Labor Day is traditionally among the worst movie-going weekends of the year. For most of the country, this probably has something to do with enjoying the last rays of warmth and sunshine, but that’s obviously not a concern for Angelenos. Still, Hollywood has pretty much abandoned the long weekend, using it as a dumping ground for summer misfires while the marketing and publicity departments gear up the Oscar contenders for the Toronto International Film Festival. Despite a relatively weak crop of movies this summer, there are still a few worthwhile stragglers out there, as well as some potential early Oscar picks.
If you want to see a film that won’t earn a Best Picture nomination but probably should: Sean Baker’s Tangerine might even be a little too daring for the increasingly staid Independent Spirit Awards. The film’s narrative about a transgender working girl on a jilted Christmas Eve rampage to track down her pimp-and-lover may not sound like it’s for everyone… but it should be. Filmed on the streets of Los Angeles using iPhone cameras, it’s freewheeling, hyper-realist cinema about oddball outsiders in the style of John Cassavetes or early Paul Thomas Anderson. So much of independent film seems to focus on the aimlessness of recent college graduates that it’s refreshing to see anything which even acknowledges the existence of more marginalized individuals, let alone humanizes their lives to this extent.
If you want to see a film that will earn a Best Actor nomination: Mr. Holmes is definitely more Masterpiece Theater than actual masterpiece, but it does feature an excellent performance by Sir Ian McKellen as the aging version of literature’s most famous detective. Yes, there certainly is some gimmickry afoot in repurposing Sherlock Holmes as a meta-critic of John Watson’s version of his character. However, Bill Condon’s film provides a pleasant, satisfying narrative that’s a throwback to the heyday of the Merchant/Ivory productions. But really, it’s an opportunity to watch McKellen transform the two dimensional cleverness of Holmes into a surprising portrayal of human frailty and regret.
If you want to see a film that will earn a Best Actress nomination: Paul Weitz’s Grandma has been the surprise indie film hit of the summer largely thanks to positive word of mouth and Lily Tomlin’s work in the title role. It’s a small, quirky comedy from a director who has never really settled into the mainstream, yet Weitz is capable enough to know what to do with Tomlin’s unique talent. Tomlin is a gifted comic who is equally adept at drama, but somehow always best in roles that balance these two qualities, such as in her Robert Altman films or the feminist classic 9 to 5. Given the lack of movies focusing on women in Tomlin’s age bracket, Grandma also proves that these films can succeed without Meryl Streep on the poster.
If you want to see the film based on the book about the book you’ll never read: James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour recounts the burgeoning literary stardom of David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) and the ensuing literary envy of journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg). Personally, I’m always skeptical of biopic films, as well as “true stories” about great works of fiction, but that’s speaking from my own bias. With solid performances from two interesting actors, The End of the Tour could be another film in the conversation around awards season. And if the film somehow motivates more people to actually finish Infinite Jest, more power to it.
If you want to see a thriller you mistakenly thought was a comedy: there are two options courtesy of Joel Edgerton’s The Gift and Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth. Neither film turns out to be what you expect. And that’s a good thing.
Adam Dunlop-Farkas is a freelance journalist and screenwriter who lives and works in Los Angeles.