Sunday, June 5, 2011

Back! 5 Best Films I Saw While On Hiatus

So. My life has been a bit crazy the past two months. Of course that's no reason to have stopped blogging, but I have to give much credit to those bloggers who put in multiple posts a day because it's quite difficult to stick to! However I've finally returned and I promise that this newfound dedication is real! Now that I'm in New York it's much easier for me to see new releases and really embrace the world of film in a new way, and I want to document it all here.

First things first: let's play catch-up.

I didn't see many films in the time that I was away, but I did catch a good number. I've managed to boil down the best and the worst of what I've seen to five films each. I saw a good amount of great things, so it's going to be difficult, but I'll try!

5.
The Tree of Life
I have been excited to see Terrence Malick's new film for just as long as any other cinephile, and when I sat down to see it this past Wednesday I don't think my heart could've been beating any faster! Two hours and twenty minutes later I walked out having no idea what to think of what I'd just experienced. All I knew is that it was just that: an experience. It's both the most universal and personal of his films, and it's that juxtaposition which has left many an audience member perplexed. I found the entire portion of the film dedicated to the Texan family to be one of the best things I've ever seen. Ever. I find everything outside of that portion to be interesting and thought-provoking, but I believe it will take many more viewings before I can firmly place my feelings towards the film. In the meantime it gets #5 for the portion of the film I loved, it's absolutely stunning visuals, and for being something difficult, mesmerizing, and fresh all at the same time.

4.
Gods and Monsters
I'm not quite sure why but I'd seen many scenes of Gods and Monsters prior to watching the film. Apparently it'd been on my radar for a good long while but I finally caught up with it in early April and absolutely adored it. Not only is Brendan Fraser ridiculously HOT in it, but the story is a cinephile's dream and McKellen is fantastic. It's a painful portrait of a man who has seen better days and is now alone and reminiscing on a life once better. Much like Sunset Boulevard but without the crazy dramatics and murder, Gods and Monsters is a tender portrait of how fleeting fame can be. What makes the film really effecting is its portrayal of a man waylaid by his sexuality and his need to be himself all the time. The James Whale of this film had Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" swag before even her parents were born. That is ultimately what led to his ostracization and downfall. A haunting film, and a must-see.

3.
Beginners
Mike Mills' Beginners I knew I'd like. A good friend of mine and I had been patiently waiting for this film's release for quite awhile, and we caught up with it last night. The story of a man, Oliver (Ewan MacGregor) whose dad Hal (Christopher Plummer) comes out of the closet after his mother's death and finally find the lifestyle he's always knew he belonged for is a perfect little film. Oliver also starts a romance with a French actress he meets at a party, Anna (Mélanie Laurent), but this film is really about Oliver and Hal. It's funny, sweet, breezy, and deeply felt without ever being heavy. The story is apparently based on director Mike Mills' real relationship with his father and that makes it so much more emotional. If Christopher Plummer isn't Oscar-nominated for this role come January I'll be devastated. He's absolutely fantastic and is the beating heart and soul of this story.

2.
Bridesmaids
Bridesmaids is hands-down the funniest film I have ever seen in my entire life. That is no hyperbole, folks. I went in to the film knowing I'd enjoy it but having no idea just how much I'd pee my pants. I laughed from beginning to end, and even got a tad bit werklempt. Kristen Wiig is amazing, Rose Byrne is a talent that everyone should be on the watch for, and the other rag-tag comics in the film are just as great. I know much is being said about a female-dominated comedy (and not wholly ROMANTIC comedy, too) being fantastic and successful, but I am just so appreciative that this film exists and that soon I'll be able to watch it over and over on Blu-ray. I'm head-over-heels in love with this film, and my friends will tell you that I am a self-proclaimed comedy hater. I dislike almost every comedy I've seen in the past 10 years (yes, even you The Hangover), so my abject joy and ecstasy towards this film is not something to take lightly! 

1.
The New World
The Museum of Moving Image here in NYC was doing a Terrence Malick retrospective back in May, and I was lucky enough to be asked to accompany a really adorable/intelligent guy to the screening of The New World. It's the only Malick I had never seen, and I was in the height of my Tree of Life anticipation, so expectations were extremely high. After the first 30 minutes, though, I don't think I could've been more enraptured. The New World is a masterpiece. It's easily one of the best films I've ever seen, and it may be the best of Malick's films. It's a showcase of cinematography. It has absolutely incredible performances from all involved. The story is deeply moving (in particular the ending, which shook me to my core), and it's all because of Malick's hand. If you have not seen this film, you must. It's shot right up into my favorite films of all time, and I plan on buying it immediately in order to re-live it again and again.

So that's the best from my hiatus! Stay tuned for the worst (and there's some terrible shiite I've been watching).

Stuck-In-My-Head Sundays: Lykke Li - "Love out of Lust"

I've had Lykke Li's album Wounded Rhymes since it came out in March, and it wasn't until I started marathon-listening to it the last week or two that it's proven itself the best album I've heard in many months (I don't count Gaga's Born This Way or Britney's Femme Fatale because both are extremely flawed efforts...particularly the Gaga). From "Get Some" to "Sadness is a Blessing", "I Know Places" to "Love out of Lust," each song on Wounded Rhymes is different while still fitting in to the cohesive whole. That's a talent that many artists lack. My favorite of the songs differs from day to day but the one that is stuck in my head all the time is "Love out of Lust." Enjoy:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Titanium Valentine

Every year Boston puts on something called the '48 Hour Film Project' where a few groups all enter a festival of sorts to make a film in 48 hours. The groups are given 3 words--one a genre, one a prop, one a word that must be used in the script--and have to make the film in 48 hours according to that criteria. My friends over at Striving Artists' Theater Company have been participating for many years now and I think have made their best film yet this year in My Titanium Valentine, a musical. It's just hilarious fun, and I want it replayed all the time in my brain. (Also, this week will schedule my return to blogging. I promise!)  Enjoy below:

Saturday, May 7, 2011

My Return!

My big comeback is coming, betches!

I am so sorry for everyone and anyone who has been reading Cinephilia & Sass and been pissed that I've basically abandoned you. I promise I haven't! In the past month I have gone from working part-time in CT and living there to working full-time in Manhattan for a publisher and living in Brooklyn. It's been tumultuous and extremely busy. This upcoming week things are going to finally slow down which means that I'll finally get back to writing about film, fashion, music, and everything pop culture. This excites me to no end!

I'm hoping to have a Stuck-in-my-Head Sunday tomorrow to kick off the blog's rejuvenation and then I'll get back to one or two posts a day on average. I'm also completely disregarding everything I've seen from the time I stopped posting until now. That means that the Eyre-athon is officially over, even though I've finally seen the Mia Wasikowska version (B) and finished the 1980s BBC mini-series (B+). There will be some exciting this happening with the blog soon, I hope!

I would also love some people to come and write weekly features, so if you're at all interested, contact me!

Miss you babes.
-Matt

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Beauty & The Beast (With Admiration for Disney and the Reprise)

To see more entries in this week's 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot', visit Nathaniel Rogers' The Film Experience!

Although Aladdin is my favorite of the Disney fairy-tale musicals, Beauty & The Beast is a very close second. Belle is my favorite of the cartoon princesses--like many of my female friends--not just because she was the only brunette but also because she loved to read and was an outsider because of that. My friends and I as children were basically different versions of her. Therefore, this film has always had a special place in my heart.

(The one thing I don't like is its creation of the 'Belle/Beast' syndrome: girls who loved the film as a child are more apt to be in relationships with complete beasts of men in hopes they'll change because the film taught them that with love and devotion you can change ANY MAN! So many female friends of mine I can diagnose with chronic 'Belle/Beast' syndrome.)

Looking at an animated film for a great shot is a different experience solely because as a viewer I'm so much more concerned with the beauty in the drawings. Disney's hand-drawn animation is rarely rivaled, and Beauty & The Beast is such a gorgeous piece of work. Out of all of the shots and moments in the entire film I had to succumb to the most famous scene. There's no wonder the ballroom scene is as famous as it is since it's the culmination of a carefully built love story and is beautiful in its combination of hand-drawn animation and remarkably subtle CGI. With Mrs. Potts singing that fantastic song in the background there just isn't anyway the scene could go wrong. When I saw this frame in particular I actually got misty:
How beautiful is that?!  The Beast shocked at his relationship to this girl, whilst Belle is exuding comfort and love.  It's an amazing moment and is why Disney will always have a fantastic reputation, no matter how many times they rape their classics for sequels. Quick rant: I would think that with the success of Tangled and the continued respect and love for their past fairy-tale musicals that they'd realize there is a HUGE market for these films still.  They're idiots and don't fucking understand a damn thing. Pixar has the CGI market cornered!  You are known for your hand-drawn classics so GET TO IT.  (Although Tangled was quite amazing in the way they used CGI)

My other favorite shots:








What I realized most about this exercise is how good Disney is at giving their characters sung soliloquys, and how each time they've given these moments to their characters it's been my favorite part of the films (the Aladdin one being my favorite):





Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Elle -- Women in Music Issue

Elle's next issue features a big spread of fabulous shots of various women in the music industry.  From Willow Smith to Stevie Nicks, every genre, age, ethnicity, and body type is accounted for.

They happened to feature my 4 favorite female artists of the past couple of years who are never auto-tuned and write all of their own music.  One of these I have seen live, and I would kill to see any of the other 3.  Kudos to them:
Adele
Her voice and lyrics are absolutely amazing in their power and simplicity.  If you haven't purchased or listened to her albums 19 or 21, I recommend you do so immediately.  

Florence Welch from Florence+The Machine
This girl is a goddess in style, performance, and lyric.  She has written what is perhaps my favorite song of all time: 'Cosmic Love', and I am so excited for their next album to drop later this year.  It'll be so epic.  Also, her concert was a serious religious experience for me.  I came out of that building completely changed.  

Feist
This woman has not made an album since 2007's  amazing 'The Reminder', and I know she's working on one now but it can't come fast enough.  I listen to that album more and more each year.  Like Florence+The Machine's 'Lungs' it never gets old.  Each song classic.  Her other albums are just as good and have just as many gems.  I do love '1 2 3 4' but find SO many of her other songs even greater.  CHECK HER OUT!

Robyn
'Body Talk' is the BEST POP RELEASE of 2010.
'Robyn' was the BEST POP RELEASE of 2008.
'Dancing on My Own' was my favorite song of last year.
I've featured her on the blog many times before, but I can't say enough how amazing she is. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Stuck-In-My-Head Sundays: Patrick Wolf - "The City"

I've been M.I.A., and I'm so sorry for those who visit the site!  To tell you what's going on in two weeks I went from a part-time job in Hartford, CT and living with my parents to a full-time job in New York, NY with an apartment lined up to boot.  It's been madness.  Not to mention I haven't even moved in yet, so expect posting to slow a bit until I get settled in the next two weeks.  After Easter Sunday I'll probably be back to a regular routine!

A good friend of mine with wonderful music taste recently introduced me to this Patrick Wolf song.  With all of my traveling to and from New York I've been walking the streets with it frequently playing (since it's on my most-listened-to playlist) and it's such a perfect and fun pop song.  Enjoy it!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

FAT!

If you haven't seen this, you need to.  My best friend Mary introduced me to this a week ago and I can't stop watching it.  The Harvard Sailing Team group does sketch comedy performances every Friday night at the People's Improv Theater in NYC for $15 a person.  This is hilarious, though:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Reunion: Atonement


So it's common knowledge by now that Joe Wright has announced his next film will be an adaptation of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina starring his frequent muse Keira Knightley.  What isn't quite so common knowledge iis my complete adoration of their two collaborations: Pride & Prejudice and Atonement.  The former is my favorite Jane Austen adaptation ever (I don't really like the BBC one, and Ang Lee's Sense & Sensibility is great but not nearly as amazing), and the latter is one of my favorite films of all time, adapted from one of my favorite novels of all time.


Already I'm dying of excitement for Anna Karenina.

Then today Joe Wright announces that Kelly MacDonald and Benedict Cumberbatch (who played the creepster Paul Marshall in Atonement) have joined the cast.

But he's waiting out for two actors to join the cast.  Who are they?

SAOIRSE RONAN!
A.k.a. Briony in Atonement

mah boo JAMES MCAVOY
A.k.a. Robbie in Atonement

It's unknown what parts in Anna Karenina they would play, but all of these people together again making a film has me very excited!

The Goonies


Before this past Saturday, April 2nd, 2011, I had never seen The Goonies.  It's craziness and I was very ashamed of this fact. A very good friend of mine who raves about the film finally forced me to watch it and so we took our PB sandwiches and milkshakes and sat down for some childhood fun.

My only thought:

I wish I had seen this when I was 8.


I liked The Goonies quite a bit, I can't lie. I think it's Stand By Me mixed with Indiana Jones and a little bit of Home Alone thrown in. With a formula like that you just can't go wrong. Yet the 22 year old me enjoyed it but didn't love it. I think if I'd seen it 14 years ago when I was watching Scream and the Halloween movies instead I would've enjoyed it much more (and perhaps not be so messed-up!).  So it's with a very sad face that I give The Goonies just a paltry B. It's a film that was made for children, and that shows. It's B-level Spielberg in the sense that it has the childlike wonder and adventure but is lacking the extra dimension to push it to another level. There's something missing now that I've seen it as an adult, and I realized that I'd rather be watching Stand By Me instead.

P.S.: I love this reunion shot of the characters from a bunch of years ago:

Admiration: The Low-Budget Menace of Gareth Edwards' Monsters


First off, is that poster not completely amazing? What a striking image. The film delivers on that image and the queer fear it strikes with the tentacled reflection in the eye of the mask. Gareth Edwards' Monsters is much like this poster in the sense that the titular monsters are for most of the film obscured. Our main characters--real-life couple Whitney Able (Samantha) and Scoot McNairy (Andrew)--are aware of their presence and see them, but since our camera tails them and not the monsters the audience is frequently left out of getting a glimpse of these malignant aliens.


This is what low-budget horror/sci-fi should be about, and what the good ones capitalize on. These kinds of films focus on what is not seen as opposed to what could be seen. When you have a budget of $800,000 it's hard to make CGI aliens that look half as good as what Spielberg did six years ago in War of the Worlds (which in itself wasn't all that great). Edwards knows this and up until the last 10 minutes of the film gives us aliens lurking around every corner or right over the camera, but never directly in the lens.  This also increases audience's fear, thereby increasing our sympathy for the main characters and making the whole film that much more effective. Edwards could've bitched and moaned about his low budget and the relative inability to make great CGI effects, but instead he turned this to his advantage and made a film so delicately structured and paced that the finale event is both horrifying and heartbreaking. It's masterful work from start to finish.


I'd been wanting to catch the film for awhile, and was very impressed by what I saw. It's no surprised that Gareth Edwards will next be rebooting the Godzilla franchise. It's just unfortunate that his skills will be wasted on that barf. Let's all hope that he's a 'one for them, one for me' kind of guy and will take all the money from Godzilla to make an original idea that's just as magical as Monsters.

Trailer:

(Monsters is watch-instantly on Netflix and I recommend you check it out!)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Final Casting: The Hunger Games

Gale:
Liam Hemsworth (Triangle, The Last Song)

Peeta:
Josh Hutcherson (The Kids Are All Right, Bridge to Terabithia)

I think this is actually all kinds of perfect.  I do love Josh Hutcherson as an actor and I LOVE Peeta in the novels so I'm clearly on Team Peeta.  I love that they picked such different actors for the two roles since it will really give a great juxtaposition between Katniss' suitors and add to her difficulty in figuring out which man is the right one for her. 

So far I'm quite happy with the way this film is turning out!

Fab 5: Guy Pearce Performances

In honor of my recent viewing of Animal Kingdom and Memento I figured it's time to look back at a sorely underrated performer: Mr. Guy Pearce. Pearce has been acting since the early nineties with consistent focus on great projects and even though he sold out to Hollywood once (coughcoughTheTimeMachinecoughcough) it was an interesting failure of a blockbuster. Most of the time Pearce is relegated to supporting roles but he always seems to pull of something amazing in the background.  When he does get those elusive lead performances he almost always knocks it out of the park.  My favorite 5 Guy Pearce performances, GO:

5.
The King's Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010)

The King's Speech is a showcase for Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, yes, but when I saw the film I was more stunned by Guy Pearce's performances as King Edward VIII.  He plays the abdicative King as a loose cannon, but grounds him in his love for Wallis Simpson. He emanates with desire to leave the royal family and steal away with his love, and plays this disdain for the public eye completely different than Firth's.  It's a virtuoso performance with zero scenery-chewing, but it's just as effective as any supporting performance I'd seen on screen in 2010.

4.
Factory Girl (George Hickenlooper, 2006)

I may in the minority in my admiration for the performances in Hickenlooper's Factory Girl.  Besides Sienna Miller's on-point and suprisingly dimensional Edie Sedgwick, Pearce is there in the background--as with most of his performances--providing something remarkable.  His Andy Warhol isn't perfect by any means and easily could be cartoonish since Warhol's look and personality is so iconic.  Pearce plays off this possibility for failure by visibly having a great time on-screen, and this energy seeps through the screen and brings Warhol to life.  It's great fun and desperately needed in a film that focuses so heavily on the crash and burn of Sedgwick's life.

3.
The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005)

Something Guy Pearce doesn't get to do enough of is bring the crazy. Since Pearce is such a grounded and warm actor he plays quirk alot but not enough batshit-insanity. I had seen bits and pieces of Hillcoat's The Proposition on IFC TV for many years before finally sitting down to watch it two summers ago, and besides loving the film I really adored seeing Pearce get to stretch his acting chops a bit.  As one part of a crazy criminal family Pearce's Charlie Burns is unpredictable dynamite. So unhinged is his character that the audience can't help but get nervous every time he appears on-screen.  The best part about the crazy is that it isn't hair-pulling, screaming, scene-stealing crazy but a volatile ticking time-bomb of crazy.  He has his loud moments but for the most part grounds it in a reality that is made ever scarier by his propensity to explode.

2.
Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)

I've already written much about Memento recently, but I'm always struck by the way Pearce is the anchor of that film. As I've said prior in this post, he's an actor who emanates so much energy and vulnerability in his performances that grasps the audience from the moment he comes into the picture.  It's the presence of the X-factor of course, and in Memento it's his performance just as much as it's Nolan's direction and screenplay that has made the film such a stand-out from a banner time in cinema.

1.
The Adventures of Priscilla, the Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliott, 1994)

There are two reasons why I picked this performance as my favorite.  First is that Pearce's Adam/Felicia is the comic stand-out of an already quite-funny film.  It's no wonder that this was his breakthrough performance because it's everything about Pearce's subsequent performance rolled into one: energy, lived-in, dimensional, fun, grounded, and reliably fantastic.  The other reason is that he is so effiing salty in this film.  The guy is beautiful and it's nice to have the combo of a great performance and amazing eye-candy.  Yum indeed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Disappointment: Sucker Punch (2011)


I know, I know, I shouldn't have expected anything from Sucker Punch.  I was that person who despite the terrible trailers and terrible reviews still held out hope that the film was going to be fun entertainment and a visual spectacle.  I was half right.  Visual spectacle, yes.  Was the film fun at times?  Certainly.  Those times were usually the first 5 minutes of battle scenes that then continued for another 20.

Zack Snyder has proven himself a master of visuals.  The man has time and time again created visually stunning and cohesive universes for his films.  One of them even became instantly iconic: 300.  The one concern I have with a man who has this much style is that there isn't much substance.  I think that isn't true necessarily, but it's part of the problem.  Snyder clearly needs to work on his storytelling skills because Sucker Punch was a hot mess.  Plot-wise the film tried to juggle multiple narrative-within-a-narrative stories. The film starts out with a truly amazing sequence where our lead character Babydoll's (Emily Browning) mother dies and the stepfather in a fit of rage from being left out of the will tries to rape her and then her sister.  She accidentally shoots her sister and is then committed to an asylum.  In the asylum she hears that she is going to be lobotomized and then creates this parallel world where her and her four friends--Amber (Jamie Chung), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Rocket (Jena Malone), and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish)--are dancers in a high-class bordello.  Within this bordello Babydoll finds she's a dancer who can seduce any man.  While she dances she enters a world inside her mind where her and her friends fight off dragons, orcs (yes, the Lord of the Rings kind...they look exactly the same), robots, and giant machine men.  Sometimes on a futuristic train, a medieval castle, or even a WWI (or WWII...that is also unclear)-era battlefield.  During these dances in the faux-real-world her friends and her are stealing items for their escape plan.

Babydoll and Madame Gorski

It sounds fucking ridiculous, I know.  That is, if you could follow that at all.

The film doesn't feel as crazy as that when watching, but the focus of the story is always on the wrong thing.  Instead of focusing on why the orderly is evil they focus on battle scenes.  Instead of making Madame Gorski (Carla Gugino) an actual character, they forget about her until she's actually needed.  Even the relationships between the 5 main girls seem forced and insincere. It is a complete mess.  Complete. Mess.  Snyder needed to take more time developing the script because it feels schlepped together. With the right script and focus I feel as though this film could've been something really great.  Instead the whole thing falls flat after the first battle scene is over and you realize that you've still got countless more to go.

Pet peeve:  Snyder needs to stop with the super slow-mo in the battle scenes.  It is used ad nauseum and gets REALLY ANNOYING.  We know you can do that, we know you think it's cool, now STOP.


The acting of the film=average.  Jamie Chung as Amber was my favorite of the girls, if only because she looked as if she was just having a great time.  The others--Browning's Babydoll in particular--looked miserable/pouty/coy/coquettish almost every second of the film that it got irritating.  Also, why people keep hiring Jena Malone to do anything is beyond me.  Attention must be paid to one person though:

Abbie Cornish.  You hurt my heart.  HURT. MY. HEART.  Why do you do this to me?  After all you gave me in Bright Star you decide to star in this?  Did you not read the script and see how terribly your character was written?  Quintessential bitch-with-a-heart-of-gold.  I hate you for this.  Thank goodness you looked fierce in those leotard/bustier outfits and were good at kicking ass because we would've been through otherwise.  THROUGH.

Grade: D+

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Psycho

Oh Hitch you old devil. Everywhere I turn these days I seem to be bombarded with something Hitchcockian! At work--The Hartford Stage--we're currently beginning previews of our production of The 39 Steps. Our lobby is decked out with posters of his films. Then Nathaniel R over at The Film Experience announced that the 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot' this week would be for Psycho and I felt that the stars had aligned.  Not to mention I just last week watched Frenzy on Netflix!

I wish every week could be unofficially dedicated to such a wonderful filmmaker. Maybe we'll have Jane Campion month soon!


Psycho is a complete masterclass in film-making. I had compiled over 40 frames of 36 different shots from the film that I absolutely loved. Cutting those down to a select few proved quite difficult, and when I had finished I noticed something peculiar: my favorite shot is part of a distinct technique Hitchcock uses throughout the film to manipulate the audience. In all of his films Hitchcock uses the camera and its placement and framing of people and objects to unsettle the audience when need be. Hitch created the language which contemporary horror has raped.  The quick cuts to pump up the blood pressure, the way things seem just slightly off in the frame, the use of Bernard Herrman's score, etc. All of that is so prevalent in contemporary horror and amplified to levels that are usually laughable. So how come even though these features have become so familiar are they still so effective in Hitch's films?!

It's because the way Hitchcock uses them.  Take my favorite shot, for example:


It's my favorite shot because of how effective it is at startling the audience! This shot is used right after the policeman raps on Marion's car window and wakes her up.  Marion is visibly scared and it cuts to this ugly mug and we immediately know why she gasped so audibly. This guy is absolutely horrifying. The dark sunglasses that make his face look like a skull with empty eye sockets, the clean and pale face, and the dead expression all create a sense of dread that would not have been nearly effective with a regular beat cop. If Hitch had used an average Joe Po (which he never would have done) those following scenes where he is following her to the car dealership wouldn't have been half as effective. With this face in viewer's minds he's already given them ample reason to be scared.

Hitchcock does this in many other ways.  Usually during a moment where an average film-maker would've used an over-the-shoulder shot is where Hitch uses a creative and odd shot to leave the viewer unsettled:
A smiling and charming Norman with a SCARY FUCKING BIRD.  Also, Anthony Perkins is SO adorable in this film...is that weird?
Look at that nefarious smile and that close-up as she stares directly at the camera!
Shocked Lila and a concerned Sheriff's wife.  The way Lila is so close and the Sheriff talks at her so intensely!
This shot where Norman leans over the guest book is so odd, and leaves the viewer at such a scary place!

It's all so effective, and all so brilliant at creating a sense of dread without having to resort to creaking doors, cheap jumps, and the beautiful Herrman score.

Some of my other favorite shots:
I love how this shot starts here...

...and ends here with the skull superimposed onto Norman's face!