The countdown continues…again!
It’s late, the dance floor is closing up, the air is still, the light is halfway between night and dawn but it feels like they day has just begun. The films of Mia Hansen-Løve could not be more different from one another but ultimately they are about the march of time albeit less preoccupied with its passage than they are with its ellipses. Hansen-Løve’s latest feature, Eden uses the 1990s and 2000s club culture, specifically the “French Touch” house/electronic music scene as the delightfully intoxicating backdrop for an empathetic yet low-key look at aging and stagnancy. In Eden, we see the famous music duo Daft Punk before they’re actually Daft Punk, when they’re just Thomas (Vincent Lacoste) and Guy-Man (Arnaud Azoulay), two of the many kids waiting for a train that will take them out to a rave back in 1992…but this movie isn’t about them, instead it follows Paul Vallée (Félix de Givry), who starts off as a teenager, becomes a minor figure in the French house music scene, and eventually finds himself a broke thirty-something still entranced by a beat from which everyone else has moved on. A more cynical mind may see Eden as about what happens when you *don’t* become Daft Punk, when your passion fails to solidify into something that’s livable. However, this is not about failure so much as one about how we lose ourselves to our own minor triumphs and stop moving forward. It’s the journey of figuring out whether or not you’ve stayed too long at the party. With over 40 tracks from artists such as Daft Punk, Frankie Knuckles, Jaydee etc you may just lose yourself to dance as well.
Great movies can be entertaining ones as well. Many have argued that the original Rocky “cheated” All The President’s Men and Network but it deservedly won Oscars based on this premise: that a film can be meaningful and expertly made while also moving an audience with broadly sketched drama and fun. Creed, the second film from filmmaker Ryan Coogler, reproves that classical movie making with a modern lens can be just as affecting as anything. What makes Creed special is nothing groundbreaking so much as the perfection by which it hits the expected feel-good beats of a sports underdog story. Like a good boxing match, we can see the hits coming but what is important is how the hits land and Coogler has made a great film that’s an absolute knockout from start to finish. Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of the late boxing champion, Apollo Creed and goes through a struggle of self-actualization and legacy with the help of his father’s best friend and greatest rival, Rocky Balboa played by a brilliant Slyvester Stallone. Everything about this movie not only works, they exceed.
8.) The Clouds of Sils Maria
Filmmaker Olivier Assayas’ drama features career-best performances from Kristen Stewart as the assistant to a middle-aged actress played by Juliette Binoche. Clouds of Sils Maria is sort of a modern spin on All About Eve as it explores aging and a woman’s place and purpose in the professional world, offering an intimate peak into place where jealousy and desire are precariously intertwined and often confused. Oliver Assayas’ screenplay is layered with hidden meaning at every turn, and it finds Juliette Binoche’s Maria Enders trapped in a metaphorical time-loop as she prepares for a revival of the play that made her a young star, but this time as the older character. Forced into reflection of herself that she refuses to look at, opposite a new actress in her former role as her younger lover Sigrid, Enders’ personal crossroads becomes increasingly intertwined with the play within the film. It’s an expansion of Birdman’s theme of the relationship between fact and fiction and how we use one to deal with the other and vice versa.
This year a far too many films got away from me and I never took the time to write a full review of them. Most of them are on this list now but Room is one that I particularly regret not talking about more and sooner. The filmmaking in this film is movie is extraordinary, and it’s held together by a strong performance from Brie Larson that marks her official arrival as a serious actress. The movie plays like a thriller with its story about a young woman, a child kidnapping victim locked in a room with her son, a child of her rape at the hands of her captor. Brie Larson’s Joy must raise her child as best she can while also taking the time to figure out how to escape with her son. Room blends a survival story, with philosophical underpinnings, dense psychological drama and soulful acting from Larson and newcomer Jacob Tremblay that would feel right at home in a Spielberg movie. Room is a film that will shake you, before leaving you with hope and wonder.
6.) Tokyo Tribe
If Sion Sono is not the “best” working director, he may be the “most.” There’s a dare to be different mentality about his films and in some ways he may have the least accessible filmography ever. Last year he gave us a wild ode to Japan’s history of cinema and this year he gives us…well…a martial arts rap opera. There is literally no movie like this. Set in a glitzy post-apocalyptic future Tokyo where gangs rule the streets this movie follows their biggest gang war yet that ultimately comes down to a literal penis-measuring conflict between the most noble/heroic character than the most depraved/evil one. Did I mention that the majority of this film is told in Japanese rap verse? Every frame of this movie is bursting at the seams with visual information and imagery ripped right out of videogames, Japanese comics/animation, kung-fu movies, American cult-films like The Warriors & Escape from New York and modern day hip-hop opulence. If there is one movie you see this year that’s “off the beaten path,” Tokyo Tribe is as weird and wild and fun as it gets.
Next up…THE FINAL COUNTDOWN!!!