I was very excited to see this at BAM - 3+ hour of hyperrealism is the type of thing I’m much more likely to enjoy in a theater than on my couch. It’s somewhat numbing, but never in a way that makes you want to look away.
16. A Short Film About Killing (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1988) (Lincoln Center)
I’d seen the Decalogue version of this and the full version of this back in college, and the moral weight I remembered. But I hadn’t remembered how saturated, yellow, and kind of visually extreme it looks.
17. Philomena (Steven Frears, 2013) (Screener)
It’s all fairly whatever. The tone is kinda odd though, in that there are a lot of plot twists that in different movies would have been treated as big, dramatic reveals that here are so low-key and matter-of-fact it feels odd. Also I could have done with about one fewer moment of Judi Dench playing silly, folksy old lady, and the movie happens to end by redoing one of the early moments of just that.
18. The Red Shoes (Michael Powell, 1948) (TCM)
So last Saturday morning I noticed the invaluable Next on TCM posting that this movie was on at night, and I was like, yeah, I love that movie, but I’ll prolly go out tonight. But I didn’t go out, and I ended up watching it, and it’s prolly one of my 10 fav movies or so. There’s a performance of The Red Shoes, a ballet adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen tale, in the middle of the movie; it’s a really special way of showing ballet while interpreting a story in a way that dancing clearly could not (not to say the scene is better than ballet, cuz what could that even mean, just that it’s amazing cinema).
19. Nebraska (Alexander Payne, 2013) (screener)
The acting, especially by Forte and Dern, is pretty good, but Payne as sentimentalist still doesn’t work for me at all. Plus this is ugly as hell.
20. The Croods (Kirk Dimicco, Chris Sanders, 2013) (Netflix)
Would have watched it sooner if you had told me Nic Cage was one of the lead voices. As it is, thanks, The Oscars, for having me watch this, because it does some really wonderful visual things (those piranha birds goddamit!) and is good fun throughout.
21. Cutie and the Boxer (Zachary Heinzerling, 2013) (Netflix)
Actually kind of a nice balance to the love/art story in The Red Shoes. Also, this has my fav score of the year, by Yasuaki Shimizu who, I noticed on IMDB, also scored Hitoshi Matsumoto’s batshit Symbol, which I reeeeealllly hope I have floating around on some hard drive somewhere.
11. Adaptation (Spike Jonze, 2002) (iTunes rental on a projector)
I wish I could remember what the crowd was like when I saw this in theaters in 2002; I watched it with like 20 co-workers on Friday and it was downright uproarious. Cage does a billion wonderful things (two billion) that I had forgotten about and eats a sandwich better than anyone has in a movie before. Screenplay and acting are 100% pure love.
12. Enough Said (Nicole Holofcener, 2013) (screener)
Funny as hell, warm as hell, and, once the irony comes home to roost, cringe-inducing as hell. A lot of Enough Said is about how our opinions of people develop based on what other people say about them. JLD and Gandolfini are predictably excellent.
I have Before Midnight waiting for me on Blu-ray, but I figured I’d do this again first. I don’t know if Sunset is better than Sunrise, but its sequel-ness - the games it plays with both Celine and Jesse’s memories of their first encounter and their stories about it, both in their art (Jesse’s novel, Celine’s waltz) and in their conversation - is like candy to me.
9. Dirty Wars (Rick Rowly, 2013) (Instant)
From a journalistic standpoint I think a lot of the stuff here is well-arranged and important, so I’m not willing to condemn it straight up (Matt was, btw. We argued a bit. It was fun), but there are a lot of weird aesthetic choices (“let’s make his eyes really pop in this shot”, “how about a long shot of the J train here”, “they should have this conversation in a blue tint”) that derail it from a cinematic standpoint. Please read about JSOC, drones, and the like if you haven’t been, but maybe skip this doc.
10. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013) (Bowtie Cinemas, Chelsea)
I really like the world-building in Her (and not just the pants). The opening office scene, through sound design and set design, really lays down a very interesting near-future. I kinda wish I knew what real 2014 LA is like to compare. Her takes the sci-fi stuff seriously, while not actually having much of anything to say about our relationship with technology, which was totally fine for me, cuz I’m not sure I really need much more writing to be about our relationship with technology. The last shot is both gorgeous and sort of complicates the movie for me in a way I haven’t quite figured out yet.
6. Flowers in the Attic (Deborah Chow, 2014) (Lifetime)
It’s Flowers in the Attic, y’kno? And it’s slightly toned down Flowers, but a slightly toned down Flowers is still totally batshit. Heather Graham’s eyes are operated by a different spirit than the rest of Heather Graham; Ellen Burstyn is beyond reproach in her insanity.
7. August: Osage County (John Wells, 2013) (screener)
I think I might just be growing to enjoy yelling more? This wasn’t half bad, though I pretty much don’t care one iota what it has to say about family or love or anything else. Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale might be pretty affecting in a movie where they have some more room to breathe, but I’m kind of fine with them as breathing room between manic Streep/Roberts crescendos.
Cate’s great/tremendous/Nicolas Cage-esque/whatever. She makes a face during the scene where they’re drinking on the shore that looks like a horror movie mask, and I really do genuinely appreciate a good horror movie mask. Sally Hawkins and Andrew Dice Clay are great together once in a while too (the scene in which they go to party with Cate and the dude from the Capitol One commercials and then go back to the hotel!), but can you imagine Woody sitting down to write the working class characters? Yeesh. Cate drags this into an interesting character piece and out of being just another Woody Allen movie about how people are stupid and shitty, but just barely.
5. Saving Mr. Banks (John Lee Hancock, 2013)
You’d think I of all people would be moved by a film about how pop entertainment can bring out emotions more successfully than British psychopaths. This is almost Julie & Julia-esque in that one half is much worse than the other, but the good half is much much worse than Julia and the bad half is almost as bad as Julie. The scene where the two halves combine and the movie makes some attempt to transcend its boringness in a way that, I don’t know, Mary Poppins might have actually works and I found myself thinking that BJ Novak was oddly good throughout, but this is almost as bad as expected overall. Emma Thompson has to derisively snarl “your themed park” at Tom Hanks at one point, f’real.
2. Out of the Furnace (Scott Cooper, 2013) (screener)
A bunch of people that I like in a movie shot through the Appalachian Poverty Instagram Filter. When it goes into thriller mode (Affleck/Defoe in the car, Bale on the hunt, to a lesser extent the Silence of the Lambs rip) it gets ok, but when it’s wiping from Bale looking sad on a bridge to Bale looking sad on the side of the road there’s not much for me here.
3. Short Term 12 (Destin Cretton, 2013) (at MoMA)
It’s not surprising that a big theme of a movie about twenty-somethings working in a foster care facility is the importance of empathizing and letting people empathize with you, but the balance of realism peppered with character-based melodrama used in Short Term 12 to hammer that theme home is terrific to watch. Brie Larson is as good as everyone says she is, too.
I wasn’t going to do an albums list this year cuz a) I don’t really write anymore, b) who on earth could possibly give a fuck, and c) I don’t really care about albums all that much (will always make a song list always always always). But then BEYONCÉ came out and I can’t remember the last time I was so excited to declare that any particular album was my favorite of a year. So here are like the top 20% or so of the albums/tapes/etc. I’ve heard this year as arranged by science:
1. Beyoncé - BEYONCÉ 2. Haim - Days Are Gone 3. Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer Different Park 4. The Knife - Shaking the Habitual 5. DJ Rashad - Double Cup 6. Migos - Young Rich Niggas 7. M.I.A. - Matangi 8. Chance The Rapper - Acid Rap 9. Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt 10. Young Thug - 1017 Thug 11. Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady 12. Charli XCX - True Romance 13. Vic Mensa - Innatape 14. Xenia Rubinos - Magic Trix 15. Floorplan - Paradise 16. Disclosure - Settle 17. Sky Ferreira - Night Time, My Time 18. 2 Chainz - B.O.A.T.S. II #METIME 19. The Band Perry - Pioneer 20. Shy Glizzy - Law 2 21. Kanye West - Yeezus 22. Miley Cyrus - Bangerz 23. Ariana Grande - Yours Truly 24. Ashley Monroe - Like a Rose 25. RP Boo - Legacy 26. Da Mafia 6ix - 6ix Commandments
soft-scrambled eggs recipe from 221 Troutman Country Brunch number 1
Put on the last Pistol Annies album; melt some butter over low heat in a non-stick skillet; break a bunch of eggs into a bowl and beat ‘em; throw in a good amount of dill and a pinch of salt and pepper; pour into skillet; stir constantly and take off heat for a sec if any large curds start to form; they should be done round about when the album finishes and you can put on the Band Perry album and eat.
I had a delicious dinner of braised lamb neck and dumplings at Dear Bushwick last night, and while I was deciding whether or not to order a second cocktail or not, I noticed a bottle of white rum that said “New York City” on it. Of course I ordered a daiquiri made with it, and it was delicious.
It turns out there’s rum being distilled a few blocks from my house! The distillery is called The Noble Experiment, the rum is called Owney’s, and we should really get over there for a tasting and tour soon, yeah?
There’s a specific kind of chugging mid-80s pop song, with rock antecedents but synthpop embellishments, and very often an alto sax getting sweaty, that aims at a kind of hyperreal romanticism. The kind of thing the Drive soundtrack aimed to emulate but was too twenty-first-century cool to allow the sweat to form.
Anyway, I wasn’t exactly surprised to hear Gloria Estefan making it on her first crossover English-language album — there’s a lot of stuff being thrown at a lot of different walls here — but I did like hearing something from her that bears a relation to Pat Benatar, Quarterflash, and latter-day Blondie.
28. Spring Breakers (dir. Harmony Korine, 2013) (Regal City North 14, Chicago)
- I dunno how much of Spring Breakers works on a “real” emotional level other than giddy, but Faith’s pre-exit call to grandma genuinely works for me on some on a trip with your friends feeling like things are really different out here bliss shit.
- obviously, the “Everytime” scene, fucking obviously. Christ I was so happy I almost fell out of my seat.
- Harmony’s up to a little something about suburban appropriation of inner-city African American culture resulting in fear (Faith) or total destruction (Brit and Candy). Maybe.
- I loved it. Is that clear? I loved it.
29. The Lady Eve (dir. Preston Sturgess, 1941) (Netflix Instant)
Will I one day find out that “they don’t make romantic comedies like they used to” is a boring, lazy opinion like every other “they don’t make _____ like they used to” opinion and a lot of current rom coms are really awesome and I should be watching them more? Barbara Stanwyck is virtuosic, and Fonda is somehow a hilarious straight man, but Sturgess and his editor Stuart Gilmore are perfect, too. There’s a cut to Charles Coburn that almost made me do a spit take and I wasn’t even drinking anything.
27. L’amore (dir. Roberto Rossellini, 1948) (DVR’d from TCM)
Friday night TCM aired 4 Rossellini movies, 3 of which aren’t available on Region 1 DVD as far as I can tell, so I taped them before leaving the house. L’amore is actually two short films: “Una voce umana”, based on a play by Jean Cocteau and “Il miracolo”, written by Fellini. Importantly, both of these shorts star Anna Magnani and Anna Magnani is a fantastically good actress. “Una voce umana” is half an hour of Magnani as a woman being broken up with by a man who is getting married, alternately talking on the phone and waiting for the phone to ring.
Magnani’s character deals with a kind of desperation that stems from having to decide what emotions to present to someone whose reaction to your emotions you really give a shit about, and I think she does an awesome job of splitting hysteria with a sense of purpose, even if she doesn’t always have a firm grasp on what that purpose is going to be from moment to moment.
"Il miracolo" is about Nanni, a woman (I think Mankiewicz said "mentally-disabled" in his TCM intro, though I’m not sure how Fellini and Rossellini would categorize that exactly) who sees a gentleman roaming the countryside and assumes he’s St. Joseph. St. Joseph then gets her drunk and she passes out and then she’s pregnant with what she thinks is a miracle baby. This isn’t a movie about religion to me, though, but rather about how we treat people at the margins of society (Nanni spends a lot of time just outside of town).
More Rossellini to come; that dude’s the best. If you haven’t seen his war trilogy, you should see his war trilogy.
21. The Invisible War (dir. Kirby Dick, 2012) (Netflix Instant)
Kirby Dick’s movie about the shocking prevalence of rape in the US Armed Forces is an emotional battering ram, but then again it is a movie about the shocking prevalence of rape in the US Armed Forces; the tears are not undeserved. I’ve recommended this movie unreservedly to people for a few weeks now, and I think it’s totally worth watching, but it will probably leave you a bit of a wreck.
22. Flight (dir. Robert Zemeckis, 2012) (screener)
Watched this on Oscar morning because it was laying around. Matty pointed out at the very beginning the amount of money that Zemeckis must be spending on licensing songs (so much Rolling Stones) and that’s the most interesting thing I remember about it. Denzel is decent. Kelly Reilly with that accent is less decent.
23. Bubble (dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2005) (Netflix Instant)
Somehow, I’d never heard of this Soderbergh. The non-professional actors do decently, though what exactly Soderbergh is doing here was, for me, a but on the inscrutable side. Still, some of the super-modern digital photography of small town bedrooms and factories works looks cool, so at the very least there are some cool tableaus and a sense of boredom leading to darker things. Not a bad quick watch.
24. Side Effects (dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2013) (AMC Loews 34th St)
It’s hard to describe why I loved this movie so much without any spoilers. But it does start out as a very good movie and then develops into a whole different type of movie that is also very good. I haven’t been so excited walking out of a movie since I don’t remember when. I know this is a weak placeholder until I figure out something to say about this movie without spoilers, but if for whatever reason you read this thing, GO SEE IT.
25. Los Cronocrimenes (Timecrimes) (dir. Nacho Vigalondo, 2007) (Netflix Instant)
This kept popping up in my recommendations and, having seen some Vigalondo in the ABCs of Death, and being bored on a Saturday afternoon I gave it a shot. It’s about time travel; it’s cleverly-plotted and tense enough to seem to make sense, though I haven’t been tempted to think very hard about whether it actually does.
26. Nine to Five (dir. Colin Higgins, 1980) (Netflix Instant)
Watching this for the first time in a while, I was basically overwhelmed with joy and wonder for large parts of it. And not only because it’s a great mainstream feminist comedy that actually gives a shit about things like equal pay, though that is amazing in and of itself, but because it’s legit hilarious in so many ways, including a super-long scene of Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton getting high. I can’t imagine a friend that I wouldn’t recommend this movie to.
18. How to Survive a Plague (dir. David France, 2012) (Netflix Instant)
There’s certainly a lot of sadness here but, as far as a chronicle of how shit gets done in America, this doc about ACT UP, the group of activists who focused their anger about the lack of support for AIDS victims in America into a thorough, enormously effective movement, is much more inspiring than Lincoln and, somewhat silly comparisons aside, just plain awesome.
19. The ABCs of Death (dir. a whole ton of people, 2012) (VOD)
26 short films about death, from many of the world’s horror directors who you might expect to be involved in this sort of thing and many more you probably haven’t heard of. Jorge Michel Grau’s meditation on the role of the victim in horror movies has proved very memorable for me (in the weeks that I’ve been procrastinating writing this) while Ben Wheatley (whose Kill List was one fo my 2012 faves) has some great vampire fun. There’s some aggressively bizarre stuff here, too, surprise, surprise - Nazi animals and farts and masturbation to the death oh my - but I really enjoyed watching what truly horrifying tropes surprisingly popped up several times. If you like horror, I can’t imagine you won’t have some fun with this one.
Another Oscar doc: this one consists of 5 years’ worth of footage from Emad Burnat’s cameras, which keep getting broken by smoke grenades and bullets and such from Israeli forces “protecting” the border separating the Israeli settlements encroaching on Burnat’s Palestinian village. It’s not only tremendously moving on an emotional level, but also a very impressive feat of editing.
I can’t help feeling that I’m going to get through these Oscar docs and be very impressed and subsequently bummed when Searching For Sugar Man wins.
17. Searching For Sugar Man (dir. Malik Bendjelloul, 2012) (Blu-Ray)
For a while there are some interesting threads here in this doc how fandom could, at one point, exist in a place and be completely cordoned off from the rest of the world in a way that it probably can’t anymore. And that’s somewhat interesting but, despite some animation, it really doesn’t rise above what could be accomplished in a feature article until Rodriguez himself arrives. Rodriguez’ soft-spoken Industrial Midwest cadence reminded me of Michael Jackson, actually, though their lives are pretty damn different. The former had a whole life to (seemingly successfully, as far as that can be measured) apply his humility and almost mystical wisdom to the urban realities of Detroit, and the parts of this doc in which he and his family appear are legitimately moving.