Age of Shadows - Kim Jee-woon- Gorgeous Korean resistance period drama that would make a swell companion to Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows or even Ang Lee's Lust Caution. Don't go into it looking for the type of bonkers action I've been recommending some of the Korean gangster pictures for (though this one does have a pretty stunning action set-piece in the middle) instead settle in for a damned handsome picture with measured pace and terrible consequences.
The Bad Batch - Ana Lily Amirpour - Director Amirpour's debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was a fever dream feature length music video without a song (a genre I can certainly love - Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising or Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man qualify) - so I was interested in her next project, but still unprepared for how hard I'd fall for her post-apocalyptic cannibalism revenge western. Like its predecessor The Bad Batch is pure style, but it's also got unexpected moments of emotional resonance. Suki Waterhouse is an outland wanderer falling victim to, coming to the aid of or exploring the kingdoms erected by Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves and Jayda Fink. Along the way our road warrior encounters more human detritus including Jim Carrey giving his best performance in many years. It's ugly, gorgeous, vulnerable, trippy and not a little badass.
Cam - Daniel Goldhaber - Madeline Brewer's sex-cam operator has her online identity stolen and suffers real-world consequences (loss of income, personal security concerns, having to come out to her family and community as a sex worker), but that's really just the tip of iceberg in this De Palma-y thriller. Maybe it's my age, my squareness and general generational anxiety about technology and sex norms, but I was unnerved and upset by many of the film's concerns that I wouldn't have been as a younger man. Make a good double feature with King Kelly.
The Last Circus - Alex de Iglesia - How much is too much? No such thing, apparently. When the first five minutes of a film offer you a frenzied fat man in drag and clown make-up slashing his way through the front lines of the Spanish Civil War, you've got to wonder what it's going to produce for a finale. And you owe it to yourself to find out.
The Queen of Hollywood Blvd. - Orson Oblowitz - A few decades ago Mary was a fresh off the bus Hollywood hopeful who didn't ever make it as an actress, but neither did she pack it in and retreat back home. Instead she dug in and made something else for herself as owner/operator of a seedy Los Angeles strip club of which she is very personally proud. She has maintained the place and operated it with strength of character and will, but she got her start with a little help, in the form of a large loan, from some organised crime types, and as she is planning her 60th birthday celebration she finds that her debt has been called in. In lieu of hard cash she will be required to turn over her beloved club, a price she is unwilling to pay. Rosemary Hochschild plays Queen Mary a stoic hardboiled bad ass with a handful of crucial soft spots for her son (writer/director Oblowitz - Hochschild's actual son) her girls who are just like she used to be, and for the establishment itself, an alternate to packing it in and going back from where they came for many never-quite-weres. As it becomes increasingly clear that she will not back down and hand over what's hers and the negotiations include escalating levels of violence the whole affair begins to feel like a birthday slash death day celebration where the ultimate dignity might just be going out on her own terms. Full of swagger and featuring a steely stylized central performance it feels like a spiritual sibling of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and I dug it a bunch. Good role for Roger Guenveur Smith too as the heaviest heavy.
'71 - Yann Demange - A young British soldier is separated from his squad and spends a harrowing night hunted on the streets of Belfast in the year of Our Lord 1971. Jack O'Connell followed up his electrifying performance in Starred Up with another emotionally rich performance at the center of an exhaustingly tense film. And Demange has crafted the rare movie that works as a thriller and as the machine that generates empathy. He hasn't stripped politics from the story entirely, but has chosen rather to focus on the human beings living in the tension of the day to day reality policy makers can afford to ponder from a comfortable remove. Something like a cross between Carol Reed's Odd Man Out and Paul Greengrass's Bloody Sunday, this one solidified my admiration for O'Connell and has given me a new name to get fucking excited over in Demange. Best moment: the riot is terrifying.
Too Late - Dennis Hauck - Hauck's debut feature is an exciting high-wire act of filmmaking that is thrilling when it succeeds, but is not without its drawbacks. Let's stay positive up front though. I love the idea of this flick - 5 single-uncut*-shot scenes presented in non-chronological order tell the story of a private investigator looking into the murder of a young woman. The formal experiment is the real star here and the simplicity with which many of the scenes unfold mute some of the monumental orchestration achievements - one shot has a character placing a phone call which is answered by another character within the same shot by use of a telescopic camera zoom, said answering character then hangs up, exits his building and gets in his car which arrives at the scene of the placed phone call in time to conclude the vignette, another scene involves multiple locations and following a character in and out of rooms, through crowds, up into a boxing ring where a fight is in progress and back and another involves multiple interiors including a strip club and a music venue (both featuring live performers) - it's audacious and bold and works very well and quietly... except when it doesn't. And oh boy, when it doesn't. The quality of the cast varies greatly - at the center is the ever-dependable and always compelling John Hawkes (the only character in every scene) who is joined by solid performers (Natalie Zea, Robert Forster, Vail Bloom and Dichen Lachman are particularly strong, while Jeff Fahey, David Yow and Joanna Cassidy are always welcome) and a handful of not-sos (Rider Strong and Dash Mihok are painful to listen to and Brett Jacobsen either has uniquely unwieldy lines or is simply outmatched by the elevated speech - either way, I suppose that falls on Hauck's shoulders). The story too - like the speech - is, er, elevated (read - movie logic), the situation and characters within it are the things of fiction, not to be mistaken for actual people or believable behaviors - and that's okay - that's what we want from movies often. So hey, don't go looking for something particularly mindblowing here - when the final puzzle pieces are fit together, if it don't quite land like Chinatown, that's okay. I'm very much looking forward to revisiting this one for it's DePalma-ish camera and dream-like world - I loved the structure - the way the story unfolds and damn, I wish more films took the monster sized swings for the fences that this one does. *I spotted a cut within the final segment that I'm not sure about - can't tell if it was there to cover a mistake, drive home an emotion or what - but it's nearly seamless. It shouldn't have distracted me as badly as it did.
Trance - Danny Boyle - Time has been kind to Trance. The first time I saw it I thought it was too bad that it'd turned out to be so ridiculous, unbelievable and over the top silly. But it's ended up being one of my most revisited of Boyle's films precisely because it is so over the top and unrestrained and silly fun. Turns out that's what I want from him. A big-screen remake of a 2001 made for television movie (written and directed by Joe Ahearne), is something of a curiosity for somebody like Boyle to take on. What drew him to the material, what did he think he'd bring out of it better than they did the first time around? Regardless the reason, here's what we get: a stylish, twisty heist thriller that's visually fantastic populated by characters that are completely hollow. And that's not a terrible thing. It's fun. It feels like somebody turned Boyle's camera loose on one of those oversized, super-padded indoor playgrounds and he's enjoying the freedom to send it hurling at top speed over, under, around and through any object without any true sense of danger ever being reached. You can't really talk about the plot of this one without spoiling a few dozen big movies you may or may not have seen, but, trusting that, reading this blog, you have seen a genre film or two, I feel free to say: in a con movie - you're always getting conned, in a double-cross flick - guess what, numbers climb higher than two, and in a movie dealing with memory loss, hypnotism or untrustworthy narrators - you should never be surprised. Ever. Hell, I'll go further, any movie-watcher since 1999 shouldn't be surprised by any twist in this film (man, 1999 gave us a bunch of influential perception-fuckery flicks... The Matrix, Existenz, The Sixth Sense, Fight Club...), so don't judge the film on its success or failure to surprise you, but rather on its effectiveness in carrying you through to the finale.
Two Faces of January - Hossein Amini - Opportunistic American ex-pats in Greece cross paths, purposes, hot blood and cold cash in this adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name. The film feels so very right for fans of midcentury noir source material and by right, of course, I mean wrong. They brought out the venal, opportunistic and the striving of these characters. They brought the nasty and the desperation all around. And, more importantly, by doing all of that, they preserved the humanity of these characters. They are far more relatable and ready to be invested in than your average Tom Ripley in film adaptations (save perhaps for Alain Delon in Purple Noon who brought us in very close) where most of the attention seems to be given to how skilled he is at getting things done. This trio (Colette, Chester and Rydal - Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac respectively) have mostly already done what got them into their situations and what we get to focus on is the cost of their choices. The results are pretty thrilling. Best moment: Rydal and Chester's double date night is terrific. The two recognize themselves in the other, but do not disengage for intriguing tension.
Upgrade - Leigh Whannell - After being paralyzed in an assault that leaves his wife dead, Logan Marshall-Green's Grey becomes the secret recipient of an experimental A.I. that operates his body for him and then begins suggesting ways to use his upgraded sensory capacity to track down the people responsible for his wife's murder - the trade off is that Grey has to cede over control of his faculties to the AI to do the tasks. This results in several bonkers action sequences where Grey is an amazed, bemused and then horrified passenger in his own body as the superhuman capabilities are paired with inhuman amorality. The mystery isn't terribly intriguing to anybody who's ever seen a movie before, but the special effects are fantastic and the emotional journey the audience goes on along with Grey as the film continually changes genre - sci-fi, mystery, action, horror - is very worthwhile.
Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 251-300
Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 201-250
Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 101-150
Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 51-100