23 February 2012
  oscar predictions. . .

it's not the mtv movie awards. it's not the international cinephile society awards. so, in defense of the oscars, can we just let it be the oscars. they are never going to award the mainstream sci-fi, superhero and raunch-com fare that, even when good for its genre, doesn't fit into the sort of cinematic archetype the oscars are designed to reward. similarly, one never expects the grand achievements of arthouse auteurs to have much of a presence at the oscars either. there are other venues to reward these films, but not here. so let's just agree that the oscars give awards to the best oscar movies of the year, and acknowledge the fact that a nomination for hooper, spielberg or scorsese isn't coming at the expense of nolan, apatow or von trier. they were never going to be invited to the party in the first place. my predictions:

supporting actor:
will win. . . christopher plummer is likely to win, but it is still a relative toss-up between him and max von sydow. in any case, regardless of which one wins, it will be an alan arkin-type lifetime achievement win rather than an award for the performance for which they are specifically nominated.
should win. . . of those nominated, christopher plummer. but this is a very weak field. my personal choice in the category would be brad pitt in the tree of life.
my five. . . brad pitt, christoph waltz (carnage), albert brooks (drive), armie hammer (j edgar) and christopher plummer

supporting actress:
will win. . . octavia spencer. i suspected a year ago, before even knowing who she was, that she would be in contention for an oscar for this role. and she definitely deserves the award, although i don't think she is necessarily the best in her category or her film. that would be, rather-
should win. . . jessica chastain. not only has she given like six acclaimed performances this year, but she was really the overall highlight for me in the help.
my five. . . jessica chastain (the help), octavia spencer, jessica chastain (the tree of life), melanie laurent (beginners) and carey mulligan (shame)

will win. . . jean dujardin. i really feel like george clooney is out in this category. he has a relatively recent win. instead, i think the race here is between dujardin and brad pitt, who is really due and gave two great performances in best picture nominated films this year. still, the safest bet is on dujardin.
should win. . . i hope i'm not being suckered in (since i haven't seen any of his other work and could just be dazzled by his personality) but i did love dujardin in the artist.
my five. . . jean dujardin, ryan gosling (drive), michael fassbender (shame), leonardo dicaprio (j edgar), and demian bichir.

will win. . . per usual, this is the category with the fewest real contenders this year. that's because they make so few movies with female leads. it is certainly no coincidence that only one of the five nominated women comes from a best picture nominated film. that being said, viola davis has no competition in the category.
should win. . . of the five, viola davis. although, unfortunately, the single best onscreen performance of the year was not nominated. that would be kirsten dunst in melancholia. absolutely my favorite performance of 2011.
my five. . . kirsten dunst, charlotte gainsbourg (melancholia), viola davis, berenice bejo (the artist) and meryl streep.

original screenplay:
will win. . . woody allen. they will probably want to reward allen's "comeback" somehow, and this is where it will be. incidentally, i am dumbfounded at the praise being heaped on this film, but that's how i pretty much always feel about his work.
should win. . . in this category, it's tough for me to say, as I have yet to see a separation, and i thoroughly hated both midnight in paris and margin call. plus it would be hard for anyone to convince me that the artist has much of a screenplay. i'm sorry. overall, my favorite screenplay of the year is without a doubt the exquisite but not nominated script for the tree of life, by terrence malick.
my five. . . the tree of life, melancholia, beginners, weekend, and shame

adapted screenplay:
will win. . . much like in the original category, here they are likely to want to reward the descendants somewhere so screenplay is the most likely bet. i certainly wouldn't be shocked to see moneyball upset though in this category, especially since aaron sorkin's name is sort of vaguely attached.
should win. . . the ides of march is probably the best nominated adapted screenplay and truly the best of 2011 overall.
my five. . . the ides of march, the help, carnage, drive, and jane eyre.

will win. . . michael hazanavicius is likely to win for the artist, and it would no doubt be a tremendous surprise were anyone to overtake him at the last minute.
should win. . . it is a tremendously difficult decision to choose between two such evenly matched filmmakers who each surpassed all expectations in creating the best artistic pieces of the year and of their careers. in the end, and i'm sure i will be second guessing myself tomorrow, i choose terrence malick over lars von trier, but only by the slightest of margins.
my five. . . terrence malick, lars von trier, michael hazanavicius, wim wenders (pina) and kelly reichardt (meek's cutoff)

best picture:
will win. . . the artist was going to win best picture six months ago. it's still going to win best picture. people might be disappointed with the lack of drama in the category this year, but i doubt many are disappointed with the outcome. well deserved.
should win. . . the tree of life is the best of the category. melancholia is the best of the year. but, as i said in the beginning, the oscars isn't really the place for these kinds of films. that being said, i certainly won't be sad to see the artist win here.
my six. . . melancholia, the tree of life, the help, drive, the ides of march and shame

will win. . . hopefully the academy will want to reward the tree of life with something and it will rightfully get its award here. still, i'm predicting the artist.
should win. . . once again, i am very very narrowly choosing the tree of life over melancholia here, but it's such a close call.
my five. . . the tree of life, melancholia, war horse, the artist and drive

art direction:
will win. . . many are predicting hugo to win this one, but i would really be surprised to see the artist miss out here. plus, i just think that the sets and artistic backdrop behind the artist far outweighs the sort of superficial look scorsese put together for hugo. perhaps just a matter of taste really.
should win. . . of those nominated, definitely the artist. my personal pick for best art direction is a little bit out on a limb, but i really admired the sort of avant garde work of wim wenders' dance documentary, pina.
my five. . . pina, the artist, the help, tinker tailor soldier spy, melancholia

will win. . . the artist. it certainly has the most prominent and memorable score of any film this year. i wouldn't say it was exactly groundbreaking really, but it fit the film perfectly.
should win. . . the artist. the film couldn't have succeeded without this score.
my five. . . the artist, the help, hanna, jane eyre, and tinker tailor soldier spy
21 February 2012
  my top 10 of 2011

it really seems that good film years and bad film years alternate annually, and this has definitely been one of the latter, in my opinion. i have been disappointed by highly anticipated films far more this year than i have been wowed by them. i could make a top 10 list in and of itself of films that i should have liked but just didn't. that might actually have been easier than trying to come up with a list of the year's ten best, honestly.

i think it really says something that a great many of critics' top ten lists this year are overpopulated with indie arthouse fare that is really only yet available in new york, la and on the festival circuit. and since many of us here in tucson haven't had the luxury of seeing films like we need to talk about kevin and wuthering heights, i can't include these on my list.

with that being said, there were five movies this year that i truly loved and at least a handful more that i found remarkable in at least some way. although admittedly not all truly exceptional, my top 10 films of 2011 include:

10. meek's cutoff. . . i don't know if "sparse" is a good enough word to describe the incredibly frugal filmmaking style of kelly reichardt. as in her debut work, the haunting wendy and lucy, meek's cutoff is a film that chooses to show rather than tell. deeply introspective, this isn't so much a narrative film as it is a voyeuristic gaze upon these characters. reichardt rarely seems to make her actors perform on camera. the cameras always just seem to be out of the actors' sight, simply watching as the action unfolds, unperturbed. the result is an imperfect but deeply beautiful work of art.

9. j. edgar. . .for the third time in a row, clint eastwood has made a film that is simply not being given credit for being as good as it truly is. not that there aren't problems. yes, the makeup simply isn't very good, and i was distracted by it. but if you can get beyond that, what you are left with is a really interesting, complicated look at an interesting, complicated historical figure. in a lot of ways, i think critics would have been happier if eastwood had taken sides and made a more straightfoward biopic (think other far inferior, but critically lauded works like ray, walk the line, milk) but eastwood chose to go another way, in short to eschew conclusions. and this decision really elevated the work.

8. weekend. . . the field of queer cinema is so bereft of much of anything of quality, that to say that weekend is one of the best queer films i've ever seen is really to downplay its accomplishment. strangely, many critics of the film seem to downplay its queerness, arguing that this is really a broader film about love and human interconnectedness. no. this is a film about how these heteronormative concepts are confronted by queer communities. that is not to say that weekend was made solely for a gay audience. i think that anyone watching it, gay or straight, would be affected by its revelations.

7. beginners. . . the sad thing for me about beginners is that nearly all of the film's praise has been heaped on christopher plummer, who only really appears in it for a matter of minutes. although he is good in a very small (albeit central to the plot) role, there is so much more to like about this movie. every year, we are given at least a dozen romantic comedies that are either snarky, nasty, cliched or some combination of the above. and, if lucky, we are given one or two that are clever, genuine or at least somehow original. this was the film that filled that quota for 2011.

6. shame. . . this is a hard film to love. its characters are hopelessly despicable. the sex is painfully unerotic. and as a viewer, i was often left feeling like an unwanted voyeur watching something i simply wasn't meant to see. that being said, it takes a sort of expert filmmaker to elicit this sort of uncomfortable feeling from an audience. shame is definitely a film that stays with you long after you've seen it. and i give director steve mcqueen special credit for crafting a final scene that does anything but provide closure. my favorite film ending of the year.

5. the ides of march. . . i found george clooney's first directorial success good night and good luck to be a sanctimonious diatribe, and it stands as one of my all time least favorite films. so i wasn't really all that hopeful about his most recent work. but i was surprised. much like good night, ides is a work deeply guided by a social message. however, rather than bludgeoning the viewer over the head with this message, clooney rather chose to create an incredibly entertaining narrative that really stands on its own. probably my favorite political thriller since 2000's the contender.

4. drive. . . this is just one of those movies that was destined to be iconic from its inception. the costumes, the music, the art direction, even the title font, all will go down in film history as essentially, originally, iconically drive. it probably isn't much of a surprise that the conservative academy didn't see fit to much acknowledge this exceptionally violent work, but i almost think that it is such a cool film, that a best picture nomination might actually have damaged the work's inevitable cult film status.

3. the help. . . simultaneously the most dominating and undervalued film of 2011. why is it that hollywood studios repeatedly refuse to market non-romantic movies featuring female leads? hopefully the immense success of the help will change this, but it is unlikely. even so, and despite a best picture nomination and sag ensemble prize, many still argue that help is sort of bland and average. overall, the help is probably the most entertaining film i saw all year and is likely to be the one i rewatch the most in the future. and it is punctuated by strong performances, excellent direction and a strong screenplay. it's remarkable that the help isn't in competition as a best picture frontrunner.

2. the tree of life. . . although 2011 may not have been an overall banner year for cinema, the year's two best works nearly make up for this larger film recession. i went into the tree of life fully expected to hate what was sure to be an intentionally weird non-narrative film experiment. but i was almost immediately enraptured. yes it is weird. yes it is non-narrative. but it is a beautiful, insanely intelligent work that plumbs the very questions that root humanity to this planet. how any filmmaker could have ever thought it possible to successfully make a film about the origin of life on earth is beyond me? how malick was able to successfully envision and create this work is truly remarkable.

1. melancholia. . . in my opinion, perhaps a career best achievement by the greatest living filmmaker working today. in melancholia, von trier really seems to be stretching himself an auteur, using cinematography in a way he has never done before, at times expressing himself through images alone. inspired by the paintings of french artist jean genet, melancholia serves as a sort of visual artistic spectacle in and of itself. but that isn't to say von trier hasn't also given us a profoundly moving screenplay as well. in sum, an elegant, moving meditation on the meaning of life at the end of the world.
20 February 2012
  2011, the year in film

each year, perhaps only by coincidence, there seems to be a single major theme that ties together many of the year's major films, a sort of singular cultural zeigeist that several filmmakers chose to inhabit seemingly simultaneously. this year i'm not entirely sure that you can quite so easily point to any overarching narrative linking together the films of 2011. sure many can point to the prominence of the idea of nostalgia, and in particular cinematic nostalgia, but this really only calls together a couple of major works (the artist and hugo, namely). instead, i think that 2011, the year in film, is best defined by two films, the year's absolute best, that operate as sort of bookends of one another, at the same time mirroring major social preoccupations of our age: terrence malick's the tree of life and lars von trier's melancholia.

although in some ways practically opposites of one another, the parallels between these two films are so uncanny, that one wonders at some points if the directors somehow collaboratively crafted them as part of some sort of grand film experiment. in its essence, the tree of life represents the birth of existence, everything that has happened since the beginning of time that has brought us to this point, right now. and in its essence, melancholia represents the end of existence, what it would mean if all life, the planet itself, were to cease to be at this point, right now.

the directors even seem to be mirroring one another in the cinematographic tools they employ. perhaps the most striking sequence in the tree of life, is a long operatic one in which malick visually depicts the birth of the earth from nothingness, and the gradual emergence of life on this planet. similarly, one of the most striking sequences in melancholia is the similarly operatic one that opens the film, in which von trier slowly unveils the last moments of life on earth. interspersed with one another, these segments alone could have made up a singular filmic meditation on life and death.

what is even more striking, however, is that although both dealing with literally opposing subject matter, both von trier and malick seem to come to similar conclusions regarding what could be the central question guiding both of their works, that is the meaning of life itself. as we see sean penn's character in the tree of life, essentially the culmination of all history, we hear in his head the greatest on screen utterance of the year: "mother, father, always you wrestle inside me, always you will." by this point, we have seen a billion years of history unfurl before us. we have literally seen the cellular birth of life. but what has shaped this character the most is the relationships he has formed throughout his life, and which he continues to carry with him.

similarly, in melancholia, we watch for two hours as kirsten dunst's justine attempts to shrug off the end of the world, literally telling her sister at one point that when the earth evaporates, nobody will miss it. then, in the final moments before the apocalypse, we find justine, her sister and nephew hastening away to a "magic cave," where they can be together, sharing the moment as a family. once again, no matter how much she attempts to deny it, dunst proves herself deeply shaped by and inextricable from those around her.

it is most certainly not coincidental that these two films came to us at this point in history. in 2011, our world is experiencing increasing preoccupation with both the end of the world, and the beginning of life. at the same time, our society includes those feverishly attempting to predict the rapture or interpret mayan doomsday prophecy and those attempting to decode the human genome and scientifically reproduce the big bang. archaeologists scour mt. ararat for noah's ark, while biblical scholars scour the book of revelation for apocalyptic codes. we are a society that deeply feels that the end of the world may not be far away. and before that day comes, we'd like to figure out what it all means. and both melancholia and the tree of life engage with and emerge out of these dichotomous preoccupations.

malick's and von trier's works stand out among the films of 2011, not only because they so perfectly represent where our society was in this year, but because they are simply the two best works produced in this year. although for many the tree of life and melancholia have been pushed away in terms of popular culture in favor of more digestible faire, i hope that in ten or fifty years, people will look back on these films as those that truly define the year in film—

that is, if people are still around by then. fingers crossed.
Luke and John talk about movies

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