Saturday, December 31, 2011

THE TOP 11 OF 2011


Now that we've given out the Fuckos, it's time to get serious and unveil the top 11 movies of the year. SERIOUS. This was a pretty good movie year, as it shook out, a far cry from the dread at the beginning of the year about there being more sequels/remakes/reboots this year than any other year in history. Problem is, a lot of the better pictures weren't as widely seen, including at least two—both of which discussed below—tragically under-seen movies that are virtually certain to become a lot of people's all-time favorites once they hit DVD. Such is the way of the world, though.

Before we get to the list proper, I want to mention a couple also-rans that didn't make the final cut but that are good and things you should watch. These are pictures that had been in my top 11 before I caught up on all the year-end releases, and would have stayed there if the year-end stuff hadn't been so good (which it was.) Without any further ado, let us salute . . .


Source Code (dir. Duncan Jones)

A very solid SF thriller, with Jake Gyllenhaal puttin' in solid work as a guy who gradually realizes the reason he was the perfect candidate for the military's SF-nal goings-on is for kind of not-so-good reasons (put it this way, his previous career as an Air Force pilot is pretty much toast.) Michelle Monaghan continues her career as one of the most quietly solid leading ladies in the business, Vera Farmiga gets to wear a military uniform and be emotionally repressed (meeeoowwww . . .) and Jeffrey Wright smokes a pipe and wears bow-ties and stuff and was part of one of 2011's more interesting trends: Evil White Guys In Suits who are either not white or not guys (someone find Aisha Tyler and cast her in something as the main sinister executive in something so we can have our first EWGIS who is neither white nor male), which I think is an affirmation of the American way. Someday anyone, regardless of race, gender, or anything else will be able to put on a suit and be evil.

Anyway, Source Code's tight. Don't let anyone tell you the ending's stupid, it's awesome. It just leans on the fiction half of “science fiction” a bit. Duncan Jones is David Bowie's kid. He's SF royalty from birth. He gets to make the endings of his pictures as weird as he fucking likes.


Midnight In Paris (dir. Woody Allen)

I thoroughly enjoyed this. It was a wonderful experience. Everything about it was perfect except for Rachel McAdams being such a psychopath, and even that wasn't exactly a deal-breaker, it just meant this fell out of the top 11. I really love that Woody took the whole over-romanticized Left Bank Paris 20s thing and made it look and sound as awesome as he possibly could . . . but still remind us that it wasn't real. Owen Wilson was better than he'd been in forever, and his balance of wide-eyed innocence and enthusiasm with intelligence and believability as a screenwriter (since, if you'll remember the early Wes Anderson days, he was). And all the “real” people were awesome, with Hemingway leading the pack as he should, though my favorite scene in the whole picture is when Owen Wilson sits down with Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel, and Man Ray and tells them he's a time traveler and they're all like “Absolutely” like it ain't no thing, like he told them he was an apothecary. Surrealists are good like that.


Warrior (dir. Gavin O'Connor)

An engrossing blend of old-fashioned sports movie and character study, it's got great performances top to bottom and outstanding fight scenes, with Tom Hardy particularly convincing as an MMA savant. It's a little long, though it doesn't feel particularly long, and it's so well done it's kind of a shock that it did such godawful business. Only kind of, because Tom Hardy isn't a star (yet), and Joel Edgerton isn't a star (yet), and the way the picture was marketed was like, “Come see Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton!” and civilians were like, “Who?” This is all about to change, though. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton will be stars, they just made this movie five years too early. And once that happens, it sets up this conversation:

Civilian A: Holy shit, did you know Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton did a movie together before they were famous?
Civilian B: Really? What's it about?
Civilian A: Mixed martial arts. They beat the shit out of guys!
Civilian B: Whoa, fuck, how have I never heard of this? Let's watch it!
This is how Warrior is going to become a lot of people's favorite movie soon. By 2014, Bill Simmons will have written a column about this picture and lots of people like him who love Rocky and The Karate Kid and pictures like that are going to see this and be like “Wow, this is like that except the acting is better!” This only very recently fell out of my top 11, and I very well may start pretending that it didn't in a couple years once it develops its huge civilian cult following.


Hugo (dir. Martin Scorsese)

Almost. This one is almost one for the ages. If only it wasn't for that goddamn script . . . I mean, everything else is there, all the visual razzle-dazzle money can buy, Martin Scorsese directing his heart out, and by his heart I mean his whole heart, and yet . . . it's just short. And it's all the writing's fault. Literally everything else you can possibly ask for is all right there. Sigh.


Since cinema isn't just things screened in movie theaters, a couple other things warrant mentioning. HBO's Game of Thrones overcame a rocky start establishing tone and so forth to become a terrifically entertaining potboiler with a great cliffhanger ending. Very much looking forward to season 2. The long-awaited L.A. Noire was a little shaky, but I've played through the main story three times now, so clearly there's some there there. And then there was Sucker Punch, which although a movie wasn't really a movie, more like some strange and imperfect entity with its foot caught in the door between cinema and gaming, a tragically misunderstood attempt by Zack Snyder to make a pro-feminist statement, but whose ambition slightly exceeded his grasp as an artist, and whose good intentions were not helped by the feverish, hallucinatory action sequences. It deserved a bit more credit than most critics gave it, though I'll freely admit my initial review of the picture graded it on the curve for ambition.


Enough for the also-rans. Let's get to the list itself. The top 11 movies of 2011, as determined by the crack staff of one crackhead (rhetorical, not literal variety) here at Movies By Bowes™ are . . .


11—Rise of the Planet of the Apes: dir. Rupert Wyatt


Some of the above-listed also-rans were works of greater artistry than this, which had the distinction of being the best movie of the genus summer blockbuster this year. And there are certainly problems here and there: Freida Pinto's character is a bit flat (and not done any favors by Ms. Pinto's limited thesping skills) and Tom “Draco Malfoy” Felton is kind of ridiculous (though it's immensely satisfying when he gets owned.) But let's look at the last word in that parenthetical aside (parenthetical asides are a big part of what we do here at Movies By Bowes™): “owned.” This is a word I realize I've been throwing around a lot of late, and lest anyone get the idea that I'm just humping Zodiac Motherfucker's leg, the reason I conjugate the verb “to own” to describe decisive and violent victories physical, aesthetic, and moral is because the word has both a visually and aurally morphological perfection in describing what I'm trying to get at. The opening vowel rolls right into the consonant cluster quickly and smoothly, and the field of study, “ownage” has that extra soft crunch at the end that has a similar perfection of form. (Ed. Note: told y'all motherfuckers I was a serious intellectual. AND WHAT?)

That bit of unnecessary justification aside, the reason we're kicking this discussion off with this picture right here is that Rise was emblematic in a lot of ways of the year in cinema: a lot better than you thought it was going to be, and balancing thought-provoking content with wildly entertaining form. And if you've been following these pages since the summer, you know how I feel about Caesar, the leader of the revolution and the great fictional hero of the American Left. They should award Caesar a special Oscar and spend forty-five minutes of the fucking telecast having Cornel West interview Naomi Klein about how fucking rad Caesar is and have Rachel Maddow present the fucking thing in a bespoke tux. I'm serious.


10—Drive: dir. Nicolas (The Long And) Winding Refn


While we're on the subject of ownage in cinema, Drive was the year's most traditional contribution to the genre. I have very fond memories of the experience of seeing this, as this was the very movie that motivated me to figure out how to get invitations to press screenings (turned out they were delighted to have such a garrulously erudite gentleman such as my good self, but ya never know til ya try), and enabled me, hilariously, to pretend to be all cool and get the Self-Styled Siren in (she was very polite about my being such a n00b at the film writing game). I'll probably remember the screening longer than I will the movie, honestly.

That's not to say Drive isn't good. It's on this list, after all. The first hour and thirty five minutes of this picture contain some of the finest ownage yet lensed. The Long And Winding Refn knows how to direct a fucking movie, beyond any measure of doubt, and Baby Goose is goddamn tremendous in this. Christina Hendricks' ass stops clocks. Carey Mulligan was even good, even though her character doesn't have much to do, as her character is the archetypal noir “good girl in a bad situation” just like the rest of the movie, on paper, is boilerplate noir given life by the robust talents of the director, crew, and cast (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman as mobster brothers? Genius, especially Brooks).

But, as you may recall if you saw it, the movie isn't an hour thirty-five. It's an hour forty. The ending of the picture is kind of a problem, in that it doesn't have one. That doesn't make the rest of the picture any less awesome. The Long And Winding Refn may value style over substance, but right up til the last couple minutes kind of fart Drive is proof that something that's been done before can be great if done really, really well. Style being good enough negates substantive shortcomings round these parts.


9—Moneyball: dir: Bennett Miller


Another example of an exercise in a well-worn genre—the sports movie—made great by terrific execution and the occasional novel twist. Michael Lewis' book about the 2002 Oakland A's pissed off every boring old fuck in Major League Baseball, as all revolutions do: it revealed that objective statistical analysis of what was actually going on in baseball games made all those boring old fucks look really, really dumb.

Of course, being right isn't enough. Being right with Brad Pitt playing the main character and giving one of the two best performances of his career (more on which in a bit), on the other hand, is. Jonah Hill is great as Brad Pitt's nerd-de-camp (peace to Neal Stephenson in Cryptonomicon), playing a composite of a couple guys who crunched a bunch of numbers and figured out that the most important determinants of a batter's success weren't what the old dudes thought. Armed with that knowledge (and, something the book and movie both obscure, three of the best starting pitchers in the league that year) the A's end up doing way better than everyone who wrote them off after losing two stars to richer teams ever dreamed.

But for real, though? It's a cool story and everything but the thing that really makes it fly is how awesome both Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are. That, and the fact that Bennett Miller's attention to detail keeps any alienating lapses in verisimilitude from fucking things up. Oh, and the way the usual second-act home-run montage in baseball movies is now a huge dramatic thing about David Justice drawing a walk is fucking hilarious for baseball fans. But Brad Pitt's star power and the truly magnificent supporting performance Jonah Hill delivers make this a picture even non-fans can get down with, as evidenced by the hundreds of people I've heard say “I don't even like baseball and I fuckin' loved that.”


8—The Artist: dir. Michel Hazanavicius


Some people are turning against it because it's going to sweep the Oscars this year (Ed. Note: it's going to), but fuck that. The Artist is great. It's a classic “you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll laugh again, you'll cheer, and then you'll cry tears of joy at the beautifully sad ending” picture. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo (especially the latter) are enchanting, and even though Hazanavicius whiffs by about a decade and a half on the recreation of silent-era movies (it'd be a bulls-eye 1946) he still gets the feel right, and that's the important thing. This is a picture that's meant to be felt, and even though I'm very much up in my head experientially, maybe it's knowing intellectually that I was supposed to feel it made me rationally decide to feel it or something. Who fucking knows. Who fucking cares, more on point. All I know is I really liked this one and all of you people being hipsters about The Artist being sappy can eat a dick. You can also go back and dig up old reviews of Mary Pickford movies and look at all the old shitheads sniffing about how she was less than perfect, and be advised that those very shitheads who were wrong about Mary Pickford look an awful lot like you all do now. Just saying.


7—A Dangerous Method: dir. David Cronenberg


I've covered this one fairly extensively already, with a lot attention to its immaculate design and historical relevance, as well as the performance Keira Knightley turns in. One thing I haven't really talked about is how awesome Viggo is as Sigmund Freud. He disappears behind the beard and the cigar, transforming himself, managing to convey not only the intelligence but the eccentricity and (most impressively) insecurity of Freud. Weirdly, this movie seems to have slipped through the awards season cracks, which is really unfortunate, but the four of us who saw it all know how good it was. This is one, when the Blu-Ray comes out, you're going to want to get up on it quick, but make sure no one's around who's going to judge you for drooling over the cinematography and design.


6—Shame: dir. Steve McQueen


More Fassbender. A whole lot more Fassbender. Another one that I don't have much to add to what I've already written about it except to say I think the fine folks at the MPAA overreacted a bit giving this an NC-17. Sure, we see Fassbender's Penis, enough to both establish Fassbender's Penis as the new standard-bearer now that Ewan McGregor's Penis is retired. But all kidding aside, there have been R-rated movies with more dick shots. The female nudity is well within the territory of the R rating. The one scene where you might have a case for the NC-17 is the one where, after the impotence scene, Fassbender has that hooker up against the window. Maybe he had too many thrusts or something, but that scene's hardly meant to titillate; if anything, you feel bad for Fassbender that he has to frantically reassure himself that his many splendored penis still works. Especially the way the hooker is just like, “You sad bastard” afterward. Though, if it transpires that the reason it got the NC-17 is That One Bit Where Gay Stuff Happens I'm going to use curse words, because that would be really stupid.

In any case, the NC-17 was probably the best thing that could have happened to this picture, because if it had gone out as an R it would have just been this thought-provoking little art picture about sexuality, empathy, and self-reflection. And it still would have been this good, except this bit here would be about how obscure the picture was, because you all wouldn't know it as the Michael Fassbender's Penis picture. I mean, yes, that is a silly way to refer to this picture, but it is big.


5—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: dir. Tomas Alfredson


This was awesome. There's a lot of movie here, but if you pay attention it all makes sense; after about the fourth time they mention “Karla” you know who they're talking about, and that fucking great monologue Gary Oldman has about Karla clarifies things nicely. The cast is great. Benedict Cumberbatch deals with being the least-famous person in the movie the way the least-famous person in the movie is supposed to, by being really good. This has two of my favorite shots of the year, the Gary Oldman/David Dencik plane-taxiing-to-a-halt-behind-them shot and that tremendous Julio Iglesias-scored one at the end, pushing in on the one English guy who comes out of the whole mess on top (identity redacted cuz it's a bit of a spoiler), timed perfectly with the applause from the recording. The latter is a bit more stylized than the rest of the picture, but it's so good I don't care.


4—A Separation: dir. Asghar Farhadi


Say you mention a movie to someone (not always a civilian, though it will be most of the time) and they go “Oh, what's it about?” Some times you can describe it, with the odd interpolation of such and such an element being really cool, maybe a mention of a particularly memorable sequence, and the person you're talking to will be like “Oh, that sounds good, I'll check that out.” A Separation is the kind of picture you have to tell them “Just see it” because if you describe it it ends up sounding like one of those movies: it's almost all dialogue, which means it's almost all subtitles, and it's about the debilitating effects of totalitarianism on the family unit. I know, I can hear an orchestra of civilians snoring. That's why “Just see it” is the only way with this, because it's a knock-you-on-your-ass awesome movie with one of the most perfectly structured screenplays ever filmed and acting that's almost overwhelming it's so good (the director even managed to pull off nepotistic casting and get the best performance in the picture out of his own daughter, who plays the couple's daughter in the movie.)

Yeah, just see it.


3—The Descendants: dir. Alexander Payne


While we're talkin' about good screenplays, hooooooooly shit this one's good. I mean, the directing, acting, cinematography, and music are all great too but man there's some good writing in this picture. George Clooney's already been plenty good but this is the best performance of his career, playing a guy who's not cool, who's overwhelmed by the demands of suddenly being the only parent—in his own words, he was the “backup parent” to his now-comatose wife—as well as having the entire state of Hawaii waiting with bated breath on a decision he has to make about what's to be done with this massive bit of real estate his family owns and have a limited time to sell. The picture confronts a lot of difficult topics—mortality, race, family, masculinity—and doesn't take the easy way out with any of them. Just like this is Clooney's best performance, this might be Alexander Payne's best picture, and he's never directed a bad one.


2—The Tree of Life: dir. Terrence Malick


I still distrust a lot of people who toss Terrence Malick's named around, because there are a lot of people out there who want to seem smart, cultured, and serious, so they toss names of directors around when the topic of cinema comes up, and boom, mission accomplished. (On a related note, if I hear one more gratuitous reference to Rainer Werner Fassbinder I'm going to Hulk out and stomp a motherfucker.) As with most name-drop abuse, there's the unfortunate side effect of letting the frustration mislead one into forgetting that the reason why, when this game of name-drop telephone began, Terrence Malick's name was dropped so often is because he's a great filmmaker. The Tree of Life is a good reminder of that.

It's about the entire existence of everything everywhere, from the Big Bang,  to the formation of the Earth to existentially-concerned dinosaurs who stare off pensively into the distance (I fucking love that even the dinosaurs stare pensively into the distance in this picture) to the lives of one Midwestern family in the 1950s, to apocalypse, to the Afterlife. It puts just about every other picture described as “ambitious” to shame. And it realizes those ambitions as much as any picture directed by a mortal filmmaker can.

The thing I like the most about The Tree of Life is that, for all its breathtaking ambition and exquisite artistry, the characters of the family still resonate as fully realized human beings. This is rare in experimental filmmaking, where the star is the director and it's all about whatever statement the director is making. A lesser filmmaker would have rendered Brad Pitt's character as Stern One-Dimensional 50's Guy, Malick shows how that sternness is motivated by insecurity, fear, and the regretful acquiescence to perceived obligation. The kid character, loosely based on Malick himself, is no polished, burnished angel hero character; he's kind of a prick. That recognition of the complexity of life makes this picture a really special achievement. It also really moves, for such a complicated, unconventional Film (and it certainly is a “film”; if all “films” were this good I wouldn't be as uneasy with that word.)


And yes, that means that my number one for the year is . . .


1—Attack The Block: dir. Joe Cornish



“Whagwan, fam? Is you fucking mad?” Well, sure, I'm nuts. I know putting this ahead of Tree Of Life and all the other stuff on this list looks like a troll move, and I certainly know a lot of people think people like me are over-hyping Attack The Block to the point of undercutting the advocacy. But listen. I'm not that guy pulling that “there's something wrong with you if you don't like this” bullshit that makes people hate film critics. I realize that ultimately one person's awe-inspiring exercise in genre multiplicity/simultaneity, dialogue stylized to the point of musicality, and wonderfully fresh variation on the classic hero's journey is another person's “I don't get it.” Such is the way of the world.

But holy fuck I love this movie. I love the warmth of the colors, the way the kids go from criminals to heroes, the music, “dem tings,” Nick Frost as the local weed dealer, Pest, Jodie Whittaker, the girls, Hi-Hatz's terrible fucking rap song, and Moses. Moses saved the planet. He's a hero. And he's why, if you ask me what the likelihood of Attack The Block becoming a cult classic in the years to come and making everyone forget no one went to see it when it first came out, the only possible response is “Allow it.”


That's my best of 2011. See y'all in 2012, my lovelies.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

LET'S GIVE OUT SOME AWARDS! THE "BEST" OF 2011

The more generic the better, that's our motto.


This year, inspired by the glut of awards-season stuff I've been reading for weeks on Twitter, I decided to give out my own awards. Mine are free of the capricious political bullshit (to say nothing of the sentimentality) that infects the Oscars. No, mine are more likely to result in my accidentally awarding Best Supporting Actor to Rajon Rondo because I'm getting distracted by the Celtics-Heat game on the TV as I type this. Which would be a neat little surrealist statement about how stupid movie awards are, but I'm going to stay on topic. EVEN IF IT KILLS ME.

As you'll notice, there are categories here that you won't find on the Oscars. These awards, not having been voted on by any kind of electoral body or bunch of critics or even my mom or her cat—and lemme tell ya, the cat was pissed at the over-representation of dogs this year, damn—just me and my lil ol' foul-mouthed lonesome. So these are all my usual blend of hyper-erudite genius, axe-grinding, and wildly overblown advocacy. And, of course, lots and lots of fucking cursing. Which is why the only possible nickname for the first annual Movies By Bowes ™ Academy of Motion Picture Farts and Scientology Awards is . . . The Fuckos. Let us now begin. Some spoilers, unavoidably, so be forewarned.


ACTING:


Best Performance By An Actor, male: George Clooney, The Descendants. It's an amazingly good performance, with so much done in the eyes. It helps that the movie's fucking great too, but a huge part of it being great is Clooney. This was a great year for lead performances by men; there are at least seven that I wouldn't mind seeing win the Oscar. For the Oscar, because it'd be awesome, I'm advocating Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor, but this here's “best” and that means Clooney this year. Though seriously, Brad Pitt in Tree of Life or Moneyball, Clooney, Gary Oldman, the dude from The Artist, Andy Serkis in Rise of the Planet of the Apes . . . loaded fuckin' year.

Best Performance By An Actor, female: Keira Knightley, A Dangerous Method. When I first saw this, I couldn't quite figure out what it was about her performance that struck me as off. I thought it might have had something to do with Keira Knightley not having the formal training that Fassbender, Viggo, and everyone else had. But something I couldn't quite describe was telling me “Resist the knee-jerk reaction that she sucked. She didn't. Figure out why she didn't.” And the conclusion I came to was that her character (and characterization) was a challenge to the way men traditionally view women. She's very sexual but not in a way that's geared toward pleasing men. She's way the hell smart. And by the end of the picture, when she's figured out how to make her way in the world, she doesn't really need Fassbender (the POV character for dudes in the audience) anymore. So that's the character. As for the performance, Keira Knightley keeps throwing in these little darts to keep everyone off balance, so that no one, in the movie or out, quite knows what to make of her. She pulls all the focus to her, which sometimes works to the detriment of the movie at large but since A Dangerous Method is, more or less, all about her—she's the engine that drives the whole thing, including the Fassbender/Viggo Jung/Freud relationship—she did the job. And that's why Keira Knightley's performance in that picture deserves a little more love than she's been getting this award season. (6/1/12 EDIT: The preceding paragraph was written before I saw Young Adult. Charlize Theron was better. Sorry, Keira; I still stand by the above assessment of your performance, you have to share the trophy though.)

Best Performance By A Movie Star, male: I know, I know: “What the fuck, George Clooney's not a movie star?” Yeah, he totally is, he just happened to also out-act all the AC-TORRRRRs this year. This here's about swagger, ownage, and charisma, the un-subtle arts. And this category was looooooooooaded this year. From Vincenzo Gasolina (not to mention the Rock, nor Paul Walker) in Fast Five, to Baby Goose in Drive, to Salman Khan in Bodyguard, to Shahrukh Khan's both-barrels bid to reassert his status as king in Ra.One and Don 2 (hey, what can I say, they grow good movie stars in India, about which more later in the acting categories), it's Shahrukh's American analogue who takes this one: Tom Cruise, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Dude hung off the hundred and what the fuck floor of the fuckin Burj Khalifa (roughly “REALLY FUCKING TALL BUILDING” in Arabic) by himself and did all that wacky rappelling shit and propped himself up on the fucking building by basically telling the building “Building? I'm a fuckin movie star. I can just chill here, right?” and the building went, “Sure. You are Tom Cruise, after all.” It was real nice to see Tom Cruise be the Tom Cruise that made him Tom Cruise again. That movie was fucking dope. Good to have ya back, Tom.

Best Performance By A Movie Star, female: Rooney Mara, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I still think the book is horseshit and that Lisbeth Salander is a creepy jerk-off fantasy. But holy God Rooney Mara swaggered in that. The script material undercut her but she was just like “Fuck this shit, I didn't get all these piercings for real and start smoking for real and get in shape for all those nude scenes I didn't really need to do but did anyway because I ain't no punk . . . I didn't do all this fuckin shit to let a fuckin script undercut me. Prepare to be owned.” Et voila.

Best Performance By A Dog: Another weirdly loaded category this year. I was about an inch and a half from giving this to that wonderfully taciturn long-faced dog in Hugo, especially because Marty being a wise-ass with the 3D really let us into that dog's trip, but I have to be a conventional asshole and give this one to Uggie in The Artist. It is “best” performance by a dog, after all.

Best Performance By A Cat: The Cat, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Before Stieg Shithead Larsson (spoiler alert) iced the cat in a sensationalist hysterical bid to get the audience to really hate the bad guy, there was enough business with the cat that Daniel Craig got to chill with him a bit and let David “Honey Badger” Fincher make the dumb joke “huh huh Blomkvist is a pussy, get it? Hahahahaha” because why not. I liked that cat. I didn't like him getting iced. (End spoiler)

Best Performance by a Dude Playing A Chimp: This whole category is just cuz of Andy Serkis in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar is truth. Caesar is revolution. Caesar Occupies your entire shit. Yeah a huge part of that was the VFX, but they just rendered what Serkis gave 'em. Don't forget this movie, and don't sleep on it. This was good stuff.

Raddest Old Guy: Amitabh Bachchan, Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap. He is the Big B. All hail. There were other cool things about this movie, like Sonu Sood and the adorable Charmy (oh, Charmy . . .) but it would have just been another “meh, whatever” picture without Amitabh holding it the fuck down in the lead. He's pushing 70 but still owned the living crap out of every bad guy in the whole picture without even smudging any of those crazy white suits of his.

Best Nudity: This is a total protest category about how all the goddamn time in movies filmmakers feel like they have to justify nudity or de-eroticize it and it all has to be for some kind of “purpose.” Fuck that shit. So, while 2011 featured a lot of very attractive actresses appearing full-frontally nude, the context was frequently such that the audience was being scolded not to find it hot. Emily Browning in Sleeping Beauty, lit and made up luminously, is being pawed by skeevy old dudes, who are saddened by the experience (also that movie is inert, miserable crap). Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, we already covered that. So I guess by default it's Carey Mulligan in Shame because at least, brother-sister weirdness aside when Fassbender finds her in the shower, she's just kinda kickin' it, and she does look good, and the purpose of the scene isn't to leer over her or make her into some bullshit fantasy character. Actually, my rationalization just convinced me to strike the “default” part of that. Carey Mulligan, Shame.

Best Dudity: Michael Fassbender, Shame. Of course it was him. It had to be him. Michael Fassbender has a very good chance of being the first actor in the history of the Oscars whose penis gets a nomination while he splits the vote between his performances in this, Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method, and X-Men. Cue months of tabloid stories about the split in the partnership between Michael Fassbender's Penis and Michael Fassbender; Fassbender's penis will go off to LA and make big gaudy movies and wear gold chains and hang out with fast women and start doing coke, while Fassbender spends most of his time bereft, on airplanes, heading to do another play or art movie, missing his old friend, before a tearful reunion in the third act preceding a renewed and glorious collaboration as the music and credits swell. A final kiss will only be possible if Fassbender does some serious yoga in preparation.


DIRECTING:

Steven Spielberg, energized by War Horse and Tintin, plans to direct this many movies in 2012

Best Directing, Big Budget: Martin Scorsese, Hugo. I had problems with this picture but exactly none of them had anything to do with what Marty S. brought to the table. Marty had a big fuckin' vision, he got someone to give him $150 million and some 3D cameras and he went and got a DP and a design team that'll make ya change gods. Marty got performances out of the kids, he kept Sacha Baron Cohen from flipping out and taking over the movie, and he got Ben Kingsley and said, “Be Ben Kingsley.” And Ben Kingsley said, “Fuck that, I'm gonna be George Méliès.” And Marty said, “Works for me. See you on set.” This picture drove me bonkers while I was watching it because I wanted to go find the writers and kick them in the balls for not being able to keep up with Marty's brain, but the more I think about it, the more I'm like, goddamn, that Marty S. sure knows what the hell he's doing with this filmmaking racket. If he keeps it up he might make something of himself.

Best Directing, Small Budget: Joe Cornish, Attack The Block. Yeah, $13 million's a lot of money in regular people terms, but it's a fuck of a lot less than 150, and Attack The Block's a better movie than Hugo is, so the math is pretty much done. In ten years, people are going to be like, “Yeah, I saw Attack The Block in theaters” and people are going to be like “Whooooooa . . . cool!” Because in ten years Attack The Block is going to be a cult classic of near-Lebowski (chill the fuck out, I said “near”) proportions. This is absolute. Quote this back to me in ten years and I'll say, “Don't ever argue with the big dog, the big dog's always right.”

Best Directing of Actors: Alexander Payne, The Descendants. This would have been close if Woody hadn't fucked up Rachel McAdams' character in Midnight In Paris, but he did, so it's not. Payne got performances out of George Clooney, multiple different kids (the youngest we can credit to Payne and maybe even Nick Krause as Sid channeling a hetero Keanu, but to be fair, when Shailene Woodley decides it's time to move on from that life of the American teenager show or whatever it is, she's going to be just fine with or without Alexander Payne), Beau Bridges, and the less scary killer from Scream, who's now all growns up and stuff. They all feel like real people who are of that place; whether or not they actually resemble native Hawaiians is up to Hawaiians to say, but there's a great connection between the actors and the place, and it's a movie to a very large degree about place. And that's that.

Best Directing of Ownage Sequences: Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive. Could just as easily have been Justin Lin for Fast Five, Brad Bird in Mission Impossible: Motherfuckers I Shot Tom Cruise Hanging Off The Top Of The Fucking Burj Khalia: A Brad Bird Film Directed By Brad Bird's Testicles (the only reason he doesn't win this is because Tom Cruise owning Michael Nyqvist at the end wasn't as impressive as it might have been because, come on, Michael Nyqvist? Still a pretty cool sequence with all the moving parts, but definitely loses points because by that point Tom Cruise has demonstrated sufficient awesomeness that getting his ass kicked by the guy from the shitty Swedish Girl With The Dragon Tattoo seemed implausible.) No, The Long And Winding Refn takes this one because hammers, straight razors, and Clippers games. And for involving Albert Brooks in an enterprise where he owns someone somehow other than verbally (and then doing it again) and having the audience be like, “Daaaaaaaamn, Albert Brooks a bad motherfucker!” rather than “Really? Albert Brooks? Please.” That right there wins this category, no question.

Best Understated Yet Vividly Clear Political Statement: Asghar Farhadi, A Separation. This movie was so goddamn good you forget it's a foreign movie—shit, I forgot I was reading subtitles—because the people are so recognizably and universally people. Then you're like, why's she so dead set on amscraying the country with the daughter (who's amazing in this, by the way), and why are these random schlubs in shitty offices wielding omnipotent power over these people's . . . ohhhh, right. It's a totalitarian regime where religion and the state control everything. That didn't even hit me until the final scene, at which point it just popped up in high definition like, “oh yeah, none of this shit needed to happen.” (Ed. Note: the reason Rise of the Planet of the Apes didn't take this is, if you'll recall, the political message wasn't subtle. It was “FUCK THE STATE, WE DROP EVIL WHITE GUYS IN SUITS OFF OF BRIDGES IN FLAMING HELICOPTERS UP IN THIS. WHAT.”)

Most Unexpected Homage: Woody's fucking Inception trip in the Belle Époque sequence in Midnight In Paris. Okay, okay, I know it wasn't a straight-up homage to Inception. It just needs mentioning how great Midnight In Paris was a few dozen more times. And because the idea of Woody Allen directing Inception is really funny.


VISUALS & EDITING:

Raoul Coutard

Achievement in Camera Mastery: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree Of Life. Know why all the voice-overs in that were spoken in stunned fragmented whispers? They were watching the dailies while trying to talk. Those images were powerful, dude.

Most Immersive Production Design: The team that brought you Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I said in my Tor.com review, it felt like they had a time machine and shot on location in the 1970s. And, well, yeah. It felt like they had a time machine and shot on location in the 1970s.

Best Use of Visuals As an Expository Tool: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. They packed hundreds of pages of Stieg Larsson's bullshit into brisk, completely coherent minutes. That picture may have been two and a half hours but it was a fast two and a half, for sure.

Best Shot: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Gary Oldman + David Dencik + airplane slowly taxiing up behind them. Mmm mmm mmm that's some good stuff. Though, call me crazy, that one continuous shot in Hanna when Eric Bana walks through the airport, gets each baddie hiding behind each pillar to start following him, then lures them down into that underground walkway and owns all of them, concluding with throwing a knife through a dude's face (done without cutting away!) is a close second, and even better than Joe Wright's massive Dunkirk shot in Atonement, which was cool but it was also the only good thing about that movie. But there's something to be said for understated subtlety, which is why the Tinker Tailor airplane shot takes this one.

Uncanny Valley Memorial Achievement in VFX Verisimilitude: Rise. Dude Caesar was fucking real. (Resisted the urge to give this to the kid in Hugo, because otherworldly though he and those anime blue eyes were, he actually was a real person, I'm told.)

Best Editing, Action Movie: Drive. Cheating slightly because it's not an action movie, per se (as that batshit insane lawsuit plaintiff realized, much to her dismay) but the action sequences in this are put together fucking amaaaaaazingly. Patience goes well with action. Who knew?

Best Editing, Non-Action Movie: A Separation. Trust, that editing is crazy good. That movie isn't much more than people talking for an hour forty but damn is it ever intense. That's part writing and part performances, but the medium is montage. (Not in the Team America sense, wiseass, we talkin bout Eisenstein.)

Best Editing, “Damn, that picture didn't feel near that long” category: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Two and a half hours, and it barely felt half that. Runner-up, Fast Five, which—bizarrely—was two hours and twenty minutes long. It felt like the hour forty-five it should have been in any rational universe, which leads me to believe that Justin Lin might know the Jedi mind trick.


MUSIC:


Best Original Score: Attack The Block. Nothing else other than Hanna even need think about asking to be part of this category; while the Chemical Brothers did an excellent job with that, that movie wasn't propelled by the score to the same extent Attack The Block was. Attack The Block owns all. Not only does it work perfectly in the movie, it's the best goddamn writing music ever recorded.

Best Original Song: “Life's A Happy Song,” The Muppets. Though I'll hear arguments for several other songs from that movie. And the title song from Bodyguard, with the whistle-whistle, flex-flex, guitar-guitar hook. But “Life's A Happy Song” for the win.

Best Basically Original Song: “A Real Hero,” Drive. Everyone whined about it being in their heads for weeks/months afterward but you know why? Because it's a good song, that's why.

Best Use of a Previously Existing Song: the Soviet national anthem, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. That scene at the Circus' Christmas party before any of the bad shit happens, and they're all a little lit and start singing along . . . that's just awesome. It's a nerd joke, it's them kind of making a dark joke about the enemy, but also, all political implications aside, that's a really good fucking song; The Hunt For Red October would have won this category with the same song in 1990.

Best Song Cast As Pearls Before Swine In A Shitty Movie: “Shelter,” The xx, I Am Number Four. Terrible movie, and the song was used really badly, just because the xx were trendy when they were shooting the movie. But, even though no one cares about the xx anymore (nor do they care about I Am Number Four, thankfully), this song is still great and their album has a bunch of other good stuff on it.

Best Soundtrack: Midnight In Paris. Seriously. This might have been Woody's best soundtrack ever. “But what about the soundtrack to Drive?” What about the soundtrack to Drive? Woody's got Sidney Bechet, Josephine Baker and Jacques fucking Offenbach on this fuckin thing. The soundtrack to The Descendants with all the Hawaiian stuff is right up there, but when Woody's awake and paying attention to detail, really good things happen.


SILLINESS:

All due respect to Melissa McCarthy, this was the year's breakout comedienne.

Best Joke: When Kumar goes to cop some weed off Patton Oswalt's mall Santa in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, and he's going through all the Christmas-themed kinds of weed and a couple Hanukah ones, Kumar mentions something being as good as the “Diwali Dank” Patton Oswalt had had in October. That was a damn good joke.

Funniest Movie: The Trip. Going by US release date, it totally counts. GENTLEMEN TO BED.

Achievement in Unintentional Comedy: Atlas Shrugged, Part 1. Everything about this is funny, from the fact that they made a movie out of the most boring part of Atlas Shrugged, to the fact that the adaptation goes out of its way to make the material seem as dumb as possible. Not enough was made out of the fact that the director voted for Barack in '08; this movie seems like an out-and-out trollpiece, presenting Atlas Shrugged just straight enough that all the Randian dummies will get boners about there being an Atlas Shrugged movie, but engaging in a whole bunch of subtle acts of sabotage (and some not subtle ones, like directing the male and female lead, the latter of whom can be seen in the above photo, to act like robot tards) so that the end result just flat-out fucking sucks. I cannot wait for parts two and three. Can. Not. Wait. The only way to improve on the first one is by hiring Tommy Wiseau.

Best Deadpan: Corey Stoll as Hemingway in Midnight In Paris. That speech he gives Owen Wilson capped with “Think about it” was gold.


OWNAGE:

The concept, reified.

Best Car Chase: Oddly enough, I think I gotta go with Priyanka chasing Shahrukh in Don 2. All charges of n00b infatuation with Bollywood can be referred to my dick. The car chases in Fast Five, the seeming clear favorite, were great and everything, but they were just like the car chases in the other four movies. And Drive was Drive, but that was more “good filmmaking” than “dope car chases,” which aren't mutually exclusive or anything, but when I think car chases I think of the director turning to some Australian 2nd unit director with an incomplete complement of eyes and limbs and going “it's all yours,” to which the Australian replies “Lit's git ta fuckin wehhk, mate!” and next thing you know stunt drivers are nearly getting blown up driving Dodge Chargers through oil tankers and shit. (Ed. Note: Australians own.) Now, the car chase in Don 2 wasn't, on the surface, all that flashy. It was just a basic meat-and-potatoes car chase, but with an ineffable batshit insanity that made it fucking rad. Also, Shahrukh fucking destroys his car, and as we all learned from The Blues Brothers (in which is the greatest car chase of all time) at the end of the car chase the car has to just be like fuck it. I'll debate this one, but only to a certain point.

Best Fight: Vincenzo vs. The Rock in Fast Five. Just don't even step to this one. I don't care that Justin Lin gets trendy with the shaky cam. I don't care that it was relatively short. It's Vincenzo Gasolina fighting against The Fucking Rock.

Best violent death: In a year with many contenders, among them several grisly ownings in the bullshit historical epic Ironclad, the gorilla grabbing his nuts and going “sure, I can take on a helicopter with machine gun turrets with nothing but my bare hands” (not only did he win, the evil white guy in a suit—who was played by a black actor, proving that Evil White Guy In A Suit is an attainable state of mind that crosses racial barriers, just as Cate Blanchett proved in Hanna that it transcends gender barriers too—eats it in the ensuing crash) in Rise, and The Rock casually putting two in Joaquim de Almeida's dome without breaking stride to go be homoerotic with Vincenzo, the prize has to go to Albert Brooks owning Bryan Cranston with that straight razor in Drive. He slices his wrists open lengthwise, and then while Cranston bleeds out he's like reassuring him that the worst part is over and he'll be dead soon. I mean holy fucking shit. Albert Brooks. Good God.

Best shirt removal: This is only a category so I can say what's up to Salman Khan in Bodyguard. The way the water hose filled his shirt up with water til it exploded, revealing Salman's muscles really needs to be seen to be believed. It manages to simultaneously be hilarious, ridiculous, awesome, and frankly kind of inspiring. And each quality depends on the simultaneity with the other three. There really is only one Salman Khan.

Greatest “Go fuck yourself” moment: The above-mentioned bit with the Rock casually putting two in Joaquim de Almeida's dome without breaking stride to go be homoerotic with Vincenzo, in Fast Five. I mean, come on. It's a shame JDA couldn't have still been alive for a second to be like, “Wow, yeah, okay, I understand the magnitude to which I just got owned.”

Best explosion: Gotta be when John Boyega, as Moses, detonates his apartment to kill all of “dem tings” at the end of Attack The Block. Not only was it a cool explosion, it was also Moses. Moses saved the fucking planet. Trust.

Best revolution: Caesar. Rise.

Awesomest hero: Moses. Attack The Block. Which, by the way, for anyone wondering how the Badass World Cup turned out, an update: there was a huge scandal surrounding North American Group Stage, when due to the fact that none of the participants would concede, America ended up pulling some 1980 Moscow Olympics shit and decided to withdraw from the competition entirely. The rest of the world kind of shrugged and went, “Well, with Makmende, Mad Max, the guy from The Secret In Their Eyes, Moses, and Tequila and Tony, America wouldn't even be a top seed, and fuck you guys for not letting Canada and Mexico play.” The only thing is, with America out of the Cup, American media stopped treating the Cup as if it existed (same as it ever was) and the wildly entertaining knockout stages, resulting in Moses' eventual victory, were lost to posterity. (Ed. Note: rumors that the real explanation is that Movies By Bowes ™ simply got bored with the conceit and had to write about other shit to pay the bills are scurrilous fucking Communism.) The point is, Moses is a hero. He saved the planet from dem tings. You do not attack the block and not get owned.


And those, dear readers, are the first annual Fucko Awards! Tune in in a couple days for the Top 11 movies of 2011!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

THE DIRECTOR WITH THE HONEY BADGER TATTOO

David Fincher don't give a shit.

I have a long and complicated relationship with David Fincher's cinema. His movies look and sound amazing; his visual style is uniquely his own and he has a very strong understanding of the effectiveness of sound and music. I like that he likes fucking with people, even if that means I have to brace myself before watching one of his pictures, because it's good when artists fuck with people. Comfort is a slippery slope to unconsciousness, a lot of times. And as a fan of cinematic violence, I have to give it up: David Fincher does violence well, and violently. In the fine art of ownage, he has few peers, even fewer living.

In spite of the fact that I like his movies—yes, even Panic Room; it wasn't good but craft'll take a picture a long way when the talent level's this high—a lot of David Fincher's fans irritate me. I should say, a particular (and large) subset of his fans annoy me, namely young men who've seen Se7en and Fight Club 8000 times, refer to him by last name only, and act as if he's the only person who's ever directed a movie in the history of ever. He's not the only one (see the intro to this post for some discussion of some of the others) but it still irritates me when mouthbreathers who don't know shit from shinola start getting all huffy about cinema and acting like “FINCHER” farts rose petals and has never shot a single frame of film that was anything less than perfect. This is not the case. He has the same Achilles' heel as every single other director since the dawn of the medium who doesn't write his own scripts: he's at the mercy of his screenwriter, and by extension, the source material that screenwriter is working from. Which brings us, even though that isn't a problem here (I regret nothing about having misled you by making an irrelevant point), The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

The Millenium trilogy, the Men Who Hate Women books (their literal title in Swedish), The Girl With/Who series (their English titles), whatever you want to call the late Stieg Larsson's fiction, are immensely popular. They concern the adventures of the dashingly handsome, politically progressive, staggeringly brilliant journalist Mikael Blomkvist (by whom every woman in the known universe wants to be sexed, and who bears a sneakily suspicious resemblance to one Herr S. Larsson) and the goth/punk/club-kidded out, anarchistically-inclined, off-the-charts genius computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, who is (of course) omnisexual and has the most raging case of Asperger's on record. And wants to fuck Blomkvist, of course.

I'm not a fan. The books, in varying states of completion when Larsson died, lack dramatic focus, are larded with reams of unnecessary detail, and despite endless lists of place names with 2.8 umlauts per syllable, not particularly tied to their setting; you could go in and replace all the proper nouns and voila, they're in Minneapolis instead of Stockholm and nothing of value has been changed whatsoever. Still, in spite of all this, there's the occasional good bit to be found. I wouldn't give a shit to the extent to be this irritated by them if they were totally worthless. Take Salander: she may be a total author fantasy character and have no resemblance to a real human being and her emotionless response to the horrors visited on her is a little creepy and weird if you think about it for too long, but she still fucks shit up like a legend, and while her cultural resonance is largely with people unfamiliar with cyberpunk character archetypes (from which she is drawn whole and intact with no alterations necessary), that resonance has nonetheless been massive. And, for better or worse, she's a character that's virtually crying out (in Swedish-accented English) to David Fincher: “Direct me!”

More than anything else, it's the realization of Salander that made it absolutely necessary for David Fincher to make a movie of this material. There were Swedish film versions of all three books, in which Noomi Rapace made a name for herself (and attracted the attention of Hollywood, in which she now has a burgeoning career, with Sherlock Holmes 2: Bigger and Blacker and next summer's eagerly anticipated Prometheus; she's doin' ok for herself these days, and her excellent performances in the Swedish movies were directly responsible). Problem is, aside from her, the movies weren't any good. They were cold, inert, and way too big, kind of like glaciers. But their level of reverence to the source material made them quite popular with people who already liked the books, since they left nary an umlaut behind in bringing every last page of the books to (relative) cinematic life. And, being that these movies already existed, there was a bit of rhetorical questioning as to why American versions needed to be made, and a bit of harrumphing about Hollywood's habit of backstroking nude through enormous piles of cash. The thing about that is, no shit. Hollywood likes money, and they think “scruples” are what happens when your septum collapses from doing too much cocaine. We already know this. Occasionally, in their quest to make further and larger fuckloads of money, they realize that occasionally smart business decisions and smart artistic decisions have overlap. As they do in the case of hiring David Fincher to direct The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

As a business decision, it's what people in the habit of using phrases like “a slam dunk” call a slam dunk. While I might poke holes in his feature film work, David Fincher is beyond any reasonable measure of debate the best commercial director who ever lived. His ability to create images that are (all at once) lushly gorgeous, shocking, and disturbing is peerless. This has translated to his becoming one of the greatest ever in the slightly longer and very similar form of the music video, and with a directly proportionate diminishing in stature and effectiveness to the length of the form, an interesting and thoroughly singular director of feature motion pictures. Please note that this is a testament to how good he is as a commercial director, rather than a slight on his features, the majority of which are quite good. He has an absolute and manifest understanding of branding, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is very much a brand. More than that, though, it's a brand with no small degree of abyss-gazing with regards to sex, violence, and the overlap between them. David Fincher is no stranger to violence, and while the sex in his pictures has almost exclusively been subtext (aside from the Tyler Durden/Marla Singer couplings in Fight Club) the brand of sex found in Larsson's novels is so often associated directly with violence that that's hardly a stretch for David Fincher, and even less of one for his branding superhero alter ego . . . FINCHER ™.

Where the appropriation of the FINCHER ™ brand makes artistic sense is the fact that FINCHER ™ is not one to take orders. Tell him what to do, he tells you to go fuck yourself. Thus, in order to brand the American movies as an entity separate from the Swedish ones and assert the necessity of their existence, a director with some artistic cachet (i.e. FINCHER ™) is near essential, but the reason why the specific director for the job is FINCHER ™ is his subversive streak. This is a calculated gamble, because while there's always the danger someone could choose to subvert the material in some way that could totally fuck things up, someone with an understanding of branding is less likely to fuck with stuff too much. Or, in other words, the degree of subversion you're going to get is more in toying with subtext and streamlining rather than any kind of radical changes. And that's exactly what I liked about David Fincher's take on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. (Note: hereafter be spoy-laaaaaaz)


This version eschews the book's digressions and zooms through the establishment of journo-protagonist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig)'s situation (hewroteathingaboutarichguywhofuckedhimoverandnowhisreputation'sinruins; that's about as easy to read as it is to follow in the movie) and wastes just as little time setting up Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) as a pierced, tattooed, eyebrow-less hacker dressed in all black who's at the mercy of bureaucrats due to her anti-social streak. Still, with all the streamlining in Steven Zaillian's adaptation, and the immense amount of exposition David Fincher and DP Jeff Cronenweth manage to convey visually, it still takes a while to introduce the main story, where elderly industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) hires Blomkvist to investigate the decades-old mystery of the disappearance (and almost-certain murder) of his niece Harriet. And, by necessity, the large and nasty Vanger family. It takes even longer for Blomkvist to hire Salander as his research assistant, but hey. Sometimes things take a while. (And sometimes they involve a whole massive creepy subplot involving Salander being sexually abused by her bureaucratic overseer that you'd think could be cut with no net loss other than one of the most fucked-up rape scenes ever filmed except, whoops, that sets up the whole plot of the second movie so it needs to be in there; I know it's part of what the book and the series at large is about, but it's still fucking fucked the fuck up.)

Blomkvist, with the help of an off-hand comment made by his daughter, catches on to a Biblical connection with Harriet's disappearance, and with Salander's help, discovers a related series of sex murders of women, though Salander notes Harriet seems to be an aberration within this whole thing. They find out a whole lot more about how the Vangers are fucked up and Nazis and really unpleasant shitheads and stuff, which eventually leads to the inevitable revelation that the big nasties in re: the sex murders have been perpetrated by Vangers. In particular (major major big-ass huge spoiler after pic, proceed no further 'less you already read/saw this) . . .




. . . Stellan Skarsgard. The problem with watching movies is that the second Stellan Skarsgard shows up in an American movie, you know he's up to no good. He's Stellan Skarsgard. Even if you don't remember from the book that Martin is the Vanger with the sex-killing hobby, you see Stellan Skarsgard and you're like “okay, the secret entrance to the sex-killing dungeon is probably behind the wine rack, it wouldn't be behind the bookcase, because that's where they're expecting us to think it is.” Cuz, c'mon y'all, for real: when Stellan Skarsgard shows up in a movie you know what the fuckin deal is.

So Stellan Skarsgard bushwacks Daniel Craig and ties him up in his sex-killing FINCHER ™ dungeon. Where there's a reel-to-reel tape recorder, because awesome. And the best David Fincher-y fuck you to everything ever (THAT I ABSOLUTELY FUCKING LOVED) . . . Stellan Skarsgard throws on Enya when it's time to sex-kill. Oh lordy lordy that's a fuckin brilliant touch. I . . . just . . . wow. Enya. Stellan Skarsgard. David Fincher, I hope when you're 90 and looking back on your life's feats, you start doing that old man laugh with the whole top half of your body and go “Heh heh heh, I had Stellan Skarsgard put on Enya . . . hehehehehe yep, I own.”

Anyway. In an extremely effective bit of cross-cutting, Salander gradually realizes that the sex murders were done by the late Gottfried Vanger and his son Martin, and just in the nick of time manages to save Blomkvist by barging into Martin's sex-killing dungeon and owning him in the face with a golf club, leading to a snazzy car chase, leading to Martin's car exploding without Salander having to do anything (even though she was totally prepared to light Martin up with his own gun, and in fact was juuuust about to when his car blew up).

After all the adrenaline wears off, it occurs to Blomkvist and Salander that they still don't have any evidence that Harriet Vanger was actually killed. In very brisk, blink-and-you'll-miss-the-extrapolations couple of minutes, our heroes figure out that Harriet is not dead, and is in fact living in London under her sister's (or cousin's? I'm not quite sure, but there's a pretty funny joke about Blomkvist not being able to keep all the Vangers straight early on that Daniel Craig plays perfectly, more on which in a bit) identity, a fact that was not exactly tipped in her brief appearance earlier, though the audience was given a heavy wink and nudge that Joely Richardson Knows Something About This Whole Mess that is paid off when the unmasked Harriet (Joely Richardson) knows everything about this whole mess, and reveals to Blomkvist that she faked her death to get away from evil rapist Martin after having earlier owned evil rapist Gottfried upside the head with an oar.

Blomkvist exhales, is exonerated, and then there's an extended denouement where Salander fucks over the guy who ruined Blomkvist's reputation at the beginning and loots his bank accounts to the tune of two billion Euros. She celebrates by buying Blomkvist a leather jacket for Christmas, only to go over to Blomkvist's and see him with his arm around his on-and-off married girlfriend. Having had a fair bit of fun fucking Blomkvist earlier and actually falling for him, Salander is pissed, tosses the jacket, and rides her famous motorcycle out of frame and the ending is gloriously bleak, the sound of FINCHER ™ astrally cackling reverberating over the closing titles.

As someone who, to put it mildly, was deeply impatient with many aspects of the book (and, by extension, the tirelessly faithful Swedish movie) I consider the Zaillian/FINCHER ™ take on the material to be a vast improvement, in that it trims a lot of the fat and makes the narrative not only walk a straight line, but sprint. The cinematography makes even the grimiest, ugliest, shadowiest parts of the movie look like polished jewels, and—definitely for the better—takes the edge off some of the jaw-dropping nastiness depicted. There is an argument that, since things like rape and mutilation (human and animal) exist in life, to shy away from depicting them is cowardice and a willful denial of their existence. Only thing is, in a locked-room mystery hinging crucially on multiple enormous fucking coincidences and a whooooole bunch of people not bothering to check certain things that people frequently check on (not to mention the entire story kind of rests on us simultaneously believing Henrik Wanger to be likeable, intelligent, competent, and yet not aware that despite the fact that he has untold thousands of pages of dirt on his entire family that Gottfried and Martin are multiple rapist/murderers, and Martin's fucking sex-killing Enya dungeon is in his own fucking house which is line of sight from Henrik's) we can't really be playing the reality card. Just, no.

As rifuckingdiculous as the story is, FINCHER ™ et al still tell it exceedingly well. It benefits from two terrific lead performances. Not that Daniel Craig should get a cookie for daring to play a flawed, passive man or anything, but it should be noted: homes is James Bond. And the way Steve Zaillian and David Fincher read Blomkvist, and the way Daniel Craig in turn plays him, is actually a far cry from the Stieg Larsson wish-fulfillment character he comes across as in the book. In this movie, he's the dumb girl character who opens the door in the haunted house with the monster behind it. Literally. He just wanders into Martin “Stellan Skarsgard” Vanger's house all derpy-derpty-doo like nothing could possibly happen to him, and if not for the “guy” (Salander) saving him, his pretty little blond ass would have been lutfisk. Peter Gutierrez wrote a great article about the gender reversals in this picture for Twitch, and he's absolutely right: Daniel Craig is the pretty blond in this picture. There's this very funny scene later that hammers it home when Blomkvist and Salander are fucking and he's saying something about the mystery and Salander makes him shut up while she comes. Craig, as Blomkvist, has this priceless look on his face like, “But . . . I'm the dude . . . right? Why is she . . . why am I . . . huh.” Craig plays it extremely well. He manufactures a number of beautifully real moments (like when he can't keep all the Vangers straight and just little things like stubbing his toe and cursing and stuff; he does all the little things so well that they add up to an enormously successful whole). Blomkvist is just kind of, for lack of a less reductive and potentially-argument-undoingly offensive term, a pussy.

Salander, on the other hand, gets to do all kinds of fun “dude” stuff, like riding motorcycles, tasering motherfuckers, ownage, even having sex with chicks. And the superior focus of this movie's script and direction (not to mention an absolutely fucking jaw-dropping, balls-clanking performance by Rooney Mara; fuck any sense that she's being overhyped, Rooney Mara is the fucking truth) go a long way toward making this point of Salander as superhero. Her badassness in the movie is sufficient that it doesn't even matter that she's an author fantasy character. In fact, the case for this character as an actual badass is made well enough in this movie that I'll concede that that was how she was originally intended. That intent is still undone a bit by the fact that the story has to go and have Salander raped, and simply not react to that rape in any kind of recognizably human way. I know thousands of fans of the books are throwing up their hands like “not this shit again,” but there is no objective defense possible of the whole Rapey McFuckface subplot in this story. Gottfried and Martin Vanger are more than enough to make the “evil that men do” point, without having to gratuitously undercut the (already flimsy) plausibility of Salander's whole character. If you have Rapey McFuckface the bureaucrat abusing someone else and have Salander's whole taser-hogtie-blackmail-tattoo business be in revenge of that act, you lose none of her badassness. You also don't have the absolute, irretrievable loss of any sense of the character of Salander as a human being. To paraphrase Roger Ebert, you need to suspend your disbelief already with Salander, and this disbelief is too heavy to bear that weight.

But I'm someone who used to be famous for assuring people things like “Dude, the first 200 pages of that book suck but the rest of it is awesome” and “The second lead gives one of the worst performances I've ever seen, but you gotta see that movie.” And thus, in spite of the source material being unforgivably lousy, I still very much enjoyed David Fincher's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The greatest commercial director who ever lived sold me a product I strongly disliked. The male lead redeemed a character I wanted to kick in the balls by retracting those balls and outright playing the character as dithering, passive, and lucky rather than good. The female lead redeemed a character I'd dismissed as a creepy whack-off fantasy, and not even by being something other than that thing, but by being so goddamned good in the role that I'm forced to be like, “All right, you may be playing a creepy whack-off fantasy, Rooney Mara, but you got massive stones and you turned in a really fucking good performance.”

Basically what I'm saying is, David Fincher is as good a director as all his fans who annoy me think he is. The only counterargument I have is that other directors exist. But holy shit. David fucking Fincher sure is talented. If he doesn't come back, producer Scott Rudin may need to bring Orson Welles, Francois Truffaut, Sidney Lumet, and Alfred Hitchcock back from the dead and make a fuckin chimera out of those motherfuckers (provided the flimsy certainty of them even being the right motherfuckers) because the next book might be a bridge too far. That one's really bad. Guess we'll find out how good a necromancer Rudin (along with whatever writer and director he gets if Steve Z. and FINCHER ™ don't come back) is round about 2014 or so.

Til then . . . merry Christmas! Hahahahaha oh man I kind of feel bad for dropping this one today. But not really.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"BEST FIGHT SCENE OF ALL TIME" SUMS IT UP NICELY, IN A MANNER OF SPEAKING



I think I sprained a kidney laughing at this clip. It's from a movie called Undefeatable, which I never want to see in order to preserve the experiential perfection of watching this clip and having no idea who these dipshits are.

GUY PEARCE SURE CAN TAKE A PUNCH



A EuropaCorp SF movie starring Guy Pearce, Shannon from Lost, and Peter Stormare as the Evil White Guy In A Suit? FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK YES.

Monday, December 19, 2011

5 DIRECTORS REMAKE BEVERLY HILLS COP


The other day I was on the subway, in the midst of a longish journey, and serendipitously decided to listen to the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack on my iPod. Whence the serendipity? I'm glad you asked. As all reliable determinant metrics show, Beverly Hills Cop is the perfect pop movie. It has Eddie Murphy at the height of his powers, a great supporting cast, a script that balanced action and comedy better than any other, and (per the inspiration for this musing) one of the best soundtracks ever. It was enormously popular, and despite both sequels sucking polar bear dick its memory is un-fuck-with-able.

Still, with the apparent mission in Hollywood to remake every movie released in the 1980s, there remains a possibility, however slim, that Beverly Hills Cop might join the parade. This is something I would prefer not to happen. I mean, I'm not climbing the walls in existential dread and hissing jeremiads in Latin at passersby (that's Wednesday night) but it is a fear. In the interests of making the best of a bad situation, I propose that rather than try—and fail—to recapture the original's perfection as pop, that we go a different direction. As the good doctor said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get weird.” In that vein, here is Beverly Hills Cop as remade by five international directors of varying degrees of renown:


Catherine Breillat's Beverly Hills Cop (international title: Un baise cochon va a Californie), dir. Catherine Breillat

Rocco Siffredi stars as a Marseille gendarme who pursues the murderer of a criminal pal to Beverly Hills. He talks only with his dick, which is a metaphor for his gun, which is in turn reciprocally a metaphor for his dick. His pursuit of the villains, punctuated by frequent unsimulated sex, serves as a critique of the male gaze. All the Americans are played by French people doing American accents (a la Heavy Rain). Ends up having almost nothing to do with the original, but hey. Hire an auteur, get an auteur picture.


Beverly Hills Cop, dir. Lars von Trier

In a massive surprise, a shot-for-shot remake of the original with the same music, same script (with all Eddie's ad-libbing transcribed and created precisely down to the syllable), but with the one inexplicable choice of having Charlotte Gainsbourg play Axel Foley, with none of the gender pronouns changed. Lars will be Lars.


बेवर्ली हिल्स के एक पुलिस: हीट पर फिर से है. (trans. Beverly Hills Cop: The Heat Is On Again) dir. Farhan Akhtar

Having remade Don (and done a sequel of that remake), Shahrukh Khan goes “fuck this, if I can remake an Amitabh Bachchan movie, Eddie Murphy ain't a thing.” After deciding against (and thus deeply wounding) Karan Johar as director, Shahrukh hires Don: The Chase Begins Again helmer Farhan Akhtar to lend it that snazzy, pizazzy, slick Hollywood feel. Arjun Rampal is cast in the Steven Berkoff role because one of the little-known pieces of cinematic wisdom, in the West at any rate, is that any movie that climaxes with Shahrukh Khan and Arjun Rampal beating the shit out of each other is going to be good. In spite of the jokes about all Bollywood movies being three-plus hours long, this is not the longest remake of the five (more on that in a bit, and the Bollywood overlength jokes are dated anyway), though there are plenty of songs; in a massive coup, SRK lands Beyonce for an item song, which leads America as one to embrace Bollywood. SRK then promptly converts to Scientology and fucks everything up. But, in spite of that, we'll always have this movie, where he pulls off his usual “How the fuck is this guy going to own? Whoa . . . holy shit, he does kind of own. Damn, he actually really owns. Wonders never cease” three-act high-wire act.


Az élet egy amerikai rendőr (trans. The life of an American police officer) dir. Béla Tarr.

The longest of the bunch, consisting of one eight-hour single take of Axel Foley (played by Donald Glover, thus making Tarr, bizarrely, the only director who thought to make the picture with a 20-something black comedian) at his desk, doing paperwork and making phone calls, for a whole shift; when Axel gets up to take a piss or get a cup of coffee, Tarr's camera stays on his desk, speaking to the grim nature of day-to-day reality as a policeman. The business of the dead friend and the Beverly Hills police investigation of Victor Maitland is handled entirely over the phone, with Axel's side of the conversation the only one we get to observe. The film ends with Axel receiving one final call from BHPD from which one can either infer that they'll be investigating Maitland or that they're just humoring Axel. The credits roll in silence.


Laurel Canyon Cop, dir. Lisa Cholodenko

Still smarting from the eight or nine years it took her to get financing for her third feature, 2010's The Kids Are All Right, Lisa Cholodenko accepts a massive goddamn pile of money from Paramount to direct a Beverly Hills Cop remake. After a careful series of negotiations that end with her getting final cut, Cholodenko raises the “fuck you” flag to full mast and casts Gina Gershon as Axel Foley, turning the original's gay subtext (a byproduct of the perfect storm of Eddie's “the lady doth protest too much”ism on The Gay and the fact that they had to cut the fuck scene between him and Jenny Summers because a black guy couldn't shtup a white lady in a move in 1984, one of the thousands of reasons you can blow 80s nostalgia out your fuckin ass) into text.

So, basically, what we're talking about here is a leisurely-paced (maybe a little too leisurely-paced, but hey, ya can't win 'em all) movie where Gina Gershon flies in from Detroit and swaggers around in a leather jacket owning bad guys and having sex with Jenny Summers (Carla Gugino). And, although everyone spends an hour laughing their asses off at how dumb it is, they keep in the line “I wish they all could be California girls,” uttered by Gina immediately before going to town on Carla Gugino. This picture ends up grossing a billion dollars, sweeping the Oscars, and ushering in an era of world peace.

The banana in the tailpipe scene is handled a little differently in this one.

I don't believe in jinxes, so if you see in Variety that they've announced a Beverly Hills Cop remake, don't blame me. Just repost the shit out of this so I can walk around with my zipper down fulminating about how fuckin prescient I am. Which I do anyway, but it's always nice to have supporting texts. Now let's all do the Neutron Dance.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

WHY SHAME BOTH IS AND ISN'T EVERYTHING YOU'VE HEARD IT IS


First unveiled at the Venice Film Festival and then at Toronto, where it was acquired for distribution by Fox Searchlight, Shame arrived in theaters this month the subject of a great deal of conversation. As the followup feature to British director Steve McQueen's Hunger, where Michael Fassbender—who also stars in Shame—turned in an eye-opening performance as Bobby Sands on his hunger strike, Shame had people going, “oh, yeah, far out, those guys, cool.” But mainly, the thing people were talking about was the sex.

Anytime anyone makes a picture with sex in it America freaks the fuck out. And Shame not only had nudity but dudity: Michael Fassbender's penis was apparently all over this motherfucker, and it was big, too. When McQueen sold the picture to Fox Searchlight, apparently one of the terms was they had to release it as an NC-17 if necessary, and Fox Searchlight, to their credit, not only did but did a bit of dick-swinging of their own about how they were going to wear the NC-17 as a badge of honor and fuck y'all and all kinds of nice, swaggery stuff. Of course, with all this talk about the NC-17, people who hadn't seen it yet started getting the sense that Michael Fassbender's 14-inch throbbing erect member was the entire subject of the movie, if all the talk was to be believed (Ed. Note: it's not 14 inches, nor is it throbbing or erect, and really isn't on display all that much). And, inevitably, despite the best attempts of many to maintain and not bug out about all the sex, Shame ended up becoming either the “Michael Fassbender's penis” movie or “the NC-17 movie.”

What I found, when I finally saw it yesterday, is that it actually is both of things. And isn't. McQueen and co-writer Abi Morgan present the audience with very few specific details, which would be maddening if it was an accident, but not very long into the picture I started getting the sense—reinforced by everything that happened for the rest of its running time—that what they were up to was creating something whose meaning would be provided by each audience member's individual interpretation of it, kind of a cinematic BYOB party. So, what follows may say more about me than it does the picture. Or not. If your interpretation of the picture is that everything is spelled out and so forth, then I'm wrong. (Ed. Note: I'm never wrong. Fucker.) (Further Ed. Note: past this point be mild spoilers, be thou warned.)

Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon, a really good-looking guy with a (surprisingly realistically) really nice (if a bit cold) apartment with some kind of unspecified yuppie day job that keeps him in reasonably though not ridiculously luxurious creature comforts. His boss, David (James Badge Dale, who's secretly becoming one of the best character actors alive), is married but tries incessantly (and ineptly) to fuck every attractive woman in sight; Brandon doesn't even try and all the women his boss tries to fuck approach him. But, because he's not terribly proactive, Brandon relies mostly on porn, hookers, and webcam girls for sexual gratification. Mostly on porn, though: dude's got a fucking ton of it.

Still, whatever, don't knock a dude's hustle (as I'm sure Gautama Buddha would have said). His life's going okay. He charms some random suits into doing some random deal that his non-specified company is up to (it doesn't matter what the company does, because it doesn't matter to Brandon, it's just his job). He may need to go to the office men's room to fap multiple times a day, but who among us is without our quirk(s)? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If fapping three times a day at work and getting picked up by women in Audis who have you fuck them against a pillar under the FDR drive and maintaining the porn library of Congress isn't getting in the way of your everyday existence, it's not a problem.

But then, his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) shows up. And literally everything that can go wrong does. I'll leave the story, such as it is, here, because the whole rest of it is Brandon's shame spiral anyway. His carefully ordered existence comes apart, and he's led to question whether any of it has meaning. You know, no biggie, just all that shit.

The main thing I think a lot of people missed with this picture is that Brandon's shame thing doesn't originate from sex. The way he relates to people (gender ambiguity intentional) sexually stems, as I read it, from his inability or unwillingness (or unwillingness that begets inability) to relate to other human beings besides himself. The initial sequence in the picture, a series of shots of Brandon either alone on the subway or alone at his apartment or at the office or out drinking with co-workers but at arm's length physically (and certainly emotionally) from them show us: this is what he wants. He's won. He has a spiffy high-rise apartment with his vinyl records and his porn-glutted computers and hookers to come over and shtup him (notably, the one non-hooker he connects sexually with in this sequence is driven, successful, and is aspiring to be all that Brandon outwardly is, naturally making her be like, “I want to fuck that guy.” While we're on the theme of projecting one's own interpretations onto blank slates and shit.)

Sissy's arrival throws this all into disarray precisely because what she represents is a connection and obligation to something other than Brandon's self. She's everything he's tried to leave behind: vulnerability, disorder, emotion. She makes out with and then fucks David, for whom Brandon feels contempt for his ineptitude with women, for his having “fallen victim” to marriage/kids, and yet somehow being the boss in spite of all this. So on top of everything else she's attracted to things Brandon loathes. And he envies her, as well, quietly: she's a singer, and while no Maria Callas or anything she does a slow, mournful cover of “New York, New York” that harmonizes with the movie's emotional tone and outsider's perspective on New York City quite nicely, as well as evoking the kind of unrehearsed emotional response from another human being that Brandon either can't or doesn't know how to. The end provides a (very) faint glimmer of hope that Brandon at least recognizes the cause of his anhedonia, and that having so recognized he may find some kind of fulfillment. But, again, that's what I read into it. It could have been an affirmation that he's fucking doomed.

As for the fucking, there is a bit. Michael Fassbender's penis makes an early and prominent appearance in the picture, and while big is nonetheless not noteworthy for anything other than being a penis, which about half humanity has. For the most part the sex is shot in a way that highlights the impersonality of the act for Brandon. Either all we can see is a tit or a belly button or the side of a hip or the back of a head or an ass, rather than a whole human being he's connecting to (with the one notable exception of the one encounter when he can't get off; in that instance it's not even necessarily that he can't get it up, because he doesn't really try, it's that he's afraid of what'll happen if he does: I mean, fuck, it could lead to a relationship and an emotional obligation.) Carey Mulligan's much-discussed—and, frankly, rather lovely, despite the awkwardness of the scene—nude scene is shot through a mirror; Sissy, as Brandon's sister, is verboten to him sexually, so there's that added level of remove, but she still does look good naked, so he doesn't leave right away either. It's all a giant goddamn fucking mess.

The movie itself is not. Steve McQueen knows what to do with a camera. On a budget of about $8 mil, he makes New York come alive. The geography makes sense except for when it deliberately doesn't (something only a New Yorker would give a shit about, but take my word for it, it's good.) The acting is all terrific in an ever-so-slightly-heightened naturalistic mode, which is the best thing about the movie as a whole: it's about a guy whose sex life is on a scale few civilians are even capable of contemplating and fucked up in a way that requires a bit of abyss-gazing experience to process without shutting down, and yet it never rings false. The movie is not, as many reviews have said, about sex addiction. Brandon's not an addict. It's not his compulsive pornography and one-night-stand habits that are at the root of his problem, it's that those habits come out of his inability to process anyone else's worth as equaling his. That is his shame: his complete, hermetically-sealed, absorption with self.

Being a picture whose apparent point is to challenge the audience to determine what is actually in the movie and what is their own projection onto it, and being that the notion of reciprocal projection takes a fairly bright synaptic spark to sort out, Shame is not a popcorn picture (Ed. Note: keep in mind, the dude telling you this happily noshes away and periodically goes “Ha ha! Fuck yeah Delphine Seyrig, get it girl” while watching Last Year at Marienbad) but that shouldn't be taken to mean that it's “too difficult” or intimidating or any of that horse pucky. Shame is a challenge, but it's a challenge well worth meeting. The fact that by the end of the movie, I was deeply empathetic toward a rich guy with a big dick who gets laid effortlessly and is a brutal asshole without cause to the one person who loves him should be taken as a sign that this is a very good movie indeed.

Carey Mulligan: the loveliest fifth business in the history of narrative