Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017's Best-of-the-Year List -- with RAT FILM and THEIR FINEST on top of a very large heap


There are literally so many movies this year vying for a place at the top that I finally had to choose both a documentary (Rat Film) and a narrative (Their Finest). Both seem to me so special in so many ways that, since I first viewed them months ago, they have remained prominently on my mind, in the first case, or with second, simply risen to the top.

I've seen Their Finest twice now. The first time I thought it was very good, but since that second viewing, it has grown ever higher in my estimation. One thing I left out of my original review is the way in which this film posits the difference between life and movies. How Their Finest brings that explanation to bear upon its story is simply extraordinary. The way it puts us in touch with what movies can accomplish is quite wonderful, too. The only other film this year that manages this -- in a very different manner -- is The Shape of Water, my runner-up for best narrative movie.

Rat Film -- in both its style and content, its concept and execution -- is so remarkable that it simply takes its place as a kind of instant classic. All about Baltimore, rats and racism, this movie deserves to be seen by as many viewers as possible.

The complete "best list" (including the two films above) is listed below in the order in which each movie opened throughout the year.

Click on any of the title links in order to access TrustMovies' complete review of the film in question. (Or simply to discover which film the title even refers to: Some of these movies are small enough -- or provocative enough and thus, of course, necessary to silence -- to have gotten past far too many mainstream viewers and reviewers, too.)

Fifteen of these 45 films are documentaries; it was a very good year for this format. One of the narrative features  -- The Hippopotamus (below) -- only saw one-night-only-in-selected-cities theatrical release before hitting DVD/Blu-ray. Another -- Hypernormalisation (above) -- so far as I know, opened only at the Cinefamily in L.A., a venue that has now closed down, thanks to the ongoing sexual abuse scandals sweeping the country.

I have not seen nearly all the movies that became available theatrically, via DVD or streaming over the past year. Nor has any critic. So simply take this list as a kind of recommendation of movies, particularly those that are smaller and less known, that you ought to at least consider viewing.

Enjoy -- and Happy New Year!


THE BEST OF 2017


PARIS 05:59 THEO & HUGO

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO

TONI ERDMANN (from 2016 but opened here in Florida in 2017)

KEDI

THE SETTLERS and BEN-GURION EPILOGUE

HYPERNORMALISATION

AMERICAN ANARCHIST

A QUIET PASSION

HEAL THE LIVING

THEIR FINEST

THE LOST CITY OF Z

HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY

LIKE CRAZY

CHUCK

ONE WEEK AND A DAY

NIGHT SCHOOL


DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME

BEATRIZ AT DINNER

THE JOURNEY

OKJA

LOST IN PARIS


KILLING GROUND

ESCAPES

THE HIPPOPOTAMUS

COLUMBUS


THE SUMMER OF ALL MY PARENTS

THE TEACHER

SPETTACOLO

RAT FILM

CHURCHILL


BENDING THE ARC

FACES PLACES

BETTER WATCH OUT

THE FLORIDA PROJECT


WONDERSTRUCK

PRINCESS CYD

THE SQUARE

BITCH

QUEST

NO GODS, NO MASTERS (a French TV doc, but only available in the US now on DVD)

MUDBOUND

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

THE SHAPE OF WATER

DOWNSIZING

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ridley Scott's ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD brings back the 1973 J.P. Getty III kidnapping


Overlong, ham-fisted, tiresome and melodramatic, ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD is but the latest in a long line of Hollywood product that takes an ugly and sensational real-life incident and turns it into schlock entertainment. As directed with his increasingly heavy hand by Ridley Scott and written by David Scarpa (from the book by John Pearson), the movie gives us the kidnapping and lengthy imprisonment of the grandson of the then-world's-richest-man, John Paul Getty and lets us wallow in it, even as the young Getty's mom does all she can to convince the kid's grand-dad to cough up the ransom money.

As per usual -- of late, at least -- with his woeful returns to the Alien franchise (Prometheus and Covenant) and his hugely overlong The Martian, Mr. Scott (shown at left) dawdles and extends when brevity and crispness are most called for. His new movie, which lasts 132 minutes, could easily have dispensed with twenty or more of those and turned out all the better for their loss.

Most annoying, however, are the melodramatic touches that dot the film -- note the early morning scene outside the Getty estate with the delivery of those newspapers -- culminating in a supposedly exciting will-he-survive? finale that simply reeks of this-never-happened Hollywood contrivance.

Random moviegoers, who pay any attention to those reams of trailers thrust upon audiences prior to the movie we've come to see, may recall a particular trailer for this film that starred Kevin Spacey as the older Getty. Gosh: How come Christopher Plummer (above and below) is up there on screen in the same role now? Well, even though the movie was ready for release earlier this year, once the current sexual predator scandal engulfed Spacey, a series of reshoots -- probably the most lengthy and expensive in the history of modern Hollywood -- was done so that the film could be released without any "taint." Which simply adds a new layer of sleaze to the whole enterprise.

Does anyone else out there find this idea of "disappearing" a performer seem like something out of Stalinist Russia? Sure, Spacey, the man, ought to be pilloried for his actions, but his terrific array of acting over decades now ought to remain untouched.

All the Money in the World is certainly not a complete loss. Plummer is very good, as the man of the year that moviegoers will hate the most. And as young Getty's mother, Michelle Williams (above) gives yet another of her wonderfully lived-in, every-moment-real performances. She's a pleasure to watch, as always. Mark Wahlberg (below, center right), more tamped down than usual and in a much less "heroic" mold, proves adequate, too, though audiences expecting more action out of him may be disappointed.

The story itself is interesting and fraught with enough tension to keep most viewers occupied, even if the cannier among them may do some eye-rolling at the coincidence that pops up now and again. The movie sticks at least somewhat close enough to what happened in this kidnapping to keep those of us who remember it semi-satisfied. (It certainly makes Italy of that day look like a heap of criminally connected sewage, including even certain small town police departments.) Charlie Plummer, below and consistently beleaguered, is as good as he's allowed to be in the role of victim. Overall, however, this movie seems very nearly unnecessary.

From Sony/TriStar Pictures, All the Money in the World opened nationwide this past week and is probably playing in your area. Click here to find the theater(s) nearest you.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Alexander Payne's DOWNSIZING proves so much more than its cute trailer might suggest


Sure, its trailer makes DOWNSIZING -- the new film from Alexander Payne that he directed (and co-wrote with Jim Taylor) -- look pretty funny and adorable. But it barely gives a clue to what this unusual and surprisingly thoughtful and heartfelt movie actually delivers. Which may be one reason that it is not drawing the expected crowds the way that a funny sci-fi movie might. The other reason, on which TrustMovies would just about stake his life, is its distributor, Paramount Pictures, which, along with Warner Brothers has historically had little idea of how to handle any out-of-the-ordinary movie. (Both studios started up and then folded their independent/art-film arms some years back.)

To my knowledge, the filmmaker (shown at left) has never made even a mainstream movie (nor anything close to a blockbuster), but that movie trailer seems determined to turn this film into one, come what may. The result so far is a major box-office disappointment, but I suspect that the movie itself will outlast its detractors and find its way into "classic" status, if the world as we know it should even last long enough for that.

Among the quite wonderful things about Downsizing -- for anyone who has not seen that trailer or read even one review of the film -- is how it takes its very original and fun/funny premise and examines it from so very many perspectives: cultural, economic, political, social, human and humane. The movie is consistently not just interesting but invigorating because Payne and Taylor refuse to simply hand us something clever and funny and then coast along on those.

That the film is so full of intelligence and fun is one thing, but Payne's use of big-time actors in so many small roles is also a delight. From Niecy Nash (two photos below) to Laura Dern,(above), Neil Patrick Harris (below),  James Van Der Beek and Margo Martindale (who doesn't even rate a close-up!) and so many others, the movie's a non-stop parade of smart actors who do exactly what's required of them while adding some amusing "star power" to the proceedings.

When around midway the film slowly morphs into something else, because that something else is so urgent (in terms of theme) and "felt" (in how the filmmakers and their cast present it), Downsizing turns into an extraordinarily humane and important endeavor -- while still offering up enough intelligence and grace to hold any audience left in America that possesses both a mind and a heart. (I know, I know: They're few and far between these days.)

As Payne's leading man, Matt Damon (below, left) shows us once again why he is becoming a near-perfect American "everyman." He was a nasty one in Surburbicon (another under-performing but better-than-you've heard movie), and he 's an equally fine one in this film, as he captures everything from the kindness and caring to the fear and doubt that currently besets so many of us in the western world.

Kristin Wiig (above, right) is just right as his wife, Audrey, but even better is an actress new to me named Hong Chau (below, left), who plays a Vietnamese woman who Damon's character tries to help. Ms Chau is revelatory. But then so is this entire movie.

A word must be said, too, for that amazing actor and Oscar winner, Christoph Waltz, below, who seems to grow better with every screen appearance. He's a character actor non-pareil, and he outdoes himself here -- yes, again.

I don't want to go into any more detail because you deserve to experience the fun and surprise of Downsizing on your own. In a year of so many very fine films, this one is another -- and one of the best. From, as I said, Paramount Pictures, the movie is playing just about everywhere. Click here to find the theater(s) nearest you.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Streaming tip--Netflix's Ayer/Landis BRIGHT: It's more fun than most critics have suggested


Yes, you have to be willing to accept a tale of Los Angeles cops -- good ones and bad ones -- that also involves fairies, elves and orcs (the latter will be lost on older audiences unfamiliar with those Lord of the Rings movies), but once you do, BRIGHT, the latest Netflix-released movie to find its way onto the streaming miasma, is actually a lot of fast-moving-if-silly fun that simultaneously offers its own ever-timely look at and lesson on racism and prejudice. For some nonsensical reason, our critical establishment, who just loved Wonder Woman, has seen fit to pillory David Ayer, first for giving us the more-fun-than-you've-heard Suicide Squad movie and now this fantasy follow-up that traffics equally in make-believe and mayhem.

As directed by Ayer (shown at right) and written by Max Landis, Bright makes good use of both the director's past abilities regarding cop movies (Training Day and Dark Blue, which he wrote, and the fine End of Watch, which he wrote and as directed) and his newer-found ability to offer up comic book stuff in the style that it deserves: not taking it at all seriously while making it move and amuse. One can only laugh in utter derision at critics who accused Ayer of making Suicide Club unbelievable -- as though any of these goddamned super-hero/stupid-hero movie were even remotely believable? Well, "great minds" do think alike.

Meanwhile, Bright posits one of those alternate-universe L.A.s in which elves have taken over as the elite, mere humans are relegated to underling status, fairies simply fly around and occasionally get swatted, and orcs are clearly at the bottom of the food chain: think Blacks.

There is one scene in the movie in which cops descend and beat practically to death an orc that will put you immediately in mind of Rodney King. Will Smith and Joel Edgerton (above and further above, left and right, respectively) play the usual unlikely cop partners (with Edgerton as the first orc ever allowed on the L.A. police force). Smith seems more relaxed and willing to let his easy charm shine brighter than in recent films, while Edgerton (of Animal Kingdom and Loving, even under very heavy make-up and/or CGI, manages to grab us and move us, as ever.

The minimal plot has to do with a, yes, magic wand (called exactly that), the getting of which seems awfully important to various elves, cops, gang members and everyone else on view. Our two cops manage to meet and protect a lone woman elf named Tikka (Lucy Fry, above) who seems to have changed sides from bad girl to good, and now needs to keep that wand under her wing.

The leading naughty elf is played by Noomi Rapace, above, a talented actress with a great face who is wasted here. Much of her role must have ended up on what we used to call the cutting room floor, or she was simply given too little to do in the first place. In the very large supporting cast are actors like Ike Barinholtz and Margaret Cho (as dirty cops) and Edgar Ramírez (below) as a sexy federal-agent elf.

All told, this one's a time-waster, but it is a lot of fun and not at all difficult to sit through -- if you've a mind to and are in mood for fantasy and action.  From Netflix, Bright, running just under two full hours, began streaming this past Friday, December 22.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

With THE 19TH ANNUAL ANIMATION SHOWS OF SHOWS, Ron Diamond curates yet another cornucopia of styles, art and ideas


“Because animation is such a natural medium for dealing with abstract ideas and existential concerns, the ANIMATION SHOW OF SHOWS has always included a number of thoughtful and engaging films. However, more than in previous years, I believe that this year’s program really offers contemporary animation that expresses deeply felt issues in our own country and around the world.” So states Ron Diamond, founder and curator of this yearly collection of some of the best animation from around the globe, now in its 19th go-round.

TrustMovies would agree with Mr. Diamond's assessment (the curator is shown at left), as this year's program, THE 19TH ANNUAL ANIMATION SHOWS OF SHOWS, offers at least three wonderful and near-great-or-maybe-fully-there examples of the best that animation can currently offer.

If some of the lesser lights on the program may lack what it takes to send them over the top, still, the variety of ideas, moods and animation styles that are present here, when coupled to the brevity of so many of the works, would suggest that viewers will hardly be bored. (And if they are, this will last barely a minute or two.)

Herewith is this year's program, listed first to last (along with my short review of each) in the order of presentation. I would greatly suggest that, should you find yourself growing a bit impatient with things, as did I, please hold on. The program grows better by miles as it moves along, with some of the richest, most provocative work appearing in the latter half.


CAN YOU DO IT, via Quentin Baillieux (France) offers a sleek style and very interesting color palette during its three-minute compilation of horse racing and, I guess, street life -- though the mixture left me mostly appreciative of this animator's style rather than anything he might saying.

In TINY BIG (2017) from Belgium, Lia Bertels uses simple black-and-white line drawings on a white background with now-and-then blobs of bright color to create "nature" scenes that are odd and occasionally compelling. Over five-and-one-half minutes, she takes us on a journey that's definitely her own but might translate to something you can understand, as well.

In just under three-and-one-half minutes, certainly the most famous of our animators, Pete Docter (of Pixar's Up and Inside Out) gives us -- in NEXT DOOR --  one of his noisy little girls, along side her very annoyed neighbor, and shows us how common ground is surprisingly found. It's cute and forgettable, but the animation is colorful, funny and fast-moving.

One of the longer pieces in the program, THE ALAN DIMENSION (2017) by Jac Clinch of the U.K., is also the Animation Show of Shows' most narrative-heavy segment. Offering an oddball "take" on precognition (our hero generally sees/predicts awfully run-of-the-mill events) and how this affects his home life, has some charm and some OK animation (of the mostly colorful, old-fashioned-but-enjoyable sort), but it all seems somehow too little, even at its certainly not-lengthy running time.

BEAUTIFUL LIKE ELSEWHERE (2017) by Elise Simard, Canada, is nearly five minutes of very personal though not terribly comprehensible visuals that seems to be an amalgam of various styles melded into a dark, strange piece that I could not connect with in terms of either theme or content. In fact, this is the one film of the batch -- given the week or ten days between first watching and then writing this review -- that I had to go back and view again just to remember what I had seen. Still, the animation is certainly varied and impressive.

A surprise here is something called HANGMAN by Paul Julian and Les Goldman (from the USA), which was actually created back in 1964 but only restored this past year. Based on a poem by Maurice Ogden that tells a tale of injustice and responsibility, the subject is certainly as timely now as it was then, considering its not particularly subtle references to everything from the Holocaust to Fascism, persecution and guilt. Its main achievement, however, is to remind us of how far animation has come over the fifty-plus years since, for this eleven-minute movie, despite its occasional painterly nod to the work of Giorgio de Chirico, is awfully heavy-handed and obvious -- right down to the "poetic" narration and the musical score.

Classical art lovers will get a kick out of the two-and-one-half-minute THE BATTLE OF SAN ROMANO, (2017) by Georges Schwizgebel, from Switzerland, a short that plays around with the famous painting by Paolo Uccello. The filmmaker animates this art work in so many clever ways, turning it into such movement and action yet without actually changing or demeaning it in any way that he brings the battle to life in quite a new and original manner.

TrustMovies has never been a huge fan of anime, and yet the seven-minute film that proves the most charming, funny and sweet of this whole batch is GOKUROSAMA (2016) by Clémentine Frère, Aurore Gal, Yukiko Meignien, Anna Mertz, Robin Migliorelli and Romain Salvini (from France, not Japan). Taking place in one of those modern malls, and another example that's strong on narrative, it tells the tale of what happens when an old woman's back suddenly goes out, and how the mall's denizens join together to help her. This one is a non-stop delight.

I don't even like basketball, and yet the pencil/charcoal line drawings that spring to wonderful life in DEAR BASKETBALL -- (2017) by Disney veteran Glen Keane (USA) and based on a poem written by Kobe Bryant, as he was about to retire from the game -- moved me to tears. The animation is just splendid, and the musical score, composed by John Williams, is a winner, as well, as the poem takes us through Bryant's early life and success, right through his goodbye to playing professionally, in five-and-one-half minutes of sheer beauty.

ISLAND (2017) by Max Mörtl and Robert Löbel, from Germany, takes a look at the mating rituals of the strange and colorful. Goofy and charming in equal measure, the two-and-one-half minute movie is here and gone before it can even think of wearing out its welcome.

The shortest of all these shorts -- UNSATISFYING (2016) by Parallel Studio, France -- is also one of the cleverest: just 77 seconds of near-misses brought to funny, animated life. Brevity is indeed and once again the soul of wit.

The absolute gem of this year's mix -- THE BURDEN (2017) by Niki Lindroth von Bahr, from Sweden --  is the longest, too: nearly a quarter hour. It's also a musical (of sorts), as fish guests in a hotel sing about their lives, dancing pigs cavort in their fast-food workplace, we meet telemarketing monkeys and a dog in a supermarket, and finally hear them all sing a kind of Swedish "spiritual" of longing, dreams, and lost lives in a slave-wage workplace from which no one escapes. This is both brilliantly conceived and executed -- the likes of which I have never experienced till now. I hope that the great Roy Andersson has seen this wonderful work, as it very much reminds me of his landmark films.

An oddball, two-minute domesticity festival that begins with a visit from The Grim Reaper is a film called Abeilles Domestiques (Domestic Bees) (2017) by Alexanne Desrosiers, from Canada. In a sense this one seems the least "animated" of all these shorts because it simply moves less. And it's an interesting, try-to-keep-up-with-it look at a "human" hive.

For sheer laugh-aloud humor enhanced with eye-poppingly colorful animation, watch Our Wonderful Nature: The Common Chameleon (2016) by Tomer Eshed, Germany. This three-and-one-half minute joke offers a take-off/take-down of those ubiquitous nature documentaries, and it is by turns hilarious, gorgeous and gross -- with a wonderfully clever finale.

In CASINO (2016) by Steven Woloshen, Canada, a little jazz-inflected, loosey-goosey animation and musical scoring goes a long way. Fortunately, the four-minute running time is just short enough so that the jitters don't quite set it before this ode to gambling and casinos comes to a close.

Remember Her, that great Spike Jonze film in which the "Operating System" (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), after exploring the work of Alan Watts, grows and evolves to the point at which she must abandon our hero and light out for "parts unknown"? Well, the words of Mr. Watts figure into the final and pretty-much masterpiece of this year's array -- EVERYTHING (2017) by David O'Reilly, USA --  in which the ideas and the writing of Watts actually overpower even the fine animation that gives visual life to those ideas. Everything's eleven minutes is full of a philosophy that asks you to try to take a different POV from your usual. The experience in an education and perhaps the best one we could get in these current and seemingly end-of times.

In case you hadn't noticed this 19th Annual Animation Shows of Shows gets better and better as it moves along. The movie,  which has a total running time of 92 minutes, opens this Friday, December 29, in New York City at the Quad Cinema, and will hit a number of other venues in the weeks and months to come. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.