Wednesday, December 11, 2013


First, I should mention that I haven't seen any of the following yet, and my guess is some of them will throw this whole ordered list out of whack:

Inside Llewyn Davis
The Wolf of Wall Street
American Hustle
Computer Chess
Much Ado About Nothing
Before Midnight
Pain and Gain
Blue Is the Warmest Color
12 Years a Slave
The Motel Life
and practically anything foreign. :(

Not that I had a ton of credibility to start with.

OK. Moving on!

6. Sightseers
Ben Wheatley directed Kill List, which means I will watch any and every movie he makes from now on. Sightseers is crazy and hilarious and brutal and very disturbing -- like all love stories, I guess. It glorifies the small and shabby, and repays the mildest of insults with explosions of way-disproportionate violence. You will never again consider littering in a national park in Yorkshire, believe me. Great stuff.

7. Spring Breakers
I keep trying and failing to write something coherent about the way pop culture today packages its wealthy/greedy/money-focused characters, as opposed to the way it did in say the mid-'80s. Maybe something about the crappy economy makes wanting lots of nice things more forgivable. When I was a kid it was self-evident that a lust for wealth meant you were a villain - "greed is good" was clearly bad. (Ugh. Am I accidentally getting nostalgic for hardcore capitalism? Great.) Anyway. This is no longer taken for granted. In terms of storytelling, it's no longer the case that a naked desire to have lots of things signifies a lack of soul. Now greedy types are just empty, listless kids, taking things because it's easy and they're slightly bored. (I didn't see The Bling Ring, either. Oops.) All in all I find it depressing but that's probably just a personal bias.

Anyway -- I did not expect to like this movie and I doubt I've sold it to anyone based on the above nonsense. ("No seriously, it totally clarified how the shifting economic climate and our habitual abuse of credit for instant gratification has complicated basic narrative structure, morally speaking! You'll love it!") ("Plus guns! and bikinis!") But it really surprised me. It turned out to be hilarious and terrifying and multi-layered, not to mention just weird as all get-out, and it cast a gloomy, heartbreaking light on some of those awful, presumably soulless, grasping kids.

Also James Franco's teeth, I mean sweet jesus, how can you not love that. So shiny!

I'm not picking #s 8, 9 and 10 because I can't decide, and it doesn't matter. Ask me next week and my whole list will be different anyhow. Women are fickle. Here's a bunch of other stuff I saw:

The World's End - Fun and sad. Mostly fun. Makes a compelling argument that the losers will be winners after the apocalypse. Extra points for the Wild Angels reference. Disturbingly anti-beer, though. (As a corrective, every time you spot a Ben Wheatley crossover: drink.)

Enough Said - Really lovely. Can't decide if it made me slightly encouraged on the topic of dating or dead-certain that I never want to date again. ("Date" - who even does that?)

The Visitor - What do we say about this one...I'll just -- well, here:

THE VISITOR [Trailer] - Now In Theaters from Drafthouse Films on Vimeo.

I mean, Sam Peckinpah! Come on!

Side Effects
If we're dividing Soderbergh's work into Hot and Cold (Out of Sight = Hot; Haywire = Cold), this one is decidedly the latter. I admired it without really liking it. Does that make sense?

Behind the Candelabra - Soderbergh again. I saw this very late at night, and need to rewatch it, but I can tell you the ghoulish physical transformations alone are astounding. All the men look like Barbies. (This is by far the closest Matt Damon has come to resembling himself as he appeared in Team America: World Police.) But you can see everyone's ragged hearts right below the horrorshow surface. It might be campy in certain aspects but it's very far from silly.

The Great Gatsby
I guess nobody else liked this. It totally worked on me, though. Saw it with my mom. We swooned.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters - Got talked into this one by a guy after a couple of drinks. Good dumb fun. The diabetes thing was funny.

Welcome to the Punch - see above (but no diabetes).

To the Wonder
Yes yes, way too much twirling. But come on: who else is asking the kinds of questions Terrence Malick asks in movies? It's no Tree of Life, but what is?

Warm Bodies - would've been 90 billion times better without that zombie-learns-to-drive scene. Very sweet, though.

Byzantium - Gemma Arterton's boobs are amazing! OMG. There's one hilarious scene in which, after having tried really hard to establish this as a feminist empowered-vampire thing, the filmmakers kick back and watch Gemma luxuriate in a shower of fake blood against a cliff, and suddenly it's an ad for Axe body spray. Loved it! Also featuring the kid who played Banshee in X-Men; Sickboy/Sherlock; and Saoirse Ronan.

Pacific Rim - Tried to get into it but could not, for some reason. Too big? Don't like robots? I dunno.

Also caught a couple of ... I guess we call them miniseries. I don't watch much TV because I lack self-control, so I'll start on something just to check it out and then sort of "come to" several days later, very hungry, my life in tatters around me -- but these are very short:

Top of the Lake - dark and ultra-creepy Jane Campion crime thriller. Faramir!

The Fall - if Gillian Anderson's face in the mirror in the first minute or so doesn't gut you, then you are probably not female and/or aging. The whole thing's really good, though; she plays a totally scary, unapologetic (most likely sociopathic) hard-ass, and it's great.

Sherlock - the BBC one, starring my boyfriend, Martin Freeman. I have one episode left to watch and really hope they're making more.

SO anyway. Go watch Upstream Color already.

Sunday, December 08, 2013


This year's top-10 list will be super-easy to do, because I've only seen about 17 movies that came out in 2013. (Hey, I've been busy.) Pretty sure I caught most of the good ones, though. So here we go, more or less in order: the Greatest Movies of 2013 According to Me, So Far.

I'm only putting the top five here for now, because it turns out I'm blabbing on and on about some of them, so we'll probably all need a break halfway through. Watch this space for movies 5 though 10, plus bonus items!

1. Upstream Color

I've never understood precisely how people get into relationships. I know they meet; I've seen it happen. And then later at some point they are a couple. But what goes on in between is completely obscure to me. The mechanism offered in Shane Carruth's second feature -- in which, to put it simply, two people are drawn together because they've both had a weird flower-eating-grub-based hypnotism/brainwashing experience that resulted in their animating spirits being relocated (via worm) into two pigs on a farm -- seems as likely as any other, really.

"I hate even the idea of a synopsis," Carruth told Dennis Lim in a NYT interview awhile back. He's right to, of course. The story operates on an emotional logic that squirms and blurs when examined closely but feels exactly right, entirely reasonable and lovely and poetic, if you just go with it. When Upstream Color came out everyone said it was "cerebral," but although it's very strange and often startling, and contains Big Ideas, it's not confusing or difficult. And on top of being supersmart it's also terrifying, gross, funny, and swooningly romantic.

It's partly about how people react to having their strings pulled by unseen hands with mysterious agendas. Also partly about identity: once together, the lovers are confused about the weird forces that move them (internal? external? we sort of know, but they don't), and they bicker about whose memories belong to whom, fighting for possession of bits and pieces of character, assigning ownership to certain traits, making distinctions and reserving little territories even as they merge their lives. How much of you is you? Who are you when you adjust yourself to someone else? (Does being inspired by another person add to and change you, or simply enhance what was already there?) None of this is even directly addressed in the movie, but a story like this tends to provoke a long, crooked line of questions afterward.

Really you just have to see it. But if you do, I command you to watch it with your full attention, not halfheartedly while thinking of something else or, like, doing the laundry. It demands and rewards total absorption.

(Did you guys see Primer? At the moment they are both available on Netflix. Recommended!)

It's so good. Here's the trailer:

2. The Grandmaster
The combination of Tony Leung and Wong Kar-Wai leads always to perfection. I've gone on and on about one or both of these guys in this glob enough already so I'll refrain for now, but I urge anybody interested in The Grandmaster or in WKW generally to read David Bordwell's essay. Thorough (long), but well worth the time. It walks you through the which-version-am-I-watching question nicely, too, if you're into that.

The US-market trailer is godawful, so here:

3. Frances Ha
Probably a movie that I shouldn't be quite so able to relate to at age 42, but whatever. It's great. I love Noah Baumbach. I love the soundtrack. I love Frances. She's a little lost puppy in a china shop, an utter disaster in every situation, but she's trying so hard to figure out what to do. I mean, it isn't easy, right? You imagine it'll get easier later but it never does. (Sidenote: this movie does what I think that Sheila Heti book wanted to do but with the advantages of craft and care and rigor.) And the whole thing just looks beautiful. Actually I think I'll watch it again right now.

4. Only God Forgives
Did you like Drive? This is weirder! How about Valhalla Rising? That is more like it.

Maybe I'll just go with a general "Um, not for everyone, but WHOA," and leave it at that.

5. All Is Lost
Never go yachting alone.

Stay tuned for deep thoughts on the other five movies I saw this year! : )