Ismael’s Ghosts – 6

At one point we are intrigued by the face-off between two of France’s great actresses, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Marion Cotillard, who are both mysteriously attracted to the Woody Allen type, played by Matthieu Amalric, who is the confusing center of this film. Then the plot, such as it is, goes off the tracks and we are confronted with loose strands all over the place – none of which we really care about. Both main-selection films we saw at the NYFilm Festival this year were total director’s indulgences with little regard for us, the average audience, making me wary of signing up for more in the future. (PS: The Florida Project, which was also presented at the NYFF, would count as a third.)

The Florida Project – 4

A movie about a not-especially-charming brat being “raised” by a mother who lies, cheats and steals and accepts no responsibility, with the seemingly inevitable result that the mother will go off to jail and the daughter will turn into her mother. I don’t know director Sean Baker’s point, but it’s hard to have any sympathy for the mother, as she is surrounded by other single parents with no greater advantages in life who hold jobs, help their neighbors and discipline their kids. Scenes were consistently cut short, often weren’t connected to anything, and there was no plot to speak of. Only an understated performance by Willem Dafoe rose to the level of professionalism.

Battle of the Sexes – 8

What a relief, after seeing a trio of heavy, intellectual films at the New York Film Festival, to watch a thoroughly enjoyable, funny and teary, battle in which almost everyone is a winner, above all Billie Jean King. The movie is more about her complicated love life than her tennis, but there is enough historic verisimilitude – including play-by-play from Howard Cosell – to remind you of the real-world stakes at play. Emma Stone is a bit bland, without Billie Jean’s edge; but the supporting cast is delightful: Steve Carrell above all, then Alan Cumming, Sarah Silverman, Elisabeth Shue, to name the recognizable faces.

Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat – 5

The artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is the hole at the middle of this documentary: we never hear his voice, don’t see his paintings, learn nothing of his background, and catch only fleeting glimpses of his face. Instead, we get talking heads remembering the days when he emerged on the Lower East Side scene. What the film does provide is a shocking reminder of what terrible shape New York was in from 1978 to ’81. But the gaping hole left me hungry. (NYFF)

Zama – 6

Sort of a cross between Last Year at Marienbad and Aguirre, Wrath of God, this Argentine period drama offered memorable still images – loved that tricorner hat! – but not much continuity or sensible plot. Life was pretty crummy in Spanish South America, and I was happy to have a shower afterward. A bit of a senseless slog. (NYFF)