By Daniel Barnes
It’s that time of year again. Awards season, baby! Let the naysayers focus on the dark side of the process: the wastefulness of awards campaigns, the annual sanctification of the middlebrow and the bland, the shameless glad-handing, the bloated self-importance of mediocre critics, the insipid arguments and controversies, the inevitable preselected group of “contenders,” the utter folly of declaring an objectively “Best” anything…
Wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah: awards season, baby! The best time of the year! Hollywood’s season of quality, love it or leave it, Jack! Once again, I am devoting late November and early December towards cramming for my best of 2015 lists and SFFCC awards ballot – catching up on the movies I missed, screening as-yet-unreleased awards hopefuls, and re-watching some of my favorites from earlier in the year. I’ll be posting these Cramfest updates every few days for the next three weeks, and I’ll culminate the series by publishing my full SFFCC ballot.
And now on to the Cramfest!
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 14
Brooklyn (Dir.: John Crowley; GRADE: B)
As I wrote on Letterboxd, Old New York has never looked more maple-glazed than it does here. Telling the story of an Irish immigrant (Saoirse Ronan, simultaneously sickly and luminous) divided between continents, obligations, ambitions, emotions and men, Brooklyn lays it on thick, from cinematographer Yves Belanger’s bronzed images to Michael Brooks’ honeyed score, but somehow it works. Warmth and sincerity blasts through the fossilized nostalgia like a sunbeam. Meanwhile, the supporting cast, especially a scene-stealing Julie Walters, is solid. On the other hand, I’m turning 40 next year, and it kind of freaks me out that I like both this movie and Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes so much. How long before I’m clamoring for The Eleventh Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?
Southpaw (Dir.: Antoine Fuqua; GRADE: C+)
2015’s other Rocky knockoff, the tragic downfall and inspiring rebirth of a self-destructive champ, as though the Rocky franchise got rebooted with Rocky II as the origin story. Pretty pudgy and flavorless, with only Jake Gyllenhaal’s committed mumble peaking out beneath the genre cliches, but Fuqua brings just enough energy to avert the disaster of Kurt Sutter’s watery script.
Hungry Hearts (Dir.: Saverio Costanzo; GRADE: B+)
An uncanny nailbiter, this one plays like a non-supernatural version of Rosemary’s Baby where Rosemary turns out to be the Devil, as a baby gets caught in the blades of its helicopter parents (Alba Rohrwacher and Adam Driver, both excellent). Disturbingly unbalanced, always in danger of pulling apart at the seams, frequently edging into exploitation and parody, but united by a skin-crawling dread.
Manglehorn (Dir.: David Gordon Green; GRADE: B-)
A mangy old cat of a movie, barely pasted together by soulful performances from Al Pacino and Holly Hunter. Another funky and inscrutable deep sigh from David Gordon Green to go with Prince Avalanche and Joe, as Pacino’s lonely locksmith writes letters to a lost love who may have never existed, all the while wooing Hunter’s sweet bank teller. Forgettable but oddly charming.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 15
The 33 (Dir.: Patricia Riggen; GRADE: C)
Song of Lahore (Dir.: Andy Schocken and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy; GRADE: B)
Like Junun, a documentary about traditional musicians working in popular genres and collaborating with famous westerners, and like The Wrecking Crew, a profoundly personal story of an under-appreciated supergroup. Song of Lahore tells the story of Pakistani musicians persecuted by the Taliban, rejuvenated by a new generation, and embraced worldwide for their covers of American jazz standards. Stylistically slick and skimpy on details of musical culture and Taliban occupation, but the music is excellent, and the vibe is warm.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 16
Trumbo (Dir.: Jay Roach; GRADE: D)
Heart of a Dog (Dir.: Laurie Anderson; GRADE: B-)
The dictionary definition of a mixed bag, with pieces of a galvanizing memoir/political screed swimming in a pool of self-indulgence and half-formed ideas. Artist/musician/filmmaker/iconoclast Laurie Anderson (Home of the Brave) offers her first feature film in three decades, using the life and death of her beloved rat terrier as a launching pad for excursions into post-9/11 paranoia, the slippery nature of creativity, and Tibetan concepts of death and ghosts. It’s exciting and annoying and surprising, kind of like finding out that your strange, annoying neighbor with all the dogs is Laurie Anderson. When I wasn’t shaking my head and sighing loudly, I was enthralled.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 17
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (Dir.: Francis Lawrence; GRADE: C+)
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 18
Creed (Dir.: Ryan Coogler; GRADE: B-)
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 19
A solid rule of thumb: if mainstream critics feel comfortable piling onto a nine-figure, major studio blockbuster, there’s a better than average chance that the film is at least entertaining. All too often, broad critical consensus tilts toward a film’s real or presumed box office viability. Brad Bird’s gleaming vision has some obvious structural issues. The antagonist doesn’t materialize until the third act, and even worse, he is precisely the sort of Ayn Rand-ian social critic villain we’ve come to expect from Bird. However, it’s also scruffy and weird in a Joe Dante/Robert Zemeckis fashion, with two complex young female characters at its core.
Read more of Daniel’s reviews at Dare Daniel and Rotten Tomatoes, and listen to Daniel on the Dare Daniel podcast.
Categories: e street film society