Will Schube has left to become a boxer. This is all we know.
I. 20th Century Women (2016) – Directed by Mike Mills
If you’ve read anything about 20th Century Women, or follow the career of Mike Mills, you’ve probably heard that that the film is about his mother. Much like his last feature, Beginners (2010), is about his father, 20th Century situates us in late ‘70s Santa Barbara and tells us a fictionalized version of Mills’ relationship with his mom.
Annette Benning plays Dorothea, a chain smoking, 50 year old mom with a prepubescent boy. She’s alone, with her husband having left Santa Barbara years earlier to leave her alone with their son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). As Jamie rails against his mother’s ways in a manner every pre-teen boy or girl does, Dorothea enlists Jamie’s best friend, Julie (an excellent Elle Fanning) and a young lady renting a room in her home, Abbie (Greta Gerwig), to help “raise” Jamie.
20th Century Women is, in a sense, a coming of age story, but Mills fills his narrative with such intimacy and empathy that the film’s scope is shrunken to a perfect level. This is simply a movie about people living at a particular time, and the ways in which we all cope with life’s curveballs in different ways.
Mills has a few tricks up his sleeve that help turn this excellent screenplay into one of 2016’s best movies. Cinematographer Sean Porter is almost always very subtly moving the camera—tracking in and out at a near imperceptible speed—to convey the notion that we’re dropping into a world uninterrupted. Mills also accents driving sequences in radical technicolor, showing the death of the hippie ideal as the colors skirt in an overly-dramatized, off-kilter way. Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is in the soundtrack, featuring the perfect utilization of Talking Heads and triggering an all-time Annette Benning moment as she and William (Billy Crudup—have yourself a year, Billy Crudup!) try to figure out why, exactly, Bad Brains is a popular band. 20th Century Women will fly under a lot of radars because its grand statements are assertions about the minute dealings of growing up. But it’s greatest point isn’t that growing up is limited to children. We’re all growing up, all the time. And it’s really, really hard.
II. Love & Friendship (2016) – Directed by Whit Stillman
Whit Stillman’s early films are talky. His first three—which form a trio of sorts—Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1996), and The Last Days of Disco (1998) revolve around loose plots and arrogant characters spouting out philosophies at rapid fire paces. None of these characters are particularly likable, but somehow, the films still are.
For a notoriously well regarded director (those first three films were re-released by Criterion—the arbiter of ‘good film taste’—in a bundle), Stillman’s filmography has serious time lapses between releases. His first trilogy spans eight years, with the first two coming with six years in between (odd, for relatively small films, the first of which carried serious critical momentum), and he was inactive from 1998-2011. In 2011 he released Damsels in Distress, a film I’ve yet to seen but received middling reviews. Since then, the only release to his name was a TV movie in 2014. Stillman returned in 2016 with Love & Friendship, based on Jane Austen’s novel of the same name.
Love & Friendship is as talky as Stillman’s previous films, but the elevated English of 1790s Britain makes for a more entertaining watch than the digressions of spoiled 1980s New Yorker teens. Kate Beckinsale stars as Lady Susan, a flirtatious widow, hellbent on very low-key destroying any marriage in her sight. The film is remarkably funny; dry and witty—the sort of movie you actually have to pay attention to if you want to have a laugh. Also, for anyone who thought Chloë Sevigny would be 25 years old forever, Tuck Everlasting style, I’m starting a support group.
III. Night Moves (2014) – Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Another Kelly Reichardt movie because she deserves all the attention she’s receiving with Certain Women. And then some. I don’t have too much to say about this film, aside from the fact that Jesse Eisenberg is still the most annoying and I spent the entire movie thinking that Dakota Fanning was Amanda Seyfried. I even made a joke to my roommate afterwards about ESPN and boobs and he didn’t know what I was talking about. We then watched the credits and I saw that Dakota Fanning is an adult now and it scared the hell out of me. Maybe I’ll start another support group.
This movie is fine. It reminds me of another eco-terrorism movie in which Ellen Paige makes her dad (in the movie) stand in a swamp his company polluted even though it will give him cancer. The name eludes me. Night Moves is basically a more subtle version of that with a suspect (at best) ending. It’s the sort of ending that film students utilize when they don’t know how to end a movie. The screenwriting duo (I imagine all film students work in duos or trios because that’s how I rolled) looks at each other, and both simultaneously say, “What if we just end it here?” Both of them realize that it won’t make sense, but maybe that’s the point.
IV. Medicine For Melancholy (2008) – Directed by Barry Jenkins
As it turns out, this Barry Jenkins fellow is pretty good at making movies. Wyatt Cenac is a funny dude and I had no idea he acted in this movie. I didn’t really know this movie existed until I read a profile of Barry Jenkins in a local Miami newspaper. I got through the entire two thousand-plus word profile and found it odd that they didn’t mention his breakout film, Moonlight (2016), once. Turns out the joint was written in 2011 or something. Either way, it gave nice insight into Medicine, which should give all indie filmmakers hope. Essentially, if you’re good at making movies, money won’t stop you from making them. Take that advice to your grave.
Some of the film-y ticks that pervade Moonlight first appear in Medicine for Melancholy, a film in which two people sort of fall in love but also argue about what it means to be black, how we perceive our own identities when race is still the pre-eminent issue in America (***idiot voice*** but we’re post-racial) and the appropriate ways to rail against San Francisco gentrification (I imagine if the film was made now the conversations would only be more heated, because San Francisco is basically a giant pool of seed money for startup fuck boys). Jenkins swirls his camera around the actors in a way he does again and again in Moonlight, and the restraint and patience of the camera became a hallmark of his 2016 breakout. But the most peculiar feature of Medicine for Melancholy has to be its color, which is so faded that it often appears black and white. This tone is so imposing upon the movie’s narrative, that I found myself convinced on numerous occasions that the tones had brightened during specific moments and that Jenkins was using color to support the story. That may be the case, or I may be crazy. Probably both.
V. Creed (2015) – Directed by Ryan Coogler, my hero
YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. The first time I saw this movie I was on an airplane. I have a tendency to get strangely emotional on airplanes—I once cried between two elderly ladies and they comforted me and it was amazing. So when I saw Creed I nearly punched through that plastic window and did jump rope exercises in the aisle. This time around, I was lucky enough to catch the film on the big screen, on a film print (I think). Film nerds: was Creed shot on film? It sure looks like it. Anyways, seeing Creed on an airplane versus seeing it in theaters is like taking mushrooms and listening to Four Tet on a portable speaker during a windstorm. It’s still gonna be aight, it’s just not gonna be the life changing experience it should be. And life changing Creed is.
So few movies are able to occupy the $35 million range director Ryan Coogler was granted with Creed. That’s Paul Thomas Anderson money. It’s low risk from the studio’s end, $35 million goes into one green screen sequence for the fifth Batman Vs. Superman movie. But for the director, $35 million is a fool’s proposition. You need to make a shitload in return to make the thing a success. But Coogler did it. The film brought in $173 million, and should have one every single Oscar that year. When Coogler releases The Black Panther next year, he’ll be gunning for a historic first three film run. Fruitvale Station is an indie darling, a heartbreaking tale that turned Michael B. Jordan into a name to watch. Creed elevates Jordan even higher, sculpting his body into pure flames and showcasing his menacing hunger. If The Black Panther is a hit, Coogler is on a fast track to be the most sought after director we’ve got. You can only go to the Zack Snyder well and get poisoned water splashed into your eyes so many times before you realize that getting poisonous water in your eyes doesn’t feel good at all.