These days, a huge part of being a movie buff is finding your way through the embarrassment of riches that appear on a weekly basis, with a flurry of new movies on a variety of platforms — VOD, Netflix, Amazon, good old-fashioned DVD and Blu-ray — vying for your attention. Well, here at Flavorwire, we’ve decided to do something about it: we’re launching this new column, where every Tuesday, we’ll sift through the week’s new offerings and spotlight the handful that are truly worth your time.
Lenny Abrahamson’s indie music comedy was one of last year’s nicest surprises, eschewing the insufferable tweeness of its premise: a weirdo rock band, fronted by a genius who never removes his paper maché head. Yet it’s not only a convincing snapshot of music in the age of hype and hashtags, but an unexpectedly poignant portrait of mental illness (and how said illness is so easily and frequently exploitable). Maggie Gyllenhaal is, well, Maggie Gyllenhaal — which is to say, great. And Michael Fassbender is surprisingly effective in the title role while, yes, never revealing the man (or version of the man) underneath.
The MPAA’s goofy “R” rating for Ira Sachs’ latest prompted an understandable amount of head-scratching and charges of homophobia, and their weird double standards for straight and gay stories (to say nothing of profanity and sex) are worth noting and criticizing. But that whole kerfuffle, in a strange way, made Love Is Strange something more — and different — than what it is; it’s not an Issue movie, but a modest, low-key romantic drama that takes its characters’ sexuality for granted. And John Lithgow and Alfred Molina shine in the leading roles, imbuing their relationship with a warm, comfortable, lived-in reality that only makes their trials and tribulations more confounding.
It’s the movie that launched a thousand thinkpieces, and hooray for that; it’s not as though we’re exactly overrun with accessible potboilers that also offer chewy subtext and cause for contemplation. But let’s also acknowledge that David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s monster bestseller is also just a really tight genre film — his closest brush with film noir to date, from the velvety shadows to the juicy supporting characters to the “innocent man, (maybe) wrongly accused” narrative to the deliciously twisted femme fatale role that Rosamund Pike devours like Chaplin’s boot.
To be clear, Tim Sutton’s music-infused drama is one of the more peculiar movies out there right now, and if your viewing interests lean towards the conventional (i.e., you’re looking for A-B-C plotting and “relatable” characters and the like), this is not the one for you. But if you can tune in to its wavelength, this exploration of time, place, and music has a story to tell and a song to sing; it’s a fascinating movie with stories in every line and ghosts lurking in the corner of every frame.
A matter-of-fact melodrama masterpiece by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, this 1972 classic gets a lovely remaster and fully loaded special edition from the folks at Criterion. Subtitled “a case history,” this story of a doomed romance between a recent divorcée and a young model works, in many ways, like a stage play: the cast is small, the dialogue is dense, and it barely budges from its single location. But if the staging is leisurely, the intensity is unwavering; Fassbinder’s cinematographer, the great Michael Ballhaus, treats Petra’s bedroom like a psychological boxing ring, the opponents sticking and moving, poking and prodding, and drawing blood by the end of the affair. The opening gives a music credit to both the Platters and Verdi; that spirit of fusing opera with bubblegum is key to both the aesthetic of Bitter Tears and much of Fassbinder’s oeuvre.