Ranking the Films of the 2015 Austin Film Festival: Days 1 & 2
The line snaked around 4 blocks for the opening movie of the Austin Film Festival (AFF), Brian Helgeland’s Legend, starring Tom Hardy and Emily Browning. The second day of the festival was marred by tornado warnings and flash floods, but the badge-wearers cowboyed up and carried on.
I caught four movies on the first two days. Here’s how they rank:
Take A Few Good Men, subtract the electric Aaron Sorkin dialogue and the tidy resolution, and you still have a pretty engaging melodrama about military malfeasance. Reparation adds a middle-America family plotline and a creative mystery that borders on the supernatural. It’s light on humor, dark or otherwise, and plot holes abound, but there are quiet moments of simple beauty.
Newcomer is a spy thriller set in Serbia. Its plot is murky, and when the pieces come together it’s difficult to say exactly what happened or why. Yet the presentation is strong enough to compensate for storytelling lapses; a young operative goes over a botched mission with only an audio recording and a young Serbian woman to guide him, and we see different possible scenarios for the event play out in his mind. If some of his logical leaps were made less opaque to the audience, this could be a really memorable ride.
Oscar Isaac chameleons himself again but retains the otherness, the loneliness, the malevolent confidence that he has brought to some memorable roles in the past. The script of Mojave makes things plain — it announces itself as a Jesus-in-the-desert parable, making it one of two movies on that subject playing at this year’s AFF — and it never stops letting you know that it knows that you know, and so on. That won’t work for everyone; some will interpret the film’s mockery of So-Cal pretension for actual pretension, but I loved Mojave’s whiskey-stirring nihilism and its drily funny appearance by Mark Wahlberg.
An impeccable period piece gangster saga from the writer of L.A. Confidential, Legend is a must-see for several categories of movie-goers. If you like classic gangland morality tales like Goodfellas, with their blends of blood, family, and ill-gotten glamor, see Legend. If you like the look and feel of ‘60s East End London, see Legend. If you’d like to see a great actor play two very different twin brothers (with the aid of different hairstyles, but Hardy’s vocal inflections do most of the work), see Legend. One could quibble with parts of Browning’s narration and a couple of Hardy’s less subtle moments, but this is the movie of the festival so far.
We’ll be back soon to rank the next few days of the fest!