We all have stories from our youth. Their veracity is usually up for debate, but the stories are there, napping in the shadowy parts of our brains. Amarcord — a Northern Italian phrase for I remember — is Federico Fellini’s story. It has a small town, and fascists, and befitting the frenzied concupiscence of teenage boys, a coterie of beautiful women serving as little more than objects. Looking backwards in time is a finicky venture, and for Fellini bears out all manner of misremembrances in service of his dark comedy, which is often about the way those inevitable misremembrances make our stories better.
Category Archives: Oscar Winner
The strangest thing about dealing with an actor’s death is that you have to keep reminding yourself you didn’t know them. I didn’t know Philip Seymour Hoffman because I know Phil Parma or Scotty J. I didn’t know him because of the interviews or the speeches. I did not know him. Over the next few hours and days and weeks the news of his death will slowly leave me, until I only truly grieve when he pops up in a film I’m watching — when PTA releases something and there’s no PSH to be found. It’s hard to pretend that a grief so fleeting could be the truth.
But there is truth in it, as evidenced by the sweeping anguish found in so many film lovers. And whether it’s thanks to a true connection with the artist through his work, or simply the reality that losing a genuine talent like Philip Seymour Hoffman is an objective sadness, today is hard.
It’s a certainty that Philip Seymour Hoffman had many more remarkable performances in him, and that loss is certainly incalculable, but for those of us who have always quietly understood that Phil was one of the greatest of all time, one of the reasons that movies can be called art, it’s hard to know what to think. A talent who moved millions was here yesterday and now he’s dead, and…for a moment I was going to write, and he’ll never move anybody again, but that’s not true is it? He will continue to move us for years to come, in fact — every time we watch one of his films. And I suppose that’s the minor consolation we can take: Hoffman is gone but never forgotten, because film allows those who are gone to keep on living.
Film allows those who are gone to keep on living.
RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman
July 23, 1967 – February 2, 2014
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.
Only recently has the bond between war and honor begun to fray. For millenia men have treated that most basic equation as gospel, but we’ve reached a point where the anti-war proselytizing, the media exposure, and the blurred lines between right and wrong have engineered a far more nuanced view. The realities of war have been planted deep into the fiber of our consciousness, allowing us to ponder the ways that it can adversely alter a man, even degrade him, without the interference of combat’s putative virtues. T.E. Lawrence is a man changed by war, and this volatile metamorphosis from intellectual dandy to merciless leader of desert warriors lies at the center of David Lean‘s arresting classic, Lawrence of Arabia.
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*.
Drawing comparisons between a David O. Russell film and the film of another, more boilerplate Oscar-season director is kind of like comparing the X Games to the Olympics, the latter more prepared to sweep us up in its comforting and controlled familiarity, the former astonishing with its mercurial brilliance. This is not a compliment or critique, but a comment on the thrilling messiness David O. Russell brings as a storyteller. Silver Linings Playbook–Russell’s follow up to the Academy-nominated The Fighter–thrives in this mess, bringing its sundry characters together in a collection of manic fits and starts–appropriate for a film so preoccupied with mental health issues. Playbook is a film with the heart of a romantic comedy and the head of a black comedy, and of this collision is born a visceral, cerebral story about a family with a lot to fix.
While plenty of Alfred Hitchcock‘s films deal directly with death and murder, Rebecca is far subtler, exposing the auteur’s affinity for meticulously composed tension and manifest paranoia. Joan Fontaine plays the film’s endearingly naive protagonist, an orphan working as a companion to a haughty socialite (Florence Bates). When she meets the tall, dark, and handsome Maximilian de Winter (Laurence Olivier), the two fall into a whirlwind romance and an impromptu wedding, before journeying to Maxim’s sepulchral Manderley estate in the south of England. Here, happiness is impossible, as the new Mrs. de Winter can’t enter a room or open a drawer without uncovering evidence of Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca. Fontaine’s Mrs. de Winter is a meek innocent, trapped by love and a hostile housekeeper—played with thrilling eccentricity by Judith Anderson— craving nothing but the affection of her mysteriously distant husband.
Rebecca is a laborious tale that unfolds like a film noir, while releasing a steady drip of anxiety that maintains the essence of a thriller. It profits from a strong script and a bevy of grand performances, but is, first and foremost, a Hitchcock film; languishing in the sort of visceral angst that thrives in our everyday fears.