Wondering what movies to see before they all get crowded out by Hunger Games 4 and holiday Oscar bait?
The Sure Things: Room and Spotlight
The less you know about either of these, the better. But even if you read the novel or read the Boston Globe fourteen years ago, you will not be disappointed. Spotlight is the best reporter movie since All The President’s Men, and a way better Boston movie than Black Mass. And Room is alternately sad-heartbreaking and joyful-heartbreaking.
On second thought, just leave him there.
The Crowd Pleaser: The Martian
AKA Mars Needs Potatoes. It’s smart and fun and uplifting while you’re watching it, but on reflection it’s like the outer space version of one of those star-studded 50’s Cecil B DeMille extravaganzas, where the whole is smaller than the sum of its parts, and the thrills are ultimately bogus because let’s face it, none of the A-list actors are ever in any real danger. Except Sean Bean. (Poor Sean. The older he gets, the more I wish he’d been James Bond instead of Pierce Brosnan.)
The Smart Thriller: Sicario
Remember how LA Confidential kept turning into a different movie every twenty minutes? This film doesn’t have that many jagged moves, but the movie it starts out to be is as different from what it turns into as Alice’s Victorian England is from Wonderland. A morally ambiguous poisoned cookie of a film that truly deserves to be compared to a Graham Greene thriller or a John le Carrè novel, unlike
The Faux Thriller: Bridge Of Spies
Be warned. Reviewers calling this film “morally ambiguous” or comparing it to John le Carrè are drinking the Spielberg Kool-Aid. There is never any question that Tom Hanks’ James Donovan is morally correct in everything he does, and having at least one person every ten minutes confront him by acting like a goose-stepping anti-Communist d-bag is not drama, it’s propaganda. Watch it for (a) the skillful way that Spielberg makes that propaganda feel like a real ethical struggle, instead of a foregone moral conclusion, and (b) Mark Rylance’s Rudolf Abel, whose every line and look hints at a fascinating but unknowable inner life.
The Comfort Thriller: SPECTRE
Part of the thrill of seeing Casino Royale was thinking: “Holy crap—the Bond movies can go anywhere now!” Part of the disappointment of seeing SPECTRE is thinking: “Crap—they’ve just re-set the Timothy Dalton status quo.” (And—I know it’s a big spoiler, but the pun is too good to pass up—they’ve also turned Blofeld into Bro-feld.) In a way, it’s the first old school James Bond movie Daniel Craig has made, which to me—given all that Casino Royale potential—made it like the British version of Mission Impossible 5: Our Hero Goes Rogue Again To Save The World.
The Thrill-less Gothic: Crimson Peak
Absolutely gorgeous to look at, this film would have been an instant classic if the script had been given as much work as the art direction. But the horror movie of the trailers is actually a Gothic Bad House story, with a heroine who is like an American Bronte cousin, ghosts (all female) who actually aid her, and a mansion that is, at one and the same time, both claustrophobic and as wide-open as Grand Central Station. I walked out of this film wishing I could cast Tom Hiddleston as Percy Shelley, Mia Wasikowska as Mary Shelley, Jessica Chastain as Caroline Lamb, and Tom Hardy as Byron, and just have them tell ghost stories for two hours.
The Near Ms: Suffragette
Sometimes the way that a film is, well, filmed, gets in the way of the story it wants to tell. This film is all hand-held cameras, natural lighting, immense close-ups, and swift editing, which actually kept me at arm’s reach instead of bringing me closer to the characters. In other words, it’s a period piece filmed in a modern-day manner. You may have a different opinion about whether or not this works, but I walked out thinking that if I stripped the dialogue away, I would have no idea what was going on in the story. That said, there’s a great story here. I just thought it paled in comparison to the way this one is told.