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2016 Rising: The Grand Finale and Predicting My Awards

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I like the poster. I liked the trailer. Will I like the film? (Source)

Let’s talk about 2016. Though you may understandably be reluctant so to do.

I don’t think many will disagree when I say this has been a bad year. They might take exception to the word “bad.” Which is fair. It might be better to say this year has been so crushingly weak.

But do the next two months offer some hope of salvation? That’s what I hope to determine.

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PAWN SACRIFICE Review – ***½

Although the general rule that a film pushed from a prime release date to a terrible one will itself likely be terrible does not entirely apply to Pawn Sacrifice, the fact remains that it premiered at Toronto last year and seemed headed for an awards-season release. The reviews weren’t quite there, it was picked up by a lesser-known distributor (Bleecker Street, who might be making a play for awards attention later this year–but never mind), and now it bows in September, one of the slowest movie months.

And while it isn’t terrible, it falls rather short of the mark, with much of the blame falling on the hazily focused script and the uneven, often TV-level direction. And while Tobey Maguire does do a solid job as chess phenom Bobby Fischer, it’s the supporting cast who steal the film from him.

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BLACK MASS Review – ****

I'm back. (Source)

I’m back. (Source)

It’s clear from early on that Black Mass will not be distinguished by its script, but by its faces. From the first glimpse of Jesse Plemons’ squashed Mickey Rooney-by-way-of-James Cagney mug, to Johnny Depp’s eerie visage (the product of some brilliant makeup), by turns reptilian and sepulchral, it’s the faces of the people we see which stick with us, more than the clumsy narrative or uneven dialogue.

That Black Mass exceeded my expectations and ended up an overall rewarding experience may be in large part because I respect a film which knows the value of faces. As a crime drama, it’s adequate, but as a visual essay in amorality, it has nuances which make it worth your while.

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NIGHT MOVES Review – ***½

Kelly Reichardt returns.

Kelly Reichardt returns.

In 2011, I saw Kelly Reichardt’s minimalist Western Meek’s Cutoff and was, to put it mildly, affected. Without violence or any kind of overt dramatics, she created one of the bleakest, most despairing films I’ve ever seen. Night Moves is not on the same level as a film, but in its own right it’s an effective, contemplative thriller, and Reichardt only continues to prove her status as one of the great undersung voices of modern independent cinema.

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