by Benn Ray
I continue to find less time to get to the theater to see movies. I think it's largely because of being surrounded by the sorts of people who go to the movies: You have the audiences who try too hard and laugh at the wrong stuff, you have the too-dense audiences who don't get any of a movie's humor, you get the loud-talkers, you get texters (while texting with your 3 year old and throwing popcorn at someone who calls you on it shouldn't result in your death, it does not make you any less an asshole for having your phone on in a theater), etc. And it doesn't really seem to matter what theater you go to or what movie you're seeing - the swine have it all infiltrated.
So my list once again comes with a caveat that there are a number of films, 12 Years A Slave, Wolf Of Wall Street, The Act of Killing, I Used To Be Darker, etc. that I suspect would have made it on my list if I'd seen them in time. There are also a lot of movies I saw that just don't belong on any best of list - so I've got a top 5 this year. But it's a solid top 5.
The reviews here are all taken from my Letterboxd diary.
We are all of us so lonely. That's the take away in Spike Jonze's extremely well-crafted response to his ex Sophia Coppola's Lost In Translation (also starring Scarlett Johansson).
There's a lot going on here - with the cultural commentary of Phoenix's Theodore's day job (writing handwritten letters for people - but the gag is the letters aren't actually handwritten) - to the future vision of our technology (instead of all of us walking around with smart phones looking like we're a USS Enterprise away-team scanning everything - we live in a world surrounded by people all talking to their own computers) - to the impeccable design of the OS to the easy acceptance by his admiring co-worker Paul (Chris Pratt) of this new kind of relationship - to the odd mustaches, shirtwear and high waistlines of mens fashion, etc.
In the end, we don't own others, we just love in the moment and some moments last longer than others.
Beautifully filmed, well-written, and impeccably acted. I'm still curious to see the version with Samantha Morton as the OS.
American Hustle is bad hair, crazy fashion, and a tour-de-force of acting by an impeccable ensemble cast (Louis CK steals every scene he's in and one or two he's not in, and DeNiro is the best he's been in decades - his mere appearance adds an immediate "oh shit" gravity).
I'm not sure what's worse, seeing a film with an audience who laughs at the wrong thing in a desperate attempt to show they are in on the joke, or an audience who doesn't laugh at all, believing what they are watching is a drama when it is, in fact, a very funny comedy. Hustle was the latter at the theater I went to.
This is Casino set in New Jersey as a screwball comedy. Perhaps the film is a tad too heavy-handed on trying to draw some sympathy from us for corrupt public officials (who were, after all, only trying to do the right thing - argues the film) and portray the government's interest in such crime as over-reaching, crazed, ambitious hubris. And for a con movie, the narrative is also fairly straight-forward. But the camerawork is as impeccable as the acting - and there is an amazing dual party crescendo, split between a disco and a wiseguy restaurant. Masterful.
Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
Every bit as fascinating, engrossing and achingly yearning as a Big Star record. This film brings back the life-changing moment that is hearing #1 Record for the first time and does a pretty good job trying to explain the question of why Big Star never became big stars despite their perfect records.
It also touches on the important connection between good rock criticism (something we are lacking today) and good rock music (ditto). But it does leave a few things unanswered - largely what was going on with Chris Bell.
But I've had all my Big Star records on constantly since watching this movie and they show no signs of wearing thin.
A Band Called Death
The story of the Death brothers is truly compelling but the documentary can, at times, feel both amateurish and big-budgeted simultaneously.
The music is great, the characters are very likable, and the story is compelling. A Band Called Death is at its best when it explains how the band was plucked from obscurity and rediscovered by collectors and how the children of the band members discovered their fathers were once in a great proto-punk outfit (yay Chunklet!).
Unfortunately, it's revisionist at times. Sure Death was a punk band that came before the Ramones, but so too were fellow Detroit bands The MC5 and The Stooges (both of which also pre-date Death) which the documentary fails to mention or secure testimonials from despite being part of the same city's "scene".
Also, testimonials from Kid Rock and Elijah Wood provide more puzzling distractions than helpful context.
It really is a beautiful film. Excessively tense, in a good way, Gravity uses 3D better than any film I've seen in the last few years - it fully captures the vastness and dangers of space. I can't even begin to comprehend how much of this was filmed (yeah, yeah computers!). The writing can be a little stiff at times, and I'm not sure why the Chinese would be playing ping pong on a zero-gravity space station (watch for the paddles), but the beauty of the film overcomes its flaws.
I did find myself rooting against Sandra Bullock. I'm not sure how the back story is an inspiration to overcome impossible challenges so much as an insurmountable excuse to succumb to them, unlike, say the sacrifice of others. But I do like that the American equivalent of Buddha (Chinese Space Station) or a Saint (International Space Station) is Marvin The Martian (Space Shuttle). I willingly choose to believe this is the religious commentary and overlook the whole afterlife/"no one ever taught me how to pray" hokum.
Also, I'm not so sure she makes it.