By: Henry J. Fromage –
Week five of my 365 Days of Movies Challenge keeps the Oscar nominated quest going, then sprinkles in a truly random assortment of whatever I was feeling like at the time. Compelling them, I know.
The movie even James Nguyen felt was too amateur to release is getting just that thanks to the RiffTrax folks getting a hold of it, and, well, it’s Vertigo from the director of Birdemic, but before he learned whatever lessons he could possibly have learned from it. Come for the bizarrely wooden line readings, stay for the green-screened everything, including such wondrously unfilmable locales like an office with a wooden desk and bookshelves.
40. Life, Animated
One of the five docs to survive the incredible war of attrition it took to select this year’s Oscar documentary nominees, the story of one autistic child’s re-learning how to communicate and forge a way forward through the medium of Disney films is an incredible one, and unafraid to tackle the thornier realities facing him as he moves out of his parent’s house and begins to build an independent adult life for himself. Not particularly formalistically daring, but inspiring.
This mass consumption-aimed crowdpleaser is disappointingly straightforward coming from the usually more ambitious Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow), but does please those crowds well enough, of which we’re all card-carrying members. Taron Egerton and Reese Witherspoon surprise with their polished pipes, and it’s all amiable enough to survive a couple hours with the kids.
42. Into the Inferno
Werner Herzog tackles the subject of volcanoes through the prism of the effect they’ve had on human culture and belief systems, all the way from the Great Rift Valley to North Korea to Pacific cargo cults. This is a fascinating subject for his uniquely inquisitive approach to documentary filmmaking- there’s almost no surer thing in film than that a Werner Herzog documentary will be well worth your time.
43. Fire at Sea
Another Oscar-nominated doc, this one comes with the prestige of having won the Golden Bear, the top overall prize at the Berlin Film Festival. It’s a strange amalgam of following around a young boy on the Sicilian isle of Lampedusa as he builds slingshots and eats delicious-looking Italian grandma-prepared dinners while the other half of the film focuses on the Coast Guard continuously coming to the aid of the immigrant-filled boats trying desperately to reach Europe. It’s hard to divine a message behind the mashup, but also hard to deny the horrors of the latter section. These aren’t people desperate to destroy the Christian world, or desperate to steal some white person’s job. These are people desperate for their lives, so much so that risking death now seems a reasonable or even necessary step.
44. Right Now, Wrong Then
Hong Sang-soo is often accused of making the same film over and over again, and I am very much in that camp, but I’ll go a step further- he’s a filmmaker that only writes one character, and one setting. Himself, and his colon, which he doesn’t give any signs he wishes he could escape from. The structure of this film is novel enough (although not for his oeuvre), a love story played over twice, but with variations leading to different conclusions. But the fact that the male lead is a director and the female lead is a former model who Hong actually left his wife of 30 years for makes it all go down like rancid fish oil.
45. Things to Come
Thankfully, this other highly-reviewed foreign film I watched right after delivered the goods. Mia Hansen-Love is quickly establishing herself as one of the finest humanist filmmakers we have, focused on characters who change and evolve over time and the small moments that make up real lives. Pairing with the wondrously subtle Isabelle Huppert is a match made in heaven, and this story of a woman who loses all the things she considered foundational to her life and finds a different kind of freedom in that rivals Eden in Hansen-Love’s body of work.