Best Song of February:
Future, Pharrell, Pusha T, and Casino- “Move That Dope”- In the past I’ve held Future’s enthusiasm at a premium: the gleeful fatalism with which he declared, “I woke up in a new Bugatti,” the yearning certainty with which he commanded, “Turn on the lights!” This chorus is decidedly matter-of-fact though, and it matches the desultory bass gurgle of Mike Will Made It’s cyberpunk black helicopter of an instrumental. While Pharrell’s forty-year-old left hand seems content making songs Ellen can dance to and playing drums for Hans Zimmer, his right hand is still rapping about drones and naked yoga on hard street singles.
Best Album of February:
CEO- Wonderland- There’s so much here. For example, on “Harakiri,” there’s this vocal sample, underneath washes and washes of computers, in which someone from probably a Real Housewives reunion says, “I can’t see your eyes ‘cuz you’re wearing [bleep] sunglasses.” In the actual source, that’s a catty cheap shot. But within this context—essentially gay bar at the end of the world—it becomes profound. Why don’t we all remove our sunglasses, man? CEO’s day job with The Tough Alliance never really worked for me, but this solo project is so much more lush and playful.
Honorable mentions go to Mas Ysa’s elegant Worth, Schoolboy Q’s unrelenting Oxymoron, Frankie Cosmos’s deceptively intricate “Birthday Song,” Sad Beck’s glorious Morning Phase, and Bruno Mars’s post-racial triumph at the Super Bowl.
"Cool Girls don’t have the hang-ups of normal girls: They don’t get bogged down by the patriarchy, or worrying about their weight. They’re basically dudes masquerading in beautiful women’s bodies, reaping the privileges of both. But let’s be clear: It’s a performance. It might not be a conscious one, but it’s the way our society implicitly instructs young women on how to be awesome: Be chill and don’t be a downer, act like a dude but look like a supermodel.
You probably know someone playing a Cool Girl in real life, and you probably resent her — unless you’re a straight dude, in which case you probably think she’s great. But Lawrence performs Cool Girlness with such skill, such seamlessness, that it doesn’t seem like a performance at all. I’m not suggesting that Lawrence is intentionally inauthentic, scheming, or manipulative: Rather, like all the Cool Girls you know, she’s subconsciously figured out what makes people like her, and she’s using it. But is this persona truly “cool,” or is it a reflection of society’s unreasonable and contradictory expectations of women?”
This captivating Steven Soderbergh project, a comment upon a comment, might force a critical reappraisal of Gus Van Sant’s 1998 Psycho remake. It might get taken down soon too, so here are some quick thoughts:
Besides adapting Saul Bass’s title sequence to include both the Hithcock actors and the Van Sant actors, Soderbergh drains the remake of its color and cuts about twenty minutes from the overall product. His mash-up clocks in at a lean 86 minutes. I know Psycho well enough to feel scenes missing, but not well enough to point out exactly which ones are gone. I think that’s a good sign. The thing definitely moves, but the rhythm of the scenes immediately following the shower sequence feels abrupt.
Speaking of the shower sequence, it’s one of the most imaginative moments of cutting. Until this point, Soderbergh commits, on a scene-by-scene basis, to whichever version works better. It’s telling that Anne Heche’s scenes are more plentiful than Janet Leigh’s. Following suit, the shower scene begins at 40:00, sacrilegiously, with Heche lathering up. When the violence begins, however, Soderbergh flashes to color for the Van Sant version and overlays the Hitchcock version. What results is a dingy, broken mirror vision. It seems like a compromise there, but it makes for a more powerful motif when Soderbergh does the same thing for the other murder scenes.
Based on the scenes he chooses, Soderbergh clearly prefers Heche in the Marion Crane role and Anthony Perkins in the Norman Bates role. In fact, we’re treated to three or four scenes of Perkins as Bates before we even lay eyes on Vince Vaughn, and it’s only because Soderbergh also seems to favor the nastier interpretation of the story—and Hithcock couldn’t show Bates masturbating. And it’s disorienting watching Vince Vaughn playing a serious role in 2014, remembering that there was a whole first act to his career.
At least the Perkins-Vaughn gap is closer than the Martin Balsam-William H. Macy competition. Macy gets only one scene to himself because he can’t hold Balsam’s jock. Shout-out to the Viggo and Julianne accents too, which don’t really make any sense.
I was energized by Soderbergh’s approach until he included the coda I’ve always hated, which I was afraid of all along. The psychologist’s monologue slows and overexplains the film, and it’s built out of a need for superficial falling action, not any kind of dramatic function. It’s the only nod to convention in what is otherwise a thrilling experiment.
When he first ascended to movie stardom, Will Smith was known as the King of the 4th of July, after having starred in back-to-back hits that opened on that day. If you add Wild Wild West, that’s three in four years that opened on the same exact weekend of the calendar. Of Leonardo DiCaprio’s past fourteen outings, ten were released in the fourth quarter (and two were going to be released in the fourth quarter but got pushed back). Of course, that trend is not consciously planned by the actors, but it exists because of the types of films they choose to make. Smith prefers gargantuan studio efforts that want to clean up when kids are out of school; DiCaprio gravitates toward prestige pictures positioned for awards season.
Even a nascent moviegoer quickly figures out that parts of the year have different identities. The calendar used to be in quarters, but now there are only three seasons: May to August is summer blockbusters, September to December is Oscar time, and January to April is…movies that don’t fit anywhere else. It’s territory for studios to dump product that doesn’t fit into those other two boxes, for modest budgets and genre fare. (If you’re me, it’s time to stay at home and catch up on older films.) Audiences and studios all knew this was the way it worked. Until 2008.
In 2008 Liam Neeson began his reign as the King of the First Trimester, which has even less of a ring to it than King of the 4th of July. In quick succession, he starred in Taken, Unknown, and The Grey—all films that cast him as a laconic, damaged, grizzled hunk of dad-strength. All of the films were plot-heavy potboilers with few women, high stakes, and intermittent badass action. Which, if you think about it, is the antithesis of the December holdovers that still occupy screens in January. Beginning Friday, if The Wolf of Wall Street is too long for you, you’re in luck: Liam Neeson will be running around a plane for 106 minutes in Non-Stop.
Characters who seem trustworthy but then double-cross Liam Neeson’s character? Probably. People on the plane who mistakenly think Liam Neeson’s character is the terrorist? Probably. Some human anchor waiting for Liam Neeson’s character back home? Probably. Liam Neeson’s character having the non-name of BILL MARKS? Definitely. A little bit of close-quarters fisticuffs? Sure, but the film is rated PG-13, so even with that, you know what to expect.
Which is the point. January and February studio releases are meant to keep the average person warm. And now that there’s a formula to be exploited, others have stepped up to fill the void. Neeson was the undisputed King of the First Trimester, but now Mark Wahlberg has thrown his tight t-shirt into the ring.
Wahlberg used to radiate an agitated energy on-screen. He was even able to channel it into comedy through sheer will, since he seems like an unfunny person in real life. These days, however, largely functioning as a producer, he seems like a barometer for public cynicism within a field of entertainment. When was our trust in HBO’s creative decisions really tested? When he produced Entourage. When was even HBO’s own prestige leveraged against itself? When he produced Boardwalk Empire. When did the reality TV subgenre of owning a restaurant seem too scripted for its own good? When he produced Wahlburgers. And when did January try to have it both ways? When he produced Lone Survivor.
Two years in a row, Producer Wahlberg carved out Actor Wahlberg’s own January mold, starring in Contraband and Broken City as humorless protagonists with troubled but unspecific pasts who get roped into unsavory business. The films are rough, ugly, convoluted, and cheap-looking, even if they’re populated with A- names who need to eat. (Pray for Ben Foster.) Shooting in Louisiana for tax credits, Wahlberg seemed to have roped off his own corner of the First Trimester, giving his audience a major movie star during a time when they didn’t expect it.
Wahlberg is at least as much of a producer as he is an actor now. In the first paragraph I mentioned that the release date of a movie is not necessarily part of an actor’s plan, but I think it is in Wahlberg’s case.* There should be a new word for the type of movie star he is. Whereas most actors jump behind the camera to push forward passion projects, Wahlberg seems to act in films that interest him creatively and produce to keep his star lit. It’s a bizarre brand of auteurism that finds the creativity in the commerce instead of the art.
It’s because of that outlook that he tried to get cute with the January model. Last month, after a brief awards season qualifying run, Wahlberg went wide with a bigger budget production that tried to be meaningful in the First Trimester, which I thought we had agreed was not allowed. It’s true that the boxes Lone Survivor checked were just as cynical as his other January offerings: Pro-military, based on a true story, outcome of the narrative safely given away in the title. But he used a director more real than Baltasar Kormakur this time. The actors he corralled around him are closer to A list than A-. (Although, for real, pray for Ben Foster.) And more importantly, the film is one of the biggest hits of his career, standing at $121 million as of today. Had Philomena not gained some steam, we could be looking at the first First Trimester Best Picture nominee.
So what does this mean? Probably that I know a lot less about the marketplace than Mark Wahlberg. Maybe it proves that the second any kind of value advantage is discovered in Hollywood, it gets exploited until it transforms into something else. What it probably means is that, if Wahlberg wants all of the money and all of the credibility, he has to play the villain in Taken 3. I don’t make the rules, Mark.
*- Also, Smith and DiCaprio produce most of their own pictures now. I probably underplayed that in the introduction.
"This is the end. This is the last thing that we’ll ever do."
On second thought, maybe I should have gone to this concert.
Best Song of January:
You Blew It!- “Gray Matter”- I’m partial to “Gray Matter” because of its thin ice structure, highlighted by a breakdown chant of “You can’t tell me that you kiss your mother with that thing.” Which is like Thursday on Sour Patch Kids. But this spot could belong just as easily to three or four other songs on You Blew It!’s new album, which, for better or worse, will be to the Emo Revival what Korn’s Life Is Peachy was to nu-metal. These guys will be playing arenas in two years, and I’ll welcome those insistent snares and soaring nasal-bombs with open wristbands.
Best Album of January:
James Vincent McMorrow- Post-Tropical- This is the type of deliberate, breathy hypnotism for which I’ve always been in the tank. It’s called Post Tropical not because it has anything in common with the tropicalia genre, but because it sounds like the moment at dusk when a beach becomes a little too breezy to still be outside. McMorrow’s voice is already so fragile and high-pitched that it sounds like someone singing only to himself; when he multi-tracks it into an echo chamber of stress-hums, it makes the voice unbearably sad.
Honorable mentions go to the soulfully dumb Coke Boys 4 mixtape, the just plain dumb "McConaughey" by [cough] myself, and the “XO” video that Terry Richardson directed for Beyonce. Its saturated kinetics cast Beyonce as the version of herself that I hope she really is. The wide smile, the spontaneity, the darting in and out of frame—sometimes in focus but always beyond our grasp.
Buscemi and Tarantino rehearsing a scene from Reservoir Dogs at the Sundance Lab. Found on TheSheik1976’s overwhelmingly great YouTube channel.
Continued from here and here and here and here.
17. This Is Martin Bonner (Chad Hartigan)- What a tight, simple, loving slice-of-life. Whether or not it moves the needle past “slight” for you, I can’t say, but I was really invested in the parallel stories of men starting over. Particularly the way the film looks at religion, as something that could be important to you but not everything to you, seems novel and honest. There’s a fascinating scene in which a character realizes that a religious person reaching out to him is perfectly nice—saintly and admirable even—but just not for him. And he kind of hates himself for it. For such a tiny movie, it looks pretty good too. Worth seeking out.
16. The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg)- I feel ashamed that I’ve neglected Vinterberg’s work since The Celebration because I need to trace the development from the brash restlessness of that to the empathetic control of this one. They’re both brilliant films, but this slow burn is the work of a director who wants to understand human frailty, not just react against it. Although these characters end up hurting one another, no one’s a bad person in The Hunt. Everyone acts in totally realistic ways to protect himself or his family. Mikkelsen, playing against type, perfectly communicates the gradual bewilderment of a wrongfully-accused man. I would maybe deduct a star for the ending, which tries to have its closure and eat its non-closure too, but I don’t have any better ideas. (Judging from the alternate ending on the Blu-Ray, neither does Vinterberg.) Finally, between this and the last couple of Dutch-speaking films I’ve seen, I’ve also been impressed with how affluent everyone in Scandinavia seems to be. Why can’t we pay more taxes?
15. The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance)- Cianfrance is swinging for the fences again, and, even when the coincidences get laid on too thickly, this is the type of relatable epic we need more of. Objects taking on unexpected significance, sins of fathers getting passed down, pre-ordained destinies unable to be outrun: This is definitely my kind of movie. (Few people are mentioning this at the end of the year, but Sean Bobbitt’s photography is effortlessly beautiful.) Look out for the son of Cooper’s character though. I expected Gosling, playing a bleached-blonde carnie motorcyclist, to turn up to eleven; but it was actually the kid, I think his name is Mr. Mannered Mush-Mouth, Jr., who went full Gos.
14. The World’s End (Edgar Wright)- Wright and Pegg’s script provides a perfect balance for the ensemble. Every character feels established and fleshed out long before any of the robot funny business takes hold. So once those sci-fi elements do intrude, the stakes have already been communicated, and we care deeply for those involved. It helps that the actors, Frost in particular, blend comedy and pathos as well as they do. The one-liners in the midst of a crisis might have been distracting in another film, but among these friends they make total sense. This might be Wright’s best film. It feels so fast with its wipes and insert shots and rapid music cues, but it never feels like style for its own sake: Without the whimsical swish pans and smash cuts of the first half, I might not have bought the urgency of the second. I sort of hated the ending, but everything else is so good that I want to mark that as a mulligan.
13. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)- It’s been so long since a character-driven arthouse film was legitimately the funniest movie of the year. But Frances Ha is: incisive, sly, sardonic, knowing, rooted in character. It’s funny in so many different ways at the same time, able to laugh with and at the characters. Even at her most short-sighted, Frances’s behavior is consistent, which means that any growth she experiences feels earned. The film isn’t saying anything about White privilege and class in New York that something like Girls isn’t already saying; but it’s addressing age as a component of those things in a really interesting way. And its French New Wave influences fit perfectly without being obtrusive. (The Paris sequence is the only time we don’t hear Georges Delerue.) At the same time, it’s Baumbach’s least strident work, which has to be attributed to Gerwig’s involvement at the script level. It’s at least as much her film as it is his. The ending is a compromise (noticing a theme?), but nothing ever feels forced.
12. Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel)- Leviathan is about machinery. How does machinery, both simple and complex, struggle in an attempt to control nature? The huge mechanical nets that open the film seem almost like cheating, but are they any more of a machine than the hook the fishermen use to gut their catch? In fact, they strip the fish with such ease that the tools seem like extensions of their hands—the same way the camera, the ultimate tool here, is really only an objective eye for us. And how much more organic can you get than that? I don’t normally spend time evaluating machines, but the film is almost confrontational in its presentation of these elements. When a film has hundreds of cuts, they’re almost invisible. Leviathan has probably twenty-something cuts, and each one feels like a fundamental challenge, complete with built-in conflict, such as that damned desperate duck who can’t find his way off the boat. Most good filmmaking is, at the most base level, all about orienting the viewer: being clear about where you’re supposed to look, what you’re supposed to feel, what the themes are. This film is feature-length displacement.
11. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley)- When Polley’s mother first appeared on screen, I smiled with recognition—they share the exact same mouth. An hour later, I found out that “the mother” was an actress, and the home movie I thought I was watching was a reenactment. It was one bait-and-switch in a film of many. I guess I’m attracted to a) the degree of difficulty, that someone’s really personal family story is interesting to someone other than herself. How many personal documentaries seem useless and self-centered, compared to this one that actually has a lot of tension and stakes? And b) That point—the personal becoming the universal—is underscored the whole time by Polley’s family members asking, “Who cares?” and “Why would anyone be interested in this?” I think it points to the fact that the default of most people is to believe that their memories are only useful to them. But if Polley can get them all to help her to articulate her own gaps, together they make a story. Polley is sort of forcing the rest of her family to become artists. And since she already is an artist who makes her own memories matter to other people, she’s actively working the whole film to distance herself—through staging re-enactments and directing voice-overs. That push-and-pull of making herself more “artificial,” while making the other subjects more real, powers the whole film.
10. Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg)- When I describe this movie to people, I feel as if I denigrate it. Because it’s so much more than its will-they-or-won’t-they setup and the chummy poster. It has more in common with an intense play than a twenty-something comedy, and it isn’t very cathartic as far as will-they-or-won’t-they movies go. Instead it depicts, in disturbingly accurate fashion, the dissembling and confusion involved in having a work-spouse—as well as the way clearly-defined relationships bleed into something else. I was never against Olivia Wilde, but the way she cloaks self-effacement and desperation with confidence really impressed me here. I watched it again this weekend, and I felt just as many intense, personal, “been there” feels.
9. Short Term 12 (Destin Cretton)- I think Short Term 12 is absorbing and draining in all the right ways, but I could also completely understand if someone else hated it. It does seem Sundance Labbed. There’s the screenwriting device of people explaining the world to a character on his first day of work—and, thus, to the audience as well. There’s a young person reading a silly fable that actually reveals startling truths about herself. But you know what? Cliches exist for a reason, and Cretton’s subtle hand guides everything into the tiny space where it resists being maudlin. I love Nate and the way he tries to digest this insane foster facility on his first day of work. The octopus legend Jaden reads is really good. Not because of the architecture of the scenes, but because of how earnest they are. There’s a sense of discovery here on the part of the filmmakers and the characters, who are all navigating the moment when you look up and realize that you’re the adult in the room. The film really cares about legacies of abuse, about the difference between a job and a vocation. It grinds you up emotionally but in a way that makes you grateful.
8. Museum Hours (Jem Cohen)- When we talk about “art films,” we don’t normally mean “movies that make us analyze the role of art in our lives,” but that’s what Museum Hours does. It’s a blend of non-fiction and drama, and usually those types of movies suffer from one part being more compelling than the other. I definitely didn’t feel that way here. During the tender scenes between Johann and Anne, I couldn’t wait to learn more about whether or not art is “timeless.” In the contemplative museum portions, I couldn’t wait to get back to the relationship between Johann and Anne. Their interaction is concentrated in a short period of time, but part of the film’s thesis is that you shouldn’t think of the effects of time over the experience of it, whether you’re killing time at work, wasting away in a coma, or trying to make something that lasts forever. (In that respect, the whole film reminds me of the Thoreau quotation “You can’t kill time without injuring eternity.”) Anyway, Johann and Anne’s connection seems real and transcendent. It’s non-sexual, but it kind of makes sex look petty.
7. Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron)- For the first ten minutes, I was impressed that there weren’t any cuts. I liked how pretty much everything was in deep focus. But it wasn’t long after that that I submitted to the experience and realized Alfonso Cuaron doesn’t play by everyone else’s rules. I’m not sure if anything in Emmanuel Lubezki’s shots even tangibly exists, and I don’t want to know the truth. It would have been more interesting if the woman were the calm veteran, and the man were wigging out, but that’s small potatoes. The bottom line is that when Sandy Bullock—and it is Sandy Bullock, the film gets a lot of mileage out of movie star collateral—is careening away from us into nothingness, a tiny speck in the center of blackness? It has been a very long time since I’ve been this absorbed by a movie.
6. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)- Everyone talks about the outrageous quaalude sequence, but maybe for the wrong reasons. It’s true that the payoff is edited with the serendipitous fury of the film’s best scenes, and it’s true that DiCaprio proves he’s a brilliant physical comedian in it. But there’s a smaller cap that lays out the whole film on a platter. The protagonist believes that, though he is tripping balls to the point that he can’t walk, he drove home from the country club without incident. As he’s getting taken away by police, we see that his Ferrari is trashed. He’s such a manipulator that he is able to convince even himself that the world is the way he wants it to be. That dangerous power can be hilarious, but it’s also pretty damning. Not that anyone learns anything in this film. At almost every turn, when other movies would zig toward redemption, The Wolf of Wall Street zags toward amorality. Twenty minutes before the final bell Jordan Belfort is still punching his wife in the face.It’s a good problem when a director has so many hall of fame films that you hesitate to call something like this a masterpiece—it’s an A to so many A+’s. But, like Casino, it’s so fast and expository and glitzy in the first hour that when it finally does slow down—Belfort’s quiet break-up with his first wife here—it’s heartbreaking. I’ll buy that Scorsese is self-indulgent; someone could probably cut this down to two hours if he really wanted to. But the subject of the entire film is self-indulgence, so well done I guess. In the process he directs DiCaprio toward his most volatile, animalistic performance to date. The Steve Madden speech is better than the Gordon Gekko speech that inspired it. For years, I’ve been saying that DiCaprio owes it to himself to do a comedy—even a Funny or Die video—to show that he doesn’t take himself too seriously and to prove that he can do it. Well, he can do it. And if you don’t believe this is a comedy, you don’t get it at all. The film isn’t necessarily satirizing greed or the Wall Street culture or an addiction to money. It’s more accurately satirizing us for letting a person like Belfort thrive, if only because we want him doing it on our behalf.
5. Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu)- Like 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills uses stolid, long takes to develop a painfully dependent female relationship. Rather than the claustrophobia of the former, this one uses time and distance to explore how relative sacrifice can be, while giving equal time to the limits of loyalty and faith. Although I wouldn’t consider the film to be anti-religion, it does show how some people use the religious life as a convenience or a way of avoiding unpleasant realities. Mungiu’s impassive camera never goes exactly where you want it to, and you end up thanking him for it afterwards. With its dueling stubborn personalities and a world entrenched in perverted power dynamics, Beyond the Hills would make a great triple feature with The Master and Martha Marcy May Marlene.
4. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)- I hope Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy make one of these every ten years, and I hope they never die. As focused and intimate as the film is, it never feels cramped. Even when a ten-minute scene plays out in one cut. The group scenes are engaging, but they only illuminate how much we want these characters on their own, and we get that in the centerpiece of a fight that frames the second half. The way the power dynamics of the argument invert and suggest old resentments is impossibly graceful. (For me, watching these films as a married adult is a lot different from watching them as a high school tourist.) What draws us to Celine and Jesse, their stubborn independence and integrity at the expense of everything else, is what sometimes repels them from each other. There’s a passage of time on-screen—in the actors’ faces, in the tight fit of their outgrown personalities—that cannot be faked. This isn’t the happiest entry of the trilogy, but it might be the most achingly real.
3. Mud (Jeff Nichols)- Jeff Nichols might be my favorite filmmaker under forty. With Shotgun Stories he showed that he could reflect a sense of place. With Take Shelter he painted realistic but complex characters. Here, he combines those attributes and proves that, unlike so many young filmmakers, he’s not interested in telling the same story every time. (And no one is playing with the southern gothic like he is.) This is a more grounded film than Take Shelter, but it’s no less ambitious. The fourteen-year-old boy at the center of the film is the soulful, humble type that we don’t see often, and the movie is his proving ground for figuring out right and wrong. I really loved seeing things through his point of view and being in this world for two hours. Upon second viewing, I bought some of the complaints about the third act being too tidy. On the other hand, I found the film funnier and more mysterious and more lyrical than I did the first time.
2. Blue Is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche)- There’s a saying, usually attributed to Sydney Pollack, that you can show a couple falling in love for an hour, and you can show a couple falling out of love for an hour, but you can only show a couple in love for ten minutes. The adage suggests that love, in its blissful form, doesn’t contain enough conflict to propel a story. For the most part, that’s true. Films feature love as an object or an obstacle, but they rarely try to define what love is. Blue Is the Warmest Color is that aspirant, and its version of love is still fleeting. It’s as if the second Adele and Emma try to articulate what they have, to have it validated by other people, it slips through their fingers. That’s what contributes to the tragedy of the film—a tragedy made all the more real by how laboriously telegraphed it is. Indeed, tragedy is even discussed in a classroom in an early scene, as are The Gaze and love at first sight. It’s as if Kechiche is taking our bullets away so that he can turn them on himself. It would be interesting to use a stopwatch to track how much of this film is Adele Exarchopolous’s affectless face in close-up. That’s all you’re looking at for minutes at a time—in some scenes I forgot there was a world going on outside of her—but I’m not complaining. This is the type of fearless, nuanced performance, like, say, Fassbender in Hunger or Hardy in Bronson, that reveals how much of a sham the Oscars are and will be. I’m pretending that an actress as good as she is will find roles that continue to challenge her, but the reality is that she’ll never find material this good again. I hope the next Bond movie buys her a beautiful house.
1. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen)- The titular character tries things on and cycles through people even as he’s criticizing others for doing the same thing. “Cycle” is the operative word though as the end/beginning of the film, which is the end/beginning of the folk scene, places Llewyn at the end/beginning of what he’ll ever be. The Coens start with a blank canvas and paint a little into each corner, then guide you a few steps back to a world of symbols (Ulysses!). It’s a movie that would be the Coen Brothers’ funniest work if it wasn’t also their bleakest. At every turn, the people surrounding Llewyn are less authentic than he is, and they end up being more successful than he is as well—in a corner of art built upon authenticity. If being your real self only brings you pain, what does that say about you?How good is Inside Llewyn Davis? It retroactively makes A Serious Man a better film by serving as a companion piece. But whereas that earlier film eventually suggests an impenetrable god dealing out chance, this one implies that we are responsible for everything that happens to us. And if everything that happens to the protagonist is bad, then what does that make him?