So, you’re totally not going to believe that this isn’t a sponsored post, but Moviepass kind of changed my life. I had all but stopped going to movies in the theaters, even though it’s one of my favorite activities, because of the exorbitant prices in New York City. But now, I see movies every chance I get, and I finally get to be up with the zeitgeist again.
In this series, I will review all of the movies I saw in the last month or two with this game-changing app (yes, I realize I sound like a Wired advertorial, but it’s just true!!), and give them a letter grade. Here they are, in ascending order:
If nothing else, American Animals has a wild true story going for it. In 2003, a few bored white boys in Kentucky came up with a half-baked plan to steal priceless rare books from their university library, completely and utterly bungled the execution, and still pulled off one of the biggest art heists in history. This is a story ready-made for a movie version (even things that you think must be exaggerations aren’t, like the kids walking straight into Christie’s to sell their booty and giving them their personal emails). But the protagonists are so privileged and bumbling, this story really only would have worked as a black comedy, while American Animals is far too close to the real young men involved to mine the situation for its full comedic potential. This is never more obvious than when those young men actually invade the film as documentary-style talking heads, which is not only questionable on an ethical level, but also gives the film a weird movie-of-the-week feel. The boys have stated openly that they wouldn’t give the story rights to anyone who wanted to make an “exploitative” movie that portrayed them as “a bunch of dum-dums,” which is a shame, because that would have been much more fitting. American Animals could have been darkly hilarious, instead it’s just consistently entertaining. Grade: B
The trailer for Hereditary is one of the best trailers I’ve ever seen: unbearably tense, atmospheric, and f*cking scary. That, along with the glowing reviews, made me think Hereditary would be this year’s It Follows or Get Out: a genuinely scary thriller with something big on its mind. Unfortunately, Hereditary only follows through on the first part. Hereditary is consistently scary and boasts some amazing performances, particularly lead Toni Collette and breakout Milly Shapiro (the scariest little girl since The Exorcist), but any larger statements the film is trying to make about grief, gender, and traumatic breakage within families are entirely undercut by the discordant, often downright silly final act, which devolves into a melange of every supernatural horror trope you can imagine. I look forward to more from debut filmmaker Ari Aster, but after all the hype, Hereditary was a bit of a disappointment. Grade: B+
Leave No Trace
The long-awaited follow-up from Winter’s Bone director Debra Granik shares many elements with her debut–primarily a mostly-overlooked setting and a precocious lead actress who is clearly going places–but it’s entirely its own animal. Based loosely on a true story, Leave No Trace follows traumatized veteran Will (Ben Foster) and his flinty, quietly mature young daughter Tom (breakout star Thomasin McKenzie, who is devastatingly good) who live off the land in a public park in Portland. When they are discovered by authorities, their lifestyle vanishes before their eyes, and fault lines are slowly but surely exposed in the sweet and genuine yet co-dependent father-daughter relationship. By the end, Tom feels well-drawn and distinct, while the script somewhat fails to plumb Will’s depths beyond his PTSD. But still, Leave No Trace explores the challenges faced by veterans in this country with endless empathy, and serves as a beautifully filmed and masterfully acted argument for the dignity of people who live on fringes. Grade: A-
A humble little movie with a radical beating heart, First Reformed follows an isolated, traumatized priest (Ethan Hawke) who works at a “tourist church” is in the midst of a nasty little crisis of faith. When a parishioner’s wife (an underutilized but always-welcome Amanda Seyfried) comes to him for help with her husband’s depression, he finds himself pulled into the world of radical environmentalism. It’s a potent character study for Hawke, who is at the height of his powers here, but also manages to double as a meditation on the ethics of radical activism and the ravages of capitalism without coming off as preachy. Even with a highly questionable ending, First Reformed is fiery, beautiful, and genuinely moving, the best movie I’ve seen all year. Grade: A