Friday, March 27, 2015

It Follows

Jordan on It Follows

Any horror movie fan you talk to will tell you that the last few years have been weak for horror movies. What’s the deal? Well firstly, everything that’s coming out seems to be a rehash, reboot, or sequel to an older, higher quality film. Clichés abound, the genre is in dire need of new blood, and we may have found it with two bright new talented directors coming to the forefront of the genre. These new original voices know the secret formula that many great horror movies have used in the past: cast a female in the lead. In horror movies, the female lead doesn’t need to be weak; in fact, she can be strong. Very strong. Usually the last “man” standing. I remember writing a term paper in film school years ago about how women in horror advanced the cause of feminism in our society. Who can forget Ripley in “Alien” saying, “This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off”, or in the movie’s sequel seven years later uttering the kickass line, “Get away from her, you bitch”. If one looks back at film history they will notice a rich history of women in the lead role: “Rosemary’s Baby”, “The Shining”, “The Exorcist”, “The Ring”, “Halloween”, “Psycho”, “Suspira”, “Alien”, and “The Birds”, just to name a few.
The genre was rejuvenated earlier this year with “The Babadook” – a smart, snappy, and darkly twisted tale that dealt with death, mourning and the matriarchal role. The main character was of course female (Essie Davis), but here’s the kicker: so was the filmmaker, the promising Jennifer Kent. It was an original, refreshing change of pace to a genre that was, for the last decade or so, more interested in the same old boring ideas about the male psyche. Kent reinvigorated the game and “The Babadook” was a major success – one that will likely spark a new wave of horror filmmakers to one up it.
The same can be said of David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows”, which refuses to follow the conventions of 21st century horror cinema. Its DNA is ingrained in and inspired by the classics. Just when you thought there wasn’t really much more room to manoeuvre creatively within the genre, Mitchell delivers this stunning movie. Having opened just last week, the film is already a hit with critics. After it’s sly, subtle bows at the most prestigious of film fests last year (Cannes, TIFF, Sundance) and the most glowing of reviews (check out that 96% RT score), audiences will likely soon discover what most festival goers already knew: this movie is the real deal. A blend of the surreal with the very real. A taste of the next generation of horror movies to come.
Much like “The Babadook”, the story’s main character is female and the implications are more psychological than gore-tastic – a relief if you ask me. Dealing with 19 year-old Maika Monroe who loses her virginity and is later told by the same guy that he has passed on a curse to her that will follow and haunt her everywhere she goes, the film is imprinted with ridiculously clever undertones. The only way for our main protagonist to get rid of this “disease” she has inherited is to sleep with someone else and pass it on to them. Oh boy. Here comes a slew of film school term papers for the next decade about the film’s allegorical connection to STDs. Those sly open-minded students wouldn’t be far off in their theories, but there’s much more to “It Follows” than just its fascinating dissection of STDs and teenage sexuality.
Every scene in Mitchell’s film is filled with unbearable dread, bringing to mind early John Carpenter just by its synth-driven musical score, courtesy of the brilliant Disasterpiece. The jump scares are also frighteningly timed, all thanks to Julio C Perez IV’s editing and the dreamy atmosphere Mitchell creates on-screen. Scene after scene, the viewer is engulfed in an inescapable sexual nightmare, and just when you think the film will unfold in a conventional way, Mitchell pulls the rug under you and slaps your face sideways. Just like the classic movies it has been inspired by, “It Follows” is inescapably eerie. It’s also the first great American movie of 2015.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Jordan Ruimy Names 10 Influential Films of the Half-Decade

This decade has so far been a transitional decade for movies. We are living in an exciting, confusing time where superhero movies, sequels and popular book adaptations are becoming the foundation at the box office. If the notion of an original, creative, idea seems to be lost and forgotten, there are still – now more than ever – filmmakers pushing the norms and boundaries of what a movie can be. Filmmakers like these are few and far between, but they need to exist to make movies further progress and evolve just like they have in past 100+ years. To me, the following ten movies represent the most important of the decade thus far.  They are the movies have marked my mid-decade, the movies I feel have further advanced the cinematic medium. As always, I write articles such as these to get the readers to chime in with their own picks. Looking forward to reading them.
1) The Tree of Life 
Terrence Malick’s “The Tree Of Life” is a mosaic of a film that might test the limitations of its audience, but more importantly, the cinematic medium’s limitations. No matter what faults you may have with Malick’s movie, you cannot deny the sheer chutzpah and originality that went into its creation. There has never been anything quite like it and I highly doubt there ever will be. Malick tries to transcend the boundaries of life itself by trying to find a kind of meaning. This is his search for transcendence, in the little moments that make us and shape us. Death, mourning, rebirth, transcendence are just a fraction of the themes being tackled here. The mainstream might not have warmed up to the film’s non-linear narrative; for the rest of us, the symposium of abstract shapes and colors that pop our eyes out on the screen is just what the doctor ordered. This is the greatest cinematic experience of the decade.
2) The Master 
P.T Anderson’s masterpiece is almost unexplainable. A reinvention of the cinematic language with a never better Joaquin Phoenix. The backdrop is scientology, but that’s only the backdrop for a much more complex movie. The surrealistic nature of the film was a hint for things to come in the Anderson cannon – “Inherent Vice”, anybody?- but here was a movie that had the best director of his generation at the peak of his powers, using scientology as only the background for bigger more complicated themes. I was more than riveted. Bold, innovative and infuriating, “The Master” is a landmark movie, but one that will likely divide its audience in half. Too bad, I was hypnotized by almost every single frame of its puzzling, schizophrenic narrative.
3) Margaret 
“Margaret” is an absolute masterpiece. It thematically is going for the tone of a grandiose opera, but in a modern day context, filtered through the emotions of a teenage girl associated with a tragedy she witnessed and felt responsible for. It expresses the emotional teenage mind-set like no other. Every performance is astounding and every character in it so compelling and fully-realized. There’s no doubt in my mind that if this movie hadn’t been tangled up in lawsuits years ago, Anna Paquin surely would have been winning many awards for her performance. It’s such a shame that a movie of this size and scope was overlooked. Director Kenneth Lonergan asked friend Martin Scorsese for some help in the editing room and what you ended up getting was a movie that could not be explained easily and has only gotten better with time.
4) Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives 
Grasping a film such as this one may require some major attention from the viewer, and even when the attention is there, frustration may come about as a result of the film’s abstractedness and non-linear narrative. This is all not too surprising when you consider Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s filmography and his constant acknowledgment of nature and the way it binds to us as human beings. Have I lost you yet? Snoozing? That’s how some folks might react when watching “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”. Coming out of the screening I attended, there was a kind of head scratching vibe in the air. It was as if Weerasethakul’s film had not only confused the general public, but actually angered them in frustration with what they had witnessed. I dug it the its mysterious setting and its dream-like episodes. If you’ve seen “Tropical Maladay” or “Syndromes and a Century” you know just how special this guy is.
5) A Separation 
Filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s indisputably great “A Separation” is the portrait of a country in turmoil. Just like the marriage depicted, it is constantly caught in the politics and restrictions the society offers. In one memorable scene, a man tells his daughter to speak Arabic as opposed to Farsi. In another telling moment, a girl’s school textbook recalls a time in the country’s history when the only two classes that existed were “royalty” and “everybody else”. Every person involved in the trial of “A Separation” has the best intentions and their own honorable values to go by. It is the most truthful and unbiased depiction of Iran I have seen this decade. The characters in Farhadi’s film live their lives according to the same religion and guidelines that are asked for them to obey. Yet, in the end it is only our own personal experiences that can provide us with the moral compass for the story.
6) Under the Skin 
What Glazer has accomplished here is quite remarkable and shouldn’t be forgotten. He’s made a picture that defies all the rules and, just like most films on this list, has reinvented a new kind of language. He showed real promise with his first film “Sexy Beast” back in 2000, a cerebral and intense film that paved the way for Ben Kingsley’s best performance. He followed it up with “Birth”, which was kind of all over the place and not as successful as I wanted it to be, but now he’s really surprised me with this one, an out of left field vision that stuns. More than two years after having seen it I still can’t get the damn thing out of my head. Its originality and absurdity is what I love the most about it, and of course Johansson, who is just perfect for the part of a murderous, seductive alien, was the perfect casting choice.
7) Holy Motors 
Leos Carax. You have to give it to this wildly imaginative filmmaker. He’s allergic to formula and refuses to adhere to the norm. In this thrilling, visionary, frustrating, exhausting and masterful film, he decided to give a poisonous valentine to the cinema, splitting his film into a bunch of different genres. Episodic in nature and more than eye-opening, Carax gave us something we’ve never seen before: a surreal nightmare of the past, present and future of cinema. With unusual acting chameleon Denis Lavant by his side, this was a movie in which anything could happen, in which any image could get juxtaposed with any other. There is no three-act structure built upon a tired, overplayed premise. Carax pushes, pushes and pushes until he finds the existential, surrealistic nirvana he’s been looking for throughout the movie with a simple but awe-inspring final image that is as haunting as it is ridiculous.
8) Black Swan 
Taking a cue from Kanye West’s 2010 album, this is Director Darren Aronofksy’s Beautiful, Dark, twisted fantasy. Natalie Portman gave the performance of the year in a film that was more than just about ballet; it was about the boundaries an artist had in order to push his or herself to the very limits of their art. The same could be said of Aronofsky, who’s never adhered to the conventional or acceptable. A potent, poisonous child of Emeric Pressburger/Michael Powell’s “The Red Shoes” and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive”, this was a campy, visionary, extraordinary mess that turned into the film that confirmed the filmmaker was the real deal.
9) Inside Llewyn Davis 
There was a hint of reflective existentialism in the Coens’ Best Picture winner “No Country For Old Men”. Those kooky brothers were maturing before our very eyes and we had no idea what was to follow. “A Serious Man” was unlike any movie they’ve ever done: autobiographical, philosophical and damn near apocalyptic. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is where the Coens, the thinkers, make the masterpiece they’ve been hinting at this decade. A meditation on failure which just so happens to have as a backdrop the 1960’s Greenwich Village New York folk scene. This is the scene right before Dylan, when Folk was still square and the struggles for the artists were very apparent. Our Llewyn Davis doesn’t want to sell out, sticking to his artistic integrity and preferring a life without money than to sell himself to the devil. If only we had more artists like him today.
10) The Social Network 
A film such as “The Social Network” relies on characters more than plotting. The characters populating the film stay etched in your head way after the film is done, which is in fact the highest quality of the film. There is an almost irresistible vibe created; Fincher uses low lit cinematography to enhance the dreary atmosphere happening throughout. The hallways of Harvard feel cavernous and nightmarish, whereas the look and portrayal of University life is nothing short of condemning. Although the movie can be seen as an entertainment first and foremost, the substance that drives its themes home is very apparent. After a second, third and even fourth viewing of David Fincher’s masterpiece, I discovered new things that might not have seemed as obvious or apparent the first time around. “American Beauty’s” advertising campaign told us to “look closer; the same goes for “The Social Network”.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Richard Linklater: A Retrospective

Of all the great, deserving, American filmmakers that haven’t won the Best Director prize yet, Richard Linklater is up there with the most deserving. His filmography is as original and diverse as any of his generation. In 2014 he released quite possibly the best movie of his career. To many of us it’s unthinkable that the Academy might fail to honor such a landmark in American cinema with Oscars for Best Picture or Best Director. It stings when any great film is denied its place in the ranks of Best Picture winners, but we can regard it as inauguration into a pantheon of films just as prestigious: “Do The Right Thing”, “Goodfellas”, “The Player”, “Pulp Fiction”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, “Fargo”, “L.A. Confidential”, “Saving Private Ryan”, “Traffic”, “Lost in Translation”, “Sideways”, “Brokeback Mountain”, “There Will Be Blood”, “The Social Network”, “The Tree of Life & Zero Dark Thirty”. Whatever happens on February 23rd, Boyhood will join an ever-growing list of classics.
1) Boyhood, 2014
You’ve heard and read countless raves for this 12-years-in-the-making masterpiece; what else is there to say? Linklater used everything he learned in his 25 year career to make this movie. The pacing, the direction, the editing, the writing and the acting are all what we’ve come to know as Linklater-esque. There’s an every-growing maturity that is starting to comfortably creep into his work and, believe it or not, I think the man has many more great movies to come. What touched me most about “Boyhood” wasn’t just the sweet performances – especially by Arquette – but the way he makes the movie flow in such an organic and beautiful pattern. Many think it was about a boy growing up, but the film hit me hardest when it dealt with the bond between mother and child. It hit notes that felt so personal to me.
2) Waking Life, 2001
“Waking Life” is where Linklater decided to take huge risks and make personal, innovative cinema. It came out in 2001 when the theme of dreams and identity was very prevalent at the movies with the release of “Mulholland Drive” and “Memento”. Shot in Rotoscope and delivering vibrantly alive images, the film was a breakthrough for Linklater, unafraid to delve into topics that would become a source of obsession for him in the years to come: The meaning of life, dreams, freewill, consciousness and many more existential questions are at the heart of the movie. Its images linger in your head for weeks, months, even years – with every frame soaked in colors and palettes that have no limits to the shapes, sizes or imagination that can be used.
3) Dazed and Confused, 1993
This was the breakthrough. The first time I saw this movie I knew I had seen a damn-near classic. The atmosphere envelops you and makes you feel like you actually know every single person on-screen. The attention to detail is astounding. You are there in 1976 Texas, on the last day of High School for the graduates of Lee High. There are so many different characters, and so many different plots that, in a way, the film seems to feel plotless. This was a sign of things to come for the young Texan filmmaker. Although this was a big studio picture, the narrative structure was anything but conventional, focusing more on character than actual storyline. Linklater’s 25 year obsession with the passage of time is very apparent here as the film seems to take place within a 24 hour time frame and uses that to further explore the routes many of the characters are about to take in their lives. 
4) Before Sunset, 2004
5) Before Midnight, 2013
Celine and Jesse.  It started with “Before Sunrise” and then continued with the beautiful “Before Sunset” and capped off with the mature, pessimistic “Before Midnight”. Richard Linklater’s trilogy of romance in European cities has been building a solid cult following for more than two decades now.  “Before Sunset” is a masterful examination of love, family life and conversation.  Never has an audience wanted an on-screen character to cheat on his wife more than when Jesse shows up at Celine’s apartment in the climactic scene. Celine is indelibly played by Julie Delpy and Jesse is superbly played by Ethan Hawke. Linklater and his two actors wrote the screenplay, much of it clearly improvised, from the artists’ own experiences and points of views. This organic style brings a real sense of authenticity to the films. These movies ask us questions about love that many studio movies refuse to ask. Is our view of love as a society conflicted, disjointed? Or can we really love someone eternally, in a “forever” sense of the term? How much can we compromise until we end up losing sense of ourselves and our own independence? There is not one answer to any of these questions. Linklater is a curiosity seeker who asks more than he answers and the way “Before Midnight” ends makes you wonder what can possibly happen next. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Celine and Jesse.
6) The School of Rock, 2003
In “Boyhood”, Ethan Hawke’s dad creates a Post-Beatles “Black Album” mixtape for his son. Something tells me it’s something Jack Black’s riotous imposter substitute teacher Dewey Finn would do for his class in “The School of Rock”. Just like Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous”, this is Linklater’s love letter to rock and roll. A passionate, studio-backed project that did exactly what it had to do and did it in such an expertly crafted way. Black’s Dewey Finn is a firm believer of the power of rock and roll – he wants to pass down his knowledge to the classically trained school kids he substitute teaches.  “I have been touched by your kids… and I’m pretty sure that I’ve touched them”, Finn exclaims to a horrified group of parents whose jaws drop at the comment. We get what he’s saying; he’s just passin’ the torch, man. 
7) Tape, 2001
The passage of time gets dealt with again in this semi-experimental film that, with “Waking Life”, kickstarted Linklater’s second phase as a filmmaker after the ill received “The Newton Boys”. Taking place inside a hotel room in real time, “Tape” stars Linklater muse Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and an incredibly powerful Uma Thurman. In the ensuing hours our trio dissects a painful high school memory that may or may not be true. Linklater, the Auteur, is in full display here with the film’s themes of memory, time and place taking center stage. However, the most fascinating aspect of Tape is that you don’t fully know what is real and what is not. Some characters may be lying or might have just perceived events in a different way.  The 86 nail biting minutes the filmmaker lays out are thought provoking to say the least. This might just be the hidden gem of the Linklater canon. 
8) Bernie, 2012
Tackling the real-life story of a Texan man who shot and killed a “companion” in the back, you might expect one of the darker films in Linklater’s filmography. Suffice to say that what we got instead was quite possibly the most likeable murderer in cinema history. Bernie Tiede, as played by a never better Jack Black, was a well-liked church going fella who didn’t seem to have a bad bone in his body. What led to him committing such a terrible crime? Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth’s screenplay tries to dissect the events and come to an understanding. However, like most of the director’s movies, the answers don’t come easy; in fact, there might not even be many by the time the movie is done. It’s a fascinating look at human nature and, if at first it seems distant from his other movies, it couldn’t be more relevant to the themes he’s been seeking out his entire career. 
9) Slacker, 1991
Here’s where it started. This classic Gen-X film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress just a few years ago (and for good reason). Here is a director defining a generation, speaking volumes about human weirdness and connection.  “Slacker” is a film that flows from character to character on the streets, apartments and cafes of Austin, Texas. It is plotless, aimless but nevertheless mesmerizing in its random meetings and conversations that seem to connect to one another in unique, original and trippy ways. It isn’t hard to consider “Slacker” a ‘Stoner Classic’, but to call it that would also take away from the fact that it can be appreciated sober, as an organic exercise to open up your senses and make you think hard about our conscience and subconscious. 
10) Me and Orson Welles, 2010
Linklater’s ode to the stage came and went faster than any movie he has released in his 25 year career. This despite solid reviews and an incredible performance by Christian McKay as a rambunctious, youthful, Orson Welles trying to prove his worth by staging a play of “Julius Cesar”. The film takes place in 1937 New York and the attention to detail is beautifully rendered as Linklater gives us something he’s never given us: a period piece. This is a pleasingly simple but satisfying dramedy that pays tribute to one of the giants of our time and worked as a breather for Linklater, in between all the thoughtful dialogue-driven works of art he seems to consistently deliver effortlessly.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Top 10 movies directed by women

In its 87 years of existence, only four women have ever been nominated for a Best Director Oscar. All of those nominees have made my list of the greatest movies directed by women. While researching this project, the original draft was more than 100 titles; narrowing it down to 10 was not easy, which is why I encourage you to chime in with your own choices in the comment section. In honor of Ava Duvernay, the latest and probably not last snub, for her brilliant “Selma”, here are 10 movies that make a good case for more original female voices at the movies.

1) Seven Beauties

Lina Wertmuller’s Seven Beauties is an ugly movie. Wertmuller is a female Italian director whose films weren’t supposed to be nice to look at. She consistently tried to break societal taboos over her long illustrious career. “Seven Beauties” was the best film of her career and justifiably made her become the first female director to ever get nominated for Best Director. Tackling the holocaust, WW2 and Italy’s ugly role in the war was a risk. The taboos tackled by Wertmuller were indelibly cringed in an air of shame in her native country. She wanted to push buttons with her film and make the audience as uncomfortable as possible. Wertmuller shot her scenes with no restraint, purposely going over the top with original characters that stay etched in your memory for a good, long time. “Seven Beauties” is a landmark of cinema and clearly inspired Tarantino to re-write WW2 history himself 34 years later with “Inglourious Basterds”.

2) The Hurt Locker

Here is Kathryn Bigelow’s taut, tense and incredibly terrific movie that justifiably won the Oscar for Best Picture. I could have chosen other Bigelow gems like “Point Break”, “Strange Days” and “Near Dark”, but “The Hurt Locker” was the best and most important achievement. An episodic movie that dealt with male testosterone and adrenaline by studying a man who thrived on it, and kept putting himself in the most dangerous situation imaginable. The attention to detail is staggering. “War is a Drug” the title card reads at the beginning of Bigelow’s film. This movie is a drug. Jeremy Renner’s incredible performance and Bigelow’s incredibly controlled direction changed the way we saw action films and reinvented the possibilities for the new century. Not surprising that Bigelow was the first ever woman awarded the Best Director Oscar, and this quickly became a landmark in 21st century cinema.

3) Lost in Translation

Sofia Coppola’s best movie as a director was such sensitive, delicate stuff – and I do mean that as a compliment. Every frame is beautifully photographed by Lance Acord; the film is a portal to a brightly colored, anything-can-happen Japan. And the performances by the two leads – Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen – just sublime. In showing unrequited, unforgivable, love between these two strangers lost in a place far away, Coppola infuses every frame of her magically romantic film with a sense of purpose and free will. It’s as if every convention known to Hollywood is thrown out the window and replaced by a
freshness you usually see in Japanese films made by Wong Kar Wai or Ozu. Most surprising of all, it’s American and as purely poetic as any movie can be.

4) The Piano

Jane Campion’s “The Piano” is the most personal movie of her astonishing filmography. This almost plotless story about a group of people who aren’t, on the whole, particularly easy to sympathize with, is a stunning mood piece and a haunting adult fairy tale about a woman’s quest to control her identity and destiny. A practically silent Holly Hunter gives an Oscar Winning performance that is as mesmerizing as it is haunting, and Anna Paquin, then 11 years old, won an Oscar playing Hunter’s smart and witty young daughter. Campion, never one to shy away from Gender politics, gave us a portrait of love, fear and passion amidst a world where a woman is not supposed to have the necessary freedom to fulfill her every desires. Rarely do we witness beauty as real as what is captured in this film. Campion’s cinematic landmark is such a visually stunning film, it’s almost intoxicating how its atmosphere sweeps across the screen and ravishes the eyes.

5) The Triumph of the Will

Was there ever any doubt that this – quite possibly the most influential film of all time – would not make the list? “Triumph of the Will” is a Nazi propaganda film that, despite its disturbing subject matter, revolutionized the way movies were made. Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl singlehandedly rewrote the language of cinema with her use of cinematography and music. This is a work of staggering brilliance with shots that are still hard to achieve to this very day. It is then no surprise that filmmakers such as Peter Jackson, George Lucas and Ridley Scott have all admitted to having studied and copied Rifenstahl’s masterpiece. Watching the film with attention to all the details on screen is an incredible experience; add in the fact that this was meant as a propaganda tool by the Nazis and you have one of the most harrowing cinematic experiences imaginable.

6) Cléo de 5 à 7

The French New Wave was a boys club – that is until a young Agnes Varda showed up to shake the party. We all know “Breathless”, “The 400 Blows”, “Contempt” and “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, but no French New Wave top five could be complete without “Cléo de 5 à 7″ a rich absorbing look at a woman embracing death and looking into the unknown. The film is a staple of feminist filmmaking and introduced to us a character that we could eerily relate to. Awaiting the results of a medical exam that could potentially lead to a stomach cancer diagnosis, Cleo wanders around the streets of Paris as themes of existentialism and mortality get played out. It’s a groundbreaking movie that gave way to one of the most iconic and important female voices in cinematic history. The boys club was forever shaken.

7) Zero Dark Thirty

Forget about the Bin Laden raid, which ends the movie, what counts in Kathryn Bigelow’s film is how they actually got there in the first place. The procedural work rivals that of “All The Presidents Men” and “Zodiac”, as does the harrowing relevance that burns at its core. A great performance by Jessica Chastain infuses every frame, and Bigelow, a great action director, proves her worth as a director of considerable intellectual skill. The controversy Bigelow’s film got upon release was obviously unwarranted and cost it Best Picture to –huh? – Argo? Haters will hate, but this movie has stood the test of time and will continue to do so.

8) Winter’s Bone

Debra Granik’s second feature film, “Winter’s Bone”, is the kind of movie that gets progressively better as you delve deeper and deeper into it. It is filled with humane, authentic characterizations of a society that is rooted in evil and people who have lost all hope in life and succumbed to morally wrong choices. There are memorable scenes that linger (the gutting of a squirrel, the taking of a girl, a final ambiguous mumbling sentence) a sense of dread that might turn the most primitive of moviegoers off. It is through and through a product of American Independent cinema and we should never forget its important existence. Then newcomer Jennifer Lawrence, delved deeply into her role and created something memorable and real. It was an absolutely spellbinding lead performance that brought subtlety to her role as a teenage girl desperately looking for her – quite possibly dead – father in the wild Ozarks of Missouri.

9) Boys Don’t Cry

I still hold out hope that director Kimberly Peirce will one day make as great a movie as her 1999 debut “Boys Don’t Cry”. Featuring an Oscar Winning performance from Hilary Swank, this was ballsy, original filmmaking at its finest. The true story of Brandon Teena, a trans-man raped, beaten and murdered by acquaintances after they discover that he is anatomically female, “Boys Don’t Cry” was a statement by Peirce to stop the madness and advance as a society. She doesn’t hold any punches and knocks us out with every stinging detail in this tragic, and sadly still relevant, story

10) Big

Director Penny Marshall became the first female director ever to direct a movie that grossed more than 100 million dollars at the box office. No small feat. She was sadly one of the few true feminine voices in Hollywood to sit in the director’s chair during the 1980’s. Who can forget the iconic piano dancing scene that is the centerpiece of this constantly copied, but never bettered, 1988 movie starring Tom Hanks as a boy trapped in a grown man’s body. Marshall’s short but impressive streak would continue with “A League of Their Own” and the vastly underappreciated “Awakenings”, starring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The 10 Best Movie Scenes of 2014

Jordan Ruimy’s 10 Best Scenes of 2014 

Now that almost every single film critic in the country has published their top ten list, we can sit back, relax and think about the upcoming year, a year which will bring forth more sequels than ever before and an industry that – supposedly – keeps shrinking in ideas and creative freedom. No worries. There are still great movies out there and there always will be. The rebels that keep fighting for their vision to be shown onscreen are plentiful. I decided this year that instead of naming 10 movies, which I’m sure many of you have heard of before, I’ll switch it up and make a list of the ten best moments/scenes of 2014. Moments when artists decided to break the rules, change the game and leave us gasping for air (or a bottle of oxygen). Here they are.
1. Whiplash “The Final Performance”
The editing, composition, and performance of the drum solo finale in “Whiplash” is as perfect as finales go. An artistic breakthrough happens along the way. Miles Teller’s Andrew breaks on through to the other side by giving an impressive, sweaty, blood soaked drum solo that had audiences applauding to no end once the screen went black when I first caught it at the Toronto Film Festival. The ending is meant to be a provocation of the highest order. Up until that point, writer-director Damien Chazelle had pummeled us into a corner with J.K Simmons’ mentally abusive music teacher. The finale is equal parts disturbing, rousing, confusing and emotionally liberating. It’s the moment when Chazelle’s movie becomes the masterpiece that it is.
2. Birdman “Times Square Lockout”
I could have chosen the final scene or Edward Norton getting a hard on in front of a live audience or really any scene from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s visionary film, but this is the scene everybody keeps talking about. The ballsiest moment for many reasons. Riggan, wearing only his tighty whities, accidentally gets locked out of Broadway’s St. James theater after accidentally catching his daughter making out with one of the stars of his play. Riggan goes for it, marching down Times Square naked. The camera starts with an over-the-shoulder shot, then moves laterally with Keaton, then moves in front of him, to show his reaction. People start to recognize him and dozens of cameras start flashing to take mementos of this crazy moment. The audience gasps in agony and sit at the edge of our seat cringing. Suffice it to say, Riggan makes it back to stage via the front entrance – gasps heard all around the audience – finishing his lines, completing a tour de force moment in a film filled with them.
3. Gone Girl “Coital Bloodbath”
It was this or the “cool girl” monologue, but how can you resist this shockingly bloody post coital night capper? Of course it’s the scene where Amy cuts Desi’s throat, mid-coitus, as he’s climaxing, with a box cutter she sneakily hid from him and the audience. That scene. That scene alone took two days to shoot, as Fincher meticulously constructed and de-constructed the mise-en-scene. The frame is soaked in blood and Rosamund Pike’s Amy revels in the gore all around her by beautifully acknowledging what she has just done. She’s in control, she knows what she’s doing, and she and Fincher make sure we don’t ever forget what just happened.
4. Force Majeure “The Controlled Avalanche”
The money shot in Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure happens in the first few minutes of the film. It’s a four and a half minute shot that will leave you gasping for air and in disarray about what just happened. A Swedish family dines in an outdoor patio, we overhear people nervously gasping about an innocent looking avalanche coming their way. “It’s a controlled avalanche don’t worry”, says the father. Lo and behold it looks to be more than that as the avalanche comes towards the patio enveloping the screen with whiteness and having the father run for his life without thinking about his family’s fate. Fight or flight response? Or just plain cowardice? Of course our patriarch was right, the avalanche was indeed controlled, but his actions are now questioned and his role as family patriarch is jeopardized.
5. Under the Skin “The Disfigured Man”
Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” is the most visionary movie of 2014. Scene after scene you are enveloped in its darkly deceptive web of sex and mystery. Just around the film’s halfway mark, the alien picks up a man with a facial deformity. You may assume you’re seeing an actor with a prosthetic, but in fact he’s played by amateur actor Adam Pearson, who has a condition called neurofibromatosis. Johansson’s Alien does not realize he is different, she keeps mentioning how he has beautiful hands and persists for him to touch her face. The film at the moment challenges our preconceptions about human nature, the way we see things, challenging to look at this man through the eyes of an alien who doesn’t know he is different. Yet, there’s a breaking point: our Alien is touched by this man and starts to feel things she hasn’t felt before, setting up the perplexing emotions that are about to come in this staggeringly masterful film.
6. Inherent Vice “Femme Fatale”
Here is a weirdly sexy long take that is one of many riotously dreamy moments in Paul Thomas Anderson’s messy, but at times mesmerizing, Inherent Vice. Up until then, Anderson has confused us and dared us to leap with him in a world filled with hallucinogenic madness. Shasta, who was supposedly missing, decides to stop by our beloved Doc’s apartment with the cool breezy chilled out attitude of a summer bunny femme fatale. She seduces Doc in every which way possible as she recounts tales of her past. They do finally get it on, but not before we are brought into her deceitful web of foreplay. When the coitus is done, she sensually whispers, “This doesn’t mean we’re back together.” I could have chosen Martin Short’s bravura sequence as a coked up paranoid attorney or James Brolin’s final statement, but this is the moment when Inherent Vice gives you the best high.
7. Boyhood “I Just Thought There Would Be More”
“I just thought there would be more.” That is a quote from a scene that will mostly likely be responsible for Patricia Arquette’s Best Supporting Actress statuette this February. These words are uttered near the end of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, as her teenage son is about to leave for college. It’s the kind of moment that wrenchingly breaks your heart yet never over-sentimentalizes its reach. Throughout the three hour movie, Arquette’s single mother has had to raise her two children practically on her own all in the while going through two difficult marriages and trying to get a degree. The end result is that she is now a successful working woman and is about to send her youngest off to college. It’s that moment in life when a parent has to let go. She feels underwhelmed by the moment but, having just seen 12 years zoom by in 3 hours, we feel like end result is the beauty of life.
8. Nightcrawler “The Home Invasion”
“Nightcrawler” has many incredible set pieces, but none more impressive than a mid-story LA hills home invasion that Lou Bloom and his assistant stumble upon. When Jake Gyllenhaal’s Bloom gets a camera in his hand, every law is thrown out of the window and nothing will stop him from capturing the most vicious crimes. The scene is morally questionable, but filled with undeniable tension, and aided by the brilliant work of Robert Elswit’s cinematography. This invasion of a crime scene before the police even shows up is the start of a nasty series of events that sets forth uncontrollable tensions that will undoubtedly lead to tragedy. I almost chose that incredible Chinese restaurant/car chase scene that ends the movie with a thrilling bang, but that scene wouldn’t have even happened without this creepy, deviously immoral moment.
9. Two Days, One Night “Timur”
Marion Cotillard is mesmerizing in her role as Sandra, a young Belgian mother who discovers her co-workers were pressured to choose a significant pay bonus rather than having her keep the job she so badly needs. In this mesmerizing film by the Dardennes brothers, Cotillard’s Sandra approaches each and every co-worker, asking them to change their vote. After failing to convince the last few co-workers – and on the verge of another mental breakdown – Sandra approaches Timur (Timur Magomedgadzhiev) in a soccer field. The smile on his face when he sees Sandra says everything about what is about to happen. He admits regret for voting against her for the bonus and that he’s been thinking about it ever since. He looks back at a time when he was new to the company and Sandra helped him overcome tough circumstances. Timur breaks down and bursts into tears, bringing a glimmer of hope to a story that seemed solely based in darkness. At that very moment we believe in the goodness of people.
10. Snowpiercer “Axe-Wielding Mayhem”
I could have chosen any of the car hopping, adrenaline pumping, blood running sequences from Bong Joon- ho’s “Snowpiercer” but the one that stuck with me the most was this nightmare Axe-wielding bloodbath that occurs mid-way through the film. You expect unpredictability and downright original storytelling whenever you watch a new Bong Joon-ho film, what you don’t expect is a jaw-dropping workshop on how to shoot the perfect action sequence- a sequence so tightly constructed and so visionary that it pretty much puts all of Hollywood’s action movies to shame. Axes, fish, complete darkness, complete light, a blood soaked floor and that’s only the half of it. The film’s first 90 minutes is the most brilliantly looney science fiction I’ve seen since Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”.