Driveways (Andrew Ahn, 2020). There are few stories of bonding more cliched than the sad, lonely child who befriends a crusty elderly fellow, both growing in charming and moving ways because of the relationship. That makes it borderline miraculous that director Andrew Ahn shaped a film that doesn’t notably diverge from the template and yet feels smart and truthful. Opting for understatement is key, and working with skilled actors who adhere to that tone and sidestep sentimentality is equally invaluable. Lucas Jaye is very capable as Cody, the boy looking for a pal, and Hong Chau being her usual piercing naturalism as his mother. Driveways benefits most from the presence of Brian Dennehy, as the neighbor. In his last role, Dennehy gives a master class in quiet certitude as a form of emotional authenticity.
Babyteeth (Shannon Murphy, 2020). Milla (Eliza Scanlen) is an Australian high school student who is living with cancer, which strengthen the mordant outlook that was clearly provided to his by gently off-kilter parents (Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn). Partially as a coping mechanism, perhaps, she builds a relationship with Moses (Toby Wallace), a young man in his early twenties with reprobate instincts that suggest his own set of troubles. Shannon Murphy directs Babyteeth with a restless, striking sense of style, but her storytelling is rickety. Despite the heavy topics in play, and some skilled actors among her cast, she never manages to add the necessary weight to the intense feelings zinging around. The film winds up an empty exercise, just an artier version of the melodrama of youth swarmed with medical tragedy of The Fault in Our Stars, which has already spawned plenty of variants.
Collective (Alexander Nanau, 2020). In Bucharest, Romania, in 2015, a pyrotechnics effect during a punk show starts a fire in a small, cramped club, resulting in twenty-seven immediate deaths and leaving nearly two hundred more injured, some severely. Dozens more died in the hospital while awaiting proper care. This relentless, beautifully crafted documentary, directed by Alexander Nanau, first traces investigative journalists working to expose the government and health care industry malfeasance that prolonged and intensified the pain of the victims, and then expands the focus to the patient advocate who was appointed health minister in the wake of the scandal. Nanua’s level of access is remarkable, and he expertly, unobtrusively captures the myriad of ways that corrupt, damage systems repel efforts to improve the lives of average — and sadly powerless — citizens. Collective is a rueful treatise delivered through exceptional filmmaking.