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Honorable Mentions: Chronicle, Killing Them Softly, Jeff Who Lives at Home

10. Argo — Ben Afleck’s thriller illustrates how stoicism and determination can heal a world frenzied by terrorism and celebrity. With a careful grasp on tempo and atmosphere, this swift film carries us through danger with unforgettable finesse.

9. Seven Psychopaths — Martin McDonagh’s sophomore feature film mutates our expectations when it comes to the gangster genre. He surprises us with conflicted yet sympathetic characters and stories-within-stories such that we care for these seemingly immoral people.

8. Skyfall — Although the latest Bond movie has several plot flaws, its personal turmoils make for a compellingly intimate espionage tale. Roger Deakins provides some of this year’s most memorable cinematography, and Sam Mendes proves that he is as talented at shooting action as he is at unfolding drama.

7. Looper — Rian Johnson blends together the sleekness of Science Fiction and French New Wave with the ruggedness of Westerns to create an appropriate experience that fits perfectly with his story’s sense of duality. His theme of how violence cycles from one generation to the next works as a wonderful symbol for the literal loop Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character deals with.

6. Holy Motors — This movie is a whimsical oddity that explores art within the nooks and crannies of this Earth. By inventing truly bizarre and random vignettes around Paris, director Leos Carax shows us how cinema can occur with makeup, imagination, and the willingness to unhinge oneself from reality.

5. The Cabin in the Woods — Not only do Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard deconstruct the realm of horror, they completely obliterate the ecosystem with their genre-bending film. Their shrewd commentary on how we as moviegoers revel in seeing people get killed serves as a way for some insane reflection on the current state of cinema.

4. ParaNorman — The meticulous passion that went into making this 3D stop-motion film shows that a juxtaposition of future technology and past techniques can create a charming experience. Similarly, it contrasts a child’s mentality with an adult’s, poetically highlighting issues we face no matter how old we are.

3. Indie Game: The Movie — It’s difficult for me to ignore this documentary when it captures material that I deal with every day of my life. Seeing independent video game developers risk their financial lives to produce something they wholeheartedly believe in is an inspiration not just for software engineers, but for anyone who’s dedicated to creating something from scratch.

2. The Imposter — Documentaries and unreliable narrators don’t usually cross paths. However, an allegiance between these typically estranged concepts created one of this year’s most probing, enigmatic theatrical experiences. Director Bart Layton toys with our perception as he documents the true story of Frederic Bourdin, an infamous criminal who impersonates a 16-year-old Texan teen.

1. Beasts of the Southern Wild — We are often frustrated with things that ultimately define us as individuals. Our families always find ways to annoy us; our hometowns typically dissolve into memories we wish to banish; our former loved ones haunt us with pain we shared in the past. The characters in this film adhere to these ideas, but they find a way to embrace their roots – blemishes and all. This film has an unconditional love that cannot be torn by death or disaster, and oddly enough, that is why it’s my favorite film of the year.

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It’s challenging to explicitly articulate how I feel about Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest experiment, The Master, after just one viewing. With its estranged set of characters and languid structure, the film crumbles the concept of clarity, and it yearns for multiple viewings in order one to gain an understanding of Anderson’s thesis. However, his deliberate aimlessness archives the true beauty of cinema, and he successfully illustrates the frustration we as humans can harbor when we are forced to explain ourselves.

The Master contends emptiness against self-actualization when Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a volatile, misguided alcoholic falls into the confident hands of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour-Hoffman), a theatrical philosopher who also revels in drunkenness. Dodd is the father of “The Cause”, a religious movement intended to give members peace by spiritually connecting them with their souls through simple yet intense thought exercises. Although these exercises appear to be fruitless, their repetitive executions persuade people into thinking they have been healed. With this confidence, Dodd believes he can raise Freddie from his savage, primordial state to a higher plane of humanness.

Slowly, Freddie learns about the insincerity of “The Cause”. Dodd’s own son, Val (Jesse Plemmons), somberly states that “He is making it all up as he goes along,” and dissenters make rational invectives that this religious group is nothing but a cult. Even Freddie’s primitive perspective notices how pointless Dodd’s exercises and speeches are.

Dodd and Quell’s relationship staggers between friendship and mutual hatred. The two are ostensibly counterparts to one another; Quell is an unleashed animal incapable of being tamed, while Dodd is a puppeteer who has mastered the art of conversation. However, their altercations display how alike they are as men; by relying on the bestial technique of yelling and cursing to secure their points, Lancaster and Freddie automatically lowers themselves to primates, becoming equivalent for a few awful moments.

Freddie and Lancaster play their roles particularly well. However, their relationship doesn’t allow them to be themselves completely. Lancaster cannot simply talk his way into healing Freddie. His exercises are all ideal, but they don’t provide concrete improvement. Lancaster’s repetitive processes of spiritually guiding a person into his or her past are frustratingly intangible, and the overall vagueness never truly cleanses anyone; it’s not until Freddie takes it upon himself to physically encounter his past that he finally gets some sort of catharsis. Freddie is certainly guided by “The Cause”, but Lancaster misses several crucial elements to completely cure him.

At times, Anderson misses some opportunities in The Master too. He has several characters aside from Lancaster and Freddie to play with, but they simply melt into the background. PTA started his career with major epics, Boogie Nights and Magnolia, two films that featured an array of strong, unique characters. He progressed by keeping the lens on just 1 or 2 people with Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood. This film could have been a perfect amalgam of his past and present, but he doesn’t really develop an arc for anyone besides Lancaster and Freddie. The emptiness is however filled by the gorgeous cinematography and alluring score. Together, they create an unsettling tone that bleeds with tension and despair.

I’ve been thinking about The Master for about a day and a half, and I still haven’t established a strong opinion on where the characters end up. It’s funny that Lancaster’s “Cause” implies that we are never quite where we ought to be anyway. We simply have trails that can lead us to happiness, and only he can take us there. Hopefully, more viewings will lead me down a trail of understanding (only Anderson can lead me there). Until then, I’ll have to just think about it all.

8.5 out of 10

The end of the year encourages reflection and celebration. One way I practice both is by commemorating this year’s movies that I regard with personal fervor. My tradition of making lists requires both overly geeky scrutiny and exuberant love for the art of filmmaking; what results is not only a list of movie titles, but an illustration of who I was as a person in the year 2010.

I am thankful I have this blog as an outlet, as it is a time capsule of opinions that come from someone who is currently obsessed with film. Before turning 2010 into a memory, I would like to preserve my thoughts on how five particular movie trailers astounded and affected me this year.

Honorable mentions: The Social Network, Cowboys and Aliens, Inception

5.Black Swan

Accented by a harrowing score, Black Swan’s premiere trailer chauffeurs us through a nightmare of paranoia and disillusionment. Ominous, upsetting colors clash with violent editing to celebrate the terror that only a scathed mind can conjure. With elegance, Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis enhance the beauty that ballet already provides, but with an estranged twist from director Darren Aronofsky, this preview mixes charm and delirium to create something artfully unnerving.

4. Buried

Horror/thriller films often exploit the power of sound to cheaply elicit fear. Sudden bursts of noise, typically used in a jump scare, do not motivate freight as effectively as a sound that billows with slow, insurmountable tension. Buried’s teaser trailer recognizes this, as it crescendos from quiet nervousness to riotous apprehension, all with the use of sound. In the preview’s last moments, we finally scrape an image from the darkness to reveal the context of the corresponding audio.

3. The Tree of Life

By widening its focus on humanity, the preview for Terrence Malick’s highly anticipated The Tree of Life transcends mere advertisement and propaganda. This pensive montage gallops towards a threshold that combines the plight of one’s past and the mystery of the unknowing future to illustrate the spectrum of life. Gorgeous imagery and celestial melodies course through its veins, vicariously breathing life into ourselves.

2. Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine’s highly visceral teaser manages to express love under numerous circumstances. Whether it’s through an intimate stare shared between two lovers or through a quarrel that almost dismantles them, the insight into this unabashedly real relationship strikes a chord of imperfection and solace. By juxtaposing such complex imagery with the simplistic tune of a ukulele, this preview somehow eloquently tackles both the joy and frustration of being in love.

1. True Grit

Haunted by a foreboding hymn, the terse preview for True Grit seems to solemnly strip the innocence away from our thirteen year old protagonist. Her stoic voiceover illustrates the audacity of the conquest she’s about to embark on, and I have nothing but fear for her. Roger Deakins’ beautiful cinematography creates an epic landscape riddled with wrath and retribution, and the characters that fill that desolate space seem just as relentless.

Weekly Poll #13

From an early age, we are conditioned to believe that the impression we make on others is perhaps the most significant thing we have to offer. It’s a mentality that drives us to aggrandize our own esteem and to diminish those we see less fit. Ultimately, life is a competition, and we are mammals of sport. We strive for the highest degree of importance, either in support or in spite of our impression.

However humanly sordid this subject may seem, its correlation with the world of today provides a perfect story to tell in David Fincher’s The Social Network. Through dramatized insight into the life of the youngest billionaire on the planet, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), we see imperfect, damaged individuals interact with success and competition in a way that sadly worsens their overall image.

The film begins at a Harvard bar where Zuckerberg gets dumped. In a short scene, writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher depict the man (or child, to be more specific) we are about to follow on screen for two hours. He is condescending, flippant, and vindictive, but it’s difficult to loathe him completely. His behavior is reactive to the frustrating exclusivity of the world encircling him. All Zuckerberg wants is to be accepted by Harvard’s most elite societies, and when he knows he can’t have that, he believes that his only choice is to be just as relentless.

Getting dumped works as enough incentive for Zuckerberg. He has no final clubs, no girlfriend, and not enough sociability to obtain either one of them directly. With his drunken woes, he realizes that he must make an impression peripherally, behind a computer screen. With the help of his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), he concocts Facemash.com, a site that compares the attractiveness of girls at Harvard University. The resulting sensation attracts entrepreneurs Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss to hire Mark for their website, Harvard Connection. Although Mark agrees to work for them, he uses his time and their ideas to create The Facebook. Thereafter, things begin to swell.

What makes The Social Network captivating isn’t its reliance on our familiarity with the world’s most popular website. Rather, it’s the intricate bravura that drives the storytelling. Fincher and Sorkin narrate from three different angles; one is the linear set of events that capture the genesis of Facebook, and the other two are in the form of litigations when both Saverin and the Winklevoss twins are respectively suing Mark years after Facebook’s inception. The film successfully hopscotches around time and space to tell one cohesive tale.

Again, my fascination with this film doesn’t stem from its brutal action because there is, in fact, none. Instead, it’s people just talking. However, the fervor with which all the characters speak is magnetic and almost poetic; writer Aaron Sorkin, best known for his work on The West Wing, writes such sharp dialogue with enough contrast between characters to give each scene its own arc and momentum. David Fincher, who is notorious for fashionable cinematography, reserves grandiose camera work only for the film’s most important scenes. Otherwise, he utilizes much quieter movement to create natural, unstoppable momentum.

Similarly, Fincher’s actors take on their roles carefully. Jesse Eisenberg plays an insecure anti-hero whose flaws are easy to sympathize with. Throughout Sorkin’s energetic script, Eisenberg finds solace in the silent moments with fierce facial expressions that are as defined as they are insidious. The Mark Zuckerberg featured in The Social Network is a hero in the most classical sense, and he is one of the most interesting characters of the year because of that.

Andrew Garfield’s Eduardo Saverin is brutally sympathetic, but I feel there is not as much development with him. His passivity leads me to question why he is friends with Zuckerberg in the first place; their relationship on screen is rightfully represented, but it’s still difficult to see what Saverin sees in Zuckerberg. Yes, he wants to be a successful business man; yes, he wants to impress his father; yes, he wants to be accepted just as Mark does. However, this aspect of the film could have used a little more aggression to further enhance his despairing side of the story.

The Social Network currently stands as one of my favorite films of the year. Its Shakespearean approach to telling a tale about greed, ambition, and betrayal is something I haven’t seen in some time, and it should be commended for that. Despite its few issues–Saverin’s underdevelopment and the tonal and thematic misogyny–Fincher’s latest movie is wonderful. Zuckerberg is a man blinded by his desire to leave a lasting impression of importance. He has no regard for those around him, but he wants to be accepted. Easily corrupted by the conniving Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), Zuckerberg transforms into a character that isn’t so easily defined. He’s complicated and well written, and Jesse Eisenberg gives him full life.

9.5 out of 10

3 foreign films, 2 black and whites, 1 Best Picture winner, and much more…

Close friend, Max Rock, and I discuss our top 5 favorite movies of all time. This is our first attempt at a podcast so we apologize for the sound quality, our delirium (this was recorded at 1 AM), and any harm this may cause. Enjoy!

00:00 – 01:32 — Introductions

01:32 – 03:26  — Making the lists

03:26 – 06:36 — Max’s #5: The Birdcage

06:36 – 10:57 — Glenn’s #5: The Third Man

10:57 – 18:05 — Max’s #4: From Dusk Till Dawn

18:05 – 23:40 — Glenn’s #4: The Matrix

23:40 – 34:34 — Max’s #3: Fanny and Alexander

34:34 – 42:22 — Glenn’s #3: Pierrot Le Fou

42:22 – 1:01:24 –Max’s #2: There Will Be Blood

1:01:24 – 1:08:17 — Glenn’s #2: The Apartment

1:08:17 – 1:19:30 — Max’s #1: Wild Strawberries

1:19:30 – 1:29:57 — Glenn’s #1: Punch-Drunk Love

1:29:57 – 1:35:52 — Outro/Announcements

Music — “Danger Mountain” by Anamanaguchi

THE PAST

With the start of another semester approaching, I feel I should take a second to contemplate the year thus far. In short, I believe it’s been a cinematic drought. The past eight months have provided us with only a handful of noteworthy films. Otherwise, the lot has been filled with either cash-grabbing remakes, uninspired sequels, or straightforward disappointments. To assuage the disappointment of this year’s fruitless filmic delivery, I’ve compiled a list of my personal favorites. I should be a little optimistic, right?

3. Terribly Happy

Although Terrbily Happy hails from Denmark, it’s a film that is surprisingly inspired by some of America’s greatest directors. Impressions of David Lynch and the Coen Brothers are prevalent throughout the movie’s tensest scenes, and simple American iconography is seen percolating in the quieter, much somber moments. It’s an interesting tone for an even more interesting story. Consolidating film noir and western together, Terribly Happy saunters its way into telling a compelling and very tragic tale.

2. Inception

Unlike anything we’ve seen this year, Inception bends physics, alters time, and damns the viewers’ mind. Director Christopher Nolan imbues us with a cinematic pleasure that’s as precious as the the movie’s subject. Ornately dressed with special effects and great performances, Inception is one of 2010’s best moviegoing experiences.

1. How to Train Your Dragon

Yes, it remains! How to Train Your Dragon is still my favorite film of 2010. Sure, it’s a simple story of a boy and his pet, but to me, it’s a conglomeration of emotions so subjective and personal that it’s impossible to describe on this blog. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of things I can say…The film explores infinite terrain with whimsical scope, but the sense of danger that is projected is unmistakably real. This is done with great technical craftsmanship, but an equally satisfying core of characters also aids in making this film outstanding.

THE PRESENT

Despite my aversion towards this year’s catalog of films, there are some great titles out right now. For instance…

Cyrus

Brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, the innovators behind the mumblecore movement, dually take on their first “Hollywood” film. To the movie’s benefit, Cyrus elegantly uses minimalism to naturally elicit deep characterization and pure emotional resonance.

The Kids are All Right

I’ll be seeing this in the next few days, so I will give my full thoughts then. However, reviews for this dramedy continue to be glowing with positivity.

Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone has been accumulating buzz since its premiere at the Sundance Festival. Winning the Grand Jury Prize, this literary adaptation is carrying a lot of momentum on its shoulders. Hopefully, I can check it out when it comes to the local art theater at school.

Some other films available now include:

  • Mother
  • Get Low
  • Animal Kingdom

THE FUTURE

So what is there to look forward to? Well, there’s…

  • Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (August 13)
    • Comedy action
    • Directed by Edgar Wright
  • The American (September 1)
    • Noir thriller
    • Starring George Clooney
  • The Town (September 10)
    • Gangster thriller
    • Directed by Ben Afleck.
    • Starring Ben Afleck, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Jon Ham.
  • The Social Network (October 1)
    • Drama about the birth of Facebook
    • Directed by David Fincher.
    • Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake.
  • 127 Hours (November 5)
    • Directed by Danny Boyle.
    • Starring James Franco
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (November 19)
    • Part 1 of 2 for the final chapter of Harry Potter
  • Black Swan (December 1)
    • Psychological thriller
    • Directed by Darren Aronofsky.
    • Starring Natalie Portman
  • Tron Legacy (December 17)
    • Sci-fi action sequel
    • Starring Jeff Bridges
  • True Grit (December 25)
    • Western remake by the Coen Brothers.
    • Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin