, Dern portrays the most quotable character of the year in her current career hot streak. While Dern is undoubtedly a scene-stealer in her portrayed of her gleefully manipulative divorce attorney Nora, the film is mostly an acting showcase for Johansson and Driver as the couple enveloped in a widening rift.