A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin – 2008) A-

The Vuillard family is an interesting one but not really that dysfunctional. That somehow makes this drama more interesting. They have the black sheep, the estranged, the cold mother and sweet father. The catalyst that brings them all together in the family home is the news that the mother (Catherine Deneuve) has cancer and needs a marrow transplant. Everyone, even the youngest grandchild, is getting tested to see if they are a match. It’s also Christmas so why not get together as well and spend a few days together? It’s mostly subtle in how old grievances (and new ones) and not-so-hidden secrets start coming out. It’s a really good Holiday movie…maybe not an entirely feel good Holiday movie but a good one.

Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker (J.J. Abrams – 2019) C-

The more I think about this one the more crappy it seems. It really maybe means that the entire Star Wars series is not particularly good as a single body of work. There are a few movies in it that work well and introduce cool concepts and character twists and builds worlds with imagination (Yes, Last Jedi is up there with those) but as a whole it’s not that well put together. They repeat themselves, they crack at the slightest question of “why?”, motivations are mostly muddled and I end up caring for almost no one. They are usually fun and spectacular though…as in they have some cool spectacle. This one has the fun spectacle but it so lacks coherence, imagination, intelligence that it ranks among the worst of the bunch.

Cache (Michael Haneke – 2005) B

A tape shows up at the their doorstep. It shows their house from the outside. No explanation. Another one shows up too and another…each is a bit more revealing. This sends the couple George and Anne Laurent played by Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche into a spiral. It clearly points into some deep buried secrets in Daniel’s past and his family. We start discovering all those secrets as he starts recalling more and following the tapes. It’s a tightly wound and strange film that mostly worked for me. Although I am not sure what, if anything, it is trying to say. At face value it is an engaging thriller with excellent performances, but I think it is missing something that kept it from digging deeper…or maybe I need to watch it again.

High Life (Clair Denis – 2019) C

Just not sure what this is about. Looks great. Well acted (really good Robert Pattinson again) and Denis is a very good filmmaker who probably has a solid vision and she put it on the screen. It Just did not connect with me on almost any level. I was thinking it would be a mature and smart sci-fi film along the lines of Under the Skin, Annihilation, Stalker, or Solaris. While it is mature and deliberate in its pacing and story telling, this is not a movie I enjoyed much or took anything out of.

Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach – 2019) A+

This is brilliant film making and one of my favorites of 2019. The movie opens with Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johanssen) listing the small details that makes them love one another. They have decided to divorce and want to do it amicably through mediation. After all they are smart reasonable people. They live in Brooklyn, he’s a successful theater director, she’s his star and they have this wonderful artsy life going…with an 8 year old son too. The problem is at some point Nicole and Charlie got on different pages. He thought they are perfectly happy in NYC doing what he wants to do. She always wanted to at least live for some time in LA where she is from and perhaps pursue an acting career. Now, enter divorce and divorce lawyers and all civility -mostly- is gone to shit.

Her lawyer is played by Laura Dern and like everyone in this film is absolutely amazing. She’s a shark, she is good at her job and she is expensive. He engages with the kind fatherly-type lawyer played by Alan Alda (really everyone here is so good in their respective roles…). Pretty gradually we are travelling between LA and NY and watching these likable pair as the process of divorce wrecks their world. Driver and Johanssen have never been this good and there are several amazing scenes where they deliver their best performances in anything I have seen them in. This is not a fun movie but it can be pretty funny at times among all the heartbreak. It’s complex storytelling with complex scenes and really masterful direction. No one here is bad or all good. How we read the conclusion I think can vary based on out perspective or place in life or even age. I think it is an ordeal but it is a bit hopeful too.

After the Wedding (Susanne Bier – 2006) B+

Mads Mikkelsen plays Jacob, the manager of struggling orphanage in Kalkota. When a benefactor in Copenhagen offers him a lot of cash for his operation but he wants to meet him in person in Denmark first it of course seems to good to be true. Well, it is and it is not. Bier’s film is another one of those family drama where some buried secret is about to change the lives of all involved. It’s a well executed and smart film where there are no good or bad guys. It’s about people who over all seem to want to do what is right for their loved ones.

Midsommar (Ari Aster – 2019) B

I really admired the craft and style of this horror film. It manages to strike some really dreadful notes, tones and imagery all while mostly in the bright everlasting light of a little Swedish town inhabited by a cult all dressed in white. There are no dark long nights, gloomy moods or creatures walking on the ceiling here. Rather we have a brightly lit nightmare that mostly works for me. I might not have bought all the performances or really was into the plot but I’m glad Aster is making some interesting takes on horror.