My attempt to post a mini-review for every film I watched or re-watched in advance of the SFFCC awards and my top 10 list petered out in early December, as I got flooded by screeners and ballots. But I want to put a bow on the year 2014, so I will dole these out over the remaining days of December.
Saturday, November 29
Snowpiercer (Dir.: Bong Joon-Ho; GRADE: A-) [REWATCH] I reviewed this when it played in Sacramento last summer, but I appreciated this thinking-person’s blockbuster a lot more the second time around. It injects intelligence and weirdness into the apocalyptic-action genre without sacrificing any of the film’s relentless forward momentum.
Last Days in Vietnam (Dir.: Rory Kennedy; GRADE: B+) Powerful and personal documentary about heroism, regret and tragedy in the chaotic final days of the American occupation of Vietnam.
Inherent Vice (Dir.: Paul Thomas Anderson; GRADE: A) [REWATCH] Reviewed for the Colorado Springs Independent on 1/7/2015.
Sunday, November 30
The One I Love (Dir.: Charlie McDowell; GRADE: B-) A trojan-horse indie comedy that slowly reveals itself to be an unsettling examination of marital expectations and frustrations. Elizabeth Moss is up to the challenge of those tonal shifts, but co-star Mark Duplass doesn’t quite match her. This film won the San Francisco Film Critics Circle Special Citation for underrated independent cinema.
Tuesday, December 2
Maleficent (Dir.: Robert Stromberg; GRADE: D-) Disney Hell. Blobby CGI, incomprehensible acting choices, a dead-end narrative, and a lead actress who only comes to life during her de rigeur jagged crying scenes. Unwatchable.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Dir.: Ana Lily Amanpour; GRADE: C+) An interesting but underdeveloped twist on the vampire movie, shot in America but set in Iran, and spoken in Farsi with English subtitles. The premise is provocative, and Amanpour shows a lot of promise, but the film is so padded it feels like an 80-minute short.
Mistaken for Strangers (Dir.: Tom Berninger ; GRADE: A-) Ostensibly a behind-the-scenes concert documentary about the breakthrough indie rock band The National directed by the lead singer’s metalhead schlub brother, but actually a hilarious and observational look at the strains of competition and modeling in sibling relationships (almost unwittingly, it also becomes an American Movie-style sendup of bad filmmaking). The long, final tracking shot of Tom holding his brother’s microphone cord as he tears through the concert crowd beats anything in Birdman.