Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In Character: Ralph Fiennes

When I think of Ralph Fiennes, my mind immediately recollects the actor’s unique intensity. His physical acting can require no movement, but given the role, I’ll sit in fear of everything a Fiennes character is doing (or saying, or thinking). But upon diving deeper into his body of work, it’s clear that, from my perspective, Fiennes is just as capable of evoking genuine compassion as he is at fostering angst.

He’s one of the very best, most impeccably well-trained actors currently in the game. Whether playing gentle, boisterous, or psychopathic (or all three), the man has an undeniable power.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Anthology Breakdown: New York, I Love You

Following the critical success of Paris, je t’aime, producer Emmanuel Benbihy elected to take his Cities of Love series to the Big Apple. And, soon after New York, I Love You was released, many were left wondering if Benbihy was meant to end his series with just one film. Yes, admittedly, this New York installment is nowhere near as accomplished as its predecessor, but upon rewatching it recently, I found myself taken with more than a handful of its segments.

In his initial review for New York, I Love You, Roger Ebert said that anthology films can never add up. They are the sum of their parts. If one segment is working for you, wait for a few minutes, and on to the next one. Precisely.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Top 10 Actors-Turned-Directors

It’s funny, despite the fact that Ben Affleck’s Argo is killing it this awards season, it seems like most people still prefer to talk about the mystery concerning an award he wasn’t nominated for. But either way, with all the current chatter about Affleck’s filmmaking career (and with my recent post on Clint Eastwood’s work as a director), I got to thinking: who are the best actors-turned-directors of all time?

In drafting this list, I realized something strange: with the exception of one filmmaker, every person listed below is still alive and making films. Some star in their own films, others take crap roles to fund their worthy directing efforts. No matter, here are my favorite filmmakers who started their careers in front of the lens, and have flourished behind it.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

the Directors: Clint Eastwood

What I admire most about Clint Eastwood is his unwillingness to bow down. He’s been in the film game for nearly six decades – being turned into a legend at the hands of Sergio Leone (and later Don Siegel), netting four Oscars including two Best Pictures, and, most importantly for this post, more or less directing a movie a year since the early ‘70s. The man is an icon, a brand, a household name. Sure, many (most…?) of the films he’s directed are less than stellar, while others are just plain awful. But there are those few classics sprinkled in that justly earn him iconic status.

And yet still, despite the flops, the occasional hit, and the fact that he’s passed 80 years of age, the man simply does not stop. Sadly, I would argue that Eastwood’s filmography has steadily declined over the past few years, but it only takes one Unforgiven to remind us that he’s still got it. I certainly hope we get another one of those, but until then, here’s how Clint Eastwood got to where he is.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Favorite Scene: The Departed

What I’ve always been most drawn to concerning Martin Scorsese’s The Departed is its canny wit. And while my immediate reaction is to cite writer William Monahan for the film’s clever intellect, there are, of course, many others deserving of credit.

To get film-school technical, I love the overall mise en scène of The Departed – its style and tone and mood. I love the way Michael Ballhaus’ camera whips up and down, in and out while Mark Wahlberg profanely insults his co-workers while Thelma Schoonmaker cuts back and forth between three different stories that took place years apart. Most of The Departed is shot and edited like the 10-minute segment in Goodfellas where Henry Hill is being chased by a helicopter and stirring the pasta and doing a line and almost wrecking his car and cutting the shit. It’s fast and relentless.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

In Character: Jason Patric

Coming up with potential subjects for this column can be as fun as writing the posts themselves. I mull over the names on the list I created a year ago. I think of the many fantastic recommendations you kind readers have thrown my way, but occasionally, something else kicks in. An actor I love pops into my head and I sit, dumbfounded as to why I haven’t covered them yet.

In short, Jason Patric is one of my all time favorite actors. He doesn’t work too often (24 film roles, whether starring or day player, in 27 years), and he doesn’t always pick the best material to work with (Speed 2, The Alamo, My Sister’s Keeper) but he always delivers exceptional work. He is, quite simply, one of the best there is, if only his resume was a little thicker. If only…

Monday, January 21, 2013

Top 20 Movie Title Line Deliveries

It’s all in a name, right? So much is dependent on the title of a movie. Everything from the film’s marketing campaign to initial (and often premature) likeability, a title can make or break a film for many, and the way in which it is implored can often leave people intrigued or rolling their eyes.

This list is dedicated to the best-spoken uses of titles in their respective films. Hope you enjoy my picks, and feel free to share some of your favorites!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Top 15 Opening Credit Sequences

An interesting note about (American film) opening credits that many people aren’t aware of (or at least that I wasn’t aware of until a few years ago): opening credits must open a film. Now, if the director gets the okay from everyone who would be featured in the opening credits to not have credits, then the credits can be skipped. But if one person – one line producer, lead cast member, screenwriter, assistant editor, executive producer – if any of those people demand to see their name before the movie begins, then the director is contractually obligated to have opening credits. Confused? Welcome to American guild stipulations.

Now, because of this (or in spite of it) I feel like much of the effort spent on opening credits in most new movies is nonexistent. There’s virtually no creativity lent to the opening minutes of many films, which is a damn shame. Below are 15 films that got their opening credits right. Whether they took their time or went straight for your throat, they all set the tone perfectly.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Top 10 Documentaries of 2012

The year of the eclectic male, the understated woman and dynamic film. But 2012 was also the year of the thrilling documentary. Some of the docs below shocked me, others moved, all have remained in my mind as great works of nonfiction cinema. Please note that this list is not comprehensive. I saw a lot of great documentaries last year, but I certainly didn’t see all of them. I still have yet to see the latest from three of my favorite documentarians (Alex Gibney’s Mea Maxima Culpa, Amy Berg’s West of Memphis, Steve James’ Head Games) so please, tell me what I’ve missed in the comments.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Top 15 Female Performances of 2012

Yesterday, I ranked the fellas, today paves way for the best female acting performances I saw in 2012. Whether it was a glorified cameo or an in-every-scene starring role, here’s the best the ladies had to offer in ‘12

Monday, January 14, 2013

Top 15 Male Performances of 2012

This was a year of fine, eclectic films, and consequently, a year of marvelous and vastly different screen performances. The only further note I want to make is that this list is for the best male performances of 2012, period. Amount of screen time matters none. This is simply the best the men had to offer in ‘12.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Top 10 Films of 2012

Although for the second year in a row my personal tastes vary wildly from those of Oscar voters, I can happily say that I saw a lot of films that affected me greatly in 2012. And that, to me, has always been film’s purpose: to generate feeling. Awards are a luxury, emotion is a necessity. In addition, I’m really pleased by the fact that all of the films listed below are so completely different. It was a fine year, and an eclectic one as well. (Titles link to my initial reviews. DVD dates are US specific.)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

I suppose my admiration for Zero Dark Thirty begins with the fact that the people involved were actually able to get it made as quickly as they were. Osama bin Laden was killed 20 months ago, and the notion of flipping that generation-defining moment into a Hollywood production so quickly and fastidiously is impressive in its own right. But, as we know, speed is one thing, quality is another.

So at the risk of beating around the bush with continued disclaimers, let me say frankly that upon watching Kathryn Bigelow’s new film, I stand proudly in its corner, hailing it as a masterful suspense thriller.

2013 Oscar Nominations

It’s funny, as years go by (which is a nice way of saying, “As I get older…”) my movie tastes align less and less with those of Oscar voters. Noting this, I admit with full admiration and glee that I get more excited than a kid at Christmas the morning of the Oscar nominations. And this morning’s list of nominees is a perfect reason why. Here’s a breakdown of the major categories: who’s in, who’s out, and what it’s all about.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In Character: Tilda Swinton

No one plays a woman in constant duress quite as well as Tilda Swinton. Don’t get me wrong, she can hit any emotion demanded of her, but in looking over the roles I’ve chosen as her best, the majority of them highlight Swinton at her most unnerved. Whether she’s scrambling to protect her son, herself, her lover, or the billion-dollar corporation she works for, there’s simply no match for Swinton’s desperation. And it’s for that reason that Swinton is, and I’m sure will remain, one of the very finest actresses currently working in film.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Promised Land

I supposed my biggest issue with Promised Land is that it has an agenda. And a damn obvious one at that. At first glance, Gus Van Sant’s new film presents itself as an equally sided fight against capitalism and conservationism.  Voices are heard, monologues are delivered, and we’re initially left with an understanding of both sides of a local battle – that of the corporate sharks who try to buy people’s land to capitalize on the natural gas below it, and the farmers who try to maintain what they already have.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Impossible

As the ending credits rolled to The Impossible, I sat in the theater thinking about something that didn’t really have anything to do to with anything. But I was curious: Why is it that a film directed, produced, written, edited and photographed by people of Spanish descent stars white people? Now, this isn’t a critique of the film, because the actors chosen are remarkable throughout, but hell, even the characters the actors are portraying are based on Spanish people, so I was curious.

After some quick research, I learned through Wikipedia and several other sources that director Juan Antonio Bayona chose to not specify the nationalities of the main characters as a means of creating “a universal film in which nationalities were irrelevant to the plot.” That’s interesting, and, in fact, makes me value the film even more. Which, sadly, isn’t as much as I would like.

Top 15 Song Moments in Quentin Tarantino Films

I’ve done my fair share of lists on this blog, and I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that this has to be one of (if not the) most difficult list I’ve ever assembled.

One of the reasons Quentin Tarantino uses music so well in movies is because he writes to the song, when most other directors write, shoot, and edit their sequences, then decide on music after the fact. QT finds songs he loves, and writes scenes based around their rhythm. Or, in the case of Django Unchained, he asks some of the most talented musicians working today to cut a track for his film, simply based on the inspiration they get from the script.

No matter the how, few can marry song and film as wondrously as Tarantino. The possibilities for this list are endless, but here are my favorites.

Friday, January 4, 2013

In Character: the Cast of Django Unchained

Similar to the varied and extremely talented cast of Lincoln, the ensemble of actors in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained deserve special mention. Here are the majority of the people who pop up in Django; many are a part of Tarantino’s worthy troupe, while others are better known in any number of films and TV shows. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

the Directors: Quentin Tarantino

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and again, and again): There is no contemporary director that I am more taken with than Quentin Tarantino. Sure, I get hyped whenever Scorsese, Soderbergh, Haneke, Herzog, McQueen, Burns and the like, have films on the horizon, but there’s something about A Film By Quentin Tarantino that thrills my movie-freaked mind to no end.

Looking over the films he’s done, well, let me just say if you aren’t a fan of Tarantino’s, then this post may fall on deaf ears. I can honestly think of no other director’s body of work that I have given a higher median grade average for. From the onset, QT has never not hit. In my eyes, he is a living master.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Django Unchained

I’m completely enamored with the artistic aptitude of Quentin Tarantino. Always have been. I’ve seen his body of work many times over, and have yet to find a film that I didn’t love. So when it was announced all those months ago that Tarantino was going to make a slavery-set Western, I was game. Months ticked away, excitement mounted, and finally, on Christmas day, I sat in a sold out theater, completely spellbound for 165 minutes of film. During which, I never let myself forget that what I was seeing so highly surpassed my wildest expectations. And I ask, is there anything better than that?