In Review: Dark Waters

There’s an unexpected combination of spiritual material to auteur in Dark Waters, the true life retelling of Ohio lawyer Robert Bilott and his long-lived case against the DuPont corporation. Both a courtroom drama and corporate justice character study in the vein of a much more somber Erin Brockovich, Todd Haynes’ film details the discovery of DuPont’s knowing poisoning of local water supplies and the uphill climb for retribution. Mark Ruffalo returns to the everyman shoes that suit him best as Bilott, brought onto the case from a vague family connection and uncovering implications beyond the local community.

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In Review!: “Wonderstruck”

Todd Haynes returns with what may be his most mainstream film yet, Wonderstruck. Or perhaps it’s that this is as mainstream as Haynes gets, with his strange juxtapositions and nuances interests still on full display. It’s a whole different kind of ambition for one of our most ambitious filmmakers, and perhaps daring to make a movie with children in mind that neither panders nor plays by the children’s movie rule book. Haynes often recalls his previous work with new films, and Wonderstruck recalls his most structurally inventive but least accessible efforts, Poison and I’m Not There. The pairing of unexpected approach from an unexpected voice telling this particular story makes Wonderstruck a very special film.

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filmmixtape’s Best Director of 2015

One of the reasons that helped 2015 be such a strong year for film is the strength of vision from a large number of directors. This was truly a director’s year and that was reflected both inside and outside of the studio system, with big gambles in approach being taken from The Revenant to Room, from Mad Max: Fury Road to Tangerine. Here are my choices for the directors crafting the strongest point of view:

Best Director

Lenny Abrahamson – Room

  • Crafted without sensationalism and with a distanced respect to moments of privacy, Abrahamson approaches Room with stunning emotional and visual intuition. The film’s two halves are distinct and different in style, yet the whole film remains cohesive. He makes the unbearable subject palatable without sacrificing honesty.

Todd Haynes – Carol

  • The film is fascinated with the unspoken and Haynes loads every frame with subtext that informs both character and circumstance. Crafting the film to a gradual swell of emotion, he turns Carol into an invigorating and cathartic experience not unlike falling in love. No one makes period look as natural as he does.

Spike Lee – Chi-Raq

  • A swift reminder that the filmmaker is one of the shrewdest at blending tones and finding hilarious humanity within larger social conflicts. The whole thing shouldn’t work but it does glouriously, as much a transplant of ancient Greek theatre as a music video. Welcome back, Spike.

George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road

  • Not since Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge has such a distinct directorial vision been given such a large scale to run amok. Miller throws so much on the screen visually and thematically, but has a refined sense of when to draw us in and when to hold back. That the film isn’t a complete mess is due to his complete control of his art.

Denis Villeneuve – Sicario

  • He corals every element behind and in front of the camera to serve his point of view and finds ambiguous depth in an already strong procedural script. His control of what’s happening on screen and to the audience borders on the fascistic. He’s becoming one of the best at challenging audiences in genre packages.

See the winner after the jump!

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In Review!: “Carol”

As gay people, we’re acutely cognizant of nuances of perception and communication. When a portion (or entirety) of one’s life is spent forced to suppress self-expression, we become scientists of our own behavior and scrutinize how any minute tic will reveal our identity. Whether we have hidden because of social norms or for safety, the necessity to do so results in a social class of experts in subtle social interaction. The hyper-sensitivity electrifies when we meet one of our own and use these adaptive skills to acknowledge shared truths, to show compassion, to express romantic interest. The liberated YouTube generation knows nothing of the experience of not being able to speak plainly to your own camp.

Somehow, we find eachother.

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Such are the fascinations of Todd Haynes’s passionately observed Carol, a love story of stolen glances and charged embraces that is as interested in the queer longings of the central duo as it is with what remains unspoken between any of Haynes’s 50s era denizens. Rarely has every frame been so essential and packed with specific behavior in contemporary cinema, and the film is a staggering assemblage of craft that services the truth for which Haynes reaches and richly achieves. Haynes captures the breathlessness of flirtation and first touches, the cured infection of prior loves into the dynamic, the ease of feeling accepted fully. Yes, it’s relatable to anyone who’s been in love, but make no mistakes: this is a gay story, the stakes raised by the language unavailable to two women in a time where they have to hide in plain sight.

Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is an unimposing shopgirl whose life gets a kickstart by the intrigued Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), a soon-to-be divorcé shopping for a Christmas present for her prized daughter. Naturally, things are complicated by Therese’s boyfriend (Jake Lacy) pushing for next steps and Harge Aird (Kyle Chandler) open to reconciliation if Carol plays it straight. The vulnerability that Mara and Blanchett bring to the lovers as they discover each other in the moment is breathtaking as Therese and Carol are by turns awkward, turned on, patient, and enamored. These women aren’t stoic enigmas, but social outliers discovering how to communicate their mutual interest without words.

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Year-End Kudos Off to the Races

Get ready for the December glut of critics awards and major nominations! Last night were the Gotham Awards, an NYC-hosted celebration of independent film. I covered the highlights over at The Film Experience, and it was a delightfully quick-witted ceremony capped by a delightful tribute to Todd Haynes introduced by his comrade and muse Julianne Moore.

Today the National Board of Review, typically the first out of the gate for critics organizations kudos, announced Mad Max: Fury Road as the best film of the year. They had major love for The Martian, winning Best Director (Ridley Scott), Best Actor (Matt Damon), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Drew Goddard). Other major players were Room and The Hateful Eight with two significant wins each, and joined The Martian in the NBR’s Top Ten Films of the Year list. Check out the rest of their votes!

Tomorrow, we’ll see prizes from the New York Film Critics’ Circle, with more to come in the following week and the Golden Globe nominations arriving on the 10th. I’m playing catch-up these few weeks, but you can expect the filmmixtape Best of 2015 sometime closer to the Oscar cermony this February.