Saturday, June 16, 2012
5) Au Revoir, Les Enfants
For just about every Jew alive, not to mention many other groups of people, The Holocaust is a difficult and upsetting subject to face, because it claimed so many lives, and was mandated by the government. Millions were murdered, and the scars from that time still ache. When it comes to films about the Holocaust, there are quite a number, all of which differ in quality and story, but the one that sticks with me is Au Revoir, Les Enfants, Louis Malle's autobiographical story of two boys who become friends at a Catholic boys' school during the war, one who is Catholic, one who is Jewish. As the film evolves, so does their relationship, and the war, as well. The final scene of the film is where the main character accidentally betrays his best friend. Since we all know what happened in The Holocaust, you can guess what happens, but that doesn't make it any easier to swallow. Even worse is that the protagonist is a young Louis Malle, so when you realize that this actually happened, that, for the rest of his life, Malle had to live with this burden hanging over his head, it's even more tragic.
4) The Seventh Continent
Michael Haneke's films are never pleasant experiences, that's a guarantee. His detachment from his stories allows a clinical, and uncomfortable approach to telling a story, and emphasize how mundane and ordinary these people are, making their pain our pain as well. Having seen nearly all of his films, I can say, with full certainty, that his bleakest, most unforgiving film is his first film, The Seventh Continent.Continent is about the death of a dream, about one family trying to escape their lives in Austria by moving to Australia, but being consumed by themselves, and the impossibility of it all. For those who have seen this film, the scene in question is quite obvious, as it shows the family destroying everything that they own, robotically, and devoid of any emotion. That is, until one small accident. It's a film I tell many of my friends to see, but warn them that they will not enjoy it in the slightest, and after watching it, will probably feel awful and worn out, emotionally. Even I can't bring myself to watch it again.
3) Dear Zachary
There's no easy way to say this: Dear Zachary is a cruel, cruel film. It's cruel because it tells a story that is awful, and upsetting, and entirely true. It's a film that we want to jump into and save, but know that we can't, and coping with that is truly aggravating. This one I'm not going to go into too much detail over, but will say that the film, as the subtitle proclaims: 'A Letter to a Son About His Father'. The father, in question, was murdered, and the story is about his friends and family coping, but also banding together and fighting for the child, who will never know his father. If that doesn't tear you up, then the twist, which occurs later in the film, will destroy you. Make you want to hurt everything and scream. It's depressing because it shows that good people don't get to have happy lives, that the worst people can still go by undetected, and the right people, those in charge of the government, can make grave mistakes. Watch it, but know that you're going to want to punch something when this scene occurs.
When thinking about depressing films, and scenes that slayed my emotions, nothing comes close to Wit, a film that is so good, and yet, I have trouble bringing myself to watch it a second time. Mixing humor with tragedy, Wit is the story of Vivian Bearing, played exquisitely by Emma Thompson, an erudite English professor who discovers that she has ovarian cancer, and from there, you can probably see where this is going. The scene that ruins my happiness, that takes my heart and stomps on it, involves Vivian and her mentor, a woman who is much like Bearing, except she was able to have a family, a thing Vivian lost when devoting her time to her studies. Instead of read John Donne to comfort her dying pupil, the woman reads to her the story of The Runaway Bunny, and for ten minutes, all I can do is sob. It's a simple scene, but fuck, it's heavy. Everyone I know who's seen this film agree that it's probably the saddest thing they've ever seen.
1) Six Feet Under-"Everybody's Waiting"
While it's flawed, and slightly melodramatic in its fourth and fifth seasons, Six Feet Under is, and may always be, my favorite television show, ever. Over the course of five seasons, I grew to love the Fisher family, and the other characters, and felt like they were real people. So when it came time to watch the series finale, it really, really hurt, because I knew that it would be the last time I would see these people. That their stories were over, and that I would have to accept the end of the series, like the many people on the show had to accept the deaths of their loved ones. The finale is perfect because, unlike every other episode of the series, it starts with a life, rather than a death, and the rest of the episode is devoted to tying up loose ends, and making sure that everything that can be resolved is resolved. And in a very Six Feet Under fashion, we watch as all of our favorite characters die, each way different from the last. It's bad enough watching one character we deeply loved pass away a few episodes prior, but to have all of them die is just unbearable. Yet, as we watch these people die, through a curtain of tears, Sia's now ubiquitous but still perfect song 'Breathe Me' playing in the background, we remember that every day alive is a blessing, and that we can never truly predict when we'll pass on. It's soul crushing to think about death for so long, but you leave the show feeling enlightened, happy to be alive, and glad that you stuck with this show until the very end. For all its imperfections, it redeems itself in the end, and leaves the only way that it could have.
Monday, December 26, 2011
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Saturday, September 24, 2011
All of this being said, I'm not writing this piece to reminisce over the misty, water-colored memories of Nevermind, but rather, to analyze some of the responses to the album, including my own. Don't expect any tearjerking speeches here.
Last month, Spin Magazine released an issue dedicated to Nevermind, which collected a hodge podge of responses from famous figures, everyone from Carrie Brownstein (MAJOR love) to Patton Oswalt, to the guy who plays on the Macbook in Girl Talk. Because it's a retrospective, the majority of the responses were positive, describing moments, years, that the songs off of Nevermind (especially that one about teens) changed their lives. For a concept that could have gotten touchy feely and self-important, the editors at Spin published a nice issue about nostalgia and chose people who each had something new to say about the album.
Yet, while reading the issue, what struck me as more interesting and meaningful than the sentimental responses were the pieces that were critical, even cynical, towards this towering achievement of Grunge Rock. This isn't to say I wanted people to rain on Nirvana's parade, but the mini-articles that contrasted the love letters to the band and the album spoke much louder to someone like me, and my opinion of the album and the band. One piece, written by one of the chairs at Matador Records, argued that, compared to other, less popular albums in music history, Nevermind isn't all that special. His point being, I'm not going to bitch and moan about the album, but there were even better and more important records released before, and after Nevermind that are not going to get nearly as much fan fair as this album.
As difficult as it may sound, I have to say I agree.
At the age of 12, I remember playing tracks off of Nevermind over and over again. Never the entire album, mostly 'Teen Spirit', because everyone loved 'Teen Spirit', and 'Terratorial Pissings', because it had a bad word in the title. Because people, regardless of age, are mercurial in their music tastes, it was not long before Nevermind was replaced by The Sex Pistols and The Clash, who would, in turn, get the boot by bands like Fiona Apple, Modest Mouse, and the band that changed everything for me, Sleater-Kinney. Listening to the tracks off Nevermind, there is definitely a charge running through my body. I like the songs, love how the album spoke so deeply for so many people so many years ago. I appreciate that something was born, within my generation, that has stood for rock and roll, for independence, and for angst. But to be honest, it's not my thing.
To illustrate a little further, I'm going to draw a loose comparison between Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith. Granted, they were both different men, but for the sake of arguing, I'm going to group them together. Both men were prominent artists during the early nineties, both had a rough around the edges sound that was pretty as well as grimy. Both were severely fucked up, used drugs, and eventually took their own lives. In the case of Elliott, he lacks the massive popularity/ubiquity that Kurt and Nirvana received during their hey days, despite having all of the similarities that I mentioned. And yet, listening to Smith, I get the same deep, passionate feelings that many other people get when turning on a Nirvana song.
Does it bother me that the media has less of a focus on Elliott Smith? Yes, and no. While Smith definitely captivated the public eye for a short time, mainly because of his song 'Miss Misery' in Good Will Hunting and his performance at the Oscars, where he donned a white tuxedo, he's no Kurt. Though I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed, I doubt we will see Smith's face plastered all over magazines on the 10th anniversary of his death. On one hand, it's aggravating that the music industry is like this, that one tortured genius gets all of the love and respect while another doesn't rise much beyond his devoted group of followers. But to be honest, I like it this way. Had Smith become as big as Kurt, his self destruction would have been at rapid speed, and it was clear during his career that he felt uncomfortable under the spotlight. In this regard, a medium sized fan base as passionate as the one he has today would have been all that he wanted. Within this group, Smith is more than just a voice, he's our voice. Though the fan count is fewer, to those who have fallen in love with Elliott Smith, the size does not matter. The heart is still there.
So, to sum everything up, and hopefully, to achieve closure, I am going to say that I am glad that Nirvana existed. To the millions who discovered them, between those twenty years, their music still feels genuine, powerful, and as meaningful as it did back in 1991. You don't discover someone like Kurt Cobain every day, a man who hated misogyny, discrimination, and conforming to any mold. To this, I salute him. And yeah, I'm not as big a fan as many others. Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
10. The Trip
In what can only be described as the vacation from hell, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are a quick-witted and perfectly matched pair, playing themselves while traveling around the British countryside for a restaurant tour. The set up is smart, simple, and allows plenty of room for creativity and spontaneity. The comedy does not feel forced or over the top, mainly because the two look like they are having such a fun time together. I really appreciated the dark ending, which speaks wonders to one of the characters' inner torment and desire for success. The impressions are worth the price of admission.
Jon Hamm deserves an Oscar of his own for his role as the douchebag fuck buddy to Kristen Wiig's Annie. Hamm's scene stealing performance is just one of the many highlights in this smartly written movie, which is surprisingly deep when dealing with the subject of deep friendships and moving on. It's not a female Hangover, in that the only thing they have in common is being rude and funny. No, Bridesmaids is much more than that. It lets its characters develop, even treads the line between funny and sad at some points. In the end, its a film that reminds people that women actually possess funnybones. Well, duh.
8. Project Nim
One of the most fascinating documentaries of the year, Nim details the harrowing story of a monkey who was taught to grow up like a human. However, after years of studies and experiments, Nim's cuteness wares off, and he slowly turns into a savage beast, which he was all along. It's worth watching because it's so compelling, and at times, frightening, and the viewer is never sure which side of the argument is right. Nim reminds its audience of the dangers of tampering with nature, and shows us when an experiment stops being just that.
7. Jane Eyre
Cary Fukunaga's adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel was the first adaptation of the story I saw, and I was able to watch the film with the book fresh in my mind. This meant that I remembered every moment, every scene, every flirtation that made me adore the book. While this adaptation cuts out the bulk of the minor, but charming, details and sticks to the meat of the story, it succeeds because of its cast, its visuals, and its atmosphere. Mia Wasikowska is the Jane Eyre I pictured while reading the book, and it goes without saying that Michael Fassbender is both talented and drop dead sexy as Rochester. Rumor has it that a longer cut exists, which I am curious to see, for the hopes that it includes more details and background.
6. Certified Copy
What is this film about exactly? Do these characters really know each other? While I will not say too much, I can tell you that it features two of the strongest performances of the year and is filmed with an acute eye for detail by Abbas Kiarostami. It's a mystery, one that requires your full attention and your own theories by the very end. I loved the scenery, and how the background players interacted with the two leads, one of whom(William Shimell) isn't even a professional screen actor. Also superb is Juliette Binoche, but that's a given. See it, and make your own guesses, you won't regret it.
5. Bill Cunningham: New York
I did not know anything about Bill Cunningham before watching this film, but as soon as I saw this, I felt charmed, enthralled, and without a doubt, moved, by the man whose spark makes The New York Times Style Section more than just a piece of paper. For a man who has such a strong eye for fashion, Cunningham is modest in both his wardrobe and his lifestyle, and these provide some of the film's best moments. It's not a shocking expose about the cutthroat world of newspapers, nor is it a scathing commentary about Fashion. Bill's attention towards his subjects is admirable, and is a breath of fresh air in a world dominated by drama. Seeing people through Cunningham's eye is an experience I will not soon forget.
4. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen's newest film is so good, so fun, and so wonderful, that I actually saw it twice, and both times, it was packed. It's easily his best since Vicky Christina Barcelona, and it has a terrific cast, as always. Owen Wilson does a great job acting at the west cost Woody, with his awkward comments and love of things old and nostalgic. While I won't spoil much about the film in relation to the title, I will say it's the perfect summer movie. It's an escapist flick that is smartly written, and is just so damn enjoyable that you'll be taken away, along with the main character.
Gregg Araki is not one for going easy on his viewers, case in point every film he's ever made. It's hard to describe his newest film, except to say that it's an apocalyptic sex comedy that has a gorgeous cast, great music, and some really radical visuals. It's fast and very freaky, plus it's really well written. Thomas Dekker is engaging as Smith, our horny protagonist who gets pulled into an underground conspiracy that only he can stop. That is, when he isn't too busy fucking everyone in sight or gawking at his beefcake of a roommate. Kaboom is not for everyone, and I would not be surprised it a wide number of people end up hating this film because of it's tone and content, which can come across as vapid and way too crazy. In short, you won't forget Kaboom, regardless of your opinion. It's the kind of film that requires you to turn off your brain cells and just watch and enjoy the action.
Mija is an elderly woman who is losing her memory. Working day in and day out for an ungrateful grandson, she tries to find time to enjoy her life and be happy. As such, she enrolls in a poetry class, where the goal is to write a poem. In a lesser film, this plot would be silly and overwrought with emotion, but in Chang Dong-Lee's quiet but gorgeous film, Mija is a compelling and strong character. The darker elements of the story are also very powerful, and though I won't say what they are, the way the other characters at as a result is both unsettling and entirely believable. I loved this film because it was sparse, shot with a plain camera and full of gorgeous nature shots, and has one of the year's best performances by Jeong-hie Yun, who embodies Mija with a subdued grace. It's easily the most obscure film on the list, but if you know me, you know I love to honor small, but mighty films. And this is exactly that, powerful despite its simplicity.
1. The Tree of Life
Without a doubt, The Tree of Life is an awe inspiring film, one that cannot be fully explained, described, enjoyed without one sitting down and watching it. It's a film that is unlike most anything I've seen in ages, and is the first film in a long time that I left the theater completely rewarded. The different parts, ranging from the creation of the planet, to the 1950's, are quite simply breathtaking, and even though the scenes involving dinosaurs and jellyfish are not entirely explained, I had no problem watching them unfold, and once witnessing their encompassing power, was able to sit back and appreciate the different elements, the different ideas, that director Terrance Malick was setting in motion before me on screen. The story involves the growth of a boy into manhood, all the while exploring the pain, the love, the anger, and the ugliness that exists in human life. The young boy playing Jack is truly talented, and carries a good portion of the film. Brad Pitt is also strong, and takes the 'Father Knows Best' ideal and sticks by it, even if it's not always true. The real burst of fresh air is Jessica Chastain, an unknown who portrays the mother of the family with such insight and beauty that I found myself drawn to her in every scene she was in. While the film isn't perfect, its flaws resting in the Sean Penn scenes, which traces the adult life of Jack and his reflections of youth. While these scenes are important, they are not as interesting in my opinion. Also, the film could have been trimmed a bit towards the end, but minor quibbles aside, I cannot speak more highly for The Tree of Life, and am more than glad to give it the number one spot on my list.
Films I'm Looking Forward To (In Order): Melanchola, Tabloid, The Skin That I'm In, A Dangerous Method, Drive, Shame, and The Ides of March.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Filled with a chilly and unforgiving atmosphere, Winter's Bone was film noir set in the Ozarks, and right from the beginning, it was close to perfect. Jennifer Lawrence is stunning as Ree Dolly, the seventeen year old daughter of a bail jumping meth cooker who gets caught up in the middle of a deep and disturbing mystery. Also of note is the under appreciated John Hawkes as Teardrop, her uncle who runs hot and cold, good and bad. I loved the dichotomy of the ensemble, particularly Teardrop. This is the life many have chosen to live, and as such, the rules have been written in blood. It's a captivating film set in the ugliest of towns.
4. True Grit
I'm always a fan of the Coen brothers, so Grit was no exception. While Westerns are admittedly not my favorite film genre, the outstanding performances from Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges made this already fun film all the more spectacular. The casting is top notch and each actor is used to their full potential. Plus, true Coen brothers fans will enjoy the random Coen moments that are at this point trademark, which diffuse tension and insert a level of weirdness that is quite edifying. It's a well made movie, and it's an excellent adventure.
3. Black Swan
No stranger to nightmares, Darren Aronofsky has delivered a gorgeous, sick, and dizzying piece of art that begs to be seen and discussed. One part Red Shoes, two parts Repulsion, Swan is a film that operates around my favorite kind of horror, psychological horror. Using just the right amount of special effects and blood, the film had me jumping in my seat, flinching, and in one case, biting down onto my scarf out of shock. Natalie Portman gives a performance that is both innocent and dangerous. Her transformation is utterly painful to watch, and the small cuts and subliminal messages spliced into the film kept me on my toes. The performances and the plot itself teeter on borderline camp, but is stunning enough that we can just enjoy it for what it is. So good, I even saw it twice, just to make sense of this brooding fever dream.
2. Exit Through the Gift Shop
Larger than life masterpiece or elaborate hoax? Either way, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a stunning, goofy, and riveting documentary that also serves as a strong argument about what 'art' is. The ever illusive Banksy hits this film out of the park, and refuses to spare his subject, a fan of street art who wanted to capture the lives of these artists and ended up selling out completely. The film is chock full of fascinating interviews with several street artists, and is narrated with a crass but fun droll, courtesy of Rhys Ifans. I am a fan of Banksy's artwork, so the idea of him making a movie was just brilliant, and I am glad to say he did not disappoint. The film is well worth your price of admission, simply for the stunts alone. It will make you think twice about Disneyworld, or elephants.
As hilarious as it is disturbing, Dogtooth is a warped film that redefines the word 'normal' as well as dissect the modern family. Drawing inspiration from the films of Michael Haneke, and even Pasolini's perverted masterpiece, Salo, director Giorgos Lanthimos examines the everyday lives of a nameless Greek family and their bizarre and often disquieting customs. In the world of Dogtooth, cats are cold blooded predators, zombies are tiny yellow flowers, and the outside world is a dangerous and scary place. The three children, two daughters and a son, live under the unwavering eye of their silent mother and domineering and coolly evil father. When pop culture and movies are introduced to the children, nothing is ever the same.
One thing I truly admire, aside from concept and execution, both of which are spellbinding, is just how Dogtooth came out of nowhere and left such an impression on the lucky number who have seen it. Entering the theater at quarter to ten one night in mid July, I had no clue what to expect, other than sheer weirdness on behalf of the plot. Weirdness is one word to describe what blew through my brain. In short, the fact that I knew so little about the film helped me enjoy it so much more.
Moviegoers with strong stomachs and an eye for weird cinema will enjoy this film almost as much as I did. It made me laugh, it frightened me, and it left me stunned. Those last ten minutes are killer and left me gasping for air. I always gravitate towards off the wall and otherwise strange films, and because of this, Dogtooth is my Number One pick for 2010.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
People hate Sofia Coppola for a number of reasons, most of which I cannot understand. While her slow and unglamorous shtick might leave viewers cold and tired, to those who can appreciate the routine malaise of rich and successful people, films like Somewhere are true gems that deserve appreciation. Almost a bookend to Coppola's breakthrough hit, Lost in Translation, Somewhere is a small, sweet, and slow film about a Hollywood actor, played by Stephen Dorff, who is trying to get his life together, which includes being a better father to his daughter, Cleo. Elle Fanning gives a stunning performance as a girl who has lived her life without a father, or any proper support, but her understated talent shines through in tiny but elegant moments. In Fanning's case, a glare across the table can speak wonders for her emotions and anger. As a behind the scenes look at fame and fatherhood, Somewhere is a great film.
9. Toy Story 3
This one is purely a sentimental pick. Yes, Toy Story 3 was great, we can all for the most part agree on this one, but what made it special for me was being able to see how far the series has come from its humble beginnings. Pixar revolutionized animation and paved the way for new and thrilling forms of cinema and CGI. Having grown up with Andy, the owner of the toys, it was especially moving to watch as he matured and grew up, something that Woody the Cowboy realizes in the second film of the trilogy. The film feels like The Great Escape as performed by Happy Meal toys, and as such, gives audiences of all ages plenty of humor, fun, and heart to devour and enjoy. It also had me sobbing like a small child by the very end, which is the true mark of greatness. In short, it was the perfect ending to an iconic series.
8. Animal Kingdom
It's survival of the fittest in this crime drama/sleeper hit. The 'Kingdom' is contemporary Australia, where a crime family is caught in a war between the cops and themselves. At the center of all of this is J, the emotionless but good natured grandson to Janine Cody, played with a chilling precision by Jacki Weaver, who gets stuck with these criminals after his mother dies. The feelings of brotherhood and family unity are sick but compelling, and the action/violence is slow building, and unexpected. Overall, Animal Kingdom is a realistic crime drama that is stuffed to the gills with talented actors and great cinematography.
7. The Illusionist
While many critics scolded Sylvain Chomet's second film, The Illusionist for not being as 'good' as The Triplets of Belleville, his smashing and near perfect debut film, I found a deep flaw in their assessments: It's not supposed to be The Triplets of Belleville! Instead of copying his first film note for note, Chomet adapts a screenplay by Jacques Tati and creates a quiet but richly detailed film about an aging magician and the bond he forges with a young fan. Told with minimal dialogue, the film works at a nice pace, showing scenes of daily life and simplicity, all the while sending its Tati-esque protagonist through a series of magic shows and spectacles. In short, The Illusionist is a sweet, silly, and surprisingly moving film that is about putting aside the top hat and moving on from magic. Which is deeper than 98% of most animated films.
6. Blue Valentine
There isn't much hope for the couple in Blue Valentine, but their unraveling is so painfully honest that we cannot turn away from it. Ryan Gosling was denied an Oscar nomination for his complicated and challenging role, one in which he transforms into a man he never thought he'd become, or maybe, he was all along. Michelle Williams carries her role with true grace, which is odd considering how tragic the story is. It is a great film because it's simple yet complex. I was taken by both lead actors, and as always, love to see a small film that can still captivate audiences and leave an impression.