Monday, December 01, 2014

Prepping for the Final Sprint

Fall festival furor meant that I missed my annual fall-preview post where I rank my enthusiasms for upcoming film releases with the help of some noted diva.  Too bad, because I really had an inspired choice in mind this year.  He'll still be with us in 2015.  But, as December bows and awards season commences (way to go, Marion, Darius, and Jennifer!!), maybe it's not too late to forecast what I still have left to see before I wrap up the year and fail miserably to post a Top Ten list.  A few of the remaining big-ticket releases I saw earlier this fall, like Still Alice, Mommy, Wild, and Two Days, One Night, but since I'm only a minor-league player, most of it will be news to me when it's also news to you. Unless you're major.

Inherent Vice - Idea of adapting Pynchon puts a smile on my face. So does trailer.
   B– - Tries something different. PTA doesn't repeat himself. But I didn't get it.
American Sniper - Hot on Cooper lately (hush!), and seems like good fit for Clint.
   A– - Fearsomely edited. Tonally complex. Much more than Red State red meat.
Into the Woods - Not expecting sublimity, don't love the show, but pipped for cast.
   C+ - Fine, meat-and-potatoes staging. Cast is game. Garish look. Effort shows.
Unbroken - Smells weirdly programmatic: "Please, sir, may I inspire you today?"
   D - Disconcertingly poor. Neither gets inside Louie nor helps frame his travails.
Big Eyes - Burton and Waltz both seem to be running in place lately. Is Amy, too?
   D - A failure of direction. No two elements match; most are weak on their own.
Exodus: Gods and Kings - Would have been lower but critics I trust don't mind it.
Annie - Y'all know me well enough to know it's Quvenzhané 4-Ever around here.
Top Five - In theory, I'd be more jazzed about this, but TIFF crowds seemed cool.
   C - Funny, warm passages snuffed by awkward framework, ungenerous spirit.
Big Hero 6 - Already out for weeks now, but I don't feel flooded with incentive.
   B+ - For the second year in a row, Disney exceeds my expectations. Delightful.
The Gambler - If it weren't for Jessica Lange, this would be easier to dismiss.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - Sorry, but Smaug's still in Time Out.
The Interview - I'll have to see this because a student is writing about it. Pity me.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb - Some secrets are meant to be kept.

Leviathan - Won't open in Chicago until Jan 9, but Zvyagintsev's so up my alley.
   B - Impressively engaging given length and measured tone. Still, hardly subtle.
Selma - I loved DuVernay's Middle of Nowhere. Advance audiences are beaming.
   A– - King's dream deferred, as triumphal story, team effort, palpable lament.
The Strange Little Cat - No film this year elated more friends. On DVD Jan 13.
   B - I wasn't as enchanted as some friends, but it's a curious, engaging, unusual.
A Most Violent Year - I really admired All Is Lost. All the signs look good here.
   A– - Every performance, every technical element, every writing conceit works.
Mr. Turner - Should I be even more enthused? A little Spall goes a long way.
   A– - Leigh again manages an intimate epic. Puts most "period" films to shame.
Goodbye to All That - Junebug was such a transformative experience for me.
   B/B+ - Oddly broad at moments, but so behaviorally and observationally rich.
The Two Faces of January - Admirers really admire. Viggo's had a banner year.
   D - Not easy to adapt Highsmith with zero psychological pull or erotic charge.
Bad Hair - People love this Venezuelan import, arriving at Facets on Friday.
   B+ - Acute characterizations, observant of its city, mature on sex and gender.
Beloved Sisters - I've heard interesting things. Apt companion to Amour fou?
The Tale of Princess Kaguya - I'm no animation nut, but one hears good things.
   B/B+ - Some tightening wouldn't hurt, but loveliness and feeling only deepen.
Happy Valley - Is it bad hosting to take brother to sex-abuse doc when he visits?
Red Army - Festival crowd-pleaser and likely Oscar nominee. But still. Meh.
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles - What's new to say?

Maps to the Stars - So brilliant to kill off Cannes buzz and hide the release date!
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night - If they'd build it in Chicago, I would come.
   B+ - Deliciously stylish. Sound design especially impressive. Elegant pastiche.
Tales of the Grim Sleeper - Broomfield inspires ambivalence, but is this a peak?
Cake - Good way to get Aniston an Oscar is to obscure whether this has opened.
   D - One feels good intents here, but tone, structure, storytelling are fairly dire.
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks - If Gena wants to dance, she needn't ask twice.
Black or White - What a perfect time to release a tone-deaf race-relations drama.
The Pyramid - Seriously! It turns out a movie with this title opens in four days!

Fury - Must-see factor never got very high, but Ayer, Pitt, Lerman, Peña appeal.
   C+ - Overproduced, highly uneven, but has some mad, Steel Helmet conviction.
The Boxtrolls - Liked Coraline, ParaNorman fine, but I'm missing something.
   C - Dense with visual detail, but expended labor exceeds storytelling dexterity.
Men, Women, and Children - Just fucking with you! Though I do love moralizing.

Archipelago - I've stumped for Unrelated for six years. Thrilled about follow-up.
   B - Hogg repeats aspects of style and subject from debut; good, but feels forced.
Listen Up Philip - The Schwartzman film for folks with Schwartzman allergies?
   C - Moss, Pryce impress. Still, even more purgatorial experience than intended?
Oculus - 40% the admiring reviews, 40% the ambitious premise, 20% Starbuck.
   C+ - Too many rules? Too few? Adds up only vaguely but has a weird elegance.
The Drop - Tim Robey fired me right up, but I just couldn't get there. Out soon.
Locke - In fact, managed to drop a ball on Tom Hardy twice. Foolish both times?
   C+ - Worthy stab at something different. Comes close to working. Good cast.
The Good Lie - Blinked during CIFF and missed its brief release back in October.
Manuscripts Don't Burn - Not Rasoulof's best-reviewed movie, but I'm intrigued.
Venus in Fur - Very clever play. Sounds like Polanski, Seigner surprised people.
   B - Fruity, sleek, and tricksy at the same time. Even its mustier ideas have juice.
Camp X-Ray - Gutsy. Stewart's had a good year, and I've admired her many times.
   B - Credible enough on Gitmo, richer as character drama. Very smartly acted.
Starred Up - Jack O'Connell hubbub started here. Seems like right place to begin.
   B - Adds welcome layers as it goes, and well-acted. Just didn't feel all that new.
Fishing Without Nets - Somali-pirate documentary promises to be eye-opening.
Horses of God - Has sounded enticing since two Cannes ago when it premiered.
Exhibition - Not as warmly received as Archipelago or Unrelated, but still Hogg.
   A– - Inventive, quietly gutsy meditation on human coldness that isn't a critique.
Burning Bush - Critics all admire this prohibitively long Agnieszka Holland epic.
Omar - What the eff is wrong with me? An Oscar nominee by a good filmmaker!
   B - Sturdy melodrama places plot over style, but it sure thickens. Tense, bold.
Bad Words - Nobody I know was enraptured, but I giggle at every clip I've seen.
   C– - Such a nasty pall. So besmirching of Bateman; amazing he's responsible.
Hateship Loveship - Notices were hardly fawning but I admire Wiig for reaching.
   C - Too harsh to say it's bad, but it's very hazy, and disappointingly forgettable.
Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian - Even if it's a botch, likely indelible.
Finding Vivian Maier - Getting the impression I flubbed, but it seemed so trendy.
   B - Intriguing, but "investigative" framework too often looks right past the art.
Muppets Most Wanted - Because Kermit. Because Rowlf. Because Beeker. Becau
The Fault in Our Stars - Not excited, but since I've twice been taken for Green...
   B - The performances and the lucid emotional through-lines really disarmed me.
Particle Fever - Near-universal raves. Pertinent to some (non-lab) work I'm doing.
About Last Night - I like many members of its cast and want to support Headland.
   B - Zippy script, inspired cast. Nicely balanced between the earnest and profane.
Manakamana - Iron Ministry recently reminded me how much I admire this style.
A Good Marriage - Once more, got hopes up Joan was Back. Then it got dumped.
   C+ - Adroit audience manipulation. Nervy themes. Allen! And still it feels flat?
Vic + Flo Saw a Bear - Boy did this polarize people when it premiered at Berlin.
Jimi: All Is By My Side - Seems like an idiosyncratic biopic. I'm curious, anyway.
Miss Lovely - Hard to predict if it's got a hold on its luridness or just revels in it.
Frank - "Fassbender as DeadMau5" could technically go well or be The Worst.
   C - Eccentric enough I can see it lingering, but it's both arch and sentimental.
Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas - For my Cannes completism.
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors - The Indie Spirit nomination intrigues me.
Cheap Thrills - My site may not make this obvious but I'm game for dicey horror.
Devil's Knot - Just how far am I willing to take the Reesurgence? Nobody bit...
Chef - ...whereas, in this case, everybody bit, but I can't stop feeling suspicious.
Moebius - I tried with Kim again on Pietà and it wasn't bad but also wasn't great.
Breathe In - A fully improv'd drama gives pause. But there are jewels in the cast.
300: Rise of an Empire - I have a right to know just how fun Eva Green is in this.
   D+ - Green's fun, but stuck in a cauldron of Tarsem-ish, Cheney-ish jingo-kitsch.
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me - Keep being promised I'll like it even if I didn't like her.
   B– - Both a valentine and something more pointed and rounded. Chilly breezes.
Divergent - Look, they filmed parts on my block, and Roth's an alum of my Dept.
   C - Unimaginative filmmaking works against the speculative pull of the story.
Dormant Beauty - Huppert is an ineluctable draw, but even she's made lame films.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Not a Marvel fan. But, Mackie in uniform.
Ivory Tower - Given my vocation, I ought to make this a priority. But is it hacky?
Blood Glacier - You guys, this movie is called Blood Glacier. It's Blood Glacier.
Rob the Mob - Nina Arianda is the kind of actress worth following into tiny films.
G.B.F. - Joe Reid and other friends imply that I'll be charmed at the very least.
In Secret - Watching Lange hate a movie she's in is a rare, succulent pleasure.
White Bird in a Blizzard - Araki's never been my cuppa. Shailene's more the draw.
Palo Alto - "A Coppola picked up a book by James Franco" is not an enticing start.
   B/B+ - Another Coppola proves me wrong! Familiar ideas, insinuating direction.
God's Pocket - Worth tracking Hoffman wherever he went, but I'm still too sad.
Cesar Chavez - I've sat through many biopics with less stirring subjects. Peña!
The Double - I've had over a year to make good on this, and nothing's working.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit - So stoked for Keira these days, I'll try anything.

And now, please do your part by saving me from myself! Let me know where I'm investing too much optimism or, even better, clue me in to a diamond I've overlooked. And keep checking back here and on my U.S. Releases of 2014 page for updates as I cross titles off these lists.

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Anonymous Dave S said...

"Chef" is a bit galling, and would be pure formula if it didn't somehow stop without an ending. Scarlett Johansson is asked to play a scene where she essentially sleeps with Favreau for a bowl of pasta (shades of "Victor/Victoria"?). It feels like the most embarrassing thing she's ever had to do, and she's been in Marvel movies.

"Rob the Mob" is short and sweet, not a diamond but awfully appealing anyway. Arianda is exactly the reason to see it, but I am a mafia movie avoider and this won me over (without exactly reinventing anything).

7:06 PM, December 01, 2014  
Anonymous Dave S said...

Also, here's a mild recommendation I may regret, but I actually liked the buried-on-VOD "Date and Switch" more than "GBF". Both are scattershot, but "Date" felt like a studio-tampered and hampered attempt to try something just a little bit new while passing for mainstream. It's not a revolution, but I would have welcomed either of those films POVs in my own teen years. Wouldn't be a bad double feature.

7:22 PM, December 01, 2014  
Blogger tim r said...

Loving the double Peña love in here, though I didn't think he gave FURY much (Lerman easily MVP there). Meanwhile, Hardy's great in both LOCKE and THE DROP, but the latter's the all-round better film by some margin.

And I liked BAD WORDS! Never got round to a Toronto review, but it tickled me.

7:22 PM, December 01, 2014  
Anonymous Guy Lodge said...

On the films where I'm in a position to comment, your suspicions are mostly on the money — though PALO ALTO exceeded my expectations, which were ground-level for precisely the same reasons yours are. And Eva Green (again!) is the real draw in the otherwise low-fizz WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD.

7:29 PM, December 01, 2014  
Anonymous Alice said...

"Men, Women, and Children - Just fucking with you! Though I do love moralizing."

Bwahaha and this is why I hope you don't ever vacate your blog for twitter entirely.

It's a really comprehensive list you have there so I'm finding it difficult to come up with something that you wouldn't have already thought of. I don't know what its release/VOD/DVD schedule is in the US but I would suggest Appropriate Behaviour, another great addition to this year's crop of female writer-director first features.

7:29 PM, December 01, 2014  
Anonymous Mare said...

God Help the Girl seems like an oversight. Cute as can be, and the most endearing musical sequences of the year thus far.

Fort Bliss is surprisingly strong, given its low profile. A fuller, more rewarding Return, with a worthy Michelle Monaghan performance. Smarter than Camp X-Ray, too, if you're deciding between lady soldiers.

Bad Words, Hateship Loveship, Frank, and Palo Alto are all THE WORST but Palo Alto is certainly worth checking out. Nicely shot but completely nonsensical. So, so memorable.

Your resistance to Chef is warranted. The trailer tells you all you really need to know.

Reese is absolutely the worst part of Devil's Knot, almost comically. The Captive is the 2014 Egoyan worth seeing for its luridness, its absolute bonkers plotting, and his complete misdirection of several cast members.

GBF and (more consistently) About Last Night are truly, truly hilarious.

7:31 PM, December 01, 2014  
Anonymous Carol said...

Moss will wow you in Listen Up Philip. If you liked her in The One I Love, you'll eat her UP in this.

7:35 PM, December 01, 2014  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Dave S: Thanks so much for these comments, and especially for the extra boost re: Arianda and Rob the Mob. Date and Switch hadn't even crossed my radar, so thanks for that, too. (Do we work on the same campus?)

@Tim: I didn't remember you liking Bad Words! Good to know. Locke feels like an omission even if I suspect I'll end up where you have.

@Guy: You're not the first to suggest I'm slightly underestimating Palo Alto (see below). I used to be quite leery of Green, but I'm happy to follow these signals to reevaluate.

@Alice: Thanks so much for the nice note about the blog. I really miss being here. I'd love to see Appropriate Behavior but it does seem elusive so far in the States. I'm keeping my eye out, though.

@Mare: What a great set of tips. Now Palo Alto's sounding so weird it'll be even harder to resist. I never saw the trailer for Chef; it was totally off my radar the whole time it was raking in dough. "Better than Trucker" is what I needed to hear about Fort Bliss, and it helps that I'm an Army brat. The Captive was out commercially in Canada during TIFF but I couldn't squeeze it in, though I admit I'm intrigued by every good review and every bad one.

@Carol: That's what I've been hearing! I'm so behind with her. I've seen two episodes of Mad Men and, much more strangely, none of Top of the Lake yet.

7:43 PM, December 01, 2014  
Anonymous Dave S said...

Yes, I'm a PhD candidate in RTVF; we've met in passing a few times. Never took a class with you, but have been a long-time fan of the blog.

7:54 PM, December 01, 2014  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Dave: You're exactly who I meant, I was just trying to be more discreet than to use your full last name, since I notice you don't post with it. Plus, I would feel less crazy being wrong than I had asked something so specific as, "Are you Dave S*******?" Anyway, I thought it was you! It's really nice of you to read the blog. We should actually see something together some time!

7:57 PM, December 01, 2014  
Anonymous Liz said...

Ooh, please please PLEASE put "Starred Up" near the top of your to-see list. It's my favorite movie of the year so far, and I'm dying to know what you think.

"About Last Night" was a very pleasant surprise for me. Regina Hall, in particular, knocked it out of the part.

And on the other end of the spectrum, I really disliked "Bad Words" and "Breathe In," although I wouldn't be surprised if you liked the latter more than I did.

8:14 PM, December 01, 2014  
Blogger Ivan said...

It may or may not qualify (though it's streaming and appears on Metacritic), but you gotta see RETURN TO HOMS, especially being a SILVERED WATER enthusiast (it shares a couple producers). It's as harrowing and entrenched a war doc as I've ever seen.

I'm no animation nut either, but ROCKS IN MY POCKETS knocked my socks uh...around the block? Drawn faces generally aren't expressive enough to hold my attention, but Signe Baumane realizes this and instead uses environment to express her mental state. Full of strong, unlikely metaphors and freewheeling visual associations. Really smart and funny about depression. And quite a novel approach to memoir: telling her story largely through her ancestors.

I'm glad BAD HAIR's on your radar. It's wonderful and seems made for you (let me know if you're planning to see it at Facets). Also really liked ARCHIPELAGO, EXHIBITION, LISTEN UP PHILIP, STARRED UP, THE DOUBLE, SEE YOU NEXT TUESDAY and STAND CLEAR OF THE CLOSING DOORS. BELOVED SISTERS, THE DROP, VIC + FLO, PARTICLE FEVER and THE AMAZING CATFISH are strong. BIG MEN, 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH, LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM, and THE EXPEDITION TO THE END OF THE WORLD are superior docs. LOCKE I found dull as concrete, and MISS LOVELY definitely revels, all through the eyes of the most absurdly naive protag. FRANK is good in unusual ways but requires patience and generosity.

8:31 PM, December 01, 2014  
Blogger Ivan said...


8:37 PM, December 01, 2014  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Liz: Thank you, too, for always being so generous with comments and suggestions. The Starred Up posse is so vehement, and seemingly always growing. I'll definitely catch it. It still amazes me that people pay the amount of attention to this blog that allows them to gauge how I'll probably react to something, especially since you're usually right!

@Ivan: You're the best. Let's definitely try to make Bad Hair happen, if you're willing to go again. The documentary suggestions are especially exciting here. Were you the person who described Locke as "Dick in a Box"? Your report definitely bumps Miss Lovely down for me but lifts so many others up, including some I hadn't heard of, Homs especially. I'll have to check the availability of that one.

9:13 PM, December 01, 2014  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Oh, and Top of the Lake... isn't that outrageous? I bought the DVDs and I always think they'll be the perfect reward for when I finish an essay, but then there's always another project waiting, or another essay! (I've got a deadline swiftly approaching for my I'm Not There piece, so maybe that'll be the right time.)

9:14 PM, December 01, 2014  
Anonymous Carmen said...

Love this list! You have so much to look forward to. Are THE GOLDEN ERA and ACTRESS on your radar? I think I remember you liking A SIMPLE LIFE, and the doc is getting some rave reviews.

Also, any news on a 2013 Top 10?

9:55 PM, December 01, 2014  
Blogger Jonathan said...

No idea if/when these had/get release dates, but a few brief thoughts on some 2014 films not on the master list, loosely ranked in order of how much I think you'll enjoy them:

'71: My only stop on the Jack O'Connell express train so far this year (though I did see his TV work and liked him in that). Absolutely gangbusters middle third that make its bookends feel more schematic as a result. But seriously, your heart will be in your mouth for so long while watching it, it'll want to take out a mortgage!

The Wonders: Kind of a mess, and could use a good trim, but a fascinating mess. Lead performances are brilliant, and it wonderfully (pun definitely intended, unfortunately) explores the father-daughter dynamic. Completely understand why this won prizes at Cannes.

White God: Absolutely batshit. For me it was batshit in all the best ways; the very definition of "your mileage may vary", especially if you're a dog-person or not.

The Possibilities Are Endless: Interesting curio doc about musician Edwyn Collins' life after a cerebral hemorrhage. Starts off as a Black Sun-like visual tale but as it gets more conventional, it gets significantly more sweet, and better as a result.

Land Ho!: Nope. Can't remember if you saw Cold Weather, but this one squandered all the goodwill I had towards Aaron Katz. A nice performance from Paul Einhorn can't save material this turgid.

NOW: In the Wings of a World Stage: Kevin Spacey-Richard III doc/hagiography/masturbatory effort that Tim R took me to and I still haven't forgiven him. (Just kidding, ILU Tim!) Bland as fuck.

Of the ones in your list: I really liked Two Faces of January (go Viggo!); I liked Leviathan (sort of a combination of The Return's occasional heavy-handedness and Elena's moral complexity), Locke (entirely for Hardy's performance, but what a performance!) and Mr. Turner (absolutely beautiful, if a bit long); I was mixed on Inherent Vice (Joaquin and Brolin are all kinds of great; the filmmaking and other performances are a little off), The Boxtrolls (don't see the love for this one; it's fine, I guess...) and Venus in Fur (Seigner is no Nina Arianda, who elevated this material so much when I saw her on Broadway); and, unfortunately, I detested Maps to the Stars (although Julianne and Mia are both great in it) and Listen Up Philip (although Moss is absurdly great in it) but you should definitely see them for the actressing on display.

Phew, that's a lot to type at 9am on a Tuesday. As always, love this feature, even if I haven't learned about your musical taste this year! Good luck with this.

3:32 AM, December 02, 2014  
Anonymous Dave S said...

Nick - we do seem to end up at some of the same screenings. Let's be in touch. I'm facing a busy December, but I'm around and less mysterious than my vague web presence might suggest.

6:51 AM, December 02, 2014  
Blogger James T said...

I'm interested in watching Laggies because of Keira. Maybe you're too?

And, you sir inspire me eveyday.

4:00 PM, December 03, 2014  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Carmen: That's a dream I've been harboring all week. The 2013 Top Ten. I'm looking for my file where I wrote down my planned list, so at least it avoids retroactive retouching, even if I never got around to it. I'm a disaster. I wanted to see The Golden Era at TIFF and couldn't squeeze it in among the other three- and four- and six-hour behemoths, and then I missed its surprising one-week run at a super-commercial multiplex in Chicago. It's cycling back to the Siskel at the end of the month, so I may have hope. Ann Hui and Tang Wei!

@Jonathan: White God and The Wonders are pretty much tops on my list of 2014 movies that I wish I'd had access to: not at TIFF or CIFF, where I'd have prioritized them immediately. Have heard nothing but good stuff about '71, too. Thanks for all these re-endorsements. I remember how much Philip stuck in your craw, as we say in the New World. And Maps has been sooo polarizing, which makes me both more excited (what the heck???) and less so (having not really loved a Cronenberg movie in a while - with the exception, oddly, of A Dangerous Method, which was the least "Cronenbergy" of any of them, if such a concept even holds anymore).

@Dave S.: You will-o'-the-wisp! Will I see you tomorrow night, by any chance, at CFS?

@James T.: You're so endlessly sweet to me. I blew it with Laggies, which got a short run here, and looked charming enough. I am good at managing my expectations with Shelton, and she does seem like a good fit for this open, relaxed stage in the Knightley Chronicles.

4:26 PM, December 03, 2014  
Anonymous David S. said...

Of all of the ones I've seen from this list, I'd encourage you to screen The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. The animation is unique, beautiful, kind of impressionistic; nothing like what I would normally associate with Japanese animation. It found it even more compelling after learning that it is based on the oldest existing piece of Japanese literature. Some of the key scenes are so expressively animated, and you really feel enveloped in its story. For me, it was a solid A.

6:57 PM, December 03, 2014  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@David S.: A solid A!! Titillating. I have plans to see it with animation expert Tim Brayton in a little over a week, in a theater, which is about the most ideal circumstance imaginable.

7:05 PM, December 03, 2014  
Anonymous David S. said...

Yes it absolutely is. I look forward to seeing what your reaction is.

11:30 AM, December 04, 2014  

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