Jeff and I were chatting at Agave Thursday night, having just left the Chamber’s Business After Hours where I spent my time talking instead of eating, as usual.

As so often happens over dinner, the conversation turned to the “family business.” We’d both been working on this issue of Lowcountry Weekly, and I was in the midst of a First World Crisis.

“I’ve been trying to start my annual Movie Column all day, but I’m blocked,” I complained over my salsa, chips, and house chardonnay. (Trust me, the combo wasn’t as gross as it sounds.)  “It’s just not coming.”

“Don’t write it, then,” says Jeff, in that irritating way he has of reminding me that my most pressing problems are actually quite trivial. “Write about something else.”

(That’s another aggravating thing my husband does; he refuses to let me off the hook where my column is concerned. “Don’t write it, then” is never followed by a period. It’s always followed by a semicolon, which is followed by a “Write about something else.” Sigh.)

“But I have to write it,” I fired back. “It’s the Film Festival issue! I always write about movies in the Film Festival issue. It’s my tradition.”

Me and my damn traditions. I create them out of whole cloth, then trap myself in them, as if they were sacred. And yes, I’m well-aware that nobody else gives a flying fig whether I write about movies in the Film Festival issue. I told you this was a First World Crisis.

“It would be easier – maybe – if I’d seen all the Oscar-nominated films this year, but I’ve still got, like, four to go,” I whined.

I don’t think Jeff and I have managed to watch all ten nominated films in a timely manner since . . . well, since the Academy started nominating ten films. Remember when there were only five? Those were the days.

“And the movies I have seen are all so different. I can’t seem to find a connecting thread for my piece.”

Jeff agreed. “How can you even begin to compare the six movies we’ve seen? You can’t! It’s impossible. Why don’t you write about that?”

Hmmmm… Seemed like thin gruel for a thesis, but now it’s Friday morning and deadline is upon me. Beggars can’t be choosers.

So let’s start with the movie I barely remember, because we saw it over a year ago, and even then it was more like a fever dream than a film. I went into Everything Everywhere All At Once completely cold, not having read a single review, and I walked out with only one word on my lips: Wow. It’s a dull, over-used word for one of the most mind-blowing, inventive movies I’ve ever seen, but it was all I had at the time – and it’s still all I have. I am not a film critic and simply don’t have the chops to describe this kaleidoscopic, time-traveling feature. I do recommend it, though, with one word of warning: Unless you’re much smarter than me, you will probably be confused throughout much of the film. But stick with it; it all comes together in the end and may even surprise you by making you cry.

The next movie we saw is a whole different animal. A sleek, muscular blockbuster that hits every formulaic note with dazzling precision, it elicited no confusion nor lingering questions – just thrills, chills, and a soupcon of nostalgia. The only thing slightly perplexing about Top Gun: Maverick is the fact that the Academy actually saw fit to nominate this outrageously successful, deliciously sentimental, flagrantly patriotic, sweepingly panoramic toothpaste ad of a movie for Best Feature. I love it when Oscar surprises me!

Moving on. Jeff and I may be the only two people in Beaufort County to have seen The Fabelmans on the big screen. Box office numbers for Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical coming-of-age story are shockingly low. People love movies about aliens, but not necessarily movies about alienated boys who grow up to be filmmakers. It’s a shame, too, because this is a beautiful, poignant film about the complexities of family, the clash of the artistic spirit and the scientific mind, and the rude awakenings that often trip us up – and sometimes open us up – along the path to adulthood. It’s anchored by the tour-de-force performance of Michelle Williams as the Spielberg character’s mother. It will rip your heart out and educate you, make you think and feel. If you like that sort of thing, please stream this movie.

Okay, I gotta be honest. I dozed through parts of Avatar: The Way of Water. Don’t get me wrong it’s a marvelous spectacle. James Cameron has created an entire world. But evidently, it’s a world that puts me to sleep. “Numbing, leisurely slowness” is the pull quote from the BBC film critic at Rotten Tomatoes, and it sums up my sentiments pretty well. Cameron’s technical artistry is undeniable, but I often had a hard time telling the characters apart and understanding their motivations. And caring about them. I think that might be because the story has some serious holes, but again, maybe I just slept through key scenes. The last hour of the three-plus hour movie – that length was a problem for me – woke me up and shook me up, so I ultimately left the theatre satisfied. But this one evaporated from my imagination almost immediately, like so much water.

Not so, The Banshees of Inisherin. I left the theater shaking my head in wonder – and no small amount of horror – asking, “What did I just see?” Jeff and I agreed the film was extraordinary, but we had so many questions. Or, I did, rather. My husband has an enviable knack for just accepting – and appreciating – a movie in its totality, without deconstructing it or obsessing over its “meaning.” Me? I couldn’t stop thinking about this odd, lyrical, gruesome, funny, heartbreaking poem of a film. In fact, I’m still thinking about it. Trying to solve it, as if it were a riddle. But here’s something strange: As moved as I was by Banshees, I can hardly think of a soul in my life to whom I’d recommend it.

I feel almost the same way about Tár, the Oscar-nominated film we streamed on Amazon Prime just last weekend. I found it absolutely riveting – maybe my favorite movie of the year – but it doesn’t strike me as a crowd pleaser. If you’re one of those (normal) people who just wants to be entertained – or swept away, or even inspired – by a movie, go with a third viewing of Top Gun: Maverick. The Guardian says of Tár, “Field (the director) brings a slippery complexity to the proceedings. Is Tár the slow-motion car crash of a cancellation? The crash and burn of hubristic ambition? A supernatural thriller? A Shakespearean tragedy about a powerful individual driven to the brink of madness by the niggling attrition of guilt?” To which I would answer, “All of the above. Or not?” Those questions aside, Cate Blanchett’s performance as the magnificent maestro Lydia Tár is the reason to see this film. Blanchett may be the finest actress of my generation, and I would pay to watch her sit on a park bench for 2.5 hours, but she is at the height of her powers here, and it’s something to behold.

So, that’s it for now. I’ve got four more films to knock out before the Academy Awards on March 12th. But first, we’re off to the 17th Annual Beaufort International Film Festival, starting next week. Don’t miss our special coverage, beginning here. See you at the movies!