An indie hit that premiered to a standing ovation at 2015’s Sundance Film Festival, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a witty take on the geeky male coming-of-age story, and will almost definitely make you cry. When the sarcastic senior Greg is forced by his wine-swilling mom to befriend Rachel because she’s dying from leukemia, other YA adaptations (the film is based on the eponymous debut novel by Jesse Andrews) have taught us to expect a blooming romance between the two adolescents. Yet this is a different kind of story, with second-time director Alfonso-Gomez Rejon’s likable protagonists forming another sort of bond, while he has cinephile viewers foaming at the mouth with offbeat aesthetic choices and about as many art house references any movie buff can recognize in one sitting.
The first director to successfully tackle a Thomas Pynchon novel, Paul Thomas Anderson has done so with great gusto. It’s 1970, and we enter a world in which the carefree sixties are slowly vanishing but its pot-loving, shaggy-haired lost souls aren’t ready for those sweet hippy days to be gone. Among them is Doc, a private eye whose ex-girlfriend Shasta ropes him into a quest to save her current business tycoon boyfriend from a plot concocted by his wife and her boyfriend. Things get messy from there on, as if Anderson’s film is as hopped up as its stoner protagonist is. Pynchon’s labyrinthine prose shows up in cut-up narratives and a parade of characters played by familiar faces (Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Josh Brolin, Maya Rudolph, etc.) who all change identities with apparent ease. In Inherent Vice nothing’s for certain, but a whole lot of it is certainly belly-achingly funny.
A lightweight pic, yet in the best kind of way, Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight should make for an entertaining, if not to say romantic, night of movie watching under the starry night’s sky. The neurotic affair is again central stage in Allen’s 2015 film (the prolific veteran director has made a movie a year for over 30 years, a pace few others keep up) set in 1920s France. Stanley, a down-to-earth illusionist and debunker of fake spiritualists, played earnestly by Colin Firth, clashes completely in philosophical mindsets with the young clairvoyant Sophie Baker (Emma Stone at her most charming). What follows is a breezy romance elevated by gorgeous shots of the Côte d’Azur.
‘As long as you don’t choose, everything remains possible.’ It’s our main hero Nemo’s biggest hang-up and greatest curse, the fact that he appears never to have chosen. When questioned by a journalist about his life story, different versions keep hacking into each other until none is left standing. Was Nemo raised by his mother or his father? Was he married to Anna, Elise, or was Jean the one? Jared Leto plays Mr. Nobody, a man who doesn’t exist because there isn’t one single life to point to, with incredible reach in what is perhaps one of Belgian director Jaco van Dormael’s most underestimated films.
The epitome of a movie that kicks the radars in your head into motion, the smartly crafted sci-fi thriller Ex Machine blurs the lines between man and machine by way of introducing Ava. Ava, one of the most convincing instances of artificial intelligence ever seen on screen, was made by Nathan, a brilliant tech billionaire holed up in a remote mansion in the woods – not to say lair – where he keeps what seems like his self-created dream girl for testing. Whether or not she is truly self-aware is meant to be gleaned from her interactions with the talented young programmer, Caleb, who Nathan flies over for the occasion. As both Caleb and the audience sink further into the spell of Alicia Vikander’s Ava, the question of her autonomy becomes more frightening and more intriguing with each passing frame.