Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Top 10 of 2012

I'm sorry I can't be posting more.  My wrist is slowly getting stronger, but is not at a point where it can help me type yet. Perhaps in another week or so.  Sill, I wanted to get my top 10 of 2012 posted since it isn't too much work for a one-handed man to do.  You'll likely notice that half the movies on my list are technically from 2011.  I'm adding them to this list temporarily until I can see more that are technically from 2012 (e.g. LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, SPRING BREAKERS, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, TO THE WONDER, etc.)  I don't even think I have 10 films from 2012 that I like without these great 2011 titles, so they are helpful for now.  I tried to only stick with 2011 films that I saw this past year, which means I didn't include THE KID WITH A BIKE since I saw it in December of 2011.

I'd write more if I could, but here she be regardless:

1. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)
2. The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr)
3. This is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb)
4. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow)
5. Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier)
6. Tabu (Miguel Gomes)
7. Holy Motors (Leos Carax)
8. Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg)
9. Amour (Michael Haneke)
10. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)

11. Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman) & Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)

Honorable Mention: Brave (Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman), Looper (Rian Johnson), The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan), The Innkeepers (Ti West)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Bag Tarantino's In

Here's my take on the lynch mob (technically pre-KKK, since it is before the Civil War) hood scene in DJANGO, Brandon:

It's not an awful scene, it is just extended to an uncomfortable degree (at least for me).  Initially, the gag works and is amusing.  You've got some bumbling racist KKK-types who are mocked to the point that they seem completely inept, their choice of disguise ridiculed for being so impractical and poorly designed.  It's clearly out to reduce these baleful figures to caricatures and buffoons (a taunting contempt they fully deserve).  But the scene keeps going to the point they start discussing whether or not to wear the hoods, deciding to wear them after all, and then vowing to come better prepared the next time they go lynching.  It's a ridiculous, goofy scene straight out of Mel Brooks (which is where the BLAZING SADDLES comparison seems the strongest, even if it is a lazy one).  There's nothing wrong with this initial humor, but after a few minutes the joke no longer seems funny, and the privilege of the position from which it is told seems in poor taste.  It's fine to belittle these types of racist killers to a degree, but at the same time they represent a violent and terrifying legacy.  They have an odious history of unimaginable blood and terror.  Making jokes about them right before they go lynching (in full lynching garb) seems close to disingenuous to the memories of the copious numbers who died wantonly at their hands.  It would be almost like Tarantino including a scene in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS where some bumbling Nazis try to get the valves in a gas chamber to work properly before planning an execution.  Again, it's a horrible historical reality reduced for humors sake.  I hate the whole idea of "crossing the line," so I won't suggest it.  But to me, this scene seemed dragged out to the point of excessive goofiness, eventually making light of real pain in the process.

I'm sure for some black folks this scene is problematic because it trivializes mass murder, and I'm sure for just as many others it is cathartic to see these killers mocked relentlessly and handed their comeuppance.  As a white guy (if my position even matters here), I fell somewhere in between, but mostly sided towards the former stance.  I agree with you, Brandon, that DJANGO is smarter and more sensitive in its dealings with race and slavery than some give it credit for.  This is one scene where I can understand some of the reverse-side anger though.  Tarantino's heart is in the right place, but maybe naively so at times.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 Capsules Part II

There's no doubting that our world can be a hostile, merciless place.  But it's made better by THIS IS NOT A FILM, one of the most imperative artistic statements of the last few years.  It could be an even better world if THIS IS NOT A FILM's creator, Jafar Panahi, were to be freed and pardoned, his 20 year ban from making films lifted in the process.  Tragically, such action isn't looking likely to happen.  For now, we have this final document of the great director to cling to, which is at once a defiant act of bravery, a dirge for artistic freedom, and a plea for action, like an S.O.S. scrolled upon the sand.  It is also, like Kiarostami's masterpiece CLOSE-UP, an ingenious act of distortion between fiction and reality, artistic subject and the artist himself.  It is a miraculously mobile document, constantly in flux even as its subject remains bounded and imprisoned.

The film (or lack thereof) follows Panahi as he remains under house arrest, awaiting the outcome of an appeal on his sentencing (6 years in prison; 20 year ban on filmmaking).  It starts as fairly straight-forward rendering of Panahi's forced domesticity, until Panahi himself turns to the camera and asks to stop, as he feels what he is creating is a lie.  From here, it follows Panahi's attempts to capture instances of truth, even as the film blurs the line between what is real and what is simulated.  In several heartbreaking sequences, Panahi tries in vain to enact a finished screenplay he will never be able to produce.  He reads the screenplay aloud, uses tape on his rug for blocking, and tries to paint with limited means what we will never see and he will never create.  He's barely able to get through it, the emotional weight of his artistic banishment striking him with devastating realization.  Yet he continues on, until the sounds of fireworks from nearby protests frighten him and he quickly loses interest.

From here, the film evolves into one of the most fascinating and profound sequences of the year as Panahi picks up his iPhone and begins filming both his documentor and a young neighbor as he collects trash around their apartment complex.  I have no idea if this sequence is staged or not and it doesn't matter.  In this moment, the director removes his chains and commits an act of defiance at the service of capturing something human.  He's doing what he might as well have been born to do.  His camera follows the neighbor with such devotion and interest, as if it were trying to mine every inch of this young person's being in the briefness of time they have together.  As the two ride in an elevator talking, collecting trash they finally reach floor level and step out into a world at once forbidden yet so palpable it literally burns.  The neighbor walks towards the flames and warns Panahi to stay back.  Panahi follows suit and the film cuts to black.  The brutal reality of the world has interrupted the documentation and hangs over everything like lead.  Yet the document remains.  This final sequence (as well as the entire film itself) serves as a testament to the unconquerable artistic spirit, and more immediately, as an incendiary if painful reminder that the artist, as all things, does not exist within a vacuum.

There are many haunting images in OSLO, AUGUST 31st that resonate well after its running time is over.  Perhaps the one that I keep returning to the most is of our deeply wounded protagonist Anders staring at a beautiful girl gliding in a pool, the untroubled coos of her voice beckoning him to join her while he sits off on the sidelines, a distant spectator like the morning light itself.  Anders looks at the girl with grave determination, his face occasionally breaking into an agonizing smile.  There is a part of him that wants so desperately to join her, to feel the cool water and her wet flesh soft against his own, but he knows with every fiber of his being that he cannot.  Or I should say, he thinks he knows, for that is the central tragedy at the heart of Anders' impasse, and Joachim Trier's quietly moving and extraordinarily humane film.  Anders feels the unbearable burden of his past mistakes and obdurately believes he cannot forgive himself for them.  He looks at the beautiful girl in the pool and he tells himself that she is an unattainable chimera of a present and future reality that he has squandered forever.  The heartbreaking truth about the way he stares at her as that he already feels himself to be a ghost.  And he gives himself only one solution to follow – the final relief of a warm arm and the slow slip into oblivion.

With OSLO, Joachim Trier has made a monumental leap forward from his first film, the promising but ultimately disappointing REPRISE.  Where REPRISE, though intermittently engaging, felt dogged by excessive editing and storytelling quirks, OSLO feels lean and incisive.  A majority of the film is characterized by these highly intimate and emotionally intensive scenes between Anders and just one other character.  Trier lets these scenes unfold with assiduous care and patience.  He trusts that all the emotion and gravity of the scenes can be conveyed through Anders' wonderfully expressive though often opaque countenance.  And they are – beautifully.  Actor Anders Danielsen Lie gives one of the best performances of the year as Anders, a recovering addict unable to see anything beyond the failures of his past.  It's a raw, heart-wrenching performance that is given ample space and time by Trier, as well as an uncommonly sincere measure of empathy.  As humans who have lived with all kinds of mistakes and regrets, we feel an avowed sympathy with Anders.  We forgive him, even though we know he rejects the notion outright and feels he is unworthy.  And we wish, increasingly fruitlessly though no less fervently, that he can eventually forgive himself.  But, like all unavailing dreams, it is not to be.

December Recap

Feature films:
Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935) ***
The Big Trail (1930) ****
A Slight Case of Murder (1938) ***
The Paleface (1948) ****
Wagon Master (1950) ****
Rosetta (1999) ****
Le boucher (1970) ****
Tropical Malady (2005) ****
The Crowd (1928) ****
One Hour With You (1932) ***
The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) ***
The Hobbit (2012) ** 1/2 to 3
Django Unchained (2012) ***
Cosmopolis (2012) ****
Amour (2012) ****
Holy Motors (2012) ****
Tabu (2012) ****
This is Not a Film (2011) ****
Oslo, Augst 31 (2011) ****

Re-watched (holiday edition):

Holiday Inn (1942) ***
White Christmas (1954) *** 1/2
The Shop Around the Corner (1940) ****
Christmas in Connecticut (1945) ****
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) ****
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) ***
The Santa Clause (1994) ** 1/2
Elf (2003) *** 1/2


Homeland Season 1 and 2
Dexter Season 7

HOMELAND Season 1 is as taut a potboiler you're likely to find anywhere these days. Season 2, still tense and eminently watchable, but strays too far into ludicrous territory (plausibility is not something the show often aims for).  A very good show that is easy to watch, but does not reach the heights of GAME OF THRONES, BREAKING BAD, or MAD MEN (still the best triumvirate on TV).

DEXTER Season 7 is the worst the show's produced by far.  Had a better finale then one would have expected though.  Here's hoping the next and final season has more focus and cohesion.  And more Joey Quinn hooker story lines that go nowhere.