Finally through the slog of (actually a pretty damn nice) summer and onto bigger and better things. If we can rip our attention away from the gridiron and Chip Kelly’s miraculous offense and those endless back-to-school sales, we can settle in for some pretty engaging stay-at-home entertainments.
All Is Lost: A well-to-do solo yachtsman tries to survive after the hull of his boat is pierced on the Indian Ocean. A nearly wordless film has Robert Redford struggling to keep body and soul together after a series of setbacks put him on the edge of survival. Filmmaker J.C. Chandor (whose previous film, the under-appreciated Margin Call, was anything but wordless) finds a way to tell his story in deceptively simple and deeply affecting tones. In a season of bombast and melodrama, this flick plays like a Zen koan dropped into a bath of brine.
Beginners: A man's world is roiled when his elderly father comes out as gay on the eve of the announcement of a terminal illness. An acting showcase for stars Ewan McGregor and Mélanie Laurent, but the real draw is the performance of the venerable Christopher Plummer, who plays his character with just the right amount of panache and pathos. Mike Mills' film, which was on several Best of the Year lists in 2010, avoids the maudlin in favor of the sublime. (Available September 16th).
Killing Them Softly: After a mafia-banked card game gets robbed, a professional cleaner is called in to take care of the muddled situation. Granted, Andrew Dominik's follow-up to the sensational Assassination of Jesse James had difficulty finding an audience, but where some critics found troubling through lines and incomprehensible narrative choices, I found it clever, meta, and exhilaratingly chance-taking. It stars Brad Pitt, but this is anything but a star vehicle for a movie superstar, and I mean that in a good way.
An Officer and a Gentleman: A troubled and irresponsible cadet learns to grow up under the often cruel and abusive tutelage of his no-nonsense drill instructor. Yes, it's a classic of the romantic-drama genre for various reasons both famous and infamous (stars Richard Gere and Debra Winger reportedly couldn't stand each other), but we watch this flick almost solely for the climactic, push-ups in the mud, emotional showdown between the Oscar-winning Louis Gosset Jr. and a broken-down, sobbing Gere ("I got no place else to go!")
Girlfight: A young woman trains as a boxer in secret from her father, and succeeds against the odds. In the MMA era, it might not seem so radical to have a woman kicking the ass of other people in the ring, but back in 2000 this film, starring a delightfully furious Michelle Rodriguez as the menacing Diana, really turned a lot of heads. Rodriguez, of course, achieved massive fame from the still-ongoing Fast & Furious franchise, but she's never been better—or more raw—than in Karyn Kusama's battle-scarred drama.