I was first introduced to the filmmaker Jacques Audiard with the intense crime opus A Prophet. That film was easily one of the greatest crime dramas this side of The Godfather, it followed a Muslim teen sent to prison who rises in the world of France’s organized crime both as a matter of necessity and in order to better his lot in life. I’m here to tell you that while Dheepan is not a step forward for Audiard, the film nonetheless represents everything that makes him one of the truly exciting voices in contemporary cinema. Like that 2009 feature (which was France’s entry into the Academy Awards at the time) Dheepan is harrowing saga about people who go through tremendous suffering on their way to freedom in a country that isn’t their own.
The Final Countdown!!!
The countdown continues…again!
The countdown continues!
Anyone who says there weren’t many good films this year is either lying or they simply don’t go to the movies that often. I can’t help the former but for the latter I’ve curated my recommendations for 2015’s best movies. Many films were excellent this year – my initial list of possibilities numbered over 60 – but these were the movies of the year that I think offer that perfect mix of “new & exciting” and accessible to general viewers. This list spans megabudget spectacle to microbudget indie, strange foreign pictures and more but perhaps like 2013, this year encapsulated the range of what cinema can offer.
Without further ado, the countdown:
Spotlight is a tight, blunt, un-cinematic and un-fussy movie that’s as to the point the moment in journalism it explores. The movie is almost documentary-like as it dramatizes the true story of a handful of Boston Globe reporters who exposed a wide-reaching sex-abuse-and-cover-up scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. The movie never gives into the sensational subject matter or exploits it for melodrama; instead it remains a grounded character drivenstory that is predicated on the nitty-gritty details and painstaking work that went into exposing such a major story. Spotlight is one of the best movies of the year, offering the kind of measured craft and adult-minded drama that we once had been granted at a studio level, more akin to a film like All The President’s Men.
The films of Argentinian director Gaspar Noé (Irréversible, I Stand Alone, Enter the Void) are obsessed with the intertwining of “authenticity” and “artifice” and thus: every scene of pain or desire is purposefully made overlong to leave the impression that they leave no stone unturned. Noé is a filmmaker who pushes audiences uncomfortably deeper into moments that are usually reduced to a suggestion or glimpse if they are not censored altogether. Some call him a “pornographer,” others consider him a “provocateur” – but whatever merits his work may or may not have, he is at the very least a challenging artist if only for the discussions his films provoke. Perhaps the most famous example from his work is the 12-minute-long rape scene in the middle of his dizzying revenge flick Irréversible; which used such scene to deal with the entire nature of consequence by contextualizing all the problems of the male-id “lizard-brain” thinking. Love is the title of Noé’s interesting-yet-difficult to see/unsee film, which opens with a man and a woman explicitly performing an unsimulated sex act to careening violin music (the film earns its X-rating immediately). Of course Love will undoubtedly be referred to as “that 2015 unsimulated sex movie,” a type of film that has been equally derided as taboo and praised as transgressive in the history of cinema. The modern “art house sex” movie has been a staple of festivals and young film fans and recent examples include the digitally inserted (i.e. computer animated) porn star genitals in Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac; Vincent Gallo receiving oral sex from Chloë Sevigny in Brown Bunny; and the body-double orgy in John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus. However, in the case of Love, does dabbling in taboo inherently make for worthwhile art or are we merely content to guise up pornographic indulgence with “artful” posturing? Where does art end and porn begin or are they intertwined beyond distinction? Likewise, which is more authentic: “lust” or “love”? Continue reading What Gaspar Noé Talks About When He Talks About “Love”
The Assassin is the first foray, by the legendary Taiwanese art-film director Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Millennium Mambo, Three Times, Café Lumière, Flight of the Red Balloon) into the “Wuxia” (aka “martial hero”) genre, conceived in the Far East by China and popularized globally by films like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou’s Hero. And yet the film almost serves as an antithetical rebuttal to the genre. The Assassin achieves the ethereal and sought after cinematic sublime that very few filmmakers are capable reaching, but it doesn’t make much traditional sense. Hou could make a great martial arts epic if he wanted to, but he’s after more rarefied game in this remarkable and challenging film. Shu Qi (The Transporter) plays a mysterious female assassin whose heart and soul gets in the way of her deadly art. Her journey is instead used by Hou to directly confront Taiwanese and Chinese myth, landscape, and genre conventions head-on. It has few and fleeting bursts of lightning-fast swordplay and balletic combat that interrupt long, still stretches of misty moonlit landscapes and follow a pure literary style more interested in soul-searching and interpersonal drama amid political maneuvering. The detailed period costumes and art direction make the film extraordinarily beautiful to watch (it’s one of the most gorgeous films I’ve ever seen), but the refinement may weigh against it for fans hungering after spectacular kung fu. The plot and characters are also hard to follow due to the substantially opaque narrative ambiguity from which to reap the riches off like a more poetically-inclined mind. The Assassin is a martial arts movie for philosophers, scholars, poets, painters, sculptors, artists, gourmands, and other hard-core sensualists. Fans of martial arts movies will probably hate it through no fault of their own. The Assasin is for those who wish to expand their movie palette beyond traditional “entertainment.” Continue reading “The Assassin” is Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Anti-Action Masterpiece
Does being a “great” man mean you can’t be a “decent” one? That is the question that director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) and Aaron Sorkin’s (The West Wing, The Social Network, The Newsroom) Steve Jobs asks. Eschewing a traditional fact-based biopic form, this film is a perfect storm of cinematic energy. Rather than lay out the complete career and/or life of the real Steve Jobs, the three-part film distills the man as a figure for “great” men as an essence, an interpretation if you will, from three pivotal moments of the actual man’s history. The film offers key snapshots that race along on a jovial pace and a propulsive momentum that never lets up. Yes, it’s Aaron Sorkin mapping out story, characters and dialogue so exaggerated in his personal style, that it almost seems like self-parody, but somehow it all works. Filled with strong performances and lively exchanges with the hindsight of history providing context, Steve Jobs is a genuine entertainment that does not rely on spectacle or sensationalism to excite us. Continue reading “Steve Jobs” – An Abstract Portrait on Greatness versus Decency