Marriage Story: Noah Baumbach’s most emotionally open picture to date, and his best, clearly inspired by his own separation from Jennifer Jason Leigh and thus pulsing with the pain and bleak comedy of lived experience. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson craft career-best performances as a divorcing couple working through the painstaking process of custody proceedings and other logistics, while still coming to terms with the damage they’ve done to each other. It’s the closest thing Baumbach has done to vintage Paul Mazursky, turning from gutting truth to screwball comedy without losing a step, and the filmmaking, while subtle, is effective – he knows when to let as scene play out in wides, and how to go in for close-ups when his protagonists go for the jugular. In taking his specific experience and addressing it so honestly, Baumbach has performed a tiny miracle: he’s made the confessional universal.
The Cotton Club Encore: When Francis Ford Coppola’s reunion with Godfather producer Robert Evans was released in 1984, the reviews were middling at best: nice looking, nice effort, but a bit of a mess. Maybe the passage of time has been kind to it – imagine if this were the kind of prestige movie major studios were releasing now – or maybe it’s just that the that changes Coppola has made for this new edit, restoring balance to its two key storylines and its gangster movie/musical elements, really are that significant. Whatever the case, what’s long been considered one of his Interesting ‘80s Failures is clearly one of his undiscovered gems, a snappy, entertaining, sexually and socially complex banger, filled with terrific musical numbers, sharp performances, and tip-top filmmaking. (Also streaming on MUBI, starting 12/13.)
Water & Sugar: Carlo Di Palma, The Colours of Life: Movies about movies are always a bit of niche proposition; a movie about a cinematographer is basically a niche within a niche. But those who fall within said niche will find much to adore here – how Di Palma shot in black and white, how he made the transition to color, how he painted with light and innovated with fog, and so on. Water and Sugar’s own filmmaking isn’t exactly the height of innovation, but the interviews are informative (Wim Wenders, Bernardo Bertolucci, Ken Loach, Lina Wertmüller, Giancarlo Giannini, Michael Ballhaus, and Woody Allen all appear), the tone is warm and loving and sincere, and the story about how he first met Sven Nyvkist is worth the price of the disc alone.
Hustlers: Lorene Scafaria tells the true story of a crew of exotic dancers who took a steady stream of Wall Street types for all they had, merging the thoughtful “commodification in times of economic anxiety” themes of the first Magic Mike with the thrilling energy of vintage Scorsese. But, to be clear, Scafaria has her own voice and eye, seeing past the shiny surfaces of these worlds at the tension and desperation underneath, honing in on the camaraderie that put these women together, and the suspicion that tore them apart. Every performance is a gem, but Jennifer Lopez’s turn as the wisest of the bunch deserves every ounce of praise you’ve heard – it’s a monster, sharp and sexy and complicated, all at once. (Includes audio commentary and trailers.)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Quentin Tarantino’s latest is a lot of things: meticulous period recreation, alternate history, hang-out movie, testament to the considerable gifts of Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, and (especially) Brad Pitt. But most of all, it’s a valentine to Hollywood – not just the industry, but the place itself, and how it widened the eyes of little Quentin, all those years ago. Beyond that, he captures as sense of community, of Hollywood as a place where everyone’s keeping tabs, everyone’s watching the same TV show, everyone knows everyone else – where connections are a kind of currency, so it’s not that difficult for, say, a sociopath with industry ambitions to get too close. All of which he does on the sly, foregrounding a loose shagginess and a narrative patience; though it’s leisurely, nothing is wasted, as even seemingly throwaway character bits pay off in unexpected ways. Tarantino has become such a pro at telling these big-canvas stories, you barely notice he’s picked up the pace until it’s fully cranking. This is a thrilling, funny, endlessly re-watchable picture. (Includes additional scenes and featurettes.)
Old Joy: Kelly Reichard’s 2006 road movie (new to the Criterion Collection) initially seems headed in a fairly predictable direction, as two old buddies (Daniel London and Will Oldham) head off for an overnight camping trip and a bit of reconnection. They’ve developed something of an odd couple dynamic with the passing years, and some light comic conflict is created by the responsible, soon-to-be family man’s friction with his freewheeling, couch-surfing, pot-smoking buddy. But the broad strokes conceal real longing and pain, culminating in a startling conclusion of honesty and unexpected intimacy. It’s a whisper-quiet movie, but boy does it knocks you over. (Includes new interviews and conversation featurette.)
Blue Collar: Too hard to see for too damn long, this is one of the great unsung movies of the 1970s. Paul Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) made his directorial debut with the unenviable task of marshaling the hot tempers and combustible personalities of Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto, resulting in a legendarily contentious production. But that discord mirrored the story, of three best friends on the Detroit auto assembly lines who are split apart by business interests and union politics. This a tough, difficult picture, trying but rewarding, and Pryor’s (mostly serious) performance is a straight-up revelation. (Includes audio commentary and trailer.)