Tammy's in Love

Apart from Singin' in the Rain, my most vivid filmic memory of Debbie Reynolds is from a Terence Davies movie in which she does not physically appear.


Blissfully Yours
la la land image

I already loved La La Land. Then it ascended to a different, even more superlative level with its showstopping finale cum heartbreaking denouement. From Fall to the second Winter, Damien Chazelle switches gears from Manhattan to 25th Hour, whilst splitting the difference between Singin' in the Rain and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Of course, every review has dutifully noted this latter comparative pair, but what needs to be absolutely emphasized is the blissful absence of ironic winks or quotation marks, which is why La La Land is as genuinely affecting and lovely as it is - and not just a slick exercise with some catchy songs. For all its deliberate artifice and fervent cinephilia, it's not 'meta' in the slightest. If this is a film 'about' the death of film (and jazz), as Jonathan Rosenbaum suggests, such eulogies are legibly subtextual; they never reduce Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling's multi-dimensional human characters to ciphers in service of overbearing allegory. Like The Witch -- one of the great horror films because it's so thoroughly invested in its horrors -- La La Land is, in the first place, a deeply committed Movie-Movie, and an instant classic as such.
Two Holiday Recommendations eyes wide shut

1. Watch the inspired shorts compendium "🌲🌲🌲" [Merry Christmas], including terrific new films from Sophy Romvari (co-directed with Deragh Campbell, from Never Eat Alone) and Kurt Walker (co-directed with Holly-Ann Addison-Walker).

2. Rewatch Eyes Wide Shut. It's one of the best films ever made - and, incidentally, one of the great Christmas movies. I saw it the day it opened in theatres, and have seen it perhaps two dozen times since. It just gets better with time. Its mysteries deepen and expand.


Show Some Gratitude

Ta-Nehisi Coates' "My President Was Black" is the most thoughtful and powerful piece of political writing I've encountered post-11/9. Everyone should read it, write a note of thanks to Coates for writing it, and then - more importantly still - send a sincere thank-you letter to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. before its soon-to-be occupant moves in.

I already miss Obama terribly.


Performances: 2016 goodman_10 cloverfield lane

With many purported must-sees as yet unseen, here are - for now - my favourite performances of the year, making no distinction among gender, size of role, or 'fiction' vs. 'documentary' formats:

01. Cynthia Nixon, A Quiet Passion
02. Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner, Weiner
03. Isabelle Huppert, Things to Come
04. Andrew Garfield, Silence
05. Jean-Pierre Léaud, The Death of Louis XIV
06. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
07. John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane
08. Isabelle Huppert, Elle
09. Kristen Stewart, Personal Shopper
10. Agyness Deyn, Sunset Song
11. Mark Rylance, The BFG
12. Golshifteh Farahani and Adam Driver, Paterson
13. Sandra Hüller, Toni Erdmann
14. Tom Hanks, Sully
15. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, La La Land
16. John Travolta, In a Valley of Violence
17. Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Harvey Scrimshaw, The Witch
18. Adèle Haenel, The Unknown Girl
19. Narges Rashidi, Under the Shadow
20. Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins
21. Joan Benac, Never Eat Alone
22. Imogen Poots and Patrick Stewart, Green Room
23. Bhreagh MacNeil and Andrew Gillis, Werewolf
24. Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
25. Hamza Meziani, Nocturama



Bertrand Bonello's Nocturama in two pie charts: Nocturama 2

Nocturama FONTIUM


Isabelle Huppert x 2, Canada x 2
huppert_things to come

Four more strong 2016 releases.

Things to Come + Elle The latest from Mia Hansen-Løve and Paul Verhoeven have so much in common--lead performances by Isabelle Huppert, prominent roles for dark-coloured cats, Huppert's character having a strained yet still somewhat affectionate relationship with her ex-husband, Huppert's character having a close yet bitter relationship with her eccentric, hypochondriac mother, Huppert's character becoming a grandmother--yet, beyond these fairly striking similarities, they are very different films, with very different, if equally superlative, performances by Huppert. The key point at which these two films, both about smart, self-possessed, professional French women working through personal crises, starkly diverge can, in fact, best be identified through another ostensible echo: scenes where Huppert's character (philosophy professor Nathalie in Things to Come, video-game company executive Michèle in Elle) is sexually harassed or assaulted. In Hansen-Løve's film, this is just a single scene, disturbing as it escalates but ultimately limited to unwelcome advances and the threat of violent force. Nathalie herself shuts it down, and while it's surely something that will stick with her, it feels, in the context of the larger story, like one relatively minor episode, not a major turning point in the narrative. By contrast, the (first) instance of sexual assault in Elle comes in the opening scene, and it is the main catalyst for all the shocking, perverse, darkly amusing things that follow. This is vintage Verhoeven, to be sure, and it's certainly the more provocative of these two films. If visceral, unflinching, sly provocation are what you're principally after in cinema, it's the better film, too. But Things to Come is the wiser, deeper, more lived-in portrait. (To say that it's also more humane seems like a no-brainer, though Huppert injects more humanity into Elle than is normally present in Verhoeven's work, just as she did years ago for Haneke's The Piano Teacher.) Hansen-Løve's film is one of the most convincing and thoughtful character studies of an intellectual trying to reconcile her everyday, exterior life with her philosophical positions. Totally absent here are the 'Aha!' big-idea moments that normally plague films about serious intellectuals. Instead, Nathalie, as played so exquisitely by Huppert, is learning and adapting on the go, using the skills, ideas, and materials available to her to respond to difficult, but not finally insurmountable, circumstances. As doors close, other open, and unknown pleasures lie in wait. It's a vital lesson, shown not told.

Never Eat Alone + Werewolf If Sofia Bohdanowicz and Ashley McKenzie's features represent something like the vanguard of English-Canadian independent cinema, as practiced by the younger generation - and strong arguments have indeed been put forward to that effect - then what's increasingly clear is that Atom Egoyan - not Guy Maddin, certainly not Cronenberg - is the real spiritual progenitor of that cinema. This is not to say that Egoyan is seemingly the most direct influence for either Bohdanowicz's Never Eat Alone or McKenzie's Werewolf. The former is clearly angling toward Chantal Akerman territory, which it mostly succeeds in hitting, while the latter reminded me above all of the raggedly ethereal quality of David Gordon Green's first two films. But Egoyan's early-career experiments (esp. Next of Kin, Family Viewing, and Calendar) seem, if only indirectly, to be part of Never Eat Alone's filmic DNA; and more discernibly, directly related still is Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley, a "daughter" of sorts to Egoyan's art. As in Polley's film (and, for that matter, Sophy Romvari's excellent short Nine Behind), family is a matter of some mystery, its seemingly known past transformed into terra incognita by the dynamic functions of memory and questioning. In Bohdanowicz's documentary-fiction hybrid, an elderly woman tasks her granddaughter with tracking down an old CBC live-to-air musical melodrama, and, perhaps more importantly, the whereabouts of the man with whom she starred in that program. Underscoring the film's potent admixture of reality and artifice, Bohdanowicz inserts footage from the CBC program, filmed at Toronto's Casa Loma and delivered in romantic, mock-medieval style, into her film. In these scenes, we see a much younger, quite luminous incarnation of Bohdanowicz's grandmother, Joan Benac (who actually plays herself, or a version of herself, though an actress, Deragh Campbell, serves as a stand-in for Bohdanowicz), singing and swooning alongside a dashing baritone, her one-time would-be paramour. Bohdanowicz provides one answer to the question that I often find myself asking when watching old, obscure movies and TV programs: what happened to these people, not the major stars about whom biographies have been written and Wikipedia entries are updated daily, but the vast majority of semi-anonymous ghostly faces haunting our splendid pop-cultural past? In this case anyway, she went on to live a long, interesting life, maybe not extraordinary but not unmysterious either. The filmmaker expresses this by means of a remarkable attentiveness, her camera patiently observing the mundane daily habits of her grandmother, singing with her choir group, cooking and eating a dinner for one, lying on a couch reading a book. However quotidian all this may seem, there's something new and revelatory about it, insofar as we so rarely see older people just going about their days. This type of sensitive attention to oft-ignored individuals is a virtue shared by McKenzie's film, which centres on two young homeless people, a male and a female, both dependent upon daily doses of methadone. The film opens with a certain tragic event. Initially, it seems as though the story, stepping back and then moving forward again in time, will build inevitably toward that predisclosed conclusion. After supplying her audience with this foreknowledge, McKenzie circles around the trauma, in decidedly Egoyanesque fashion and not unlike Manchester by the Sea, although Lonergan's film is more dramatically pronounced. In Werewolf, quiet, fleeting moments, or scenes of incidental conflict, all take on a heightened, eerie quality in light of what's to come. But then - gradually, not all at once - McKenzie's film gracefully side-steps doom by switching tracks, that is, by transferring its attention and emphasis. It's a poignant feminist statement of, at once, the most obvious and the subtlest sort.


The Japanese Ninja, dir. Logan Timmermann
Admittedly, I'm a touch biased, but I think this is terrific!


Boys to Men

Moonlight is good. Very good. Some individual scenes are superb and lovely and affecting. I hope, for reasons that are partly but not wholly "cultural," that it wins lots of Oscars.'s not great. Many others have rightly identified the myriad things that Barry Jenkins' film does well, and in most respects I'd agree: the acting is uniformly excellent, the look of the film is beautiful, and it's an interesting, sensitive study of personal identity and its formation through a combination of interior and exterior factors.

Yet, these formidable strengths notwithstanding, the storytelling is - alternately or sometimes at once - clichéd and overly neat. The protagonist's mother, though well-played by Naomie Harris, is a seriously underdeveloped stock character; every scene she's in (including, and maybe especially, her last appearance, a moment aiming toward a fairly obvious sort of Redemption) feels like something we've seen before, almost exactly, usually in multiple, lesser films. The flatness of her character is also a problem shared by most of the film's other characters, apart from Little/Chiron/Black and Kevin. In some cases, fine, nuanced acting helps to cover for this type of underwritten one-dimensionality; this is particularly true of Mahershala Ali's turn as the savior/mentor-character Juan. In much the same way, the film's technical showiness (especially the photography and scoring, which are sometimes very elegant and other times merely showy and even glaringly inelegant) serves to conceal the rather thin and over-tidy storytelling at work. A few ham-handed, clumsy moments mar the overall film to a disproportionate extent because of just how jarring they feel in contrast to the understated, minor-key mood that Jenkins almost sustains throughout. One pivotal scene, in the film's middle section, meant to be emotionally painful (and, indeed, it was) was also painfully obvious; I was hoping against hope that it wouldn't come to pass, in that inexorable, brutal, von Trier-esque way - but, of course, it did. Within the context of the narrative, it's a horrible, life-changing moment. From a critical standpoint, it's the moment when a movie that I wanted to be Great took that possibility - for me, and whatever my two cents are worth - off the table, settling instead for Very Good.


Manchester by the Sea, the year's other top critical darling (give or take Toni Erdmann), comes closer to great-movie status, though it might, after one viewing, be my least-favorite of Kenneth Lonergan's three films. This is not a knock so much as a consequence of the fact that among three excellent films one of them must inevitably be "least excellent." Still, I'll try to explain by way of a comparison: The titular Massachusetts town added by the Sea to its name in 1989 to avoid confusion with the larger Manchester, New Hampshire. (Thanks, Wikipedia! Vancouver, Washington should take a hint...) In a similar sense, Lonergan's new film might be described as the one where an estranged, ne'er-do-well family member returns to his small Northeastern hometown and semi-competently looks after his nephew after extremely terrible things happen. Apparently, Matt Damon pitched this story to Lonergan, with the understanding that Damon would direct Lonergan's screenplay. Damon must have seen You Can Count on Me (which, don't forget, begins with sudden deaths, though they're further back in the past for the sibling leads), and then watched Lonergan's masterpiece, Margaret, a film about trying to cope with everyday life in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic incident, and thought, "Hey, why not combine these stories?" The result is the most directly, unequivocally Tragic of Lonergan's films. What makes Margaret so distinctly interesting is that Anna Paquin's character is grieving someone else's loss, to which she's only circumstantially connected. And in the emotional climax of You Can Count on Me, Laura Linney's Sammy asks her brother, Mark Ruffalo's Terry, "What's going to happen to you?", to which he pointedly, touchingly responds, "Nothing that bad." The tagline for Manchester by the Sea could be "It's that bad."

Thankfully, though, Lonergan himself was able to direct his script, and he avoids histrionics almost altogether. The horrible events that have shaped the life of Casey Affleck's Lee require no extra dramatic emphasis, and Affleck too recognizes this, playing Lee perfectly as the type of zombie we'd all be under such circumstances. In contrast to Moonlight, there isn't a single scene or minor character here that feels wrong or out of place, in part because Lonergan has such an acutely fine-tuned bullshit-detector and in part because the film is frequently funny - the way life tends to be even when it would seem inappropriate. Also, where the linear progress of Jenkins' condensed coming-of-age narrative make its seams - its numerous coincidences, echoes, and rhymes - too distractingly evident, the elliptical structure of Manchester by the Sea gives it a certain sad, lyrical grace that's closer to Atom Egoyan's best work (especially Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter) than to Lonergan's previous films, both of which are relatively more prosaic. It's the most striking and haunting aspect of the film, and it's the main reason why I expect it to improve upon repeat viewings.


The Personal and the Political

Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg's documentary about Anthony Weiner's mayoral campaign is outrageously good - one of the very best films of 2016! I just watched it twice, two nights in a row. I suspect that number of viewings will continue to go up.

The film works on so many levels:

1. It's one of the sharpest films ever made about the nitty-gritty, everyday experience of a political campaign, albeit in this case an exceptionally strange one. (Incidentally, this same 2013 NYC mayoral race also resulted in this very good, shorter-length New York Times doc about Christine Quinn's losing effort.)

2. It's also a remarkably prescient film, both in a general sense, showing how a single Achilles' heel (e.g., Hillary Clinton's email server) can tank an otherwise competent, qualified candidate, but also more specifically in light of the post-Weiner revelation that the emails which prompted the FBI to reinvestigate Hillary (and which Comey soon after - but, fatally, too late to mitigate the damage inflicted - announced were duplicates or else inconsequential) were supposedly found on Weiner's laptop, as he was being investigated for sexting with a 15 year-old...

3. It's Spinal Tap-level hilarious, though in that sucking-on-a-lemon comedy-of-humiliation way. Also, obviously, This Is Spinal Tap was scripted, while Weiner isn't: the filmmakers caught lightning in a bottle, intending, as they had been initially, to simply document Weiner's attempt at a political comeback.

4. The climactic McDonald's scene - and the code-word-laden plan leading up to it - is one of the craziest ad hoc moments ever caught on film.

5. But at the very same time that it's uproariously funny, it also manages to be humane and genuinely sad. Weiner himself, while coming across as a deep (almost Trump-level) narcissist, is weirdly endearing at times, such as when he's trying to make his dispirited campaign manager laugh by telling (self-deprecating) Rodney Dangerfield jokes. At such moments, he seems to be the person involved in the campaign who least comprehends the gravity of the situation. This may be in part because - as he explicitly interjects during one emergency staff meeting - it's not literally grave. In speaking with the filmmakers, Weiner reflects that the same aspects of his "constitution" that led him to "do the thing" (i.e., have Internet and phone sex with multiple women, lie to his wife and the media about it, etc.) also help him maintain sanity, and a sense of humor, under extreme circumstances. All of this is fascinating, as a singular character study.

6. Huma Abedin, meanwhile, is so immensely sympathetic: in addition to the myriad levels noted above, this is the tragic portrait of an extremely smart, sophisticated, elegant, well-connected woman dying inside, more so with each passing day, with cameras around documenting what she at one point fairly describes as "like living a nightmare"; her facial expressions convey the full, agonized spectrum of this. Glancing at a TV screen showing a blurred image of one of her husband's dick pics, she is the live-action embodiment of the Disgust emotion-character from Inside Out. In light of this, I'm almost glad that we didn't have to see her reaction to Comey's late October surprise. It would just be too terrible and heartbreaking.