Though I have slightly increased my activity in the blogosphere so far this year, it has been difficult to go through many films. Most of what I’ve watched are blind spots from last year, but I still have a lot of catching up to do. As it has been the case in the last few months, I probably spent more time on a couple of TV shows. First, I went through the first two seasons of BBC’s original series Peaky Blinders and, in the last couple of days of February, I devoured the entire third season of House of Cards (I know…)
There is something mystical about the Academy Awards. Even when actors and directors and cinematographers try to deny it, the Oscar remains Hollywood’s grandest and most cherished prize. Despite the glaring omissions that plague the list of winners and nominations every year, The Academy gets it right sometimes, which is more than many awards shows can say. It helps, of course, that the Academy is favored by a 87th year long history that when compared to the 72 years of the Golden Globes, or the 67 years of the Bafta, it makes the accolade all the more respectable and appreciated, if only for its accumulated wisdom over rivals.
I continue what I started last week with a look at all of the television I watched in the past year. Obviously, I will not be talking about the occasional one or two episodes I saw from series I haven’t really followed. My reviews will be on full seasons of anything I managed to watch, whether new or old in the 12 months of 2014.
I also thought it would be good timing to share my thoughts on television right after the Golden Globes telecast which saw excellent newbies get the recognition they definitely deserved.
It’s been nearly a week since 2015 has begun to test our mettle. 2014 is now in the past and with it, a year filled with personal success that did not translate well into a lot of film watching and reviewing. It was, for me, an excellent year nonetheless, in which I was able to purchase my first property, finish my first marathon, visit Paris for the first time, and receive approval for a work visa to stay in the United States.
My blog suffered greatly in 2014 in part due to all of these activities and important “distractions”. I managed to post only 15 times in 12 months, and I watched 94 films that, when compared to 2013’s sum of 143 films, leaves a lot to be desired. With that in mind and with the resolve to improve greatly on these numbers, I look back at some of the best and worst experiences with film in the past year (following post to focus on TV and videogames). The following is not meant as a post about the “best films of 2014” (that will come in a later post when I begin to catch up), but rather as a summary of my own experiences with new and old releases.
Genre: Drama/ Crime Thriller
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Cast: Rooney Mara (Emily Taylor), Jude Law (Dr. Jonathan Banks), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Dr. Victoria Siebert), Channing Tatum (Martin Taylor)
It is frightening to realize how consistent is the work of director Steven Soderbergh. His movies are never bad. Some of his work has been close to greatness but the majority just remain a touch above mediocrity.
After a month-long hiatus, I return not to miss the chance to talk about the upcoming release of Prometheus, marketed as a prequel of sorts to Alien, one of the most significant sci-fi thrillers of all-time and one of my favorite films.
Even though I count myself as a true fan of the franchise, especially of the first two installments, I have gathered the impression that there is a lot of skepticism about the continuation of the franchise, understandably so given that the last few attempts to revive it have been such a disappointment.
Nearing the conclusion of March, I’m still struggling to keep pace with my film reviews. Here are some of the latest films I have seen:
The Skin I Live In
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Vera Elena Alaya
Pedro Almodovar once again delivers a delicately crafted film that is driven by tragedy, lunacy and, often times, depravity. The Spanish director dares to go where the majority might not, visiting dark, largely forbidden subjects that are very much non-existent in mainstream Hollywood. Almodovar goes beneath the sleek, often times simplistic view of sex that the film industry perpetuates as he explores a world driven by carnal desires and strange fetishes that often supersede moralistic considerations, defying social norms and challenging the viewer to reevaluate his own set of values.
Following my previous post in which I summarized my thoughts about film in 2011, I think it would be interesting to continue the so-called “Vanguard Award” idea and expand it to include categories that are handed out in the Academy Awards.
The Vanguard Awards will be handed out by The Blog of Big Ideas to films, actors, and film makers that advanced cinema with their artistic vision and dexterity, helping to construct some of the most interesting pieces of art of the last year. It will be an annual award handed out on the same day as the Oscars. In subsequent posts of this coming year, I will be nominating films that I think should be given consideration until it all comes to a close with the awards themselves.
The Vanguard Award will be given to films of artistic relevance, where there are aspects that are unique, original and that may even be considered ahead of its time. This is not to say that the recognition I give to these films necessarily means that these are the films I thought were the best, just the most thought-provoking.
♦ Vanguard Film ♦
Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn)
Melancholia (Lars Von Trier)
The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols)
Bellflower (Evan Glodell)
May contain some SPOILERS !!
For most of its running time, Se7en is a non-remarkable crime drama starring a young Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Gwyneth Paltrow.
It is only when a great actor by the name of Kevin Spacey comes into the picture, quite dramatically I might add, that Se7en is taken to a level of thrill and excitement that did not seem possible for most of the film.
Spacey plays a psychopath named John Doe who believes he is to set an example about the evils of society by making his severely flawed victims suffer their worst nightmare before they finally die at his hands. He chooses his victims carefully, based on the seven deadly sins, each one being guilty for committing one of them.
What is remarkable about Spacey’s John Doe is not what he has done, but the convincing way in which he portrays a man that is void of any moral compass, of feeling any sort of remorse, who is not able to feel bad for any of his victims because he feels they are not worthy of clemency. At first, John Doe surrenders while covered in blood in the police station. The detectives don’t understand why he would, knowing by then that his plan was not yet complete. John had killed only 5 of his victims, 2 were still missing. Somerset, who is the more inquisitive of the two detectives in charge, challenges this notion, always suspicious that there is certainly more to come. As the audience, we relate to Somerset as we automatically think that a serial killer as grotesque and merciless as John Doe would never give up when he is so close to completing his so-called “masterpiece”.
By the end of the movie we know that his plan was indeed complete and that he left it to the inexperienced and anger-prone detective Mills (Brad Pitt) to have the power in his hands to make it possible. The cleverness of his plan is shocking and we, as the audience, are probably as surprised as the characters in the movie.
At the end, we are secretly in awe of Spacey’s Doe for the precision of his plan. His serial killer is the incarnation of psychopathic behavior. He welcomes death, in fact, he looks forward to it, knowing that once he passes he will probably be immortalized by the media. What is unsettling about Spacey’ performance is that we believe in what he believes. He is so convincing in what he says that we cannot argue against it. We are lost in Spacey’s eyes, devoid of emotion or fear. His voice is malignant yet thrilling, revealing in hints and pieces that we are speaking to someone who cannot be persuaded or coerced.
Spacey’s performance is all the more thrilling and relevant because the film desperately needed it. What the picture lacked for most of its running time, Spacey’s Doe brought it to the fore and exceeded our expectations, delivering a surprising knockout punch to the story.
Spacey’s brief performance in Se7en elevated the film and he was the deserving recipient of several awards for his extremely electrifying portrayal (surprisingly overlooked by the Oscars). His John Doe, in my opinion, rivals even that of Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Lecter anyday.
It is, like every random list you might find in the web, subject to personal taste. It is also a list that is impaired by the absence of some of the films that were considered among the best in the last full calendar year of movies among which are titles like The King’s Speech (Oscar winner for Best Picture) and True Grit. However, I can assure you that my analysis is based on a passionate interest in film, having spent an infinite amount of hours watching countless amounts of movies, reading film criticism, listening to interviews made to some of the best exponents of the medium, and having spent enough time to interpret and dissect what I had the pleasure (or displeasure) of watching.
My rating system will be based on a scale of 0 to 5. The higher the number, the better the movie.
A score of 5 will be extremely rare as it is reserved to those movies that I consider “fantastic” and pretty much “flawless”. Less rare but still very difficult to come by will be those with a score of 4.5 which would be just a step bellow, in the realm of “masterpiece”. The great and really good movies will mostly fall under a score of 4 to 3.5. Scores falling between 3 and 2.5 will be considered acceptable and average respectively. Once we hit 2 and 1.5 we are talking about movies with very few redeemable qualities that are poor in various aspects. Anything bellow that, well, it’s simply horrible.
Here are my picks for the ten best pictures of 2010 and a brief summary of what made them so great:
1. Inception (4.5) : a highly complex story that surprises, entertains and stimulates all of your senses. It is not only highly original material, but it’s a blockbuster that does not over-rely in the usual niches of action/thrillers. The film moves with amazing pace. It’s restless, emotional, intense and incredibly smart. The product could have been awful, but instead it was the finest work Christopher Nolan has ever produced.
2. Toy Story 3 (4.5): the very emotional end to the saga that defined and created the most consistent studio of the last 15 years: Pixar. It is a fit ending for a trilogy that connected with audiences of all ages because its message relates to everyone who has ever experienced friendship and camaraderie.
3. The Social Network (4): a fascinating story about the rise and fall of the minds behind the biggest social networking site in the world: Facebook. The script moves ahead with audacity and intensity. The casting was bold and inspired. Most importantly though, the movie resonated with moviegoers and critics alike for its raw and sometimes tragic portrait of a generation so consumed by technology that it has started to forget what makes us human.
4. Black Swan (4): despite being a very predictable story, this film delivers constant thrills. Visually, the movie has a stunning mysterious and tragic aura that greatly enhances the effect of the story. The acting was, without question, sensational, elevating the film with every gesture and every detail.
5. Scott Pilgrim vs The World (3.5): Hilarious. Visually rich and extremely original.
6. Salt (3.5): explosive, incredibly intense and with enough twists and turns to keep you at the edge of your seat. Angeline Jolie once again shows her unmatched ability to play an action heroine in a role that thrills and engages.
7. The Fighter (3.5): great acting, very emotional and moving story. Christian Bale steals the show.
8. Let me In (3.5): a remake that does not feel like a remake. A quiet, slow-paced but incredibly suspenseful film that shows that vampire movies can be of great quality when done right.
9. Date Night (3.5): it is predictable in its formula, but Tina Fey and Steve Carrel have a comedic ease and chemistry that elevates the movie to hilarious levels. In its ridiculousness and over-the-top antics, the movie still manages to portray a believable couple trapped in the middle of an unbelievable series of events.
10. 127 Hours (3.5): an acting tour-de-force by James Franco. The movie is almost 90 minutes of agonizing desperation, tragedy, nostalgia and physical pain, but the crafty and talented directing together with the amazing acting give the movie a power that inspires.
Honorable Mention – Kick-Ass (3.5): it received mixed-reviews when it premiered and is, perhaps the only film in this list that has not received the acclaim of the rest I have touched upon. However, there is an absurdity and outrageous quality to this film that makes it interesting, entertaining and excitingly controversial.
It wasn’t a particularly good year for movies I believe. There have certainly been better years in recent memory such as 2007 when we got classics like There Will be Blood and No Country of Old Men (two of the best movies ever made) in the same year.
No movie, in my opinion, deserved to receive a flawless or perfect score for I believe they were all flawed in some way or another. Inception could have been well-served with a more twisted and less linear quality to the “dreams”, while Toy Story 3 could have relied a little less on typically grandiose Hollywood scenes.
I promise to review the other notable exclusions in the near future when I have the opportunity to see them.