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Drama

Drama

Paterson

Paterson

No, this is nothing like any season of Girls, don't be too disappointed

dir: Jim Jarmusch

2016

A movie from one of my favourite directors. Being a godless heathen, my Christmas happens every time a film from one of my favourite directors comes out. This is the reason; their films are gifts to the world, maybe, but mostly to me. Sometimes, I know how weird this sounds, they even seem specifically made for me.

Of course, sometimes, for Christmas, or Hanukah, or for your birthday, sometimes you get socks, a voucher to a naturopath clinic or a punch in the goolies (depends on the family, naturally).

Paterson is like almost every other Jarmusch film, with his own sense of time, with all his obsessions / interests up on the screen, and yet it also takes the time to (perhaps) advocate for the idea that anyone, including the viewer, can find an outlet for their own creativity, and that regardless of what they do for their daily bread, their efforts are just as worthy as those of any of the artists they might idolise.

Rating:

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea

Maybe they'll hook up, get married, have a baby, call him Nate, if he's a boy

dir: Kenneth Lonergan

2016

Well, that was exhausting. Manchester by the Sea is a long arse movie, but even its length doesn’t matter as much as its content. And what miserable content it is.

Casey Affleck, the shorter Affleck, the younger Affleck, won an Academy Award for this role. I’m not going to argue that it is ill-deserved, or should have gone to anyone else, because that’s pointless. It doesn’t matter anyway. But to get this most “highest” of honours for this role seems…surprising.

I think it’s surprising because the character is so much like the walking dead from that show whose title escapes me at the moment, except he doesn’t want fresh brains or anything else to eat. He, being Lee, is dead inside. He goes through the motions of his work, which requires talking to people, but he hates talking to people. It seems to cause him physical discomfort.

This isn’t the latest in a long line of autism-spectrum dramas trying to illuminate aspects of the human experience through portraying the way some people are completely anti-social but good at math or shooting people or something like that. Lee’s not on the spectrum, he’s just dead inside from grief.

It takes a while to find out what happened, but the more pressing factor, at least from Lee’s perspective, is that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has just died, which forces Lee to drive to a place, the place of the title, that he can’t stand to be in.

Rating:

Moonlight

Moonlight

Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale... good gods what is that?

dir: Barry Jenkins

2016

What a way to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Long after people have forgotten what the flick was about they’ll remember, just like those jokes about Marisa Tomei winning for My Cousin Vinny way back in the day, people will be joking about how it was announced by Bonnie and Clyde, in their final act of defiance, that La La Land had won, when in fact Moonlight was the actual winner.

And it made for quite an awkward speech to cap the night off, from both the people who thought they’d won, and the ones who actually won.

Who cares anyway – the Oscars are meaningless, really, the actual awards don’t mean anything other than marketing.

And yet, it is fucking bizarre that this flick won Best Picture. I have to believe that however the votes from the Academy members were tabulated, I can’t believe that thousands of old white people watched this and thought it was the best flick of the year.

I say this as someone who watched it and liked it, and who thinks it’s absurd that a flick like this can even be compared with something like La La Land. It’s like comparing lasagne to clouds, or frogs to espadrilles.

Rating:

Lion

Lion

You could almost think this was a love story from the poster

dir: Garth Davis

2016

This is perhaps not a wonderful film. The fact that it is based on a true story perhaps means it deserves slack being cut its way. That being said, it is a very emotional flick to watch. What matters is whether it earns the emotions it insists, almost at gunpoint, that the audience feel.

And I felt them, oh gods in heaven did I feel them. Parts of this flick are deeply disturbing, and parts are wrenching. But what does it add up to?

It is such a compelling story, at least some aspects of it. The first section of the film, and the section that I daresay most people will think draws you in the most, shows two boys, at some time in the 80s trying to steal coal from a moving train. Now, I don’t support this kind of criminal behaviour, mostly because brown coal is, like, the total worst for the environment, but when we see why they steal the goddamn coal (to exchange it for two small bags of milk), you realise that these kids aren’t exactly criminal masterminds.

No, they ain’t slinging crack or shooting byatches upside their dome pieces for mad money – they’re two poor kids who lament how hard their labourer mother (Priyanka Bose) works, and they try to ease her burdens. For a bit of milk.

Rating:

High-Rise

High-Rise

I get it, you're trying to remind people of A Clockwork Orange.
No-one cares, poster design nerds.

dir: Ben Wheatley

2016

Hmmm.

I don’t know about this flick. I’m not sure I got it, really. I'm not sure there's enough of anything to get.

I mean, I watched it. I saw lots of images, and heard lots of dialogue, and most of that went through my eyes and ears into my brain, and I’m recalling many of those moments and images and ideas right now, but I’m not sure what they add up to.

Ben Wheatley is a beast of a Brit director, who’s made a swag of vicious flicks, and this is no less vicious, though it seems like a bigger budget / bigger deal than what he’s handled previously. I mean, after all, this has Tom Hiddleston in it, in a lead role.

You know, Loki? The (possible) next James Bond? Taylor Swift’s current boyfriend?

Even more (slightly less) impressive than that, this has Jeremy Irons in a key role.

Jeremy. Irons.

Sorry, old Simpsons reference, couldn’t resist.

High-Rise is based on a book by JG Ballard, which is a name that doesn’t resonate with most people, but it does with me, because I went through that stage that many aging literature nerds of my generation went through when you read many of the books of particular writers all in a row: like you go through your Bukowski stage, your Henry Miller stage, your Vonnegut stage, and then, during your science fiction phase, your Philip K. Dick stage and your Ballard stage. And I read a bunch of them, including this.

Rating:

The Lobster

The Lobster

Consider The Lobster. Now maybe consider something else.

dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

2016

These movies from this Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, like Dogtooth, Alps and now The Lobster – I question whether they are movies to be enjoyed, or movies to be endured / survived.

They’re definitely strange, that’s for sure. Being able to say “there’s nothing else out there quite like it” can be used as much as a compliment as it can as a complaint.

I have watched too many movies in my life, and too much television, and what that means is that, just like everyone else, I can sometimes be energised by watching something completely out of left field, but I can just as equally be left confused and bemused by something so fundamentally odd that my mind can’t quite latch on to it.

I like to think that I kinda ‘got’ what was going on with Dogtooth – a strange flick where a very strange set of Greek parents bring up their kids in absolute isolation, warping their sense of language, sex, the world, everything – but having watched The Lobster, it’s more than likely that I was completely wrong about that flick. As for this flick, well, I have no idea.

Rating:

Spotlight

Spotlight

People. Doing people-type things. Trying to destroy the Catholic Church for
being the foul Human Centipede of religions that it is

dir: Tom McCarthy

2015

It might seem a bit unnecessary to review Spotlight at this late stage because, surely, this far into 2016, what does it really matter anyway?

Oh. Wait. Yeah, now I remember. This flick, which was probably only watched by members of the Academy and every journalist that still carries a torch for the nobility and doggedness of their profession (in other words, all of them) somehow managed to somehow win Best Picture.

Surely that counts for something, right?

I find it incredibly hard to believe that enough members of the Academy saw this in order to vote in numbers for it to achieve a plurality of votes over the other contenders. If anything the flick tries so hard to be downbeat that it’s almost an anti-movie. Sure, the actors wear makeup and act all over the place, but it’s really trying to show just how unglamorous the profession was way back in the dim, distant days of the year 2000.

It’s funny that this is essentially a period piece. What is less funny is that this film set at the beginning of the new millennium is about the systematic sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests with the Catholic Church’s knowledge stretching back through the decades. And, let’s face it, probably centuries.

Rating:

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

This is the part of the caption where I say something
pithy that mocks the poster or the actors on the poster

dir: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

2015

Sometimes you just can’t catch a break.

If this never got the attention it required, if not that many people saw it who otherwise would have been the prime audience for it, then it’s a shame, but it all comes down to timing.

If the flick had been released before Fault in Our Stars, not a soul would have thought it was trying to cash in on some perceived teens-dying-of-cancer upsurge in audience interest. Released this year? Then it just looks like it’s jumping on a sickly bandwagon and riding some dubious coattails.

It’s a real shame, because the movies are nothing alike, and are both based on completely different books, and were being developed completely independently of each other.

I enjoyed Fault in Our Stars well enough, despite seeing how mawkishly sentimental it was, and how godawfully manipulative. It had good core performances (by Shaleen Woodley and the actors playing her parents at least), and a decent script especially as it related to the arsehole author Hazel worshipped and then loathed (played by Willem Dafoe). Nice soundtrack, too. It was always aimed at and intended for a non-discriminating mass audience, which it got in spades.

Although maybe I’m over-thinking it. Maybe putting “Dying Girl” in your film’s title isn’t going to have patrons kicking down the theatre’s doors to get in and see it

Rating:

Everest

Everest

The feeling that you had, gazing upon the mountain with awe and holy
terror, that you shouldn't have dared to try to climb it? That's the one you
should have gone with, peeps, definitely.

dir: Baltasar Kormakur

2015

“Because it’s there” is a terrible reason to do anything.

I would argue that it’s the dumbest reason to do anything in this world, in this life, let alone climb the world’s tallest mountain.

If someone asks you why you’re climbing Mount Everest, I would argue that you need a much better response than that. Perversely, it’s inadequate for me because plenty of people have already climbed the bloody thing, and, it’s killed so, so many people in the attempt.

I am obviously not the kind of person to whom this kind of stuff appeals. To me, and I don’t want to seem unkind to the families of people who lost their lives climbing this mountain or any other mountain, it seems both the height of arrogance and the nadir of stupidity to deliberately put yourself in a horribly dangerous situation for no actual need or benefit. At this stage, climbing to the top of Mount Everest’s only purpose is so that you can say to people “I climbed Mount Everest”.

Even then, I don’t really see the benefit of it. Unless it somehow results in the perfect formulation in bars and clubs of “Hey. I climbed Mount Everest” always leading to “Well, I guess I absolutely have to fuck you, then” it really doesn’t mean that much to me.

Rating:

A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year

A Most Dangerous Couple, whereby she does not strike me as being a lady
you want to disappoint

dir: JC Chandor

2014

This will come as a surprise to you, but A Most Violent Year is not a particularly violent movie. There are a few instances of violence, but overall it isn’t even as violent as something with Adam Sandler in it. Yeah, I mean like Pixels.

The year in question is 1981. New York was a much different place then than it is now. Back then, well, your truck could be hijacked, and no-one would even notice. The police were deathly afraid to walk the streets. Only Charles Bronson and Dirty Harry kept the peace by shooting ethnic types in the face.

Times Square was still a bastion of sleaze and depravity, and the metropolis was a living hellhole because Rudy Giuliani hadn’t come along to clean the place up yet. This is, at least, the narrative people have been peddling about New York for the last few decades. You could work in a few references to Ronald Reagan, Milli Vanilli and the Cold War, maybe, but other than that it’s meant to be the bad old days of a city in decline.

The real danger, the real violence, we come to understand, is that being waged against one man’s ego, against his morals, against his very soul.

Honest businessman Abel Morales (the always impressive Oscar Isaacs) is that man.

Rating:

Woman in Gold

Woman in Gold

Some things are worth fighting for, especially when they're
worth hundreds of millions of dollars

dir: Simon Curtis

2015

This is not a colour afflicted sequel to either The Woman in Black horror flicks or The Woman in White, the classic Wilkie Collins pot boiler. Or The Woman in Red, the classic 80s flick with Gene Wilder and Kelly Le Brock. Rawr! The sexual chemistry just burned up the screen, it did.

It’s something far more laden with importance and weighty significance. It’s based on a true story, in some ways an incredibly true story, and its very title is an affront and a lingering insult to the people affected/afflicted by the Nazis.

Austria. Vienna. In some ways this flick and a lot of ink spilled in the last half century have argued about the complicated relationship people have with that great nation and city. It spawned great art and architecture. It spawned a dictator too, who tried to consume all of Europe with his Jew-hating madness, which in turn consumed much of the rest of the world, too.

Unfortunately for me, and for one of the protagonists here, one can’t look at the clean lines and fascist architecture of the place even now without seeing the horror of back then. This flick, more than anything else, is about trying to make right something that under no circumstances can be made right.

Rating:

While We're Young

While We're Young

Taking ayahuasca is not something people in their 40s should be doing.
You're meant to be arguing about tax returns and negative gearing and
prostate examinations! Also, private schools: good idea or great idea?

dir: Noah Baumbach

2015

I’ve barely recovered from the last time I watched a Noah Baumbach film. You could almost describe my symptoms as being “post-Baumbach stress disorder” after having endured Greenberg. I know that wasn’t his next to most recent flick (that being Frances Ha), but I’m still trying to reconcile the deeply visceral and hateful reaction I had to that earlier flick.

I was wary to enter into the lion’s den again. One shouldn’t return to one’s abusers. It’s not healthy. It reeks of co-dependence and unhealthy relationships. If a person abuses you, physically or mentally, there are no good reasons to spend time with them ever again. They don’t respect you, the way Baumbach seems to have no respect for his audiences, sometimes. That’s when you start the exceedingly complicated process of extracting yourself, which can take months, years even.

But hey, if you’re a masochist or a glutton for punishment, let the good times roll!

Rating:

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Uplifting! Uproarious! Superannuated! Now I need a lie down.

dir: John Madden

2015

Why wouldn’t you?

Why wouldn’t you make a sequel to such a successful movie? I mean, every white middle class Anglo-Saxon over the age of 65 in Britain and Australia was obligated by law to go and see the first one or risk having their Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and pensioner cards ripped up in front of them, so why not?

Well, call me the querulous voice of pedantic temperance: this flick really has no reason to exist, like most sequels. Was there anything desperately necessary for the makers or the characters to do or say?

No, not really. But many of these actors, being national treasures, deserve every opportunity to continue sitting there in front of a camera complaining about the pain in their hips or knees. And I begrudge them nothing. As long as someone gets them a nice cup of tea and puts a blanket over their knees.

With many of these elders, I could literally sit there watching them talk about tea or textile content percentages and consider it time well spent. They’ve earned it. Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith are Dames, for crying out loud. That’s not an exaggeration or a term of endearment. They’re literally Dames! As in knighted by the goddamn queen. If anyone deserves to coast along and not do much and still be thought of as wonderful, it’s them.

So, yeah, I’m always glad to spend time with them. Many of the other people in this film? Meh…

Rating:

Welcome to Me

Welcome to Me

This image doesn't convey at all just how weird this flick is and just
how awful she can be. Hiding your awfulness behind sunglasses is
an old, old trick

dir: Shira Piven

2014

Well. That happened.

This is one of those flicks where you can safely say if Kristen Wiig wasn’t in it, the flick would never have been made. And had it never been made, would the world have been any better or worse off?

Welcome to Me is a mildly interesting flick, but not an entirely satisfying one. It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying version of this same story, because I’m not sure such a thing would really be possible.

It has, at its core, a main character who is transcendentally kind of awful. Alice Kleig (Kristen Wiig) maybe doesn’t mean to be, but she is struggling with, at the very least, borderline personality disorder, according to her long-suffering therapist (Tim Robbins).

She has one friend, Gina (Linda Cardellini), a gay ex-husband (Alan Tudyk) who inexplicably still dotes on her, and a completely distorted sense of the world and her place in it.

We know right off the bat that her own personal psychiatric history shapes the majority of her interactions with the world, or at least her sense of it, but we are also giving the clear impression that television is responsible as well.

Rating:

The Skeleton Twins

Skeleton Twins

Woah, wait, it's not THAT kind of film about siblings. This ain't
no Flowers in the Attic type stuff

dir: Craig Johnson

2014

This is an odd film, but an enjoyable one, in that I enjoyed it, and it was odd. If the mantra has long been than comedians in dramatic roles is a surer bet than dramatic actors in comedic roles, then the makers here are doubling down by having both Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as the lead siblings in this drama.

The problem, if it is a problem, is that because of their pedigree as Saturday Night Live alums, everything they do we naturally assume is being done for comedic effect. That includes even in serious, dramatic moments. I recall reading an interview with Wiig where she spoke of being at a screening, and being frustrated that people were laughing at parts of the movie where she wasn’t going for laughs and the script wasn’t aiming for them either.

Well, boo bloody hoo. Rarely can we exactly control what other people get from what we do. Plus it’s her own fault for being so funny for so long.

The Skeleton Twins is a pretty serious film. Two siblings deal with the trauma of their troubled adolescence, in terrible ways, before reconnecting after ten years of estrangement.

Rating:

Faults

Faults

The Leader is good, The Leader is great, we surrender
our will as of this date!

dir: Riley Stearns

2014

There are probably a bunch of faults in Faults. You wouldn’t really put those faults down to the budget, because this flick has none. I have rarely if ever seen a movie with recognisable actors in it with as much of a budget absence as this.

Let me put it this way, in my pockets I have more money than was perhaps spent on any aspect of the making of or distribution of this movie.

It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Constraints often force film makers to come up with intriguing solutions. It’s just that the budget is so, so tiny that you have to figure the makers made it out of a deep love of the subject matter.

Or they just really, really love cults.

I’ve never been, even as a child, prone at all to the temptations of subsuming myself into any group’s loving embrace, whether it be religious, philosophical, political or otherwise. I just don’t have that belonging feeling. I’m sure the people that do get sucked into these entities probably believed likewise about themselves. I’m sure there’s a few Scientologists who still think they made the right decision to sign on for a billion years of service, and that their decision made perfect sense at the time and even to this day.

Rating:

Still Alice

Still Alice

To me the look on her face says "If I don't get the Oscar
for this, someone's going to get stabbed."

dir: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland

2014

Still Alice is quite a sad film. I’m sure that’s not going to be a surprise to anyone that’s heard even a little bit about what it’s about. But it is truly sad.

All the same, this is not the kind of manipulative drivel that one usually associates with these kinds of dramas. It’s also not about the nobility of suffering, or about a beautiful woman getting some disease and expiring in the most delightfully photogenic manner.

Julianne Moore has rightly been nominated for this performance, but I’m not sure that she’s necessarily going to win. Her achievement in this role is often what she chooses not to do more so than what she actually does. There is a minimum of hysterics or melodramatics in the flick, which keeps it inline with the story as it is being told.

But at least she's subtle about it.

Alice (Moore) is delivering a lecture on linguistics. She pauses, trying to recall a word that is eluding her, and then it comes to her, and she moves on.

This is only the first step down a very long road.

Define ‘irony’. Irony is a professor of linguistics, a person whose field of study is the human brain’s ability to soak up language and the structures of the brain devoted to communication, and the idea of how words form a person’s concept of their own identity, and then have her lose it all as we watch.

Rating:

Whiplash

Whiplash

It ain't worth it, people, this jazz stuff will just mess you up

dir: Damien Chazelle

2014

Well, whatever the template is in a flick like St Vincent, Whiplash would seem to be the absolute opposite.

This is not, in any way, a flick where an older curmudgeon is brought out of his shell by a younger person who teaches him to reconnect with his humanity and people and Russian prostitutes.

Oh good gods, no.

Whiplash is a superb film. I know, I’m a bit late getting to the table on this one, since it’s been nominated for stuff, and it made many reviewers’ 2014 Best of listicles. It’s up for Best Picture in a couple of weeks. J.K. Simmons has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Praising it now seems like throwing confetti after the limo has left the church.

It being superb doesn’t always make it easy to watch. It is tense, and energised, and frightening, in a lot of scenes. It is harrowing to watch what the main character Andrew (Miles Teller) endures for his art. It is disturbing to consider the points the film makes about sacrifice, about needing to suffer to become “great”, and about how, sometimes, it feels like the flick is endorsing the abuse we witness.

Rating:

St Vincent

St Vincent

I can't believe they didn't use a single song from the actual
St Vincent (Annie Clark) in this flick. Totally wasted opportunity.

dir: Theodore Melfi

2014

Old grumpy curmudgeons becoming less so (grumpy and curmudgeonly, not the old bit, since there’s no cure for that) over the course of a flick is a genre in and of itself. There’s this inherent belief, ably supported by movies, that even the most misanthropic dullard can be brought out of themselves by the attention and love of a much younger person.

It’s a template as old as movies themselves. The first movie ever was a home movie of a crotchety Thomas Edison screaming at people to get off his lawn at Menlo Park, until some filthy urchin teaches him to love again.

And that was 100 years ago. There have been exactly 10,000 versions of this theme in the interim. They do it in every country, in every language. I’ve probably seen five versions of this in the last month alone.

When it’s done well, it’s as good as Pixar’s Up, or About A Boy, that one with Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult, a film I still have a lot of time for. When it’s bad, it’s creepy, or unearned, or just generally uncomfortable. Like As Good As It Gets, 90 per cent of Clint Eastwood’s recent movies, or many, many, many other versions of the theme.

Because it’s such a formula, it doesn’t really hold any surprises for us. What it does hold is ample opportunities for actors of a certain age to desperately grasp one last time for that Oscar that’s eluded them thus far.

Rating:

Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman

You seem to have something stuck to your head.
Want me to, uh, get it for you?

dir: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

2014

This film is totally fucking nuts!

And that’s not a bad thing at all.

In fact it’s quite enjoyable, visually confronting, artfully constructed and pretty well acted by almost everyone involved. There is a lot of yelling, a lot of virtuoso camerawork, and a lot of people struggling for credibility.

It’s not unique in cinema to do this, but it’s very hard to watch this and not think that there are fourth wall breaking – meta elements in the flick, considering that Michael Keaton is playing a character called Riggan Thompson whose claim to fame is that he starred as the superhero in some flick called Birdman decades ago.

I hope that almost everyone knows that Keaton, who up until then had been considered a pretty successful comedic actor, also played a little known superhero called Batman in a couple of movies with Tim Burton.

No-one points out, of course, that they were pretty shitty movies. Well, the first one was, maybe the second one was okay.

Of course, Keaton hasn’t exactly been in the wilderness since then, having been in a stack of flicks. If there are autobiographical similarities between Keaton the actor and Thompson the character, perhaps they’re just coincidental.

Rating:

Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler

While you were sleeping, Jake Gyllenhaal was out
there being creepy

dir: Dan Gilroy

2014

For me at least, after watching this film, it’s been confirmed, as if these things really matter anyway, that the Academy has yet again dropped the ball when it comes to nominations for Best Actor. Nothing I’ve seen thus far from last year was as great as what Jake Gyllenhaal achieves in this film. For my money, Nightcrawler has the performance of the year.

It’s also an incredibly strong film in its own right, but, man, that performance is breathtaking.

Gyllenhaal, who’s generally never been a slouch in the acting department, really pulls out all the stops and gives this creepy, monstrous character his all. That should not imply that there is overacting all over the place. Nothing of the sort. Au contraire, to be accurate.

Well, mostly.

This is a performance up there with Lord Anthony Hopkins for Hannibal or Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, or Anyone as Richard Nixon, only this character is probably even more of a monster than those three jerks, and yet he is far more polite and courteous. His manner, however, barely hides the cold alien nature that lurks below his feverish eyes and gaunt cheeks.

Rating:

Boyhood

Boyhood

Boy in the hood, but who or what will he grow up to be?

dir: Richard Linklater

2014

Twelve years a slave to Richard Linklater’s ambitions. What a terrible fate for any set of actors.

Boyhood is a fairly unique film in how it was put together, but not in its subject matter. Its subject could not be any more mundane if it tried.

The reason is, the subject is Life. And Life, itself, at least other people’s lives, can be pretty mundane. That’s not a criticism. Most films except biopics aren’t really about people’s (or character’s) lives, broad swathes of their lives. They’re usually only about a certain period of time in which really exciting stuff happens to them, and then when they return to normality, crushing mundane normality, the credits are usually rolling.

Boyhood transpires over twelve years in the lives of a bunch of characters and the actors who play them. That doesn’t mean it only covers a twelve year time period in terms of its scope. They were filmed for a few days at a time over the course of twelve actual years. Now that’s commitment to an idea. We literally watch the actors, especially the kids, grow right in front of our eyes. The film is nearly three hours long, so there’s a lot of growing up to do.

Since it’s called Boyhood, you can pretty much guess that it’s the story of a particular boy growing up in Texas. Richard Linklater is from Texas, and he was a boy at some point. Are there autobiographical aspects to the story?

Rating:

Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis

What some guys will do for some ginger pussycat

dir: Coens

2013

I love Coen Brother films. They’ve made about 16 of them, and I can honestly say I love perhaps most of them. That fandom doesn’t always predispose me towards loving anything they do (the films of theirs that I don’t like I downright hate), but it does make me cautious.

That caution was probably at play when I avoided watching Inside Llewyn Davis for as long as I could manage. In the end my curiosity won out, and I’m the better for it, surely.

Even critics who like the flick referred to it back in the day as a ‘lesser Coen Brothers’ flick, as more of a curio than anything else. I’d like to dispute that retarded judgement right here, right now, right here, right now. It’s certainly not a crowdpleaser on the level of an O Brother Where Art Thou? or a viscerally brutal thriller like No Country for Old Men, but it’s certainly coming from the same place that they come from when they make their quieter, more philosophical efforts like A Serious Man and Barton Fink.

Rating:

Chef

Chef

And remember, always tip your wait staff and
other service industry types so that they don't
spit in your food too often

dir: Jon Favreau

2014

With some flicks, when there’s a clod/visionary at the centre of them who seems to have performed every job on the film (star/direct/produce/screenplay/edit) I often joke that they did the catering, too. In this, Jon Favreau’s tribute to Jon Favreau, it’s more than likely that he did the food as well.

There are people in this life who must feel very lucky to have gotten where they have. Other people work and strive damn hard and get nowhere for decades. For others, it just seems to fall in their lap. There’s no point getting angry about it: no-one except the delusional should expect a random and chaotic universe to allocate outcomes to people based on merit. It only happens in fantasy stories. Still, when that success comes to you, it’d be nice if you could acknowledge that you’ve risen to a station you otherwise don’t deserve.

On some level, it’s hard not to feel like Jon Favreau’s career as the director of some pretty big budget films is some kind of cosmic fluke. A man who has shown little ability as an actor or as a comedian ends up directing two of Marvel’s biggest recent movies? How? Why? Who does he have photos of in compromising positions that haven’t been leaked to the internets yet?

Rating:

Calvary

Calvary

Big Irish priest, you take upon you the sins of the world,
go have a drink instead

dir: John Michael McDonagh

2014

We all know how awful the Catholic Church’s legacy of abuse and corrupted silence is. At least, those of us who aren’t apologists for the Church realise that. And it’s also uncomfortably part of the present, because many of the Church’s victims are still alive, some of the abusers still live, and many of those whose job it was to threaten, cajole, or bribe people into silence still reign, and are in wonderfully lofty positions still in the Church’s hierarchy.

But going over that is a very different story from the story Calvary wants to tell. It’s impossible to tell the story of a Catholic priest in Ireland without that awful legacy looming over everything, but the point of Calvary is very different. Its central character is a good priest (Brendon Gleeson). He doesn’t apologise for or deny what went on before; he strives to minister to the people of his tiny village in County Sligo despite their seeming complete indifference to the religion they purport to be a part of.

He, doggedly, refuses no-one, no matter how outright contemptuous they are of him or his faith, or how awful their crimes.

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Skate or Die is Walter's new motto, not this Choose Life bullshit!

dir: Ben Stiller

2013

Us lowly shmos. Workaday slobs and Joe Twelve-Packs, people whose dreams died so long ago that the only way we can keep living is through endless material consumption and the magic of cinema, temporarily at least energising us and convincing us that our existence is not entirely futile. One day we could break out of our routines and obligations, and live the lives we once fantasised about.

One day, but not today. Got too much on. Too old to change. Too many people relying on us for us to change and live the way we really want to live.

Who better to remind us great unwashed masses that we should really be living life to the fullest, travelling to far flung places and carpei deim-ing all over the place than a multi-millionaire comedian from Hollywood? Who knows more about pursuing and achieving your dreams than a very successful actor?

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Philomena

Philomena

Where's me shoe? Ken ye see me shoe anywheres, Martin?
Martin, ken ye see me shoe?

dir: Stephen Frears

Look, I admit that a film about a woman in her 70s - 80s trying to find the son she was forced to give up for adoption 50 years ago doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs.

It sounds like a barrel of misery, in fact, filled up to the brim with bitterness and spite.

Philomena is based on a true story, however, and the fascinating aspects about it, and the parts of the flick that are the most enjoyable, don't really have to do with that singular act of Irish Catholic bastardry.

Philomena (Dame Judi Dench) is a lovely old woman who remembers, quite clearly, quite painfully, that when she was fairly young she committed the mortal sin of getting knocked up. For her crimes she was imprisoned by nuns for four years, and, to add brutal insult to agonising injury, the child fruit of her evil was whisked away by these penguins and sold to Americans for a hefty chunk of change.

They took the boy away and just gave him over, specifically without telling her.

They didn't and wouldn't tell her where he went, or give her any information, even decades later, as to where he ended up, with whom and where. Fifty years later the lies continue.

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August: Osage County

August: Osage County

The only way to stop her is to kill her. But then you become the new her.

dir: John Wells

Some families… some families are so toxic that they shouldn’t exist.

Some characters are so toxic that they’ll either make you cringe in horror, or you’ll feel compelled to give them awards, to make them stay away.

Perhaps that is, in part, the theory here, with August: Osage County. Rarely have I seen an ensemble cast in such desperate need of awards, all of them swinging for the bleachers, as an American abusing a sports metaphor would aver. Almost every single one of them gets their special scene that should have For Your Consideration underneath them as they’re intoning their cumbersome, purple dialogue.

It's overstuffed with good actors, and they all want their chance, but perhaps there's too many of them, and too many of those awards-grubbing scenes for this to be anything but an actor's showcase.

Still, it's no surprise that Meryl Streep was nominated, playing the monstrous matriarch of this toxic clan. So, sure, she 'acts' the most, flexing her acting muscles in every single scene, but that's what you hire Meryl to do. At this stage of her career, it's almost impossible for her to not receive Oscars just for showing up. If she went to the opening of a carwash and cut the ribbon, she'd probably earn herself an Oscar or a BAFTA or a Gold Logie just for saying, "It is an honour to be here."

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Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club

What a cute couple.

dir: Jean Marc Vallée

Another flick set in the 1980s. Something has happened, some perfect amount of time has elapsed which means the 80s are now what the 60s used to be as far as movies are concerned. Maybe there's sufficient distance for perspective, maybe it's an excuse for 'period' pictures that are mostly dependent on clichés and lazy visuals and themes. Maybe it's just an excuse to look ever backwards, to ignore how little we've progressed.

Dallas Buyers Club, of all the films up for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards, is probably the least Oscarbait-y, despite its subject matter. It's the one that panders the least, again, despite the fact that it's about AIDS during the peak of the AIDS epidemic, or at least about a bunch of people struggling with AIDS during the Ronald "let's collectively stick out fingers in our ears and ignore their pleas for help because they're degenerates" Reagan era.

Matthew McConaughey of course has been nominated, because whenever any actor loses a dangerous amount of weight it's considered the pinnacle of acting. I don't know about that (it strikes me as the height of idiocy), but I guess I can assert at least that it indicates a level of commitment to a role. It shows that they're willing to sacrifice their health and their long term survivability just for the applause of their peers.

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Before Midnight

Before Midnight

Run away before midnight, because you'll both turn into nagging pumpkins

dir: Richard Linklater

For many of us, at least those of us who have seen and loved Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, the prospect of a third instalment is both thrilling and terrifying.

To see what has become of Jesse and Celine is both too intriguing and almost too daunting, because there’s a good reason why romantic stories, romantic movies at least, end where they end. They end after the grand gesture at the end of the movie, the great declarations of love, and just at the beginning of the presumed Happily Ever After begins. Which will last forever, don’t you know.

They don’t show us what happens afterwards, as the two people brought together by lust and amazement start getting bogged down by the mundanity of the every day, as they argue about money, about who caused the scratch on the car and who pissed on the toilet seat.

That would kind of kill the fantasy for us, since all romance is a fantasy. And the two lovebirds would cease, immediately, being these embodiments of love, youth, beauty, and would become earthbound clay and muck just like the rest of us.

Before Midnight gives us Jesse and Celine in their forties, eighteen years after they first met in Prague, nine years after they reunited in Paris, nine years after their lives together began in earnest.

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