Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): March 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sherlock Holmes


Also out on DVD this week, previously reviewed: An Education, about a schoolgirl's coming-of-age in early 60s London, and The Baader-Meinhof Complex, the true story of the Red Army Faction, a group of radical terrorists in West Germany.

He never says "Elementary, my dear Watson" and never once dons the infamous double-billed hat. He smokes a pipe, occasionally anyway, yet trades unflappability for a frenetic messiness which allows his peerless skills of deduction to remain the calm at the center of the storm. Remaining a bachelor, he nonetheless has a love interest, a criminal to boot; but he does not let his heart distract his mind (shades of "I hope they don't hang you, precious, by that sweet neck."). He retains a faith in the remarkable powers of reason to knock down walls and illuminate the hazy, even in the face of a supernatural foe. It's Sherlock Holmes, all right -and that we accept Robert Downey, Jr.'s reinterpretation of the character (or is the word now "reboot" - speaking of which: a "reboot" of Jurassic Park? Seriously?? But I digress...) indicates the degree to which some fundamental aspect of Arthur Conan Doyle's sleuth transcends his common pop cultural trappings. Downey, director Guy Ritchie, and a bevy of screenwriters bend and twist Holmes with enough force to make Gumby snap, yet Sherlock remains Sherlock.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Greenberg


If you've seen the previews, you know that Greenberg features Ben Stiller in midlife crisis mode, wandering around L.A. looking lost and offering sardonic observations (at a coke party, he informs the kids that they were too pampered, growing up listening to "Baby Mozart"). If you've seen Noah Baumbach's recent films - the excellent divorce memoir, er, fictional piece The Squid and the Whale or the repulsive Margot at the Wedding - you'll know that the film's bound to have more up its sleeve than the genial trailer indicates. Indeed, Stiller's character - Roger Greenberg - is more asocial and pained (and oddly enough, more grounded) than the ads suggest. What's more, he is introduced gradually, tangentially, with the movie initially focusing on Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig), as she runs errands and does household chores for the rich Hollywood family she works for. She'll be looking after their house and dog while the yupster clan cavorts in Vietnam; meanwhile Roger, the brother of Gerwig's employer, will be staying in the home and supposedly building a doghouse - ostensibly for the pet, but it might as well be for himself.

100 Classics of Silent Cinema

Allan Fish has today concluded his ambitious countdown of the one hundred best films from the early years of cinema. You can catch up with the full selection here and read his entry on the #1 film here. Don't forget to take the poll either - myself, I'm working double-time to catch up with and re-watch classic silents over the next two weeks so I can feel up to participating. But even if you don't have time for reappraisals or first-time screenings, let your voice be heard! The more the merrier.

And by the way, merry Palm Sunday - as a lapsed Catholic, I fondly recall this holiday. I always enjoyed the theatrics of reading the liturgy aloud in church, and of all those palm fronds waving in the air.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Brothers


At first, all you can notice is how damn young everyone looks. Capt. Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) has the bearing and attitude of a grown man, but looks small and scrawny when uniformed as a Marine. He and his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) have two daughters, both well out of toddlerhood, and yet when they shepherd them through the living room or seat them at the dinnertable, they look like nothing else so much as two kids playing house. Sam's brother Tommy (Jack Gyllenhaal) is the only one here who really looks his age - yet as if to compensate for this physical maturity, he's the most immature in behavior, picking fights with his dad, getting drunk, banned from driving the car as if he's a 16-year-old who's been grounded. These characters hover uneasily between the youthfulness of their appearance (and perhaps the youthfulness of the roles we associate them with) and the gravity of the world they inhabit. The three characters - posed like Calvin Klein models in Brothers' weird poster - must face death, trauma, war, and the disintegration of a marriage, while raising children and trying to maintain their own sanity. They do this, or attempt to do this, as adults; this is one of the first movies to treat the Millennial generation as grown-ups.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Elephant

#51 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series counting down the most acclaimed films of the previous decade.

Of the two most cited interpretations, the most frequent reading of Gus Van Sant’s enigmatic title holds that it refers to “the elephant in the room,” which nobody wants to talk about. Yet this is facile – was it really true that nobody wanted to talk about Columbine in the wake of the 1999 high school massacre? Was this true even beforehand, given that Columbine was actually the climax to a spate of school shootings, all of which received ample press coverage, rather than the kickoff? Furthermore, what exactly is it that’s not being discussed? Social isolation? The influence of the media? Video games? Gun control? Violence in America? Not only were all of these issues seized upon after the killings, but Van Sant makes a point out of eschewing all these explanations in his film (giving each of them a bit of airtime before moving on to other matters). So no, there’s no elephant in the room here, and if there is, no one’s ignoring it. The second reading, the one that it seems Van Sant actually intended, references the allegory of the blind men and the elephant, each touching a different part of the body and varying wildly in how they describe the animal. Likewise, Van Sant’s meditative, almost cruelly cool film is, at 81 minutes, too vast to take in from one perspective – which is not to say it’s particularly deep.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Spring was moving in the air above"

Saturday was the first day of spring. In honor of the equinox, in lieu of a longer post, and in anticipation of my Wind in the Willows series (which I'm about to commence work on, having re-read the book): an excerpt, a continuation of my vernal greetings one year ago...
"Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gravelled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged , and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, 'Up we go! Up we go!' till at last, pop! his snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

'This is fine!' he said to himself. 'This is better than whitewashing!' The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow till he reached the hedge on the further side."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


When The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opens, investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) has just been convicted of libeling a wealthy industrialist, the reporter's muckraking exposé having itself been exposed as a fraud. Blomkvist knows he was set up, that phony sources and fabricated evidence were used to lure him into a trap, but his sense of stoic resignation is palpable: he refuses an appeal, leaves his publication, even breaks off a relationship with a colleague. And then what does he do? With six months before his sentence begins, six months to relax or reflect or maybe run away? He accepts a job in a barren, isolated region dominated by a sinister, imposing family corporation called the Vanger Group. One of the Vangers, now a very old man, has a mission for Blomkvist: find out what happened to his teenage niece who disappeared in the sixties, and whose case has remained unsolved for forty years. With only half a year before he's behind bars, Blomkvist throws himself into work once again. That's dedication, and its very best, The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo is immersed in this very sense of dedication.

Friday, March 19, 2010

And then there were 10...

Today on Wonders in the Dark, Allan Fish kicks off the final stretch of his ambitious Top 100 silents countdown with The Battleship Potemkin at #10. What movies will fill the final nine slots - especially with such classics as Pandora's Box, Intolerance, The Gold Rush, and The Birth of a Nation already accounted for? Be sure to visit and found out, as the countdown finishes over the next week and a half. And don't forget to vote in the poll for your own picks.

To catch up with the rest of the selections (including the top 25 for the 30s, and the top 50 for every decade since - except for the one just passed, which Allan will be tackling next), visit the round-up on my blog.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Blind Side


[Although The Blind Side does not appear on disc until next week, I'm reviewing it now, in the absence of new releases I wanted to write about. Next week  I will review one or two other films released on March 23.]

"The Charge of the White Brigade"

In a clip that received continuous play on Oscar night - featured on both the Barbara Walters special and as a favorite of the Awards broadcast when highlighting the nominated Blind Side - Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock), a blonde, beautiful, sassy Southern housewife with wealth and attitude to spare, confronts several young black men sitting on a stoop in the projects. Leaning forward after one of them calls her "bitch," she stares him down and fires back with everything in her arsenal. She lets him know that if he comes to her side of town, he's in for a world of hell, that she lunches with the D.A. on a regular basis, and that she's a full-fledged member of the NRA who's always packing. Earlier we've seen the sinister youth threaten gentle giant Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), Leigh Anne's adopted son, with his own gun, all while boasting about his criminal operations and salivating over Leigh Anne and her teenage daughter. Yet now, confronted with a woman in heels, surrounded in his own territory, he cowers. Whatever his own prowess and presence in the ghetto, he can't touch the threat of a pistol-packin' mama with an open line to the enforcers of political authority. And how are we supposed to feel about this? After all, as the young man is written, he deserves to be threatened and "put in his place." Yet the racial elements are impossible to ignore - as is the reflection that the film must know this, but proceeds anyway, without acknowledging the diatribe's deeper implications.

The Posters of David Lynch


My latest DVD review will be going up this afternoon at Lost in the Movies. In the mean time, stroll through the strange world of David Lynch. Most of the posters are actually not that weird, though the best of them suggest something intangible and haunting beneath the surface.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Summer Hours


[#48 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series counting down the most acclaimed films of the previous decade.]
_________

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
_________

“I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so, the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her.”
_________

“Poor Mole stood alone in the road, his heart torn asunder and a big sob gathering, gathering, gathering, somewhere low down inside him, to leap up to the surface presently, he knew, in passionate escape. … Meanwhile, the wafts from his old home pleaded, whispered, conjured, and finally claimed him imperiously. He dared not tarry longer within their magic circle. With a wrench that tore his very heartstrings, he set his face down the road and followed submissively in the track of the Rat, while faint, thin little smells, still dogging his retreating nose, reproached him…”
. . . . .

Summer Hours, The Decline and Fall of the French Bourgeoisie, Three Generations. Olivier Assayas’ absorbing and poignant film is first an observation of life’s fleeting moments (one might say it’s more observant than the characters who experience these moments, without really appreciating them). It is also a wailing elegy to a France crumbling away in the globalized world, letting its culture and its people dribble from its borders like sand from a smashed hourglass. And finally the movie is a portrait of one family, three generations (old, middle-aged, young) and three siblings in that middle group (brother, sister, brother), who slowly and willingly lose their country home, and with it their fragile communal identity. These two triumvirates, the generations and siblings, are each anchored in the center – chronological in the case of the age group (those in the middle of their life dominate the running time of the film), geographic in the case of the brothers and sisters (the deceased matriarch’s eldest son lives in France and tries to hold the family together, while his sister flees west to New York, and his little brother flees east to China). Alas, as is so often the case, the center does not hold.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are

To a certain extent, great movies defy explanation. They pop up in the least expected place, ignoring conventional rules and expectations - they defy relevance (a quality I've just finished celebrating in another review) in the name of a deeper resonance. These films can often be ungainly, hard to swallow - they strike us at odd angles and approach us on their own grounds, not on ours. I think Where the Wild Things Are may very well be a great movie. It's certainly a visionary piece of work, highly original and unique, unlike anything else I saw in 2009. In this sense of difference, of vision, of effectiveness on its own terms, it reminds me of two (of course) very different movies: Inglourious Basterds and Antichrist. Together, they form a trilogy of challenging, rich, rewarding movies, all of which I had numerous problems with. Yet I could eventually and only embrace them as examples of artistic accomplishment - among the most singular of this epoch.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Green Zone


I was in a shopping mall when the first bombs dropped on Baghdad. It was spring break, 2003, and I was vacationing with my family in Florida, taking a breather from an unsatisfying freshman year of college and the incessant march to war that had accompanied it. Always a history buff, I was both fascinated and repelled by what was happening - the notion of invasion never made sense to me and Bush's justifications appeared half-baked at best, yet it was with a sense of relief that the inevitable drumbeat reached its crescendo (if it's going to happen, happen already!). And of course it was a bit overwhelming to experience such a historic moment, and to feel so frustratingly sidelined. That evening, in fact, sitting down for dinner at a plastic restaurant in the middle of touristy mega-plaza, I quizzed my parents about their own brushes with history: where had they been when JFK was killed? When a man walked on the moon?

I think we were onto the fall of the Berlin Wall when our waitress approached and let us know that they had just started bombing Iraq - earlier than expected, since Bush's 48-hour warning to Saddam had only passed a few hours ago, and the bombing had not been expected till tomorrow morning. The young woman also mentioned her twin sister, stationed in Kuwait at that very moment, awaiting the ground invasion. She kept her cool, but looked shaken. That night we huddled around the TV set in the hotel room and watched the eerie orange glow over the ancient city, and I remember feeling irked that, when we flipped the channels, normal programming was on some of the cable networks. The next morning, vacationers splashed and swam in the swimming pool but an uneasy sense of irreality hung in the air. In the lobby of the resort, families - I particularly remember the old men in Hawaiin shirts - gathered around the TV as a Rumsfeld press conference unfolded.

There we were, surrounded by palm trees and the heat, half a world away from the action. It was an unforgettable sensation. Why do I mention all of this, particularly when I try to avoid these autobiographical, anecdotal asides in my pieces? Because Green Zone re-awakened the feelings of that moment: the odd mixture of pride, frustration, confusion, and helplessness that accompanied the most ambitious and dramatic start of an American war since World War II. I saw the film the other night in a crowded multiplex (though the lines forming through the lobby were for the 3-D Alice in Wonderland) and before the movie we were deluged by Avatar advertisements for Coca-Cola and embarrassing promos for Kirstie Alley's self-humiliating new reality show (during which I put my head down and tried to read a book I'd brought along). The audience chatted and chuckled ironically at the self-aggrandizing trash flaunted across the screen, but they fell silent when the screen went to black. The mood was quiet, intent - suddenly we all seemed to be in the same boat again, riding stormy seas, this time headed into the maelstrom instead of huddling on the horizon, trying to squint and glimpse at what was going on inside.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Precious and Capitalism: A Love Story


[Every week, usually on a Wednesday - sorry for the delay this time - I'll review one or several new DVD releases. And every Sunday, I plan to review a new release hitting or lingering in theaters. Stay tuned.]

Among its other bounties, March 9 brought two disparate, yet somehow overlapping, movies to disc. Both Precious and Capitalism: A Love Story are members of that rare breed, the socially-conscious American film. One is a narrative (based, as the advertising campaign never tired of reminding us, on a work of fiction by the author Sapphire), the other a documentary. One takes place twenty years ago (Precious is set in 1987), the other spans decades with the emphasis on how this history has culminated in the present day. And in the same spirit as these other differences, the films employ divergent approaches to their subjects. Precious zeroes in on the travails of its protagonist - the film touches on issues of race, class, sexuality, welfare politics, and education alternatives, but eschews didactic lectures (if not necessarily didactic characters or devices). Capitalism is, by nature, didactic - it's a Michael Moore film, after all, and even if he's toned down his personal appearances he still likes to tell us what he thinks and what he thinks we should think on the soundtrack.

Putting aside these obvious differences, take a moment to look at those posters. Some would suggest that their iconic, blocky form - employing recognizable silhouettes rather than detailed features - represent their explorations of American society: simplistic, broadly defined, perhaps cartoonish. I wouldn't necessarily go that far but the two movies are linked by a certain bombastic, preening thrust - and also by the very fact that they peek beneath the increasingly tattered surface of the American Dream, and can't help but be self-conscious about doing so.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Posters of Steven Spielberg

Today I very much wanted to establish what I hope will be a pattern: every Wednesday, reviews of DVD new release(s) on Lost in the Movies. However, due to miscalculations and the desire to cover several movies in one post, that particular piece will have to wait until tomorrow. Please stay tuned for a review responding to Precious, Capitalism: A Love Story, and Where the Wild Things Are.

In the mean time, another entry in the ongoing series looking at directors' posters. (*added a forgotten poster for The Lost World in 2015) Here we have another filmmaker of iconic status, one of my personal favorites, and one whose posters can do as good a job as any of summarizing the various zeitgeists he worked under. (By the way, there's one version of an early Spielberg film not included, but please check it out.)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Still Life

First things first, it’s very hard to capture the life of Still Life in a still. There were numerous images that caught my eye while watching the movie, and when it was over I tried to go back and pause certain moments to create a screen-capture on my computer. No dice, though I finally settled on the enticing image seen above. The problem was that all of these impressive visuals contained the essential value of movement, either of the camera, within the frame, or both. One particular sequence seemed ripe for pictures: a quiet scene in which characters dance on a rooftop at dusk, with the half-constructed metropolis blazing in the background and a yawning, unilluminated bridge stretching towards the hilly horizon. Yet each time I paused the simple panning motion, the still did not capture that visceral pull of the visuals, the interruption of a simple sweep somehow stripping the shot of its power.

Monday, March 8, 2010

And the winner was...

After recovering (barely) from an excruciatingly embarrassing opening number (of which we need not say any more), the Academy Awards ceremony proceeded with few surprises last night, but nonetheless proved a satisfying experience. As hosts, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin managed to pull off a surprising amount of the clunkers they were handed (this was one of the worst-written telecasts in the show's history, which is saying something). More importantly, at least within the parameters the nominations set, many of the winners were deserving. Apologists and naysayers alike could agree on the merits of Christoph Waltz, Jeff Bridges was by consensus the "his-time-has-come" victor for Crazy Heart, and while I'd probably suggest Quentin Tarantino was the "best director" of his bunch, I'm much, much happier to see Kathryn Bigelow win.

Bigelow's victory was the high point of the night, and is sure to be seen as such in the Oscar coverage (at least the coverage unhindered by early deadlines). She was of course the first woman ever to win in this category, a victory only slightly hampered by the fact that every man onstage seemed to be groping her. James Cameron took his ex-wife's victory in stride; and while he never made it to the stage, Avatar swept plenty of awards - except for the top one. I was glad Hurt Locker pulled off its predicted success; while I don't think it was the best picture of the year (Antichrist probably deserves that honor) or even necessarily of the nominees (the often frustrating Inglourious Basterds just may look that way in retrospect, though I'm more comfortable calling Tarantino the "best director" than the movie the "best picture") - but it's the right Best Picture for its time. The greatest movies don't need Oscars, anyway.

Nor, for that matter, do the greatest personages, though it's nice to see them receive the recognition eventually (and belatedly). Which brings us to the biggest blemish on last night's broadcast (and I'm not talking about the this-is-my-first-appearance-in-a-school-play of the Twilight tots nor the intervention-staging of the Best Actor/Actress presentations). Where were the honorary awards? We know, of course. We were told, very briefly and superficially, that the reception of these awards happened off-screen and that Roger Corman, Gordon Willis, and Lauren Bacall, among others, were honored. We even got to see brief snippets of the ceremony, which the show's producers seemed to think was enough, returning us quickly to the more important matters of who's wearing what, stale repartee, and interpretive dances of The Hurt Locker (question: was that guy supposed to represent the Bomb Disposal outfit or a walking IED?).

An institution which ignores its own history deserves only scorn. I'm sure Willis and Corman, as a behind-the-scenes craftsman and B movie auteur, respectively, don't expect to be openly celebrated in the limelight beside vapid celebrities and the like. But Bacall? Couldn't Hollywood have honored one of its leading lights, a woman who stole scenes from Bogie, openly and prominently? What must it have felt like to be the first star to be palmed off in this manner? That she didn't put her lips together and blow the Academy a raspberry is to her credit, and an indication of the grace and gravitas the industry's public face was once capable of.

For those who missed it, I rounded up all my reviews of Oscar-nominated films (as well as the reviews of several others) on Wonders in the Dark this weekend. Including a couple recent reviews of Bright Star and Inglourious Basterds.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Inglourious Basterds


Inglourious Basterds' hook is clever, canny, and seemingly irresistible. A squadron of Jewish-American soldiers, led by a gentile backwoodsmen (is there any other kind?), drops behind enemy lines in 1944 Germany and sets about killing as many Nazis as possible.  While Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) leads his titular squadron on an Apache-inspired campaign of terror against the Germans, a quiet, beautiful young cinema owner endures the unwanted attention of a chipper Aryan sharpshooter. Unexpectedly, these overtures lead to a meeting with Goebbels, a tense dinner with the man who killed her family (he does not recognize her) and the opportunity to exact retribution on her kin's murderers. The climax sees the Basterds' official mission unknowingly collide with Shoshana's personal revenge plot, as a propaganda print and occupied theater goes up in flames, and the Fuhrer goes down in a flurry of bullets. Yes, the movie's hooky all right, but in the finished film the goofy high concept (Nazi-hunting Jewish guerrillas) is probably the least interesting element; one frequently wonders if Tarantino couldn't have made a better film by foregoing the cartoonish central device and withholding the residual hipster winking (dramatically toned down, but still a dominant element in the director's style).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Bright Star


Bright Star, the tale of John Keats' and Fanny Brawne's doomed romance, unfolds over several seasons in Hempstead, England in 1819 - autumn, Christmas, lovers' springtime and summer, another autumn of mortality, finally the desolate winter of death. Its soundtrack makes ample use of Keats' pregnant poesy (in a bout of facile alliteration, I almost stupidly wrote "pregnant prose"!), but the film takes its emotional and narrative cues from Brawne's more innocent sense of first love. This makes for a simpler, gentler, and perhaps less compelling film than one focused on the great artist. Not that Brawne was dull or simple - her acute sense of fashion is well-reflected in the film's delicate artfulness (particularly the Oscar-nominated costume design), while her obvious intelligence is displayed in the movie's dialogue, particularly her own early exchanges. Yet she is still in many ways a girl (emphasis on youth rather than gender), a very young woman in the throes of first love. The movie reflects this too and is imbued with an often pleasing naivitee which at times runs the risk of seeming prosaic.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Academy Awards on Wonders in the Dark


Every year we grumble, and then we turn our attention back to the TV screen to discover, curse, and hopefully sometimes cheer the choices of the Academy. The recent controversy over some exposed Hurt Locker e-mail should remind one to take the proceedings with a grain of salt (as if "negative campaigning" has anything to do with the merits of the film in question...). Nonetheless, the awards have real-world consequences, boosting business, dominating discussion, controlling the short term of a film's legacy - though a roll-call of past winners should refute the notion that this hold lasts for long.

I've watched the Oscars every year, either live or on VHS tapes the next day, since 1991, when I was seven. I had resolved to abstain this year, the straw that broke the camel's back being the Academy's decision not to air the Honorary Awards. To my way of thinking, an institution which ignores its own history is worthless; besides which, this was the one category where the awards got it right! Yet again, I'll probably submit - my excuse this time being that I'll be hanging out with others who want to watch it. Oh, alright then...

Griping aside, as I've said the Oscars have some positive corollary benefits. One of them being that they often produce interesting discussions - this year is no exception, what with the groundbreaking Avatar, the widely-acclaimed Hurt Locker, and the political connotations of both. Without further ado then, let me present a round-up of the "Oscar" pieces from the Wonders in the Dark writers (both for this site and elsewhere). This will, of course, include my own recent reviews but also pieces by Bob Clark, Jamie Uhler, and Dee Dee (Allan Fish's favorites from the year will not be revealed until he initiates his final, eagerly awaited countdown; Tony d'Ambra has focused on his noir reviews as of late). And, of course, Sam Juliano, proprieter of Wonders in the Dark, author of numerous Oscar pieces, and reviewer of many nominated films.

And of course, all of you are invited to post links to your own reviews of nominated films below.

Avatar
*Nominated for Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, Original Score, Sound Editing, Mixing, Visual Effects.
Sam Juliano
Bob Clark

The Hurt Locker
*Nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Jeremy Renner), Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Original Score, Sound Editing, Mixing.
Bob Clark

Inglourious Basterds
*Nominated for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz), Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Sound Editing, Mixing.
Sam Juliano
Bob Clark
Jamie Uhler

Bright Star
*Nominated for Costume Design.
Sam Juliano

An Education
*Nominated for Best Picture, Actress (Carey Mulligan), Adapted Screenplay.

Invictus
*Nominated for Actor (Morgan Freeman), Supporting Actor (Matt Damon)

The Lovely Bones
*Nominated for Supporting Actor (Stanley Tucci)
Bob Clark

A Single Man
*Nominated for Actor (Colin Firth)

Up
*Nominated for Best Picture, Animated Feature, Original Screenplay, Original Score, Sound Editing.
Sam Juliano
Bob Clark

Up in the Air
*Nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor (George Clooney), Supporting Actress (Vera Farmiga), Supporting Actress (Anna Kendrick), Adapted Screenplay.

Sam's predictions and picks:

Sam's Top 12 of 2009 (containing capsules of nominated films Avatar, Bright Star, A Serious Man, A Single Man, and Up).

Bob's top picks for the new millennium, including capsules for The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds.

My early-autumn preview including advance notices for Avatar, Bright Star, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Invictus, The Lovely Bones, and A Serious Man.

(Read comments here from the original Wonders in the Dark post.)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Hurt Locker


This is the first entry in my renewed Best of the 21st Century series. It is cross-posted at Wonders in the Dark; the rest of the series will unfold exclusively on that site.

Two pictures to sum up a decade. One, a man encased in defensive armour, surrounded by explosive canisters. He's a stranger in a foreign land, an embattled American, homemade bombs weaving a spiderweb in the desert sands beneath his feet. The devices are all aimed in his direction like gigantic bullets, together forming a silent threat simmering just underneath the surface. Two, a man in a cavernous, overwhelming, colorful yet utterly sterile supermarket, faced down by hundreds upon hundreds of cardboard boxes, each containing processed and mass-produced snacks. More significant than the contents is the packaging - this is nutrition second, consumption first, and an empty, dissatisfying consumption at that. The bombs are existential threats; the boxes are not, and yet somehow their spiritual threat seems deeper. As Jason Bellamy astutely notes (in an observation which inspired the pictures and paragraph which open this piece), "In staring at all the cereal boxes on the shelf, he is presented with a multitude of choices, just as when he's disarming a bomb, but his choices don't mean anything. There's no 'wrong' choice. It's a reminder of how he misses the rush of duty, when every decision has a potentially life-altering consequence."

Pick your poison. Sgt. William James has certainly picked his.

Monday, March 1, 2010

An Education


Of what value is an education? Humanity has sought experience and knowledge since the dawn of consciousness, and for just as long has been casting doubt upon its own learning. In particular, the highly structured, conventionalized "educations" of modern civilization have inspired criticism and confusion; counter-arguments have often used mere tradition as a recourse, to little satisfaction. In An Education, Jenny (Carey Mulligan) listens to the tired defenses of her elite school's headmistress (Emma Thomson) - "There's also the civil service" she declares as a last resort. Unimpressed, Jenny informs the older woman that she'll have to do much better if someone asks for the point of all this experience in the future; an education which merely perpetuates itself (all those encouraging Jenny to complete her schooling have themselves become teachers) seems senseless to the young schoolgirl.