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.


Friday, January 6, 2012

A Few Words on Margaret

After much reading of raves and hearing so many people I respect tell me it's time I sought it out I finally caught Kenneth Lonergan's infamous Margaret.




And listen: I didn't love it. Which isn't a bad thing! I actually thought it was incredibly engaging and surprisingly swift for 150 minutes. Not to mention the acting, writing, and the score (shout-out to Nico Muhly's incredible work) were all top-notch. Yet people are throwing around the dirty 'M' word with regards to this film and I just don't think it quite reaches it. Perhaps Lonergan's original much longer cut is, and I wouldn't be surprised, but this feels incomplete.

Yet it can't be the running time of 150 minutes, can it? Well I'm here to tell you bitches that I think it is. With the amount of characters, relationships, and turmoil going on throughout the film's running-time, it's very easy to see why Lonergan had a much longer cut. This is an ambitious work, and one I wish that the studio had let run rampant. If Fox Searchlight is so excited to put out Malick's The Tree of Life--while shorter is MUCH more ambitious and feels much longer--I am surprised that they'd be so reticent to let this film's run-time go past 150 mins. I think it would've needed just a bit more room to breathe.

Our protagonist Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin)
But I say this with a grain of salt, because Margaret feels quite fragile. I wonder if even 5 more minutes were built in...would it fall apart? Just like Anna Paquin's Lisa, the film feels always on the verge of falling to shambles. When it finally does in the very last scene, it's a moving moment that feels entirely earned. It may be that very moment that will make this film grow so strongly in my mind, and if the 140 minutes prior weren't exactly as they were would it feel more or less cathartic? These questions may sadly never be answered for us (DIRECTOR'S CUT PLEASE) but at least we can appreciate what we have been given, and it is a wonder.

In particular, J. Smith-Cameron as Lisa's mother Joan really stood out for me. She's such a commanding screen presence, and so warm. Everyone is raving about Jeannie Berlin as Emily--who has two really amazing moments--but I found her shoe-horned comedic relief very eye-roll inducing in a few different instances. The person I kept wanting to return to was Smith-Cameron, and I would watch the film many more times just to experience that again.

Lisa (Anna Paquin) and Joan (J.Smith-Cameron) Cohen
Lastly, Paquin. Seeing her in this film just makes me angry that she's being taken over by True Blood. She manages to imbue Lisa with just the right amount of Upper-East-side teenage fabrication of maturity and worldliness without making it look just like naiveté. And that monster grows so terrifyingly steady, to the point where we as audience members don't remember what she was like prior. It's harrowing and yet by the end instantly relateable.

GRADE: A-/B+ (I just can't decide!)

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Brief Lament...

My dear James McAvoy, what has happened to your career?!

I am slayed.
So much promise after The Last King of Scotland and Atonement. And yet, I can't quite figure out what's happened since. Yes, there was Wanted, The Last Station, and X-Men: First Class, but tonight's viewing of The Conspirator just made me sad. Not because the film is one of the flattest things I've ever sat through, but because you had a hand in it.

You are undeniably a great talent. A fantastic dramatic actor with great comedy sense (as seen in Starter for Ten), you seemed destined for great stardom when 2007 ended. Yet that seemed to never quite catch on. Most of my peers--female and gay especially--have a deep fondness for your baby blues, but the rest of the world has forgotten you and latched on to a taller and edgier actor: Michael Fassbender. While he may have a mighty resumé and a fierce quality that hasn't been seen in some time (and an impressive..um..::cough::...member...), it was you who out-acted him in X-Men: First Class. You were here first, goddamnit!

Now don't get me wrong. I appreciate all of your films. I found you doing great work in Robert Redford's The Conspirator, but I need you to work with a director/screenplay worthy of your talents. I want you to have a Steve McQueen. I want you to be the Robert DeNiro/Leonardo DiCaprio to someone's Martin Scorsese. You deserve that, and I find you a flexible enough actor to be able to attract such talent. Action, animated comedy, period drama, prestige comedy, comic-book adaptation; the genres that you flip through with such ease shows that you're looking to establish yourself as an actor to watch out for, and yet you've had that designation for 5 years now. Time to shake it off and come out with a "HERE I AM" role deserving of your talents.

Perhaps netting the lead in Danny Boyle's next film is exactly what you needed. He seems to be on a roll of late, and the project seems interesting enough to give you something different to work with. You will be working opposite Vincent Cassel though, so watch yourself and don't let that scene-chewer upstage you.

And avoid films that make you grow a beard. Stop fighting the hot.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Stuck-In-My-Head Sundays: M83's "Midnight City"

What better way to kick-start my blogging than with my favorite--and easiest--feature?

M83 I've seen pop up here and there all throughout 2011, and for some reason I never thought to investigate who this band is. I've seen ample hipster-esque gays embrace them, and while that would normally turn me off I had to admit I was intrigued. In the last month I've seen their album on quite a few 'Best Music of 2011' lists so I finally gave it a spin. I was seriously missing out. The whole album is really interesting and fun (think of Coldplay by way of MGMT and Sound of Arrows), so you should listen to it ASAP. Here's the track that's been the parasite in my brain all weekend:

New Year's Resolution

Well my chickens, it's 2012!

People hating themselves for being in Times Square last night
With a new year comes new responsibility. Most of these are thrust upon us by our own ambitious minds under the guise of 'resolutions.' So this year it is my resolution to re-start Cinephilia & Sass (and lose 20lbs). I have left the few of you readers I had long long ago, in April of 2011, when I packed my bags and moved to New York City for a new career opportunity. My frequent promises of return frequently went unfulfilled, and that's due to my own laziness. So my apologies. I desperately miss writing about film, fashion, and pop culture, but more than that I miss being a part of this community we call the blogosphere.

In the next week you can expect the revival of Cinephilia & Sass. It may last only a month, but I'm hoping that I can finally keep this thing going. We'll restart it with my top 10 of 2011 (are you sick of these lists yet?! TOO BAD), and then I've got some exciting features planned for the first half of this year. We'll revisit the reviled Oscars of 2011--remember when The King's Speech won Best Picture? I sure do--and take a look at the women Cannes has awarded their Best Actress prize to.

I'm excited, so: you should be too.