That’s who representative Effie Trinket chooses out of a glass bowl to see who will play in the futuristic, titular 74th annual Hunger Games. It’s the nightmare scenario for the girl bearing that name (Willow Shields), as well as for her sister, our heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), because the former will be too young to survive the bloodbath that comes with these games. Imagine if the neon lights of “American Idol” have younger and more homicidal contestants. But let’s get back to the real issue – this representative looks so ridiculous that I didn’t even know that Elizabeth Banks was playing her. It’s as if Nicki Minaj apparently is the face of the future, one of the adults from Panem’s Capitol – the seat of power of a futuristic version of North America – who all look like anime villains. And I haven’t run out of metaphors and references – as if Zac Posen and the now-defunct Heatherettes’ palettes puked on Stefano Pilati and Viktor and Rolf’s otherwise perfect tailoring, these futuristic designs fitting within the uber-capitalistic society, the latter’s flag looking like an Aryan bastardization of Rome built in the Rockies. It reminds me of what Walter Benjamin said about how France under Napoleon emulates Rome. And it’s not just because science fiction stories, by nature, are pretty much ideas and fashions and designs from the present day set in titanium. Present and future societies will always repeat their past. And these games are a reminder of the past, Effie repeating the words of the video she shows to the district about how the games are the Capitol’s way of giving peace and fear, indoctrinated that her messed up world is perfect.
I also noticed the differences between the people in the Capitol and Katniss’ peasant-like District 12, where pastel and steel are separated from earthier tones. She’s her family’s provider but when she volunteers as the district’s female tribute to replace Prim, she transforms. Her earlier ‘masculine’ habits of hunting are still intact. I never imagine her in a beautiful dress, as I’m supposed to, but there she is wearing a red number in her publicity tour as one of the tributes. She even twirls and shows off her ‘fire’ for the audiences. I saw this as a change from awkward, unsightly adolescence to full-blossomed adulthood but that binary is complicated that she’s one of twenty-four chosen while the rest of the people in many districts are stuck without ‘growing.’ But then again that seems more realistic, that the glamourous adulthood of our imaginations can’t come true for everyone. And even with being chosen she still has to compete with twenty-three other youths to ‘have it all.’ It’s like what Panem’s President Snow (Donald Sutherland) says to the man presiding the games (Wes Bentley), that this kind of entertainment brings false hope to the masses. Dystopic sci-fis are really great in bringing up these issues in exaggerating present day conundrums and it’s really to Suzanne Collins’ – who wrote the original novels and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Billy Ray and the movie’s director Gary Ross – credit to have created such a detailed world.
And Lawrence, playing a younger version of her Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone, is one of the foundations that make this world more solid, especially with the contradictions within her character. Her full cheeks masks her eyes’ rage and curiosity. She’s awkward – during athletic/publicity training she asks her designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) how she can make people like her. Effie criticizes her for being ill-mannered after many conflicts against the sponsors and her co-tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). But this young woman eventually finds and protects her new family, inadvertently becomes the face of a new rebellion and rides out a semi-fabricated story that she and Peeta are the games’ star-crossed lovers. That the characters, Collins and Ross’ final and cynical word on their love feels subversive for a young adult narrative. Although at least some of their love is real, Katniss bringing him medicine and both saving each other’s lives during the games.
If there’s anything I’ll strongly say against this movie, it’s that Ross and cinematographer Tom Stern bring their camera too close and fast, especially in its opening sequences. As much as I would like to be acquainted with these characters – the shaky cam replicating her perspective as she walks and runs through her journey – I also want to see the world where they belong. The Bourne-style quick-cutting also doesn’t help with the violent scenes. Seeing those deaths, admittedly, was part of the sadistic fun and it kind of sucks that the audience doesn’t get to fully experience this. The cast also includes Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson and Alexander Ludwig. Image via Villagevoice.
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)
Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) has this doll-shaped, pristine face that makes her look like a model for a Renaissance painting – she’s not in the cover of the September issue of W for nothing. Yet she evokes a working class toughness through her looks and performance. The latter can also be said the population of this heroine’s small town setting in the Ozarks, most of whom like hey could be related to Charles Manson, most of whom are distantly related to Ree.
I haven’t seen everything under the American Neo Realist canon – does The Wrestler count? Nonetheless, Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone shows what we can expect from the genre – messy living spaces, our heroine Ree who has to take care of children through tough love, the heroine who knows that opportunity is difficult to reach and tries anyway. Then there’s the dangerous hurdle in front of her – having to look for her father or else she’ll lose her house. Within that major plot point comes the portrayal of an honour code in her drug-ridden community that separates her from her elders – yes, elders.
Winter’s Bone is also one of the most climactic example within a genre that chooses minimal and super subtle emotions. Don’t mistake me, there’s economical dialogue here too, but every word in the script has a kick. There are also scenes like when her own uncle Teardrop threatens her. His hand comes from nowhere and that tense moment is captured through film that I’ve probably never seen before.
Supporting cast includes Garret Dillahunt, bit player in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Dale Dickey, the hooker/Betty White’s daughter in “My Name is Earl,” in a chilling performance.