|Sally Hawkins stars in The Shape of Water|
Fox Searchlight Pictures
(USA, 115 min.)
Dir. Steven Spielberg, Writ. Liz Hannah and Josh Singer
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Bruce Greenwood, Carrie Coon
There’s a great argument with Karina Longworth’s book Meryl Streep: Anatomy of an Actor that suggests Meryl Streep is in many ways the true author of films in which she stars. However, the long running, if increasingly unfashionable, “auteur theory” pioneered by Cahiers du Cinéma types posits the director as a film’s unwavering beacon of artistic vision. Every choice in a film, they say, is a creative one made, summoned, or encouraged by the director. The theory, peddled mostly by male writers about male directors, arguably bears a direct responsibility for the gender imbalances in film that continue today. When a star like Meryl Streep is cranking out 100-million dollar hits, building a base of young fans, and hitting a career-high while in approaching the age of 70, that hierarchy needs to be re-evaluated.
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
(UK/USA, 115 min.)
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage, Jon Hawkes, Lucas Hedges, Caleb Landry Jones, Clark Peters, Abbie Cornish
|Fox Searchlight Pictures|
John Wayne is dead. Ditto Gary Cooper. These old gunslingers are nothing but bones. Long after these movie stars departed, the iconic heroes they inhabited also rode off into the sunset. The small town hero of the Midwest is an old myth long dispelled from a country with no room for old men.
|mother!, Split, If You Saw His Heart, Suburbicon, Despicable Me 3 and Infinity Baby are some of 2017's worst|
Thank goodness 2017 is nearly over.
It’s ending up a fairly good year for movies, but once again there were so many bad ones that weren’t even worth writing about. Boring remakes, stupid sequels, and pointless reboots. Even a lot of the indie stuff wasn’t as good as it usually is and a fair bit of sub-par stuff was pushed quite aggressively for reasons that I honestly can’t still understand. When there are far too many movies being released nowadays, why invest in a lame horse?
(UK, 125 min.)
Dir. Joe Wright, Writ. Anthony McCarten
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup
Give Gary Oldman every award on the planet for Darkest Hour. His turn as late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is a titanic performance. This latest film from director Joe Wright (Anna Karenina) offers a fine companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk with its deftly plotted and time sensitive dramatization of Britain’s war efforts, specifically with the evacuation of Dunkirk, and a rousing parable of great leadership. But where Dunkirk excels as a true ensemble piece, Darkest Hour succeeds as a star vehicle. It’s Oldman’s finest hour.
So many movies, so little time.
(USA, 104 min.)
Written and directed Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Lakeith Stanfield, Betty Gabriel, LilRey Howrey
Sink into the floor and fall into the wild, strange world of Get Out. This brilliant and spectacularly entertaining film from writer/director Jordan Peele offers a visionary entry into the world of horror. Get Out is a chillingly satirical commentary on race relations in America as young Black man Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) goes away to meet the parents of his seemingly sweet white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). Chris worries that Rose’s parents don’t know their daughter is bringing a Black man—gasp, her first!—home for the weekend, and nervously considers the tense two days ahead.
|Clockwise from top: Dunkirk, The Post, The Shape of Water, Lady Bird, Three Billboards, Get Out|
Is it Golden Globes time already? The year for movies really picked up steam and is coming to a strong finish, so the Globe nominations are a tough call. Top contenders like The Post, Phantom Thread, and The Greatest Showman are only just showing their legs—the latter is still the big question mark...and probably not a contender beyond the Globes' musical categories and the crafts branches at the Oscars if the film isn't being trucked out much yet—and the few critics’ prizes doled out so far are more reflective of advocacy than anything else. The early favourites—Call Me By Your Name, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards—are still leading the pack unless something really picks up heat from the Globes, which will most likely be The Post.
The award-season catch-up continues! Missed many goodies this year including the following:
(USA, 88 min.)
Dir. John Carroll Lynch, Writ. Drago Sumonja, Logan Sparks
Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston, Beth Grant
Could Harry Dean Stanton have found a better swan song than Lucky? This offbeat indie isn’t the late character actor’s final film (that would be the upcoming Frank & Ava), but Lucky gives Stanton the great lead performance that eluded him throughout his career. He will forever endure as a legend among character actors for his small but memorable turns as oddballs, weirdos, and creeps, particularly in the filmography of David Lynch, and John Carroll Lynch’s extremely Lynchian Lucky is smartly tailored to Stanton’s wiry frame and zen-like strangeness. It’s a perfect marriage between actor and character, and an even better endnote to a long career.
In the Fade (Aus dem Nichts)
(Germany/France, 106 min.)
Written and directed by Fatih Akin
Starring: Diane Kruger
Diane Kruger gives an exceptional performance as Katja, the grieving mother on a quest for vengeance, justice, and peace in In the Fade. She elevates this relatively run-of-the-mill procedural, which features some of the most implausible courtroom testimony outside of prime time TV, and absolutely deserves the Best Actress prize she picked up at Cannes earlier this year. It’s a career performance and surprisingly the first the first role of Kruger’s filmography to let her active in her native German. This latest film from Faith Akin tackles racism and xenophobia in Germany in the age of Brexit and tightly-guarded borders, and it pits Kruger’s Katja on a delicate journey akin to that of the tortured souls in The Edge of Heaven, another of the director’s works that deals with grief and loss against a backdrop of migration and global change.
Notes from the screener pile are back! I am way, way, way behind on movies this year, particularly anything that came out between March and June since work was like a forest fire this year. The screener pile is thankfully stacking up with goodies and oddities—a fun mix of the typical Oscary prestige and left field contenders to help get back on track. I’ll still try to review in full when possible, but in the spirit of catching up, some notes from the screener pile:
Small Talk (Ri Chang Dui Hua)
(Taiwan, 80 min.)
Dir. Hui-chen Huang
How much better is silence? It’s not better at all if one were to ask director Hui-chen Huang. Huang, after spending years in an impersonal and distant relationship with her mother, Anu, finally decides to speak. She turns the camera on herself in Small Talk, a profoundly intimate documentary and Taiwan’s no-frills submission in the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race. Huang describes the relationship she has when the film begins—and maintains arguably throughout most of the production—in which she and her mother share an apartment, but experience none of the love or closeness that a parent and child might feel after living together for so long. Anu gets up every morning, goes to work, stays out late, comes home, and goes to bed. They define their relationship by silence.
Last Flag Flying
(USA, 124 min.)
Dir. Richard Linklater, Writ. Richard Linklater, Darryl Ponicsan
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne
American independent filmmaker Richard Linklater returns to the dramatic element of time: how it shapes us, defines us, divides us, and unites us. After the 12-years-in-the-making Boyhood and the rollercoaster ride through love and marriage in the Before trilogy, Linklater tries something different with his approach to time: following up a story that is not his own. He’s sort of done this thing before with the random remake of The Bad News Bears, but his latest film Last Flag Flying offers a spiritual sequel four decades in the making to the 1973 Jack Nicholson classic The Last Detail. Last Flag Flying loosely adapts Darryl Ponicsan’s book about navy buddies reuniting and remembering the ghosts of their time together in Vietnam, and this smart and meditative film reflects upon America’s attitude to war across the ages.
The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales (Le Grand Méchant Renard et autres contes...)
(France/Belgium, 80 min.)
Dir. Patrick Rimbert, Benjamin Renner; Writ. Benjamin Renner, Jean Regnaud
Starring: Céline Ronté, Boris Rehlinger, Guillaume Bouchede, Guillaume Darnault, Magali Rosenzweig, Elise Noiraud, Jules Bienvenu
My family was never really big on movies when I was growing up. (Strange, I know!) But I distinctly remember a well-worn VHS tape of this cartoon Farm Frolics. The film, a 1941 Warner Bros. animation, featured a bunch of gags with animals on the farm, like pigs watching a clock, a hen who gets her eggs stolen, and a lazy dog. Fond and simple nostalgia, Farm Frolics is.
(Canada/Ireland/Luxembourg, 93 min.)
Dir. Nora Twomey, Writ. Anita Doron
Starring: Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, Laara Sadiq, Shaista Latif, Ali Badshah
It’s so exciting to see The Breadwinner open on the heels of Window Horses. 2017 is a great year for putting Canadian feature animation on the map. Like the poetic Persian epiphany of Rosie Ming in Ann Marie Fleming’s animated work of art, The Breadwinner is a visually striking fable with a grand international scope that tackles complex subjects of family, identity, and belonging.
(Norway/Sweden/France/Denmark, 116 min.)
Dir. Joachim Trier, Writ. Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt
Starring: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorrit Petersen
While The Killing of a Sacred Deer might have the most inaccurate title since Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, Joachim Trier’s Thelma puts a blessed Bambi in the crosshairs in its opening scene for anyone who needs a cut of venison and another child in peril. The scene sees a father (Henrik Rafaelsen) out with his young daughter hunting deer in the forest. A prized catch comes trotting through the snow and the hunter raises his rifle, sets his sights, and takes aim. He pauses. He hesitates. And then he moves his aim to his own little fawn.