5. Once Were Brothers: Robby Robertson and The Band
Martin Scorsese’s famous 1978 concert film The Last Waltz is seen as the definitive work on the legacy of The Band, but the new Scorsese produced documentary Once Were Brothers: Robby Robertson and The Band is an engaging companion piece that explores the group’s origins and their lasting impact on rock and folk music. The documentary tells the complete story of how these men came together, and later splintered apart.
What makes Once Were Brothers stand above a television level music documentary is the insight and emotion that is generated from the surviving bandmates. The film does a great job at exploring how Americana took root at the time that it did, and it also never hurts to get interviews from people like Martin Scorsese, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan. It is a great film for long time fans of The Band, but also for curious newcomers who want to understand the vastness of the group’s legacy.
4. The Lodge
The Lodge was unfortunately saddled with comparisons to Ari Aster’s films because of coincidental productions, but those who can overlook those similarities will surely enjoy this bleak and claustrophobic horror film. The film explores a fragile family, in which Richard Hall (Richard Armitage) takes his children Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) to a snowy lodge with his fiancée Grace (Riley Keough). All are rocked by the recent suicide of Richard’s ex-wife, and his children begin to investigate Grace’s connection to a suicide cult.
The film is often overwhelmingly somber, but it is particularly apt in exploring isolation, mental illness, and the reeling effects of loss. The combination of human ugliness and supernatural elements force the viewer to examine the details closely and consider what events are occurring in the way that they seem. Keough in particular gives the performance of her career as a woman pushed to her limits when confronted with painful memories.
In his stylized directorial debut, Clark Duke pays homage to noir movie tropes and influences like the Coen Brothers with this darkly comedic country noir. The film follows two low level drug dealers, Kyle (Liam Hemsworth) and Swin (Duke), who are promoted to a job in Arkansas where they work under the enigmatic Frog (Vince Vaughn). As these two dealers become overwhelmed by the world of organized crime, they find themselves in over their heads as Frog’s operation is put in danger.
Duke shows a surprising aptitude for nonlinear storytelling for a new filmmaker, and the film’s division into different chapters melds well with the unusual comedy. The performances all around are stellar, particularly Vaughn as the menacing boss and John Malkovich as the corrupt park ranger Bright. It will definitely be interesting to see what Duke continues to do as a filmmaker, as this is a praise worthy debut.
2. Beastie Boys Story
Beastie Boys Story is unique in the world of music documentaries, as it combines informative biographical elements with the joys of a live performance. The film edits together a live show in which surviving Beastie Boys members Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond recount their rise to success to a live crowd, and is directed by their longtime collaborator Spike Jonze. It is an interesting way of showing how musicians can tell their own stories, and look back at memories with a mix of nostalgia and embarrassment.
The fact that it is a live performance means that the banter between Horovitz and Diamond feels authentic, as they often go off script or tease the crowd. Jonze seamlessly edits their performance and presentation together into a breezy film, and although it obviously caters to longtime Beastie Boys fans, Horovitz and Diamond are surprisingly candid in discussing their regrets. By the time the film comes to discuss the death of Adam Yauch, it is quite emotional, as the audience has watched these three childhood friends live a lifetime of adventures together.
1. The Assistant
An essential film about the current state of the industry itself, The Assistant is a masterclass in exploring systemic silencing through a procedural lens. Julia Garner stars as an intern at a film company who comes to realize that her boss is a predator, and the film explores the powerlessness of Garner’s character as she lives through a grueling day of watching the culture unfold. The film is devoid of clichés, and the realism makes the themes all the more potent.
Not only is the film detailed in exploring what makes up the duties of a film company, but it is clever in showing only what information Garner’s character is privy to, so the audience and the protagonist are on the same page. Garner gives a restrained and timid performance, and the cracks in her facade of acceptance are very moving to watch. It is unclear if this year will have an awards race at all, but if it does, The Assistant is one film that shouldn’t be forgotten.