Fifteen years ago, Steven Soderbergh released his drug war epic Traffic, which co-starred Benicio del Toro and explored the various levels of the War On Drugs from the streets of Mexico to the prep schools of Cincinnati. It was a movie that illustrated just how devastating and widespread drugs had become and how they could corrupt anyone they touched. Now, we have Sicario, this one directed by Denis Villeneuve and also co-starring del Toro. While Traffic is about the insidious threat of drugs and how good people struggle to confront it, Sicario is about the equally-insidious war that is being waged in response, and how people are driven to terrible extremes trying to serve that goal.
Over at Birth.Movies.Death (one of the best film sites currently going), they are in the midst of what EIC Devin Faraci has dubbed “Septemberg”, a celebration of Steven Spielberg’s career and influence through his amazing films. If any filmmaker deserves a month of recognition and analysis it would be Spielberg; I think it would be safe to say that Steven Spielberg is one of the well-known and well-respected filmmakers in the history of the medium. And while some of my twentysomething peers might be too willfully contrarian to appreciate Spielberg’s work, the general critical and commercial consensus suggests that is not the prevaling perspective. Given that, I won’t I need to bother naming Spielberg’s greatest hits, as everyone reading this is probably aware of them. But no matter how well-versed one might be in Spielberg’s filmography, when you have a career as long and multifaceted as this, some films are bound to be lost in the shuffle. In my case, I recently came to realize that out of the 27 full-length theatrical feature films Spielberg has directed so far, there are only 5 films of his that I had not seen: The Sugarland Express, 1941, The Color Purple, Always and The Terminal. So in honor of Septemberg, I decided to rectify this oversight and see what such a selection of films might reveal about the evolution of one of the all-time great filmmakers.
Being in love can result in many different things, and when you combine a couple’s natural chemistry with a great deal of anxiety and sexual awkwardness it can often lead to comedy, something that rom-coms often capture very well. But only a few rom-coms really sell the “rom” part of the equation to me, and even fewer convey the other major factor in any romantic relationship: pain. As often as love can lead to laughter and swooning, it can also lead to hurt feelings and bitter tears, as even the most stable and loving of couples are no doubt aware. It is this feeling that Sleeping With Other People captures better than almost any rom-com I can recall. Writer/director Lesley Headland perfectly expresses the highs and the lows of being in love, and how difficult it can be to accept both sides of the equation in pursuit of a real relationship, and the result is nothing less than one of my favorite films of the year.
This month’s schedule is a microcosm of the classic September lineup, as much so as either of the past two Septembers I’ve previewed. It’s a month full of dark horse films, the sort of movies that don’t fully fall into any particular studio promotional box. For those complaining about how superhero movies are drowning out the serious midrange adult dramas, this is the month to put your money where your mouth is. But even if those sorts of movies aren’t your thing, there are more than enough alternatives to balance them out.