Directed by Bennett MillerUnited States | 2011
Moneyball raises questions almost effortlessly, but for the sake of telling a story it wanders into pedantry. The hinted-at debate about team payrolls and player salaries never forms a coherent dialectic. Non-baseball fans won’t know, for instance, about the luxury tax imposed on the wealthiest teams (or the fact that those wealthiest tend to generate the most revenue for baseball as a whole) from watching Moneyball. If anything, the narrative choices in the film reinforce the idea that teams like the New York Yankees pilfer talent and buy championships. This is still a hotly debated contention in the baseball world and by no means fact. But all of that’s okay, and here’s why: Moneyball isn’t a documentary. And it’s not about the Oakland A’s and their magical season. That story is told obliquely at best. The focus is on Beane.
Directed by Michael W. Dean, Kenneth ShiffrinUnited States | 2005
His decade of drug use is glossed over—a blown opportunity, in my opinion, to explore his work pre- and post-heroin. And I didn’t find out that he has four kids until the closing minutes of the documentary. These offenses are worse than burying the lead. One doesn’t include a great story intro like, “I asked him where the $60,000 went, and he showed me the track marks on his arms” and then refuse to dig deeper. And learning that Selby died practically broke despite his numerous successes and large family raises even more questions that the filmmakers seem to think aren’t nearly as interesting as celebrity fawning. Another issue, which has less to do with the movie than with perspective, is the inclusion of a segment in which the filmmakers let us know just how much Selby hated George W. Bush.
Directed by Matt Harlock, Paul ThomasUnited Kingdom | 2009
This is, indeed, part of what made Hicks’ comedy so great. The sense that you were never quite sure if he was in earnest or not. There’s a bit about advertisers that makes its way into American that sums this point. Throughout the bit the comic says perhaps six or seven times that what he’s saying isn’t a joke, that advertising stooges should actually go and kill themselves because they’re contributing nil to the human race. Everytime Bill emphasizes that he isn’t telling a joke it’s like a cue and the audience laughs. This is real anger, folks; I think we can take the man at his word. He was pissed. And he wanted us to be pissed too.
Directed by Hideaki AnnoJapan | 2000
This is a film full of illusions, typically in the form of evocative juxtapositions that seem incongruous yet unmistakably substantial. Take the Satie-like soundtrack, composed by Takashi Kako, that impregnates even the most banal of scenes with an unnerving aesthetic, hinting at an underlying emotion belied by the lack of surface activity. That lack of surface activity itself provides a sense of minimalism that, especially later, clashes against the melodrama during the uncovering of The Girl’s secret, flooded basement, her ultimate reality retreat with its womb-like bathtub, guitar-capped altar, and pervasive red umbrellas.
Directed by George CukorUnited States | 1936
Garbo considered her role as Marguerite Gautier the best performance of her career, even though she lost the Oscar to Luise Rainer for The Good Earth. It is indeed the best performance I’ve seen her give. Marguerite is a complex and demanding role, requiring a delicate navigation between the poles of self-reliance and dependence, cynical strength and romantic vulnerability, vigorous health and withered weakness, and the ambiguity and clarity of desire. In a word, Marguerite is dynamic. We’re never certain which direction she’s going to choose, and that ambiguity creates much of the dramatic tension. Garbo is a bit more convincing as the aloof and distant manipulator more so than the love-melted romantic interest, but even as the latter she creates moments of genuine pathos, especially as the film wears on.
Directed by David FincherUnited States | 2010
The rapid incisiveness of Sorkin’s screenplay has so immersed us in the excitement of the moment that it’s forced us to forget the fallout of the future. When the scene hits, it hits like an atom bomb. The added unexpectedness of how it comes down, masterfully orchestrated through Fincher’s cross editing, makes it all the more powerful. It also helps that the scene marks the third iteration of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ main musical theme; a haunting, three note piano piece that reverberates, suspended over atmospheric industrial textures.
Directed by David FincherUnited States | 2010
“You’re not an asshole. You’re just trying so hard to be one,” the benign, almost angelic paralegal and slightly corny expository mouthpiece, and one of the few bum notes here, tells Zuckerberg after the deposition and before leaving him alone in the empty conference room. It’s a line freighted with redemptive balm. But Zuckerberg is still too lost in his own orbit for it to have any brunt. That penultimate image of him sitting alone at his laptop, though, sending a friend request to the one that got away, is the very condition of our online selves: everywhere at once and nowhere at all.
Directed by David O. RussellUnited States | 2010
His turn as Dicky is a ghastly reminder that Bale is one of the finest—if not the finest—actors of my generation, a performer so committed that he dropped a ton of weight and picked up a deliciously charming Boston accent (I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually became a crack addict in order to go full Method). Dicky is a cartoon for much of the movie, and that works in the film’s favor. His big-eyed antics; his jumping out the window of a crack house multiple times; his incessant bragging about the Sugar Ray bout—all of these things denote a fractured, addictive personality that uses just the right amount of exaggeration to show us how obvious his problem is to everyone except his mother and sisters.
Directed by Terrence MalickUnited States, United Kingdom | 2005
The visuals, while still incredibly strong, can’t quite match the sheer beauty of Days of Heaven, the elegiac tone of Badlands or the terrifying power of The Thin Red Line, and its best moments seem far too fleeting and fragmentary (a criticism that might fit the entire film, actually). The length proves more of a detriment than a strength as it forces Malick into repetitions that add nothing to the film; I lost count of how many scenes we have with Smith and Pocahontas frolicking and flirting in nature.
Directed by John ScheinfeldUnited States | 2006
An audiotaped interview of Nilsson himself narrates a good deal of this which results in the most insightful moments, where one can glean at least some of his influences as there is no attempt on the film’s part to explore the source of his unusual songwriting talent and nothing interesting offered up by Nilsson’s favorite artist to cover, Randy Newman. However, snippets of Nilsson’s recorded output are sprinkled throughout to good effect, if only because they remind the viewer just how ineffable a thing the music is and how impotent theory and criticism and biography are in the face of such a soul-searing voice.
Directed by David CronenbergCanada | 1991
A place where too-handsome, too-clean Arabic youths with burnished rows of Hollywood-good teeth cavort and frolic amongst the rich detritus of Western “civilization.” A world of hustlers, gangsters and “fagitos,” closeted or not. A world where typewriters shaped like Mugwump heads secrete hallucinogenic compounds when they like what you’ve written. A world where humanity is (at best) a deceptive shell, hiding the vicious, insect-like nature of apparently-harmless rich folk. A world where, as one of the movie’s epigrams (attributed to half-legendary founder of the Hashshashin, Hassan I Sabbah) puts it, “Nothing is true; everything is permitted”.
Directed by James TobackUnited States | 2008
Now, no longer able to show us who he is, he has to be content with talking about who he was. Director James Toback lets him talk. Virtually the entire film is a one-on-one interview… with Tyson speaking candidly about his childhood, his mentor, sex, fame, regrets, philosophy, fears, etc. There’s a strong sense that there was a great deal of missed opportunity in his life which is strange coming from a man who was at the apex of his sport and who still looms so large over the boxing world.