Our favorite movies of 2018

Featured

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.

Continue reading

Short Takes: Inside Llewyn Davis, The Hunt, Mitt

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

Inside Llewyn Davis- The Coen Brothers’ first film since 2010’s True Grit is sardonic and strange, and at times very moving.  The most apt description I’ve read about it was “Sisyphus gets a cat,” which perfectly encapsulates the existential yet playful journey that the title character (Oscar Isaac, robbed of an Oscar nod) is destined to be on forever.  Llewyn Davis is a folk singer, but not good enough to make a living at it.  He’s cute, but his personality is too prickly to be likable.

Thanks to a wonderful score with music by no less than T-Bone Burnett, this is the Coens’ prettiest sounding movie.  This is also one of their prettiest-looking (hat tip to cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel), capturing a dimly lit, antique vibe that feels perfect for Greenwich Village, 1961.  Grade: B+

Continue reading

SPOTLIGHT: Tilda Swinton

One of the most wildly talented performers working today, Tilda Swinton brings the utmost care to every movie character she portrays.  Whether it’s glossy Hollywood productions like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, intense indie grime like Julia or a seductive romance like the Italian drama I Am Love, Swinton truly transforms on the screen.  She makes every character, no matter how weird and despicable, inescapably human.  Often pidgeonholed as an Ice Queen after playing them (sometimes literally) in movies like Burn After Reading, Michael Clayton and The Chronicles of Narnia, the truth is that Swinton simply has more emotional range and capacity for risk-taking than anyone else currently working in her profession.

Michael Clayton- Movies like this don’t intend to become a showcase for acting, yet Swinton steals every scene she is in, Clooney be damned.  As cutthroat corporate executive Karen Crowder, Swinton shows us a woman whose every ferocious stroke is driven by desperation.  For every scene showcasing her aggressiveness,  there is one that undermines it, including the legendary final showdown between her and the title character.

Continue reading

REVIEW: Meek’s Cutoff

Meek’s Cutoff
Directed by: Kelly Reichardt
Written by: Jon Raymond (screenplay)
Starring: Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Paul Dano, and Shirley Henderson

The post-modern western Meek’s Cutoff, the latest from minimalist director Kelly Reichardt, operates with two things in mind: people are indecisive, and the Oregon Trail is beautiful.  In this quiet, contemplative film we find an American allegory set against the Western Expansion in the 1800s.

A group of settlers is led by a guide named Meek (Bruce Greenwood), a bearded troubadour who prefers to burn through the plains rather than accept their dominance.  The whole film rotates around the settlers’ mounting uncertainty, especially that of Emily (Michelle Williams).  

Meek’s Cutoff acknowledges the intolerance of the time period, and uses it as a mirror to today.  Screenwriter Jon Raymond has written some beautifully expressive dialogue  in this film, especially considering how little overall talking there is.  The back-and-forth Meek and Emily share when he asks her if she hates him is one of the most well-written exchanges of the year.

The role of Emily does not mark the first time Williams has operated in the low-key films of Ms. Reichardt.  The two brilliantly collaborated in 2008’s Wendy and Lucy, another earnest American folktale set in Oregon.  That film was better, and Williams was better in it, but this one is still quite good.  It has more in common with Reichardt’s 2006 film Old Joy with its picturesque nature setting and many unspoken implications.  This is not the bombastic Western setting of John Ford or Sergio Leone.  There are no grandiose shootouts or even any cowboys (It’s rated PG).

Instead of typical Western conventions that directors like the Coen Brothers have subverted to their own post-modern ends, Reichardt favors a mood of near-tranquility.  There are outbursts, as when Meek and another settler played by Paul Dano bring back a Native American captive.  Fear of the unknown seeps to the surface, but Emily’s whispering into the ear of her husband (Will Patton) turns the “savage” into their guide instead of a corpse.

Muttering is largely how Emily and the other women silently get their way in this movie.  There are several instances where the men mutter to themselves about what it is the camp should do.  Reichardt almost always pans to the women, silently gathered to the side and watching their lives being decided for them. They recall the nuns of Doubt, albeit with more colorful garments, in more ways than one.

This is important to note because it clearly establishes Reichardt’s vision of the film and her identity as one of the few female directors working today.  Had a male director been behind the camera, those scenes may have been shot quite differently. The most revolutionary thing about Meek’s Cutoff may be that it confronts gender without sacrificing any of the realism in the time period.  When Emily takes up arms against Meek in the film’s climax it’s, as the New York Times also noted, more than a gun she’s wielding.

Just because Meek’s Cutoff is not as masterful as Wendy and Lucy does not dismiss it from discussion.  In fact, it is still a very fine film, one that has a clearly defined worldview and cinematography that is absolutely striking given the budget.  The early images of a vast empty field and the howling wind striking a lone Emily behind the other wagons is a perfect visual metaphor for its themes. On this journey they are all together but separate, moving forward with no direction at all.

Grade: B

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.

Continue reading

REVIEW: True Grit

True Grit
Directed by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (screenplay), Charles Portis (novel)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin

True Grit is not about the large names behind the camera and on the marquee, nor is it haunted by the ghost of John Wayne.  Above all, it is a fatalistic Western with more dry wit than dead bodies behind its lessons.  It is a tall tale about a small girl and her quest for blood.

Don’t be fooled by Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, or Josh Brolin.  The Coen Brothers know that many who aren’t drawn in by their own names will be drawn in by the names of those stars or fans of the original film that won John Wayne his Oscar.   All the hype surrounding the mystical one-eyed Marshall and his eye-patch has made many lose sight over the fact that this is indeed a film about that 14-year-old and the loss of her innocence by her own accord.

Continue reading

Ten to finish out ’10

With The Social Network and Let Me In giving movie-goers some anti-summer entertainment to look forward to this weekend, we thought it’d be a good idea to map out what the rest of 2010 will look like at the movies.  Here is our list of the 10 movies we think will matter the rest of the year.

Black Swan (Dec. 1)– Darren Aronofsky follows up The Wrestler with another behind the scenes plunge into the dark depths of competitive sports.  This time it’s Natalie Portman in the lead, playing a ballerina in a a gruelingly competitive production of Swan Lake. When Mila Kunis comes in as a the new kid on the block, the game is on.  That makes it sound like Step Up, but from trailer, which shows Portman sprouting feathers and red eyes, it will be decidedly weirder.  Aronofsky knows his way around pitch black, and has a knack for turning misery into beauty.  Expect nothing less here.

True Grit (Dec. 25)– What better way to celebrate Christmas than with a Coen Brothers movie?  They team up with Jeff Bridges again, this time to remake the western that won John Wayne his Oscar.  However, the brothers list the novel as their main source of inspiration because of its quick dialogue as well as the premise.  A daughter (newcomer Hailee Steinfield) sets out to apprehend her father’s killer with the help of a stubborn marshal (Bridges.)  The movie also features Matt Damon as a ranger accompanying the two and Josh Brolin as the killer.  With a remarkable cast like this, and the success they had adapting No Country for Old Men, it’s hard not to be excited about this one.

Continue reading