Posts Tagged ‘Casey Affleck’

You know its a good year for cinema when we have not one, but *two* musicals in the Top 10. And not one, or even two, but *three* exclamation points in the Top 10 titles. But even if you don’t share my love for the powers of song of punctuation, there’s a depth and range to the roster of 2016 films that can not be denied, and that made for an excellent 12 months in front of screens big and small (but preferably big).

Without further ado, the Top 10 movies released this year were:

nocturnal-animals.jpeg

10. Nocturnal Animals

There’s just something about a classic tale of revenge, and in “Nocturnal Animals” we get two, simultaneously. In the more traditional sense there is the story of Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal) who suffers an unspeakable tragedy and, with the help of a local lawman (the indispensable Michael Shannon), goes after those responsible. But Tony is actually is the main character in a novel by Edward Sheffield (also Jake Gyllenhaal) who has sent a manuscript of his work to his estranged ex-wife (Amy Adams).

“Animals” is easier to follow than that description suggests, but it is far from uncomplicated. Director Tom Ford is in no hurray to reveal the emotional manipulations at play, or to reveal explicitly the degree to which the two narratives should be viewed as connected. It’s a dark, violent and tragic story that leaves much to interpretation, with much to digest long after the credits roll.

 

AR-AL942_Caesar_P_20160125161246.jpeg

9. Hail, Caesar!

Whether it be “True Grit,” “No Country for Old Men” or “Raising Arizona,” you can always tell when you’re watching a Coen Brothers film, and it’s never *not* enjoyable.

Still, the brothers have made something special with “Hail, Caesar!” a winking tribute-slash-mockery of the golden age of Hollywood, when dames were dames and everyone was looking over their shoulders for the communists lurking among them.

It may not be the same high-drama awards bait of the directing duo’s filmography, but good luck stopping yourself from rewinding whole scenes to watch them again, be it Channing Tatum leading a  tap dancing send-up of “South Pacific” or the exquisite wordplay of the “Would that it were so simple” sequence between Alden Ehrenreich and Ralph Fiennes (whose character name is, brilliantly “Laurence Laurentz”).

1200.jpeg

8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Part coming-of-age story and part Odd-couple comedy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the quirky and endearing New Zealand-set comedy adventure you had no idea you so desperately needed this year.

Foster child and misunderstood “bad egg” Ricky is taken in by warm-hearted Bella and her rough-around-the-edges husband Hec. And after a series of unfortunate events and misunderstandings, Ricky and Hec find themselves the target of a national manhunt as they take to living in “the bush” and working to evade discovery by the authorities.

The chemistry between Ricky (Julian Dennison) and a delightfully crotchety Sam Neil is what makes the film work, as the hunt for the two runaways swells to surprising surreal levels. Keep an eye on director Taika Waititi, whose next project is the upcoming  superhero flick “Thor: Ragnarok.”

57bf1eec0a088.image.jpeg

7. Weiner

“Weiner” is the best political documentary ever made. Period. And it owes its alchemy to a fortuitous union of skill and circumstance, as a capable team of storytellers are given unprecedented access to their subject, who in turn manages to torpedo his entire life in front of the camera’s staring gaze.

Anthony Weiner clearly expected a different outcome when he granted the documentarians access, and for the first third you see the story that might have been: a down-but-not-out politician licks his wounds, gets back in the ring and defies expectations to become mayor of New York. But then another shoe drops, and another, and of course the audience knows that there are more waiting even after Weiner is forced to concede defeat.

But what really makes “Weiner” (the movie) something almost Shakespearean is the presence of long-suffering (and now ex-) wife Huma Abedin. An infamous introvert, she hovers at the edge of frame, her jaw set, tense, watching. When the inevitable occurs, it’s Abadin that keeps “Weiner” from being a punch line about a serial screw-up,  and instead a stinging portrait of a political family destroyed by poor judgement.

Everybody-Wants-Some-Pic-2-EDITED.jpeg

6. Everybody Wants Some!!

In 1993, Richard Linklater made “Dazed and Confused,” an American Graffiti-esque film set in 1976 and following a sprawling cast of students celebrating the first night of summer.

Two decades later, Linklater has made his so-called “spiritual sequel,” which is set in 1980 and follows a college basketball team over the last weekend before fall semester starts.

Fans of Dazed will get exactly what they’re looking for, while newcomers will find an endearing and optimistic slice-of-life story about young adults in 1980s America. Like Linklater’s “Boyhood,” EWS is filled with small moments that find the dramatic beauty in humanity and average, everyday lives.

d1be284c1fc32674fa5bbdf29183e35a1bbede58.jpeg

5. The Lobster

And now for something completely different…”The Lobster” posits a world in which adults are not allowed to be single, to the extent that after losing his wife, David (Colin Farrell) is compelled to reside at a hotel and given 45 days to find a new partner or be turned into an animal of his choosing – in David’s case, the titular crustacean.

Split into two parts, The Lobster first looks at life within the hotel, with its bizarre customs, restrictions and pressures to find a soulmate at any cost. Then, after David flees, we see the other half of Lobster’s world, as our hero joins up with a nomadic gang of woods-dwelling fugitives who have one iron-clad rule: no coupling.

It’s bizarre, to say the least, and wonderful. With a cast of completely game actors (including Rachel Weisz and John C. Reilly)  fully committed to the absurdities of the premise and its execution, Lobster builds on its dry, often dark, humor to an ending that is perfect and disturbingly outlandish.

moviereview_moonlight_110316_image4.jpeg

4. Moonlight

*The* Roger Ebert often described film as an “empathy machine,” and of all of this year’s movies that role of the cinema is best captured in “Moonlight,” which uses three actors in three time periods to tell the story of a man’s life.  As a child, Little is a soft-spoken boy neglected and demeaned by his substance-addicted mother and taken under the wing of the neighborhood dealer. As a teenager, Chiron is bullied and beaten by his peers and strains to find his place. And finally as a man, Black has adopted the career of his childhood mentor, but seeks out an old friend from his younger years.

It’s a moving, and at times haunting, portrait, and a showcase of diversity. But it’s also understated, and confident. It doesn’t shout “look at me!”  but still results in a film that is impossible to look away from.

636063503725904742-Hell-or-High-Water-4.jpeg

3. Hell or High Water

Too few films are set outside of America’s coastal cities, and fewer still depict the people who reside in America’s heartland as actual people and not flat caricatures.

In Hell or High Water, brothers Tanner and Toby are pressured into desperate measures by desperate times. Their family’s ranch, despite sitting atop an ocean of oil, has fallen into the clutches of predatory banking. To save it, they launch a scheme to rob the money to pay the mortgage from the same banking institutions that have left them in dire straits. On their heels is Marcus Hamilton, a beyond his years law enforcement man circling the drain before he’s shown the door.

The relationship between the brothers is rich, owing no small feat to the capabilities of Chris Pine and Ben Foster (one of the most underrated actors of his generation). They wear their reluctance on their tired faces, and brace themselves against a gathering storm closing in around them.

And while there’s an element of cat-and-mouse as they get closer to their goal, the story never dips into fantasy. It feels real at every turn: real people, pressured into real decisions by the all-too-familiar realities of American economics.

ManchesterbytheSea_Trailer.jpeg

2. Manchester by the Sea

“Manchester by the Sea” is a heartbreaking, profoundly sad story about loss and grief. It’s also beautiful and inspiring. After his brother dies, Lee (a phenomenal Casey Affleck) is called back to his childhood home and tasked with looking after his nephew Patrick (an also phenomenal Lucas Hedges). But returning home means confronting old demons, and Lee struggles to reconcile his loyalty to his family and his own compulsion to put distance between himself and his past.

Manchester is a master-class of “show don’t tell,” with Affleck in particular conveying more with his gestures and expression than even the lengthiest monologue could manage. Many sequences are practically wordless, and the mood hangs heavy, despite being punctuated by frequent instances of warming humor.

Directed by Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester is the type of film where the seams of movie-making disappear, and you forget for a moment that you’re watching fiction.

la-la-land-ryan-gosling-emma-stone.jpeg

1. La La Land

Through three films together, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have crafted a level of creative chemistry unparalleled in modern Hollywood. It helps that both actors are independently charming, but their combined effect is something akin to fireworks.

Take that element, and add it to the showmanship of a well-made musical production and what you have is cinematic magic.

Stone plays Mia, an aspiring but as-yet-unsuccessful actress whose day job is serving coffee on a studio backlot. Gosling plays Sebastian, or “Seb” for short, a jazz pianist and musical idealist who rejects the dilution of pop. They meet, over and over again under circumstances that are delightful,  before a romance eventually blossoms, and in each other they find creative inspirations and motivations that position them at the precipice of either realizing their dreams or falling in defeat.

All of which is set against a backdrop of song and dance numbers that  embrace the old-Hollywood legacy of “Singing in the Rain” and “West Side Story” albeit with a concertedly modern setting and style. But this is not simply a light and breezy affair, concerned only with vibrant colors and Joie de Vivre (both of which, it has in spades). “La La Land” climaxes on a forceful musical number by Stone, singing a tribute to “the ones who dream” and then, in its final moments, the film presents one last pièce de résistance sequence that dazzles you before punching you in the stomach, leaving you wide-eyed, out of breath, and looking to find where your jaw landed on the floor.

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, the 31-year-old (!!!) phenom behind 2014’s “Whiplash,” “La La Land” exudes the confidence of a veteran filmmaker. But think on this, Chazelle has directly exactly 2 feature films, and it’s all-but-assured that both will have been nominated for Best Picture Oscars when this year’s list is announced (and it’s looking entirely likely that La La Land will score the statuette come ceremony night). If I were to have a complaint about the otherwise perfect film, it would be the nagging knowledge that its director is two years older than myself, which has the unfortunately side effect of making you feel inferior before greatness.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

*Mea Culpa: In my excitement over the upcoming fall TV season I overlooked that two Sundance Film’s were opening in Utah theaters. Since I’m late, I’m reposting my Sundance capsule reviews in lieu of a full treatment, but the grades remain accurate.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

In her first film since The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo, Rooney Mara joins Casey Affleck and the indie-ubiquitous Ben Foster in a near-modern day Western about a pair of Texas criminals. After a job goes south, Affleck’s Bob takes the fall for his wife shooting a police officer, allowing the pregnant Ruth to raise their child in freedom, waiting for the day they can be reunited.

But then Bob springs loose after four years and things get complicated as both the law and a trio of underworld scum come looking for him at Ruth’s doorstep.

The film is a taught, quiet, slow-burn thriller, showcasing the acting chops of all three of its leads. Affleck is particularly good as the tortured soul, hardly remorseful for his past sins and motivated by a singular goal of joining his family. Mara, who despite her A-list making role in the aforementioned David Fincher adaptation is still relatively unknown to audiences, gives us a wholly new side of herself, adopting a convincing Texas drawl and the emotional subtlety of a woman torn between past and present.

Grade: B+

In A World…

Most Sundance comedies come with an asterisk, some sort of dark element or imbedded creation that toes the line between laughter and tears. How surprised I was, then, to see a bona-fide, low stakes comedy and, what’s more, a really good one at that.

IAW follows Carol – played by writer, director and star Lake Bell – the daughter of a Hollywood voice-over legend struggling to break her way into the business. The film is set after the real life death of “The Voice of God” Don LaFontaine amidst a fictional trio of voice actors vying to take over the now empty throne of movie trailer narration (hence the title, i.e. “In a world, where no one is safe…”).

The movie is structured as an ensemble comedy, with the plot playfully and effortlessly hopping between several sub-plots involving marriage problems, daddy issues, and a bit of romance. Most notably, Bell has so carefully and expertly rounded out her cast with a who’s-who list of underrated comedy actors (Rob Corddry, Demitri Martin, Nick Offerman, etc.) that essentially everything that takes place on screen zips and buzzes with perfect timing and chemistry.

The final five minutes over-extends the movie’s welcomes, and the ultimate climax leaves a little to be desired, but overall In A World.. is one of the more sincere and effortless laughs I’ve had in some time.

Grade: A-

*Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and In A World… opened in select Utah theaters on Friday, Sep. 13.

Read Full Post »

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

In her first film since The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo, Rooney Mara joins Casey Affleck and the indie-ubiquitous Ben Foster in a near-modern day Western about a pair of Texas criminals. After a job goes south, Affleck’s Bob takes the fall for his wife shooting a police officer, allowing the pregnant Ruth to raise their child in freedom, waiting for the day they can be reunited.

But then Bob springs loose after four years, and things get complicated as both the law and a trio of underworld scum come looking for him at Ruth’s doorstep.

The film is a taught, quiet, slow-burn thriller, showcasing the acting chops of all three of its leads. Affleck is particularly good as the tortured soul, hardly remorseful for his past sins and motivated by a singular goal of joining his family. Mara, who despite her A-list making role in the aforementioned David Fincher adaptaion is still relatively unknown to audiences, gives us a wholly new side of herself, adopting a convincing Texas drawl and the emotional subtlety of a woman torn between past and present.

Grade: B+

In A World…

Most Sundance comedies come with an asterisk, some sort of dark element or imbedded creation that toes the line between laughter and tears. How surprised I was, then, to see a bona-fide, low stakes comedy and, what’s more, a really good one at that.

IAW follows Carol – played by writer, director and star Lake Bell – the daughter of a Hollywood voice-over legend struggling to break her way into the business. The film is set after the real life death of “The Voice of God” Don LaFontaine amidst a fictional trio of voice actors vying to take over the now empty throne of movie trailer narration (hence the title, i.e. “In a world, where no one is safe…”).

The movie is structured as an ensemble comedy, with the plot playfully and effortlessly hopping between several sub-plots involving marriage problems, daddy issues, and a bit of romance. Most notably, Bell has so carefully and expertly rounded out her cast with a who’s-who list of underrated comedy actors (Rob Corddry, Demitri Martin, Nick Offerman, etc.) that essentially everything that takes place on screen zips and buzzes with perfect timing and chemistry.

The final five minutes over-extends the movie’s welcomes, and the ultimate climax leaves a little to be desired, but overall In A World.. is one of the more sincere and effortless laughs I’ve had in some time.

Grade: A-

Afternoon Delight

In this riff on the bored housewife tale, Afternoon Delight gives us HIMYM’s Josh Radnor and Girls’ Kathryn Hahn as a married couple with a flickering flame. After a spice-it-up date night at a local strip club, Hahn’s character develops a sort of curious fascination with a stripper/sex worker (Juno Temple) who she then hires as a live-in nanny.

Her justification for doing so is a new-feministic desire to help a fellow sister out of a bad situation, but it becomes increasingly clear that the wife’s motivation lies in some vicarious obsession with the danger and raunch of the young woman’s taboo life.

The characters in Afternoon Delight never seem fully realized, and their motivations similarly dip into convenience from time to time. The resolution after the inevitable crises is also swept up with a little too much haste, quickly arriving at catharsis without really demonstrating exactly how, or why, anything has changed.

But, the film is nothing if not interesting, lingering in the quiet moments between words and the hidden meanings behind the actions and routines shared by friends, lovers and strangers. Radnor and Hahn are enjoybale as an extremely everyday alt-Hollywood portrayal of a married couple and while the premise is not likely something most people will encounter in their own lives, the characters seem like an amalgam of everyone you’ve ever known.

Grade: B

Ass Backwards

With a cast that includes the amazing Casey Wilson (Happy Endings), June Diane Raphael (New Girl, as well as my favorite podcast How Did This Get Made), Bob OdenKirk (Breaking Bad) and Jon Cryer (Sixteen Candles — I refuse to acknowledge his more current role) it’s somewhat baffling how AB could have gone so terribly, terribly wrong.

To simply say that this “comedy” fails would neglect the physical discomfort you feel while watching it. It’s a lot like watching two hours of bad high school improv.

Written by Wilson and Raphael, Ass Backwards follows the dimwitted Chloe and Kate as they make a road trip home to participate in a pseudo-reunion of a beauty pageant they lost as children. The structure is essentially a female Dumb and Dumber, as an incessant series of implausible and contrived errors lead the pair to a community of uber-feminists, an amateur night at a strip club (gee, no one’s ever done that joke before), the hovel of a crack addict and finally, to the beauty pageant where the audience is ultimately put out of their misery.

Grade: D-

Very Good Girls

In VGG, Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen play a pair of 17-year-old besties in their final carefree summer before the onset of college-aged adulthood. They’re portrayed, a little heavy-handedly, as a perfectly joined yin and yang, with Fanning the daughter of a rich mansion-dwelling nuclear family and Olsen the hippie offspring of gluten-free and free-range dining Richard Dreyfous and Demi Moore (who, oddly, is given almost nothing to do in the film).

One day, while biking the boardwalk on Coney Island, they meet David, a grumpy but beautiful ice cream vendor. He is the poster child of cliched YA fiction male romantic interests, with his gruff and sullen exterior hinting at a gentle and artistic center that both women immediately pick up on and swoon over.

David’s lazy creation is but the most egregious of the film’s two-dimensional character and plot constructions. The plot ambles along well-traveled paths, briefly arriving at an impressive union of sight and sound in the middle section, only to lose itself in a swamp of inexplicable character actions and forced conflict as it limps its way to the finish line.

It’s not that Good Girls is particularly bad, it’s just that its coming-of-age retread is aggressively mediocre.

Grade: C+

Read Full Post »