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2016: Proximity and Distance

The Edge of Seventeen, Chevalier, Fort Buchanan, The Fits

I like neat bookshelves. I like it when photos are labeled with the date they were taken. And I like to make lists of movies. A year or a decade from now, I won’t remember my favorite films from this year off the top of my head, but I’ll still have this list, illustrated if not annotated. I can skim it, maybe thinking, “That’s right: my girlfriend and I saw #1 and #5 as a double feature. We had a spare half-hour in between so we went out for burgers.” My future self can use this list to hold onto all the joys and bullshit and movies she experienced back in 2016.

Before I really get going, here are 15 other movies I liked, ordered alphabetically: The BFG, Cameraperson, Chevalier, The Edge of Seventeen, Elle, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Fits, Fort Buchanan, The Lobster, Love & Friendship, Manchester by the Sea, Midnight Special, The Shallows, The Thoughts That Once We Had, and The Treasure. Here as well are a trio of special cases that technically aren’t 2016 theatrical releases: Lewis Klahr’s Sixty Six, which apparently screened at MoMA in late 2015; Lemonade by Beyoncé et al, which debuted on HBO this past April; and Looking: The Movie, directed by Andrew Haigh, which HBO aired in July. An animated anthology, a visual album, a TV show’s series finale—and some of the finest new filmmaking I saw this year.

Ten performances that each merit an honorable mention: Krisha Fairchild as the gray-maned namesake of the indie drama Krisha; John Goodman as the post-apocalyptic patriarch in 10 Cloverfield Lane; The Fits’ pint-sized dynamo Royalty Hightower; Stephen Lang as Don’t Breathe’s croaking, undershirt-clad phantom; Jena Malone, who enlivens The Neon Demon by playing her every look and line for maximum innuendo; Trevante Rhodes, whose sidelong glances in the final stretch of Moonlight are suffused with longing; Johnny Simmons, trembling beneath the burden of fame in The Phenom; Little Sister’s bashful Addison Timlin, her heart full of love for both Christ and GWAR; Hailee Steinfeld as an imploding ball of adolescent angst in The Edge of Seventeen; and finally, the late Anton Yelchin, for his work in Star Trek Beyond’s ensemble and as a terrified punk rocker in Green Room. In the parlance of the MTV Movie Awards, he gave this year’s “Best Scared-As-Shit Performance.”

Now here’s my list:

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Link Dump: #88

This week’s kitty is gazing ominously at the title character of Edward Dmytryk’s The Sniper, which I wrote about recently. Never have I seen a cat with more accusing eyes. And now, some links:

This week’s sexual search terms include “slippery teen twat first time with looney toons” (ewww…?) and the amusingly self-censoring “bondage mind-effing.” Mind-effing!

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2011: It Was a Very Good Year

Back in May, I saw my first 2011 movie: Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. I was pleasantly floored. Seven months later, it’s become the consensus Movie Of The Year. But in the meantime, I’ve caught up with a few dozen other new releases, some of which smacked me even harder. It’s been a rich, ripe year for movies. Here’s a highlight reel of my favorite bits and pieces…

Scenes

  • The opening heist in Drive. I love the full movie, but it peaks early with this thrilling set-piece that doesn’t waste a shot or second. The sound design alone is as meticulous as any I’ve heard this year, balancing layers of aural information while keeping the viewer on edge. I can’t imagine a better way to kick off a crime thriller.
  • The dueling Michael Caine impressions in The Trip. It’s just two performers (Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon) showing off, fighting to out-funny and out-ego one another. As such, it’s both an ideal comic showcase and the film’s midlife crisis narrative boiled down its essence.
  • The insult competition between Annie (Kristen Wiig) and a bitchy teenager in Bridesmaids. It’s an exercise in pure, improvised cruelty as Wiig and Mia Frampton, daughter of Peter, trade verbal daggers. (“You look like an old mop” might be my favorite.) Wiig isn’t afraid to get dirty or self-deprecating, and in this scene she’s at her funniest/lowest, losing her job with the checkmate line “You’re a little cunt.”
  • The performance of “The Show” in Moneyball. Kerris Dorsey and Brad Pitt sit in a music store. Dorsey, talented but a little shy, starts strumming a guitar and singing. It’s an understated scene of father/daughter bonding, one that studiously avoids cliché while setting the film on course to its emotional climax.
  • The climax of Attack the Block. Moses (John Boyega) finally gets his “hero” moment as he runs down a hall: sword in hand, firecracker in mouth, with gorilla-wolf motherfuckers snapping at his heels, and all in slow-motion. Add Basement Jaxx’s riveting soundtrack, and you’ve got an adrenaline-infused scene that plays like the best kind of side-scrolling video game.

Performances

  • Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia, for blending vulnerability, eroticism, and despair in her reaction to the end of the world;
  • Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for being so silently perceptive he might’ve had X-ray vision, a bastion of maturity in a nest of childish spies;
  • Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin for turning her face into a portrait of motherhood-as-PTSD;
  • Brendan Gleeson in The Guard for cutting loose and flaunting his appetites as a 21st century Falstaff;
  • Mia Wasikowska in Jane Eyre for her ultra-Victorian restraint and her ability to match Michael Fassbender’s heights of passion;
  • Ben Kingsley in Hugo for concealing a father of cinema and inveterate showman beneath a mask of grumpiness;
  • Monica del Carmen in Leap Year for treating extreme sexuality as of a piece with the quotidian, lonely stretches of life;
  • Corey Stoll in Midnight in Paris for bringing energy and comedy to his take on a literary icon;
  • and Pollyanna McIntosh in The Woman for being feral, fascinating, and terrifying.

And now, my top five movies of the year…

#5: Martha Marcy May Marlene, directed by Sean Durkin

Every frame of Durkin’s debut feature made my skin crawl. A threat was palpable even in its most innocuous moments, and I’m not merely talking about the threat of physical violence. The danger in MMMM is much scarier than that in a typical horror film: Patrick’s cult threads its evil dogmas through the title character’s brain, leaving her with severe psychic hemorrhaging. She’s cleft into two times and lives, and it’s to Elizabeth Olsen’s credit that she plays both halves—the quivering bundle of fear and the would-be “teacher and leader”—within the same role, sometimes within the same gesture.

Olsen’s unease is supplemented by Jody Lee Lipes’ zoom-happy camera, applying the ambient paranoia of ’70s thrillers to the lakes and forests of the northeast. The whole film is colored by Martha’s anxiety; even a tree, branches shuddering in the wind as she flees the cult, is imbued with sinister intent. A story of atmospheric horror and systematized violence, Martha Marcy May Marlene itself has crawled into my mind and taken up residence. My one major misgiving lies in the treatment of Martha’s sister and brother-in-law. They feel too schematically bourgeois for this otherwise loose, suggestive film. Nonetheless, I’m dying to see what Durkin tries next.

#4: Meek’s Cutoff, directed by Kelly Reichardt

Steeped in the tedium of frontier history, streaked with political subtext, Reichardt’s revisionist western muffles its narrative progress. Its story expands through gestures, accidents, and mistakes. The film’s survival-oriented, focusing on the compromises and sacrifices necessary for human life in the wilderness. For the seven settlers led by guide Stephen Meek, every decision is a life-or-death decision: can a captive Native American lead them to water? Does salvation lie just over a hillside? Either they act together and make the right choice, or they die.

These colossal stakes drench the story in tension. Even as Reichardt dwells on textures and period details—the toil of reloading a rifle; the clash between dusty pink dresses and the parched landscape—the threat of endless wandering hangs over the pioneers’ heads. The actors wear it well, exchanging dazed, exhausted looks. And from this tired band, Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams) emerges as the only real hero, an understated, proto-feminist badass. With its arid compositions, Meek’s Cutoff turns western myth into tragicomic reality.

#3: Certified Copy, directed by Abbas Kiarostami

This discursive duet poses a riddle: “Are they or aren’t they?” But Certified Copy’s delights go far beyond its core mystery. That question is an intellectual spark, lighting up a dozen other points of inquiry: the film dives into art history, relationships, academia, and more through the ruminations of author James Miller and the nameless French woman leading him around Tuscany. Despite being one long conversation, the film never lacks for visual dynamism; Kiarostami tends toward beautiful static shots, but his camera often orbits the couple in graceful, deliberate movements.

And as if to complement Certified Copy’s technical and natural allure, Juliette Binoche gives the performance of the year. Binoche is always an exceptional actress, silently adding wrinkles to her every role, but this is something new. She’s sweet but tough, giving the impression that every delicate word she speaks is forged from a lifetime of experience. Her sparring partner, opera singer William Shimell, is a decent enough actor, but Binoche draws my eyes even when she’s off-screen. Midway through the film, she has a sudden breakdown in a café, and it’s unlike anything else I saw this year. You can see the shape of the movie totally changing as a single tear runs down her face.

#2: Weekend, directed by Andrew Haigh

Russell (Tom Cullen) is relaxed, receding, sometimes melancholy. Glen (Chris New) is iconoclastic and impulsive. They’re the two poles of this bittersweet, naturalistic gay romance, and two of the year’s most unforgettable characters. Weekend hits all the right notes; it has all the awkwardness and tentative desire of an embryonic relationship, all the embarrassment and incidental comedy of sex. It astonishes me with its range of moods, as it shifts from funny banter to heartbreaking revelations in seconds, without ever seeming forced or jerky.

It’s such a humanistic film, too, so sympathetic to its couple’s pains as gay men in a homophobic world and as lovers whose relationship is squashed by circumstance before it has a chance to blossom. It has no “Notting Hill moment,” as Glen says derisively. Instead, its climax is a quiet little conversation about coming out as they lie in bed. It’s just a handful of lines, but it still tears me apart. Cullen and New have plenty of sexual chemistry, but beyond that, they have a powerful rapport. They work as an onscreen couple. 2012s romantic comedies will have an incredibly hard time topping them.

#1: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

I’ve written about Uncle Boonmee here and at 366 Weird Movies. My point remains the same: it’s a spellbinding experience, an invitation to another world, and a collection of weird folk tales all rolled into one feature film. As I sat watching it for the first time in the Walker Art Center’s movie theater, I was utterly hooked. All it took was that opening scene, where a bovine pack animal shuffles through a velvety forest. Apichatpong handles his vast themes (death, morality, the afterlife) with the humor and imagination they deserve, and it makes for one hell of an entertaining movie.

Touring through past and future, caves and glades, human and animal worlds, Uncle Boonmee is dense with narrative tangles and metaphysical conceits. But it doesn’t gloat about its ambitions. It wears them lightly in a spirit of friendliness and warmth. I’ve never seen a ghost story or an art film like it. Open-ended, curious, and unusual at every turn, Uncle Boonmee is exactly what I want out of a movie.

[I have yet to see A Dangerous MethodHouse of PleasuresLe Quattro VolteMargaretPoetryA SeparationShame, or Take Shelter.]

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Link Dump: #43

This week’s kitty is being played with by some Thai kids in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s debut feature Mysterious Object at Noon. It’s totally unrelated to the substance of the film, but who cares? It’s a kitty! And as usual, it’s followed by a series of really great links:

We had a few epically odd search terms this past week, like the bizarrely misspelled and redundant “inside veiw of a pragnant womans pussy insides.” And “كرتون كايوتك سكس,” which is apparently Arabic for “Cartoon Sex Cayotk,” whatever that means. Unfortunately, I have to close with the most uncomfortable search term of the week, and possibly all time: “the joys of fucking your daughter.” Yeah.

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Remembrance of Lives Past

By Andreas (500th post!)

If I want to watch a movie that follows patterns I already know, I can find one at any theater. If I need to see movies I can easily understand, ones that coddle me and flatter my intelligence, they’re all over the place. But a movie that confuses me, intrigues me, and shows me something I’ve never seen before? That would be something rare and ambitious. That would be Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s out-of-this-world Palme d’Or-winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2011).

If you’ve read about Uncle Boonmee before, you’ve probably been exposed to a broad plot synopsis. Something like “As he dies of a kidney ailment, Uncle Boonmee is visited by ghosts from his past and recollects his past lives…” But Weerasethakul (also known as “Joe”) is a very playful director, and you won’t get anywhere with Uncle Boonmee if you’re too literal-minded. It’s wrapped loosely around a linear story, but it’s more accurately a series of visually lush riffs on the themes of death, loss, longing, and reincarnation.

Between these vignettes, Uncle Boonmee takes many forms. It’s a video installation, a folk tale, and some fantastic mesh of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. It’s maybe about Buddhism in modern-day Thailand, and maybe about militaristic bloodshed of the 1970s. With its unconventional structure and never-ending ambiguity, the film leaves few options: either marvel at the enchanting imagery, the droll humor, and Weerasethakul’s limitless imagination, or else protest the absurdity and the lack of clarity. It’s an “in or out?” proposition.

But once you step into Uncle Boonmee‘s magical world, you can succumb to its idiosyncratic rhythms. The film starts out at dusk, with a stray ox languidly strolling through the forest, and then introduces the red-eyed Monkey Ghosts, spirits who haunt its margins. With its leafy, gently supernatural milieu, Uncle Boonmee might be an avant-garde cousin of the anime classic Princess Mononoke. Just like Miyazaki, Weerasethakul sees potential friends and discoveries in even every corner of the wilderness.

I’ve only scraped the surface of Uncle Boonmee’s weird, powerful contents. There’s an erotic/comic interlude with a princess and a catfish, a segment consisting entirely of still images, and a finale I don’t think I’ll ever understand. But I don’t need to understand it in order to enjoy it—it’s like listening to a skilled storyteller carrying on in a beautiful alien language. I have little to no idea what literally happens in Uncle Boonmee, but I do have a whole set of powerful impressions and intuitions no other movie could give me, and I wouldn’t trade those for anything.

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Link Dump: #32

What better than a lunar cat family to host this week’s (rather full) Link Dump! I was never personally fond of Diana myself; adding kids to the mix just ruins everything (just like what happened when they added Rini/Chibusa; you’d think they’d learn from their mistakes) but it’s an adorable kitty family to go with some adorable (and some severely not adorable) links!

Not much to share in the realm of search terms this week: we had somebody looking for the “la belle et la bete porn version” (hint: Cocteau didn’t make one, although Genet’s Chant d’Amour is as close as you’re going to get); someone else typed in the run-of-the-mill misspelling “secks fail”; and finally, we continue our chronicle of icky bestiality search terms with “fucking “cow pussy””. Does this mean the searcher wanted to learn about how to fuck cow pussies? Or just, you know, colloquially: fuckin’ cow pussy? We may never know. (I hope.)

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Link Dump: #25

I found The Amityville Horror ’79 to be pretty underwhelming overall. I love haunted house movies, but this one wouldn’t fucking end, and it was basically the same series of events repeated endlessly. (The homeowners noticed something odd/violent, then shrugged it off.) Even Rod Steiger as a blind priest couldn’t save it. However, it did have a memorable moment where the black cat above bursts into sight, then disappears forever, as if to say, “KITTY!” (or maybe “Your house is haunted!) So keep that in mind if your house ever starts acting funny. Till then, here are some spooky haunted links:

  • Self-promotion alert! I recently reviewed a truly terrible independent horror movie called M.O.N. over at 366 Weird Movies. I sacrificed a whole hour of my life to watch this shit. Those are the breaks.
  • Moving Image Source has a great piece by Paul Brunick on Joseph McBride, film biography, and Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind.
  • Also from Moving Image Source, we’ve got a great essay by Lindsay Peters on the sci-fi movies produced by the Left Bank filmmakers of the French New Wave! (I <3 Marker and Resnais’s sci-fi, so this piece gets my gold star. Kudos to Moving Image Source!)
  • Some Guy On the Net has a very deep understanding of what makes Toy Story 3 such a win: its depiction of love.
  • This “Famous Objects from Classic Movies” game is fun and addictive, and doesn’t always go with the obvious choices. Thankfully, it has an ending point!
  • If you haven’t glanced over these passive-aggressive emails sent by Donald Rumsfeld, regarding Condoleeza Rice, now is the time. It gives a very interesting (read: horrifying) impression of the people who ran this country for almost a decade.
  • I plan to talk about Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives in the near future. In the meantime, you can read two great interviews with its director, Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul, at The A.V. Club and PopMatters. He sounds like a very affable, intelligent, and creative guy, which is no surprise considering his body of work.
  • The Horror Digest‘s Andre Dumas does one of my favorite things: questions received wisdom about film history. Specifically, she wrote about Thirteen Women (1932), starring The Thin Man‘s Myrna Loy, which could lay claim to being “the first slasher.”
  • Five words: David Lynch’s Dune coloring book.

Sadly, the strangest search terms we had all involved rape, so I decided not to post them. I’ll leave you with this: “nope cant find a single fuck.”

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