01 January 2018

The most wonderful time of the year...(Part 2)

On the abundance of great movies afforded me by Winter Break

I'll start Part 2 with a paraphrase of a quote, quoted partially in Roger Ebert's Great Movies piece on Michael Haneke's 2005 film "Caché":

Those raised on mainstream cinema are accustomed to an ending that resolves things so they can watch a movie and then forget it. 

I often find myself walking a line, since movies aren't my full time job and I have to choose carefully, in trying to find the types of films that Haneke is talking about. And there's another fine line in the idea that mainstream, or tightly resolved, films are entertainments without emotional resonance and that art, or more ambiguous, thoughtful, films are emotionally resonant without the entertainment.

When you think about how far we've come as film viewers since Haneke said those words, now more than a decade ago, that fine line is even finer. Movies with modest budgets find themselves in the mainstream all the time, especially if you consider Oscar fodder to be mainstream. We have mega-budget movies, like "Wonder Woman" and "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" blasting budget records and engaging critics, cinephiles, and the public-at-large in themselves and in the conversations that come from them. The latter film, in fact, has, in some ways, more in common with an artistic mood piece than it does its Friday night popcorn predecessors.

When you look at the films in Part 1, the movies I chose to see with my Movie Pass at my local Regal theaters, you will see "The Disaster Artist," an art experiment about an epically bad movie that tacks on a supremely happy ending that didn't even happen. You will see "The Shape of Water," a violent, sexual fairy tale that does little else than play on the wonder of the movies that came before it all while being new and supremely happy in the end. You will see "Molly's Game," this year's real true mainstream Hollywood entertainment, with an A-list cast that has yet to even open in wide release. You can bet it has a happy ending, which is one of its downfalls. It plays things too close and too safe.

You will, in that previous post and in my last full review, see "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri," which is every bit as A-list as "Molly's Game," and that did see an on-going wide release that is the most subversive traditional storytelling of the year, boasting an ending that has literally angered people.

Which one of those did I love the most?

It's an interesting thing, the movies we get bombarded with in a year, especially around the New Year, when studios make their final Oscar pushes. Was Haneke right back then? You bet your ass. And he still is, but the movies are better than they were then. And the movies that were way back when are still as fresh as ever.

Here are my takes on some movies, new and old, I caught on home media over the break:

dir. Marc Webb, 2017

It’s fine. As expected. It mostly plays like it’s been assembled of parts of better movies, and it gets public education way, way wrong. It’s saving grace is in its subtle narrative twists, mostly dealing with the past and present dynamic between the Chris Evans character and his mother, played by Lindsay Duncan. And, of course, this movie wins with Chris Evans, who can’t seem to NOT have chemistry with anyone he works with. It’s this very ability that keeps this movie fresh.

Happy Ending? Yes.
Does it work? Yes. Much better than other parts of this movie.

"Ingrid Goes West"
dir. Matt Spicer, 2017

One of the best movies of the year. Likewise, Aubrey Plaza’s dedicated performance up their as well. This is a dark comedy that gets everything about what we love and hate about social media, especially Instagram, exactly right. It puts phony celebrity and viral meme culture under a powerful microscope, as it needs to be. And it’s funny. Hilarious, biting satire.

Happy Ending? Yes. LOL. 
Does it work? OMG. Yes! It makes this dark piece of work exponentially darker. 

"Chop Shop"
dir. Ramin Bahrani, 2007

This movie is a Willem Defoe away from being a smash indie hit of this year and on its way to Oscar. Well, that’s now... I suppose, in a way, we can thank Roger Ebert for championing this film, all of Bahrani’s films, as predecessors to the kinds of indies truly making their way in the huge world of mainstream movies right now. This is a perfect little story with layers of implications about hard work in a hard life in the shadow of a place where men play a boy’s game for work and get paid insanely for it. One of many ironies in this movie, a meticulously detailed, close study of boyhood.

Viewed as part of my journey through Roger Ebert's Great Movies (in reverse chronological order).

Happy Ending? No.
Does it work? Yes. Very much so. It is a beautifully sad story that doesn't require resolution.


Merry Christmas! And Happy Birthday, Bogie! Click here.


"Caché" ("Hidden")
dir. Michael Haneke, 2005

From Roger Ebert's 2010 Great Movies piece: "Haneke uses the technique of making the camera 'move' in time, not space."

Ebert's sentence here finally helped me understand what it is that sometimes puts me off in my experiences with Haneke's films. His camera isn't there for emotional engagement. It's there to move us in time. And this one makes me want to dig deeper into Haneke's work. A true experience in tone, pace, and performance (Binoche is great) from a filmmaker completely in command of his idea of cinema.

Viewed as part of my journey through Roger Ebert's Great Movies (in reverse chronological order).

Happy Ending? Oh, Hell no!
Does it work? Not on first watch. The end of this movie is purposefully befuddling. The ride to get to it is masterful. 

dir. Nacho Vigolando, 2017

Often hilarious with really strong work from Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, and Tim Blake Nelson. But it is also a high concept flick that works only when that high concept is at play. It’s a cool idea...what if your inner demons manifest as a Godzilla-type monster? And how does your past play into it? The answers to its questions, though, and the journey it sends one of the character on just don’t feel earned, which is bothersome, considering how much the film does to give is those answers.

Happy Ending? Sort of...? 
Does it work? Not really. Nothing about the last act of this movie worked for me. 

dir. David Gordon Green, 2017

“Stronger” is a beautiful, harrowing experience of pain and sacrifice performed to absolute loving perfection by Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany. Their scenes together make some of the most moving cinematic moments of the year. This movie is brave in the way it approaches the realism of such a tragic nightmare by focusing simply on that and not falling into the traps of the “inspirational patriotic true story movie.” And make no mistake, this movie is both inspirational and patriotic, but only in terms of Jeff Bauman, and his girlfriend Erin, and the the way Gyllenhaal, Maslany, and Green work together to truly focus on these people, their experience, and not the bigger picture, the one that was resolved easily in a matter of days. This is one of the best movies of the year.

Happy Ending? Yes. Supremely.
Does it work? Without question. No movie this year is more deserving of such an ending. It represents what's wrong with the other "true stories" of recent disasters. (I'm looking at you, Peter Berg.)

And as for Michael Haneke, he released a new movie in 2017. "Happy End" it's called.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as I trek out with my Movie Pass to see Spielberg's "The Post," PTA's "Phantom Thread," and Craig Gillespie's "I, Tonya." None of which have shown up around here yet.


  1. I’d like to see the last film you talk about. There are so many and I have seen so few

    1. It's so good! Highly recommend if it's the only one on this list you get to.

  2. I LOVE Ingrid Goes West, that's such a wonderful film. Of the rest of you have listed I really enjoyed Colossal and Cache too.

    1. Colossal didn't quite work in the end for me, but Anne Hathaway is always good and the premise was quite funny. Ingrid Goes West really took me by surprise. Loved it.

  3. I've seen Gifted (pretty good), Ingrid Goes West (excellent), & Stronger (pretty good). I own Colossal, but I haven't watched it yet. I haven't seen nor do I own Chop Shop or Caché. (I do like how you put "Oh, Hell No!" when asked if Caché had a happy ending. I haven't seen any Michael Haneke films, but I know none of them have happy endings).

    At home, I watched Smashed (excellent), Pan's Labyrinth (wondrous), Annie Hall (brilliant), Manhattan (amazing), Midnight in Paris (brilliant), Blue Jasmine (amazing), Atonement (beautiful), & Krisha (excellent). I also rewatched In the Bedroom (still one of the best films I've ever seen), Drive (still a masterpiece), Zodiac (still a masterpiece), What We Do in the Shadows (still hilarious), & Boogie Nights (still a masterpiece).

    As I now own all of Woody Allen's films, I'm going to watch the rest of his filmography at home over the course of this coming year. I've only seen the aforementioned films listed above, Wonder Wheel, & Hannah & Her Sisters. Any suggestions as to which great Woody Allen films I should have as my must-watch Woody Allen films? Are there any Woody Allen films that aren't so good that I haven't seen? If so, are there any Woody Allen films you haven't seen?

    1. Haneke is tough to get into. I've only seen a couple and haven't loved either. Cache is the better of the two I've seen.

      I really want to see Smashed. Never did get to it. Ponsoldt is a great filmmaker, despite his 2017 effort. In the Bedroom is hard for me to rewatch. Only seen it once and feel that might have been enough. Loved it. though. Saw Boogie Nights in 35mm in Nashville on New Year's Day. What a fucking treat! You've sen some great ones. Way to go.

      Glad you loved Annie Hall. Woody has plenty to love. Some not so much. There are quite a few I've still never seen. My least favorite Woody is probably Scoop. Other than that, the one's I've seen are quite good.

      Here's my list: https://letterboxd.com/speaks/list/directed-by-woody-allen/.

      My biggest regrets are Zelig, Sleeper, and Interiors. Will eventually watch those.

  4. Gifted was such a nice movie and I loved Ingrid Goes West, especially Plaza's performance.

  5. "Those raised on mainstream cinema are accustomed to an ending that resolves things so they can watch a movie and then forget it."

    This quote explains so much about my wife. She requires happy endings and, yes forgets about movies she watches. I'm like you. A happy ending is fine if it works within the context of the story being told, however, it should never be forced. If a story requires a darker conclusion, or even an ambiguous, than by all means that's what I want.

    As for this batch of films, I still haven't seen any of these.

    1. My wife too, man, though she is AWESOME about humoring me and going to movies of all kinds. We even have some good debates sometimes. I feel the same way as you, but, after seeing so many movies, I need an ending to shake me in some way. If a happy ending does that, then more power to it. Most often, it doesn't.

      Definitely recommend Stronger the most of all these. And it, of course, has a happy ending.

  6. More great work here. I obviously love the praise for Maslany! Love what you said about how Haneke uses a camera. His films are so cold and clinical, but oh so great.