I completely understand the distrust so many people feel for Zero Dark Thirty. However, after finally seeing it, I found it to be much more complex and challenging than the controversy and debates surrounding the film suggest. Rather than simply being “pro” or “anti” violence and torture, the film forces its audience to consider the horrific actions that marked the road to the raid in Abbotabad. Even if the film is not entirely accurate, as many critics have alleged, it begs its audience to critically look at the costs of American military projects abroad in general. Rather than simply justifying the use of torture or illustrating it as a necessary evil, it prompts a discussion about the moral and cultural consequences of such forms of violence. It doesn’t subscribe to a simple stance, but provokes its audience to reflect on their own views on these weighty issues. The film doesn’t answer questions, but asks them, and that’s what makes it so successful. While it might be tempting to dismiss the film as a celebration of U.S. military operations abroad, that would be too easy. That’s a reading of the film that doesn’t do it justice and actually undermines the potential for critique within the movie.
I was skeptical about the praise for Silver Linings Playbook. Despite all its accolades, the trailers and synopsis made it seem like it would be, at best, pleasant enough. After seeing the movie, I understand why people have been talking about it so much. Nestled within the expected conventions of the romcom genre is an honest look at mental health, grief, and family. The script’s tone perfectly meets the highs and lows of the characters experiences; this is the type of film that justifies the existence of the word “dramedy.” In addition to Jennifer Lawrence's incredible performance (up until this point, I was positive that all her Oscar buzz was coming from the Hunger Games fan lobby), Bradley Cooper gave an deeply nuanced performance that’s equally deserving of recognition. Same goes for the fantastic supporting cast; Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver are brilliant as the overwhelmed parents of Cooper’s Pat, and Anupam Kher has a sizable role as Pat’s therapist that subtly draws upon his range. This is a film that balances the accessibility of most romantic comedies with the depth of other serious awards season contenders, which shows just how successful of a movie Silver Linings Playbook is.
My power might go out at any second, so why not watch some scary movies to add an element of surprise?
There’s definitely a reason that The Master has been getting so much buzz. The show was completely sold out and there was an enormous line to enter the theater; going to see the movie felt more like seeing a summer blockbuster like The Dark Knight Rises than a serious film at the Angelika. As the audience exited, the enthusiasm and awe for the film was palpable. Between The Master and Beasts of the Southern Wild, this is shaping up to be a great awards season!
Though the film was unreleased for years because of disputes between its director and its studio, Margaret is worth the wait. The film is a beautifully acted and expertly written account of a teenager’s transformation after witnessing (and partially causing) a horrific accident. The film can be extremely disturbing and upsetting at times, but it’s definitely worth seeing, if only its incredibly incisive and intensely believable dialogue.
The Queen of Versailles is a surprisingly moving documentary about Jacqueline Siegel, the wife of time-share mogul David Siegel, and her adjustment to life after her husband’s company becomes another victim of the recession. The Siegels commissioned the country’s most expensive single-family home (dubbed “Versailles”) just before the recession hit, and the family’s effort to save the still-uncompleted house is at the heart of the documentary. While the standards set by Bravo reality shows might lead to the expectation that the documentary rehash tired, misogynistic “trophy wife” stereotypes,Queen of Versailles humanizes its subject and depicts Jacqueline in three-dimensional terms that extend beyond the assumptions she elicits. See this documentary, but don’t be surprised to find some notes of tragedy mixed in with your schadenfreude.
Once There Was a Hushpuppy
Beasts of the Southern Wild is the most beautiful little piece of cinematic poetry I’ve seen in years. Everyone should go see this movie. Everyone.
Seriously. Also, the score is incredible, as this track demonstrates.
Beasts of the Southern Wild completely lives up to its hype. The film avoids slipping into pity or poverty porn; instead, the film explores life in the Louisiana delta with such ease and beauty that it is anything but voyeuristic or ethnographic. Beasts of the Southern Wild remains rooted in the perspective of child-narrator Hushpuppy, who is played by newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis. Wallis, who was only six at the time of filming, is overwhelmingly talented and definitely deserving of critical recognition, as is the rest of the cast (almost entirely made up of amateur actors). This isn’t a film that aims to humanize an impoverished community, but one that questions the very need to humanize them for a mainstream audience in the first place. The characters in the film completely reject the need to justify their way of life to the “dry world” and similarly, this incredible film effortlessly and movingly conveys the same spirit.
The Island President is a documentary that chronicles the attempt of the (now former) president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, to push for the international action on climate change; for the Maldives, climate change is not a future problem, but an immediate threat to the island nation, which is in danger of disappearing under rising sea levels. The documentary not only explore the country’s troublesome history, but also expertly portrays how Nasheed’s efforts are inevitably weighed down by the high likelihood of failure. Available on iTunes, this is an important documentary that illustrates the immediacy of an issue that we often imagine in the future tense.
Yeah, it’s twee and pastel and overrun with impossibly precocious children, but Moonrise Kingdom is also ridiculously charming, witty, and visually stunning. The cast features the usual Wes Anderson suspects with a few newcomers, and each character seems to fit perfectly into the Andersonian (is that a word yet?) setting and dialogue. If you’re a fan of Anderson’s other films, you’ll love it. If not, you’ve probably already made up your mind.
Trailer: The Great Gatsby - Dec 25th
Directed by Baz Luhrman, starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Tobey Maguire, Amitabh Bachchan, and Isla Fisher.
Well this is setting my expectations pretty high.
Go see Cabin in the Woods, but don’t read anything about it beforehand. You’ll be really glad you did.
Take Shelter is another one of my favorite movies from 2011. Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain give truly award-worthy performances in the film, though I worry that Chastain might get typecasted as characters that cross their arms and quietly exude angst. Chastain and Shannon are both up for Independent Spirit Awards tomorrow and hopefully they will get the recognition they deserve.
A Separation was extraordinary. I’ll admit that I was suspicious that this was another simplistic depiction of Iranian society (like Reading Lolita in Tehran) and that was the main reason its been so celebrated. Fortunately, this is not the case. Asghar Farhadi, the film’s writer and director, masters a perfect balance of subtlety and complexity. The film’s plot evolves so naturally and gradually that the monumental developments in the narrative feel perfectly intimate and understated. If you can, see the movie before it deservedly takes home the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.