Select­ed by Paul Stathakis | Feb­ru­ary 7, 2020

 

Clint East­wood is a fear­less direc­tor. There isn’t a film he can’t direct and the fact that he can still deliv­er a pic­ture this poignant at 89 years old is a tes­ta­ment to his endur­ing pas­sion for film. “Richard Jew­ell” recre­ates the events sur­round­ing the 1996 bomb­ing that occurred in Atlanta dur­ing the Sum­mer Olympic games cel­e­bra­tion in Cen­ten­ni­al Park. If you recall the sto­ry that dom­i­nat­ed the air­waves for some time, then you sure­ly recall all the twists and turns that trans­formed it into a com­plex sto­ry. Actor Paul Wal­ter Hauser steps into the role of the tit­u­lar char­ac­ter with a per­for­mance trag­i­cal­ly over­looked by the Oscars. Kathy Bates, who scored the film’s lone Oscar nom­i­na­tion (in the best sup­port­ing actress cat­e­go­ry), stars as Jew­ell’s sup­port­ive moth­er. Round­ing out the cast are Olivia Wilde, Sam Rock­well, and Jon Hamm — each equal­ly ter­rif­ic in their respec­tive roles. “Richard Jew­ell” is a film about sen­sa­tion­al media, head­lines, hur­ried jour­nal­ism, mis­in­for­ma­tion, and the dan­gers that come with assum­ing. Though the film does mild­ly dra­ma­tize the sto­ry, the ordeal that Jew­ell expe­ri­ences fol­low­ing the infa­mous attack are unfor­tu­nate­ly fac­tu­al­ly accu­rate. No oth­er film this year left me feel­ing more sat­is­fied and soft inside than “Richard Jew­ell.”

 

It was a sen­sa­tion­al year for films that focused on the notion of fight­ing for the truth. “Dark Waters” was the among the best of them. It is based on a true sto­ry that is dis­heart­en­ing but very time­ly. This is pre­cise­ly the kind of film that is rare in today’s cin­e­ma — a cin­e­ma heav­i­ly dom­i­nat­ed by super­heroes and their uni­vers­es. I’m not try­ing to make a state­ment against super­hero films because they cer­tain­ly have their place on the big screen. How­ev­er, films like “Dark Waters” tend to speak the loud­est because they are unafraid to exam­ine sto­ries that con­cern human­i­ty. Such films often involve agen­cies or cor­po­ra­tions that wish they could dis­as­so­ci­ate them­selves from the nar­ra­tive. These are sto­ries that they don’t want you to learn about. DuPont is an exam­ple of such a com­pa­ny and Mark Ruf­fa­lo stars as Rob Bilott, a cor­po­rate defense attor­ney who races to uncov­er a dis­turb­ing truth. This is a brave film with brave actors. It is also the kind of pic­ture that encour­ages view­ers to remain out­spo­ken espe­cial­ly in the face of abhor­rent injus­tices. Though to be quite truth­ful, the first thing you will want to do after watch­ing “Dark Waters” is open your kitchen cab­i­nets to inspect your fry­ing pans. I cer­tain­ly did and for that, I have Rob Bilott and direc­tor Todd Haynes to thank. Three words to real­ly sum up “Dark Waters”: appalling, inspir­ing, and eye-open­ing.

 

Pol­i­tics are dirty. When we hear that state­ment, we auto­mat­i­cal­ly turn our atten­tion to today’s polit­i­cal era where pres­i­dents can do no bad, even when the facts say oth­er­wise. How­ev­er, “The Report” takes us back to the pres­i­den­cy of George W. Bush. Based on a true sto­ry, “The Report” revis­its the era of height­ened para­noia fol­low­ing the events of Sep­tem­ber 11. Adam Dri­ver stars as Daniel Jones, a Sen­ate staffer who leads an inves­ti­ga­tion into the CIA’s post 9/11 Deten­tion and Inter­ro­ga­tion Pro­gram where sev­er­al Al-Qae­da detainees were inter­ro­gat­ed using ques­tion­able mea­sures. Ques­tion­able is quite an under­state­ment here. With each pass­ing minute, the sto­ry becomes clear­er as Jones uncov­ers dis­qui­et­ing secrets. The crimes he expos­es here are not com­mit­ted by ter­ror­ists but rather a group of immoral Amer­i­cans who car­ried out their oper­a­tion in an uncon­sti­tu­tion­al man­ner. It’s aston­ish­ing to watch Jones at work, in a small closed-off under­ground office space sift­ing through mounds of clas­si­fied doc­u­ments which include video and pho­to­graph­ic evi­dence. The dis­cov­er­ies he makes are vile but more shock­ing than that are the ways in which his inves­ti­ga­tion is con­tin­u­ous­ly stonewalled by those most threat­ened to be exposed. This is a pulse-pound­ing film and one that uses every sec­ond to tell a com­pelling sto­ry about cor­rup­tion at the high­est lev­els of pow­er. Dri­ver is flaw­less as a man deter­mined to expose the truth, even though the odds are against him from the very begin­ning. “The Report” is daz­zling and by the end, we feel just as breath­less as the ide­al­is­tic pro­tag­o­nist who sinks his heart and soul into this sto­ry.

 

Mar­tin Scors­ese is one of cin­e­ma’s most leg­endary direc­tors. As if he did­n’t have an already impres­sive resume, he now adds even more to it with “The Irish­man” — a film which feels con­nect­ed to some of his pre­vi­ous works. This addi­tion in many ways com­pletes his “Wiseguys” tril­o­gy which includes “Good­fel­las” and “Casi­no”. This is the work of a more mature, more refined Mar­tin Scors­ese. He is not so much con­cerned with the vio­lence this time around as he is with the lan­guage of pol­i­tics. One look at the list of impres­sive names attached to this project is enough to war­rant at least one view­ing: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Har­vey Kei­t­el, Ray Romano, and Al Paci­no. Paci­no stars as union leader Jim­my Hof­fa and focus­es on his time as an influ­en­tial media fig­ure — fierce, loud, respect­ed, and feared. De Niro steps into the role of Frank Sheer­an, Hof­fa’s long­time friend and con­fi­dante. Enough has been said about the film’s lengthy run­time. How­ev­er, this is 209 min­utes of pure bliss. To watch these vet­er­an actors at work is excit­ing. To watch them trans­form before our eyes to younger ver­sions of them­selves, thanks to tech­no­log­i­cal enhance­ments (De-Aging VFX), is even more aston­ish­ing. It is said that the actors faced chal­lenges act­ing younger on screen.

 

1917” is an excep­tion­al war dra­ma direct­ed by the great Sam Mendes. It takes place dur­ing the First World War where we embark on a dar­ing mis­sion with two sol­diers. They care­ful­ly nav­i­gate through ene­my ter­ri­to­ries that are qui­et, still, and men­ac­ing. As far as war films are con­cerned, this is one of the most orig­i­nal yet. Mendes presents the entire sto­ry in what is one long seem­ing take. This is how­ev­er not the case. There are cer­tain cut moments that are dis­cernible but expert­ly done. Some may be rather absorbed to even notice them. The effect is indeed very effec­tive as we nev­er cut away from the action or the mis­sion itself. We are with these sol­diers on the front-lines every step of the way and we feel their trep­i­da­tion as they car­ry on brave­ly ful­ly aware of the dan­gers lurk­ing ahead in the hills or in the dark­ness. It’s a remark­able film.

 

This South Kore­an fam­i­ly is mis­chie­vous. When we are intro­duced to them ear­ly on, we under­stand just how des­per­ate they are to make a bet­ter life for them­selves. They reside in a tiny apart­ment that is two thirds under­ground. To give you an idea, their win­dow is at lev­el with the city street. There sit­u­a­tion seems dire until the moment they con their way into the lives of a wealthy naive fam­i­ly. I will not reveal the ways in which they are manip­u­la­tive or sin­is­ter because to wit­ness them in all of their swin­dling glo­ry is repug­nant but also dark­ly amus­ing. What starts out as a basic premise quick­ly becomes intri­cate. It is orig­i­nal, over the top, at once fun­ny and dark, and thrilling. It’s the kind of film that has view­ers walk­ing on a tightrope. It also offers com­men­tary on soci­etal hier­ar­chy, using ideas as sim­ple as upground and under­ground liv­ing to make its point very clear. Def­i­nite­ly the strongest for­eign film of 2019.

 

For two decades, Roger Ailes served as the Pres­i­dent of Fox News. How­ev­er, what the world learned fol­low­ing his fir­ing in 2016 was that dur­ing his tenure at the news net­work, he report­ed­ly sex­u­al­ly harassed many of the network’s news anchors includ­ing Meg­yn Kel­ly (por­trayed here by Char­l­ize Theron whose resem­blance to Kel­ly is uncan­ny). “Bomb­shell” is a prod­uct born out of the #MeToo move­ment but it is also a true sto­ry about a bla­tant abuse of pow­er by a man whose morals were lit­er­al­ly left at the door. John Lith­gow stars as the dis­graced media mogul. Nicole Kid­man also stars as for­mer Fox News house­hold anchor Gretchen Carl­son. This is a dis­heart­en­ing film, dis­turb­ing but true. The treat­ment endured by these women con­firms that these sto­ries don’t only stop at Hol­ly­wood.  And these women endured this treat­ment for years before they could sum­mon the courage to speak about it open­ly. Watch for the scene that involves actress Mar­got Rob­bie whose char­ac­ter has to twirl for her per­verse boss. You don’t have to be a woman to expe­ri­ence a feel­ing of com­plete degra­da­tion. Such sad and harsh truths are can­did­ly pre­sent­ed in “Bomb­shell” from start to fin­ish.

 

Eddie Mur­phy is back and bet­ter than ever. He stars as Rudy Ray Moore, a come­di­an turned actor, writer, and direc­tor. The sto­ry is cen­tered on Moore as he strug­gles to shoot his first motion pic­ture on a shoe­string bud­get. Moore was an inde­pen­dent film­mak­er before inde­pen­dent cin­e­ma ever became a real­i­ty. His kung-fu fight­ing alter ego, Dolemite, proved to be a suc­cess and he quick­ly became one of the Blax­poi­ta­tion era’s most beloved stars. The film is fun­ny, hon­est, and fea­tures won­drous per­for­mances, notably by Wes­ley Snipes. If you stay for the end cred­its, you will be treat­ed to scenes from Moore’s actu­al film. They cer­tain­ly make the case for how metic­u­lous this Net­flix orig­i­nal was in recre­at­ing the sets and scenes of the orig­i­nal movie. You’ll be root­ing for Moore long after the film is over.

 

Hon­ey Boy” was one of the year’s biggest sur­pris­es. It is a dif­fi­cult film to watch, par­tic­u­lar­ly because it is a somber semi-auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal take on actor Shia LaBeouf’s life. It chron­i­cles his life from his time as a child star (played by Noah Jupe) to present day (played by Lucas Hedges). Accord­ing to LaBeouf, he was inspired to write this script dur­ing a stint in rehab. It is authen­tic, infused with pain and opti­mism, and intro­spec­tive. It’s a pas­sion project that feels quite per­son­al. LaBeouf here con­fronts some of his biggest demons in an attempt to come to terms with his trou­bled past. The film explores his tumul­tuous rela­tion­ship with his dad, a Viet­nam vet­er­an and reg­is­tered sex offend­er. LaBeouf has repeat­ed­ly referred to his father as, “the biggest vil­lain in my life.” With “Hon­ey Boy”, we don’t get the sense that LaBeouf is try­ing to elic­it any sym­pa­thy. Instead, he wants view­ers to under­stand where he came from and, sub­se­quent­ly, for he him­self to ret­ro­spec­tive­ly gain a more com­plete and whol­ly under­stand­ing of his own life. It is mov­ing, lay­ered, raw, and, as is often the case with cathar­sis, an emo­tion­al purifi­ca­tion in the form of a true work of art.

 

Roman­tic come­dies don’t get any bet­ter than this over­looked gem star­ring Rebel Wil­son, Adam Devine, and Liam Hemsworth. Wil­son stars as an archi­tect yearn­ing to be swept off her feet by a beau — a desire which can be traced back to her youth and love for the movie “Pret­ty Woman.” Though her moth­er warns her as a child that life nev­er quite plays out for women like it does in the movies, Wil­son remains a hope­less roman­tic and dream­er well into adult­hood. Fol­low­ing a mug­ging on the New York sub­way that leaves her uncon­scious, she awak­ens and sud­den­ly finds her­self liv­ing in an alter­nate real­i­ty. This new real­i­ty is in fact a real-life roman­tic com­e­dy and she is its lead­ing lady. “Isn’t it Roman­tic” is inno­cent, fun, and it par­o­dies roman­tic come­dies with incred­i­ble wit. Sim­ply put, it is one of the most endear­ing and orig­i­nal roman­tic come­dies in recent his­to­ry.

 

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