Gus Van Sant weighs in on the “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing) controversy, and in typical form gets great performances from Matt Damon, Frances McDormand and Rosemarie DeWitt, but I don’t think Damon‘s character’s reversal at the end was remotely convincing – did he tell the truth because he had changed his mind about what his company was doing (and if so, why then?) or because he was upset that he received the professional version of a cuckold?
We are three weeks (well, 20 days) away from the thing that each year, no matter what I do, I can’t take my attention away from – The Academy Awards. Each year in early January (used to be February), I hoot and howl about how the Academy has gotten it wrong with who they’ve chosen for the nominees for the best film has to offer for the previous year. “How can this happen year-in and and year-out?”, I ask myself. Well, I sometimes need a gentle reminder that Hollywood is a self-perpetuating machine whose vanity knows no bounds and that the studios need to raise the profile of their films in order to make even more money so the whole their whole operations stays afloat to offset the 987,368 teenagers, college students and tech savvy webheads who just illegally pirated versions of all of the Oscar fare as I wrote this. Also, what would all of those MBAs with no idea what creativity and art are do without being responsible for and ruining some of the major pieces of our culture, right? Puh-leese.
I am routinely reamed by those in my circle of friends and family for passing judgement on movies I haven’t seen or books I haven’t read. However, I don’t think it takes Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the Twilight series of books are pure shit and that the film adaptations are just a condensed, distilled version of the same shit. So convict me in the highest court of that crime. That many of the Academy voters have expressed themselves that they rarely see most of the movies nominated for the awards each year, how are we to take what their votes say as anything other than biased or even bought (Harvey Weinstein, what say you?). I recall watching the Oscars in 2001 when Lynn Redgrave was interviewed going into the ceremony and she said that the only film she had seen of those nominated for that year was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the fabulous Ang Lee martial-arts epic, so she voted for it. Great taste, as it was undoubtedly my favorite film of the year next to Jonathan Glazer’s insane Sexy Beast; however, it pretty much sums up the Academy Awards in a nutshell. They are mostly a vanity project and by no means an accurate representation of what is the best in filmmaking. If that were the case, Dances with Wolves would never have beaten Goodfellas for anything at the 1991 Awards.
I could go on and on and on about this, so I will spare anyone reading this that diatribe. Now, mind you – I did not see every film released this year and as of yet, I still have not seen three films nominated for Best Picture (Amour, Life of Pi and Les Misérables), so this list will only cover the films that I HAVE seen.So, after careful review, here are what I think the major category nominees should have been this year with whom I perceive should be the winners:
Beasts of the Southern Wild Cosmopolis Holy Motors How to Survive a Plague Looper Moonrise Kingdom Searching for Sugar Man The Master* (winner) We Need to Talk About Kevin Zero Dark Thirty
In all, 2012 had some very interesting films. I think it continued the rise of the documentary, which as a storytelling platform gets stronger in content and creativity each year. Two, How to Survive a Plague and Searching for Sugar Man, even made it into my top ten films of the year and there could have easily been one or two more sneak in. Unfortunately, I have not been able to see Amour. Something tells me it would have made this list as well. Beasts of the Southern Wild was simply amazing. With this as a first effort, I expect to see great things from director Benh Zeitlin in the future. His collaboration with cinematographer Ben Richardson is one I hope continues on for years. Without a doubt this was the best photographed film I saw all year. David Cronenberg‘s adaptation of Don DeLillo‘s novel Cosmopolis was perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the year. DeLillo is my favorite novelist and his works seemdifficult to translate to the big screen, so I was very skeptical. Cronenberg‘s script captured the DeLillian dialogue very well and dare I say this, Robert Pattinson was adequate in delivering the cadences of DeLillo’s words. I need a shower after that. Holy Motors is the year’s most insane trip and you can read my synopsis of it here.Director Rian Johnson brought Looper (his first film since 2008’s The Brothers Bloom), a futuristic time-travel noir, to the big screen and didn’t disappoint. Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s prosthetic nose and smirk made him a dead ringer for a younger Bruce Willis. I finally got to see Zero Dark Thirty and was mesmerized. Jessica Chastain is exceedingly good and ZDT proves to be another fabulous Kathryn Bigelow/Mark Boal collaboration. As always, Wes Anderson packs on the quirk in the tale of young love in his Moonrise Kingdom. Never disappointing, Anderson delivers another fun romp with the help of his ensemble cast of Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jared Gilman, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Kara Heyward. The Master is the film I believe is the best of the year. Its portrayal of the tumultuous (let the cliches roll…) relationship between eternal fuck-up Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and religious (cult) leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is grand in scale and chronicled exquisitely by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. Performances from the three major players – Phoenix,Hoffman and Amy Adams – are as good as any you’ll see.
Paul Thomas Anderson – The Master * (winner) Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty Leos Carax – Holy Motors Lynne Ramsey – We Need to Talk About Kevin Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild
This category is always difficult for me to say who’s best. One thing I can say for sure is that Steven Spielberg is wholly undeserving of this award and I firmly believe he will take home his third Oscar for Lincoln, one of the most overblown films in recent memory. Anderson gets better with every movie and The Master is no exception. His ability to frame the relationship between the film’s two main characters in such a compelling way earns him this award. He probably deserved the Oscar for There Will Be Blood and he certainly deserved it for Magnolia, which I think was the best film of the first decade of the 2000s. The other four directors in this category are all deserving and created amazing films. Lynne Ramsey has made three of the most dark, original, and incredibly visceral films I’ve ever seen. Morvern Callar may be my favorite of them, but this year’s We Need To Talk AboutKevin is one to be reckoned with, and is especially pertinent since the Newtown shootings this past December and the onging talk of gun control since Columbine.
Denis Levant – Holy Motors* (winner) Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln Tom Hardy – Lawless Joaquin Phoenix – The Master Brad Pitt – Killing Them Softly
As much as I love Daniel Day-Lewis and his performance in the uneven at best Lincoln, Denis Lavant‘s virtuosic performance in Holy Motors moved me the most this year. In what covers nine different scenarios in the film, Lavant literally transforms himself from beggar to deviant troll, from a dying man to a motion-capture artist among other roles. Rare is a performance that sticks with me for days after watching it. This one did. I doubt you’ll ever see anything else like it. Tom Hardy continues to amaze me in each new role in which I see him. His performance in Nicolas Winding Refn‘s Bronson is one to study for all you up-and-coming actors. His most notable role of the year as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises was certainly enjoyable as well. Brad Pitt reunited with The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford director Andrew Dominik for a talky hitman pic reminiscent of Stephen Frears‘ The Hit delivering a gritty performace as Jackie Cogan. Phoenix returns to the form of his pre-I’m Still Here days matching Philip Seymour Hoffman scene-for-scene in The Master.
Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook Tilda Swinton – We Need to Talk About Kevin Quvenzhané Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild* (winner) Rachel Weisz – The Deep Blue Sea
This may have been the most difficult choice of all of them. Swinton and Weisz both deliver haunting performances in their respective roles. Chastain is amazing as well. I think she is the most watchable actress working today because she can even make her role in something as bad as The Help enjoyable. Jennifer Lawrence has a quality that makes me always want to see more of what she can do. I really liked her in this role. But, for my money, Quvenzhané Wallis was undoubtedly the best of the bunch. Not even 9-years old when Beasts of the Southern Wild was filmed, she explodes on the screen from the outset of the film. Her portrayal of Hushpuppy is nuanced and has a depth one might never imagine an 8-year is capable of displaying. I was completely entranced by her. I sincerely hope that if she continues acting that she is able to maintain the power that she put into this film. If so – watch out, Meryl Streep. Without a doubt, the best performance by a child that I’ve ever seen.
Best Supporting Actor
Garrett Hedlund – On the Road Dwight Henry – Beasts of the Southern Wild Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained Sam Rockwell – Seven Psychopaths* (winner)
I think this was the strongest category in terms of great performances for the year. Obviously, only two of mine match up with the Academy’s choices, the three excluded – Alan Arkin in Argo, Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln, and Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook – were relatively safe choices for the actors who had similar performances in prior roles that I just don’t think stood out. Garrett Hedlund delivered the most surprising performance as Dean Moriarty in the screen version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. A firecracker, he really captured the energy of Dean from the novel. I was very impressed. Christoph Waltz was great again for Quentin Tarantino in Django Unchained. They obviously work well together as Waltz took home the Oscar for their last collaboration in Inglourious Basterds. Dwight Henry was just phenomenal as the sick father to Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild. I’m curious to see if he’ll get any more juicy roles like this one in the future. Hoffman is steady and measured in The Master, the perfect counterpoint to Phoenix‘s forceful mood swings. However, I think Sam Rockwell, one of the most underrated actors working, stole the show in Seven Psychopaths. He’s funny, frustrating, and crazy all while driving the action of the film. Just top-notch. Rockwell‘s been doing it this way ever since 1998’s Safe Men. He might be the most fun actor to watch.
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams – The Master* (winner) Kara Hayward – Moonrise Kingdom Ann Dowd – Compliance Edith Scob – Holy Motors Juno Temple – Killer Joe
These performances really run the gamut of roles and are no less interesting than many of the lead actress roles. Kara Heyward is so delightfully rebellious in Moonrise Kingdom, making me wish I was as cool as Suzy Bishop at any part of my life. Ann Dowd brings in the most frustrating performance of the year in Compliance as the fast food manager who allowed a female employee to be strip- and body-cavity searched as well as sexually assaulted by her fiancee because of someone prank calling acting a police officer. Edith Scob‘s angelic counterpart to Denis Lavant‘s many incarnations in Holy Motors was a true pleasure to watch. Juno Temple‘s turn as Dottie in the deliciously perverse Killer Joe nearly won me over. I have loved her in everything I’ve seen her in, from Kaboom to Cracks. But, alas, Amy Adams‘ performance as the hard-as-nails wife of Lancaster Dodd in The Master won out. No matter what the role, Ms. Adams brings a fire that is unparalleled. Her exchanges with Freddie throughout the film are extremely tense and delivered flawlessly. You might not think the woman who played the lead in The Muppets and Enchanted would be capable of such ferocity…unless you saw The Fighter.
Best Documentary Feature
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry Chasing Ice How to Survive a Plague* (winner) Jiro Dreams of Sushi Searching for Sugar Man The Imposter
As I said above, documentaries just keep getting better and more interesting. There were so many good ones this year, I couldn’t narrow it to five, and had trouble limiting it to six. Those listed above explore the following subjects: a Chinese dissident artist at odds with the Communist government (see review here), a nature photographer chronicling the effects of climate change/global warming on the glaciers of Greenland, Iceland and the US, the fight for AIDS activists to get access to proper medication to stave off the epidemic that rages so rampant in the 80s and 90s, the tale of Japan’s finest sushi chef, two South Africans’ search for a lost American musician who despite being a star of Elvis proportion in their home country was never known here in the US and the story of a young French man who assumed the identity of a missing Texas 13-year old. Whew! Each of these films have far reaching cultural or social implications, but none of them in their scope, importance or depth measured what David France‘s How to Survive a Plague captured. Chronicling one of the most important chapters in the US’s recent history, France shows us the group of courageous activists who fought for AIDS rights, especially to essential medical care, and saved thousands, perhaps millions, of lives. I can’t speak highly enough of this film.
Best Original Screenplay
Holy Motors –Leos Carax Looper – Rian Johnson The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson* (winner) Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola Zero Dark Thirty– Mark Boal
What’s original? What makes a script good? This is an argument movie execs and filmgoers squabble over all the time. Who’s right? Eye of the beholder, I guess. These five films represent the best of what little that’s original that gets made in Hollywood. As I’ve said, The Master, in my eyes is the best film from top to bottom. I could hardly not say it has the best script and I believe it does. PT Anderson has written the scripts to all of his films and he has gotten better with each one. Subjects and characters vary widely in his films and that’s why I think he’s so successful – he concentrates in no one particular area and he fleshes out beautiful characters (even if their beauty lies in their evil) and places those characters in scenarios that fit them. He is at the top of his form in all disciplines of the game. That’s not to say the other scripts are any less good. I connected well with The Master and it stuck with me ever since. I think Holy Motors is just as challenging of a film as The Master, but it didn’t hit me on the same level. I’m such a fan of Rian Johnson‘s work and Looper is a worthy addition to his oeuvre. Brick remains one of my favorite films. Johnson just brings extra to the table when he writes. He should have a long, interesting career ahead of him.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Argo – Chris Terrio Beasts of the Southern Wild – Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin* (winner) Cosmopolis – David Cronenberg Frankenweenie – John August Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell
One thing most people might notice here is that Tony Kushner is absent from this list for his script for Lincoln. Two reasons why that is, even though it is an evocative, colorful script – first, the pontificating speeches made by every character in the film no matter what the situation bored me. Was everything that folks said at that time really worthy of being in the speech Hall of Fame? Secondly, if you write an ending that bad, you are disqualified. If Spielberg or a studio exec are responsible for either, let me know and I will gladly add you to the list. Even though I know the Oscar will go to Kushner or Terrio, I just don’t see how anyone could watch Beasts of the Southern Wild (see my review here) and not shout out in amazement at what they had just seen when compared to any of the other films nominated by Oscar or even by me. The arc of Hushpuppy, her father and the residents of the Bathtub is crisp with pertinent deviations that add layers to the story. It is an amazing film worthy of any award. David O. Russell continues to surprise me as he makes more and more conventional films as he gets older. His last two, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook are a far cry from his earlier fare like the subversive Spanking the Monkey and the existential I Heart Huckabees.
Caroline Champetier – Holy Motors Mihai Malamaire, Jr. – The Master Jeff Orlowski – Chasing Ice Ben Richardson – Beasts of the Southern Wild* (winner) Gökhan Tiryaki – Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
There were some really gorgeous films this year and each of the above had cinematography that didn’t just capture what was happening on camera, but played a vital role in the story being told. None did so more than Ben Richardson‘s work on Beasts of the Southern Wild, although Gökhan Tiryaki‘s work on Once Upon a Time in Anatolia was mesmerizing and haunting. I was blown away by both. I know documentary films never get a nod in this category, but how can one watch Chasing Ice and not applaud the effort by Jeff Orlowski? What Caroline Champetier was able to achieve in the shifting tones and scenes of Holy Motors was nothing short of Herculean. PT Anderson‘s films are such visual feasts, full of camera moves and interesting angle, Mihai Malamaire‘s efforts on The Master are as commendable as any above. I will say this: never in a million years did I think two of my top ten films of the year would have Bruce Willis in them. That’s why I love film – you never expect what you’re going to get.
As I said before, 2012 was a great year for film, especially if you stepped outside the wide releases each week and poked around for something a little different. It’s out there people. Challenge yourself. You might just enjoy it.
2013 looks to be an amazing year as we have the following new films coming: Errol Morris’ documentary on Donald Rumsfeld, the Coen Brothers’ folk rock film Inside Llewyn Davis, Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster, Chan Wook Park‘s english-language debut Stoker, Ridley Scott‘s The Counselor – a realization of a Cormac McCarthy original script, Jim Jarmusch‘s vampire flick Only Lovers Left Alive, the new Ryan Gosling/Nicolas Winding Refn collaboration Only God Forgives and Terrence Malick’sTo the Wonder among many others.
This past weekend we were once again graced with cinematic awesomeness when Todd Solondz arrived in town to present four of his self-described “sad comedies” at the Indiana University Cinema. As nerdy as I thought he’d be (clad in yellow low-top Converse All-Stars, red sweater and gray pants), Solondz gave one of the great Jorgensen Lectures of the year thus far. In conversation with IU Cinema director Jon Vickers, they discussed the rise of Solondz‘s career.
Growing up in New Jersey, he lived a somewhat sheltered life. He was never able to see films that went beyond the G-rating so they didn’t really have much impact on him as a youth. He told a really funny anecdote about wanting to see Milos Forman‘s One Flew Over the Cockoo’s Nest when he was 16. Having read the raves about it, he really wanted to see it, but couldn’t because of its rating. His mother came home one evening after having seen it and also raved about it, telling him he should really see it…but then told him he couldn’t because of the material in the film. His focus at that time was music as he played the piano, which he related had a great effect on him with regards to his filmmaking later in life. It gave him great dedication and discipline, both absolutely necessary for film work.
When he went to Yale for college (studying English), he finally had the license to see what he wanted to see, which was a revelation, but seeing the great films screened at an institution like Yale wasn’t what sold him on a career in film. It was seeing an evening of UCLA thesis films that gave him the courage to do it. Solondz noted that they were terrible (his own words) and thought, “If I can’t do anything slightly less terrible [than these], then I shouldn’t be trying this.” So after graduation, he enrolled in the graduate film program at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.
While at NYU, he directed Schatt’s Last Shot, a short about a kid wanting to get into MIT, but is failed by his gym teacher for not being able to hit one shot in basketball. In order to get a better grade (and prove himself to his dream girl), he challenges the gym teacher to a game of one-on-one. Solondz was widely praised for this short and quickly rose to the top of the most wanted list of student directors. He told of the fight between Fox and Columbia for who would get his first feature film. Polygram won the battle and MGM/ Goldwyn ended up distributing Fear, Anxiety & Depression. Solondz disowns the film, though. He said that making it “was the most depressed” he’d ever been. He didn’t get to make the film he wanted and didn’t even get the title he wanted for it. The studios sapped what creative energy he had and he quit filmmaking (even though he continued to write). He started teaching ESL (which he loosely chronicled in Happiness) and was happy doing so.
The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to give filmmaking another shot. Solondz stated that he “didn’t want his first experience to have the last word.” He thought about solely making After School Specials (what I would have given to see those), wanting to be a New York-based filmmaker. Instead he chose to make Welcome to the Dollhouse, a script he had written while making Fear, Anxiety & Depression, which went on to win the prestigious Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival as well as numerous other awards. And from there, his career was launched.
It is clear from his oeuvre, Todd Solondz is an original filmmaker. The subjects and themes his films tackle – rape, pedophilia, abortion, perverse sexual fetishes, bullying, extreme family dysfunction, social misfits – are not for mainstream audiences. When asked about why his films focused on these taboo subjects, Solondz responded by saying that “they’re front and center in the news and in newspapers everyday – it’s hard not to respond.” He can’t ever see himself making a studio film or doing like Steven Soderbergh, doing one film for himself and one for a studio. “I want them ALL for me. I’m just grateful there has been an audience for these films.”
I have seen all of Solondz‘s films with exception of Palindromes (which shall be remedied very quickly) and was lucky enough to see his newest film Dark Horse as well as Welcome to the Dollhouse again with Mr. Solondz in attendance to introduce and discuss. So a quick note about both.
Dark Horse gives us the story of Abe (Jordan Gelber), the ubiquitous and all-too familiar filmic man-child, suspended in the early years of his life. A sadder, perhaps darker version of Steve Carell‘s Andy from Judd Apatow‘s unfunny 40 Year Old Virgin, Abe exhibits different qualities. While still a toy collector, and one who will return an action figure with a tiny scratch on it, Abe still lives at home with his parents, played by an unexpectedly tame Christopher Walken and typically bubbly Mia Farrow. He consistently rebels against their authority, refusing to answer his mother’s standard “how was your day”-type questions and his father’s authority at the office, for whom he works. And to top it all off, he has an overachieving brother (Justin Bartha) who is a doctor who consistently makes him look bad for obvious reason.
Abe, his room still the same from middle school.
When Abe meets a visibly sedated Miranda (Selma Blair in a half-reprise of her character Vi from Storytelling) at a wedding, he sees a chance to make and change in his life. He pursues her with reckless abandon despite being shrugged off by her at first and asks her to marry him, to which she accepts.
Abe, are you real? Absolutely. A thousand percent.
As to be expected, things fall apart. The self-proclaimed “dark horse” surprises no one in his pursuits and meets an interesting end. Abe is a loser at the beginning and that doesn’t change. He is a character that we find hard to root for because what little good he does to modify his life situation, he triples in being an asshole in other arenas. As we drift through the last third of the filmthrough dream sequences and reality, the narrative tends to drag, shifting from the pace that carried in the first two thirds of the film. Weighed down by the questions, “are what we seeing is real?”, the final act becomes more of a slog. This film is easily the most accessible of all of the Solondz films I’ve seen. It doesn’t tackle the same taboo subjects that all of his other films tackle, which certainly turn off the bulk of moviegoers. It does confront this man-child genre (if it can be called that) which has been such fertile ground for more mainstream comedies and turns it on its head, and its there that Solondz is most successful.
Unimpressed, Abe’s parents look on.
The soundtrack to this movie is pretty damn amazing, chock full of unsigned bands playing overproduced pop hits mimicking the more successful artists of today. It is delightful and cheesy and a crying shame that it doesn’t appear to be available on CD or downloadable.
Here’s the trailer:
Solondz himself touted Dark Horse as his saddest comedy, perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek. Having seen both Life During Wartime and Happiness and after rewtaching Welcome to the Dollhouse, I simply don’t see how that could ever be the case.
I had forgotten how unbelievably bleak and sad Welcome to the Dollhouse is. Having seen it during its initial theatrical run back in 1995, I remembered liking it very much as it was so different from the dumb shit I was watching back then.
Dawn, in all of her glory.
Dollhouse follows the put upon life of Dawn Weiner (a powerful first role by Heather Matarazzo), a nerdy middle-schooler who has only one friend who is younger than she is. It doesn’t take us long to figure out Dawn’s plight as the film opens with maybe the scariest shot in the history of teen film – that of a nerd looking for a place to sit in the crowded and cliquish lunchroom. Dawn is clad in cheap department store clothes, skirt pulled up way too high and uniquely unstylish glasses, no one wants to be seen with her. When she finally finds a seat across from one of the low-rent slutty headbanger girls in school, the aptly named Lolita (Victoria Davis), she is approached by a popular cheerleader and her gaggle of sycophantic lapdogs who ask her if she is a lesbian to which she of course says no. And here is where you know Dawn is fucked: Lolita sells her out and says she made a pass at her, giving us no hope that Dawn will receive any respite from this kind of abuse for the rest of the film. Watch the pain:
And it is relentless for the rest of the film. Dawn is routinely hazed and called Wienerdog, and even when she tries to stop a group of bullies from beating up a wimpy smaller boy, he tells her not to help for fear of the repercussions it could have for being associated with her. At home, Dawn receives no less harsh treatment. Her mother (Angela Pietropinto) dotes on her cherubic younger sister Missy (Siri Howard) and her older brother Mark (Matthew Faber) who only has one thing on his mind…getting into a good college. Dawn is singled out repeatedly her parents proving that there is no safe haven except for her Special People’s Club clubhouse in her backyard, which is torn down to accommodate her parents’ 20th Anniversary party.
Artist Aaron Jasinski’s very apt representation of Dawn’s situation.
When a teacher thinks Dawn is complicit in cheating, she and delinquent Brandon (Brendan Sexton III) are punished. This draws his ire as he can ill afford the trouble. After they get out of detention, he tells her he is going to rape her at 3 o’clock. When school gets out, she tries to get away, but he grabs her. They are interrupted by a custodian and Dawn is able to get free, but Brandon threatens her again the next day and is able to move her to a vacant lot.
Yo, Weiner, you better get ready, ’cause at three o’clock today, I’m gonna RAPE you
When they get there, Dawn preps herself for the act to come in expected awkward fashion. This, however, turns out to be one an unexpectedly touching moment. Brandon details to Dawn his own issues, he also being an outcast like Dawn, albeit in a different fashion. They have more in common than they thought. The two then start a relationship of sorts, which gets cut short when Dawn falls for Steve Rodgers (Eric Mabius), the hot guitar playing, lead-singer of her brother’s band. Needless to say her efforts to net Steve, one of the most popular guys in high school, turn out as one might expect – badly.
Dawn’s brightest dream and worst nightmare come true all at the same time when her sister is kidnapped by a neighbor. Her biggest enemy is now out of the picture (partly due to Dawn’s negligence), but now her family’s focus is even stronger on Missy. Dawn even goes to New York City to post fliers about Missy in the middle of the night and her parents don’t even care that she is gone, especially after Missy is found. On top of it all, Brandon gets arrested for selling drugs, expelled, and runs away leaving her all alone again. Dawn ends up even worse off than when the movie started. THE END.
Sigh. This one is just cringingly painful to watch in spots, like an hour and half of David Brent on a loop. Matarazzo is really quite amazing as Dawn and worthy of the Independent Spirit Award she won for Best Debut Performance. While it’s hard to argue with Frances McDormand’s win for Fargo, Diane Keaton‘s nomination for Marvin’s Room was a joke. Matarazzo should have had that slot…but alas, we know the Academy are a bunch of chickenshits who shill for the big studios (I wonder if my invite to the Oscars is in the mail yet…). I have always enjoyed watching Brendan Sexton III (he’s great in Pecker) and this was my introduction to him.
Here’s the trailer:
Mr. Solondz’s visit was very insightful and it is interesting to sit in a room with a filmmaker who polarizes people so much. I appreciate his daring and his reach to provoke thought about many topics that we see every day yet are afraid to confront and talk about. He’s very brave in that fashion and his movies echo that bravery.
Kudos once again should go to the folks at the IU Cinema, especially director Jon Vickers, as well as Drs. Ron & Roberta Sherman who were instrumental in getting Todd to Bloomington. This was a top notch event and I still have to pinch myself to believe that filmmakers of such stature come here to Bloomington.
With Wes Anderson‘s Moonrise Kingdom arriving on DVD this week, I thought I might as well put some thoughts down about his films leading up to this latest release. While not the largest collection of films, they represent a group either widely loved or widely dismissed for their hipster-ish quirkiness.
Here is the order I believe to be his least fine to his absolute best:
7. Moonrise Kingdom
By rating Moonrise Kingdom as my least favorite Anderson film doesn’t mean I didn’t like it or that it was a bad film. To me, it didn’t seem to fit well into his collection of work despite receiving some of the best critical reviews of his career.
The story follows young love as it blossoms between Sam (a A Khaki Scout attending camp on New Penzance Island) and Suzy (a resident of the island) despite protestations from family members and scout troop leaders forcing the two to run off together. There are some very tender moments in this film and it is one of the better and most accurate depictions of young love I’ve seen in a long time. However, this film is a good example of Anderson being able to get great actors for his films and really doing nothing with the characters, a problem he has had since The Royal Tenenbaums. I thought that TildaSwinton, while having a hilariously wonderful character name Social Services and knocking her role out of the park, was underused. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand play Suzy Bishop’s father and mother. They add a little depth to the film, but they too are underused. Criminally so. Anderson‘s landscapes are populated with interesting characters, but frequently there are too many. This film is the most egregious on that front in the Anderson universe. Also, Anderson‘s departure from using his signature final shot in slow-motion in this film bummed me out. I always looked forward to seeing how Anderson would end his films. I was let down with this one.
I would still rank this film above virtually everything being released in theaters these days. Its heart is in the right place, but when taken in context with other Anderson works, it just didn’t hit me at the level that the rest of his films did.
6. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
When I heard that Bill Murray was reuniting with Anderson to star in the leading role of thi film, I was VERY excited. Murray shines when they work together and I had very high hopes, especially with Cate Blanchett lending her incredible talent to the picture. I wasn’t disappointed either. Even though this ranks #6 on my list of Anderson‘s films, I love it dearly and it illustrates how good his films really are…at least in my estimation.
The Life Aquatic follows the story of Cousteau-like documentarian/mariner Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) as he tries to find the rare and elusive jaguar shark that killed his best friend and fellow mariner Esteban du Plantier (Seymour Cassel). As he is about to start the mission, which is also being filmed, a man named Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) introduces himself to Steve claiming to be his son. So this further strains his already tenuous relationship with his wife Eleanor (Anjelica Huston) as well as with his crew chief Klaus (Willem Dafoe) who sees himself as the son Steve never had. Couple this with Ned having to fund the new expedition as investors have become scarce, tension mounts. As the expedition commences, the crew comes under attack by Somali pirates, robbed, and the bond company stooge (Bud Cort) present to keep the film is kidnapped initiating the crew of the Belafonte (Zissou’s ship) to take action. And all of this is being covered by pregnant journalist Jane Winslett-Richardson (played by the magnificent Cate Blanchett) for a cover story for Oceanographic Explorer magazine.
The father-son angle is a little overplayed, but never tips into ridiculousville. The animation of all of the sea animals by Henry Selick (Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline) is awesome and gives a cool additional touch of detail to the film. Pelé dos Santos'(Brazilian musician Seu Jorge) renditions of David Bowie songs played throughout the film (in Portuguese no less) are fun and a typical Anderson touch whose soudntrack choices go from the amazing (Rushmore) to the overwrought (The Royal Tenenbaums).
This film was co-written with one of my all-time favorite writer-directors Noah Baumbach whose Kicking and Screaming I have highlighted before. These two are a match made in heaven. Their dialogue is second to none in contemporary film.
5. The Darjeeling Limited/Hotel Chevalier
The Darjeeling Limited is one of Anderson‘s films that I think most would put at the bottom of the list. I’ve always been curious as to why others feel that way about this film.
I will be the first to admit that this isn’t the strongest film of the group However, there is just something about it that I love. The film follows three brothers, Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) as they travel through India on a mystery trip. The three brothers haven’t spoken since the death of their father and really don’t get along all that way. Francis is hoping the trip helps them bridge the gap that has been built between making them close again. As you might expect, that isn’t the case. While all of Anderson‘s film focus on relationships, this one rings best with me. I have three siblings, all of whom I get along with very well, but I understand the problems that can crop up between them. This film is a good depiction of issues that can tear apart a family and somewhat bring them back together.
The claustrophobic nature of the titular Darjeeling Limited train that the men are traveling on helps bring conflict about quicker and with greater effect. I think this is one of the genius parts of the script and the film. After having been apart from one another for a while, being forced into the same cramped space draws out the issues each of them have with one another. How many families could survive a trip like this, even on the best of terms?
This is Anderson‘s first film shot on location outside of the country and cinematographer Robert Yeoman (who has shot every Anderson film) really captures the beauty of India showing us the exotic people and landscapes. Get this man an OSCAR. This film was co-written with Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, son of Francis Ford Coppola and represents Anderson‘s first deviation from writing by himself or with the Wilson brothers.
Hotel Chevalier is a short film that played in front of Darjeeling Limited in theaters and is the prologue to Jack’s story. Living in the Hotel Chevalier in Paris since leaving America after his father’s death, Jack gets an unexpected phone call from his ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman), one that isn’t exactly welcomed. When she comes to the hotel, they start to have sex, but stop in the middle, the pain of the past gaffes in the relationship surfacing. Jack asks her if she wants to see his view of Paris (see picture above) and they retreat to the balcony, contemplating what has transpired and what may transpire between them. Watch here:
As Darjeeling Limited tells us, Jack has left this girl behind, on the run from her again. This is an interesting little film. It is typical Anderson, flush with camera moves taken directly from Luis Buñuel and employed in so many of his other films.
4. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Anderson‘s first foray into animation, Fantastic Mr. Fox is just that…fantastic. Based on the children’s novel by Roald Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox is the story of Mr. Fox (George Clooney), Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) and their son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) are trying to live a normal life. Mr. Fox, a newspaper columnist, has lost his former spark, his zest for life, when he was an animal thief. So, on the sly, he decides to revive his old thieving habits with the help of Kylie Sven Opossum (Wallace Wolodarsky) and commences stealing from the big three farmers in the area – Boggis (Robin Hurlstone) who specializes in chicken farming, Bunce (Hugo Guinness) who specializes in duck and goose farming and Bean (Michael Gambon) who is a turkey and apple farmer. When the farmers find out that Mr. Fox is stealing from them, they decide to kill him. They lay in wait as he returns from a night mission and Mr. Fox narrowly avoids death as they blast him with shotguns shooting off the trademark of any fox, his tail. Needless to say, it hits the proverbial fan when Mrs. Fox finds out about this. Mr. Fox had sworn to never jeopardize their lives stealing after a close call when they first met as young foxes. The farmers then decide to go all-in and dig the fox out. This sets off a shockwave through the underground animal community of which Fox and his family are a part. Since the farmers are hell bent on eradicating Fox, they have no regard for the others if it means getting him. The animals lose their homes, have no food and are angry with Fox…until he initiates the heist of all heists.
This film is one of very few examples where I think the film outshines the book. Now, this is one of my favorite kids books of all-time, so that’s quite an endorsement. Anderson and Baumbach‘s additional material that didn’t appear in the book are some of the film’s strongest parts. I loved the Kristofferson (voiced by the director’s brother Eric) addition and the fleshing out of his interactions with Ash (who is merely a supporting unnamed character in the book). They are very funny and poignant. The Whackbat scene is the best inclusion of new material because it is adds to the Kristofferson-Ash rivalry, but also encompasses all that is really Wes Anderson‘s quirkiness. Have a look – pardon the bad video quality, but it’s the only full clip I could find:
Another detail I appreciated was the substitution of “cuss” where actual curse words would be. Mr. Fox’s usage of clustercuss makes me smile every time I hear it.
The top-notch voice cast helps add to enjoyment of the film, and it is chock full of Anderson, but also features folks like Darjeeling script co-writer Roman Coppola, revered Italian-American chef Mario Batali, and former MTV VJ Karen Duffy thus adding to the eclecticism of his films.
Once again, I dearly love this film and it is one that I will show my children, gladly, when they get just a little older.
3. The Royal Tenenbaums
The Royal Tenebaums is perhaps Anderson‘s most serious film. All of his films tackle depression and alienation, but this one has it in spades. It’s also the first film to really feature an all-star ensemble cast, something that Anderson has kept up in each of his films since.
The Royal Tenenbaums focuses on the Tenenbaum family, headed by lawyer and patriarch Royal (Gene Hackman in arguably his best role since the French Connection) and matriarch/archaeologist Etheline (Anjelica Huston) and their three children – Chas (Ben Stiller), Richie (Luke Wilson) and Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow). All three children had above average aptitudes in their own areas – Chas in international finance, Richie (“The Baumer”) in tennis and Margot in dramaturgy. Etheline wrote a book about them making them famous and simultaneously synonymous with being a prodigy. However, as time went on, each of them with exception of Etheline has their own downfall: Margot wilts under criticism for her work, drops out and marries stiff psychologist Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray), Richie falls in love with Margot (who is his adopted sister) and after she marries Raleigh has a breakdown on the court costing him (and Royal) money and fame, Chas loses his wife in a plane crash and becomes obsessed with the safety of him and his children, and Royal is disbarred and jailed for tax evasion and sued twice by Chas. So after giving us this story (narrated masterfully by Alec Baldwin), the film gains traction as it chronicles the contemporary Tenenbaums.
Royal fakes like he has stomach cancer in order to gain back time and trust from his children and Etheline. All bite on the bait except for Chas, who still remains skeptical of his father and his intentions. During this time, Royal finally gets the chance to know his family in a way that he never had. He meets and spends time with Chas’ two sons Ari and Uzi, makes peace with Margot since he was critical of her always making sure to point out that she was his adopted daughter, and bonds with Richie, who is the only one who shows real compassion toward Royal.
Of course, it all blows up as Royal is found out to be faking it by Henry Sherman (Danny Glover), Etheline’s new fiancee. Royal, in addition to reconnecting with his kids, was trying to rekindle the fire with Etheline. In one of the funniest exchanges in any Anderson film, Henry and Royal have this back and forth, which is enough reason to watch the entire film:
Margot’s relationship with Tenenbaum-wannabe and best friend to Richie, Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) tips Richie over the edge in the most somber and serious scene in any Anderson film. Richie is still in love with Margot and the news of her affair causes Richie to attempt suicide. Here is the clip (not for the faint at heart):
That this sequence has Elliot Smith‘s “Needle in the Hay” playing over it is extremely prescient in that Mr. Smith himself committed suicide in 2003.
This film has much to like about it. The cast, despite Ben Stiller and Gwyneth Paltrow (both of whom have very limited range or utility to me in any film), shine. Gene Hackman, like Bill Murray in Rushmore, delivered an Oscar-worthy performance and one of the best of his career. The quirkiness that Anderson started in Rushmore is amped up in this film x100 and to great effect. Have a look at one of artist Miguel Calderon‘s paintings featured in Eli Cash’s apartment:
It is details like these that separate Anderson from most contemporary filmmakers. I will admit that Anderson tries too hard in certain aspects of his films to make them “cool” and the soundtrack to this film fits that bill. Whereas the Rushmore soundtrack complemented the film, the soundtrack for this film seemed to be populated with songs that were cool rather than serving a purpose to advance or enhance the story. I will say that Mark Mothersbaugh‘s score is just as lovely as that of Rushmore, though.
Nevertheless, this is a movie that has all of the hallmarks of a great film. Check it out if you haven’t.
2. Bottle Rocket
Bottle Rocket is Anderson‘s first film, the one that got it all started. It was my first introduction to Anderson and the Wilson brothers. It was one of those transformative experiences when you realize that all of the big budget glitz, in almost every case, can’t match a well-written story that highlights interesting characters in challenging, humorous situations. No egos get in the way in this film since everyone involved, with exception of James Caan, are virtual unknowns at the time this film was made. This is a film with edges, unpolished in places, but is better off for it.
Bottle Rocket is an almost Capra-esque, slapsticky version of a crime film. It is one that has a heart and, unlike films like The Godfather, you end up sympathizing with criminals that have earned that sympathy.
The story of this film follows Dignan (Owen Wilson), a wannabe criminal who “breaks” his best friend Anthony (Luke Wilson) out of a mental health facility (which Anthony checked himself into voluntarily) so that they could start a crew of guys to work with local crime boss Mr. Henry (James Caan). Dignan prepares a 50-year plan, which is carefully sketched out in marker in a spiral-bound notebook. With Anthony in, they only need a getaway driver and they enlist the help of their friend Bob (Robert Musgrave). Here’s his interview, which really gives you an idea of who Dignan is:
After getting the crew set, they rob a bookstore to get Mr. Henry interested in what they have to offer his operation. While on the lam (“On the run from Johnny Law…ain’t no trip to Cleveland”), Anthony meets housekeeper Inez (Lumi Cavazos) at the hotel where they are staying and falls in love with her. Their relationship blossoms over the few days, annoying Dignan who believes this will interfere with his long-term plan. Things are really thrown off when Bob’s brother Future Man (played by a third Wilson brother, Andrew) is arrested and Bob deserts Anthony and Dignan causing a rift between the two that appears unbreachable.
After all settles down, the three men come back together to pull off a large-scale caper with Dignan at the helm. And just when we think Dignan is going to get the payoff for his hard work…
Bottle Rocket was actually shot as a short film before being turned into the feature-length film. Of course it’s different, but it’s good to see where the film started and to see its evolution. You can watch the short here:
Future Man is without a doubt my favorite character name of any movie character. It is so incredible. I only wish I had crafted such a character myself. And one of the great triumphs of this film is when Future Man meets Mr. Henry. Absolutely hilarious. It’s so hard not to root for Dignan throughout this film. He is so dedicated to his preparation and work, that you just want to see him succeed.
Finally, this film’s ending is one of the most devastating things I’ve ever seen. That it’s shot in slow motion, an Anderson trademark up to Moonrise Kingdom, is key. We are forced to linger in Dignan’s realization of his future and it is painful.
This film is as good as any first feature I’ve ever seen. Anderson started off with a bang, no doubt.
In comparison to Bottle Rocket, Rushmore is a polished film without the edges that Anderson‘s first feature has. With an increased dose of eccentricity, at least on the part of the main character, Max Fischer (so ably brought to life by Coppola family member JasonSchwartzman in his first film role), Rushmore sails. The story of Rushmore follows Max as he attends Rushmore Academy, a private school for children of the local and international elite. Max’s father (Seymour Cassel) is a barber and normally wouldn’t be able attend; however, when he was young, Max wrote a one-act play about Watergate that netted him a scholarship to the topflight academic institution. Max takes his involvement at Rushmore very seriously, enlisting himself in a plethora of clubs and activities and largely ignoring his studies, eventually finding himself on sudden death academic probation and facing expulsion. In the meantime, he befriends local steel magnate and father to twin classmates, Herman Blume, played by Bill Murray in what I believe is his finest performance. Herman takes Max under his wing and as they both fall for widowed Rushmore teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), tensions and rivalries get the better of them.
There are plenty of reason this is my favorite film of Anderson‘s. Bill Murray‘s performance is certainly one of them. His malaise and apathy towards his life is refreshing. Murray, for the bulk of his career, has always played such self-assured, confident characters. His turn as Bob Harris in Lost in Translation changed all of that and I think we as moviegoers are better for it. His collaboration with Anderson has been hit or miss, though. His supporting roles have been throwaways, which is a shame since he clearly shines in his work with Anderson.
The explosive debut of Jason Schwartzman as Max Fischer is another. While his work outside of his collaboration with Anderson hasn’t been as strong (Bored to Death is pretty damn awesome), he clearly works well within the Andersonsystem. Max Fischer is not your typical high school character and Schwartzman brings him to life in memorable fashion. It would be hard to imagine anyone else in that role or any of the subsequent roles he’s played in with Anderson at the helm. When watching Rushmore, I find that I want to be Fischer, even though he has issues. To be dedicated to anything as much as he is to Rushmore is enviable. Here is a short example of who Max is:
Without the likeability that Schwartzman brings to the role, I doubt that would be the case. Imagine if someone like Shia LeBeouf were cast? Sweet Jesus in a dump truck. He couldn’t get away with something like this:
I would measure Rushmore‘s soundtrack against any other in an argument about which might be best. Anderson‘s nearly all-British Invasion track list is a sonic tour de force that stands on its own as a killer mixed CD. When coupled with the film, it’s a knockout. Is there a song better than “Nothing In This World Can Stop Me Worryin’ Bout That Girl” by the Kinks that could have been played during Herman Blume’s sons’ birthday party as he jumps into the pool? I doubt it. In the clip above introducing Max Fischer, Creation’s “Makin’ Time” is the perfect accompaniment. The good thing about the songs used on the soundtrack is that they aren’t this big hits of any of the bands, with the exception perhaps of “Ooh La La” by The Faces.
And this film has my favorite ending to any movie I’ve ever seen and the bulk of the reason for that is the usage of said The Faces song. Growing up, my father played Ooh La La the album a lot. Many good memories are attached to listening to this song and playing with the album cover (yes, we listened to it on vinyl) – the mouth opened and the eyes went from side to side when you pushed the top of it. So when Ruben, the DJ at the cotillion, spins it and the first guitar chord hit I was already in love. As the camera pulls back to capture Max and Miss Cross (Olivia Williams) enter the dance floor, Anderson employs his signature move of having the final scene of each of his films in slow motion. The song coupled with this technique is so perfect. For the first time, we see all of the major players of the film – Max, Blume, Miss Cross, Max’s father, Max’s new girlfriend Margaret Yang (Sara Tanaka), best friend Dirk Calloway (Mason Gamble) and even headmaster Nelson Guggenheim (Brian Cox) – in the same frame, happy. By using slow motion, Anderson allows us to linger in this moment with the characters, to leave behind the viciousness with which the characters set upon one another leading up to this point and creates one of the most cathartic film moments I’ve ever witnessed. Part of me wishes it lasted the entire song.
So that’s that. If you had to rate your favorite Wes Anderson film, what would yours be? Click it below!