I'm going to go through a few fairly quickly. I'm well aware that I'm becoming a cheap date these days but there's a lot to like in all of these films.
Ant-Man (Peyton Reed)
The best thing I can say about Ant-Man is that creeping in the back of my mind at all times was the notion that this movie is monumentally stupid. All of Scott Lang's "tasks" in befriending ants all but scream for audiences to check out in the face of franchise necessity. But the whole thing is so swiftly cut that I never entirely got a chance to check out. At once it's a film in search of a voice and of many voices. It's Marvel film so it's of the cookie-cutter, the villain is boilerplate, it serves to build up a larger slate, and the plot is more suited for television. On the other hand, the comedy is both Ferrell/McKay conversational but also Wright quick. You can easily pick apart which scenes belong to which auteur. The scenes where Michael Pena relays stories to Paul Rudd involving his voice over other actor's mouths is perfectly executed. While the film never decides if (or really allows) Paul Rudd's Scott Lang to be principled hero or scoundrel (mark my words, future Marvel projects will cast him as the small doses latter), its' still a film of personality and weird touches. His shrink/enlarging powers never once got old for me. There's nothing in Age of Ultron that intrigued me as much as any fight he partook in. The performances are also more in unison than usual which is odd considering how broad the bulk of them are with how straight Michael Douglas plays this. He's terrific and I feel painfully aged to look at the startling "Young Michael Douglas" effect from the beginning and actively remember it from films of my adolescence.
The End of the Tour (James Ponsoldt)
I can't fight the notion that David Foster Wallace holds this film back. The End of the Tour begs the audience to project onto the screen the experience of going on this road trip with this special man and so the fact that the window opened into Wallace's life really isn't that illuminating gets a bit of a pass. I wouldn't call the film fawning but I kept wondering if it was. It benefits immeasurably from James Ponsoldt's directing. I now want to go and watch Off the Black and Smashed and perhaps The Spectacular Now again. He hasn't made a close to great film yet but watching his films is very pleasurable. His films are lovely exteriors, usually of interiors. Jason Segal and Jesse Eisenberg are both very good. Like Jason Schwartzman, Jesse Eisenberg is carving out a pretty great career of lending and tweaking his persona to worthy projects. David Lipsky is a glad-hander with a forced nervous giggle and he stands out from Eisenberg's other roles as a spiritual sequel performance to his The Squid and the Whale role. And I have nothing new to add to the praise Jason Segal has received from this performance aside from saying I knew this guy. I have no doubt that he doesn't do perfect justice to Glenn Kenny's memories of Wallace, but Segal gets at something else that reminded me of so many friends come and gone. If the film has a failing it's that it doesn't recognize enough that it doesn't take someone as special as David Lipsky to come along to get Wallace to open up. Segal plays Wallace as the kind of guy who could forge a meaningful communication with anybody but that's the side of himself that he works from as an artist so he doesn't entirely trust it anymore. I've never seen this side of Segal before but he's always come across as someone well-acquainted with disappointment and the film works best as a beautifully shot one man show.
Love and Mercy (Bill Pohland)
This is a gorgeous production that has no chance of getting nearly the awards consideration it deserves. I can't call it a great film because it veers into show-off territory and it's a biopic but what a good-looking, good-sounding film! Pohland has the potential to make a very good film in the future but also (as judging from his trippy Brian Wilson bedside encounter with demons scene) a pretty insufferable one too. As a dual narrative, the film is wise in how it manages to somehow make the most fruitfully creative period of Brian Wilson's career feel equally incident-driven as his 1980s malaise where truthfully Elizabeth Banks is the protagonist. To speak more of the Paul Dano story, the way that it covers Pet Sounds, Good Vibrations, and then begins on Smile essentially turns that narrative into one of pure creativity and struggle which places it in direct opposition to the John Cusack scenes of stagnation. If they just focused on one musical triumph in the past, I think it would have more peaks and valleys and ultimately result in a more lopsided film. Smart writing. The scenes with young Brian Wilson are great in a kind of fool-proof way but Bill Pohland has so much fun with them and Paul Dano is perfect casting. I also loved the member of the Beach Boys who is rapidly losing his patience with Wilson's music, at one point very reasonably saying "Even the happy songs sound sad." The scenes in the 1980s suffer from John Cusack as Brian Wilson. There are myriad reasons why it's just not as compelling and I'm going to chalk some of it up to a lack of confidence that staging Elizabeth Banks as the protagonist would work out so well. She's very strong and the early scenes benefit from a real weirdness as Wilson is just followed by bodyguards without explanation, and yet she conveys interest in an unexpectedly genuine fashion. It also benefits from one of the most enjoyably nasty Paul Giamatti performances since Private Parts, where again finds something at once loathsome and recognizably human and specifically weak. I'm not sure if Love and Mercy could have been a great film and I don't love where it chooses to end (this is not a film about getting back on track on life) but I have a lot of affection for it.
Tangerine (Sean Baker)
It's hard to praise Tangerine without simply describing it. "It's shot on the 5S and it stars two transgender actresses who are amazing and it feels like their lives!" Yeah, but is it good? It starts a bit shaky as one gets the impression that Baker is figuring how just how on Earth to make this film. The "bitch" quotient is unprecedented and he glides the camera like an amateur Michael Bay but after a few minutes it chills out and settles into a groove of its own. The film is very single-minded in its narrative all taking place on Christmas Eve. Sin-Dee is out of prison and finds out her pimp has been cheating on her with a cisgender prostitute and goes on a mission to find her with the well-meaning Alexandra who spilled the beans in fast pursuit. Meanwhile, an Armenian cab driver picks up clients in a seemingly unrelated narrative, but then he is revealed to be particular to trans sex workers and fantastically lonely within his marriage. And yet the film is so smart about when to go for pathos. Most of the time, it's riotous in a way that feels unwritten and off-hand. It's one of the best hang out films I've seen in ages.
Trainwreck (Judd Apatow)
Getting kind of tired, but the good news is this film doesn't need much written about it. The reasons why some are finding Trainwreck to be stock, tropey, and a mess are valid but secondary to my opinion that Amy Schumer isn't just great in this film but the scenes pivot to her timing as well. Take for example the stock scene where Bill Hader (slumming it after Skeleton Twins, but too good an actor not to make this part more engaging than it has any right to be) confesses his love to her and she tells him off for it. They spend the remainder of the scene walking away into the distance and Schumer keeps incorrectly guessing which car is theirs. By the end, the film betrays its great casting by turning into "That Amy!", but I found the journey through at least half the film to pass my "Sorry, I laughed" test.
-- Favorite scene in the movie is when Bill Hader and Amy Schumer get into the cab, he says "two stops" and she says "one stop" and the camera holds on them. She knows exactly what is going down. He processes it real time. The better movie in this movie lives in this scene.
-- Family dynamics with Brie Larsen and Mike Burbrilia (wtf?) are be indefensibly limp. Although Colin Quinn is weirdly convincing as an old man in a nursing home.
-- Every scene with LeBron James calls out for an entire film. "This is 23".
-- The movie does not know what to do with John Cena's closeted gay boyfriend. She doesn't break up with him for being questionably oriented or seem to care, and that gives the joke a pass for me. I'll also give it a pass because if the content of Cena's improvs can't transcend his role, he's surprisingly funny in this role. I didn't know the guy could act.
-- I seem to be the only person who didn't love the dog walker movie.
“This is something, as long as we live in a world where something means anything. I’m not sure we do anymore. It seems serious, but do we live in a world devoid of consequences now? This seems like a seismic event, but it might be nothing.” John Oliver