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."

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