Our favorite movies of 2018

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1. The Other Side of the Wind— After sitting unfinished for decades, Orson Welles has a new film. The Other Side of the Wind, a bleak and bleakly funny dig at the movie industry, centers on Jake Hannaford (John Huston), a drunken, disillusioned movie director.  His birthday celebration becomes an excuse for all manner of people to gather and talk shit about him while enjoying his latest movie (also called The Other Side of the Wind). Shot like a mockumentary from a variety of perspectives of people at the party and interspersed with stunning footage of Hannaford’s movie-within-a-movie, The Other Side of the Wind is as disorienting as it is difficult to shake. Welles’ last completed film is a bitter vision of a rotting, death-stalked Hollywood, and a masterpiece.

2. Let the Sunshine In— Claire Denis’ Let the Sunshine In moves to the beat of Juliette Binoche. The two French titans prove a revelatory pairing, matching Denis’ inimitable rendering of bodies searching for connection with Binoche’s conjuring of simultaneous conflicting feelings. In telling the story of Isabelle, a painter stuck dancing between romance and disappointment, Denis structures the movie more around the character’s emotional whims than along a traditional narrative. Though her encounters with men end mostly with disappointment, Isabelle’s sudden eruptions of passion, including during a show-stopping, Etta James-backed dance sequence, suggest that her endless cycle of pursuits is not in vain.

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Our favorite performances of 2018

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1. Juliette Binoche- Let the Sunshine In- The key to Juliette Binoche’s performance as Isabelle in Let the Sunshine In is in the way she and director Claire Denis show us the character searching; searching for love among a group of less than stellar contenders, searching for meaning in the space between those affairs, searching for the right emotion in any given moment. Several sometimes wash over Binoche’s face within the span of just seconds. That her performance seems so natural amid such a rapidly shifting emotional landscape is a testament to her brilliance.

2. Helena Howard- Madeline’s Madeline- Easily the year’s great breakout performance, Helena Howard is front and center in Josephine Decker’s swirling fever dream of a movie. Howard and Decker thrust viewers into the head of Madeline, a teenager battling mental illness who is also part of an experimental theater troupe. Howard’s rapid shifts in mood within scenes is astonishing, and much of the movie’s energy is built around the risk of her throwing any given moment into chaos.

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SPOTLIGHT: Leonardo DiCaprio

One of the biggest box office cash-ins in Hollywood today is also one of the boldest talents.  The career of Leonardo DiCaprio has had many growing pains, but now that he’s grown up and knows exactly what he wants out of his career, he appears unstoppable.  His gift is to take us inside the often harrowing mind of the male psyche by manipulating and subverting the things that make people sympathize with it.  He often yearns for connection in his films, whether it be from an unrequited love (Inception, Shutter Island) or just a human to be normal around (The Departed), he takes us to these places with ferocious skill and unbreakable humanity.  Rarely does he crack a smile these days, but that makes them all the more meaningful when he does.  If there is any hope that the art house can continue to have a big budget, it’s because stars like him appreciate the art they work in, and not just the huge salary it gives them.

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REVIEW: J. Edgar

J. Edgar
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Dustin Lance Black (screenplay)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench and Naomi Watts

Two men are fighting over a woman.  One declares that he may in fact be ready for a wife, while the other, in a fuming rage, declares that he cannot marry that woman.  He smashes some glasses and throws the first punch.  Not to be outdone, the other man fights back with all his strength, but to no avail.  The other man has him pinned to the ground.  And then they kiss.

That is the climax of J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial endeavor and the sliest genre subversion since his masterful acting/directing one-two punch in 2008’s Gran Torino.  He is of course filming the illusive FBI titan J. Edgar Hoover, who here is embodied by Leonardo DiCaprio in his finest screen performance.

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SPOTLIGHT: Matt Damon

Matt Damon is one of the hardest working, most consistently superb screen actors working in Hollywood today.  He’s one of the few people working inside the modern-day studio system who has yet to fully succumb to a large pay day.  Even looking at his page on IMDB, you see he has 5 films slated for release in 2011, the first of which was The Adjustment Bureau. His name on the marquee was enough to draw studio money to a film otherwise filled with lesser names.  Since his big break in Good Will Hunting, he has evolved into a full-fledged movie star without losing his passion-project sensibility.  Whether he’s chasing down the truth in The Bourne Trilogy or partnering with Clint Eastwood, you have enough faith of his ethic off-camera to enjoy what’s about to be in front of it.

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REVIEW: Rango

Rango
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Written by: John Logan (screenplay)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty, and Bill Nighy

Go ahead, label Rango an animated vehicle for Johnny Depp driven by his Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski.   You wouldn’t be wrong, but you would be guilty of oversimplifying one of the most outlandish and downright weird animated movies to cross mainstream audiences in a long time.

It seems almost mandatory at this point to acknowledge that Rango is indeed not a product of Pixar.  However, it doesn’t come from Dreamworks either, but rather Nickelodeon.  To this end, the bizarre twists and somewhat more mature material seem more at home.  So too does Depp, voicing The Chameleon With No Name who later assumes the identity Rango when he stumbles into an Old West Town.

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REVIEW: Hereafter

Hereafter
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Peter Morgan
Starring: Matt Damon, Cécile De France, Frankie McLaren, and George McLaren

As it turns out, exploring the issue of aging is best done behind the camera (stars of Red, take note.)  Clint Eastwood’s dark, pensive new film finds this busy director staying busy and still addressing the issues everyone else his age stops and spends months on.

So, what does happen when we die?  Eastwood doesn’t know, and be thankful he doesn’t pretend to either, though this is still a confident, masterfully directed film.  The overly-spiritual moments conveyed in the trailer simply don’t do it justice.

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