- Saint Laurent
- The Rocketeer
- Sex, Lies, and Videotape
- G.I. Joe: Retaliation
- Vera Drake
- The Iron Ministry
- The Tribe
- Wild Tales
- Song of the Sea
- The Salt of the Earth
- Tales of the Grim Sleeper
- Happy Valley
- V/H/S: Viral
- The Absent
- The Duke of Burgundy
- Clouds of Sils Maria
- Stations of the Cross
- Beyond the Lights
- Dumb and Dumber To
- Night of the Demon
- Rainy Dog
- Addams Family Values
Key: * = rewatch, ~ = rewatch within the same year. If a movie is highlighted in blue, then it is one of the 300 which I have sworn to see this year.
For a long time, fiction films have had trouble conveying what makes brilliant people, well, brilliant. The demands of traditional storytelling and the underestimation of the average audience member’s intelligence means that filmmakers are reluctant to spend too much time elucidating big ideas, especially when they have to do with science or math. The Theory of Everything is no different, simplifying the ideas that made Hawking famous to an embarrassing degree. In the most cringe-worthy scene, a group of scientists ebulliently describe the ideas of the “Big Bang” and “Big Crunch” by actually yelling “BANG” and “CRUNCH” while performing associated hand gestures. The movie is all too eager to skip this “boring” stuff for the allegedly more interesting domestic drama at hand.
I really jibe with what Interstellar is trying to accomplish. I want big budget films to aim intellectually and emotionally high. I agree with most of its messages and themes. I am the choir it is preaching to. Which makes it all the more disappointing that the movie is, in the most charitable view, only haphazardly successful. There are aspects to love about it — it’s the best-looking blockbuster in years, and there are some truly enrapturing moments. but that’s scattered among strings of misaimed beats across a punishing, nearly three-hour runtime.
AFI Fest work:
The Tribe is not a silent film. There’s plenty of dialog — most people simply won’t be able to understand it. It doesn’t try to put the audience inside the mindset of a deaf person, either, which is another of its methods of disconnect. There’s no music, but sound (which is impeccably deployed here) is always present. In many respects, it’s actually a quite conventional European crime story. The lack of spoken word doesn’t even lead to creative visual storytelling; much of the plot, as well as the mindsets of the characters, can be gleaned from the simple actions they take, as well as their contexts. Which, perhaps, is part of the point: this is a way to draw attention to how much of human communication is unspoken, expressed through people whose communication is by necessity wholly silent.
Six films, six twisted tales of vengeance. An Argentine anthology film with a dark sense of humor and a gruesome streak, Damian Szifron’s Wild Tales links its six vignettes together through a single, common theme: revenge. Not revenge in the grand, Shakespearean sense, however. Rather, the pounds of flesh extracted by the characters in Wild Tales pay for the squabbles and petty frustrations that each and every one of us face. The results are entertaining if, like most anthologies, a little bit hit and miss.
It’s not just that the last act is repetitive. At its outset, Girlhood avoids the miserablist pitfall filmmakers are so often tempted towards when telling stories about lower-class life – even if it still makes use of a few familiar character types. But the new direction throws that out the window — here comes the drug dealing, the lost causes. The film hugs close the idea that female companionship is all that some young women can truly rely on in this world. But not even that can save you from being a pity case in a festival flick, it seems.
Felt might be more vitally of the moment than any other film that people aren’t likely to see (though the film was picked up by Amplify out of AFI, so fingers crossed). Right now, a very necessary conversation about rape culture and the myriad ways that society is hostile to women is taking shape. Felt isn’t a piece for conversation, though. It’s an experience. It’s an unvarnished, unpretentious, and seemingly unassuming portrait of what it’s like to be a woman and feel the world crushing your throat under its heel.
Documentary has long struggled with a dependency on still photography. Linked as closely as it is to journalism, history, education and social action, the form has seen many films that require their use. But cinema is the art of the moving image, and incorporating photos in a way that can engage the viewer has proved difficult. The Salt of the Earth tackles this issue in an entirely new way, and that’s just one of many elements that make it one of the most evocative documentaries of the year.
The first few minutes of The Iron Ministry are a black screen overlaid with the sound of train machinery. The darkness goes on long enough that some patrons were muttering over whether or not the picture was being projected correctly. Gradually, however, images come into view, though hazy and out of focus; hard to identify. The gears and bellows of the train pulsate and throb. They don’t look mechanical. It looks like the workings of grey, diseased organs. The first sign of human activity is a closeup of cigarette butts sloshing in a water-filled nook. And then people themselves finally enter the picture, mites living in the larger host body of the train.
One thing that major studios have going for them is that their executive-scrutinized teams of artists will usually ensure that their movies contain a narrative propulsion. Independents favor a slower approach, because, let’s face it, most of them are trying to be Studio Ghibli. And this is an admirable aim, to be sure. But the Ghibli writers and animators know how to properly balance slowness and action, and how to make sure that the moments their films take to breathe don’t end up turning into yawns. In animation circles, there’s a certain fetishism for beautiful moments, and creators seem to be actively seeking to create them. But you can’t reverse-engineer beauty this way.
Happy Valley is the very definition of a documentary whose parts are greater than their sum. At every turn, the viewer can sense a much greater film that could have been, tantalizing possibility lurking in the margins. The Penn State sex abuse scandal and its aftermath suggest so many things (not many of them terribly flattering) about American culture, specifically its football and college culture. But a lot of these themes are more gleaned by the viewer from what they see in the film than they are actively explored by the film proper.
The Absent is almost a parody of what people who don’t really watch “art films” think they’re like. It is nigh-on plotless, lacking in incident, almost wordless, highly ambiguous, and incredibly slow. It can’t consist of more than a few dozen shots, each of which are either completely still or slow pans. Those shots either contain one, none, or (very rarely) two people. There is precisely one shot with a crowd. There are two scenes that contain any dialogue. It is a tremendously boring experience. It is a little more than 70 minutes long, but feels like it’s three hours.
I quite enjoyed it!
Though much of the film is rooted in history, Hansen-Løve maintains that conveying the emotion of the time was more important than anything else. “We were not pretending to tell the whole story about the ‘90s or the French surge. The ambition was to try to get some authentic feeling about what it had meant for us to experience those years.” That’s an aim higher than tweaking nostalgia, and it’s why Eden has earned so much praise.