Two Shots Fired (2015)

Two Shots FiredMartín Rejtman / 2015 / twostar

Active Ingredients: Discursive narrative; Intersecting web of characters
Side Effects: Flat, unaffected performances; Imprecision of style

Argentinian director Martín Rejtman’s new film Two Shots Fired is an offbeat, serio-comic riff featuring a collection of entangled stories. Rejtman is an important voice in modern Argentinian cinema, and Two Shots Fired premiers as part of a retrospective of his work at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center. “Sounds Like Music: The Films of Martín Rejtman” will run from May 13 to May 19. Read more…

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck / Brett Morgen / 2015 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Intimacy; Editing of raw material; Focus on creativity
Side Effects: Simplification of psychology; Ending

[Montage of Heck is available via HBO, HBO Go and HBO Now.]

What is genius? Does it reside inside an artist, or is it bestowed upon him from the outside? How does it ignite, how is it expressed? Brett Morgen’s haunting and intimate portrait of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain doesn’t ask these questions directly, but this elusive quality of “genius” hangs over the film. Labels such as these repulsed Cobain, but his genius defined the pain and alienation he processed, the fleeting moments of joy he felt in creating and his unsuccessful attempts to disentangle himself from unwanted fame. Read more…

A Tale of Two Biopics: “The Imitation Game” & “The Theory of Everything”

Normally, I hate biopics. For every I’m Not There (a fascinating, prismatic exploration of the cultural persona of Bob Dylan, rather than the biographical details of his life) there are scores more films like Ray or Walk the Line. These “prestige” biopics that seem to dominate whatever sections of Hollywood remain un-franchised are imprecise, hagiographic, dramatically inert and stylistically dull. But do they have to be?

Half of last year’s Best Picture nominees where biopics. Of those four films, I saw only The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, weary as I am of these films. Both films are about genius, mid-century British scientists. Both even succumb to the simplistic psychological readings that tend to plague biopics. And yet while neither of these films comes close to the originality or artistic ambition of I’m Not There, the relative success of The Imitation Game may illuminate a few ways prestige biopics, if we must live with them, could be improved. Read more…

A Trio of Recent Indie Genre Films

While the winter and spring offerings at the multiplex continue to disappoint, consider looking to these smaller-budget, independent films at your local art house or on Video On Demand. In particular, it seems as though indie productions are beginning to cater more to audiences looking for smart, adult-themed genre films like thrillers, mysteries and horror films. It may be becoming harder and harder to finance films like these—that is, without a built-in audience from novel or comic book sales—but they’re beginning to grace Apple TVs and Rokus more frequently. Read more…

The Top 100 Films of the Decade So Far

The Tree of Life

As anyone who reads this site (or follows my Letterboxd account) knows, I love making film lists. While I recognize that it’s not very useful as an act of film criticism, there’s something about the exercise that I find satisfying and fun. Instead of reducing these films to an arbitrary ranking, I find that compiling lists gives me a chance to reevaluate and revisit my initial encounters. Am I still thinking about a film after a few years? Are there open questions, mysteries or contradictions to explore? Considering questions like these as I create a list proves that films aren’t finite objects, but experiences that grow and change over time. The best films don’t ever really end, but remain vibrant and alive in my mind long after I see them.

It’s with these thoughts in mind that I endeavored to create a list of my 100 favorite films at the halfway point of this decade. Of course, my list is entirely subjective, and my rankings probably wouldn’t hold up to much scrutiny, but these are some of the films of the last five years that I’m still thinking about today. Read more…

The Best Performances and Scenes of 2014

I recently shared my Top 20 films of the year, but while 2015 is still young and its great films are months away, there’s still time to look back at 2014. In this post I’ll name my favorite lead and supporting performances and count down some of the most memorable scenes. Recognizing some under-appreciated actors and small moments, even in films I may have disliked overall, gives me the chance to mention other titles that landed just outside my Top 20 of the year and attempt to rectify the year’s biggest Oscar snub: Ralph Fiennes.

Read more…

The Top 20 Films of 2014

Boyhood

More than most years, 2014 seemed to boast a wide range of titles on critics’ Top 10 lists. With a few notable exceptions (Boyhood, of course), there weren’t many films you’d be to sure to see among any critic’s favorites. I’m not sure whether this lack of consensus speaks to the diversity and high number of quality films released, or instead indicates a lack of truly exceptional films. Looking back over my own year of film watching, I can see both arguments. Only a few movies stood out as instant classics, indelible statements that will grow richer over time. While those occupy the top of my list, there were plenty more stand-out films, maybe not masterpieces, but examples of the cinematic diversity 2014 had to offer and worthy entires on my list of the Top 20 films of the year.

Honorable Mentions: Snowpiercer, Life Itself, The LEGO Movie, Blue Ruin, Hide Your Smiling Faces
Regrets: Selma, Two Days One Night, Mr. Turner, Winter Sleep, Jauja, Force Majeure, Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Read more…

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