Monday, January 6, 2020

Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 201-250

American Made - Doug Liman - Tom Cruise is Barry Seal in the Iran-Contra adventure! Plays like the Cliff's Notes version of the end of the Viet Nam era up to Gary Webb and Oliver North and Manuel Noriega and Pablo Escobar and Joaquín Guzmán and oh fuck we're still living this, aren't we? It strikes me that when Americans tell their own recent history in popular film it almost always has to play as a comedic romp or zany satire because the reality runs so contrary to the cultural myth of America many Americans simply won't believe it - not the general notions, not the broad strokes and certainly not the incendiary details. The only way to get the idea sublimated into the popular consciousness is by disarming and distracting the filters with humor (often - selling certain figures as embodying the ultimate American ideals of self-reliance, innovation and perseverance in the face of choices that would trouble a lesser-American's conscience). I doubt these stories play as comedy anywhere else in the world. Still, it's a fun movie and if it takes that kind of tone to get the conversational ball rolling this film is a pretty good starter kit. Personally, I'd love to see Cruise and Liman collaborate on more of this kind of thing.

Angels Wear White - Vivian Qu - Two young girls are sexually assaulted by a middle-aged man in a hotel and the only witness is another young woman too vulnerable herself to go to the police or speak up to anyone on behalf of the victims. Instead she is forced to hide what she knows and who she is and lives in fear of many types of repercussions while the police fumble around with the investigation and the families of the victims crumble the little girls themselves are caught up in an un-ending cycle of punishment. Fucking hell this quietly insistent and unflinching look at the way common societal constructs of class and sexism and the economic hamster wheel will crush anybody trying to stand up is a devastator. It's awfully powerful and tragically beautiful and I don't know that I ever want to watch it again.

Argo - Ben AffleckYou've seen the trailer, right? Then you know the whole story. So, how is it that Argo is such an effective thriller? Technical proficiency, I suppose - though that sounds like a back-handed compliment, and I don't mean for it to. Great staging of true-ish, stranger than fiction events made Affleck three for three as a maker of successful - you won't hate yourself later - fastball down the middle adult popcorn fare. A great cast never hurts either. Can we pass some sort of law that forces Alan Arkin and John Goodman to appear together in a film at least once a year from now on?

Arizona - Jonathan Watson - Danny McBride plays Sonny, a not very bright man complicit in his own duping - so eager to be somebody he bought himself too much house in a suburban Arizona development and now that his real estate investment is upside down he is full of righteous indignation and, it turns out, murderous rage. So much rage that he bursts into the responsible realtor's office and murders the man not quite accidentally then takes office mate Rosemarie DeWitt hostage so that he can enlist her help covering up his crime and hopefully show her he's not really such a bad guy and convince her not to turn him in. I mentioned he wasn't so bright, yeah? Sonny keeps digging himself deeper and his inability to do anything to make the situation better only causes increasing episodes of impotent rage flare ups and by the end of the affair there are more bodies attached to him than your average attention seeking spree killer. Pretty dark comedy that gets to be hilarious and horrifying. Most comedies that muck around with murder by average joes lose their way by trying to make them too sympathetic instead of pathetic. This one gets appropriately nastier as it goes and that's too rare a thing. When you make a murder comedy keep it nasty. The cast is fun too, especially Kaitlin Olson and a really glad-to-have-you-back David Alan Grier.

BlacKkKlansman - Spike Lee - I think it's a minor miracle for several reasons. First, it's fueled by and focused on the stuff of Spike's best works: race, politics, love and justice. Second, it's not only righteously angry throughout, it's riotously funny at points. And third, it effectively subverts the intent of KKK National Director David Duke's mission to make White Nationalism mainstream by having the first real mainstream movie moment of characters inviting the audience to cheer along to chants of 'Black Power!' And gawl dang if you don't want to. It doesn't feel subversive, or edgy or dangerous it feels fucking mainstream and like something we should all be happy to chant along with. All due respect to Get Out and Black Panther, but BlacKkKlansman clarifies the moment and makes it explicit and bold and an audience-pleaser all at once.Of course after the rousing and satisfying climax of the movie's plot, Spike sends us out on a note of recognition that Ron Stallworth and the forces of good may have won a minor battle, but that the war is most definitely still churning on and though the film feels absolutely mainstream the country is in the grips of some ugly shit on every level. It's an effective call to arms without being an absolute bummer. Lemme say it again - it's a fun movie.

The Bling Ring - Sofia Coppola - In 2008-09 a group of celebrity-obsessed teens in L.A. made a habit of breaking in to the homes of famous people just to kinda hang out, which turned to pilfering, which turned to grabbing as much as they could carry in order to support their burgeoning fashionista lifestyles. Then, y'know, they got caught and became a news sensation and made silly assholes of themselves and many adult-types in the media-circus that were their collective trials. Crimestyles of the young, over-privileged and over-indulged pictures don't come warmer-toned or better-natured, and that's not a bad thing. Usually I'm down for nasty, vacuous people getting the fluorescent lighting treatment, but damn if The Bling Ring don't treat its subjects with a degree of sweetness and generosity not strictly deserved, but oddly welcome. Not that these starfuckers get coddled exactly, but they're treated straight up. Judgement is reserved and in the vacuum of morality human moments sneak up and catch you unaware. They dissipate quickly and their number hardly equals an effervescence, but they were enough to make a difference for me. I think my favorite of these moments was watching Marc (Israel Broussard) the seemingly most guileless member of the titular group filming himself from his computer's camera as he listens to music, dances, tries on a few outfits and eats junkfood. And I enjoyed the comeuppance plenty. I enjoyed seeing it all go to shit, the way it usually does and I like. Best moment: hanging out in Paris Hilton's shrine to herself (filmed in Hilton's actual home).

Blood Ties Guillaume Canut - A remake of the 2008 French film Le liens du sang (Rivals) based on the novel by Michel & Bruno Papet and directed by the original film's star, this is a family drama with James Caan as the dying (single father) patriarch with two sons - Clive Owen as the older, street criminal brother just out of prison and Billy Crudup as the younger, who is a cop. The brothers alternately look out for each other and ruin the other's lives with their actions, tying the family's fate together while ripping at the more organic fabric that they can't escape. Owen's Chris reconnects with his ex (Marion Cotillard), a prostitute whom he has two children with, setting her up as the madam of the brothel he's opening (funded through armed robbery), while concentrating his woos on a girl (Mila Kunis) guaranteed to put them in the running for awkward romantic screen-pairing of the year... maybe the decade. Meanwhile Crudup's Frank busts a blue-collar career criminal family man (Matthias Schoenaerts) back to prison and zeroes in on the attentions of the con's wife (Zoe Saldana) with his heat-seeking boner while taking shit from his cop buddies for letting his un-repentent criminal brother live with him, and feeling very much and very accurately like second favorite to dad. If this sounds like a great, tangled, messy family-drama (let alone crime story) plot - it is. If it sounds like an awful lot to make room for in a two-hour movie - it didn't have to be, but it was. Not sure what elements I would have sacrificed to focus on others, but somehow this felt like too much of a good thing. The cast is impressive (I haven't even mentioned the solid supporting work from Noah Emmerich, Domenick Lombardozzi, John Ventimiglia or the woefully under-utilized Lili Taylor), the look of the film and its soundtrack are small-scale Scorsese-esque and immense pleasures, and the crime elements are satisfying, but the material is so dense that what should have been a far-more emotionally-invested viewing experience turned out to be one that I was conscious of rooting for and holding out for it all to come together... which I think it did - I liked this movie - but it required me to hang on and hang in more than a masterful take on the material would have.

Blue Caprice - Alexandre Moors - Hypnotic if not quite harrowing portrait if not strictly a dramatization of the mindset if not expressly the events that led up to the Beltway Sniper shootings carried out by John Allen Muhammed and Lee Boyd Malvo in October of 2002 around Washington D.C. As John, Isaiah Washington delivers a helluva performance, all bitter paranoia and badly wired or at least overcooked paternal impulse that mix into an evil plan to bring down the... something... system(?) he feels victimized by. The film is dreamlike and impressionistic in its approach focusing on mood rather than plot-points and that works ultimately in its favor, becoming a dull-edged and suffocating nightmare rather than a by the numbers ticking clock thriller. Good supporting turns from Tim Blake Nelson and Tequan Richmond as Lee buttress Washington's towering simmer (that a contradiction?) while splashes of casting color from Joey Lauren Adams and Leo Fitzpatrick just made me wish for more of them than I got. Best moment: Lee takes care of a baby - it's a great moment balancing terror for what might happen to the child left long-term in his care and profound sadness at what might've happened to the young man with a better father-figure.

Booster - Adam Ruskin - Nico Stone plays Simon, a workaday thief and hustler who sticks to shoplifting and small-time non-violent scores to get by and stay off of everybody's radar. When his older brother, a thief with a different M.O. altogether (cowboy armed robberies of liquor stores and the like) is arrested and facing serious time, Simon is asked to pull more scores like the one his brother is suspected of in order to cast doubt on his brother's guilt. It's a hard choice that means more than just the risk of being caught or someone getting hurt and it weighs on Simon appropriately. This is a very unassuming crime drama that feels like it's punching above its weight, but that's exactly what I responded to in it. I'd like to see more low-budget treatments of crime on film like this. Not saying it's a masterpiece, but I'd rather see more material executed at this level of skill and sincerity than a hundred slick hitman/serial killer movies. Also anytime Seymour Cassel agrees to be in your movie it's a good sign.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie - Vince Gilligan - The quality of this one is hard to quantify because it absolutely depends on familiarity with Breaking Bad to appreciate. Aaron Paul brings Jesse Pinkman back to the screen to give the character a much appreciated if not much needed coda. Over the course of six seasons Jesse became the real heart of the show and the film focuses both on the events immediately after the series finale as well as fill in some blank spots in Jesse's story from the final season(s). There are some nice suspense sequences, but the real treat is getting to spend just a little more time with some of the series guest stars including Jesse Plemons, Robert Forster, Jonathan Banks and even a flashback with Bryan Cranston. Nice surprise of a picture I didn't know that I wanted, but it's left me now hoping we get another Breaking Bad Movie or two down the line.

Cash Only - Malik Bader - Writer Nickola Shreli is Elvis, a small time hustler/semi-legit businessman whose attempt at an arson score ends tragically and sends him into a tailspin he spends the rest of the economic running time trying to outrun for the sake of his little girl in Malik Bader's small time slice of nasty. Each dumb-fuck move Elvis makes is leavened by his ability to think on his feet and conjure cash from improvised scams. This one simmers until it boils over abruptly in the last act and leads to my nomination for Stabbing Scene of the Year. Fuck. Nasty. Gross. Nice.

A Company ManSang-yoon Lim - Remember those old Looney Tunes episodes with the dog and the wolf checking in at work, punching their time cards before assuming their assigned role as protector and predator? This flick is about the closest I've found to using that setup in a 'real-world' setup. Hyeong-do (Ji-seob So) leads a fairly ordinary existence working for a metal manufacturing company in South Korea. He wears a suit and tie, answers to a soulless bottom-line-obsessed, corporate schmuck and attends silly team meetings and luncheons with the folks in the office. Only, when he is working, he's killing people, and when the corporate suck machine wants the last of his soul, he decides he'd rather not continue down this career path. Have you ever seen a hit man movie? Then you know the plot. Killer decides not to kill, then must kill all the other killers. It's a cautious recommendation I'll give this flick because it does many things well (including the action sequences), but it's very uneven tonally - the gears grind and lurch between tragedy and comedy, realism and the fantastic.

ContrabandBaltasar Kormákur - In this remake of Oskar Jónasson's Reykjavík Rotterdam (directed by the original film's star) Mark Wahlberg's Chris Farraday is an honest man finally. A little stretch in the cooler'll do that for a guy with family aspirations. He used to be a damn good smuggler, but got his ass caught and now that he's out is just concentrating on paying the bills like any old square in order to keep his wife and kids fed and with him. But when his deadbeat brother in law (Caleb Landry Jones) gets in over his head with some dangerous gangsters, Chris must once again join the crew of a ship and smuggle da-da-da contraband! The captain of the ship doesn't want him on board, the crew are excited as hell, his wife doesn't know what's going on and his best friend is trying to steal his family from him while he's away. He's fucked. Or is he? Don't forget kids, just because he's been retired doesn't mean he's not a wiley pro. Of course, shit doesn't go smooth at all and he's going to need a helluva lotta things to go right to balance out everything that goes wrong. It's got sky-high willing suspension of disbelief issues and some logic shit near the end that bugs me. Buuuut, it's got... something. It's the type of macho bullshit I'm not above letting myself enjoy. I love the hell out of the shipping setting and the cast has got appeal. Still, you gotta hand it to Hollywood when making just-go-with-it kinetic, escapist fare it felt like the best elements of 24 on the big screen (even though it blew its chance at being particularly memorable in the third act... big time). Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster, J.K. Simmons, Diego Luna, Lukas Haas and Kate Beckinsale are involved too.

Criminal - Ariel Vroman - When Ryan Reynolds' spy character is killed while he's the only one who knows important information about Michael Pitt's interpol fugitive number one Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones decide to put his memory into the mind of Kevin Costner's psychotic titular criminal and just kinda hope things work out. Ho-lee-shit this is a butt-stuff-fun movie. It is fuck-you dumb and Costner is having a blast being bad. The ad-campaign really fucked up with this one concentrating on some late in the story heartstrings plucked and normalizing rather emphasizing how batshit insane the plot and how off the hook the adventure is. Once in a while you really gotta cleanse your pallet with something outrageous and may I recommend this one next time you need it and you've already seen Point Break, Face/Off, Double Team or... The Big Hit. Cast also includes Gal Gadot, Alice Eve and look for Scott Adkins!

Dealer - Jean Luc Herbulot - Director and co-writer Herbulot lifts the plot and title nearly whole-cloth from Nicolas Winding Refn's Pusher, and moves the action to Paris where Dan (Dan Bronchinson), a small time drug dealer, sees an opportunity for a one-time big cocaine job that will free up his finances enough to move out of the country and his current shitty life. Merde hits the fan from jumpstreet and Dan spends a nerve-wracking day crisscrossing the streets of Paris to keep plates spinning while avoiding cops and gangsters who all want a piece of him and his deal. Again - absolutely nothing new with the plot - it's just a sturdy as hell frame to hang a movie on and, oh my, they don't skimp on the nasty here. Both the general atmosphere and the tone of the violence will make you recoil, but the amphetamine kicking and ever-louder ticking on the game clock will keep you alert and paying attention. Don't pay for a whole seat, you'll only need the edge.

The Debt Collector - Jesse V. Johnson - I've watched a bunch of Scott Adkins movies and they're pretty hit or miss - highlights include his decades-later sequels to Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles like Universal Soldier and Hard Target - but The Debt Collector is easily his most appealing role to date for me. Mostly because somebody had the bright idea to let him be funny and inject a little personality into his performance. He's helped by Louis Mandylor as the other half of the hard-boiled odd couple and fuckin Tony Todd is the bad guy, so it's gotta be worth checking out, right? Pretty perfect, unpretentious, low-brow, low-stakes fun. Johnson has become an essential straight to streaming action director too. He's on a roll.

Dredd - Pete Travis - This is one I've warmed up to over the last few years and now I enjoy it quite a bit. Karl Urban never quite took off the way it appeared he was going to for a few years there and this might've been his last big chance to do it (he's fine, got a good career starring in second-tier stuffs and as an increasingly good supporting player in the A-list pictures - who knew he was funny?) and it's a little baffling that this one didn't do it. It's admirably brutal in its violence, comic-book-appropriately hardboiled without over-doing it the way so many funny-pages adaptations can, and kinda beautiful in its grimy glittery futurescape. It may have suffered some from being released in such close proximity to and being so structurally similar to Gareth Evans' still superior The Raid: Redemption, but with a script by Alex Garland and a supporting cast that includes Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris and Domhnall Gleeson it's worth another look for sure.

End of Watch - David Ayer - Pretty good patrolman flick continually and doggedly undermined by its found footage gimmick. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña have great buddy chemistry and the dashboard cam captured moments are the heart of the film, but every time a character speaks into a lapel camera or a handheld recorder, I wanna punch something. Forget the inconsistency of the application or the really substantial believability hurdle, I'm going to have a really hard time liking or wanting to spend time with any character so self-involved that they record every moment of their lives. Lots of good to almost great moments scattered throughout though. Best moment: discovering the death house.

EverlyJoe Lynch - First time I tried watching it I quit less than five minutes in - had some preconceived notion of what it was that it was not, but something made me take another look and hoo-ee am I glad I did. This movie's a blast. Just a sicko exploitation action movie blast. Yeah, it's a bummer that so much CGI is required to make blood these days - but this one really brings something special in the sadism department and Salma Hayek is really good. Happily revisit soon.

Everybody Has a Plan - Ana Piterbarg - Viggo Moretnsen plays identical twins Augustin and Pedro - one a city doctor, the other a country bee-keeper/criminal - in Argentina. One's plans have fallen apart and the other suddenly wants to abandon his. A reunion after a decade-long (longer?) estrangement ends with one sibling murdering the other and attempting to resume his brother's identity, only to realize that perhaps the new life's problems are worse than the ones he left behind. This is a steady and measured thriller that's brought to a raging simmer if never quite a boil, and I enjoyed it all the way through - the acting, the pace, the cinematography all swell. Still, it's a shame it didn't have a bit... more of the x-factor to make it truly memorable. It establishes a terrific mood and has a great setting among the river community - both of which I'm sure I will enjoy, perhaps even more upon second viewing, but I'm left with the feeling that this one is a missed opportunity for something really special. Still, this is a very solid 85% and worth checking out.

The Fury of a Patient ManRaúl Arévalo - Slow burning romantic revenge melodrama with helluva finale. It's nice when a film can upset my natural sympathies without making me feel too cheaply manipulated. This one is a measured, steady march toward awfulness and through some lovely places you wish everybody could just stay in, but no, on we go... toward the awful without breaking stride. Strong central performances from Antonio de la Torre, Ruth Díaz and Luis Callejo.

Galveston - Mélanie Laurent - After being double crossed by his boss (Beau Bridges) Ben Foster's killer absconds with an already compromised young woman in tow (Elle Fanning) hoping that he can do one worthwhile thing by cutting the kid free before his own looming mortality catches up with him. It's another redemption through violence movie set in the rough American south and based on the novel by Nic Pizzolatto which means it comes pre-loaded with romantic notions of how an innocent can awaken the good inside a bad man and... I'm down for that, but it's nothing new as far as themes go. I thought perhaps having a French woman at the helm would be a fresh take on a familiar recipe, but I can't say it felt much different to me. It did feel satisfying enough though and I dug the single-take action set piece at then end. Curious to see how it fares in time.

Glass Chin - Noah Buschel - A boxer who almost was somebody takes on training a kid who might become somebody. Still, there're bills to pay - debts to settle, so he rents himself out doing collection work for a gangster who will want more than he has to give by the film's end. This is a really gorgeous little picture with a strong cast and just the right amount of ambition. Corey Stoll gets to toe the line between hero and hump and Billy Crudup is a very effectively threatening heavy, but the standout performance of the whole thing has got to be Yul Vasquez's Roberto Flash, an enforcer whose muted flamboyance would be played for laughs 99 times out of 100, but is instead the most human beating heart in the whole thing. Seriously, I want a Roberto Flash movie. Plus there's a swell scene by David Johansen. and the rest of the cast includes Katherine Waterston, John Ventimiglia, Michael Chernus, Brendan Sexton III and Marin Ireland.

Hardcore Henry Ilya Naishuller - The 2013 music videos for Biting Elbows' The Stampede and Bad Motherfucker, a two-part, first person-POV action flick about a bunch of black suit wearing motherfuckers trying to kill a slippery, elusive motherfucker for control of a teleportation device, was such an inventive, high-energy blast of cinematic blood letting somebody threw director Naishuller a bunch of money and a dare to do a feature length version. Naishuller then dared audiences to sit through it and I for one am damned glad I did. Specifically, I'm glad I did it at the theater where the impact of the giant screen was maximized and made for some nausea-inducing sequences of shaky-cam bloody mayhem. Yeah, it made me a little cross-eyed, but it's the most formally-inventive action movie since The Matrix - like an ultraviolent Looney Tunes episode that just keeps upping the chuck and I was more than a little titillated and knock-kneed afterward. I remember exactly fuck-all about the plot, and a lot of the humor falls flat, but every single action sequence felt like the big over the top finale of any other action flick and that's more than half the battle.

Hotel Artemis - Drew Pearce - Jodie Foster runs an underworld hotel/hospital for criminals that works on membership dues paid by career bad guys and strict adherence to the rules. Much like John Wick's The Continental The Artemis is sacred ground where fuckery has no place and present to help assure everything stays antiseptic and copacetic is the aptly named Everest, a gentle giant until the rools get disrespuct as is bound to happen in any movie casting Dave Bautista as a nurse/bouncer. Hotel Artemis is a one-bad-night movie and hoo-boy, have they constructed a fustercluck of characters and events - riots in the streets to keep the otherwise non-existent police occupied, an assortment of badass 'guests' who'll have to put aside differences in order to survive the siege the Artemis will be under from Jeff Goldblum's crime lord Niagra looking for something stolen from him by Brian Tyree Henry's Honolulu during the heist he and Sterling K. Brown's Waikiki were pulling that involved catching a bullet in a shootout thus necessitating a night at the Artemis. Add to the immaculate set design, costumes, cinematography Charlie Day, Jenny Slate, Kenneth Choi, Zachary Quinto and Sofia Boutella as a supporting cast with more cool nicknames, a ton of attitude and some well-executed mayhem and you've got the most surprising pretty okay movie of the year. I'm not really sure why this didn't work better than it did, but the parts are most definitely greater than the whole. Not great. But what parts! It's a curiosity whose place may rise or fall with time and more viewings, but I had high hopes that were mostly unrealized this time.

The Incident (aka Asylum Blackout) - Alexandre Courtès - Members of a heavy metal band work day jobs as the kitchen help at the local asylum for the criminally insane and are about to have a really bad day on the clock. When the power goes out and the security safeguards fail they find themselves in the midst of a horrific free for all among some super sick fucks. It's a gruesome horror/prison riot movie written by S. Craig Zahler and Jérôme Fansten. It's a sicko flicko with plenty of grossout gasps and ghastly guffaws and will surely find a wider audience... soon? It's from 2011 y'all, why haven't I heard more of you talking it up?

Joker - Todd Phillips - The most polarizing film of the year? One of them anyhow. I sure read an awful lot about it from very vocal admirers and detractors (didn't we all?), but after seeing it myself what I can say with some confidence about the gushers and the shushers is that people mostly seem to get out of art what they bring to it. I went in with curiosity more than expectations and found it to be a curiosity of a comic book movie. More horror than crime, refreshingly devoid of green screen special effects, superpowers or even supervillains and certainly no heroes. The central performance was a pretty remarkable feat of sustained energy in a film that was mostly an emotional drag. From the time Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Fleck appears on Robert De Niro's talk show and begins speaking to the public I was afraid it would completely lose me and nearly did, but the aftermath of that appearance and the bloody grin Phoenix puts on his face delivered legitimate chills (as did the subway ride to the gig and the scene of Fleck in completely white-face) and it's mainly for those moments that the film succeeds. I fall neither into the loved it nor loathed it camp and will be willing to check out the inevitable sequel though a little bummed it could chew up so much of Phoenix's precious time. He's one of the best we've got right now.

Kill Zone 2: A Time For Consequence - Cheang Pou-soi - I can't recap the plot for you. I know it involves undercover cops, drug smuggling, trafficking in human organs, corrupt prison officials and a shit-ton of coincidence, but where all those pieces go I'm not the least interested in trying to recall. They're just excuses to move from one great action sequence to the next. A sequel in name only to the 2005 Donnie Yen/Sammo Hung flick, even the returning actors (neither Yen nor Hung) Wu Jing and Simon Yam play different characters so don't worry about diving into it if you've never seen the first. Ong-Bak's Tony Jaa is foremost amongst the ensemble of ass-kickers doing what they do.

Killerman - Malik Bader - The first ten minutes of Killerman where we follow Chris Hemsworth's Moe on his rounds at his job laundering cash had me thinking I might've found my favorite unheralded movie of the year. It just had the feel of the type of street level shadow economy crime and stakes that I could  embrace easily and enthusiastically. After the inevitable happens - shit goes sideways hard and fast at the ass end of a bad decision the amnesia element dropped and so did my expectations for the rest of the film. Moe sustains a head injury resulting from a violence from police looking to steal from him that causes him to lose his identity - an entirely unnecessary twist to the everybody wants a piece of him thriller I was already invested in. The movie I was invested in, turns out, was only half the movie Bader was intent on making though and in the end the amnesia has as fine a pay-off as I could have hoped for - it just threw me off there for a while in the middle. Still - this flick has got a lot more going for it than against including Zlatko Burić! I do have hopes Bader will make a crime classic one of these days.

Motel Life - Alan Polsky, Gabe Polsky - The Lee brothers hit the road, a step ahead of the cops after Jerry (Stephen Dorff) accidentally kills a kid with his car. They stay at cheap motels, drink cheap booze and pine for other lives, particularly through impromptu stories told by Frank (Emile Hirsch) at his brothers' request. Based on the beautifully melancholic novel by Willy Vlautin, it's an achievement that the Polsky's have made neither the year's most depressing movie, nor the year's most hollowly optimistic one. The story is bleak, but there's warmth in Vlautin's prose and that's a trick to translate into cinematography. The stories are presented here as animated vignettes that, for once, enhance the words and perhaps even improve on those passages from the book, (though, overall, the book remains a more potent experience). Good as Hirsch is, it's Dorff who steals the show, chewed up, and shit out, not very smart, but not an idiot, guilty, but alive. The role requires a lot from him and he's never been this good (tho, c'mon, his Deacon Frost from Blade was pretty great) and his choice of projects continues to interest me (The Iceman, Public Enemies, Tomorrow You're Gone - from the Matthew F. Jones novel Boot Tracks, even rumored to have been attached to the adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's Give Us a Kiss once upon a time). Supporting cast is uniformly good, even Kris Kristofferson opts not to phone in his couple of scenes and the real bravura sequence features Hirsch with Joshua Leonard and Noah Harpster putting money down on the Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis fight. That is some blue-collar Scorsese shit right there.

Never Goin' BackAugustine Frizzell - Maia Mitchell and Camila Morrone are two minimum-wage kids with nothing in this world but each other and a dream of going to the beach at Galveston for a birthday celebration, but this isn't the clueless bubble-reality the characters from Spring Breakers live in, this is ass-crack Texas economic reality, and though they're not above turning to petty crime to make ends meet and realize their dream, it's not their first instinct. Their first instinct is to work more awful shifts at their fucking awful jobs and save money walking instead of riding the bus. It's a class comedy and as potent a (fantasy) spiritual middle finger to everything and everybody arrayed against the young and under-employed dreamers as I could've hoped for. Next-gen Clerks with a lot of heart.

Never Grow Old - Ivan Kavanagh - Dying towns and drying up towns turn out to be two different things in this horror western starring Emile Hirsch as a family man whose fortunes are inversely set against the tiny God-fearing town he and his family reside in. It's a town run by elders overly concerned with the level of vice their neighbor entertains and as a result the nobody particularly wants to live there. Enter Judgement in the dead-eyed form of Dutch Albert, an unnerving and acutely menacing John Cusack, who gives zero fucks for the laws of the Almighty and turns the town into a pit of vice - prostitution, liquor and games of chance bring life to the formerly sleepy community before Dutch and his gang turn all that new life into fresh death, an economic boon for Hirsch - he's the undertaker. The balance of liberty and morality always tips into damnation and Hirsch watches his community and family inch closer to eternal destruction while he rakes in money... it's a cool metaphor and it's an unusually potent low budget western with big themes on its mind.

No Tears For the Dead - Lee Jeong-beom - East meets west in this Korean action pic that fuses sensibilities with mixed results. Yeah, the introduction of guns to the mix (and the plot - it's about American black market weapons finding their way across the world) pays off in some great shootouts, but also limits some of what has been so distinctly other about K-crime flicks this century - the lack of guns on the street meaning the gangsters have to hack each other to pieces with knives and hatchets. Also the introduction of English-speaking actors underlines what a B-production/premise it is (something often effectively masked by having to read subtitles), but holy crap there are still at least three very satisfying action sequences to love here and I hope Jeong-boom's next effort, Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage, reveal him to be a talent to watch.

Out of the Furnace - Scott Cooper - Two good-hearted brothers from a blue collar neighborhood go down separate tragic paths - the older and more responsible (goatee mode Christian Bale) works at the same steel mill his father did. He loves his dying pop and his smoking hot girlfriend, but flushes his life down the tubes and ends up in prison for his part in a terrible traffic accident. The younger, restless brother (cracked voice Casey Affleck) fucked himself by joining the armed forces and fighting in the middle east and has come home ill-suited for anything except prize fighting in underground scraps organized by a local gangster (the refreshingly engaged Willem Dafoe). When younger brother gets in over his head with money issues he presses for a fight with some particularly nasty out of town rednecks - a fight he never comes back from. The police can't do much to find him so the older brother and their uncle (Sam Shepard) go sniffing around some dark corners of Appalachia and things point toward the menacing figure of Woody Harrelson (pretty menacing believe it or not). Which is all to say - I've seen this movie before. A hundred times. It's nothing new... What makes this one stand out is the cast - I mean damn, I haven't even mentioned Forest Whitaker, Zoe Saldana or Tom Bower yet. Unfortunately nobody gave em a script of any note (it feels like something Sylvester Stallone never got around to making 30 years ago). It does look good and many of the aesthetics seem tailored to my preferences, but at the end of the day, I really was hoping for more from this one.

Pusher Luis Prieto - An English language remake of the first of Nicolas Winding Refn's Danish Pusher trilogy, and a lot of fun (for the audience, not for the characters). The original is a good flick, but nowhere near as good as its sequels, so maybe that's why I really didn't mind such a close to the original remake. The location is changed and the new pulsing-techno soundtrack casts a half-dreamy, half-nightmarish trance over the proceedings as we watch a small-time drug dealer named Frank (Richard Coyle looking remarkably like and projecting a similar vitality and aura as Vincent Cassel) lose control of his life in the space a single hellish week. Bronson Webb brings a more humorous take on the pathetic-ness that is Tony than Mads Mikkelsen's original portrayal (but holy shit, nothing is more powerful than Mikkelsen's performance in Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands - you really must see that film - break your heart in all the right ways), but yeah, it's pretty much the exact same movie. I only hope the remake brings a new audience to the original's sequels. Hey you, go see them! Best moment: Zlatko Buric reprises the role of Milo and is clearly having a blast. So much heart, with so much menace beneath. When he talks to Frank... it's really scary.

Racer & the Jailbird - Michaël R. Roskam - Matthias Schoenaerts plays a bank robber whose cover involving car parts and inport/export of vehicles puts him in proximity of Adèle Exarchopoulos a competitive driver whom he falls instantly in love with. As their romance grows more intense his bullshit facade stands between them - he wants to quit the crime game and she just wants him to tell her the truth. After his one-last-job goes bad and he winds up in prison she doesn't leave him and instead makes plans and sets things in motion on the outside for their and/or his future. The way things work out (or don't) isn't predictable and that's the best thing about this odd duck of a romantic crime drama - I never knew where it was going. Afterward I'm not sure I'm satisfied, but I'm still thinking about it weeks later, which is a recommendation in its own right. No doubt the stars are attractive and the racing and heisting bits look great, but I also don't think they fully utilized their leads. For the sake of not spoiling the where-the-hell-is-this-going experience for some of you I won't go into exactly why I felt this way, but I do think there were a couple of big missed opportunities. Roskam directed The Drop, which I loved, as well as Bullhead which I was similarly frustrated by, but I know that other folks loved. He's interesting.

Raman Raghav 2.0Anurag Kashyap - The connection between a compromised policeman and the killer he is chasing is slowly revealed in the neon-grunge of Mumbai. The enigmatic performance by Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Raman, a modern day killer who takes inspiration from a real serial murderer from the 1960s whose first name he shares, is the most compelling reason to watch this one, but atmosphere generated and sustained by Kashyap's camera and excellent locales sure help.

Rattle the CageMajid Al Ansari - A man arrested for a fight with his ex-wife's new fella finds he's picked the wrong cell to sleep off his hangover in when a strange policeman arrives and begins killing everybody. This is a tight thriller with a simple premise revealed in satisfactory fashion and just enough explanation to keep plausibility intact. Just missed my top picks of the year - check it out, I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Run All Night - Jaume Collett-Serra - Liam Neeson is a bad guy. His son is a good guy. Ed Harris is a bad guy. His son is a bad guy. Liam Neeson's son kills Ed Harris's son and Ed Harris sets out to kill Liam Neeson's son. Liam Neeson tells Ed Harris not to kill his son and that he's sorry about Ed Harris's son being killed even though everybody knows Ed Harris's son was a bad guy... and that Liam Neeson's son is a good guy. Ed Harris (a bad guy) hires Common (an uncommonly good bad guy killer) to kill Liam Neeson's son (a good guy). I'm not sure why I just sounded so snarky. I actually enjoyed this movie on some significant levels: 1) It's set in a grungy workaday criminal underworld, not  so different from a grungy blue-collar neighborhood - which I gravitate to far harder than say a tale of upper-echelon mafiosos running empires from mansions and shit. 2) It's cast primarily with actors who look like they could've lived the lives they're supposed to have as opposed to have instead of a bunch of twenty-three year old muscle/tattoo guys with expensive haircuts who supposedly run a city. 3) It's small-scale stuff. Yeah, the reach of Harris's fingers into the power structure - cops on his payroll, killers on his speed-dial - are plausible and he doesn't feel like he's got bottomless pockets - it very much feels like he's breaking the bank to kill Joel Kinnaman and he's broken up enough to ruin himself over it. 4) The cinematic quality consistently outmatches the material - which lends more weight to all the aforementioned reasons for succumbing to it because to me it suggests the director had a budget, and chose these slums (material, characters and setting) because it's what he's drawn to as well. Fuck it, I'm in your corner, buddy. But the film does have some significant drawbacks: 1) The silly notion that somebody fighting for their life has their humanity irreparably tainted for responding with lethal force - to the point where Batman won't use a gun or, in this case, Neeson will make stupid (and worse - impractical) decisions just to keep his grown-ass-man son from taking a life. It's an overly-romantic notion that clashes with the more grungy, grounded elements and world of the film. 2) Common's hit man is just a little too much the ultimate boogie man badass that again - clashes with the more realistic elements. 3) The action climax - again, you've set up this fairly believable world that I want to hang out in, but you start getting all action-heroey on me and I'm checking out. I like crime movies and I like action movies - but they're two different things and don't often mix in successful ways. So, hey, it's a qualified thumbs up for the first half of the movie and some beautifully shot scenes. Best moment: the cop car chase sequence rides the fine crime film/action movie line most successfully.

Shimmer LakeOren Uziel - The sheriff of a small town leads a manhunt for three bank robbers one of whom is his brother. Another Netflix original I went into blind and really enjoyed for three reasons. First, the tone. While it is dosed with plenty of humor, it isn't a comedy - the violent and tragic elements are given straightforward treatment and work just as well as the comedic bits. Second, the structure. The story is told in reverse over the course of three days and the decision to tell it that way pays off in numerous small ways without feeling like the ultimate revelation is gimmicky or a big let down - again, the tone is key here - it's a fairly unassuming picture unlike work by oh... Christopher Nolan or M. Night Shyamalan where you're looking hard for the key for the whole run time and the ultimate success of the film rests on the delivery of that final detail. Third, the cast. Solid ensemble, but holy shit I need Rob Corddry and Ron Livingston to make many, many more appearances as their B-team FBI agents.

Small Town Murder SongsEd Gass-Donnelly - Starring the ever-watchable Peter Stormare as a middle-aged, small-town police chief investigating his first murder, though apparently not the first killing he's had ties to was a hell of a good out of nowhere surprise for me. Its measured pace, stately composition and bracingly spiritual soundtrack help, but it's the performances by the whole cast and especially Stormare, Martha Plimpton, Jill Hennessey and Stephen Eric McIntyre that really give the picture weight. It's a brooder, but not a plodding one. The central investigation is refreshingly straight-forward and simple while the interpersonal dynamics are the complex main story.

Superfly - Director X - This update/remake is all attitude and style and if you do it right you'll not stop to think things through before you're whisked off to the next outrageous set piece. More fun than it has any business being. Imagine if Hype Williams watched a bunch of Michael Mann movies and decided that was what he was going for next

The SweeneyNick Love - Never having seen the TV show it was based on, I can't comment on its faithfulness or lack there of. But having seen my share of hard-cop fare, I can say with confidence I've seen much better and much worse. But, shit, this is probably the closest we're ever going to get to Ray Winstone as Ken Bruen's Sgt. Brant, and thinking of it that way probably colored my experience more than it should have. Jack Regan isn't just hard, he's unreasonably hard. He's cartoonishly hard. He beats suspects with blunt objects. He shoots off their extra fingers. He headbutts a lot of people. He disregards direct orders. Not only does he choke his boss (with one hand, no less), he fucks the boss's wife. He's... he's a lot of fun to watch, especially when he and Ben Drew's Carter get into one of their mumbling and dead-eyed scowling competitions (every fucking time they're on screen together... which is often.) By the end, I really was enjoying their schtick, especially since the momentum behind the second half was strong enough to sweep aside all objections to reason, due process and good taste. And, The Sweeney is a terrific-looking picture. The London skyline is striking and the police station is so slick and state of the art it looks like an Apple commercial. Solid action picture with a bit of grit and plenty of indiscriminately brutal police. Best moment: The bank-robbery shootout.

Triple Frontier - J.C. Chandor - Ben Affleck and Oscar Isaac lead a stud-studded cast of super soldiers turned thieving bastards who scowl and grunt and speechify in order to make it clear how seriously they're taking their decision to put their military training to personal use and commit crimes. By their logic nobody in a position to punish them should care too much as long as they only steal from and kill a Mexican cartel boss in Mexico. Their logic holds, but their plan does not. Soon they're having to run while lugging many many duffel bags of cash with them through the jungle over mountains and into the ocean while the manhunt/treasure hunt focused on them becomes overwhelming. Sounds like a great setup for a fun adventure flick, a hardcore heist movie or a simple plan gone to shit noir and it's not really any of those things. Hell it could've become a revolution movie, but the whole 'our system is so broken we have to turn to crime to get by' premise gets shame-swallowed in the end with a big sigh and a 'we're still bros, right?' hug-a-thon and at times almost audibly pleads "The troops, who will support the troops?" Ultimately it gets a the go-ahead from me mostly for the cool location shooting and a handful of good action moments, but I really was hoping for a lot more from it.

Viva Riva - Djo Munga - No grand statements here, just a particularly vibrant and sensuous setting (Kinshasa) for a rise and fall of a gangster picture. Great chemistry too between Patsha Bay and Manie Malone. The energy, the urgency and the Congo locale - all rubble and glamour - make it a highly enjoyable flick I'll want to revisit again soon.

A Walk Among the Tombstones - Scott Frank - Ex-cop, ex-drunk and current unlicensed private detective Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) takes on a job for a drug trafficker to find the men who kidnapped and killed his wife. Screenwriter/director Frank is the go-to guy for adapting tonally challenging writers (he's had varying degrees of success working from source material by James Lee Burke, Elmore Leonard, Philip K. Dick and Charles Willeford) and this one is the best all-around screen representation of material by Lawrence Block yet (the second time Scudder's been seen after Jeff Bridges had the role in 8 Million Ways to Die), but the material remains tricky, slipping traditional movie structures and beats like it doesn't give a fuck. And I suspect it doesn't. Bully for it. What emerges then feels odd at times - the pov switches occasionally and comes back to Scudder's when it feels like it - but only if you think of it as by-the-numbers blockbuster fare. Plus, it's a moody fucker. It's dark. Darker and less action-packed than the type of hardboiled histrionics Neeson's been lending his visage to of late anyhow. It feels like the role he's been looking for, three grades above and a sidestep away from what he's been making his tough guy bones doing. This is the franchise that should get three installments, guys... not fucking Taken.

Wild Bill -  Dexter Fletcher - Bill is just out of prison and looking to leave behind his hard drinking, violence-prone reputation. He wants to be left alone, but finds he's saddled with children who've never really known him and former criminal cohorts who don't want to leave him be. Can he pull it together and pull through without resorting to the roots of his reputation? Probably not. It's got real heart beneath the marketing angle that seems to make it out to be a slick Guy Ritchie knock off.

Wind River Taylor Sheridan - Appropriately moody and invested in its victims, but not really a noir... unless you take into account its fatalism about the populace of the titular Wyoming Indian reserve and treat it as a tour of life in the margins. It's a fine procedural that pulls one of the more hotly contentious moves Sheridan's script for Sicario also did, though this time it doesn't feel as jarring due to establishing Jeremy Renner as the main character early on. Like all of Sheridan's projects it's divided the crime fans for offences that frankly don't get brought up for so many other films. I think the reason is because Sheridan clearly has talent and it's frustrating to see someone get so close to delivering something great - it makes the stumbles so noticeable. This one gets points for the remote snowy setting, an excellent payoff to a very tense stand off and for details of rez life (though the fact that it's a white character's story set among American Indians is one of the lightening rod criticisms too).

You're Next - Adam Wingard - Surprisingly potent home invasion thriller with a few who-dunnit-genre style twists in this monsters of mumblecore thriller. So often in slasher/monster/disaster movies populated with a cast you know are ultimately fodder I find myself rooting for everybody to be gruesomely offed, but surprisingly this time I didn't hate the characters and I found it legitimately scary for a moment or two, plus the twists and subversions were stronger than average (especially the chick being pretty cool-headed and tough - without being cartoonish at all). Best moment: best blender kill since Gremlins.

ZuluJérôme Salle - After closing the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, this Capetown-set crime and corruption film based on the novel by Caryl Ferey disappeared seemingly forever. WTF? Swell source material, western movie stars, nicely shot violence and sex and... How the hell has this not had a theatrical or at least DVD release in the US? It's not the incendiary picture it was hoped to be, but it's far from a waste. It's solid, not skimping on the crowd-pleasing elements nor the ugly social histories of South Africa and the world always needs more Forest Whitaker.

Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 251-300

Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 151-200

Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 101-150

Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 51-100

Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 1-50

4 comments:

E. Ellis said...

Love these lists. I have heard of a bunch of these and then a bunch I didn't even know existed. I had no idea they made a movie based on the Galveston book. When you do these lists I have to get a pen and paper out and start writing down titles.

Watched the movie Breathless the other night and you were right about Val Kilmer. His speech pattern was quite different and I wonder if he had some sort of prosthesis in his mouth.

jedidiah ayres said...

He was clearly having fun in that one.

kjs said...

an esoteric non sequitur regarding American Made; if you want to read an unusual, in over your head secret history novel that happens to be set in all that reagan ratfucking the monroe doctrine world, check out joan didion's THE LAST THING HE WANTED (1996)

jedidiah ayres said...

Thanks, Shea