The Hollywood trade paper Variety wrapped up the year with its film critics picking their "Least Favorite Films," and it was surprising to read how several liberal-pleasing films were taken to ask for their artistic failings.
Perhaps the most eye-opening was Peter Debruge laying into Michael Moore as a bloated cartoonist and "embarrassment to America."
The worst: An embarrassment to America, Michael Moore’s latest editorial cartoon of a documentary is as sloppy as its author’s appearance (easily twice his Bowling for Columbine heft). Unlike his earlier, urgent wake-up-call docs, Where to Invade Next cherry-picks aspects in which other countries can be made to appear more progressive than the States, while conveniently overlooking the limitations of each grass-is-greener locale. At the base, it’s a fine idea, implying the humility to ask what we can learn from others, though Moore is a boorish ambassador at best, and his disingenuous approach undermines his own argument.
Empty prestige: On paper, Patricia Highsmith’s juicy lesbian romance might well be the film Todd Haynes was born to make, yet in Carol, the wooden result fails to communicate why we — or for that matter, Rooney Mara’s character — should love its vapid heroine. The hand-me-down script reduces an actress as gifted as Cate Blanchett to an aloof fetish object, defined more by her fabulous hair, lipstick and wardrobe than by her personality. It’s further crippled by a lamentable PC stance that projects tragedy upon the novel’s smoldering, period-appropriate sense of illicit perversion. In short, Haynes forces subtext to the surface, while keeping his character insights skin-deep.
It should be noted that most critics have gushed over Carol, at least half of which is political lobbying for "queer cinema." Ella Taylor wasn't shy in also trashing Blanchett the Dan Rather-lionizing movie:
The worst: Leaving aside the question of whether a putative thriller about George W. Bush’s murky military record is worth the bother, James Vanderbilt’s loftily titled Truth shills obligingly for former 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes, who, along with Dan Rather, was fired for flawed reporting of gaps in Bush’s army service. Adapted (not loosely enough) from Mapes’ memoir, the movie careens between lionizing the Mapes-Rather dream team and indulging in boozy self-pity over the fall from grace of a show that has done more than most to accustom us to the newshound as rock star. Worse yet, it drags an overcooked performance out of Cate Blanchett, gifting her with what must be the year’s most hapless line of dialogue: “We’re 60 Minutes!” she shrieks. “We’re the gold standard!”
Empty prestige: Speaking of shoddy journalism, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has succumbed without a murmur to The Hunting Ground [a CNN Films production], placing on its documentary feature shortlist a loaded piece of agitprop that plays fast and loose with statistics and our sympathy with victims of campus sexual assault. With death-defying leaps of logic on the basis of skimpy and distorted evidence, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s film does violence to both the legitimate fight for women’s rights and the honorable cause of advocacy filmmaking.
All of which is to say, you should probably rush out and see Spotlight.
They still love the movie about the heroic liberal reporters fighting the Catholic Church. Justin Chang just dumped on the "transgender pioneer" film The Danish Girl:
Empty prestige: For Oscar-humping banality and excruciating politesse, Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl was hard to beat. Even the strongest element of this gorgeously insipid movie works against it: Every vividly inhabited minute of Alicia Vikander’s performance puts to shame the mannered self-regard of Eddie Redmayne’s star turn as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe — all studied feminine mimicry with barely a flicker of interior life. Not that anyone else could have done much better with such gutlessly watered-down material, especially when Lili undergoes a groundbreaking gender-reassignment operation dramatized with all the corporeal trauma of a root canal. Wake me when the David Cronenberg remake shows up.
In the "empty prestige" category, Andrew Barker picked the new Leonardo di Caprio movie The Revenant:
The actual film is considerably more refined, and frequently wondrous to watch — placing one of the greatest living cinematographers in some of the world’s most scenic locales will always produce breathtaking vistas — but its insistence on substituting actual physical suffering for serious philosophical inquiry left this viewer as cold as the freezing rivers Leonardo DiCaprio so boldly hurls himself into. As a collection of stunning nature imagery, it’s Terrence Malick without the underlying intelligence. As a survivalist parable pitting man against the pitilessness of nature, it’s little more than a gussied-up, drawn-out retread of Joe Carnahan’s future classic The Grey. And for all its ballyhooed frontier bloodletting, any halfway faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s similarly minded Blood Meridian would make The Revenant look like Rugrats.