I've waited so long to share my top ten list that it's become a crushing psychic weight, a symbol of my failure to keep up in this strange Oscar season I've had. I realized today that if I didn't share it on this very day, it wouldn't happen at all which is unthinkable. TRADITION. TRADITION...... TRADITION ♫
We're all eager to move on to 2014 but I personally can't make the calendar leap without the Film Bitch Awards (and the Oscars, duh). They're my own internal clock and how I clock the film years. If I could rewind said clock I'd watch all the movies again. They're all dusty now, like cherished objects I shoved into closets or drawers for reasons of clutter when people were coming over. Now I can't remember where I've left them or why it was I thought they were worth hoarding in the first place.
You still with me? Oh god stay with me. This is my moment of neurotic need!
If this were a top twenty I'd be writing about these films too, in random order: two animated charmers Frozen and Ernest & Celestine, Joe Swanberg & Jane Adams little seen but extremely worthwhile collaboration All the Light in the Sky, 2012's Spanish Oscar submission Blancanieves (released in the states this year), Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring... "I wanna rob", two gargantuan blockbusters I seemed to have liked more than most sentient life forms Iron Man 3 and World War Z and the dark, gripping and literally labyrinthine Prisoners. Does that make twenty-one pictures? I'm bad at maths.
ONE MINUTE FROM EACH FILM
Now, the hard part. Hierarchies of wonderment. To break free of the mental shackles that have been holding me back from writing and sharing this list, a self-imposed directive: I am putting each one of these in my DVD player (the joy of screeners) and shuffling to a random scene. Wherever it lands I watch one minute to jog my memory and write whatever comes to mind. Get it? Let's go.
Warner Bros. December 18th.
... and Action [98:24] we enter mid montage during a Scarlett Johansson rendition of "Moon Song"... as Joaquin's Theodore pours himself drinks, eats, laughs and silly dances in his long-johns for Samantha as she laughs and sings "there's nothing I would keep from you... a million miles away" Cut to ice melting outside the cottage. The next morning he wonders what his operating system was up to while he slept.
Actually I was talking someone I've just met. We've been working on some ideas together..."
There is something she's been keeping from him and she is often millions of miles away. Or at least multi-tasking in this fascinating exploration of not what love is but how people love and how much of themselves they give over to it.
Roadside Attractions. Qualifying?
It was on Oscar's qualifying list but I can find no proof that it actually went through with that qualifying run. So a debatable year for this one
...and Action [68:00] As we drop in on Gloria (Paulina Garcia in a superb star turn), there's jaunty music playing and she's walking through a mall. We see her make her way through the crowd, with curiousity in her eyes until they land on a dancing skeleton toy that's entertaining the crowd. She considers him, drops him a tip and leaves with one glance backwards. Gloria is always approaching life like this, with intense curiousity, quick engagement, and calm realization that there's only so much of her life left to live. The skeleton is a perfect touch... and later a hairless cat, are perfect touches. This is one of the year's best character studies, whichever year it truly belongs to.
Columbia Pictures. October 11th
...and Action: [20:23] "You wanna come up to one two two" a Bostonian Tom Hanks is on the phone, worried. We're early in the movie but I'm not sure what's happening? Quick cuts: men, Hanks, hydraulics, machinery, nautical gauges, staff. The music score is doing something like an increasingly unsubtle variation of a tick-tock effect but it comes in and out. Then, a momentary abrupt airborn cut, the camera at the tail of the ship, almost gliding downward to the vast blue ocean, with a motion that's more bird than camera crane. We're yanked back to the ship. "Get me maritime emergency," Hanks barks, binoculars raised. Two skiffs are approaching and we get this information three times, twice visually (through binoculars and the radar) and once with vocal urgency. The suspense is always layered like that, like Greengrass wants to be everyone at once. He achieves it, too, even penetrating the mindsets of opposing captains who'll soon be in a grossly mismatched dangerous duel.
Maritime emergency on the phone! Ooops, I cheated. I didn't shut it off at exactly one minute as promised. I wanted to see what happened next though I already knew; the power of a perfectly calibrated movie machine.
Fox Searchlight. September 18th
...and Action [12:13] Oh, I know where we are. It's the first date between Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Albert (James Gandolfini). They're talking about his divorce and he half answes a question, implying his ex-wife knows what he's leaving out. She jokes
Can I have her number?"
Oh Eva! She's already primed to make the mistakes she's about to make over and over again. In fact this first date is telegraphing everything. This brief refresher scene is jam-packed with information about what's to come and I hadn't noticed it at all. That's some sly foreshadowing. Remarkably the rest of the movie doesn't feel like a retread of this scene but an organic exploration of dating among these specific characters and, in a larger sense, wary divorcees who've been hurt and are scared to be hurt again. It helps to have actors as superb as these two milking all the nuance and humor out of romantic angst and self-sabotage.
A24. March 22nd
... and, Action: [41:09] Alien (James Franco) is sitting with the quartet of title characters, and insinuating himself into their vacation and their psyches. I think I might just let James Franco take this one since he'll do just that anyway. He'll take it while the electronic soundtrack underscores him like a lucid dream, and cutaways jack-up his already heightened fantasia of his own gangsta-ness.
You been doing a lot of praying on this trip? I was just thinking maybe you did all that praying and I'm the answer to your prayers. You was all in trouble and here I am. How old are you? You look about 15? But you're pretty. You're all pretty. Did you run out of money?. Spend it on weed and motels. Scooters. amirite? SPRING BREAAAAAKKKK.
Don't worry. I got plenty of money. Shit. I'm fucking made of money. Look at my fucking teeth. They should call me money. We do it right here in St. Petes. We do it Gangsta!"
James Franco is magnificently gonzo in this movie -- the least bored he's ever been with himself as an actor -- but I really wish I'd been handed the gun fellatio or a Britney Spears number in this screener roulette game I'm playing. I still have a hard time believing this movie is real nearly a year later.
Sony Pictures Classics. August 23rd
...and Action: [92:34] Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and Chili (Bobby Cannavale) are playfighting about pizza (?) and jump from the couch running towards the bedroom. The camera pan across a yellow apartment their playful voices -- the laughter of lovers -- offscreen. "That's mine. That's mine. That's mine." Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), like a wet zombie, suddenly exits the apartment. Oh, god I didn't click on the final scene, did I? Spoiler alert! The camera pans back to the bedroom door... (I don't remember this brief moment and I've seen the movie three times now), the voices slowing for (presumably) touchy-feely foreplay "Is that yours? Oh! That's yours, okay?" Fascinating and intuitive scripting, yes?, that the offscreen voices are giggling about abundance and possessions (albeit not the literal kind) when Jasmine is so unmoored by having none. Jasmine walks to a park. Oh god, not this. No. Sits on the park bench, begins muttering to no one in particular.
It's fraught with peril. They gossip. They talk...
You can't escape that park bench. It's there long before you see it and haunts long after. It's waiting for Jasmine the whole movie.
(David O. Russell)
Sony/Columbia. December 13th
...and Action: [92:56] Richie (Bradley Cooper) in intense close up screaming like a mad man. OKAY, that's one way to re-enter the movie! Lady Edith (Amy Adams) smashes a picture frame in his face. Suddenly the camera is around the corner and we're seeing the room from Irving's (Christian Bale) eyes. He rounds the corner, and he's just as confused as I am. Plot? I can't follow it but plot is the very last reason I care about this movie. He asks Richie to step away from Edith. "You mean Sydney?" Richie counters, his head swiveling from one character to the next, like he wants it to hurt. It does. The camera follows his Richie to Edith clue, checking out their painful psychic exchange until Edith throws her hands up.
I told him. I'm sorry. I just don't give a fuck anymore. I don't fucking care."
Then some plot dialogue -- I don't even remember who Tilegio is -- but the reason I love this movie so much is right here in this very room. American Hustle is constantly spinning on some sort of triangular axis as it shifts points of view: Richie --> Edith-- > Irving and all of them are dizzy from the effort of keeping up. Three terrific movie stars in great form and a fourth (JLaw) occassionally disrupting their already chaotic threeway.
SPC. May 24th
Oops. my screener is scratched and won't play. True story. I never watched the trailer for this movie before seeing it in theaters because I wanted every single moment to be a surprise. So I just watched it now. That sunset moment is A+
Still there. still there. Gone"
But as it's settled I have to admit that while I find it quite satisfying I don't think it's on the level of the previous two pictures but I'm glad that it pivots to a study of longterm companionship and I do hope Ethan and Julie keep giving us updates every 9 years.
Paramount. November 15th
...and Action [44:48] Father Woody (Bruce Dern) and son David (Will Forte) wait at a bus stop. The mother Kate (June Squibb) emerges from the bus with her bags. Ever the charmer, she starts in on them immediately. "You both look like hell!" And she's not done yet but just getting warmed up, airing decades old grievances (drunk on their first date!) and current ones (the "cockamamie scheme" to win a million dollars). The son (Will Forte) attempts to mediate, pulling her aside, and explaining his reasons for being so accomodating.
I know a lot of people don't like this movie but I love it's peculiar mix of sympathy, misanthropy, broad and subtle jokes and almost casually timed dramatic sucker punches. And it keeps refusing to cooperate. Every time you want Kate to shut up, for the love of god, and go easy on these people, they kinda prove her point again.
Kate: Your father doesn't even know what's going on around him half the time. Do you Woody?
Woody: Do I what?"
SPC. February 15th
Tragedy. I cannot find my DVD. But trust that this stranger than fiction true story about an ad executive (played by the ever reliable Gael Garcia Bernal) who helps turn the tide against the dictator Augusto Pinochet heartily deserved its Oscar nomination for 2012. Now if only we could figure out a way to get the distributors to actually release the foreign films in the year they're ostensibly competing in. But this one was worth the wait. Dramatically potent but also surprisingly fun, with clever filmmaking at every turn. Here's my review if you missed it and if you still haven't seen this picture, just say yes to it. You won't regret it.
IFC. May 17th
...and, Action [58:48] we've been dropped in on Frances (Greta Gerwig) in the middle of a call to her estranged best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). The scene is so delicately written, both funny and blunt and evasive. I realize a few seconds in that this is the part where Frances has ended up in Paris (long story) because she is such a colossal fuckup. Sophie wonders about her living arrangements and Frances lies "I'm gonna have my own place real soon" and can't stop lying but underneath the comedy of her ineptitude is this actually sweet attempt at former besties to reconnect. And that connection means everything to Frances who deeply loves Sophie. The end of this phone call, which is eerily exactly a minute after I drop in is funny, painful, true, false, and anxious all at once.
This call is costing me a fortune! Just kidding, it's not. I love you, Sophie. Bye"
I cheated. I kept watching because this movie is so totally endearing. Cut to: Frances outside a movie theater, moments after this hugely important phone call (emotionally speaking).
When did Puss n Boots start?
SHORT TERM 12
Cinedigm. August 23rd.
...and, Action. [70:06] A blur of motion - Grace (Brie Larson) storms outside with her boss's lamp smashing it to smithereens. Cut to: her coworker Nate (Rami Malek) inside the foster care facility vacuuming. He finds a tiny animal figurine in the couch and brings it to a sad little boy's room who earlier had had all his little toys confiscated. "Sam" he whispers, gently placing it on the bed with a smile and exiting the room. "Ouch" I say, like E.T.'s glowing finger is pressed upon me; this movie's tenderness, its insight into small kindnesses and empathy, touches my heart so deeply. Even in its wild sudden rages, and there are several of those, I only want to hold it closer. We can sweep up the broken lamp later.
12 YEARS A SLAVE
Fox Searchlight. October 18th
...and Action [55:54] we hear the crack of a whip out of focus, uncomfortably sound-mixed with spiritual humming from the slaves (also out of focus in the background). Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in the foreground sweats picking cotton. This right here - casual cruelty, off-hand really, as backdrop at all times. Even as soundtrack. It's the devastating reality of America's past that 12 Years a Slave never flinches from, that powers it to greatness. Cut to: Master Epps hearing how much each of his slaves has picked that day, Solomon has picked the least. "This n**** ain't even average!" Epps complains. But how wrong he is.
Solomon isn't average but extraordinary. So's the film.
Still with me?
If you've made it through this whole beauteous list I thank you profusely for your patience this rough season and offer up the entire batch of "traditional categories" for this year's Film Bitch Awards: Picture, Director, Animated Feature and Screenplays, Actors and Actresses, Visuals, Sound & Music ! You're welcome.
P.S. If you don't comment, an angel loses its wings, a fairie dies, and Nathaniel falls prematurely into the post-Oscar abyss.