It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Hertzfeld, 2012)

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First there was darkness. Then a spark of remembrance. His synapses begin to fire out of control, so rapidly in fact that patches of the flat world peel away, revealing glimmers of subjective memory and history that exist in a perpetual vacuum of intense feeling. Whether or not these images are trustworthy remains a moot point; their very creation is a sign of tenacity and a will to live.

Such bright cinematic flickers allow every moment, no matter how mundane or false, no matter how monstrous or devastating, a sense of wondrous momentum that will never stop overlapping. To stop would be the equivalent of fading to black forever, and he has so much more to see.

Full review published at Little White Lies

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Gangs of Wasseypur (Kashyap, 2012)

Everyone is referencing this as the Indian heir to THE GODFATHER but I see the pace and aggressive editing/pop music cues of THE DEPARTED, just expanded and prolonged over decades. What a furious masterpiece of genre extravagance, a history defined by the art (and bungling) of assassinations, marriages, funerals, chases, ceremonies, campaigns, friendships, love-making, and countless other rituals. It may be splattered with brutal violence, acts that initially seem like necessary evils. “I killed them so I could live.”

But all of the gore and dismemberment, the head shots and knife wounds, they are representative of an entire genre living inside its own head. The dream, the fantasy of being a gangster, has real life consequences (a past history of retribution and death) but also psychological ripples that span generations and delude the young into thinking they can avenge the old and get away with it. There’s no escape from your own warped sense of self. This quote sums up everything: “Every fucker’s got his own movie playing inside his head.”

After Lucia (Franco, 2012)

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This isn’t about bullying, but physical and emotional aggression in general, how it spreads seamlessly like a virus, hollowing out those who are weaker and more pure of heart. Sure, technology plays a role in this epidemic, but it’s a destructive attitude that seems to be organically part of some of us, young and old. What’s really scary here is that every adult is basically faceless/silent and the various teenagers each a master of deflecting accountability. This makes for a very dangerous and disturbing cocktail. Opening and closing long shots are mirror images of each other, one man’s sudden dumping of traumatic symbols simply to erase them from his particular view of the world.

Bestiaire (Cote, 2012)

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My Mom once told me that as a kid she used to sit for hours watching animals and insects in their natural habitats; ants crawling in and out of their holes, a flock of deer grazing in a meadow. Denis Cote’s experimental documentary relies on this same observational poetry to examine what can only be described as the antithetical experience of viewing animals in their pure state: the modern zoo.

Despite the fact that this is a film about barriers and bars, the nature of watching, waiting, examining, noticing patterns of movement, relishing the silence of a given moment, Cote establishes a sense of freedom and improvisation within the cramped spaces and static compositions. Certain shots feel like thematic hand grenades: Zebras butting up against a metal enclosure, their angry cries and loud banging echoing the horrific and protracted violence of captivity. Then there’s the monkey paws sticking through chain link fence, glimpses of life and texture and fur protruding from a seemingly infinite man-made structure. Also, the bobbing head of an Ostrich in close up, its unpredictable physicality coming in and out of the frame, uncontrollable within a given space, by either the zoo or cinema.

This is a very special work, one that is both a celebration of the animal kingdom’s endurance and an indictment of man’s penchant for snuffing out the beauty of natural uncertainty for artificial pleasure.

The Best Films of 2012

It’s been three years since I re-started my film criticism career, and 2012 was no doubt the most difficult. Life changes, new responsibilities, and my first professional pink slip made me appreciate the highs of previous years all the more. Honestly, I’m happy 2012 is in the bag and excited for 2013.

It’s been a year of transition and frustration, new found love and wisdom, plus a lot of really good films. Here are my favorites.

This is not a film

1. This is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi, Iran)

I don’t think I can say it any better than I did in the fall of 2011. So, here you go.

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SDFCS 2012 Winners

christoph-waltz-and-jamie-foxx-in-django-unchainedHappy with our choices, especially the recognition for Christoph Waltz!

Best Picture: “Argo”
Best Director: Ben Affleck, “Argo”
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
Best Actress: Michelle Williams, “Take This Waltz”
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”
Best Supporting Actress: Emma Watson, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
Best Original Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson, “The Master”
Best Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio, “Argo”
Best Foreign Language Film: “The Kid With a Bike”
Best Animated Film: “ParaNorman”
Best Documentary: “The Invisible War”
Best Ensemble: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
Best Cinematography: Claudio Miranda, “Life of Pi”
Best Film Editing: William Goldenberg, “Argo”
Best Original Score: Jonny Greenwood, “The Master”
Best Production Design: Hugh Bateup and Uli Hanisch, “Cloud Atlas”
Body of Work Award: Greig Fraser, cinematographer, “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Killing Them Softly” and “Snow White and the Huntsman”