Random Movies: Best to Worst

Moonlight

I skipped Moonlight at TIFF partly because I knew it was coming out right away, and partly because the stills made it look like it was about some kid learning to swim. It is not about some kid learning to swim. Moonlight is a really smart, really poignant story about our shared humanity that follows a gay, black drug dealer through three important turning points in his life. It’s challenging and haunting, but the most amazing thing it does is tell a story about poor, racially-segregated communities that’s about love rather than pity or violence. In terms of its potential for cultural impact, this is probably the most important movie I saw all year, even if the pace feels a little bit slow.

La La Land

I skipped La La Land at TIFF because I knew it was coming out right away and because the early (positive) reviews made it sound obnoxious. This movie is not obnoxious. It’s true that the central characters are nostalgic for a version of Hollywood that never existed and that this is expressed through aping the conventions of classic musicals, but that’s balanced by a very cynical, depressing story about how their dreams always stay out of reach. Emma Stone is absolutely wonderful in this – she’s always been funny, but this is the first time I’ve seen her express the kind of serious, raw emotion the script calls for, and it was mesmerising. I wanted to watch it again as soon as it was over.

Into the Forest

Into the Forest is a deeply unpleasant movie about two sisters – played by Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood – trying to survive the apocalypse. I think the movie thinks it’s uplifting to say that we should return to living in the forest like we did before technology, but I don’t want that, so I was just super bummed-out. In the meantime, though, the acting is really fantastic and the film’s able to capture very fragile, vulnerable emotions in its characters. Even though I didn’t particularly like the journey they were on, I was drawn in, and I appreciate the craftsmanship behind it. I also appreciate that, when female directors depict rape on screen – which is a thing that happens in this film – it’s a whole lot different than when male directors depict it.

Joy

I thought I would fucking hate this movie, but it was pretty good. I don’t like the thing where David O Russell keeps casting Jennifer Lawrence to play characters ten to twenty years older than she is – partly because it contributes to the phenomenon where women become invisible at younger and younger ages, but mostly because I find it very hard to suspend my disbelief. That still bothered me in Joy, but not as much as it did in Silver Linings Playbook or American Hustle. Mostly, what won me over was a very well-constructed script that transforms a straightforward rags-to-riches story into an aggravating tour of all the roadblocks designed to keep people like Joy from living the American dream (the film doesn’t make a big deal out of this, but one of the roadblocks is powerful men who always know better than she does what she should do). Even though I still thought she looked super young for her age, it was easy for me to cheer for her, which is the main thing the film seemed to want.

Passengers

The trailers for Passengers make it a) look like an action movie, and b) obvious that Chris Pratt’s character is hiding something from Jennifer Lawrence’s character, while they’re trapped on a spaceship together. I went into the film knowing as little as possible, and I enjoyed it a lot, but it’s important to understand that a) this is actually a romance movie, and b) Chris Pratt’s secret from Jennifer Lawrence is not a secret from the audience. Meaning, there’s not really a mystery element to the story.

I have to spoil the first third of the movie and tell you that Chris Pratt’s secret is that, a year after he woke up on the space ship alone, he felt so bad that he activated Jennifer Lawrence’s stasis pod early so that she’d be trapped there with him and he’d have a friend. Some of the characters in the movie and some of the critics who reviewed it have likened this to murder, but it’s really kidnapping – he hasn’t done anything to make her die early; he’s prevented her from living the life she had planned to by forcing her to live with him instead.

I actually don’t mind that. The movie’s main interest is in the idea of how you build a new life for yourself after things turn out badly – or at least, differently than you had planned or wanted. For Chris Pratt’s character, that happens because of a tragic accident that makes his stasis pod misfire and wake him up a hundred years too early. For Jennifer Lawrence’s character, it happens because of something somebody wilfully did. You can argue that the film doesn’t do a good enough job of exploring what it means to forgive the person who wilfully ruined your life, but I appreciate that it’s coming at the same theme from different angles.

Also, there are a couple of really cool action sequences where the gravity cuts out on the ship, and it’s totally different from anything I’ve seen in a sci-fi movie before.

Nerve

Nerve is better than it has a right to be. It’s about some random girl who joins an online daredevil game where “watchers” tell “players” to do dangerous or embarrassing things in exchange for cash. Along the way, she falls in love and everyone else learns a lesson about how you’re still responsible for your actions even when you’re logged onto the internet.

It’s a pretty fun movie. I liked Emma Roberts a lot on American Horror Story and Scream Queens, and I like her a lot in this. Because this is mostly a wish-fulfillment fantasy, her character gets off way easier than anybody else, and that’s a little bit annoying, since it means she earns thousands of dollars for kissing a hot guy, wearing a nice dress, and getting a tasteful tattoo while everyone else gets dared to lie under a moving train and fart on people in Times Square. But, if you’re willing to put that and a few other logic gaps aside, it’s really entertaining.

The Big Lebowski

I think maybe I can just officially say I don’t like the Cohen Brothers and leave it at that. There was nothing wrong with this movie, as far as I remember, but I also don’t remember any part of it except that there’s a dude.

Creed

I’m not really into boxing movies and I’m not really into Rocky, but I guess this was an okay Rocky boxing movie. Also, Tessa Thompson is in everything these days, and every time I see her, I like her more.

Deadpool

The only part I really liked was the part where he got tortured in the vacuum tube. Because I hate him.

Wait – hear me out! The reason I liked it is because I hate him but that one scene is the only scene that sort of explains why his awful personality is supposed to be a plus – because it helps him survive a situation where people are trying to break him down, mentally. It also better explains what the stakes are for him by showing us everything he lost. So, it’s the scene that makes me most willing to go along with the premise of the movie and cheer for the hero.

Unfortunately, we also know that he was just as much an asshole before they took his face and tortured him to death, so I still struggle with liking any of the other scenes.

The Forest

Like everyone who watched this movie, I watched it because Natalie Dormer’s in it. It’s not very good. The basic plot is that she goes to a suicide forest to look for her twin sister, and it’s arguably a metaphor for how experiencing trauma, or recovering traumatic memories, kills the person you used to be a turns you into someone else – but it’s very convoluted and includes a lot of jump scares that don’t have anything to do with what’s really at stake.

Mascots

I don’t remember this at all, but I think some of it was funny.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

I don’t remember this at all, and I doubt any of it was funny. I know I keep saying that I’m going to stop watching the Marvel movies, but I keep wanting to like them, and I keep hearing other people say they like them, and they keep falling down a memory hole that’s lined with disappointment.

Image: Moonlight; A24 | January 12, 2017