The Best Films of 2013

10. Her


In Spike Jonze’s very rich Her, he presents us with ideas about relationships, society and technology that are sure to push at the emotions of many of us. And the way they push at us will be different based on our own experiences. Whether you’ve had strong relationships or not, you can find something worthwhile to take out of Her. It isn’t about whether our society will be able to interact with a computer any time soon, it’s about the tenacity and fragility of relationships. Her is also a beautiful and consuming film to take in and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is something to admire.

9. The Counselor


Author Cormac McCarthy arrives in Hollywood with his first screenplay and boy is it something we all needed. There’s an ideal sense of madness, insanity and pure dread that creeps along in The Counselor. It’s a terrifying film. There’s trouble, fear and death around just about every corner. The world that Ridley Scott and McCarthy creates is full of these kinds of things without ever needing to tell us that. We know it and we can feel it from the pure terror displayed through the characters. This is Scott’s most interesting film in years and we are better for it.

8. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet


Alain Resnais is 91 years old and still making some of the most unique films in existence. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet caught me totally off guard. Starting with phone calls being made to various people asking them to attend a will reading of their friend, Resnais grabs early with intrigue and mystery. As the film develops, we understand they are all actors of different generations who have worked with the recently deceased playwright Antoine d’Anthac. When together, the actors who play themselves, are asked to watch a new performance of one of d’Anthac’s plays that they performed at one time or another.

What happens next captivates. The actors, sitting in d’Anthac’s home, begin acting out the play they are watching on screen. They begin reliving their parts. Some actors, now too old to resemble their younger characters, reach deep to find inspiration in a film that completely breaks from a sense of normalcy. We have breaks in the action, where the characters seem to remember what they are doing, but those last short moments. As a director, Resnais is paying tribute to the beauty of the stage, the way these wonderful actors can transform any setting into a believable and well-told story. We have three different versions of one play happening in front of us, and we can follow every note. Resnais keeps things interesting by tapping into his roots of surrealism by transforming the ordinary house into elaborate and hazy set pieces. He proves that even at 91 he has more energy and inspiration than some directors that aren’t even half his age.

7. Drug War


Johnnie To, man. The word craft comes to mind immediately after watching Drug War. As in, the way To crafts what is otherwise a rather simple and often seen story. What we could have here is a run of the mill story about police officers trying to bust up a drug cartel. Instead, we have one of the freshest films of its kind in the last many years. For starters, the film has this very fluid timeline of events that involves the viewer. There’s no disconnect and no filler. It all matters and it’s all good. To’s confidence shines through in that. The staging of many scenes, including the thrilling finale, are tops in the business. And the Haha scenes? Outstanding. To has been making interesting movies for a long time and it’s wonderful to see he still has it.

6. A Field in England


Ben Wheatley’s ability to tackle just about any subject, theme or genre in his films and make those films incredibly interesting and unique is rather unbeatable to me. A Field of England has all the psychedelic feel of a drugged out trip but without the colors. Wheatley opts for black and white for his story about a group of men who flee from battle. What starts innocently enough soon turns into a freaked out and surreal experience. For me, Wheatley has nailed it in all of films in his still young career and this bold and out there work is my favorite so far.

5. Before Midnight


To watch Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy grow throughout the trio’s Before series is wonderful. What I would give to have watched Before Sunrise on its release and to follow the three until the release of Before Midnight, the strongest in the series. Not surprisingly, this is Linklater, Hawke and and Delpy at their most mature. The power of their performances, their writing and Linklater’s directing is all that’s needed her. Celine and Jesse are one of the most entertaining couples to watch in film.

4. The Great Beauty


Paolo Sorrentino’s ambitious, beautiful and contemplative journey through the life of writer Jep Gambardella is one of the boldest films of the year. This seems like such a huge film, even though it’s about one man. It, without surprise, evokes the talents of Federico Fellini and other surrealists. Gambardella ponders life as he enters old age. He moves between friends, to party after party, meeting acquaintances new and old. And Sorrentino makes watch it all such a treat.

3. Laurence Anyways


I absolutely adore everything in Xavier Dolan’s three hour tale about male-to-female transsexual Laurence. From start to finish, I was enamored by Laurence’s life, mind, relationships, thoughts and decisions. They all mattered to me, making the character a standout in the year of film. This is also one of the most important films of the year and to think that people are turned off by it because of its length is troubling. If The Wolf of Wall Street can have three (very entertaining) hours to make us laugh, certainly Dolan can give Laurence the same amount of time. And it’s not like there’s nothing to see here. Dolan’s approach of telling Laurence’s life story is unique. As we travel time throughout Laurence’s life we are treated to visual candy. The opening scene, by far, is enough to suck in any viewer. And what makes Dolan’s achievement even greater is that though Laurence’s acceptance of being a transsexual, and the social issues that come with that, are the focus point, the film is about so much more. It’s about the loss of love, the loss of friendship and a struggle that no one else but Laurence can truly understand. All that is bolstered by outstanding direction and vivid imagery from Dolan and wonderful performances by Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clément.

2. The Hunt


Mads Mikkelsen’s painful, shattering and powerful performance in The Hunt would be enough to carry a film if that’s all it had going for it. In the case of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, there’s a lot more to it that makes it one of the best films of 2013. Vinterberg tells the story of Mikkelsen’s Lucas, a man accused of sexually assaulting a young girl, and other children, at the kindergarten he works at. What makes The Hunt as strong as it is goes beyond a singular performance. The depiction of character, both before the accusation and during the backlash, is a strength. We see Lucas’ intimate, sweet and kind interactions with Klara, the accuser, and her family. And because only the viewer, Lucas and Klara know the truth, the emotions are swelling. This isn’t about finding the truth. It’s about a mob dealing with accusations and how we, as a society, react to these claims. The Hunt only exists in the tight-knit community that Lucas calls home. And the way we watch Mikkelsen portray Lucas’ pain is what makes his performance the best of the entire year. The Hunt will live long in my memory.

1. Spring Breakers


Of all the films I saw in 2013, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is the one that has never left my head. Korine’s neon-splashed fantasy is electric noir. It’s loud, it’s sizzling and it doesn’t stop. I liken the entire thing to a flashy pop music video but with a narrative that blends and flows at every corner. Korine does not hit the brakes, he just keeps pressing go. James Franco’s monster performance can’t be missed. Style aside, Korine’s film is a substantial one. I don’t think it’s made with much irony, I don’t think it’s made as an inside joke. That, at least, is how I read the film. There are messages of chasing dreams and wanting to find something better and more exciting that a lot of people can relate to, and watching how Korine plays those desires out is fascinating. This is Korine’s most accomplished film.


The Best Films of 2012

Choosing 10 films from the exceptional list of nearly 60 films from 2012 I saw was difficult. And even when I found the 10 I wanted to include, putting them in order was even more of a challenge. It’s hard to say something is better than something else, especially when it comes to art. Like most top 10 lists, there’s a lot of personality and personal preference to be found within mine.


10. Amour


Michael Haneke’s stark picture about life and love is mostly about death. The greatest of films are able to challenge us, without looking the other way, and make us think about the existence of our own insignificant selves. Haneke, like so many great auteurs before him, does just that in the depressing and dark Amour. Functioning as a chamber play, Haneke locks us in the drab home of a loving elder couple and encloses us into their life, their problems and their sickness. With two of the best and most heartbreaking performances of the year Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are the nail in the literal coffin of Haneke’s chilling and exceptional film.

9. Django Unchained


Quentin Tarantino whips up a spaghetti western dish that’s very stylish, very funny and very influenced. A lot of extracurricular discussion surfaced after the release of Tarantino’s film, which channels some of the greatness left on the spaghetti western battlefield by Sergio Corbucci (Django, The Great Silence) and others years earlier. Folks want to discuss what, if anything, Tarantino brought to the table in terms of race relations, slavery and emancipation. They want to relate it all to white folk and black folk and entitlement. They, in my opinion, are trying to find things that aren’t necessarily there. For me Django Unchained is nothing more than high fantasy and exceptional violence being brought into the disbanded spaghetti western genre. Sure, Corbucci’s films, and other spaghetti westerns (like A Bullet for the General) had some political and other messages. So does this film. And while I don’t like to decide what another person’s motive was, it seems like Tarantino wanted to live one of his dreams and make a fucking awesome spaghetti western. So he did.

8. Elena


I first became introduced to the Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev through the heavy and grim The Return. That film’s discussion about morality and ethics, as well its ability to impart a particularly dark and existential mood on me while grabbing me by the throat with a cold mood and not letting go left me with chills. In only his third film Zvyagintsev returns with yet another discussion about the morality of simple, everyday people. The titular character, Elena, is not in a position to succeed. Elena is presented with options. This is a film about life, death and moral decisions. Emmanuelle Riva got the foreign Oscar nomination for Amour but it wouldn’t be out of line to argue how much Nadezhda Markina would deserve a similar outcome for her engaging and impressive performance as Elena. Zvyagintsev’s gorgeously bleak film has cold Russian blood running through it but not without a clear element of humanity to counteract it.

7. This Is Not a Film


The only documentary to make an appearance on my list is Jafar Panahi’s This Is Not a Film. This Iranian film certainly isn’t going to be the most appealing or attractive film you’ll see considering it’s a few people sitting around and talking while Panahi, under house arrest, awaits his verdict from an appeals court. But there might not be a more important documentary released in the last five years. There’s certainly nothing else like this. As Panahi worries about his own status (he faces a six-year prison sentence and 20-year ban on filmmaking) what he captures as he documents his own life on a handheld camera, and sometimes iPhone, is essential. Panahi, a veteran filmmaker, begins to blur the line between his reality and his drama. What is happening outside of his secured apartment provides the perfect storm for his more intimate conflict that is about so much more than his personal outcome. It’s about his society, his culture, his family and his friends. The final moments of the film build to some of the most stunning images captured on film in 2012. So rarely is a film, through such simplicity, able to leave a mark like This Is Not a Film is able to leave on its viewers.

6. Holy Motors


It’s been easy to see how Holy Motors has become one of Leos Carax’s most successful and, strangely enough, accessible films, as far as North America’s reception is concerned. Holy Motors is a multi-faceted feast that offers a challenging and enigmatic story to keep up with combined with strong, powerful visuals. Combine all of that with Denis Lavant’s intense and morphing performance (one of the best of the year) that spans through a number of mutations and you’ve got something that, as strange as it is, would grab the attention of most who decide to watch it. Holy Motors, or any other Carax film, is no easy task to take on but this is ultimately a rewarding experience.

5. Cosmopolis


Leaving the theater after my first Cosmopolis viewing was confusing. I didn’t know what to think. I knew I liked what David Cronenberg, one of my favorite filmmakers, had just shown me. I knew I was captivated, I knew I was stunned and I knew I was absolutely in a sweaty trance from it all. I’ve yet to read Don DeLillo’s book, even though it’s been siting to my left for a couple of months now. After much thought, some discussion and a second viewing I know exactly what to think. Cronenberg’s film, said to be just about a word-by-word adaptation, captures DeLillo’s economical and societal commentaries with fever and terror. Robert Pattinson slips into his character, delivers a stunning performance that is very much unlike his previous endeavors. And after being mostly trapped in a limo, Cosmopolis ends as a suffocating dramatic episode and that will probably confuse and divide audiences as much as anything has in 2012.

4. Tabu


Even if Tabu wasn’t one of the best films of the year it would get points for its clever execution. Divided into two parts, Miguel Gomes’ film is one of the most unique pieces of storytelling I’ve seen in a long time. I often appreciate well-executed narrative techniques that I’m not accustomed to. Being challenged by storytelling is refreshing and I like when a filmmaker tries to challenge himself with storytelling. Tabu does just that. It’s a classical and poetic love story full of conflicting warmth and tragedy. Instilling a feverish and dreamlike quality in total black and white, Gomes’ absolutely throws out every preconceived notion of how a story should be told by dazzling with a challenging two-part narrative of dreams and memories. It’s not an easy watch, as it slowly yet effectively builds itself into your consciousness, but Tabu is something special and the kind of film that will gain even more appreciation over time.

3. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia


If I were basing my top 10 films purely on technical achievement Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia might have been number one. Ceylan first grabbed my attention in 2008 with Three Monkeys. His other films, like Climates and Distant, also have an uncanny ability to leave my mouth gaping in astonishment. He’s one of the best working directors right now and Anatolia is perhaps Ceylan’s best work yet. It is certainly the grandest and greatest example of how proficient Ceylan has become at evoking emotions from the viewer through his cold approach. On the outside Anatolia is a police procedure film. But in the end, like Ceylan’s other films that stress relationships, family, heartbreak, struggle and so much more, Anatolia becomes a human story. This isn’t just about finding the guy who committed a crime, it’s about understanding why it happened. Anatolia twists and winds, both literally and figuratively, through a number of moments that are highlighted by some of the most captivating and jarring sequences of darkness that make minor explosions feel major.

2. It’s Such a Beautiful Day


It’s been called Terrence Malick with stick figures. I think it’s so much more. Getting turned onto Don Hertzfeldt’s work in 2012 has been a revelation for me. He’s done for me what no other work of animation has ever done before. Bill, our worrying, retrospective, thoughtful stick figure of a main character, is perhaps the most relatable character of 2012. Hertzfeldt’s creative and powerful execution, with a unique art direction and killer sound design, is what makes It’s Such a Beautiful Day stick with the viewer and linger in their mind. It’s both a challenging exploration of our own personal human souls (life, death, happiness and depression) and our entire giant but suffocating universe. Not many films can lay claim to successfully confronting that and Hertzfeldt does it with one hour of animation. With that upfront approach it’s the most honest film of 2012.

1. The Master


It almost seems cliche for me to choose Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master as the best film of the year. It was my most anticipated viewing going into the year. I saw it twice in theaters and that wasn’t nearly enough of an opportunity to digest all of the ideas PTA threw at me. Some stuck, some didn’t. It isn’t the perfect film, with faults much like its main characters. There’s been some divisive discussion about whether or not people can relate to PTA’s sprawling vagabond journey and its characters. Some say they can’t, while others absolutely can. On both occasions The Master launched discussions absolutely worthwhile of the best film of the year. I haven’t seen two characters with a more interesting and well-utilized dynamic than The Master‘s Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd. On camera together Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman deliver two of the best performances of the year, together, in a confrontational and evolutional fashion through both power and humor. The ideas that were presented, the characters that were developed, the performances that were delivered and the total visual and aural experience that encompassed the audience is one for the ages. It’s presented itself into a divided audience in 2012, but I think The Master will be remembered as one of the best films of its time.


And ten more great ones: Barbara, Berberian Sound Studio, The Cabin in the Woods, The Kid with a Bike, Magic Mike, Moonrise Kingdom, Oslo August 31, Rust and Bone, The Turin Horse, Zero Dark Thirty.

And five that flew under the radar: The Color Wheel, Klown, The Paperboy, Sound of my Voice, This Must Be the Place.

Best Performance (actor): Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Runners-up: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Jean-Louis Trintignant (Amour)Denis Lavant (Holy Motors), Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone)

Best Performance (actress): Nadezhda Markina, Elena
Runners-up: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Cécile De France (The Kid With a Bike), Nina Hoss (Barbara)

Best Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Runners-up: Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Miguel Gomes (Tabu), Michael Haneke (Amour), Leos Carax (Holy Motors)

Best Screenplay (original): Miguel Gomes and Mariana Ricardo, Tabu
Runners-up: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty), Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom)

At The Halfway Point

With the world being a few days past the end of June and more than halfway through 2012 I thought this would be as good a time as any to breakdown my year in terms of film.

I’ve had 111 film viewings in the year so far (108 unique). I can’t really be bothered to paste the entire list in a nice, clean format, so if you’d like to see all I’ve watched this year, but if you’d like to see them all you have two options: visit this nice Word document (2012 films list) or check out my Letterboxd page, which is a clean and pretty way of viewing my viewing habits. There’s ratings too, but those really don’t mean a damn thing.

What continues to amaze me is that no matter how many films I’ve watched in my life, no matter how many filmmakers and styles I’ve been exposed to, there’s always more. There’s always more to challenge you, interest you and inspire you. That’s what 2012 has brought me.

A great example would be Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire. The film was my first Fassbinder viewing and was a tremendous experience. It inspired me to write one of my favorite reviews of 2012 and challenged me greatly. I haven’t yet watched more Fassbinder, but you can be sure it will be on the horizon.

A different example of more would be me finally watching Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. I’ve seen almost every important Bergman film, but this one, despite owning it, had eluded me. I think it was mostly because of its daunting length (more than five hours to complete the better television version). But I was so glad I finally took the time to complete the film. It might not be my favorite Bergman film, but I can definitely see why some champion it as his best. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking epic family and human drama.

2012 has been an incredible year so far. I’ve spent an entire night with talking apes, saw one of the best horror films of the last ten years, became witness to one of Nicolas Cage’s most insane performances, watched The Artist‘s Jean Dujardin play a silly spy and fell in love with rising actresses like Brit Marling and Elizabeth Olsen. This only begins to touch on the things I’ve discovered in the world of cinema.

Despite how good my film watching has been, my goal of reviewing every film I watch this year is pretty much done with. Considering I skipped a few films I watched way back in April, it wouldn’t be worthwhile to try and attempt to review those films with such a gap in watching and reviewing. It would be pointless and not a good exercise. Instead, I will continue to review as many as I can. As always, every film gets a brief mini review on my Twitter with ranting and raving comments to follow should they be necessary.

In 2012 I’ve expanded my film collection and broadened my cinematic mind. I’ve challenged myself to think about films in different ways than I might have in the past, I’ve explored their connection to my life and I’ve let them seep into my soul. But no matter what I do or what I watch, film has made my life in 2012 better, which is why I can’t wait to see what the second half of this year has in store for me as my watching patterns and habits continue to change and transform.

And a reminder: you can find an easy alphabetical list of films I’ve watched in 2012 right here on my blog with links to reviews (if they exist).

What If Dario Argento Made A Dracula Movie In His Prime?

Dario Argento is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time. In the 1970’s he was making colorful, psychedelic horror films. On the winds of Mario Bava, the greatest horror filmmaker of all time, he helped further the popularity of the giallo genre, which would eventually inspire America’s slasher obsession.

His 1977 masterpiece Suspiria is arguably one of the best horror films ever made. It’s inspired countless films, both good and bad, with its abstract vision on life and death, a palate of colors blended by acid-fueled dreams and a creepy, driving tale of the modern day existence of witches. Films like Black Swan might be nothing without it.

Argento, now 71, has had his most recent film, Dracula 3D, picked up by the folks for a late night screening at the Cannes Film Festival.

So what’s the problem then? Take a look at the trailer.

I already weeped and poured one out for the career of Argento after watching his previous film Giallo, an homage to the genre he helped get on the map. It was silly and tedious and not what giallo films are truly all about.

The trailer for Dracula 3D has me wanting to just forget everything.

Sure, Argento’s career has kind of followed a path that would resemble a boulder hurling down a hill. His debut film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage really cemented his style and knack for a good mystery. After he peaked with a brilliant 10 year stretch of films that began with Deep Red in 1975 and ended with Phenomena in 1985, Argento’s work arguably got progressively worse.

Now that’s not to say that the films that made up the late 80’s, 90’s and 00’s were by any stretch bad, but Argento, as hard as he tried, could never recreate the magic of the films that had critics dubbing him an absolute genius. Stockholm Syndrome was brutal and vicious, but empty. Do You Like Hitchcock? cleverly paid tribute to a filmmaker we all adore. And Mother of Tears was a decent attempt at finishing up the trilogy he began and continued with Suspiria and Inferno. But still, nothing came close to what made all of us horror fiends fall in love with Argento in the first place.

Dracula 3D appears to be a new low.

I’ve watched the above trailer a few times now and just can’t find myself being apologetic for it in any way. Usually I find a way. When George A.  Romero found himself dabbling in zombies again in his later stage I found a way to defend all his films. I became such a big fan of these artists, whose films inspired me to no end, that I thought it was only right to stick up for their current motivations and art. But boy oh boy, Dracula 3D is really a problem.

I try not to put too many reservations or criticisms against a film from only having seen the trailer. The total package could be different. It could be the results of a bad editor putting together a weak trailer. But the trailer for this film doesn’t fail in its editing, it fails in its display of filmmaking. Argento used a cheap style pandering to 3D, a cheap set and line delivery is poor. I can’t see how in the context of an entire film that it could be fixed.

Withstanding the fact that RUTGER HAUER plays Van Helsing, Dracula 3D already looks like crap. The first thing I thought of were those old arcade games from the 1990’s where you’d grab a gun and start shooting at the realistic looking video cut outs of guys shooting back at you. That’s how I felt whenever I character popped up in the trailer. I feel the 3D aspect will only further my feelings about this. It looks unnatural and cheap, like no time, money or effort was put into the production. It disappoints me to no end.

I of course hate to pretend to know what anyone’s motives was in making a film. I wasn’t there when Argento came up with the idea, I wasn’t there when they were on set filming it. But I do wish Argento came up with the idea 40 years ago.

Sure, Argento shined in the original nature of his films and stories. Dracula would not be one of those. But imagine Argento, in the prime of his career, directing a Dracula film. It would be fully Gothic, intimidating and, if Argento stayed true to his guns, a collection of psychedelic colors mostly defined by the blood being spilled by Dracula. It would be unlike anything we’ve seen in the vampire genre. This idea came 3o or 40 years too late.

Like just look at this fucking shitty trailer. “In the name of God, I command you! GO BACK!” And then Hauer hits a lady on the head with a lantern and she lights on fire in the most shitty CG fashion. Just before that Dracula mumbles some words. I don’t even know who ordered that line delivery. I almost couldn’t hear what he said. Then the trailer informs you that wait a minute, if you have any problems so far, don’t worry, because THIS IS FILMED ENTIRELY IN STEREOSCOPIC 3D. Oh fucking joy.

The film looks stupid. I’m sorry Dario. I love you to death. You are easily one of my five favorite filmmakers of all time. I tried and tried to defend this trailer. I just can’t. The closing moment where the priest or whatever warns Van Helsing that Dracula is “EVIIIIIIL!!” just about sent me over the edge.

That said, if I were at Cannes I’d be lining up to see this bad boy. Fuck yeah, Dario Argento is back. It might suck and deserve a place in cinema hell, but Dario Argento is back. Until next time.

Film in Review: January 2012

I’ve been keeping my film tally since 2009. Back when I started I would typically wrap each month up with a few thoughts and sometimes a few awards. Here’s an example. I’m bringing this back (with a few adjustments). Here we go.

The first month of 2012 had me catching up on almost everything I missed from the end of 2011. I only watched one film I’d seen before (Down by Law) and only watched one two films not from this decade (Down by Law and Breakfast at Tiffany’s).  This seems to be a common factor most January’s, as moviegoers race to finish whatever they can before the Academy Awards land sometime in February. I was no different watching 15 from 2011 (17 in total). And I still have some holes to fill in the next couple of weeks.

What I Watched:

1. 1/1 – Tabloid*
2. 1/2 – The Guard*
3. 1/2 – Another Earth*
4. 1/3 – Midnight in Paris
5. 1/3 – Carnage*
6. 1/8 – The Innkeepers*
7. 1/13 – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy*
8. 1/14 – Meek’s Cutoff*
9. 1/15 – Cold Weather*
10. 1/16 – The Descendants
11. 1/18 – Beginners*
12. 1/19 – Down by Law
13. 1/21 – Breakfast at Tiffany’s*
14. 1/23 – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)*
15. 1/30 – A Dangerous Method*
16. 1/30 – Take Shelter*
17. 1/30 – The Artist*

Reviews for all films listed above can be found on my Film in 2012 page.


Best Film: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I am still baffled at the exclusion of Tomas Alfredson’s incredible spy thriller from the best picture nominations at this year’s Oscars. This wasn’t a perfect film. No sir. But Alfredson puts a winding, puzzling and at times overwhelming spy story to the silver screen in a way that hasn’t been seen in years. It’s bested many entries in the genre over the last decade or so and features one of Gary Oldman’s finest acting achievements. It’s beyond how this one got excluded. The Academy can redeem themselves by awarding Oldman and screenwriters Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan with awards that are rightfully theirs.
Runners-up: Midnight in Paris, The Artist, Beginners, The Descendants.

Best Performance: Michael Shannon, Take Shelter. Shannon absolutely dominates Take Shelter. While I wouldn’t say he necessarily carries the film, it wouldn’t be the same end result. His performance is maddening, terrifying and powerful. Director Jeff Nichols, who had worked with Shannon before in his career, obviously knew what he was getting. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wrote the part with him in mind because he seemed perfect for the role. Shannon didn’t get the leading male actor Oscar nomination he deserved, but it’ll come in time.
Runners-up: Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Christopher Plummer, Beginners. 

Most Underrated Film: Meek’s Cutoff. I almost gave this one to Take Shelter, but I felt I had to throw it at the truly underrated work among the films I watched. It’s not that this one was missed by the critics – it certainly got its fair share of positive acclaim. But it never gained the buzz it deserved for breaking basic western genre conventions that way it did and by doing so much with so little. There’s not much to meet the eye, but it explodes with a kind of tenacity unseen from the western genre lately.
Runners-up: Take Shelter, Beginners,  The Innkeepers.

The One You Should Watch: The Innkeepers. (I just made this category up. It’s me recommending something that isn’t “best picture” material but that you should absolutely see anyways. Carry on reading.) Ti West returns to form with his second amazing modern horror film. After falling in love with his film The House of the Devil, I wanted more brilliance where that came from. The Innkeepers delivered. I don’t think it was as good, but it certainly falls in line with West’s sort of return to the basics of horror filmmaking, something that’s been lost from the genre lately. There’s been a lot of too much in horror films and not enough subtlety. West takes care of that problem for me. Any self-respecting horror film will make this priority number one.
Runners-up:  Down By Law, Another Earth, Carnage, The Guard.

Most disappointing: A Dangerous Method. I tend not to run with a “worst” film award, so I do this instead. What didn’t live up to my expectations? This month it was David Cronenberg’s latest. As I explained in my review, Cronenberg is one of my absolute favorite filmmakers, meaning when he paired himself up with Viggo Mortensen again for a story about the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, it had to be something else to satisfy me. While I enjoyed the film and would recommend it based on the stellar performances alone, it felt like it was missing something. Read my review for more.
Runners-up:  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

There you have it. Welcome back to my monthly film recaps. 17 films in the first month of the year isn’t a bad pace. A little less than average, I’d have to say. Stay tuned!

Max von Sydow And What He And Ingmar Bergman Mean To Me

One is a young actor who got his big break making penis jokes.

The other became an internationally renowned star by way of Ingmar Bergman masterpieces.

Now they’re both nominated for the same award.

Yes, the (I don’t know how to describe him) Jonah Hill and the illustrious and often classical Max von Sydow are two of the five nominees for this year’s best supporting actor category at the Academy Awards.

Hill tweeted his reaction:

Von Sydow hand wrote his:

Now I haven’t actually seen either performance these two were nominated for (Hill’s Moneyball and von Sydow’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) so I won’t at all comment on the merit of this recognition. I will just talk about how strange it is to see and likely turn this into yet another Michael Walsh-led Bergman/Von Sydow love fest and less of a reaction to the rest of the Academy Award nominations (Which, to be honest, are underwhelming this year. Where’s Drive? Melanchoilia anyone? Same old). Join me for a moment as I explain.

No film has shaped my feelings on cinema, life, love, religion and death more than Bergman’s The Seventh Seal has. It’s become the most important film to me ever since I first saw it sometime around the start of my college career (I think?). I’ve written a number of papers on Bergman and his films (all of which impact me in one way or another) but none have left a stronger imprint on my life than The Seventh Seal.

Von Sydow plays the film’s main character with a bizarre concoction of eloquence and terror. While Bergman’s ideas, writing and filmmaking is really the heart and soul of all his films, he also paired himself with a number of amazing actors to bolster those ideas with stunning and powerful performances. Von Sydow is just one of many who Bergman called on again and again and as you can tell, my favorite. In The Seventh Seal, von Sydow is the face and image associated with Bergman’s story about god’s existence, god’s silence, the fear of death and more. He plays Antonius Block, a knight returning home for the first time after fighting in the Crusades for years. During his journey through the Black Plague-ridden countryside villages that make up Bergman’s mostly gloom-and-doom film, a sense of fear and terror about god, death and his life invade as he’s met with images of Death himself – a fully engaging and personified Death who challenges him to a game of chess for his life and deep conversations about everything substantial. Every shot Bergman makes matters and every moment von Sydow acts matters.

Von Sydow is the representative function of all that is magical and mysterious about some of Bergman’s greatest films. Through a Glass Darkly, Hour of the Wolf, The Virgin Spring, The Magician, The Passion of Anna and Winter Light are some of his greatest career moments, all under the direction of one brilliant auteur. While he wasn’t the lead in all of those films – in some cases he had a minor role reserved for spare moments of the film – he is still one icon of Bergman’s screen fame.

But von Sydow’s career spanned past what Bergman gave him. He became an international star using his learned knowledge of the English language to his advantage, making it all the more funny that this nomination, his second for an Oscar, was apparently for a non-speaking role.

Von Sydow is possibly best known in mainstream Hollywood circles for his performance as Father Merrin from The Exorcist and more lately for his roles in Shutter Island and Robin Hood. But he’s also remembered for his role in cult films like Intacto and Flash Gordon, his role as Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told and his almost strange appearances in Dreamscape and Conan the Barbarian.

At age 82, this Swedish cinema staple could finally win his first Oscar he’s deserved since The Seventh Seal. But whether he takes home a shiny award that night or not, he’s already acted his way into the hearts and minds of many, an unseeable accomplishment that should be proudly displayed on a mantle somewhere, somehow. Congrats Max.

Films Watched in 2011: 226

And here’s the list. A * denotes it was a first viewing.

You’ll find there’s hardly a rhyme or reason to this list. I’m just a nerd about films. Enjoy and leave me some recommendations for 2012 in the comments!

1. 1/2 – Winter’s Bone* –
2. 1/2 – Buried* –
3. 1/3 – Dinner for Schmucks* –
4. 1/3 – Howl* –
5. 1/5 – 127 Hours* –
6. 1/5 – Catfish* –
7. 1/9 – Cronos* –
8. 1/9 – My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done* –
9. 1/9 – Restrepo* –
10. 1/10 – Days of Heaven* –
11. 1/11 – Cyrus* –
12. 1/11 – Network* –
13. 1/13 – Dirty Harry –
14. 1/13 – Magnum Force –
15. 1/17 – Blue Valentine* –
16. 1/18 – The King’s Speech* –
17. 1/18 – The Fighter* –
18. 1/23 – Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 –
19. 1/24 – Cleo, from 5 to 7* –
20. 1/26 – The Crazies (2010) –
21. 2/5 – The Kids Are All Right* –
22. 2/5 – Sweetgrass* –
23. 2/7 – Contempt* –
24. 2/12 – Faster* –
25. 2/14 – Memories of Underdevelopment* –
26. 2/20 – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest* –
27. 2/22 – I Spit on Your Grave (2010)* –
28. 2/23 – Enter the Void* –
29. 2/27 – Xala* –
30. 3/7 – Touki Bouki* –
31. 3/8 – L.A. Confidential –
32. 3/9 – A Serious Man –
33. 3/11 – Rango* –
34. 3/11 – Fish Tank* –
35. 3/11 – The Last Waltz* –
36. 3/13 – Chocolat (1988)* –
37. 3/13 – Chinatown –
38. 3/16 – Due Date* –
39. 3/18 – The Invention of Lying* –
40. 3/19 – Jackass 3D* –
41. 3/20 – The American* –
42. 3/20 – All the President’s Men* –
‎43. 3/21 – Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired* –
44. 3/21 – Food, Inc.* –
45. 3/22 – Hatchet –
46. 3/22 – Hatchet II* –
47. 3/23 – Mesrine: Killer Instinct* –
48. 3/27 – Rashomon –
49. 4/1 – Source Code* –
50. 4/2 – Videodrome –
51. 4/3 – Wild Strawberries –
52. 4/3 – Bergman Island* –
53. 4/3 – Winter Light* –
54. 4/5 – Mesrine: Public Enemy #1* –
55. 4/8 – Taxi Driver –
56. 4/10 – Your Highness* –
57. 4/10 – Stalker –
58. 4/11 – One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich* –
59. 4/12 – Pineapple Express –
60. 4/17 – Au Hasard Balthazar* –
61. 4/23 – Army of Shadows –
62. 4/24 – Week End* –
63. 4/26 – Made in U.S.A.* –
64. 4/27 – The Last Waltz –
65. 4/28 – Le Cercle Rouge –
66. 4/29 – The Holy Mountain* –
67. 4/30 – Pickpocket* –
68. 4/30 – 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her* –
69. 5/1 – Hobo with a Shotgun* –
70. 5/1 – The Return (2003)* –
71. 5/3 – The Last Picture Show* –
72. 5/3 – Planet Terror –
73. 5/3 – Death Proof –
74. 5/4 – The King of Marvin Gardens* –
75. 5/6 – BMX Bandits* –
76. 5/7 – Alien –
77. 5/8 – The Wages of Fear –
78. 5/8 – Le Corbeau* –
79. 5/8 – Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) –
80. 5/11 – Dogville* –
81. 5/12 – Manderlay* –
82. 5/13 – The Boss of it All* –
83. 5/14 – Through a Glass Darkly –
84. 5/14 – The Silence* –
85. 5/14 – How to Get Ahead in Advertising* –
86. 5/15 – Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie* –
87. 5/16 – Winter Light –
88. 5/17 – Törst* –
89. 5/23 – Black Swan –
90. 5/23 – 127 Hours –
91. 5/24 – Machete –
92. 5/26 – Tron: Legacy* –
93. 5/26 – White Material* –
94. 5/26 – Where the Sidewalk Ends* –
95. 5/29 – Cedar Rapids* –
96. 5/29 – Hall Pass* –
97. 5/31 – Blow Out* –
98. 5/31 – Sweet Smell of Success* –
99. 6/5 – Almost Famous –
100. 6/6 – The Thin Red Line –
101. 6/9 – Once Upon a Time in the West* –
102. 6/16 – Paul* –
103. 6/17 – Ride, Rise, Roar* –
104. 6/17 – Cornered* –
105. 6/18 – Piranha (2010)* –
106. 6/20 – Tucker & Dale vs Evil* –
107. 6/21 – Badlands* –
108. 6/22 – Mean Streets* –
109. 6/25 – Devil’s Angels* –
110. 6/26 – Cruising* –
111. 6/27 – Shadows* –
112. 6/28 – Les Enfants Terribles* –
113. 6/28 – Wet Hot American Summer –
114. 6/29 – The Ten* –
115. 6/29 – Falling Down –
116. 7/2 – Antichrist –
117. 7/5 – Rubber* –
118. 7/6 – The New World* –
119. 7/7 – House by the River* –
120. 7/8 – Black Moon* –
121. 7/10 – The Graduate* –
122. 7/11 – The Red and the White* –
123. 7/13 – Naked* –
124. 7/14 – Something Wild* –
125. 7/16 – Kiss Me Deadly –
126. 7/17 – Rango –
127. 7/18 – The Hustler* –
128. 7/20 – Thieves Like Us* –
129. 7/21 – Public Enemies –
130. 7/22 – A Face in the Crowd* –
131. 7/24 – Hanna* –
132. 7/25 – Salesman* –
133. 7/26 – Exit Through the Gift Shop –
134. 7/27 – How the West Was Won* –
135. 7/28 – The Wild One* –
136. 7/29 – Serpico* –
137. 7/31 – Inglourious Basterds –
138. 8/2 – Moon –
139. 8/3 – Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man* –
140. 8/5 – Ace in the Hole –
141. 8/6 – Leon Morin, Priest* –
142. 8/12 – Repulsion –
143. 8/14 – Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story* –
144. 8/14 – For Your Consideration* –
145. 8/18 – Slacker* –
146. 8/21 – Best in Show* –
147. 8/22 – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas –
148. 8/23 – The Greatest Movie Ever Sold* –
149. 8/24 – Being There* –
150. 8/25 – Taxi Driver –
151. 8/27 – SubUrbia* –
152. 8/29 – Trollhunter* –
153. 8/30 – I Love You Phillip Morris* –
154. 8/31 – Before Sunrise* –
155. 9/3 – Before Sunset* –
156. 9/4 – Super* –
157. 9/5 – Tape* –
158. 9/5 – The Killing –
159. 9/7 – Bridesmaids* –
160. 9/9 – Contagion* –
161. 9/9 – SLC Punk* –
162. 9/10 – Happiness* –
163. 9/13 – Source Code –
164. 9/14 – Life During Wartime* –
165. 9/15 – Beat* –
166. 9/16 – Drive* –
167. 9/17 – Bronson –
168. 9/17 – Stay* –
169. 9/19 – The Tree of Life* –
170. 9/20 – American Graffiti* –
171. 9/21 – Zodiac –
172. 9/23 – Straw Dogs (1971) –
173. 9/24 – Horrible Bosses* –
174. 9/26 – Melancholia* –
175. 9/30 – Biutiful* –
176. 9/30 – Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia* –
177. 10/1 – Naked You Die* –
178. 10/2 – 13 Ghosts* –
179. 10/4 – Dead Alive –
180. 10/8 – Insidious* –
181. 10/8 – Stake Land* –
182. 10/9 – Puppet Master* –
183. 10/10 – Blood Feast* –
184. 10/10 – Two Thousand Maniacs –
185. 10/10 – Color Me Blood Red* –
186. 10/11 – Night of the Comet* –
187. 10/12 – The Tingler* –
188. 10/15 – Page One: Inside the New York Times* –
189. 10/18 – Red State* –
190. 10/23 – Dawn of the Dead (1978) –
191. 10/25 – The Exorcist* –
192. 10/27 – Zombie –
193. 10/28 – The Rum Diary* –
194. 11/6 – Crazy, Stupid, Love* –
195. 11/6 – The Robber* –
196. 11/7 – 2 Days in Paris* –
197. 11/9 – Before Sunrise –
198. 11/9 – Before Sunset –
199. 11/11 – Our Idiot Brother* –
200. 11/12 – Blue Velvet –
201. 11/14 – Swingers* –
202. 11/16 – The Hangover Part II* –
203. 11/18 – Limitless* –
204. 11/20 – The Joneses* –
205. 11/21 – The Names of Love* –
206. 11/23 – Punch-Drunk Love* –
207. 11/24 – Dutch* –
208. 11/24 – 50/50* –
209. 11/24 – Bill Cunningham New York* –
210. 11/25 – Drive –
211. 11/26 – Three Colors: Blue* –
212. 11/27 – Three Colors: White* –
213. 11/27 – Three Colors: Red* –
214. 12/5 – The Ides of March* –
215. 12/7 – Magic Trip* –
216. 12/8 – Cemetery Junction* –
217. 12/9 – Hanna –
218. 12/9 – We Need to Talk About Kevin* –
219. 12/18 – The Skin I Live In* –
220. 12/18 – Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop* –
221. 12/19 – Anvil! The Story of Anvil* –
222. 12/24 – Christmas Vacation –
223. 12/25 – The Exploding Girl* –
224. 12/26 – Pierrot le Fou –
225. 12/26 – Une Femme Mariée* –
226. 12/27 – The Interrupters* –