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Knives Out

Knives Out
A brilliant, Oscar-nominated screenplay and a dazzling ensemble cast are the primary ingredients in making 2019's Knives Out, one of the most entertaining murder mysteries I have ever seen, that was robbed of a Best Picture nomination.

The story begins at the 85th birthday party of an obscenely wealthy publisher named Harlan Thronby (Oscar winner Christopher Plummer) where we observe the philanthropist cutting all of his greedy, money-hungry children out of his will. The next morning, Thornby is found in the attic of his home by his caregiver, Marta, with his throat cut. A detective named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) has been hired anonymously to look into Thornby's death while Thornby's will is read, revealing Marta to be his sole beneficiary, which sets off a bizarre series of events that, of course, put Marta in danger, but also eventually lead to the truth about Thronby's death.

Director and screenwriter Rian Johnson, whose credits include Looper and Star Wars:
Episode VIII
received the film's only Oscar nomination for a richly intricate and intelligent screenplay that pays homage to movies like Ten Little Indians, Murder on the Orient Express, and even Clue but brings deliciously amusing complexity to the proceedings by giving all of the Thronby family members their own twisted personalities and agendas, molding a family of serious dysfunction who ban together when they realize that the prize they've all had their eyes on might be going outside of the family.

Johnson's beautifully crafted screenplay actually combines the birthday party, the death, and the initial questioning of the party guests into one brilliant story arc that demands complete attention of the viewer so that the viewer understands that complete attention to these opening scenes are going to be absolutely no use in figuring out what's going on here. At the halfway point where we think everything has been revealed and we know exactly what's going on, but again, we are proven wrong. Red herrings abound throughout this fantastic laugh-filled roller coaster of a mystery, some are of use and some are not, but they are important contributions to keeping the viewer in the dark until the final reel, as they should be.

It is mind blowing to me that Johnson's screenplay earned this film its only Oscar nomination because absolutely everything works here. The production values are so perfect that you almost don't notice them because they do exactly what they are supposed to do...serve Rian Johnson's delicious story. The film features breathtaking cinematography, art direction, editing, and music that perfectly enhance the often wacky and confusing goings-on here.

Johnson has also assembled a perfect cast, led by Daniel Craig, nothing short of superb as Blanc, a character with a brain like Columbo hidden behind a Fog Horn Leg Horn accent. Other Thronby family members are beautifully brought to life by Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, and especially Michael Shannon. Ana De Armes also does a star-making turn as the waif-ish Marta. This is dazzling entertainment from opening to closing credits and was better than at least three of the films that did receive Best Picture nominations. One critic called this film the best murder mystery ever made. I don't know if that's true, but it's the best one I've seen.