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Paul Thomas Anderson is a filmmaker who has been critiquing the male ego throughout his career. In BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997), Anderson’s object of ridicule was main character Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), an insecure boob whose only asset was his large porn-ready appendage. In PUNCH-DRUNK-LOVE (2002), the milquetoast Barry Egan (Adam Sander) had such huge anger issues that his rage almost got him killed. In THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007), the quest for power that drives Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) leads him to dismiss everything and everyone else in his life. And now in PHANTOM THREAD, Anderson’s main character is Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis again), an inflexible fashion designer whose regard for women barely edges past playing dress-up with dolls. Anderson’s focus may be men, but his sensibilities are feminine. There is little he admires in the pigheadedness of the men at the helm of the world.
HOSTILES, just opening in Chicago today, is the last of the mainstream Oscar contenders. Written and directed by Scott Cooper (CRAZT HEART, BLACK MASS), it’s a prestige western, revisionist in its take on the hostility between the American army and the American Indian of 1892. No one in this film is easily classified as a good guy or bad guy. Everyone is much more complicated than to be assigned such easy labeling, and it makes for a compelling adventure as well as complex character study.
A few months back, the Oscar buzz surrounding the Best Supporting Actor contest came down to two names – Willem Dafoe for THE FLORIDA PROJECT and Kevin Spacey for ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD. Then in November, the infamous sex story involving Spacey and his alleged molestation of young boys broke, and his award chances faded away. So it would seem did the film’s fortunes at having a healthy run at the Cineplex, let alone getting awards attention. Who would want to see a film, let alone honor one, with such a horrifying scandal attached to one of its stars?
Call me easy, but I’m a sucker for movies about gambling, Vegas, heists, and the like. There’s something about the danger of cards and casinos and the Mob that gets me every time. Whether it’s Michael Corleone not seeing eye-to-eye with Moe Green on how to run a casino in THE GODFATHER or James Bond playing cards against a terrorist in CASINO ROYALE, or even Danny Ocean bringing in a “Baker’s Dozen” of friends along with him to help heist three hotels, I love the snap, crackle and danger of that high-stakes world. Thus, I may have been an easy mark for Aaron Sorkin with his first big screen helmer MOLLY’S GAME, but I loved his film from first second to last.
Few films open with a timeliness like that of THE POST. After all, when the sitting POTUS derides the Washington Post as “fake news”, a film that both lauds the paper and decries such autocratic leanings couldn’t be more opportune. And THE POST does tell one hell of a story about a newspaper seeking the truth while fighting forces in the highest corridors of power. It’s a film that is a must-see just on its relevance alone.
One of the best parts of my five years as a film critic at the Examiner online, before it folded, was discovering indie gems released under the radar. There were many small horror films that, despite not having huge budgets or a big studio’s distribution, scared the hell out of me, and impressed the hell out of me too. Such discoveries still excite me today, horror or other genres. VOD, iTunes, Netflix, Vimeo – these are some of the places you can find such films. More and more, they are chock full of exceptional entries that are giving Hollywood studios a run for their money. They are movies made by very talented filmmakers with few dollars, but plenty of gumption.
Bryce Hirschberg is one such artist, and his first feature film COUNTERFEITERS is one auspicious debut. Shot for next to nothing, Hirschberg is the writer/star/director of this indie feature and he clearly demonstrates what a triple threat he is. (Watch out, Woody Allen and Warren Beatty!) He also must be quite the bookkeeper too because the film doesn’t look like one that cost a mere $8000. It looks sharp, polished and professional at all production levels.