The Meh Stuff
17. Loro (dir. Paolo Sorrentino)
Paolo Sorrentino’s two-part re-telling of the reign of Silvio Burlesconi should never be seen at the same time. The first half is a treatise on insane debauchery of Italian politics and fame, done in a way that might make movies like Spring Breakers or, I dunno, soft-core porn blush. Yet the second half is a delicately told, if somewhat generic, tale of political corruption and lack of self-awareness. Toni Servillo’s turn as Burlesconi is… Trumpian… and Sorrentino indicates in the movie’s opening disclaimer that Loro is fine playing fast and loose with facts. Still, when it works, it’s a gorgeous piece of political commentary. When it doesn’t, it’s a smut and MDMA-filled romp that’s never very much fun.
16. The Land of Steady Habits (dir. Nicole Holofcener)
One of the TIFF movies clearly defined as an actor’s showcase, Nicole Holofcener gives traditional villain-player Ben Mendehlson something slightly less arch to mess around with: essentially Jimmy Cooper from The O.C. with a bit of an erectile problem. The whole film at times feels like a Connecticut version of The O.C., with upper middle-class families complaining about how hard their lives are when simultaneously paying for regular deliveries of magnum bottles of expensive champagne. The problem here is Holofcener doesn’t think to get Sandy Cohen in the mix.
15. White Boy Rick (dir. Yann Demange)
A traditional problem with biopics, especially ones of unknown subjects, is the tendency to try to cram several different movies into one two-hour chunk. White Boy Rick falls all over itself in this regard, committing to tell far too much of Richard Wershe Jr.’s rise, fall, re-rise, second fall, hopeful resurgence and final indignity. Thus, the movie shorts actors like Bryan Tyree Henry, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Bruce Dern(!!) of having substantial parts make the final print (the director’s cut of this movie would be three hours long and potentially quite a bit better), instead focusing on Matthew McConaughey mugging for another Oscar and the powerful debut of Richie Merritt as the film’s protagonist. If it made one good decision, it was Merritt, who is nearly worth the price of admission.
14. Hold the Dark (dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
The recent crop of white male writers focused on spreading out the Jack London and gritty-noir vibes (Nick Pizzolatto, Noah Hawley, Macon Blair, Taylor Sheridan) never felt like it included Jeremy Saulnier until Hold the Dark. A frustratingly limp book adaptation, Saulnier inserts elements of his trademark ultra-violence as if ticking boxes, and narrowly avoids a pretty toe-the-line tone deaf story of “city folk being brought into the world of the natives and suffering for it” by casting Alexander Skarsgård as a native North Alaskan. Saulnier broadens his focus to paints stunning vistas of the Alaskan wilderness, but he can’t compensate for an empty shell of a story.
13. The Old Man & The Gun (dir. David Lowery)
Although I doubt we’ve truly seen the last of Robert Redford, if Old Man is really his last role, he and his friends have a hell of a lot of fun with it. Featuring an honest-to-god candidate for scene of the year in Redford and Sissy Spacek’s first trip to the diner together, the breezy cops-and-robbers tale would succeed in spades were it not for David Lowery’s frustrating and overly obtuse directorial choices (pacing is a serious issue). But the cast, beautifully filled out by Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Tika Sumpter, Elizabeth Moss and Casey Affleck (gross), makes the maximum of the material, turning in Lowery’s most accessible, and probably best, work yet.
12. Kursk (dir. Thomas Vinterberg)
If you can, go into Kursk without knowing the story of the titular nuclear submarine. While this can make the first act and a half feel overly slow, stilted and edited in a way that seems to be giving far too much weight to events outside the sub, this perspective somewhat pays off as the film enters its final moments. Vinterberg still doesn’t quite get the recipe right on the pacing (scenes drift in and out, saying the same things, multiple times over), and the film’s Russian accents are either non-existent or laughably hammy, but the movie does an admirable job of portraying the immediate post-Cold War confusion of the Russian state as a tinderbox for disaster.
11. Non-Fiction OR Double Lives (dir. Oliver Assayas)
Less a movie and more a series of dialogues (Assayas himself says the movie was stitched together from disparate arguments he was contemplating at the time of writing), Non-Fiction nevertheless avoids the traps of late-90s Woody Allen and never props up straw men or flat ingenues in its efforts to describe the contradictions and smoldering wreckage of the publishing industry. Assayas’ fourth wall-breaking Juliet Binoche monologue is the closest the film comes to presenting a real person, but in between the actors find ways of portraying tender, erudite, listless Parisians in a way that isn’t completely nauseating. A true feat.
10. Killing (dir. Shin-ya Tsukamoto)
Police violence is a hot subject in movies, but I’ve never seen the topic dealt with in such a glancing, idiosyncratic way as Tsukamoto’s ode to the samurai who does not want to kill. Alternatingly hyper-dramatic and frustratingly obtuse, Killing feels like a movie that only those with an affinity for movie critics would see. On the one hand, those wanting to see a film that artfully metaphorizes police violence will likely be turned off by the bloody, hyper-weird samurai take. On the other, samurai movie fans will likely balk at the conspicuous lack of sword fighting (indeed, the only fighting done is in the movie’s opening, with wooden practice swords). Thus Tsukamoto finds himself serving two masters, yet pleasing neither.