The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The Grand Budapest Hotel / Wes Anderson / 2014 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Ralph Fiennes; Energy and fast pace; Comedy
Side Effects: Emotional shorthands; Dense plot

Like all of director Wes Anderson’s seven previous features, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an intricate piece of machinery, a minutely calibrated work bursting with detailed design and obsessive symmetry. Like the best of Anderson’s work—among which this film surely belongs—it also demonstrates a masterful command of formal technique, a thoughtful marriage of style and content, and moments of sincere, affecting poignancy. Read more…

Quick Takes – Mar. 14, 2014

Some quick thoughts from a week’s worth of viewing, encompassing silent comedy, space documentaries and whatever type of thriller The Counselor is.

True Detective / Cary Fukunaga / 2014 / fivestar

The first season of HBO’s True Detective was a surprising, moody, and suspenseful elevation of the police procedural drama. While there are some minor shortcomings in the development of the mystery’s many details (and their thematic ramifications), the series was an embarrassment of riches, boasting flawless performances from Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, bold and effective directorial choices and a compelling setting in the Louisiana delta. Still, the best element of the show are the rich characters writer Nic Pizzolatto creates and the drama of philosophical pessimism they enact. Read more…

Nymphomaniac: Volume I (2014)

Nymphomaniac: Volume I / Lars von Trier / 2014 / threestar

Active Ingredients: Visual metaphors; Dark humor; Theme of storytelling
Side Effects: Questionable accents; Pacing of longer scenes

[Nymphomaniac: Volume I is available now on FlixFling and other VOD services.]

From the title of Lars von Trier’s new film, it seems clear that this project fits the mold he’s established of edgy subject matter and a confrontational style. After all, it’s not only called Nymphomaniac, it’s also broken into two volumes totaling four hours. And while typically von Trier’s provocations neither offend nor inspire me, I was surprised by just how nimble and playful Volume I of this epic of sex and self-loathing feels. Read more…

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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