The life of a professional boxer can be desperate and toilsome. Unless you’re a marquee prizefighter, there’s little money to be made, leaving many fighters stricken by poverty. Yet, few professions are so straightforward. Almost disturbing in its simplicity, you punch your opponent until they fall down, whilst they try to do the same to you.
In cinema, the boxer is an ever-present figure, often solitary and driven to succeed by demons from the past. Creed, Ryan Coogler‘s new addition to the Rocky series is out this week in a wide release, and garnering some very positive reviews (including our own). There’s no better time to brush up on your boxing movies, as it’s an enthralling little sub-genre, ripe for explosive violence and drama.
We compiled ten of the best boxing movies below, so check them out, and let us know your favorites.
Ali (Michael Mann)
Michael Mann‘s epic portrait of Muhammad Ali marvelously depicts the champ and the cultural upheaval surrounding his storied and controversial career. Like many biopics, the film merely hits the key points on his resume, including his bouts with Sonny Liston, Smokin’ Joe Frazier and of course, George Foreman. Yet, we see the true essence of Ali encapsulated in Will Smith‘s finest performance, this confident and brash fighter with the youthful spirit of a poet. Mann’s sweeping and layered portrayal boasts a star-studded cast, including Mario Van Peeples, Jamie Foxx and Jon Voight‘s spot-on Howard Cosell, which nails every detail right down to the pelt-like hairpiece. Ali is a thoughtful and aesthetically flawless picture, which succeeds in conveying the harrowing emotions the People’s Champion felt inside and outside of the ring.
The Boxer (Jim Sheridan)
Jim Sheridan‘s third collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis brings boxer Danny Flynn home from prison, after serving 14 years for his crimes as an IRA volunteer. Hoping to go straight and return to boxing and to his first love (Emily Watson), Flynn finds violent conflict in the form of Harry, a ruthless and hateful IRA lieutenant with whom he worked in the past. Emotionally stirring and disturbingly intense, the film builds to several enraging moments in which our villain commits such terribly loathsome acts, the audience (and the surrounding characters) nearly scream for his blood. The scenes in the ring are photographed with careful precision and athletic detail, continually dishing out jabs and blows which land with a gut-wrenching authenticity. A far cry from the flashier, Oscar-winning performances Day-Lewis is known for, but equally powerful for its reserved nuance.
Fat City (John Huston)
Rocky Balboa may be a blue collar protagonist, but there is nobody on this list with a bluer collar than Tully (Stacy Keach) in John Huston‘s Fat City. After washing out of the sport years earlier, Tully hopes to escape his skid row life by returning to the ring. Ernie, a young boxer (Jeff Bridges) admires Tully, having seen him fight during his heyday. After Ernie’s admission, Tully asks: “Did I win?” Ernie replies: “No.” Tully simply nods, unsurprised. Fat City is a sobering and realistic portrayal of the toils of pugilism: the mental, the physical and the emotional. After Ernie loses his first match, his manager barks at him to remove his boxing shorts, as the next fighter now needs them. Ernie peels off and hands over the shorts, stained with sweat and blood. The next fighter reluctantly takes them and pulls them on. In an interview, Huston described the archetypal boxer’s struggle in a compassionate and poetic fashion: “Unlike the gambler who throws his money onto the table, the fighter throws himself in.”
Girlfight (Karyn Kusama)
Sadly and unfairly, Karyn Kusama‘s indie debut never achieved the box office of so many lesser low-budget films, but Girlfight is an undisputed winner of the genre. Diana Guzman (Michelle Rodriguez) is an angry, frustrated high school girl, whom we meet beating the crap out of a snarky fellow student. After she’s threatened with expulsion from school, Diane finds herself at the local gym, ringed with young masculine boxers in training. This unfamiliar new world quickly captivates her and soon, Diane is working along side unapproving males, including her father (Paul Calderon, in a fantastic turn) with whom she’ll come to blows. Though Diane may be the only female fighter on the list, she could undoubtedly hold her own with any opponent.
Killer’s Kiss (Stanley Kubrick)
Stanley Kubrick made Killer’s Kiss on a meager budget with little-known actors and whatever available New York City locations he could scrounge. A staling, pompadoured boxer falls for a lovely dancer and intends to slip away with her, only to run afoul of her sleazy, dangerous employer. On a narrative level, there’s little to praise. It’s B-movie, film-noir lite at best, but even at the age of 27, Kubrick’s artistry elevates the picture well beyond its pot-boiler origins. The fight sequence achieves an immaculate cinéma vérité period quality, closer to World War II footage than mere sports newsreel.The true power of Killer’s Kiss lies in the photography, the lighting and craftsman-like attention to composition. It’s a fascinating early glimpse of an artist whose skill and talents had not yet fully crystalized, which makes the film even more watchable for its blemishes and scars.
Returning to the big screen after nearly a decade, queer maestro Todd Haynes presents his film Carol, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, a rapturous love story between Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. In honor of the release, the Film Society at Lincoln Center has assembled a retrospective called “Todd Haynes: The Other Side of Dreams,” and, for our own appreciation, we’re taking a look back at his films.
Through glances, touches, performances, cleaning, singing, organizing, cooking, and sex, Todd Haynes has established himself as one of the most inventive filmmakers, and perhaps the most daringly unapologetic when it comes to broaching topics of identity, femininity, queerness, love, and desire. But his work is also imbued with passion and sensitivity, and he’s as invested in characters’ interior lives as he is playing intellectual games with the audience. Join us as we take a walk through his filmography.
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988)
When asked by Nick Davis where one should begin with Todd Haynes’s filmography, the director settled on his first film, a biopic made with Barbie dolls. He said, “[I]n some crazy way it encompasses all those elements in my very first outing. It deals with questions about narrative, the subject, and identity, together with a take on pop culture in a particular historical framework.” True, Haynes’s first feature, which is technically banned from being exhibited in most venues (though MoMA has an original copy, it’s easily trackable on YouTube, and Lincoln Center just screened it) after a legal battle with the Carpenter family, is able to distill the most essential of Haynes’s pet preoccupations in a concise, yet daring manner. The story of the rise and fall of the eponymous pop star presents identity in the most manufactured way possible: as a doll to be played with, manipulated, and shaped the way society sees fit.
It wasn’t until 1991 that Haynes burst onto the scene with the equally audacious cinematic triptych Poison. Through three stories — “Hero,” “Horror,” and “Homo,” each with distinctive aesthetics and approaches — Haynes deconstructed queerness as social construct: documentary-interviewing not the person but the environment; horror film that studies the stigma of queer identity and AIDS; prison melodrama that examines the performative nature of relationships. With other directors (e.g. Gregg Araki and Derek Jarman), Haynes would be a part of an incendiary movement in film history: the New Queer Cinema, a term coined by critic and scholar B. Ruby Rich in a 1992 issue of Sight & Sound. Not only does the set of three shorts allow the director to play his semiotics game (he has a degree from Brown), but it also served as an opportunity for Haynes to play in genre.
Although the “Horror” segment of Poison is more easily identifiable as a conventional, well, horror film — especially for playing up the kitsch of low-budget B-movies from the 1950s — [Safe] might be his horror masterpiece. His tale of a 1980s housewife who becomes allergic to her suburban world is chilling in its articulation of anxiety and alienation, one that is at once universal and capitalizes on specificity. Though there are no out queer characters in the film, Haynes’s use of the housewife archetype, Carol (Julianne Moore), lets him mine gay culture to present a form of estrangement that feels especially potent for queer people. While its coldness and austerity lends an Antonioni-esque and Kubrickian feel, the brand of dread and isolation (identity as social construct) belongs only to Mr. Haynes.
Velvet Goldmine (1998)
Location is very much embedded into the text of Haynes’s films. In Velvet Goldmine, the relationship between London and New York seems especially present in the way those cultures navigate their own forms of identity via music and media. Also crucial to Haynes’s glam rock-extravaganza is performance: though he had explored performative identity to some degree in all of his previous work, its explicitness as a form of constructed persona perhaps reaches a kind of apex here and in I’m Not There. Utilizing a Citizen Kane-like narrative structure, the films bobs in and about the transformation of music, art, and the self in lustrous and flamboyant fashion. It’s Haynes’s most joyously bonkers film, even rhapsodic in many ways. Velvet Goldmine, at its essence, is “Bohemian Rhapsody” as cinematic event.
Cinematographer Edward Lachman may not be a household name, though he undoubtedly should be. One of the most highly regarded directors of photography in the business, Lachman has collaborated with some of the best filmmakers of his generation: Steven Soderbergh, Todd Haynes, Todd Solondz, Paul Schrader, Sofia Coppola, Robert Altman, Werner Herzog, George Sluizer, Wim Wenders, Mira Nair, Ulrich Seidl, and Andrew Niccol — to name a handful.
His career began in 1975 by photographing the infamous Sylvester Stallone–Henry Winkler Brooklyn gang cult-fave, The Lords of Flatbush. In the last 40 years, he’s carved out a truly varied résumé. For example: in 2002, Lachman co-directed Ken Park with filmmaker Larry Clark, before moving onto direct the exercise video Carmen Electra’s Aerobic Striptease in 2003.
Lachman’s most recent feature, Carol — his third partnership with Haynes, and perhaps his finest work — just entered a limited release, so there’s no better time to look back through the filmography of one of our greatest cinematographers. We compiled ten of his finest offerings below, so check them out, and let us know your favorites.
Desperately Seeking Susan (Susan Seidelman)
Susan Seidelman‘s Desperately Seeking Susan is a lively and pop-infused cult classic. Roberta (Rosanna Arquette), a pampered housewife, finds herself suddenly transfixed on a mysterious woman named Susan (Madonna) who uses the newspaper’s personal ads section to communicate with her lover. Lachman’s camera focuses on the mundane aspects of Roberta’s life, which starkly contrast Susan’s impulsive and dangerous living. The film is an odd, one-of-kind cinematic success, featuring Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” more than a decade before Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting turned it mainstream. It’s also a richly detailed portrayal of New York City’s at that time burgeoning new-wave scene, which also includes a number of fun, blink-and-you’ll-miss cameos from John Lurie, Richard Edson, and Rockets Redglare.
Erin Brockovich (Steven Soderbergh)
The inspiring true story of Erin Brockovich contains all the trappings of mainstream cinema fare, and could have been doomed by the pitfalls so many paint-by-numbers Hollywood films encounter. Instead, Lachman and director Steven Soderbergh employ natural lighting and a wry indie sensibility to deliver an exuberant and beloved film — one that also contains Julia Roberts‘ finest performance. Lachman’s work seamlessly blends a raw visual edge with skillful photographic compositions, emphasizing story and character rather than style. Smartly employed, his camerawork never calls attention to itself. It’s a perfect example of Lachman’s chameleon-like ability to blend his work into any narratively required visual style — the true sign of a master cinematographer.
Far from Heaven (Todd Haynes)
Todd Haynes‘ stab at ’50s Technicolor melodrama lands beautifully by not mimicking, but channeling the visual style of filmmaker Douglas Sirk. Julianne Moore‘s seemingly perfect housewife finds her marriage and life thrown into chaos when she discovers her husband (Dennis Quaid) is gay. Her budding relationship with the family’s African American gardener (Dennis Haysbert) soon draws the unwanted attention of town busybodies, thus threatening to sully her pristine reputation. Every detail is immaculately arranged, down to opening-credit font that places us inside this period setting. Working with Haynes, Lachman employs slyly antiquated cinematographic techniques to capture the sweeping and lyrical feel of the times. Far from Heaven may be the most outwardly gorgeous film on this list.
Less Than Zero (Marek Kanievska)
While the film itself fails to live up to the acclaimed source material, Less Than Zero is an underseen ’80’s cult drama, partially due to Lachman’s lush cinematography. Opening with the graduation of Clay (Andrew McCarthy) and Julian (Robert Downey, Jr.), two Beverly Hills trust fund kids, the film descends into the ugly world of drug addiction. In an interview with AMC, Lachman lamented the artful intentions with which the film was made: “The studio took the film away from the director Marek Kanievska,” Lachman says. “It was a much edgier film. That was one of my real disappointments. I think nobody really read the script. They just knew it was a youth-oriented script with this British director. When they saw it was about their own neighborhoods and families living in Hollywood, there was a real reaction to it.” Despite this reaction, nearly 30 years later, Less Than Zero is still rightly considered a seminal film of the ’80s by many.
The Limey (Steven Soderbergh)
Lachman’s first collaboration with Steven Soderbergh, The Limey, follows Wilson (Terence Stamp), a British ex-con investigating the death of his daughter in Los Angeles. On a deeper level, it concerns the fractured nature of memory, as shown by editor Sarah Flack’s layered and kaleidoscopic work. Images wash over the audience in cycles, sometimes more than once, as Stamp’s cockney anti-hero searches for meaning in these painful and distant memories. Lachman’s cinematography places us inside the titular Limey’s point of view, leaving us piecing through the clues along with the protagonist. The snapshot moments of his daughter are often washed or grainy, incomplete puzzles faded by time. The film’s few bursts of violence are handled with utter restraint and subtlety, shot from a carefully composed distance. It’s these ingenious choices, and the film’s overall effect which prompt this lamentation: it’s a shame Soderbergh and Lachman have only made two films together.
Ingrid Bergman’s oeuvre contains few performances that aren’t of note. Such is her power that, if a tear rolls down her cheek, you feel it. The release of Stig Björkman‘s new documentary Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words has prompted us to look back through the great actress’s filmography.
In our search for the essential Bergman roles, the performances which cemented her as a legend of cinema, there’s certainly a number of dazzling and iconic pictures to search through. Acclaimed examples such as Elena and Her Men, Joan of Arc, and Anastasia — the lattermost of which earned her a second Academy Award — narrowly and tragically found their way off the list.
Before checking out Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words, take a trip with us back through the career of one of the greatest talents to ever grace the silver screen. Enjoy the selections and let us know your own suggestions in the comments.
Autumn Sonata (Ingmar Bergman)
At long last, Ingrid Bergman meets director Ingmar Bergman, as a mother and daughter, Charlotte (Ingrid) and Eva (Liv Ullman), are pushed together for a dark night of the soul. Their relationship seems warm enough at first arrival, but slowly unravels to reveal strain and distance between them. The widowed Charlotte, a renowned concert pianist, is shocked to find her other daughter (the wheelchair-bound Helena, played by Lena Nyman) living with Eva. Helena’s mere presence stokes the slow-rising flames of resentment between Charlotte and Eva. As day becomes night, words are exchanged and old wounds ripped wide open. Bergman delivers an immensely powerful performance, boldly courageous and totally without vanity. But would you expect any less from the actor-director pairing?
Casablanca (Michael Curtiz)
A tale of two lovers tossed together and cast apart by the politics of love and war, Casablanca remains the classic so many purport it to be. At the center of this film is a romance between Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Bergman), who were once in love in Paris. That was years ago. When Ilsa shows up at Rick’s Cafe Americain with a new beau, feelings are unearthed in the former lovers and the tides of history threaten to wash them all away. Bergman’s role is notable not only for its now-iconic nature, but the emotionally evocative tone that her presence exudes. Bergman’s ability to filter the emotional truth of her character through the prism of a Hollywood production is miraculous. Ilsa may be torn between two men, but her plight is anything but melodrama.
Gaslight (George Cukor)
After the murder of her Aunt Alice, Paula is sent away to school in Italy to overcome the sadness of her past. Ten years later, she returns to the very house in which her aunt was killed, but she’s not alone. Paula has fallen in love with Gregory (Charles Boyer), who convinces her to marry him and move back into her family home. Cukor’s cheeky and slyly morbid tone works as playful foreshadowing. Bergman’s performance, the earliest on this list, is stunningly vulnerable yet acutely sensual, grabbing hold of a viewer within her first moments onscreen. Paula is just first of the several intelligent women in peril Bergman will play in her career (Gaslight was made back-to-back with Hitchcock’s Spellbound) whose wit and resourcefulness far outmatches that of her male counterparts. For her work, she won her first of three Academy Awards, beating out fellow nominee Barbara Stanwyck for Billy Wilder‘s Double Indemnity. Hardly a small feat.
The Human Voice (Ted Kotcheff)
The sole TV movie on the list, The Human Voice is an adaptation of Jean Cocteau‘s play, which Bergman performed on ABC in 1967. She takes the only onscreen role, a woman coping with the news that her lover of more than five years is about to marry another. She pleads with him over the phone, their only form of connection, alternatively lying that she’s fine and begging for his return. To call Bergman’s embodiment of this woman a monumental feat would be an understatement; it’s utterly herculean. Along with shooting on video, director Ted Kotcheff employs long takes and shattering close-ups, capturing the emotionally naked desperation of this nameless character. Although the film may not live up to the reputation established by Cocteau’s other works, Bergman’s performance befits that legacy.
Murder On The Orient Express (Sidney Lumet)
Sidney Lumet‘s adaptation of Agatha Christie‘s Murder on the Orient Express is a star-studded and charmingly old-fashioned mystery, and landed Bergman her third Academy Award. She portrays Greta, a God-fearing, Bible-clutching Swedish missionary locked on a train with a sea of oddballs and at least one murderer. This is a skittish, flustered woman who finds herself under the watchful eye of famous detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney in a flamboyant and amusing turn). One of many suspects in this ensemble cast, Bergman accomplishes a great deal with little screen time. Through only a handful of scenes, she refreshingly allows herself some rather broad characterizations, which match immaculately with the screenplay’s heavily stylized dialogue. Here’s an admittedly slight piece of crowd-pleasing entertainment that nevertheless transcends its popcorn-cinema intentions on the backs of its performers.
The role of the comedian in film has never been a particularly noble one. Often reduced to mere comedic relief despite the arduous nature of live performing, they receive, as the great Rodney Dangerfield said, “…no respect, no respect.”
Here’s an attempt to change that as we give our respect to those who made us laugh so hard while they themselves were perhaps trying not to cry. The following ten films detail the lives of comedians of various styles and backgrounds. They’re not all traditional, laugh-out-loud comedies, though each one indeed contains incredibly clever and uproarious moments of levity. They capture the desperate fear of failure and the euphoria of success that every performer yearns for and fears with equal vigor.
Ahead of the release of Entertainment, enjoy the list, please recommend your own suggestions in the comments, and don’t forget to tip your waitress!
Annie Hall (Woody Allen)
Woody Allen‘s Annie Hall is arguably the best film ever made about a comedian, though only briefly touches on the minutia of show business. It’s instead an elegy to old times and old relationships. Before we even meet Annie Hall, Alvy Singer informs us that he and Annie have separated. It spirals back through Singer’s life and broken relationship with Hall, this lovable and goofy woman with a predilection for neck ties. It’s all the more remarkable as an iconic romantic comedy due to the fact that Alvy and Annie do not end up together. Containing some of the finest one-liners ever written, Annie Hall is not only a beautiful comedian’s story, but also Allen’s masterpiece.
The Comedy and Entertainment (Rick Alverson)
The Comedy is indeed a film about comedy, though not necessarily about comedians. The hero of Rick Alverson’s 2012 picture is the type of guy Adam Sandler or Jack Black has portrayed many times: a playful man-child to whom everything is a joke. But the film containing that character couldn’t be less like their goofy comedies. Tim Heidecker plays Swanson as an obnoxious and juvenile white male living a pseudo-Bohemian hipster life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Fitting with the spirit of this nearly plotless story, Swanson will find no meaning in the events of the film, learning nothing about himself — or anything else, for that matter — which may be the most brutal punchline.
Alverson’s follow-up is, yes, already worthy of a mention on a feature such as this. Norm MacDonald once said (and I paraphrase) that the life of a comedian is not far removed from the life of a drifter. You move from town to town, working only an hour a night. The remaining 23 hours are dedicated to killing that free time and trying to stay connected to your family at home, possibly thousands of miles away. Entertainment, the mesmerizing new anti-comedy, captures this point in a stark and ruthless manner. The film finds its protagonist, Gregg Turkington, essentially playing himself, a touring comedian making the rounds across the sun blasted California desert. Comedy fans will know Turkington better as his on-stage character, Neil Hamburger. In the course of the film, Hamburger will curse and clear his throat through bad gig after bad gig, a cutting and often hilarious reminder of the despairs of life alone on the road.
Funny People (Judd Apatow)
While messy and perhaps over-long at two-and-a-half hours, Judd Apatow‘s Funny People wonderfully captures the emotional essence of its characters. George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a famous comedian and actor who’s been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Flanked by his new assistant (Seth Rogen), Simmons attempts to win back the woman of his dreams (Leslie Mann) who wised up and dumped him many years ago. We assume this diagnosis will force Simmons to reevaluate his life and change his selfish ways. It does not. Instead, Simmons resists this change, using his condition to manipulate those around him. Perfectly conveying the highs and lows of the business of comedy, Funny People may have its flaws, but they’re weirdly in keeping with its characters.
The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese)
Despite the cult status of Martin Scorsese‘s film, The King of Comedy‘s protagonist, Rupert Pupkin, is one of the saddest characters ever depicted on film. Pupkin (Robert De Niro) is a wannabe nightclub comic who decides to kidnap talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) in order to land a stand-up set on his show. What’s not so well-remembered is how solitary and lonely Langford seems in the few moments we see of his home life. Pupkin and Langford are two sides of the same coin. Like a clichéd comic-book villain, Langford’s celebrity unknowingly and unintentionally created Pupkin, this diabolical, self-centered monster. Scorsese and De Niro have collaborated on some dangerous characters, but neither reach the level of violent unpredictability of this needy and brazenly psychotic protagonist.
With a seemingly endless amount of streaming options — not only the titles at our disposal, but services themselves — we’ve taken it upon ourselves to highlight the titles that have recently hit the interwebs. Every week, one will be able to see the cream of the crop (or perhaps some simply interesting picks) of streaming titles (new and old) across platforms such as Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and more (note: U.S. only). Check out our rundown for this week’s selections below.
Amour Fou (Jessica Hausner)
An ecstatically original work of film-history-philosophy with a digital-cinema palette of acutely crafted compositions. Amour Fou seamlessly blends together the paintings of Vermeer, the acting of Bresson, and the psychological undercurrents of a Dostoevsky novel. It is an intensely thrilling and often slyly comic work that manages to combine a passionately dispassionate love story of the highest order with a larger socio-historical examination of a new era of freedom, and the tragedy beset by those trapped in its enclosed world. – Peter L. (full review)
Where to Stream: Netflix
A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting on Existence (Roy Andersson)
The third installment in Roy Andersson’s trilogy looks and operates quite a bit like the two that precede it, thus making A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence an easy sell to the already-converted. But rather than preach to his choir, the Swedish helmer makes enough approaches to constitute an evolution, most notably in its remarkably grim, shockingly disturbing final stretch, as bleak a send-off to a series as any I can think to name. But with an eye for set construction and physical choreography that’s at its peak, the only shame is that he’s stopping now. – Nick N.
Where to Stream: Netflix
Do I Sound Gay? (David Thorpe)
Everyone who has heard their voice recorded on a video camera has wondered, “Is that what I really sound like?” This thought is typically followed up by a question to friends: “That’s not really what I sound like, is it?” As one of the most recognizable aspects of a person’s identification, it is no wonder that so much curiosity, joy and frustration goes into the acceptance of one’s own voice. For the newly single journalist David Thorpe, anxiety about vocal identity comes from what he perceives is his sissy “gay voice.” It is not that David isn’t gay and doesn’t want to be perceived as sexually attracted to men; he is gay, but remains worried that his “gay voice” carries with it a stigma that will affect not only his romantic life but his business ventures as well. Do I Sound Gay? positions David in the role of subject and filmmaker in his journey to not only change his voice, but to identify the history, genesis, and stigma behind the culturally recognizable “gay voice.” – Dan G. (full review)
Where to Stream: Netflix
I Smile Back (Adam Salky)
Sarah Silverman shines in I Smile Back, a fairly standard, though very dark, addiction drama driven by its superb leading performance. Laney (Silverman) is married to the successful Bruce (Josh Charles) with a couple of kids. She’s also an addict, binging on alcohol, pills, coke and sex where any and all are available. The husband (Thomas Sadoski) of a friend is her coke dealer, whom with Laney is having an affair. – Dan M. (full review)
Just Jim (Craig Roberts)
After coming to our radar with Richard Ayoade‘s debut Submarine, Craig Roberts has since popped up in a variety of films, including Jane Eyre, Neighbors, 22 Jump Street, Red Lights, and more. His talents are now extending beyond acting as he recently debuted his first feature as writer-director, Just Jim, at SXSW earlier this year, and it’s now available to stream. The story follows Roberts as a fairly average teenager in his hometown, but when an older American neighbor (Emile Hirsch) moves in, he offers to help up his social status. – Leonard P.
Where to Stream: Amazon
There are few people in show business with such enviable careers as Thomas McCarthy. As an actor, he’s worked with everyone from Peter Jackson and Clint Eastwood to Lukas Moodysson and Mike White, in addition to his pivotal turn on HBO’s The Wire. As a writer-director, McCarthy’s output, starting with his debut feature The Station Agent, rarely fails to captivate audiences. Even McCarthy’s critical missteps, such as his comedic fairy tale The Cobbler, are equally compelling for their flaws and miscalculations.
His newest film, Spotlight, has already garnered an immensely positive critical reception, including our review from Venice. The drama is based on the true story of the journalists at the Boston Globe who discovered a child molestation scandal and cover-up within the walls of the Catholic Church.
If you’re interested in thematically-similar films, focusing on journalism, courtroom drama, and David and Goliath battles of moral sacrifice, you’ve come to the right place. The following ten titles represent some of the finest cinematic examples of the uncertain struggle to do the right thing. Enjoy the list, and please suggest your own recommended titles in the comments.
All The President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula)
The two biggest obstacles ever faced by journalists may be the church, as seen in Spotlight, and the state, as seen in Alan J. Pakula‘s classic All The President’s Men. The struggles of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) are the stuff of dreams for any young journo hoping to change the world with their words. Everyone knows the story of how the two hungry reporters uncovered a conspiracy involving the burglary at the Watergate Hotel, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. If you haven’t seen All The President’s Men, you do not know the enrapturing effect of Pakula’s compositions and Gordon Willis‘ unparalleled cinematography. The film is an ode to the power of investigative journalism and rousing reminder that ink can have an incredible effect on history.
Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)
While hearing a confession, a Catholic priest (Brendan Gleeson) is told he will be murdered in one week — the following Sunday to be exact. Confused, the priest falls silent. The confessor explains he was badly abused as a child by another priest, who has since passed away. The confessor has been robbed of his opportunity to exact revenge on the priest who abused him. Instead, he’s decided he will murder a good priest. The priest is given one week to put his affairs in order, leaving him adrift in a picturesque seaside Irish town filled with endearingly innocent sinners. Writer/Director John Michael McDonagh‘s sophomore effort is a charming mixture of the sadly sweet and the crudely raunchy, each tone complimenting the other rather nicely. Calvary is a moving treatise to the power and moral responsibilities of the archetypal priest.
Deliver Us From Evil (Amy J. Berg)
The authoritative power the Catholic church wields over their flock is unrivaled in this world and possibly the next. The command with which God’s earthly representatives are empowered grants them unquestioned trust of Catholic churchgoers all over the world. Amy J. Berg‘s scathing documentary Deliver Us From Evil demonstrates this fact with chilling and heartbreaking starkness. The film focuses on Father Oliver O’Grady, an Irish Catholic priest who admitted to molesting an untold number of children in the late ’70s and early ’80s. It is devastating to learn that while the events of Spotlight were happening in Massachusetts, Father O’Grady’s crimes were taking place on the other side of the country in California. Deliver Us From Evil is a searing and urgently important work.
Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck)
Ben Affleck‘s somber directorial debut examines in gritty detail the lives of lost souls on the streets of Boston, betrayed by those sworn to protect them. Our protagonists are an unmarried couple (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) working as missing person investigators. As in McCarthy’s Spotlight, they encounter corruption and other nasty struggles on the road to doing the right thing. Endowed with a similarly stellar ensemble cast to Spotlight, including Amy Ryan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris and John Ashton (Marvin Dorfler from Midnight Run, anyone?), Gone Baby Gone is a thoughtful and emotional elegy to the lost innocence of youth.
The Insider (Michael Mann)
The road to the truth is never easy to navigate. In 1995, former tobacco scientist Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) found himself a victim of intimidation and death threats after he attempted to expose secrets about the addictive and dangerous nature of cigarettes. Michael Mann‘s icy cool film is built on Eric Roth‘s captivating and enraging screenplay, and the performances of his ensemble cast, including Al Pacino, Michael Gambon and Christopher Plummer as 60 Minutes‘ Mike Wallace. Tensely gripping, the film is a fierce indictment of corporate greed and apathy. It’s a wounded plea for those afraid to speak out because they see themselves as the little guy, helpless against the deep pockets of big corporations.
If you’re trying to place a finger on the true pulse of contemporary cinema, one should look no further than the latest in a screening series held by MDFF, the Toronto-based production company (headed by local filmmakers / producers Daniel Montgomery and Kazik Radwanski) that’s dedicated to bringing the kind of genuinely small cinema (one could say the sort often relegated to Vimeo links) to Canada’s biggest city. They will, in some cases, play at the historic Royal Cinema, which gives a Movie Palace presentation to even the lowest-budgeted and most intimate of films. While this location won’t be utilized for their November 4th screening, a collision of the old-fashioned and the new digital cinema will still be very present with the pairing of Gina Telaroli’s Here’s to the Future! and Kurt Walker’s Hit 2 Pass, two films harkening back while defiantly looking forward.
Of course, both films have the distinction of being made by and starring “figures of presence” within the online cinephile world — a realm commonly (and somewhat pejoratively) referred to as “Movie Twitter.” More specifically, they’re belonging to a kind of New York/MUBI Notebook cinephilia; it’s fair to say almost every person in both Telaroli and Walker’s films is a fan of Vulgar Auteurism Folk Hero Paul W.S. Anderson.
Furthermore, there almost seems to be some pretext that you have some knowledge of their players, at least in the sense of how relaxed and unassumingly they inhabit their respective filmic atmospheres. And so while these two works should be considered quite representational of this liquid-like new cinema, they’re not thesis films. To the contrary, these are works of copious generosity and kindness, ones that, even within the landscape of auteur worship that their cinephilia inhabits, make upfront their sense of collaboration.
Telaroli’s film, set all on one bright, late-summer Sunday (September 18th, 2011, to be exact) depicts her taking various stabs at recreating a brief scene from Michael Curtiz’s Bette Davis-starring pre-code drama The Cabin in the Cotton. The set is located in her New York apartment and the cast and crew consist of her friends; among them is MUBI editor and writer Daniel Kasman, who’s frequently seen holding a boom mic or goofing off on his phone.
The scene in question is centered on the titular statement of “Here’s to the Future!,” an ironic toast to dire financial- and worker-related straits, with multiple actresses trying on the Bette Davis role and giving line readings ranging from the seductive to the melancholic. Being that the content of the very scene takes place around the Great Depression, certain political implications (“still relevant today,” etc.) can be easily read into Telaroli’s film and her work at hand. While, at one point, explaining the motivation to her actors, she gives the blunt reasoning that the poor are being fucked over by the rich and they themselves are (obviously) in a setting of no-backlot-like decadence.
But the film isn’t simply about Telaroli and her need to recreate this scene, or any potential burden of self-importance. While sets are often noted for their tension, the film sees only the lightest conflict of recreation and labor; while there are clearly shifting jobs, such as various actors stepping into the two roles — and, near the end, a female in the male part — the film is equally concerned with capturing the downtime between takes as it is reconfiguring the image of filmmaking itself. Through the number of cameras on set, be they heavy-duty “official equipment,” a DSLR, or a phone — all, of course, of varying picture quality — it gives the implication that dozens of other mini-movies are contained even within its swift 72-minute runtime.
Maybe the most charming of these comes once shooting has ended for the day, and the film doesn’t conclude, but rather gives us images all dedicated to the space we’ve inhabited and people we’ve hung out with. The scenarios vary: whether it’s hanging on an empty room set to Fleetwood Mac or webcam-caught footage of Telaroli and her crew members overlooking the day’s work, the audience seeing just their reactions and not, say, split-screen of the accompanying dailies. Perhaps the one note of despair to be perceived is that not every Sunday could possibly be this fun.
Shifting to slightly younger filmmakers and north of the border, Kurt Walker’s Hit 2 Pass — which, in the interest of full disclosure, this writer contributed a very small sum of money to the production and has his name displayed in the end credits of — also situates itself in the Golden Age. It begins with a direct homage to the studio executive open of Jerry Lewis’s The Bellboy, in this case featuring the manic thespian stylings of MUBI Notebook contributor Neil Bahadur. By then transitioning to the load screen of an ’80s video game, one comes to see millennial nostalgia (or at least Walker and co.’s brand of it) as a complicated mix of eras and modes.
Nostalgia and reviving the past doesn’t end there, though: the film is named after a demolition derby competition in Prince George, British Colombia, a family tradition for “star” Tyson Storozinski, who serves as a wholly natural screen presence. The motion picture’s mission statement, to document Storozinski and his father Dale as they prepare him for the 2013 edition, initially seems like an excuse for formal experimentation, to make some relation of man and machine through all the toys available to young filmmakers nowadays. (Something like a micro-budget Red Line 7000.) While this production is far from inundated with cash, just the shot of a drone hovering above the track makes for something like a spectacle.
Luckily, the film continues to reconfigure its own meaning. Around the 45-minute mark, the race ends; smoke billowing through the night sky is set to the diegetic hum of soulless chart-topper“I’ve Got a Feeling,” only to then cross-fade to Bahadur with his head firmly rested on his desk. The glory has come and gone, and it’s time for nostalgia to rest.
From there, both the film’s depiction of the land and its people extends beyond just traditions of the privileged, as it abruptly shifts to an interview with a young Aboriginal man, Nathan Giede. Walker’s offscreen voice gently probes him about his personal history — how he’s from Manitoba, the mother he’s never met, etc. Curiously, Giede makes note of his objection to the politicization of his race, as seen prominently in the 2015 Canadian federal election.
The film throughout makes a point to afford a variety of perspectives, such as how it begins on crew member John Lehtonen waiting in a driveway to be picked up, or even the way we briefly see and hear the race through what seems like a child holding the camera. But the interview with Giede, followed by a James Benning-like depiction of interior and exterior spaces, and then concluding with various screens from video games spanning years and consoles, reveals that Walker’s work can’t only be seen as being compassionate, but also one of the qualities of most great films: mysterious.
Both films, through low budgets and compact runtimes, may initially seem to have little at stake, but each open up to something truly exciting, and perhaps even difficult to completely pin down. So what can we say other than, “Here’s to the Future!”
Here’s to the Future! and Hit 2 Pass ar available to watch above, for free, from November 9th to the 22nd.
“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” is a proverb whose simple existence proves the fact impressionable souls will do so without fail. This monthly column focuses on the film industry’s willingness to capitalize on this truth, releasing one-sheets to serve as not representations of what audiences are to expect, but as propaganda to fill seats. Oftentimes they fail miserably.
We’ve entered awards season territory as November sees a bunch of critical darlings making their way across the country fresh off festival circuit bows. I’m talking the likes of Brooklyn (limited November 4) and Trumbo (limited November 6), whose posters I couldn’t fit in here. But don’t think you can’t also catch some counter-programming like Heist (limited November 13) (poster) and Love the Coopers (November 13) (poster), two films whose posters make them look like direct-to-DVD fare and lame holiday rehash respectively.
The first grouping comes with pedigrees from reviewers and audiences alike so it’s nice to see studios allowing their design firms to deliver a visual aesthetic equal to the task. It doesn’t happen often, but I actually really like all the section headline one-sheets compiled below.
I guess wading through Monsters University and a year with no Pixar film comes with its benefits as 2015 carries not one but two installments. Inside Out didn’t have the greatest poster campaign of the studio’s history but it was their best film since Up. Does that mean The Good Dinosaur (November 25) having memorable posters will cause the finished product to not be as good? Maybe. But if this is what ends up happening, I think it will have more to do with Inside Out being so good than its own demise.
That said: I really enjoy what Proof has done on the teaser. Dealing with dinos and cavemen, it’s a no-brainer to go cave wall painting and yet it seems to be the only way to have gone. This thing is so simple—giving us both species in pictographic form while also showing the expected comradery formed by the characters. Pixar and Thanksgiving are the only other information tidbits we need.
It may not be as great, but the firm’s final sheet with sparkling bugs flowing against the fully rendered dino and cave-boy is as memorable on theater walls. The layout gives us a glimpse at the artistic design while also setting a mood that moves it past comparisons to that other prehistoric animated series Ice Age. Unfortunately Proof cannot keep it up with the next advert looking practically like an Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs cast-off.
Proof was also in charge of Blue Sky Studios’ family-friendly entry The Peanuts Movie (November 6). It too is self-explanatory with Snoopy and Woodstock atop the former’s doghouse—fitting into each other similarly to the handprint into dinosaur painting. November and a tagline are also all anyone needs otherwise for a property such as Chuck Schultz‘s icon pooch. The simple fact he has a poster and therefore a feature film is enough to get many excited.
I’m not sure who did the next one, but it may be safe to say Proof as well considering the firm did a similar design for The Muppets. I liked it then and I like it now—just throw everyone in at once and give us calculated chaos. It forces us to find our favorite characters and iconic expressions, the spotlight making sure we see Charlie Brown front and center. Everyone together just gets the tone right. I’m not saying that because Ten30 Studios‘ character sheets don’t—that’s definitely Lucy and Pig-Pen—just that these kids all deserve an equal share of the glory.
There are so many faces this month. But while most are very familiar, the quintet in France’s Foreign Language Oscar hopeful Mustang (limited November 20) is not. That doesn’t mean these five actresses are any less interesting than their Hollywood counterparts, though. And the from-below pose with heads together by Le Cercle Noir is enough for audiences to want to meet them.
It’s a really nice composition, almost forming a heart with the sky seen behind them. I also like its simplicity. The lace dresses of the two at bottom fade into white so the title can pop while the rest is unencumbered are ready to be focused on.
Blood & Chocolate‘s English-language version loses this clean aesthetic by putting text everywhere. The idea that the poster is about the girls is thrown out the window so that the image can be just another framed photo meaning less than what is around it. The firm thinks we’re so uninterested in the girls that they even superimpose text on top of them to basically say, “Ignore these faces and read the tag instead. That’s what’s going to hook you. Yeah!”
P+A isn’t going to cover the faces of bona fide stars like Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander. Nope, they’re going to ride their celebrity to the bank on The Danish Girl (NY/LA November 27). That doesn’t mean they’re only worth a meaningless still, however. Celebrity can be augmented by artistic flourish: the stripping down of color for a monochromatic tone definitely working towards this goal here to stand apart from any bright counterparts on the wall.
I also like the font choice of thin serifs that almost get lost against the image. Because of this our eyes go straight to the actors, intrigued by Alicia’s right eye and Eddie’s left forming a sort of hybrid face together. There’s a merging of sorts happening that piques interest before lowering our view to find the title.
The foreign example loses this by delivering a still and nothing more. They thicken the font so it grabs our attention and replace a cool pose with Eddie simply staring at us while Alicia stares at him—how romantic comedy. The color is dulled nicely, but not enough to make it anything but a photo like everything else.
For this first Carol (limited November 20) poster, the designers have done something different in showing us two characters’ vantage points in lieu of the audience’s. Rooney Mara at top and Cate Blanchett at bottom aren’t looking at us from their frame, they’re spying upon each other. It’s an effectively static split-screen that creates its own motion via periphery players blurring in between. No matter what’s going on, these two women have laser focus on each other.
I enjoy P+A’s alternate sheet with close-ups of the two—this time with Blanchett at top to coincide with her higher box office status in comparison with Mara—but it’s completely formal. The first design puts us into an action as though it’s unfolding before us. This one merely gives interesting crops of photos that say little other than who’s in the film. By making them look in opposite directions you could almost assume their relationship is adversarial. That fantastic longing of attraction able to capture attention from across the room in but a second’s time is gone.
If there’s one depiction of a face that trumps them all, it’s by far Angelina Jolie‘s on Iconisus L&Y – Visual Communication Systems‘ advert for her By the Sea (limited November 13). Oh, how I wish this thing were that golden wash of hair and nothing else—what an amazingly beautiful image. All Brad Pitt‘s scowl adds is distraction. Artistic wonder ruined by celebrity appeal.
And you can’t tell me that Pitt’s contract stated he had to be visible on the ad for it to be approved. A. Neither he not Jolie are on the teaser (a poster with equal beauty if more conservative). B. His wife wrote and directed this thing. Vanity shouldn’t be a factor above captivating viewers with something uniquely special.
The saddest part, though, is that Pitt’s inclusion probably will get more people to buy a ticket.
As 2015 winds down, like most cinephiles, we’re looking to get our hands on the titles that may have slipped under the radar or simply gone unseen. With the proliferation of streaming options, it’s thankfully easier than ever to play catch-up, and to assist with the process, we’re bringing you a rundown of the best titles of the year available to watch.
Curated from the Best Films of 2015 So Far list we published for the first half of the year, it also includes films we’ve enjoyed the past few months and some we’ve recently caught up on. This is far from a be-all, end-all year-end feature (that will come at the end of the year), but rather something that will hopefully be a helpful tool for readers to have a chance to seek out notable, perhaps underseen, titles from the year.
Note that we’re going by U.S. theatrical releases and the streaming services are limited solely to the territory as well. If you want to stay up-to-date with new titles being made available, check out our weekly column. In the meantime, see our rundown below, which will be updated as new titles hit streaming services, so make sure to bookmark. One can also click titles to see our official reviews or additional coverage.
’71 (Yann Demange) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
About Elly (Asghar Farhadi) // Netflix – iTunes – Google
Amour Fou (Jessica Hausner) //Netflix – Amazon – iTunes – Google
Amy (Asif Kapadia) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Appropriate Behavior (Desiree Akhavan) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Ballet 422 (Jody Lee Lipes) // Netflix – Amazon – iTunes – Google
Beasts of No Nation (Cary Fukunaga) // Netflix
Beloved Sisters (Dominik Graf) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Blackhat (Michael Mann) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Buzzard (Joel Potrykus) // Amazon Prime – iTunes – Google
Call Me Lucky (Bobcat Goldthwait) //Netflix – Amazon – iTunes – Google
Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland) // Netflix – Amazon – iTunes – Google
Eden (Mia Hansen-Løve) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
The End of the Tour (James Ponsoldt) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Entertainment (Rick Alverson) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Ex Machina (Alex Garland) // Amazon Prime – iTunes – Google
Experimenter (Michael Almereyda) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Far From the Madding Crowd (Thomas Vinterberg) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Faults (Riley Stearns) // Netflix – Amazon – iTunes – Google
Gangs of Wasseypur (Anurag Kashyap) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Girlhood (Céline Sciamma) // Netflix – Amazon – iTunes – Google
Hard to Be a God (Aleksei German) // Netflix – Amazon – iTunes – Google
Heaven Knows What (Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Hungry Hearts (Saverio Costanzo) // Netflix – Amazon – iTunes – Google
Inside Out (Pete Docter) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Iris (Albert Maysles) // Netflix – Amazon – iTunes – Google
It Follows (David Robert Mitchell) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Jauja (Lisandro Alonso) // Netflix – iTunes – Google
Junun (Paul Thomas Anderson) // iTunes
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (David Zellner) // Amazon Prime – iTunes – Google
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (Brett Morgen) // HBO GO
Li’l Quinquin (Bruno Dumont) // Netflix – Amazon – iTunes – Google
Love & Mercy (Bill Pohlad) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Man From Reno (Dave Boyle) // Netflix – Amazon – iTunes – Google
Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
The Mend (John Magary) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Mississippi Grind (Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Mistress America (Noah Baumbach) // Amazon – iTunes
Paddington (Paul King) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Partisan (Ariel Kleiman) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
A Pigeon Say On A Branch Reflecting on Existence (Roy Andersson) //Netflix –Amazon – iTunes – Google
Queen of Earth (Alex Ross Perry) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Results (Andrew Bujalski) //Netflix – Amazon – iTunes – Google
The Russian Woodpecker (Chad Gracia) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Saint Laurent (Bertrand Bonello) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
The Salt of the Earth (Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Shaun the Sheep Movie (Mark Burton, Richard Starzak) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Slow West (John Maclean) // Amazon Prime – iTunes – Google
Spring (Justin Benson, Aaron Scott Moorhead) // Amazon Prime – iTunes – Google
Tangerine (Sean Baker) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako) // Amazon Prime – iTunes – Google
Tom at the Farm (Xavier Dolan) // Amazon Prime – iTunes – Google
Tu dors Nicole (Stéphane Lafleur) //Netflix – Amazon – iTunes – Google
Unexpected (Kris Swanberg) //Netflix – Amazon – iTunes – Google
The Voices (Marjane Satrapi) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi) // Amazon – iTunes – Google
While We’re Young (Noah Baumbach) // Amazon Prime – iTunes – Google
World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt) // Vimeo