Louis C.K.: Hilarious (Louis C.K., 2010). It’s probably too much to ask that a stand-up comedy concert film reach the artistic peaks of the only example of the form that can reasonably by called cinematic art. There are limitations built right into filming a comedian on stage and too much effort to compensate for them just leads to undue fuss. Better then to be as unadorned as possible and count on the material to make the endeavor worthwhile. C.K. brings the same dedicated understatement to his directing work that shapes his darkly brilliant FX series. Luckily, C.K. is near the top of his game with this set, perhaps most notable for an expansion of the justifiably well-traveled routine about a lack of appreciation for the wonders of the technological age. The best bits, though, revolve around his unromantic examination of being a parent. Maybe the most interesting thing about the film is watching C.K. as he continually plays around with how deep he can take the audience into his grim, pitch black comedy. The ebb and flow of his show is often as compelling as the material itself.
The Wrong Man (Alfred Hitchcock, 1956). It’s not too often that a film begins with the director stepping out onto a bare soundstage to offer an introduction, but Alfred Hitchcock was a unique director. The extra explanation is thought necessary because this wasn’t one of Hitchcock’s typical suspenseful fictions, but was instead basically a docudrama. Henry Fonda plays Manny Balestrero, a musician accused of robbery. He insists his innocence while circumstantial evidence mounts against him, including damning eyewitness testimony. It’s interesting to watch the Master of Suspense employ his beloved ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances tactic with a story the necessitates restraint, but he doesn’t quite have the necessary command of human emotion played in a more sedate register. He’s better with feverish obsession than anguished resignation. Terrible turning points hit with the impact of a reel change. The film’s finest moment comes when Fonda’s character gazes around the courtroom at all the people, including jurors, who are bored or otherwise disengaged from the process, the gulf between their indifference and the grave import of this moment on his life providing as chilling of a indictment of the shortcomings of the legal system than anything else in the film.
Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968). Bullitt contains what may be the most famous car chase in the history of film. It still holds up years later. If anything, the proliferation of CGI-enhanced action sequences in recent years makes the gravity-bound kinetics of the scene even more impressive and thrilling. Otherwise, the film is a decent police thriller that doesn’t have enough momentum to carry through until the ending. Steve McQueen is strong in the title role, especially in the earliest scenes as he’s getting his bearings. Lalo Schifrin’s edgy jazz music score is so good that it nearly becomes the film’s most compelling character.
Easy A (Will Gluck, 2010). I used to occasionally go back and tweak my personal Oscar nominee lists as an open acknowledgment that my viewing is always incomplete by the time I type out my tally. I’ve given up that habit, but I was sorely tempted to after watching Easy A. I’m certain that, had I seen it at the time, Emma Stone would have been on my Best Actress list. The film is an amusing, atypically clever comedy about the treacherous nature of high school social structures with some nicely offbeat details around the fringes (none better than the genially sardonic parents played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson). Stone is something else though: wildly charismatic, emotionally true and delivering a succession of creative line readings that are such treasures that they may as well have seams of gold running through them.
Salt (Phillip Noyce, 2010). It’s a shame Angelina Jolie needs to be a star as well as an actor, because it’s far more rewarding when she prefers the latter endeavor. While I believe (or at least used to believe) Jolie revels in the adrenaline rush of jumping and punching and firing prop guns as much as any male performer who earned a living by snarling through an action movie, I haven’t enjoyed a single one of the movies she’s made in that genre. That’s partially because the balance sheet concerns that go into these films often strip them of daring and personality, but it’s also due to Jolie’s habit of forgoing the willing to dig deep into the emotions that makes her interesting. In Salt, she plays a CIA agent who’s accused of being part of a sleeper agent plot that the Russians have been cultivating for years. It’s ludicrous and full of plot holes, all of which is made worse by Noyce and everyone else choosing to play it straight instead of having fun with the material. The aspect of the film that perhaps strains believability most is the way every character onscreen is largely unfazed as they watch Jolie perform astounding physical feats.