Sunday, January 10, 2010

Love & Squalor's 100 Most Influential of the Decade pt. 9, 84-92

Synecdoche, New York (2008) : Ebert says this is the best film of the decade. I'd say it's definitely close. Repeatedly shunned as pretentious drivel, I saw this as a beautiful movie worthy of repeat viewings. Like all of Charlie Kaufman's work, it teeters on the brink of science fiction and madness, using abstraction ultimately to present something that is simply human. This is a film about life in the broadest sense of the term, and because of that, many may find the scope a little overwhelming. In depicting so much, the viewer is forced to filter it into so little, but the pieces are all there. Relationships, decisions, dreams, worries, neurosis, bodily limitations, birth, death, loneliness; everything happens and what the viewer sees determines the individual's own personal experience. As Kaufman's first film in the director's chair this is a very impressive (and highly ambitious) effort that I hope won't be his last. One day, when all talk of its lofty intentions has died down, film geeks will covet this movie and wonder how it was ever so ignored. (WD)

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) We at Love & Squalor are huge Woody Allen fangirls, and lucky for us, Allen keeps giving us good reasons to back up our claims. He is, of course, hilarious when doing comedy, or flawless when creating thrillers and dramas, but the main thing that makes him so unique and successful is his skill in turning the setting of his work into a character. Think back to the beauty of Manhattan, the intensity of the English backdrop in Match Point or Cassandra's Dream. Vicki Cristina Barcelona is no different, the country of Spain coming to life as two friends travel through it. The film has intense performances, especially between the two ex-lovers/current lovers Javier Bardem (alluring and sleazy in the perfect Woody Allen way) and Penelope Cruz (who won the Oscar), whose real life chemistry starts fires on screen. Scarlett Johansson, who almost always leaves me feeling more perturbed than impressed, her blandness masked in faux intellectual sexuality, actually works perfectly for Cristina as a character, all hip naive know-it-all, similar to your friends who recently discovered veganism or in this case, polyamory. Even when the drama is at its highest, the film still feels like going on a big romantic vacation where you hang out in a beautiful villa, in a beautiful city, with beautiful people, and make art. (M)

The Wrestler (2008) There's always been something about Mickey Rourke that was undeniably appealing, even after he seemed to slip over the edge and into Hollywood eccentricity. His strange behavior is real, it's who he is, not just a press hungry ploy. But at the same time, he seems to have a genuine good spirit and sweet smile that makes up for any judgment you might begin to formulate. In Darren Aronofsky's most recent film, it's Rourke that makes it special. The film resurrected his career, and at times, watching him play Randy the Ram, a wrestler also trying to fight against a load of adversity to just succeed one more time, to prove himself, hits a little too close to home. There is no barrier between Rourke and his character, he is Randy. Like Rourke himself, Randy is a bit of a loser you should shake your head at but can't help but love, and it makes you fall in love with the movie. It's disgusting that the Academy snubbed Rourke and Aronofsky for this film. Although more visually tame than his other films like Requiem for a Dream or The Fountain, Aronofsky still manages to give us an intimately shot film that matches the intimate quality of the acting. Everything is laid bare here and it's a treat to get involved in it. (M)

Antichrist (2009) Lars Von Trier's most recent film has been called a lot of things, from misogynistic to graphically violent crap and pure genius. In typical Von Trier style, he has nothing to say in response; and he shouldn't have to say anything. Antichrist isn't really a film, but more a direct projection of every inner fear, engrossing depression, and terror that Von Trier felt while writing it on the verge of suicide. Never before has anyone, in any film, been able to capture and make the audience feel what they feel so directly, and I'm not talking about making you cry for a few seconds or jump in fright. The film contains only two or three scenes of graphic violence (and it is the most graphic violence you will ever witness, EVER), and although they are hard to watch, they are merely a product of the driving force behind the emotions that ooze off the screen. The momentum of the entire film, from the cinematography to the editing, the music to the performances, is devoted to building unbearable anxiety that manifests physically and emotionally in the viewer. The performances are stunning in their power and intimacy, sad that the Academy could never be brave enough to nominate Charlotte Gainsbourg for her role as pure, unadulterated anguish. She and Willem Dafoe are the only actors in the film and went without rehearsals. The horrifying magic they create is just astonishing. There's never a gag that jumps out at you or actually ventures into the supernatural. Instead, Von Trier uses the odd darkness within humanity itself to terrify without the buffer of a monstrous face. (M)

Avatar (2009) James Cameron promised to give us a film that would revolutionize movie going. I didn't believe him, but man was I wrong. Technologically speaking Avatar goes above and beyond its hype. The Na'vi and their world are as real, as they are entrancing and enchanting. There has never been CGI this flawless, and instead of the usual 3D sight gag in which something flies out at you once or twice, here it's subtlety used in every shot to immerse you, to make you one of the Na'vi too. To back up all the special effects, Cameron also gives us a predictable (mostly) but sincere story that will get you fired-up for battle and makes you feel the excitement of watching big epics like Indiana Jones or the Wrath of Khan as a child. I could get into all the political issues that everyone seems to have (and I have extensively debated them, I'm not going to lie), and on a broad scale, yeah, it's good to be analyzing these things in pop culture and what they say about our society. But all in all, Avatar is a fabulous, totally engaging ride that you're meant to enjoy, the ultimate blockbuster (and I don't use that term negatively). So just enjoy, sit back, and stop worrying about whether or not it's too much like Dances With Wolves (I'd actually argue it's a lot more, but you'll have to read my full review for that). An impending sequel hasn't been this exciting since The Empire Strikes Back. (M)

Away We Go (2009) I took one look at the Juno rip-off poster for Sam Mendes baby story and growled, totally uninterested in what I assumed was more hipster glorification, until with nothing better to do, I was drug to it by my parents. After about three minutes, I instantly regretted the long diatribe I'd gone on just a few minutes earlier. Penned by David Eggers, the film is sweet, heartwarming, and real. Bert (John Krasnski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph), who take a long journey to find the best place to raise their coming daughter only to end up back home, are perfect for each other, not in the trite Hollywood way, but in the way that reminds of my parents and grandparents. Their performances are subtle, melting into their characters in a way I didn't think possible for either of them. It's a nice surprise to see two people in a film want each other without any of the ridiculous drama or supermodel looks you usually get. There is drama, and a lot of hilarious moments, but in the end, Bert and Verona find that all you need is love, a surprising, beautifully articulated message from a director usually displaying the disintegration of love and marriage. (M)

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) We've talked about Wes Anderson before, and the intricate magical worlds he's able to create, but the one in this matchless animation may just be the ultimate realization of his art and his abilities as a filmmaker. The voices (including George Clooney in a role he was fated to play with great results, Meryl Streep, Jason Swartzman, and Bill Murray) and the music are seamlessly integrated into the half nostalgic, beautifully creative film. Anderson does what he does best here, showing innovation by returning to the best aspects of the past, making them uniquely his while perfecting them, creating an instant animated classic that you can watch as a child and take with you into adulthood. (M)

Inglourious Basterds (2009) If you're here to tell me that there's no point to this re-imagining of WWII, "I mean, I don't get it, that's not how Hitler died!" then I want you to leave my website (ok, not really, we support an active dialog here, even when we're right). This is Quentin Tarantino's masterwork, what all the guts, glory, and homages were driving towards all along. The acting is absolutely top notch, despite being on sometimes opposite planes of existence- on one hand you have the brilliant, gross caricature of earlier film Americans by Brad Pitt as Aldo Raine the Apache, on the other the subtle and affecting Christoph Waltz as Colonel Hans Landa, the saccharine creepy "Jew Hunter," not to mention everyone else in the film, from Diane Krueger to Michael Fassbender. The whole flow of the film is perfect in the usual Tarantino way, the stray ends meeting up in one big bang, his love of film and what it stands for at the heart of every action. The tension is razor sharp, and dreadful throughout. But what makes this film a classic, is it's unmatchable visceral quality. For a movie that feeds off of the artifice of film, it reaches a depth so raw it's hard not to burst into tears and be ripped apart by emotion when the theater burns, and Shoshanna's disembodied head proclaims, "I WANT YOU TO LOOK INTO THE FACE OF THE JEW THAT'S GOING TO DO IT TO YOU!," pure violent revenge lighting Donny Donowitz's (Eli Roth) eyes as he guns Hitler down. Don't believe the reviewers who claim that this is an overly graphic film made for teenage boys (as the New Yorker claims) because it's not. The violence is few and far between, making it an even more startling and effective piece of the picture. (M)

Moon (2009) There is currently a petition running around the internet to get Sam Rockwell recognized by the Academy (did not offer this film as a screener, and thus it's not considered) for his performance in this exquisite thriller written and directed by none other than David Bowie's offspring, Duncan Jones. Jones combines several familiar science fiction concepts into his film, including space isolation and insanity and issues with artificial intelligence, but twists them to create a new dimension. I don't want to give anything away, so I can't really tell you why Rockwell's performance was noteworthy, but it was. He is the only actor in the film, and the whole plot, the entire momentum and emotion of the film, relies on him. He rises to the occasion to build intensity that never leaves the viewer bored or disappointed. It's by far one of the best science fiction films we've seen yet and it better be, considering it's coming from the son of Ziggy Stardust himself. (M)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...