There’s a lot to talk about in the Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser besides what some hoopleheads said on twitter about a black man having the audacity to appear in a moving image and frankly there’s a lot to chew on besides some manufactured controversies. That lightsaber, however, is worth discussing, which I’ll get to in good time. Continue reading
The way some racists reacted to John Boyega’s face popping up in the first teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens reminds me of the Dave Chappelle sketch where Neil Brennan’s head explodes after the blind black klansman takes off his hood. One thing confuses me though; are the racists upset that there’s a black stormtrooper or that there’s a black actor in the film at all? If it’s the latter, they’re even dumber than I thought they were, because that ship has sailed long ago. If it’s the former, I think I understand the nature of this idiocy, which I’ll explain below. Continue reading
Channing Tatum doesn’t say much during the first twenty minutes or so of Foxcatcher. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t say much throughout most of the film. We first meet him as Mark Schultz, a wrestler training and hulking around the ring, fit, disciplined, and physically domineering. We then see him in a car that looks too small for him, in front of a room of elementary school children, awkwardly speaking about his Olympic triumph, dwarfing the small children. The first time we see him have a meaningful interaction with another human being is when his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) enters the picture. Even then, their meaningful interaction is not a verbal conversation but a session in the ring stretching, warming up, and sparring with a palpable intimacy and athletic intensity. Even when Mark meets John du Pont (Steve Carell) the meeting that jump starts the main spine of the narrative, John does most of the talking. Tatum’s Mark appears uncomfortable in the world outside of the ring and a poor fit for it at that. His actual presence seems out of place outside of the strictures of his sport.
This past weekend I had the incredible privilege of viewing Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm film projection. The experience was literally awe-inspiring. I had seen 2001 many times but never in theaters and never on 70mm and the difference is palpable. The clarity and detail of the print combined with the difference in sound from the home experience made for an almost overwhelming sensory experience, one that I relish and wish to do again as soon as possible. Continue reading
Christopher Nolan continues to stretch the IMAX medium to new cinematic and narrative bounds with Interstellar. But let’s get one thing out of the way; while Interstellar is grand and ambitious, it does not come close to the grandeur and majesty of 2001: A Space Odyssey, nor does Mr. Nolan even begin to approach the transcendent genius of Stanley Kubrick, despite the reports of some. Kubrick’s influence on Nolan’s work in general is quite evident, as is the influence of 2001 on Interstellar in particular. While a fundamentally a different film on many levels, Interstellar poses many of the same questions as 2001, exploring humankind’s place in the cosmos, examining our exploratory ambitions, and the limits of our abilities in those areas. Continue reading
The thing that sets Alejandro González Iñárritu apart as a filmmaker is his humanity. He shows human beings at their extremes, showing people at their most animalistic and also at their most humane, doing so with empathy and free of judgement. He has an incredible ability to not just examine human behavior but to see into the human soul. Iñárritu is the foremost humanist director of his generation. Continue reading
2. Leonardo DiCaprio: The Wolf of Wall Street
The best work of his career by a wide margin. He’s never been more charismatic, funnier, or taken more risks. As in Django, he looks like he’s having more fun here than usual. He’s looser, braver, and stranger in The Wolf of Wall Street than in any of his other work. Part of what made this picture so spectacular is that everybody involved clearly just “went for it.” He and Scorsese have been great together before, but this feels like the culmination of many years of collaboration and trust. It may not be DeNiro in Raging Bull (nothing is), but it’s pretty damn special. Staying on Raging Bull, there’s a through-line connecting the two films in the way that they both center around a frank and uncompromising portrayal of a multidimensional human being that most people would find morally repugnant. It is no small feat to pull off performances like these. The breadth and scope of DiCaprio’s performance in Wolf cannot be overstated. He’s just spectacular in this and he never gets boring for the entire three hour run-time. He’s in almost every scene and his figure looms in the few that he’s not. It’s a classic performance in a classic film.
3. Michael Fassbender: 12 Years A Slave
A textbook performance. Best Supporting Actor was the only Oscar outcome I really had an issue with. Leto did fine work in Dallas Buyers Club, but I thought Fassbender was miles ahead of him. From the first moment he’s onscreen in that profile close shot the tension onscreen increases exponentially. From a narrative standpoint, supporting characters are meant to introduce a variable to the main storyline that wasn’t present prior to their entrance. Nobody did that more effectively or more importantly than Fassbender did. In the hands of a lessor actor, this role could have been something of a “mustache twirler,” but Fassbender absolutely nails the complexity of this character, a professional dehumanizer who clearly hates himself and attempts to hide behind religion and booze. His every move is threatening, unpredictable, but Fassbender’s brilliance here is in how he doesn’t ever fully boil over, even in the enthralling “whipping sequence.” I really feel that with all the praise heaped at this film, Fassbender’s performance was somehow overlooked and subsequently under-praised. McQueen himself appears to feel the same way, highlighting his performance specifically in so many of his award acceptance speeches. Actors and filmmakers will be studying this performance for a long time to come.
4. Michael B. Jordan: Fruitvale Station
The biggest Oscar snub by far in my opinion. He’s been at it since he was young and was great on The Wire as a teenager but this is an incredibly mature and accomplished performance for someone his age. There was no more full picture of a single character than Jordan painted for us in Fruitvale Station. This film reminded me a bit of classic neo-realism like Bicycle Thieves, showing us a single day in the life of a completely ordinary citizen simply living his life that day and all that entails. Fruitvale is not about a shooting, it’s about a young man who’s life was taken abruptly and unexpectedly. What the film does best is show us Oscar Grant’s humanity, which is channeled through and personified to the smallest detail by Michael B. Jordan in a nuanced, understated and moving performance. The academy seemed to only have enough room in their collective hearts for one “black film” this year, which is a real shame, because I actually thought this one was better than the one they chose.
5. Jennifer Lawrence: American Hustle
Lawrence manages to deliver a performance that’s equal parts hilarious, sexy, and maddeningly ridiculous. She’s even better here than she was in Silver Linings. The only thing funnier than “the microwave scene” in 2013 was the “quallude sequence” in The Wolf of Wall Street. “Don’t put metal in the science oven” is now my favorite David Russell line. This is one of those supporting performances that you want to be a bigger part, but its part of why she’s so compelling is that when she’s on screen she dominates and when she’s not you miss her presence. Her manner and her energy remind me a bit of Gena Rowlands, and I do not make that comparison lightly. She’s just a natural with a presence and maturity way beyond her years. When you watch her she comes across as a twenty-year veteran, not someone in their early twenties, and her trophies already accumulated are a testament to that. I would pay money to watch her fold laundry for two hours. She’d get an Oscar nomination for that too.