SPOTLIGHT

February 10, 2016

In my flurry of activity to make some blog updates before choosing my Top Ten films of the year, I recollect that I never wrote about Spotlight, which will undoubtedly make my list of favorite films.

Journalists have taken a beating in recent years, and our polarizing political times filled with commentators spouting off 24/7 is no small part of the problem. This film champions the best of them working to uncover truths and right wrongs, which is a story sorely needed to valorize the profession and bring some balance into public perception.

spotlight

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CAROL

February 10, 2016

It so happens that I saw Brooklyn one afternoon in December and saw Carol that same evening.

One is lovely, even sweet, and I enjoyed it. The other is brilliant, and it is best appreciated within a larger context.

One is nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. The other has (in my opinion) been snubbed.

Carol

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45 YEARS

February 10, 2016

I can’t remember seeing a film that moved me so profoundly or worked for me so perfectly as 45 Years since…well…since a few weeks ago when I saw Mustang, but both are exceptional movies despite the short time between my experience of them.

Both of them also speak to my predilection for intimate dramas that reveal the interiority of characters and unfold in realistic episodes, what I like to think of as non-traditional (feminine rather than Aristotelian) narrative structures encased in a style that feels artless but actually reflects a series of conscious choices and understated but evocative craft.

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THE HATEFUL EIGHT and THE REVENANT

February 10, 2016

It occurs to me — as I sort through the movies I watched over the last year in preparation for naming my Top Ten — that I never wrote about The Hateful Eight.

I didn’t start out as a Quentin Tarantino hater and still like Reservoir Dogs and, to a lesser degree, Pulp Fiction.

But, I admit it:  I put off seeing The Hateful Eight until I couldn’t dodge the bullet any longer.

Hateful Eight

This semester, I’m teaching a seminar on Deadwood and The Western. I think David Milch’s HBO series is important and brilliant in its way (why else a course built around it?), so don’t call me squeamish or label me a traditionalist who hates modifications to the genre.

In fact, revisionist Westerns are among my very favorites.

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THEEB

February 10, 2016

This simple, well-told story is the first Jordanian film nominated for an Academy Award (Best Foreign Language Film).

Set during World War I in the deserts of Southern Jordan, the narrative follows a young Bedouin boy and his older brother as they escort a British officer and an Arab to a secret location.

Is it a coming of age film, a war film, a take on the Western, or a little Hero’s Journey? Perhaps it is not quite any of those things or a bit more than all of them.

Theeb is the name of the main character, and his performance in this small film is a large part of what gives it such heart and implied scope. Beautifully crafted and worth seeing.

THEEB

 


MUSTANG

January 21, 2016

I saw Mustang – nominee for Best Foreign Language Film this year – two days ago and absolutely cannot stop thinking about it.

One of the things, among many, that I continue to wonder is how much men actually think about the interior and exterior conditions of women’s lives. And, in an analogous thread, how much do women possessing various forms of privilege think about the lives of other women who have much less autonomy. I don’t think people who see this film will be able to avoid those thoughts about the daily lives of others, which may ignite some much-needed empathy in unlikely places.

Set in a conservative village in Turkey, Mustang follows five, orphaned sisters through a critical period over one summer and fall.

Mustang

An incident occurs at the beginning of the film that seems at first like innocent – if sensual – horseplay after school. But, the consequences of that escapade frame the remainder of the film in ways that are personally moving and also provide an important window for viewers to see and understand the constraints that mark the lives of women across many different cultures.

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TRUMBO

December 22, 2015

What a pleasure for movie buffs – a wonderful film focusing on Dalton Trumbo during the period he when was questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee for his involvement in communist politics, jailed, and blacklisted from screenwriting for the Hollywood studios.

Bryan Cranston plays Trumbo, Helen Mirren channels Hedda Hopper with more viciousness than Cruella de Vil, and a slew of lesser known actors bring even more famous names into the act.

Trumbo

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