Friday, January 31, 2014

Mulling Over 2013

My ballot for the Muriel awards is due tomorrow and I have no freaking idea what's going to be on it. 2013 was one of those years that was so saturated with worthy films that regardless of what ends up on any given top whatever list, the omission of some film or other is going to feel like a lack. One film that I would love to put on my Muriels list, possibly even at the very top of it, is Shun Li and the Poet, but because of the way it was released (or, more to the point, not released in New York), it's ineligible. This, of course, is the peril of being a cinephile anywhere but New York or Los Angeles. Some of my favorite films this year are hold-overs from last year that are also ineligible for my list. Not that it matters much. I have a wealth of material to choose from. I made a huge list over at Letterboxd a couple of weeks ago to organize my thoughts, but it grew so fast that I doubt its utility. There are almost fifty films on that list.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Nothing Up My Sleeve...

Jesse Eisenberg in Now You See Me

 Now You See Me (2013, directed by Louis Leterrier) is candy. It's a caper movie about magicians, which is a high concept that says everything about the film. They say that a Hollywood pitch needs to be forty words or less. This movies pitch is only six words. That must have appealed to the suits. It appeals to me, a bit. I've been watching a lot of heavy films in the last month and a half, so candy is not something at which I turn up my nose. Not at all.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hearts of Ice

Frozen (2013)

Frozen (2013, directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee) finds Disney's animation unit making some sport of its own traditions. In doing so, it drags the Disney formula kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. If the songs were any better, this might even stand with the best of Disney's classic animations. Alas, when it opens its throat to belt out a song, Frozen crashes to earth. What's left is a pretty good movie that could have been a great one. Still, one takes pleasures where one finds them I suppose, and this movie does indeed offer pleasures aplenty.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

More Human Than Human

Joaquin Phoenix in Her

I don't know what I was expecting from Spike Jonze's Her (2013), but whatever preconceptions I may have had weren't even on the same continent as the movie itself. I mean, I knew the plot: lonely man falls in love with his operating system (probably easy when that system is voiced by Scarlett Johansson), but that high concept barely even describes the depth of thought and feeling in this movie. This is a full blooded science fiction movie that imagines huge concepts within the confines of its very specific focus on one lonely man. It's a universe in a teacup.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Dragon's Lair

Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

In the taxonomy of movie monsters I keep in the back of my mind, the best dragons ever put on film are Vermithrax Pejorative from Dragonslayer, Maleficent at the end of Sleeping Beauty, and the dragon in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. There are others that I like quite a bit, including the Hungarian Horntail from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the lead beastie in Reign of Fire. We'll leave aside the notion that Godzilla is a dragon for the nonce. Most dragons these days trace their lineage to Vermithrax, who I think of as the Mother of Dragons even more than I think of Daenerys Targaryen in that role (Daenerys's dragons also trace their lineage to Vermithrax). Into this mix comes Smaug, the villain from The Hobbit who sits on a mountain of gold in his chambers beneath the Lonely Mountain. In The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), the second installment of Peter Jackson's three-part adaptation, Smaug takes center stage as Moriarty to Bilbo's Holmes.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The Good Arab

Ali Suliman in The Attack

The Attack (2012, directed by Ziad Doueiri) takes a difficult subject and crafts a noir thriller around it. In doing so, it runs rings around other more "serious" films that attempt to tackle the subject of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict directly and winds up going beyond the politics into realms of epistemology. "Who are we really?" this movie asks, "and how well does anyone know anyone?" It's a dark film, a pessimistic film. It's utterly riveting.

Friday, January 03, 2014

A Wolf in the Fold

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but I have a short list of filmmakers whose films I try to see at the first opportunity, often the first night they open near me if circumstances allow. One of the names on my own list is Martin Scorsese and I doubt I'm alone in this. Marty is some kind of living icon of cinephilia these days, due to his work on film preservation and outreach. Even if he never made another film and confined himself to these tasks, he would be one of the most important and revered people in film.

Marty and I have been having a bit of a falling out in recent years. I hated his Oscar-winner, The Departed, and only half-liked Shutter Island, which is ridiculous but lovely. I did love Hugo, but I haven't felt the urge to watch it again. One thing that has really bothered me in recent years about Scorsese is the obnoxious way his films push women to the margins in favor of an aggressive masculinity. That's a strain of his filmmaking that really comes to the fore in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), a film that wallows in dude-bro masculinity and its misogynistic dark side. It's a tumescent film that comes to the screen with its rampant cock pointing straight at the audience. It then proceeds to stroke it furiously for the next three hours(!) before dousing them, bukkake-like in the jizz of its own self-indulgence.