Cinema, Lists

Top 10 Movies of 2017

Out of the 94 movies I watched in 2017 (including 43 new releases), Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is easily the worst. It is also the most nominated movie, with 13 nominations, at this year’s Oscars and will likely win a lot of them—including Best Picture.

I’ve tuned into the Oscars as long as I’ve been watching movies “seriously” but this seems like a good year to stop. To be clear, this isn’t for any important moral reasons (though there are plenty of #campagins going around to warrant it), but because the two likeliest winners (The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri) are really bad and I don’t want to spend four hours watching an awards show that I know will annoy me. (I’ll watch the viral highlights on Twitter, thanks!)

Rather than just complain about it, however, I started handing out Alternative Oscars last year—including all of the major awards that the Real Oscars hand out, as well as some awards I made up for my own amusement—to go along with my ten favorite movies of the year. Here they are for 2017:

1. 그후 (The Day After) 

Hong Sang-soo / 2017 / South Korea

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 The Day After

  • Best Picture
  • Best Actress In Two Movies In The Same Year (Kim Min-hee, The Day After and On the Beach at Night Alone)
  • Best Original Screenplay Adapted From Real Life

2. Personal Shopper

Olivier Assayas / 2016 / France, Germany, Czech Republic, Belgium

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 Personal Shopper

  • Best Actress (Kristen Stewart)
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Texting Scene
  • Best *Invisible* Ghost

3. Phantom Thread

Paul Thomas Anderson / 2017 / USA

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 Phantom Thread

  • Best Director
  • Best Original Screenplay
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Actress Who Is Being Billed As Supporting But Is Actually The Lead (Vicky Krieps)
  • Best Breakfast, Lunch, And Dinner Foods
  • Best Kinky Shit

4. Song to Song

Terrence Malick / 2017 / USA

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 Song to Song

  • Best Supporting Actress (Rooney Mara)
  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Best Sequel To La La Land, Which Is Bad

5. A Ghost Story

David Lowery / 2017 / USA

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 A Ghost Story

  • Best Short Film (Rooney Mara eating pie in an uninterrupted shot)
  • Best Original Song (Dark Rooms, “I Get Overwhelmed”)
  • Best Instagram Aesthetic
  • Best *Visible* Ghost

6. Nocturama

Bertrand Bonello / 2016 / France, Germany, Belgium

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 Nocturama

7. Good Time

Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie / 2017 / USA

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 Good Time

  • Best Actor (Robert Pattinson)
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Movie I Don’t Want To See Again

8. John Wick: Chapter 2

Chad Stahelski / 2017 / USA, Hong Kong

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 John Wick Chapter 2

  • Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Best Production Design
  • Best Sound Editing
  • Best Sound Mixing
  • Best Undervalued National Treasure (Keanu Reeves)
  • Best Homage To Buster Keaton

9. Visages, Villages (Faces Places)

Agnès Varda, JR / 2017 / France

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 Faces Places

  • Best Documentary
  • Best Visual Effects (lol get it?)
  • Best Undervalued International Treasure (Agnès Varda)

10. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Noah Baumbach / 2017 / USA

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

  • Best Supporting Actor (Adam Sandler)
  • Best Father-Daughter Duet
  • Best Self-Indulgent Title Besides mother!

Honorable Mention (alphabetically):

  • Call Me By Your Name / Luca Guadagnino
  • Columbus / kogonada
  • I Am Not Your Negro / Raoul Peck
  • Lady Bird / Greta Gerwig
  • mother! / Darren Aronofsky
  • On the Beach at Night Alone / Hong Sang-soo
  • The Florida Project / Sean Baker

*Some 2016 films were included because of their U.S. release date in 2017.

———

When thinking back on 2017 in cinema, one thing stands out: It’s the first year in a while that critics, Oscar voters, and the general public largely agree on the same movies being great. Take a look at various Best of 2017 lists (IndieWire, Rotten Tomatoes, Village Voice, your cinephile friend, etc.) and you’ll see the same handful of movies—Get Out, Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name, The Florida Project, Phantom Thread.

I liked all of these! But as great as it is to see an overall consensus, it’s also kind of boring. These homogeneous lists lack the flavor and peculiarity that I usually enjoy with these subjective lists and, you know, art in general.

I guess it was one less thing to get worked up about in 2017 though. /shrug

 

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Cinema, Lists

Top 10 Movies of 2016

Other than Moonlight, none of my favorite films are going to win any Oscars this weekend… so I decided to make up my own awards: the Alternative Oscars.

“Alternative” (in this context) not because they are factually incorrect, but because they are mostly implausible. Another reason for this new format is because I don’t have time to write a lengthy post like I have in previous years. Whatever—let’s get on with it.

I present to you, dear reader, my ten favorite films of 2016 and first annual Alternative Oscars:

1. L’avenir (Things to Come) 

Mia Hansen-Løve / 2016 / France, Germany

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-things-to-come

This film helped me through a rough time in my life. (And I want a cat now.)

Onward.

Alternative Oscars
– Best Picture
– Best Actress (Isabelle Huppert)
– Best Cat (Pandora)

2. Little Sister

Zach Clark / 2016 / USA

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-little-sister-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Original Screenplay
– Best Original Score
– Best Depiction Of Family Dynamics
– Best Performance In A Screamo Lip Sync
– Best Restoration Of Hope In American Independent Cinema

3. Moonlight

Barry Jenkins / 2016 / USA

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-moonlight-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Director
– Best Adapted Screenplay
– Best Cinematography
– Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali, André Holland, all three actors who played Chiron)
– Best Fuck You To Hollywood By Being Excellent

4. Paterson

Jim Jarmusch / 2016 / USA, France, Germany

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-paterson-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Actor (Adam Driver)
– Best Production Design
– Best Visual Effects (Adam Driver’s Elastic Face)
– Best Dog (Marvin)

5. Certain Women

Kelly Reichardt / 2016 / USA

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-certain-women-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Supporting Actress (Lily Gladstone)
– Best Supporting-Supporting Actress (Kristen Stewart)
– Best Supporting-Supporting-Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams, Laura Dern)

6. Sully

Clint Eastwood / 2016 / USA

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-sully-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Editing
– Best Sound Mixing
– Best Sound Editing
– Best Undervalued National Treasure (Tom Hanks)
– Best Tom Hanks (Tom Hanks)
– Best Mustache (Aaron Eckhart)

7. 20th Century Women

Mike Mills / 2016 / USA

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-20th-century-women-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Makeup and Hairstyling
– Best Being A Mom (Annette Bening)
– Best Dancing (Greta Gerwig)
– Best Smoking (Elle Fanning)
– Best Subtle Feminism
– Best Obvious Feminism

8. Cameraperson

Kirsten Johnson / 2016 / USA (and the World)

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-cameraperson-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Documentary
– Best Argument For Using Your Camera To Journal
– Best Reason To Keep Your Camera Rolling
– Best Lightning
– Best Thunder
– Best Reaction To Lightning And Thunder

9. Toni Erdmann

Maren Ade / 2016 / Germany, Austria, Switzerland

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-toni-erdmann-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Foreign Language Film
– Best Short Film (Birthday Party Sequence)
– Best Original Song (Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” as reinterpreted and made original again by Sandra Hüller)

10. Ah-ga-ssi (The Handmaiden)

Park Chan-wook / 2016 / South Korea

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-the-handmaiden-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Costume Design
– Best Movie Poster (This One)
– Best Sex

Honorable Mention (alphabetically):

  • Elle / Paul Verhoeven
  • Hail, Caesar! / Joel & Ethan Coen
  • Lemonade / Kahlil Joseph and Beyoncé Knowles Carter
  • Louder Than Bombs / Joachim Trier
  • Love & Friendship / Whit Stillman
  • Manchester by the Sea / Kenneth Lonergan
  • No Home Movie / Chantal Akerman
  • Silence / Martin Scorsese
  • The Love Witch / Anna Biller

*Some 2015 films were included because of their U.S. release date in 2016.

[Editor’s Note: Not surprisingly, Alternative Oscars isn’t a novel idea—something I found out right before I was about to hit publish. And, yes, I am the “Editor” in “Editor’s Note.” Just being stupid here.]

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Cinema, Lists

Top 10 Movies of 2015

160131 Top 10 Movies of 2015 - Goodbye to Language

There’s a lot I want to write about and a lot I want to remember about the movies of 2015. The thing that sticks out most, however, is how disparate these films feel when considered on the spectrum of “art”—highbrow/lowbrow, arthouse/mainstream, whatever you want call it.

(If you’re just here for the list and not the navel gazing, feel free to scroll down.)

Whenever I came across articles and tweets on the virtues of poptimism, I was skeptical. Not because I think popular art is undeserving of respect and consideration, but because, for the most part, my tastes did not align with it. This is all fine until preference turns into predisposition and your view is obscured by what is supposed to be “good” while overlooking art in more unassuming and less “prestigious” forms.

Or: 2015 is the year I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pop.

This realization is why it took a second viewing of Mad Max: Fury Road to fully embrace the sheer fun and sensory overload—convincing myself that it was okay to put such an agreeable spectacle in my top 10. For similar reasons, it was on my 8th or 9th or 27th listen of Carly Rae Jepsen’s second single “Run Away With Me that I got over myself and admitted how much I fucking loved that song in all its poppy earnestness. Still, I didn’t even consider listening to her album when it released until the critical praises flooded in. When I finally did listen to it, I loved it and was finding ways to justify my enjoyment of it: Rostam (from Vampire Weekend, one of my favorite bands) produced a throbbing sexy love song! Sia produced a track too! Oh and Pitchfork gave it a good rating—higher than Adele’s 25! None of that should’ve mattered as much as me just really liking the art. Nevertheless, it was a deconditioning process as much as it was a realization.

(Side note: My three favorite albums of 2015 were Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly; Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion; and Sufjan Stevens’s Carrie & Lowell.)

It’s an inexact science, but I measure how widely appealing a movie is by asking myself, “Is this a movie my entire family would enjoy?” I think the answer for three of my top ten movies is “yes, everyone will like it.” Four of the ten movies are “no, only I will like it.” And the other three are “my mom and younger brother might like it, but my dad and older brother definitely will not.” These scattered points on the non-linear spectrum of “art” are great reminders that my oh-so-carefully curated tastes can continue to evolve (which is somewhat of a relief). It just took a while to accept it.

Here are my ten favorite films of 2015:

  1. Adieu au langage (Goodbye to Language), 2014, Jean-Luc Godard
  2. Carol, 2015, Todd Haynes
  3. Ex Machina, 2015, Alex Garland
  4. Sicario, 2015, Denis Villeneuve
  5. Nie yin niang (The Assassin), 2015, Hou Hsiao-Hsien
  6. Queen of Earth, 2015, Alex Ross Perry
  7. Timbuktu, 2014, Abderrahmane Sissako
  8. Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015, George Miller
  9. The Look of Silence, 2014, Joshua Oppenheimer
  10. Creed, 2015, Ryan Coogler

Honorable Mention (alphabetically):

  • Anomalisa, 2015, Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman
  • Bande de filles (Girlhood), 2014, Céline Sciamma
  • Chi-Raq, 2015, Spike Lee
  • Spotlight, 2015, Tom McCarthy

*Some 2014 films were included because of their U.S. release date in 2015.

———

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention #OscarsSoWhite—which continues to be a problem and is worth highlighting—but I don’t have much to add other than what Viola Davis said in her Emmy speech (“You can’t win [awards] for roles that are simply not there.”) and what I (less eloquently) wrote before her speech in my Top 10 Movies of 2014 post. It’s not a problem with just award shows. It’s a deeper issue of privilege and the lack of opportunities for women and people of color. “People of color” of course meaning Latino, Asian, Native American, etc. in addition to Black.

160131 Top 10 Movies of 2015 - Ex Machina 1

There is not a film from 2015 I’ve thought about or probably will continue to think about more than Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language. Maybe it’s because I saw it in the first month of 2015 and every other film had to follow it, or perhaps because it is a work of art like I’ve never seen before. In addition to the complex themes and recurring visual motifs which I’ve yet to untangle satisfyingly, Godard plays with the very structure of the film—not only his own, but by extension the definition of what all movies can or should be. He experiments with different modes of storytelling and cinematic technique in a way that blew me away, while simultaneously giving me solace that there are still new leaves and stones that have yet to be unturned in cinema.

There is a shot of a hand submerged in shallow water that will never leave me for its striking clarity and beauty. There are a couple scenes that start as a conventional shot of two people talking. Then, Godard’s cameras (two for the 3D setup) diverge and show two overlapping images: a shot of the woman with one camera (visible in one eye) and a shot of the man with the other camera (visible in the other eye). After viewing the two images simultaneously, I instinctively started closing one eye to see one shot, then closed the other eye to see the other shot. Back and forth—slowly, then rapidly. It was as if Godard, a pioneer of modern editing during the French New Wave and throughout his career, handed over the keys to the viewers and said “okay, now you choose what film you want to see.” It was both interactive editing and participatory cinema.

160131 Top 10 Movies of 2015 - Carol 1

The two leading women of Carol (Rooney Mara as Therese and Cate Blanchett as Carol) are obscured by, and from, the camera throughout the film. They are constantly shot through glass windows, framed by frames within frames, partially cut off, out of focus, shown in hazy reflections, etc. This subconscious repression informs not only the social and cultural affectations in the film, but it also informs the subtle gestures performed so intently and gracefully. These gestures give the film much of its nuanced vitality. Therese’s silent gaze and Carol’s touch of the shoulder mean more than having sex or saying “I love you.” It resonates more profoundly too.

160131 Top 10 Movies of 2015 - Carol 2

Ex Machina is worth watching for the dance sequence alone. It is joyful. It is absurd. It is so pitch perfect and appropriate for the film.

160131 Top 10 Movies of 2015 - Ex Machina 2

On that note, I’d like to say to 2016: I’m gonna tear up the fucking dance floor, dude. Check it out.

(Probably with a Carly Rae Jepsen song blasting.)

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Top 10 Movies of 2014

150122 Top 10 Movies of 2014 - Mommy

Lists for “Best ____ of ____” are stupid. They’re reductive and often lead to the worst kind of critical discussion (e.g., “You put that over this?!” and “How could you leave out this film?).

This marks the fifth time I’ve made such annual lists.

Looking back at each of the lists before writing this, I feel an equal sense of surprise at how prescient some of my choices seem (Certified Copy as the top film of 2010) and embarrassment at how some of them are ordered (I really put The Descendants over The Tree of Life?). And as stupid as they are, these lists remain the easiest way to share with the world that these are the films that have impressed, affected, and changed me.

Here are my ten favorite films of 2014:

  1. Only Lovers Left Alive, 2013, Jim Jarmusch
  2. Mommy, 2014, Xavier Dolan
  3. Listen Up Philip, 2014, Alex Ross Perry
  4. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), 2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu
  5. Boyhood, 2014, Richard Linklater
  6. Under the Skin, 2013, Jonathan Glazer
  7. Kaguyahime no monogatari (The Tale of The Princess Kaguya), 2014, Isao Takahata
  8. The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014, Wes Anderson
  9. Deux jours, une nuit (Two Days, One Night), 2014, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
  10. Inherent Vice, 2014, Paul Thomas Anderson

Honorable Mention (alphabetically):

  • A Walk Among the Tombstones, 2014, Scott Frank
  • American Sniper, 2014, Clint Eastwood
  • Edge of Tomorrow, 2014, Doug Liman
  • Interstellar, 2014, Christopher Nolan
  • Nightcrawler, 2014, Dan Gilroy
  • Selma, 2014, Ava DuVernay
  • Snowpiercer, 2013, Bong Joon-ho
  • The Immigrant, 2013, James Gray
  • Whiplash, 2014, Damien Chazelle

*Some 2013 films were included because of their U.S. release date in 2014.

———

A quick aside on the lack of racial diversity and women in film before I continue with the list. It’s important. I realize a Best of 2014 post isn’t the best place to flesh out the complexities of deeply-rooted systemic issues (so I won’t), but in light of recent outcry over #OscarsSoWhite and Selma-related news, I want to briefly mention it.

150122 Top 10 Movies of 2014 - Diversity150122 Top 10 Movies of 2014 - Diversity 2

You’ve probably heard all the stats: Oscar voters are 93% white, 76% male, and an average age of 63. No women were nominated in major categories (not counting actresses, for obvious reasons) and, as the images above show, all 20 acting nomination were given to white actors and actresses—most of them well-deserved.

I don’t add that last part about them being well-deserved to soften the blow or to not offend my white friends, co-workers, and readers but because I really do mean it. The issue isn’t that the wrong people got nominated. The issue is that very few others got to even show up. Award shows are more stupid than lists. But I do think they’re worth discussing because they are a good representation of the film industry—and by extension how our society and culture is reflected through art. Let’s be better, 2015.

Read: Why the Oscars’ Omission of Selma Matters
Read: Women Are Fighting for Better Opportunity in Hollywood
Read: Selma’s snubs speak volumes about Hollywood & the Oscars

150122 Top 10 Movies of 2014 - The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

Now let’s talk about my favorite movie of 2014! If you haven’t heard of Only Lovers Left Alive until now and decide to Google it, these are probably the first three things you’ll find out about the film: It’s about vampires. It stars two people who look like vampires (an ethereal Tilda Swinton as Eve and a brooding Tom Hiddleston as Adam, both immortal). And it’s directed by a dude (Jim Jarmusch) who also looks like a vampire.

But of course it’s vampire-yness is mostly beside the point. In fact, that word is never even spoken by any of the characters. It instead uses the trope to ask the question at the spiritual center of the film: If you lived forever, what would you live for and what would that life’s sustenance—both literally and (mostly) metaphorically—be?

Art and Love, the movie answers. To the characters, they’re often the same. The world is just background noise compared to the clarity that literature, music, and sex bring to their existence.

150122 Top 10 Movies of 2014 - Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive is not pretentious but it is self-indulgent and snobby AND IT KNOWS IT. Not in the wink wink, meta kind of way either. It completely embraces how much its characters’ lives revolve around art and how much more they know about the world than “zombies” (their word for humans because, comparatively, we zombies are so devoid of life—of art). But as much as Jarmusch celebrates this lifestyle, the film is also a mourning of a bygone time. It becomes a melancholy exploration of a world in which the classics are buried with the past and ageless vampires can use literary pseudonyms like Daisy Buchanan and Dr. Faust when interacting with people without anyone’s suspicion.

There’s a late scene in Tangier, where the two vampires watch a chanteuse from the outside of the cafe she is performing in. In the rare moment you’re not completely lost in this evocative dream-like sequence, you begin to wonder if they would drink her blood. They’ve been going days without their (literal) lifeblood, afterall, and their distance to the singer could be seen as vulture-like, hovering over their prey. But being the consummate aesthetes, they are satisfied admiring the artist and the beautiful melody she creates with her voice. They walk away as she finishes her song and Adam calls her fantastic. Eve says, “[…] I’m sure she’ll be very famous.” Adam replies, “God, I hope not. She’s way too good for that.”

Throughout the film, the camera seems to linger a beat longer than necessary. Closeup shots aren’t used to heighten the extremity of the scene or ramp up the tension, but to show—clearly, without distraction—the sheer joy of living. The moody lighting creates an atmosphere so thick and palpable that it is practically its own character. All of which highlight the sentiment that living is not in the doing but in the being.

They don’t necessarily carpe diem (you don’t really need to when you have countless diems), but they definitely live. Or as Oscar Wilde put it more eloquently, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Eve and Adam get to live forever.

150122 Top 10 Movies of 2014 - Under the Skin

Postscript

As usual, this entry took a while to write (it’s mid-February! 2015!). And it’s already too long to talk about movies #2-10. I always think I can somehow fit a year’s worth of cinema into a post of reasonable length that at least a few people would want to read. I should probably write more throughout the year. But for now, I guess all I can say about my other favorite movies of 2014 is that many of them are still in theaters. You should check them out!

In other 2014 movie-related news, I started posting micro-reviews on Twitter and started using Letterboxd regularly. Feel free to browse my profile and learn way too much about me and the movies I watch and how I rate them, etc.

Lastly, a disclaimer for the sake of transparency. I work for TPSC and TPSC Films and we came out with two movies in 2014: The Quiet Ones and A Walk Among the Tombstones—one of which is mentioned in the list above.

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Cinema, Lists

Top 10 Movies of 2013

20140131 Top 10 Movies of 2013

I’ve been dreading writing this post. Not because in my fourth year of making these annual top ten lists, it’s become a chore or anything like that. But it’s because the range of films I saw in 2013 cannot be summed up in a paragraph or two. They aren’t as easy to condense into my favorite shot, character detail, or line of dialogue—like I did in previous years.

It’s already late (seriously, who posts their best of year list in mid-February?), so I’ll just get to it, with some expounding after the list.

Here are my ten favorite films of 2013:

  1. Stories We Tell, 2012, Sarah Polley
  2. The Act of Killing, 2012, Joshua Oppenheimer
  3. Inside Llewyn Davis, 2013, Joel & Ethan Coen
  4. La vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 et 2 (Blue Is the Warmest Color), 2013, Abdellatif Kechiche
  5. Her, 2013, Spike Jonze
  6. Frances Ha, 2012, Noah Baumbach
  7. Before Midnight, 2013, Richard Linklater
  8. Gravity, 2013, Alfonso Cuarón
  9. Spring Breakers, 2012, Harmony Korine
  10. Nebraska, 2013, Alexander Payne

Honorable Mention (alphabetically):

  • Captain Phillips, 2013, Paul Greengrass
  • Fruitvale Station, 2013, Ryan Coogler
  • Mud, 2012, Jeff Nichols

*Some 2012 films were included because of their U.S. release date in 2013.

———

Never has arranging films by how much I liked them felt so trivial. How do you even begin to compare genre-defying movies (can you even call them “movies”?) like Stories We Tell and The Act of Killing, to more straightforward (by comparison) narratives like Her and Nebraska? Or what about films like Before Midnight and Spring Breakers that don’t necessarily transcend categorization, but also don’t fit into a standard movie mold?

And how do you account for movies that just missed? I was in the clear minority (and therefore got into many arguments) when it came to 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle—two of the most acclaimed and awarded films of the year. Do I owe them a second viewing before cementing my list?

Top 10 of 2013 - Stories We Tell 1

I want to, however, spend most of my time talking about my three favorite films this year: Stories We TellThe Act of Killing, and Inside Llewyn Davis—which would rank 1a, 1b, 1c, if I wasn’t irrationally against ties.

Like Holy Motors (my favorite film of 2012), Stories We Tell and The Act of Killing redefine what cinema is and can be. They seamlessly navigate the fine line between what is real/documentary and what is fictional art—often rendering them the same. I believe the highest compliment you can give any work of art is by saying that there is nothing else like it.

There is nothing else like these two films.

Stories We Tell is a modest film in terms of its story’s scope, but a discreetly ambitious one in terms of what it’s actually about. On the most basic level, it is a very talented filmmaker’s exploration into her family’s past and her own origin. But somewhere along the way, Sarah Polley’s journey becomes about how we choose to construct our lives. If history is a set of lies agreed upon, then life is a series of stories we tell ourselves and each other. The very nature of storytelling—how these lies and truths slowly replace our memories, and then eventually become our reality—reveals itself to be inherently analogous and essential to both life and cinema.

Top 10 of 2013 - The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing is a much “bigger” film than Stories We Tell, though it feels less intentional. It’s approximately five movies in one and it often gets very meta (not to sound glib or sell it short). The first movie in The Act of Killing is about the leaders of Pancasila Youth—the Indonesian equivalent of the Nazi Party—reenacting their crimes in the style of classic Hollywood films. The second movie is a making-of account of said reenactments. The third is a man’s reaction to the first movie and his incomplete (anti)hero’s journey. The fourth movie within this movie is the making of the making-of first movie. And the fifth movie is a historical investigation and commentary on the timeless morality of good and bad. Joshua Oppenheimer refreshingly draws that line, shows incredible restraint, and never imposes on his subjects. The five movies/stories aren’t told in segments, but rather bleed into each other while simultaneously blurring whatever delineation there is between artifice and truth.

I can’t help but speak in abstraction about these two films and paint my thoughts in broad strokes. (I probably used words like life, art, and cinema in every other sentence.) I lack the finesse required to really write about them without using 1,500+ words for each; and to focus on certain details would be to miss the forest for the trees and even rob some of the joys of discovery for the few of you who will eventually watch these films.

I’m out of space to talk about Inside Llewyn Davis, but basically it’s a Coen brothers greatest hits album. I don’t mean that it’s their greatest film, but it shares distinct elements from many of their best movies.

Oh and I also watched two movies with Quentin Tarantino in 2013. That was cool.

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The Night I Watched Two Movies with Quentin Tarantino

New Beverly Cinema

September 5, 2013 – It was Noah Baumbach double feature night at the New Beverly Cinema*. In a heartbeat, I was there. Alone. Because the two friends who were supposed to meet me there backed out last minute (something about being tired and/or sick). Their loss, because the night I was about to experience would be one of the most memorable and special cinema-related moments in my life.

* The New Beverly is a historic theater located around where Hollywood and West Hollywood meet. It is known for its unique programming—almost exclusively double features, projected in 35mm film. When it faced possible closure in 2007, Quentin Tarantino bought the theater and promised: “As long as I’m alive, and as long as I’m rich, the New Beverly will be there showing double features in 35mm.”

I was second in line to enter and found a nice seat in the front row (my preferred seating for smaller screens). The theater filled behind me within the next several minutes and the film started. Sporadically, throughout the run of the first film (Frances Ha—which I’ll talk about in a bit), there was a piercing laughter coming from my left, a few rows behind. It sounded familiar but I didn’t think much of it because I was so engrossed in the movie (and in Greta Gerwig).

Frances Ha

The film ended and I stretched a little during the intermission. I thought I saw Quentin Tarantino—the familiar laughter slowly started to make sense. I did a double-take and it was him, sitting two rows behind me. What the what?

While living in Los Angeles and working in Hollywood, I’ve mostly gotten used to running into celebrities (many of whom I admire—some, not so much) and am pretty cool about it. But this was different. Watching movies with Quentin Tarantino (a film geek if there ever was one), in the theater he owns, and laughing at the same jokes? Wow.

While he was having an intense conversation with his friend about a movie I’ve never heard of, I considered asking him for a picture. I usually don’t, but the situation seemed appropriate. Luckily, the ladies sitting next to him asked before I could make up my mind. He declined because “I don’t take photos in the cinema.” He wasn’t being aloof. It sounded like his reply came from a place of reverence for the sacred place he considers the cinema.

The lights dimmed and the projector starting rolling again. Before the second movie (Greenberg—which I’ll also talk about in a bit), there were trailers for the upcoming Elmore Leonard double feature. Of course, the first half of the double feature was Tarantino’s own Jackie Brown. And, of course, he started chortling at the sound of his own voice reading the intro, “Pam Grier is…” That was priceless.

Greenberg

His distinct laughter continued throughout Greenberg and it was kind of distracting because I knew it was him this time around. I didn’t mind too much though because it was so damn amusing and because, unlike Frances Ha, I had seen Greenberg before. (It was my favorite movie of 2010.)

I guess one reason I love Greenberg–and now Frances Ha–so much is because both lead characters are oddly people I might have become if my life took one or two different turns. And because of that, the two films are so heart wrenching in many ways. Not in the usual sad or depressing sense, though they are both. But they ache because how real and close to my personal reality they seem.

There’s a shot toward the end of Greenberg (image above) in which Ben Stiller’s character, the eponymous Greenberg, leaves the party behind him and wanders off into the darkness. It’s too beautiful to be a void, but too dark and uncertain to be hopeful. He’s stuck as the light and darkness take turns painting over him. This isn’t unsimilar to how I see life (not necessarily my own, but in general). And while Frances Ha sings a similar tune, it does so with a much more buoyant spirit.

That may all seem a little gloomy on my part, but I don’t think it is. It is, however, a reason Frances’s friend Sophie might call me “undateable.”

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Cinema

Amélie (2001)

130831 Amelie

This is Amélie Poulain watching you, watching her.

This post is about me, after watching Amélie watching me watching her.

This is the third sentence of a post on my thoughts about Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain and why it wasn’t as great as I remembered it.

See how quickly grating that style of writing gets? The film equivalent of that feeling is one of the several reasons Amélie’s charm wasn’t enough to make up for its incessant self-awareness and general lack of resonance while watching it for a third time, last week. It was like the film knew a theater full of hipsters would be watching it, and wanted to prove over and over again how damn quirky it was. (It always succeeds—and rarely lets us forget.)

Though the previous paragraph reads otherwise, I don’t hate this movie (or hipsters)–far from it. I still think it’s a thoroughly enjoyable and well crafted film. It’s probably the most accessible foreign language film and certainly one of the most successful.

I first watched Amélie about four years ago and absolutely loved it. It’s one of those films that give you an endorphin rush that lasts for days, but you’re never quite sure why. It just makes you happy and want to see the world as a better place. It’s one of those films that everyone loves and gushes about whenever it comes up in conversation but can’t really translate the emotional experience into words that don’t consist of “amazing,” “beautiful,” and “oh my god.” When I heard they were showing a 35mm print of it in the Hollywood Cinerama Dome, I immediately bought tickets (over a month in advance) and expected a similar experience.

Nope.

Was it a case of diminishing returns? Or did the movies I had watched earlier that week affect how I experienced Amélie? Maybe I just experience movies differently now? I don’t know. I just know that instead of being fully immersed in the story and Amélie’s search for love, I was constantly aware of how cute and meticulously placed even the most intimate details were. Like watching a magician do a magic trick—you’re amazed and impressed by what you see, but you never forget it’s just a trick that some guy made up. Watching it this time around, I rarely felt the warmth and joie de vivre that is so apparent on the screen. It’s a really really fun movie to watch. But I’m not sure it’s much more than that.

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