Jesus Christ Bananas, this was a busy month, but I guess I should expect no less from the biggest month of awards season. On the upside, I saw some great stuff this month: The Force Awakens, Goodnight Mommy, The Martian, Room, Sicario, and Spotlight all made it to my 2015 top-ten. On the downside, focusing on award contenders meant I missed Krampus and a couple of other late-year horror offerings. Never got around to The Look of Silence, either. And even after three viewings, I still didn’t get The Assassin to the point where I could write about it and not feel like an asshole.
And now, for the overview!
This month’s content
Reviews of current or recent releases
- The Forbidden Room
- The Hateful Eight
- The Martian
- 99 Homes
- A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens
TV Good Sleep Bad
- Episode 5: “Two Episodes of South Park“
- LAMBCast #301: Star Wars: The Force Awakens with Jay Cluitt, Heather Baxendale, David Brook, Todd Liebenow, Kristen Lopez, DJ Valentine
* * *
Other movies I watched this month include…
Hitchcock/Truffaut (Kent Jones, 2015)
A celebration of/companion piece to François Truffaut’s book of Alfred Hitchcock interviews. It gives a good basic overview of Hitch’s style, what exactly he did, what effect it has, why it’s so important et cetera. It could go a lot deeper, but I guess that’s what the book is for. Also includes commentary from filmmakers like Fincher and Scorcese.
Straight Outta Compton (F. Gary Gray, 2015)
N.W.A. biopic. It sets out to do a specific job, which is to portray the environment that produced N.W.A. so the audience can understand why the group came to be and why it was necessary for hip-hop to evolve into the harder and more frank and political genres like gangsta. And when it comes to that, it’s fantastic.
The thing is, it either glosses over or ignores entirely some of the more problematic aspect of the group’s work and that of its members. With two of the four surviving members serving as producers, the other two as creative consultants, and with the frontman’s son in the leading role (as his own father), I probably should have expected as much. And, anyway, it’s a biopic; it has a lot more leeway than a written biography or a documentary would. But it still leaves me feeling like I’m missing half the story.
Woman in Gold (Simon Curtis, 2015)
The legal quest to return one of Austria’s national treasures–a painting described as the country’s analog to the Mona Lisa–to the family the Nazis stole it from at the beginning of World War II. Helen Mirren delivers a spirited performance, and I did learn a fair bit, but for the most part, it’s the cinematic equivalent of eating your vegetables: good for you, but not particularly exciting.
Best of Enemies (Morgan Neville & Robert Gordon, 2015)
Documentary about the debates between William F. Buckley, Jr., and Gore Vidal that ABC ran alongside its coverage of the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions. The debates did great share and turned ABC News into a genuine powerhouse.
The doc portrays Buckley as a slightly self-satisfied but otherwise affable and mild-mannered conservative and Vidal as an iconoclastic, provocative liberal gadfly who got his jollies from pissing off people who didn’t agree with him. This eventually led to Vidal needling Buckley to the point where the latter snapped and said, “Listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I’ll sock you in your damned face and you’ll stay plastered,” on national television. As someone who abhors Buckley’s brand of conservatism (and those descended from it), I can’t blame him, apart from the sexual slur. Vidal was just so fucking obnoxious and glib.
Bottom line, a riveting and entertaining political doc with a lot of insight into the left/right divide in the U.S.
Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015)
This one’s about the Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic sex-abuse scandal in the Boston archdiocese. Does an incredible job of explaining exactly how something which should blow up immediately instead stays cover for years, decades even. Also manages to make journalistic legwork look terribly exciting. Fan-goddamn-tastic cast, particularly Mark Ruffalo and Brian d’Arcy James.
Don’t watch it if you don’t want to get angry.
Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)
Sigh. I’ve never cared for the films of Todd Haynes. I don’t necessarily think they’re bad, they simply don’t particularly interest me apart from their aesthetic qualities. Carol didn’t do anything for me, for the most part, and I wasn’t really impressed with Cate Blanchett. She’s done better work in the past, and I could think of a dozen performances I liked better than hers.
The one thing I did like about Carol is the character of Therese and Rooney Mara’s portrayal. To reiterate what I said about her in my post about this year’s OFCS awards: “Therese is a more complex character than Carol–she lacks confidence and self-trust, allows more powerful personalities to dominate her somewhat, is smarter and less flighty than everyone including herself gives her credit for–and Mara absolutely nails it to the ground.”
The Danish Girl (Tom Hooper, 2015)
Carol Syndrome, Part II: pretty film, didn’t make me feel much of anything. And dear God, I am getting tired of Eddie Redmayne in these transformative Oscar-bait roles. Alicia Vikander did well, but she deserves a lot better.
Mr. Holmes (Bill Condon, 2015)
Ian McKellen as Old Sherlock Holmes revisiting the details of the case that forced him into retirement. It’s not a bad little film, and I particularly appreciated it from a Sherlockian point of view. But it pretty much entirely works on the basis of McKellen’s performance.
John Sessions is such an obvious choice for Mycroft, though.
Brooklyn (John Crowley, 2015)
Carol Syndrome, Part III. I do have to say I wasn’t particularly fond of Eilis; how she treated Dolores really pissed me off. I think I liked Jim more than I was meant to. Also, Tony and his Brooklyn fucking Dodgers.
On the plus side, the scenes that really worked for me are the ones where Eilis returned to Ireland on what she makes very clear is a temporary basis, but everybody assumes she’s back for good. That really nailed what it feels like when other people make it clear that their plans for you are more important than your own. And Miss Kelley was a real See-You-Next-Tuesday, if you catch my meaning.
The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2015)
I liked this one but not as much as everyone else seems to.
I’m glad we finally have a movie that at least attempts to explain, in layman’s terms, how the housing market managed to take a big huge shit in 2006 or 2007. The problem is that Adam McKay coats everything with an almost insufferable level of snark–the “Margot Robbie in a bathtub” scene is a great example. (Also…Margot Robbie? You’re trying to play off the celebrity of an actress whose signature role is in a film that hasn’t even been released yet?)
I think I get what McKay was aiming for: I’m supposed to hate these assholes, particularly Ryan Gosling, who narrates the film. But I really think McKay needed to dial back the tone a bit. Or a lot, because I kept finding that it detracted from what I was actually trying to get out of the film.
Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle, 2015)
Biopics intrinsically and deliberately reduce their real-life characters to fit a predetermined narrative, and there’s no better example of this that I can think of than Steve Jobs. The real Steve Jobs was a complex figure: yes, he was a visionary and a genius; yes, he was also terribly insecure and a verbally-abusive prick.
Aaron Sorkin’s answer to the problem of making Jobs fit into a motion picture is to limit the story to three moments in time: the 1984 Macintosh launch, the 1988 NeXT Computer launch, and the 1998 iMac launch. This approach actually ends up hurting the film, because most of the stuff I find so fascinating about Jobs and the history of Apple ends up being told to the audience instead of shown. I suppose that the upside of that is that it’s Sorkin telling us about it, but I’ve never been a fan of Sorkin.
And that’s a shame, because other than the writing I really liked Steve Jobs: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Ripley Sobo all rock; Danny Boyle’s direction is damn fine; Daniel Pemberton’s score is awesome. I just don’t feel the film’s all that well written.
Trumbo (Jay Roach, 2015)
Yes, Trumbo hits all the required biopic plot beats. Yes, Hollywood loves to mythologize itself. I still liked Trumbo a lot; sue me. Bryan Cranston turns in an awesome performance, as do Diane Lane and Michael Stuhlbarg. Plus…
…well, let’s be honest: much of the dialog wouldn’t seem so quaint and old-timey if you replaced the word “communist” with “Muslim.” Every so often we Americans forget we have important rights like freedom of association. I’ll give Trumbo a bit of a pass because right now we seem to need a reminder.