Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Rated Greg’s Top 5 Love Stories

  1. Clarence and Alabama – True Romance
  2. Marianne and Heloise – Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  3. Jerry and Dorothy – Jerry Maguire
  4. Romeo and Juliet – Romeo and Juliet (1996)
  5. Sebastian and Annette – Cruel Intentions

Last month at various get-togethers (which seems like over a year ago now), friends would ask me what I thought of Parasite winning Best Picture at the Oscars.  I responded with mixed feelings.  On one hand I was admittedly rooting for 1917 during the telecast, not because I thought 1917 was the better movie but because I had a small wager on it.  There was no way the Academy voters would pick a foreign language class thriller over an immaculately choreographed war epic, right? Or so I thought.  On the other hand when Parasite pulled off the upset, part of me was glad despite the result reducing my net worth by a whole $20 bill.  This was a deserving, exciting, and quite simply an interesting choice compared to the rather blandness of most of the winners this century (looking at you Argo, looking at you Green Book, don’t even get me started King’s Speech). 

Perhaps Parasite’s win signals a shift in the taste of the Academy.  Or perhaps it’ll turn out to be just an anomaly.  Let’s not forget that after Moonlight won Best Picture in 2016, the Academy gave 2017’s top award to The Shape of Water, which is….oh I don’t know….JUST ONE OF THE WORST MOVIES OF ALL TIME.  I’m guessing Parasite will leave a larger footprint on the culture than other recent winners, but only time will tell if the future Best Pictures of the 2020’s will be as widely regarded across all fans of cinema as the South Korean powerhouse.

But here’s the thing about Parasite.  While it’s a really good movie, and again a more than fine choice out of the nominated pool, it actually wasn’t even the best foreign language film released last year, let alone best film.  No, that distinction goes to Portrait of a Lady on Fire.  HOLY SHIT.  Portrait of a Lady on Fire.  ONE MORE TIME.  Portrait of a Lady on Fire!  Rarely would I ever proclaim a movie as perfect, but fuck it, life’s short and this French masterpiece is downright flawless. 

Is it possible for someone who’s favorite movie is Bad Boys to also worship a quiet film about two 18th century women who fall in love?   A film with no guns?  No mystery to be solved? Less than five lines of dialogue even spoken by a male character in the entire 120 minutes?   And it’s FRENCH, no less?  Prior to Sunday night I might have said no, but that was a lifetime ago. 

Before I continue, let’s take a moment to look back on other famous movie paintings…

Ok back to our regularly scheduled program

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is unlike any of the romances you’ve grown accustomed to.  Typical love story beats like meet-cute’s and grand gestures are thrown to the wayside and what’s left is an extremely real experience.  There’s purposely not even any music in the film until just before the credits.  According to director Celine Sciamma, any semblance of a score was absent because she wanted the audience to be solely focused on the rhythm and movements of the movie, a relationship between bodies and camera that can be interpreted as it’s own form of music.  It was an excellent choice to make it this way, for the chemistry between the two leads is undeniably captivating and you don’t need strings in the background to tell you so.  

Now, you might be wondering, if Portrait of a Lady on Fire is SOOOO great (insert eye roll emoji), then why wasn’t it recognized at the Oscars alongside the likes of Parasite if it technically came out last year?  Well, the answer is simple.  The Academy only allows non-English speaking countries to submit ONE feature film per year for awards consideration (dumb rule, I know).  And the French, inexplicably, decided to submit yet another iteration of Les Miserables, thinking that it was more likely to appeal to Academy voters than the queer, quiet Portrait.  They made this decision despite Portrait’s reportedly raucous reception at the Cannes Festival premiere and will have to live with it for the rest of their lives.

I could go on and on about the merits of Portrait of a Lady on Fire but you’re better off just checking it out for yourself. Don’t read anything else, don’t listen to anything else, and most importantly don’t be like France.  Reward and appreciate one of the best love stories of all time.  It’s now streaming for free on Hulu* and something tells me you have a lot of free time on your hands.  Grade: A+**

*Shoutout to Neon, who acquired the theatrical rights to Portrait and allowed Hulu to push up the release on its service several weeks in the wake of the pandemic.  This is before Neon is even able to make the film available on demand.

**For the purposes of Rated Greg’s annual rankings, Portrait of a Lady on Fire will be considered a 2020 film given that it was not released wide to American theaters until Valentines Day 2020, having been in only two theaters across the country before then. 

A Special Quarantine Edition of Rated Greg

A few of you have hit me up asking for streaming recommendations during these trying times.  First off, thank you. That is always, without a doubt, my FAVORITE text to get.  I could be having the busiest, shittiest day, but if you think of me when trying to find something to watch I can’t help but take that consideration extremely seriously and try to find the perfect movie for you.  It honestly cheers me up.  With that in mind, here’s twenty movies I feel have been overlooked over the years that you might have missed, all currently on streaming services.  I know my usual rankings tend to skew towards the dudes, but I made sure to put something for everyone here. This list is in no particular order.

The Biggest Little Farm (Hulu) – Turn off the news.  Put your phone away.  And watch the most heart warming movie of 2019.  This 2019 documentary follows a young married couple determined to start a farm from scratch in a forgotten section of terrain in Southern California as they learn to co exist with the various creatures that flock their property. Grade: A-

Prisoners (HBO) – Mystic River meets True Detective.  If you enjoy the ambiance of shows like Ozark, The Outsider and True Detective, than you’ll love this 2013 crime mystery from Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) about two girls gone missing in a Pennsylvania suburb.  Hugh Jackman, in between Wolverine movies, as the angry Dad.  Jake Gyllenhaal, the best actor alive, as a neck tattoo’d detective with a cool haircut hot on the case.  This would have been an entire TV series had it come out in 2020. Please pay attention to the facial ticks that Gyllenhaal does throughout this film, which apparently weren’t in the script.  Such a fucking weirdo.  I love it.  Grade: A+

Warrior (Amazon Prime) – If you need a sports fix in your life check out 2011’s Warrior, which upon rewatch I think is the best fight movie of all time (sorry Creed).  Joel Edgerton (Australian) and Tom Hardy (British) play estranged brothers with curious Philly accents who both enter an MMA tournament in Atlantic City.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess who will face off in the tournament final.   Not only is this the best fight movie OF ALL TIME, but it’s also the man-cry movie of the decade. Grade: A+

Honey Boy (Amazon Prime) – Shia Labeouf wrote and stars in this autobiographical drama about what it was like to be a working actor as a child.  His performance as his abusive father was the most overlooked acting performance of 2019. Grade: B+

Long Shot (HBO) – Save this for date night.  Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron’s Long Shot was the best rom-com of 2019. Grade: B+

The Handmaiden (Amazon Prime) – The Handmaiden walked so Parasite could run.  This is another class thriller from South Korea about a lower class protagonist infiltrating a wealthy family.  While it lacks Parasite’s humor it makes up for in some truly batshit crazy sex scenes.  Here’s what I wrote about it in 2017. Grade: B+

Cold Pursuit (HBO) – Sometimes you just wanted to turn your brain off and watch a stupid action movie. Here’s what I wrote about it last Spring. Grade: B+

The Talented Mr. Ripley (Netflix) – I know we say all the time that they don’t make them like they used to, which is never really true, however they REALLY don’t make movies like The Talented Mr Ripley anymore. This is a fantastic rewatch if you haven’t seen it since it’s 1999 release. Grade: A-

The Descent (Hulu) – Last November I had the opportunity to explore the ancient cenotes of Tulum, Mexico during a trip with friends (shoutout Rash). It was a super cool experience and at the time seemed like a no brainer to partake, however had I seen 2005’s The Descent beforehand, a movie about a group of adrenaline junkie women exploring an Appalachian cave, I definitely would have declined the cenote experience and stayed at the pool.  For real, I’m never going in a cave again for the rest of my life after seeing this.   The Descent got on my radar a few weeks ago after Chris Ryan mentioned it as the scariest movie he’s ever seen on a Ringer podcast.  I wouldn’t go that far. The first half of the movie is truly terrifying, but the second half is a little silly. Full disclosure, this should ONLY be watched by horror fans.   Grade: B+

Under The Silver Lake (Amazon Prime) – A modern L.A. noir starring Andrew Garfield about a man who chooses to believe there’s some sort of conspiracy about his missing neighbor even though he might have simply just been ghosted.  This mystery movie is so fucking out there, I honestly don’t even remember much of what actually happens.  But it has a ton of cool/ funny scenes along the way. Grade: A-

Free Solo (Hulu) – Another uplifting Hulu documentary about the resilient human spirit (see note on Biggest Little Farm). Grade: A-

Hot Summer Nights (Amazon Prime) –  This got bad reviews from people that don’t deserve nice things. I’ll gladly watch Timothee Chalamet deal drugs in 1980’s Cape Cod anytime. Here’s what I wrote in 2018. Grade: A-

Rush (HBO) – Fans of Ford vs Ferrari will enjoy 2013’s Rush about two Formula 1 racing rivals engaging in a dick measuring contest throughout the 1970’s.  It’s a shame Chris Hemsworth’s output has mostly been Marvel movies the past decade because he proves in Rush that he’s more than capable of being the lead in an R rated action drama for adults.  Grade: A-

In A World… (HBO) – Lake Bell directs and stars in this charming 2013 dramedy about a female voice actor trying to break into the male dominated field of movie trailer voiceovers.  This movie was before it’s time and would have been much more celebrated had it come out in 2019 after Greta Gerwig broke all those barriers. Grade: A-

Tour de Pharmacy/7 Days In Hell (HBO) – These two sports mockumentaries would make an excellent double feature if you’re looking to laugh your ass off (both are less than an hour).  Between these HBO specials and Popstar, you could argue that no one made more funny shit in the 2010’s than Andy Samberg.  You probably don’t want to watch this if you’re holed up with your parents. Grade: A+

American Honey (Netflix) – A 3 hour, partially improvised road trip movie starring Shia Labeouf, Riley Keough, and first time actress Sasha Lane.  It’s more of a collection of beautiful scenes rather than a plot-driven film, but I love it ever so much.  Might be best to break it up in increments.  I’m currently learning how to play Mazzy Star’s Fade Into You because of this movie. Grade: A+

Blue Valentine (Netflix) – A heart-breaking drama/romance from 2010 starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.  If you and your significant other are currently on shaky ground, it might not be best to watch this together lol. Grade: A+

Children of Men (Starz) – Lots of people are going back and watching 2011’s Contagion given how eerily similar the virus thriller is to the happenings of the past few weeks.  If you enjoyed that experience, I’d urge you to watch 2006’s Children of Men next, another film about society on the brink of collapse that seems WAY more realistic in 2020 than it did fourteen years ago.  Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece. Grade: A+

The Next Three Days (Hulu/Amazon Prime) – Elizabeth Banks is convicted of murder and her husband Russell Crowe becomes obsessed with trying to break her out of a Pittsburgh prison.  Of all the movies on my A+ list, this 2010 thriller might be the only one that has never come up in conversation with another human being, digitally or in person.  I don’t really know why that is because this movie kicks ass!  Grade: A+

Drinking Buddies (Hulu) – Mumblecore at it’s best.  Jake Johnson, Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston hang out, drink beer, make mistakes, be human.  Rinse and repeat.  Grade: A+