31 December 2009

The Best of the Ones

"With the close of 2009 being also the close of the first decade of the 21st century (i. e., the ones, as I like to call it - bollocks to that "aughts" nonsense and doubly such to the people who don't know the difference of that word from its near homophone "oughts"), many of the blogs that deal in spells of film - or, at least, those "many" that I've read - have been posting their lists of the 'Bests' of these past ten years in this flexible audio-visual medium in what I suspect are summative attempts at decadal closure. Though, as this blog hasn't yet existed for a full decade - not that many of those other "many" have either - I have kept my own toes from dipping into this pool of slurry "Bests;" I think now, in the final hour, I'll fold for New Year's and New Decade's Cheer and attempt my own lists in similar orders. So, here - for your very enjoyment - are my takes on the best of the best of these past ten years in film (with bold text denoting the primary of more than one significant instance of excellence created by the corresponding artist/technician):


10 Best Live-Action Films (Feature-Length)
  • Brokeback Mountain (2005)
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  • Gosford Park (2001)
  • Låt den Rätte Komma In (Let the Right One In, 2008)
  • Little Children (2006)
  • The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
  • Lost in Translation (2003)
  • 花樣年華 (In the Mood for Love, 2000)
  • Moulin Rouge! (2001)
  • 歩いても 歩いても (Still Walking, 2009)
10 Best Directors
  • Pedro Almodóvar, Hable con Ella (Talk to Her; 2002)
  • Robert Altman, Gosford Park (2001)
  • Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation (2003)
  • Joel & Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men (2007)
  • Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
  • Wong Kar Wai, 花樣年華 (In the Mood for Love, 2000)
  • Ang Lee; 臥虎藏龍 (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; 2000) & Brokeback Mountain (2005)
  • Baz Luhrman, Moulin Rouge! (2001)
  • Julian Schnabel, Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (2007)
  • Martin Scorcese, The Aviator (2004)
10 Best Actors
  • Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls (2000)
  • Nicolas Cage, Adaptation (2002)
  • George Clooney, Up in the Air (2009)
  • Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator (2004)
  • Colin Farrell, In Bruges (2008)
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote (2005)
  • Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain (2005)
  • Bill Murray, Lost in Translation (2003)
  • Peter O'Toole, Venus (2006)
10 Best Actresses
  • Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream (2000)
  • Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose (2007)
  • Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married (2008)
  • Salma Hayek, Frida (2002)
  • Diane Keaton, Something's Gotta Give (2003)
  • Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge! (2001) & The Hours (2002)
  • Helen Mirren, The Queen (2006)
  • Julianne Moore, Far from Heaven (2002)
  • Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada (2006) & Doubt (2008)
  • Kate Winslet; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) & Little Children (2006)
More upon expansion:

10 Best Supporting Actors
  • Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
  • Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men (2007)
  • Thomas Haden Church, Sideways (2004)
  • Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain (2005)
  • Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children (2006)
  • Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight (2008)
  • Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
  • Mark Wahlberg, The Departed (2006)
  • Christopher Walken, Catch Me if You Can (2002)
  • Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds (2009)
10 Best Supporting Actresses
  • Amy Adams, Junebug (2005) & Doubt and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)
  • Cate Blanchett; The Aviator (2004), Notes on a Scandal (2006), & I'm Not There (2008)
  • Patricia Clarkson, Pieces of April (2003)
  • Viola Davis, Doubt (2008)
  • Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock (2000) & Mystic River (2003)
  • Julianne Moore, The Hours (2002) & A Single Man (2009)
  • Natalie Portman, Closer (2004)
  • Maggie Smith, Gosford Park (2001)
  • Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton (2007)
  • Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain (2005)
10 Best Art Directions
  • William Chang Suk-ping & Mam Lim-chung, 花樣年華 (In the Mood for Love, 2000) & 2046 (2004)
  • Stuart Craig & Stephanie McMillan; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), & Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
  • Felipe Fernández del Paso & Hania Robledo, Frida (2002)
  • Dante Ferretti & Francesca Lo Schiavo; Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), & Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
  • Mark Friedberg & Adam Stockhausen; The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), & Synecdoche, New York (2008)
  • Grant Major, Dan Hennah, & Alan Lee; The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
  • Catherine Martin & Brigitte Broch, Moulin Rouge! (2001)
  • John Myhre & Gretchen Rau, Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
  • Ben van Os & Cecile Heiderman, Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003)
  • Tim Yip; 臥虎藏龍 (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; 2000)
10 Best Cinematographies
  • Roger Deakins, The Man Who Wasn't There (2001); Jarhead (2005); The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men, and In the Valley of Elah (2007); and Doubt (2008)
  • Christopher Doyle with Mark Lee Ping-bin & Rain Li; 花樣年華 (In the Mood for Love, 2000), 2046 (2004), & Paranoid Park (2007)
  • Robert Elswit; Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) & There Will Be Blood (2008)
  • Slawomir Idziak, Black Hawk Down (2001) & Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2008)
  • Janusz Kaminski, Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (2008)
  • Peter Pau; 臥虎藏龍 (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; 2000)
  • Robert Richardson, The Aviator (2004)
  • Eduardo Serra, Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003)
  • Hoyte van Hoytema, Låt den Rätte Komma In (2008)
  • Robert D. Yeoman; The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) & The Darjeeling Limited and Hotel Chevalier (2007)
10 Best Costumings
  • Marit Allen, La Vie en Rose (2007)
  • Colleen Atwood; Chicago (2002), Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), & Nine (2009)
  • William Chang Suk-ping, 花樣年華 (In the Mood for Love, 2000)
  • Milena Canonero, The Affair of the Necklace (2001), Marie Antoinette (2006), & The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
  • Ngila Dickson & Richard Taylor, The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
  • Jacqueline Durran, Atonement (2007)
  • Danny Glicker, Milk (2008)
  • Catherine Martin & Angus Strathie, Moulin Rouge! (2001)
  • Sandy Powell; Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), & The Young Victoria (2009)
  • Julie Weiss, Frida (2002)
10 Best Make-Ups
  • Rick Baker & Gail Ryan, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
  • John Caglione, Jr., & Conor O'Sullivan; The Dark Knight (2008)
  • Greg Cannom, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
  • John Jackson & Beatrice de Alba, Frida (2002)
  • Didier Lavergne & Jan Archibald, La Vie en Rose (2007)
  • David Martí & Montse Ribé, El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth; 2006)
  • Ve Neill & Martin Samuel, Pirates of the Caribbean (2003, 2006, & 2007)
  • Valli O'Reilly & Bill Corso, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
  • Maurizio Silvi & Aldo Signoretti, Moulin Rouge! (2001)
  • Richard Taylor & Peter Owen and Peter King, The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
10 Best Visual Effects
  • Avatar (2009)
  • Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton, & Craig Barron; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
  • Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Tim Webber, & Paul Franklin; The Dark Knight (2008)
  • District 9 (2009)
  • John Dykstra, Scott Stokdyk, Anthony LaMolinara, & John Frazier; Spider-Man (2002) & Spider-man 2 (2004)
  • Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl, & John Frazier; Transformers (2007)
  • Roger Guyett, Tim Burke, John Richardson, & Bill George; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
  • John Knoll, Hal Hickel, & Charles Gibson with Terry Frazee; Pirates of the Caribbean (2003, 2006, & 2007)
  • Joe Letteri, Brian Van't Hul, Christian Rivers, & Richard Taylor; King Kong (2005)
  • Jim Rygiel and Randall William Cook & Richard Taylor, Mark Stetson, Joe Letteri, and Alex Funke; The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
  • Speed Racer (2008)
10 Best Original Scores
  • Elmer Bernstein, Far from Heaven (2002)
  • Jon Brion, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  • Alexandre Desplat; The Queen (2006), Lust, Caution (2007), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), & Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
  • Philip Glass, The Hours (2002) & Notes on a Scandal (2006)
  • Eliot Goldenthal, Frida (2002)
  • Abel Korzeniowski, A Single Man (2009)
  • Thomas Newman; Finding Nemo (2003), Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004), Little Children (2006), & Revolutionary Road and Wall•E (2008)
  • Gustavo Santaolalla, Brokeback Mountain (2005)
  • Shigeru Umebayashi with Michael Galasso; 花樣年華 (In the Mood for Love, 2000), 2046 (2004), & A Single Man (2009)
  • John Williams; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001), Catch Me if You Can (2002), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), & Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
10 Best Original Songs
  • "Little Person" by Jon Brion; Synecdoche, New York (2008)
  • "Al Otro Lado del Rio" by Jorge Drexler, The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
  • "Things Have Changed" by Bob Dylan, Wonder Boys (2000)
  • "Lose Yourself" by Eminem, Jeff Bass, & Luis Resto; 8 Mile (2002)
  • "Falling Slowly" by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova, Once (2007)
  • "Travelin' Thru" by Dolly Parton, Transamerica (2005)
  • "Jai Ho" by AR Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
  • "You've Got Me Wrapped around Your Little Finger" by Beth Rowley & Ben Castle, An Education (2009)
  • "Rise" by Eddie Vedder, Into the Wild (2007)
  • "Into the West" by Fran Walsh, Howard Shore, & Annie Lennox; The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
10 Best Sound Editings
  • Christopher Boyes, Addiston Teague, & Gwendolyn Yates Whittle; Avatar (2009)
  • Ben Burtt & Matthew Wood, Wall•E (2008)
  • Mike Hopkins & Ethan Van der Ryn; The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003), King Kong (2005), & Transformers (2007)
  • Richard King, War of the Worlds (2005) & The Dark Knight (2008)
  • Karen Baker Landers & Per Hallberg, The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
  • Skip Lievsay, No Country for Old Men (2007)
  • Paul N. J. Ottoson, Spider-Man 2 (2004) & The Hurt Locker (2009)
  • Michael Silvers & Gary Rydstrom and Randy Thom; Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007), & Up (2009)
  • Wylie Statemen; Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003), Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), & Wanted (2008)
  • George Watters II & Christopher Boyes, Pearl Harbor (2001) & Pirates of the Caribbean (2003, 2006, & 2007)
10 Best Sound Mixings
  • Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, & Hammond Peek with Gethin Creagh & Michael Hedges; The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) & King Kong (2005)
  • Marc Doisne, La Vie en Rose (2007)
  • Tom Fleischman & Petur Hliddal, The Aviator (2004)
  • Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo, & Ed Novick; The Dark Knight (2008)
  • Doc Kane & Randy Thom with Gary A. Rizzo & Michael Semanick; The Incredibles (2004) & Ratatouille (2007)
  • Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, & Peter Kurland; No Country for Old Men (2007)
  • Scott Millan, David Parker, and Kirk Francis; The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
  • Michael Minkler with David Lee, Dominick Tavella, Chris Munro, Myron Nettinga, Bob Beemer, & Willie D. Burton; Black Hawk Down (2001), Chicago (2002), Dreamgirls (2006), & Into the Wild (2007)
  • Tom Myers, Michael Semanick, & Ben Burtt; Wall•E (2008)
  • Andy Nelson & Anna Behlmer with Roger Savage, Guntis Sics, Jeff Wexler, & Ronald Judkins; Moulin Rouge! (2001), The Last Samurai (2003), & War of the Worlds(2005)
10 Best Editings
  • William Chang, 花樣年華 (In the Mood for Love, 2000)
  • Dana E. Glauberman, Juno (2007) & Up in the Air (2009)
  • Roderick Janes (i. e., Joel & Ethan Coen), No Country for Old Men (2007)
  • Valdís Óskarsdóttir, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  • Christopher Rouse, United 93 (2006) & The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
  • Thelma Schoonmaker; Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), & The Departed (2006)
  • Jamie Selkirk, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
  • Tim Squyres; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Gosford Park (2001), & Rachel Getting Married (2008)
  • Juliette Welfling, Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (2007)
  • Hughes Winborne, Crash (2005)
10 Best Screenplays (Original)
  • Pedro Almodóvar, Hable con Ella (2002)
  • Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson, The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
  • Noah Baumbach, The Squid and the Whale (2005)
  • Diablo Cody, Juno (2007)
  • Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation (2003)
  • Alfonso & Carlos Cuarón, Y Tu Mamá También (2002)
  • Julian Fellowes, Gosford Park (2001)
  • Lee Hall, Billy Elliot (2000)
  • Courtney Hunt, Frozen River (2008)
  • Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
10 Best Screenplays (Adapted)
  • Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
  • Todd Field & Tom Perrotta, Little Children (2006)
  • David Hare, The Hours (2002)
  • Ronald Harwood, Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (2007)
  • Charlie (& Donald) Kaufman, Adaptation. (2002)
  • Steve Kloves, Wonder Boys (2000)
  • John Ajvide Lindqvist, Låt den Rätte Komma In (2008)
  • Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana, Brokeback Mountain (2005)
  • Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air (2009)
  • Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, & Peter Jackson; The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
10 Best Animated Films (Feature-Length or Short)
  • For the Birds (2001)
  • Destino (2003)
  • Everything Will Be OK (2007)
  • Finding Nemo (2003)
  • Howl's Moving Castle (2005)
  • John & Karen (2008)
  • Les Triplettes de Bellevilles (The Triplets of Belleville; 2003)
  • Peter & the Wolf (2007)
  • Spirited Away (2002)
  • Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
10 Best Foreign-Language Films (Feature-Length or Short, Live-Action or Animated)
  • Amélie (2001)
  • 臥虎藏龍 (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; 2000)
  • Hable con Ella (2002)
  • L'Heure d'Été (Summer Hours; 2009)
  • Låt den Rätte Komma In (2008)
  • Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others; 2006)
  • 花樣年華 (In the Mood for Love, 2000)
  • Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (2007)
  • 歩いても 歩いても (Still Walking, 2009)
  • Yi Yi (2000)

27 December 2009

Review: A Single Man

Genre: Drama


Tom Ford's A Single Man, it is clear from the very start, is its director's film; pruned from the screenplay are all the traces of stodginess or disgrace that characterize the world of Mr. Isherwood's original text and planted in their steads are the bulbs of style - on the edge of a razor - that allows the story of George to breathe far more smokily than a more diligent to-film translation of the Isherwood novella ever could. As a result, that the two (the original and the adaptation) bear likenesses is almost more of a historical fashion, of shared ascendancy, rather than of a present compulsion, of direct descendency; whereas Mr. Isherwood spent much of his time focussing carefully on the complete battery of sensory nuances that flood his protagonist's fluid world, Mr. Ford spends much of his time focussing instead on the more immediate, more intimate, more concrete, and more punctuative sensory ties that anchor his protagonist amid the rush of his submerged world - a world, importantly, evoked as it is instead of as it would be, if as perversely reconstructed as the original George so frequently describes his hopes for it to be.

Those sorts of descriptive quotes (as, indeed, much of the complicating and developing ribbons of the original George's consciousness, that both inundate and reflect his world) are minimized within, if not eliminated from, Mr. Ford's new treatment of the character; environmental affectors, dispossessors, and stressors are relegated by the cinematic screenplay to being merely implied nudgers, inhibitors, and peeves that, though represented in frankness, feel exclusively peripheral to the central experience of George, in a way completely different from his experience in the novella. However, to say that Mr. Ford by treating George thus has effectively rooted out whatever lingering despondency that colored him from his audience's perception of him is to commit an overly ambitious error; for Mr. Ford's George, though he arrests himself throughout the day in order to take full inventory of the people and the events that he encounters in his quotidian and delimited life (instead of glancing over them as if over a continuous trail of variously impressed instances, as over braille), does not cheaply throw in the towel with any kind of exposed plaint like "carpe diem," as would typically punctuate such a life of loosely bound, intermittent, and otherwise heavy-handed arrests - not even, as such a plaintive message may be the inevitable masque that his perspective chooses to resemble in his 1960s' California. No, British Professor George Falconer is more tender than that bland triteness and less transient than his situation, and he manifests himself exactly in that way time and time again, as he falls hour after hour into the night of his day - falls, in a way that cinematically treats the medium of his ennui, which intervenes itself between himself and his experiencing the world, as capably as Mr. Isherwood's internal ribbons of conscious literally treat it. As a theoretical result, any minimization and/or elimination of Mr. Isherwood's original elements by Mr. Ford's new treatment exists only as a consequentially repositioned artifact of a story transferred from a subjective perspective, like that of a literary first-person narration, to an objective perspective, like that of a cinematic third-person observation; and any peripheralization, a collateral consequence thereof. Observation as by film allows these consequences inconsequentially, by requiring a vocabulary that transcends the need for any such staging in the fore, and Mr. Ford's treatment finds this vocabulary and utilizes it ulimately expressively.

Though it is clear to a viewer of the film that Mr. Ford is inexperienced as a director by witnessing his choices as the results of an obviously roughly translated (from fashion to film-making, still imagery to motive imagery) artist's toolbox, it is nevertheless also clear to any viewer of the film that an artist was at its helm: that - equally - Mr. Ford is an artist, using the tools as best as he knows how, to paint his intentions upon a canvas. Rough compositions, that stumble at first as a newborn foal stumbles, find their own internally consistent footing and from there compose scenes of elegiac beauty, wan distress, and quiet rapture to be savored. Colors, that at first appear overstressed as alternating bottle-green and pink-rose filters of the world, play a delicate and lilting, sinusoidal, emotional curvature; and fumbling focal points call to stand palpable echoes of George's own fading, as-if-trying-to-make-contact-from-behind-a-white-sheet condition. And dialogical phrasings, that jitteringly announce factors at beginning, only have positioned themselves, as satellites do, to best commit home factorial results at end.

Almost like a speeding train, with him chained to the front of it, George's day hurtles forth from the first word toward a fait accompli that comes to pass only in so many words. In the gaps, where both inevitability and Mr. Ford's artistry have not, the actors' performances, Mr. Korzeniowski's score, and Mr. Grau's cinematography fill. For the actors: Mr. Firth stands quite on point in George, in a poise and emotional register that he had been unable either by circumstance or by experience to display in films before; though it occasions that he may have used a bit more intuitive direction than he manages in some quiet instances - direction as could have been had, had there been a stronger or more knowledgeable director's guiding hand - he is otherwise as reliable a protagonist in this work as could have been imagined. Countering him, Ms. Moore is stunning, as usual - so much so that nothing else need be said for her, except that Mr. Ford's more savvy revision of her character quite suits her - and Mr. Hoult is critically sufficient, as all his rôle needed him to be. For the composers: Mr. Korzeniowski's score, bolstered by Mr. Umebayashi's undulous themes, is a strong and knowledgeable guiding hand in the utmost capacity where Mr. Ford himself for whatever reason could not be; rigorous, emotive, involved, confident, and transcendent, it is what music in film should be. For the cinematographer: Though I took issue at first with the liberality which which you allowed your director to color-bend your images, I appreciated nevertheless your overall use of color as direction, as well as your fleeting homages to the work of the likes of Philip Lorca diCorcia, greatly; though not always on its mark, Mr. Grau's final product does contain what are some of the year's best images.

All in all, by the time A Single Man does reach its end, it is utterly resplendent and aromatic even with captivating imagery, sounds, and performances. I cannot think of more that would be worthwhile to add to this review than the comments made of it by The London Times' Wendy Ide, who wrote:
It’s no surprise that the feature film directing debut of fashion designer Tom Ford is a thing of heart-stopping beauty. He celebrates the male form with a sensual reverence. He uses colour with the visual articulacy of Wong Kar Wai and frames his shots with elegance and wit. It looks like a Wallpaper magazine photo shoot styled by Douglas Sirk. But what is a little more unexpected, certainly for those who were suspicious of Ford’s background in the ephemeral world of fashion, is that this is no frothy, throwaway piece of pretty silliness. Rather it’s a work of emotional honesty and authenticity which announces the arrival of a serious filmmaking talent. There will be critics who will be unable to get past the director’s background, but rest assured: Tom Ford is the real deal.
Grade: A-, "the real deal," emotionally authentic and sensuous without ever pandering to gratuity, sublime.

25 December 2009

Discourse: The Times' Reviewers on the Year

Recently The New York Times' three official reviewers of film (i. e., A. O. Scott, Manohla Dargis, and Stephen Holden) each compiled, in addition to their own various and variable iterations of Top-10 lists, thoughtful postscriptions after their full year of filmic reviews in 2009. I link each such postscription here, here, and here, respectively; and I cite a few important, smart, and/or provocative quotes that I found in each (below):

From A. O. Scott:

  • A jealous-makingly concise appraisal of the A story in Jason Reitman's Up in the Air and interlacing of it and Up, Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours, and Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker:
    What if home is no place at all? That question surely haunts Ryan Bingham, the corporate nowhere man played by George Clooney in “Up in the Air,” whose gravity-defying life is a beguiling illusion of freedom. Ryan has given up the bonds and tethers that hold more earthbound souls (including the people it is his job to fire) in place, realizing only too late that he has sacrificed security and continuity. A similar sacrifice is imposed on old Carl Fredricksen in “Up,” who must let go of the home he has tried to take with him, and on the French family in Olivier Assayas“Summer Hours,” who give up cherished family property because the logic of modern life demands it. For Staff Sgt. Will James, the Army demolitions expert in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Hurt Locker,” the home front is a place where he feels alienated and adrift, divorced from his true self. He is most himself, most at home, in a far-away land, where the risk of death makes him feel alive.
From Manohla Dargis:
  • An apt quip about Gary Winick's Bride Wars, produced by 20th Century Fox: "female-minstrelsy show"
  • An apt recommendation for Nora Ephron about her Julie & Julia: "[You] did everyone right by giving us Meryl Streep as Julia Child in 'Julie & Julia.' ([But you] can keep Julie.)"
  • "Moment[s] to remember":
    the dust that clings to Anthony Mackie’s eyelashes in “The Hurt Locker,” as he waits in the Iraqi desert, gun at the ready, for enemy fire. And Colin Firth’s face crumbling like pulverized stone as he receives the awful news of his lover’s death in “A Single Man.” Some of the greatest filmmaking of the year was represented by the story of a happy marriage, which was represented with breathtaking narrative economy and a great depth of feeling in four sublime minutes in “Up.” The rest of the movie left me fairly indifferent, but those four minutes will play on a loop in my head for years.
    Other images, other memories: the bodies of two teenagers being transported by a backhoe operated by a mobster in the Italian film “Gomorrah,” a backhoe first glimpsed in a scene in which the boys exult over the crime that will lead to their demise. The phosphorescent flowers fluttering like sea creatures on the surface of the alien world in “Avatar.” A restless camera tracing lines of love among grieving family members in “Summer Hours,” a French film poignantly true to everyday life and emotions and almost impossible to imagine being made in America if only because of its insistence on ambivalence as a condition of human relations. A young camel riding in a motorcycle sidecar amid an extraordinarily choreographed whirl of human and animal motion in “Tulpan.”

From Stephen Holden:
  • A statement of relief for honesty in film-making, specifically regarding Oren Moverman's The Messenger: "The harrowing scenes of people crumpling [for the news of their loved ones' deaths] are only slightly softened by a sense of relief that the human cost of our overseas adventures is finally being acknowledged in movies without a veneer of sentimentality and flag waving."
  • A bizarrely old-world (see here for starters) statement of relief for equality in sexual liberation, specifically regarding the relationship between the protagonists male and female in Mr. Reitman's Up in the Air: "The film recognizes the emerging new rules of engagement in the age of the hook-up, in which women can be as coolly detached as men."
  • A nostalgic statement of harkening for indelibility in a now concluded, brilliant television-series, a statement coupled with another of praise for restraint in Mr. Moverman's The Messenger:
    Mr. Foster (unrecognizable from the wimpy art student he played on “Six Feet Under”) gives an award-worthy portrayal of Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery, an Army officer wounded in Iraq who is serving the last three months of his tour in an assignment as excruciating in its way as combat. Mr. Foster’s performance is extraordinarily restrained, as his character struggles to maintain his reserve in the face of volcanic emotions hurled him by family members of the casualties of war. Against his will he develops an attachment to a new widow (Samantha Morton) that the movie wisely refrains from turning into an instant happy ending. Beautifully written and acted, “The Messenger,” the first feature directed by Oren Moverman, from his and Alessandro Camon’s screenplay, never stoops to tearjerking manipulation.
  • A quintessentially descriptive statement of recognition of Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker: "The movie is a pungent exploration of pressurized machismo in which demonic and heroic impulses fuse."

22 December 2009

Interview: Richard Linklater

The Criterion Current has recently posted a terrific little interview that its writers/managers have done with Richard Linklater, director of this year's Me and Orson Welles, about his work on the film, his actors in the film, and his thoughts on Welles in general. Check it out here.

18 December 2009

Review: Avatar

Genre: Epic

It is a delicate thing, to create a film - a delicacy impinged upon all the more when the ambition compelling the film is magnitudinous in its scope. Epic, magnitudinous films by their very definitions attempt to conquer many facets of the human psyche and fan them out in clear array before our eyes, like iridescent plumes or playing cards; men are loved and betrayed, culture is ritualized and written, and learning and life in relation to others is lionized, tragedized, and recorded. At their best, therefore, such epic works grow and flourish and manage to thistle out at their extremities tiny niches of humanity that had only faintly, if at all, been touched before; at their worst, such films gurgle and gag up upon themselves consecutive clichés and clumsy metaphors that drag their knuckles over the broken glass of awkwardly executed long-range firings. Avatar - to credit Mr. Cameron - is an epic film thankfully closer in execution to the former extreme.

He (i. e., Cameron), hardly an estranged director from the epic film in general and - no doubt - so aware of its variability, its delicacy, and its necessary concern for each manner and maneuver and choice in effect, lest just one be misplaced and cause, like the slippage of an improperly rooted epiphyte, the fall of the entire tangential structure, knew that temperament in epic direction would be key, temperament for choice and choice in anticipation of result as well as in heed of precedent. Each tier, each layer that an epic film-maker adds, he knows, must extend to bear the weight and the shape of both its successor and its foregoer. Otherwise, the structure can shatter, crumble, and fold like a house of playing cards, instead of diverging - as it ought - like a fan of them. No, epic films, he knows, are not like a laser or a beam, marking its course single-mindedly from its onset and pruning away all else in streamlining idealization, as less ambitious films are and ought be; rather, the epic film ought, as if fancying itself the illuminative appreciator of the spectrum rather than the elucidative categorizer of the wave, be macroscopic and grow organically, heterodoxically, into form and refractive focus.

I discourse on, as I have, on these matters, because it is important to remember them: to remember that, when writing in review of an epic film as when creating such a film, one may not expect from it the same incisive acuity that one may expect from other, non-epic films. Its measure, much more accurately, is closer to the measure of quality for odes, songs, and lyrical sagas than to that of epithets, fables, and fairy tales. Against its appropriate measure, an epic film like Avatar does well.

Agglomerating pensive tips from the likes of Locke, Foucault, and - most clearly - Descartes as well as from computer science, pop culture, and anthropology as it rolls farther and farther into its story, Avatar takes on the organic life that it needs - albeit covets - to survive and to support its magnitudinous structure, emotions, and scenes - which can indeed be breathtaking. Lush, lush life, excerpted in inspiration from the sparkling texts of Wells perhaps and Margaret Mead maybe, are flowers festooning the screenplay - which, though an inventive retelling of the legend of Pocahontas, is sadly a rather dry bed to harvest from. But then Mr. Cameron was never much of a writer. No, his strengths lie much more in his abilities to eke out effective drama from his drying seeds, to turn his trite dialogue and simplistic phrases into quiet and unobstrusive scaffolding for his physical plays, and to show us why he bothered planting his seeds in the first place: well choreographed rushes, battles, and unions that, though lacking the grandeur, the majesty, and the objective finesse of - say - Mr. Jackson's, stir the emotions nevertheless and, for this stirring, are meritorious.

Beyond the physical action, the physical appearance(s) too are lush and meritorious. Though almost steroidally neon at first glance, the world of Avatar is actually meticulously quiet and happily not visually strident. Costumes may be typical, but they are donned by aesthetically interesting bodies, which lithe and labile the make-up complements well. And, though subjective to the hilt, the cinematography makes something notable of itself - though I am not 100% convinced that that something owes its existence entirely to its own merits and not those of the scenes that it depicts.

Acoustically, sound-editing is fine and appropriate; and Mr. Horner's score, like Mr. Cameron's screenplay, predictably raw but supplementarily completely condign with the tone and the object each of its instances. His original song, however, is unavoidably sappy.

Still, overall Avatar is a good, good work; and, I must say of it, though it was not particularly gifted in terms of its actors, it was wonderful to see Sigourney Weaver taking strides in a film of its size, type, and ambition once again.

Grade: A-, a worthy contemporary amalgamation from and to the world of folklore and mythology - I particularly cared for the non-flagrant use of 3-D.

17 December 2009

Announcement: The Second Flush of Nominations

As - doubtless - many of you out in film-land already well know, this week has been a particularly full week for to be following the "Awards' Season" as it makes the preliminary pushes to roll out its many "Year's Best." In advance of the first flush, which carried out the nominations of Film Independent and the Annie Awards (in addition to the Grammys), this new second flush of nominations brings in the nominations from "heavier hitters" (i. e., the Broadcast Film Critics Association [BFCA]; the Hollywood Foreign Press Association [HFPA], presenter of the Golden Globe Awards; and - just this morning- the Screen Actors Guild [SAG]) in addition to the new Criterion, March 2010 releases yesterday and Avatar's theatrical release tomorrow. Yes, this set is a lot, and this lot I give to you (below):

P. S. Don't we think that the SAG nominees in the Best Leading Actor category are the to-be Oscar nominees as well?

BFCA
BEST PICTURE

Nominees:
• Avatar
An Education
• The Hurt Locker
• Inglourious Basterds
• Invictus
• Nine
Precious
A Serious Man
Up
Up In The Air


BEST ACTOR

Nominees:
• Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
George Clooney - Up In The Air
• Colin Firth - A Single Man
• Morgan Freeman - Invictus
Viggo Mortensen - The Road
• Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker

BEST ACTRESS

Nominees:
• Emily Blunt - The Young Victoria
• Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
Carey Mulligan - An Education
• Saoirse Ronan - The Lovely Bones
Gabourey Sidibe - Precious
Meryl Streep - Julie & Julia


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Nominees:
• Matt Damon - Invictus
• Woody Harrelson - The Messenger
• Christian McKay - Me And Orson Welles
Alfred Molina - An Education
• Stanley Tucci - The Lovely Bones
• Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominees:
• Marion Cotillard - Nine
Vera Farmiga - Up In The Air
Anna Kendrick - Up In The Air
Mo’Nique - Precious
• Julianne Moore - A Single Man
• Samantha Morton - The Messenger


BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS

Nominees:
• Jae Head - The Blind Side
• Bailee Madison - Brothers
Max Records - Where The Wild Things Are
• Saoirse Ronan - The Lovely Bones
Kodi Smit-McPhee - The Road


BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE

Nominees:
• Inglourious Basterds
• Nine
Precious
Star Trek
Up In The Air


BEST DIRECTING

Nominees:
• Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
• James Cameron - Avatar
Lee Daniels - Precious
• Clint Eastwood - Invictus
Jason Reitman - Up In The Air
• Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nominees:
• Mark Boal - The Hurt Locker
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen - A Serious Man
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber - (500) Days Of Summer
Bob Peterson, Peter Docter - Up
• Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nominees:
• Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach - Fantastic Mr. Fox
Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell - District 9
Geoffrey Fletcher - Precious
• Tom Ford, David Scearce - A Single Man
Nick Hornby - An Education
Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner - Up In The Air

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Nominees:
• The Hurt Locker
• Nine
• Avatar
• The Lovely Bones
• Inglourious Basterds


BEST ART DIRECTION

Nominees:
• A Single Man
• Avatar
• Nine
• The Lovely Bones
• Inglourious Basterds


BEST EDITING

Nominees:
Up In The Air
• Inglourious Basterds
• The Hurt Locker
• Avatar
• Nine


BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Nominees:
• Nine
• Bright Star
• The Young Victoria
• Inglourious Basterds
Where The Wild Things Are


BEST MAKEUP

Nominees:
• Avatar
District 9
• Nine
The Road
Star Trek


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Nominees:
• Avatar
District 9
• The Lovely Bones
Star Trek
2012


BEST SOUND

Nominees:
• Avatar
District 9
• The Hurt Locker
• Nine
Star Trek


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Nominees:
• Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs
Coraline
• Fantastic Mr. Fox
• Princess And The Frog
Up


BEST ACTION MOVIE

Nominees:
• Avatar
District 9
• The Hurt Locker
• Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek


BEST COMEDY

Nominees:
(500) Days Of Summer
• The Hangover
• It’s Complicated
• The Proposal
• Zombieland


BEST PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

Nominees:
• Gifted Hands
Grey Gardens
• Into The Storm
• Taking Chance

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Nominees:
• Broken Embraces
• Coco Before Chanel
• Red Cliff
Sin Nombre
• The White Ribbon


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Nominees:
• Anvil
• Capitalism: A Love Story
• The Cove
• Food, Inc.
• Michael Jackson’s This Is It


BEST SONG

Nominees:
"All Is Love" - Karen O, Nick Zinner - Where The Wild Things Are
• "Almost There" - Randy Newman - The Princess And The Frog
• "Cinema Italiano" - Maury Yeston - Nine
• "(I Want To) Come Home" - Paul McCartney - Everybody’s Fine
• "The Weary Kind" - Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett - Crazy Heart


BEST SCORE

Nominees:
Michael Giacchino - Up
• Marvin Hamlisch - The Informant!
• Randy Newman - The Princess and the Frog
Karen O, Carter Burwell - Where The Wild Things Are
• Hans Zimmer - Sherlock Holmes

HFPA
Best Motion Picture -- Drama
Avatar
The Hurt Locker
Inglorious Basterds
Precious
Up in the Air

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture -- Drama
Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture -- Drama
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Tobey Maguire, Brothers


Best Motion Picture -- Musical or Comedy
(500) Days of Summer
The Hangover
It's Complicated
Julie & Julia
Nine

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture -- Musical or Comedy
Sandra Bullock, The Proposal
Marion Cotillard, Nine
Meryl Streep, It's Complicated
Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia
Julia Roberts, Duplicity

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture -- Musical or Comedy
Matt Damon, The Informant
Daniel Day Lewis, Nine
Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes
Joseph Gordon Levitt, (500) Days of Summer
Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Mo-Nique, Precious
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air

Penelope Cruz, Nine

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Matt Damon, Invictus
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Christopher Waltz, Inglorious Basterds
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger

Best Animated Feature Film
Coraline
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
The Princess and the Frog
Up

Best Foreign Language Film
Barria
Broken Embraces
A Prophet
The White Ribbon
The Maid

Best Director -- Motion Picture
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds

Best Screenplay -- Motion Picture
Up in the Air
It's Complicated
District 9
The Hurt Locker
Inglorious Basterds

Best Original Score -- Motion Picture
Michael Giacchino, Up
Marvin Hamlisch, The Informant
James Horner, Avatar
Abel Krozeniowski, A Single Man
Karen O. and Carter Burwell, Where the Wild Things Are

Best Original Song -- Motion Picture
"I Will See You," Avatar
"The Weary Kind," The Crazy Heart
"Winter," Brothers
"Cinema Italiano," Nine
"I Want to Come Home," Everybody's Fine

SAG
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
JEFF BRIDGES / Bad Blake - "CRAZY HEART" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
GEORGE CLOONEY / Ryan Bingham - "UP IN THE AIR" (Paramount Pictures)
COLIN FIRTH / George Falconer - "A SINGLE MAN" (The Weinstein Company)
MORGAN FREEMAN / Nelson Mandela - "INVICTUS" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
JEREMY RENNER / Staff Sgt. William James - "THE HURT LOCKER" (Summit Entertainment)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
SANDRA BULLOCK / Leigh Anne Tuohy - "THE BLIND SIDE" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
HELEN MIRREN / Sofya - "THE LAST STATION" (Sony Pictures Classics)
CAREY MULLIGAN / Jenny - "AN EDUCATION" (Sony Pictures Classics)
GABOUREY SIDIBE / Precious - "PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘PUSH' BY SAPPHIRE" (Lionsgate)
MERYL STREEP / Julia Child - "JULIE & JULIA" (Columbia Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
MATT DAMON / Francois Pienaar - "INVICTUS" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
WOODY HARRELSON / Captain Tony Stone - "THE MESSENGER" (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER / Tolstoy - "THE LAST STATION" (Sony Pictures Classics)
STANLEY TUCCI / George Harvey - "THE LOVELY BONES" (Paramount Pictures)
CHRISTOPH WALTZ / Col. Hans Landa - "INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS" (The Weinstein Company/Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
PENÉLOPE CRUZ / Carla - "NINE" (The Weinstein Company)
VERA FARMIGA / Alex Goran - "UP IN THE AIR" (Paramount Pictures)
ANNA KENDRICK / Natalie Keener - "UP IN THE AIR" (Paramount Pictures)
DIANE KRUGER / Bridget Von Hammersmark - "INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS" (The Weinstein Company/Universal Pictures)
MO'NIQUE / Mary - "PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘PUSH' BY SAPPHIRE" (Lionsgate)

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
AN EDUCATION (Sony Pictures Classics)
DOMINIC COOPER / Danny
ALFRED MOLINA / Jack
CAREY MULLIGAN / Jenny
ROSAMUND PIKE / Helen
PETER SARSGAARD / David
EMMA THOMPSON / Headmistress
OLIVIA WILLIAMS / Miss Stubbs


THE HURT LOCKER (Summit Entertainment)
CHRISTIAN CAMARGO / Col. John Cambridge
BRIAN GERAGHTY / Specialist Owen Eldridge
EVANGELINE LILLY / Connie James
ANTHONY MACKIE / Sgt. J.T. Sanborn
JEREMY RENNER / Staff Sgt. William James

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (The Weinstein Company/Universal Pictures)
DANIEL BRÜHL / Fredrick Zoller
AUGUST DIEHL / Major Hellstrom
JULIE DREYFUS / Francesca Mondino
MICHAEL FASSBENDER / Lt. Archie Hicox
SYLVESTER GROTH / Joseph Goebbels
JACKY IDO / Marcel
DIANE KRUGER / Bridget Von Hammersmark
MÉLANIE LAURENT / Shosanna
DENIS MENOCHET / Perrier LaPedite
MIKE MYERS / General Ed French
BRAD PITT / Lt. Aldo Raine
ELI ROTH / Sgt. Donny Donowitz
TIL SCHWEIGER / Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz
ROD TAYLOR / Winston Churchill
CHRISTOPH WALTZ / Col. Hans Landa
MARTIN WUTTKE / Hitler

NINE (The Weinstein Company)
MARION COTILLARD / Luisa Contini
PENÉLOPE CRUZ / Carla
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS / Guido Contini
JUDI DENCH / Lillian
FERGIE / Saraghina
KATE HUDSON / Stephanie
NICOLE KIDMAN / Claudia
SOPHIA LOREN / Mamma

PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL "PUSH" BY SAPPHIRE (Lionsgate)
MARIAH CAREY / Ms. Weiss
LENNY KRAVITZ / Nurse John
MO'NIQUE / Mary
PAULA PATTON / Ms. Rain
SHERRI SHEPHERD / Cornrows
GABOUREY SIDIBE / Precious

16 December 2009

Trailer: Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010)

A new, full-length trailer for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010) was released today, depicting a smörgåsbord of visual wonders characteristic of but outstanding from even Mr. Burton's canon of previous visual richesses. View it here and anticipate!


P. S. How befitting is it that the film will be presented in 3-D?!

08 December 2009

Interview: Tom Ford

In conjunction with the limited release of his filmic début A Single Man, Tom Ford (along with his leading actors) receives questions from the press in Manhattan, New York, 7 December 2009.

04 December 2009

Review: Up in the Air

Genre: Drama


Director Jason Reitman is skilled at putting together these neat little family-dramas, in which a circle of about 8 people (who may or may not actually be in the same genetic family) revolve around a chosen central character and, like a collective in a Chaucer tale, ultimately only serve to pass things on to one another around that centered figure - so much for the heft of plot-motivations. No, no, no; I kid, I kid. It is a key and charismatic feature of a tale like this one, that in the end nothing tangible is different from what it was in the beginning; tangible forms may change hands, but no tangible thing changes in and of itself. However; much like the revolution of electricity, the metallic rod in a solenoid; the simple changing of hands is enough to ignite, alter, and polarize the central figure in this film.

That figure - fortunately for us - is Mr. Clooney. O, Mr. Clooney: How magnetize you well. In top form here, under Mr. Reitman's skillful direction (but not necessarily because of it), Mr. Clooney is certainly a notable and noteworthy actor, who seems uncommonly to hold more of screen better, the farther into his career he advances. Not short on his heels either are the women who play the characters whom his character courts; the rather staggering, semi-stumbling Ms. Farmiga holds her hand steady throughout her performance in this film and the ingenue Ms. Kendrick, a supporting favorite of mine from the world of theater ever since her precocious quip "Mama thinks I'm living in a convent" in the ensemble revue My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies (1999), delivers a turn worthy of more than just her Tony nomination.

Praise is also quickly due to the quite capable cinematography, which stood out despite the fact that this film is not a "visually driven" one, and to the exceptionally nimble editing, which consistently - quite like an architect's compass dancingly describes the structure of a building's design - rhythmically plots the event-structure of this film.

However, it is on the screenplay, that I'd like to spend the rest of my words in this review, for it as the foundation of this verbally driven tale is clearly its most important part. As a piece, it for the most part does well, and I issue the following critiques of it not to detract from it wholly but rather to suggest ways in which it might have been improved specifically. Primarily, the screenplay sags unfortunately throughout the middle portion of the play. Like a bloated stomach on an otherwise lean body, it pulls the entire work down, into a fatty and rather unsightly mess of veering-toward-maudlin, family-centered, "traditionally inclined" 'dialectics' (which I've lifted into single quotes due to their extremely one-sided nature). That is, while it may in fact be so, that "Everyone needs a co-pilot," it is owed to the audience the portrayal or at least the pretense of the portrayal that some people, however rare, may just not in fact need one; and ensuingly, owed as well the concession that what may be right for one or for even some is not therefore always right for all. Whether the screen-writers suffered from the lack of negative data (i. e., lack of knowledge of anyone in their actual lives who can live successfully without a "co-pilot") or just have the more sinister and manipulative ambition of regirding the societally painted lines around what is and what is not positive/prosocial behavior, they contrive overly emotional scenarios at the expense of the cogency and logic of their on-going argument. Mr. Reitman (as director) then was very right in his own decision to bury, with as little fanfare as possible, the necessary evil that the plot built into itself (i. e., the awarding of the frequent flier miles to his sister and her new husband), and to focus instead on the meatier, neat(i)er bits that his film's screenplay so smartly conjures up (e. g., "You are a parenthesis"), bits and pieces that together compose the lyrical and personal fondness that - going forward - hopefully may continue to mark his directorial oeuvre entire. Though not a 'screenwriter' himself, with a sage ear for tone and a savage knife for editing (or vice versa) he needn't be one; rescinding the exiguous from a decent screenplay and tempering the rest for tone more than makes up for the significant failings that the same piece may have had in another helmsman's hands.

For Up in the Air, Grade: A-/B+ - though the best new work that I've seen all year, it still falls short of any level of pure "A" - at least in my opinion, here.

Review: The Road

Genre: Drama (Post-Apocalyptic)


I took the time to read, before seeing this film, the source material from which it was derived: Cormac McCarthy's desolate and sparse book of the same title. Unsurprisingly, when greeting the film and discovering that it's dedication to the plot of the original was almost entirely true, I found the same flaws that deterred the novel have returned to deter the film from its fullest expression. The extreme sparity with which Mr. McCarthy wrote his words is manifested as the extreme sparity with which director John Hillcoat and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe describe their images: vast stipplings of bare descriptions, which instead of cohering with the bareness of the protagonists' lives undercut the inner vibrancies that they actively and knowingly display: inner monologues and complexities and dreams that defy the nothingness that surrounds them and quite literalize take that nothing into swoons of alchemical grace. Of course, such words are my own (potentially overly) Romantic views of their lives, but such views, however Romantic, cannot dispoil their essential perspicacities to truth: Man and boy march together through a barren wilderness of civilization disbarred but maintain within themselves "the fire" that is inextricably designed to foil the exteriors and provide an ever deepening inlet into their minds which die not - not even in the end. While neither medium truly captures that dichotomous effect (though the book does the better or the two for the film's bizarre decisions about color and structure), actors Mr. Mortensen and Mr. Duvall do it well. Of course, a part built for an actor like Mr. Mortensen, Man finds that humanity beyond strictured savagery that mimics the missed crux of the film in his lead; and Mr. Duvall, though a blip in the road, turns in a performance that is quite lingering nevertheless (in a good way). Of all involved in the film - save perhaps the film's costume-designer - they two are the only that truly deserve any mention here. For the others, I just leave the film as a whole the

Grade: C+ - a tough and cushionless morality tale need not be a rote diagnostic; observe Doubt (2008) and see.

02 December 2009

Announcement: The First Flush of Nominations

It is officially "Awards' Season," media-lovers, and, just as the first holiday carols are gracing the aisles of your nearby department stores and convenience marts and signaling the official onset of that other contemporaneous season, the first sets of nominations are released: from Film Independent, the Annie Awards, and - yes - even the Grammys. For the full lists from each organization, click on each's aforementioned name; otherwise, I've cut the highlights (i. e., three main categories from each) just below:

Film Independent Spirit Awards
BEST DIRECTOR
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen - A Serious Man
Lee Daniels - Precious
Cary Joji Fukunaga - Sin Nombre
James Gray - Two Lovers
Michael Hoffman - The Last Station

BEST FEATURE (Award given to the Producer, Executive Producers are not listed)
(500) Days Of Summer - Producers: Mason Novick, Jessica Tuchinsky, Mark Waters, Steven J. Wolfe
Amreeka - Producers: Paul Barkin, Christina Piovesan
Precious - Producers: Lee Daniels, Gary Magness, Sarah Siegel-Magness
Sin Nombre - Producer: Amy Kaufman
The Last Station - Producers: Bonnie Arnold, Chris Curling, Jens Meuer

BEST SCREENPLAY
Alessandro Camon, Oren Moverman - The Messenger
Michael Hoffman - The Last Station
Lee Toland Krieger - The Vicious Kind
Greg Mottola - Adventureland
Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber - (500) Days Of Summer

Annie Awards
DIRECTING IN A FEATURE PRODUCTION
Wes Anderson “Fantastic Mr. Fox” — 20th Century Fox
Pete Docter “Up” — Pixar Animation Studios
Christopher Miller, Phil Lord “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” — Sony Pictures Animation
Hayao Miyazaki “Ponyo” — Studio Ghibli
Henry Selick “Coraline” — Laika

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs — Sony Pictures Animation
Coraline — Laika
Fantastic Mr. Fox — 20th Century Fox
The Princess and the Frog — Walt Disney Animation Studios
The Secret of Kells — Cartoon Saloon
Up — Pixar Animation Studios

WRITING IN A FEATURE PRODUCTION
Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach - “Fantastic Mr. Fox” — 20th Century Fox
Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy - “Up” — Pixar Animation Studios
Timothy Hyde Harris and David Bowers - “Astro Boy” — Imagi Studios
Christopher Miller and Phil Lord - “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” — Sony Pictures Animation

Grammy Awards
RECORD OF THE YEAR
(Award to the Artist and to the Producer(s), Recording Engineer(s) and/or Mixer(s), if other than the artist.)
Halo
Beyoncé
Beyoncé Knowles & Ryan Tedder, producers; Jim Caruana, Mark "Spike" Stent & Ryan Tedder, engineers/mixers
Track from: I Am... Sasha Fierce
[Music World Music / Columbia]

I Gotta Feeling
The Black Eyed Peas
David Guetta & Frederick Riesterer, producers; will.i.am, Dylan "3-D" Dresdow & Padraic "Padlock" Kerin, engineers/mixers
[Interscope]

Use Somebody
Kings Of Leon
Jacquire King & Angelo Petraglia, producers; Jacquire King, engineer/mixer
[RCA Records]

Poker Face
Lady Gaga
RedOne, producer; Robert Orton, RedOne & Dave Russell, engineers/mixers
Track from: The Fame
[Streamline/Interscope/Konlive/Cherrytree]

You Belong With Me
Taylor Swift
Nathan Chapman & Taylor Swift, producers; Chad Carlson & Justin Niebank, engineers/mixers
[Big Machine Records]

ALBUM OF THE YEAR
(Award to the Artist(s) and to the Album Producer(s), Recording Engineer(s)/Mixer(s) & Mastering Engineer(s), if other than the artist.)
I Am... Sasha Fierce
Beyoncé
Shondrae "Mr. Bangledesh" Crawford, Ian Dench, D-Town, Toby Gad, Sean "The Pen" Garrett, Amanda Ghost, Jim Jonsin, Beyoncé Knowles, Rico Love, Dave McCracken, Terius "The Dream" Nash, Radio Killa, Stargate, Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, Ryan Tedder & Wayne Wilkins, producers; Jim Caruana, Mikkel S. Eriksen, Toby Gad, Kuk Harrell, Jim Jonsin, Jaycen Joshua, Dave Pensado, Radio Killa, Mark "Spike" Stent, Ryan Tedder, Brian "B-LUV" Thomas, Marcos Tovar, Miles Walker & Wayne Wilkins, engineers/mixers; Tom Coyne, mastering engineer
[Music World Music / Columbia]

The E.N.D.
The Black Eyed Peas
Apl.de.ap, Jean Baptiste, Printz Board, DJ Replay, Funkagenda, David Guetta, Keith Harris, Mark Knight, Poet Name Life, Frederick Riesterer & will.i.am, producers; Dylan "3D" Dresdow, Padraic "Padlock" Kerin & will.i.am, engineers/mixers; Chris Bellman, mastering engineer
[Interscope Records]

The Fame
Lady Gaga
Flo Rida, Colby O'Donis & Space Cowboy, featured artists; Brian & Josh, Rob Fusari, Martin Kierszenbaum, RedOne & Space Cowboy, producers; 4Mil, Robert Orton, RedOne, Dave Russell & Tony Ugval, engineers/mixers; Gene Grimaldi, mastering engineer
[Streamline/Interscope/Konlive/Cherrytree]

Big Whiskey And The Groogrux King
Dave Matthews Band
Rob Cavallo, producer; Chris Lord-Alge & Doug McKean, engineers/mixers; Ted Jensen, mastering engineer
[RCA Records / Bama Rags Recordings, LLC.]

Fearless
Taylor Swift
Colbie Caillat, featured artist; Nathan Chapman & Taylor Swift, producers; Chad Carlson, Nathan Chapman & Justin Niebank, engineers/mixers; Hank Williams, mastering engineer
[Big Machine Records]

SONG OF THE YEAR
(A Songwriter(s) Award. A song is eligible if it was first released or if it first achieved prominence during the Eligibility Year. (Artist names appear in parentheses.) Singles or Tracks only.)
Poker Face
Lady Gaga & RedOne, songwriters (Lady Gaga)
Track from: The Fame
[Streamline/Interscope/Konlive/Cherrytree; Publishers: Stefani Germanotta p/k/a Lady Gaga, Sony/ATV Songs/House of Gaga Publishing/GloJoe Music, Sony/ATV Songs/RedOne Productions.]

Pretty Wings
Hod David & Musze, songwriters (Maxwell)
Track from: Blacksummers' Night
[Columbia; Publishers: Sony/ATV Tunes/Muszewell, EMI April Music, Ben Ami Music.]

Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)
Thaddis Harrell, Beyoncé Knowles, Terius Nash & Christopher Stewart, songwriters (Beyoncé)
Track from: I Am... Sasha Fierce
[Music World Music / Columbia; Publishers: Songs of Peer/March 9th Publishing, 2082 Music/WB Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Tunes, Suga Wuga Music, B-Day Publishing/EMI April Music.]

Use Somebody
Caleb Followill, Jared Followill, Matthew Followill & Nathan Followill, songwriters (Kings Of Leon)
[RCA Records; Publishers: Martha Street Music/Songs of Combustion Music/Music of Windswept, Followill Music/Songs of Combustion Music/Music of Windswept, McFearless Music/Bug Music, Coffee, Tea or Me Publishing/Bug Music.]

You Belong With Me
Liz Rose & Taylor Swift, songwriters (Taylor Swift)
Track from: Fearless
[Big Machine Records; Publishers: Sony/ATV Tree Publishing, Taylor Swift Music/Potting Shed Music, Barbara Orbison World Publishing.]

21 November 2009

Reviews: 2012 and Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

With two of the currently most hyped films in theaters having been viewed by me in a short timeframe, I thought it best, due to their natures, for me to link them in one post on this blog: as a single review of popular filmmaking now.


Genre: Action/Adventure (Apocalyptic)

Roland Emmerich, man behind the failed ambitions that were films like 10,000 B. C. (2008) and The Patriot (2000) as well as behind the box-office smash that was the film Independence Day (1996), takes a stride in his familiar shoes down his familiar path of visual-effects driven, global struggle with his latest film 2012. Captured in its first instances for all that it means to be and all that it ever could be by the leading words of its protagonist (played by the always adequate John Cusack), "I'm a dead man. I'm a dead man," the film makes it obvious that the entire pivot of the film will be in making the fixed content of that hyperbolic line as ironic and thus non-depressing for the audience as possible. Several times narrowly escaping death by means all (including lava, drowning, and flying debris), the protagonist skips his way through the film's all-too-manicured screenplay as though through a stream: stone by stone, over-dramatizing each tiny hop as though a giant leap for man and - not unironically - mankind itself as he goes. The plot casts aside obstacles for him as flippantly as it casts faux obstacles at him, and in the end he was never supposed to really have struggled at all, for being the eager-eyed optimist that he quite cognizantly albeit slightly misanthropically is. He is of course, as any reasonably observant spectator could tell you, the audience's filmic dopplegänger, never seriously in peril but dangled excitedly enough over the edge that the heart beats a bit faster and the lungs breath a bit deeper whenever he finds himself in flagrante apocalypto (if you will). This entire is both the film's strength and its weakness; though Mr. Emmerich rashly yet competently carves his way (with humor and aplomb, to boot) through a plot that on paper was no doubt the most banal of recreations, he still only carves himself a way through a plot that on paper is no doubt the most banal of recreations. As he urges Mr. Cusack to trip and slide and bring the audience to the edge (often literally) where it by buying its ticket implicitly avows it wants to (safely) go, he subsumes as most such "disaster films" do the meager kernel of true urgency in impact that the film as a work may have underneath the dramatic rise-and-fall (albeit well orchestrated) of flaccid-to-full-tilt audience-stimulation; instead of more fully exploring the interesting argument within the film (that identifies the present as the turning point of the Zeitgeist from that of a majorly faith-based society to that of a majorly humanistic society), he relegates that argument to the necessary interstices between the panderingly catastrophic and maudlin "main events" that want for no depths beyond the superficial. So, while as a filmmaker he may be in his element displaying his mastery of the fickle operations that supply popular titillation, unless he allows for the growth of more than the less-than-substantive quick thrill he (Mr. Emmerich) will never allow his films to find a safe ledge upon which to stand than the mere visually-effectually smashing consommé that they, 2012 well included, continue to be.

Grade: B-/C+

Genre: Drama

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire suffers from a complementary problem, though more grievously if possible. A film that I was sure from its previews could have been this year's Rachel Getting Married (2008; if such an expression in fact mean anything), it instead has turned out to be just a similarly popular titillation to Mr. Emmerich's 2012, though sappy where 2012 was snappy. Instead of tracking the world through the fate of one life, Precious (heretofore abbreviated as such) tracks a life through the fate of the world: the grimy effected dregs of urban life, where the bereavements of education, financing, and nutrition have left people to allay their fears and hungers by the most facile and available means possible: cruel perseverations of affected dominance, physical, mental, and sexual, and raw and gritty ethoi to match. And, though it is clear in abundance to anyone who may see the film that such a lifestyle upon any soul is perhaps the weightiest of burdens to bear, supersizing such a burden as director Lee Daniels and writers Geoffrey Fletcher and Sapphire do, to wring every last morbidly excitable drop from every member of their viewing public, does not a fair film suffice to make. Manipulative as, though in a far less skillful way than, 2012 or the ideologically comparable Crash (2006) and conditioned as any wannabe-indie-success (e. g., Where the Wild Things Are [2009]) may be nowadays, Precious is the stuttery trailing gasp of overly ambitious "message cinema." Given its subject matter, its tone too often jerked inappropriately toward cheap humor; its acting too often played ingratiatingly toward the awards; its editing too often left ends unacknowledged, unresolved, and untied; and its art direction too often stole into the sexy rather than keeping to the accurate. It wobbled when confronted with the extreme episodes of aggression, tension, and oppression that it was designed to convey, and it favored stinty cinematography for the "beautiful" rather than the coherent. It just rolled on, perpetually making the protagonist's situation worse and worse with sparse instances of respite, until at last end, when it seemed undeniable to anyone that the protagonist had made her major self-actualization and major turn toward the forever better in her life, Precious in her reality only bore so much cumulative hardship and burden both physically and psychically, that it would have been impossible for any rational viewer to think that she still had any real chance at manifesting anything close to her sparest dreams in her actual projected lifetime. So, instead, we as the rational audience were left to only anticipate her demise and/or the sorrowful reinduction of her children into the foul world and its corrosive habits under which she herself had somehow "grown." In short, the film at its end undid itself entirely; it brought itself so low that, like a particularly dangerous limbo-dancer, it had no choice but to fall to the ground after so barely making it underneath the bar and to the other side, to the completion of the game. It became a travesty double-over: a sour fairy-tale made sourer tragedy by sheer bleak-proclivity - a harsh description which I feel confident calling not the filmmaker's ultimate goal. The film's few redeeming qualities (i. e., a solid supporting performance by Mariah Carey[?!], a finally moving though somewhat unsurprising performance by Mo'Nique, and a potentially not terrible source-material) could scarcely redeem anything. As a result, calling Precious the film McDonald's made is for me hardly an equivocal statement: Sallow, ostensibly nutritious, cheap, and hyperstylized, the grubby product may titillate the masses upon initial consumption but will sit low and fatty in their guts upon inevitable future retrospection.

Grade: D+ - do yourself a favor and spend your time consuming the much more organic An Education instead.

Official Site: A Single Man

Though not yet officially linked by The Weinstein Company's official site, Tom Ford's upcoming film's (A Single Man's) own official site is apparently up and running, featuring not only a beautiful sample of the film's official score (composed by Abel Korzeniowksi) but also a link by which one, if interested, may read an excerpt from the book from which the film's official screenplay was adapted: Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man (1964).


The film is set to be limitedly released on 11 December.

Exhibition: Tim Burton at MOMA

The Times has recently reviewed a new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA): a retrospective of Tim Burton's work encompassing drawings, short films, and other creative product that the filmmaker/artist has composed during his adolescence, collegiate experience, employ at Disney, and ever after. While the reviewer Ken Johnson seems to believe that the show as a whole borders on the plane of boring redundancy for the unrelenting consistency of Mr. Burton's signature style, Mr. Johnson is also not hesitant to admit that the show is at the same time a must-see exhibition for any seriously adherent to the self-proclaimed misfit artist's work.


The exhibition opens officially tomorrow (22 November 2009) at the Museum and will close in the Spring, on 26 April 2010, after a five-month run.

13 November 2009

Announcement: The February Criterion Releases!

Criterion has always sought to bring you the best in classic and contemporary films, and there couldn’t be a better example of that than this February, when two long-requested masterpieces—Ophuls’sLola Montès and McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow—join the collection, along with two of the greatest films of recent years: Götz Spielmann’s Oscar-nominated Revanche and Steve McQueen’s Cannes-award-winning Hunger. All this, plus a George Bernard Shaw Eclipse set and Howards End on Criterion DVD!

07 November 2009

Trailer: A Single Man


O, my Film: According to Awards Daily, the official trailer for Tom Ford's upcoming filmic début A Single Man, adapted from the novel of the same title by Christopher Isherwood, has just been released via YouTube and it (embedded above), though not a significant departure from the earlier teaser version, is just spellbinding. I hope(!), my awe may not expire with the release of the full feature (scheduled for 11 December 2009).