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Weekly Review

(Note: this was written before Sundance coverage but I’ve waiting on posting it because we’ve had more than enough material than needed. Return to normal post.) 2014 is over. It’s done. In the rearview. We’ve officially put the cap on it with our 100 Best Films of 2014 so that means it’s 1000% kaput. That means I can finally return to old movies. And boy what a collection I’ve stumbled into this week. From 1979 to 2000 (…and an overrated newly released Oscar contender), this collection of brilliance is one film away from being one of the most stacked episodes of Weekly Review in a long time.

TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (2014)

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I cannot think of an endeavor more French than a depressed woman walking around talking to various peers about a challenging subject. This year’s celebrated French depress-fest stars Marion Cottilard as an recently laid off employee, going door-to-door to co-workers to ask them to jettison their bonuses in order to fund her next year’s salary. It’s endlessly repetitive – a series of A-to-B-to-C conversations that derivative very little from one another – and seems to ape the philosophical stylings of Sidney Lumet‘s genius 12 Angry Men while missing the point of what makes that film so entrancing. Featuring depression, bakeries and suicide attempts, Two Days, One Night is marked by a fine performance from Cottilard even if it’s a bit of an international chore to watch. (C-)

ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000)

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A stirring, emotionally solid and yet enthusiastically funny drama from a top-of-his-game Steven Soderberg, Erin Brockovich is more than just an adroit starring vehicle for Julia Roberts – it’s a soaring accomplishment in its own right. That’s not to discount Roberts work though, who – as a crass, driven single mother – takes the narrative by the horn and rides it with a brand of leading lady bravura that is all too rare. As much a character study as it is a tale of legal David and Goliath, Brockovich is a delicately told, generously funny tale of a small fish wandering into a big pond. It’s an underdog story with heart and wit that shines from sensitive, exacting direction. (A-)

STAND BY ME (1986)

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Dear 1980’s Rob Reiner, you rock. From Princess Bride to This is Spinal Tap!, When Harry Met Sally to Stand By Me, 80’s Reiner knew how to hedge sentimentality in with genuine, challenging emotion and loads of smart, real moments of comedy. The tubby guy who would eventually direct old timer’s flicks The Bucket List and And So It Goes doesn’t understand that division but young Reiner did. And he rocked. Stand By Me features a super-duper 80s cast including Corey Feldman, River Phoenix, Jerry O”Connell, Wil Wheaton and Keifer Sutherland as members of two motley crews hunting down train tracks for the body of a dead boy. The coming-of-age tale is handled with grace and skill, offering timeless one-liners amidst a genuinely empathic examination of youthful friendship and just what we lose when we let those bonds evaporate. (B+)

MAD MAX (1979)

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Two things surprised me about Mad Max (a film I’ve long meant to watch and have just never gotten around to): its overall lack of “post-apocalypse” feel – it took a good while before I understood the notion that this was a dangerous society on the brink of collapse – and just how strange it all was. The former caught me off guard because I had always pictured Mel Gibson‘s Aussie breakout franchise to be set in a sandy wasteland filled with skulls and low on fuel. The later – its strangeness – was a pleasant surprise and is really what makes the film pop. Though Gibson reveals some of the rage-filled potency that would go on to make him such an international star, it’s Hugh Keays-Byrne as Toecutter that really steals the scenes. Even when a touch unfocused, Mad Max is a wildly original concept – even by today’s standards – that creates a rich, lived in world occupied by thrashing vehicles and motorcycle scumbags. I’ve heard Road Warrior is the Empire Strikes Back of the franchise and am now eagerly waiting to scarf it up next. (B)

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (1992)

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Terrible name aside, Glengarry Glen Ross is a brilliant actor’s showcase that harkens back to Sidney Lumet‘s golden age.  Housing a number of tour de force performances – how Jack Lemmon did not receive a personalized Oscar for this, I have no clue – and intellectually soaring from David Mamet‘s adaptation of his own Tony-winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross turns working class woes into a breed of timeless poetry – both incredibly pertinent upon its release and now. And likely to be just as timely and biting in the future. It’s a film about desperately holding onto what you’ve got and finding the fight in yourself, achieved through dog-toothed tête-à-tête conversations that Aaron Sorkin wished he would have written. Having both my respect and adoration, Glengary Glen Ross is so much more than just a pinnacle of theatrical adaptations – it’s a goddamn masterpiece in its own right. (A+)

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