Tuesday, December 30, 2014

This was my movie life in 2014.

Forthwith: the movies I saw in 2014, and what I thought of them. 

But first, a brief explanation of my scientific method of reviewing movies:

no stars: I saw this movie. I thought this and that about it. I cannot officially recommend it with any stars, although I may in fact have enjoyed it for reasons which I share. Or I may despise it. You'll just have to read to see. 
ê: I thought this film was good. It's worth seeing! It may not be the very best film I saw this year, but I liked it and recommend it.
êê: I thought this film was very good. In my decidedly low and flexible system of evaluation, I may designate a flaw or two. Or maybe it's like when I give a student an 85 instead of an 87. I have my reasons, okay? Which I may or may not share with you. It's a mystery, like why the moon is made of green cheese or why the Academy still has not given Leonardo DiCaprio an award.
êêê: The film in question is the best of the best of the best, sir.

According to my super-organized filmgoing records (not really a thing), these are all the films I saw during the 2014 calendar year:

êêThe Wolf of Wall Street: I thought this was a flawed masterpiece. Masterpiece because it does more than you think it's doing--sickens you, for instance, and wearies you--and the film does this even while you think you're enjoying it. Flawed, because even though it uses overkill as a tool to do what it does to you, it is nonetheless still overkill. I think this three hour spectacle could have been two and half hours easily, and I know which thirty minutes to cut. Even so, even so: I will not soon forget some of the scenes, most memorably that in which the FBI, in the righteous form of Kyle Chandler (and some other guy), comes aboard Leonardo's / Jordan's yacht and a battle of quien es mas macho ensues. We might not know the outcome of this battle until the very end, but when the FBI finally busts the crooks, I have seldom been so relieved in a theatrical experience. That's some serious filmmaking, there. Kudos to all for terrific performances, and for a film that despite its considerable excesses, has nonetheless stuck with me in a serious way.

47 Ronin: Why? Why did I see this, and why did I want to? Is it too much to ask that Keanu Reeves have a role that perfectly matches up with his idiosyncratic gifts as an actor, which I confess I do love? Well, this was not good, it must be said. But I wasn't sorry I got to see Keanu as a self-sacrificing warrior, even in a movie as silly as this one.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Special effects of this movie that I admired: Ben Stiller skateboarding in various circumstances. A great, still performance by Sean Penn, supposedly in some Afghanistanian mountains (I think). A snow leopard, maybe. Kirsten Wiig singing "Space Oddity" in a village in Greenland. This is a movie that doesn't quite work logically, but it had moments of great beauty that sometimes substituted effectively for those lapses. Beautiful soundtrack.

êêêThe Great Beauty: Well, I cannot lie and say I remember everything about why I loved this movie, but I can say this: Toni Servillo gives a performance of complete attunement to his environment, every little thing in it, and his environment is: ROME. This film makes you want to open your eyes, your mind, your perception, your pores to life, and it is, in fact, a film of great beauty in the most robust sense of this word.

êêêStories We Tell: I finally saw this on Netflix after several people had recommended it. In fact, I had had every intention of seeing it, but for whatever reason did not when it was in the theater. It is smart and thoughtful and moving and driven by a restless question: how do we change--if we do--when the story we've told ourselves of who we are has changed? There's nothing else quite like this film, and I highly recommend it.

êGloria: This is the kind of film the historian loves: an intimate and intelligent drama about people living lives that feel real. In this case, a woman who is single, middle-aged, whose children are grown, and who wants a full life with love and things to do. She falls in love, has disappointments, picks herself up again. There is paintball action, but it is not whimsical. (I don't think that was a spoiler.) Come to think of it, this is the kind of film that *I* love. It was good.

êêLego Movie: Who can deny that this movie is splendid? Lively, funny, full of awesome sight gags and other higher-ordered wit. I got to see this once with one grandson, and once with two other grandsons. I'd see it again in a heartbeat.

The Monuments Men: Jeez, what a disappointment. Smug and pompous. And I think you know how I feel about George Clooney. George: Get a grip! This is not the kind of thing that a guy with your capabilities oughta be doing. Or, here's another way of looking at it: couldn't someone have made a more entertaining, less didactic, more fluid film out of this story than this? How about the George Clooney who made Confessions of a Dangerous Mind? GEORGE get a grip and make a better movie.

êThe Lunchbox: I liked this so much. Full of genuine romance and emotion, and sharp, and interesting. Also, my son was living in Mumbai, where the lunchbox system actually works in real life, when we saw this. I felt attuned to it and I recommend it.

êêêThe Grand Budapest Hotel: maybe my favorite movie of the year. Maybe. Here's what the film has to recommend it: a bunch of wonderful performances. Ralph Fiennes may seriously never have been better. I think of his performance as a masterpiece of comedic acting, and it will be a crime--a CRIME I say!--if it is not nominated for a slew of awards. (Insert diatribe about how comedies are always, always overlooked come awards time, and it is a crime, a CRIME I say!, that this is so.) Also: Tilda Swinton with crooked lipstick and crooked hair as an elderly lady. The list goes on. This film is wonderful and full of delights and is not to be missed.

êêVeronica Mars: (a) Veronica Mars the television show was a prize and ended far too soon. RIP. (b) the story of how Veronica Mars the movie got funded--i.e., through a fan-based Kickstarter--is one of my favorite things ever. (c) this movie probably does not deserve two stars on the merits. But it deserves two stars because: Veronica, Logan, Weevil, Wallace, Mac, Keith, and Dick Casablancas (looking exactly like the surfers of my own SoCal youth would have looked ten years after high school graduation) all show up for the party, tell me a story, and give me a romance that completes some primal longing I didn't know I was feeling. A+, Veronica Mars-ers. A+.

Noah: What a crazy bunch of Biblical folderol. Yet watchable. Noah, it turns out, has a death complex. However, the world was cleansed by a flood and so, you know, there's that. In conclusion, Jennifer Connelly.

êCesar Chavez: This biopic was maybe a little preachy, but it was also pretty durn good. It inspired me to learn a little more about Cesar Chavez, and that was a good thing. It also reminded me again--we always need to be reminded, why is that?--that change requires people to organize. Organizing isn't a one-time thing, it's a forever thing. It requires energy and it requires commitment. To remind the viewer of that political and rhetorical fact is a pretty good thing for a film to do. Nice lead performance by Michael Pena, too.

Draft Day: I cannot resist a sports movie. I'm pretty sure that there was some worthier film--possibly a foreign film--that I missed because I picked the sports movie over whatever that worthy film was. Also, it's hard for me to resist Kevin Costner in a sports movie. Just fyi. This movie, however, was not so awesome. Poky in its pacing, a lot of 'who cares?' in the plotting. Kevin Costner in wooden-mode. So, I made a mistake, probably. Full disclosure. Just keeping it real here in the year-end movie roundup.

êêLocke: Who would believe that you could make a compelling movie of a guy driving for 90 minutes (less than that--85 minutes!) and talking on his cell phone? Other characters basically appear, if they do, as voices on the other end of the phone. That is to say, the entire movie takes place in the car. Well, such a movie is possible when you have the secret weapon of Tom Hardy as the driver and cell phone talker. This movie works pretty much perfectly. 

êBelle: Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson are the mom and the dad (or rather, the great uncle and great aunt) of the mixed race child of Matthew Goode, who has died, leaving the child with these relatives to be raised. In England. This is, at least in some factual way, a true story, or true-ish. Anyway, in the way of dramas set in the late eighteenth century, with principled, headstrong girls as their protagonists, this movie was enjoyable and stirring. And: Tom Wilkinson. And Emily Watson. And (briefly) Matthew Goode.

êêêIda: Beautiful, austere, still, full of terrible discovery and yet meditative in tone. Set in 1960s Poland, it's driven by two perfect performances, the characters a niece and an aunt. The niece wants to take her vows to become a nun, but first must meet her only relative, an aunt, a Communist and an atheist, embittered by the past and her role in it. They take a journey together to make the past speak. This is one of the most fully realized films I have ever seen. It is splendid, and it must be seen. David Denby wrote a very good review of it, and by "very good," I mean "correct," and not "entirely wrong-headed," which is what I usually think about David Denby and his reviews.

Chef: Entirely enjoyable, full of good food and redemption. Which was fine by me, because it also contained a scene in which Jon Favreau and John Leguizamo sing "Sexual Healing," one of the all time great songs, in a food truck careening down the highway. If all you ask of your movies is that they be as enjoyable as a really good sandwich, I think you might enjoy this.

Million Dollar Arm: Sports movie, Jon Hamm, India goes to America. Workaholic learns to relax a little and value the people. Indian boys make good in American baseball. A curry dinner saves the (romantic) day. Lake Bell (object of romance) and Aasif Mandvi (business partner). This is all okay with me. It's possible that I have watched it twice? Can that be right?

êX-Men: Days of Future Past: I saw this with my friend, and it entirely redeemed a small professional disappointment I had had that day, which makes it aces in my book. Frankly, I'm pretty happy when Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy show up for anything at all, and it's icing on the cake with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. I can't really remember what happened in this movie--there is a time-bending element, I'm pretty sure, and that's pretty cool. Also this scene. So: this is a fine, fine blockbuster of the superhero persuasion (X-Men subcategory), and I bet you've already seen it, so really what I'm saying is: if you like this kind of thing, the movie is an excellent specimen of it.

Words and Pictures: It's Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, two of the very best looking, sexiest, most talented people on the planet, playing a writing teacher (writer, sort of) and art teacher/painter, respectively. Will they/won't they? And what about the kids (high school students)? I can't believe that someone couldn't come up with a better movie for all this star power. But I went, didn't I? That's why they don't, maybe?

Maleficent: Angelina Jolie wears the horned hat beautifully. And her heart is softened. That is all.

The Fault In Our Stars: Super sad, with sweet sick kids. The most wonderful thing in this movie, and the thing that did seriously feel heartbreaking to me, was Laura Dern as Shailene Woodley's mom. Also, Willem Dafoe plays the author of a book the Woodley character loves, who is a serious jerk, thus adding to the tradition of authors who are monumentally flawed human beings. In case you're keeping track. I liked this movie and I certainly cried at it.

Rio 2: I went to this with a giant swath of grandkids and I believe I fell asleep during part of it. Beautiful animation. Jesse Eisenberg plays an anxious bird, thus adding another to his list of roles in which he plays anxious guys.

êEdge of Tomorrow: I'm not quite sure why I feel this way, but I kind of love a movie in which Tom Cruise is entirely successful, and this is that movie. Also starring a badass Emily Blunt. So, pretty much a perfect summer action movie which I enjoyed without reservation.

êêObvious Child: Jenny Slate, who plays Jean-Ralphio's sister Mona-Lisa on Parks and Recreation (Jean-Ralphio says that "Mona-Lisa's the worst person in the world"), comes up with this beautiful gem of a film. It's a romantic comedy, but it's also about growing up and making adult choices, which aren't easy and are sometimes painful. Gaby Hoffman is perfect as her best friend. I loved this. 

êHow To Train Your Dragon II: These dragon-training movies are the best. First of all, dragons in regular life. Second of all, super Vikings. Massive hairstyles and superb metal hats. This one has a rediscovered mother and the hero must face his dragon's full dragon-o-city. It's good and I loved it.

êSnowpiercer: I feel lucky that I got my youngest son to consent to see this with me. It was wild and madly inventive and super-violent and disturbing, but also really good. I read an article somewhere that detailed all the greatest scenes in this year's movies, and one of them, the classroom scene, was in Snowpiercer. I found this movie visually riveting. Recommended. 

Begin Again: second film from the Once guy. Not as good, not really, but still enjoyable. A lot of self-righteously passionate pontificating by Mark Ruffalo, but that was okay with me. I loved Keira Knightley in it, and I thought what's his name from Maroon 5--Adam Levine--was entirely believable as a pop star who had a hard time getting over himself. I enjoyed the music. The end.

êêêBoyhood: Another movie that I've never seen anything like, and neither have you. My daughter swears that this movie lasted twelve years, which is the span of years over which it was made. I thought that it had the feel and texture and smells and ache of life to it. The parents, played by a never-better Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, were especially splendid. I loved this film and would say that you, dear reader, should not not not miss it. In other words: see see see it!

êêGuardians of the Galaxy: As much fun as it is possible to have at the movies, I think. With a terrific 70s soundtrack that made me feel happy at every turn. For real, I wish I could see this again for the first time all over again. Chris Pratt was a complete and total delight.

êThe Rover: Guy Pearce playing a relentless machine of a human, hell bent on getting his stolen car back in a post-apocalypic Australia. Like a dustier, darker, less hopeful Mad Max, with not as cool outfits. On the way, he picks up a weirdly dysfunctional Robert Pattinson, in a weirdly affecting performance, who has been abandoned by his bad brother. Bad people, in fact, abound in this movie. Why does Guy Pearce want his car back so bad? It is for the saddest of reasons. This was compelling and very well made.

Wish I Was Here: Do you like Scrubs? Did you like Zach Braff in Garden State? This movie was tailor made for you if you can answer yes to either or both of those questions. This movie is not a success, not really, but it had three perfect things in it: Mandy Patinkin as the very difficult father of Zach; Kate Hudson as Zach's long-suffering wife; and Jim Parsons, in a tiny little part that he nails perfectly. So, you know. Heartwarming and Zach Braff'd up. If that's your thing. I find Zach Braff, particularly in this mode, to be a little unbearable, but I will remember the film for the three other things.

êêA Most Wanted Man: One of Philip Seymour Hoffman's last performances. This is a small spy movie that is, in my opinion, perfectly realized. I loved it. Very sharp, and it serves as a reminder, as if we needed one, of why it is so very sad that PSH is gone.

êCalvary: I also loved this film, although I thought it was flawed, a bit. A priest gets a confession that is also a death threat  having to do with the previous sexual abuse of a parishioner, when he was a child, by a (different, long ago) priest. As the priest, played by Brendan Gleeson, goes through his week, he encounters all the people with whom he regularly meets, without knowing for sure who it is that has threatened him. The film has a slightly schematic feel to it, but truthfully almost all of that is discharged by the way Gleeson lives in his performance. He is one of my favorite actors for this reason. His daughter is played by Kelly Reilly, in a lovely performance. 

Get On Up: Fairly standard biopic, interesting if a little long. Chadwick Boseman should be liberated from biopics, because he is a compelling performer. Here, he's James Brown, dancing and lip-synching up a storm. Craig Robinson is Maceo Parker, if you like to keep track of these things.

êRich Hill: This was a not perfect but still affecting documentary about three boys growing up poor in a small Missouri town. When we saw it, I thought it made a perfect companion to Boyhood. It is a compelling document about what poverty means day to day to children and families in America.

The Hundred Foot Journey: Winsome and adorable, maybe a little bit too much so. But Helen Mirren can take the too-sweet right out of things, and thus, this was fun to watch even so. It made me want to go to France. And eat Indian food. Which I did, in the second case, and I will, in the first, if I can find enough quarters in my couch cushions.

What If: Gaa, why is it so hard to make a romantic comedy? Zoe Kazan and Daniel Radcliffe are the friends who should be more than that, but other people blah blah blah i won't *say* what happens, but you know what happens, don't you? Well, don't you? I forgot that Adam Driver was in this movie, and he made up for a lot of the blah blah blah. He is the best (see: This is Where I Leave You.).

Step Up All In: All I can say is, thank God for dance movies, and especially for the Step Ups. I remain firm in my conviction that Step Up 2: The Streets (don't forget to pronounce the colon) is the best of them, but the nice thing is, the girl from 2 returns and dances with/falls for (spoiler?) the boy from 4, which works out pretty darn well, dancing-wise. I guess what I'm saying here is, just rent (or buy--you might need it for a rainy day!) Step Up 2: The Streets (don't forget to pronounce the colon). It is the best and will truly satisfy all your dance movie needs, probably forever or until the reincarnation of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, and Gregory Hines.

êThe Trip to Italy: The original The Trip, starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, is better. Let's get that out of the way first. However, what made The Trip wonderful is also what makes this quite wonderful, which is banter and competitive impressionizing, the specter of other people eating really delicious food, the melancholy of all existence. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then I suggest you arrange for a two-fer viewing. Salutary and delicious.

êêThe Drop: This was one of my favorites of the year. Just a plain, straight up, noirish thriller, starring an impeccable Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, and Noomi Rapace (that's right--all of them impeccable), plus a puppy, plus a menacing Mathias Schoenaerts and other assorted thugs. It's good and if it's maybe a little bit by the book, as noir films go, so what? A by the book but well-executed thriller is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. As is Tom Hardy, and I am not kidding around there.

êThis is Where I leave You: This movie has too many people in it. And some of the writing isn't all that great. But it has Tina Fey, it has Jason Bateman, it has Corey Stoll and Kathryn Hahn and Rose Byrne and good Lord, it has Timothy freaking Olyphant, AND it has Ben Schwartz, aka Jean-Ralphio, as a rabbi. A family, led by Jane Fonda (!) is sitting shiva for the death of the father. Wisecracking, family crisis, and shenanigans ensue. Also heartbreak and romance. Also misunderstandings galore. BUT I still really loved it. You'll have to discount my star by a factor of whatever you deem reasonable, given the overkill that all of the above implies. Still, just wait: there's Adam Driver as the baby brother who is kind of a mess, and who is dating the inappropriate and still very sexy Connie Britton. Is this better or worse? I say better, and why not enjoy a movie that's a little bit of a mess, when there's still so much goodness? (that last sentence is basically the encapsulation of my movie-going credo, if you want to know.)

The Skeleton Twins: I was mad at the ending of this movie. I won't tell you what it is, but it made me mad. So I am not giving it a star, even though I really liked a lot of things in the movie, especially the chemistry between the two stars, and also the very good performance by Ty Burrell. Bill Hader is, it must be said, a bit of a revelation in this role. Fine, I'll give it a star. But only at the end of the review, because I had to talk myself into it.  ê

êThe BoxTrolls: Such cool animation from Laika, the house that also brought you Coraline and ParaNorman, both fine films in their own right. This story was a bit on the dark side for children, as I well know, since I took three grandsons. I loved its meditation on the lust for status and the loathing of difference, and found the trolls themselves, who wear, live, and sleep in the titular boxes, to be utterly and completely charming.

êGone Girl: This story--I say story because it's not the movie that I'm talking about, it's the story itself--is whack. It is a fever dream of a crazy person's nightmare of a marriage. So, that. While I was watching this movie, though, I felt all the sick pleasures of it, and the critical part of my brain--the part that actually does the thinking--only really engaged toward the end of it. Before that, I reveled in Rosamund Pike's beauty and Ben Affleck's perfectly performed lunkishness; Tyler Perry's sharp guy lawyer; Kim Dickens as the methodical detective and Patrick "Almost Famous" Fugit as her partner; and Carrie Coon as Ben Affleck's loyal sister. It was an enjoyable film, while it lasted.

êThe Tale of Princess Kayuga: One more beautiful film from Studio Ghibli. It didn't have the same gorgeous embroidery as Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, but it was beautiful all the same, and affecting in ways I hadn't predicted. Take a child and see it.

êKill the Messenger: I hoped this movie would be as good as, like, American Hustle. Instead, it was a fairly straightforward and earnest movie, but I loved Jeremy Renner's journalist, working for the small town paper and getting screwed by the lying liars in SpyWorld-Inc., as well as fellow journalists who published disinformation that discredited him. It addresses the charge that was in some large measure substantiated that the CIA allowed crack cocaine to flood into poor neighborhoods of U.S. cities, in return for a means to funnel money to the Contras in Nicaragua. The film was complex and required you to pay attention. It reminded me of how fully infuriating all that was during that time period, how infuriating it remains. 

St. Vincent: What can I say, except that there were plenty of things I completely enjoyed about this film, even though it was, at some level, full enough of implausibilities that the enjoyment itself became unsustainable...until the next enjoyable thing erased my implausibility scorecard and I had to start all over again. Bill Murray is basically an awesome special comedy effect. There is an amazing sustained bit of footage that shows while the final credits are rolling. It involves a garden hose, a lawn chair, headphones and a Bob Dylan tune. You get that as both a teaser and a reward.

êêThe Homesman: I read some reviews about this film that accused it of being too square. Or maybe that's something one of my discerning friends said. But I found it devastating and beautiful, and its squareness, if that's what you'd call a traditional style employed in the service of telling a deceptively traditional story, was part of that devastating beauty. The two central performances, Tommy Lee Jones as a scoundrel saved from hanging, and Hillary Swank as a woman bringing three women who have lost their senses and themselves out on the plains back to a more settled town. Anyone who saw The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada will know not to expect the film to follow a steady path. Still, it surprised me more than once, and it broke my heart.

êêêWhiplash: I just keep begging everyone I know to see this film. Everyone! See this! If you're a musician or artist of any kind. If you're a teacher of musicians or artists. If you have ever gone to school, or think you might go to school, or live near a school. See this movie. It has a couple of excesses, but the film also puts its excesses to good use. Miles Teller plays an aspiring jazz drummer, a freshman at music school; J.K. Simmons plays a bandleader and teacher. Their agon is electric and toxic and unforgettable. 

The Judge: We struck out for the dollar movie mainly because we had seen most of the movies at the Broadway already and because we wanted to watch some movie stars do some movie star action. This movie has movie stars, Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr., and they do what movie stars do best: be watchable. This is a hoary, hackneyed script, probably, but it had plenty of pleasures, and who am I to tell you not to see it? (I feel like my rhetorical situation has gotten slippery here, since I'm the one who went to see it for a dollar and basically am asking you not to make me feel bad for seeing it. Which I don't, okay?) Also, Vera Farmiga is good as a hometown former girlfriend, and my old friend Vincent D'Onofrio is in it as an older brother. It's all good when it's movie star time at the movies.

êêêBirdman:  This might actually be my favorite movie of the year. Maybe. I've had and observed a number of conversations about this film. One of my good friends whose taste I generally respect thinks that possibly character development got sacrificed in favor of the arresting visual technique of the film (the seemingly endless single take; the visualization of the main character's former role's superpowers). This was the first film the historian and I saw in a theater after his surgery, and both of us found it amazing. The word I've used is exhilarating. I felt that the film's visual fluidity and incendiary surprises were a manifestation of the main character's outsize consciousness--his ego, his fears, his need. One friend read this as a male artist's story, but I read it as an artist's story, tout court, all the ways that creating throws one into the abyss, an abyss out of which one must haul one's ass and start over again. I would really love to see the film again--I love loved it, and I love loved the movies anew after seeing it. I think it is brilliant.

êêNightcrawler: This film is disconcerting and unsettling and nervy and visually sharp. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a guy who learns to shoot footage of accidents in order to sell that footage to news stations. He is skinny and hungry and articulate and spooky. So is the world of the film, an L.A. that's both recognizable and ghoulish. It was absorbing and unpredictable. A really unusual film, totally worth seeing.

êêêInterstellar: "So Interstellar is your top film, right Mom?" said my son, when I told him I was putting together this list. No. It's not my top film. But it is so good in so many ways, and chief among them is the way it makes you feel in a visceral way how time works, and what lost time feels like. The scene where McConnaughey sees the hours of video that his children have sent him while he's been out back of beyond in space is one of the best things I've ever seen. This is why there are movies, and Christopher Nolan is as good as anyone at pulling it off. So yes, it's on the list, my sons. It is a really wonderful film.

êBig Hero 6: I got to see this movie with a grandson, my daughter, and my son, and it was super fun. I really, really loved it. The visual conceit of Big Hero, who is an inflatable health care robot, is so ticklishly witty and charming that it is irresistible. I feel like I saw several lovely animated films this year. This was one of the funnest.

êêMockingjay: Despite the fact that this is an example of that loathsome trend, the divided final installment of a series, this film worked quite thrillingly, I thought. And it felt like it spoke right now to our current predicaments. It was unsettling yet again to see Philip Seymour Hoffman, like a blow to the body. I know that you wouldn't see this film if you weren't already seeing the entire Hunger Games series, probably, so the point is, if you are watching The Hunger Games series, then you'll see this anyway, but I expected to like it a lot less than I did, and in fact, I thought it was pretty great.

êêêWild: This film worked on me and for me in so many ways that it's hard to totally explain it. I think the most powerful thing is a self-made ritual for reconstituting the self--a ritual that demands something, that requires every emotional resource, that leaves something behind and finds something new, and that faces a heartbreak head on. The fact that the heartbreak is the loss of the mother is meaningful for me at a level I can barely articulate. I wept like a child in this film. I loved its love of the world.

The Gambler: This movie doesn't really work--it feels like a failure in the writing to me, but then, sometimes it seems like the writing works, for instance when John Goodman is saying the words, or Michael K. Williams (aka Omar from The Wire). In fact, all the gangsters are great. But the titular gambler, played by a skinnied down Mark Wahlberg, is a character I don't really want to care about. I'm not sure why I should, and I'm not sure what he has to give me if I don't like him. I don't require that characters be likable but they do have to be interesting. L.A. and Joshua Tree looked pretty nice, though. So there's that.

êêThe Imitation Game: We just saw this. Partly because a friend of ours recently died, and this film in some way connected to that loss in both our experiences of it, I found it very moving and profound. But it seems to work on a lot of levels. I'm sure I can work out its flaws if I wanted to, but I don't really want to. It's an interesting story, complicated enough to be a little challenging, and the figure of Turing, brilliant and often lonely, just spoke to me tonight.

ADDENDUM: êêêFinding Vivian Maier:  I loved this documentary. Vivian Maier was a woman who worked as a governess/nanny for years and years, and who shot a billion rolls of film, only a little of which she got developed in her lifetime. The serendipitous story of how her photographs were found is part of the story; the amazing and beautiful photographs themselves are part of the story; the meditation on artistic energy, enterprise, and ambition is another part of the story; and the mystery of who people really are, behind/underneath who we think they are is yet another part. This was a really substantial and rewarding film, and a little heartbreaking too. Really worth seeking out.

Movies I'm sorry I missed this yearTwo Days, One Night, Listen Up Philip, Dear White People, Love is Strange, Under the Skin, Lucy, Goodbye to Language, Citizenfour, The Immigrant, and Only Lovers Left Alive.

Movies I still hope to seeInto the Woods, Big Eyes, Top Five, A Most Violent Year, Selma, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, American Sniper, Foxcatcher, Mr. Turner, and Inherent Vice.

Cheers to movies! Special love to the Salt Lake Film Society, where I saw many of these films and without which I wouldn't have been able to see many of them in a theater. If you live in SLC or environs, you should (a) come to the Broadway and/or Tower, and (b) become a member of the coolest cinema organization around.


  1. I cannot even describe how excited I am to see all of the movies now. I may enjoy your yearly movie review post as much as the movies. But now I vow to see at least those with stars...admitting right now that I already saw some of the no stars.

    So glad for your movie life.

  2. I love love loved this post!

  3. As I have said before, I am so grateful that you see movies so I don't have to. (I KNOW! THAT GAG NEVER GETS OLD!) (At least not to me.) Anyway, you are so sharp and so funny, and I feel much smarter after I read what you write. I like how you had to talk yourself into giving "Skeleton Twins" a not-star at the end.



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