Tag Archives: Steve Jobs

‘Molly’s Game’ Review: Jessica Chastain is electric in Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut

Aaron Sorkin is one of the few screenwriters to have become a recognizable name to the general audience, and for good reason. His scripts, for the likes of The Social Network and Steve Jobs, are masterful. So, him making his directorial debut, not only in features, but in either film or television, is a major point in his career.

With Molly’s Game, Sorkin proves himself behind the camera as well as he does on the page. Following Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) as she runs one of the most prestigious underground poker games in the country, the film is full of flash and glamor, and the editing of high stake sequences both at the table and beyond it is razor sharp.

But Sorkin does not simply allow the film to be about the extravagance of the poker. Every part of the story builds the character of Molly Bloom in deliciously dynamic feminist fashion. Much of the conflict of the story comes from toxic men and their abuse of power, such as when Bloom’s day job boss, who initially started the poker game, forces her to work for free because he thinks she’s making too much off of tips from the game.

Yet, this conflict adds to the central dilemma at Bloom’s core. She was nearly an Olympic skier until sustaining a devastating injury, and, ever since, or maybe even much earlier from her father’s tough parenting, she’s been searching for identity. The structure of the film revolves around this search, in that Bloom is portrayed at her highest when the games are going well and the players respect her, but that high only leads her to overcompensate and endanger what defines her — a structurally brilliant ebb and flow of character development.

Bloom is so well-defined and well-rounded, but it’s difficult to imagine her in the hands of anyone other than Jessica Chastain. Bloom narrates throughout the movie — a surprising move that somehow works, in part because the narration is edited so smoothly into the rhythm of the pacing, but largely because of Chastain’s vigorous line delivery.

When on screen, Chastain manages the tricky balancing act of channeling the spark of Sorkin’s dialogue while also shaping a character that feels naturally lived in. And as the film comes to an end and Chastain completely owns the character’s climactic moment, we truly feel for Bloom on an unexpected emotional level.

While it may not have held a stylistic flair quite like David Fincher’s The Social Network, Molly’s Game showcases Sorkin’s undoubtable directorial ability to translate the page into a magnetic visual story. But even regardless of that, the film is a platform upon which Jessica Chastain reasserts herself as one of the most powerful actresses working today.

Grade: B+

 

Featured image via Michael Gibson/STX Entertainment.

Revising Oscar nominations from 2010-2016

Whenever Andrew Garfield appears in a film — Garfield’s most recent, Breathe, released this past weekend, and he’s getting Oscar buzz for his performance — it’s hard not to think about how he should’ve been nominated for his supporting role in The Social Network.

And once that ball gets rolling, it’s hard not to think about the other painful snubs across the past few years, of which there are plenty.

The Academy Awards will never, ever get it completely right, but sometimes they get it so wrong that, even years later, we’re still talking about it. Here are a few per year since 2010:

2010

Best Director
Insert: Christopher Nolan, Inception
Remove: David O. Russell, The Fighter

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Inception is one of the best and most significant blockbusters of the 21st century, an unparalleled vision composed with such perfect precision by director Christopher Nolan. The fact that this film works not only on a conceptual level, but also on a story level, is a feat that’s still under-appreciated today. But the technical craftsmanship is too obvious for Nolan’s omission to be understandable at all. While The Fighter is a good film, a really good one even, it’s no match for the achievement of Inception.

Best Supporting Actor
Insert: Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
Remove: Jeremy Renner, The Town

Columbia/Courtesy

Jeremy Renner is just fine in The Town. Is he Oscar worthy? Not entirely. How the Academy overlooked Andrew Garfield’s amazingly committed turn as Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network is shocking. Garfield is the heart of that film, embodying the source of its fascination and the weight of its humanity — a far more impressive accomplishment than even the film’s lead, Jesse Eisenberg, who was nominated. When we think of the powerhouse scenes, we think of Garfield’s high intensity back-and-forths with the rest of the actors portraying Facebook founders, an intensity that is almost wholly missing without him. Garfield should’ve even competed for the win, and could’ve taken it had Christian Bale been correctly nominated in the lead category for The Fighter.

2011

Best Director
Insert: Bennett Miller, Moneyball
Remove: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Columbia/Courtesy

Bennett Miller was nominated for Best Director for Foxcatcher. While that was deserved, his best directing job came with Moneyball. Similar to Adam McKay with The Big Short, Miller takes a niche and incredibly complex topic — baseball statistics and their implementation by the front office — and renders it palatable and human. The control of tone, the fluidity of pace and the composition of scenes — the trading for Ricardo Rincon comes to mind — are all signs of a director at his most refined. And while Brad Pitt did deserve a Best Lead Actor nomination, it’s Bennett Miller who makes the character of Billy Beane so utterly affecting. The juxtaposition of flashbacks, the editing and more all define the character of Beane in ways that other directors should study. Woody Allen may have deserved a spot on an objective, merit-based level, but Hollywood has to realize that the Oscars aren’t just based on merit. The Oscars celebrate figures, artists, and Allen is not one who should be celebrated.

Best Original Screenplay
Insert: Will Reiser, 50/50
Remove: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Summit Entertainment/Courtesy

The reasons to remove Allen are the same. Will Reiser, writer of the Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen comedy-drama about cancer, would be next in line, and arguably deserved a spot anyway. The year offered a nomination to Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo for the comedy Bridesmaids, and rightfully so, but 50/50 is just as brilliant of a script. The comedy is sharp, the plotting is incredibly spirited and the character work is powerfully vulnerable. It’s a comedy that realizes that horrible situations need humor, that they often spark humor, and that that humor comes from a very human place.

2012

Best Picture
Insert: The Master
Remove: Les Misérables

Annapurna/Courtesy

It was difficult to see how Paul Thomas Anderson could follow up There Will Be Blood, easily one of the greatest films of the 21st century and possibly ever. At first, many felt that he whiffed with The Master. But looking back, one can quickly realize that, somehow, The Master comes close to TWBB. A seering, haunting, strange and mesmerizing look at (allegedly) scientology, the film is a masterpiece on every front, a distinctly American tale that melds the best of prestige, arthouse and flare while remaining unpretentious. The screenplay is one of the most intelligently crafted of recent memory, with scientology’s ideology deeply rooted in every single detail, and the duo of Joaquin Phoenix and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman is genuinely unmatched, with Phoenix’s performance seriously rivaling Daniel Day-Lewis’ in PTA’s previous film. Evidently, it didn’t need recognition for us to come to this current conclusion of its greatness, but it’s a bit silly to suggest that Les Misérables is in the same league.

Best Director
Insert: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Remove: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Columbia/Courtesy

Kathryn Bigelow won Best Director for The Hurt Locker. She deserved it. And then she followed that up with as viscerally affecting of a film in Zero Dark Thirty. She didn’t even get nominated. David O. Russell did just fine with Silver Linings Playbook, but no where in that film is there anything special about its direction. With Zero Dark Thirty, Bigelow traverses years, complex political machinations, an unbelievable character arc and one of the most tense military operations of our time, and pulls each aspect off in such expert fashion. It’s a film that showcases the best of her directorial chops, not for their own sake, but for the sake of the film itself.

2013

Best Picture
Insert: Fruitvale Station
Remove: Philomena

Forest Whitaker’s Significant Productions/OG Project/Courtesy

Oscar bait is a problematic term that shouldn’t be used. It’s difficult to find the right phrase to replace it. Whatever it is, though, Philomena is a film that represents it. It’s a fine movie, an enjoyable one, a harmless one, one that tells an emotional true story. But there’s nothing about the film that makes it one of the 10 best of its year, and it’s infuriating how the Academy, time and time again, goes for this kind of safe, standard and, quite honestly, boring type of picture. The best films of the year — granted, a problematic term itself — shouldn’t necessarily go to the most well-polished, but rather to the films that transcend the art. And Fruitvale Station is, undoubtedly, one of those films. Recounting the day leading up to the tragic killing of Oscar Grant by police, Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut breathes with life. It clearly has a message, but it injects that message into the veins of the film, bases and builds it organically, crafting empathy, joy and intimacy with such pressing reality. We’re not told an idea up front or too explicitly, but when we encounter that harrowing, soul-crushing final act, we understand it, without needing to say anything. The life built into the film vanishes, purposefully, and we’re moved in intangible ways. Coming a year after the killing of Trayvon Martin, Fruitvale Station is a necessary film that should be remembered, and the type of film the Oscars need to start recognizing if they actually want to honor the art of film.

Best Lead Actor
Insert: Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Remove: Christian Bale, American Hustle

CBS Films/Courtesy

It’s hard to remove Christian Bale, one of the best and most dedicated actors of our time. And in most other years, we couldn’t remove him. Yet, there are quite a few performances in 2013 that deserved that final spot more than he did. Tom Hardy in Locke is one of them. But Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis is one that not only should’ve been nominated, but one that should’ve made a serious run for the win. His character, Llewyn Davis, is a grumpy, tired asshole, which makes it so shocking that he ends up being one of the most soulful and human we’ve seen this decade. That’s all Oscar Isaac. Isaac brings a tired physicality, one that can be tangibly understood and seen in his body and his face, in the tonal quality of his voice. And not just that — Isaac performs his own songs, not only bringing immense musical talent but thoroughly adapting the character of Davis musically. Like The MasterInside Llewyn Davis is a distinctly American film, and like Joaquin Phoenix’s work, Isaac’s performance elevates that quality immeasurably, defining a face of the American psyche.

2014

Best Lead Actor
Insert: Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Remove: Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

Open Road Films/Courtesy

Benedict Cumberbatch is great in The Imitation Game, and offers a performance that makes it hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Removing him here doesn’t deny any of that. It simply recognizes that Jake Gyllenhaal’s transformation for Nightcrawler is one of the best of the 21st century. Other than hairstyling, Gyllenhaal looks like himself in the movie. And yet, as Lou Bloom, we see nothing of the actor, and that’s because the transformation is of every facet of acting. Gyllenhaal’s tonal level isn’t changed, but his vocal pacing is entirely intrinsic to the character. His bulging eyes, quick movements and physical rapport with other actors are not only invasively terrifying, crafting awe-strikingly gripping scenes, but they’re informative of who the character is — such detailed work only the most masterful actors pull off. Nightcrawler is both a character study and a film about the terrible culture of video news, but those two aspects compliment and augment each other, and because of Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance, every bit of its collective impact is enhanced.

Best Director
Insert: Ava DuVernay, Selma
Remove: Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Paramount/Courtesy

While we don’t have to deny how good Cumberbatch is in his film, we must refute any association of Morten Tyldum with the Best Director category. The Imitation Game is a fine film. It’s a crowd-pleaser. But it’s unfortunately reserved, and otherwise standard, suppressing a lot of the humanity that is actually there in this story. A film that is not reserved nor standard, and elevates its humanity, through the work of its director, is Ava DuVernay’s Selma. The technical craftswomanship here is stunning, with bone-shakingly rousing scenes of both action and conversation. There’s a liveliness, a humanity that’s extended to each facet of filmmaking — a testament to her guiding hand. On the intangible side, though, DuVernay’s grasp of the spirit at the story’s core can be felt in every scene, doing such profound justice to such an important story.

Best Animated Feature
It should’ve won: The LEGO Movie

Warner Bros./Courtesy

The audible gasps at the announcement ceremony when The LEGO Movie was not nominated for Best Animated Feature will haunt us indefinitely. If it was rules that caused its omission, as the film did feature a few live-action scenes, screw the rules. However, we don’t even want to think of what the reason might be, though, if not rules. Thankfully, everyone already knew that the film was the best animated picture of 2014, even before nominations. So there’s no case that needs to be made other than to point it out, and keep pointing it out.

2015

Best Supporting Actress
Insert: Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Remove: Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

A24/Courtesy

Rachel McAdams may be impressively committed in Spotlight. And if Alicia Vikander’s Oscar-winning performance in The Danish Girl was rightfully nominated in the Best Lead Actress category, removing McAdams would be unnecessary. That’s all semantics, however, as, regardless, Alicia Vikander’s other performance of 2015, as the AI Ava in Ex Machina, deserved a nomination. It may have gone unrecognized due to the artifice of the character hiding the true merit of the performance, but her turn is so utterly controlled and precise, nuanced and minutely accentuated in service of that artifice. Similar to Domhnall Gleeson’s character in reaction to Ava, we don’t immediately recognize the immense complexities of Vikander’s performance, and that’s purposeful. Ideally, Vikander would’ve won the lead category for The Danish Girl and the supporting category for Ex Machina. But ignoring a nomination for the latter altogether is frustratingly puzzling.

Best Supporting Actor
Insert: Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Remove: Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Netflix/Courtesy

How does an actor win the SAG, but not even get nominated at the Oscars? Well, sadly for Idris Elba, forces outside of the film and his performance resulted in that. At the time, Netflix was rather new to film production/distribution, with Beasts of No Nation being its first fictional narrative endeavor, and many hated the idea of what the streaming company might do to the film industry. While it’s technically speculative, those factors likely pushed Elba out. In a just world, though, Elba is inarguably nominated. His command of the screen is transfixing, his definition of character quite tragic. As much as we find heart, the humanity impacted by these wars, in lead actor Abraham Attah, we find the other end of that heart in Elba, a quality formed by his unforgiving take. It’s a performance we must encounter uncomfortably, but one we understand as necessary by the end of the film.

Best Adapted Screenplay
It should’ve won: Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs

Universal/Courtesy

Some contend with the portrayal of its central figure, but it’s ridiculous to ignore the brilliance of Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs screenplay. The dialogue is arguably Sorkin’s best, rapidly sharp and biting, reminiscent of The Social Network, yet wholly organic to the subject matter. The control of character and the composition of the many face-offs with the likes of Steve Wozniak and John Sculley are dynamic, electric and spellbinding. The script truly shows how there’s no one quite like Sorkin, and it does everything that The Big Short screenplay does, yet even more polished. How it was not even nominated will forever be a mystery.

2016

Best Lead Actress
Insert: Amy Adams, Arrival
Remove: Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Paramount/Courtesy

Florence Foster Jenkins is a problematic film, wholly unaware of the white privilege at its core and played for sympathy in rather off-putting ways. And Meryl Streep isn’t even good in it! It’s hard to call the performance impressive and impossible to point to any of her scenes as particularly engaging. It’s so bad that it makes the snub of Amy Adams even more difficult to stomach. In Arrival, Adams is tender and unknowing, lively and explorative. We sense something so real about her character’s bravery, and feel such raw, overwhelming heartbreak at her monologue in the final act. Adams doesn’t have a powerhouse scene of direct, overt emotion, but she delivers so many subtle scenes that are just as moving precisely because we can feel so much weight in what’s withheld and beneath the surface. Arrival is an incredibly important film about the need for communication, empathy and love, but it wouldn’t be that in its entirety without Amy Adams embodying each aspect.

Best Supporting Actress
Insert: Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women
Remove: Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

A24/Courtesy

Greta Gerwig’s performance in 20th Century Women can be defined by many of the same qualities of Amy Adams’ performance — tender, unknowing, lively, explorative. Her character’s power comes from this willingness to embrace life in ways others don’t, toned simultaneously by a courage to take hold of life’s potential and by an honest vulnerability when some of that potential is taken away from her — all coming, distinctly and lovingly, from the eyes of an American woman in the 70s. Gerwig delivers a full picture of her character and is quite mesmerizing throughout. Octavia Spencer isn’t bad in Hidden Figures — she’s never not brilliant in anything — but, in terms of acting, there’s just not enough there to genuinely warrant the nomination over Gerwig. In a career full of wonderful performances, Gerwig’s turn in 20th Century Women might just be her best.

 

Featured image via Columbia Pictures.

Top ten films premiered at Telluride Film Festival since 2010

Amid the swaths of festivals, Telluride, taking place between September 1-4, stands out as an unpretentious yet incredibly prestigious venue for some of the most honest films of the year. Like the town in which it takes place, Telluride is small and intimate. It evokes the best of what a film community can be, in genuine artistry, but also in just being fans of movies and of movie-makers; it was a key moment in the great friendship between the La La Land and Moonlight creative teams, which maintained despite the audience split that sprouted during the awards season. And while many of the Oscar hopefuls look to the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival for their starts, the quieter premieres at Telluride often have the grander impact. Since 2010, the best of the best from Telluride Film Festival are breathtaking. From Oscar winners to profound independents to landmark documentaries, the top ten Telluride films of the last seven years show the best of what cinema can be.

10. Wild

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

While many may point to Dallas Buyers Club and Big Little Lies when thinking of Canadian filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée, it would be a shame to ignore the gem that is Wild. First and foremost, any film that features the sublime, timeless, astounding Laura Dern in even just a slightly weighty role is one to adore. But Wild crafts not only its character, Reese Witherspoon’s Cheryl, so instinctively, but it also crafts the journey of Cheryl so tenderly and affectingly. Cheryl confronts the wild in her long walk from the top of the U.S. to the bottom, and the film follows suit, embracing a sort of vulnerable physicality in its color palette, in its subtle sound and intimate cinematography. Wild may not be the most jaw-dropping or impressive film, but it’s one that finds its way underneath one’s skin and into one’s bones because it is so human.

— Kyle Kizu

9. Frances Ha

IFC Films/Courtesy

Frances Ha is director Noah Baumbach’s ebullient tribute to the cinema of the French New Wave. We follow the titular Frances (the incredible Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay with Baumbach) as she meets friends, moves from apartment to apartment and tries to reconcile her dreams of dancing with the possibility that they’ll remain dreams and nothing more. Though the film is in black and white, the spread of emotions that Frances endures is hardly so — the film pinwheels from her trademark levity to crushing lows, before rising to a strained melancholy and finally settling on a relieved contentedness. That such dichotomies coexist in the film isn’t jarring, but rather endearing. We’ve all had nights that started out perfectly, but then take a hard left into awfulness that only seems to get worse, and that’s a sentiment that the film understands and addresses with humor and sensitivity. Befittingly, the film isn’t reliant on plot, but that’s okay — we’re happy to have known Frances, if but for an hour and a half.

— Harrison Tunggal

8. The Descendants

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

Against all odds, Alexander Payne’s 2011 film The Descendants pairs adultery, comatose spouses and Hawaiian real estate in a simultaneously heartwrenching and hilarious examination of what family really means. The film follows Matt King (George Clooney) as his wife is injured in a jetskiing accident and he is forced to decide whether or not to leave his now comatose wife on life support — a decision made more difficult by the realization that she had been having an affair. Clooney and Shailene Woodley, in arguably both their finest work to date, carry the film on their transparently expressive faces, captured lovingly in close-up by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. True to the book on which it is based, The Descendants almost veers too far into cruel, biting satire at times, but no one is better suited to walk the balance between bleak humanity and the humor found in everyday life than Alexander Payne. While certain scenes stand out as all-timers (Clooney’s famous hospital monologue, Woodley’s character revealing her mother’s affair), The Descendants in its entirety is a hard look at dealing with the past, managing the present and confronting the future.

— Kate Halliwell

7. Steve Jobs

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Steve Jobs had such a dramatic journey to the big screen — an intensely buzzed-about Aaron Sorkin script originally connected to David Fincher and with Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale rumored to star. But the creative team it ended up with was a perfect match. Danny Boyle’s high-energy direction scores Jobs with an electric edge and Michael Fassbender transforms subtly yet entirely, embodying the icon with a domineering physicality, especially in vocal tone, while deconstructing his problematic persona and humanizing his core — not necessarily sacrificing one for the other. The film has massive ambitions, with a story structure similar to a play and carrying a character in light of Citizen Kane. It might not reach all of its goals, but it finds a place in contemporary cinema that so many films have tried for but failed.

— KK

6. Under the Skin

A24/Courtesy

On very simple terms, Under the Skin is an astonishing vehicle for the auric, subtle physicality that Scarlett Johansson can take hold of in a performance, as well as for the viscerally invasive work of composer Mica Levi — many critics still cite her score as one of the best of the 21st century. But, quite obviously, Under the Skin is anything but simple. Delving deep into the avant garde, as well as other more visually focused traditions, Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi picture, about an alluring woman, is oftentimes terrifying without us even realizing how intensely so until afterward, or until the pop of a body contorted by forces beyond its control. As viewers, we oftentimes feel like a victim trapped beneath — a purposeful effect that produces a pure sense of the image, oftentimes simple in color and composition but wildly unnerving in context, that only cinema could. Of course, this leaves little easy explanation and few paths for traditional absorption, making Under the Skin difficult to encounter. But if we surrender ourselves to visual language, the film will prove deeply human, without much of the sentimentality, and gendered in its experience, deconstructivist in its angle and, honestly, just fucking weird — in a good way.

— KK

5. Prisoners

Warner Bros./Courtesy

The sense of mounting dread that director Denis Villeneuve builds in Prisoners is staggering to behold. Drenched in darkness and shadow by the master himself, Roger Deakins, this film transports the viewer into a world of ubiquitous horror, one where corpses fill basements, families descend into violence and even moments of reprieve contort into the realization that we’re all shackled to those we love, for better or worse. This is a film where your heart keep sinking to depths you didn’t know existed, right to its final shot. Prisoners also sports a stellar cast firing on all cylinders — Hugh Jackman’s intensity makes his performance in this film one of his finest, Jake Gyllenhaal showcases the cold determination he would later dial to eleven in Nightcrawler and Paul Dano ratchets up the tension by keeping the audience on its toes. Additionally, Viola Davis brings her eminent gravitas while Terrence Howard matches Jackman’s fear and desperation as they search for their missing daughters. Prisoners is arguably Denis Villeneuve’s best film, and we can’t wait to see how his sensibilities translate to Blade Runner 2049 and other future projects.

— HT

4. Anomalisa

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

This stop-motion picture is difficult to confront, venturing into the abstract in many areas. But, as one should expect with Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa, a film without actual humans, is filled with a humanity unlike most other films. It is, in large part, because of the voice work. David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh provide an affectingly raw basis within this world, conveying vulnerability and the weight of the human condition through tiny inflections. And Tom Noonan, literally voicing every other figure, is shockingly hilarious and horrifyingly scary at the same time. Yet, the voices become that profound because of the imagery within which they inhabit. Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson frame each shot with a deep understanding of theme, that everything so blandly and terrifyingly blends together, that the world is unrewarding and depressing, that finding someone within the void is miraculous and losing them to the blend is a nightmare. The amalgamation brings about an intimacy that only a masterful film could build.

— KK

3. Room

A24/Courtesy

Book-to-movie adaptations, as a rule, are difficult to pull off, and that challenge increases exponentially when the source material in question is narrated in entirety by a five year old boy with a limited understanding of the world. It gets even harder when that world consists of a tiny one-room shed, and the boy’s mother — the room’s only other occupant — chooses to raise him as if that one room really is the entire universe. So begins Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Room, starring Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson as a mother and son held in captivity until their eventual escape. Room is effectively split in two halves, which places the duo’s plotting and escape at odds with their tentative transition back into the outside world. The film would go on to win Larson her first Oscar and cement Tremblay’s place as Hollywood’s cutest kid, but it served as far more than a vehicle for its stars-to-be. Bleak, hard-to-watch moments combine with an enduring sense of childlike curiosity in what is already deservedly considered to be one of the best book adaptations of all time.

— KH

2. The Act of Killing

Final Cut for Real/Courtesy

The Act of Killing is a difficult film to watch, and if you’re at all connected to the killings that took place in Indonesia from 1965-1966, then Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary is downright excruciating. The film’s two main subjects, Anwar Congo and Herman Koto, belonged to a government death squad that extorted from and killed more than one million communists and Chinese Indonesians. They gloat about the lives they took and how they took them, going to obscene lengths to reenact their methods. It’s a sick parody of cinephilia — Congo and Koto claim to be inspired by the violence in the films they idolized, and some of the reenactments are draped in the trappings of their favorite genres. And these are just barely the reasons why The Act of Killing is a disturbing watch — ultimately, we’re left wondering if there’s redemption in remorse. After seeing the utter impunity of the murderers, such a question becomes disturbingly difficult, if not impossible, to answer. Unpleasant as it may be, The Act of Killing is truly an essential film, reminding us that the soul is at stake when blind nationalism supersedes morality.

— HT

1. Moonlight

David Bornfriend/A24/Courtesy

With a rare 99 on Metacritic, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is cinematic perfection. For anyone who’s seen the film, such a statement stands on its own, though additional validation comes from its historic Best Picture win at the 89th Academy Awards. But forget the craziness surrounding the moment of its victory — such things are much too loud for a film like Moonlight. It is a film predicated on an intimate viewing experience, one in which quiet subtleties in the performances of its all black cast and precise details in the filmmaking precipitate an immense significance. From the close-ups of Trevante Rhodes and Andre Holland as their characters reunite, we see heartbreak and hope at the same time, and years of toxic, performative masculinity erode with just one look. From the final embrace of these two men, we see a moment of LGBTQ+ representation that is executed with the utmost sensitivity and tenderness. Then there’s James Laxton’s cinematography, where a shallow depth of field puts us with the characters, exacting a sense of empathy that lends the film its total hold over our emotions. It is impossible to overstate the significance of Moonlight, especially when empathy and sensitivity are becoming ever rarer, but with Barry Jenkins behind the camera, there’s hope that such qualities will persevere, at least on the big screen.

— HT

Featured image (modified) via Ken Lund.