Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The one movie I hadn't seen

Picking a movie to watch in our house can be a bit of a hassle, since I've always already seen most of the good candidates.

Which is not a problem for me, since I don't mind rewatching films if I liked them. But my wife finds it a bit disappointing as she likes to be a part of my first time watching a movie if she can be. Especially if the movie has surprises, you want to ingest them for the first time at the same time as the person you're watching with.

The odds of resolving this age-old dilemma seemed particularly thin on Sunday night, when we were only just getting organized our possible viewing options at about 6:30, and needed to download something before we intended to start watching it around 8:30. Streaming wasn't an option because we were going to watch it in the garage, where the noise would not keep our kids awake, but where our WiFi is shit.

My wife was tasked with searching iTunes for something she would like to watch, knowing she was under a time crunch.

"It's all so hopeless because you've already seen everything," she said, coming into the kitchen. I feared our evening was destined for a Plan B or even a Plan C.

"I know you've already probably seen it, but what about Nocturnal Animals?"

I hadn't seen it. Miracle of miracles.

We started downloading immediately, and with the benefit of shutting off other wireless connections around the house and plugging directly into the ethernet cable, we had it downloaded and ready to watch by 8:40.

It was pretty unlikely that I hadn't seen this, as it was a prominent 2016 release with big stars and ambitions, and it was released in plenty of time for me to watch it before my ranking deadline. But it just got lost in the shuffle, as November releases sometimes do, and having seen the trailer about five times kind of diminished some of my eagerness to prioritize it.

But had I seen it, it would have been a candidate for my top ten.

Not only is this a satisfying and engrossing thriller, with an intense yet relatable psychology underpinning it, but it also pulls off the nifty narrative trick of following three parallel storylines, involving the same characters in different time periods and the same actors playing themselves and characters in a book, without once being confusing to follow. I admired Tom Ford's first feature, A Single Man, though my actual affection for it was limited. So I had no idea he was capable of something like this. Perhaps that's also the case because I had pigeonholed him as a guy whose projects would focus on homosexuality, him being a gay man himself, but that was clearly unfair and I feel like a fool to have ascribed limited ambitions to him. (Many times when someone crosses over from another visual art -- in Ford's case, fashion design -- it's to pursue very specific thematic interests, but that's not the case with Ford. Neither was it the case with John Cameron Mitchell, a one-time actor, who pursued LGBT subject matter in Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus before going completely the other way with Rabbit Hole. But I'm getting sidetracked.)

The other exceptional aspect of this movie is the acting, up to and including incidental characters. Acting nominations went to Michael Shannon (Oscars) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Golden Globes), and they may be the standouts. But Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal are doing great work as well, and I think I prefer what Adams is doing here to what she did in her more widely acclaimed 2016 work in Arrival. Gyllenhaal seems to set aside some of the tics that he can sometimes rely on too heavily and just gives a performance that's truthful.

To nitpick for just a moment though ... what the hell is going on with Amy Adams' age in this movie? She's playing a character who has been divorced for at least 19 years. She says at one point that she hasn't seen her ex (Gyllenhaal) in that long, so the divorce could have been even longer ago. Add another year or two on to that and she must have gotten married when she was like 20, though the character says she is in grad school. Amy Adams is 42 ... could she be playing older here? Unusual for an actress. Or maybe it's just weird to think that she and Gyllenhaal (age 36) are old enough to have teenage children.

But that's just a nit, and now that I've picked it, I'm not even sure it doesn't add up.

And let's hope we have as much luck the next time my wife blindly attempts to identify something I haven't seen.

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