Private Life (2018)

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An author is undergoing multiple fertility therapies to get pregnant, putting her relationship with her husband on edge. (IMDb)
Almost perfectly crafted (the titles were unnecessary), with thoughtful music and camerawork (the handheld sequences were a nice touch), great turns (the main trio is magnetic), and a beautiful script (see the many beginning/end parallels) that naturally capture all the awkwardness, beauty, and pain not just of fertility treatments but of family, marriage, and growing up/old. Some threads are left hanging (see Sadie’s “our baby” comment), but that’s the way life goes (see the cliffhanger end).
8.5/10 (Amazing)

Sideways (2004)

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Two men reaching middle age with not much to show but disappointment embark on a week-long road trip through California’s wine country, just as one is about to take a trip down the aisle. (IMDb)
The constant wine talk, hazy California landscapes, smooth montages, and always-lingering chill jazz soundtrack certainly help, but ultimately it’s the subtle comedy and natural drama of the script that makes this film go down so easy and leave you wanting more by the end. Given the strength of the interplay between Miles and Jack it would have been nice to see more growth out of the latter (his breakdown in the hotel rang a little hollow) but Miles’ ending left a great taste in the mouth.
8/10 (Great)

12 Years a Slave (2013)

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In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. (IMDb)
The significance of the mid-narrative opening scene still isn’t clear as it’s returned to later on, but it’s the only thing that doesn’t connect in this affecting and well-acted (Fassbender is a highlight) period piece. McQueen’s direction is laudably and fittingly unrelenting and inaccessible, with achingly long takes (see Solomon’s tiptoe hanging) and unflinching scenes of violence (see Patsy’s whipping). Bursts of tense music also add emotional nuance to the typical sentimental soundtrack.
8/10 (Great)

Love & Mercy (2014)

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In the 1960s, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson struggles with emerging psychosis as he attempts to craft his avant-garde pop masterpiece. In the 1980s, he is a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy. (IMDb)
Maybe it’s just the two different actors, but the past and future narratives just never really feel like they share the same protagonist, which is a shame, because each story is still strongly engaging in its own right: One showcasing Wilson’s quirky brilliance and burgeoning internal struggles, the other his road to recovery and love from under the thumb of a manipulative psychiatrist, each featuring solid performances, good music, and intentionally artful editing that keeps things interesting.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Author P.L. Travers reflects on her childhood after reluctantly meeting with Walt Disney, who seeks to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the big screen. (IMDb)
A wonderfully crafted screenplay carries this touching character-driven drama:The present-time tale of rude and uptight P.L. Travers as she struggles with her book’s film adaptation is broken up by beautifully-shot scenes of her tragic childhood that gradually seep into and enlighten the current story as the complexity of her character is unraveled. Standard bits of sentimentality and humour shine bright amidst this deep script and round out a well-acted and thoughtfully written film.
8/10 (Great)