My notebook says I was positive about Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, which proves that memory is a tricky thing. But Certain Women is the real deal, achieving what advocates of minimalism always say it can do and inviting you to meet it halfway as a genuine way of seeing. Short film festivals would be better off these days looking away from conventional narrative fictions, but Reichardt’s third story, in which Lily Gladstone forms an attachment to Kristen Stewart that seems born out of simple stoic yearning, would be a perfect 30-minute entry for anywhere so inclined. The confused affection of these two characters is never articulated but constantly visualised, eventually in the way Stewart reflexively hugs Gladstone slightly more tightly while riding on her horse — and immediately she’s gone, no longer able to shoulder whatever it was that just happened. Gladstone returns to her horses, as do we all. This has been a key few months for grappling with what realism looks like on screen, and Reichardt’s style always opens up another front on the issue by pruning away elements of urban life in a manner that would give Ken Loach a headache; but Loach always seems to be moving towards you from the screen, an over-emphasis that draws on his instincts as a placard-holder but which can ruin as much as it reveals. Reichardt generates pull rather than push — on the whole a more profitable transaction.
20th Century Women arrives on cue as an alternative side of the coin, revealingly aligned titles and all. Mike Mills has an intriguing dual career as film maker and designer, and impeccable liberal tastefulness rises from his film like a fine evaporation. Structurally micro-engineered to get the job done, it arranges for a young teenage male to be at the fulcrum of three women — his mother, his eventual girlfriend, and his older confident, each with the bruises of generational friction, illness or reproductive rights to show. The social tides that move the story waft gently across the faces of Greta Gerwig and Annette Bening, and the calmly eye-level style has something of Ira Sachs about it, with an added flower-power levity rather than Sachs’s urban semi-tensions. (Mills is equally good at montages though, like the one that cuts from Billy Crudup’s sequence of sexual conquests to him washing his hands for entirely legitimate pottery-related reasons.) But articulation is the thing, and sat next to Certain Women it can’t help but be an excess of telling rather than showing. It’s a quintessential US indie from the safe side of the tracks, effortlessly performed, but at the cost of inventiveness, or aggro, or electric current. The music adopts a Sigur Rós pose, which is about as conservative as it gets, and Miranda July and Spike Jonze get thanked in the credits. Given that I have at times wanted to maroon that pair in Timbuktu, this film feels like it might be a common denominator of both of them, but if so it’s a fairly low one.
Logan is man’s stuff, which is not necessarily the same as adult stuff; but self-knowledge rather than self-amusement is the most adult principle a superhero film can embrace, and Logan gives the stuff a bear hug. James Mangold finally does what no one else except Bryan Singer has ever been in a position to do in the superhero field, and Singer wasn’t inclined: heave the steering wheel of your own car over to the left, rather than have to hijack someone else’s for the purpose. Logan deals with the notion of a man of violence at the end of his life in a well-trodden way, by being relentlessly violent; and although the fairly ridiculous levels of impalement and disemboweling and beheading and the innocent civilians mowed down like wheat get in the way of comparisons to fellow outlying human beings The Hulk and Superman Returns, at least Mangold has a functioning plan. Logan’s exaggerated limp turns him into the Fisher King too, so the story echoes with Arthurian rise and decline. If Cliff Martinez had done the music as was once planned the results may have been spectacular, but it was wise in the end to get Marco Beltrami back, for a spiky modernist score mixing flakes of Clint Mansell and Mica Levi with hints of Logan’s own signature chord progression from The Wolverine, now downshifted into decline. The backwards connections make themselves anyway, given that this film is as much about Charles Xavier as Logan, and the film is careful to ignore all intervening continuity waffle and find the same Xavier and the same Logan from 2000 together again at the end of life. The Fox X-verse has always felt all of a piece, all of the extant characters constantly beavering away somewhere over the horizon — a tension that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has junked in its urge to deal in surfaces and collegiate self-entertainment — and you don’t have to be a zealot to sense 17 years of screen history backing up behind you when Logan carries the helpless Xavier around and heaves him up onto the toilet. Or when, after 17 years of thankless struggle, the one-time Martin Luther King surrogate is revealed to be responsible for the deaths of his own ersatz children and ends up planted in a field somewhere in Oklahoma, poor bastard.