It’s that time of year again! I’m making my list and checking it a million times, to make sure I’ve seen all of the nominated movies that don’t look like they will give me nightmares (sorry Jake Gyllenhaal). I’m off to a pretty good start with this years SAG and Golden Globe nominees (helpfully this coincides with my winter break from both school and work so I pretty much plan on doing very little except reading and watching movies (with a break to go to Houston with Miró and then another when my family descends on Austin for Christmas).
Anyway, so far I’ve seen:
As I was walking out of the Landmark in Chicago this summer after seeing this movie I literally texted Jules “no movie will ever be the same.” That was, of course, a bit hyperbolic, but I’ve seriously never seen anything like this, and I honestly don’t think I ever will again. In a lot of ways it was an experiment from Richard Linklater (who is one of my favorite artists working today). He decided to film a boy growing up over the course of twelve years, writing each section of the story each year with the cast. The results could have been a muddied mess or nothing more than an interesting formal risk, but as I got in a fight with my friend Taylor about at a party this fall, I think there is a real emotional truth depicted here. The movie isn’t “about” much of anything, but to me it captured really well the way that we gradually come to understand ourselves and our world through the little moments that don’t seem important. By focusing on scenes that lead up to or follow right after the milestone markers that would be included in a traditional coming of age movie, it told a mundane story in a truly artful and beautiful way.
I can see why people may have been frustrated by the lack of any real plot structure, but to me it was just a lovely and quiet film, and it’ll be really hard to watch two actors play the same character at different ages going forward.
The Normal Heart
I got very excited when I found out that Larry Kramer‘s brilliant play was finally going to be adapted into a movie for HBO. And then I found out that it was going to be directed by Ryan Murphy and I got nervous. Here’s the thing, this story, the response within the gay community in NYC to the AIDS crisis in the 80s dealing with a government that didn’t seem to care, will never fail to move me. I sat (and sobbed) through a truly terrible student production of this show just so I could see the words spoken aloud. For that reason, when Jules and I decided to spend the first half of our Memorial Day this year watching this I cried my eyes out at all of the appropriate times (basically all of the times) and fell a bit more in love Mark Ruffalo than I already was before. I remember not loving the amount of shaky cam, and feeling like it was a bit colder than the passion of the writing in the play, but I can’t really objective about this story. It breaks my heart and I was glad to see it told again in this new medium.
I wrote a couple of years ago about how compelling I found Gillian Flynn’s novel and so it’s probably no surprise that this movie had a tough bar to jump over, but when it came out it kept getting amazing reviews saying it was better than the book. I really respect David Fincher, and I love the fact that Flynn adapted the book herself, but I honestly don’t buy that the movie is an improvement. I get that with any adaptation you have to change things, but some of the omissions were things that struck me as most interesting about the book (like the girl Amy knew in high school and the extent to which her parents were completely self involved.
But the cast was amazing. Rosamund Pike seemed like she was a 40s film noir villainess, slightly campy but great. I had a friend who once said that Ben Affleck is great when “he’s just playing a dude,” which is exactly what he does here, and he uses that “trying to hard to charm you” thing he has to great effect. I thought Neil Patrick Harris had a great balance of creepy and ineffectual going on, but the stand out for me was Carrie Coon as Ben’s sister Go – A character who I think is often overlooked in the constant discussion of whether or not Gone Girl is feminist or anti-feminist – (1. stories don’t just have to portray heroines to be pro-feminism 2. Go is a great example of a strong, sane female character.) There were also great supporting and cameo turns from a bunch of actors I love, but I won’t list them all here.
Visually, I really loved the way that Fincher used light, especially the paparazzi camera flashes through the windows of Nick (Affleck)’s house. But overall I liked it, but didn’t find it as spectacular as I wanted to. But maybe that’s just because I knew what was coming…
This is probably the most aptly titled movie I’ve seen this year; the way the drumming is shot is unrelenting and after a while you feel exhausted right along with Miles Teller‘s character Andrew as he practices ad nauseam to live up to J.K. Simmons‘ expectations. It’s a unique take on the mentor/student relationship. A movie about a young jazz drummer pushed to his limits by a conductor could have been trite, but instead it’s disturbing and exhilarating.
The movie raises a lot of questions: Is there a line when the goal is greatness? (Because if there is Simmons’ Fletcher definitely crosses it) Is greatness even a worthy goal? What this movie really showed me is that there are two types of people: those who understand why that is a question (like Andrew’s perfectly happy mediocre supportive dad played by Paul Reiser) and those that truly believe they can be Charlie Parker.
Obviously, a lot of this movie is about the music, and I don’t even really like jazz, but the way these guys play it I was sort of hooked in. Mostly because I was hooked into the train wreck chemistry that Teller and Simmons had. I’m super happy for J.K.’s nominations, but sort of bummed Miles is getting passed over this time, he threw literally every part of himself into the role (and I really mean that – who knew drumming could be so bloody?)
The Theory of Everything
As I correctly predicted in my Thanksgiving post this movie is basically designed to get nominated for awards, because it set in the past, in England, and one of the main characters has to overcome adversity (that requires physical transformation by an actor) but ultimately triumphs. But, it’s also a way more nuanced, and less maudlin, film than it could have been. And honestly, Eddie Redmayne’s transformation and performance really are truly impressive. Especially when you take into account the fact that the film was not shot chronologically so he had to portray a degenerative motor disease at various points in the process without the benefit of being able to simply build upon where he was in the scene before.
Refreshingly, for me at least, while this is a “great man” biopic, because it was based in part on Jane Hawking‘s account of her life, she is treated as a full complex character with her own motivations and struggles and joys, and my favorite, Felicity Jones, does a wonderful job of portraying her.
There’s a wonderful balance between his math, and her faith, and both of their music, and the power of love in all its complexity that made this simply a joy to watch. It may not be the most important film ever made, but it’s worthwhile one (especially if you’re looking for something to see with your parents over the holidays.)
Also – Jóhann Jóhannsson‘s score is gorgeous.
I wanted to like this so much, but the ending just made me so angry. (I’ll get to the specifics of why below the spoiler warning.) But first let me say that I thought that all of the actors were amazingly cast and wonderful. Michael Keaton as the protagonist/former big screen superhero turned serious NY theater actor wanna be Riggan is powerfully tense (aided by the (in my opinion) obnoxious drum score by Antonio Sanchez) and has the requisite madman magnetism to pull off being a narcissist that is somehow still likable enough that the audience roots for him. As great as Keaton is, this movie belongs to Edward Norton (doing a sublime self parody) and Emma Stone, who deserves all the awards in the world for simply being Emma Stone, but who is also particularly wonderful here for being uncharacteristically raw and vulnerable. (They also have wonderful chemistry.) Also delightful, if a bit underused, were Amy Ryan, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, and the previously unknown to me Andrea Riseborough.
Stop reading here if you don’t want the ending of Birdman completely ruined.
Basically my whole problem with the movie stems from the fact that I didn’t buy the life and death stakes of it all. I get that Riggan is desperate to make himself seem legitimate, but at the end of the day this story is a backstage farce dressed up with fancy effects. Apparently it’s being submitted as a comedy, which is strange to me because while I laughed (especially at Norton) I wasn’t ever sure if I was supposed to be laughing. Everyone involved (seemingly including the director) seemed to be taking themselves and this story so seriously. And if we’re supposed to be laughing at the characters about their self seriousness then the dual endings, where Riggan shoots himself on stage and then is seen to escape his hospital room by “flying” out the window” is even more sick and incongruous than it felt to me watching it. I get that artists take their art seriously, even when it seems frivolous to the outside world, but basically implying – as I believe that this film does – that the only way to create real art is to destroy yourself is dangerous and disgusting to me. It didn’t earn suicide as a metaphor, and the callous handling of the end of the movie negated any warmth I had built up for its quirky world view in the hours before it.