Year in Review: Shooting My Mouth Off in 2015

For R.I.P. Edward Herrmann.
“The moment lasts two seconds and consists of only two words: “Welcome home.” Two seconds and two words is all an actor like Edward Herrmann needs to get the job done.”

On Seth Rogen’s controversial The Interview, which I loved:
“It’s not about the specific movie and whether or not it is good, or perfect, or hilarious, or unfunny and bad. It’s not at all about the quality of the movie, and those who were saying, “It’s a stupid Seth Rogen movie, who cares” are the scariest of them all. It’s not even about the subject matter. The movie should be allowed to be seen. I would be arguing for this even if it were a movie made by someone I didn’t like, even if it were a movie that made light of subject matter I took seriously. It IS “the principle of the thing.” People can certainly go on and argue otherwise, but I’m done listening. I’ve heard enough.”

On Music and Lyrics (2007), starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, which I had never seen:
“I love movies about work, movies that prioritize work as just as important as love. So often characters in rom-coms have “jobs” only, jobs that are metaphorical or symbolic, and involve nothing more than symbolic gestures suggesting the “work” being done. Ooh, she’s uptight, therefore she jabs at her office phone with a pencil, wearing severe retro glasses, surrounded by sleek glass tables, and that’s her ‘job’. By the end of the movie she’ll be wearing comfy sweats and will have achieved balance! To many of us, work has practically a sacred position. Work is not symbolic. It is our very essence.

On 2014’s The Congress, starring Robin Wright, which blew me away:
“How to laugh with vivacious joy when you feel no joy whatsoever? It seems impossible. Well, that is the magic of acting, isn’t it? That is the craft and talent required to appear alive and in the moment onscreen. The Congress suggests, in its subversive way, that what actors bring to the role cannot be measured, and it is a pearl beyond price. And when we move away from stories with living breathing humans, we move away from what is human in us.”

On 2013’s When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism, directed by the wonderful and ironic and inventive Corneliu Porumboiu:
“Just as 12:08 East of Bucharest prioritizes the HOW of the story (using the amateurish format of local television programming) over the WHAT of the story (the Romanian revolution, the fall of Communism and Ceaușescu) When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism tells its story of forms and limits through the medium of a limited form. The limits placed on the film itself reflect the subject matter, make jokes about it.”

For On 2015’s Appropriate Behavior, a first feature by Desiree Akhavan.
“Maxine thinks Shirin is a tourist in the gay world. But Shirin is a tourist everywhere: that’s the problem.”

On the extraordinary – on so many levels – 2013 Saudi film Wadjda:
“SHE wasn’t allowed to be who she wanted to be, why should her daughter experience anything different? And so tyranny is passed down. It’s an inner tyranny.”

On 2014’s Locke, starring Tom Hardy, and only Tom Hardy:
“Written and directed by Steven Knight, Locke operates like a thriller, and yet the only action is a man in a car on the phone. Yet it is a grueling experience, an exhausting emotional cliffhanger.”

For The Dissolve: On Cake starring Jennifer Aniston.
“None of Cake’s problems lie in Aniston’s performance. The tendency to list The Good Girl as evidence of her acting chops is dismissive of her clear comedic gifts; valuing dramatic performances more than comedic ones reveals the industry’s skewed value system. Aniston actually gave one of her best performances in The Break-Up, combining pathos, humor, and sharp intelligence. In Cake, she brings a kind of flinty hardness to Claire, an irresistible drive toward nastiness and the cynical side-eye. She weaves chronic pain into her performance so it feels lived-in and experienced, not a matter of imposed tics.”

For Movie Mezzanine: Time after Time: Looking Back on Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise.
“Life is made up of small moments, not big ones, and Linklater has a tremendous sense for the importance of the small. ”

For On the amazing Girlhood (2015); directed by Céline Sciamma. One of the best films of the year.
“A masterpiece scene comes halfway through, so powerful in its representation of shared joy and freedom that it sets off echoes around it that continue throughout the rest of the film.”

For The Dissolve: I participated in the huge poll for The Best Films of the Decade So Far. I wrote about Amour and Melancholia, but the whole list is invaluable.

On 2014’s great John Wick:
“Stephanie Zacharek referred to it as a barbaric ballet, and I couldn’t put it any better.”

For If We Picked the Winners: 2015 Best Actress. I wrote about Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night.
“Many actors have a tendency to underline emotions, to “play up” certain things, so that the sense then arises that the actor is enjoying delving into these dark areas. A person struggling with depression enjoys none of it, and Cotillard brings that scorched-earth emotional landscape to the table.”

On the 4 musical numbers in Elvis Presley’s 1956 film debut Love Me Tender.
“Despite the fact that Elvis did not want to sing in the movies, and had other goals and ambitions, none of that is apparent in his performance (indicative of his impeccable old-school professionalism, completely unacknowledged by a critical establishment that doesn’t really understand acting and performance. Elvis makes it look so easy that he is dismissed.). You never get the feeling that Elvis is “slumming.” He is never embarrassed.”

For The Dissolve: On the documentary Farewell to Hollywood:
“Should we even be watching this? Is Corra’s presence in the midst of this grieving family really necessary? What’s the purpose of this project?”

For My interview with long-time Scorsese editor Thelma Schoonmaker about Tales of Hoffmann.
Schoonmaker: Powell and Pressburger never worried about lack of continuity in their movies and that’s something that Scorsese and I agree with. There are people who spend their lives sitting in front of a TV with a remote, saying, “That’s a bad cut there because this doesn’t quite match.” Well, movies for 100 years have had bad continuity and it doesn’t matter. So that attitude has encouraged us a great deal.”

For On 2015’s Home Sweet Hell:
“It’s wretched.”

Silhouettes and shadows in Mildred Pierce (1945).
Screengrabs only.

For My interview with writer/director Victor Levin about 5 to 7:
Levin: Don’t help the audience more than they need to be helped. Show a little respect for the people watching the movie. They’ll look where they want to look. They have eyes. They’ve been to movies before.

For The Dissolve: On 2015’s The Girl Is In Trouble:
“Onah’s Lower East Side is packed with people who came from other places. August’s friends are documentary film-makers, Fashion Institute students, bartenders, and drug dealers. Drug use crosses class lines, pulling in Wall Street kids with money—which connects everyone. Onah treats this material affectionately, comedically, and confidently. It’s not didactic or preachy. It’s the background noise for all of the characters, the ground on which they walk.”

R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy.
“Today I thought of the sad and quiet domestic scenes in A Woman Named Golda, and how beautifully and gracefully Nimoy played support-staff to her powerhouse performance.”

On The Ocean of Helena Lee, directed by Jim Akin, starring the extraordinary young actress Moriah Blonna. The film was created by husband-and-wife team, Akin and the great Maria McKee. It is their second feature, one of the best films of the year.
“These are streets Jim Akin knows well. But it takes a poet, it takes an artist, to look at that which is familiar and see it anew, examine it, upend it, revel in it. This process could be self-indulgent or narcissistic, but not in the hands of an artist.”

On Asghar Farhadi’s incredible About Elly, made in 2009 but first released here this year. It’s on my Top 10.
“The great David Bordwell said of the film: ‘A masterpiece. The less you know in advance, the better.’ It’s really the way to go.”

On The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu (2010); directed by Andrei Ujică. Riveting.
“The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu does not provide any new information to those who remember these events. What it does do is reveal the self-perception of one of the world’s most repressive absurd dictators.”

R.I.P. Anne Meara
“Mary was a small character part in a juggernaut of a show, but Meara brought a stature to that arc, a scope, as well as a fearlessness that helped the series as a whole. She always did that. Whatever she was in, she helped elevate.”

On John Wayne’s gestures, one in particular:
“But there’s one moment I’d like to discuss and that’s from The Angel and the Badman (1947).”

For, Tribeca Film Festival 2015 coverage: On Albert Maysles’ final film In Transit. If it had been properly released this year, it would have been on my Top 10.
“As the young pregnant woman (three days overdue, causing some consternation among the conductors that she would deliver the baby on the train) hurries across the icy platform in Minneapolis to go meet her mother, her retreating figure seems plucky and indomitable. You hope everything will be all right with her, with everyone you have met in the film.”

For, Tribeca Film Festival 2015 coverage: On a wonderful film from Argentina, El Cinco (2015):
“In its own quiet way, “El Cinco” is radical in insisting on what it is about.”

For, Tribeca Film Festival 2015 coverage: On the super-fun documentary Fastball:
“Great baseball players often cannot explain how they do what they do (they speak about being in a “zone,” or getting into a “flow”), but they are almost incapable of being un-interesting about the game. Hock has filled his documentary with baseball players talking, reminiscing, analyzing, commiserating. There is not one dull moment. Questions like “who threw the fastest?” take on huge importance to those who play the game, especially since the radar gun didn’t come along until 1974.”

For, Tribeca Film Festival 2015 coverage: On Reed Morano’s feature-film debut (as a director, anyway), the haunting Meadowland:
“”Meadowland” is strongest in its understanding that grief does not necessarily bring people closer together. It can just as easily, with an irresistible and terrible flow, drive people apart.”

Tribeca Film Festival 2015: Attending the 40th Anniversary of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, plus Monty Python QA with Host John Oliver:
John Cleese: I do a lot of … I don’t know if they’re really racist jokes … but jokes like: Why do the French have so many civil wars? Answer: Because they love to win one now and again.
John Oliver: That’s not racist. That’s a historical fact.”

For, Tribeca Film Festival 2015 coverage: On Monty Python Live:
“There were times when events careened out of control because there were 5 Pythons on that stage, 5 master improvisers and comedians, who refused to stand on ceremony, who felt as comfortable onstage as they do off (more, probably), and were not afraid to say what they thought. After the third question from the audience, Cleese remarked flatly, ‘These are fairly bad, these questions.'”

For The Dissolve: Review of a teen romance/dance movie that I really enjoyed, Bravetown.
“Mary thinks the town needs it. She knows she needs it. There’s an urgency to those kids on the dance team that’s truly touching.”

For On the beautiful documentary, I Am Big Bird: The Carroll Spinney Story:
“In acting classes, it is common for teachers to tell students that during sad scenes, perhaps the best choice is to hold back the tears, because that leaves room for the audience to cry. At Henson’s funeral, Spinney shows the eternal truth of such advice. He, the actor, had to hold back his own tears in order to make it through that song. He wept later, by himself. Spinney’s understanding of what was needed in that moment, that the moment was bigger than his own personal loss, and the catharsis he would provide for others, is near transcendent.”

For On the terrifying documentary Nightmare:
“Each person interviewed has struggled to control their sleep paralysis. Is the condition psychological or physiological? Many of the people interviewed cannot believe or accept that it is a purely physical phenomenon. Everyone describes that there is a spiritual element to the experience, a tug-of-war between Good and Evil.”

For On Me and Earl and the Dying Girl:
“Every cliché arrives with a wink of self-knowing commentary before it, to say, “Yes, we know this is a cliche, but we are making a comment about the cliché!” Saying it don’t make it so.”

On Love & Mercy, one of the best films of 2015.
“After watching Love & Mercy, I will always have a deeper appreciation of those chopping cello sounds in ‘Good Vibrations’!”

For Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden. Loved it.
“She devotes herself, methodically, to what her characters do, refusing to zoom in, so to speak, on the highs/lows of emotion. Those highs/lows exist, but they are not lingered over, or fetishized.”

On Ex Machina:
“Ex Machina has something to say about women, and how they are viewed, the prisons men put them in, literal and imaginary. It’s subtle and sneaky, there isn’t too literal a point made of it, but it’s there, it’s the atmosphere of the film, it’s the air it breathes.”

On Hondo (1953) at MoMA: John Wayne in 3D
Great experience: Post has an acting lesson to demonstrate John Wayne’s greatness (and it is invisible common-sense story-based greatness. Not flashy or actor-y.) This is one of the pieces I’m most proud of from this year.

For Flavorwire: Best Movie Characters of All Time. I was so happy that editor Jason Bailey let me include and write about the “Elvis Presley Persona.” I wrote about many others too but Elvis was particularly gratifying.
“You can count on one hand the figures who can sustain such careers (let alone for ten years), who are powerful and appealing enough just by showing up to justify a picture getting made.”

For On the wonderful Diary of a Teenage Girl:
“Does it endorse a 35-year-old man sleeping with a 15-year-old? Shouldn’t she or he be made to “pay” for it in order to show the wrong-ness of the situation? But that opening scene, showing Minnie strolling through the sunshine, smiling to herself, loving the world, sets the mood and tells us the film’s attitude towards the story that is about to unfold.”

I really liked Ricki and the Flash. Sue me.
“The dress. It’s all about the choice of that dress for me.”

For Bright Wall/Dark Rooms: On Love Me Tender, Elvis Presley’s film debut in 1956:
““And introducing Elvis Presley,” read the credits for Love Me Tender, Presley’s debut as an actor. Released in 1956, it would be the only time in his movie career that he didn’t get top billing.”

For On Joe Swanberg’s Digging for Fire. I am not a Swanberg fan but I liked this one.
“It’s strangely refreshing to watch a film that is not worried about nuance.”

On Christian Petzold’s glorious Phoenix, on my Top 10 for 2015.
“Along with identity, the main question here has to do with guilt. Who feels guilty? Who doesn’t? Even when someone’s lack of guilt is right in front of you, it’s common for humans to forgive, or at least try to excuse it, especially if it’s coming from a loved one. There has to be some other explanation, right? This person I once knew can’t actually have been a monster … can he?”

On the excellent Straight Outta Compton:
“Straight Outta Compton gets the little details right, the interactions, the various friendships, the arguments about money, the nuts-and-bolts of behavior, eloquent and unselfconscious, all part of the reason I love movies. But it also gets the social and political aspect, something that demands to be addressed with a group like NWA.”

For Goodnight Mommy: My Interview with Co-directors/Writers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz.
“We didn’t want to make a film that you can watch from a distance. In the first place, we wanted it to be a thrilling film, and once the thrill ride is over and the film is over, then you can see all of these themes in the film, but only in retrospect. It’s kind of why we like cinema. It has the power to really get to you.”

For Review of M. Night Shyamalan’s entertaining The Visit.
“What is Pop Pop doing out in the barn all the time?”

For Mélanie Laurent’s wonderful Breathe.
“The story is linear (unlike the book, which is told in flashback), but the style is fragmentary, deceptively casual.”

On 1955’s powerful and upsetting Love Me or Leave Me, starring Doris Day and Jimmy Cagney.
Love Me or Leave Me is practically Star 80-ish disturbing.”

On Jafar Panahi’s Taxi. On my Top 10 for the year.
Taxi is not supposed to exist. Neither is This Is Not a Film or Closed Curtain. But they do exist. And they found their way out of Iran (a passive way to express what were acts of tremendous courage and daring: putting zip drives containing the film in the middle of cakes, etc. so they could make it past the borders). Panahi’s films reach us. They are not meant to reach us, but they do.”

For Ramin Bahrani’s excellent 99 Homes.
“Andrew Garfield, as a man who has “failed” in his duty as protector and provider, has an almost constant sense of panic throughout, catching his breath in his throat, his posture tight and alert. Tears threaten to overwhelm him, but Dennis does not have time for self-pity. Nobody does.”

On Ida Lupino’s powerful 1950 drama about rape Outrage.
“The sexualization of the atmosphere that women experience is omnipresent in Outrage, an accepted part of life, noxious and yet invisible. She even gets it from her co-worker, who is a nice person, but still manages to touch her inappropriately in one of their interactions. Women are up for grabs, you see. And it is expected that women will tolerate it.”

For I reviewed Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak.
“Kitchen-sink realism is a recent phenomenon, and Del Toro’s films are not bound by those requirements, although the emotions in his films are always real. As actors from before the advent of cinema (and the closeup) understood, acting needed to be big enough to fill a theatre. This did not necessarily mean hollow declaiming. It meant that their emotions had to be big enough to travel, to reach the cheap seats, to fit the scope of the story. The cast of “Crimson Peak” understands that.”

On Rita Hayworth.
“Sometimes the personal life dramas overshadow the work, especially with bombshell sex-symbols unfortunately. It’s all part of that uneasy (or it seems uneasy to me, so uncomfortable are we still with freely expressed female sexuality) and vested interest in boxing those types of women in, tossing them out when they get old, diminishing their accomplishments, lessening the meaningfulness of their impact. Honestly, what is more meaningful than a Movie Goddess?”

For I interviewed Reed Morano, cinematographer/director of Meadowland.
Morano: Actors feel empowered and safe when they’re being trusted. Sometimes when you give an actor a little bit of freedom and they feel trusted, they’ll be more vulnerable, more honest, and take more risks. You get better stuff that way.”

For My review of Suffragette.
“Streep, in the two minutes (tops) she’s on-screen, places a genteel overlay of breeding in her ringing hoity-toity voice, but her speech is filmed in such a haphazard way that what it ends up being about is her gigantic hat.”

Quotes By/About Gena Rowlands.
““When Gena and I are home together, we’re husband and wife. On the set, we’re deadly combatants. We have great respect for each other, like enemies do.” – John Cassavetes”

On the wonderful James White, one of the real pleasant surprises of the year.
“James’ mother is not always a brave inspiring figure, as cancer-patients often are in film (so insulting.) She can be querulous. Even in a rage. She’s impulsive, she fights, she turns on James. Sometimes she refuses help. Sometimes she demands it. And then, too, she is tender, tender, tender, with such softness you want to weep. They are in this together.”

For My review of the excellent Spotlight.
“McCarthy and his entire team, from production designers to location scouts to extras casting directors, get Boston right.”

On Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s beautiful The Assassin, one of the best films of the year.
“This is one of the most beautiful looking films this year, or any year.”

On the harrowing Room, also from this year.
“Until two things happen, one after the other: A mouse crawls out from beneath the refrigerator and Ma beats it back into the wall. And Jack turns 5 years old.”

Essay #1 on Angelina Jolie’s gorgeous By the Sea.
“A lot of the commentary I’ve seen about Angelina Jolie’s By the Sea has been that it is a self-indulgent vanity project. I have some different feelings about all of that, and also have a suspicion that “self-indulgent” means different things to different people, as does the word “vanity” as does the word “project.”

For My review of Todd Haynes’ beautiful Carol.
“A lush emotional melodrama along the lines of the films of Douglas Sirk, Haynes’ patron saint, “Carol” is often about its surfaces, their beauty contrasting with the scary duality of people, relationships. The surfaces in “Carol” are so seductive that one understands the ache to belong in that world.”

For Gena Rowlands: A Life In Film.
“To celebrate the career of this living legend, here’s a chronological commentary on many of her roles.”

On my specifically Generation X reaction to Cobain: Montage of Heck:
“Watching Montage of Heck opened up that wound again. There is a “missing” in all of us, because we felt like he was ours. And he couldn’t take it and he left. Nothing I say here is original. My experience is not unique. I do not own any of it. Every generation has a defining moment. Along with Reagan being shot, John Lennon being shot, and The Challenger explosion, Nirvana was one of ours.”

For The wonderful Christmas, Again.
“Loneliness does not express itself in language. Loneliness is the air Noel breathes. It’s in his posture.”

For My review of a new favorite, Night Owls.
“As someone who loves screwball—its rat-a-tat dialogue, and the virtuosity required of the performers—it is great to see it so alive and well.”

On Mustangs, a brutal and unforgettable and important film from a first-time Turkish director. See it.
“They are innocent. They are children. They did nothing wrong.”

Essay #2 on Angelina Jolie’s By the Sea. Now I’m fired up. And I’m right.
“Please, if you’re talented: INDULGE yourself. BE self-indulgent. If your “self” is fabulous and inventive, then indulge the hell out of it.”

For My interview with Charles Hood, director/co-writer of Night Owls.
Hood: The shot list for “Night Owls” was practically the final draft of the script. We planned out every shot, and stuck about 95% to the shot list.”

My Top Films of 2015.

For Ten Best Films of 2015. I wrote on Creed.
“When a press screening filled with film critics erupts into applause at the familiar sound of the “Rocky” theme, you know a film has tapped into something enormous.”

On the really good Heaven Knows What, a film I missed on its original release.
“It is not a redemption tale. It does not follow the normal rules for addiction stories.”

For Best Performances of 2015. I wrote on Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria.
“The intelligence always struggling to express itself in the “Twilight” saga is freed in unpredictable ways. Stewart’s Valentine is insightful, capable, doggedly unafraid of conflict. Her awkward gestures are still present, hand pushing back her hair compulsively, but now they seem both restless and grounded at the same time, Valentine impatiently clearing the decks to say what she needs to say.”

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4 Responses to Year in Review: Shooting My Mouth Off in 2015

  1. mutecypher says:

    Curious. When do you sleep?

    • sheila says:

      I know, it looks so insane when written out like this.

      I swear, I sleep every night from 10 p.m. to 6/6:30 a.m.

      But … I mean, and this isn’t even the half of what I’ve written here. I mean, SPN alone!!

  2. Sylvia says:

    Happy New Year, Sheila! I wish there was a feature on my TV – a “Sheila Alert” – that would those highlight movies that you’ve reviewed. You just might make me investigate how to stream!

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