Thursday, July 31, 2014

Can We Take a Moment to Remember How Blue Valentine is Still Devastating?

Few spoilers in this post, but I imagine most of you should have seen it back in 2011. If you haven't, grab the tissues and come back later.

Did you know that the most fun thing you can do on a Sunday afternoon before you go to work is rewatch Blue Valentine and spend a good 20 minutes crying over it?

Didn't know that valuable information? Well I can 100% confirm that while rewatching Blue Valentine may not be the most happy experience, it is an experience nonetheless.

A little bit of context: I first watched Blue Valentine when it first came out on DVD in July 2011, when I was a tiny 15 year old enjoying the last days of illegally watching R16s. I have not been able to go back to it since. Until there came a Sunday when I thought: "I've got a couple of hours to kill, let's watch the most depressing film in my collection this side of Revolutionary Road."

Apparently I didn't really remember the magnitude of absolute earth-shattering devastation that this film brought to my world. Or I was watching it with different eyes when I was 15. But holy heck is this film depressing.

One thing that really took me by surprise this time around was the way Derek Cianfrance loves playing with his narratives. One of my favourite films from last year was his sophomore effort The Place Beyond the Pines. Here was a film that easily could have been split into three parts, yet he expanded his narrative beyond what he could have. He didn't only show the cause, but also showed the effect. I talk about this a lot more in my review of the film from last year, but to put it simply: I really admire Cianfrance's ambition. We're too often brushing simple narrative ambition under the rug for the more complex, confusing narratives drawing in a plethora of realms (however, that does make for some damn good cinema when it's done right).

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Late-ish 2013 Retrospective: Top 20 Best Films

So, here it is. 2013 was a damn good year for films if I do say so myself. It was hard reducing this list down to just 20, because any one of my honourable mentions would have had a welcome place in my list. 2013 had some game-changers (in more ways than one), some rule-breakers, and some life-changers. There were plenty of films that came out that you could just tell would live on into the future. We had Alfonso Cuaron defying the restrictions of cinema, Spike Jonze defeating every other portrayal of love in cinematic history, and Leonardo DiCaprio destroying any notion that he's not a proper actor with a singular Quaalude-induced scene. What a time to be alive.

Alas, let's close the book on 2013 before we close the book on May 2014. Because there's no time like the present...

Honourable Mentions: Spring Breakers, What Maisie Knew, Pain & Gain, The Bling Ring, This is the End, Fruitvale Station, Don Jon, Rush, Dallas Buyers Club, Drinking Buddies, Inside Llewyn Davis, Philomena, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Frozen.

"Every thing you do, someone out there can see."

Here's one of these films that slips so far under the radar that it is pretty much criminal. This film should be taught in schools. Sure, it gets extremely melodramatic in some places, but the general message behind it is about the only message we've desperately needed a film to cover. Not to mention it has some fantastic performances from Andrea Riseborough, Jason Bateman, Jonah Bobo, Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton. Very, very impressive.

"I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It's a crazy thing to do. It's kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity."

Just as Disconnect shows the dangers of the internet, Her shows the good things it could be capable of in the future...which is also doubled with the bad. This isn't really a film about a guy falling in love with his computer, but about love itself. As I said in my director's post, it was a damn brave film for Spike Jonze to make, and possibly one of the more realistic portrayals of love on film in recent times. Oh, and Scarlett Johansson. That's all.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Late-ish 2013 Retrospective: Top 10 Directors

Again, I don't have a huge disclaimer to put here. I know it's May, I know it's late, but hey, it is never too late to honour some pretty awesome directors, is it?

Honourable Mentions: Steven Soderbergh - Side Effects, The Coen Brothers - Inside Llewyn Davis, David Lowery - Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Abdellatif Kechiche - Blue is the Warmest Colour, Ron Howard - Rush, Lake Bell - In a World..., Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Don Jon, Ryan Coogler - Fruitvale Station, Asghar Farhadi - The Past, Richard Linklater - Before Midnight, Harmony Korine - Spring Breakers.

10. Spike Jonze - Her
Her is an incredibly brave film. Take it from one of the film's pivotal lines about love: "it's like a socially acceptable form of insanity." The way that the film ruminates on love is so beautiful, as opposed to sugar coating everything and having couples running of into sunsets and that kind of gooey stuff. Perhaps that's all because this is a film about a man having a relationship with his computer. Which is quite strange (it's quite hard to sell this movie to my friends), but Jonze does it in such a way that it feels completely natural. Not to mention, the futuristic world he creates is definitely a world that I could see actually happening, thanks to Jonze not over-saturating the film with ludicrous visions of the future. Even though the movie left me feeling extremely empty for a little while, this is a unique kind of beauty that I wish we could see more of.

9. Denis Villeneuve - Prisoners
Fun fact: throughout many lines of ancestry, it's possible that in some way I'm related to this guy (I would have even had his last name once upon a time, which would have been nice). If that somehow means that I have an ounce of his talent, that would be fantastic. Even though I haven't seen Incendies since it first came out about two and a half years ago, it is still engrained in my brain - it's so hard to shake the deliberately cold, striking way the film was made. It's the same with Prisoners, which Villeneuve could make with a bigger budget, bigger names, and the magic touch of Roger Deakins behind the camera. Prisoners is a masterful, slow burning thriller that mixes the suspense of detective work with the emotional trauma created within the families. It's a puzzle that doesn't seem willing to be solved, but it is made in such a way that I wasn't sure if I ever did want it to be solved. Villeneuve is always in control of his material. I haven't seen Enemy yet (because who knows if it will even get a release here), but how crazy is it that he managed to make those two films in the same year? And here comes my trademark saying: I want to be him.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Late-Ish 2013 Retrospective: Top 15 Male Performances

More 2013 retrospective goodness just to remind you that 2013 happened and 2013 was great! Don't really need to waste a whole lot of time explaining this, so here are my favourite male performances from last year...

Honourable Mentions: Bradley Cooper - American Hustle, Bradley Cooper - The Place Beyond the Pines, Ryan Gosling - The Place Beyond the Pines, Dane DeHaan - The Place Beyond the Pines, Joaquin Phoenix - Her, Steve Coogan - Philomena, Dane DeHaan - Kill Your Darlings, James Gandolfini - Enough Said, Miles Teller - The Spectacular Now, Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club, Hugh Jackman - Prisoners, Daniel Bruhl - Rush, Michael B. Jordan - Fruitvale Station, Michael Douglas - Behind the Candelabra, Matt Damon - Behind the Candelabra, Leonardo DiCaprio - The Great Gatsby, James Franco - Spring Breakers, Jude Law - Side Effects, Jonah Bobo - Disconnect.

15. Dwayne Johnson as Paul Doyle in Pain & Gain
Let me preface this by saying that Dwayne Johnson may be my least favourite working actor. That's probably because I can't stand the fact that every single movie he is in, whether it is a cinema release or a straight-to-DVD release, will always rent in truckloads. Sad thing is that they're all exactly the same. I surprisingly dug Pain & Gain a lot against all odds (the Johnson/Mark Wahlberg/Michael Bay factor), but I was most surprised by Johnson's performance. He was obviously taking the piss out of his usual macho beef-cake persona, and in an alternate universe, he would be the perfect buff brother of Jordan Belfort who was nowhere near as smart as him.

14. Jake Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki in Prisoners
We never really know a lot about Detective Loki. We're just offered insights into his existence. I think that's what I admire most about any film who can do it right: a script which only offers insights into a character's existence instead of an outpouring of their life, and an actor who can build that existence into something truly believable. Gyllenhaal hits all the right notes, even when the film isn't necessarily concerned with him. It's all in the scene where he eats this Thanksgiving dinner at a diner alone.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Late-Ish 2013 Retrospective: Top 15 Female Performances

If you've been following ze blog for a few years, you know that I don't deal well with watching movies from the year before until we're halfway through the next year. Hence my top lists of 2011 happening in July 2012 and my top lists of 2012 happening in August 2013. However, this year has been kinda different: I spent a lot more time watching good stuff (because I had so little time I didn't want to waste it) and I moved to a place with a cinema three months ago which meant I could catch up with a lot more. I haven't seen films like Nebraska, Saving Mr Banks or August: Osage County, but I'm pretty confident with the lists I have at the moment. So over the next few days/weeks/whenever I sit down at my laptop and actually blog for once, I'll be unleashing my top lists of 2013, beginning with my Top 15 Female Performances. Usually I don't go for 15 in the list, but there was so much goodness in 2013 that I didn't want anyone to miss out. People still missed out though. Which sucks, but hey, yay for cinema! 

Honourable mentions: Berenice Bejo - The Past, Amy Adams - Her, Amy Adams - American Hustle, Jennifer Lawrence - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Jena Malone - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Judi Dench - Philomena, Sarah Paulson - 12 Years a Slave, Carey Mulligan - Inside Llewyn Davis, Brie Larson - The Spectacular Now, Olivia Wilde - Drinking Buddies, Lake Bell - In a World..., Amanda Seyfried - Lovelace, Scarlett Johansson - Don Jon, Melonie Diaz - Fruitvale Station, Octavia Spencer - Fruitvale Station, Onata Aprile - What Maisie Knew, Greta Gerwig - Frances Ha.

15. Andrea Riseborough as Nina Dunham in Disconnect
Disconnect is one of those films that works well mostly on the basis of the solid acting from an ensemble cast that includes Jason Bateman, Paula Patton, Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Nyqvist, but no one stands out as much as Andrea Riseborough. I've long been a fan of Andrea's work since her brief role in the oft-forgotten Never Let Me Go, and she's pulled in some great work since in otherwise dull films like W.E. and Shadow Dancer. In Disconnect, though, she plays the part of an over-ambitious news reporter terrifyingly well, with the role fitting into her oeuvre perfectly - does she have one of the most underrated filmographies ever? She literally walks into this film and lights up the screen, even as her character goes through some pretty dark stuff. And yet, even as it becomes apparent that perhaps her character's storyline isn't the most exciting in the multi-stranded plot, she makes the plot last until the very end. Seriously, someone needs to line her and Rosamund Pike up and get them some great roles.

14. Sally Hawkins as Ginger in Blue Jasmine
Another ever-dependable performer, and definitely someone who turns a relatively thin role into a layered, beautiful performance. Blue Jasmine works on the merits of its pairing of Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins, who compliment each other in a way that I couldn't imagine any other actresses doing a better job of. Ginger is fiery, flighty, the exact opposite to Jasmine, and Sally is able to nail every single thing about the character that makes her different from Jasmine.


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