a guided tour of the ruins of
2012-13 YEARS iN REViEW
Every year since 2004, John Cribbs and I have traded our thoughts on the year in le cinema. If anything could be accused of leading directly to the creation of this website, it's probably those years in review - massive, massively opinionated pieces full of dumb jokes, mean-spiritedness, questionable taste and inarguably genius criticism. We don't write that much about current films on the Pink Smoke - we don't churn out day-of-release capsule reviews designed to let you know if the latest squeakuel is worth your hard-earned money or timely think-pieces about the current state of Blockbuster America. As a result, these years in review are usually our most meaningful expression on any given year's crop of new releases.
When neither of us wrote a review in 2012 or 2013, I was surprised by how annoyed our readers were. You have to go out of your way to send us a whole goddamned e-mail if you want to complain and folks were disappointed we didn't provide the expected trenchant analysis of soon-to-be forgotten James Marsden movies along with our usual insistent championing of Frederick Wiseman and Mike Leigh's newest films. In my defense, below you'll see that I attempted to write something both years and failed. It's always kinda bugged me that we don't have anything on 2012 or 2013 in our archives so I went back to see if anything could be salvaged from my abortive attempts at annual retrospection. And it turns out I liked a lot of what I did manage to write (or at least stood behind my thoughts enough to not feel humiliated by my own mind.)
I said, "ah, screw it, I'll put that stuff up on the site." But it wouldn't stand on its own, so I decided to give you folks a guided tour of this half-finished, erratic, unpolished versions of these years in review, 2012 & 2013. My current 2016-penned thoughts run throughout as a commentary in blue. He's my warning: I say some kinda crazy shit in there in the old writings and left more than a few placeholders blank, but rather than revise it all now and form something coherent, I decided to leave everything as I wrote it back then. Instead, I'll be playing your tour-guide on this expedition deep into the sprawling jungly mess of my 2012 & 2013 Years in Review. I'll be on hand to decipher the cryptic and ancient messages contained therein.
Aaaaaand just to make things even more pointlessly confusing and totally meta - the best kind of pointlessly confusing! - I'll begin my commentary now by explaining that my 2013 Year in Review was intended to contain within it my 2012 Year in Review. So, the 2013 Year in Review begins with an explanation for why I didn't write one in 2012 but goes on to explain that the 2012 Year in Review will be folded into my 2013 piece. If you're confused and/or annoyed, send an e-mail complaining about it to John Cribbs.
2013: a YEAR iN LE CiNEMA
~ by christopher funderburg ~
You might have noticed that last year, John Cribbs and I didn't publish our annual Years in Review. If you're even more eagle-eyed, you might have also spotted the absence of our annual Toronto International Film Festival rundown even though we published a lengthy, excited preview of the festival. I can't speak to what was up with JB; with me, in a chain of events beginning with my swelling misery at TIFF 2012, I ran into a brick wall of crippling depression, left the job I had been working at for a decade and came to the brink of divorce with my wife. My wife and I ended up eventually getting divorced in 2015. I've always been a petty, depressive, self-destructive person and still previously managed to write Years in Review, so I guess that's all not an excuse. A better excuse might be that 2012 was the least interesting year in film to me in a very long time. Sure, I saw plenty of movies I liked, but I didn't really connect with just about anything.
At the time I wrote this, I was actually writing the same this intro to various pieces over and over: I wrote something very similar in a couple of my TIFF intros, my Sundance piece, etc. "I've having trouble writing because I'm sad and there are no good movies, anyway." That's kinda boring, I think. Depressed people are mainly boring.
Nowhere was this more pronounced than at TIFF where I came away feeling like maybe I didn't even like movies anymore. I spent a lot of time trying to talk myself into liking movies more than I did - Spring Breakers, Argo and such are fine, even good, but they didn't matter to me. Maybe even more weirdly, in 2012 I saw two bona fide masterpieces for which I could muster little enthusiasm: Holy Motors and The Act of Killing. Those films are phenomenal, but they lacked the ability to crack my emotional shell. It's tough to diagnose the problem here - they're both going to turn up right at the top of my combined 2012 & 2013 list, but last year they left me cold. I could see they were brilliant, but I didn't feel anything about their brilliance.
This is already sort of crazy - The Act of Killing is one of my favorite films of the decade and an artwork about which I'm incredibly passionate. Spring Breakers also fills me with joy. I'm remembering now that this whole piece got scrapped in part for being melodramatic and whiny. I don't agree with my former self here.
Conversely, I saw a film that is more or less about me; a film to which I, an unstable Eagles fan with anger issues and relationship problems, had an incredibly powerful reaction… but I just couldn't bring myself to overlook its obvious flaws. The Silver Linings Playbook racked up a bunch of awards, but its dubious narrative arc in which the power of love is used as a substitute for adequate mental health treatment was so absurd as to border on offensive. The film is cutesy and the main character's drunken rages and mental instability aren't cute. I just couldn't swallow its "damaged people just need to find other damaged people and then they'll be fixed" concept. But just to put my weird relationship to this movie in perspective: late in the film, the main character's dad makes an important bet (based on some of the film's too cute crap about luck and dance competitions and whatnot) and I'm such an Eagles fan that when they mentioned the next game was "versus the Bengals," I immediately thought "Holy crap - that's brilliant! He's going to bet on the infamous tie game where Donovan McNabb didn't know the rules of overtime! It'll be a push!"
I repeat myself below on this score, but I find Silver Lining's specificity about the Philadelphia Eagles interesting and don't give a shit if you do not, Mr. "I Don't even Know about Sportsball" jokester!
And these are the films I liked. I've never been in sync with the general consensus on le cinema I am a fearless iconoclast and noble individualist, but I couldn't comprehend an objectively awful bore like Lincoln being praised to the skies, that Terrence Malick enthusiasts would be so shameless as to praise To the Wonder a movie featuring more people spinning in circle than Breakin', or that a middling misfire like The Master would get the masterpiece treatment. It did not surprise me that the weaseley socio-political and aesthetic disingenuity of Zero Dark Thirty would be feted (those damn feters!); it simply depressed me. 2012 was filled with supposedly clever but actually moronic films like Looper, Cabin in the Woods and Life of Pi - now, a year later, history has already sorted out of a lot of these errors, but just peruse a few "Best of 2012" lists and you'll see unequivocal enthusiasm for obviously crum-bummish work. Like I said, I've never been exactly in step with the critical consensus, but 2012 felt like a particularly crazy year for weak films being wildly overpraised. The ne plus ultra of 2012's critical stupidity was the appalling lack of analytical intelligence applied to the year's breakout art-hit, The Beasts of the Southern Wild, an offensive insult to both history and truth, a film that makes my blood boil just thinking about it. Man, I'm really a blowhard in this intro. Blowin'. Hard.
But you know what was even worse? The soul-crushing (tone it down, Funderburg) disappointment that was Michael Haneke's embarrassing Amour. I assumed I would love that film at least as much as I had loved almost every single Haneke film up until that point. The reality was a bit of kidney punch - a single transcendent film can redeem an entire year and when Haneke didn't deliver that single film, I gave up. Since I quit the job had been funding my trips to TIFF (Interesting - I kinda forgot that I that had temporarily quit that job - I went back and was working there until late 2014 before getting fired) and, you know, paying me to see movies in general, I see didn't much of anything for the first half of 2013. I've been on the sidelines, trying to get my shit together. You know how it is. And seeing as how right now I momentarily do have my shit together, I thought I would look at doing a 2013 list. Turns out I haven't seen enough movies in 2013 to write something up to my normal standard (my extraordinary normalcy), but what I do have are enough thoughts to cobble together a not altogether unreasonable combined 2012 & 2013 list. So, here it is, on the record, what I thought about a bunch of movies you stopped thinking about ten months ago and some newer stuff, too.
You with me? I was depressed, hated my job, uninspired by the movies I did think were good, ran out of steam and didn't put anything together for 2012. So I made a "Year in Review" list in 2013 combining the two previous years... which I didn't finish. So now here we are in 2016.
GREATNESS iN 'EM
I'm not going to lie to you, this is a weird list of movies and I don't want you walking away from here saying to yourself "That Chris Funderburg is one weird dude, possibly a weirdo pervert. He's too contrarian. I think he's trying too hard to be an iconoclast. That guy should stop trying so hard." That would make me feel bad. I would say that I have reservations about all of these movies - they're great, but they're a deeply unlovable group. You can see why I had trouble doing a 2012 list - I think these are the five greatest films of 2012 & 2013 and I sorta want to disown the list.
This is, in fact, a great list.
The Act of Killing
Here's the essay I wrote for the Jacob Burns Film Center's blog, reprinted here without their permission because I can't imagine that they possibly would care:
The Act of Killing is a film that could change your life. This is a bit of cliche in terms of how art is discussed and a statement that on its surface is likely to be untrue. Even a tour de force technical achievement and consensus masterpiece (like the du jour example Gravity) isn’t really going to have much of an effect on how your relationship to any Big Questions, regardless of how many little Russian icons and Buddha statues it peppers throughout. What I mean is, The Act of Killing isn’t a film that will merely make you say “Wow, that sure was something!” and be done with it, although you will definitely say “wow, that sure was something” after seeing it.
In its form, The Act of Killing is a documentary unlike any other documentary; the word “documentary” itself might not even precisely apply – and not just because of the film’s colorful, elegant musical numbers. The set-up is this: director Joshua Oppenheimer, a political activist working in Indonesia, gathered together a group of killers encouraged by their government to brutally execute political dissidents during a moment of political crisis in 1965-66. Oppenheimer then has this group of unrepentant murderers reenact their crimes for a film that presents the violence from their point of view and according to their taste in cinema (hence the seemingly incongruous musical numbers and some drag queen comic relief.)
It’s a fiction movie based on true events wrapped inside of a non-fiction feature – if you’re no longer comfortable describing it as a documentary (as some of Killing’s most useless detractors are) then call it what you will. It’s a film that has passed beyond the normal boundaries of its aesthetic form – no wonder legendary documentarian Errol Morris (no stranger to formalistic controversies himself) said of it “I didn’t know you were allowed to do that.”
Yes, it’s a film about genocide, culpability, community, self-deception, redemption, and the roles we assume in society, but it’s not simply subject matter that gives Oppenheimer’s film its power. There have been countless documentaries made on these subjects – we’ve shown our share here at the JBFC – and many of these films exist for the undeniably noble cause of shedding light on problematic situations, of raising awareness and opening a dialogue that might not otherwise happen. But frequently these films merely confirm what we already know to be true: genocide is terrible, the environment is important, corporate greed wrecks lives and countries.
The Act of Killing will make you rethink what it means for be a participant in wide-scale moral corruption and likely leave you feeling unnerved about the true nature of culpability and the attendant possibility of redemption in a cultural climate that venerates torture and violence. In that climate, in Indonesian in 1965-66, the act of killing lost its moral component and good blurred into evil, acts of evil became acts of good.
When the film finds a chief executioner as a beloved old man, a doting grandfather, and respected member of society, he has lived a life in which he has been assured repeatedly, ceaseless, by his friends and families and loved ones that he has done something noble, honorable, courageous. In the estimation of his community, he acted as a bulwark saving Indonesia from the horrible fate of Communist Cambodia or totalitarian China. And now they are free to buy cellphones at the mall.
Some critics have seen Oppenheimer’s strategies as a violation of the documentarian’s unwritten code of ethics. And you will ask yourself: What does it mean for a filmmaker to attempt to bring a sense of empathy for their victims to this aging executioner and his cohorts? What can be achieved by attempting to put the old man as literally as possible in the shoes of the dissidents whisked away from their homes in the dead of night or burned alive in their rural villages?
An irony: if no man is a solo actor, but a product of his community and culture, how can redemption be achieved – if this killer is not precisely guilty, how can he obtain absolution for his non-guilt? What is the concept of redress in a world where no one bears precise responsibility for its evils? Sure, there will always be repulsive men like the politicians and generals who profit from the misery of their making – yes, those men, the engineers of the culture have no excuse – but what does the fog of culpability mean for the foot soldiers and the grunts, the capos, the smiling executioners, the screaming man in the midst of the lynch-mob?
These are essential questions that go beyond hate and politics, that go beyond the simple excuse of unthinkingly obeying grotesque orders, that go beyond the understandable (and unconscionable) mistake of being on the wrong side of history. Oppenheimer has invented a new kind of cinema, a new kind of film that has discovered these questions through its radical form; it’s unlike any artwork I have ever encountered. It’s a fair question whether you want to have your life changed by a film, but The Act of Killing could be that film.
I like that write-up. The intro to this year in review was rough and embarrassing, that goes without saying, but it finds its footing quickly. I even appreciate my brevity in my writing about the next film.
I can't be the only one who wishes this would get turned into a t.v. show, right? The Holy Motors Limousine Company: each week one of a rotating cast of operatives (including Denis Lavant) rides around in a celestial limousine putting on various hats and fake teeth as we explore the nature of identity and the meaning of art, the relationship of creator to subject, vacant muses and non-persons invisible to society accompanied by a healthy dose of full-on naked boners. Since Holy Motors has been around for a while, you've heard all about its inveterate nuttiness, its commitment to cinematic insanity and musical numbers and you're either on board or you're not. I can understand not exactly loving this film, but I'm stunned whenever I encounter someone who isn't impressed by the sheer force of its imagination and singularity.
Sitting through Kiyoshi Kurosawa's five part mini-series about a mother getting twisted revenge on the four young women she blames for her daughter's death was undoubtedly the highlight of my TIFF 2012 festival-going experience, my only eagerly-anticipated screening that lived up to my hopes. Along with Sion Sono, Kurosawa has been one of Japan's disregarded geniuses - if you ask a critic about either of them, they'll likely acknowledge that they both have achieved some dizzying, unforgettable cinematic highs; but on the other hand, they've failed to gain significant international reputations at least in part because there are few critics advocating on their behalf. Both filmmakers have dealt frequently with unpleasant, weird and hard to digest subject matter and refuse to trade in hope and sentimentality. Neither are the kind of tightly gripped stylists that beat an audience down with their over-deliberate shot compositions and editing so they don't get deferred to the way, say, Michael Haneke or Paul Thomas Anderson gets a wide berth from critics afraid to oppose such insistent aesthetics.
Kurosawa also directs his actors towards quiet, internal performances like xxxx's brilliant central turn in Penance. (I decided to leave the xxxx placeholder in just to show how the sausage is made and how rough of shape this piece was in when I abandoned it. I didn't catch the name of the lead actress in the film and then had trouble looking her up because there was so little info available out there on this film. I believe it finally got a U.S. release, but - and this is a true story - it took so long that at one point I looked into buying the rights for it and distributing here myself. For the record, the actress in question is Kyōko Koizumi.) There's no method show-boating in Kurosawa, no accents or wigs or weight loss or histrionics and for that (idiotic) reason no critic will ever say "you have to see xxx in Penance, it's the performance of the year!" even though they very reasonably could. I mean, she doesn't top Denis Lavant in Holy Motors, but she does just as much with far fewer trappings and tricks. Kurosawa's overall tendency towards subtly and ruminative quiet is no more apparent than in comparing Penance to the other (excellent) film adapted from one of Japanese cult author Kanae Minato's novels, Confessions. Confessions is an explosive, bombastic, gut-wrenching, absolutely bonkers experience full of AIDS-tainted milk and toddler homicide - it's easy to imagine how Kurosawa could have taken the same tact with the no less horrifying stories in Penance.
I wouldn't argue for Penance's inherent superiority over Confessions (which remains an singular, unclassifiable weirdo of a film), but suggest that Kurosawa's quiet, thoughtful approach makes the outlandish set-up of Penance feel all the more human; it has an emotional depth beyond its prodigous provocations. There's still more than a moment or two to be found in Penance that will leave you gasping in disbelief, but Kurosawa dodges the pitfalls that could easily leave the film feeling too baroque or outlandish - there's an emotional depth to the horror, a heart beating in time to the creeping dread. Unlike Confessions, its revelations and twists won't blow you to bits; Penance is a film that will slowly tear you apart. Kurosawa has repeatedly confirmed his status as one of the greatest filmmakers in Japan. It's time the world caught up.
A few of these movies, I just couldn't get up to write about. My bit on this would've been about how I didn't like the director's other movies, I was worried about the gimmick where they shot on the old tv camera, but darned if it didn't get me and my cold, cynical, apolitical heart wasn't warmed by the end of this one. It's a very good movie, but I just couldn't get it together. Even now, I feel like "eh, I'm not gonna be able to do it justice." Shucks. See it. It's great. And it's already virtually forgotten which is some straight-up baloney.
Oh geez... this is one where: what am I going to do? Ulrich Siedl is a tough filmmaker and this is a really tough film. I love it, I think it's a masterpiece, but writing something intelligent and worthwhile was just going to be too hard. The prospect of digging into it is supremely unappealing. Even thinking about it now... this is just a devastating movie. It's brutal and human, like all of Siedl's movies.
the ol' "thumbs up,
good work guys and gals"
Finally, Harmony Korine uses his powers of exploitation for good and not evil. One of the most purely beautiful films of 2012/13, there's something hypnotically wonderful about Selena Gomez being manipulated into doing handstands while clad in booty shorts and singing "Hit Me Baby One More Time." Korine uses the desire for "maturity" of Disney teen stars Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens against them, his perversion of the very idea of "coming into your own" reaching its brightest point in a scene for which I have no other word but "beautiful:" a bikini-clad Hudgens forces the sleazeball small-time rapper/drug-dealer played by James Franco to fellate a pistol after he gives a lengthy monologue during which he implores us to "look at [his] shit." It's tough not to feel envy: he's got Scarface on dvd, nunchukas and a nubile teen princess humiliating him in grotesque oral sex games. In general, critics try to force Korine's work into the parameters of satire, but whether it's a put-on or not, Korine's movies are insistently guileless and full of wonder at the world around them.
"Awestruck" is the phrase that jumps to mind - awestruck at the repulsive display of trash and depravity in which his characters find themselves. Springbreakers intentions are so sincere that they begin to appear psychotic - Korine is not making fun of all Franco's shit, but nodding along in agreement and I, for one, understand his childish wonder at the idea of a white trash jacuzzi threesome with the star of high school the musical before a riding a cigarette boat to a day-glo shootout. Korine's work is filled with awe and joy felt by a pair of teenage boys who have just discovered a soiled issue of Hustler in the woods behind their house. Korine's not making fun of those kids, he's not making fun of Hudgen's embarrassing desire to embrace an "adult" or "bad girl" image, he's sharing in their wonderment as they discover the sticky, scary, soiled, amazing adult world around them. Look at all Korine's shit: yes, it's absurd and puerile, but it's absolutely fucking beautiful.
This is a great film, but it's just a touch by the numbers - I wouldn't change a thing about it, but it also didn't particularly surprise me, certainly not the way director Thomas Vinterberg's other films like The Celebration, All You Need is Love and Dear Wendy threw me curve after curve. Don't get me wrong: Mads Mikkelson gives an unforgettable performance in a role that could easily be botched and Vinterberg plays the drama perfectly, ensnaring Mikkelson in a cruel and devious narrative trap that ignores the thrill of pursuit in favor of exploring the desperation of the hunted. The plot is perhaps over-familiar to me from it's basis reality, that doesn't make it any less appalling and dispiriting of story. But shoot, folks - why am I focusing on the negative? This is a great film from Denmark's greatest living filmmaker - Vinterberg matches Lars Von Trier's dark-hearted cynicism but without any of the puerile smugness and Susan Bier's warm, forgiving humanism without any of the melodrama.
What I am talking about here? I love this movie! Get your act together, 2013 Funderburg! I guess calling Vinterberg Denmark's greatest filmmaker isn't some kind of a slight, but considering that this is probably my favorite film of his, I'm a little annoyed by myself here.
John Dies at the End
Some of these movies… look, I saw this at a midnight screening in January of 2012. That is a long time ago, my friends, and my feelings have ossified a bit on John Dies at the End. It's lovable, I love it, it has its problems (mainly due to budgetary constraints) but there's nothing I'm dying to put down on paper about it. I guess that should be "there's nothing I'm dying to beam into your browser about it?" The opening epistemological gag about a Heraclitus-ic hatchet is as good as anything I've seen in my whole damn life, but the rest of the film's charms are low-key, even when they're reality-bending gross-outs. The film's approach to metaphysical comedy has something of Zucker brothers "throw out a million jokes a minutes and at least a few of them will stick" quality, but while there are plenty of jokes the approach is more precisely about the crazy conceptual conceits: attempt to melt the audience's mind a million times a minute and at least a few of them will melt.
Director Don Coscarelli is one cinema's most natural weirdos - his Phantasm films are tough to describe even if you've seen them each a half dozen times (or are his mom.) He doesn't have to act outrageous, it comes to him naturally as guitar-strumming and demon-battling come to a balding ice cream man, so writer David Wong's woolly and mammoth cult classic novel suits him perfectly. Coscarelli takes liberties with the book, but fortunately it's a book suited for having liberties taken with it: Wong's plotting rips so gleefully through the time/space continuum that Coscarelli's film merely seemed to have emerged from some Wong-ish protoplasm derived from an alternate reality. They're a good match is what I'm saying. Wong's sense of humor suits Coscarelli better than the cartoonish sensibility of more broadly comedic Bubba Ho-Tep - that might be because Coscarelli himself seems to have slipped via a cemetery portal into earth from a red-skied hell dimension. I guess that's all I have to say on the subject - I've moved on from being excited about John Dies to longing for Wong and Coscarelli to reteam for This Dvd Case is Full of Spiders, Seriously Dude Don't Open It.
Iron Man 3
I didn't write anything about Iron Man 3, which I like more than Iron Man 2 and about the same as Iron Man 1. I would've written "I like Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is very good, I'm glad they got to make another movie together." I can barely remember anything about this movie - who played the villain? Was it the Hulk?
Michael Glowagger has become cinema's leading purveyor of beautiful bummers. His films Workingman's Death, Megapolis and now Whore's Glory are intoxicating aesthetic achievements, all the more stunning for belonging to the world "social issue documentaries," a notoriously artless milieu. For a type of filmmaker likely to adore artisanal wines, cheeses and footstools, there's very few of them capable of acting as basic artisans and stringing together a few images that don't actively repulse your interest. Glowagger is just as interested in social and economic inequity, the exploitation of workers and the human debasement as any off-brand Michael Moore with a digital camera, but he's also a supremely talented creator of images and a master at orchestrating hypnotic rhythms with his editing. He's a real filmmaker, a filmmaker whose films would have immense value even without their social justice angle. They are also total bummers.
Whore's Glory follows prostitutes in Thailand, Bangladesh & Mexico and you might be surprised to hear this, but it turns out there is almost no glory in being a whore. Yes, this is probably not something that you need to be told. Yes, it is probably obvious that the sex trade grinds up human beings and spits them out. But one of the things that I find most admirable about Glowagger's film is how it makes clear that it not the sex that's the worst thing to happen to these women, but the dehumanization. One of Glowagger's clearest interests in delineating how legitimate work lapses into exploitation - he draw devastating parallels between prostitution and any other line of work that doesn't take into consideration the humanity of its workers. It's not just that these women are being fucked, it's that they're being fucked over. Of course, this only makes the situation more of a bummer as these third-world sex workers are likely to end up exploited, dehumanized and screwed in any volition available to them. The ignominy of a whore is to be reduced to their profession, the oldest act of dehumanization in the world.
A quick trip inside the sausage factory: since Claire Denis has been going around giving interviews saying it and the press kit says so, the majority of reviews for this film mention that her inspiration was a William Faulkner short story called Sacrifice. But the reviews don't mention Denis or the press kit, they just try to pass of their mentions of Sacrifice (which is in no way shape or form one of Faulkner's most noted works) as their own observation. What's weird is that I went back and read the Faulkner short story and I don't think you could ever connect it to the Faulkner work - it has only the most tenuous of connections. That's not a knock on Denis herself - inspiration is idiosyncratic. If she says that's what inspired her, I believe her. But what's doubly weird is that I have yet to read a review that mentions Bastards extreme resemblance to Get Carter.
A young woman is brutalized and her father killed. The badass brother/uncle rolls into town to deliver vengeance. He ingratiates himself, tracks down some leads and pieces together what happened. He sullenly watches the pornographic film starring his niece that led to the whole debacle. Just when he's trying to head out of town, he gets shot in the back. Now, I know what you're thinking: isn't that the plot of William Faulkner's seminal corn-cob-rape-centric short story Sacrifice? No. No, it is not. It's Get Carter and Bastards - Bastards actually captures more the grim tone and seediness of Mike Hodges' original film than the 1998 Sylvetser Stallone'd remake or the pimp-hat-ified George Armitage blaxploitation take. This is not a criticism of Bastards, just a criticism of criticism. I'm not outraged or anything, just perplexed why no one has mentioned this. I don't know what to think these days.
At any rate, Bastards is a fine film, but I consider Claire Denis one of the world's five or so greatest working filmmakers, so "fine" is more or less a disappointment for me. This film lacks the emotional punch of 35 Rhums or Friday Night, the metaphysical adventuresomeness of The Stranger or Trouble Every Day, the white-hot formalistic brilliance of Beau Travail or the depth and texture of Nenette and Boni or I Can't Sleep. Word on the street is that she cranked this one out while in a holding pattern on funding for a protect nearer and dearer to her heart, but even if that's unfounded hearsay, Bastards still plays like marginalia. It's a second-rate work by a first-rate filmmaker, which means it's better than Thor or what have you, but I hold Denis to a higher standard than pretty good Get Carter rip-off.
Curse of Chucky
It's amazing how consistently wrong mainstream criticism gets horror movies. A lot folks I admire just have no clue when it comes to the genre and end up throwing their weight behind movies that will be remembered without much affection (hey - look, it's Sinister, The Innkeepers and You're Next!) while films that will obviously become evergreen classics like this wonderful reboot-fakeout of the venerable Chucky franchise get overlooked or dismissed outright. Of course, a lot of those critics are reasonably interested in directors that could conceivably leave the genre behind - witness the praise of guys like Scott Derrickson and Guillermo del Toro - for presumably bigger and, ugh, more important things. My point here isn't that they are bad filmmakers - Dr. Strange is a delight! - but that "serious" critics tend to concern themselves mainly with filmmakers they believe won't spend their careers exclusively as "genre" filmmakers - hence the hyperbolic and dubious raves for The Devil's Backbone, a film that indicates Del Toro has aspirations to becoming a "real" filmmaker and not just making Chucky movies for the rest of his life. Chucky lifer Don Mancini will almost certainly never be anything beyond the Chucky guy - there's no confusing him for the next Cronenberg, no way to see him as the next great feted autuer to look back on his Dementia 13 with embarrassment.
But goddammit, the world could use a hundred more Don Mancini's, clever funny genre craftsmen with an infectious enthusiasm for horror cinema creating work with enough playful inventiveness to keep even the most hardened gorehound off-balance. For those who thought the series' two previous entries (Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky) veered too far into comedy, Curse acts as a welcome corrective. For the record, I love Bride and Seed, but I can also deeply appreciate Mancini's return to the series more unsettling roots. Fortunately, the filmmaker doesn't totally abandon the nutso weirdness of those previous films and the film's ostensible raison d'être as a serious-minded reboot of the franchise turns out to be a delightful set-up for a series of mean-spirited twists and expectation-breaking feints. Because come on, who wants a serious movie about a sarcastic killer doll? I want a hilariously nasty and surprising one, which is exactly what Mancini fucking delivered.
I should mention that it stars the daughter of Charles Lee Ray himself, Fiona Dourif - and she's dynamite, a worthy successor to her father's iconic work as a character actor. She's also a superfox… who really resembles Brad Dourif. What the hell am I supposed to do with that? You look at her and think like "Damn, she's gorgeous. I feel like I'm fantasizing about Brad Dourif. I don't know how that makes me feel. Weird. It makes me feel weird." Anyhoo, Final Destination and Fast/Furious now have some tough competition for the greatest 6th film in a long-running franchise. Sorry, The Curse of Michael Meyers and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, you've been bested.
Let's talk about Her:
If you're like me and don't like smartphones and tablets and wish you could go back to having an answering machine and that it was expected that no one could find you easily when you went out of the house then Spike Jonze's enjoyable movie is deeply baffling on a fundamental level. The idea that you could become attached to a piece of technology is so ludicrous that I just don't know what to do with it. I get that there a lot of people out there who feel the opposite. And they are weirdo aliens to me. It's a phone. The film hinges on the premise that the audience will on some level be able to identify with an over-attachment to their electronic "stuff," but as someone who just wants all of it to go away and leave me alone, the movie plays more like an exploration of how people aren't even people, that there's no reason to believe in the existence of any consciousness but my own - ironically, some of the themes Jonze has intentionally built into his movie. In the context of the film, human behavior seems so obviously psychotic, dangerous and erratic that the question I'm left with after watching Her isn't "How could a human fall in love with a phone?" but "How could anyone fall in love with a human?"
Pretty Good, if you ask me.
I don't have almost anything to say about these movies other than that I enjoyed them and would like to give them a Fundy point for being enjoyable. If you've thought about seeing any one of them, you should. If you're on the fence, give 'em a try. If they seem like something you'd never like in a million years, I can't say they will defy your antipathy. I can't go that far.
"Fundy point?" Jesus christ, I was not on my game with these intros.
Beep, beep - look out for the tiny alleyway! I like that this movie's big climax is about slowly and tediously maneuvering a small car through a seemingly unmanageable nook in an alleyway. It should have been called Alleyway.
Brian DePalma's remake is a funny critique of Alain Corneau's straight-forward original - the remake is mainly enjoyable for its eleventh hour deviation from Corneau's story where it loses its goddamned mind in the most DePalma-esque display of DePalma-ism since John Lithgow started shooting snot all over everything in Raising Cain.
Doesn't that dude know the moon is anywhere between 223,000 & 252,000 miles away from the earth, not 237,000? That makes me think his whole theory might be a little suspect. I don't know if I can trust him anymore. Also - isn't the Native American burial ground one just a fact? Sins of the past possessing Jack Nicholson is the whole point of the movie, right? Don't lump that in with the minotaur lady and the stoner who likes to watch things backwards. The Indian burial ground guy, who seems very reasonable, must be pissed, like "Oh, don't put me in with the fake moon landing people! Goddammit."
The narrative about some American lady (played by a musician I don't give a shit about!) and her budding friendship with a security guard is a real stinker, but the segments that entirely forget about that and focus on the museum are solid gold AAA-rated cinema bonds. You might want to go out of your way to see this one. You could even fast forward through that stuff. That's my advice and I'm a total pro: fast forward until it's just shots of a bunch of Brugels or some guide appears to be giving a lecture.
Low key and meandering, everything plays correctly with this film: the low-key performances, the low-key humor, the low-key conflict, the low-key setting. Sleepy but kinda great. I want one of the Room 237 guys to talk to me about why Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch are dressed up like Mario and Luigi.
One of the best popcorn movies of the year. Seeing it on IMAX 3-d was deeply awesome. I'll admit I'm sad I can't use my Gene Shalit line "Gravity failed to pull me in." That's my biggest disappointment with the film: no chance for Shalitizing.
Just plain old solid. All the twists and turns and sex and corpse disfigurements and outhouse shit-pile dives that you'd want from an adaptation of one of those novels from a guy whose books cover bookshops from wall to wall that you'd never consider reading.
The greatest possible film that could be made from the idea of a found-footage superhero teen comedy. They fired screenwriter Max Landis from the sequel which just goes to show you that even when Hollywood looks like they know what they're doing, they don't know what the fuck they're doing.
Holy shit, that's an incorrect sentiment. "It's bad Max Landis isn't working on this film!" That is not something I'm in any danger of thinking here in the future.
Stories We Tell
Pinnland Empire's eponymous impresario Marcus Pinn's effusive praise has me thinking I should see this again. It's definitely a good film, but a little too wrapped up in the idea of familial mythologizing (as both a theme and creative concept) for me to embrace it. I just have a wildly different relationship to the basic meaning of "family" than this movie does. Plus in high school, when my buddy Seth D. Michaels asked John Waters if he had any advice for aspiring filmmakers, the mustachioed filthmonger replied "Sex and violence because nobody cares about your grandmom" and I tend to agree. That's on me, not Sarah Polley, who's obviously proven herself an interesting enough artist that she can ignore me and John Waters as much as she fucking wants.
This is the first film my 3 year-old son Parker ever sat through in the theater. He was doing great, sitting there quietly eating popcorn and drinking juice, enjoying the film, but he's a kid so I was worried he'd get bored or start crying or accidentally poop in his pants or what have you. When the film has the false bottom climax after the big scare competition, I could barely pay attention because he clearly thought the film was supposed to be over and I was just sweating bullets thinking he was going to start freaking out any second. Instead, he noticed the light coming from the projection booth and stared the wrong way for the final half hour of the film.
This is the End
On the plus side, Michael Cera is dead.
Oz the Great and Powerful
It would have been 1,000 times better starring a naturally charismatic charlatan like original lead Robert Downey Jr., not a walking set of air quotes like James Franco. Franco's too much of an outsider in his core and he's unable to harness his good looks and intelligence into real star power - in comparison, Michelle Williams (who is as good-looking and intelligent as Franco) has an engrossing movie star presence that saves the film. Mila Kunis doesn't nail her part - she's consistently inexpressive and shallow in her role - but she's at least charming and has a great shrieking voice. Everything else about this movie is Raimi greatness - the china city laid to waste, the army of Bruce Campbells, hell the movie's "man from another universe" plot is structured almost identically to Army of Darkness. Franco even gives Kunis the ol' "baby, you got reeaaal ugly."
Asghar Farhadi definitely has a bit of shtick, but fortunately it's a good one: he makes moral detective stories where info is parceled out piecemeal and the audience has to track their way through the tale to discover "the culprit." Like any good detective story, The Past offers up copious twists and turns, slinging its audience wildly from one possible solution to another until it arrives at a pleasingly ambiguous answer to "whodunnit?" But like much of the work in the detective genre, it's a little too schematic and overly clever, relies a little too much on stylistic trickery to achieve real greatness. But a film could do a hell of a lot worse than being "only" as good as The Maltese Falcon.
I'll never understand why critics go bananas for prolific Hong Kong mainstay Johnnie To's more straight ahead films but come down hard on his more adventurous forays. Case in point: Drug War is perfectly good and I enjoyed. It can't hold a candle to Life without Principle and yet by their respective reviews, you'd think Drug War was reinventing the wheel while Principle was middle-of-the-road cliche machine. In reality, the opposite is true. Oh well, I'm happy to watch Drug War and Triad Election and all the other middling To movies he feels like delivering - they're solid entertainment from a confident and capable craftsman. Good stuff.
Being held hostage by Harvey Weinstein:
All the Pretty Horses
Does this joke still make sense to people? In 2012, Weinstein was sitting on Snowpiercer and The Grandmaster and it was pretty much impossible to see a complete version of either of them in the U.S. And way before that, he famously ruined Bill Bob Thornton's follow-up to Sling-Blade, an experience so wretched it more or less cured Thornton of his desire to make serious films.
The "Local Hero Award" for the Over-rated Under-rated Movie of the Year:
Ain't Them Bodies Saints
In the next three years someone is going to tell this is an undiscovered masterpiece. Do not listen to them. They are wrong.
I'm pretty happy this film seems to have disappeared altogether.
This one, on the other hand, I didn't even hate it, it's just one of those movies that people are really intent on over-praising. It's fine and has some interesting ideas, but it ain't some fuckin' classic.
It Depends on the Question
Something in the Air
Do you like this film if it is intended to be a brutal dissection of youthful arrogance, self-importance, and casual sellouts?
Oh my goodness, it is one of the best things ever in that case.
Do you like this this film if it is supposed to be a touching ode to the beauty and passion of young revolutionaries and artists?
Jesus christ, that's not what it's supposed to be, is it? Fuck, I hope not. That would be the worst.
Silver Linings Playbook
Did this film affect you deeply?
Yes, it is a painful cinematic reflection of the worst version of me.
Is it a good movie, a real piece of art?
Is DeSean Jackson the man?
Yes, DeSean Jackson is the man.
I haven't ever really mentioned this movie on the site that much, but I was so in it that when they make a big bet late in the film, they say it's going to be on the Bengals game that week and my immediate thought was "holy shit - that's the tie game where McNabb didn't understand overtime works! That's crazy, the film is going to hinge on a push!" Instead, they switch it to the regular season finale versus the Cowboys and it took all the tension out of it for me: the Eagles destroyed the Cowboys in Brian Dawkins' final game at the Linc on a day where a bunch of crazy things needed to happen for them to make the playoffs - and they did! I've also thrown a book threw a window in an existential rage and convinced myself that the correct route to happiness is to pair up with an overtly unhinged woman.
Post Tenebras Lux
Does this film feature some of the most breathtaking and brilliant sequences ever committed to celluloid?
Does this film feature a bunch of totally embarrassing nonsense like a cheeseball CGI devil?
Is this film interesting and worthwhile?
Is it up to the standard of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset?
Is this film a uncomfortably compelling character study anchored by an amazing performance?
Does this film accurately nail the "hipster" culture it seems to have in its sights?
No, it utterly whiffs on the socio-cultural element that most folks seem to find most compelling about it.
This movie is great, but it's this weird fantasy of what Williamsburg "hipsters" are actually like. Heidecker (who gives an astoundingly great performance) is like a boogeyman version of all the most dubious nonsense about trust funds and ironic detachment and casual racism. He's a perfect encapsulation of "hipster as cultural villain" that's too convenient bullshit designed to exclude all but a tiny fraction of the population from being a real hipster. The only people I've met with trust funds are either soft-leftist business-hippies or Martin Skreli types. This movie's great, but it's a weird fantasy of a convenient cultural punching bag. Anyhoo, it has definitely aged well and is clearly one of the best films that came out that year.
After having seen Shane Carruth's debut film Primer a dozen or so times, I finally began to get a firm grasp on its hazy, circular plot. Once I understood everything that was happening and was able to place every scene in context, I had the sinking feeling that Primer was not an obliquely told story, but a poorly told one. It's a film rife with unnecessary confusion piled on top of its naturally circuitous and cerebral time travel plot - I worried that Carruth didn't have as firm a grasp on his storytelling as his evident intelligence and originality as an artist would suggest. Upstream Color confirmed my fears: its storytelling is again excessively confusing but unlike Primer, when pieced together, it's nonsensical. The problem with Carruth delivering a plot that doesn't entirely make sense if you think about it is that his films demand you think about it: watching a Carruth film requires careful cognitive activity. His films don't lay themselves out, they must be pieced together - so when the pieces don't fit, you can't glaze over it.
When watching, say, Halloween it doesn't matter how Michael Meyers learned to drive despite spending his whole life in a mental ward, that's not the point. With Upstream Color, the strange plot elements are delivered with an insistent obliqueness that requires an audience to figure them out, rather than simply receive them unthinkingly. It's a weird story that deliberately withholds clarity, but that has the effect of making its internal inconsistencies, moral stupidity and dubious coincidences all the more prominent. Upstream Color contrasts with the superior Primer in the sense that the more you examine the latter's plot, the tighter it becomes while nothing about former's the character relationships, the villainous scheme or the nature of the narrative strands' interdependency makes any goddamn sense if you peer at it too closely. That's such a major problem for Upstream because while Carruth possess a notable gift for aesthetics,* his films are dominated by their stories. Primer seemed to announce a major new talent. Upstream Color reveals a more marginal one.
This is one of those reviews where I don't understand why I'm being so hard on the movie. This is an interesting and original film and for some reason I just gloss over its good qualities and focus on the negative.
*Although, I would like to mention that he's not nearly as visually and aurally talented as filmmakers like Seijun Suzuki, Dario Argento and Brian DePalma who made their careers by slathering their style over confusing plots.
Fake interviews, scripted segments imitating documentary talking heads, are always a disaster. Richard Linklater's long-gestating true crime story certainly has its virtues, including great performances by Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey, a nice balance of humor and pathos and that bizarre real-life tale to work with, but the constant fake interviews are just too cheesy, too weak and too omnipresent for the film to ever find a groove. It's tough to imagine that Linklater couldn't have found a better way to show the community's reaction to the titular mortician's strange relationship to the wealthy crone he ultimately offed - the community's reaction to the events and perception of Bernie is a huge part of the story, so I can understand his decision to make it such an integral part of his film, but it just doesn't work. The narrative gets totally torched by the stylized digression and if even if they were interesting or well-done (which they aren't even close to being) they would likely still keep knocking the plot off track. True crime stories are hard enough to shape into coherent narratives without narratively inert passages getting in the way - this film never feels like it can get going and ultimately ends up weightless, shapeless and pointless. The best that can be said of it is that you can completely understand why Linklater wanted to make it and pursued it for almost a decade. But that's the closest it gets to working: instilling in its viewers a theoretical understanding of what could be interesting about it.
And here's the opposute: with this one, I'm going easy on a movie I hated because I really like everyone involved in its creation and just assumed it would be rightfully disregarded. Why pile on, you know? But apparently it's considered something of an overlooked gem, which is nuts. This movie's a real piece of shit. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
There's not a surprise to be found in this film, it's just a dispiriting checklist of the cliches of "a sick loved ones" melodrama. The humiliation of being bathed by a virtual stranger, the kids who want to put her in a home, the gross feeding of sloppy food, the difficulty of going to the bathroom, even a "putting her out of her misery" scene at the end. He even uses a pillow! Only an amazing scene where a pigeon invades the tony Paris apartment of the aging couple has any hint of originality or creative spark. It's a bafflingly by the numbers affairs with nary a moment that couldn't have been predicted in advance - the only surprise of the film is that a genius like Michael Haneke is the one delivering this valueless pablum. There's nothing to this movie. I can't fathom why Haneke made it. I guess the pigeon scene is pretty wonderful - it's probably not enough to justify the entire film. Haneke's been hitting home runs for decades, I can give him a pass on striking out this time. That doesn't make me any less disappointed with the staid exercise in cliche he delivered. I'd rather see Haneke remake Funny Games a third time than remake Sweet November even once.
Damsels in Distress
I guess I'm no Whit Stillman apologist, so I shouldn't have assumed I was going to love this one, especially considering that it stars charisma-void Great Gerwig. I like all of his movies, I would rate them all as "pretty darn good." I just don't go bananas for them or anything. Maybe in a couple years, I'll look back and say "Damsels in Distress is ok. I like that movie." I did a similar thing with Last Days of Disco, which I didn't care much for when it came out but now enjoy. Even still, this one seems a cut below his other films. I didn't hate it or anything, I just assumed I would really like it a lot. And I didn't. Too many actors I don't like are in it, that's always a problem. Oh well. You win some, you lose some. As you can see, I'm pretty passionate on the issue of Damsels in Distress.
Look, I'm not exactly the target audience for this in the sense that "monsters versus robots OMG!!!!" didn't automatically leave me salivating. But I wouldn't have even bothered with it if I knew a more truthful pitch would have been "dudes running in place versus wacky scientists LOL!" What's most baffling is that director Guillermo del Toro's biggest strength (amazing creature designs), is probably the worst element of the film: a bunch of interchangeable lizard creatures that look like a stack of Godzilla 1997 concept sketches brought to underwhelming life. And it's not just the creature designs that suffer from an inexplicable mundanity, there's no variety to anything in the film: the robots, the visually muddy unremarkable battles scenes, the repetitive story. I've never been on the "del Toro is a genius" bandwagon; Blade 2 remains his best film, although Hellboy 2 is pretty darn good also. I can take or leave the rest of his work, especially his art-house feints like Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone, both of which are wildly over-rated by insecure fanboys. But Pacific Rim appeared primed to combine most what I like about the fellow as a filmmaker: crazy creatures, big budget Hollywood spectacle and an off-beat concept. I'm sorta stunned how completely flat it falls. An unrelenting assault of brutally unfunny comedy, almost nothing to recommend its monsters, robots and epic battles - what the heck happened?
A movie I did not like:
Sophia Coppola has always made movies about how hard it is to be a princess. That's literally the point of Marie Antoinette, but Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides and even the Dakota Fanning element of Nowhere are also all about just how tough it is to be the prettiest, coolest, most pampered, specialist little girl in the world. That's a legitimate enough of a theme and not a reason to discount her work altogether. However, almost all of Coppola's features an ugly subplot about a derided secondary character that goes something like "Can you believe this stupid bitch actually thinks she deserve to be a princess?" It's Anna Farris in Translation and Asia Argento in Antoinette - the losers who have the gall to believe they deserve a taste of what Coppola's heroes have claimed by birthright. And these characters are ridiculed for the pettiest of reasons like not picking the correct songs for karaoke or wearing the wrong clothes - they're villains who have committed no sin beyond not being cool or smart enough for Coppola's liking. Well, The Bling Ring flips this narrative focus in that it's mainly about a group of pretenders deserving derision for attempting to scam their way into a world in which they clearly do not belong.
Worse, there's just a slight dash of sympathy for deeply unsympathetic types like Paris Hilton who - can you believe it!? - have to put up with these hangers-on trying to leech off of their aristocratic birthright. Some critics have claimed this movie is even-handed in its treatment of the bling thieves, but what I got from it was that Coppola didn't even feel the need to make her case - obliviousness misinterpreted as sympathy: it doesn't bring the hammer down because it mistakenly assumes you're already on its side. Just a vomitous movie and a disappointing step backwards from Nowhere, which showed signs of Coppola being willing to explore new corners of her extremely limited niche. I'd truthfully like to see her direct a movie about grocery store clerks or something but it'd probably just end up being about the prettiest one who listens to Roxy Music all day and knows how to make gourmet-level eggs benedict and then she marries a graphic designer who invented some awesome new font and they move to the Napa Valley. The end. Also, there's this other clerk at the grocery store who actually thinks Adele is cool and dreams of owning a vineyard - can you believe that stupid bitch? I hate her purse.
Sophia Coppola has long been a filmmaker who really gets under my skin. I'm not 100% sure I agree with my own assessment of The Bling Ring here, though. I'm, like, seeing ghosts - her work has made me so unhinged I'm swatting at spectres that aren't even there. Of all her films, this one is almost definitely the least morally repulsive.
Better than they had any right to be:
The Lone Ranger
World War Z
Bullet to the Head
Texas Chainsaw 3D
I would put these films in the previous section, but come on, we all know what's up:
Fast and Furious 6
The Scorsese Imitators
Aside from Quentin Tarantino, no filmmaker has been as imitated as Martin Scorsese. Maybe more to the point, no filmmaker beyond Tarantino has been imitated by people who just don't fucking get it than Martin Scorsese. Naturally, these wrong-headed self-appointed acolytes are actually just big fans of Goodfellas and Taxi Driver and likely don't care one way or another about Scorsese's awesome involvement with the World Cinema Foundation or his work with Kent Jones on the excellent Val Lewton doc. The imitators like violence and voice-over, outsized tough guys so awesome you have no choice but to love to hate them. The ball swinging and gun-toting is of course only a part of Scorsese as a cinematic iconic, but his love of The Red Shoes and Cries and Whispers never gets factored into cut-rate knock-offs like The Iceman and Kill the Irishman. David O. Russell is at least as complicated a man and filmmaker as Scorsese, so I didn't even lose hope when I saw that he had joined the ranks of the L'il Goodfellers.
And boy, does American Hustle ever follow the template. Slangy, colloquial voice-over that constantly shifts between characters and serves to fill in the details of what's happening in the story just as much as to provide mood or flesh out those characters. There's a pop-music-heavy soundtrack that mixes in deep cuts while attempting to breathe life into over-exposed classics. There's a bit of violence, a bit of drugs, tough guy posturing and Robert Deniro. There's also an endless amount of emotional yelling, wives at husbands, husbands at mistresses, mistresses at cops, cops at commanding officers, etc. The Scorsese template is nothing if not a never-ending series of opportunities for stressed out people to yell at each other. And to make compelling scenes of people shrieking and shrieking and shrieking at each is an extremely difficult task. But the Scorseser is generally up to that task, his failures with Sharon Stone in Casino being a notable example of when he couldn't bring it off. American Hustle basically botches these scenes while nailing everything else, but again that stuff is unfortunately the crux of the template.
I can't necessarily fault Russell for the weakness of his yelling scenes, he actually gets the best performances possibly out of his three entirely miscast leads. Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and Christian Bale all obviously could have easily been replaced with actors more fitting for their roles and I suppose that was part of the idea: cute as a newt Adams as an amoral sexpot, chiseled goy hunk Christian Bale as a fat, balding Jewish man, bland nice-guy Bradley Cooper as a coked up wack-a-doo cop headed over the edge. I would rate all their work as falling in the "decent" to "pretty darn decent" range - Russell coaxes the best out of all of them, especially Bale who has a tendency as an actor to disappear into artifice. Bale is as much as an accent delivery system as an actor, but Russell here and in The Fighter has made him something resembling a human being. Cooper excels in the more broadly comedic scenes with his harried superior Louis C.K. and that might be another element that Russell understands more than most Scorsese biters: Scorsese's movies are funny. Even when they are horrifying (especially when they are horrifying) they are funny. The notorious shinebox scene in Goodfellas is as funny as it is sickening - that's the tonal trick Scorsese pulls over and over again. When his movies are humorless (as in Kundun and Cape Fear) they are virtually unwatchable, either by virtue of being boring (Kundun) or repulsive (Cape Fear.) Even Raging Bull gets a lot of mileage out of the image of Jake LaMotta as a sad, dangerous clown.
So, I write these little essays for my years in review and every year I actually write one or two that I don't print - I cut them at the last moment for whatever reasons. This is one that almost definitely would've gotten cut. For two reasons: 1) I was reading a lot of these exact kind of essays on Scorsese at the time and it felt pretty beat even back then. Here in 2016, if feels absolutely ludicrous that I thought I was expressing some kind of original thought. 2) I genuinely don't give a shit about any of this stuff I'm writing about. I have no idea what possessed me to write all of this about Scorsese and American Hustle and what is this? I really have no idea what compelled me to write this. I read it now and I'm, like, "Who gives a fuck? I gave a fuck about this? That doesn't sound right."
Scorsese's comedic instincts are why King of Comedy is my favorite of his films - it explores a scenario in which comedy and horrific violence are inimical. Taxi Driver's sense of humor is also deeply underrated - compare the tone of the porn theater date in that film to, say, Isabelle Huppert's trip to the porn store in The Piano Teacher. Scorsese clearly plays the humor of Travis Bickle doing something so outlandish and gives Cybil Shepherd (much more of a comedic actress than a dramatic one) plenty of space to tease out of the sheer humorous lunacy of the situation. So, Russell doesn't forget the comedy, but Scorsese's balancing act is tough to imitate: the Cooper/C.K. scenes are more broadly goofy and you can imagine the undercurrent of real danger, humiliation and violence that Scorsese would have made felt. In this and many other respects, Russell gets the Scorsese template better than just about any other filmmaker I can recall, but he just can't precisely nail it. The casting is a huge problem: Scorsese always nails his casting; it's impossible to imagine anyone but Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel and Robert Deniro in their roles in his work. You could spend all day and not come up with a better choice for just about any actor in any Scorsese film, while in five minutes you could favorably recast American Hustle top to bottom.
This is all the say what you already know: no one can do Scorsese but Scorsese. The best parts of American Hustle come late in the film when Jennifer Lawrence, who has heretofore been on the sidelines as Bale's erratic wife, takes center-stage and rescues the film. For about twenty minutes she makes the movie fun and funny, crazy, off-kilter and genuinely unpredictable. But Lawrence and her relationship to Bale doesn't resemble anything out of a Scorsese movie - their quick-witted verbal humor and relatable, inviting, warm emotional depravity look like something out of a… David O. Russell film. Those scenes play like I Heart Huckabees, Spanking the Monkey, Silver Linings Playbook and the best parts of Flirting with Disaster. Which goes to show that it takes a great filmmaker like Russell to even come within spitting distance of what Scorsese's got, that great filmmaker would be much better served chasing his own muse than imitating anyone else. The only filmmaker that might be excused for imitating Scorsese doesn't do it nearly as much as is purported and maybe not as much as he should.
Last year when journalist Jonah Lehrer's career imploded over accusations of self-plagiarism, it seemed like some of the stupidest shit I had ever heard in my life. Journalism is full of rules and regulations that appeared from God knows where and roughly half of them make no sense to me - what does it matter if a guy reused his own work in multiple pieces? The rules how plagiarism itself works seem both opaque and silly to me, but the solemn denunciations of Lehrer seemed baffling. That those rules apply to content and not structure seems extremely dubious: no one in their right mind would demand Scorsese be censured for ripping off his own Goodfellas with the shamelessly imitative Casino. And I've only heard praise for the extent to which Scorsese plagiarized himself with the Wolf of Wall Street. It's called making a Scorsese movie and there's perhaps no movie that so perfectly apes his signature work Goodfellas as totally as Wolf. Blue collar criminals are replaced with white collar ones and violence is replaced with drug use - Wolf plays like a Scorsese MadLib written by dipshits at Goldman Sachs who do literally nothing all day but think about how awesome they are. It's my feeling that Jamie Dimon deserves a painful death in shallow grave as much or more than Henry Hill, so I have more or less the same reaction to both films: please Scorsese, stop trying to tell me how awesome these assholes are. I don't find any of this fun, not for one second. These guys are not awesome, they're repulsive goons, the types for which guillotines were invented.
But wait! There's a moralistic coda! Scorsese might have just spent hours making these dudes seem as awesome and badass and enviable as humanly possible, but he really wants you to know this: shit's complicated. No seriously. This weak-ass coda in Taxi Driver and Goodfellas and King of Comedy and Wolf of Wall Street absolutely undoes the gleeful mythologizing and infectious cinematic debauchery of the past several hours. Scorsese's a true film history buff, so maybe he's just doing his damnedest to give a nod to the Hayes code and its philosophy of "It doesn't matter how awesome Jimmy Cagney seems as an amoral gangster for the entire film so long as he gets a brief punishment." Nevermind that the gravity of the punishment often has the perverse effect of making creeps and cretins seem even cooler. I'm sure it made audiences like Cagney's characters less when they went out in a hail out bullets and ball of flame. The sense I get from Goodfellas and Scorsese's works of self-plagiarism is that Scorsese is a intelligent man with a genuine belief in his moral framework. He also utterly fails at making that intelligence and the power of his morality as felt as the gleeful rush of amorality that generates all of the heat and excitement in these works. There's something extremely grotesque about Taxi Driver and Goodfellas posters appearing on dorm room walls - I think it's not a coincidence that these posters frequently appear alongside ones for Scarface, a film which also suffers from the same moralism overwhelmed by the appeal of amorality. The suggestion that these films are being misread is disingenuous, at best.
There's a weird critical push-back to the negative reviews Wolf is generating and that outback boils down to two elements: 1) Sorry that Scorsese didn't make the movie you want, guys. It's his right to make a movie celebrating dickheads and then do his thing where he pretends like he hasn't been celebrating them at all. 2) Who are you assholes to tell Scorsese how to make a movie. Don't you get it? He's Scorsese. We've just touched on the first point, but I find the second one even more astounding as no major filmmaker has had a career that would have benefitted as much as Scorsese from having been reigned in. His filmography is littered with big ambitious messes that clearly needed someone to step in and stop the madness: New York, New York, Bringing out the Dead, Gangs of New York, his bloated Dylan and George Harrison documentaries and now Wolf of Wall Street. Even Kundun, Mean Streets and Casino suffer from bleariness and bloat and could stand to have their hazy vision brought into focus. His worst characteristic as a filmmaker is trying to cram in too much and losing the thread of just what the fuck it is he's trying to accomplish in the first place. He's a great filmmaker, but he's definitely his own worst enemy - there's nothing controversial about pointing that sentiment.
I mean, who am I arguing with here? I'm positioning myself as some kind of deep thinker on Scorsese - which, like, come on: he's not a filmmaker I have any special thoughts about. I adore him as a historian and curator, but I've seen Goodfellas and Mean Streets once each. This is some phony bullshit. Also, have you ever noticed that I love the phrase "moral dimension?" I probably use it more than any writer in the history of the internet.
The Wolf of Wall Street suffers maybe more than any other Scorsese film from bloat and a tacked-on unconvincing moralism. Critics, just say "I'm fine with that because the movie is invigorating and fun." The critical quandary is that Scorsese's raft of imitators aren't misreading his work on this level - these films are supposed to be totally awesome. And their coolness overwhelms their perfunctory moral dimension even when that moral dimension isn't confused and shallow (as it is in Wolf.) Critics and Scorsese lovers: be honest, he doesn't know or care anything about banking institutions and their country-shattering crimes. We agree on that. Be honest with yourself: Wolf of Wall Street is primarily a load of fun, intended to be received as a great big pile of dizzying highs, bawdy comedy, sex, drugs and parties. It's fun comes from the ways in which it naturally antagonizes the very concept of inhibition on every level: content and style-wise. We agree on that. Be honest with yourself and accept that it's ok to love a morally idiotic film - Scorsese's talent for invigorating bombast is what separates him from the knock-offs. We agree on that.
Honestly, and this is the God's honest truth, there's no way this would've seen the light of day had this Year in Review gone up back in 2013. I would've cut it in a heartbeat. So I guess that's your special treat for this weird project: an utterly inessential essay on a filmmaker you almost definitely won't see me writing anything about ever again.
(These acclaimed films blew by me unseen, as though I were Nate Allen and they were a wide receiver running a deep post):
Nate Allen was a safety for the Philadelphia Eagles and, oh man, back in 2013 did I ever hate that guy. After the Charles Kelly disaster and this year's collapse, though, I remember (with a feeling that almost resembles fondness) Nate Allen's inability to take the correct angle on a tackle. That asshole is starting for a playoff team this year!
Blue is the Warmest Color
Short Term 12
Blue Caprice is the Warmest Carlor
Behind the Candelabra
I've since seen all of these movies except for Blue Caprice. At Berkeley would've made my list of favorites if I had seen it in time and I definitely would've written with some enthusiasm about The Counselor, but otherwise I don't have much to say about any of these movies.
Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
The Best Man Holiday
Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug
It's funny, you get used to titles and you just stop thinking about them. "The Desolation of Smaug." I mean, that is so fucking stupid. That Smaug. He's so desolate. Sittin' there on his big pile of treasure, slinkin' around all desolate-like. On the other hand, it's amazing (even beautiful) what a hot load of nonsense "The Best Man Holiday" is. I want the record to show that I saw that movie in the theater on a Tuesday at noon with Adam Leon, director of Gimme the Loot and the upcoming Tramps. Holy shit - Adam's titles are terrible, too. Maybe it's The Best Man Holiday's fault.
"The Desolation of Smaug" refers to the land beneath the Lonely Mountain, the area that Smaug desolated before retreating into the mountain. I expect better from the son of Murry Funderburg. - john cribbs
That's even dumber.
Worst title that does not even make sense as a pun:
Star Trek into Darkness
The Van Helsing award for beautiful awfulness:
Only God Forgives
Over at his site Pinnland Empire, frequent smoke contributor Marcus Pinn has earned a reputation as the nation's premiere Nicholas Wending Refn apologist - hell, it even spilled over to The Smoke when he wrote a piece for us about Fear X. I accompanied him to a screening of Only God Forgives, Refn's latest (and probably last, based on its reception) collaboration with Ryan Gosling. I hated Drive, but have liked most of Refn's films to varying degrees; still, I have never been much of fan the filmmaker - what he does is just not my kind of thing. My kind of thing is Shannon Tweed movies or Hollis Frampton. Anyway, Pinn asked me if I liked this one - and of course not, it's terrible - but I told him the truth: I'm really glad that it exists. This is film is just so packed to its flapping little gills with jaw-dropping artistic miscalculations, pretentious nonsense and laughable camp that it's pretty hard not to love it on some level. It just goes for it with such idiotic reckless abandon that it's hard not to be won over by its infectious enthusiasm for katana-wielding avenging angels, psycho-sexual dream sequences, incongruous karaoke breaks, aestheticized geysers of arterial spray and strings of red Christmas lights. Plus, it rectifies one of Drive's more irksome qualities: instead of shrimpy little wiener Ryan Gosling brutalizing massive goons on the reg, he gets his ass handed to him in the climatic muay thai showdown. Lovable.
The book has been written on Refn at this point, right? In 2016, no one is any longer under the impression he's a Haneke or Von Trier or something are they? Empty style, disposable shtick - sometimes extremely stylish, sometimes extremely disposable.
Dead Man Down
The main plot of this one isn't all that interesting: a grieving family man goes undercover in a ruthless mob as part of a plan to avenge his wife and daughter's murders. He send the mobsters antagonizing clues, plays various factions against each other, engineers a big shootout, sure fine, I don't care, have fun. But the secondary plot involves a deformed hair-dresser who spies on activities of the avenging father and, threatening to reveal his secret, manipulates him into agreeing to murder the drunk driver who caused her facial injuries. But wait - get this: her deaf, cookie-loving mother is played by Isabelle Huppert as comic relief. It's nuts. The subplot just wanders in from a different planet than the rote, grey DTV quality plot that's supposedly the film's main interest. It becomes a romantic comedy about a scarred hairdresser living with her wacky mom out to manipulate a downtrodden fake gangster into killing some hapless suburban dad she once got into an accident with and the love that blossoms between these two mismatched outcasts. Its just total lunacy that's hard to believe grown adults would think is a good idea for a movie.
I should have known better:
All is Lost
Of course I don't want to watch Robert Redford by himself on a boat for an hour and a half courtesy of the director of Margin Call. Of course I don't - look at what I just described, it's ludicrous for me to have seen this. With all the films I wanted to see that I didn't see, I have no idea how I ended up seeing this one. Honestly, I have no idea.
You know what would be an appropriate punishment for thinking the new Alexander Payne movie would be any good? Having to see Nebraska.
Dallas Buyers Club
I do believe I've reached the limits of blindly following Matthew McConaughey wherever might go on his new career path. He's great, but this movie obviously features Jared Leto as a super-fey queen who spends a minute of screen-time taking off his wig, contemplating his mortality and crying as he declares that he'll make the most beautiful angel of all.
God, I hate this movie. I had to do a Q&A after it once at the theater I used to program and in researching the true story, it's just ridiculously offensive the liberties they took with really went down. This is one of those movies like Crash though where everyone seems to have almost instantly regretted praising it. It's ok. We were all caught up in the McConaughessance in those days. I'm as guilty as anyone.
I am recused from judgment:
Gimme the Loot
Stanly Kubrick award for a film which insists upon its own genius:
I won't hold it against it, though. It mostly jettisons Children of Men's cornball philosophizing and relentless silliness. Still, this is a movie that wants you to pay attention to how goddamned brilliant it is at every fucking second. It's pretty fun, so no hard feelings. Still, I prefer Cuaron when he's filming Gael Garcia Bernal jerking off on a diving board to the thought of Salma Hayek. That's something we can all enjoy and identify with. I bet it would look amazing in IMAX 3-D.
These movies I cannot believe got good reviews. How did this happen? What kind of world are we living in where this could happen?:
She doesn't know how to use a computer? That spacious, centrally located San Francisco apartment is supposed to be "blue collar?" Mr. Allen, I dare say you are out of touch. Andrew Clay is excellent in this, though. Honestly. I'm giving him the first ever Pink Smoke Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Artwork.
Christ, remember this fuckin' movie? What's wrong with you people? Woody Allen is your fault.
Tries to use its true story trappings to justify being repetitive and boring. Interesting true story, teeeeerrrrrible movie.
If anyone but Soderbergh had directed this, it would be universally ridiculed as the sub-Gothika twist-laden erotic thriller it so inarguably is.
I have a weird relationship to Soderbergh, where I yield to no one in my adoration for many of his films: Out of Sight, The Limey, Schizopolis, etc. But at the same time, the critical pass he gets for stuff like this is outrageous. Before he "retired" he made some comments about cinema having reached a point of exhaustion... but went out on a quartet of lazy works (Side Effects, Magic Mike, Contagen and The Girlfriend Experience) that show quite clearly that the problem wasn't with the medium, but with the artist. I hope he comes back someday, but until then there's no defense for cheesy garbage like this about devious secret lesbians
The annual "horror movie praised by people who think they're better than horror movies." All positive reviews are required to mention this dim-witted cliche-bomb's originality and cleverness.
To the Wonder
Look at yourself in the mirror: you know better than to praise this. You do. You don't like Malick enough to excuse this. I trust you. You're not as dumb as Richard Brody. Just be honest with yourself. An hour and a half of Olga Kurylenko spinning circles and running away from the camera like she's auditioning for a perfume commercial barely counts as a movie.
More like To the Blunder! amirite, Mad Magazine fans?
Star Trek Into Darkness
I just don't get it? Why turn Star Trek into "The Lasershooters Tough Guy Space Explosions Club?" Why does it all have to be so stupid? Hiding a spaceship under water? It's not just the concept of a vehicle designed to exist in a vacuum maintaining its structural integrity at the bottom of the ocean that's the problem. It's this: you know where a good place to hide a spaceship is? In space. Outer space is a really good place to hide your spaceship from a shamanistic, pre-technological civilization. I just don't get why people want Star Trek to be like this. Just call it Ender's Game 2 or something and leave me alone.
With The Force Awakens movie comin' and a-goin', I feel like the lifecycle of any J.J. Abrams film is really clear: since the films are exciting, pandering and slick, the initial praise for them is through the roof. Then rush of joy at a "cool" Star Trek or Star Wars or Kaiju flick wears off and the emptiness of the thing becomes readily apparent. I mean, nobody thinks Cloverfield or his Star Trek movies or Lost are anything other than utterly empty and disposable fluff. Three years from now, expect everyone to be having the same feelings about his Star Wars films. Fun nonsense that wears out its welcome quick. On the other fucking hand, the dude paid for a restoration of Phantasm. Lifetime pass.
In the running for the worst movie I have ever seen in my life:
There's not a single element of this film that I could imagine how to change it to make it worse. I guess Rosario Dawson could have been recast with Roseanne Barr. Shit... that might have been amazing. It would have at least shown the filmmakers are aware of how preposterous the film they're making is.
Holy shit, Trance! I forgot about this thing. It's unbelievably bad!
The cinematic elegance of Troma guided by the moral compass of Meir Zarchi combined with the bro-in' out of Eli Roth.
I like Eli Roth, Troma and Meir Zarchi. This is a disingenuous "burn."
I saw them. Indeed, I saw them.
The Place Beyond the Pines
Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Spectacular Now
Deep Blue Sea
Like Someone in Love
So, here's my other big essay-type piece. When this movie came out, I really felt like I was all alone out on a limb in despising it. In the intervening years, its reputation has collapsed though, especially amongst black critics where luminaries like bell hooks took it down hard. When it came out, though, I really regretted not getting my thoughts on it out there - unlike the Scorsese essay, this one has a huge amount of personal meaning to me.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The lack of critical intelligence applied to this film appalls me. Dear critics: you should be fucking ashamed of yourselves. Just look at the title: Beasts of the Southern Wild? About poor black people? Why not just go with Uncontrollable Animals of the Southern Wild, Monkeys of Mississippi Delta? It's no secret that white filmmakers are given a critical pass when they portray poor blacks as inarticulate savages noble in their animal suffering: just look at everything ranging from Ballast to George Washington to Beasts. And there's no reason to critique the stock character, the persistent cliche of the abusive alcoholic dad whose raging irresponsibility and awfulness belies his streetwise intelligence. It's nobility of poverty, the wisdom of suffering and who are us white folks to judge it? We could all learn a lot from that man, if only we saw the world from his perspective… or rather, from a rich Westchester twenty-five year-old's imagined rendition of that perspective.
I don't want to overstate my relationship to Louisiana - I moved around a lot growing up and if you ask me where I'm from, the rundown of the places I've lived spans the country. Expand that list to the places my parents, wife and sister have lived and in which I've spent significant time and now the list will span continents. But I did live down by the Mississippi when I was a baby until I was five years old. My parents returned to New Orleans (specifically the North Shore suburb of Mandeville) a decade and a half later, I moved into a house behind the Notre Dame seminary when I left college in 1999. And my parents where there when Katrina hit. They had 22 trees knocked over on their lot, 5 into their house itself and they were lucky: their neighbor's house was completely flattened. And the North Shore didn't get it half as bad as Biloxi, which didn't get it half as bad the 9th ward, which didn't get it half as bad as Waveland.
When I went down to visit a month after the storm, it was still total chaos. I was in New York City a week after September 11th and there's no comparison as to which was more of a widespread disaster, more of horrible nightmare. That's not to minimize the horror of the terrorist attacks, just to help quantify the devastation after Katrina. They can both be awful. They both were awful. The more telling contrast is that because of the economic strength of New York City and the localized nature of the devastation, NYC was up and running as per usual almost instantly. When I went to visit New Orleans again for Christmas, five months after the hurricane, the 9th ward was a wrecked ocean of obliterated houses. They didn't even have the stoplights working. For those not familiar with the layout, the 9th ward is over a bridge near the French Quarter, which was running more or less normally. This would be like if you left a normal, functioning Manhattan and when you got to Brooklyn, it was emptied, the houses were destroyed and they didn't even have the stoplights running. Just insane.
The devastation of Katrina was massive, enduring and unchecked - there's a solid, non-conspiratorial argument to be made that the city had no interest in saving its poorest neighborhoods. The argument doesn't even require racist collusion or mean-spirited confluences: so much of New Orleans was broken as a city, over-run with corruption, crime and poverty that rebuilding it the same way it previously existed made no sense. If the populace and its government decided the storm presented an opportunity for change to those neighborhoods, then there were two philosophies that could guide a rebuild: 1) to rectify or 2) to dodge. In yet another betrayal of its poorest residents, New Orleans chose the second option: rather than fix the broken neighborhoods, they left them living in toxic FEMA trailers for months and then years longer than those emergency homes were intended to be occupied or sent them to Houston before making every effort to ensure they would never return. It's tough to deny that New Orleans is a healthier city now than it was then. But from the moment the storm made groundfall, the city's improvement came at the expense of its most defenseless and needy, who had to suffer through a gauntlet of suffering, indignity and character assassination that I can't even stomach to recall.
So, when Beasts uses Katrina imagery to tell a story that hides behind being not about Katrina, it irks me on a personal level. That it's coastals with no relationship to the destruction of New Orleans most likely to see and praise Beasts makes it tough not to believe their enthusiasm is facilitated in large part by ignorance and indifference. The story of Katrina is one of impossibly poor people monstrously betrayed by society, of human beings left to die in their own filth, vilified in the media in outrageous untrue stories about looting and rape and violence and then gleefully shipped out of town by the ruling class - sarcastic "Thanks, Houston!" bumper stickers abound to this day. The message of those bumper sticks, originally intended to be genuine, has gained an vicious, intended irony: thanks for taking our trash, Houston. Katrina is not the story of untrained animals, beasts who refused to be domesticated deciding to stay and weather a storm despite the noble, desperate efforts of government and health officials imploring them to do otherwise.
I'll put it this way: Beasts of the Southern Wild is a case of a white Northerner using unmistakable hurricane Katrina imagery to make a film about black Southerners' complicity in their own annihilation during a hurricane. He covers himself by having the film take place in some alternate dimension Mississippi river delta and throwing in some poor white drunks to ameliorate racial issues like a college guidebook designer photoshopping in a black guy on the campus plaza. Beasts is the equivalent of a Dutch guy using death camp imagery to make a heart-warming film about the Jews' complicity in some alternate reality Holocaust where there's also a gypsy there so it's not racist. You can understand why trying to hide behind the unreality is offensive, right? We can all agree that saying "blacks died during the hurricane because they're such untamable little animals" is holy fucking shit offensive, right? You understand that the reality was that corrupt cops and racists* used the storm as an opportunity to commit offenses against a helpless population, not the other way around, right?
I was about to begin this paragraph with the words "Forget about reality for a moment and let's talk about this film's aesthetics," but I stopped myself. While I do think the film's idea of "art" is as condescending as an essay on noble savages written by a pair "urban folklorists" (hi, Mr. Zeitlin and Ms. Dargan!), but maybe that doesn't matter here. Maybe once, just once, when we're talking about movies, reality matters. Maybe we can acknowledge that hiding behind "art" and "alternate realities" just one time, this time, is cowardly. That there reaches a point when we've had our share of a rich white guys making movies about poor black people featuring the wisdom and sagacity of abusers, drug addict prostitute mothers and the honor of being crushed be society. With hurricane Katrina, the poor and disenfranchised of New Orleans were blamed for their suffering and vilified for an imagined criminal response, so forgive me if I can't forgive a film whose plot is "animal negroes refuse to leave hurricane danger zone despite well-intentioned warnings." The truth doesn't deserve another slap in the face, if you think about it.
* Although the numbers are tough to verify for obvious reason, Northern Louisiana seems to have the largest per capita KKK membership in the U.S. This is the place where David Duke ran for office and during hurricane Katrina a white guy shot at rescue helicopters. Countless stories emerged of black "gangstas" shooting at rescue copters and were quickly discredited - discredited in the sense of rescue copters even being sent to blighted neighborhoods. The only proven, documented instance of anything of the sort happening is unsurprisingly a white reactionary. Also, if that reference to corrupt cops strikes you as a non sequitur, here's the low-down, which would be too much of a tangent to rehash here: Danziger Bridge. Spoiler alert: the cops get away with it! A brief history of law enforcement corruption in New Orleans, starring Harry Connick Sr. - yes, that Harry Connick, Sr.!
So putting this list of my favorite movie moments is usually the last thing I do before I get set to publish the piece. There's no strategy to it, I just try to remember stuff I liked from my favorite films - I feel like it's a fine way to be honest about the things that stayed with me. The only exception is that I will jot down good moments from movies that aren't too significant just so I don't forget them. For 2012/2013, I never really compiled the list, so all I have is the few I jotted down. Also, I put down what are the two most unforgettable moments from movies those years (to me anyway.)
I am not arguing that this is a good movie or anything, but Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 does feature a fake Tom Waits singwhich includes lyrics like "The scientist is at his lowest point/ as he trudges home that night."
"See - it's not like I hang out with lame 8 year-olds!" I believe you, Fuzzy. Fun Size. Also, "You're Melissa Smith's dad? She broke my heart!" "Vengeance!"
Fuzzy is played by Silicon Valley's Thomas Middleditch! He joins Kristen Stewart as one the actors I lauded way before they were famous. Good eye, Funderburg! Good eye.
"That's the ax that slayed me!" Is it? John Dies at the End.
Ragtag musical interlude in a cathedral. Holy Motors.
So that's it, that's all I got. I never put together some of the elements of the review that are most important to me, like the best performances of the year. And I didn't do too much of the goofball awards stuff, that's usually driven by reading what Cribbs wrote and trying to play off of him or make him laugh. It's a huge thing I've put together here, but it still feels extremely incomplete.
Now some of you are probably asking yourselves "why did he even bother with this" and that's tough to say. I think it comes down to that I don't love having that big hole in our records - I really like being able to jump back and see what we thought about 2006. More than anything, I like writing these because I feel like most annual write-ups by film crickets, these fucking content-free things written in early December to satisfy Oscar handicappers, those write-ups do a garbage job of actually capturing the year in film. They all focus on the same handful of "important" films and all weirdly champion the same miniscule group of "overlooked movies." Worse than that, they all have the same idoitic list of targets for the "worst" movies of the year - quick, did Adam Sandler release a movie?! Let's stick it to that guy! Very crucial.
One of the things most important to me is to hold onto for a moment longer all of the stuff I know will be forgotten - the forgettable and insignificant movies, the clear trends that will become obscure with time, the spirit of the moment that won't be remembered quite correctly, the junk and stupidity and beauty of it that gets swallowed up by history. If you look at any list of the Best Films of 2012, you'll see Argo and Avengers and Lincoln but there was more to it than that - you'll look at those lists and you won't see the little things, the dumb joke from a forgotten tween comedy, the precise moment a beloved auteur fell out of favor, the overhyped festival favorite that never caught fire, all the things that happened in cinema that weren't the best or the worst or the most important or the most lasting, all the things that make actually make up a year in movies. Contextualizing all that is worth doing.
What happened in le cinema in 2012 & 2013 actually matters to me. I mean... as much as anything does. I'm not some goddamned sentimentalist.
~ DECEMBER 29, 2016 ~