Nightcrawler – 7

Considering this film took place at night, in stressful situations, featuring many working stiffs, in a very noir setting, it was remarkable that no one smoked. Maybe, then, it was no coincidence that at the very end of the credits, where they usually disclaim hurting any animals during filming, there was a line that no money was received for placing tobacco in the film. Is this a new cause? Or are they saying that no one smoked because no one offered them any money?
Jake Gyllenhaal’s bug eyes and intense characterization were wonderful, although you wondered why someone with his ambition and instincts was only clipping chain-link fences when the story began. The cheap swipe at TV news was fun, even if there was only a kernel of truth in it; what drove the movie was Gyllenhaal’s depiction of Louis Bloom’s flowering, petal by petal, picking up something from every contact, morality be damned, and getting away with it.

Rosewater – 4

Let’s hope Jon Stewart keeps his day job. I was never engaged and could have walked out at any point; I did so after about 70 minutes. Gael Garcia Bernal was an odd choice to play the lead; it felt like he was a tourist, floating through. When I think of how gripping Argo was – the previous prisoner-in-Iran film – it just made this film seem even more bloodless, like it had rosewater in its veins.

Magic in the Moonlight – 5

Very minor Woody Allen, to say the least. Absurd ending united Colin Firth and Emma Stone characters, although there was no reason to think they were meant for each other, or would last more than a few weeks in marriage. Colin Firth was either miscast or misdirected; in any case he was unconvincing and not much fun to watch.

Skeleton Twins – 7

Wonderful acting by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig conveys the closeness of twins. Everyday nature of the story was refreshing, but it also meant plot ran out of steam well before the ending. Still, a fine effort.

Gone Girl – 7

The movie delivered on the book’s strengths – original plot, interesting characters – as well as its weakness – a frustratingly unsatisfying ending. It’s hard to know how someone who hadn’t read the book would have been affected by the plot twists and turns; for us, we watched and mentally checked off how Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, et al., matched up with the memory of our reading experience. The long movie time went by quickly.

Birdman – 2.5

A thoroughly unpleasant movie experience. After our friend Jeremy Shamos gets knocked out, we are left with five highly neurotic characters who have zero appeal among them. Director Inarritu heightens the unpleasantness with a distracting continuous-tracking camera shot. What’s funny is how reviewers complained that the theater-critic character was unrealistic, when the entire movie was unrealistic.