Ambitious, but serious and difficult movies
Author: The JT LeRoy Story is a troubled, but still fascinating documentary about writer Laura Albert, who created a fake persona that went too far. City of Ghosts is excellent, a tough, powerful documentary about journalists in Syria who are under constant threat by ISIS. Crown Heights tells the true story of a man wrongly imprisoned and the attempts to set his situation right, with a fine performance by Lakeith Stanfield. Gleason is a grueling documentary about New Orleans Saints star Steve Gleason after he is diagnosed with ALS. Human Flow is a downbeat documentary about refugees all over the world, directed by artist Ai Weiwei.
James Gray’s The Lost City of Z tells the true story of military man Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) and his attempts to find the ancient city in the Amazon; it’s long and grim, but Robert Pattinson is amazing as Fawcett’s second-in-command. Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon is a great deal of style and very little substance; it’s weird but exquisite-looking. Asghar Farhadi’s lofty, uneven The Salesman is an Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film.
Lightweight, but diverting movies
The Big Sick tells the true story of how Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon got together despite a coma. It’s fun and Holly Hunter is great, but it’s too long and relies on too many rom-com clichés. Woody Allen’s Cafe Society is far from his best, but it has its moments. It’s looks great and stars Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and Steve Carell. Jim Jarmusch’s Gimme Danger is a documentary about Iggy Pop and the Stooges, a little too standard to be “punk rock,” but entertaining and filled with great music.
Gringo [coming later in 2018] is an all-star caper comedy that runs out of gas but still has some funny, scrappy stuff. Landline is a loose-knit, shaggy comedy set in 1995 and starring Jenny Slate as a woman having a small breakdown and believing that her father is having an affair. The romantic tangle The Only Living Boy in New York doesn’t really get anywhere, but has a great cast and a few potent moments.
Movies to approach with caution
Brad’s Status features another irritating Ben Stiller character that whines about his “first world” problems and has trouble growing up. The artsy, black-and-white Creative Control is a movie about too much technology and annoying, shallow characters. The Dressmaker is a willowy comedy-drama with Kate Winslet in which everyone learns valuable life lessons. Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel is a drama (no comedy) about some tortured souls in Coney Island, circa the 1950s. It’s very abrasive and never comes together, but Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography is luscious.
Todd Solondz’s deadpan Wiener-Dog (2016)—a quasi-follow-up to his celebrated Welcome to the Dollhouse (1996)—is not for every taste. Following the title dog as it’s passed from owner to owner, it can be unpleasantly peculiar, but it’s never dull and it reveals a weirdly appealing humanity. Tracy Letts, Julie Delpy, Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, and Ellen Burstyn are among the ensemble cast.
Doug Liman’s compact, tense war film The Wall (2017) recalls the “B” films of Samuel Fuller or Don Siegel, taking place on one set with only three actors, as Sergeant Allan Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is pinned down by an unseen sniper behind a crumbling wall. Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here was released in theaters in April of 2018 and will be coming to streaming later in the year, but it’s one of Amazon’s best, a brutal, dreamy, interior film noir about a hitman/problem solver (Joaquin Phoenix) who finds himself in too deep after rescuing a senator’s daughter from sex slavery.