They say that great art can inspire. Seeing a great movie can make you want to make movies. Hearing a great song may inspire you to pick up a guitar and learn your first chord. Playing a great video game could drive you to learn how to code so you can one day make your own video game. All of this in the hopes that one day, maybe the thing you create can inspire someone, too, and this chain can continue.
In this sense — and only in this sense — Nocturnal Animals can be considered great art.
Every year, I tend to have an honorary “least favorite movie of the year.” It’s usually not the worst movie I’ve seen that year; I tend to watch a lot of stuff, and you’d be surprised by how many people making movies just flat-out don’t quite know what they’re doing. No, my “least favorite movie of the year” is something like…
- Pod (2015), where crazy sound effects and strobe lights is meant to connote, I don’t know, fear? Also, it was the last movie I saw at SXSW and left a bad taste in my mouth.
- Third Person (2014), where a dramatic twist in the third act is supposed to shine new light on the first two insufferable acts, when instead it’s just sad.
- Kick-Ass 2 (2013), which is just so vile and repulsive that placing it above any other film I saw that year would be an offense to so, so many things.
My least favorite film of 2016 is Nocturnal Animals.
Technically-speaking, it’s a well-made movie. It’s beautiful to look at, and it’s filled with actors I can only imagine are trying very hard. (Even though I’m not quite sold on that point.) It’s filled with actors I love and admire: Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal. Its overall marketing vibe was dark, cool, and sexy enough to get me legitimately excited for it.
Then I actually saw it.
The movie begins with a series of fully naked obese women dancing in slow motion to music you’re not hearing. It’s art, you see, both within writer/director Tom Ford’s eyes, and also within the world of the movie. Amy Adams runs an art gallery or something (maybe? the movie doesn’t bother to tell you what her role there is), and this is her new exhibit. There are also fully naked obese women lying on white slabs throughout the gallery.
That’s how the movie starts. It’s literally the first thing you see.
From there, the story spirals into what is, essentially, Amy Adams reading a book. That’s the plot. Most of the movie is the book she’s reading, which was written by her ex-husband. In the book, the character based on her (and the one based on her daughter) is brutally raped and murdered. The book’s main character, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (who also plays the book’s author), must seek revenge.
Does any of that make sense? Who cares? The movie doesn’t! It’s too busy showing Amy Adams looking sad or, worse, aghast at what she just read; the book is so shocking and violent we’re literally snapped back to reality to see her reaction to it.
(There’s also a Paranormal Activity-esque jump scare once because, “Why not?”)
The whole movie is so far up its own ass that it’s painful. It literally hurts to watch this movie. I’ve never seen a film quite this pretentious, which is remarkable in and of itself. Tom Ford has truly created something magnificent here, if only for how dreadfully terrible it is. Even Michael Shannon, one of the greatest actors of this generation, can’t save the movie.
So thank you, Tom Ford, for inspiring me with your “great art.” You’ve inspired me to write a review on this site for the first time in over a year. We’re planning to re-launch this site officially early next year, but this couldn’t wait. If even one person reads this post and chooses to not see this movie, I’ve done my job.