Friday, October 11, 2013

Better late than never; My Top Movies of 2012

1) The Master

P.T Anderson's masterpiece is almost unexplainable. A reinvention of the cinematic language with a never better Joaquin Phoenix. The backdrop is scientology but that's only the backdrop for a much more complex movie. Some of the time I was wondering what exactly was happening on screen yet I was never less than riveted. Bold, innovative and infuriating, "The Master" is a landmark movie but one that will likely divide its audience in half. Too bad, I was hypnotized by almost every single frame of its puzzling, schizophrenic narrative.

 2) Zero Dark Thirty

Forget about the Bin Laden raid which ends the movie. What counts in Kathryn Bigelow's film is how they actually got to the most wanted man in the world in the first place. The procedural work rivals that of "All The Presidents Men" and "Zodiac" but unlike those films feels current and relevant to its time. A great performance by Jessica Chastain infuses every frame and Bigelow, a great action director, proves her worth once again after her excellent "The Hurt Locker". What she does here is just tremendous.

 3) Killer Joe

William Friedkin's "Killer Joe" got the dreaded NC-17 rating upon its release. Rightfully so, a lot of the stuff we see is quite honestly shocking, especially its disturbing finale, which blurs the lines between good and evil. Matthew Mcconaughey is scary good as a crooked cop that rivals Harvey Keitel's pervert in "Bad Lieutenant" in a performance that will be talked about for years. Friedkin directs  with flair this tale about the dark side of humanity and how far we would go for the sake of greed. If you want to get provoked, just like all the other films on this list, seek this one out.

4) The Dark Knight Rises

Forget about the flaws -which includes an unworthy twist near the end- Christopher Nolan's conclusion to the greatest superhero trilogy ever told has many high points and an ending that satisifies the epic 8 year journey. Part of the problem people had with the picture was how unrealistic it was. I wouldn't consider putting the words realistic and batman in the same sentence, so why complain? "The Dark Knight Rises" was as close to a movie event blockbuster as we got in 2012 and even if it didn't meet the expectations set up by The Dark Knight in 2008, it came pretty close to matching that noir masterpiece.

 5) Prometheus

Ridley Scott's prequel to his "Alien" is the kind of movie I love. Filled with ambitious ideas about creation "Prometheus" can be seen as a great bookend to last year's "Tree Of Life". It is a deep, satisfying, visually rewarding experience. It asks questions that most filmmakers don't dare to ask and is acted and directed in such high fashion. I just wish Scott would forget the idea of making a sequel to a movie that asks us questions and dares to not answer them by letting us ponder it through long after the movie's end.

6) Looper

Joseph Gordon Levitt stars in director Rian Johnson's science fiction tale about loopers, time travel and murder in an original and visionary mind bender. Following it might be a mind fuck but the high that comes out of it is contagious. This is a brilliant movie experience, its an wholly original and entertaining idea, writer/director Johnson has managed to successfully transpose to film without, it would appear to a layman, pressure or interference from external sources.No matter how much of a good time you will have watching this film (and you will), Hollywood could stand to learn much more from it.

7) Rust And Bone
8) The Sessions

Here are two fantastic films that deal with sex in two very different ways. Hollywood, pay attention you migth learn a thing or two about real human interraction.

Marillon Cotillard excels as a woman that loses both her legs but still ends up finding love in the form of a mixed martial artist. Director Jacques Audiard proves that "Rust And Bone" was no fluke by making a hard edged film about tragedy, love and forgiveness. The sex here is frank, real and unflinching.

Who says paraplegics can't have sex. John Hawkes and Helen Hunt make a fantastic team in this true life story about a middle aged paraplegic that wants to experience sex for the first time and decides to hire a sex surrogate to fullfill his needs. "The Sessions" is sweetly rendered and never mocks its subject matter.

9) Moonrise kingdom

It took me a few viewings to fully grasp director Wes Anderson's small scale masterpiece. Just like any of his other films ("The Fantastic Mr. Fox","The Royal Tenenbaums","Rushmore") a second -or even a third- viewing of "Moonrise Kingdom" is mandatory to fully appreciate the little details that infuse every frame of Anderson's film. Story is secondary to the atmospheric 1960's world Anderson creates from scratch. His eyes and ears to detail are what makes him so damn good at what he does. Some may complain Anderson hasn't grown and matured in style over the years but I'll take his whimsical vision over most other so-called filmmakers.

10) Skyfall

For a film that happens to be the 23rd installment in a movie franchise that was supposed to run its course a long time ago, the latest James Bond thriller Skyfall is a surprisingly original treat. Daniel Craig's third outing as 007 is unlike any Bond movie we've seen before. It looks back on the first 50 years of Bond, then shows him to us again in a new light and sets him up nicely for his next 50 years. Just like Casino Royale the film could use a good edit but some of the scenes stand as some of the very best of the franchise. All credit must be given to director Sam Mended ("American Beauty", "Road To Perdition") and director of photography Roger Deakins.

11. Compliance, Craig Zobel

12. Brave, Mark Andrews

13. 21 Jump Street, Phil Lord

14. Seven Psychopaths, Martin Mcdonaugh

15. Jack Reacher, Christopher McQuarrie

16. In Darkness, Agnieska Holland

17. Haywire, Steven Soderbergh

18. Lincoln, Steven Spielberg

19. Premium Rush, David Koepp

20. Life Of Pi, Ang Lee

21. Miss Bala, Gerardo Naranjo

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Man With A Movie Camera"

To think, Dziga Vertov's The Man With a Movie Camera came out more than 74 years ago. Things have changed in cinema since then, yet the influence Vertov's film has had on movies is immeasurably towering. Film was already entering the sound era and silent pictures were slowly dying, yet "talkies" weren't fully fleshed out and the quality of the product was lacking. There was something missing. It took Vertov's experimental film to pave the way for the next 80 years of cinema to come.

There aren't many films as influential as Vertov's masterpiece of sound and image. One can think of Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless in 1960 and its invention of the jump cuts but even that film can't compare to Vertov. "It stands as a stinging indictment of almost every film made between its release in 1929 and the appearance of Godard’s 'Breathless' 30 years later," film critic Neil Young wrote, "and Vertov’s dazzling picture seems, today, arguably the fresher of the two." Godard is said to have introduced the "jump cut," but Vertov's film is entirely jump cuts.

Before Man With A Movie Camera most films had shots that lasted for many seconds, if not minutes. The average shot length in 1929 was of 11.2 seconds. In the blink of an eye Vertov decided to make an experiment and have his shots last a much shorter duration. The average shot length of his film ended up being a mere 2.3 seconds, a feat completely unheard of back in 1929. To give you an example Michael Bay's Armageddon released in 1998 also has an ASL of 2.3 seconds.

Vertov saw how cinema was stuck in a tradition of being shot like a stage play. I can think of Josef Von Sternberg and his Marlene Dietrich pictures which, to my eyes at least, haven't aged very well because of the staginess and theatricality that infused their every frame. The same could be said with many of that films at that time that refused to break the wall of theatricality.

It wasn't just the ASL that was mind blowing, Vertov decided to make an experiment and to push the boundaries of what cinema can do. He combined his images of daily life in communist-era USSR with a soundtrack that melded perfectly with his images. It's as if the music was made to gel with the celluloid he shot. There isn't anything dramatically gripping in the film as much as there is a bombardment of contagious cinematic joy. The sheer rush of experimentation. In fact this experimentation still seems fresh by today's standards. 80 years later, Vertov's masterpiece still has a striking effect with a whole new audience.

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