Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: Inspired by a tweet from Matt Zoller Seitz, what widely despised (and/or financially disastrous) movie from the last few years will eventually be considered a classic?
The curios case of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” evidences how critical consensus can shift in strange ways from festival premiere to theatrical release, and how easy it is for people to jump on the backlash train. Clearly, not everyone has to love Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s adaptation of Jesse Andrews’ novel as much as I do, but it was shocking to see how a film that was so instantly beloved at Sundance, where it received both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award, could enlist so many detractors in the months that followed.
Fox Searchlight bought “Me and Earl” for a massive $12 million in Park City thinking it was poised to become a hit, but the disappointing grosses at the end of its run didn’t even make them that money back. It’s likely that both the marketing campaign and the less favorable reviews that appeared closer to its opening day were to blame, and, undoubtedly, the fact that it was up against Jurassic World did not help its cause.
But despite the indifference the world showed towards it, “Me and Earl” remains one of the most sincere, charming, and formally audacious teen dramedies amongst an ever growing list of similarly themed projects. The scene near the end when Greg (a perfectly cast Thomas Mann) shows Rachel (Olivia Clarke), who is in her dying bed no less, the movie he and Earl made for her, wrecks me every time.
Set to Brian Eno’s music, this specific and silent moment elicits incredible vulnerability from both actors and its designed to be as visually enticing as it is moving. Such heartfelt imagery might derive from Gomez-Rejon’s own grieving process given that he made the film shortly after his father had passed. That honesty sets “Me and Earl” apart and infuses it with a real directorial voice. On a lighter note, the team’s dedication to creating a large number of the cheesy adaptations of classic films that Greg and Earl dedicate their lives to in the story is an endearing and hilarious touch. I’ll be here waiting when everyone realizes they misjudged this gem.
I’m ignoring the “financially disastrous” part, because that’s true of most recent great movies. With the increased quality of film criticism and its rapid spread through on-line discussion, there are fewer true films maudits (“Knight of Cups” and “Song to Song” don’t really count, because they’ve had eloquent and vigorous enthusiasts from the start); I think that the last one, at a robust 19% on Rotten Tomatoes, is from the dawn of Film Twitter: “Gentlemen Broncos.” And while Jared Hess’s two most recent movies, “Don Verdean” and “Masterminds,” don’t quite reach its heights of inspiration, “Don Verdean,” at least, surpasses it in chutzpah; if it wasn’t as widely derided, it was more widely ignored. And since I’m counting on Hess–who’s not yet forty–to come through with a whole flotilla of inspired movies in the years to come, “Don Verdean” will endure, at least for diagnostic purposes.
Decades from now, long after Martin Scorsese has left us, and perhaps when Andrew Garfield is old and grey, some film student will look at “Silence” on their curriculum and wonder what boring, pretentious snooze-fest from their grandparents’ generation they’ll have to sit through in week eleven. But when week eleven rolls around, they’ll join years’ worth of scholars, filmmakers and film fans who realized how wrong they were for sleeping on a masterpiece.
The film barely made back half its budget – it’s no wonder Scorsese is off working with Netflix, David Ehrlich’s favourite distributor – and it wasn’t the kind of easily digestible feel-good fare to warrant year-end awards. While heavily Christian, it wasn’t for the “God’s Not Dead” crowd either, who would likely shudder at the thought of any substantial theological engagement. It most certainly isn’t for moviegoers who prefer their morality clear-cut and their conclusions straightforward. Who is it actually for, then? Well, that’s a harder to determine without first getting to the root of what it is.
No, I don’t have an answer to that. Not yet, though I’m sure I will someday. I’ve only seen the film once, a year ago, and I haven’t managed to revisit it since (though not for lack of trying), and the reason for that is simple. It is perhaps the most challenging film I’ve seen in recent years, if not ever. It’s difficult in ways that can be hard to swallow, not thanks to some penchant for gore, but because of its interrogative nature. “Silence” is like having worldview – not necessarily your own, but the very concept of outlook – turned upside down and shaken, zeroing in on the immovable building blocks of belief as their nature is called into question. It may not be a future classic by virtue of being on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but it will most certainly be a gem rediscovered.
This should have been easier but I got it… “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”
Granted, it’s not a perfect movie and has sections that go too far into the deep end and then struggles to get back to what’s already a fairly convoluted story, but it’s just such a daring movie by Luc Besson that I’m sure it’s going to be revisited over the years and respected more for the craft than for the amount of money that was spent making it.
I still can’t believe “The Nice Guys” wasn’t an instant classic. Except I can, because (grumble grumble) we don’t make genre movies hits these days unless they’re of the comic book genre. But “The Nice Guys” is a straight-up, no-holds-barred, knock-down, drag-out crowd-pleaser. Every time I watch it I’m in awe of how tightly it’s constructed, of all the details Shane Black crammed into it. Even on a fifth or sixth (or hundredth) viewing, I want to stand up and applaud that masterful plant-and-payoff involving the ankle gun Ryan Gosling thinks Russell Crowe wears, which he doesn’t because Gosling dreamt it (while driving a car and talking to a giant bee voiced by Hannibal Buress). Speaking of The Gosling, I impatiently await the brave new world where everyone realizes that in 2016 he was Oscar-nominated for the wrong movie, and that he’s best not when he’s sad or brooding but screaming like a girl and doing a pitch-perfect Lou Costello.
I’m going to go with “Mudbound.” Yes, it got a bit of awards season love, but in some alternate universe, it should’ve been a major Oscar contender in all categories. As I said in my review, something about Dee Rees’ epic is so elemental, so deeply humane, so steeped in the soil and sins of the South, it already feels like a work of great American cinema. The film evokes Malick and John Ford, but Rees brings a thrilling new perspective to her post-war story—focusing on the quiet strength of the matriarchs, played wonderfully by Carey Mulligan and a revelatory Mary J. Blige, and giving as much humanity and agency to the black sharecroppers as she does the white land owners. Any one of these stories could’ve made for a great movie: Garrett Hedlund’s glamorous dreamer humbled and diminished by PTSD; Jason Mitchell’s dutiful and self-sacrificing son; Jason Clarke’s stolid and uncomplicated farmer, as oblivious to his wife’s yearnings as he is to the social changes swirling around him. Combine this with Rachel Morrison’s gorgeous, Oscar-nominated cinematography and I’ll forever wonder how differently “Mudbound” might’ve been received if it had been released by a studio not named Netflix.
Much to my (current) chagrin, I suspect it will be “mother!,” about which I wrote, in my review, that “with [the title’s] desperate – would that it were ironic – titular exclamation point, Aronofsky announces nothing more than bombast, and delivers exactly on that promise.” Yeah, I didn’t like. Not. At. All. But I imagine that its artistic pretension will seem less obnoxious with the passage of time, and what will linger, instead, is Aronofsky’s unquestionable skill with mise-en-scène and actors (Michelle Pfeiffer is the true standout). Who knows, maybe even I will come around.
It’s got to be “mother!,” which might be the boldest studio release in years. I still can’t believe it even exists: giant corporation Viacom paid for Darren Aronofsky and Jennifer Lawrence to retell the Bible but with the audience as the main villain — and that’s before we kill and eat her Jesus baby. No wonder rubes revolted and flunked it on Cinemascore. Who wants to see that on Friday date night?
Beyond its incredible button-pushing is an expert black comedy (there are so many LOLz in “mother!”), a first-rate horror movie, and the sense that Aronofsky is in full old-man-shout-at-sky mode. He and Lawrence are at their wits’ end with the world, and mother! is a scream at the complacency — a cautionary tale that will only resonate more with future audiences. It’s the first Trump era movie about the frustration of helplessly going along, merrily in some cases, toward the end of days.
I’m almost 100 percent sure that this future classic—a wholly unintentional one—will be Louis C.K.’s “I Love You, Daddy.” If it ever gets widely seen, it will take its place as the definitive, squirm-inducing #MeToo movie, made by an artist who can already feel the target on the back of his head. Just as Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” was too close in proximity to 9/11 to not take on extra resonance, “I Love You, Daddy” vibrates with #TimesUp panic, even as it unspools in the soon-to-be-condemned universe of Woody Allen’s black-and-white urban playground. I hesitate to give any credit to C.K. himself (probably creating out of self-loathing), but John Malkovich’s performance as the Allen stand-in is incredibly off-putting—even by his lofty standards—and Chloë Grace Moretz is so good here as the naive, underdressed millennial, she should count as the movie’s real casualty.
How a movie is received by the public can be a very different than how it’s received by the press, and so I nominate “The Post” understanding full well that a $70 million haul at the box office and an Oscar nomination for Best Picture doesn’t really constitute much of a disaster. Head over to Twitter, on the other hand, and Steven Spielberg’s electrifying historical drama might as well be “The Emoji Movie.” I suspect that, for some viewers, it was a bit too soon for the timeliness that galvanized this movie in the first place — perhaps once we’ve got a bit of distance from the current moment people will be able to more easily appreciate a ferociously entertaining (and consistently hilarious) story about the power of our institutions and the grace required to uphold them.