Yesterday morning was a writing frenzy followed by three films over a ten-hour period — Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson‘s Anomolisa at 1 pm, Tom McCarthy‘s Spotlight at 4:15 pm and Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin‘s Steve Jobs at 8 pm (starting a half-hour late). Each involved a longish line-wait. Then a steady downpour arrived with the darkness. And then I attended a smallish, elegant Steve Jobs after-party a little after 10 pm. Around 11 pm I hit the Sheridan bar for about ten minutes, and then a combination of elements (spirit, energy, stamina) began to sag and collapse and I decided to march back to the pad. Now I’m up again at 5:30 am.
This is the gig and the burden, and sometimes you just have to shake it off and man up and come up with terse, shorter-that-Twitter responses. Spotlight = total pleasure-principle moviegoing within the realm of a go-getter journalism saga. Steve Jobs = a brilliant, bold-as-brass, somewhat arid tour de force that’s written like a play but is expertly goosed and pumped by bravura directing and editing and stellar performances, first and foremost Michael Fassbender‘s Steve Jobs but also Kate Winslet‘s Joanna Hoffman. Anomalisa = another humanistic downhead visit to Charlie Kaufmanland — an amusing, occasionally touching stop-motion piece about a pudgebod asshole visiting a No Exit hotel in Cincinatti and slowly dispensing his depression-fueled mustard-gas vibes to one and all.
I was so happy and delighted with Spotlight that 20 minutes after it began I was telling myself I want to see it again. Obviously I was debating whether I should even toy with this idea as it would interfere with the professional necessity of seeing other festival attractions like Room, Beasts of No Nation, 45 Years, Marguerite, Time To Choose, etc. But I was getting such a gripping, step-by-step, mother’s milk high from Spotlight that I really wanted to double up on it. This is what a pleasurable experience does to you. It makes you a little nuts.
This is the best pure-journalism flick since All The President’s Men, and it doesn’t have any emotional relationship sideplots or car chases or bogeymen stalking journalists in dark, rain-slicked alleys…nothing to supplement or distract from the story at hand. Spotlight is completely familiar and by-the-book — it’s certainly no ambitious game-changer like Steve Jobs — and yet it’s immensely smart and engagingly complex and quite satisfying. It runs 128 minutes, and I was feeling so engaged and fulfilled that I would have been totally okay with a three-hour running time. It’ll definitely be a hit with Joe Popcorn, critics, Academy and guild members — nothing but smooth sailing. Yes, I understood that it wasn’t delivering anything bold or brash in terms of approach or execution, and I didn’t care and neither will you.
Spotlight is a fact-based procedural (set in ’01 and early ’02) about a team of Boston Globe journalists going after a Boston archdiocese and a political network of Catholic-kowtowing flunkies who were either ignoring or protecting child-molesting priests. It’s directed in such a clean and unobtrusive manner and acted in a not-too-forced, just-right fashion by everyone top-to-bottom (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Brian d’Arcy, John Slatery, Gene Amoroso, Jamey Sheridan, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup…a knI ckout cast) that right after it ended I tweeted as follows: “It sounds distasteful to say this given the root subject matter, but Tom McCarthy‘s Spotlight is pure pleasure…totally gripping stuff.”
I’m not sure I’m ready to dispense laser-like, cut-to-the-chase assessments of yesterday’s trio as we speak, but I can tell you this: Steve Jobs was the bravest, boldest and pushiest of the three — a three-act “talk opera” (Sasha Stone‘s term) or “verbal action film” (a guy at Universal suggested that one) or aggressive cine-theatre (my own) but a film that felt more impressively conceived and poundingly ambitious than affecting or, truth be told, likable.
There’s really only one emotional-contact moment, an impulsive hug thing between Michael Fassbender‘s Jobs and his daughter Lisa, played as a nine year-old by Ripley Sobo. Okay, there are two but the second one (i.e., the last ten minutes between Jobs and his now 19 year-old daughter) doesn’t work as well. But that’s not the intent, of course. Am I a hotshot columnist from West Hollywood or a Riverside County housewife who goes to movies for emotional soothings? I’m better than that and so is the exceptional, high-throttle Steve Jobs.
You have to take each film by its own scheme and determinations, and with a film as aggressively verbal and drill-bitty as Steve Jobs terms like “affecting” and “likable” are almost certainly beside the point. With a film like this you either you jump on the luge and submit to the speed and the brain-cell exhilaration…or you don’t. And what would be the damn point of not submitting to it?
I jumped on, all right, and by the end of the two-hour Steve Jobs ride I felt tingly and throbbing and, yes, a bit drained and also a teeny bit sorry that I wasn’t as delighted as I’d expected to be. Which I fully concede is at least partly my fault as I’d fallen head-over-heels in love with Sorkin’s script two or three months ago. Dazzled by it, glad-to-be-alive contact highs, “this is what brilliance feels like,” etc. You see a certain movie in your head when you’re reading a highly charged, original-attitude script, and then you see the film’s version and it’s like, “Oh…well, okay, this is how they saw it.” It never bored me, it kept me on my toes, it delivers a kind of hammerhead contact high…but I wasn’t feeling that levitational thing. But I was impressed big-time and I’ll never argue with anyone who might come along and say “you need to see it again.”
You know what would be interesting some day? To see Steve Jobs, which is basically a three-act hit piece focusing on three Jobs-orchestrated product demonstrations in ’84 (Macintosh), ’88 (NeXT cube) and ’98 (iMac), performed on stage. But I’m ready right now to take the movie-ride again because sometimes a film is so compacted and heavily charged that you need a second viewing to really get the all of it. Tony Gilroy‘s brilliant, intensely talky Michael Clayton was like that for me — I felt a bit distanced at first, but ten or twelve viewings later I’m now convinced it’s one of the great 21st Century dramas.
I could go on and on but I’m determined to make the most of my final full day at Telluride, and that means catching Scott Cooper and Johnny Depp‘s Black Mass at the Galaxy (which is only two or three blocks away) at 9 am, or an hour from now. I haven’t gotten into Anomalisa yet, and it’s not thorough or considerate to just paste three or four tweets that I tapped out yesterday, but that’s all I have time for. I’ll force myself back into the Anomalisa soup sometime between thsi afternoon and Tuesday. It’s very distressing to bolt before something’s finished but I don’t know what else to do. I’ll try to make up for it later.