Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st (Oslo 31. august 2011) captures like few other films the feeling of being both part of society and apart from it. There’s a reason Roger Ebert’s review is titled “The Man Who Missed the Boat.” Written by Trier and Eskil Vogt based on the novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, the film follows recovering heroin addict Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) on leave from rehab on the titular day to attend a job interview. The mood is set in the opening sequence: Anders attempts suicide by filling his pockets with rocks and walking into a pond, only to struggle out of his jacket and surface for air. Life is unbearable, but death is no better.
Writer-director-editor Li Hongqi’s Winter Vacation (Han Jia / 寒假 2010) is the most deadpan slacker comedy I’ve ever seen. It conveys its characters’ existential ennui by instilling it into the audience. The closest comparison is to call it a Roy Andersson shtick stretched out to feature length, but that fails to capture just how mighty a tonal achievement Li has given us.
My third viewing of Lost in Translation (2003) confirms that writer-director Sofia Coppola’s second feature is a classic, no doubt about it. The acting, cinematography (Lance Acord), and editing (Sarah Flack) are all on point. I especially enjoyed Charlotte’s (Scarlett Johansson) muted yet urbane wardrobe (costume design by Nancy Steiner), and that perfect soundtrack (mostly by Kevin Shields). I can never remember the plot, but who cares. The emotional throughline is crystal clear.
The Hugh Jackman vehicle Bad Education (2019), Cory Finley’s second feature after Thoroughbreds (2017), picked up a lot of buzz at Toronto, and it’s easy to see why. It’s well-made, based on a true story, and deconstructs Jackman’s public persona. But though his character, US public school embezzlement record-holding superintendent Dr. Frank Tassone, is supposed to be opaque until late in the game, I never got the feeling that he stopped being opaque. That reflects a problem with Mike Makowsky’s script.
Misommar‘s (2019) trailer might be misleading—as though it’s just another hit horror film soon to be forgotten in the rapidly-changing film industry. But to my surprise, it’s not so much of a typical thriller as its trailer would make it seem. It’s indeed experimental, ambitious, and at times unsettlingly charming.
Editor’s note: A warm welcome to my friend, Simon Yang. This is his first piece for Review Film Review.
Recently I’ve started to pick some Australian films to watch, and Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) stood out from a must-see list with its obscure title.
For one glorious week, documentarian and pioneer of direct cinema Albert Maysles’s last film, the posthumously released In Transit (2015), was free to watch online. In a fine bit of irony, it was Maysles’s death that threw the film’s distribution into limbo. Co-directed with Lynn True, David Usui, Nelson Walker III, and Benjamin Wu (everyone also shared cinematography duties, except True, who edited), the film boards the Chicago-St. Paul/Minneapolis-Spokane-Portland/Seattle Empire Builder, the busiest cross-country train in the US, in search of passengers’ stories. You think you know where this is going (sorry), and you do—but knowing is one thing, experiencing another.
Yet another entry in the genre of teenage coming-of-age films, Booksmart (2019), the debut directorial feature from Olivia Wilde, miraculously manages to stake out new ground. It feels fresh and original, mostly because it does well the postmodern trick of mixing and matching old forms.
Did you know that Poland has a fake priest problem? You’d think parishioners would catch on pretty quickly, but apparently some of these impersonators are sincere in their ministries, lacking only the credentials. What would drive someone to be a sincere fake priest? How might they handle their duties? Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało 2019), a religious high-wire act based on a true story, offers one tantalizing example.
People often say that you need to be objective to be a good critic, but I’ve often found that being invested in a work can illumine more pathways into what it’s trying to do and how well it succeeds. Of course, it’s not necessarily a “better” perspective, whatever that means, just a different one. Being a Swiftie, I find the Taylor Swift on screen in Lana Wilson’s Miss Americana (2020, aka Taylor Swift: Miss Americana) to be a familiar presence from all of the interview and behind-the-scenes footage of her that already exists, some of which is used in this documentary. As Swift suggests in an early interview, also included, fame and career longevity have always been on her mind, and the film grounds such abstract musings in raw and emotionally vulnerable moments, captured as they happen.