Damn is that a fun movie. Sort of a white collar Goodfellas with a much better sense of humor. I don’t particularly care for DiCaprio in most things but this is perfect for him. Whereas I’m ambivalent about Leo I actively dislike Jonah Hill but he absolutely steals this movie. I still think American Hustle is a better film overall but I’ll rewatch this one a lot more. So much fun.
No question about it, American Hustle is the best movie I have seen this year and I’ve seen most of the good ones. Best Direction, and this film elevates David Russell into “see everything he does as soon as possible” territory. Going back into his earlier work, Spanking the Monkey was garbage but that is excusable. He was young and trying to find his voice. Flirting With Disaster is one of my favorite comedies, however, and I had actually forgotten that was him. Three Kings is also pretty brilliant and should have catapulted him into the big leagues. Unfortunately he followed it up with I Heart Huckabees. It’s not a terrible movie but it was a terrible career choice for him. It also provided the leaked video of him freaking out on set, revealing to the world that he is a bit of a prick. Okay, a huge prick. The material and the personality combined to keep him on the sideline for a number of years. He’s made three excellent films in a row now, though, with American Hustle being far and away the best of them. Even more impressively, he has made these films on extremely tight budgets and schedules. This guy is the real deal.
This film is incredibly well-written. I found myself pausing the DVD to take notes, that is how good the dialogue is. “She’s the Picasso of passive aggressive karate”. Holy crap is it fun to watch the actors perform these lines. And the performances are amazing, top to bottom. Christian Bale kills it in this movie and needs serious oscar consideration. Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Louis CK, Jeremy Renner, even all the smaller roles are spectacularly done. I even loved Amy Adams in this and I hate watching her. My one quibble with the movie is her shitty nose job. Not sure when she had the work done but it’s distracting. Still, her acting is excellent. There are interactions between her and Jennifer Lawrence that had me damn near applauding my television. Amazing stuff.
See this movie.
Prisoners is the best film I have seen in a very long time. Suspenseful, brooding, beautiful and ultimately one that seriously challenges the audience. It is extremely well directed, beautifully photographed and features masterful performances. Despite all that, you should not under any circumstances see this film. Particularly if you are a parent. I left the theatre felling sick to my stomach. But yeah, I’m going to see it again anyway.
The film sets up as a standard kids are abducted, parents take revenge trope. It doesn’t go fully down that path, but rather eases into a Fincheresque brooding crime drama. All underpinned by a challenge to the audiences visceral and natural responses. That fucking exploitative hack Michael Haneke should be strapped to a chair and forced to watch this film repeatedly until he gets it.
I’m definitely going back to watch director Villeneuve’s earlier work. He establishes a strong sense of place, redolent and brooding. You can smell this movie; you can taste it. You can certainly feel it. Full credit to Roger Deakins for his part in this. Between Prisoners and Skyfall he has photographed two of the most beautiful films in recent memory. At this point I’ll go out of my way to see anything he has shot. The Production design and locations are perfectly executed as well. You feel like you’re walking on sand scattered on cracked linoleum watching this film.
The highest praise should be reserved for the cast however. Hugh Jackman gives the best performance of his career. It would have been so easy to play this part with only one note but he gets every bit of nuance and subtext onscreen. Jake Gyllenhal starts out slow but percolates and eventually boils to the point where he matches Jackman scene for scene. The two of them are great together. Maria Bello dies emotionally on screen, to the point where it’s really hard to watch her hurt so much. Terence Howard, Viola Davis and Melissa Leo are all also excellent in supporting roles.
Why shouldn’t you see this film, then? Because it’s hard on the audience. Really hard, like great art is. It forces you to inhabit a world you want no part of. It forces you to ask yourself questions not just about things you have done or would do, but also about how you have related to other films. It’s a gut wrenching experience. If you can handle it, then yeah, you really should see it. It really is not for everyone though.
I’ve always had strong feelings about the people who review movies for a living. It makes sense given how passionate I am about film, especially as I often have firsthand knowledge about the work being discussed. It’s maddening to see how very wrong they can be at times. My thoughts on a select few:
Elvis Mitchell The first writer I ever hated. Just an absolutely arrogant, foolish piece of shit. Mitchell doesn’t tell you what he finds good or bad in a film, he tells you how he would have done it better. That’s not his job. Reading him became so infuriating that I had to start skipping over anything he wrote. The one great talent he does have is for self-promotion. He often floated the rumor that he was being courted to run one of the major studios. The autistic kid who sits and watches planes land all day has as good a chance of running Pan Am as Mitchell does a film studio.
Peter Travers A shill and a whore. Never met a major studio film that he didn’t like. Spy Magazine had a brilliant feature where Walter Monheit wrote two sentence rave reviews meant solely to be used as pull quotes on movie posters. An example: “RED TAILS tonight? Moviegoers’ delight! Fly guys Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. will be dogfighting… for Oscar!”. Travers is the guy who didn’t realize it was a parody.
Manohla Dargis A laughable collegiate archetype brought to life. Remember the fat girl with dreadlocks who took a gender studies course and thought she was smart? She only valued films that were made by women or homosexuals from the third world and wasted her breath denouncing Adam Sandler’s films as constructs of the patriarchy? Yeah, she grew up and got a job at the Times.
AO Scott One of the rare reviewers whose work I have consistently enjoyed. I actually even wrote him fan mail once when he absolutely nailed a review. He described one particularly ineptly directed film (which I happened to work on) as being like “watching a one-armed drunk try to defuse a bomb”. That’s good stuff. Unfortunately he seems to be growing jaded which is a common enough occupational hazard. Review too many films and your sensibility grows callouses. Eventually you only enjoy movies that jar your senses or somehow jolt you out of your complacency. Otherwise known as “David Edelstein Syndrome”. Hopefully he doesn’t fully succumb to it.
Are there any reviewers out there I should be reading?
"Only God Forgives" opens Friday and I cannot wait to see it. I loved the film "Drive" and this reunites it’s director (Nicholas Winding Refn) and star (Ryan Gosling). Much like Drive, it apparently features a largely disaffected protagonist mired in a violent underworld. In other words, my favorite kind of film.
Refn made a couple of wildly entertaining films prior to Drive titled “Pusher” and “Pusher 2”. This appears to have much in common with those as well, except this time the millieu is the Bangkok criminal underground. The setting can only accentuate his hyperstylized direction and should suit him well. About half the critics loved it at Cannes; the other half hated it and several walked out complaining of excessive violence. Sounds a lot like early perceptions of Pulp Fiction. The films are vastly different, of course, as Tarantino is so dialogue heavy and Refn’s words are scant but I look forward to Only God Forgives just as much as I anticipated QT’s breakout film. This is going to be great.
1. Zero Dark Thirty
2. Les Miserables
3. Silver Linings Playbook
I’m not trying to impress anyone here, these are just the films I enjoyed the most this year, by a long shot. The five worst movies were much easier this year.
1. This is 40
2. This is 40
3. This is 40
4. This is 40
5. This is 40
The other night we were out shooting car stunts. We assembled our convoy, which included cars driven by stunt drivers, a large camera crane mounted on a flatbed, and the Movie Star driving a jacked-up 70’s muscle car. We rolled several times, working on closed roads we had the police blocking off.
At one point a completely oblivious civilian couple in a minivan somehow managed to slip past the cops and pull right into the middle of our pack of cars. Right behind the Movie Star in his vehicle. Seeing them and making the car as a bogey he did the best thing possible. He punched it, leaving some rubber and smoke as he blew away from them. After a short distance he threw on the parking brake and executed a perfect j-turn, spinning 180 degrees and screaming to a stop facing the minivan. They, utterly freaked out by the unexpected move, slammed on their brakes and came to a stop staring at the Movie Star from ten feet away.
Now THAT is a story they are going to tell their grandchildren.
Me: Hey, I can body double for the Movie Star if you need.
JB: Yeah, you can body quadruple for him.