2014 END-OF-YEAR CRAMFEST CAPSULES, PART II

like-father-like-sonSunday, November 23

American Sniper (Dir.: Clint Eastwood) Reviewed for the Colorado Springs Independent on 1/21/2015.

Monday, November 24

Only Lovers Left Alive (Dir.: Jim Jarmusch; GRADE: B+) This was a rewatch – here is my original review; the sentiments expressed were generally unaltered by a second viewing, although I realize now that I slightly botched the implication of Hiddleston’s “sands at the bottom of the hourglass” quote.

Like Father, Like Son (Dir.: Hirokazu Koreeda; GRADE: B) A slight but not-as-sentimental-as-it-sounds human drama from the director of After Life and Still Walking.  A wealthy, workaholic father’s ambivalent feelings towards his six year-old only son are further confused when he learns that the boy is not really his, and that his “real”, switched-at-birth son has been raised by a family of working-class slobs.  Do they keep the children they raised, or switch them back?  Koreeda just barely walks the tightrope between wise introspection and sappy artifice, but as the film played out, I was already imagining Ben Affleck as the father in an awful American remake.  It’s available now on Netflix Instant.index2

A Most Violent Year (Dir.: J.C. Chandor) Reviewed for the SN&R on 1/29/15.

The Homesman (Dir.: Tommy Lee Jones; GRADE: A-) *** Reviewed for the SN&R on 12/04/14.

Tuesday, November 25

The Overnighters (Dir.: Jesse Moss; GRADE: A-) One of the best documentaries of the year, a deeply personal and moving look at a North Dakota preacher who devotes his church to housing itinerant workers attracted by the state’s oil boom.  No tidy hero worship or political soapboxing here, but rather a nuanced and devastating view of homelessness, as well as the high costs of compassion and self-denial.  My #2 documentary of 2014.

Honeymoon (Dir.: Leigh Janiak; GRADE: B+) The smart, low-budget horror chiller that I had hoped The Babadook would be, a disturbing and slyly witty story of newlyweds honeymooning at a lonely cabin in the woods.  That’s a familiar set-up, but rather than getting terrorized by an outside menace, they are torn apart from within.  It appears to the husband (Harry Treadaway) that the wife (Rose Leslie) has been possessed or replaced, an amusing but never too cheeky extension of the fear that marriage changes people.  The film is fully realized on a miniscule budget; Adam Wingard may have all the Hollywood outsider buzz, but Leigh Janiak has the chops.

imagesVirunga (Dir.: Orlando von Einsiedel; GRADE: B) Like last month’s E-Team, this is another slick and stirring Netflix exclusive documentary.  This one is about the Virunga National Park in Congo, home to the last of the mountain gorillas, and about the brave and devoted rangers who risk their lives to protect the land from poachers, oil companies, and warring military factions.  It’s available now on Netflix Instant.

The Skeleton Twins (Dir.: Craig Johnson; GRADE: C) Serviceable lead performances from Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader aside, this is a perfect encapsulation of every pejorative thing that pops into your head when you think of “a Sundance movie”.  The film got a lot of attention for a scene in which Wiig and Hader’s characters bond by lip-synching in their living room, but I quite preferred this version.

Happy Valley (Dir.: Amir Bar-Lev; GRADE: A-) My #3 documentary of 2014.

THE-SKELETON-TWINS-r3-1-1-2.JPGYoung and Beautiful (Dir.: Francois Ozon; GRADE: B-) Or: Blue is the Lukewarmest Color.  I find that I am simultaneously tantalized and disappointed by most of the Ozon films that I have seen (the scabrous 5X2 notwithstanding), and this low-key tale of sexual awakening is no exception.  It’s available now on Netflix Instant.

Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger (Dir.: Joe Berlinger; GRADE: B)  A solid documentary about the “Whitey” Bulger trial in Boston, a seeming slam-dunk case against the former gang leader, murderer, and longtime fugitive that became problematic for the government when Bulger grew more concerned with defending his reputation than his innocence.  Engrossing on a narrative level, but only perfunctory as cinema.  It’s available now on Netflix Instant.