What Are You Watching? is a weekly space for The A.V Club’s film critics and readers to share their thoughts, observations, and opinions on movies new and old.
Every day on my desk, there is a new stack of padded envelopes. These are the year-end screeners, sent by studios and distributors to be considered for our all-important lists. I never like writing ranked lists or voting on ballots, because I’m a fiddler and a doubter. But I like watching movies, so I like getting stacks of screeners. For instance, I have now finally seen Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea, and have found myself in possession of the least sexy kind of contrarian opinion on this film, which is held in high esteem by most people in my profession. I think it’s very good, but almost in spite of itself, because Lonergan’s conceptions of place, speech, and the heritability of grief are powerful enough to often overcome his haphazard structuring and utilitarian direction.
There is a quirk to The A.V. Club’s year-end editorial schedule, which is that we vote on the worst films of the year some time before we vote on the best. I spent part of the long Thanksgiving weekend catching up with some of the eligible candidates; with some special exceptions that can be argued on a case-by-case basis, our voting is limited to films that were reviewed with grades in the lowest range. In this phase, I try to hold on to the hope that I will be pleasantly surprised, but rarely am. Regression I didn’t dislike as deeply as our own Mike D’Angelo did; I found it mostly to be a waste of mood. Warcraft somehow turned out to be even more of a slog than anticipated—terribly acted, boring to look at. It did, however, make me wonder whether it was possible to find the Tides Of Darkness fan fiction that I wrote in fifth grade.
The highlight turned out to be Hillary’s America: The Secret History Of The Democratic Party, which I think is Dinesh D’Souza’s “best” movie, in that it’s pure persecution complex. D’Souza, who has turned public disgrace and a felony conviction into a cottage industry of bullshit, is a completely uncharismatic presence. Yet with every movie, he has given himself a more prominent role. Here, he even acts. The first part of Hillary’s America dramatizes D’Souza’s incarceration (which didn’t actually happen, as he was sentenced to a halfway house) and is for some fucking reason shot like an episode of Mr. Robot. Ersatz historical reenactments are his signature, and though his unconvincing Clintons may get all the attention, the real scene-stealer here is an Abraham Lincoln I am almost certain is just some man D’Souza grabbed off the street. The most damning thing about the film is that it was the highest grossing documentary released this year.