a) Lost River
Ryan Gosling has always seemed to me like one of those pretentious Hollywood hunks who wants to come off way smarter and artier than he does (or is), so I will cop to my schadenfreude that his directorial debut was panned as some fake deep David Lynch wannabe nonsense. That's pretty much what it is, with a lot of weird gorey moments and extreme color palettes and a story that never really coheres into anything worth following.
b) Still Alice
I've never been a huge fan of Julianne Moore, outside of some of her more comedic performances, so when this movie got Oscar love I kinda rolled my eyes like oh jeez here we go, another goddamn poignant movie. But OK, this was a goddamn poignant movie. Alzheimer's is devastating for anyone, but to watch it happen to a character whose life revolves around language, and how it effects their ability to communicate, that really got to me. I like how small and understated it was, just laid things out as they could and probably often do happen, never laid on the melodrama too thick or anything.
c) Into The Woods
My wife has seen the stage musical and said they did a good job with the movie, so I'll take her word for it. I like most of the cast and found it all pretty charming, but I never really know how I feel about musicals unless I see it multiple times and get a handle on the songs. It amused me that Lucy Punch played one of Cinderella's wicked stepsisters, since she also played a wicked stepsister in Ella Enchanted, and in a Cinderella TV movie and a Cinderella episode of a miniseries. What a specific and not entirely flattering career niche to have.
Will Gluck's first 2 movies, Fired Up! and Easy A, were the 2 funniest teen comedies of the past decade, and his third was a solid romcom. So it surprised me a little that he took a gig directing a reboot of a classic family movie. But while the funniest lines of his previous movies would've been too blue for Annie, they did have a light, upbeat tone that suits this material, so it works pretty well. I never had any particular affection for the first Annie movie or the songs but it seemed like they did a pretty good job of updating them.
e) Dear White People
I was pretty curious to see this movie, just because such an issue-heavy comedy has the potential for greatness, but also walks that tightrope of either being too much about the message to be funny, or sacrificing the message for cheap laughs. And I was really impressed at how well it managed that balancing act, might be the most audacious comedy about race since Blazing Saddles (which is high praise from me, especially considering that our comedies about race not too long ago were shit like White Girls and Malibu's Most Wanted). Sometimes I gasped at the fearlessness a little more than I laughed, but there were some good laughs in there too. What I really liked, though, was that they had so many characters representing different perspectives, but nobody got off easy, everyone had a good point in one scene but was a hypocrite in another, it really pushed you to consider different sides of the issue and not treat anything sacred.
f) Two Night Stand
This is one of those really mainstream-friendly romcoms that don't really get any critical buzz but also don't get a wide enough release to make any money -- basically the power pop bands of the film world. Maybe if they'd released it after Miles Teller got more famous off of Whiplash it could've done well, or if they just had more famous leads altogether, this movie would've done really well. But I liked it as is -- I like Analeigh Tipton more every time I see her in something, and Teller comes off as a conceited dickhead as usual, but in this case it kind works as part of the character.
g) The Oranges
Leighton Meester and Adam Brody just had a kid together, and I just watched the movie they made together a few years ago where she curves him to have an affair with his dad, played by Hugh Laurie. This whole movie came off very awkward and strained to me, like it wanted to be a dark comedy about a middle-aged guy cheating on his wife with his neighbors' young daughter, but everything is played so light, nobody really reacts to anything in a way that is at all realistic, but it also isn't very funny either.
h) Breaking Upwards
Zoe Lister-Jones has become one of my favorite unheralded people on TV thanks to her guest arc on "New Girl" and her starring roles on a procession of middling sitcoms she's been the best thing in, so I was curious to see this indie flick she co-wrote from a few years ago. It's a really funny movie, pretty low budget, but kind of took an interesting angle to the usual relationship comedy and ran with it in a weird, funny, extreme direction.
Back around the turn of the century, when Emily Watson was in the middle of a run of highly awarded roles in prestige dramas, she did this odd little noir detective comedy, produced by Robert Altman and directed by a guy, Alan Rudolph, who I'd never heard of aside from his iffy Breakfast Of Champions adaptation. It's really good, I was pleasantly surprised, I feel like movies like this usually gain a cult following but as far as I can tell this hasn't.
j) Maximum Overdrive
This is the one movie Stephen King directed, back in the '80s when he was king of the world but not always thrilled with what filmmakers had done with adaptations of his book. I've long been obsessed with the hilarious trailer starring King, but only just recently watched the movie, which is more campy and weird on purpose than a fiasco, really. The first scene features an ATM display screen telling a guy (played by Stephen King), "you are an asshole." The only wet blanket is Emilio Estevez, who always seemed to take himself way too seriously in his early roles.