Jeff Nichols is in the zone. With just a handful of films, the Little Rock, Arkansas, native has crafted his own busy little pocket of Southern Gothic, spilling over with feuding families (2007’s Shotgun Stories), ordinary people touched with terrible prophecy (2011’s Take Shelter), and the painful limits of self-aware mythologizing (2012’s Mud). Whatever the subject, the writer/director’s movies are all marked by unobtrusive camerawork, unsparing yet respectful looks at blue-collar living, and a few touches of downright weirdness somehow specific to his region. (Shotgun Stories features a father who names his offspring Son, Boy, and Kid, which is something that you can imagine Flannery O’Connor and Harper Lee enthusiastically high-fiving about in the afterlife.) He’s got chops, is what I’m saying.
Midnight Special, Nichols’ latest, continues the director’s winning streak. While on its surface an affectionate throwback to the kid-friendly sci-fi adventures of yesteryear (as the critic Matt Zoller Seitz said on Twitter, if this had been made in the ’80s, it’d never stop playing on HBO), its underlying themes of families under pressure make it very much of a piece with the filmmaker’s other work.
Some movies let you know you’re in good hands with the very first shot. The latest mystery wrapped in an enigma from producer J.J. Abrams, 10 Cloverfield Lane takes an instantly fraught premise and never stops stripping the screws. Within its narrow self-imposed parameters, it’s just about perfect.
Related to the original Cloverfield by mood and background references only (check your nearest message board for exhaustive details), the film follows a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who suffers a horrendous car accident. When she comes to, she finds herself locked down in an underground shelter…
Even when judged on a generous B-movie curve, 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen counts as a whiff, with its base, Die Hard-ish pleasures and hilariously overqualified supporting cast (Morgan Freeman! Melissa Leo!) terminally undercut by shoddy technique. While London Has Fallen is a quantum improvement over its predecessor in most regards—for one thing, it doesn’t appear to have been lit by a single, five-gallon aquarium bulb—the Spirit of Ugly Americanism has, if anything, intensified. Even viewers who are fully able to engage their reptile brains may find themselves taken aback by the pure sociopathic glee with which the hero stabbily dispatches the various villains from Fuckheadistan. Yes, that is an actual term from the movie.
“In the early modern period,” begins Robert Eggers, writer and director of the deeply unsettling The Witch, “the real world and the fairy tale world were the same thing.” It’s an appropriately Once Upon a Time preamble for discussing the film, in which a devouter-than-thou family of New England Puritans venture past the outskirts of civilization, only to attract the attention of a primal—and terrifyingly implacable—force. “These days, the evil witch is more of a Halloween decoration,” Eggers says, “so we have to go back to the 17th century and be in that mindset to believe again. In that time, the idea of an evil witch was a given, like, a tree is a tree, a rock is a rock.”
Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds’ second crack at Marvel’s most in-your-face character (following a forgotten appearance in the misbegotten X-Men Origins: Wolverine) is a terrifically faithful adaptation of some awfully obnoxious source material. If you’re a pre-existing devotee, the film’s nonstop assortment of cartoony assholes and elbows to the ribs might very well make your head pop off in a paroxysm of joy. (Seriously, the employees at the crammed preview screening I attended probably wished they had put down plastic beforehand.)
Many things can be said about Alejandro G. Iñárritu as a filmmaker, but that he’s timid isn’t one of them. The Revenant, the director’s follow-up to Birdman, is as far from a cushy post-Oscar victory lap as one can possibly get, featuring extended takes in hellish locations, stunts seemingly lifted from a snuff film, and well-documented reports of tormented extras. Judged on a scene-by-scene basis, it often feels like one of the most amazing movies ever made, with Emmanuel Lubezki’s breathtaking cinematography capturing every vivid facet of nature’s teeth and claws.
Welcome 2016 with one last look back at the best releases of 2015, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and a few notable Seattle-based film critics.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. The Revenant
4. Ex Machina
6. Steve Jobs
7. Kingsman: The Secret Service
8. Goodnight Mommy
9. The Martian
10. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
(more at The Seattle Times)
1. Clouds of Sils Maria
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
7. 45 Years
10. Ex Machina
And ten more that almost made the list: Brooklyn, Experimenter, Girlhood, Inside Out, It Follows, Love & Mercy, The Martian, Queen & Country, Sicario, Timbuktu
Also lists at Village Voice Film Poll and Keyframe
(in no intending order)
The Big Short
Bridge Of Spies
Also: The Walk, Mr. Holmes
Endings: Phoenix, Carol Disappointments: Spectre, The Hateful 8 Surprises: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Predestination Guilty Pleasure: San Andreas Actors: Nina Hoss (Phoenix), Ronald Zehrfeld (Phoenix), Rooney Mara (Carol), Saorise Ronan (Brooklyn), Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina), Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), Emily Blunt (Sicario), Mark Rylance (Bridge Of Spies), Laura Linney (Mr. Holmes)
Director: Christian Petzold (Phoenix)
Music: Thomas Newman, Bridge of Spies; Carter Burwell, Carol; Howard Shore, Spotlight; Alan Silvestri, The Walk; Andrew Lockington, San Andreas
Bridge of Spies
A second 10: The Walk, Joy, Timbuktu, Love & Mercy, Phoenix, Tab Hunter Confidential, Rosenwald, I’ll See You in My Dreams, The Big Short, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
Most miraculous restoration: The Apu Trilogy.
1. 45 Years
2. Son of Saul
3. Bridge of Spies
5. It Follows
6. Clouds of Sils Maria
7. Ex Machina
8. The Assassin
10. The Duke of Burgundy
The second 10, just missing: The droll Swedish film A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence; Mad Max: Fury Road, maybe not as good as the fanboys say, but definitely good; the straightforwardly lovely Brooklyn; Viggo Mortensen in the magical Jauja; Bone Tomahawk; Mississippi Grind; the devastating documentary The Look of Silence; The Hateful Eight; the pictorially astonishing The Revenant; and—why not—Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
(via Seattle Weekly)
Richard T. Jameson
1. It Follows
2. Clouds of Sils Maria
4. Bridge of Spies
6. The Assassin
7. 45 Years
8. Son of Saul
10. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Close and by all means a cigar: Bone Tomahawk, Brooklyn, Blackhat, Mad Max: Fury Road, Phoenix, Ex Machina, Sicario
Pix: Saiorse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Brooklyn; Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, 45 Years
(via Framing Pictures)
1. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
2. Carol (Todd Haynes)
3. Horse Money (Pedro Costa)
4. Jauja (Lisandro Alonso)
5. The Kindergarten Teacher (Nadav Lapid)
6. Heaven Knows What (Benny and Josh Safdie)
7. The Wonders (Alice Rohrwacher)
8. Arabian Nights (Miguel Gomes)
9. Phoenix (Christian Petzold)
(in alphabetical order)
Diary of a Teenage Girl
Shaun the Sheep Movie
The Third Man/ Tales of Hoffmann
(more at The Seattle Times)
(in no intending order)
Clouds of Sils Maria
Son of Saul
Mad Max: Fury Road / The Assassin
(via Framing Pictures)
3. It Follows
4. The Hateful Eight
5. Welcome to New York
7. Clouds of Sils Maria
9. Queen and Country
10. Maps to the Stars
In my absolute favorite scene of the year Stanley Milgram sits and reads from Speak, Memory the famous opening line of how we’re all our lives suspended between oblivions. Behind him two assistants lower lab equipment into a crate with the professional solemnity of undertakers.
In my second favorite scene a figure loping down a road, dressed in a ridiculous, baggy frog costume complete with bulging eyes, is revealed to be the last-act badass whose coming has been threatened throughout the movie.
One of those films made the list below; the other, Miike’s entertainingly unhinged Yakuza Apocalypse, didn’t quite. But both show off the quality that marks my favorite movies: an apparent legibility that, looked at more closely, resists any definitive reading. The ending of Milgrim’s most famous experiment is framed (literally, through a window that carves another screen inside the screen we’re watching) as a death; but one of the movie’s many points is that lives carry on, quite fulfillingly, after their supposed defining moments have passed. And when the muppet suit comes off there’s another surprise, and a further bad guy to confront.
We’re always told that movies, capturing real people moving through real environments, tend away from the mysterious and toward the concrete in a way that the other arts aren’t hampered. Except the camera’s eye can make even concrete glow with mysteries. I fell in love with the films above for the way they tracked down hallways in prisons and apartments, refusing to distinguish between the two; for the expertly timed closing of a piano lid; for the anxious way its actors clutched fishbowls, and the nonchalance with which they grasped cameras; for clouds roiling down a mountaintop, which you’d think would be beyond a director’s control; for a skyscraper flickering in a dying woman’s eyes. But it’s not just pianos and hallways, fishbowls and clouds and cameras, or even flicker. It never is.
Out of all of Shakespeare’s back catalog, Macbeth has perhaps been the best cinematically served, with such Hall of Famers as Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, and Roman Polanski applying their distinctive worldviews to the material. (Polanski’s 1971 version, his first film following the death of Sharon Tate, is still an amazingly tangible, all-encompassing ode to mud and blood and smoke and shit.) From the first frames of relative newcomer Justin Kurzel’s adaptation, it becomes apparent that his method of putting his stamp on the prose is to, well, ruthlessly pare away much of the prose. While the Big Scenes are rendered with a ravishing starkness, the connective tissue that’s allowed to remain tends to fall away into a low-toned dirge. Even those viewers unfamiliar with the source material may sometimes feel like they’re flipping through a brutally gorgeous set of CliffsNotes.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s most famous creation has withstood all manner of affronts to its dignity over the years, ranging from Abbott & Costello to nuclear pink cereal to Robert De Niro seemingly doing an impression of Curley from the Three Stooges. This one, though, boy, I dunno.
Despite a lively titular performance from James McAvoy, Victor Frankensteincomes off as sloppily paced, overly knowing, and mostly inadvertently hilarious in its naked attempts to shape the source material to appeal to the kids these days, with their origin stories and shared cinematic universes and whatnot. This Dr. Frankenstein knows parkour.
The farther he moves away from temples of doom, altered suburbs, and shooting stars, the easier it is to somehow underestimate Steven Spielberg. (Yes, yes, Crystal Skull, I know.) Even at his most earthbound, though, the filmmaker’s basic chops still reside somewhere in the realm of the freakily supernatural. When he’s cooking, there’s nobody else who can do quite what he does.
Bridge of Spies, Spielberg’s first film since 2012’s Lincoln, is an exceptional job of work—a deliberately old-fashioned hybrid of courtroom drama and Cold War skullduggery that’s so expertly put together that you may not realize the beauty of its construction until after the fact.