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Good news: Your weekend moviegoing needs have been simplified. Every Thursday morning, our What To See guide will highlight the new releases opening in New York City and NYC repertory screenings that are most worth your time.
Here's your guide for the weekend of September 25 – September 27.
Proof that saying goodbye to Spider-Man is the best thing Andrew Garfield could've ever done…
99 Homes (2015)
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Noah Lomax
The frivolousness of the Academy Awards is obvious in its limited-to-five Best Actor and Best Actress nominations ballots. By reducing the year’s myriad excellent performances to that measly number, they’re inherently ignoring work that’s more deserving of a statue but, due to industry politics (read: no Harvey Weinstein promotion muscle), get left in the dust. This year's awards season chatter will most likely not include Andrew Garfield for Best Actor and Michael Shannon for Best Supporting Actor, and that’s bullshit. Their turns in the outstanding 99 Homes are worthy of shiny hardware shaped in the form of a naked dude.
Directed by Ramin Bahrini (Chop Shop), 99 Homes is an intensely gripping Faustian morality tale that’ll hit home for a sadly large number of viewers in today's economic climate. Shannon reconfigures his usual on-the-verge-of-insanity menace into a disarmingly cool evil to play rick Carver, a Florida real estate tycoon who gets off on screwing blue-collar folks out of their homes and reaping the profits. He finds a desperate new protégé in Dennis Nash (Garfield), a down-and-out construction worker who's struggling to support his young son (Noah Lomax) and his mother (Laura Dern). In Carver, Dennis finds monetary salvation, even if it means the annihilation of his morals; in Dennis, Carver merely sees another way to fatten his bank account.
Watching 99 Homes is akin to spending two hours inside a human-sized vice grip. Through little more than words and reactions, Bahrani stages some of the year’s most intense movie sequences, chief of which is the film’s ending, a firebomb of explosive volatility that’s equally mesmerizing and devastating. If 99 Homes as a whole is an emotional workout, its conclusion is a 200-pound weight falling on the viewer’s chest. The main person dropping it is Garfield, whose all-around brilliant performance in 99 Homes culminates into an overpowering barrage of tears, screams, and monstrous acting in the final moments. It's the quintessential "Oscar telecast clip," and chances are it's just as good, if not better, than whatever clips you'll see on Oscar night.
Where to see it: Angelika Film Center, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 11:25 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 7:10 p.m., 9:45 p.m.
Because it's about time that Ben Mendelsohn becomes a household name…
Mississippi Grind (2015)
Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Ben Mendelsohn, Sienna Miller, Analeigh Tipton, Alfre Woodard
As actors, Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn couldn’t be any more different. Reynolds, classically handsome and effortlessly charming, is the prototypical Hollywood leading man, even if most of his role choices have been catastrophically ill-advised; Mendelsohn, all down-and-dirty grit and uniquely lived-in authenticity, looks like he was born to be the world's greatest character actor, and with his Emmy-nominated work in Netflix’s original series Bloodline, the Aussie veteran is now en route to fulfilling that prophecy.
Being that they're so drastically dissimilar, pairing Reynolds and Mendelsohn in a buddy dramedy/road trip movie seems like a potentially oil-and-vinegar-like set-up. Therein lies Mississippi Grind’s biggest strength: the chemistry shared between Reynolds and Mendelsohn is instantaneous and unquestionably genuine. They’re not acting—they’re coexisting.
Mississippi Grind is the latest film from co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, whose previous films Half Nelson and Sugar remain two of the strongest independent films of the last ten years. With this one, though, they've outdone themselves. On its surface, this slow-paced and beautifully realized duel character study is about the negative sides of gambling dependency; subtextually, it’s about two men's addiction to losing, and to considering themselves to be losers. Mendelsohn plays a sad sack who keeps getting worked over at poker tables while his ex-wife hates him and the bookies he owes money to threaten him; Reynolds plays a slick-talking drifter who uses poker more for conversation than financial gain. They meet randomly in Iowa, strike up a quick friendship, and decide to trek down to New Orleans for a big-money table game.
Each actor gives a career-best performance, although the always great Mendelsohn essentially channels more of his Bloodline character’s self-destructiveness and emotional defeatism. Reynolds, though, continues to redefine his on-screen persona, following up his earlier 2015 indie standout The Voices with another against-type portrayal of subtle vulnerability.
Where to see it: Angelika Film Center, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 11:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 7:00 p.m., 9:45 p.m.
Travel back to America's darkest days with a trio of unique tour guides…
The Keeping Room (2015)
Director: Daniel Barber
Stars: Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, Muna Otaru, Sam Worthington, Kyle Soller
Imperator Furiosa, the breakout superheroine in this summer's Mad Max: Fury Road, played by Charlize Theron, has three new allies—they're just from the Civil War-era South, not her post-apocalyptic future. And they're the heroes of this year's best women-driven genre movie not titled, that's right, Mad Max: Fury Road.
The Keeping Room takes place on and around an isolated farm in the Carolinas in 1865. Two sisters, played by Brit Marling (Sound of My Voice) and Hailee Steinfeld (Pitch Perfect 2), are surviving on their own alongside Mad (Muna Otaru), their family's last remaining slave. The older sister, Augusta (Marling), treats Mad with respect, while the younger sibling, Louise (Steinfeld), continues to look down on her, due to her family's southern-minded belief system. The three women are forced to abandon all racial tension and social rankings, though, when two malevolent Union soldiers (Sam Worthington, Kyle Soller) show up on their land looking to rape, pillage, and wreak havoc.
Subverting the oppressed-underdog-fights-back and rape/revenge sub-genres' tropes, The Keeping Room is part lo-fi action movie yet all pro-woman empowerment, backed by a trio of excellent performances and Hart's thoroughly character-driven script. Every other film set in the Civil War focuses on the male soldiers' experiences or the horrific ordeals encountered by slaves; The Keeping Room, however, is purely feminine and skillfully sidesteps racial turmoil in favor of a colorblind womanly bond.
Where to see it: Village Cinemas East, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 11:00 a.m., 1:15 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 5:45 p.m., 8:05 p.m., 10:25 p.m.
If you think Saturday Night Live is comedy's most important institution, this might change your mind…
Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon (2015)
Director: Douglas Tirola
It's fitting that a documentary about Harvard University's seminal The Harvard Lampoon humor mag is one of the funniest docs in recent memory. Without the Harvard-established National Lampoon brand, comedy as we know be a hell of a lot different, and certainly less, you know, funny. But what’s so great about Douglas Tirola’s sprawling, all-hands-on-deck film is how much justice it does for National Lampoon’s incredibly formative gatekeeper status. More than just a magazine, it evolved into a live theatrical show, a radio program, and the series of movies that gave us Animal House and Chevy Chase's Vacation franchise. And, more so than Saturday Night Live, it spawned multiple comedy-dominating careers.
Tirola zones in on the Lampoon’s two most important staffers, Henry Beard and Doug Kenney. They’re the enterprising and whipsmart Harvard students who, over the course of a decade, from 1970 through 1980, handed out big breaks to a who's who roster of all-time great comedians: Jim Belushi, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead makes Henry and Beard’s importance abundantly clear. As the film points out, when it came time to launch SNL in 1975, Lorne Michaels wisely cherry-picked Henry and Beard’s most reliable friends and collaborators.
Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead traces the Lampoon’s long and dramatic history, warts and in-fights and all. Tirola assembled all of the surviving members, most of whom have gone on to have successful TV and film writing careers, to share Lampoon office anecdotes, and their stories about marijuana binges and late-night sexual trysts are wildly entertaining and unsurprisingly uproarious. But the film’s lasting effects come from the interviewees' collective honesty. While watching Chevy Chase lament over the mysterious 1980 death of his great pal Doug Henry, something becomes obvious: the best comedy always comes from an honest place.
Where to see it: IFC Center, Friday and Saturday at 10:50 a.m. 12:50 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 5:15 p.m., 7:40 p.m., 9:55 p.m., 12:05 a.m.; Sunday at 10:50 a.m., 12:50 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 5:15 p.m., 7:40 p.m., 9:55 p.m.
Here's your introduction to some of the most exciting new voices in multicultural independent cinema…
Urbanworld Film Festival 2015
Nice job, Urbanworld Film Festival programmers: you've turned what’s already a great weekend for high-quality independent cinema (see the four movies above) into a reason to spend upwards of 48 hours inside movie theaters. Goodbye, sunlight; see you next week, friends.
That's all meant sincerely, by the way.
Now in its 18th year, Urbanworld has earned a strong reputation for giving young, up-and-coming filmmakers of all backgrounds a splashy NYC platform to show their work. This year's lineup includes 14 narrative features, eight documentaries, and over 60 short films, including the intriguingly titled Forgiving Chris Brown, directed by Marquette Jones, and OkayPlayer Films’ Quest for Cuba: Questlove Brings the Funk to Havana, for which co-directors Jauretsi and Daniel Petruzzi followed The Roots' band leader Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson as he played two club nights in Havana the day after President Obama met with Raul Castro in Panama.
On the starrier side of things, Urbanworld's higher-profile Spotlight program is first-rate. The fest wraps up this Sunday night with A Ballerina’s Tale, after making its world premiere this past April at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. See esteemed hip-hop journalist turned filmmaker Nelson George’s poignant doc about Misty Copeland, who recently made history by becoming the American Ballet Theatre's first black female principal dancer.
Also featured in Urbanworld's Spotlight section are a pair of world premieres with serious rap pedigrees. The first comes from Paul Hunter, one of the hip-hop game’s most decorated music videos directors and the cameraman responsible for Puffy’s "Been Around the World" clip, as well as Usher’s "My Way," Eminem’s "The Way I Am,” Michael Jackson’s "You Rock My World," and the Pink/Lil Kim/Mya/Christina Aguilera collabo "Lady Marmalade"; Hunter will be at Urbanworld with Shame, his new R&B-minded narrative short that stars Tyrese Gibson and Jennifer Hudson and boasts Denzel Washington as a producer. Shame premieres Saturday night, at 6:00 p.m.
Urbanworld's main attraction, however (at least in our book), is Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives, a feature-length doc that pays tribute to the untouchable legacies of NYC radio pioneers Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia. Launched in the early '90s via Columbia University’s radio network, Stretch and Bob’s late-night mix show legitimized the careers of damn near every rap icon you can name by giving their then-unknown skills a public arena: the Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z, Eminem, Nas, Fat Joe, Busta Rhymes. The list is major, and so are the laughs in, and fond memories conjured up via, Radio That Changed Lives, directed by Bobbito himself. It's pure gold for rap-loving '80s babies. The film premieres tonight at 7:30 p.m.
Where to see it: Check out Urbanworld's entire schedule here.