Monday, February 01, 2016

Movie Journal: January

Much like Black Box, I am ride[sic] on time this month with my first monthly movie journal of 2016, and what a month it was. I watched a grand total of 44 films in January, with 37 of them being first time viewings. Those viewings can be broken up into a handful of strands: 2015 catch up, filling in blind spots, and getting heavily into true crime documentaries on the back of Making a Murderer. All three are pretty well represented in the top ten.

The worst film I watched in January of 2016 was Denis Villeneuve's Sicario. It's tempting to say that it was the worst because I watched a lot of good films last month,which is true, but make no mistake: Sicario is a pretty terrible movie. Admittedly, it's flawlessly made; it looks great, has a fantastic soundtrack, and is anchored by a couple of great performances by Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro. However, what sunk it for me - as was the case with The Revenant, to a lesser extent - was its undeserved air of self-importance. Like Villeneuve's previous tarted-up genre exercise, Prisoners, Sicario is essentially a B-movie with a great setting which purports to have something of value to say about a broader issue. Prisoners was posited as a rumination on America's quest for vengeance and its use of torture in the War on Terror, while Sicario offers a look at the horrors of the War on Drugs. But its treatment of the subject matter is hollow at best, and it's hard to enjoy the often well-staged and exhilarating action scenes when they are being suffocated by a sense that it is An Important Film About Important Things. Instead of offering any comment or insight, it shrugs and offers up easy nihilism, which is so often the refuge of filmmakers who lack the fortitude (or the intellect) to actually say something.

On the bright side, it's not quite as unremittingly awful as Prisoners, so credit where credit is due.

The film I had the most mixed feelings about, to the extent that I felt like I just had to write about it even though that has never been a category, was Asif Kapadia's Amy. I loved Kapadia's previous film Senna, which used archive footage and audio of interviews to create a thrilling hybrid of dramatic and documentary filmmaking in detailing the life and career of Ayrton Senna. Amy uses the same technique, but because so much of the footage is taken from news coverage of Amy Winehouse's life, B-roll from paparazzi, and personal video from friends and family, it felt much more invasive than the footage used in Senna. Considering that the thesis statement of the film circles the ways in which the media fed off of, and almost certainly worsened, Winehouse's addiction and mental health issues, Kapadia's film sometimes felt as exploitative of her as the photographers who goaded her, or the people who made jokes about her on television. At the same time, for all my misgivings, it was incredibly effective, and left me emotionally devastated for days afterwards. Yet I still don't know if that was a triumph of technique, or because it was somehow complicit in a tragedy that could have been avoided if people had put down their fucking cameras.

Now that we've got that moment of catharsis out of the way, here's the top ten new to me films for January.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Film Review: The Revenant (2015)

Although The Revenant is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, it's more reminiscent of the past work of its cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki. Specifically, it shares a lot of visual, thematic, and narrative similarities with Gravity, which Lubezki shot for Iñárritu's friend and sometime collaborator Alfonso Cuarón. Both are about individuals surviving in the face of extreme circumstances, both are better as experiences than as narratives, and both stories consist primarily of catastrophes befalling their protagonists with almost comic frequency. The main differences between the two are that Gravity is (mercifully) shorter, considerably more hopeful, and ultimately better.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

You've Got To Accentuate The Positive: What's Good About the 2016 Oscar Nominations?

The Oscars aren't perfect. They aren't even good. They get things wrong all the time, ignoring greatness while rewarding mediocrity. They're not-so-secretly racist, as evidenced by this year's list of nominees, which features not a single non-white face among its TWENTY acting nominees for the second year in a row, despite a strong slate of performances by people of colour, as illustrated by this Decider column by Joe Reid. They're also not-so-secretly sexist, since even in these nominally more enlightened times, the work of female directors and writers is routinely ignored. (Admittedly that stems from a much bigger problem to do with how Hollywood repeatedly and completely fails to support female filmmakers, but just because the Oscars are a symptom of a problem doesn't mean they aren't also a problem on their own.) Even when they do get something right, they suck all the fun out of art by forcing people to compare wildly different films, pick sides over which is going to be their film this year, then presents them all in a leaden, slovenly ceremony that's usually only interesting for how it turns people who make their living entertaining into complete dullards. (Poor Neil Patrick Harris, you never stood a chance!)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Movie Journal: December

Since I spent the first week of 2016 visiting friends in England, this post has been delayed along with my Top 20 of the year. I've decided to push the latter one back until after the Oscars because a) the Academy Awards mark the end of the movie calendar and b) a lot of films from last year that I've been meaning to catch up on have started to hit streaming services and home media, so it feels like waiting a few more weeks would give me a chance to come up with a fuller sense of film in 2015.

In the meantime, here's my final movie journal for 2015 and, as with October and November, it was a month heavily focused on recent releases as I tried to catch up for awards consideration. Far and away the worst film I watched in December was David Koepp's Mortdecai, a laughless comedy that wastes the tremendous talents of all involved to no particular end. Possibly the worst thing about it was the fact that it features a single solitary moment - when Johnny Depp, as the eponymous Charlie Mortdecai, casually throws his drink away so that he can fondle Olivia Munn's breasts - that was genuinely funny, and reminded me of what a natural physical actor Depp can be. The inclusion of one decent bit of business just served to underline how little anyone seemed to be trying, and how there was a good film in there somewhere if anyone had bothered to work for it.

And here's the countdown of the ten best films I watched in the waning days of 2015.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Movie Journal: November

A tad late with this one because I am bad at managing my time when it comes to work, the holidays, and trying to catch up on the year in movies for awards voting/list-making purposes. As such, I only saw 18 films in November, the overwhelming majority of which were released this year and were largely mediocre. I also saw some really great films, though, so it all balances out.

The worst film I watched this month (and the current front-runner for worst film of 2015) was Tom Hooper's The Danish Girl, a completely lifeless and vapid retelling of an interesting story which made me ashamed to have ever liked any of Hooper's previous films. Most cinephiles probably think I should have been ashamed much earlier than that, but at least I'm all caught up now.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Ed's Top Albums of 2015

This year, I decided to commit myself to seeking out and listening to as much new music as possible, regardless of genre or whether the artists were ones I would normally listen to. As a result of that, I decided to expand my usual countdown from ten entries to twenty, because it turns out that if you're looking for lots of new music to enjoy, you wind up with a lot of stuff to choose from.

This is a decision I regretted almost immediately, because it takes a lot more energy to write twenty entries than it does ten (100% more effort, in fact) and writing about music is something that I find difficult in general, especially since I only do it once a year. However, I decided I was going to do this dumb thing and I have seen it through. Below you will find the twenty records which I enjoyed the most over the course of the last twelve months.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Film Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Over the past ten years, J.J. Abrams has slowly become the Gordon Ramsay of big-budget filmmaking. He comes in, figures out how a franchise has been mismanaged, then sets about trying to set everything right. Abrams probably swears less than Ramsay, but his ability to identify with surgical precision what the bleeping problem is has been proven time and again. Starting with Mission: Impossible III, his feature directing debut, and then the Star Trek reboot, he and his collaborators Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci demonstrated an intuitive sense of what elements of a film can be drawn out, blown up until they're fit to burst, then deployed in such a way that they can draw as big an audience as possible. Whether it was coming up with increasingly more inventive ways for Tom Cruise to almost kill himself or reducing the crew of the Enterprise to a handful of simple characteristics, Abrams and his team were able to resurrect dormant properties by taking familiar characters and situations, twisting or subverting them slightly, and delivering them with furious energy.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Online Film Critics Society Award Winners Announced

Over the last few weeks, I've been frantically trying to catch up on the best films of the year (and some of the worst which people mistakenly believe are the best) in order to vote in the Online Film Critics Society's (OFCS) annual awards. The nominations were announced last week, and today the names of the winners were released. Those winners can be found below, and I have also highlighted all of my 1st place choices in each category to see how well my choices lined up with the eventual winners (and because in previous years I forgot what my top choices were almost as soon as I made them).

Spoilers: I was really in the tank for Fury Road, and so were many of my fellow critics, because we are shiny and chrome.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Shot/Reverse Shot: 121 - Wasted Potential

This week, Matt and I discuss Wasted Potential in cinema: films that squander talented casts, artists who didn't live up to their full potential, and good ideas that were turned into bad movies (a surprisingly large number of which being directed by Andrew Niccols). I also butcher the title of Night of the Hunter, and inadvertently create the greatest videogame that never excited.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Film Review: The Big Short (2015)

In 2010, Adam McKay ended the supremely silly buddy cop comedy The Other Guys with an apoplectic slideshow detailing the financial crimes committed by the banks and billionaires represented by Steve Coogan's character. It was jarring, to say the least, to go from jokes about Will Ferrell being an accidental pimp to a stark explanation of how the global economy collapsed, but The Other Guys' dysfunction now seems like a stepping stone to, and a mirror version of, McKay's latest, The Big Short. Whereas the earlier film told an undeniably absurd story laced with righteous anger, The Big Short is an undeniably angry film laced with absurdist humour, which McKay employs in the hope of making the 2007-08 financial crisis remotely understandable.