March 31, 2011

The Best Documentaries of 2010

"Listening to the media echo chamber discuss President Obama's tax deal this week, I realized that it's been more than two months since I saw Charles Ferguson's illuminating Inside Job, and, shockingly, I think I still understand his deft explanation of the reasons behind the financial meltdown and, consequently, our current panic about tax rates and unemployment benefits. After numerous films - including but not limited to Capitalism: A Love Story (0/2 for Michael Moore after he dropped the health care ball with the forgettable Sicko), American Casino, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and even The Other Guys - tried and failed to explain what led to The Great Recession, Ferguson's film was like a breath of fresh air, illustrating the financial foolishness in terms that anyone can understand. Good thing, too, because as I said in my pan of the meaningless Wall Street, this was probably the last chance The Recession Movie had to establish itself as a viable genre."

"If Restrepo isn't the most visceral war film we've ever seen, it's at least the most visceral movie about the war in Afghanistan that we've yet seen, and the most insightful documentary on the 21st-century soldier's experience since The War Tapes...Restrepo almost seems to exist in a vacuum, like a fictionalized action movie (Predators, Avatar?) in which a dozen American soldiers accidentally land on another planet and have to fight for their lives. Of course, that's not the case. These are real twenty-somethings from Wisconsin, Florida, California, and elsewhere, fighting for their lives in a desolate valley on the other side of the world, wearing our flag on their shoulders, shooting at the trees in the hopes of killing unknown enemies who may or may not be connected to one of several networks that could be planning attacks against us somewhere on the planet and sometime in the near, or long-term, future. If this represents our very best attempt at securing American freedom and prosperity and liberating the world from themselves (that's the mandate we've proclaimed, right?), I'm afraid we should be deeply concerned."

"Maybe I'm just a more observant viewer than most, but I would think that most focused movie-goers and critics would pick up on at least a few of these clues.But whether or not you feel like you've been unfairly taken for a ride, there are a few aspects of I'm Still Here that I think should be appreciated. First, the film shows us just how little the average person actually knew about Joaquin Phoenix to begin with; that we still don't know anything about the "real" him is fascinating to consider. Second, I'm Still Here probably chronicles the death of a Hollywood career as it would happen - as it does happen, to many former stars. Lastly, it demonstrates just how talented an actor Joaquin Phoenix is, playing an alternate version of himself in a much more committed way than, say, John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich. Few actors would ever take the risk to spend two years on a project like this, and I hope Phoenix's career is justly rewarded - even if Hollywood is bitter that the joke was always on them."


The Best Movies of 2010

"A Prophet is one of the best crime sagas in recent memory, and, along with last year's Lion's Den and Hunger, it has helped usher in a new era of harrowing prison dramas (the last truly memorable one being what, The Shawshank Redemption?).

Written and directed by Jacques Audiard, whose last film (The Beat My Heart Skipped) was highly acclaimed but unseen by me, A Prophet boasts impressive verisimilitude for a completely fictional story. Maybe it's not surprising considering former convicts were hired as extras and advisers, but Audiard himself has admitted that prison life is rarely depicted in French film and television. French citizens are apparently clueless about what goes on behind prison walls in their country, so it doesn't take much convincing to accept this story as reality.


Indeed, life on the inside is reflective of life on the outside: the old French/European power structure is fading as new immigrant groups - particularly Arab Muslims (that term should not sound nearly as redundant as it does) - are arriving and establishing their identities as the "new French". Symbolically speaking, this film is urgently relevant (it won nine of the record 13
C├ęsar Awards for which it was nominated); cinematically speaking it is a masterful showcase of acting, cinematography, pacing (even at 150 minutes), suspense, music, action and, most importantly, global insight."

"No matter how hard we might try, and no matter how much of it is actually true, and no matter that (or likely because) it is such an assured and polished piece of cinema, The Social Network is now and forever will be a primary influence on our thinking about Facebook and its founding. You can deny it, but for better or (probably) for worse, it has significantly changed some of our opinions about Zuckerberg and social networking, and thus also the decisions we'll make about if and how we use Facebook. Since the Facebook story is not yet complete, I find that realization fascinating: The Social Network will influence the real-life future of its characters - Zuckerberg included - considerably more than the average film based on true events."

March 26, 2011

On the Horizon: Movies in 2011

Foreboding weather again for movie fans?
Although I've yet to finalize my best films of 2010, mostly because I'm still slowly catching up to all that I've missed, it's already well into 2011 and thus time to take a look at what's ahead.

People have defended 2010 as a solid year in film, but I'm afraid I just haven't seen (at least not yet) much to write home about, or write here about, as it were. Compared to the upcoming year, however, 2010 may end up being considered a golden year to be remember. I'm not going to break down specific titles by month as I have in past years; rather, I'm going to lift from Mark Harris' instantly classic article in the February issue of GQ (which I now realize has been lauded all over the place for weeks, but which I only discovered in the hard copy of the magazine that I stole borrowed from the YMCA).

I think this is all that needs to be said, and I think that aside from MSPIFF 2011 this spring, I probably shouldn't worry about the many new movies that I'm likely to miss this year as well:
"...let's look ahead to what's on the menu for this year: four adaptations of comic books. One prequel to an adaptation of a comic book. One sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a toy. One sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on an amusement-park ride. One prequel to a remake. Two sequels to cartoons. One sequel to a comedy. An adaptation of a children's book. An adaptation of a Saturday-morning cartoon. One sequel with a 4 in the title. Two sequels with a 5 in the title. One sequel that, if it were inclined to use numbers, would have to have a 7 1/2 in the title.

...Right now, we can argue that any system that allows David Fincher to plumb the invention of Facebook and the Coen brothers to visit the old West, that lets us spend the holidays gorging on new work by Darren Aronofsky and David O. Russell, has got to mean that American filmmaking is in reasonably good health. But the truth is that we'll be back to summer—which seems to come sooner every year—in a heartbeat. And it's hard to hold out much hope when you hear the words that one studio executive, who could have been speaking for all her kin, is ready to chisel onto Hollywood's tombstone: "We don't tell stories anymore."

March 9, 2011

Getafilm Gallimaufry: Catfish, Winnebago Man, and A Film Unfinished

[Note: This series includes scattered thoughts on various movie-related topics. I was looking for a word that started with the letter "g" that means collection or assortment, but lest you think I'm some elitist wordsmith, know that I'd never heard of "gallimaufry" and I don't even know how to say it, but it was the only other option the thesaurus provided aside from "goulash" (too foody) and "garbage" (no).]
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Recently I wrote about last year's trend of playing with the truth, or at least playing it up. I focused on feature films, but there were a surprising number of documentaries from 2010 that belong in the same conversation, such as Exit Through the Gift Shop, I'm Still Here, and three more I recently caught up with:

Catfish

Take heed if you have not yet seen this film and stop reading. Now. Seriously, if you're planning to watch it (and I think you should), don't read further. 

Throughout last year I stepped around every discussion of it and for the most part I was able to avoid any plot details, which I'm very glad for. Ironically, though, what I wasn't able to avoid were hints that a fair amount of this film was fabricated. With that in mind, I watched Catfish and...still believed every frame of it. At least on first glance, and without giving any critical thought to the filming process. Yes, I found myself eating up every bit of the story, laughing along as the characters acted and reacted as only people of a certain generation would (e.g., hearing a song and having the automatic reaction to look it up on YouTube, or understanding the humor of The Oatmeal). In fact I loved what I was watching, loved how the story was wildly entertaining while also extremely thought-provoking: how do we live when we live - and love - online?

Then it ended, and I then I went online (natch), and then I realized that maybe I'd been taken for a ride. I didn't have any easy answers to a lot of questions people raised, such as why the filmmakers shot so much footage in the early months, or why they suddenly became tech-savvy and suspicious at a very convenient point in the story, or why an 8 year-old had such an active internet presence (tell me we're not already there).

March 4, 2011

Regis Dialogue w/ Julian Schnabel @ the Walker

Walker Cinema, March 4-19, 2011

Via the Walker Art Center (trailers below the jump):

"Over the past 20 years, the Regis Dialogue and Retrospective programs have brought some of today’s most innovative and influential filmmakers to the Walker Cinema, an intimate setting in which directors talk about their creative process, influences, and body of work illuminated with film clips, anecdotes, and personal insights. In March, join Julian Schnabel in conversation with Walker chief curator Darsie Alexander on the Cinema stage.

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