Ralph Fiennes hasn’t been given many chances to act silly. Even his lighter roles end up heavy, which is why his filmography is built on Schindler’s Lists and English Patients. It begs the question of how Wes Anderson landed on Fiennes for his M. Gustave, whose kooky concierge is the comedic axis of the film? — a question answered promptly with a hundred minutes of Fiennes’ inexhaustible talent and charm. This may be Anderson’s purest comedy to date, which says any number of things about the director — he’s lightening up, he’s more interested in genre, he understands how hilarious Willem Dafoe will look with a false, canine-heavy underbite. The Grand Budapest Hotel is another minutely detailed, masterfully constructed film from Wes Anderson, and a reminder that he’s almost certainly the most meticulous director working today.
Category Archives: Five Stars
Steve McQueen probably hated Django Unchained. Where Tarantino’s Django Unchained toyed with history’s facts to make the horrors of slavery a plot point, 12 Years a Slave is a film about a torture perpetrated on millions of black men, women and children. McQueen’s third feature isn’t interested in the audience’s comfort or catharsis, and tells a story full of vicious, hard violence and fractured souls. McQueen brings you as close as he possibly can to the horrors of antebellum slavery, not shying from bloody truths, and ultimately reminds us that far, far too often, history’s mad men and their ugly horrors go unpunished and unredressed.
Superficially, Her is striking because it’s entirely plausible. From the Apple-tinted future tech to the subtle revisions to fashion to the utter solitude found in a crowd, the film has a great deal to say about the near future, and the world we’re in the process of creating. And yet, Her isn’t about the science fiction. It’s not about predicting the future or scaring us straight. It is, simply, a love story in a different time than ours, with a different set of rules and the same expectations. Had he wanted to, Writer/Director Spike Jonze could have explored the futurist angle — there’s ample evidence that he designed his world far past what was necessary for the story he’s telling — but that’s not where his interests as a storyteller lie. They lie with people, and the connections between people, and the unexplored places to which these connections can take us.
Despite my best intentions, I’ve always treated black people differently than whites. I’ve never had a close black friend, and while my racism tends to reveal itself in an obnoxiously patronizing amiability opposed to a violent bigotry or snide superiority, my presence here isn’t bringing us any closer to a post-racial America. Maybe that makes me the perfect audience for Fruitvale Station, a film that endeavors only to tell the dreadfully true story of Oscar Grant in all its agonizing detail, and ends up carving a portrait of a man whose humanity is what makes his story so compellingly universal.
2012 was a year to remember.
An exceptional and exceptionally diverse collection of film makers put together an array of movies that were, more often than not, pretty damn good. It’s years like this that remind a guy why he fell in love with film in the first place.
And with another year comes another Wertzies.
For this, my 3rd annual collection of the year’s Best Movie Stuff, I’ve added a few categories: Part One will include my picks for Best Visual Effects, and Part Three will feature a list of the year’s 10 Best Moments. Otherwise you can expect to see my favorite Screenplays, Directors, Actors & Actresses, the Most Overrated, and of course, the Best Movies of the Year*.
Singin’ in the Rain is not a complicated film. Like a circus or a carnival or a baby’s birthday, it bathes you in its technicolor glow with the sole purpose of bringing a smile to your face. Gene Kelly (a remarkably spry 40-year-old Gene Kelly, at that) plays Don Lockwood, a silent film A-lister unsettled in his success and longing for love. He bounces and grins and sings his heart out, enchantingly dedicated to creating a world where three friends doing an animated musical number at one in the morning is perfectly ordinary. And the result is astounding, as Singin’ in the Rain remains, all these years later, a paradigm of pure, effusive joy. The trio of Kelly and co-stars Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds compliment each other beautifully, with each player’s standout talent given its moment in the spotlight, and each performance as effortlessly executed as it is technically incredible. O’Connor is Cosmo Brown, Lockwood’s cartoon of a best friend and fellow Hollywoodite, and a 19-year-old Debbie Reynolds plays Kathy, the doll-faced innocent whose talent and general abundance of personality (relative to 1952) ensorcel the romantic Don Lockwood.
Don and Kathy harmonize their way to a happy ending, and Singin’ in the Rain certainly charms its way into your heart, but the biggest takeaway for a modern audience has to be the joy of watching such deftly executed schmaltz. Like a few other Hollywood relics, this is a high point of an entirely extinct era of film, and remains a thoroughly delightful and utterly timeless flick.
People don’t tend to like it much when you wear your heart on your sleeve. This isn’t universally true, but seems to be a relatively persistent trend in modern culture. Pessimism is easier than optimism, and there’s something admittedly thrilling about a blasé cynic, which for me explains the tepid response to Cloud Atlas, an epic adaptation with three directors and a hearty interest in the workings of the heart. That’s not to say there aren’t valid criticisms to be made about Cloud Atlas, or that the general ambivalence around the film is coming exclusively from the heartless. But there’s a common refrain in these assessments—“It just didn’t work for me.”—that reveals a structural weakness: intellectual critiques of sentiment are inherently weak, because sentiment is not an intellectual mechanism. Whether or not you respond to it isn’t a a matter of what you think, but what you truly feel, and post-Cloud Atlas, I felt a great deal.
The “hero” as a concept or storytelling device is, and always has been, fluid. Some of us prefer the pure altruist—the Superman who does right simply because he knows what right is. Others need their heroes to be flawed or tragic, like Hamlet—angling for the light even as their blemishes define them. Others hanker for antiheroes, preferring Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, a psychotic knight in rusty armor. Indiana Jones is enigmatic in his heroism; vacillating between all heroic traits, occasionally embodying all at once. His position as an archaeologist leads him to scour the globe in the interest of saving and protecting precious antiquities. Yet isn’t the quest for history-defining curios inherently a quest of self-triumph? Dr. Jones, over the course of his story, is at once selfless and selfish, motivated one minute by his moral compass, and the next by the fame and glory latent in uncovering history’s secrets.
Lead or follow. At one time or another some puffed up authority figure has pointed to these as your two options in life. Not both, and certainly not neither. With this edict comes the implication that a leader is what you should want to be. Leaders are powerful and impressive, and followers are simply everyone else. While the world tends to consist of only leaders and followers, the idea that we can and should choose our path is tradition. The Master is flooded with followers and the leaders who lead them, but even more so with the notion that these roles are changeable. In every leader resides a follower, and vice versa, and the side we show is ultimately a product of the other person in the room. This may seem like a minor epiphany, but as Paul Thomas Anderson proves in his latest opus, it can change the way you view the world, and it can change the way the world views you.
For my part, Paul Thomas Anderson is the most exciting director working today. I’ll even go so far as to say that he could end up one of the best directors of all time. Now you and I both know how absurd it is to make this claim about any director, and that it’s nothing more than an opinion. Still, it gives a pretty clear indication of my feelings on the man and his work. In fifteen years, P.T. has directed five features; one a solid genre flick which nobody has seen, another holds the clear frontrunner for Adam Sandler’s best performance of all time, and the other three are Oscar nominees, the last of which won two, despite losing Best Picture. It’s hard to appreciate this sort of success while still in the heart of a man’s career, but assuming the trajectory holds we’ll all surely be talking about it years from now. Anderson may fly a bit under the radar of the standard film goer; he doesn’t have the recognizable aesthetic of a Wes Anderson, or the Tarantino excess of personality. But there’s no denying that these are his contemporaries, and making a case for P.T. as the best of the bunch isn’t terribly difficult. That case would surely begin with an examination of Boogie Nights, Anderson’s dark and hilarious pornographic melodrama. In the shadow of his later, better films, Boogie Nights is only slightly less fantastic, less impressive, less finished. Nonetheless, it is an alarmingly great flick from a sophomore director, and properly kicks off the career of our generation’s Martin Scorcese.