Quick Takes – Mar. 7, 2014

Some quick thoughts on six random films I recently caught up. From 1933 to 2013, from musicals to art cinema, these films cover a lot of ground.

The Wind Rises / Hayao Miyazaki / 2013 / fourstar

The last film from Japanese animation giant Hayao Miyazaki, The Wind Rises is a gorgeous and elegant look back at a life from the clarity and remove of old age. Although the film is ostensibly a biopic of the Jiro Horikoshi, the inventor of the Zero planes used in WWII, Miyazaki is more interested in quietly observing the beautiful (and painful) things in life than considering the devastating impact of Horikoshi’s invention. And indeed, Miyazaki’s eye is unerring, singling out visual details that move us and wound us with the power of Ozu. Read more…

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

All Quiet on the Western Front / Lewis Milestone / 1930 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: Battle sequences; Episodic structure
Side Effects: Melodrama; stylistic flatness

Despite the more than 80 years and far too many wars that separate today’s viewers from Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front, the film’s visceral portrayal of the horrors of war still resonates powerfully to this day. If other moments from the film can feel a bit stilted and stylistically flat to modern audiences, they are far surpassed by the raw graphical power of Milestone’s imagery. Read more…

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp / Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger / 1943 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: Narrative structure and emotional tone; Technicolor cinematography
Side Effects: A bit overlong; a few choppy edits

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s gorgeous Technicolor masterpiece The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a film of such visual sophistication and flawless construction that its technical achievements nearly overshadow its bittersweet, complex but unshakable love for its characters. Nearly. Read more…

The Best Performances of 2013

2014 is already a month and a half old, but it’s always fun to indulge in more end-of-the-year superlatives. You can read the countdowns of my Top 20 films here and here, but in this post I’ll share some of my favorite lead and supporting performances of the year. In past years, I’ve struggled to come up with even 10 performances worth celebrating, but 2013 gave us such strong work in all four categories: Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress. Please feel free to add a comment and share your own thoughts below.

Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis

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Grand Piano (2014)

Grand Piano / Eugenio Mira / 2014 / threestarAvailable on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Active Ingredients: Limited narrative scope; Genre silliness
Side Effects: Believability; Thematic shallowness

A high-concept exercise, Grand Piano hits its notes brisky and confidently but with fewer surprises than the concert it depicts. The film is about Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood), the best concert pianist of his generation, who returns to the stage five years after a disastrous and very public meltdown. While Tom is simply concerned with straightening his tie and keeping his composure, he’s got a much bigger problem: a mysterious sniper (John Cusack) has a gun trained on him, and is threatening to fire if he plays one wrong note. Read more…

The LEGO Movie (2014)

The LEGO MoviePhil Lord & Christopher Miller / 2014 / threestar

Active Ingredients: Pace; Creativity; Vocal performances
Side Effects: Conventional narrative arc; Overloaded visuals

In 1962, Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita was advertised with the famous tagline “How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?” The source material of 2014’s The LEGO Movie might say a lot about how the sources of our inspiration have changed in the 50 years since Kubrick’s film, but I thought about the Lolita tagline walking into this delightful and fast-paced animated feature. How would they go about “adapting” a line of children’s building toys into a narrative feature? As it turns out, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street) have made a sweet homage to the best of what these multi-colored blocks has to offer: creativity. Read more…

The Top 20 Films of 2013 – Part 2

This week I’m happy to share my Top 10 films of 2013. You can see my 11-20 here, and a ranked list of all the films I saw this year here, but 2013 was such a strong year for film that I’m glad to finally get to the top of the list.

This year’s Hollywood prestige films really delivered, with interesting entries from American directors both old and new. For once, the Oscars couldn’t go too wrong (except, of course, they did by snubbing Inside Llewyn Davis). Despite this high quality of American output, fewer great international films reached our screens. Only one non-English film made my Top 10, the lowest since I began compiling lists this decade, though plenty more enriched my film-watching year (No, PietaYou Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet).

A few noticeable themes and trends emerged as well, such as critiques/celebrations of materialistic excess (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Blind Ring, Spring Breakers, Pain & Gain), and a fractured, impressionistic editing style influenced by Terrence Malick (Spring Breakers, Upstream Color, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Malick’s own To the Wonder.)

Let me know what you think. Please leave a comment below.

Regrets: Blue is the Warmest Color, Dallas Buyers Club, The Wind Rises, The Past
Honorable Mentions: Computer Chess, Enough Said, All Is Lost, The World’s End

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