Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s fifth film as a single director saw him win a shiny new award out of some ramshackle little French town somewhere, and moving up from the lil’ independents to the big ones across major US cities (for once outside of festival strongholds LA and New York) and even the much-dreaded small town release tour. We might take this to mean it is his best film, or his most “artsy”. Then again, even Cannes isn’t exactly running over itself to get to Guy Maddin, and David Lynch only gets us there these days because he’s American (and even then Cannes hasn’t been his buddy in a while, although there is a sense that even David Lynch is not David Lynch’s buddy properly). Weerasethakul’s earlier films were, if anything, too idiosyncratic and iconoclast for even a festival like Cannes to fall in love with, and Uncle Boonmee sanded off the edges just enough to get him there.
So what happened is this: As some may have noticed, I have removed my yearly lists of top ten films for the past five years from the site. They’d been taunting me with how quickly my tastes had changed, and I found them inadequate at this point. Instead, I will be conveniently replacing them soon with a long list of my 50 favorite films of the first half of the 2010s, now snugly coming to a close after five long years. Expect plenty of overlap, but the text will all be brand spankin’ new, and of course 2014’s crop of beasties will be on board too. I promise I won’t do this again, but a good portion of those lists were leftovers from my previous pre-blog writing days, and I wanted to start fresh with the new year.
For the next few days I will be uploading a collection of short reviews, in pairs for post-size sake (although the pairs will not be linked conceptually at all, unless you consider films released in the 2010s a sufficient link). All will be of films that are in consideration for the list (great films I first saw or re-watched recently, with some new and not-necessarily-so-great 2014 leftovers I just caught for the first time thrown in for fun). Just some stocking stuffers for y’all to tide you over this Holiday season.
The Raid: Redemption
2014 brought The Raid 2: Berandal, which upped things to operatic heights of artistic blood-letting and furious visual motion, but sometimes it’s the simple things that pay off in spades. For The Raid 2 frequently hits, and hits hard at that, but if director Gareth Evans took action down to the wheelhouse on a never-ending train ride of grandiose brutality, his storytelling stowed away to no avail. The end result was a film of two halves, one a rampagingly color-coded action extravaganza with an eye for physical motion and space, and the other a pretentious, over-cooked crime thriller with eyes for Infernal Affairs that don’t suit the film’s strengths. Continue reading
First things first, Christopher Nolan is not a particularly good writer. Generally working with brother Jonathan Nolan in their most archly self-important holier-than-thou register, their scripts reek of arbitrary complication and self-important puzzle-box trickery designed to bowl you over with highfalutin airs. He doesn’t have an acerbic bone in his body, and his films mask their non-personal nature by confusing better story with more story. Interstellar may be his messiest screenplay yet, shifting course every half-hour, developing certain ideas only to drop them almost completely because it saw something shiny in the distance. And then it has the gall to return to them later like they are the capper to a fully nourished, satisfying through-line when in reality they are simply shots in the dark. On paper, Interstellar is pretty terrible. Continue reading
Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 2011 Turkish drama Once Upon a Time in Anatolia seems like it was made for me. A glacially slow, wistfully poetic film about finding visual beauty in mundanity (or is it the other way around?) that primarily focuses on the formal elements of film, such as camerawork and editing, at the expense of a conventional narrative, it aims to fill big shoes set out by directors long-gone, but whose mark on the film world is undeniable: Tarkovsky and Antonioni to name the two most obvious. High praise, but if you’re expecting a “but” … you’d be wrong. Amazingly, Ceylan overcomes any burden placed on him through comparison to past master-directors here, not by creating something truly unique but by learning from the best (his Sight and Sound Magazine Top 10 films list plays like a who’s who of languid art-house auteurs) and essaying their strengths for a time period sorely lacking in such provocative, deeply felt filmmaking. Continue reading