A Tale of Two Biopics: “The Imitation Game” & “The Theory of Everything”

Normally, I hate biopics. For every I’m Not There (a fascinating, prismatic exploration of the cultural persona of Bob Dylan, rather than the biographical details of his life) there are scores more films like Ray or Walk the Line. These “prestige” biopics that seem to dominate whatever sections of Hollywood remain un-franchised are imprecise, hagiographic, dramatically inert and stylistically dull. But do they have to be?

Half of last year’s Best Picture nominees where biopics. Of those four films, I saw only The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, weary as I am of these films. Both films are about genius, mid-century British scientists. Both even succumb to the simplistic psychological readings that tend to plague biopics. And yet while neither of these films comes close to the originality or artistic ambition of I’m Not There, the relative success of The Imitation Game may illuminate a few ways prestige biopics, if we must live with them, could be improved. Read more…

A Trio of Recent Indie Genre Films

While the winter and spring offerings at the multiplex continue to disappoint, consider looking to these smaller-budget, independent films at your local art house or on Video On Demand. In particular, it seems as though indie productions are beginning to cater more to audiences looking for smart, adult-themed genre films like thrillers, mysteries and horror films. It may be becoming harder and harder to finance films like these—that is, without a built-in audience from novel or comic book sales—but they’re beginning to grace Apple TVs and Rokus more frequently. Read more…

The Top 100 Films of the Decade So Far

The Tree of Life

As anyone who reads this site (or follows my Letterboxd account) knows, I love making film lists. While I recognize that it’s not very useful as an act of film criticism, there’s something about the exercise that I find satisfying and fun. Instead of reducing these films to an arbitrary ranking, I find that compiling lists gives me a chance to reevaluate and revisit my initial encounters. Am I still thinking about a film after a few years? Are there open questions, mysteries or contradictions to explore? Considering questions like these as I create a list proves that films aren’t finite objects, but experiences that grow and change over time. The best films don’t ever really end, but remain vibrant and alive in my mind long after I see them.

It’s with these thoughts in mind that I endeavored to create a list of my 100 favorite films at the halfway point of this decade. Of course, my list is entirely subjective, and my rankings probably wouldn’t hold up to much scrutiny, but these are some of the films of the last five years that I’m still thinking about today. Read more…

The Best Performances and Scenes of 2014

I recently shared my Top 20 films of the year, but while 2015 is still young and its great films are months away, there’s still time to look back at 2014. In this post I’ll name my favorite lead and supporting performances and count down some of the most memorable scenes. Recognizing some under-appreciated actors and small moments, even in films I may have disliked overall, gives me the chance to mention other titles that landed just outside my Top 20 of the year and attempt to rectify the year’s biggest Oscar snub: Ralph Fiennes.

Read more…

The Top 20 Films of 2014

Boyhood

More than most years, 2014 seemed to boast a wide range of titles on critics’ Top 10 lists. With a few notable exceptions (Boyhood, of course), there weren’t many films you’d be to sure to see among any critic’s favorites. I’m not sure whether this lack of consensus speaks to the diversity and high number of quality films released, or instead indicates a lack of truly exceptional films. Looking back over my own year of film watching, I can see both arguments. Only a few movies stood out as instant classics, indelible statements that will grow richer over time. While those occupy the top of my list, there were plenty more stand-out films, maybe not masterpieces, but examples of the cinematic diversity 2014 had to offer and worthy entires on my list of the Top 20 films of the year.

Honorable Mentions: Snowpiercer, Life Itself, The LEGO Movie, Blue Ruin, Hide Your Smiling Faces
Regrets: Selma, Two Days One Night, Mr. Turner, Winter Sleep, Jauja, Force Majeure, Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Read more…

Goodbye to Language (2014)

Goodbye to Language / Jean-Luc Godard / 2014 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: 3D; Thrilling blend of visual and thematic modes
Side Effects: Strange comedy; Lack of conclusive ending

skw_aal_01_1609_imgr-d

[Part of VARIABLES, a series of essays on the art and politics of Jean-Luc Godard]

Somewhat surprisingly, both terms in the title of Jean-Luc Godard’s newest film are equally important. Goodbye to Language 3D is as much about “goodbyes” as it is about “language.” Though, of course, it’s a third element of the title which describes the dominant experience of seeing the film: 3D.

Like other examples of late-period Godard (For Ever Mozart, Film socialisme), his newest film is a demanding, confounding and occasionally assaultive rumination. Determining the topic of this rumination, however, can be difficult. But there’s good news for daunted viewers: surrender to the unique logic of the film—infinitely more tactile than intellectual—and Godard dazzles with a flood of remarkable imagery, an articulation of a purely visual language that cannot and should not be reduced to a single meaning. Read more…

Video Essay: The Art & Politics of Jean-Luc Godard

[Part of VARIABLES, a series of essays on the art and politics of Jean-Luc Godard]

To conclude my series of essays on Jean-Luc Godard, I’m posting a short video essay entitled VARIABLES, on the intersection between Godard’s style and his politics. Far more than allusions to literature or overt philosophizing, Godard’s art revolves around these two poles, the extent to which his experimentation with the language of film generates new ways of seeing the world. The video, using many of Godard’s own techniques of montage, explores how the connections, or variables, between his images constitutes the political dimension of this unique artist.

After watching the video, continue below to read more on these variables, rendered even more apparent in the wake of the revolutionary use of 3D in Godard’s new film, Goodbye to Language.

Read more…

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