Oscar Week: Tuesday
My favorite films of the year, Part One: The ones you more likely saw.
Darren Aranofsky’s follow-up to The Wrestler is another film about sacrificing one’s physical body for her art. This time, Nina (Natalie Portman) is also sacrificing her sanity. Portman’s performance is awe-inspiring. Aranofsky employs a realist approach to much of the film that makes the more fantastic and frightening elements pop all the more. And boy do they seriously pop.
It’s amazing that there are still fresh ways to tell a boxing story. Focusing on the Ward family, with all its rich characters and interesting dynamics, David O. Russell deftly utilizes a film-within-the-film technique to get back into Hollywood’s good graces. Hopefully he’ll continue to play better with others because it’s good for all of us when he gets to make movies. Christian Bale is, of course, the best part of the film, but Melissa Leo, Amy Adams, and the rest of the cast shine as well. Mark Wahlberg may seem to get overshadowed, but he’s the calm center of the storm without which the rest wouldn’t work.
Honestly, I was pretty let down by Inception the first time I saw it. And no, not because I didn’t get it. More because it had precisely zero to do with anything I recognized as “dreaming”. Also, its central device was a total rip-off of David Cronenberg’s eXistenz, which more appropriately termed said device a “video game”. So it’s a little annoying when people talk about it as if it is THE most original film ever made. Why can’t it just be a very good film that adds to a conversation that was started long ago? Inception was derivative of eXistenz, which was openly derivative of Philip K. Dick’s stories, which are derivative of other science-fiction and philosophy works going all the way back to Plato, etc. There is nothing new under the sun, right?
However, once I got past the hype and replaced the word “dream” with “the creative process” in my mind, I found the film to be rich with commentary on guilt, the image as idea, and how one can get lost inside that creative process when using it solely for personal catharsis. I can relate. And no one would deny that we all owe Christopher Nolan our utmost gratitude for restoring intelligence to the summer blockbuster. Well, no one except for the Academy, apparently.
Toy Story 3
I was completely sold in the first fifteen minutes, astonished by the thinly-veiled discussion on death, the after-life, and divine benevolence in which these “toys” engaged each other at the movie’s outset. Are you kidding me? Just brilliant stuff.
Pixar continues its streak. The only animated films I really care about. The best studio on the planet.
Yes, it’s a remake, but it’s still The Coen Brothers and they only make two kinds of films: really good ones, and masterpieces. While I think this falls in the former category, it approaches the latter with extreme subtlety. Feel free to enjoy it as just a good ole-fashioned Western yarn. However, if you’re so inclined, you can dig out Joel and Ethan once again hitting upon a cosmic absurdity similar to that of last year’s best American film, A Serious Man. This time, the Brothers imply that God at once charges humans with administering justice, while at the same time insisting they pay for the violence it requires. Mattie Ross gets her man, but at what cost?
More to come.