Sunday, February 5, 2012

Stuck-in-My-Head-Sunday: Lana Del Rey - "Summertime Sadness"/M.I.A. - "Bad Girls"/David Guetta - "Without You (feat. Usher)"

This week was attack of new music. Out came Lana Del Rey's Born to Die, a new single from Madonna, and a new single from M.I.A. There did seem to be an embarrassment of riches in the way of M.I.A. since she also was featured on Madonna's meh single "Give Me All Your Luvin'." I missed that crazy betch. Badly. Lastly, my love for an already released dance ballad (dance ballad=my weakness) was solidified.

First up, Lana Del Rey. I have been tepidly awaiting the release of Born to Die since while I am obsessed with "Video Games,""Born to Die," and "Off to the Races," I am decidedly less in love with all of the other tracks I had heard from the album. Overall it's a pretty disappointing 52 minutes of orchestra pop, but one track--"Summertime Sadness"--is the biggest earworm I've heard in quite some time. Enjoy:



M.I.A. is back! Her new album is due later in the year, but I'll take the fun and gangsta "Bad Girls" for now. I've never been a Madonna fan but how funny is it to juxtapose the out-of-touch and dated feel of Madonna's single and video with the exciting, fresh, and middle-eastern inspired (naturally) excitement of "Bad Girls"?! I actually can't stop listening to this and the next song on this post.



I had heard this song before and found it very catchy, but it wasn't until seeing it on Glee and dancing to it at a friend's wedding that I realized just how incredible it is. My weakness for a good dance ballad is epic, and this song seems like it was almost tailor-made for my tastes: starts low and quiet, then Usher belts it out, after a few singing of the chorus it EXPLODES into such a fun dance beat. I can't wait to go completely ape-shit when this blasts out of the speakers at a bar after 3 or 4 hard drinks (it's only what I need to be able to dance in front of people). This song puts me in such a great mood. I love how everyone in the video clearly feels the same way.




Saturday, February 4, 2012

2011 Year in Review: The Final Countdown, #5-#1

I should note before you read what I consider the best of the year that a top 10 list is a very wicked thing. All of the films below have at one time, even recently, been at #1. They are all incredible pieces of work that deserve a watch and deserve discussion. I recommend that as soon as they come out on home video--many of them are already available--you rent them or stream them immediately. I consider each one a masterpiece. Without further ado, my favorite films of 2011:

#5

Besides having a personal best performance from the always-fantastic Michael Shannon that haunts me to this day, Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter is a masterful slow burn descent into paranoia and fear. Shannon's Curtis has dreams of a big apocalyptic storm coming and decides that these dreams in their intensity and recurrence might actually be premonitions, so he takes steps to build a shelter in the backyard of his family's home. Jessica Chastain is fantastic--as expected--as Curtis' wife Samantha who is confused and feeling powerless at her husband's state. Like another indie powerhouse this year, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Take Shelter has an incredible ending that has polarized audiences. While I found the former's ending infuriating, I found the latter's a perfectly ambiguous (in explanation) cap to a film that had spun one hell of a siren's song on me.

Trailer:


#4

I may be a bit biased in how high this film placed on the list because I am a fairly die-hard Lars von Trier fan. Despite idiotic remarks at press conferences I find the man to be quite a genius filmmaker. After the painfully beautiful opening 10 minutes of this film I knew it had already cracked the list. The film following that opening is flawed, but my goodness what an ambitious and moving piece of work. My interpretation of the film is that the first half--titled Justine after Kirsten Dunst's character--is about struggling with depression amongst those who can't understand it and just aggravate your situation. The second half is about two different people in different stages of depression: Charlotte Gainsbourg's Claire who is just beginning her descent and acceptance, and Kirsten Dunst's Justine who is near-catatonic and living deep down in her dark hole. Besides that story and the blatant but beautiful metaphor of "Planet Melancholia," the film is beautifully shot, scored, and paced. Some have complained that it feels bloated, but I challenge them to cut out even a single scene or shot from the whole. 

Trailer:



#3

When I walked out of Drive and into the night, I remember I called all of my best friends and told them that as soon as the film opens they HAVE to see it. Drive is by far the most fun I've had at the movies all year, and it's also just a staggeringly unique and well-made piece of work. I think the acting is fine here, but the film really is about Winding Refn's vision, and it is perfectly executed. A score that will surely stay on my iPod for years to come, shots that still linger in my mind, and structure and pacing that is so perfect the film is over seemingly before it even began. I have a feeling that 20 years from now the new generation of filmmakers are going to cite this film as major inspiration to them. It's new, exciting, fresh, and surely a new classic of action and art-house cinema.

Trailer:


#2

When Christopher Plummer wins an Oscar later this month for his performance in this film it may be my favorite acting win the Oscars has had in years. Not because I think he's overdue (which he is) or because it's the best performance in contention (which it is) but because Plummer's Hal Fields is the heart of this film and what takes it from meet-cute romance to something so much more. The film tracks Ewan McGregor's Oliver Fields (who himself is deserving of acclaim for this film) as he **SEMI-SPOILER** copes with his father Hal's death. Hal, months before he died, came out of the closet as gay. The film goes back and forth between Oliver in the present and Oliver's last few months/years with his father. **END SPOILER** The romantic part of the film is entertaining, but never as engaging as the story of Hal. It's been quite some time since a film has moved me so deeply, and this film hit me hard in the theater and has stayed with me every single week since. Sometimes it can be a bit cloying in its whimsy during the meet-cute, but the script and direction by Mike Mills comes from such a personal and raw place that it shines through in the emotionally heavy-hitting moments. I took the bait and I'm thankful for it. Also, Arthur is SO much better than Uggie. Suck it The Artist.

Trailer:


#1

I saw Andrew Haigh's weekend as part of BAM Cinematek's BAMcinemafest 2011, where it was the opening night film. I had heard a bit about it prior to the event this past June, but nobody had really raved about it. I'm thankful that I hadn't heard about just how incredible it is, because that let me be blown away all on my own. The film is a perfectly executed film about one man's discovery that his sexuality is about more than just sex. Tom Cullen's incredible performance as Russell is the centerpiece of this wonderful film. In the film two men meet at a club, go home and hook up, and end up spending the whole weekend together. They discover, of course, that their feelings have grown into much more than either could have believed. While the detractors of the film say that the gay stereotypes (sexually promiscuous, drug use) and the unbelievable nature of this intense romance is a serious handicap to the film, I disagree. I don't enjoy the stereotypes, but it isn't an untrue picture of twenty-somethings, and I've seen relationships similar to this quite often. I may have even experienced something similar--albeit to a less intense degree. Yet I think to call this a romance is a detriment to the film. Yes it's certainly that, but it's about Russell and his acceptance and confidence and how Chris New's Glen draws something out of him that even he didn't know was there. The script is beautiful and tender, cinematography arresting, and I'm so grateful that the film has been such a success. It's currently available to watch instantly on Netflix and I recommend you push play right after watching the trailer.

Trailer:

Well there you have it, folks! I hadn't intended my top 2 films to be gay-themed, but I think that speaks quite a bit to the year I've had personally. I hope you've enjoyed reading up on what I think--whether you agree or not--and I'd love to hear about what films you love from this past year. Share away!



Monday, January 23, 2012

Oscar Nomination Eve: A Wishlist

Tomorrow morning, at 8.30EST, I will be sitting at my work desk with a cup of water and a very nervous stomach as I await the announcement of the top categories for this year's Oscar ceremony. SO SOON!

I do this far too often.
Before I go any further, I must first state how much this year's race has bored me. Most of the films in contention (i.e. The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, The Help, Moneyball, Midnight in Paris, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, War Horse) I admire, sure. They don't get my loins all fiery-hot like some contenders have in years past. I can say that among those that could possibly be nominated tomorrow morning the only ones that I actually feel any deep-seated love for are those three that have cracked my top 10: The Tree of Life, Bridesmaids, and (TOP 5 SPOILER)Drive. Those are all fringe contestants though, even if with the new rules it gives them each one hell of a chance.

I will not do a whole predictions post because it would be insanely boring (as this year is). Instead I'm going to offer up two things I'd like to see in each of the 4 top categories and why. None of these will be wildly outlandish. All are things that could feasibly occur tomorrow, but most likely won't.


Best Picture
1. Drive - For being a genre effort that so perfectly melded crowd-pleasing Entertainment with art house beauty and introspection.
2. The Tree of Life - For being such a unique cinematic experience and demanding so much effort on the audience's part. Good art demands as much as it puts forth, and The Tree of Life does that in spades. This out of all the things on this post has the most chance of happening tomorrow. There is so much love out there for this film and I can see many putting it as their #1 of the year (which is what it needs to secure a nomination).


Best Director
1. Nicolas Winding Refn for Drive - This film was not about Gosling, it was about Refn. He is the star of this film, and its success and power is all in his choices and instincts for filmmaking. So deserved.
2. NO Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris - My disdain for this film is sad since I wanted to love it so. I think that it's lazy direction. The script is fine, yes, but why should we keep rewarding Allen for being so dusty? He made a decent film so we need to nominate him? I'd be fine with the inevitable screenplay nod but this would be TOO MUCH. There are so many more well-deserving people. Don't let him be the Tom Hooper of this year (just keep out the winning, please).


Best Actor
1. Michael Shannon for Take Shelter - This is by far the best male performance of the year. Nothing has so arrested me in the theater. People mistakenly call his performance great for the slow-burn of his impending madness, but in actuality it's the fear that all his work and all his instincts are wrong. I want to go on and on but I won't. This NEEDS a nomination. I would like it to happen, please.
2. There is no #2. All is resting on Michael Shannon. I would be happy to see Fassbender get in, though.


Best Actress
1. Kirsten Dunst for Melancholia - This will not happen, and might've had von Trier not made an ass out of himself and cost the film the Palme D'Or. The fact that Kiki is still sort of in the mix for the film just proves how potent her performance is. It isn't flashy and it's very prickly, so I don't see it finding its way in amongst such crowd-pleasing histrionics (Meryl, Meryl, Meryl) but hot damn I would cry tears of joy if this happened.
2. NO Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs - When I first saw the trailer for this in theaters back in November my entire theater was laughing at how ridiculous Close looked. I don't deny that she's fine in it, but up against all the other ladies who won't be nominated tomorrow like Felicity Jones, Kiki, and Elizabeth Olsen just goes to show how ridiculous this pony show can be. Yes it's a passion project she finally got off the ground. Good for her. Guess what? It's not very good. I'm hoping that the Academy will recognize that. Fat chance, I know.
3. Charlize for Young Adult - I'm not getting in to specifics as I initially promised myself only two per category, but I think we need to applaud Charlize's "comeback" of sorts, and it helps that it is absolutely one of the best performances of the year.

That's it! That's all I promised, even if I'm tempted to write about Brad Pitt's deserving supporting work in The Tree of Life, the incredible adaptated screenplay of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (which will probably get in there anyway), and the scores to Jane Eyre and Hanna.

Some of the Jane Eyre soundtrack by MY MAN Dario Marianelli:



Sunday, January 22, 2012

Stuck-In-My-Head Sundays: Santigold - "Big Mouth"

Santigold is back! It's been 4 years since her debut album Santogold, and the day that Master of My Make Believe is released looms closer and closer. This week she released a brand new single from the album with an accompanying video, and it couldn't be any more batshit and any more typically Santigold. This woman is incredible, and I was lucky enough to see her live in Paris in 2008 where she blew the roof off of the club. I am forever a fan. If you haven't checked out her debut album and especially the tracks "L.E.S. Artistes" and ''Creator," you have to at once. But for now enjoy the Santigold of the present and her new track "Big Mouth":

Saturday, January 21, 2012

2011 Year in Review: My Favorite Films #10-#6

Let's knock some more of these out:

#10

Drake Doremus' Like Crazy reminds me of (500) Days of Summer in the way it realistically portrays a contemporary relationship between twenty-somethings. I've seen this relationship. I've been in this relationship. Even if I haven't experienced the visa problems of Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones' Jacob and Anna, this film cut into the open wound of yearning that we've all felt. The film is assured, beautifully shot, gorgeously written and performed, and completely earnest. Occasionally this sincerity can come across stilted and treacly but thanks to the top-notch performances it feels raw and lived-in. I can't wait to buy this and watch it over and over again. A shout-out to Dustin O'Halloran's incredible work on the score. It's an integral part of the film's emotional resonance. (And the use of Ingrid Michaelson's "Can't Help Falling in Love" cover in the trailer is inspired.)

Trailer:


#9

I read Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin this past summer in anticipation of the film's awards-season release. I remember enjoying the novel immensely but frequently telling friends how much I believed it'd work better as a film since the power of Shriver's novel hinges on imagery (the paint on the house, the McMansion Kevin grows up in, Kevin's uber-tight clothing, the harrowing scene in the gym, what Eva returns home to afterwards, etc. etc.), and I'm happy to say I was correct. The film is a showcase for Tilda Swinton's masterful performance--and coming right after both Julia and I Am Love we REALLY need to see her as our greatest living screen actress--but Lynn Ramsay's direction is what makes the story sing. The last 20 minutes of the film gave me chills, and I can't remember the last time a film has achieved that. The last scene alone would put the film on this list, but that there is a whole two hours of fantastic before that is what cements it as a true stand-out from a great year in art-house cinema.

Trailer:


#8

Ok, ok. So I already wrote about Bridesmaids over the summer in my "5 Best Films I Saw On Hiatus" blog post, but it's actually fallen a bit in my estimation since then. I still swear by the fact that it's the funniest film I've ever seen, but upon re-watch the few kinks showed a bit more. Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne are by far the greatest part of the film (I'm sorry, but I can't and don't understand all of the Melissa McCarthy love), but the pacing of the film is a bit rough in the third act. Besides that, this is a film that I will watch many times in years to come because the jokes are great, the actors are top-notch, and I will always love a comedy whose heart is just as big as its grin.

Favorite part: The airplane sequence.
Least favorite part: The food poisoning sequence. (I know, I know.)

Trailer:


#7

Jason Reitman has a way with dramedy. I've enjoyed all of his previous films, but Young Adult is without a doubt my favorite. Besides Charlize Theron reminding the world that she is an incredible talent, Young Adult has an emotional core that I found surprisingly resonant. When the climactic scene finally comes the emotion hit me from behind and I haven't been able to shake it since. At first glance the film is about a girl trying to win back her high school sweetheart. What you come to learn is that it's about those of us who leave the comforts and safety of becoming a 'townie' to chase success and big-city living, and then look back and wonder if we'll ever be as happy as those who are still there and settling down in obscurity. It's a potent emotional charge and it's one that the films earns seemingly out of nowhere. That may be entirely in part to Diablo Cody's incredible screenplay and the aforementioned bravura performance of Theron.

Trailer:


#6

Ah, yes. The Tree of Life. My first exposure to this film was the trailer, and the first time I saw it I cried. I know how that sounds but I refuse to edit it out. So its inclusion on this list was predestined. The admiration for the film is deafening, as is the disdain. I luckily am of the former, but I have some of the latter in me as well. I do find the creation of the universe sequence to be entirely unnecessary, and I think it harms the film much more than it helps it. Yes it's beautifully shot and it's fascinating in a National Geographic sense, but it feels like it's been tacked-on as opposed to a part of the narrative all along (if you could even say the film has a narrative). Without taking that sequence into account the film is an unmitigated stunner. Brad Pitt is the best I have ever seen him, the children's characters are fully-realized, and it's amazingly shot. The way it captures the sense of looking back on your childhood is heartbreaking and hypnotic. I can't wait to revisit that family again and again. What I like about the film is because it's so abstract each viewer walks away with an entirely different experience. It's something I can't say I've ever seen before, and I'm thankful that Malick exists and is working to give us films such as this. It's a beautiful and tender work that I think about at least a few times a week since seeing it for the first time in June. I remember hearing it described as a 'tone poem' or a 'visual hymn,' and I don't think I could do more justice to it than that.


My favorite Malick is still The New World, and if you have yet to see that you need to put it in your Netflix queues immediately!!!

Trailer (that made me cry...many times...):



Coming Soon: #5-#1!

Monday, January 16, 2012

2011 Year In Review: Some Thoughts & My 4 Honorable Mentions

2011 was a very interesting year for me cinematically. It's the year I up and moved to one of the most robust cities for film-going, and I saw just as many repertory screenings as I did new releases. Most of the films I instantly adored came from the former, as I found with each 2011 release I felt admiration but very rarely love. I saw Minnelli (courtesy of BAM's National Society of Film Critic's award-winning retrospective), Hitchcock, Malick, Skolimowski, Mizoguchi, Zulawski, and much more. Those films challenged me and moved me in many ways before and after the credits rolled, while many 2011 releases left me cold upon exit.

Yet when I started compiling a list of what I felt to be the best of what 2011 had to offer, I was surprised at just how many of those films had stuck with me long after the credits rolled. Each and every film in my Top 10(+4) of 2011 are films that have parasitically rented space in my brain since the first viewing. Even work that hasn't cracked my list such as Martha Marcy May Marlene, Jane Eyre, and The Skin I Live In (just to name a few) have haunted my thoughts. So perhaps 2011 isn't a year like 2007--in which love came fast and easy--but something more akin to real love and respect; something that must be worked towards. True art challenges the spectator, and I think that most of the films I saw this year that I came to love asked just as much of me as I expected of it. Which in the end is what I want a film to be: challenging, enigmatic, beautiful, poetic, and multi-dimensional. However, don't think that I can't have some fun at the movies! Not everything here is a difficult art-house piece of cinema, even if that's ostensibly what I go for.

This list is limited to 2011 releases I saw in 2011, which means titles like Moneyball, The Iron Lady, Carnage, A Separation, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and more are ineligible. I am not a good enough writer or prolific enough critic to get screeners, so most of what I see I must pay and allot time for myself, which means some things get pushed to the side. Even Meryl, unfortunately.

Without further ado....




MATTHEW'S HONORABLE MENTIONS OF 2011


14.

Shame is imperfect. The screenplay is fairly horrible, the photography borders on pretension, and the film has a very forced and unbelievable narrative arc. Yet it also has Michael Fassbender in what could end up being a career-defining role as Brandon the sex-addict. Besides a performance that is absolutely harrowing (the threesome orgasm grimace, anyone?), the film until the end takes a very slice-of-life approach to real addiction, and I admire it's tenacity in portraying Brandon's spiral, and the exhaustion that elicits. My favorite part of course is Carey Mulligan as Sissy. Mulligan recently admitted to wanting the Lisbeth Salander part in Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to break her image, but I think this role does just that wholly on her acting prowess. Sissy is a live-wire of selfishness and neediness. She is enigmatic and terrifying in her unpredictability. One of my favorite screen moments of the year is her broken down "New York, New York." How much her singing voice reflects the teetering-on-breakdown quality of her character is ace acting.

Trailer:



13.

I read Kathryn Stockett's novel this summer in anticipation of the film's release, and rarely have I been so swept up in such a prime example of pop lit. The film version of The Help carries much the same sentiment for me: it's enjoyable, moving, well-made, and I wanted to hate every minute of it. The politics of the film notwithstanding, the story succeeds so effortlessly because of its characters. Aibileen (Viola Davis), Minnie (Octavia Spencer), and Celia (Jessica Chastain) are my personal favorites, and all of them deserve the awards recognition they're getting. I loved the characters on the page but those three actresses brought such wonderful fun and dimensionality to roles that could've easily been caricature. That's a testament to the fact that this film is purely an actressexual orgasm, and those three performances alone would've cracked my list any year. That they're surrounded by a wonderfully satisfying film just brings it all home.

Trailer:

12.

Win Win is the first Tom McCarthy film that I outright love. I saw it way back in March of 2011, and I knew as soon as I left the theater that it'd be on this list. It's the perfect blend of drama and comedy that McCarthy does so well. Paul Giamatti plays his regular shlub role, but he does it so masterfully and with such a refreshing candor. Amy Ryan is as luminescent as always, and I can't help but love a film that features yet another dynamo performance by Melanie Lynskey. Give that girl more leading roles! She may only have a brief few scenes in the film, but she makes a stock character who on the page exists purely for plot into so much more. Besides the performances the film is one of the best-written of the year with its effortless zip through dramedy, and I will always love a film that's perfectly paced. I wish I could place it much higher on this list, but I'm thankful films like this are getting made and distributed. This was a really great year for character-driven comedy with two more of them still yet to come on this list. Each features great actors at the top of their games working both sides of the genre coin and developing full-bodied characters to go along with some really great writing. More please, Hollywood!

Trailer:

11.

I didn't think I'd get a chance to see Tomboy during its very brief run at Film Forum here in New York. Luckily I was able to get to see it on the last night of its run and I'm very thankful I rushed out because it's absolutely stunning. Much is being said about how Malick's The Tree of Life perfectly encapsulates the experience of growing up. While I think it perfectly encapsulates looking back on your childhood (more on that later), Tomboy for me perfectly encapsulates growing up and figuring out sexuality while at the same time attempting to fit in. It's a beautiful film with an awe-inspiring lead performance from Zoé Héran, and I hope that it gets a DVD release soon so those who don't live in its small release zone can catch it. The film uncannily evokes that period of uncertainty and awkwardness in your body that defines puberty. It's exuberant, thought-provoking, and moving all at the same time. I can't think of it and not want to watch it again immediately.

Trailer:



Stay Tuned for #10-#6....


Friday, January 13, 2012

WEEKEND

It's the weekend and I couldn't be any more excited. Have you ever had a week where it just takes it all out of you?! I JUST DID. And it was glorious in a phoenix dying and rising from the ashes kind of way.

And that was me being very dramatic.

Excitement came in the form of this:



I'm sure you've already watched it but I thought I'd share and add that part of this was filmed in Newport, RI, where I lived from roughly 2006-2010. The part in which you see The Swinton was filmed at Trinity Church where my friend Brent is the music director and where my name is inscribed in Sharpie in the steeple. A little bit of trivia for you! (On a sadder note, I ruined a pair of shoes I loved by climbing up that steeple.)

I'm hoping to finally conquer my Top 10 (+3 Honorable Mentions) of 2011 this weekend, as well as start an exciting new feature.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Stuck-In-My-Head Sundays: Lana Del Rey's "Video Games"

Now, I've been a fan of Lana Del Rey since my friend Laura (who has impeccable taste in music) introduced me to "Video Gams" in July 2011. I listened to it many times then, but in this past week I have officially become obsessed with it and her other single, "Born to Die."

This live performance is my absolute favorite, and I think it perfectly encapsulates the mood it's trying evoke: the utter bliss of being with the person you love. Yet the song has a sense of nostalgia and wistfulness that makes it so much sadder than it has any right to be.