Sunday, February 10, 2013
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Presenting...the 2011 Golden Steve Awards.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Monday, December 7, 2009
Another weigh-in on the best films of the decade.
(Some temptations can be resisted. Some should be but cannot. Sometimes reticence is regretted. Sometimes resistance is futile.)
Today: 15 runners-up and the 25th [superlative inflection of positive adjective] motion picture of the decade spanning 2000-2009.
Tomorrow through December 31st, daily: Countdown to #1.
Honorable mentions, listed alphabetically:
25. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog)
24. No Country for Old Men (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)
23. Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel)
22. The Fog of War (Errol Morris)
21. Y Tu Mama Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron)
20. You Can Count on Me (Kenneth Lonergan)
19. Adaptation (Spike Jonze)
18. Zodiac (David Fincher)
17. Kings & Queen (Arnaud Desplechin)
16. Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki)
15. Amores Perros (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
14. Sideways (Alexander Payne)
13. The Barbarian Invasions (Denys Arcand)
12. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu)
11. Junebug (Phil Morrison)
10. The Best of Youth (Marco Tullio Giordana)
9. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodovar)
8. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki)
7. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee)
6. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel)
5. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
4. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes)
3. City of God (Fernando Meirelles)
2. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson)
1. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola)
Friday, May 1, 2009
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo—I’m sure I’ve seen the film 20 times. It inspired the longest, thorniest paper of my academic career. And though I chafe at perfunctory rankings of art, my perennial fascination with the Master’s most self-expressive work assures its place on that desert island for which connoisseurs prepare in itemized fashion.
Outshining its palpable wonderments, in my view, is its capacity to reveal uncharted pockets of genius on each viewing. Sometimes it’s a quick shot, sometimes an extended set piece; regardless, you always come away with newfound reverence for Hitchcock’s twisted virtuosity. I had occasion to watch it recently in a venue that did full justice to its grandeur, and this time my attention was seized by a quiet interlude which before then seemed like little more than connective tissue. (This is where I urge you to stop reading if you’ve never seen Vertigo—and let your artistic compasses know they've failed you.)
I refer to the ten-minute sequence which begins after the inquest into Madeleine’s death, and ends with Scottie’s compulsion to enter Judy’s apartment. The parenthesis comprises the saddest, tenderest, most genuine treatment of grief and refusal to unfasten the shackles of lost love I have ever seen on film. Scottie drifts through days as though trapped in a lucid dream, unresponsive to stimuli except those that fuel his need to believe Madeleine is not really gone from him. He returns to familiar locales—the Elsters’ old residence, the bar at Ernie’s, the gallery where Carlotta’s portrait emblematizes past forfeitures to love—almost as if he believes Madeleine is hiding from him, teasingly and in plain sight. The faintest validation of his faith reengages him with the world, but the sting of each setback pushes him further into withdrawal. How tenaciously he questions the woman who would presume to drive Madeleine’s distinctive green car; how thoroughly he retreats upon learning she is the new owner.
The frenzied nightmare that triggers Scottie's breakdown is vintage Hitchcock—the specters of Gavin and Carlotta, the wary but purposeful march to the empty grave, the crime scene-esque silhouette of Scottie plummeting downward into worse things than death. But the compositions that follow are anomalous in the extreme, especially for a filmmaker often linked with sensation over emotion, with economy before patience. The long, slow pan across San Francisco’s skyline attests that all machinations, even Hitchcock’s, must sometimes cede their urgency, and Bernard Herrmann’s soaring soundscape, marked by a literalization of heartstrings, has the curious effect of rendering the passions on display even more shrouded and internalized.
I don’t mean to give the impression of narrative stasis within these scenes. Hitchcock uses the interval to prepare his canvas for the imminent sublimation of helplessness into tyranny; when the time comes, he has subtly groomed us to be revulsed but not confounded. He also exhibits his deft command of parallelism, as the fateful premonitions of Scottie’s dream remind us of Madeleine’s self-fulfilling prophesy, as dire interrogations prefigure unyielding demands, as Midge’s micromanagement of Scottie’s recovery anticipates the exactitude of Judy’s reinvention. But what registers most pronouncedly is the study of a shattered soul—of bereavement in something close to real time. Many handlings of the predicament hasten us through numbness into primal rage, sensual surrender and release. By lingering on the bargaining stage, Hitchcock reveals himself as the master of a different kind of suspense—the suspended animation of the lovelorn survivor.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Indulge me in a thought experiment. We all take for granted (I hope) that a
Not to be done, endured, etc., with any degree of reason or propriety: an impossible situation.
Now we’re in murky waters, like the ones that brought Rick to
Despite his supporting-actor billing, Rains is the film’s least transmutable component.
Even the most resolute contrarians who indict the film for objectification and untoward flag-waving, to say nothing of repugnant achromatism, are bound to revel in Rains’ blithe etching of the opportunistic Renault. All his actorly gifts are beheld in bountiful bloom: The cunning delivery of sardonic dialogue, exuding such fulsome delight that one believes it was improvised by a man whose own cleverness could keep him enthralled for hours at a stretch. The sporadic bursts of professionalism, jarring until one notes that when his personal and vocational motives form a right angle, he finds a way to move crosswise to the axis he appears to be tracing. And, of course, the award-worthy calisthenics of his left eyebrow—itself one of the best character actors in
The absence of latter-day Rainses might appear to stem from a gradual diminution of second bananas in the Tinseltown ranks. A valid hypothesis and a woefully accurate observation on the whole, but I daresay even a complete inversion of the structures in place would not solve our problem. The uniqueness of the Rains presence cannot be overstated. Bemused and beguiling, silky and sophisticated, he was the Cheshire cat of cinema. Twentieth-century culture would be unthinkable without his velvet purr.