Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Commentary, Contributors

And the Oscar goes to … who, us?!

Yes, we’re past the point when anything more needs to be said about the 84th Oscars, and yet I’ve seen no mention of the most wackily wonderful moment of the evening. It afforded a look inside Academy ritual, and an instance of late-blooming justice being done against considerable odds. So please indulge one last Oscar commentary.

It was around mid-show and the category about to be announced was Best Editing. Four of the five films in contention were Best Picture nominees, which is typical, and understandable: surely a picture’s putative Best-ness has a lot to do with the excellence of its various elements? So Editing would just be part of the politics, the gamesmanship, the emotional rollercoaster of the night. Hugo had taken the lead with two wins right out of the gate, Cinematography and Art Direction—would Editing further hint at an upset of frontrunner The Artist, with Martin Scorsese’s editorial right arm Thelma Schoonmaker adding a fourth Academy statuette to her mantel (she’s won for Raging Bull, 1980; The Aviator, 2004; and The Departed, 2006)? The other Best Pic contenders whose editors had been nominated were Moneyball (those wonderful boardroom schmoozes! Brad Pitt working the phones!) and The Descendants (uh, OK). The fifth slot had gone to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a much-ballyhooed Christmastime release that hadn’t exactly flopped, but neither had it inspired brushfire enthusiasm among critics or ticket-buyers. An “It’s an honor just to be nominated” entry if ever we saw one. Your seats are way in the back, guys.

Then The Girl won. And as co-editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall were making their way down the aisle, you could read the mutual WTF body language and expressions plain as day. When they got to the podium they made it explicit: we weren’t expecting this, we have prepared nothing to say, but thank you David and, er, yeah. Exit, pursued by a chuckle.

“David” was director David Fincher. At last year’s Oscar ceremony Baxter and Wall had collected the selfsame award for editing his The Social Network. Back-to-back wins are rare. That, even more than The Girl‘s overall also-ran status among 2011 films, was why they weren’t expecting to be called to the stage again on this particular night.

But they belonged there, because their editing has a lot to do with why Fincher’s movie is going to find more and more favor over the years. People will stop worrying that there was a 2009 Swedish film rendering of the Stieg Larsson bestseller because, with the exceptions of leading actors Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace, it doesn’t hold a candle to the American version. Fincher’s movie runs only a quarter-hour longer than its predecessor but encompasses much more of the material, atmosphere, and teeming gallery of characters (including the Vanger dead) in Larsson’s 600-page tome. Steven Zaillian did the adaptation, a heroic task, but it’s Fincher’s visual and aural detailing and the at-times-subliminal editing by Baxter and Wall that set it before us and make it play, laminate past and present with breathtaking translucency.

So guys, what are you cutting in 2012? —RTJ

Posted in: by Sheila Benson, Contributors

Notes From the Bottom of Every Office Pool

Let’s pick through this year’s full-on melodrama at the Academy Award nominations and see what seems to stand out.  Is this deep, inside stuff you can take to the betting window or the office pool?  Good heavens no. I’m habitually awful at that game.  This is a bemused look around by someone a little off to one side, and just crazy enough to take it all in.

You want depth, the internet now churns with writers whose depth of field in Oscar stats is stunning, although sometimes it seems that the Oscars are their only world.

For clarity, and a sense of proportion on the nominations (and all things Hollywood), I’d trust the New York Times team of Michael Cieply and Brooke Barnes who, among other challenges, make the virtually impenetrable Academy rule changes clear, and do it with a sheen of wit.  They’re non-geeky and nicely reliable.

As for me, it looks as though the Academy has tried to shake things up.  A little. So we have Demian Bichir on the Best Actors list for A Better Life, and Nick Nolte as a Best Supporting Actor in Warrior(Now to find those films!)  We have the fortitude of the Animation Committee who resisted The Adventures of Tin Tin in all its mirthlessness, and having been left off nearly every of those churning prognosticators’ lists, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy  came out of the cold.  Thrilled to see its 3 nominations, especially Gary Oldman’s first.

Continue reading on Critic Quality Feed

Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Essays

They Shoulda Been a Contender: 2012 Oscar Snubs

'The Artist' - 10 nominations for a silent film in black-and-white with two French stars

By sheer numbers, the 84th Annual Academy Award Nominations seems to belong to Hugo, with 11 nominations. But given those are largely in the technical / craft categories, the success story this year is The Artist, a modern silent movie, shot in black and white, with two French stars practically unknown in the United States. With ten nominations, it should be the surprise off the season, except for the fact that this is simply the last lap in its run as the unlikeliest picture to win the hearts of awards season voters.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences moved the nominations announcements to January a couple of years ago, effectively shortening the “awards season,” but the unintended consequences have been to push the rest of the pretenders to Oscar glory into a free for all, everyone trying to predict or influence or simply contrast eventual Academy Award nominees. As a result, there are few real surprises by the time the Oscars are announced. It’s the final party in an absurdly overcrowded season of awards proms and I’m about partied out.

Plus there’s that new Academy sliding scale of Best Picture nominees. Bumped up from five to ten spots last year (not out of altruism but because indie pictures kept knocking the big audience-pleasing Hollywood movies out of contention), the number is now determined by the number of “You like me, you really, really like me!” number one votes a film received on the Academy ballots. This year, it resulted in nine nominations: an odd number for an odd year.

And yet… it’s the Oscars. They still matter. A nomination is indeed an honor (certainly more of an honor than the Golden Globes) and a snub is still something to get worked up over. And so here is out annual scorecard on Oscar’s slights and oversights: they shoulda been a contender.


There are nine nominees this year, but is more really better when Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Hollywood’s inevitable and inadequate 9/11 drama) and The Help (this year’s answer to The Blind Side?) and War Horse (Spielberg sentiment run amok) fill out those extra slots? This year swings so far in the other direction of Big Films with Important Messages Hammered Home with Insistent Direction that the indie films that spurred the expansion are all but ignored.

Two of the most glaring slights: Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt’s lost-in-the-desert frontier drama (did it play too early in 2011 for voters to remember its understated virtues?), and Take Shelter, a psychological drama about mental illness and end-of-the-world fears wrapped up in contemporary anxieties of economic survival.

Continue reading at MSN Movies

Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

Best DVD / Blu-ray of 2011

If you think Top Ten film lists are arbitrary, try putting together a “best of” for DVD and Blu-ray. What’s the criteria? The best movies? Quality of video and audio mastering? Creative featurettes and archival supplements? Historical importance? Cult interest? Or some balance of all these?

I’m all for the balance, which makes it as subjective presentation as there is, so allow me to break it down into a few categories to spread out the kudos. After all, it’s hard gauge the qualitative difference between a single disc debut of a historical cult item and a deluxe box set of a classic Hollywood blockbuster from the golden age.

I did not see everything that came out in 2011, of course, or even most of it, and my viewing choices were (like anybody’s) influenced as much by my own interests as by editorial demands, and shaped by deadlines and time constraints. In particular I did not see as many manufacture-on-demand releases as I would have liked, simply because there are far more interesting releases than I have the time to see. But based on what I did get the chance to watch and explore, here are my choices for the best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2011.

DVD of the Year

Island of Lost Souls (Criterion)
“Are we not men?” Paramount’s 1932 answer to Universal’s gothic horrors is appropriately less Universal gothic than Paramount elegance, yet it is also more weird, cruel and transgressive, a wicked horror with Charles Laughton as a the proto-Dr. Mengele vivisectionist who operates on his subjects without anesthesia or compassion in an operating room he calls “The House of Pain.” Themes of humanity, identity, instinct, sex, bestiality, compassion and cruelty roil around in the hothouse jungle fabricated in the studio out of fog and flourishes suggesting the primitive and the perverse, a feral world as claustrophobic as it is intimidating.

It has been one of most requested classics for years. Though released on VHS and laserdisc in the nineties, it had been MIA on DVD, in large part because of the deplorable condition of the vault elements. No negative exists and the best 35mm prints were still damaged and incomplete. Criterion took on the task of preparing the DVD by piecing together the best possible version from multiple sources, from a damaged fine-grain 35mm positive to a 16mm print from a private collector, and digitally repairing as much damage as possible. The result is the first complete presentation of the most perverse and the least seen of thirties horror movie landmarks. There are better looking and sounding discs this year, and more exhaustive collections of supplements, but the effort expended in creating this release and the goodwill of the contributors makes this labor of love my pick for the best of 2011. DVD and Blu-ray. Reviewed on Parallax View.

Special Edition of the Year

The Social Network (Sony)
Directed with typical technical fastidiousness and textural richness by David Fincher from a verbally dexterous script by Aaron Sorkin, this story of the creation of Facebook is less interested in how the website was created than in how a young, arrogant genius with no people skills managed to deconstruct and reconstruct the social experience as a web-based simulacrum: a club that even Mark Zuckerberg (or, rather, “Mark Zuckerberg”) could thrive in. This is a story of hubris and ambition, of friendship and jealousy, of class and cultural cache, of success as status and revenge.

Fincher is one of the most exacting filmmakers in the world today and the supplements on the DVD and Blu-ray release offer a glimpse into his process, from a reflective commentary track to the superbly produced feature-length documentary “How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook?,” among the many supplements. It’s as intelligent and illuminative a collection of supplements as you’ll find on DVD/Blu-ray and it’s a superbly-mastered disc to boot. DVD and Blu-ray. Reviewed on Parallax View.

Blu-ray of the Year

Taxi Driver (Sony)
Martin Scorsese’ incendiary masterpiece of alienation and anger and urban anxiety may be the most maverick vision in all of seventies American cinema. It is certainly one of the most courageous and passionate portraits of the American underbelly ever put on film, a movie bathed in blood as much as in light, and revisiting the film on its Blu-ray debut, mastered from the brand new digital restoration currently making the rounds on the festival and repertory cinema circuit, only confirms the power of the film to, after all these years, sink the audience into the mind and filthy, fetid world of Travis Bickle.

The film received a top-to-bottom digital restoration, which premiered at Berlin before Sony’s Blu-ray debut of the modern classic. The new restoration doesn’t “clean up” the image so much as sharpen the texture of the portrait — it’s so visceral it you can feel the heat and grime waft off the screen — and the Blu-ray features all the supplements of previous DVD releases plus the original commentary track recorded by Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader for the 1986 laserdisc: one of the very first commentary tracks ever recorded. New to this edition is the interactive Blu-ray exclusive “Script to Screen” function, which scrolls actual script pages (with Scorsese’s notations) along with the film. A great presentation of a great film. Reviewed on Parallax View.

Three Colors: Blue White Red (Criterion)
Krzysztof Kieslowski ended his career with this trilogy of delicately connected films that many hold as his greatest work. Criterion returns to the original materials for new high-definition masters for the Blu-ray debut, and they are stunning. In place of the commentary tracks from the previous Miramax DVD release, Criterion offers superb video essays for each film. Reviewed for Turner Classic Movies, linked via Parallax View.

Home Video Debut of the Year

The Prowler (VCI)
The long-awaited home video debut of Joseph Losey’s superb 1951 film has been one of those acknowledged classics of film noir that many have had to take on faith for far too long. Produced by Sam Spiegel and scripted by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo (behind front Hugo Butler), it is a classic of working class envy and restless resentment of the “bad breaks” that arrogance and assumed entitlement get you. Van Heflin is superb as the sour Horatio Alger, a former golden boy turned brutal opportunist willing to do anything to get what he’s sure is due him, and he shifts from one pose to another to charm and cajole those around him with cold-blooded focus. It doesn’t look like a classic film noir—Losey uses light to reveal and lay bare rather than cast webs across the characters—and he saves the shadows for intimacy to show the corruption of emotion and the way desire clouds judgment. That subtle touch makes the savagery of the scheme all the more brutal.

All but absent from TV showings for decades and never officially released on home video in any form, comes from a restoration by the Film Noir Foundation partnered with the UCLA Film and Television Archive and an insightful collection of supplements. It is the best looking disc to come from VCI to date. DVD only. Reviewed on Videodrone.

Read More “Best DVD / Blu-ray of 2011”

Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors

Moments Out of Time 2011

Images, lines, gestures, moods from the year’s films

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Control (John Hurt), aced out of MI6 after the disaster in Budapest, announces, “Smiley is coming with me.” Smiley (Gary Oldman), his back to the camera, tilts his head a millimeter—surprise? acceptance? both?…

The Descendants: the sound Matt King’s (George Clooney) flip-flops make on asphalt as he jogs over to his friends’ house to get the scoop on his dying wife’s infidelity…

• Three figures frozen on a green lawn, bathed in cold white light, from the moon and the planet Melancholia

• Matchlight on face in front of red door, Le Havre

• Upside-down shadows of kids at play on gray asphalt, swinging from the top of the frame in The Tree of Life

• High angle looking down into cave in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives: on the ochre floor, figures lie sleeping (dead?) just where radiant sunlight meets darkest shadow….

• The slow dissolve from one Western landscape into another, a slant of hill coming to exactly echo a line of clouds; actual and aspirant frontiers in Meek’s Cutoff

• The breathlessly kinetic rhythms of the heist that begins Drive

Midnight in Paris: the evolution of the expression on Gil (Owen Wilson)—F. Scott Fitzgerald has just introduced him to Ernest Hemingway—from gobsmacked to go-with-the-flow delight…

• Peppy (Bérénice Bejo) and Valentin (Jean Dujardin) artlessly falling in love, as they dance through a series of takes: The Artist

Moneyball: daughter (Kerris Dorsey) gravely, shyly singing “I’m Just a Little Bit Caught in the Middle” for dad (Brad Pitt) in the music store…

• The air in the village church swimming with dust particles that might once have been people: Le quattro volte

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: brusque, bone-shattering dispatch, by “Mr. Ellis” (Mark Strong), of the owl that has just flown out of the fireplace in his classroom…

• Laurel and Hardy in drag: Mr. Nobbs (Glenn Close), stiff as a stick, and broad-shouldered Mr. Page (Janet McTeer) step out in bonnets and dresses—Albert Nobbs

• In Midnight in Paris, Gil realizing that the woman he was just dancing with was Djuna Barnes: “No wonder she wanted to lead.”…

• Seduction, foreplay and climax on the subway: Shame

The Descendants: the sudden, vengeful kiss Matt King plants on the unknowing wife (Judy Greer) of hiswife’s lover…

• A very tipsy Emma Stone to “Photoshopped” Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid, Love.: “We are going to bang!”…

• Shrinks Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) lying snug as bugs, or babies, in the belly of a boat with red sails, in A Dangerous Method

• In Arthur Christmas, the Mission Impossible precision of Christmas Eve break-in: Santa and ninja elves escape discovery through split-second timing and improvisation….

• A drop of perspiration falling onto a café tabletop, fatally fracturing the fourth wall of a Hungarian “play” in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

• Closeup of British officer’s shining young face (Tom Hiddleston) as he promises to care for Joey, and bring him back to the boy who loves him: a singular moment of sincerity in War Horse that measures what a world war for nothing will cost…

• A black horse sinks down in slow motion, as though curtsying to oblivion—Melancholia

• “Carrying, yeah”—Christoph Waltz’s first utterance in Carnage. Who ever doubted the worldly multilinguist of Inglourious Basterds could master American shrug?…

• A Nose (master perfumer) sniffs the aromas of time in a 32,000-year-old Cave of Forgotten Dreams….

• A shower of green leaves along a tree-lined residential street: something simian this way comes in Rise of the Planet of the Apes….

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), making a clean getaway after his incursion into the bowels of the Circus, passes Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds) on the stairs and confirms from the tune he’s whistling that Peter’s phonecall moments before was monitored. As expected…

Shame: the dying fall of Carey Mulligan’s voice, until she’s nearly whispering “New York, New York”…

• Afterthought in Moneyball: “Who’s Fabio?”…

• In The Descendants, Matt’s quiet “Don’t ever do that again” after his daughter’s boyfriend (Nick Krause) embraces him…

• Over tea at the Pages, the only smile that ever unfreezes—and transfigures—the face of Albert Nobbs

• A Scalphunter (Tom Hardy) in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy caressing the face of the spy he loves with light reflected from a compact, while she (Svetlana Khodchenkova) takes her pleasure in the exposure…

• “Phone sex” in Crazy, Stupid, Love.: Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) tenderly talking his estranged wife (Julianne Moore) through re-igniting the pilot light…

• Jung and his former patient discuss their Dangerous Method on a park bench by a sunlit lake, Sabina’s perfect little white hat like a lid on crazy…

• College guy, self-impaled on a tree branch, watches a horsefly settle on his nose—Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

• Tavern still-life with police inspector (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), pineapple, and trio of serene Kaurismäki goofs: Le Havre

My Week with Marilyn: the look on the publican’s face when Miss Monroe (Michelle Williams) drops by the Dog & Duck to say, “Nice place you got here”; expertly summoned up by the great Jim Carter, and just as expertly dropped before the moment spoils…

• Corey Stoll’s rhythms and tone as Ernest Hemingway, Midnight in Paris—not free of parody, yet oddly tender withal…

• Karl with a K, Sam Rockwell’s lethally deranged dope-dealer—The Sitter

• Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) tinkling his bicycle bell upon sighting the Circus’s new blonde, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

• A breeze teases the white curtains behind him as Mr. Page gazes at a picture of his friend’s lost mother—all that marks the life and death of Albert Nobbs

• The skull of the actual William Burke looking out at the movie audience that has just watched John Landis’s silly Burke and Hare

• The lawn sprinklers at evening, We Need to Talk about Kevin

• Falling in love with a zombie girl (Elle Fanning), Super 8

Moneyball: Pete (Jonah Hill), marveling at Billy working the phones, catches the fever at last, makes a fist of triumph in midair, then wonders whether he did it right….

Melancholia: Udo Kier noting with dismay that a wedding balloon has caught fire….

• After horrific gunplay in Drive: Ryan Gosling’s blood-splattered, shell-shocked face leans into an open door for a count of 10, then slowly, very slowly, slips out of frame….

• Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) awestruck—”Take that, liver!”—as he watches Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) belt down shots, in Young Adult

• Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace) and Nick (Will Ferrell), basking in a swimming pool, one-upping each other with “Your mother is so fat…” jokes—Everything Must Go

• Faced with the need to undress her incontinent charge, a burqa’d caretaker (Sareh Bayat) dials up a religious hotline for advice—ASeparation….

• A lampshade the color of blood in a darkened Margin Call office: corporate shark (Jeremy Irons) cuts his scapegoat (Demi Moore) off at the knees….

• Cobra (Albert Brooks) killing mongoose (Bryan Cranston) in Drive: “Don’t worry. Don’t worry. That’s it. It’s done. There’s no pain. It’s over. It’s over.”…

• Cobra mesmerizing mongoose: Patrick (John Hawkes) serenading Martha May Marcy Marlene (Elizabeth Olsen)…

• Claws clicking on marble, as villainous peacock Shen (Gary Oldman) enters—Kung Fu Panda 2

• Beneath an ice-blue waterfall, in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, a beautiful princess is wooed into ecstasy by a very energetic catfish….

• At table in Midnight in Paris with Man Ray and Luis Buñuel, “Dali!” (Adrien Brody) pursues his own surrealistic train of thought: “I see a rhinoceros!”…

• “Why would I not know the context? I am the context!” Ezra Miller in We Need to Talk about Kevin

• Savoring cigar and table full of offspring, suave paterfamilias Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) watches Jung wolf down his dinner. Chacun à son appétit in A Dangerous Method

• The way Home looks from down the street, an oasis of warm, golden light in the gloaming—The Tree of Life

• The way Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams) and the other women walk beside their Conestogas in Meek’s Cutoff, as though they would go on forever, sans complaint, heroic pretension, or even imagination of another path, until they fall…

• Post-chemo, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) dancing down a hospital corridor, oblivious to all but his own weed-fueled glee, in 50/50

Cave of Forgotten Dreams: the footprints of an eight-year-old boy and a wolf, side-by-side in the cave floor…

• Daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) going underwater to cry, The Descendants

• The bee in the car, how three men deal with it—and how’d they do that shot anyway? Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

• Through undulating lace curtains, sunlight falls like a blessing on a white bassinet: heart-stopping beauty of beginnings in The Tree of Life

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives: Surrounded by the chirp of crickets and the rustle of leaves, a pair of ghosts page through old snapshots of their lives one moonlit summer evening….

Melancholia: the morning ride through trees and mist, as seen from … Melancholia?…

• A lone horse gallops out of the fog on Golden Gate Bridge, its improbable rider coming into view a moment later: Caesar as Braveheart in Rise of the Planet of the Apes

• All the dogs we’ve known and loved in 2011: Skeletor, 50/50; Uggie, The Artist; Cosmo, Beginners; Laika, Le Havre; Booger, Tabloid; and above all, that goat-herding pooch in Le quattro volte who in effect “directs” an eight-minute take…

• Trees that signified in 2011: The Tree of Life, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Meek’s Cutoff, Le quattro volte

• In Margin Call, on a Brooklyn stoop in early morning, the Stanley Tucci character’s story of the bridge he once built between Ohio and West Virginia: “1,531 years of lives saved”…

• A pre-Raphaelite beauty (Jessica Chastain), slipping between clotheslines of glowing white sheets, to hose water over her bare feet—The Tree of Life

Take Shelter: Wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) looks at the horizon, then at husband Curtis (Michael Shannon), and says, “OK.”…

Of Gods and Men: eldest monk Luc (Michael Lonsdale, ever sublime) brushing aside ritual to punch the button on the tape player; “Swan Lake” fills the Algerian night….

• In 50/50, mom (Anjelica Huston) and best bud (Seth Rogen) instantly ambushing Adam’s shrink (Anna Kendrick) when she shows up to wait out his life-or-death surgery: “I smother him because I love him!” … “I’m not a dick!”…

• Piper Laurie’s luminous beauty, as grandmother shares a companionable bong with wildman Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)…

• Peeling off Gwyneth Paltrow’s face, Contagion

• A bloody handprint, with claws, materializing on a bedsheet—Insidious

• Little Bob (Roberto Piazza), a pint-sized, white-haired Elvis, rocking out on his red guitar in Le Havre

• Every serving of Darius Khondji’s moveable feast of light and color in Midnight in Paris

• The bouncy strains of “La Mer” behind the final unpacking of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy‘s Chinese boxes…


Posted in: by Andrew Wright, by John Hartl, by Kathleen Murphy, by Richard T. Jameson, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, lists

Parallax View’s Best of 2011

Welcome 2012 with one last look back at the best releases of 2011, as seen by the contributors to Parallax View. Critics listed in reverse alphabetical order

Andrew Wright

(as posted at Salt Lake Weekly)
1. Melancholia
2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
3. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
4. 13 Assassins
5. Drive
6. The Tree of Life
7. Take Shelter
8. Hugo
9. The Descendants
10. Stake Land

Bruce Reid

1. World on a Wire: The gleaming surfaces and monotone bureaucrats are a dig at 2001. The eternally recurring reflections are Fassbinder’s own, Dietrich and gay hustlers and rapacious businessmen stalking a virtual Germany warped by funhouse mirrors. Giddy, heartbreaking, endlessly inventive, and (forget the copyright) absolutely of-the-moment.

2. Tree of Life: It’s not the brutal slaps of nature that birthed you, nor the ways of grace so ethereal they threaten to float away to the sky. It was both of them, and everything else. Malick’s illimitable camera summons grand and mysterious creative forges ranging from cosmic fires to a grandfather’s face.

3. Hugo: The first few reels (those gears; those pipes; the city so close you could reach out and feel its pulse) are so marvelously dense and rich they’re practically retraining you to see in a new way. Which I suspect is pretty close to Scorsese’s personal definition of cinema to begin with.

4. A Dangerous Method: In the past (Spider, Crash) Cronenberg has flung sperm at the camera; here he’s captured by the silky gleam of hymenal blood. Which is less feminism than a sign things have forever changed. A chronicle of dangerous plagues coming to ravage the 20th century: as new as Freud’s talking cure, as ancient as anti-Semitism.

5. Certified Copy: I’d always found something monstrous in Kiarostami’s serenity, a hint of disinterest so profound he could find driftwood as fascinating as people. This study of flowing identities, both playful and devastating, corrects my misapprehension; it’s the drift itself that captivates him, and how we’re all dragged along by the surf.

6. Take Shelter: The first great horror film of post-prosperity America, where job insecurity and HMOs and government therapists fuel the nightmare no less than the claps of thunder or the ominous skies. Almost the polar opposite—in style, in effect—from Nichols and Shannon’s previous collaboration; which suggests they’re capable of anything.

7. Mysteries of Lisbon: The best joke of the year is how the final revealed history in Ruiz’s delightful rebuff to stately period dramas bears no relation to the first, but was entirely dependant upon it all the same. One last labyrinth from the master, the paths this time laid out in human lives.

8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Fincher’s breakneck pace has assumed a frictionless confidence that gives you a heady, almost comic charge to see. Which might seem entirely the wrong tone here, but brings a much-needed fleetness to the exposition while making the horrors ever more jarring.

9. Contagion: Its narrative propelled so breathtakingly by the actors plenty and Martinez’s score, Contagion’s emotional heft can be overlooked. But this is a shattering argument for grief as our overwhelming commonality, and a lovely salute to those brave enough to suit up against it when needed.

10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: So guarded and chill you barely notice its beating heart. Till it surges, and wrecks nearly everyone forced to live lives so rigorously, ruthlessly compartmentalized.

Kathleen Murphy

(as posted on MSN Movies)
1. Melancholia
2. The Artist
3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
4. A Dangerous Method
5. The Tree of Life
6. Certified Copy
7. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
8. The Descendants
9. Drive
10. Meek’s Cutoff

See also MSN essay on A Dangerous Method

Richard T. Jameson

My list submitted to on Dec. 9 could just as well have had some of these titles on it. In some cases their omission was chiefly a matter of my not having got round to a second viewing that likely would have put paid to any reservations I harbor. Worthy films all, and enough of them to make the year a better one than it felt like from week to week, month to month. Order here is random:

The Tree of Life
Le quattro volte
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
A Separation
Of Gods and Men
Midnight in Paris
Stake Land / Small Town Murder Songs

Midnight in Paris is the only one I hadn’t seen by Dec. 9.  Still haven’t seen Poetry, Mysteries of Lisbon, Film Socialisme, The Road to Nowhere….

See also list on MSN, and essay on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Robert Horton

(as listed at The Herald)
1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
2. Certified Copy
3. Melancholia
4. A Dangerous Mind
5. Meek’s Cutoff
6. Drive
7. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Remember His Past Lives
8. Poetry
9. Into Eternity
10. The Descendents / Le Havre

See also his list at indieWIRE

John Hartl

Not necessarily the best movie of 2011, but certainly the one that most memorably captured the pervasive sense that the planet is going to hell, was Jeff Nichols’s hauntingly ambiguous doomsday drama, Take Shelter. Michael Shannon gave another of his Cassandra-like performances as a distraught family man who has apocalyptic visions that may or may not be tied to reality. Duncan Jones’ Source Code used its Groundhog Day plot to imagine another kind of catastrophic future. J.C. Chandor’s brilliantly cast Wall Street tale, Margin Call, fictionalized the Lehmann Brothers disaster into a showdown between casually wicked Jeremy Irons and the only slightly less evil Kevin Spacey. John Sayles went back to the turn of the last century to reveal another form of duplicity in Amigo, his best work in years. Lu Chuan’s City of Life and Death transformed the 1937-1938 Nanking massacre into an astonishingly reflective drama. Andrew Haigh’s Weekend used Brief Encounter as the inspiration for an affecting gay love story, while Chris Weitz’s A Better Life lifted the plot for The Bicycle Thief and set it in East Los Angeles. Alexander Payne’s The Descendants deftly transformed its Hawaiian setting into something less than paradise. Among the year’s most provocative documentaries were James Marsh’s Project Nim, about a chimpanzee raised (and sometimes enraged) by humans, and Kenneth Bowser’s carefully researched Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune, about the epoch-defining 1960s singer whose ambitious activism was ultimately overwhelmed by his self-destructiveness.

A Second 10: Arthur Christmas, The Artist, Incendies, Moneyball, Hugo, Beginners, Vito, Le Havre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and about two-thirds of The Tree of Life.

Award-winning movies that have yet to be shown in Seattle: The Iron Lady, A Separation, Carnage, Pariah, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Margaret, Coriolanus.

Sean Axmaker

The first three films could swap spots without much anxiety on my part. In the arbitrary, often shifting border between aesthetic principle and personal appreciation, I choose to honor the passing of Raul Ruiz and favor my predilection for labyrinthine storytelling and cinematic weaves of character and narrative across time and space, which Ruiz accomplishes with such grace and beauty I find myself in awe of his art and his insight into human nature and the contradictions that define us.

Three of the films on my list I first saw in 2010, and I construct this list without having seen two films which, by all accounts, are among the year’s best: Margaret, which did not screen in Seattle and which did not play as the film festivals I attended, and A Separation, which screened for critics opposite an end-of-the-year deadline. The rest of the choices and absences are all on me.

1. Mysteries of Lisbon (Raul Ruiz)
2. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
3. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
4. Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt)
5. Poetry (Lee Chang-dong)
6. The Descendents (Alexander Payne)
7. Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols)
8. Le quattro volte (Michelangelo Frammartino)
9. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
10. Hugo (Martin Scorsese)

Ten More (in alphabetical order): The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius), A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg), Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn), Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki), Melancholia (Lars von Trier), Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvais), The Princess Of Montpensier (Bertrand Tavernier), Road to Nowhere (Monte Hellman), The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson)

I also very much appreciated a year of smart, well-crafted and clever genre films – Attack the Block (Joe Cornish), Limitless (Neil Burger), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt), Source Code (Duncan Jones), Stake Land (Jim Mickle) – and one marvelous mess of a personal project: Sucker Punch (Zack Snyder).

See also lists on the MSN and Village Voice polls and essay on Certified Copy, plus a uniquely Seattle-centric survey of Top Ten cinematic events for Seattle Weekly.


Video: 2011 Film Critics Wrap at the Frye (Robert Horton, Jim Emerson, Kathleen Murphy, Andrew Wright)
Audio: Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy discuss the movies of 2011 on KUOW.
Village Voice / LA Weekly Film Poll
indieWIRE Critics Survey
Movie City News Top Ten List compilations
BFI 2011 Critics Poll
Senses of Cinema 2011 World Poll
Best Movie Posters of 2011 (Adrian Curry)
Last year’s lists: Parallax View’s Best of 2010
David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s Top Ten films of 1921
and the 25 Films chosen for the National Film Registry in 2011

Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors

The 10 Best Reasons to Celebrate the Seattle Film Scene in 2011

For Seattle cinema lovers, 2011 was a good news/bad news year. For the bad, there was the May closure of the Columbia City Cinema and the February conversion of the Neptune into a music and events hall. The empty Uptown reminded us of another neighborhood theater with history gone dark. And the rush to digital projection in the minimally manned multiplexes left too many screens getting dimmer because of 2-D digital prints run through 3-D splitters (no, it’s not your eyes going bad) and more digital prints replacing 35mm screenings of classic films. But let’s not forget the good. Here are the 10 best reasons for movie-loving Seattleites to celebrate this year.

1) SIFF saves the Uptown! And in the same year the Seattle International Film Festival left its McCaw Hall time-share for its own year-round theater/permanent headquarters at Seattle Center. The Uptown deal came together more quickly (over the past year), and its October reopening gave SIFF four screens with both film and digital capabilities. Two blocks apart, the two venues will expand local access to the kinds of foreign, art-house, and independent films that other cities can experience only on Netflix and VOD.

2) The Cinerama 70mm Festival. Paul Allen just gave his pet movie palace a costly new renovation, and brought in independent management (Greg Wood of Portland’s Roseway Theater) to replace national operator AMC. So while it can and does show big blockbusters and digital 3-D, the Cinerama celebrated its makeover in September with 16 days of 70mm and Cinerama prints of classic films (the original high-def). Change is inevitable, but every movie lover deserves to see the texture and color of actual film

Continue reading at  Seattle Weekly

Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, by Richard T. Jameson, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, lists

The Best of 2011 on MSN

MSN Movies published its annual Best of the Year poll this week, featuring Top Ten lists from thirteen MSN writers including a trio of Parallax View contributors: Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy and Sean Axmaker. The rest of the line-up isn’t too shabby either: Jim Emerson, Don Kaye, Glenn Kenny, Kim Morgan, Mary Pols, James Rocchi, Glenn Whipp and out editor, Dave McCoy.

'The Tree of Life'

It’s the first published Top Ten List from most of us (the individual lists are collected here and here) and deadlines being what they, they were made before at least some of us were able to see some of the most talked about releases set for release before the end of the year (to qualify for the Academy Awards). Given that, it turned out to be such a strong year that there was no shortage of films to vie for spots on the lists.

MSN’s gallery-style feature begins here with an introduction by Glenn Kenny and continues with essays on the top ten films by the contributing critics. Jim Emerson comments on the list on Scanners here and Glenn Kenny muses on the project at Some Came Running here, while Richard Jameson reflects on the ritual of lists at Straight Shooting here.

Here are clips from the individual essays (in my laziness, I’m borrowing the editorial acumen of Emerson’s feature on Scanners).

10. “Meek’s Cutoff” (Kelly Reichardt) by James Rocchi:

“This has the big vistas and open spaces of a classic Western, to be sure (it’s even shot in the pre-widescreen Western aspect ratio we know from John Ford films and a thousand other classics), but it also has a rare sense of time as an element of composition: You’re pulled into the rhythm of the trek, slow and steady and terrified.”

9. “Hugo” (Martin Scorsese) by Glenn Kenny:

“While this film is first and foremost a fairy tale, it is still at heart a quintessential Scorsese story of lonely people and the worlds they make for themselves. Only here the invented worlds, works of imagination, are benign, and actually end up reaching out to the other characters and bringing them together.”

'The Artist'

8. “The Artist” (Michel Hazanavicius) by Mary Pols:

“The film is a study of hubris and fear, but mostly, of the easy refuge found in artificiality, the very definition of most contemporary filmmaking. No scene stands out more than a series of takes from George’s silent ‘A German Affair,’ where he dances with Peppy. In one take they flirt, in another they giggle, and finally, as they try to be serious, something real blooms. George, undone, must leave the set….”

7. “A Dangerous Method” (David Cronenberg) by Kat Murphy:

“Do 2011’s end-of-days movies signal some collective anxiety? Electrified by energy and intelligence, David Cronenberg’s ‘A Dangerous Method’ also chronicles end-times, the halcyon era when Freud, Jung, et al., brought the unconscious to light even as the dark seeds of two world wars were germinating. ‘Method’ marks the rise of killer ideas; revolutionary theories skitter like hungry termites behind the film’s perfectly composed interiors and idyllic landscapes. There’s evident strain between civilized surfaces and the dangerous new work of defining madness. For Cronenberg, ideas aren’t dry abstractions; they’re as disturbingly alive, as wildly subversive as those phallic phages in ‘They Came From Within.'”

6. “Certified Copy” (Abbas Kiarostami) by Sean Axmaker:

“You could describe ‘Certified Copy,’ his first production made outside of the borders of Iran, as the cinematic equivalent of a Picasso cubist portrait, presenting multiple experiences along the timeline of a relationship in a single day. The breathtaking tectonic shift is all the more impressive by the subtlety and slyness of the transition, played out in long takes and the easy rhythms of Kiarostami’s heightened naturalism. He has a way of turning the details of his environment into evocative images: The river of sky reflecting across a car windshield illustrates the gulf between Binoche and Shimell, and a parade of hopeful young newlyweds and stooped old married couples continue their life story by proxy.”

5. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (Tomas Alfredson) by Richard T. Jameson:

“Early in ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,’ veteran cold warrior and abruptly retired spy George Smiley (Gary Oldman, magnificent) stares across his sitting room at a painting. The screen is vast, the painting tiny; we can make out only a pattern of frames within frames, one of them as red as a wound. Director Tomas Alfredson ‘s credit appears over the shot, making it seem a mite insistent as an abstraction of impenetrably enigmatic John le Carré world and an assertion of stylistic principle. The movie often has us watching people watching through frames — windows, doorways, ironwork — and being themselves watched; sometimes they furtively cherish the mutual recognition. Yet Alfredson’s signature shot isn’t just a viewing instruction….”

'Uncle Boonmee'

4. “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) by Jim Emerson:

“The mythological terrain here is as personal to Apichatpong as ‘Tree of Life”s is to Terrence Malick. You might recognize characters (or names) from his earlier pictures (‘Tropical Malady,’ ‘Syndromes and a Century). And you can read about some of the how the film became (at some stage in its gestation) part of a larger multimedia installation/exhibition called Primitive; or how he envisioned it as a six-reel film shot in six different styles (from Thai horror movie to European art film), but all that is really incidental to the experience you have while watching and interpreting the film yourself. While it unfolds before you, it is, to borrow the title of another Apichatpong movie, blissfully yours.”

3. “The Descendants” (Alexander Payne) by Don Kaye:

“A number of major movies this year were about looking into the past and attempting to find some sort of solace or meaning there, creatively, personally or otherwise. But as Woody Allen revealed in his ‘Midnight in Paris,’ our view of the past is often distorted by our own desires, and things weren’t truly any better then than they are now. That’s why there’s not a whole lot of emotional truth in a simple homage. But there’s a ton of it in ‘The Descendants,’ which is ultimately about taking one’s eyes off the rearview mirror and peering into the future.”

2. “The Tree of Life” (Terrence Malick) by Glenn Whipp:

“There’s beauty, poetry, tyranny, death. There’s the birth of the universe. There are dinosaurs! Why dinosaurs? Short answer: (Again) Why not? Long answer: Perhaps Malick is reminding us that the creatures that once held dominion over the Earth no longer exist. Could the same fate befall their successors? Or maybe that little moment of grace where the big lizard spares its sickly cousin shows a way of avoiding that destiny. Again, it’s all about the questions, and Malick gives you enough to chew on here that you could return repeatedly to ‘Tree’ for years to come, knowing (and savoring) that your experience will be different each time you watch it.”

1. “Melancholia” (Lars Von Trier) by Kim Morgan:

“Von Trier, a sufferer himself, sincerely understands depression (just as he understood anxiety in ‘Antichrist’), which may be why he maddens many. Weaving himself into his characters, he’s sadistic, masochist, empathetic, self-obsessed, morbid and morbidly funny and then honest and honestly confused. With ‘Melancholia’ he grants depressives a gift….”