28 Jul Cinescopes 2020 — Leo: Five Films to Feed the Fire of Your Self-Expression
Welcome to Leo season! Ruled by the Sun itself, Leo is fixed fire. If cardinal energy (like Cancer’s) is about initiation, fixed energy is about holding on, holding steady, and holding it down. If water signs (like Cancer) are the deep feelers, fire signs are the bright burners. As above, so below: Doesn’t it feel like things are getting more… just more?
Leo and its opposite sign, Aquarius, are signs that rule the extremes of their seasons: hot or cold, depending on your hemisphere. There’s a certain power in being superlative, but it can also be too much for some to bear. When someone truly refuses to dim their light, that intensity demands acknowledgement. If you noticed something about a Leo, it wasn’t an accident.
Sometimes, the price of power is more than vulnerability. Maybe it’s a feeling of isolation or separation from the rest of the world around us. Alienation breeds strange behavior. People are strange when you’re a stranger. The antidote to that feeling is connection. For that, we need more than just attention! We need passion and a sense of play. We need generosity. We need loyalty. We need guts. We need to warm and be warmed by the strength of our own sun, without burning out on our overzealous egos.
With all of that in mind, here are five films to illuminate, celebrate, and interrogate the season ahead:
Vox Lux (2018) dir. Brady Corbet
It’s probably no coincidence that many of this season’s movies are written by their directors: Expression is a big Leo keyword, but so is control. Brady Corbet — a Leo — got his start as an actor, with roles in films like Mysterious Skin, Melancholia, Thirteen, and Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Leo is a sign of celebrity, and celebrities are nothing if not screens onto which we project our desires and our dreams. It’s lonely at the top. It’s hard to know who to trust, who really has your best interests in mind, and who just wants to warm themselves off of your glow-up. Leo is a sign of spectacle, and spectacle is about how something looks, not how it feels. Authentic self-expression becomes a “personal brand” and public figures become ghosts in the fame machine: specters of their former selves, struggling to keep the high-gloss surface of their image intact as it becomes increasingly larger-than-life.
Vox Lux is certainly haunted. Celeste (Natalie Portman, having way more fun than in Black Swan), is a household-name-status pop star whose career has been shaped by forces both within and outside of her control. Her extremely dramatic life story could practically act as a highlight reel for the United States’ last quarter-century of violent tragedy. It is, in true Leo fashion, a lot — some might even say too much. But “more is more, and less is a bore,” at least according to the legendary Iris Apfel, whose Mercury in Leo means she speaks the language.
Speaking of language, Celeste’s lyrics were written by Sia, who also has a producer credit on the project, and also knows a thing or two about the push and pull of fame and stardom. If there’s one very un-Leo thing about this movie, it’s that Celeste. in her whole set, has not one costume change. I’ll let it slide, but it’s kind of a huge oversight.
Call Me By Your Name (2017) dir. Luca Guadagnino
Speaking of Leo directors! Luca Guadagnino’s oeuvre certainly covers all the extravagance ascribed to his sun sign, and select scenes in his Suspiria reboot take the Busby Berkeley brand of “spectacle” to the entire next level. If you’ve seen it, then you know what I mean. But before Guadagnino remade one of cinema’s most revered cult films, an attempt that frankly calls for Leo-grade levels of self-regard in and of itself, he set summer 2017 on fire with Call Me By Your Name.
Set in sun-drenched Northern Italy, the final chapter in Guadagnino’s Desire trilogy features gorgeous antiquities, luscious meals, languid leisurely pursuits, and plenty of passion. Who doesn’t want to watch two incredibly interesting, talented, and good-looking people (Timothée Chalamet and Arnie Hammer, specifically) fall for each other? There’s no deep feelings, no emotional baggage. Just charged looks, tangled limbs, and juicy fruits.
In Call Me By Your Name, desire seems as powerful as a force of nature. Isn’t it? Isn’t our desire sometimes overwhelming, like possession or hypnosis, something that makes us feel almost confused by its intensity? You can keep that beast locked away, or try to starve out its strength, but to do so is to deny its gifts. We have to respect and honor it, while recognizing how it can get us (and others) hurt. Near the end of the film, a father has a heart-to-heart with his son and offers this very seasonally-appropriate advice: “We rip so much out of ourselves to be cured of things faster that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty, and have less to offer each time with someone new. But to make yourself feel nothing, so as not to feel anything? What a waste.”
Hustlers (2019) dir. Lorene Scafaria
Shame isolates us. Pride is something we share. Pride doesn’t just mean a flush, a feeling; it’s an assertion of personal dignity. It’s a close-knit group of allies and accomplices, powerful on their own but better together. Having (a) pride is about looking out for yourself and for each other, but it’s also about being un-eff-with-able. Cue: every slow pan shot set to music of a high school girl gang strutting in slow motion down a hallway. They get it. Your pact with your pack is about survival in a brutal and unforgiving environment.
There’s so much that makes Hustlers a Leo movie: The glamour and flamboyance, the thrillingly sexy athleticism, and the economics of undivided attention, to name just a few. Who eats with you at your table, and who gets eaten alive, looms large. And then, of course, there’s the star. What can be said about Jennifer Lopez, that enduring multi-hyphenate powerhouse and Leo extraordinaire who really just keeps getting better and better with age? Truly, only a Leo could have given us the gift of that green Versace dress moment… TWICE. Hustlers features some of the hottest ingenues and entertainers in the game right now, including Lili Reinhart, Constance Wu, Cardi B, Keke Palmer, and Lizzo, but at the end of the day, it’s really Lopez’s vehicle. And she drives it, if you’ll forgive the extended metaphor, like she stole it. Every pride needs a monarch.
Miss Juneteenth (2020) dir. Channing Godfrey Peoples
This year, on its 155th anniversary, the Juneteenth holiday received an as-yet-unprecedented amount of media attention. With this important piece of history commemorating the news of emancipation finally reaching Texas coming to new prominence in the white cultural consciousness, it’s important to acknowledge that observing Juneteenth is a longstanding tradition in many Black communities. Late June may be Gemini season, but any movie about a pageant of any kind is a Leo movie. I don’t make the rules.
All fire signs value both their freedom and a challenge. For Leo, competition and creativity often conflate. In Peoples’ debut, a former Miss Juneteenth winner, Turquoise (Nicole Beharie), who has since fallen on more humbling times, pours her ambition and hopes for the future into her daughter, Kai (Alexis Chikaeze). Along with the crown and the bragging rights of the title, the Miss Juneteenth pageant’s winner receives a full college scholarship. That certainly promises a certain kind of freedom, and Turquoise wants Kai to have access to options that she didn’t. But what if Kai doesn’t share her mother’s dreams, and wants the freedom to pursue her own, right now?
Miss Juneteenth is about community, tradition, and the thrill of competition, but it’s fundamentally about family. Cancerian energy is often described as “nurturing,” but there’s more than one way to be a parent. Turquoise is ready to fight for her daughter’s future, and protect her from making the same perceived mistakes she did. Through Leo, we find parents who are fierce and loyal protectors and providers — looking damn good doing it! Leo rules the heart, and most Leos have big ones. Mess around with their loved ones, and you get the claws.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) dir. Ana Lily Amirpour
You can’t get mad at a cat for being a cat. You know they would kill us if they could! Have you ever seen the YouTube clip where Christian the lion reunites with the people who raised him as a cub? As the full-grown beast barrels towards them full bore, there’s a moment where you think someone might get seriously mauled — but instead, they’re jubilantly embraced, with Christian’s massive paws on their shoulders. It’s an exhilarating moment, not just because the lion’s pounce is a friendly one, but because his former parents face his advance with open arms instead of fear. Perfect love, perfect trust. Of course, for every Christian the lion, there’s a Roy Horn tiger attack or a terrible tragedy like Tilikum the whale. Maybe Christian’s parents just knew how and when to set their apex predator free.
Does it seem weird to associate a sign ruled by the Sun with a vampire flick, given that vampires are nocturnal by nature? Well, like a lion, a vampire can’t be tamed. While one sleeps, the other stalks their prey. In Ana Lily Amirpour’s bold debut, a plethora of cinematic references collide in stylized black-and-white as an unnamed, undead Girl glides gracefully through her Iranian ghost town like a young cub — with sharp teeth. Having her as an ally is better than having her as an enemy, but it’s still pretty scary.
Leo is often associated with the inner child, because children express themselves authentically without fear, shame, or filter… at least, until they are taught otherwise. The Girl is a child forever, and fears no-one. She’s deadly, but not evil, and she knows what she’s doing. So does Amirpour — for its many references, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a provocative, original vision, confidently executed. You can’t get much more Leo-tastic than that.