Tuesday, November 07, 2017

On & On: What's Left in the Movie Year

One interesting historical fact is that the last time I updated this blog, Louis XIV was still the King of France. In fact, the last time I reprised this once-perennial feature, his reign had not even begun!  Isn't that interesting?

Back then, when the world knew it was still run by monarchies, and when Jodie Foster had only started taking meetings about Flora Plum, I made an annual autumn ritual of compiling all the movies I hoped to see before the year's end and then publicly checking them off as they rolled around.  I usually invited a treasured songbird to hum along while I made my lists of eager dates, ambivalent prospects, and grotesque premonitions of suffering.  In 2014 I somehow forgot to recruit a singalong partner, which was probably the beginning of the trouble, after fabulous collaborations with Lauryn Hill in 2013, with Miss Jackson If You're Nasty in 2012, with feckless but forever-adored thrush Mariah Carey in 2011, and with Madonna, of whom my current students are still dimly aware, in 2010.  (The first two outings, in 2009 and 2007, were sadly sans chanteuse).

This year, noted ankh enthusiast and Golden Satellite nominee Erykah Badu is lending me her song titles so that I can distinguish the movies sure to make peace and blessings manifest from those that make you wanna call Tyrone on your way out of the theater, so he can come clear this shit away.  Even within the Badu-based echelons, the titles are loosely ranked.  I'm including titles that left the cinemas long ago, and some that were barely ever there, since those encounters loom just as prodigiously for me as the imminent holiday releases.

So, what am I overhyping or underselling?  What are you anticipating?  Here's what I've seen already.  (And please ignore the fossilized sidebar for now.  A sister isn't all the way there yet.)

Love of My Life
Feels like I've sampled true love... and I haven't even seen 'em yet!
Lady Bird - Every glowing response to every aspect makes my heart leap
  B+ Shrewd, warm, happy, sad: appealingly complex, yet clear as a bell.
Heal the Living - Quillévéré's one of the best barely-distributed directors
  B Less than the director's best but still an elegant, moving medical drama
Nocturama - Bold story about spiky subjects; of course it vanished fast
  B+ Amazingly audacious, even as I had questions about tone and style
The Untamed - I am who I am, and octopus-sex movies are part of that
  B Utterly unusual exploration of sex from alien angles; cool direction
Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Because the Force was so strong in Looper
  C– Crushingly dull disappointment: sludgy storytelling, muddy thinking
Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool - Anything Bening, but especially this
  B+ The actors are glorious and the storytelling unexpectedly layered
The Death of Louis XIV - I'm pre-converted to Serra's bizarre aesthetic
  B+ Odd, gorgeous. The usual Serra pros outweigh the usual Serra cons.

The kind of thing for which you delay your Top 10 list
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki - Reviews mostly rapturous
  B Pleasant and poignant, if not quite the chef d'oeuvre I'd heard about
Phantom Thread - PTA hasn't ended a movie well in a while, but still
  B+ Fascinating at every level of theme and construction, but still...
Free in Deed - Melanie's delight with this one in Venice sticks with me
  B+ Takes big risks in structure, story, but still hits big emotional beats
The Work - Why is Chicago, of all markets, taking forever to book this?
  A– Exceptionally strong and moving piece, more complex than it looks
Cries from Syria - The rare Syria-focused documentary to break through
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson - France has earned our trust
  B+ Boldly conceived as crime story and a systemic study of violence
For Ahkeem - Documentary about black teenage girl looks very moving
  B Moving portrait of a teen girl at risk, even if it could go a bit deeper
Casting JonBenet - Sounds like it turns a tabloid chestnut upside down?
  B+ Idea-rich, like Joshua Oppenheimer directing Waiting for Guffman
Abundant Acreage Available - Amy! Junebug guy! Even with that title...
  B– Whole cast is good, but Amy is the clear MVP. The movie is fine.
The Wound - All I needed were Guy Lodge's abundant recommendations
  B High production values and complicated discourses of sex and class
Hermia & Helena - I dig the rarity of Piñeiro's Thing, even when I'm split
  B I'm getting less patient with Piñeiro but colors and structures still entice
Song to Song - This looked like more windmill-tilting but I hear otherwise?
  B Clear improvement on the last few. Still not what I want from Malick?
Whose Streets? - Why do documentaries on this topic get so little notice?
  A– Artfully ragged, unapologetically angry capsule of antiracist activism
A Woman's Life - Measure of a Man was great so I'm not sleeping on this
  A– Surpassed my hearty expectations. Moving and creatively structured.

Hey, Sugah
I have reason to hope we'll get along well
Una - Yet another buzzy play becomes a movie with few fans. But: Rooney!
  C+ I appreciate the risk-taking but couldn't help notice tics and missteps
Your Name - Not an anime devotee, but this sounds potentially up my alley
  B+ A form and a culture where I have little fluency, and I still admired it
Harmonium - Curious since it unnerved everybody at Cannes a year ago
  B Story and characters didn't always click for but it's an engaging yarn 
Novitiate - Good Melissa Leo and Garish Melissa Leo are equally enticing
  B Often potent and sobering, but can all of a sudden turn shaky or tacky.
Molly's Game - Sorkin's not really a draw at this point but I hear Jess is fun
  B Intriguing to watch Sorkin process his fascinations, albeit unevenly
The Post - I'm not organically enthused but it's always better to have faith
  B+ I loved seeing Spielberg's camera so free, his storytelling so urgent
Birthright: A War Story - Available to academics via Women Make Movies
  B Powerful, timely documentary about linked assaults on women's health
I, Tonya - Could live to regret this ranking, but I'm up for Janney's antics
  B+ A great surprise, deftly managing a tricky tone; Stan, Robbie excel
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) - How many of 'em is Emma in?
  B+ Pleasantly surprised how smitten I was with writing and performances
M.F.A. - Contemporary rape-revenge drama that feels timelier than ever
  B– Irresponsible, then too "responsible," but its anger and daring exhilarate
Brigsby Bear - This will either be irritatingly over-conceived or sorta special
The Villainess - Not really my genre or aesthetic and still I feel curious
Our Souls at Night - At least we know it'll improve on Barefoot in the Park
One of Us - I've trusted these gals since Jesus Camp, and here it is on Netflix
Wonder - I could be making a serious miscalculation but Perks was fantastic
  B Not the subtlest or most sophisticated, but hits its marks emotionally.

Think Twice
I'll buy a ticket, but I'll be second-guessing myself the whole time
From the Land of the Moon - It's Marion, but has it rocked anyone's life?
  B– Grew on me as it unfolded, as did Marion, but that finale is wacko
Darkest Hour - Venice and Toronto were impressed; others seem not to be
  C Dubious in its glossy showmanship, its plummy tone, its political moral
Brad's Status - Many of you gave warm testimonies, but that trailer, guys!
  B– Queasy in good and bad ways; a risk for White, and the effort shows
The Disaster Artist - I mean, it looks more fun than his Steinbeck movie
  C Maybe his Steinbeck movie at least has something to say? Parlor trick
Wonder Wheel - "No Blue Jasmine," I keep hearing, and that was overrated
  D+ Mostly awful ideas. The very few good ones are stiltedly executed.
Last Flag Flying - If not for Cecily, we'd be further down in the Danger list
  C+ Some moving moments and moods; maudlin and tone-deaf elsewhere
Coco - Remember when you didn't have to worry if Pixar would deliver?
  B They did! I wasn't as moved as some but it's visually and culturally rich
Pitch Perfect 3 - The trailer makes me giggle; the first film didn't, really
On the Beach at Night Alone - The Day After set me way back on Hong
Permanent - Mostly tempted to thank Patty Arquette for Twitter badassery

Time's a Wastin'
They'll be gone fast, or I've been dragging my feet a while already
The Human Surge - I don't even know what it's about, but it's got Fans
  B I appreciate the uniqueness and ambition but sometimes felt stranded
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women - Sure aroused a lot of you
The Rehearsal - Kerry Fox and Alison Maclean, I welcome your returns
Jane - Not my kind of project, but Brett Morgen's Chicago 10 was great
My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea - And I liked high school!
It - I'm not too confident, but I put those 500 hours into reading it in 1990
My Life as a Zucchini - All the right people have recommended this one
Stronger - A Miranda Richardson movie trapped in a Jake Gyllenhaal flick
  C+ Actors do fine work and story takes smart turns; still feels middling
The Sense of an Ending - Made for people like me, and yet I've avoided it
John Wick: Chapter 2 - Atomic Blonde convinced me to pay attention
Lucky - Stanton wasn't a huge fixture for me, but I'll gladly pay respects
  B I resisted the opening acts but the film gets darker, odder, and braver
Crown Heights - Left theaters so quickly, with muted notices, but: LaKeith
  C+ A moving and still-timely story, but less imposing or urgent as a film
Paulina - I wish I'd liked The Summit even more, but this sounded better
  B+ Explores rape survivor's ambiguous response without diluting the crime
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold - Should I just read a book instead?
Logan - Look, I've heard you. I don't really believe you, but I've heard you
  B I should have trusted you! Too grisly, maybe, but full of style and ideas
Planetarium - I have basically zero Portmania, and yet I'm still intrigued
3 Generations - Trans Cinema by Cis Folks: Asking-for-Side-Eye Division
  C Not as awful as I'd heard but messy in structure, politics, and portraiture
The Assignment - Trans Cinema by Cis Folks: Likely-to-Infuriate Division
  D You'd never guess it's the work of a real auteur. Cheap, lurid nonsense.
Thor: Ragnarok - All you had to do was say, "Cate's great," but you didn't
Thank You for Your Service - When I think about Rabbit Hole, I'm swayable

"My ass might be dumb, but I ain't no dumb ass." — Ordell Robbie
All the Money in the World - "...couldn't make me," etc. But a nom might!
  D+ Spacey would have made it worse, I'm sure, but this is still an ordeal
Murder on the Orient Express - I know how it ends, and how it'll likely go
The Greatest Showman - Amazing that they've made this as circus shutters
  D Passes at some point from amiably bad to embarrassingly mishandled
Breathe - I asked Twitter about this one and was licensed to Just Say No
LBJ - Scant appeal at the best of times—which, for Reiner, feel long past
Hostiles - Scott Cooper convenes another cockfight among dour dudes
Roman J. Israel, Esq. - When they sneak it late into two different festivals...
  B/B– Definitely uneven but an interesting study of character and culture
Ferdinand - Unless reviews are Babe-like, I doubt I'm really the audience
Suburbicon - You guys, "They wrote it 30 years ago!" is not a good hook
Justice League - Our national witnessing of Affleck's free fall continues
Just Getting Started - Odd title for a movie they've already made 10 times
Beauty and the Beast - Making a point about my resistance to Downsizing
Downsizing - Good name for a documentary about Payne's gifts over time
  D+ Takes a stab at every tone and topic it can; ambitious but so misguided
Father Figures - Hi, Glenn! We're holding your Oscar bid but releasing this
Daddy's Home 2 - See, I'm not completely unreasonable about Downsizing
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle - "Oooooaah...I'm gonna watch you bleed!"

Didn't Cha Know?
Dropped off my radar, or never made it on, until you guys intervened
Catfight - How did I leave this out? Heche alone suffices, but her plus Oh?
  B– The performances both got me even as I harbored some reservations
All This Panic - Never heard of it, but sounds perfectly synced to my tastes
  B– Female adolescence deserves more film time, but POV here is vague
Strong Island - Another right-up-my-alley documentary I'd never heard of
  B Jagged, affecting chronicle of family pain, despite some formal oddities
Lovesong - Does "their relationship deepens" translate to "lesbian romance"?
  B+ Performances are all quietly terrific; observant intimacy all around
4 Days in France - Multiple endorsements below—and Nathalie Richard!
  B Pleasingly offbeat road trip. Interesting scenes ballast the flatter ones
After the Storm - I got frustrated with Kore-eda, but you're giving me faith
  B Kore-eda doesn't fully speak to me but this is still strong, sensitive drama
Thirst Street - I'd never heard of Burdge until Lace Crater. Big fan now!
  C+ Opening augurs a weird, clever movie, but it quickly seems less special
Most Beautiful Island - Sounds intense! Dovetails with some of my research
The Son of Joseph - Enticing cast, even if I've had mixed feelings on Green
Person to Person - Not my genre, really, but if John Guerin endorses it...
Ma - Sounds pretty austere and elliptical, but they can't all have octopus sex

Next Lifetime
Evanescent enticements (where'd they go?) and infinite deferrals
The Woman Who Left - I wanna know what Lav is! Why won't you show me?
Mimosas - Oliver Laxe exists, right? Because I can never find his movies
Year by the Sea - Nathaniel's great Karen Allen interview got me all excited
  C Allen does well and it's nice to see her back, but storytelling is artless
Woodshock - I know folks weren't wowed, but that was one hypnotic trailer
Signature Move - Local artist with an intriguing, prizewinning queer film
Kidnap - I'm a fan of Halle in Distress. See: The Call. See also: her career
  C Sort of suspenseful, but with no real charge, as much as I like Berry
The Mountain Between Us - Neither star means to me what they once did
Queen of the Desert - Kidman + Herzog should rouse me more. Just hasn't.
The Devil's Candy - Joe Reid says Ethan Embry looks fi-yine, albeit bloodied
  C– Can't decide on a villain or a POV; moderate style, minimal good taste
Life - Has all the makings of a listless night at the RedBox, with PopTarts
Menashe - This hung around an impressively long time. Did I miss a gem?
  B+ No wonder audiences responded! Opens up a rarefied tale and culture
Kedi - Don't care. Don't @ me, cat people You already own the whole Web.
In Dubious Battle - Whatever happened to Zeroville? That I'd actually see!
A Cure for Wellness - Heard on good authority I'd loathe this, but I'm curious
Tulip Fever - All that trouble! All those years! And what do I do? Ignore it.
A United Kingdom - The word-of-mouth really deterred me; I'm not a Piker
The Glass Castle - To different degrees, all three stars are hit-and-miss for me
The Promise - Can't afford to see Oscar in Hamlet, so if this is my chance...
Mark Felt - Why not a real Neeson movie? He could explode the White House!