Two movie to see: “Tár” and “Till”

December 25, 2022 • 10:00 am

After reading the NYT article “Inside the Oscars’ Best-Actress Battle Royal,” which names all the best performances of female actors this year, I decided to watch two recommended movies.

The first was “Tár,” starring the estimable Cate Blanchett. This is what the NYT said of her role:

In the fictional world of “Tár,” the conniving conductor played by Cate Blanchett has been showered with an absurd amount of awards. By the end of this season, Blanchett herself may keep pace with her character.

The two-time Oscar winner’s bravura performance — she learned German, orchestra conducting and piano for the role — has netted the most notable prizes so far: In addition to nominations from the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, Independent Spirit Awards and Gotham Awards, Blanchett won the Volpi Cup for best actress at the Venice Film Festival and a pair of leading trophies from the New York Film Critics Circle and Los Angeles Film Critics Association. The last time Blanchett triumphed with the critics groups on both coasts, she was well on her way to winning her second Oscar, for “Blue Jasmine.”

If she wins her third, the 53-year-old would be the youngest woman ever to reach that milestone. (Meryl Streep, Frances McDormand and Ingrid Bergman are the only other actresses to have won three Oscars each for their performances, while Katharine Hepburn holds the record with four.) But those laurels could also count against Blanchett in a race where her strongest competitor has never even been nominated and is angling for a historic win.

Here’s a trailer:

The movie received a 90% critics’ rating and a 72% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  I think it deserves a higher rating than that—on both counts. It’s a compelling movie about the downfall of a famous female conductor, Lydia Tar, who worked her way up not only from her original name (Linda Tár), but up to her position as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. Her fall from grace and fame is gradual, and I won’t spoil the story, but Tár winds up being fired and, looking for any job, winding up conducting background music for fantasy movies in Asia.

Blanchett learned German, conducting, and piano for her role, which is mesmerizing. Her story is full of music, intelligent discussion, and minutiae that put you wholly into her world, but with another cancrous world below the surface. It is that other world that eventually leads to her downfall, but you get glimpses of it from the beginning.

The virtuoso turn, of course, is by Blanchett, but the supporting cast is also terrific. I point out Lydia’s assistant, Francesca, played by Noémie Merlant, who starred in another movie I loved, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.”  She’ll go far. And there’s more great acting from Lydia’s lover Sharon (Nina Hoss), who plays the first violinist of the orchestra.

This is not a happy Christmas-y movie, but I don’t like those anyway (except for “It’s a Wonderful Life”). But if you want some substantial fare over the holidays, this, along with the movie below, are the ones to see.  “Tár” didn’t do at all well at the box office, something I fail to understand. Perhaps the cerebral tone of much of the movie (which begins with a long interview of Tár) put viewers off. I urge you to go beef up the box office.


I’m well familiar with the sad story of Emmett Till, and you should be too. But even if you are, go see the movie about his life and death, “Till“, which I didn’t know of until I read this in the NYT article:

The “Till” star Danielle Deadwyler won the first lead-performance trophy of the season at last month’s Gotham Awards, and she’ll need that momentum to overcome striking snubs from the Independent Spirits and Golden Globes. Still, her emotionally precise performance as the mother of Emmett Till has Oscar-friendly heft, since voters often gravitate toward an actor playing a historical figure.

The movie is less about Emmett than about his mother, Mamie, played by Deadwyler. She gives a bravura performance, and if she was snubbed, it was not at all deserved, and I hope she gets an Oscar nomination.

Even though I’m well familiar with the facts about the Till case, it’s one thing to read about it and another entirely to see it on the screen. Please do so.

“Till” got a 98% critics’ rating and a 97% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The only way I can explain the much lower audience rating of “Tár” is that its story line is more complicated and the subject more arcane. But one thing is for sure: if you want the feel of the Jim Crow South, “Till” will give it to you. And, despite Emmett’s murder, in the end the movie is heartening, for Mamie Till spent the rest of her life promoting and galvanizing civil rights legislation in honor of her son. And she was successful

Here’s one trailer:

And a second trailer:

16 thoughts on “Two movie to see: “Tár” and “Till”

  1. I saw TÁR the week it was released. Its performance from Cate Blanchett puts her solidly in the Streep-o-sphere.

    It also has a pretty good turn by your old sparring partner from The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik, as himself. The film kicks off with Gopnik interviewing Blanchett’s character, on stage before a live audience, at The New Yorker festival. It’s a neat narrative technique for fronting all the expository information about Blanchett’s character’s background — her musical training, her experiences with world-renown symphony orchestras, her mentorship by Lenny Bernstein — that would otherwise have to be worked in through stilted dialogue among the characters.

  2. I didn’t really like the movie, even though I liked parts of it, and it wasn’t too intellectual for me; I liked those parts. The sound quality was poor in parts and I had trouble following the dialogue. My younger friend who went with me had the same issue, so it wasn’t just my old ears. There were parts that didn’t have enough explanation for me to understand what was going on. For example, at one point she’s living in a different house, with no explanation of where she is; I had to read the Wikipedia summary afterward to know where she was.

    1. We have the same issue, although we have minimized the effects with a good sound system at home.
      I had thought that my not understanding as much dialog in film was a sign of approaching old age, but I have read that this is not necessarily the case. It is acting that has changed. In the old days, actors learned to project for the stage, and most of them took diction and elocution lessons, as a routine part of their education.

      We did see TÁR, and found it somewhat enjoyable. I did not see Till, mostly because I figured it was unlikely that such a subject could be told well with the racial politics of our current age.
      I will watch a film about almost anything if it tells a good story. But a lot of political films these days seem like flashier versions of the Marxist lectures that my father-in-law had to listen to from the loudspeakers at the reeducation camp.

      We saw Violent Night last night, which was a fun film, in the genre of very violent Christmas films.
      And we watched The Fabelmans the night before, which turned out to be much more touching and complicated than we expected.

      I want to recommend the series Kindred, which is a time travel/slave era mashup, but is acted by really relatable characters and involves interesting and unusual rules for time travel.

      1. I am very much enjoying Kindred right now. Recently finished Mammals (with James Cordon). I liked it. There is a double twist at the ending that took a while to settle in …

      2. In the old days, actors learned to project for the stage, and most of them took diction and elocution lessons, as a routine part of their education.
        Exactly. That is why I have almost given up watching TV or films. I used to visit the theatre a lot, but the mumbling that passes for naturalism on screen leaves me helpless.

      3. Till is largely unaffected by the racial politics of this age and, as far as I know the story, well worth watching and true to life. One might object to the written “outra” at the end, but no, it just tells what happened to the characters. I would recommend seeing it before you claim that it could “not be told well given the racial politics of the age” The critics certainly thought it was good, as did I, and I am a critic of identity politics.

        1. I will take your word for it and give it a try. I thought it unlikely that it could be told objectively, which is not the same as being certain of that. I am definitely not boycotting it or anything.
          It is more about where it goes on the queue, which in our case is very long. Here is our watch list from the last two weeks-

          Avatar (requested by visitors)
          Mad Heidi
          Violent Night
          The Fabelmans
          Plebs Soldiers of Rome
          Luv (1967)
          Córki Dancingu
          Troll (2022)
          My Name is Vendetta
          Hôkago Senki
          Apteeker Melchior
          The Wonder

          And we are working through the following series-
          Let the Right One In
          Mosquito Coast season 2
          Echo 3
          Richard Hammond’s Workshop

          There have also been some Japanese Anime chosen by my kids. Those are mostly incomprehensible, even if you can keep up with the dialog.
          The list would be shorter if we could go outside without instantly flash freezing.

          1. If you like Richard Hammond’s Workshop, you might like his work with James May and Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear: it’s a series recorded live and they have specials where all 3 go on some sort of driving adventure. You gotta love cars though. I like pretty much anything with James May. Our Man in Japan is great. Our Man in Italy is good too, but I liked Japan better.

            1. Agreed. I have been a Top Gear, and now Grand Tour fan, for years. I enjoyed May in Japan particularly as well.

          2. Instead of Anime, introduce the kids to Studio Ghibli movies. Some are pretty challenging for younger kids, but many work very well for all ages.

            1. They grew up on Ghibli. We even went a couple of times to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka.
              I tried to curate their exposure, which was heavily biased towards Miyazaki and wholesome lower brow fare such as Ultraman, Kamen Riders, and Kaiju films. Later, it was Kurosawa and Misumi.
              They are college age now, so their tastes have evolved. Still, when they get to choose the film, it is something that they think we will like, while subtly steering us towards their tastes, as we did with them.
              As an example, looking through the history on our media player, one of those selections was the following:
              This is a sequel. The background is that a modern salaryman denies God at the moment of his murder, and is reincarnated as a German orphan girl/soldier with magic powers in an alternate Europe where WW1 has been delayed by a decade, with caveats and complications.

      4. Thanks for the recommendations. I want to see Violent Christmas as I love David Harbour.
        Kindred sounds cool, alas, Hulu is pretty much the only streaming service I don’t have. I’m sure I’ll get it eventually. There are just so many damn shows!

  3. From what I know about the Emmett Till horror, I’m sure I do not want to see that movie, maybe I have become more fragile over the years. The Tar movie also scares me somewhat

  4. I am SO GLAD others share my intense fury at the garbled inaudible dialogue in most American films. They talk under their breath or to another person, not to the screen.
    This, plus poor technical sound recording, is why so many films are unwatchable. It isnt just our own hearing loss; it is now a bad habit of almost all American directors….except Woody Allen! You understand every word uttered in his films. As for Todd Field, he and Martin McDonagh are now by far the best film directors around (in addition to Almodovar, del Toro, and some Cuaron). McDonagh’s Banshees of Inisherin is right up there with Tar. competing for best on my list of great films. Subtle, not sentimental or overdramatized, frugal but excellent script (by McDonagh, a well known playwright). . And check out Field’s excellent early films: In the Bedroom; Little Children… the best this country has to offer. McDonagh? Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; In Bruges (a bit too much violence though). Along with these, First Reformed (Paul Shrader) deserves to be revived and seen by everyone…among the best American films ever made. Dont overlook Tamara Jenkins! The Savages!!!! Great!

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