2015 End-of-Year Cramfest Capsules, Part III

indexBy Daniel Barnes

More coffee-fueled palaver about meaningless awards and reductive categorizations?  No problemo! Click HERE for Part I and HERE for Part II of the Cramfest, and strap yourself in for a jam-packed Part III.

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 25

Love & Mercy ***REWATCH*** (Dir.: Bill Pohlad; GRADE: B+)

The only real change from my original assessment of this Brian Wilson biopic is that I severely underrated Paul Giamatti’s performance, probably because he’s playing the same sort of splenetic sociopath we’ve seen him do dozens of times. After this film and Straight Outta Compton, though, can any young, aspiring musician ever trust Paul Giamatti again?  If I could nominate ten actors per category, Giamatti, Paul Dano, John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks would all make the cut; but limited to five, they’ll probably all get left off my ballots.

Janis: Little Girl Blue (Dir.: Amy Berg; GRADE: B)

Pretty square in its construct, but light-footed in the execution, and very sincere in its attempt to clear away the bullshit legends and find the real Janis.  Through a careful selection of interview subjects and a goldmine of Joplin photographs, clips and personal effects, the film shows us not just Janis the heedless white-soul belter, but Janis the daughter, sister, girlfriend and friend, the thoughtful and introspective woman who was mercilessly bullied as a child, saved by rock and roll as a teenager, and killed by heroin at the age of 27.  A solid emotional and musical experience.index2

The Duke of Burgundy ***REWATCH*** (Dir.: Peter Strickland; GRADE: A-)

No real changes from my original assessment, although a second viewing may have nudged supporting player Chiara D’Anna into my top 5.  One of the top 10 films of 2015.

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 26

Jurassic World ***REWATCH*** (Dir.: Colin Trevorrow; GRADE: B+)

My original assessment of Colin Trevorrow’s franchise-reviver was un-enthusiastically favorable, but I had even more ridiculous, regressive fun with a belly full of Thanksgiving turkey and barrel-aged beer.  I’ve been complaining for years that not enough movies feature a Tyrannosaurus Rex as the hero, and the film’s insane ending sequences set the table for the Jurassic movies to move in a Planet of the Apes-like direction.

The Second Mother (Dir.: Anna Muylaert; GRADE: B+)

Mike Dub covered the film well in his ESFS review, although I enjoyed it slightly more than him. The film plays like a decaffeinated Almodovar, wisely insidious and restrained where Almodovar is often wild and impetuous. Regina Case gives a stunning and utterly convincing performance as a domestic servant who has spent her life raising another couple’s child instead of her own, although she’ll probably fail to make my ballots in a crowded year for Best Actress candidates.

index.3jpgFRIDAY, NOVEMBER 27

Far from Men (Dir.: David Oelhoffen; GRADE: B-)

After Jauja, the second best 2015 movie in which Viggo Mortensen wanders a barren landscape speaking a foreign tongue. A bone-dry “adventure” with revisionist western overtones, as an Algerian-born white man (Mortensen) is tasked with delivering a prisoner to a faraway fort, all while dodging increasingly violent rebels and an unforgiving environment.  Decent but fairly unmemorable.

The Wonders (Dir.: Alba Rohrwacher; GRADE: B)

The moody, low-fi flipside to the brash rebel yell of Mustang, another story of womanhood flowering in patriarchal soil.  While the adolescent daughter of a fiercely independent beekeeper slob dreams of a world beyond the dilapidated family farm, the discomforting realities of her life conspire to frustrate her petty ambitions.  Quietly engrossing in the early scenes, with a third-act narrative wrench that I never saw coming.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (Dir.: Stanley Nelson; GRADE: B-)

A solidly constructed but determinedly unspectacular history lesson about the Black Panthers, told with great enthusiasm by the surviving members (and in a few cases, by the cops, politicians and spooks who violently opposed them).  Inspiring and timely, but also stuffy and vain in the by-now familiar Boomer doc style, to the point that it might as well be called The Black Panthers: We Were the Coolest People to Ever Save the World, Just Don’t Get Me Started on These Kids Today.index4

Bridge of Spies (Dir.: Steven Spielberg; GRADE: B+)

Impeccable craft and vision from top to bottom, and consistently riveting even when Spielberg predictably indulges in his Franklin Mint-worthy views on American history.  Sturdy work by lead actor Tom Hanks, brilliant work by supporting actor Mark Rylance, and unlike in last year’s awful Unbroken, you can actually hear the voices of co-screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen in the finished product.  Check out my updated Steven Spielberg Power Rankings HERE.

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 28

Legend (Dir.: Brian Helgeland; GRADE: B-)

Tom Hardy might be the only actor alive who could make a movie this slapdash and predictable into required viewing.  He plays twin brothers Reginald and Ronald Kray, ruthless gangsters who ruled London during the swinging sixties, and delivers two distinct but rhyming performances.  Just try to imagine a Colin Firth or Eddie Redmayne type (or perhaps even worse, a Jason Statham or Vinnie Jones type) in the role and you’ll understand how essential Hardy is here.  The rest of the film is problematic as fuck.

In Jackson Heights (Dir.: Frederick Wiseman; GRADE: A-)

index7In an era dominated by documentaries that begin with a conclusion and then structure the rest of the film around reaching it, the let-the-camera-roll patience and empathetic discovery of Frederick Wiseman feels more and more like a luxurious throwback.  A great chronicler of institutions, Wiseman plants us in the Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights, a community that proudly boasts of its unprecedented diversity, and fights hard to maintain its local character.  Over the course of three quietly riveting hours, Wiseman shows us the best that democracy has to offer, and the best that documentaries have to offer as well.

Eden (Dir.: Mia Hansen-Love; GRADE: B-)

A low-pulse, strangely disaffected alternate history of the French EDM movement, following the lives and loves a handsomely expressionless suburban DJ who comes of age right across from Daft Punk.  It’s a pretty classic rise/fall music industry parable, but it’s all trappings and no drama, curiously watchable as window dressing and yet never more than superficially involving.

Listen to Me Marlon ***REWATCH*** (Dir.: Stevan Riley; GRADE: A-)index

A second viewing only confirmed my original assessment: mesmerizing; enlightening; disturbing; deeply personal. The best documentary of 2015.

Check out my updated rankings of every 2015 NYC theatrical release HERE, and come back later this week for the fourth and final edition of the 2015 End-of-Year Cramfest!