Last Ten Films: Returns and First Reactions

The Forbidden Room

The Forbidden Room

 

My last ten films seen in chronological order, between November 29 and December 21, 2015.

Spotlight (McCarthy, 2015) 10/10
Heart Of A Dog (Anderson, 2015) 8/10
The Forbidden Room (Maddin/Johnson, 2015) 9/10
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (Hartley, 2014) 6/10
Iris (Maysles, 2014) 7/10
Tu Dors Nicole (Lafleur, 2014) 8/10
Trumbo (Roach, 2015) 7/10
The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II: The Metal Years (Spheeris, 1988) 8/10
Meet Me In St. Louis (Minnelli, 1944) 7/10
Youth (Sorrentino, 2015) 6/10

Ten titles viewed for the first time—itself a first for this series. Actually, I watched Spotlight twice during this period. Fully living up to the hype it has received all season long, it’s a damn near perfect film, which is not to say the most innovative or stylistically dazzling or even lovable film of the year. But, between a solid ensemble cast (ranging from Mark Ruffalo’s effective and earned outbursts to Liev Schreiber’s poker-faced allure) and an intensely focused, start-to-finish gripping narrative, it’s still easily and deservedly a Best Picture front runner, unless the Academy opts for something more populist.

I’m happy to report that The Forbidden Room is a return to form (and then some) for Guy Maddin (and co-director Evan Johnson) after the stillborn Keyhole. Rejuvenating his love of early-cinema ephemera, it plays like a Greatest Hits clip reel, only with all “new” material. Admittedly, its sheer scope overwhelms—I found myself stumbling to keep up after the 60-minute mark, but here that’s less a deterrent than encouragement to return to it again and again. At best, it could very well end up a visual equivalent to one of my favorite albums, The Avalanches’ Since I Left You, whose layers and density only clicked and gained meaning over time.

Heart of A Dog could also probably further benefit from another viewing. I would’ve appreciated Laurie Anderson’s artier tendencies more back when I was taking an avant-garde cinema class in grad school, but her ability to tell stories like no one else (primarily through content and perspective, but also her vocal cadences) keeps her from slipping into archness and solipsism. Unfortunately, those latter qualities nearly sunk Youth for me. It’s my first Paolo Sorrentino film, and while he’s unique and clever (and knows his way around a musical cue), he’s no Fellini and his pretensions feel stilted (comparatively, for me, Wes Anderson’s gradually connect and continually expand.) Michael Caine’s unforced, beatific presence ends up Youth’s greatest asset; the great, over-the-top Jane Fonda cameo is as exactly long as it needs to be.

A leftover from TIFF 2014, Tu Dors Nicole is almost a minor masterpiece: a languid, somewhat pokey, black-and-white coming-of-age tale set in a sleepy Montreal suburb, sweetly, lightly spiked with magic realism and naturalistic performances. Iris is a decent epitaph from the late Al Maysles (along with In Transit), its kindred spirit of a subject coming off like a genuinely wiser, better-adjusted “Little” Edie Beale. Trumbo is a good, old fashioned middlebrow biopic: fairly obvious (Helen Mirren’s Hedda Hopper is brilliantly acted and flimsily one-sided) and studiously surface-level, but painstakingly crafted and entertaining, with Bryan Cranston affably carrying the picture. Electric Boogaloo is even more of a blast, a valhalla of ‘80s B-cinema in all its shoddy glory, but it would benefit greatly from taking time to breathe as the relentless pace of the clips and talking heads interviews quickly becomes wearying, leaving little room to develop some much-needed context.

Only two older titles this time out, and they have little in common. Meet Me In St. Louis, a MGM musical I’ve always been meaning to see, is as grand an exhibit for Judy Garland’s greatness as The Wizard of Oz or A Star Is Born; predictably, it feels lacking when the focus isn’t entirely on her (which thankfully, isn’t too often). In a way, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years is also a musical, fully documenting a hyper-specific era that now seems as distant and foreign as the Minnelli film likely did in 1988. Certainly more fun than its punk-scene predecessor, it’s also far more revealing, quickly transcending its initial, real-life This Is Spinal Tap trappings, growing increasingly surreal in some respects (I’ve honestly never seen anything like Chris Holmes’ debauched pool interview before) but also remaining relatable as you can increasingly discern (but rarely belittle) the chasm between aspiration and reality (often self-acknowledged) for these poodle-haired rockers and their fans.