Tuesday, December 28, 2010
ACIDEMIC TOP TEN 2010
Natalie Portman looks in the mirror and we get our first sight of age lines on her beautiful face, and yesterday's Portman, Winona Ryder, still achingly beautiful but as far as fickle cinema's concerned, a shambling corpse, and Portman rages like Mickey Rourke in THE WRESTLER. We're given an actor forced to reckon in the split second of being onstage whether its better to burn out than fade away, and their decision isn't just refreshing in light of today's tedious safety first nanny state righteousness, it's downright modern, radical and brave, almost like we're finally getting back to genuine rebellion at the movies, to the 1920s-early 1930s's, when looking into the face of death wasn't just another empty pose, but the essential, soul-chilling baptism of the true artist. (Read more here).
3. TOY STORY 3 (dir.-Pixar) Watching Pixar is like allowing yourself to be entertained so many ways at once that your whole outlook on what you like and dislike starts to conform to match the CGI curtains. It's not just our complex relationship to plastics and childhood fantasizing, but our notions of perspective and even filmmaking are extended, warped, broken. There's no Randy Newman song along the lines of "When She needed Me" this time, but there's a brilliantly intense climax, involving the most spelled-out notion of divine extra-terrestrial soul harvesting near-death transcendental surrender since BRAINSTORM. Tom Hanks as Woody continues to annoy me... that flat-edged sincerity, that over-the-top amiableness where he talks to everyone like they're five years old and slightly retarded. In the end, this all may be too disturbing for adults, and okay for children, for whom last minute escapes are inevitably inevitable. Some of us can't help but consider happy endings with the chill of VERTGO as we wait to get melted down and remolded into Lady Gaga Barbies.
4. THE CRAZIES - Call it what you want but you can't argue that this film hits all the marks and keeps hitting. Plus Timothy Olyphant proves he has the right stuff to seem like Clint Eastwood's son, with all the well-tempered cool and Cali rich kid bro-hood such a sireship implies. I left this movie--the best horror remake since DAWN OF THE DEAD, earning it the right to rip off that film's Johnny Cash apocalypse opening-- with shaking palms and a giddy tingle in my scalp - and we need more movies with insane large scale riot meltdowns and nuclear bomb threats that--SPOILER ALERT-- for once, deliver on the threats.
5. GREENBERG - Noah Baumbach continues to take risks, and best of all he got the amazing Greta Gerwig to be the girlfriend. Gerwig plays a tall ungainly girl, a little lost (and underrepresented in the movies): she likes sex and booze and maybe uses them as crutches but has nowhere to walk anyway. She has the body of a drinker and the slur of a stoner, and for once this kind of halfway relationship/booty-call dysfunction seemed real in a film. It's every man's fantasy to find a girl who doesn't know how hot she is and is therefore grateful for every scrap of attention and affection she gets, and who likes to party and fool around with the same detachment as a guy. And yet finding such a woman just confronts us with our own free-floating insecurity and unrealistic expectations, showing us once more that real love is about letting go of the feeling you could always do better--even if you know you can--as much as it is about finding true companionship in a world that's as fucked as only Noah Baumbach can make it.
6. WINTER'S BONE - A new cool dude in the cool dude lexicon comes in the form of a meth-addict tough named Teardrop (John Hawkes, the other DEADWOOD guy). Jennifer Lawrence and a cast of fine actresses make this the best Dashiell Hammett film since BRICK. There's squirrel skinning, and a fine portrayal of the feminine/chthonic wilderness making uneasy truces with chainsaw phallic meth headed man as he corkscrews himself into oblivion. (read more here)
7. TRUE GRIT - Jeff Bridges steps into being the most interesting actor of his day, with a dilapidated but iron-tough Cogburn that compares solidly with the John Wayne original. Wayne was always Wayne, but Bridges manages to be several personae at once and still have that zonked hippy Jeff Bridges twinkle. I watched CUTTER'S WAY the other night and it was great to see Bridges act all like the young hunk pretty boy to John Heard's insane Vietnam vet cripple. Here Bridges is so grounded and tough and the poetic dialogue falls off so natural, it's like you're seeing a real American myth, like the iron spirit of Leadbelly, roaring up from the flaming underbrush. Every character is well-etched (Great to see Barry Pepper playing his brother Art Pepper). Even Josh Brolin's dumb outlaw, that it reminded me of all things, that 1933 TREASURE ISLAND starring Wallace Beery, where every character was an MGM-stable hoot and a holler and a story starring a child is allowed to be bloodcurdlingly violent without either hand-holding guilt or apathetic abstraction. Weak ending though, like the Coens couldn't quite do anything except trace a chalk line.
8. VALHALLA RISING - L'Chifre with tattoos and lots of on location wind make this a stealth bomb stunner set in glacial slow motion for all eternity. Kurbick by Conan! Aguirre, lost in the final minutes of Col. Kurz's dying fantasy; the second best movie this year about a feral kid following a fearless one-eyed warrior into the primordial chaos of purgatory. It seems like a high school art film made by lunatic vikings on fly agaric mushrooms in the 16th century, and that's my exact favorite genre. I don't even want to read about its origins and artists, as I prefer to think it emerged, full-grown, from the wilderness... on shrooms.
9. TWILIGHT: ECLIPSE- Never forget that in the days of King Arthur, the oldest person was about 25. Merlin was ancient at 43. I'll never read the books, or be a 14-year old girl, so the fact that I can still enjoy these movies testifies to their effectiveness, and the holding power of the leads, and the way the realization of modern myth requires teenagers to resonate properly. These kids with their Goth attire and trendy dance moves--like a high school production of a Weimar-era avant garde cabaret--are what the movies need more than ever, genuinely strange in that pre-sexual sexual glaze you get when you're 14 and reading adult fiction. Like the other films that came before in the series, ECLIPSE makes excellent use of mopey music, stretching out romantic looks on post-rock glaciers, reaching the held-through-time cobra stares of LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD.
Considering the sexist neo-conservative consumerism-product placed orgasm-oriented flicks that predominate so-called 'women's pictures' or rom-coms, TWILIGHT alone understands the supernatural power that can be had in rejecting bland hand-me-down values. The pro-virginity aspect is the 21st century Antigone move, the way not being a virgin was in the 1920s. I know how a woman you haven't had sex with can inspire like no other muse, and the way a 100-year old stalker in a teen idol's body can wreak merry havoc on pouty-lipped teenager brainstems, and I know these things to be true, and that as an artist or writer, that kind of inspiration should always trump the pitiful and misleading call of the proprietary orgrasm. (read more here)
10. GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO - A bit much in the rape department, but that Goth chick, Noomi Rapace (even her name has rape in it) sure brings her A-game. I'd like to see her in a fight with the Twilight crowd, she could probably fuck them all up. It's the most atmospheric and disturbing thriller I've seen in awhile, though no amount of vengeance can get the slimy taste out of your mouth, and the reporter dude is a wuss ass. (Read more here).
SPECIAL ACIDEMIC AWARD FOR WORST CASTING:
Casey Affleck in THE KILLER INSIDE ME
How about Freddie Bartholomew as Rhett Butler? Orlando Bloom as the crazy drill Sgt. in FULL METAL JACKET? And no disrespect to the producers who probably felt they needed someone with box office recognition, but this strikes me as the worst casting choice since Mad About You's Helen Hunt as a 1920s gold digger in A GOOD WOMAN.
I bring it up mainly to point out that the ideal of the masculine is almost completely lost in film today, the dudes listed above in the top ten being the exceptions. Let me tell you something, size matters. You don't sent Charlie Ruggles to do a Gary Cooper job. If he's short, better hope he's Kirk Douglas, or James Cagney, not a sweet, doe-eyed ectomorph like Affleck. No offense to this fine actor, I'm sure if you haven't read the book he's awesome. I applaud his fearlessness in accepting such ambiguous quagmire-sinking roles. I don't deny his skill, charm, or effectiveness; the fault is squarely in the casting. Anyone can tell the farthest Casey's going to get on a Texas police force is as a Barney Fife-style sidekick (ala Bob Ford). If I could go back in time, and not read the book, I would. And isn't that what 2010 was all about? This is Erich Kuersten, signing off from Tempe, Arizona, where I'm stuck waiting for the airports to re-open.