It just hit me that this year’s Movie Club has spent hundreds of words on Sausage Party and Popstar and Sacha Baron Cohen yet hasn’t mentioned Steven frigging Spielberg’s new movie, The BFG, once. Frankly, that’s fine with me. And I’m happy to ignore Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and the Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Such long titles. Such little creative investment. In 2016, so many of our major directors and franchises (ahem, Star Trek Beyond) bunted that it was a thrill to see Martin Scorsese jump off a cliff—or really, patiently levitate into heaven.
Yes, I had to chug a Red Bull an hour into Silence, with more than 100 minutes left to go. If that’s a sin, so be it. As you three know well, it’s hard to be a healthy film critic. The job requires you to sit on your ass and, thanks to continual 7 p.m. screenings, make the pyrrhic choice between eating an early bird dinner at 5 or shovel trash into your mouth at 10. And don’t get me started on film festivals, where I’ll sometimes try to squeeze in six flicks a day. Your knees go first. Then your writing hand. (Note to directors who spot me bouncing my legs at a screening: I’m not bored; I’m desperate to burn calories.)
Despite these professional hazards, my favorite movie-watching day of the year was the Sunday I woke up early for an all-day marathon of O.J.: Made in America. The screening room was practically empty. By 4 p.m., I was sprawled on the floor. When I finally emerged, it was dark. But if the theater had rewound the reels, I would have gone right back in. I only wished it had been longer. Film or not—and believe me, I feel so lucky I had the chance to see it as a film—what shocked me about Ezra Edelman’s achievement is that it barely overlapped with The People v. O.J. Simpson, this year’s other O.J. obsession.
If you’re counting, that’s almost 15 hours of O.J. Simpson content in 2016. What’s up with the zeitgeist? This was the 22nd anniversary of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman’s deaths—not a pretty number like 20 or 25. Yes, Simpson’s story feels as topical today as it did 20 years ago. But it also feels more ancient than that, as though O.J. is the Medea for our millennia, a murderer who cuts across our cultural tangles about race, class, gender, and power. I left O.J.: Made in America convinced that the fifth-billed lead of The Naked Gun could be the symbol of the last century. Honestly, maybe we should live in Lt. Frank Drebin’s America. As Leslie Nielsen groaned to his buddy, “Life isn’t always fair. Just think. The next time I shoot someone, I could be arrested.” Um, sure. Yes, please.
Dana, I’m so glad you saw Tickled! Last year waiting for my flight to Sundance, a programmer whispered, “Tickled,” in my ear and smiled like he’d just slipped me a hit of acid. I’m annoyed David Farrier’s exposé of competitive tickling and the blackmailer behind it didn’t get shortlisted for an Academy Award, maybe because it felt trivial—as Bilge pointed out, there’s docs that entertain and docs that learn ya something. Tickled doesn’t have a call to action, unless you’re a fetishist wondering which tickling site deserves your web hits. (Not Jane O’Brien Media!) But Farrier’s big reveal that a wealthy creep is using lawsuits to control the press felt shocking 12 months ago—and, post–Peter Thiel and Donald Trump, now rings like an alarm we should have heard.
I saw Tickled on one of those scrunched-up days where I caught several of 2016’s other stand-out docs, stretching only for coffee and hot dogs. Who could have guessed that Weiner, the cringe-inducing account of Anthony Weiner’s first failed comeback, would also cast a shadow over the rest of the year? (Or, depending on how much you think James B. Comey’s fangless froth about newly discovered emails tipped the election, the rest of our lives.) Back then, I left Weiner feeling almost sorry for a guy whose ambition, idealism, mouth, and penis drew-and-quartered his career. Now, I just want to cremate his remains.
If you’re hungry for hucksters, here’s two more: Michel, the Speedo-clad, plastic-surgeried guru of Holy Hell, a riveting doc about the mid-’80s Buddhafield cult, whose twisted control tactics true believer Will Allen documented for 22 years (with Michel’s blessing, until they suddenly became enemies), and attention-starved housewife Laura Albert of Author: The JT LeRoy Story who created a second identity and an abused teenager who just so happened to be a gifted memoirist, and when LeRoy’s books started to sell, delighted in becoming the kool kid of the hipster literary class. Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins spent days gossiping with her or him over the phone until a New York magazine journalist exposed Albert’s scam in 2005. Today, Albert’s worming for forgiveness. Call me cynical, but her repentance seems as phony as everything else. She can’t quit trying to control the narrative. Yet, that’s beside the point. Author reminds the media not to pawn our credibility for a good story. We shouldn’t have to get birth certificates for our interview subjects, but we should all be on guard for guile.
Speaking of celebrity, my conscience would chew me up if I exited this year’s Movie Club without celebrating Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes’ rock stars–on-holiday drama, A Bigger Splash. (Mark, how does Fiennes’ potbelly measure up against Denzel Washington’s and Colin Farrell’s?) Fiennes has been hitting home run after home run. I’m still salty he didn’t win an Oscar for his scabrous sophisticate in The Grand Budapest Hotel, and it’s a full-on crime he hasn’t won one ever—or even been nominated since 1997. In A Bigger Splash, he charges into every scene belly-first and blabbing, drunk on his own overconfidence. Meanwhile Swinton, playing a singer who’s gone temporarily mute, battles him for control without saying a word, until he drives her so crazy she can’t help it.
A Bigger Splash boasts some of the best makeup and costuming of the year. Only Swinton could pull off bare skin, yellow eyeliner, and dresses inspired by origami. But for sheer razzle dazzle—and a hell of a sick-day double feature—pair it with Kate Winslet’s The Dressmaker, a wicked Australian revenge picture about a woman who returns home to give her old enemies makeovers. The first time she glamorized the local spinster, I gasped. Thanks to Winslet—or technically, the film’s costume department—the wallflower has bloomed. The second time she transforms, a character sputters, “Witchcraft!” That’s the power of a dress. America might have closed out another year without a female president, but at least ladies can still control what we wear. (For now—I’m not happy with the headscarf bans cropping up in Europe or the French police who forced a woman to strip off her burkini.)
If you’re into fashion and feminism and are limber enough for a triple feature, add on Park Chan Wook’s The Handmaiden, a gilded puzzle box that pits a Japanese heiress against her serving girl and lesbian lover. When the two women share jewelry, it feels as intimate as trading secrets. Yet gems can be paste, and confidences can be false. I spent The Handmaiden racing to keep up with the plot. It had me all speedy and flushed, kind of the way I feel now hurrying to mention every worthwhile film of 2016 before I close out my last entry and hand the pen to our brilliant hostess, Dana.
Guys, this week has been great. Come visit the real La La Land. I’ll take you dancing in traffic.