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”.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dardennes Interview

"Two Days, One Night" might be the best Dardennes movie yet. Marion Cotillard is mesmerizing in her role as Sandra, a young Belgian mother who discovers her co-workers were pressured to choose between getting a significant pay bonus and having her keep her job. The way Cotillard approaches each and every co-worker, pleading — sometimes even begging — for them to change their vote is heartbreaking. It’s a movie that once again places the talented directing duo on the short list of the very best filmmakers in the world today. I met up with them a few months back to discuss the process, Cotillard and the small details that make a Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne film so damn great.

What were the roots of this film ?
Luc Dardenne : We've been working on the screenplay for a very long time. The character of Sandra was the main focus. We always saw that character as someone who was scared but who fought through adversity no matter how intense or frustrating the times got it. There were a few questions we wanted to answer 1) Against social insecurity, how can she rebuild? 2) At the end of this voyage Sandra had to turn into a new person, a sort of rebirth. We didn't know exactly how how we would get to that point, but we knew that it would end -one way or another- with Sandra saying "I'm not scared anymore".

One of the interesting things about this film is that its episodic nature is revealed quite early in the film and that you know exactly what kind of film this is going to be
L. D. : We had to to take this formula seriously. We always knew there would be suspense with each of the meetings she had with her co-workers. Who will open the door? Will they say yes or no? Given her psychological instability, how will Sandra take it? We know from the first few minutes that she isn't a fighter. At the end of all this will she be able to rally the troops and get them to vote for her. We always knew repetition or an episodic kind of film would make for good drama if done right. We purposely had her co-workers give similar replies, such as "put yourself in my position" or "what are the others saying". It was a also a case of: If we told you that 10 out of the 15 people agreed to change their votes, would you be less scared?
Sandra doesn't really stigmatize her co-workers
L.D : It is not a story about good vs. evil.  Every meeting is very complex. Sandra understands them and sometimes you feel as if she doesn't blame them for taking the bonus. Would she have done the same thing in their position? She might have, that's part of the complexities of the film. We purposely chose a small-scale company where there weren't enough workers for there to be a union. The film would have been very different if it was unionized.
Most of your films have had less famous actors and that brought a feeling of realism to the surroundings. Cotillard is not an unknown actress, this was a stroke of genius in casting. What led you to choosing Marion?
Jean-Pierre Dardenne : 
Choosing a big name actress was a gamble and potentially dangerous for the realism we were going for, This became a somewhat exciting challenge for us, Marion found a way to deliver something she hadn't really delivered before, a new body, a new face, a new side to the Marion we all dearly knew.

We always wanted to work with Marion. We co-produced Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone and we wanted to meet when the film was going to shoot in Belgium. We met briefly for  around 10 minutes. We actually wanted to cast Marion as a doctor for another screenplay we were working on. When we abandoned the doctor project, the character of Sandra came back to the fold and Marion was the obvious choice. It had to be Marion. We had to make sure she was fine with the role, since we abandoned the doctor project, her response was "I really don't care, I just want to work with you guys" We rehearsed for a month and a half, as we do with all our projects. All that rehearsal and repetition really prepared Marion to be as raw and bar bones for a role that is very complicated and layered with undertones.

L.D It became quite obvious we made the right decision the moment we started shooting. There was something in those eyes and the expressions on her face that instantly made it an ideal match.
One thing that struck me is the color of the clothes Sandra wears. That -now iconic- pink top and other lively colors. Anything behind that?
L. D. : Good catch. We tried to dress up Sandra in colors that a person coming out of a past depression would wear. Colorful, never wanting to go back to the dark side. Even if at times she does fall off the bandwagon, the colors stay the same with the hope of going back to the light. We also were very careful with the shoes we chose for Marion to wear, the noise they made. We had the choice for lighter shoes but they didn't make any noise when she walked. We wanted every step heard on this journey she was in.
Do you guys do many takes?
L. D. : Depends. For the scene where Sandra breaks down in the room we did around 81 takes. If we have a scene where we find the flow is not right we will say something like : « Now Marion, can you please take a shorter silence in between so and so words and say so and so a little faster » but really it all comes down to how it flows in the editing room, thats why getting many takes is sometimes a great thing. Our editing has a lot to do with the certain flow we are going for even before we shoot the movie.

To end this interview I'm going to ask you guys a question that I tend to ask most filmmakers at the conclusion of an interview. Is there a movie that you've discovered recently that has renewed or solidified your passion for movies?

J.P.D Too many to name. The last Jia Zhang-Ke was phenomenal. Abbas Kiarostami never disappoints. Wong Kar-Wai. "Boyhood" the last linklater was phenomenal.

L.D. There's a great scene in that movie where the mother played by Patricia Arquette sits at the kitchen table and sends her son off to college and there's just such a simplicity and attention to detail that really just got to me. Everything in that scene just works right. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Moore, Witherspoon and the inevitable

Julianne Moore. There, I said it. That’s a name you’re likely going to be hearing a lot in the coming weeks, hell, probably months. She is the surest thing to come out of this year’s awards race. Ever since I saw her incredibly moving performance in “Still Alice”, back in September, it seemed like a no-brainer. Based on Lisa Genova’s 2007 best-selling novel, the film is a striking look at the nastiness and brutality that falls upon an American family when one of their loved ones is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Moore is ever so brilliant in the movie, encompassing the way a person can lose track of herself and her own identity even when she tries ever so hard to retain it. Just through Moore’s eyes you can witness the slow detachment Alice is going through from society, friends, family, and herself. It’s a devastating film because, just like Alice, her ever deteriorating brain keeps getting erased of its precious memories without you even noticing the effects – it isn’t until the last few scenes that the devastation this disease has caused hits you.

“Still Alice” has some of the hardest scenes to watch of any movie this year, but it’s all so worth it for the humbling journey that is involved with it. Indie filmmakers Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer don’t try to pull at the heartstrings, they just tell their story in the simplest way possible, and why wouldn’t they? They have Julianne Moore at their disposal, one of the great actresses of our time (“Short Cuts”, “The Kids Are All Right”, “Boogie Nights”, “Far From Heaven”, “Safe”, “Magnolia”, “Children of Men”, “The Hours” and even next year’s “Maps to the Stars” directed by David Cronenberg, in which she plays a down-and-out actress, desperate for her next big shot). Every time she’s on screen, Cronenberg’s film ignites with excitement and his pitch black Hollywood satire gets even darker.

If Moore is the surest thing to come out of this year’s race, it doesn’t mean that the other nominees should pack it up and call it a night. For example, if Reese Witherspoon hadn’t won back in 2006 for “Walk the Line” we’d be talking about a close race to the finish. Witherspoon’s work in Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Wild” is astounding, equaling her Best Actress work as June Carter Cash. Coming out next week, the same week “Still Alice” is released, Vallée’s film is a stirring portrait of love, despair and hope. You can call it “Eat, Pray, Hike”, but that’s where comparisons should end with that Julia Roberts vehicle. Vallée, who directed last year’s “Dallas Buyers Club”, is an artist through and through. Ever since his beginnings in Quebec cinema I’ve kept a watchful eye on him. Just check out “Café de Flore” or “C.R.A.Z.Y” to see how great of a filmmaker he can truly be.

“Wild” has a more conventional storyline than those aforementioned films but he and Witherspoon make up for it with sheer artistry. It also helps that gifted writer/novelist Nick Hornby and Cheryl Strayed – on whose book this is based – wrote the screenplay. After a brutal divorce and losing her mom to cancer, Strayed went on an 1100 mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail by herself to try to bring meaning to a life that was crumbling. It sounds like the kind of stuff the Hallmark channel would dig, but don’t kid yourself, Vallée knows better than to stoop down to that level. Apart from Witherspoon’s emotionally resonant performance, the other major thing you notice in the film is how incredibly well edited it is.

Going back and forth between present day, flashbacks, flash forwards and dream-like imagery can be a tricky business, but Vallée and his longtime editing partner Martin Pensa (“Dallas Buyers Club”) nail every detail. And Witherspoon, what more can be said about an actress who had me at hello ever since the day I first saw her in Alexander Payne’s “Election” (still the best performance she’s ever given). It wasn’t just that movie – her enormous talent has shone through over the years in films such as “Pleasantville”, “American Psycho”, “Cruel Intentions”, “I Walk the Line” and last year’s underrated “Mud”.

 How refreshing it is to have not one but two top notch female performances coming out in the same week. These two actresses are on par with the incredible work Felicity Jones has done in the recently released “Theory of Everything”, Rosamund Pike’s harrowingly hypnotic femme fatale in David Fincher’s “Gone Girl”, Anne Dorval in “Mommy”, Scarlett Johansson in “Under the Skin” and my dark horse favorite Marion Cotillard and the mesmerizing performance she gives in “Two Days, One Night”. The latter three might not get the nominations they deserve, but I advise you to seek these performances out because they will absolutely blow you away.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Foreign language race article

My article on the foreign language race is up now at Sasha Stone's fabulous site Awardsdaily. I haven't seen Timbuktu yet but I think I've possibly set something up to get to see it in the next week or two. It's been on my radar for quite a while now and cannot wait to check it out. The race is starting to shape up as a highly competitive venture for each of its participants, the foreign language movies I checked out this past year at various film festivals were quite exceptional, so much so that I already have a solid top ten list for 2015!

Happy weekend everybody, hopefully I'll be able to post either today or tomorrow.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

The enigma that is "Foxcatcher" (dir. Benneth Miller)

Here's a movie that doesn't pander to you. It doesn't try to manipulate to you, nor does it try to get a cheap thrill for the sake getting a cheap thrill. Benneth Miller's quiet -and I do mean quiet- new film "Foxcatcher" is so simple that it can sneak up on you way after the end credits have rolled. Based on the story of Olympic winning wrestlers Dave and Mark Schultz and John Du Pont- the rich profiteer that took them in and eventually betrayed them- the film is a devastating american tragedy of the highest order but while watching the film you wouldn't even know it. All you know is that within each and every frame lies a dread that is almost indescribable- it fills you up with a feeling that cannot be shaken. I was angered, thrilled, bored, confused and stung by "Foxcatcher". The fact that Miller leaves out a lot of the story only enhances the fact that it might just be the most inaccessible studio picture in quite a bit of time -and I do mean that as a compliment.

It plays almost like a shakespearean tragedy with all three of its actors delivering on the buzz that has been building up since the film's debut this past May at Cannes. Steve Carrell -wearing a devilish prosthetic nose- is superb as Du Pont, a man that has been spoon-fed everything in his life. Getting rejected or having anybody say no to him is unacceptable, he gets his way, he always has.  Channing Tatum is Mark Schultz an aspiring wrestler that has already won Olympic gold and builds up a unique but disturbing friendship with Du Pont after the heir takes him into his Foxcatcher ranch and builds a wrestling facility all for him. Mar's brother Dave -also a gold medalist- is played by the always talented Mark Ruffalo who makes the most of his limited screen-time.

It is quite obvious that it doesn't end well for any of these tragic Shakespearian figures and chances are you already know about the tragedy that happened at the ranch back in the late 80'sFoxcatcher isn't the kind of movie you can love, it's the kind of movie you have the upmost respect for because of how courageous and bold it truly turns out to be. It's a bleak portrait of the American dream gone haywire. Miller doesn't let you go inside any of his characters' heads and leaves you out with not many questions answered. That can sometimes be very frustrating and