I’m wishing that We Need to Talk About Kevin, the movie based on the Lionel Shriver bestseller, came out on DVD already so I can share with you the film’s first two images. The first one is of a translucent white curtain slowly being blown by the air. The second of an inevitably erotic nature, of muscle squashing together tightly, painted red by tomatoes and tomato juice, those bodies ion the streets that we see from the air in the Tomatina festival in Spain, one of its participants being our protagonist Eva Katchadourian (Tilda Swinton). Seeing these I inevitably compare this work of Lynne Ramsay’s to artist-turned director Steve McQueen’s, both seemingly having the same meditative pace and construction. The movie doesn’t live up to those expectations although we get a few visual treats – Eva hiding behind carefully stacked Campbell Soup cans, jagged ones of meeting her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), her troublesome six-year-old son Kevin (Jasper Newell) making her office room wallpapered by maps into a ‘special’ Jackson Pollock of a mess – to clarify I’m not a Pollock hater but I would equally freak out if my kid dripped and shot paint all over the walls – and countless ones where mother and son (the teenaged version played by Ezra Miller) awkwardly share opposite sides of the same uncomfortable space. Eva, and sometimes Kevin, live in middle American kitsch suburbia, these poppy images drowned under fluorescent blandness. These images satisfy, the rest of the compositions mixing the elfin Swinton with middle American motifs, an unlikely pair that we get used to.
But I keep going back to the first two images, the second set pushed to the back burner as the happiest moment of Eva’s life while the first is the gateway and culmination of her worst. The movie’s intertwining plot lines mostly show us that her worst moments continue. Her new, shabbier house is often vandalized, surrounded by distant neighbours, their suspicious children and the occasional Jehovah’s Witness missionary, oblivious to her eternal damnation. But the movie also return to her relative misery as a wife/mother of two in a rich neighbourhood, their house funded by her best-selling travel books. She’s the town’s pariah, having to apply for a lowly travel agent job while her skeletal face gets clocked by another housewife after her job interview. We find out why the townspeople hate her so much as she has to, out of obligation, visit him in jail. When her family was intact, there seemed to be an alliance between Kevin and Franklin while Eva asks for the sympathy of her daughter, which he gets. But in her present situation, mother and son are stuck together.
Despite the images, this adaptation, as a medium, can’t help but be more one-sided than I imagine the novel to be. We the audience see Kevin as a baby alone with Eva – she takes his stroller to a construction site to drown out his incessant cries as opposed to, you know, feeding him or changing him or whatever actual good mothers should do. Then he magically stops crying when daddy comes home. She even tells him that she would be in France if he wasn’t born, these impulsive words heard by the disapproving Franklin. Speaking of changing, six-year-old Kevin is seen wearing diapers, and eventually we discover that she has to accidentally injure him in order for him to be potty trained. Until this section of the movie Eva seems like a passive character but even with punitive action she can’t discipline the boy or make him be nice to her. There is an exception when, after the hospital visit, she reads “Robin Hood” to her child, only realizing that hell take up an archery obsession that eventually drives her crazy. As the torture continues to his teenage years, Kevin giving her the cut eye to let her know that something would be amiss in the house for which he’s responsible. There’s also a sequence of her as she takes teenage Kevin for a golf and dinner date, when he combats her every attempt of small talk, Miller delivering each line with vehemence as Swinton is exquisite even while reacting. But I keep replaying the dialogue in that sequence in my head, since there are possibilities that his words aren’t that mean, that he’s just holding up a mirror to her hypocrisies and performed motherly warmth.
There’s also this unnecessary nihilism to the movie, especially with introducing Eva’s daughter. The movie, especially with its flashbacks and forwards, makes us wait for what he does that puts him in jail and for why her daughter has to wear an eye patch and the way the movie develops makes us feel that these events will be obscenely portrayed. This also makes me curious about how parents of juvenile criminals in reality are treated because it can’t be as bad and extreme as this. It is about the labourious plastering of how Kevin affects Eva. I’m not necessarily asking for a sugar-coating of the grisly subject it’s as if Ramsay and those involved in this movie are making it more difficult to reach these characters’ and environment’s humanity.
Andy Hart from FandangoGroovers sent us an e-mail asking us what our best movie years are and instead just blurting out what years I chose, I opted for introducing my reasoning behind the chosen years.
Because I’m suicidal.
There have been other posts like this obviously, citing the year that saw the height noir as a style in 1941. It’s easy to assume that the year before, 1940, might be a weaker year but I don’t think so (what were you thinking, Paolo?). I already said that 1941 was the year of the noir and it was the beginning of stylistic achievements that will be influential for the next forty years. But no one wants to peak young Those arguments, I admit, are me trying to put both years under investigation before I declare them as banner years).
What 1940 has is diversity. What other year could boast an animated movie that has different yet complementary aesthetics and another movie that successfully convinces us that the all-American Jimmy Stewart is European and/or a man of class? What year will we find such comedy greats like Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell? It was also a great actressing year that followed 1939. Joan Fontaine being the light anchor in only Alfred Hitchcock movie that won an Oscar for Best Picture. Katharine Hepburn returns and makes the studios realize that her sense of comic timing can crowd the movie theatres. And Vivien Leigh simply haunts us. The movies: Fantasia, The Shop Around the Corner, Rebecca, The Philadelphia Story, Waterloo Bridge.
Because it was the year of (forgotten) classics.
1955 saw three movies so breathtaking that it almost makes me want to say ‘Revisionist Western,’ although it would be too anachronistic to use that phrase. But those movies subverts North American ideas of villainy, race and It was also the year of the blond.
Doing away with her Academy Award-winning de-glam, Grace Kelly has a career-best performance in another Hitchcock movie as a smart golden-locked woman. Shelley Winters plays victim to Robert Mitchum, too charming to be good, but she might not necessarily be dumb. Marilyn Monroe almost steals Evelyn Keyes’ husband and makes us think differently about the hot air on street vents. Julie Harris, a honey blond, steers the lost James Dean, in his best performance, into sanity and domesticity. But the brunettes represented too, James Dean also finding love in a hopeful teenager Natalie Wood. Jean Simmons making Marlon Brando fly her to Cuba and she still won’t give him the love that he doesn’t deserve yet. And Martine Carol, overshadowed by younger French actresses, gives us a 19th cnetury circus act that we should never forget. The movies: The Night of the Hunter, East of Eden, Bad Day at Black Rock, To Catch a Thief, Lola Montes.
Because I might be suicidal after all.
1974 saw most movies come back to the streets. Walter Matthau deals with a subway train gets high jacked in Manhattan, New York City by good for nothing British terrorists. Los Angeles saw its share of impersonators, near impossible water shortages and crazy ladies chasing for their children riding in school buses. In San Francisco, Gene Hackman and John Cazale do their job as many lovely yet suspicious conversations under wiretap. And the past catches up with the present as Michael Corleone does his best to escape chaos and brotherly betrayal in Havana, Cuba. But that doesn’t mean that the rural areas didn’t get some love, as a singer travels to find a job and a college student finds a crazy family.
When it comes to the Oscars, Martin Scorsese directs a melodrama (he needs to do another one and if you say Hugo I swear I’ll…). Francis Ford Coppola created a kinetic magnum opus and lost Best Picture against himself. A frazzled married woman played by Gena Rowlands and a tough woman with a tougher lawyer in Faye Dunaway lose to determined single mother brought to life by Ellen Burstyn. The movies: The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Woman Under the Influence.
Because I’m a hopeless romantic.
2010 was the year I started blogging, the year culminating the plurality that independent cinema has worked for in the past forty years. Indie masters like David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky and Edgar Wright made movies with actors who will become Hollywood’s future and made hundreds of millions of dollars with them. I’m going to try to stop overusing the word ‘indie’ no, although I used it one last time to a movie so good that it doesn’t even need to be finished.
But in 2010, I surprisingly found sympathy within mopey characters aimlessly wandering the streets of Los Angeles. Or it could be London, where a reluctant king impersonates an Emperor penguin for the young daughters who themselves will make history. Boston also has its share of competitive brothers, both brothers and their entertainingly abrasive mother, sisters and wives. A brother and sister explore what we assume is Lebanon and learn a heart wrenching through, out of all things, mathematics. The fashionable Milan has a shy, Russian housewife learning what love is in its primal states, throwing her life away from him. And I learned how to love an overrated director since he created characters who can make the Parisian streets of their dreams shake and bend. The movies: Greenberg, I am Love, Meek’s Cutoff, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, The Fighter.
Other years under further investigation: 1927 – the year when the Academy started getting it wrong (Sunrise, Metropolis), 1939 – the height of the studios (The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind), 1966 – the year when we said terrible things to each other a lot (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Persona), 1988 – when he loved and hated the Germans (Der Himmel Uber Berlin, Die Hard), 1991 – genre versus genre (Silence of the Lambs, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and 2001 – weirdest sexiest year ever (Mulholland Drive, Y Tu Mama Tambien).
The first look I’m gonna be talking about comes from my first movie in 2010, Martin Scorsese‘ Shutter Island. Yes, there’s Teddy Daniels’ (Leonardo di Caprio) wife (Michelle Williams) in yellow, but among many things we wonder why Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) has a better suit than Teddy, his supposed superior. Then Chuck stands there, his fake benevolence makes him seem sinister, and he reveals to Teddy and to the audience a pulpy ending we don’t want.
There’s also the literally punk ethos generations later. There’s gonna be another movie on this list that covers the same time period, the style The Runaways being the more stereotypical if you have to compare the two. But say, younger Cherie Curie (Dakota Fanning) taking style cues from David Bowie makes us all reminisce even if we’ve never been there.
It’s been known that Tilda Swinton can do anything, including wearing Jil Sander dresses and not look like a clueless model wearing a box. I am Love focuses on Emma Recchi’s (Swinton) facade of womanhood, or how lovers try to hide and find each other through cities and nature. And when Emma puts up her hair in a bun, it reminds me of Madeleine Elster. Emma Recchi (Swinton) is allowed little bits of freedom, but is she willing to risk it all?
Now we move on to chunky sweaters! Such as the staple in Never Let Me Go. The youth from Hailsham and the other special schools get to wear browns and greys while the people they watch on television are more wild and colourful. But I actually like this, since it shows the Armaniesque minimalism that was just as prevalent in the 70′s and 80′s. If you look Cher in Moonstruck, both films take the same approach in costume.
I’ll probably get hanged if I didn’t talk about Rodarte’s textural touches in Black Swan‘s costumes both onstage and off, the outer layers that ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) have to put on and peel off. I also like the scarves that both Nina and alternate Lilly (Mila Kunis) wear. Why are they dressing alike? What they wear outside reminds us that their season starts in winter, when hibernation (repression) is something that Nina can either adapt or rebel against.
One of the most painful cinematic experiences I’ve ever had is also one of my first in the newly erected Bell Lightbox. Fortunately, there’s the little moments of fashion in L.A. Zombie, and it helped that I knew that they were created by Bernard Wilhelm, one of the designers whose whole collections I wanna buy when I get rich enough. That and they’re worn by one fo the sexiest men to ever live, Francios Sagat. I hate this movie partly because of Catholic guilt. Are you happy I admitted that?
This year was the year of the blue dress, like the Balenciaga inspired ones in Attenberg and Amy Ryan’s ill-fitting yet fabulous dress in Jack Goes Boating, but the one that knocks it out of the park is Miriam’s (Rosamund Pike) in Barney’s Version. To be able to catch the eye of a just married man like the anti-hero Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) and come out like an angel doesn’t always have something to do with what’s inside a person.
Hey look, another hot guy in a suit. The titular hero of Carlos (Edgar Ramirez) audaciously wears white or light coloured suits while motorcycling through the streets of Beirut and other cities in the Middle East. He is smooth, a conundrum, presenting himself as a terrorist while looking like he’s spending money on a Saturday night. The film will also show him in Speedos and his birthday suit if that’s your thing.
There’s young Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) in a movie that might be the only one in this list to get an Oscar nomination for Best Costume, True Grit. Mattie chooses subtlety and fit, unlike the wild colours of the Ann Sheridan types or loose-fitting sloppiness of the men. She is the daughter of Frank Ross, a man of manageable wealth and assets. Although she dresses more ‘manly’ when she goes into Indian territory to find her dad’s murdered Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).
Rosamund Pike reappears in this last entry but for another movie where her talent is better used – made in Dagenham. The red Biba dress that Sally Hawkins’ character is originally her characters’ anyway. The dress reminds me of how Britain had power in the garment industry before the Central Saint Martin school came along. And even female politicians will talk to each other about clothes. Make of that what you will.
I’m not even properly doing this list, while just writing about the first ten awesome films off the top of my head. [ETA: Because of distribution randomness, movies like The Conspirator won't come out so I can't really make a proper list until April this year. Nonetheless, here I am.]
I wanna commend the naturalism of Noah Baumbach‘s latest film Greenberg. I’m not sure if I can really call this mumblecore because I feel the emotions are just as explosive as it would in a typical drama. The characters of this film underact their deliveries of empty threats and misunderstandings, but they have to come back together eventually.
It wasn’t until now that I realized that I am Love echoes Hitchcock in portraying quiet eroticism, obsession and guilt within the elegant trophy wife Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton). The editing is snappy yet buttery from, for example, close-ups of nature scenes to close-ups of Emma’s body perfectly captures the impressionistic waves of her emotions.
The obligatory animated film spot goes to How to Train Your Dragon, again, with its rousing music score that helps portray the fantasy within Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) as he befriends a slick dragon. It’s interesting to see an animated film convey such human intimacy and freedom, its modest ambitions captivating its audiences.
A tidbit in this month’s GQ described Inception as a heist version of an Alain Resnais film, and my love for this film makes sense by reading that. The film’s intricate structure messes with your head without seeming deranged. It’s an enveloping experience combining narrative, visuals and sound. Most importantly, it’s got style.
Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a marvelous achievement in editing that translates the comic book into film. I really felt like I was flipping through the book itself. The eye-popping graphics are also lovely, making the film an esoteric experience, going hand in hand with Scott Pilgrim’s (Michael Cera)’s energy level, kicking ass.
I’ve referred to the influences that Meek’s Cutoff, illuminating its audiences with colour while presenting the Oregon Trail’s dangers in quietness. Director Kelly Reichardt shows how much she’s mastered the art of composition, where every skirted, persevering woman or tree or rock looks like artwork. I can’t wait to get the film’s DVD to screencap it.
As I’ve said in my review of this film, I’ve given mercy fives but the one movie that truly blew me away this TIFF is Confessions, which, as I’ve said earlier, is a mixture of elegy and revenge as a genre. It also exposes a society where children do the unthinkable. people don’t stop learning but don’t evolve as mature human beings neither.
Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone takes us with the tough Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) go head to head with her enemies who just happen to be on her extended family, like her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) and the matriarch (Dale Dickey). Despite the survivalist and drug-addled reputation it may give, this haunting tale put the Ozarks on the map.
I probably like The King’s Speech mostly for the quotes. Does anyone else think that the future King George VI’s (Colin Firth) words as adorable? Obviously the story about him and his unlikely mirror, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), both of whom show their inadequacies and hurdles. People who call this ‘Oscar bait’ are amateurs.
Another Oscar bait ‘guilty pleasure’ is The Fighter, a movie capturing the rustic, rupturing cadence of a working class family in Lowell Massachusets as they stick to their own mythologies through boxer and comeback hero Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg). This movie has a male protagonist surrounded by strong women and is the definition of the ensemble cast.
- Top Ten Movies of 2010 — Aaron Peck Edition (seattlepi.com)
Making this list is like finding people for the next season of America’s Next Top Model. Great comparison, actually, since like them, I try picking from the fat in a six month period. You wait till the fall to harvest. Metaphors aside, I started watching new releases diligently, partly because of this blog. Then the festivals came in May, then finances, then Cinematheque. The last new movie I saw was “Mid-August Lunch,” and that’s a technically a 2008 release. Yes, I might have to go back as far as 2008 to make this list. Anyway,
Exit Through the Gift Shop – Banksy shows us his colleague’s terrible art. I never realized that being repulsed by something so banal is an experience I’d feel on film. And there are other feeling in the mix as well.
Greenberg – Noah Baumbach is a master of dialogue. He’s capable enough to shoot and direct that dialogue, too. Ben Stiller can still do drama, even if you kinda laugh at his character.
The Secret in the Eyes – A film that seemed endless yet it satisfied me after just satisfying me. The movie broke my heart.
I am Love – Uniting critics and dividing audiences, the sensory delight in this film will make you think of RealD as bland in comparison.
I hope to fill this list with worthy films by the end of the year. I’m counting on you, Christopher Nolan, Lisa Chodolenko, Julian Schnabel (coming into my city in August), Terry Malick!
“I Am Love” has aspects of the perfect art-snob film: style, deconstructing the rich and a baffling ending. Set in Milan, the film profiles the Recchis. Edo invites to dinner his middle class girlfriend Eva. His sister Betta reveals her lesbianism to him and to their mother Emma (Tilda Swinton), who’s bound to show her wild side soon. The film has a sensory feel to it and is capable of tragedy – the latter making us wonder how the family’s rebels are going to carry on. The audience laughed at the ending. I liked the movie, but the worst thing I can say about it is that it’s partly a movie about food that’s never made me feel hungry. Who eats flowers? What is wrong with rich people?
Fighting words from possibly fictional Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage, looking like what Jonah Hill might look like in 20 years) to fictional Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) in “Adaptation.” Those words are more effective than anything Kevin Kline ever says “Sophie’s Choice,” because Charlie’s coming from pain, from a connection and a relationship finally consummated in its own strange way with a woman he’s never physically met until this time. In that scene, both lose important men in their lives. Charlie loses his fictional brother Donald (Nicholas Cage) in an out-of-nowhere car crash, while Susan loses John Laroche (Chris Cooper) to a croc. Their confrontation is both hilarious and sad. The two deceased characters have been Charlie and Susan’s crutches, alter egos, dumber, more oblivious versions of themselves with delusions of grandeur. Charlie unlearns the Susan who’s been both myth and sexual fantasy and sees her just like him, a writer stuck after letting go of an obsession. And now that that part of them is gone, they can fictionalize this part of their lives and move of to other projects.
I also think this is the first movie I’ve seen where Tilda Swinton looks normal. She’s always been a beauty from another world, but as Valerie Thomas in a light sweater she refreshingly looks more conventionally pretty. There’s also the warmth in her, that as much as Charlie’s repulsed by himself, beautiful women don’t just tolerate but actually accommodate him. Her ‘breathing down his agent’s neck’ only happens off screen.
I kinda wanna talk about Amelia (Cara Seymour) and Donald’s girlfriend Caroline (Maggie Gyllenhaal) too. These two women, as well as Valerie and her doppelganger Alice the Waitress (Judy Greer) don’t seem to be repulsed by Charlie, but that’s only because the romantic barrier hasn’t been broken. That only gets broken with Alice, who isn’t as accommodating by then.
I’m not sure if I totally love the movie, but it’s not as jolting in its surrealism as “Eternal Sunshine” or “Synecdoche,” as much as I like those movies. A part of it is probably due to listening to the characters’ voices or seeing what cars they drive before actually seeing them. The characters here are humans instead of aesthetic elements filling up the mise-en-scene.
FACT! Meryl Streep’s other movie in 2002, “The Hours,” partners her with Alison Janney, the latter coincidentally plays Chris Cooper’s wife in “American Beauty” three years before. Sluts.
FACT! Meryl Streep stoned and her calling people fat are longer traditions than previously thought.
FACT! Nicholas Cage was once good.