Jan 31, 2013

Highlights: 2012's Silver Lining...

... is the improving box office numbers for quality films.

You might remember how disappointed I was with the top twenty films in the box office chart last year. It was occupied almost entirely by sequels and spinoffs, 90% of which were unbearable and immediately disposable. I'm not naive enough to assume this year's semi-reversal is going to remain the permanent state of affairs. Still, it's heartwarming to see so many people eager to see films like Argo, Lincoln, Django Unchained, Wreck-It Ralph, Brave and Ted. Furthermore, several franchise entries were of much higher quality than last year's output. Skyfall was one of the best Bond films to date. The Hunger Games had its problems but it kick started a potentially thrilling trilogy. Madagascar 3 was the best in the series. And best of all, 21 Jump Street was really, really funny and a great film too.

It's an important for studios to be reassured that an adult-oriented film with something substantial in its bag can make big money on a relatively small budget. Here's hoping next year isn't all about spandex-clad superheros and the destruction of the world.

All 'Best of 2012' Entries...

Jan 30, 2013

Highlights: 2012's Sexiest Actress...

... is Carlen Altman (The Color Wheel).

I really thought long and hard about this one. I would love to dance with Jennifer Lawrence, ride a bike with Anne Hathaway in latex, or sing to Mila Kunis at a concert but those three choices are too obvious. In the end, I found myself surprised by just how attractive I found newcomer Carlen Altman, quirky fashion sense and kooky humor considered. The Color Wheel gives us virtually no reason to like this unashamedly lazy, ignorantly shallow character; yet, I still couldn't completely dislike her. And if I'm being honest, that's not totally down to her characterization - as fine an actress as she is - it's also because of her intentional style and nonchalant beauty.

All 'Best of 2012' Entries...

Jan 29, 2013

Highlights: 2012's Best Choreography/Stunt Work...

... is The Raid: Redemption (directed by Gareth Evans).

The Raid isn't a film that relies on plot progression or character development. We know the drill from the get-go. And to be perfectly honest, there's really no thematic subtext in there either. This is one of those flicks that just wants to entertain. The upside is that, well, it's one hell of an entertainer, and much of its strength is directly derived from the exquisite choreography of the fight scenes. Moving from one "How the hell did he do that" sequence to another and keeping that type of high-pressure, quick tempo dynamic up for the whole running time, Gareth Evans takes us through the building along with the characters, our Adrenaline rushing through the veins just as furiously; and it leaves us feeling battered and bruised.

All 'Best of 2012' Entries...

Jan 28, 2013

Highlights: 2012's Most Memorable Personal Experience...

... is my screening of Killer Joe.

This story perhaps isn't as exciting to anyone who wasn't present when it happened or to anyone who enjoyed Killer Joe more than me (which is to say enjoyed Killer Joe even one tiny bit). My friend and I went to the theatre with the promise of something bold and exciting awaiting us, only to face William Friedkin's incoherent, senseless, oversexed and tedious exercise is pretending there is any way to go but down from Gina Gershon's vagina.

As the film progressed, we both became more and more restless, checking our watches, nudging each other and pointing to the door several times, only to stop ourselves at the last second. I've never walked out of a film voluntarily before and preferred to keep it that way. About ten minutes before the film ended, the screen went dark without any interruption to the sound. In my naivete, I assumed that the sudden cut to black was just another antic by Friedkin but then one second turn to a few seconds and then many seconds and then quite a few minutes until the theatre manager came in with a bunch of tickets in hand, apologizing for the technical difficulties. With our free tickets for future films, we ran away from the cinema as fast as we could.

It was a pretty sweet deal but it makes future horrible films even more excruciating. I can't help but dream of a world where every awful experience is rewarded with extra tickets.

All 'Best of 2012' Entries...

Jan 27, 2013

Highlights: 2012's Most Important Film...

... is The Gatekeepers (directed by Dror Moreh).

The Gatekeepers is certainly not a film that falls short of any standard of film-making. It's one of the most innovative, subversive and well-constructed documentaries released this year. Furthermore, I've never been one to judge a documentary film solely on the basis of its subject matter. But what makes The Gatekeepers an absolutely vital piece is that it takes a story as widely publicized and analyzed as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and looks at it from a fresh angle. Dror Moreh's astonishingly inquisitive film benefits from the director's unprecedented amount of exposure but its real winning card is the amount of information it manages to obtain from its reclusive subjects - the former heads of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence agency. It's frank, reflective, and shockingly, brutally horrifying. (my full review)

All 'Best of 2012' Entries...

Jan 26, 2013

Highlights: 2012's Best Line Delivery... "Calm down, crazy!" by Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook.

At various stages, I'd opted for either of the runners-up you see below, but in the end J.Law wins out, not just because her delivery is ace, but also because believe that line will become the most quotable one uttered in any film this year. Attempt to capture Lawrence's pitch-perfect cadence at your own peril though!

"The law says you can not touch, but I think I see a lotta lawbreakers up in this house tonight." by Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike
"You're dangling my vagina out there like it's bait." by Aubrey Plaza in Safety Not Guaranteed

All 'Best of 2012' Entries...

Jan 25, 2013

Highlights: 2012's Newcomer of the Year...

... is Clément Métayer (Something in the Air).

I will definitely need to re-watch Olivier Assayas's semi-autobiographical latest film before I can confirm my initial judgement, seeing as it was clouded by the crammed screening schedule at TIFF. I enjoyed it quite a lot and I imagine I will even more so on a second go. But if there's one thing that doesn't need a refresher, it's Métayer's heartfelt, lived-in performance as the hot-headed teen revolutionary at the film's center. There's quite a burden on his young shoulders but I'm not exaggerating when I say he carries it as effortlessly as Edgar Ramirez did in Assayas's Carlos.

All 'Best of 2012' Entries...

Jan 24, 2013

Highlights: 2012's Best Sex Scene...

... is Carloto Cotta and Ana Moreira's passionate affair in Tabu.

Generally speaking, a pregnant woman having torrid sex with a man who's not the father of her child is no one's idea of ideal lovemaking. Then again, alligators aren't anyone's idea of nature's poetry either but Tabu has a magical way of conversion. Miguel Gomes can paint romantic pictures on an unalluring palette and this sequence exhibits his panache more than any other. The story of the forbidden romance between these two lovers reaches its climax here: an unforgettable moment of sheer passion heightened by Gomes's penchant for poetic visual simplicity.

All 'Best of 2012' Entries...

Jan 23, 2013

Highlights: 2012's Best Opening Sequence...

... is The Place Beyond The Pines (directed by Derek Cianfrance).

The opening sequence is as elusive as the film had been until the moment of its TIFF premiere. Taking advantage of Ryan Gosling's incredible physique, the heavily prominent body art, and a leather jacket vaguely reminiscent of the one he sported in Drive, Cianfrance's camera follows Gosling without showing us his face as he plays around with his knife, puts clothes on, walks a long distance from his trailer through an admiring crowd to finally show us his visage as he puts on a helmet and enters an extreme motor-riding exhibition. It's a beautifully shot, deliberately edited sequence that sets the pace for the rest of the film and excites the unsuspecting viewer to no end.

All 'Best of 2012' Entries...

Jan 21, 2013

Monday's Words of Wisdom

I haven't attended to the 'Words of Wisdom' feature on the blog for ages, but I've decided to bring it back for good to highlight my favorites of everything I read during the week every Monday. This week's edition is a triple punch.

First up, Joaquin Villalobos, whose writing I've just recently become familiar with but already love immensely, shares his top ten list of 2012 and it's very compelling. He even manages to make convincing arguments for films I downright loathe, but naturally, my favorite part is his bit on Tabu. If you've been following me on twitter, or have read my semi-review, you already know that it's my number one film of the year - Joaquin places it at number 2 - and I don't think I could have described my passion for it any better than he does:
"Full of the savory romance everyone is wanting, Gomes presents their story not so much with the techniques of silent film but with those of a burgeoning filmmaker to capture a marvelous sense of discovery in the natural world, reckless emotions, and a tale’s endurance. This veritable paradise echoes the settings, objects, and music encountered earlier in Lisbon suggesting a historical continuum to narrative and shows how mental pictures of spoken stories flesh out from indelible memories. Tabu is a film filled with riches attesting to improvisation and the earliest elements of film that its characters can only dream of, crocodiles and all."
You can see his complete list here.

Nick Prigge has written a review of Oslo, August 31st. It's poignant and personal like the film it's about. You may remember Joachim Trier's film was my top film of 2011, and a large part of my affection comes from Anders Danielsen Lie's beautifully performed Anders, whose sense of pathos was immediately tangible for me on a personal level. Nick seems to have found the same magic in the film and his performance.
"And Lie, in a performance mesmerizing in its restrained intensity, lets his face delicately register each piece of newfound information, as if they merely reinforce long held suspicions of the uselessness of taking it one day at a time in a society so insistent on conjuring up Five Year Plans."
You can read his review here.

Finally, my favorite blogger Andrew Kendall, who is luckily back full force to his prolific self after a hiatus a few months back, has detailed his thoughts on Zero Dark Thirty while also revealing that he has multiple selves - I'm not surprised! I'm completely torn on his piece, to be honest. I enjoyed the film quite a lot more than he did and we seem to have different perspectives from which we review films. It'd be disingenuous of me to claim that personal emotional investment in the characters or other elements of a film don't affect my appreciation of it (refer back to Oslo, August 31st) but unlike Andrew, I think Zero Dark Thirty's depth is a consequence of the chasm it creates between us and the screen, politically and emotionally. Certain narratives benefit from allowing their audience to project emotions onto the characters that embody it and Zero Dark Thirty fits in that mould. Creating characters for the audience to root for isn't at odds with objectively dissecting a political procedure - a fact Ben Affleck needs to be reminded of - but I think Bigelow aimed for something entirely different here and she succeeded. Maya isn't am emotional vessel through whom the audience connects with this story. Quite the opposite, our distance with her needs to be maintained for the spectator to observe and comprehend how the hunt for Bin Laden really happened. Andrew argues that the film is not really about Maya, which I think is correct, but that's precisely why I appreciate the lack of fabricated emotional investment in her character. The audience isn't meant to live her painfully mundane experience to appreciate her unwavering resolve or feel the emptiness she feels in the final shot. Maya is a character as incomprehensible to herself as she is to us, which makes her final personal catharsis (or revelation, rather) all the more meaningful for me. This is a film that, in my opinion, succeeds precisely because it remains apolitical and expressionless throughout. Then again, it's anreasonable criticism to accuse the film for lack of perspective if it asks the audience to project meaning onto a meaningless bureaucratic procedure in the first place.
"Bigelow, along with her sound and visual team, keeps the tension taut over time and steadily guides the audience through the moments with a fine knowledge of when and how to thrill. It is significant, though, that these best of moments of the film would be just as impressive without any back-story to them.
Movies are called thus because they are moving pictures, but unlike visual art pieces context is always essential for film. A brilliant film scene will be brilliant on its own, but it should take on more profundity within the narrative it rests and the telling lack of profundity is wrested from the film’s persistent disinclination to emotion."
It's a lengthy piece, but a well-judged one. Much as I appreciate Bigelow's film, Andrew's sentiments are understandable for me, so much so that I can see myself echoing similar thoughts on another film that doesn't engage me quite as much. You can read his article here.

Jan 20, 2013

Three Short Takes: Anna Dark Thirty (&Bone)

Zero Dark Thirty (dir. Bigelow)

So much controversy has surrounded the newest collaboration between Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal that the film's cinematic qualities seem to have taken secondary importance, but this chronicle of the decade long hunt for Osama Bin Laden is masterfully directed and tightly constructed around what was, on a day to day basis, a mostly mundane affair. Bigelow's approach keeps the audience at a distance, avoids creating an emotional connection and gives a more or less journalistic account of the procedural, which is why I'm at a loss when it comes to the accusations that the film endorses torture. I think it's obvious that Zero Dark Thirty claims these "enhanced interrogation" techniques helped moved forward the investigation but in no way does it attempt to make a commentary one way or another.

Then again, I'm falling for the same trap here. Putting my opinions on the politics aside, this is an astonishing film. Anchored by an incredibly smart and sensitive performance by Jessica Chastain and a strong supporting cast, Bigelow's film is a grand exercise in building tension without embellishing the core with genre elements. The first half of the film can strike viewers as slow but the nature of the mission requires a faithful telling of the story to map out the process with such meticulous detail. Excepting certain sequences where the sprawling editing drags the narrative a bit and one sequence where excitement is meant to be heightened but is, in effect, only dampened because of the predictable outcome, Zero Dark Thirty is taut and riveting in the way it puts on the screen everything we already knew but were afraid to confront. And the final act of the film, where all the talk and scuffle culminates in the raid we know was coming all along, is a masterstroke of directing, the work of an extremely talented filmmaker at her very best. (A)

Jan 14, 2013

The Case for Argo

The Golden Globes came and went and Ben Affleck's Argo landed another double win for Best Director/Best Picture after doing the exact same at the BFCA. The two groups, as you may well be aware, have no overlap with the Academy in membership but we all know that every little and not so little award can have a bearing on how the big show turns out at the end and I have a feeling in a few weeks' time we might still be considering the Globes as a vital moment in this season.

In recent years, the Globe winner hasn't lined up with the Oscar champ as often as one might think. Most awards pundits will assume that this year will turn out to be another one where the two can't agree on a winner, seeing as both Argo and Les Misérables have missed out on best director nominations at the Oscars. But the industry good will that has been accumulating for Ben Affleck and his film since its TIFF premiere seems to be growing every day. Of course, not every week will be as packed with announcements as this one was, so there will be a lot of calm before the storm. Lincoln (warmly endorsed by former U.S. president Bill Clinton during last night's ceremony) and Life of Pi (boosted by its surprising haul of 11 Oscar nominations) will surely be capitalizing on that silent period. The former will also surely benefit from at least one SAG award in the process.

It's important to consider that no film has won the top prize at the Oscars without a nomination for its director since Driving Miss Daisy way back in 1989. But records are meant to be broken and this season is such a strange one. If any film ever wanted to jump in and steal the show unexpectedly, this would be the year to do it. And Argo seems to have all the ingredients of a surprise winner.