THE BEST OF DANIEL BARNES 2015

imagesWhen you add up my weekly reviews in the Sacramento News & Review, my work here at E Street Film Society, and my contributions to other print and online publications, I penned over 250 published movie reviews in 2015.  At an average of 300 words a pop, that’s about 75,000 words, or roughly the length of Catcher in the Rye (but where’s my National Book Award?).  Whatever the results, I worked hard on this stuff, so before it all gets dumped into the dustbin of yesteryear, let’s take one last look back at the year in Barnesyard.

10 BEST ESFS-ONLY REVIEWS (ordered by post date – click the title to read my full review)

The Duke of Burgundy (posted on 1/23)
The mot juste: “It’s tempting to label the all-female Burgundy as Strickland’s sex-movie-without-sex  B-side to his violent-movie-without-violence Berberian, especially since both films seem to encode their protagonists’ third-act psychological breakdowns into the DNA of their images.  But Strickland penetrates much deeper into the psyches of his characters here, finding the erotic in the banal, the banal in the erotic, and infinity and insanity between a lover’s knees.”index2

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (posted on 2/3)
The mot juste: “It’s fascinating to see a young Scorsese as a sort of James Mangold-ian director-for-hire, and you can feel him struggling against the limitations of studio filmmaking like a trapped bird, just as Alice frantically and helplessly flaps her arms against the sliding glass door of her suburban prison.  Scorsese takes an intensely personal approach to his films – if he can’t find himself in the material, he can’t envision the movie – and I love that this project forced him to forge an intense personal identification with a complex female character.”

Danny Collins (posted on 3/27)
index11The mot juste: “A teeming mass of quirks, tics, and inexplicable behavior, Danny’s family could have been assembled by a Sundance Film Festival selection committee.  There is the dewy-eyed but inwardly tough pregnant mother, the resentful but sensitive father hiding a Big Secret, and an adorably sass-mouthed moppet named Hope.  They come straight out of Juno’s Buyers Club of Little Miss Station Agents, and the contrivances stack up whenever they’re around.”

Albert Maysles films about Christo/Jeanne-Claude (posted on 5/8)
The mot juste: “Valley Curtain is a perfectly lean concept film, contrasting the safety and tranquility of the studio where Christo meticulously prepares his models and sketches against the unpredictability of the outside world where the final product is constructed. Working in windy conditions, a simple snag in the curtain endangers the lives of the wire workers, but the end result is a remarkable feat of engineering and blue-collar labor in the service of pure whimsy and wonder.”

images3
Paris, Texas (posted on 5/18)
The mot juste: “Wenders doesn’t have a particularly ostentatious style, but there is something dreamy and unreal about the way he lingers over the cinderblock hotel rooms, the stripped orange plastic of truck stop restaurant booths, the neon clutter of roadside signage, and the incessant hum of the freeway. He finds desolation not just in the desert, but in the new-growth trees of the L.A. suburbs, and in the cold, grey metropolis of Houston.”

Live from New York! (posted on 6/12)
The mot juste: “Superficial and self-serving insights abound (“The 70s was great! People used to go to New York to make it!”), anti-establishment hepcats like Bill O’Reilly and Brian Williams and Al Gore attest to the show’s enduring satirical relevance, and every hard-hitting question about the institutionalized racism and sexism at SNL comes with its own readymade apologia and perfectly cherry-picked clip.  Also: 9/11, 9/11, the Twin Towers, 9/11, Rudy Giuliani, 9/11, and 9/11, and did we mention 9/11?”images5

Rosetta (posted on 6/26)
The mot juste: “Rosetta is a study in contrasts – she has the angelic face of a young girl but the broken posture and heavy gait of an old washerwoman; she’s fiercely independent, but in a way that seems more resentful than proud; she wants the unemployment benefits for which she’s ineligible but refuses to collect her rightful welfare; basically, she’s internalized the cruelty and caprice of capitalism.”

Testament of Youth (posted on 7/9)
The mot juste: “It’s an embalmed and humorless slog, an interior design spread masquerading as biography, nothing but a decorative pose of noble suffering. I’m tempted to compare the act of watching Testament of Youth to trudging through a wax museum of war movie clichés, but that makes it seem as though the film might be mildly entertaining. It’s more akin to becoming a wax figure for 129 of the most interminable minutes of your moviegoing life. My experience watching Testament of Youth was exactly how it must have felt like for Han Solo inside of the carbon freeze – a cold, numb, endless waking coma.”index6

The Mend (posted on 9/18)
The mot juste: “Where in the wide world of fucks did this crazy thing come from? First-time writer-director John Magary makes an exhilarating debut with The Mend, an NYC-based comedy of ill manners that exudes a weird, nervous energy from the opening seconds and never relents. I couldn’t shake this film – it persisted in my mind like an stubborn houseguest. It recalls the Coen brothers in its singularity of voice and tone, offering not a new cinematic language but rather a new dialect, simultaneously tense and liberated, gleaming the edge between fussy and shambling, and by the end you feel as though the film has chewed its nails down to the nub.”

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (posted on 9/24)index6
The mot juste: “A series of mordant, magnificently composed blackout sketches shot entirely in a studio, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch feels like Schizopolis directed by Jacques Tati, or a less manic and navel gaze-y Holy Motors, or Stanley Kubrick’s lost Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker comedy, or Monty Python punching up a Peter Greenaway script, or Wes Anderson and Ingmar Bergman flushing their meds for three months and collaborating on an art installation. I’m trying to say that it’s great.”

10 BEST PRINT REVIEWS (ordered by publication date – click the title to read my full review)

American Sniper (published in Sacramento News & Review on 1/15)
indexThe mot juste: “American Sniper possesses the sweep and scope of Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, but very little of that movie’s romantic grandeur. Eastwood is after something smaller and more personal—while Cimino turned the Vietnam War experience into myth, Eastwood undermines the legend of a contemporary American warrior even as he is creating it.”

Focus (published in Sacramento News & Review on 2/26)
The mot juste: “In the moment, it’s an entertaining enough hustle, but scratch the paint and a lot of formulaic chintz starts to show. All of the cinematic “glamour”—the lounge-pop soundtrack and the subdued sky bar lighting and the Out of Sight jump cuts—look as phony as a three-dollar bill, just osmosis of style from dozens of better films. The whole thing unravels the second you step away.”images7

Wild Tales (published in San Antonio Current on 3/25)
The mot juste: “Wild Tales is the revenge film to end all revenge films, a glorious and bonkers blast of visual creativity and storytelling energy, and one of the most purely entertaining films of the year. If the naughty-boy, early-1990s ouevres of Pedro Almodovar and Quentin Tarantino were somehow able to copulate, then Wild Tales would be their sick and beautiful sextuplet offspring.”

Far from the Madding Crowd (published in Sacramento News & Review on 5/14)
The mot juste: “If there’s a quibble with the film, it’s that you can occasionally feel it catch its breath, the sprawling narrative cinched too tight to accommodate an exactly 120-minute running time. It’s a testament to Vinterberg and editor Claire Simpson (Platoon) that the film moves with such relentlessness and precision, without a wasted frame or gratuitous flourish.”images8

Saint Laurent (published in San Antonio Current on 5/28)
The mot juste: “An exposed and soul-sapped Saint Laurent retreats into the narcotic comfort of prescription medication and the lifeless company of ennui-drenched, hard-partying sycophants. While the world outside goes through the wringer of social unrest, Saint Laurent remains sealed in a disco fishbowl ribboned with neon rainbow skies, a blaring temple to “bodies without souls”.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (published in Sacramento News & Review on 6/25)
The mot juste: “This is just about the Sundance-iest Sundance movie that Sundance ever Sundanced, so aggressively quirky and needy and contrived that it makes The Spitfire Grill look like A Woman Under the Influence. Every line, gesture, story beat and camera move might as well have air quotes around it, and yet Gomez-Rejon also insists on plying us with insipid life lessons. It’s like Juno on crystal meth.”index9

Magic Mike XXL (published in Colorado Springs Independent on 7/1)
The mot juste: “While Magic Mike elevated a trashy script by giving it the American Gigolo spiritual ennui treatment, Magic Mike XXL revels in trash, eschewing complex themes and character arcs in favor of low humor and a genial, let’s-put-on-a-show vibe.  Unfortunately, McConaughey didn’t make the return journey, and Magic Mike XXL desperately misses his mystical conviction, or any conviction at all for that matter.”

The End of the Tour (published in Sacramento News & Review on 8/20)
The mot juste: “Unsurprisingly, Jason Segel is getting awards buzz for his performance, but Jesse Eisenberg is even more impressive as Lipsky, the smirking Salieri to Segel’s awkward Amadeus, all needy, nervous laughter and simmering resentment. Their crackling chemistry is essential for a film that finds all of its action in conversation.”

index9
Creed (published in Sacramento News & Review on 11/26)
The mot juste: “Ryan Coogler’s alternately thrilling and deflating Creed marks Sylvester Stallone’s seventh go-round as Philly palooka turned heavyweight champ and Red scourge Rocky Balboa, and it’s easy to see why Stallone can’t quit this character. Despite his checkered background and violent vocation, Rocky stands as the one essentially decent character in Stallone’s entire filmography, all alone on a shelf in a gallery of smug jerks and grim authoritarians.”

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (published in Sacramento News and Review on 12/24)
images11The mot juste: “There’s a cozy familiarity to The Force Awakens—Abrams doesn’t set out to make or break myths, but rather to keep the old myths in circulation. He takes the same irreverently respectful approach to Star Wars that he took to his Star Trek pictures, recycling everything people loved about the originals and adding a half-twist. Abrams isn’t what you would call an “idea machine”—he takes an existing invention and puts a clock in it, and the contents of his magic boxes are never as interesting as the design of the latches.”