NYFF Diary Part Four: Three Really Good Movies

steve jobs 1

This is the “diary” I’m keeping during my (mis)adventures at the New York Film Festival, you can read my previous thoughts here. And you can see what I thought of this weekend’s movies, including two of the festival’s big premieres, if you keep reading…

Saturday, October 3

Steve Jobs (directed by Danny Boyle)
I very strongly believed that I didn’t need to see a movie about Steve Jobs. I’m still not sure I *needed* this Danny Boyle/Aaron Sorkin collaboration, but I most definitely enjoyed it. These days Sorkin seems to be at his best when he writes for the movies, and by choosing to build this movie around three dramatically specific days in Jobs’s life, he provides the perfect pressure cooker setting for his characters to bounce off of each other. And boy do these actors deliver. Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jeff Daniels, Katherine Waterston… a strong cast on paper, is even stronger on screen. Sure, Michael Fassbender doesn’t really look or sound that much like Steve Jobs, but who cares when you’re having this much fun (and when he’s delivering such strong work)?

Steve Jobs comes only second to Thomas Edison as far as stories about universally acclaimed geniuses were actually huge jerks are concerned, and that’s why it makes such a great pairing with Sorkin. More so than any of his previous movies -especially after the criticism he got for The Newsroom– Sorkin seems to be examining his own reputation through Jobs. I don’t know if Danny Boyle was the best choice to direct this movie, but he gets the work done. I will think more about how these pieces fit together and write a full review of Steve Jobs later this week, so feel free to look forward to that.

Sunday, October 4

Bridge of Spies (directed by Steven Spielberg)
More than anything, this movie reminds me of classic Hollywood. Not that it features any blatantly obvious nods toward the movies of that period (although Spielberg’s as a whole is obviously deeply influenced by Hollywood’s Golden Age), but because of the way in which it interweaves a solidly classical narrative of idealistic triumph with darker and more subversive undertones that point the fingers towards America’s current relationship to information and intelligence. Calling it pro-Snowden would be too much, but not ridiculous.

I still need some time to fully digest the movie, but Spielberg is in good form for this one. So are Tom Hanks, who is going through a very solid period in his career, and Mark Rylance, who steals the show in an understated supporting role as a Soviet spy. If there’s an adjective to describe this movie it is solid. I will give a longer, more detailed review when we get closer to the movie’s release in a couple of weeks.

On that note, let me say that I think both Steve Jobs and Bridge of Spies are really good movies, but that they both suffer from third acts that are too happy and clean when compared to the level of emotional complexity that came before.

Monday, October 5

Son of Saul (directed by László Nemes)
If you’re anything like me, then you also think you’ve seen enough Holocaust movies. In the last decade or so, we’ve got one after another lame and stagnant movie about Nazi-era Germany. So, I was ecstatic when Son of Saul, the feature film debut of Hungarian director Lászlo Nemes, turned up to be not only a good movie, but among the best movies to play at this year’s New York Film Festival.

The movie’s formal conceit is a brilliant one, and the thing that most clearly sets it apart from most recent attempts at finding something different to say about the Holocaust. And even then the movie does focus on an aspect of the Holocaust that we haven’t seen before: this is the story of a Sonderkommando, which is to say a concentration camp prisoner who was forced to be part of the work unit in charge of the extermination and disposal of prisoners. Going back to the film’s aesthetic, though, Nemes follows his protagonist so closely that he is often the only focused thing on screen. The background, and the atrocities happening around the protagonist are all distorted. We don’t see them, we only listen to the sounds of death and misery.

Son of Saul is relentless filmmaking, one of the striking movies that uses formal and technical inventiveness (both in sonic and visual design) to capture a specifically horrific moment in history. I urge you to look for it when it starts its theatrical run in the U.S. around December 18.

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