Black Christmas (1974)
Someone is hiding in a sorority house over the Christmas break and killing its inhabitants. This suspenseful, sometimes rudely funny movie is unusually substantial for the slasher genre (which it more or less kicked off). The filmmakers obviously put care and thought into the performances, cinematography, and atmosphere, and the movie gains power by leaving things unexplained. The murderer is disturbingly tortured, as evidenced by his very creepy phone calls. The only real misstep is the half-hearted, unconvincing attempt to pin the murders on one of the main characters.
Someone is targetting James Bond’s secret service agency, and seems to have a personal grudge against M. This 007 film provides the expected thrills and suspense, but it also benefits from an unpredictible plot and stylish cinematography. Javier Bardem makes a believably unhinged villain. In honour of the 50th anniversary of the first Bond movie, Skyfall features several fun moments meant to pay homage to the older installments, such as a henchman reminiscent of Oddjob, and a gadget-outfitted Aston Martin (accompanied by the classic Bond theme on the soundtrack). However, the dialogue, perhaps attempting to recall the double-entendres of the Connery/Moore-era films, comes off as clunky when it tries to be clever.
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
This documentary by street artist Banksy follows Thierry Guetta as he evolves from obsessive videographer to artistic sell-out. The film captivates by gradually unfurling its subject’s transformation in a way that feels natural, mimics the unpredictibility of life, and at the same time illustrates the pitfalls of confusing art with the trappings of popularity.
Two patriarchs with different religious views butt heads when the son of one wants to marry the daughter of the other. This austere drama’s slow pace makes it almost mesmerizing instead of boring. The dialogue is a bit exposition-heavy and some of the characters’ under-reactions strain credibility, but those come off as stylistic choices. A birthing scene unexpectedly reminded me of David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers. I was a bit baffled by the point the film was trying to make.
Session 9 (2001)
A group of men take on the job of cleaning up a long-abandoned mental hospital, which might not be as empty as it seems. This horror film might be too minimalistic for some, but it gets under your skin if you let it. It relies in large part on its dilapidated setting and subtle noises on the soundtrack to create a creepy atmosphere that is sustained for the length of the film. It was shot in a real location, which lends authenticity to its tactile imagery. A particular standout is a scene where a character is literally trying to outrun the dark. Unfortunately, the storytelling falters a bit near the end, and it doesn’t quite stick the landing. The resolution to the central mystery is somewhat unoriginal and awkwardly staged.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Batman must protect Gotham City against The Joker, a deadly, devilish agent of chaos. Director Christopher Nolan’s first Batman movie (Batman Begins) attempted to apply as much realism and logic as possible to a comic book hero’s motivations. The Dark Knight continues that effort (to the point of not feeling like a “comic book” movie), but this film is much more ambitious, both in scope and thematically. It presents interesting moral dilemmas and brings up compelling questions about what people need from their leaders. This brain food is combined with filmmaking that feels epic. The action never lets up for long, and the movie is furiously entertaining. For such an economically edited, quick-moving film, it’s quite wordy, packed with ideas and plot details, all of which feels like a lot to process at times. The story might have benefitted from some paring down. Heath Ledger is captivating, creepy, and believable as the disturbing, darkly funny Joker. The film’s music score is unconventional and powerful in equal measures.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
After his girlfriend breaks up with him, a man escapes to Hawaii to heal his broken heart, but finds out she’s at the same resort… with her new boyfriend. This comedy has an unusual rhythm, and you realize eventually it’s because the characters are real people, and the movie mostly avoids the expected Hollywood story beats. It’s very funny, but the laughs come from organic situations. The movie makes you care about the main character’s journey, which is what drives the narrative. Features a very funny parody of the tv show CSI.