Inherent Vice (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
I am not particularly well-versed in Pynchon. Anderson, for me, is hit-or-miss. Inherent Vice‘s star, Joaquin Phoenix — who also played the lead in Anderson’s last film, The Master, which I hated — irritates the hell out of me. So, despite the glowing reviews, I went into the theater with low expectations. One hundred fifty minutes later, I came out thrilled, confused, and generally delighted. Phoenix’s terrible mumble works for his dissipated character, Martin Short (in a tiny but bonkers role) is perfect, the mystery is bottomless, and the humorous moments are as surprising as they are funny. This being Pynchon and Anderson, don’t expect great female characters. But the rest of the film is so good, I’m prepared to forgive them for it. This time. — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief
Teen Idols: A Future Classic Compilation
Year-end fatigue has set in big time for me, so Future Classic’s new Teen Idols compilation is a welcome respite from list-making. The Sydney-based electronic label, management firm, and music publishing company behind Flume, Chet Faker, Jagwar Ma, had a big year, and the house-centric Teen Idols serves as a reminder of that. But the new songs included here — like Touch Sensitive’s “Teen Idols” and Hayden James’ “Something About You” — are keeping me running right now, and helping me get excited for what’s to come in 2015’s electronic sounds. — Jillian Mapes, Music Editor
Criterion upgrades Time Bandits and The Night Porter
It makes for a weird double feature, I can assure you, but the Criterion Collection is offering up crisp new Blu-ray versions of two of their earliest DVD releases, Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits and Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter (spine numbers 37 and 59, respectively). Bandits was Gilliam’s first big directorial hit, a delightful, high-spirited romp in which a lonely little boy befriends a band of time-trotting thieves and takes an appropriately absurd jaunt through history. There’s a wild, wonderfully improvisational spirit to their journey, which includes visits with Ian Holm’s hilariously emo Napoleon and an uproarious John Cleese as Robin Hood; it’s also splashed with Gilliam’s signature style, all jaunty angles and foggy wisps and mechanized futures and stunning images (the giant cages suspended above a void of nothingness have stuck with me ever since my initial childhood viewings of the film, back in its HBO-heavy-rotation days).
The Night Porter is a study in steadily mounting unease, the story of a Nazi officer and Holocaust survivor who meet unexpectedly, many years later, and end up resuming their (to put it mildly) twisted “relationship.” It’s a tough movie to get your head around—with a touch of Nazi “campiness” to it, perhaps intentional, perhaps not—but the power of the filmmaking is unquestionable, particularly in the early passages, and the near violence with which Cavani slices in the flashback cutaways. Though not as kinky as its reputation might infer, it centers on a Charlotte Rampling performance that’s pretty much the gold standard for onscreen “bravery”; the film around it is deliberately provocative, deeply bizarre, and utterly unimaginable today. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor
Cruising (dir. William Friedkin)
It took me a long time to finally get around to watching all of William Friedkin’s 1980 gay crime thriller, Cruising. It was introduced to me in a gay film class as an awful film that demonized gay men, so I avoided it based on that alone. And, while surely it wasn’t beneficial to the cause of gay rights activists at the time, today the film serves as an amazing time capsule of this fragment of the gay world of late ’70s-era New York City. The plot is beside the point, and the picture is crippled by the “white, buff, maybe mustachioed” casting call that filled the thing with porno clones. Still, the film — and Al Pacino’s dancing after inhaling ether — is fascinating. And, from the perspective of a twenty-something gay man — though I am not ignorant of the relative freedoms I enjoy in 2014 — it makes me a little mad that I can’t just wander into a leather warehouse, should the mood strike. — Shane Barnes, Editorial Apprentice
The Nicole Kidman Cover of Elle‘s January Issue
Do you like dumb magazine headlines? I’m pretty sure Nicole Kidman is HAVING SEX, PLAYING THE BAD GIRL, and ROCKING THOSE DIOR SHORTS!! (And so should you!) is my favorite in recent memory. Nicole Kidman is a 47-year-old woman. Presumably, she has had sex. Don’t even get me started about those Dior shorts. — Elisabeth Donnelly, Nonfiction Editor
Top Five (dir. Chris Rock)
It’s far from perfect, but there’s something wonderful about the way Rock combines so many feats at once in this film. It’s an engaging rom-com with hilariously raunchy sub-riffs, an unapologetic centering of American black culture, a playground for a cast of wonderful actors of color, and a group some of the most unforgettable cameos I’ve seen in a long time. One of those was Jerry Seinfeld. I won’t tell you who the other was.
This was the first comedy film I’ve actually seen in theaters in over a year, and it was nice to just show up and nod, and laugh. I’m feeling deeply satisfied that our culture has older, wiser, auteur Chris Rock as a prominent voice. Next stop for Rock’s film career: passing the Bechdel test. — Sarah Seltzer, Editor-at-Large
Getting On Season 2: Episode 6 (“Doctor Death”)
The finale of another too-short season of Getting On played out, bizarrely and brilliantly, like an action movie, like the closing scene of White Teeth, and also kind of like the best episode of Fawlty Towers (“Basil the Rat”). With Dr. James’ experimental mice on the loose, and an investigation on hospice care ethics under way that could lead to the arrest of the three protagonists, this episode provides a surprisingly thrilling scenario for a show whose milieu is geriatric ward, where people are very slowly and painfully dying. The escaped mice, which are part of an experiment funded by overzealous assignment of hospice treatment, are the symbolic representation of Dr. James’ unscrupulousness, and the tension created by the actual threat of these symbols makes for genius, exhilarating television. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor