Heading to the movies this weekend? Look beyond the box office champs.
Is there anything worth your bucks at the movie house this fall? Gone Girl may be the date movie of the year but it chilled me to the bone and left me utterly disheartened. I didn’t care about any of the characters. Foxcatcher may earn Steve Carell an Oscar nod but for all the slick storytelling, a cold cloud hanging over the piece is all I have as a take away. St. Vincent shows off an irresistible Bill Murray but is heavy on the syrup and feels too much like a Hollywood Script School project, not to mention obvious Oscar bait. Grumble, grumble. Is there anything golden?
Yes, yes, yes again. Here are the treasures I found:
If you’re looking for contemporary villains, forget John du Pont (Foxcatcher, opening soon) and put on the night goggles to crawl around with Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) instead. As Sir Anthony Hopkins did with Silence of the Lambs, Gyllenhaal here has created a riveting new classic character: a manic and mesmerizing protagonist who exposes the sick and soulless, the desperate and duplicitous. We are to blame for him, we learn as we exit, we created this perverse character. We drive up the ratings and egg on those who produce “if it bleeds, it leads” newscasts. We get what we deserve. All this in a tight, dark thriller-without the shallow cynicism of Gone Girl but real teeth.
If you’re looking for a soaring love story and non-showboating performances, see The Theory of Everything. Eddie Redmayne already had them swooning from his turn as Marius in the big screen adaptation of Les Misérables but here, his depth as an actor is mined fully. His take on the brilliant and eccentric Stephen Hawking would surely steal the whole movie, if not for the perfectly composed Felicity Jones, whose intelligence shines through this performance, and evoked real tears on my part, as it will yours.
More crackling chemistry is on offer, as well as a relentless hammer of the question of how to encourage creativity in Whiplash. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I saw it last week and the Friendly Greek cried when it screened at TIFF and declared it the best of several dozen he saw. A young ambitious drummer at a fictitious arts school in NYC goes to extremes to please his brutal and demanding music teacher, played here with terrifying intensity by J.K Simmons. How far should we push ourselves to excellence? Are the two worst words in the English language really “good job”? Do we motivate kids with kindness and encouragement or cruel seduction? I could hardly stomach the pace as this film careened towards the final act yet kept thinking of all the other players in the band-I want to be the best, says Andrew, a gutsy and gritty Miles Teller, and the best demands I do this. But where does that leave everyone else? Strung out and screwed up for life, as musical nobodies? As he spills blood on his drums, is Andrew just exacting the price for greatness? Whiplash also looks and sounds great, so it delivers the full score.
Equally soaring is Birdman, another film with a penetrating gaze at artistic success. I just love love love this film because it challenges convention while at once celebrating it. Shot apparently in one take (but not really which proves a fun exercise to try and spot the edits), the film is dark comedy about a washed up action movie star, haunted by his superhero alter ego as he attempts to put on an arty Broadway play. As Riggan, Michael Keaton is terrific. So is the rest of the cast, with special mention of Emma Stone and the always miraculous Edward Norton, delivering the best line in the film, “Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige“. The film attempts many things at once: skewer the action movie and theatre tropes, teeter on magical realism, deliver with poignancy a drama about aging and levelling off expectations and relationships. It’s a heady mix that succeeds on some fronts more than others, but I haven’t mentioned the real star of the film: go see Birdman if only for the wondrous and truly creative filmmaking. I promise you won’t be disappointed as the camera slides down back theatre alleys and swoops up over skylines. This is movie making gold.
Other high praise goes to Force Majeure. We still have a few weeks left of 2014 so I can’t award it my favourite quite yet, but it was as close to perfect a film I saw all year. A Swedish family on a ski holiday finds an avalanche may not have hurt them physically, but delivered a powerful punch to their family harmony. The story plays out in perfect acts sure to leave a lesser director trembling with insecurity. It left me howling with laughter and squirming with recognition- I would have found the whole thing terribly unnerving had director Ruben Ostlund not warned his audiences at TIFF, where I first saw it, that this movie would surely result in all the married people in the crowd feeling uncomfortable. I can’t tell you too much about the plot as I hate spoilers, but let’s just say I loved it from start to finish.
No, I haven’t seen Interstellar but then again, I’m the holdout on Christopher Nolan in this household. Inception was a movie in love with itself and it drove me mad, unlike the other members of my family who have seen it countless times. I fear this one too will be overreaching. Won’t waste my bucks and will see it on Netflix.