Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Conversation with Vincent B. (Part Two)

In part two, we discuss whether Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac really needs to be a two-part, four-hour film, why more people should see Calvary and We Are The Best!, and I talk about why Whiplash may be a wee bit overrated; amongst other movies. We end by picking three long shot Oscar nominations that would make us the happiest tomorrow morning.

Jaime Bell sizes up Charlotte Gainsbourg in Nymphomaniac
JC: Since you took the time to watch one of my favorite filmmaker's super indulgent movie, I'll talk about one of your favorite filmmaker's super indulgent movie: Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac. I actually saw both parts on demand at home, not in the theater. I don't know if that makes any difference. I never wrote a legit review, but it did inspire me to write this little think piece about episodic cinema. I guess my feeling is: if you wanna make a TV miniseries, just do it and don't make multiple films and call it cinema. Obviously the main perpetrators of this are the Marvel and other studio films who always feel the need to promise the audience something more, but von Trier could have easily made this one film at a reasonable length. But enough about my own personal feelings on episodic cinema and on to the movie itself. It's definitely interesting. Like your thoughts on Paul Thomas Anderson, I'm not the biggest von Trier fan, but he's one of the few directors I would consider a genius. There's no one in movies I would consider a better provocateur, and he's master that aspect, but Nymphomaniac is an example of one of his movies where there isn't much else there. Nymphomaniac's ultimate thesis about the natural sexism that coms with sexual exploration is brilliant, and only von Trier would tell that kind of tale this way. The way he objectifies all those nameless male characters (thus making the audience confront their discomfort with the male anatomy, while simultaneously confront are disconcerting comfort with female objectification) is unique. But like Boyhood, it's great moments are contrasted with more ponderous ones. The ending is deliciously funny and it shows von Trier at his most #trollsohard, but did we need four hours to get there? Probably not. The world needs movies like Nymphomaniac to reset the calibration, but it's far from one of my favorites of 2014.

VB: I do not entirely disagree. This is hardly the first time von Trier has split up his movies into chapters (he does this with most of his films), but this is definitely the most episodic he has gotten. Each new chapter is often in an entirely new place in time. I don't have any issues with this approach, or with the Marvel movies, though I think that is something completely different. Did it need to be four hours long? DEFINITELY not. But the great ending is soooo much more effective after you've seen hours and hours of erect penises and sex shenanigans, and have wondered what the hell this entire thing is adding up to. And then, of course, by the very very end, you get the super troll the maybe this all just added up to nothing and by adding up to nothing it is something... ? Charlotte Gainsbourg keeps telling Stellan Skarsgaard "I just like sex", despite him always trying to relate her demented sex stories to something like fly-fishing or the fibonacci sequence or Bach (who even does that?! So awesome). I'll leave Nymphomaniac with Uma Thurman's "whoring bed" scene - fucking brilliant.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Conversation With Vincent B. (Part One)

As we did last year, me and my good friend - and Los Angeles resident - Vincent B. had an email back and forth about what we thought about the most talked about movies of 2014. On the heels of the Golden Globes and prior to this Thursday's Oscar nominations announcement, Vincent and I talked about the contenders, the non-contenders and the esoteric loves that we found through out the year. In this first part, we discuss why neither of us could really catch on to "Boyhood fever", why it was quite easy for both of us to love Nightcrawler, and various other movies, including Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice, and Snowpiercer. Here it went:

JC: I guess I should start this off by saying that I never got around to seeing The Babadook, a surprise hit and a film that has a firm placement on your ten best films of the year. Yell at me and tell me about the horrible thing that I've done.

VB: The Babadook is easily the best horror movie that came out this year, and you should definitely see it eventually. That being said, I don't think it would have made your Top Ten (relative sigh of relief). It followed a grieving widow trying to deal with a socially inept terror of a child while trying to get her own life straightened out. A lot of the horror aspects come form the metaphorical visioning of grief in the form of a home-invading monster called the 'Babadook'. I think everything about it is pretty darn great. I could gush about this movie forever, but I'm more intrigued by the fact that neither of us included Boyhood in our Top Tens. All of the critics loved it. What's the matter with us?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The JC Awards

Here are my favorites in a few categories:

Best Director: J.C. Chandor, A Most Violent Year
(Runner-Up: Jonathan Glazer, Under the Skin)

Best Actor: Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year
(Runner-Up: Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Best Actress: Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
(Runner-Up: Reese Witherspoon, Wild)

Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern, Wild
(Runner-Up: Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year)

Best Supporting Actor: Edward Norton, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
(Runner-Up: Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice)

Best Ensemble: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
(Runner-Up: Gone Girl)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
(Runner-Up: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth, Edge of Tomorrow)

Best Original Screenplay: John Michael McDonagh, Calvary
(Runner-Up: J.C. Chandor, A Most Violent Year)

Best Cinematography: Robert Elswit, Nightcrawler
(Runner-Up: Dick Pope, Mr. Turner)

Best Editing: Tom Cross, Whiplash
(Runner-Up: Martin Pensa & Jean-Marc Vallée, Wild)

Best Art Direction: Adam Stockhausen, The Grand Budapest Hotel
(Runner-Up: David Crank, Inherent Vice)

Best Costume Design: Mark Bridges, Inherent Vice
(Runner-Up: Milena Canonero, The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Best Original Score: Johnny Greenwood, Inherent Vice
(Runner-Up: Mica Levi, Under The Skin)

Best Visual Effects:* Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
(Runner-Up: Interstellar)

*Take this category with a a grain of salt as I don't watch too many films with a great amount of visual effects. But the work in those two films truly did impress me.*

A Most Violent Year (****)

Written and Directed by J.C. Chandor


J.C. Chandor's latest film, his third feature, recalls Francis Ford Coppola's first Godfather film. Cinematographer Bardford Young is doing his best Gordon Willis impression, drowning the characters in the shadows of backdoor dealings and corruption. Both films are lead by a protagonist who sees the edge and always tries to keep away - in a way, both films are about the fight you put up to protect your soul, the effort put up to at least raise the appearance of righteousness. Why distributor A24 Films waited till December 31st to release the film is beyond me. If it had been shown to audiences by mid-November, it would have gotten it's proper due as 2014's most phenomenal cinematic achievement; a movie so expertly made and methodically told, it holds you in its ever-tightening grip until its very end. Films of this quality come so seldom, and yet they often get looked over as I fear A Most Violent Year will be. I wasn't in love with Chandor's first film, Margin Call, a Mamet-esque chat fest about the 2007 financial crisis' effect on several employees in a NYC investment bank, but his 2013 film All is Lost was a brilliant one-man show where Robert Redford and Chandor orchestrated one of the most thrilling meditations on mortality that I've ever seen. A Most Violent Year all but confirms Chandor's placement at the top of the heap amongst new American filmmakers, and shows the kind of masterpiece that the director is capable of.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Two Days, One Night (***1/2)

Deux jours, une nuit
Written and Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne


Most people discovered Marion Cotillard when she won the Best Actress Oscar for La Vie en Rose in 2008. She was a beautiful, exotic unknown who hyperventilated on the stage and won our hearts. La Vie en Rose was standard fare, she played the role of beloved French singer Edith Piaf with tragic grace, but that performance didn't prepare us for the consistently powerful work she's been producing since. Piaf was a role with theatrical hyperbole, and since she has become a master of subtlety, a perfect star for the small cinema-varité style films she's starred in. Hollywood treats her mostly as a foreign set piece, playing the European girl in the background of films like Inception and Contagion, and yet, she still manages to command the screen and steel what little screen time she has. She's become one of our very best contemporary actresses, and Two Days, One Night is her crescendo. Directed by the Dardenne Brothers, a Belgian duo with a bevy of nifty indies to their credit, Cotillard is shot in handheld intimacy, laid bare and unfiltered. It's as unglamorous a role as one can get for a French beauty like Cotillard, and yet, it doesn't feel like de-glam manipulation - Cotillard brings these people alive time and again, and I don't know if she's ever done a better job than what she does here.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Selma (***1/2)

Directed by Ava DuVernay


The reason why we've never had a truly impactful feature film about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is because it's hard to tell an honest story about a deity. When the man himself is legend, how can the story be? It's a particular issue with American figures, since films are still more or less run through Hollywood and we still get squeamish about showing our favorite sons with the appropriate blemishes. There's this pre-installed belief that we can't do the person justice. The magic of Selma is that not only is it not afraid to show King as a human being - not a holy martyr, but a human being - but it's also unafraid to bring up a harsh truth that Americans may have forgotten: King wasn't the beloved hero in history until he became history; in other words, white America didn't fully accept him until he was assassinated. Selma is Hollywood filmmaking through and through, director Ava DuVernay playing the usual notes that can rally audiences, but it is also a startlingly direct film that attacks American audiences with their own culture. This is the first impactful film about Martin Luther King, a film that shows the man not as a one-person movement but as a single (albeit important) face among many fighting for the simplicity of justice against a systematic racism that's so garish and unsightly that it's hard to believe it was only fifty years ago.