3rd Quarter Movie Wrap-Up
1. The Master- Paul Thomas Anderson
Anderson has said that he used to make “big movies about small things,” and that he now makes “small movies about big things.” By small, I think he means intimate, which The Master definitely is, but it’s otherwise an American epic about damaged people’s desperate need for community—a big movie about even bigger things. I loved the intensity of the movie proper, which is a pitiable tug-and-war between two people using each other up. But I can’t shake the first sketchy thirty minutes that burst with wide open spaces of healthy confusion. I’ll admit that it’s the least emotionally-absorbing of Anderson’s films; but, to me, the job of a director is creating and sustaining tone. In carrying out such a specific, dexterous vision of two wills clashing each other into submission, Anderson again proved why he is the best. Wasn’t it exciting to be a film geek for a week there, when people were having serious, fussy conversations about something that was serious and fussy?
2. Shut Up and Play the Hits- Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern
We’ve seen elegiac documentaries about final concerts before. As Tom Breihan pointed out, we saw one a few years ago. As obviously unforgettable as the musical performances might be, what makes this version so much more artful than its predecessors is the thoughtfulness of its subject, James Murphy, as well as the generous access he provides. I don’t see how anyone could leave this film without admiring LCD Soundsystem. It’s a contradictory, adult conflict to know that, even if it will bring you a lot of pain, a choice like quitting a successful band is the right thing to do. And that’s the conflict that every frame of this film chews on. As assured as it is technically, the film is messy emotionally. Maybe because a sense of loss is rarely this triumphant.
3. Argo- Ben Affleck
Unlike Tarantino before him, Ben Affleck doesn’t revise historical fact through the power of cinema. Spoiler alert: The Iran hostages get back to America safely. But it might be an even trickier gambit for the audience to know that fact and still be afraid to breathe during the taut third act. Affleck is three-for-three on seamless, mature, accomplished directorial efforts, and he has now proven that he can craft textbook scenes of suspense. I think anyone could have directed a half-decent movie if handed such a splashy, beat-by-beat perfect script, but knowing a layup when you see one might be a skill Affleck has too.
4. Sleepless Night- Frederic Jardin
Between this, Point Blank, and Tell No One, the French are making some excellent thrillers. Sleepless Night springs from a humble noirish setup: Crooked cop loses stolen cocaine, has to recover it and his kidnapped son from a huge club all in one night. But the film commits itself to an exhausting pace and uses video game logic in a novel way. Every room of the club, which is sort of an adult Disney World, feels like a level with its own stakes and consequences; but we never lose sight of the main goal. Jardin never wastes a minute and stages some punishing action sequences in the process.
5. Silver Linings Playbook- David O. Russell
When this comes out in a month*, it will be a smash. It’s the type of idiosyncratic, slow-burn (and in some ways old-fashioned) romance that will win everyone over. There’s at least one classic scene here that will allow Russell to retain the championship belt of “absurdly tense comedy featuring ten family members or more.” He also coaxes career-best performances from almost everyone, but especially Jennifer Lawrence, who nails this impossible mixture of sexy, overburdened determination. Even Robert De Niro is good in this. Even Chris Tucker is good in this.
6. Oslo, August 31st- Joachim Trier
In this day-in-the-life-of-addiction tragedy, an early scene shows the protagonist, with one tiny off-hand comment, dismissing a literary journal for wasting its time dissecting HBO dramas. About an hour later in the film, he hears a snatch of conversation at a party that’s something like: “Getting rid of the main character for the second season though? Imagine a novel doing that.” Trier doesn’t overplay that callback—I doubt many people even notice it—but it’s a note that sums up this character’s recovery: Everything is expected, everything is disappointing. Aside from the impressionistic introduction, very little of Oslo, August 31st is easy to watch. But it’s a searing character study that will haunt you for days.
*- I know, I know. I saw it at a film festival. I hate the pretension of that sentence though.