Category Archives: Oscar Winner

Beginners (2011)


Beginners is a film full of concise existentialisms; beautifully bite-sized sentiments like, “You make me laugh, but it’s not funny.” Writer/Director Mike Mills clearly prefers to keep his axioms digestible, which is good, because there’s no shortage of them to digest. Mills’ second feature takes place in the moment of a man’s life when all he can consider is the universe at large, its flux, its effect, where he fits, and why love is the undisputed destination. In a way, these movies are always going to be the most interesting, because (if done correctly) they offer a ubiquitous perspective of humanity. However you dress it, love is what we all need to feel actualized, and Beginners serves as a beautiful reminder.

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The Descendants (2011)

In the film’s opening narration, Matt King (George Clooney) bemoans the view taken by most “mainlanders,” that to live in Hawaii is to spend your days drinking Mai Tais and waxing a surfboard, free from the troubles of the world. According to Matt this is absurd, as pain follows us wherever we are. Beautiful Hawaii may be, but it is not a vacuum or a charmed oasis. And yet, much of The Descendants is devoted to the astonishing splendor of the Hawaiian countryside; a choice wholly at odds with the protagonist’s initial frustration. This is an apt disconnect when considering the similar disparity between the film’s subject matter and its tone. Though Alexander Payne’s latest journey film is devoted to an exploration of grief’s gauntlet, it seems to spend just as much time trying to charm us. A choice that, ultimately, hurts more than it helps.

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Bullitt (1968)

Though quantifying “cool” is and will always be more guesswork than anything, we seem to nonetheless know it when we see it. Certainly people knew it’s presence in Steve McQueen, the penultimate “cool guy” of the late 60s/early 70s. McQueen was nonchalant and effortlessly charming both in his films and real life, and with his affinity for cars and bikes, became the figurehead for celebrity leisure. Like James Dean before him, McQueen seemed to get by mostly on not giving a fuck, though McQueen’s mellow aloofness seems more natural than Dean’s cultivated independence. With Bullitt, McQueen and Director Peter Yates seem intent on bottling this charm and pouring it in large doses over the entirety of the film; a style that works pretty well, until you start worrying about those pesky little nuances like plot and character.

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

While good films are allowed a few missteps, truly great films are about the confluence of many great things. Great films are about the serendipity of timeless talent doing their best work together. If this can’t be said for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, then it can’t be said for any film. As collaborations go, Sunshine sits in the stratosphere with films like Network or Star Wars; moments of such dramatic success that it seems impossible luck wasn’t somehow involved. It’s not precisely that the individuals involved with a movie like Eternal Sunshine will never again achieve a similar success, so much as they can forever after know that they achieved what they set out to do when they decided to make films: produce something timeless, and universal, and thoroughly, unequivocally great.

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2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

There are films that you watch and there are films that you experience, and in almost every case, a Stanley Kubrick film will fall into that second category. This becomes clearer when you tell somebody that you recently watched one of his films and they ask you what it was about. Try and answer. Sure, you can give a plot summary, but trying to articulate what the film was about is like trying to describe color to a blind person. There’s simply too much there. Never is this truer than in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick’s legendary masterpiece devoted to the majesty and mystery of our universe. Kubrick himself said in a 1968 interview, “You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film—and such speculation is one indication that it has succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep level—but I don’t want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or else fear he’s missed the point.” His purpose was not to tell us what to feel, but simply to make us feel something immense. If, somehow, you come out on the other side of this remarkable piece of cinema without being moved, without feeling something, then friend, you’re doing it wrong.

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Citizen Kane (1941)

My latest viewing of Orson Welles‘ career-defining masterpiece was a palette cleanser, pulling me with great finality out of the quicksand of the 2011 Oscar race and refocusing my scope. Sometimes it takes a great film to do this, and through most of my career as a watcher I’ve used tent-pole titles to widen my perspective. This is a necessary joy at times, but Citizen Kane is, obviously, far more than just a refreshing film from another era. It is a complex portrait of one of this country’s most successful and monstrous businessmen, and the starting gun of a media war. It is the shining achievement of Welles’ career, as well as his undoing. It is considered by many to be the greatest film of all time.

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Inception (2010)

Sometimes, in some ways, it feels as though Christopher Nolan might be tricking us. After Inception‘s release there were endless conversations and references made to the film’s strenuous complexity. People spoke of it as though it were as mysterious as Lost, when the reality is that it just sort of feels that way. Sure, Nolan is weaving a complicated fiction, but are there really that many stones left unturned? Are there really that many elements of this story left ambiguous? It seems much more the case that Nolan has simply done a masterful job of convincing us that if we want to appreciate this story, we had better stay on our toes. Meanwhile, as we kill ourselves trying to appreciate every last technical tidbit, we become immersed in this: an astonishing action movie with a broken heart.

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Beauty and the Beast (1991)

60 Second Review

There are two kinds of movies. Movies that exist in the present, that you can consider and weigh and appraise impartially, and movies from your childhood; movies that have been a part of you since as far back as you can remember. Beauty and the Beast is squarely with the latter, insomuch as I don’t feel confident I can even have an objective response to it. This isn’t exclusively because I grew up with it, though that plays a huge role. Nearly as important is Disney’s masterful wielding of nostalgia. All of their films, even the ones you’re seeing for the first time, contain that magical schmaltz of childhood. Though every so often you get the feeling you’re being just a little bit manipulated, it’s easy enough to just go with it.

Beauty and the Beast really is a lovely little film, in spite of it’s tonally guiding hand. The music is as strong as any of Disney’s best films of that era, and the animation represents their highest tier work. Likewise the breakdown of characters is as solid a collection as any, with a hero and a villain and a beautiful princess who is, in fact, not a princess. If there’s a negative aspect to the film that has made itself more evident since childhood, it’s got to be the one-dimensionality of the characters. As with many Disney films, the secondary characters tend to have more personality then the primaries, and the starker the contrast between those two groups, the harder it is to ignore. Belle is boringly refined and and the Beast is more of an overgrown child then anything; certainly effective character types, but they don’t seem to grow in any other way than towards each other.

Nonetheless this is a fine entry into the Disney canon, and a more than vital contribution to their utter dominance of the nineties.

The 2010 Wertzies

And so, the first annual Wertzies.  My loving and mildly slipshod contribution to the 2010 Motion Picture Awards Season.  While other awards may be built by committee or drawn from a more legitimate cross section of the year’s films, The Wertzies come with the personal guarantee of being authentically my opinion.  Of the films released in 2010, these are the Directors, Actors, Actresses, Screenplays and Pictures that impressed me the most.

As for organization, each award will be a breakdown of the award winner, any runners up, and brief thoughts on the award category.  There will be a maximum of five Runners Up and no minimum, and each one will be listed in order from first runner up to last.  As for my thoughts, these will primarily focus on whatever I consider to be the most compelling aspect of that contest.  Otherwise this should be fairly straight forward, and, as always, thoughts are appreciated.


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The King’s Speech (2010)

It seems that “Based on a True Story” is a qualifier used more and more these days.  This year alone contains the films 127 Hours, The Fighter, and The Social Network, which are all “based on…” to varying degrees.  It’s logical that dramatic reality is more compelling than dramatic fiction, and regardless of how truthfully one’s film follows that reality, people are going to respond to it.  The problem then comes when a filmmaker takes advantage of this fact and tells us a story that isn’t entirely worth telling, or a story more intriguing on paper than the screen.  It’s not black and white either, with films like The Social Network telling first-rate tales but taking huge liberties in order to do so.  Luckily, there are films like The King’s Speech, which don’t require any embroidery to astound us.  Films that have found the perfect historical confluence of event and characters and themes.  It’s the rarity of films like this that makes them so special, but in the case of The King’s Speech it’s also the quality of the yarn.  It is surely one of the best stories you’ve never heard.

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