As always, the top 10 had their rock-solid 6 or 7 with a bit of a mushy, less sharply defined lower few, so I like to give a bonus ten, several of which might have made the top 10 list on another day. There's also room for a few interestingly flawed pictures in this group... I'd like to spend more time talking about it, but I think we'll have to call David Ayer
number 21... a very flawed film, but one that I still think about and want to watch again for a third time. Hit me up in the comments or somewhere's if you've got thoughts.
- Michael R. Roskam
- Bob and Marv run Cousin Marv's, a local mob drop-bar and are under an intense microscope after the place is robbed on collection night. Meanwhile Bob (Tom Hardy
) rescues a pitbull with the help of Nadia a neighborhood girl (Noomi Rapace
) and ends up the target of her psycho ex-boyfriend Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts
). With this project Dennis Lehane
goes into full Road to Perdition-
universe Max Allan Collins
mode writing a novelization of his screenplay based on his own short story (Animal Rescue
), but no matter the true origin of the source material, the film is fully-realized and fleshy draped on the sturdy skeletal structure provided by Hardy and James Gandolfini
as Marv's performances. The two big lugs mope and scowl and bitch and wryly observe between themselves with an interpersonal dynamic not fully defined for the audience until the end of the film and it's pretty great to observe. Add to their chemistry the fine supporting cast including John Ortiz, James Frecheville
plus the stellar-again Ann Dowd
and you've got an atmosphere I love kicking around inside (if you see it and dig it too, do yourself a favor and check out the novel Gravesend
by William Boyle
). The plot is pretty standard fare, but it doesn't need to be any more flashy because the band is hitting the beats like they mean it and I'm sold.
- Johnnie To
- When an industrial scale methamphetamine manufacturer and distributor is apprehended in China, he agrees to help the cops take down a cartel in order to avoid the death penalty. As he works alongside the policeman who busted him, an interesting evolution occurs in their dynamic. They go from mortal enemies to uneasy allies and by the time they've each saved the other's bacon more than once the viewer isn't sure where their loyalty lies. And that's great. The end of the film is pretty fantastic and I don't want to let on anything about it or how we get there, but it was great. Best moment: a Mission Impossible-
style double sting operation that requires the stone-faced cop to shift gears hard to play the role of a flamboyant and gregarious smuggler. It's a jolt.
- Jon S. Baird
- Right from the start we know something is off about Bruce, the monstrous homicide cop at the center of the action, in this adaptation of Irvine Welsh
's 1998 novel of the same name. As out of control as his behavior appears (copious drug use, ugly and impulsive sexual behavior, violent abuse of the power his job affords), control is precisely what he is in search of. His power games with paramours, co-workers and criminals come together to promote his particular agenda (a promotion he believes will win him back his family). The dual escalation of self-destructive behavior and Machiavellian manipulation of everything and everybody around him leaves Bruce a tad, um, unhinged. The cast is full of ringers - Eddie Marsan, Jamie Bell, Shirley Henderson
, and Kate Dickie
, but man, this one made an overnight James McAvoy
fan out of me. I'd never understood the effusive praise thrown after his (fine, but unremarkable, in my opinion) previous work by folks whose opinions I'm oft in alignment with, and when I saw he'd been cast in the lead role here, I was more than a little skeptical. But hoah shit, does he bring the energy, lechery and most importantly, the feels to this one. Yes, holy fuck! the feels!
The final fifth the film pulls every string together for a surprisingly effective and emotionally complex finale that is punctuated by the Best moment: a superb animated end-credit sequence set to the Billy Ocean
song Love Really Hurts Without You
. Fucking wrecked me. Believe it.
Go For Sisters
- John Sayles
- Bernice (Lisa Gay Hamilton) is a parole officer whose work causes her path to recross with childhood friend Fontayne (Yolanda Ross), a parolee trying to put her life back together. When Bernice's son, a former soldier, goes missing (most likely kidnapped) in Mexico, she enlists her former friend's help in tracking him down. Along the way the duo hire a private detective (Edward James Olmos) and get in over their heads with dangerous people, but the bond between the women proves surprisingly strong and provides a very satisfying main course for the film. The actors ultimately rescue what could have been an exercise in trope subversion (I know - this time the detectives are black women, looking for a young boy who's disappeared) and elevate it to one of the best dramas, let alone crime films I've seen this year. And Sayles certainly deserves credit for that - I don't mean to suggest that he only wrote a cute send-up of the mystery genre - I'm sure he meant for it to be more than that - but without the great performances and chemistry between performers, that's all we'd have. Best moment: the opening scene of Bernice at work hearing stories from parolees is top notch scene setting and character building and both Hamilton and Ross are amazing to watch.
- John Slattery
- Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman
) is a semi-legit businessman and a low-level criminal whose stepson Leon (Caleb Landry Jones
) is a royal fuckup. When Leon provokes an elderly and seemingly feeble black coworker to fight and ends up dead, nobody at the job site is too upset by the loss and they all follow the foreman's lead by sticking with the accident on the job story he comes up with in order to spare the poor, old-timer unnecessary grief from the white cops. Leon's mother (Christina Hendricks
) however is convinced that there's a cover up of some kind and goads her husband and a local celebrity newsman (Richard Jenkins
) to investigate the incident leading to tragi-comic results on every front. Can't for the life of me figure out why this one didn't get more play what with the great posthumous performance from Hoffman, the rest of the cast which includes Eddie Marsan, John Turturro, Domenick Lombardozzi
and Glenn Fleshler
, the feature directorial debut of Slattery and the revered source material by Pete Dexter
. In a very strong year, it's one of my favorite films and should pick up the following it deserves in years to come. After The Paperboy
, it's nice to see so much of the feel of Dexter's voice and tone come through in an adaptation.
- James Gray
- Ewa, a polish immigrant (Marion Cotillard
), is detained at Ellis Island with her sick sister, who is quarantined, and slated for deportation when a mysterious benefactor, Bruno (Joaquine Phoenix
), steps in and offers the woman a shot at a life in the new world and a chance to save her sister from being shipped across the ocean. Suspicious, but desperate, Ewa chooses to accept a post as a housekeeper which leads to dance hall performer and prostitute where best money is. Ewa's story is not a victim's, but a survivor's and whether it's ultimately despairing or hopeful is the audience's litmus test. Along the way she experiences betrayal and devotion, exploitation and benevolence, but nothing alters her course or deters her intent to liberate her sister. Gray is a film maker I've always found compelling - his aesthetic sense is hugely appealing, and his interest in the small details and decisions create intriguing tensions for his characters to exist within. This one's probably as close to sweeping as he'll get (what with the ambitious and excellently executed historic setting and themes), but the feel remains close, intimate and immediate and the ultimate resolution of the central relationship between Cotillard and Phoenix is as thorny and imprecise as it should be. Ewa is the steadfast character here, whose purpose is always clear regardless of circumstance or means, but it's Bruno, whose intent is always suspect, who is most compelling. Ever torn (or is he?) between self-service and more noble impulses, every layer revealed adds complexity if not to who he is than at least to our perspective on him and we get the sense that he's at least as genuinely confused about his own identity (the character, not the performer - an important distinction) as the viewer is. And by the time the cops brutally shake Bruno down, his response surprises him as much as it does Ewa without clearly defining his motive to anyone. Looking forward to watching this one again sometime. It should be said that the supporting cast, especially Dagmara Dominczyk, Jicky Schnee
and Elena Solovey
are uniformly excellent, providing more dimension and production value to the flick than any (necessary) trick of lighting or CGI.
- David Gordon Green
- Joe (Nicolas Cage
), an ex-con just trying to live and let live encounters a host of obstacles along the straight and narrow. Joe has his own small business and employs a youngster named Gary (Ty Sheridan
) who supports his family as best he can until his abusive, shit-for-worth father (Gary Poulter
) eventually fucks things up so bad they have to leave yet another small town and move on. Arrrrrgh, this pisses Joe off. Gary's a good kid and his old man is real bad news. Joe's known very few Garys in his time and all too many alcoholic assholes bent on snuffing out the Garys of the world. Hell, he's maybe been one himself. Joe's tryin to stay upright, but he tilts haaaard at self-destruction... perhaps... maybe... just maybe he can make his imminent personal downfall count for something worthwhile. I think I just reduced a swell flick to a cliche-ridden sound bite. So, don't read this. See the movie. Or, if you've gotta read something, read the source material by Larry Brown. Either of those options are swell. Some folks have called this a return to form for Green, the director of George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow
and Snow Angels
, (tho, I'll argue the virtues of Your Highness
any day, friend), but it is certainly a reminder how how damn good Cage can be when he's got a script and a director. He stands placid and anchored at the center of a vortex of violence and dead-end living until his own suicidal energy spills over. Splish, splash, here comes Tazmanian Nicolas Cage! Except... there's a glint in his eyes, but this is the furthest thing from Drive Angry
Cagian havoc. What are these, these... feelings? Flick will make you feel shit. And Cage will too. Not to mention Sheridan and Poulter (in his sole screen credit - he died before he had the chance to make any more celluloid impressions, and judging from his presence in this picture, that's a notable loss - dammit). Best moment: the opening sequence of Joe's day to day with his crew, on the job, in his pickup, coffee, alcohol, shootin the shit with the convenience store guy - just first class world building. You know this guy afterward.
Life of Crime
- Daniel Schechter
- Two fellas kidnap a rich lady for ransom, but have the misfortune of their plan falling on the weekend over which the rich husband is leaving her. The rich husband is an asshole, but... how big an asshole? He's not willing to let his wife be killed just to avoid paying ransom and then alimony, is he? "Don't worry
," says his foxy-smart mistress, "they won't kill her and you won't have to pay if we play this my way
." Oh the tangled webs we weave. This is one of the most tonally precise adaptations of the work of Elmore Leonard
yet (from his novel The Switch
) where the criminals are bad guys, but not entirely unreasonable, the victims are thoughtful people and have their own ideas, nobody backs down and everybody throws curveballs at each other's heads. And it's funny, but it's not really a comedy. It's got a tension, but nobody'd call it a white-knuckle thriller. It's also a period piece (the late 70s) with great, small details that don't call attention to themselves, but add a lot of flavor - why is this the first non-western period adaptation of Leonard I can think of?
- it works great. The casting of John Hawkes
and Yasin Bey
in the same roles inhabited by Robert DeNiro
and Samuel L. Jackson
in Jackie Brown
(from Leonard's Rum Punch
) certainly invite physical and spiritual comparisons to the other work (and hell, Michael Keaton
reprising his Jackie Brown
role in Out of Sight
seems to give the go-ahead nod to runners at second wishing to create a singular alternate universe of the man's work). The rest of the cast is just as good. Even the presence of Will Forte
and the buffoonish antics of Mark Boone Junior
don't tip the scales into broad comedy. This is a terrific semi-high stakes game of life and death and money that deserves your attention. Best moment:
the kidnapping sequence - the staging is masterful, complex but never confusing, while the tone is dramatic and funny too. Captures the film maker's understanding of the essence of Leonard's work beautifully.
- Sean Ellis
- Oscar (Jake Macapagal
) is a rice farmer who moves his family to the big city when he is no longer able to support them working the fields. The urban jungle is no kinder to them, but both parents are desperate enough to work dangerous and demeaning jobs to support themselves and their family, she as a topless dancer in a sleazy club where prostitution is pretty much a job requirement and he as a driver in an armored car service where he'll be a target for criminals with nothing left to lose and who don't mind shooting it out for a chance at the cash and valuables he's moving them from point-a to point-b (and if you've ever seen another movie, it'll come as no surprise that he faces just as much or more danger from his co-workers who want that money just as much as anybody else). After digging the Filipino export On the Job so hard earlier this year, I was ready to dive into another crime flick from the hard heart of the city and this one delivers, even if it swerves a little hard into the innocents forced to do bad things genre at times. Beautiful and gritty and emotionally engaging - highly recommended.
- Kelly Reichardt
- A trio of aspiring eco-terrorists negotiate the dangerous space between idealism and survival. Shot like a heist procedural, (except the job isn't a robbery - they're blowing up a dam) where the gang comes together, executes the job and then, in the grand tradition, fall apart beneath the crushing weight of doubt and paranoia. Who's the weakest link and what defines that? What is too high a price, what's justified? All questions worth a movie and Reichardt delivers some solid suspense and tension, and while I'm pleased to see her exploring new territory as a film maker (this one's pretty bare bones, but compared to some of her other work, it's pomp and circumstance) I don't think this one quite measures up to her last couple of efforts, Meek's Cutoff
and Wendy & Lucy
respectively. Could be the handling of onscreen violence here - unfortunately feels a bit amateurish and lacks the emotional wallop that the (particular) moment deserves. If the moment were as visually disturbing as it should be, the whole film would resonate more deeply. Still, it's a much better offering than 90% of the thriller fare you're going to be offered this year, and I name Reichardt alongside names like Jeff Nichol
s and David Gordon Green
if asked to give hope for the next generation of American auteurs.