|In the Fade
|Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool
A quick rundown of the end-of-year spate, none of which excited me:
Worst of the lot is Alexander Payne's head-scratcher "Downsizing," which starts with energy and a premise full of cinematic potential and, half an hour in, takes a left turn into a Bizarroland of Social Justice Warriors, an aggressively annoying Cambodian played as a caricature by Hong Chau, and the great Christoph Waltz wasted as an ambiguous party-animal jillionaire always unaccountably amused with himself. At "Downsizing's" abrupt conclusion, we looked around at one another and shared the thought: "What the fuck did we just see?" When a movie starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig scores 25% with RT audiences, no more need be said... Tom Hanks and She Knew are the only reasons to see Steven Spielberg's "The Post," a left-wing toast to the left-wing press whose proponents delight in its implicit attack on the current administration, when in reality dissent has never been expressed more freely or less bravely than now (and the previous occupant of the White House was named by James Rosen of the New York Times as the most anti-press president in our history). She Knew always comes up with a few effective mannerisms for those she portrays - here, as Katherine Graham, it's a drawn-out way of speaking and a lot of hand-wringing - but this movie doesn't belong in the same universe as 2015's great "Spotlight." The strain really shows in its effort to come off ultra-feminist, and as Peggy Noonan noted in a WSJ essay, the gratuitous coda falsely linking the Pentagon Papers to Watergate (when the whole story was Nixon's attempt to keep classified the duplicity of the two Democrats who preceded him) belies its true agenda... Thumbs down also for Michael Haneke's opaque and episodic dysfunctional-family saga "Happy End" and Scott Cooper's pretty but overlong and squirmily slow Western "Hostiles," which gives Rosamund Pike an appealing part but gives way under the weight of white guilt and a mildly hammy lead turn by Christian Bale... Next come three films worth seeing only for their performances: Daniel Day-Lewis, sure, but also Vicky Krieps and especially Lesley Manville (whom I called "award-worthy" in Mike Leigh's 2010 gem "Another Year") in "Phantom Thread," Paul Thomas Anderson's overheated story of shifting power dynamics with a key plot development borrowed from "The Beguiled...Diane Kruger is the harrowed face of grief as a woman whose husband and young son are killed by neo-Nazis, and whose quest for justice takes multiple turns, in Fatih Akin's atypically linear "In the Fade"... and the great Annette Bening gives her all as late-in-life Gloria Grahame, with a surprisingly sexy Jamie Bell as the much-younger lover who shares her cancer journey, in Paul McGuigan's "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool." The one I enjoyed most is Aaron Sorkin's "Molly's Game," with a strong if not particularly nuanced lead performance by Jessica Chastain (it's a good fit for her natural stridency). As ever, Sorkin overwrites severalfold, but the subject matter (a traveling high-stakes poker game with celebrity players) holds enough intrinsic interest to give it juice.
This weekend, "All the Money in the World" will be my 204th and final theatrical release of 2017. Between now and then, I'll offer my lists of the best and worst feature films of the year, documentary recommendations, noteworthy performances, and my complete star rating guide to the films of 2017. Happy New Year!