The Housing Crisis Was a Moral Failure
The Big Short
(My take on the film’s structure)
Like Spotlight and Mad Max, The Big Short is a film about a broken institution: in this case, Wall Street and the big banks deemed “too big to fail.” This is an unabashedly political movie that’s at once entertaining, educational, and infuriating. If you didn’t get how the crash happened, you will—and you’ll be angry about it. The film is being sold as a comedy, but it’s a tragedy, or, perhaps, a tale of tyranny.
For my money, Ramin Bahrani is the best at what he does: wonderfully human social realism, exploring the experience of marginalized communities in the United States (immigrants, orphans, poor people) in a way that never patronizes. For 99 Homes, Bahrani turned his attention to the victims—and victors—of the recent housing crisis. It will rankle you, and it pairs well with The Big Short.
The Meaning of Life (Via Animation)
World of Tomorrow
This short animated film is the first digitally-created offering by the master of the form, Don Hertzfeldt. You can (and should) rent it on Vimeo. I have watched this film many times this year (and corresponded about it with my friend Tim Grierson for Movie Mezzanine). Hertzfeldt somehow combines absurdity and bleakness with an adorable protagonist (voiced by his niece) as she’s guided through a dystopian vision of the future by her own great-great-grandclone—never mind, you just have to see it. World of Tomorrow raises vital questions about what humans are, and whether we might try to preserve ourselves so much through science and technology that we cease being human. The line “now is the envy of all the dead” has stuck with me. And it was the movie we put on when the clock struck midnight and ended 2015.
I’ve found it incredibly hard to write about this film, the latest offering from Charlie Kaufman, King of Weird Movies (he penned the screenplays for Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and wrote and directed Synecdoche, New York). This movie features a stop-motion puppet who encounters a woman at a chain hotel in Cincinnati who—he thinks—will change his life. In its exploration of solipsism, disillusionment, sex, desire, and despair, Anomalisa is hard to forget.
Get Off My Lawn
While We're Young
(Brett McCracken's review for CT)
Noah Baumbach had two films come out this year—this one and Mistress America—but of the two, this is my favorite. It’s the tale of an older couple and a younger couple in Brooklyn who become friends, and it explores both generational disparities and the discomfort that comes with finding one’s place in the world. It may be most remarkable for its hilarious but non-caricatured portraits of what concerns both millennials and Gen X-ers—the kind of portrayal that’s hard to find anywhere.
Clouds of Sils Maria
Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, a veteran actress being forced to deal with her own history as she ages. In this, she faces a much younger actress (Chloe Grace Moretz) as her foil, but her true foil is her assistant Valentine, played by Kristen Stewart, who doesn’t want to be Maria so much as she wants to be involved in shaping art. The power struggle that emerges between Valentine and Maria is buried beneath their interactions and fascinating to watch. The movie raises questions about audience and artist, assistant and celebrity, older and younger.