Monday, February 11, 2013

Embargo is off...

A ballot that I was pleased to use for a great many things...

1. Lincoln
2. The Master
3. Zero Dark Thirty
4. Cloud Atlas
5. Silver Linings Playbook

1. Seven Psychopaths
2. Cloud Atlas
3. Lincoln
4. Django Unchained
5. Zero Dark Thirty

1. Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master)
2. Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)
3. Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski (Cloud Atlas)
4. Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
5. David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

1. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
2. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
3. Denzel Washington (Flight)
4. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
5. Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)

1. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
2. Michelle Williams (Take This Waltz)
3. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
4. Noomi Rapace (Prometheus)
5. Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games)

1. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
2. Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
3. Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)
4. Tom Hanks (Cloud Atlas)
5. Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)

1. Sally Field (Lincoln)
2. Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
3. Amy Adams (The Master)
4. Kelly Reilly (Flight)
5. Halle Berry (Cloud Atlas)

1. Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths)
2. Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
3. Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)
4. Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master)
5. John Gatins (Flight)

1. Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
2. Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski (Cloud Atlas)
3. Chris Terrio (Argo)
4. David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
5. David Magee (Life of Pi)

1. John Williams (Lincoln)
2. Jonny Greenwood (The Master)
3. Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, and Tom Tykwer (Cloud Atlas)
4. Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight Rises)
5. Alexandre Desplat (Argo)

1. Django Unchained
2. Les Miserables
3. Lawless
4. The Master
5. Silver Linings Playbook

1. Les Miserables
2. Lincoln
3. Cloud Atlas
4. Prometheus
5. Django Unchained

1. The Master
2. Lincoln
3. Cloud Atlas
4. Skyfall
5. Life of Pi

1. Zero Dark Thirty
2. Cloud Atlas
3. The Master
4. The Dark Knight Rises
5. Django Unchained

1. Zero Dark Thirty
2. Skyfall
3. The Dark Knight Rises
4. Cloud Atlas
5. Django Unchained

1. Life of Pi
2. Cloud Atlas
3. Prometheus
4. The Avengers
5. The Dark Knight Rises

1. Ralph Fiennes (Coriolanus)
2. Seth MacFarlane (Ted)
3. Matt Piermondt (Casa de Mi Padre)

1. Coriolanus
2. The Grey
3. Take This Waltz
4. Men in Black III
5. The Five-Year Engagement

BONUS: Breakout Performer of the Year
-Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, Lawless, The Place Beyond the Pines)

Top 10 of 2012

Excerpts are taken from my original responses.

10. Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh)
What does really get me at the end is the nicely framed, nicely edited, and nicely scored scene where Marty listens to a recording that Hans left him. Walken absolutely does an incredible job with the dialogue (hell, probably the best "Walken is actually acting" scene in a long time) where he talks about violence, a topic that the film is continuously commenting on. Beginning and endings, literal or otherwise, are certainly a part of this movie and how cyclical violence can be, much like life. It's an interesting companion piece to a film like Looper, but this is surprisingly much more sentimental. The best part is, the film sells the moment. It's a wild, harsh, and no-holds-barred movie and then there is an almost uplifting and affirming sense of closure at the end. It puts as nice of a bow on this kind of movie as one could, which is certainly saying a lot (and yes, a final cliche to close on).

9. Flight (Robert Zemeckis)

Immediately after, I thought that Flight was first and foremost just a performance film. A movie where most of the draw comes from an enigmatic character. I then think of the other talented involved in back of the camera. Director Robert Zemeckis knows exactly where to put the camera and direct actors as to move the stry along. It's extremely impressive how he and his usual collaborators draw parrallels between a literal crash landing and a man hitting rock bottom in his life. Certainly,Washington does a lot of work, but I almost feel like I'm understating the decisions made by the artists behind what the audience can see. The rest of the cast is great as well, especially Kelly Reilly as a drug addict whose story mirrors Whip's descent.

Flight is a painfully honest movie that is somewhat quiet after the first fifteen minutes, but even without a plane crash taking place, the movie feels as nailbiting as a fantastic character-driven piece.

8. Argo (Ben Affleck)
Chris Terrio's script raises the stakes, blending suspense with stranger-than-fiction aspects for a film that manages to proceed in a relatively realistic fashion. The film knows when to enjoy itself and have the audience laugh, but also when to have you concerned that its heroes might fail. Affleck has assembled a talented cast, but it's his continuing growth as a director that is most notable here. He understands how to control what could've been a difficult movie for others. Examples include the scenes where the turmoil of the hostages is intercut with a table read of the script or how when Joe Stafford has to explain to the Iranaian official at the airport about the elements of the film that Stafford himself had trouble memorizing and remaining convinced.

7. Life of Pi (Ang Lee)
An aspect I did find incredibly compelling was the dynamic between Pi and Richard. Richard will eat Pi in a second, but Pi quickly realizes that he must learn to co-exist with the animal. Pi has to survive and push the limits of what he must've thought he could be capable of. Yet the tiger has much stricter limits its as its brain is quite simple and functions on survival inherently above all else. So while trying to tame the limited animal, Pi finds himself thinking about religion, a concept with unlimited potential just in discussion alone. This search for purpose to guide him is what carries the story alongside some incredibly beautiful visuals. Lee and his crew make use of the 3D, knowing best when to use it and when best to not. Like recent famous directors to have used 3D such as Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Wim Wenders (Pina), and Werner Herzog (Cave of Forgotten Dreams), Lee's art comes first to give the imagery a heart before he 'wows the audience'.

6. Les Miserables (Tom Hooper)
At first glance I questioned Hooper's decisions in the art direction, cinematography, editing, sound, etc. etc. etc. I wasn't sure if I was noticing too much or too little of artistic flourishes. Then again, isn't it best that I not notice them at all? For a script that is told in song where your average transition is over-emoted for a personal effect, should I have to notice what is intended by a close-up here or a tracking there? The trick of the movie and perhaps the biggest credit one can give to the filmmakers is that all-in-all (or perhaps I was in the best sort of mood) was that I walked away with more feeling than thought, more sadness than observation, or even thinking of consequence more than nostalgia.

The play is rightfully hailed as masterful. The movie seemed to understand why (I'll be damned/overwhelmed to try and break that down) and in turn the result is incredibly empowering.

5. Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell)
The film's characters are completely enlightened by their portrayers. De Niro reminds us of how engaging he can be when given such great parts and his crazy football-fan of a father is a welcome return to the thoughtful and sometimes intense performances of us his earlier days. Cooper conveys so much as he moves from confidence to doubt and his acting is incredibly in-tune with Lawrence's explosive, beautiful, and heartbreaking work. In all, it's a damn good movie full of unfiltered wackiness and a 'heart wants what the heart wants' type of romance that I hope others can recognize for its compassionate, loving, and timeless nature.

4. Cloud Atlas (Tom Tykwer & Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski)
A costume drama. A love story. A conspiracy mystery. A comedy. A science-fiction adventure. A post-apocalyptic tale. Six genres and six stories with a through line that includes themes of love, kindness, and freedom. To me, the movie is about finding oneself, but realizing that those around us who we care for are just as important. Similar to The Matrix and Run Lola Run, Cloud Atlas functions as almost a wake-up call to let us know that both the individual matters within the scheme of society. Not only is Cloud Atlas freeing in how its narrative is artistically approached, but it is perhaps most freeing in what I perceived its message to be to its audience.

3. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow)
Instead, to now talk about the film as just that, a film, director Kathryn Bigelow and writer/journalist Mark Boal (both previously worked together on The Hurt Locker) have once again delivered a phenomenally well crafted work. I'm a great fan of Bigelow's style because despite some flourishes one can notice, she is very adept at adapting to different material. The cinema verite-inspired camera work matched with the best sound design and editing I've seen this year help to propel and propel and propel this story ever forward, keeping your interest and like Affleck did with Argo, being sure to keep morals, ethics, and politics lingering on the outskirts but never uspurping the central material. Even the art direction is subtle, at not point did I feel like I was looking at a set.

2. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)
A dream is perhaps the best way to explain how The Master just washes over you. The standalone moments will be remembered the most such as the questioning and experiments or Hoffman's speeches and musical numbers. Then the thoughts about the experience and what the film is saying to you personally will begin to settle in. Is the film about a father and a son? A student and a teacher? Is it really focused on societal truths about America that are still relevant today? All of the above? Whatever you find in the movie is up to you and with Magnolia being the shining example, I feel that PTA is the master (no pun intended) of ambiguity. He'll show you a lot, but leave any further communication up to the individual of which The Master is so inquisitively focused on.

1. Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)
In case my overabudance of praise hasn't been noted, in any ranking I've come up with for the movies I've seen in 2012, Lincoln sits at the top as my favorite. It's almost fascinatingly aware of the importance of the events it is depicting (as I'm sure the actual Lincoln was) and yet at no point is there a sense of false pretense, that the film is trying to be preachy even though it functions as a fantastic history lesson on passing an amendment/bill. It's a historical dramatization, but it's far from dry. The film is truly a character piece about a man who looked so outward to others, but struggled and then suceeded in looking inward to himself- something a common man, which Abe started out as, can aspire to.

Favorite Working Directors ('12 List)

Meant to publish this earlier in the year, but got caught up with graduating and then not finding a job. Now I feel in nice enough mindset to approach this. I've upped the list to 30 people and the rankings are a mix of quantitative and qualitative thoughts, but this is just mostly a minor way to celebrate who I think are the filmmakers whose work I follow closely with a critical eye and am sure to see their projects on the big screen. The blurbs I've included are relatively simple thoughts, I just didn't want to find myself writing paragraphs, but to at least have something definitive following their names.

1. Steven Spielberg
Pretty difficult to not say he is the greatest director of our time. His reach is so far. He can go from dark historical dramas to sci-fi/fantasy adventures.
Up Next- Possibly an adaptation of Robopocalypse.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Duel (1971)
-The Sugarland Express (1974)
-Jaws (1975)
-Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
-Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
-E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
-Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
-The Color Purple (1985)
-Empire of the Sun (1987)
-Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
-Jurassic Park (1993)
-Schindler's List (1993)
-Amistad (1997)
-Saving Private Ryan (1998)
-A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
-Minority Report (2002)
-Catch Me If You Can (2002)
-War of the Worlds (2005)
-Munich (2005)
-Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
-The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
-War Horse (2011)
-Lincoln (2012)

2. Woody Allen
Not every film is a hit, but I'm more amazed at how active he is with one film a year. His best works are delightful, surprising, and loving whether they are comedic or dramatic or somewhere in between.
Up Next- Blue Jasmine with an unique cast led by Sally Hawkins. Set in San Diego.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-What's Up, Tiger Lily (1966)
-Bananas (1971)
-Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (1972)
-Sleeper (1973)
-Love and Death (1975)
-Annie Hall (1977)
-Interiors (1978)
-Manhattan (1979)
-Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
-The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
-Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
-Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
-Alice (1990)
-Husbands and Wives (1992)
-Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
-Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
-Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
-Deconstructing Harry (1997)
-Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
-Match Point (2005)
-Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
-Midnight in Paris (2011)
-To Rome with Love (2012)

3. Martin Scorsese
Um... he's just really good. There's no one like him. I can leave it at that.
Up Next- The Wolf of Wall Street written by Terence Winter and starring DiCaprio is out this year with a great supporting cast.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Mean Streets (1973)
-Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)
-Taxi Driver (1976)
-Raging Bull (1980)
-The King of Comedy (1983)
-After Hours (1985)
-The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
-Goodfellas (1990)
-Cape Fear (1991)
-The Age of Innocence (1993)
-Casino (1995)
-Kundun (1997)
-Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
-Gangs of New York (2002)
-The Aviator (2004)
-The Departed (2006)
-Shutter Island (2010)
-Hugo (2011)

4. Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
The make some of the most clever movies around. Often ironic or spiritual ranging across numerous genres with characters that are the ultimate good, the ultimate evil, and somewhere in between.
Up Next- Inside Llewyn Davis coming out this year. A lot of folk music sung by Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and Justin Timberlake.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Blood Simple (1984)
-Raising Arizona (1987)
-Miller's Crossing (1990)
-Barton Fink (1991)
-The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
-Fargo (1996)
-The Big Lebowski (1998)
-O' Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)
-The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
-Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
-The Ladykillers (2004)
-No Country for Old Men (2007)
-Burn After Reading (2008)
-A Serious Man (2009)
-True Grit (2010)

5. Roman Polanski
Known for bringing fresh energy to genres like noir or horror, he is one of the several filmmakers on this list who still surprises even as he grows older.
Up Next- A thriller about a politician called D.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Repulsion (1965)
-Cul-de-sac (1966)
-Rosemary's Baby (1968)
-Macbeth (1971)
-Chinatown (1974)
-The Tenant (1976)
-Tess (1979)
-Frantic (1988)
-Death and the Maiden (1994)
-The Pianist (2002)
-Oliver Twist (2005)
-The Ghost Writer (2010)
-Carnage (2011)

6. Spike Lee
Some of his films work as activism, but all practically have some sort of social commentary as a central fabric the world he brings to life. At his best he is bold and poetic and at worst he is still showcasing something interesting.
Up Next- Oldboy comes out this fall. A remake of Park Chan-wook's 2003 film.
Worth Checking Out... (bolded favorite)
-Do the Right Thing (1989)
-Jungle Fever (1991)
-Malcolm X (1992)
-Crooklyn (1994)
-Clockers (1995)
-Get On the Bus (1996)
-He Got Game (1998)
-Summer of Sam (1999)
-25th Hour (2002)
-Inside Man (2006)
-Miracle at St. Anna (2008)
-Red Hook Summer (2012)

7. Werner Herzog
One of the most unpredictable filmmakers around, his obsessive subjects often serve to pull you further into whatever unique world he's decided to focus on.
Up Next- His documentary Happy People, that was made in 2010 about life in the Taiga, will finally be released. After that he might do a T.E. Lawrence film with Robert Pattinson or a documentary about hate crimes in America.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972)
-The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974)
-Heart of Glass (1976)
-Stroszek (1977)
-Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
-Woyzeck (1979)
-Fitzcarraldo (1982)
-Cobra Verde (1987)
-Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)
-My Best Friend (1999)
-The White Diamond (2004)
-Grizzly Man (2005)
-Rescue Dawn (2007)
-Encounters at the End of the World (2007)
-Bad Lieutenant (2009)
-My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? (2009)
-Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)
-Into the Abyss (2011)
-On Death Row (2012)

8. Clint Eastwood
Although I'm much more a fan of his later output, the man's overall work ethic is to be admired. His films feel classical and meditative while spanning a wide genre of stories.
Up Next- Possibly a remake of A Star is Born. Names attached include Beyonce, DiCaprio, Bale, and Cruise.
Worth Checking Out (favorite bolded)
-Unforgiven (1992)
-Mystic River (2003)
-Million Dollar Baby (2004)
-Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
-Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
-Changeling (2008)
-Gran Torino (2008)
-Invictus (2009)
-Hereafter (2010)
-J. Edgar (2011)

9. David Lynch
Working in bits of surrealism and noir, the man's filmography runs from bizarre cult favorites to spiritual family films. Most importantly, he is constantly redefining himself.
Up Next- A project with Laura Dern. Hopefully it's a film.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Eraserhead (1977)
-The Elephant Man (1980)
-Blue Velvet (1986)
-Wild at Heart (1990)
-Lost Highway (1997)
-The Straight Story (1999)
-Mulholland Drive (2001)
-Inland Empire (2006)

10. David Fincher
His visually meticulous films are becoming more diverse as time goes on. There's a reason why his name is becoming more of an adjective to describe a style all of his own.
Up Next- Still trying to get his version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea made with Brad Pitt. He also might adapt Gone Girl into a film.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Se7en (1995)
-The Game (1997)
-Fight Club (1999)
-Panic Room (2002)
-Zodiac (2007)
-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
-The Social Network (2010)
-The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

11. Quentin Tarantino
A filmmaker's whose films greatly showcase... his love for films. You can go through each of his movies, scene by scene and frame by frame, and talk about his homages and own originality for a while.
Up Next- Possibly another WWII movie called Killer Crow. He still wants to do a 30's gangster film or a continuation of Kill Bill.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Reservoir Dogs (1992)
-Pulp Fiction (1994)
-Jackie Brown (1997)
-Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)
-Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004)
-Death Proof (2007)
-Inglourious Basterds (2009)
-Django Unchained (2012)

12. Christopher Nolan
Having delivered what's been called a new age of blockbuster, he is really just able to bring his style of thematic twists to mainstream audiences. The Kubrick comparisons aren't necessary as he seems to be of his own type.
Up Next- Possibly the abandoned Spielberg project called Interstellar.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Following (1998)
-Memento (2000)
-Insomnia (2002)
-Batman Begins (2005)
-The Prestige (2006)
-The Dark Knight (2008)
-Inception (2010)
-The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

13. Danny Boyle
Often called an MTV-style filmmaker... and yet he's from Britain. To call his films energetic is an understatement.
Up Next- Trance, a heist film with McAvoy, Cassel, and Dawson, comes out this year.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Shallow Grave (1994)
-Trainspotting (1996)
-28 Days Later (2002)
-Millions (2004)
-Sunshine (2007)
-Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
-127 Hours (2010) 

14. Wes Anderson
Another wholly original voice. From impressive shot set-ups to lavish set designs to his unique characters, his style is extremely specific but oft imitated.
Up Next- The Grand Budapest Hotel starring Ralph Fiennes and many others. Slated for 2014.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Bottle Rocket (1996)
-Rushmore (1998)
-The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
-The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
-The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
-Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
-Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

15. Pedro Almodovar
His earlier films were colorfully sexualized comedies, but as his career progressed, he was sure to use that same energy as his films became more like character studies about secrets and relationships.
Up Next- I'm So Excited comes out this summer. It takes place on an airplane.
Worth Checking Out... (bolded favorite)
-Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
-All About My Mother (1999)
-Talk to Her (2002)
-Bad Education (2004)
-Return (2006)
-Broken Embraces (2009)
-The Skin I Live In (2011)

16. Peter Jackson
He started with bloody horror movies and then moved onto several adaptions that have showcased his distinct vision. All that and he still seamlessly brings about human emotion into even the most fantastical stories.
Up Next- The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The second part in his Hobbit trilogy.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Heavenly Creatures (1994)
-The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
-The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
-The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
-King Kong (2005)
-The Lovely Bones (2009)
-The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2011)

17. Paul Thomas Anderson
Often makes energetic films with outrageous performances. He has put his spin on spirituality, romantic comedies, westerns, and is the heir apparent to Robert Altman.
Up Next- Inherent Vice with Joaquin Phoenix and Charlize Theron. Probably in 2014.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Hard Eight (1996)
-Boogie Nights (1997)
-Magnolia (1999)
-Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
-There Will Be Blood (2007)
-The Master (2012)

18. Lars Von Trier
Part of the Dogme 95 collective, his work is often provocative, but always emotional and usually sad.
Up Next- The Nymphomaniac starring Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Breaking the Waves (1996)
-Dancer in the Dark (2000)
-Dogville (2003)
-Manderlay (2005)
-Antichrist (2009)
-Melancholia (2011)

19. Mike Leigh
Often improvises with his actors before approaching a proper script with story and dialogue. Has delivered some of the most heartfelt and heartbreaking works from Britain.
Up Next- Has yet to announce anything.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Naked (1993)
-Secrets and Lies (1996)
-Topsy-Turvy (1999)
-Vera Drake (2004)
-Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
-Another Year (2010)

20. Todd Haynes
Having delivered so many personable works, I find his focus on cryptic characters with much to be hide to be powerfully moving.
Up Next- Has yet to announce anything.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Poison (1991)
-Safe (1995)
-Velvet Goldmine (1998)
-Far From Heaven (2002)
-I'm Not There (2007)
-Mildred Pierce (2011)

21. David O. Russell
A master of irony in several forms and among the many whose films never slow down one they start.
Up Next- American Bullshit starring Bale, Adams, Cooper, and Renner. About the Abscam scandal.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Spanking the Monkey (1994)
-Flirting with Disaster (1996)
-Three Kings (1999)
-I Heart Huckabees (2004)
-The Fighter (2010)
-Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

22. Terrence Malick
Has made some of the best looking movies. They are often dream-like and are about those who discover an inherent goodness or kindness.
Up Next- To the Wonder with Affleck, McAdams, Kurylenko, and Bardem. Then he has Knight of Cups and another film, both with large casts.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Badlands (1973)
-Days of Heaven (1978)
-The Thin Red Line (1998)
-The New World (2005)
-The Tree of Life (2011)

23. Darren Aronofsky
Whether the film is high-concept or more earthly and gritty, his visual innovation and thoughtful endings deliver great experiences.
Up Next- The biblical epic Noah with Crowe, Connelly, Hopkins, Winstone, Lerman, and Watson. Coming in early 2014.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Pi (1998)
-Requiem for a Dream (2000)
-The Fountain (2006)
-The Wrestler (2008)
-Black Swan (2010)

24. Alexander Payne
His characters and situations often feel real no matter how quirky or unique the circumstances of the romance or crises at hand may seem.
Up Next- A father/son drama called Nebraska with Will Forte and Bruce Dern. Hopefully comes out this year.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Citizen Ruth (1996)
-Election (1999)
-About Schmidt (2002)
-Sideways (2004)
-The Descendants (2011)

25. Guillermo Del Toro
His works have all been fantasy/science-fiction films, but he understands that for all the visual trickery, there must be a great level of fascinating endearment behind the story and characters.
Up Next- Pacific Rim comes out this summer. Giant monsters fighting giant robots.
Worth Checking Out... (bolded favorite)
-Cronos (1993)
-The Devil's Backbone (2001)
-Hellboy (2004)
-Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
-Hellboy II: The Golden Army

26. Kathryn Bigelow
You can rightfully focus on her success as the 'it' female director of the moment, but her style is incredibly adaptable to whatever story while stilling remaining kinetic.
Up Next- She might return to older attempted projects like a film about the battle of Tora Bora or about the drug wars in South America titled Triple Frontier.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-The Loveless (1982)
-Near Dark (1984)
-Strange Days (1995)
-The Hurt Locker (2009)
-Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

27. Brad Bird
Staring in animation, he understands the old school (his first film was traditionally animated), the new school (digitally animated films from Pixar), and then went to live-action with a kick-ass action film.
Up Next- Sci-fi film called Tomorrowland set in the '50s, written by Damon Lindelof, and starring George Clooney. Probably coming in 2014.
Worth Checking Out... (bolded favorite)
-The Iron Giant (1999)
-The Incredibles (2004)
-Ratatouille (2007)
-Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

28. James Cameron
A director of thrilling and throughtful blockbusters. I think he has a few more in him.
Up Next- Two sequels to Avatar and a thriller called The Informationalist.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-The Terminator (1984)
-Aliens (1986)
-The Abyss (1989)
-Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

29. J.J. Abrams
The best blockbuster filmmaker around. One can see why Spielberg is his idol as his films have just as much heart to them.
Up Next- Star Trek Into Darkness comes out this summer. Then comes Star Wars Episode VII.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Mission Impossible III (2006)
-Star Trek (2009)
-Super 8 (2011)

30. Edgar Wright
Makes highly entertaning films while playing on genre expectations.
Up Next- The World's End with Pegg. Concluding their thematic trilogy.
Worth Checking Out (bolded favorite)
-Shaun of the Dead (2004)
-Hot Fuzz (2007)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty has been fairly labeled procedural in nature. It is practically more story-driven than character-driven with events based on real-life occurences that drive this obsessive CIA analyst named Maya (Jessica Chastain) in her hunt for the terrorist Osama Bin Laden. There are strong characters here and an incredibly in-tune-with-the-material type of a cast. Some actors are only in the movie for a moment, but most are names and faces an avid film/TV fan would recognize. There is certainly deep character development here, but as with most films based on recent events, there is an air of questioning and consideration that has been placed upon the film first before talk about its craft.

What does a filmmaker owe to depicting real-life subjects? I might have mentioned this here before, but I always think of a story David O. Russell told during a THR interview about The Fighter. He mentioned how he was sitting with Charlene (Amy Adams' character from the film) at a hotel after the movie and in walked Alice (Melissa Leo's character from the film) and Charlene just couldn't stand being with her. The pain, conflict, and history that these characters had been facing in O. Russell's narrative was in fact real and shared the same name and backstory as the characters he had been studying and bringing to life with his cast.

That being said, historical fiction obviously isn't a documentary. Does the public realize this? I'm of course mostly basing this on people I hear and talk to in New York, but many seem to really buy into the whole "based on a true story aspect". In fact, whether I'm at work or a family reunion, I hear "if you want a good story, find a true one" from older folks. Listen to how people have spoken about historical inaccuracies with Argo and Lincoln. It's as if the movie is slighted by having taken dramatic license. To raise a counter-point, I was talking to a friend about Holy Terror, a graphic novel by Frank Miller that featured a Batman-esque vigilante fighting al-Qaeda. It was found by many to be quite offensive. So a slightly more fictitous story has no place, but... and one can go in circles about this topic, but I only bring it up because my brain has thought about that in the days after seeing Zero Dark Thirty (as a side note, I only bring up Holy Terror as an example, the book is extremely trashy and is practically a war cry against Arabs).

Then there is the torture debate, which I do have a slightly more personal opinion on. I don't see this film as pro-torture. It features torture, but if anything most information doesn't come out during those sessions. I really should read into the media "controversy" surrounding the film. Is it because at no point a character points at the camera and says "torture is bad folks", that the film is no longer apolitical? That's like saying The Help is racist because it shows inequality.

Instead, to now talk about the film as just that, a film, director Kathryn Bigelow and writer/journalist Mark Boal (both previously worked together on The Hurt Locker) have once again delivered a phenomenally well crafted work. I'm a great fan of Bigelow's style because despite some flourishes one can notice, she is very adept at adapting to different material. The cinema verite-inspired camera work matched with the best sound design and editing I've seen this year help to propel and propel and propel this story ever forward, keeping your interest and like Affleck did with Argo, being sure to keep morals, ethics, and politics lingering on the outskirts but never uspurping the central material. Even the art direction is subtle, at not point did I feel like I was looking at a set.

Jessica Chastain also seems to have really been placed on another level for her career as now a leading performer. I noticed her last year with The Tree of Life, The Debt, Coriolanus, Take Shelter, and The Help and this year with Lawless and now this. She is extremely empathetic and timed in how she speaks and moves as Maya. We understand how her mind processes and the sheer commitment that is brought to the character's work. That ferociousness is beautifully off-set by what is being called by myself (and others) one of the most powerful and haunting final scenes of the film. The last shot of Zero Dark Thirty is nothing short of cathartic. This work feels real, no matter what inaccuracies or politics wish be be assigned to it.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Django Unchained

My thoughts on this film could either be presented in a quick & brief over-sweeping manner, or I can go scene by scene by scene. For anyone who happens upon this's sake, I'll take the brief route because that does describing Django Unchained as much justice as talking about each and every shot. Why? Because my thoughts on the film can be summed up as, "it's Tarantino." As someone who always pays attention to the director, this is a prime example of a filmmaker's influence in place of say a studio or some other generic example (not that there is anything wrong with those).

This is Tarantino doing a western. That should be enough for most. I could talk about each moment and the homages, but also how like any great artist, Tarantino takes it in his own direction that is instantly recognizeable. Like the Coen brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson just to name a few.

Django is a mix of a spaghetti western set against the backdrop of slavery with fantastical costumes, timely sets, an extensive cast, Robert Richardson's visuals (back with film again after Scorsese's digitally shot Hugo), and methodical editing and sound design. Considering that Tarantino is also a writer and effectively a brand name, he is like a puppet master. You can dissect each scene and their purpose and still appreciate what he does as a filmmaker. Form me, that's a quintessential director and even autuer. He understands the structure of story, the development of character, and the purpose of dialogue so well that he knows how to pull out the rug from under what is recognizeable.

I could even probably spend another hundred words about his use of music (Rick Ross, James Brown, Anthony Hamilton, Luis Bacalov, John Legend, Ennio Morricone... and those are just the ones I didn't have to look up).

This is quite simply a Tarantino film and all that the description entails. Mostly, just fun.