01 January 2015

My Very own Superlatives in Film of 2014 List.

Well, 2014 was definitely something. It was a great year for movies and a pretty terrible one for human rights, social issues, and American decency. So I come to the annual ritual of putting a year end film summation together, and I find that it's more fun and liberating to do this thing the way I want to.

I've already voted in Indiewire's 2014 poll and for SEFCA, my Critics' Guild. I'm thinking of making my ballots for those public, just so you can see how mercurial my sense of things are in how things have changed from one list to the next.

My dream in life is to have my own awards show for film. I am just as legitimate (if not moreso) than the Golden Globes people, and I'll challenge any of them on their theory and genre background just to prove a point. But my awards show would be awesome. Winners would receive a classy statuette of a film reel and a hard drive in a tasteful yet provocative embrace, as well as a vintage bottle of Shawhan family bourbon (see above photo). I would call these awards the Andys, after my deceased paternal grandfather, whose tendency to have a couple of Manhattans and go to bed early when I would stay with him in Ohio during Junior High summers led me, through HBO and Cinemax, to discover a whole new world of film and a means by which to understand aesthetics. They could just as easily be named after my maternal grandparents, whose home my mother and I lived in for awhile, and who had a satellite dish. Once again, there was a reach that let me explore the world of film in all sorts of varieties.

I never talked about film, really, with any of those grandparents. I went to movies with them, but we never really discussed them as an art form (something that I am continuously grateful my parents and I can and do). But it is thanks to them that the cinema I take joy in spans impenetrable art trudges, trashy horror knock-offs, psychedelic freakouts, and hard-hitting melodrama. My love for them and my love for film are of a piece- an unreasonable, inexhaustible fact that defines how I aim to shape discourse with the world.

After I got long-quoted by moviecitynews.com regarding my process for assembling a Top Ten list, I had a dark moment where I reread what I wrote and thought I sounded like a crazy person. Some readers may agree. But I stand by my processes, because maybe that strikes a strong reaction (whether positive or negative) in you. What makes a critic useful is insight first and foremost, but also an ongoing act of aesthetic calibration. Growing up, the premier voice in film criticism for me was Joe Bob Briggs. But the things I like are not exactly or necessarily his. I swear by Carol Clover and Vera Dika, but their aesthetics are not absolute when it comes to mine. As you read more critics, you figure out where your interests line up and where they scatter, and the best course of action is to read more critics. Spend some time with b. ruby rich and Chas. Balun, with J. Hoberman and David Schmader, with Glenn Kenny and Nicole Brenez, with Robin Wood and Chuck Stephens. And you know what, maybe I can help with that process too. It's why I do what I do.

So let's talk about 2014 in Film. And then we'll get to the nominations for this year's Andys.



MY 'TOP TEN':

1 INHERENT VICE (Paul Thomas ANDERSON)/YOU AND THE NIGHT (Yann GONZALEZ)
A libertine hero of strong character drifts through a mysterious underworld of conspiracies, half-truths, and fantasies while attempting to set right a fissure between devoted lovers. A deeply moving pair, with Anderson's '70s Los Angeles and Gonzalez's out-of-time French netherworld both casting a haunting spell that ends not with pat resolution but a vital call to withstand moral crisis. Hazy, druggy epics about the labyrinth of the Internal with exquisite musical choices and a tactile sense- a scent, a touch on the neck- that reaches beyond the screen.

2 ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (Jim JARMUSCH)
Possibly a requiem for humanity, but a soothing and beautiful one. Care and curate both derive from the same Latin word, and it's not hard to imagine that long after the majority of humanity is gone, that Eve and Adam will remember us much more kindly than we deserved. Would that the two could have a spin-off film with Benicio Del Toro's Guardians of the Galaxy Collector- the very thrill of it.

3 THE GUEST (Adam WINGARD)
After four viewings, I more and more am thinking this lean bruiser of a flick could be the best film about post-9/11 America to come along in the past decade. 'David' wants us to be happy and safe, and valued. But corporate concerns and national security have rendered him incapable of pursuing his more altruistic and genial interests past a certain point, so it all ends in orange and green and so much red. Also, one of the best and most nuanced portraits of a High School kid who's just a bit different but not capable of giving it a name just yet. “Because you're my friend, aren't you?”

4 GONE GIRL (David FINCHER)
A glorious, Verhoevian rollercoaster for misanthropes. Watching this movie in a drive in was the kind of surreally comic madness that makes life worth living, and I treasure each of its fucked up turns. I've been a Fincher supporter since Alien3, even when the studio cut of that film was the only extant version. He's doing his thing, and the mirror is the method.

5 THE BOOK OF LIFE (Jorge GUTIEREZ)/THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS (Helene CATTET/Bruno FORZANI)
Meticulous design taken to opposite extremes. The Book of Life's overwhelming character design is reflective of how much effort went into creating these characters on the page as well, with remarkable awareness of gender issues and the interplay of friendships and families. So much color, so much joy, and provocative and joyful cosmology! Cattet and Forzani continue to explore the serrate edge of stylized hommage, with their psilocybin love letter to the baroque insanities of Italian gialli eschewing nuance and character, instead diving into near-complete abstraction of psychosexual terror. I would love to introduce the two Belgians to Gutierez- I think if they blended their strengths they could make something that no one has ever seen before.

6 ABUSE OF WEAKNESS (Catherine BREILLAT)/CHEAP THRILLS (E.L. KATZ)/VIC + FLO SAW A BEAR (Denis COTE)
To call these films inspirational dramas could be considered misleading, but each involves the circumstances of overcoming very specific adversities. It is that specificity that keeps these achievements from being seen on the level of sports stories and traditional biopics, and it's a damned shame. Each is completely honest, and defiantly true to its characters. No allegiance to form or expectation. No coddling of alpha male fantasies or shoring up tired old white legacies.

7 WE ARE THE BEST! (Lukas MOODYSSON)
I have a tradition of giving a copy of Ul de Rico's The Rainbow Goblins as a gift when friends have children. I shall add this film to that tradition, to be given on the twelfth birthday.

8 THE BABADOOK (Jennifer KENT)/THE DANCE OF REALITY (Alejandro JODOROWSKY)/NOAH (Darren ARONOFSKY)/OCULUS (Mike FLANAGAN)
There were no better portraits of family in crisis than these. Brutal and uncompromising, with the slightest bits of hope serving as hard-won victories.

9 THE IMMIGRANT (James GRAY)/THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA (TAKAHATA Isao)/UNDER THE SKIN (Jonathan GLAZER)
The Other enters a previously closed system, with a driving curiosity and her own goals for finding a place in the throng of humanity. But the graciousness and cruelties of others render this impossible, as plans collapse and chaos rises. The system remains closed. Memory fades. And darkness eventually falls on the face of the Earth.

10 THE HOMESMAN (Tommy Lee JONES)/A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (J.C. CHANDOR)
What makes a person noble? Or a crook? It's always some form of inexorable exterior force that gets into the soul and clarifies who someone really is. But here, in these films, it's all about the process. Some would call this pair cold and distant, but that's merely because they aren't interested in engaging the viewer's usual signifiers for personal evolution. Jones' hallucinatory Western and Chandor's deliberate and measured crime drama are interested in the way that women define the spaces around them, and how they are in turn defined. There is a pragmatism that flourishes under immense stress, yielding unconventional strength, and an unwillingness to put up with traditional forms of bullshit.


A few others I deem worthy of love, in alphabetical order:
THE AMAZING CATFISH
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
DEAR WHITE PEOPLE
THE LEGO MOVIE
LUCY
MALEFICENT
NYMPH()MANIAC
STRANGER BY THE LAKE
WHY DON'T YOU PLAY IN HELL?



So here are the nominees for the 2015 Andys. I will announce the winners at some point between the Golden Globes and the Oscars. But seriously, look at these nominees and tell me my awards show wouldn't be more interesting?



BEST ACTOR:
Vicenç Altaió (Story of my Death)
Jesse Eisenberg (Night Moves)
Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Joaquin Phoenix (The Immigrant, Inherent Vice)
Andy Serkis (Dawn of the Planet of The Apes)
Dan Stevens (The Guest)


BEST ACTRESS:
Essie Davis (The Babadook)
Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin)
Carla Juri (Wetlands)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Pierette Robitaille (Vic + Flo Saw a Bear)
Hilary Swank (The Homesman)
Robin Wright (The Congress)


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler)
Albert Brooks (A Most Violent Year)
Gene Jones (The Sacrament)
Nicolas Maury (You and The Night)
Brendan Meyer (The Guest)
Edward Norton (Birdman)


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)
Hong Chau (Inherent Vice)
Carrie Coon (Gone Girl)
Rosario Dawson (Top Five)
Uma Thurman (Nymphomaniac)


BEST DOCUMENTARY:
Citizenfour
The Go-Go Boys
Happy Valley
Harmontown
Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait
Tim's Vermeer


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:
The Amazing Catfish
The Guest
The Immigrant
Inherent Vice
The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears
Under The Skin


TOP 13 DIRECTORS (in Alphabetical order):
Darren Aronofsky (Noah)
Catherine Breillat (Abuse of Weakness)
Denis Cote (Vic + Flo saw a Bear)
David Fincher (Gone Girl)
Jonathan Glazer (Under The Skin)
Alain Guiraudie (Stranger by the Lake)
James Gray (The Immigrant)
James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive)
Alejandro Jodorowsky (The Dance of Reality)
Takahata Isao (The Tale of The Princess Kaguya)
Lars von Trier (Nymphomaniac)
Ramon Zenker (The Strange Little Cat)

I tried and tried and tried to get hierarchical about this category, but I can't. In a just world, I could give each of them a tasteful statuette and a vintage bottle of the family bourbon. So let's just say that if I am ever tried in cinematic court, I hope these fine filmmakers are the jury (and alternate) who decide my fate.


BEST EDITING:
Bird People
Edge of Tomorrow
The Guest
Night Moves
Oculus
The Strange Little Cat

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:
Jeff Grace (Cold in July)
Mica Levi (Under the Skin)
m83 (You and The Night)
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Gone Girl)
Hans Zimmer (Interstellar)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
Cheap Thrills
Coherence
Dear White People
Test
Why Don't You Play In Hell?
You and The Night

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
Cold in July
Guardians of the Galaxy
Inherent Vice
Muppets Most Wanted
Oculus
We Are The Best!


BEST COSTUME DESIGN:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Incompresa
Inherent Vice
Lucy
Nymphomaniac
You and The Night


BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN:
As Above So Below
The Babadook
The Dance of Reality
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of The Galaxy
The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:
Devil's Due
Godzilla
Guardians of The Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies
Interstellar
Noah


BEST ANIMATED FILM:
Big Hero 6
The Book of Life
The Congress
How To Train Your Dragon 2
The Lego Movie
The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

BEST 3D:
Dawn of The Planet of The Apes
Deepsea Challenge
Exodus: Gods and Kings
The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies
Nurse
Step Up All In


WORST FILMS OF 2014
1) Sabotage
2) 7500
3) The Adventures of Hercules
4) Ouija
5) Need for Speed
6) Annabelle
7) Congratulations!
8) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
9) Almost Human
10) Jauja
A few other haterations...

Dracula Untold wasn't very good, but it was definitely better than I expected (namely an excellent CG disintegration and unfiltered Sarah Gadon). Birdman and Whiplash both had some great performances and definite amped-up macho energy, but I didn't much enjoy either of them. Whiplash is the kind of movie that will let sociopathic assholes think they're helping people by being horrible, and Birdman is the most incoherent film I've seen since The Dark Knight Rises. What exactly is Birdman about, really? It deals with masculine crisis, sure, and it's about trying to make a stand for art, sort of, and it may all be the timelooped ramblings of an action star who has lost his mind. But there's no there there, barring a great Edward Norton turn that riffs off his poison reputation. Also, The Imitation Game is pretty insidious- designed to impress contemporary viewers with Alan Turing's achievements while completely underplaying the fact that he was persecuted and hounded to suicide by the government he helped save from the Nazis because of his homosexuality. As with Whiplash and Birdman, the acting is great, the films are handsomely made, and you feel empty and icky when they're over.

05 December 2014

Chardonnay? No, Chardoyay! Why Everyone Should Heart Bridget Everett.

If you don't know who Bridget Everett is, just know this. She's coming to Nashville for two shows and you don't want to miss it. She is a blue mama and a Broadway baby and the diva closest to my heart right now, and I want everyone of you to feel the love. And if you go to the show, you may very well feel the love- motorboating happens at an Everett show, so be ready. But more than that, prepare yourself for a stunning avant-garde work of theatre, comedy, cabaret, performance art, and feminist activism like you've never seen it before. I got to talk to her in preparation for her performances. Have a looksy. I hope to see you at the show...

19 November 2014

Pessimistic attitudes; never will I wear.

So, I got to talk to Dez Dickerson for the Scene. It was a chance for me to totally geek out on all sorts of purple music, as well as ask him about his experiences in the industry. I'm proud of this piece, and I look forward to whatever y'all might think.

Also, he'll be introducing the Midnight show of Purple Rain at the Belcourt on Friday night, and I am stoked.

16 October 2014

The 2014 New York Film Festival.

Another year, another New York Film Festival... How I love it.

At the movies: Valerie a tyden divu/Outer Space.

Tonight's installation of The Light + Sound Machine has a Halloween triple feature for the ages. '70s Age of Manson prescience, millennium angst Austrian found footage, and a sensual overload from the Czech New Wave. One night only, all on 16mm. Do not miss it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Ms. Sandra Bernhard...

Interviewing the legendary Sandra Bernhard was a dream. She's always been an inspiration to me going back to 1988, when I first encountered her work terrorizing David Letterman, and also her spectacular one-woman show Without You I'm Nothing. I'm ecstatic to see her tomorrow night here in Nashville, as I've only ever seen her live once before, in New York at The Beacon back in the early late '90s on the Excuses for Bad Behavior Tour. Respect to one of the ladies who did it her way.

08 October 2014

At the movies: The Guest.

The Guest is the latest film from those lovable freaks Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, and you should see it if you can. I have no idea what is going on with its release plan, but it's a jolting breath of fresh air and it's a grand theatrical experience to have.