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.
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.
Forgetting for a second whether I’m personally offended as a person of color over the casting choices in Exodus: Gods and Kings; I find the casting of an almost entirely white cast to play Ancient Egyptians to be flatly absurd by any metric. Casting like this is historically, geographically, and demographically inaccurate, in addition to being quite simply boring. I can think of no better example of defaulting to whiteness than a casting decision such as this one: “we have a story and a setting that fall outside of our modern racial parameters so why not just cast a bunch of white people, right?” I won’t pretend to know exactly what ancient Egyptians or ancient Hebrews looked like and by what, if any, modern racial or ethnic classifications they would likely fall under, but I am confident in saying that they did not look like Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul, or Sigourney Weaver. Continue reading
8. Christian Bale: American Hustle
The thing I love the most about David O. Russell as a filmmaker is his ability to take extremely flawed characters and give them a narrative space to truly thrive in. I consider it his trademark as a writer and director. He takes individuals most people would condescend to and shows us why and how they’re remarkable. Christian Bale literally embodies this quality in American Hustle. He’s bald, overweight, etc., but at all times he appears to be completely comfortable in his own skin. He knows who he is, which of course makes him a good con man. It’s a fine counterpoint to Bradley Cooper’s character, who has no idea who he is. We see this with their respective “hair” sequences. The film is about deception and role playing, and Bale’s character is the only one who doesn’t switch. His sincerity and relative decency in this role makes the whole thing work. Also, they shot this film in my hometown, so thumbs up for that.
9. Oscar Isaac: Inside Llewyn Davis
First of all, I had no idea Oscar Isaac was such a fantastic singer. This isn’t meant as a mere side compliment, because the character of his voice is crucial to an understanding of the film. Isaac’s voice is rich and true, resonating throughout the story, giving us a beautiful contrast to his extended series of fuck ups, mishaps, and bad breaks we’ll call his life. The film is a character study, a portrait of an artist, and his face tells us as much as his voice does. He wears everything on it. It’s appropriate he got this role not just because he’s tremendously talented and well suited for it, but just as a Coen’s fanatic I have to say that he really reminded me of a young John Turtturro in this. It’s an excellent performance from a really underrated actor in an absolutely beautiful piece of cinema.
I recently viewed Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven for the fourth or fifth time and it was no less impactful than it was the first time I saw it. The blisteringly beautiful cinematography of Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler is the hallmark of this film which remains the quintessence of style of a master filmmaker. The “little things” make all the difference in this film, like the shot of the wind blowing on the water and blades of grass. Details like Sam Sheppard reaching out for Brooke Adams’ hand in the woods. So many unforgettable moments such as the swarm of locusts descending on the farm, the imposing farmhouse designed and built by the great Jack Fisk in the distance as the migrants approach the property, and the way the camera seems to float in the stream and circle playfully around Gere and Adams. Continue reading