Tag Archives: terrence malick

2013: A Lucky Year

Upstream Color, Drug War, This Is Martin Bonner, The Act of Killing

I always like to say that cinema is a menagerie, not a horse race. In support of that sentiment—and because my list employs no faultless critical methodology; my love for #25 is just a hair’s breadth away from my love for #1—here are 15 additional titles, listed in alphabetical order, before I even begin: The Act of KillingAprès maiBefore MidnightComputer ChessDrug WarThe GrandmasterLeviathanNoStories We TellThis Is Martin Bonner12 Years a SlaveUpstream ColorViolaThe Wind Rises, and The Wolf of Wall Street. (For yet more, you can see this year’s Indiewire poll and #12FilmsaFlickering, in both of which I participated.)

Furthermore, here are 10 performances that just barely missed my list (but I guess actually did make my list, since I’m listing them here): Gael García Bernal, blending ad industry satire with political revolution in No; Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, two magnificent actors bound together by love and venom in Before Midnight; Anna Margaret Hollyman, catatonically depressed among holiday cheer in White Reindeer; Sun Honglei and Louis Koo, giving a pair of symbiotic performances as the narcotics officer and his snitch in Drug War; To the Wonders ethereally feminine Olga KurylenkoSaskia Rosendahl, the ideal Grimm fairy tale heroine for Lore; Amy Seimetz in Upstream Color as a woman whose identity is upended by loss; and Miles Teller, who exudes such friendliness in The Spectacular Now.

Each year I give an award for the Best Performance in a Documentary, past recipients of which have included Thierry Guetta (Exit Through the Gift Shop), Joyce McKinney (Tabloid), and Frédéric Bourdin (The Imposter). This year’s winner is the “star” of The Act of Killing, Anwar Congo.

10) Museum Hours, directed by Jem Cohen

Rippling out from Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum to the cold city beyond its walls, this uncommonly humane film blurs the border between great art and the real world. Structured by the happenstance friendship of two lonely strangers, Museum Hours dabbles in streetside documentary while capturing a plethora of artistic practices: the paintings of the Old Masters, the music of actress Mary Margaret O’Hara, the architecture of this old European city. It’s a gentle movie, and comforting like a thick winter coat.

Lola Crèton was good in Après mai, but cuts even deeper as a nonverbal abuse victim in Bastards, registering trauma in her bruised body and blank face.

I love the oblivious grin that stays on David Cross’s face while he endures history’s most awkward brunch in It’s a Disaster.

9) To the Wonder, directed by Terrence Malick

Elements of Malick’s style—the impressionistic montage, the pensive voiceover, the magic hour lighting—are becoming commonplace in ambitious new indies, but nobody can pull them off quite like Malick himself. His camera snakes its way through present-day Oklahoma, discovering beauty, passion, and embattled faith at every turn. It’s brash filmmaking, earnest filmmaking, sculpting less a story than a whole emotional environment out of Middle America.

I hated The Great Gatsby, but I loved Elizabeth Debicki, the Australian actress who plays Jordan Baker with sinuous movement and suggestive eyes.

Nick Frost takes a turn as straight man in The World’s End, counterbalancing Simon Pegg’s comic wildness before drunkenly brawling all through the film’s second half.

8) Bastards, directed by Claire Denis

Your unconscious is the soil, Denis is the gardener, Bastards is the seed. The flowers, presumably, will smell rotten and be nothing but thorns. Laced with Tindersticks’ throbbing score, this noir-horror nightmare leaves dark impressions of erotic and financial transgression, of a world where everyone and everything is a bastard at heart. Denis builds this bleak story from the top down, letting images and actions accumulate; by the time you realize what’s going on, you’re already right at the bottom.

Zhang Ziyi is impressive in The Grandmaster not merely due to her elegance, steeliness, and graceful kung fu but because of the palpably broken heart she carries beneath it all.

In Computer Chess, Patrick Riester represents nerdy introversion sympathetically, yet with an undercurrent of extremely deadpan comedy.

7) The World’s End, directed by Edgar Wright

Mixing boozy verbal comedy with John Wyndham-style sci-fi and virtuosic action set pieces, The World’s End is pop filmmaking at its finest (and most affecting). Even as its story expands, putting the fate of humanity in the hands of a few beer-soaked Brits, the film stays intimate, letting its characters mull over their regrets and tangled relationships. Riotous comic motifs like “Let’s Boo-Boo,” The Three Musketeers, and “selective memory” froth with both linguistic wit and increasing poignancy, and it all unfolds at a pace so frantic that it’s easy to lose track of how inventive the whole thing is.

Like Lola Crèton, Lupita Nyong’o plays a victim in 12 Years a Slave, a woman who experiences constant abuse and humiliation, but does so with jarring resilience and a gleam of strength mingling with terror in her eyes.

Rob Lowe’s hair and demeanor in Behind the Candelabra are bone-chilling, yet impossible to look away from. He’s like the Dr. Pretorius of plastic surgery.

6) Like Someone in Love, directed by Abbas Kiarostami

Playfully, meticulously, like someone designing a puzzle, Kiarostami has built his follow-up to Certified Copy out of audiovisual information. He couples 360° of sound with very selective individual frames, telling us exactly what we need to know about young escort Akiko and the men in her life as she drifts through the neon-dotted Tokyo night. It’s an ambling, elliptical film of false surfaces and well-played roles; a puzzle that lacks a solution, but still contains several of the cinematic year’s most unforgettable car rides.

Emma Watson in The Bling Ring puts every “Millennials” thinkpiece to shame with her satirical tweaking of 21st century vanity and greed.

Dwayne Johnson’s born-again doofus in Pain & Gain is like the Second Coming of Curly Howard, growing funnier every time he says the word “Eldad.”

5) The Unspeakable Act, directed by Dan Sallitt

I won’t bullshit you: this is a movie about incest. But it’s not even remotely the kind of the movie that the words “about incest” conjure up. It’s not sensational, miserabilist, or provocative. Instead it’s a coming-of-age story told patiently, modestly, with many quiet scenes playing out in long takes. Jackie does want to have sex with her brother, but she’s also a teenage girl with a razor-sharp intellect who’s growing up in Brooklyn and trying to figure herself out. I want to see more indie dramas as self-defined as The Unspeakable Act, a film whose emotions and sense of humor may be subdued, but are no less powerful for it.

Sun Don’t Shines Kate Lyn Sheil made for a genuinely scary femme fatale, at once sweaty, unpredictable, and childlike.

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street is the latest avatar of white-collar crime, with a black hole ego and a knack for druggy physical comedy.

4) Behind the Candelabra, directed by Steven Soderbergh

Supposedly Soderbergh’s final feature, this is a showbiz biopic that’s been filtered through Fassbinder and mummified in camp. Set deep within the glitzy, gay heaven/hell of Liberace’s estate, the film’s rife with betrayal and body horror—but it also aches with an authentic desire for love. Power and sex are exchanged as Lee tries to become Scott’s “father, lover, brother, best friend,” a gesture that’s both sweet and frightening. Behind the Candelabra intertwines the bodies of Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as they give life to a reality smothered beneath the artifice of the entertainment industry.

Stoker makes a lot of sudden swerves and feints, but Mia Wasikowska is consistently extraordinary, her face flickering between agony and arousal.

Paul Eenhoorn’s very mild-mannered in This Is Martin Bonner, yet his work’s still so powerful, with notes of regret and spiritual confusion submerged within.

3) Beyond the Hills, directed by Cristian Mungiu

Step by harrowing step, this religious drama moves toward its predestined end. No one wants it that way—certainly not the well-intentioned nuns at this drab rural convent, nor their young victim Alina—but the options grow fewer in number over the film’s sprawling run time until finally the story comes to a dead end. Neither Alina’s erratic behavior nor her love for a childhood friend (now wholly committed to God) fall within the order’s narrow moral parameters. So in agonizing static shots, she’s pushed and pulled by medical and economic forces beyond her control. Mungiu’s austerity contains empathy, but the most prominent feeling here is despair at the cost of faith.

As the star of Concussion, Robin Weigert breathes new life into the “bored suburban housewife” type. Her obliging smiles, weariness, sexual willingness, and yes, marriage to a woman all make this performance something different.

Who better to lead the audience through Chinese history than Tony Leung, playing the debonair and ass-kicking yet wistful Ip Man in The Grandmaster?

2) Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

The Coens have made a musical comedy where the comedy’s gone sour, and the music stings of the pain that went into making it. It’s a period piece that doesn’t gloss over a single ugly detail of early ’60s Manhattan. And it’s a character study about an artist who keeps losing people and missing out on opportunities, usually through his own short-sighted decisions. Wrenching in its absurdism and cold as the winter air, Inside Llewyn Davis is structured like an odyssey that winds up back at Troy. Good thing, then, that Llewyn’s music (unprofitable though it may be) is still cathartic as all hell.

Acerbic and idiosyncratic, Tallie Medel’s work in The Unspeakable Act resists cliché while pushing deep inside her thorny character.

I still find it hard to believe how dynamic, pathetic, pained, and hilarious Simon Pegg is as he talks a mile a minute through The World’s End

1) Frances Ha, directed by Noah Baumbach

I’ll admit to a certain demographic vulnerability where this movie is concerned. Like Frances, I’m a liberal arts grad and aspiring artist in my mid-twenties who has trouble socializing and earning money. But this movie’s pleasures go so much farther than merely seeing oneself onscreen. It’s musical, whether that refers to the soundtrack’s snatches of Bowie and Georges Delerue or the rhythms that accumulate among its shots, scenes, and bits of plotting. It also has the most biting dialogue in recent memory, flowing in every direction throughout the movie. (I could spend days just unpacking and reveling in Mickey Sumner’s “This douche is my affianced.”) Speckled with joys and tinged with sorrow, Frances Ha is definitely a movie for “now,” but I suspect it’ll be a movie for the decades to come, too.

(If you want more, by the way, a clip of me discussing Frances Ha was included in The Cinephiliacs’ “2013 Favorites (Part 1)” episode, starting around 33:00.)

Of course, Frances Ha couldn’t be what it is without co-writer/star Greta Gerwig, who physically manifests her character’s awkwardness and self-deceit, wrings self-deprecating punchlines out of every encounter, and makes even her feeblest victories feel hard-won.

Nearly matching Gerwig is Oscar Isaac, who plays Inside Llewyn Davis’s sullen title character. He utters resigned “Okay”s like white flags raised toward Fate. He sings as if his world-weariness left him no other choice. Llewyn’s is not the voice of a generation, and Isaac lets us know that it couldn’t be any other way.

[Movies I have yet to see include At Berkeley, Captain Phillips, The Counselor, Enough Said, The Last Time I Saw MacaoLaurence Anyways, Post Tenebras Lux, and A Touch of Sin.]

1 Comment

Filed under Cinema

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Texan

A couple of weeks ago, in a haze of post-Cannes enthusiasm, I said of Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life: “I’m a sucker for cosmic spectacle, so Malick’s long-awaited Palme d’Or-winner might just do the trick for me.” I guessed right, because as soon as the screen filled with fireballs, asteroids, and planetary ballets, I was sucked in. The half-hour experimental film lodged in the middle of The Tree of Life held me rapt, glued to my seat, with my eyes wide open. (Mind you, this was at 10 AM on a Friday morning.) It’s like an expansion of the Rite of Spring sequence from Fantasia (or Boléro from Allegro Non Troppo), with a dose of Stan Brakhage and Godfrey Reggio.

Furthermore, I loved the dinosaurs. A lot of critics have derided the entire creation-of-earth sequence as misjudged, and they may be half-right, but let me posit this: in just a few prehistoric minutes, Malick outdid just about every other appearance of CGI dinosaurs ever. CGI dinosaurs are traditionally used, after all, as big, scary plot devices. Even Jurassic Park, the Citizen Kane of dinosaur movies, only gave its dinosaurs as much personality as was necessary for them to terrorize Laura Dern. Malick, however, treats his dinosaurs with as much tenderness and attention to detail as his human characters. It shows just how powerful special effects can be when used by a thoughtful filmmaker, self-indulgent as he may be.

My only problem with this abbreviated glimpse at the birth of the universe is that it makes The Tree of Life feel so piecemeal. Most of the film is devoted to Jack O’Brien—Sean Penn as an adult; the precocious Hunter McCracken as a boy—and his memories of childhood in 1950s Texas. The only real connective thread we get is the sense that the intimate is epic, that Jack’s personal development is analogous to the development of life on earth. Like much of the film itself, this logic is abstract, airy, and audacious, but slightly dissatisfying.

But that’s OK. The Tree of Life doesn’t have to be perfect, because it’s enthralling, poignant, and truly original, with enough quietly powerful imagery for several whole movies (possibly the ones Malick could’ve made in the past forty years). Edited in a swift-footed, anecdotal style that reminds me of Alain Resnais, with a camera that floats like a ghost and runs like a puppy, The Tree of Life darts with curious energy through Jack’s memories. We see his parents through his eyes: an angelic Jessica Chastain and a clean-cut, ex-Navy Brad Pitt who could be carved from the side of a mountain.

Sometimes these recollections will start to blend together; they’re so fragmentary and their borders are so ill-defined. But the film is unconcerned with narrative except in the broadest sense: Malick’s trying to capture the textures of childhood, its ebbs and flows, its guilty secrets and countless traumas. Sometimes he gets at this through fleeting father-and-son conversations, but more often it’s through glances and movements. Pitt and Chastain are only seen through Jack’s eyes, but their performances still speak about the joys of child-rearing and the tragedies of lost dreams.

Most of The Tree of Life unfolds with lyrical potency, tonally akin to a paean or a prayer. By this token, the film’s greatest failings are its occasional dips into bright, soppy sentiment. During a few fantastic interludes rife with whispered voiceover and, especially, during parts of the quasi-apocalyptic finale, The Tree of Life felt like the Lubezki-lensed equivalent to those tacky porcelain cherubs you see in thrift stores, or like the world’s greatest Hallmark Channel movie. But even then, and even when Sean Penn wanders superfluously around the fuzzy edges of the film, the evocation of family life is strong enough to carry the film along.

The Tree of Life was the first 2011 film I’ve seen. If the year yields anything else this good, I’ll be very, very happy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema

You Cannes Always Get What You Want

By Andreas

Now that Cannes 2011 has wrapped, here’s a short list of my most-anticipated films from the festival. With any luck, most or all of them will be headed to an arthouse theater near me soon!

  • Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. The lackluster trailer and Woody’s recent track record weren’t exactly getting my hopes up, but once I learned that Kathy Bates and Scott Pilgrim‘s Alison Pill play Gertrude Stein and Zelda Fitzgerald respectively, I knew I’d have to see it. Will Owen Wilson make a suitable Woody surrogate? Will it be so cutely erudite that I’ll throw up? I can’t wait to find out!
  • Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. I already wrote about how intensely I want to see this, and that intensity continues to grow. An Oscar-caliber Tilda Swinton performance! John C. Reilly! Stream-of-consciousness narrative! YEAH.
  • Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist. I’m excited by both The Artist‘s plot—it’s a silent comedy/melodrama about Hollywood’s transition to sound—and its loose resemblance to Guy Maddin’s movies. It sounds like the best kind of cinephile junk food.
  • Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. I can’t wait to see Durkin’s debut feature, a harrowing cult-themed drama (which, like Midnight in Paris, played out of the main competition). The fact that it co-stars John Hawkes from Winter’s Bone is icing on the cake.
  • Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Although sometimes put off by his ponderousness, I adore Malick’s childlike wonderment at the world. (And just try not to be blown away by the house-burning sequence in Badlands.) I’m a sucker for cosmic spectacle, so Malick’s long-awaited Palme d’Or-winner might just do the trick for me.
  • Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Speaking of cosmic spectacle, the trailer for Melancholia really impressed me, and the casting of John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling as an old married couple would get my ass in the theater to see Transformers 3. When mixed with Von Trier and the end of the world? Ohhh yes.
  • Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In. I’m just crazy about face transplant movies like Face Behind the Mask, Eyes Without a Face, and The Face of Another. If I can get that with Almodóvar’s uniquely dark, sensual sensibility, I will be a happy moviegoer.
  • Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive. This is tied with Kevin, Melancholia, and MMMM for “most most-anticipated.” Ryan Gosling in an existential action movie? Yes please, and thank you.

What Cannes-tastic new movies are you excited to see?

4 Comments

Filed under Cinema

Link Dump: #13

Inspired by today’s Kindertrauma Funhouse, the above picture comes from Roger Corman’s early black comedy A Bucket of Blood (1959), something of a companion piece to Little Shop of Horrors (1960). In it, Dick Miller plays Walter Paisley (a character he would play many more times), a busboy who wants to be a beatnik artist. He gets the chance when he accidentally stabs his landlady’s poor kitty, Frankie, and turns the corpse into a sculpture. What follows is Corman’s usual Faustian drama wrapped in dark humor, all filmed on recycled sets with a budget of pocket change. And yet another horror movie kitty bites the dust (or, I guess, bites the clay).

And now, to celebrate our lucky 13th Link Dump, I’ve got a ginormous parade of links that runs the gamut from depressing to hilarious to fascinating and back again. The Internet was pretty talkative this week, and now you get to reap the fruits of my copy-and-paste labor. Enjoy!

  • As you’ve probably heard, actor/comedian extraordinaire Leslie Nielsen died last Sunday at age 84. The Internet is full of remembrances; here are a few from Paracinema, My Life, at 24 Frames Per Second, True Classics, and Roger Ebert. Also, here are my own Twitter-bound reminiscences.
  • Here are two awesome LGBTQ lists: one of comic book characters and one of 2010 books.
  • Empire has a fun time-waster: a poster quiz featuring individual letters from movie posters. I got 16/46, including Showgirls. (Who could forget that typography?) What score can you get?
  • Over at Splitsider, former Simpsons writer/producer (and Mission Hill co-creator) has been writing about the Simpsons writing process; most recently, he’s done a detailed look at the evolution of “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song.”
  • The Criterion Collection! Female filmmakers!
  • Leo McCarey’s hard-to-find My Son John (1952) is on Netflix Instant! Let’s all go watch it, quick! [Thanks to the Self-Styled Siren for the tip-off.]
  • Artforum has 2010 Top 10 movie lists from John Waters and Mark Webber. The latter’s list is mostly avant-garde, while Waters’ is predictably wild and eclectic. Alas, out of all 20, I’ve only seen Dogtooth and Life During Wartime. Better get watching! (And more: Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw’s best of 2010.)
  • From a Vanity Fair interview: Johnny Depp on his characters’ sexualities and his desire to play Hamlet.
  • Terence Malick’s making a movie immediately after The Tree of Life!! Has anyone checked to make sure this is the same Malick we’re talking about? His new project (potentially titled The Burial) will – according to the TheWrap.com article linked above – feature Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem.
  • Hey, it’s that time again! Censorship Time! Thanks to the Catholic League and Speaker of the House John Boehner, a David Wojnarowicz video piece has been removed from an exhibit in the National Portrait Gallery. Don’t you just love the abuse of political power to supplant the artistic expression of a man who’s been dead since 1992? JESUS. (Literally – the piece was about Jesus.) [GLAAD has another article about the censorship.]
  • As a pick-me-up, how about some terrible but still funny typography jokes?
  • Matt Mazur of PopMatters wrote a long, in-depth essay on one of my favorite movies, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. I love it when people do that.
  • Speaking of long, in-depth essays on movies I love, Ed Howard at Only the Cinema has one on Edward Dmytryk’s disturbing, underrated film noir The Sniper! “Stop me. Find me and stop me. I’m going to do it again.” Arthur Franz is terrifying.
  • We all love Criterion’s gorgeous DVD cover designs, but some genius decided to make fake Criterion-style covers for movies like The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) and Bio-Dome (1996). Delightful.
  • This just in! Sarah Dopp wants to make a marketplace for genderplayful clothing! It’s a super-cool idea, and you should totally show your support! Yeah!

We’re running tragically low on funny/weird search terms because of how WordPress has reformatted their system, but I still have some porntastic treats for you. For example, “the horny lady in the caravan” is a pretty enigmatic search, as is the horrendously spelled “sex pusy bleak girlls.” One of those four words is not like the others. (It’s “bleak.”) Someone sought out “xander berkeley + sexuality,” which I applaud. (Berkeley, for what it’s worth, is an underappreciated character actor in films, TV, and animation; he played insensitive husbands in two of my favorite films of the ’90s, Candyman and [Safe].) And finally, we had that old classic, “pussy om nom nom.” And a merry pussy om nom nom to you too, dear reader!

[Note from Ashley:  Andreas is no longer allowed to pick the pictures for the link dumps. He picks too many disturbing pictures of kitties and it upsets me greatly.]

2 Comments

Filed under art, Cinema