1. The Wolf of Wall Street
Apparently this movie is divisive. I don’t really understand why. I find it particularly baffling that my Tisch alumni community is so torn on it. C’mon guys, we went to Tisch for Chrissakes, we were raised on Scorsese!
Now, I will admit the man has floundered a bit in his twilight years. Gangs of New York has a lot going for it but overall, is a hot mess. The Depahhhhhted is awesome, one of my favorites, but I loathed The Aviator and Shutter Island, while cool, was pretty freaking silly.
I was pretty hesitant about The Wolf of Wall Street. Another movie about Wall Street? Really? Many critics have accused the film of glorifying Wall Street corruption and the trailers certainly gave that impression. I was also kinda tired of Leo but was interested in how batshit crazy he seemed to be in the trailers. Then Tom Prousalis’ daughter railed against the movie and I was all, “ooooh.” But then RedLetterMedia gave it a glowing review and since our opinions seem to align 90% of the time, I got excited again.
This movie is just the best. I think a lot of critics, both professional and not, are kinda missing the point of it, or are leaving the theater with the wrong takeaway. Critics seem divided into camps of “it shamelessly glorifies Wall Street excess” and “it’s a dark satire that pokes fun at Wall Street!” Then there’s nonsense like this dribble from EW, but hey, whaddya expect? This is ‘Merica, we can only deal in blacks and whites.
Even though “Wall Street” is in the title I think this movie is less about how Wall Street is bad and more about how our culture of glorifying excess and capitalism and consumerism is wrong. To me, the message all comes through in that final shot- Marty makes you, the audience, look at yourself. The film ends with all these eager eyes looking up at you, almost as if he’s asking “aren’t you fucking ashamed of yourselves for laughing your asses off for the last three hours?” It’s very meta, and that to me, is where the message lies. Continue reading
2. The Act of Killing
Note: I watched this movie on Netflix over the weekend and it instantly jumped into my number two spot. Thus, Inside Llewyn Davis is dropped to #3, and everything below it drops a level as well. I have updated the numbers to reflect this.
ALSO: one of our fellow writers, Brandon Kendall, wrote a review for the film back when it premiered last spring.
I just don’t even know what to say about this movie.
You should watch it.
Everyone should watch it.
This is not an easy film to watch. It has moments where it’s so surreal it’s almost entertaining, but it’s a documentary about genocide so you know what you’re getting into when you press play. But it’s so important. You sorta lose your faith in humanity by the end; it’s very devastating. You’ll probably be depressed the next day like I was (though not as depressed as you would be if you saw Man of Steel), but it’s worth it. It’s so, so worth it.
I like documentaries and I think they’re an important segment of the film medium, but I am a dabbler, a flirter, more than I am a fanboy. I believe documentaries are easier to make than narrative films, but a great documentary is probably the hardest thing for a filmmaker to achieve. It’s like comedy vs. drama. A shitty comedy film may be easier to produce than a big drama film, and it’s usually cheaper. But writing a brilliant comedy is way more difficult than writing a brilliant drama. Continue reading
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
This movie was awesome and I’m not even really into folk music. I actually had no idea that this movie took place in the sixties until the first frame rolled, as the marketing wasn’t very specific. But I’m glad it was, because I felt transported to my mother’s youth, when she had just graduated college and moved to the West Village. She even nudged me and went “that was my house!” when Carey Mulligan and Oscar Isaac were talking in Washington Square Park.
Side note: that shot was actually very technically impressive. How did they do that? There’s a big ass fountain in the center of Washington Square now and all the benches have changed. Love it when movie magic still throws me for a loop like that. My best guess is that the square was a set and the background was added in digitally, but the lighting was so natural, I’m not sure how they achieved that.
Anyways, this movie was good on so many different levels. It had that ol’ Coen Brothers charm, it was equal parts drama and comedy and it had a great script. I like when movies don’t treat me like an idiot, and know that I’ll naturally be able to figure our backstory and subtext on my own. For example, the owners of the cat are the parents of Isaac’s deceased songwriting partner, though it’s never stated. As soon as that lady tries to join in on Llewyn’s song and he flips out, you just know.
Great performances, especially from Isaac, who I previously knew only as “Standard from Drive.” Great cinematography, great music, great editing and structure, great everything, really. Continue reading
4. Blue is the Warmest Color
So look, first things first we gotta talk about the sex scenes. I know it seems trite, and I don’t think the sex scenes should be the main talking point when discussing this movie, but they’re rightfully controversial and thus discussion is unavoidable.
Woof, how do I even feel about this? I mean I fucking love this film. But yeah, the sex scenes, particularly the seven minute one… they’re… questionable. I’m not going to declare them offensive or misogynistic, though I think it would be easy to make that argument. I don’t really think male gaze was Abdellatif Kechiche’s intent, at least consciously. He may have subconsciously wanted to watch two super-hot chicks go to town on each other, but I think in his mind the explicitness and length of the scene served the story and I agree. It’s like a release, both for Adele and for the audience.
It’s almost the opposite of how an American film would depict a romance. We have a similar structure of building and building before the lovers finally consummate, but when that climax comes it’s generally sappy. America has this myth about “the first time” that’s perpetuated by our pop culture. I’m not necessarily referring to losing your virginity, I just mean that when two people who are madly in love do it for the first time it’s supposed to be all violin strings and soft lighting and rose petals. It’s perfect, even though logically it wouldn’t be; it would be awkward and messy because this is the first time these two people have ever been together.
So where an American film would have their stars moving back and forth subtly in medium close up, maybe a tasteful boob or man ass shot thrown in there, Blue is the Warmest Color goes for straight realism, or at least realism through the eyes of a straight man. No music, no romantic lighting, and no quick fade to black. It’s just sloppy sex for seven minutes because that’s the way it is in real life. As I grow older I find I prefer real life to Hollywood’s interpretation of it. Love and sex are too far removed from one another in American culture; when we depict sex more realistically we’re afraid to throw love into the mix, and vice versa. Continue reading
If I’m being honest, I’ll admit Gravity doesn’t have a whole lot of story going on, and it’s not as scientifically accurate as we would all like to believe. My wife was super skeptical of this film and declined to go with me and my cousin, as she felt the movie was ultimately going to suck despite all the hype. When I got home she asked:
“So how was it?”
I took a deep breath. “That was one of the most incredible moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had.”
She sighed. “DAMMIT.”
In terms of visual effects, this is quite possibly the most impressive film in the history of cinema. I love The Lord of the Rings trilogy to death but even Peter Jackson doesn’t hold a candle to Alfonso Cuarón. Immersion is a term that’s thrown around a lot in entertainment and it’s one that has become tiresome for many cinephiles. Some movie lovers don’t want to feel like they’re in the movie; they just want to watch a movie that engages them as a viewer.
I agree that immersing the viewer doesn’t work for every movie or every story, but in this case, it’s what makes the film such a success. From the opening shot alone (which goes on for about seven or so minutes I believe) you feel like you’re floating in space, and the state of the art 3D only adds to the illusion, rather than detracting from it. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually gone “whoa!” and dodged a little bit in my seat as 3D objects flew off the screen at me before. Most 3D films have money shot moments where they have a severed head or a monster or something fly out at the screen, to remind the audience that yes, you did in fact pay extra to see that one shot of something flying at you. Continue reading
6. Captain Phillips
I like me some Paul Greengrass. I do. I really do. The only movie of his I’ve ever disliked is The Bourne Supremacy– I was attending the New York Film Academy at the time and was really averse to shaky-cam. It has its uses, but can most certainly be overdone. I think most people would tell you Supremacy is their least favorite film in the trilogy, probably for the same reasons it’s mine. The plot is incomprehensible and Greengrass lays his trademark cinematography on a bit too thick, making the film nigh impossible to follow.
Ultimatum, however, is great, as are Bloody Sunday and United 93. Green Zone is goofy as hell, but it was fun to watchMatt Damon single-handedly uncover the secret behind the Iraq WMD conspiracy.
Bloody Sunday and United 93 are such powerful films that cover such heartbreaking material, it’s hard for me to label Captain Phillips as the director’s best film, but I think it may just be. United 93 works so well because it doesn’t vilify the hijackers. Greengrass is the go-to guy for this kind of subject matter because he doesn’t take a stance; he just tells it how it is. His style makes for films that are rollercoasters of emotion. There’s a sympathetic hijacker character in United 93, but when the passengers band together that sympathy vanishes and all you want is for them to kill all the fucking terrorists. You get so caught up in the story you almost forget that the plane is going to crash and they’re all going to die. Continue reading