American Animals (2018) Written & Directed by Bart Layton
In 2004, a group of college students in Lexington, Kentucky attempted to steal a rare and valuable edition of John James Audobon’s Birds of America. Over the course of a year, they mapped out the entire library where the book was kept, traveled to New York to meet with a fence, went to the Netherlands to set up a potential buyer, and developed an intricate getaway plan. But, did they actually do all of this? And why do some of them remember it in drastically different ways than others? In this clever weaving of re-enactment and documentary confessional, we see the real-life thieves and their actor counterparts lay out the story of a bizarre and seemingly hopeless heist.
Backstabbing for Beginners (2018) Written by Per Fly & Daniel Pyne Directed by Per Fly
As I’ve watched my way through A24’s catalog of films, there is one thing that always seems to signify you’re in for a bad time: The DirectTV logo. The co-productions with DirectTV are almost always a guarantee you’re in for a bad to mediocre time. Backstabbing for Beginners is no exception. The film adapts the memoir of Michael Soussan, a journalist who worked for the United Nations’ Food for Oil program. His fictional avatar in the film, Michael Sullivan holds the same job under Cypriot diplomat Costa Passaris. Sullivan quickly discovers that the system to trade Iraqi oil for food and medicine to benefit the struggling people of that nation is deeply corrupted. Sadaam’s people have allowed a black market for medicine to build up while delivering expired meds to ailing children. It’s as obvious as a sledgehammer to the face that Costa is in on the scam and so Sullivan has to gather enough evidence to take his boss down.
Thunder Road (2018) Written & Directed by Jim Cummings
“It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win” – Bruce Springsteen, “Thunder Road.”
We meet officer Jim Arnaud at his mother’s funeral. He’s the only one of her three adult children in attendance and is not processing this loss well. He stands with no remarks prepared and sobs his way through the story of how she anonymously donated a thousand dollars, so a mentally challenged girl at his school had a place to play during recess. This story meanders down narrative side streets, sharing that this same girl bit him once, how his mother recorded herself reading all his textbooks in college to help him with his dyslexia, and how she was a non-believer. Then Jim attempts to play Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” one of her favorite tracks. His daughter’s pink and purple boombox won’t work so he’s forced to silently act out the dance he had planned to accompany the song. Throughout this entire affair, he goes from barely under control to manically sob. Jim is a man in an awful place.
Widows (2018) Written by Gillian Flynn & Steve McQueen Directed by Steve McQueen
Veronica Rawlings is alone in the world. Her husband Harry, a famous thief in the Chicago area, was killed in a heist gone wrong. Harry always knew which authorities to butter up and how to stay ahead of the law, so Veronica has become accustomed to a very luxurious lifestyle. The men Harry stole from turn up a couple of weeks after the funeral with demands for the money. They give her two weeks to come up with it, or they will return to make her life the repayment. Veronica reaches out to the widows of the men that were killed alongside Harry and shares his notebook with them, a leather-bound journal detailing a series of future robberies he was planning. Veronica plans to pull off one of these crimes to pay back the men looming over her and escape to start a new life.
Lean on Pete (2018)
Written & Directed by Andrew Haigh
Charley is a boy with a rough, uncertain life. His mother ran out on him and his Dad when Charley was young, and now Dad shuffles them around from place to place, never staying long enough to plant any roots. Charley loved when they lived with Aunt Margy, but there was an argument and another move. Now the duo has settled in Portland where Dad is fooling around with a married woman and failing to keep food in the house. Sixteen-year-old Charley discovers a horse racing track nearby and gets a job helping Del with his racehorses. Charley feels an instant bond towards Lean on Pete, an aging quarterhorse whom Del seems eager to get rid of. As the boy and his horse’s relationship grows, and life at home falls apart, Charley feels an urge to run.
The Last Movie Star (2018)
Written & Directed by Adam Rifkin
Vic Edwards (played by and loosely based on Burt Reynolds) has passed his prime as an A-list actor in Hollywood. His glory days were the 1970s, and now he’s a frail old man living alone in his gated estate in 2018. A letter comes from Nashville inviting him to a film festival where he will be awarded a lifetime achievement honorific. Vic debates going and finally gives but arrives to find the event is not prestigious but operated out of a bar. The organizers are enthusiastic fans of his work, but Vic feels lied to and humiliated. He eventually strikes up a friendship with one of the organizer’s sisters, Lil, a troubled young woman who reminds Vic of his daughter. Together they journey back to Vic’s childhood home so he can account for some of his past mistakes.
The Vanishing of Sidney Hall (2018)
Written by Shawn Christensen & James Dolan
Directed by Shawn Christensen
The film opens with the title character, Sidney Hall clacking away at a short story for his high school English class. We cut to him reading said story, interspersed with images of a faceless cheerleader. The story ends up being a piece of self-indulgent misogyny, all about boiling a depersonalized crush into a figure of adolescent masturbation. This is our…protagonist. Sidney Hall. In a flurry of scenes that follow we find Hall becoming a famous published author and finally into a homeless recluse, announcing that this film will be about the search for who this man is and why he is doing what he does. I can’t emphasize how horrible this movie is.