Inside Llewyn Davis
"Inside Llewyn Davis" is the most satisfyingly diabolical cinematic structure that the Coens have ever contrived, and that's just one reason that I suspect it…
* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.
Why we still need video stores; composer Hans Zimmer speaks; Sweden's feminist movie ratings system; the gold standard for thank-you notes; free movie streaming through libraries.
Writer Peter Sobczynski responds to our Movie Love Questionnaire.
Tommaso Tocci reports on "Gravity," the opening night film of the 70th Venice Film Festival.
A new video essay explores how Terrence Malick's distinctive voice-overs evolved and expanded over time
Director David Gordon Green has had a remarkably eclectic career, from delicate indies like "George Washington" to stoner comedy "Your Highness," with stops along the way for the "Halftime in America" Chrysler ad and episodes of HBO's "Eastbound & Down." What keeps him going?
What it means to craft "personal" writing; Steven Soderbergh pledges $10,000 to Spike Lee's Kickstarter film; inside the Malick lawsuit; revisiting "There Will Be Blood."
UPDATED (4/17/13): A selection of tributes and memories from those who knew, and read, Roger Ebert. More will be added as we collect them:
"For a generation of Americans -- and especially Chicagoans -- Roger was the movies. When he didn't like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive -- capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical.
"Even amidst his own battles with cancer, Roger was as productive as he was resilient -- continuing to share his passion and perspective with the world. The movies won't be the same without Roger, and our thoughts and prayers are with Chaz and the rest of the Ebert family."
-- President Barack Obama, April 4, 2013
Roger Ebert's last review is on the screen in front of me and I can't quite bring myself to deal with it. I'd like to get it posted right away because I know that's what Roger would want under the circumstances. ("We'll be getting a lot of traffic!") Actually, he filed two or three other reviews before his condition took a sudden turn for the worse. But this final one -- sent March 16 and labeled "FOR USE as needed," is of Terence Malick's "To the Wonder," which (spoiler warning) he liked quite a lot. Publicists might object that it hasn't opened in Chicago yet, but Roger wasn't just a Chicago movie critic (though he certainly was that). I can imagine his email now: "Who's going to complain? It's three and a half stars!"
Marie writes: It's no secret there's no love lost between myself and what I regard as London's newest blight; The Shard. That said, I also love a great view. Go here to visit a 360-degree augmented-reality panorama from the building's public observation deck while listening to the sounds of city, including wind, traffic, birds and even Big Ben.
Happy New Year from the Ebert Club!TRAILERS
I apologize for the lack of postings the last few weeks. A recent flare-up of heart problems left me with little energy to write. But as the emaciated old man in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" says: "I'm feeling much better!"
At one point well into Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" I thought that the movie was going to reveal itself as a story about the meaninglessness of human existence. But that notion was based on a single piece of aphoristic, potential-thesis-statement dialog that, like much else, wasn't developed in the rest of the movie. Which is not to say that "The Master" isn't about the meaninglessness of human life. The line, spoken by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the cult guru known to his acolytes as Master, is addressed to the younger man he considers his "protégé," a dissolute mentally ill drifter named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), and the gist of it is that the itinerant Freddie has as much to show for his life as somebody who has worked a regular 9-to-5 job for many years. The point being, I suppose, that for all Freddie's adventures, peculiarities and failures, he isn't all that much different from anybody else. Except, maybe, he's more effed-up.
Terrence Malick's return to movie-making in 1998, preceded by a twenty-year period of largely mysterious retreat, was a tremendous event, the result of which - "The Thin Red Line" - exceeded any expectations one might have had at the time. I can still recall four consecutive evenings in early 1999, when I watched the movie repeatedly at the local cinema in my Polish hometown of Tarnowskie Góry. The first screening was so moving, I felt entranced and compelled to come back the next evening - and the next, and the one after that.
• Chaz Ebert at Cannes
Dear Roger: "We were once indivisible from every atom in the cosmos," and that is how I feel when I am sitting in the Palais watching movies at Cannes with a screen spread out as wide as the galaxy, the audience circling around like protons and neutrons breathing as one in empathy.
Earlier this week Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe became only the fourth film critic to receive a Pulitzer Prize, after Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 1975), Stephen Hunter (Washington Post, 2003) and Joe Morgenstern (Wall Street Journal, 2005).
A few other movie critics have been named as Pulitzer finalists -- Stephen Schiff (Boston Phoenix, 1983), Andrew Sarris (Village Voice, 1987), Matt Zoller Seitz (Dallas Observer, 1994), Stephen Hunter (Baltimore Sun, 1995), Peter Rainer (New Times Los Angeles, 1998), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post, 2008), A.O. Scott (New York Times, 2010) -- and I've read and admired many of them over the years.
I was first impressed by Morris's writing when he was in San Francisco, where he wrote for both the Chronicle and the Examiner, in the late 1990s. With him and Ty Burr on the movie beat, the Boston Globe now has one of the best critical teams around. And that's saying something: The New York Times team of A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis is far and away the finest in that paper's history.
The Pulitzer submissions from Morris (who's only 36) covered films and subjects such as "The Help," "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," "The Tree of Life," "Drive," the "Fast and Furious" series, "Scream 4," "Weekend," "Water for Elephants," Sidney Lumet and Steve Jobs. A few excerpts to give you an idea of what earned him the prize:
I remember my father's face, but not his voice. If I close my eyes I can perfectly see his expression of disapproval this one time when I was five years old, and another one of deep affection, at more or less the same time, but I cannot remember what he said - or even if said something - in each of those moments. What I do know beyond any doubt is that The Tree of Life, a masterpiece of filmmaker Terrence Malick, kindly led me to these reminiscences through his own philosophical reflection on human nature and our history on this planet. In this sense, the film represents a deeply religious experience for atheists, humanists, and especially film lovers.
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Complete list of 84th Annual Academy Award nominations announced Tuesday:
Do you expect "The Tree of Life" to be nominated as one of the best films of 2011? When I saw it last spring I certainly did. I assumed it was a done deal. If you'd told me then that "The Artist," a black and white silent film, was stirring up enthusiasm at Cannes, I would have said it sounded like something I really wanted to see.
Did somebody say "ambiguity"? I'm a big fan. Generally speaking, I much prefer movies with a little uncertainty, or a little emotional ambivalence, to those that spell everything out and tell me exactly how I should feel about it. Most of my favorite movies of 2011 thrive on ambiguity, open-endedness, a sense of the fluidity (or "slipperiness" as I like to call it) of time and space: "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," "Certified Copy," "Margaret," "Meek's Cutoff"... But sometimes resonant inconclusiveness slips into deliberate laziness, substituting opacity for meaning. And when that happens, it's a shame.
Or, as Ignatiy Vishnevetsky writes, sometimes it's "Shame," the movie by Steve McQueen starring Michael Fassbender and Carrie Mulligan:
... McQueen... opts to shroud the movie in vagueness. This goes beyond the characters--Fassbender as the barely-sketched lead, Mulligan as the generic broken woman (tellingly, her sex life is played as comedy while Fassbender's is played as grand tragedy), Beharie as the foil whose attraction to Fassbender is never explained--and their relationships; Shame is a Choose Your Own Meaning movie, full of blank spaces that a sympathetic viewer can fill with their own interpretations (this culminates in a lengthy sex scene between Fassbender and two women, with Fassbender's facial expression serving as a sort of Rorschach blot).
It's smart filmmaking--and also totally duplicitous and self-serving, the arthouse craftsmanship nearly hiding the film's middle-brow triteness (see also: I Am Love), every scene ladled with big dollops of cinema's most respectable cop-out: ambiguity. When McQueen isn't marking time with exercises in post-slow-cinema aesthetics (as in the long tracking shot of Fassbender sternly jogging to his bitchin' Glenn Gould playlist), he elides and defers. Shame wears its emptiness like a badge of honor; McQueen is trying for banal blankness, and though he succeeds in that respect, you kind of wish that a filmmaker (and one with a background as an artist at that) would aspire to do more than just say nothing.
(Picture the headline above in Comic Sans.) MSN Movies contributors have selected our Top 10 Movies of 2011. What does that mean? Whatever you want it to mean. Are these movies "the best"? Are they our favorites? Are they "movies we got to see before the deadline"? In my case, it's some combination of all three -- but I'm really quite happy with the aggregate results. As for my own contribution, as usual I hadn't seen everything I wanted to by the deadline ("A Separation," "Hugo," "The Artist," "Mysteries of Lisbon," "Midnight in Paris" among them), and still haven't, but them's the breaks. My lists will evolve in coming days (Village Voice/LA Weekly poll, indieWIRE Critics Poll, and so on), but I do want to say that I went all-in with my emotions. I picked these movies 'cause I love 'em, not because I merely admire them or appreciate them.
The Big List starts here; the individual lists start here.
Of course, as much as we love lists, the best thing about the MSN feature is that we have short appreciations of the top 10 movies, written by some very perceptive and eloquent people. And me, too. You will find the Group List, with excerpts and links to the full mini-essays, below -- and my personal ballot at the bottom. Let me know what you think -- and be sure to read the previous post ("Idiocracy and the ten-best trolls") for a good laugh:
Making lists is not my favorite occupation. They inevitably inspire only reader complaints. Not once have I ever heard from a reader that my list was just fine, and they liked it. Yet an annual Best Ten list is apparently a statutory obligation for movie critics.
My best guess is that between six and ten of these movies won't be familiar. Those are the most useful titles for you, instead of an ordering of movies you already know all about.
One recent year I committed the outrage of listing 20 movies in alphabetical order. What an uproar! Here are my top 20 films, in order of approximate preference.
You've probably read that Sean Penn, in an interview with Le Figaro, said this about working with Terrence Malick on "The Tree of Life": "I didn't at all find on the screen the emotion of the script, which is the most magnificent one that I've ever read. A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context! What's more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly."
What you probably didn't read was what else he said, which was translated and posted as a comment by Guy Lodge in response to an article at InContention.com headlined "Sean Penn bitch-slaps 'Tree of Life'": "But it's a film I recommend, as long as you go in without any preconceived ideas. It's up to each person to find their own personal, emotional or spiritual connection to it. Those that do generally emerge very moved." (InContention.com followed up with "Penn on Malick, part deux.")
Back in May, the great production designer Jack Fisk, who has known Malick for many years, told Dennis Lim in the New York Times: "I was shocked by how personal the story was when I first read it. But when I watched the film I just think how universal it is." Or, as Richard Brody, who writes "The Front Row" for The New Yorker, aptly quotes Fritz Lang in Godard's "Contempt": "In the script it is written, and on the screen it's pictures."
Marie writes: Once upon a time when I was little, I spent an afternoon playing "Winne the Pooh" outside. I took my toys into the backyard and aided by a extraordinary one-of-a-kind custom-built device requiring no batteries (aka: artistic imagination) pretended that I was playing with my pals - Winnie the Pooh and Tigger too - and that there was honey nearby; the bumble bees buzzing in the flowerbeds, only too happy to participate in the illusion. And although it didn't have a door, we too had a tree - very much like the one you see and from which hung a tire. A happy memory that, and which came flooding back upon catching sight of these - the animation backgrounds from the new Winnie the Pooh; thank God I was born when I was. :-)
(click to enlarge images)
You may have seen this Art Warning from the Avon Theatre in Stamford, CT. It's been flying around on Twitter and Facebook the past few days (I RTed it from Christopher Misch at Next Projection) and people have had all sorts of reactions, from "How sad that this is necessary," to "How hilarious that this is necessary," to "Is this necessary?"
Austin Dale of indieWIRE interviewed the Avon's programmer, Adam Birnbaum, who said:
There was a small but vocal minority of patrons who walked out of the film, but there were a few individuals who were fairly nasty and belligerent towards the management staff, demanding their money back. There have been a significant number of people who were fascinated by the film and there were plenty of individuals who have written to us to tell us that they thought the film was a masterpiece.
Let's start with the big picture: As near as I can divine, Terrence Malick's movie "The Tree of Life" is about itself, and that statement probably sounds as confounding and imposing as viewers will find the experience (as a whole or in part) of watching it. What I mean (if I can take another flying leap at it) is that the movie expresses the drive behind its creation, somewhat like the way that "Days of Heaven" embodies the peeling and unfurling process of its own making... but, OK, not exactly. This is a movie about (and by) a guy who wants to create the universe around his own existence in an attempt to locate and/or stake out his place within it.
In other words, it's not a modest motion picture. The ambition on display here is Tarkovskian¹ or Kubrickian in scale: think "Solaris," "Stalker," "The Sacrifice," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Barry Lyndon" -- journeys to the far reaches of space and time that are also explorations of worlds within: memories, desires, fantasies, the exercise of will and intelligence. What it comes down to, then, is that "The Tree of Life" is the story of one family (and one filmmaker) projected infinitely outward in all dimensions. (3D is so trifling, comparatively.)
The multiple narrators whispering in our ears are sometimes (but not always) identifiable as members of the O'Brien family, with the strongest voice being that of Jack (Hunter McCracken), eldest of three sons of Mr. and Mrs. O'Brien (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain). Jack is also played as an adult by Sean Penn. The family's story isn't told chronologically, but covers umpteen billion years, give or take, from the origin of the universe to the dissolution of our solar system, with most of the action taking place in Waco, Texas, in 1956 or thereabouts, when Jack is around 11. (I got some of those factoids from the press notes, some from other published material about the film. Consider them guideposts. They may or may not be literally true, and Malick isn't particularly interested in nailing down these kinds of specifics within the film itself -- including the names of all the O'Briens, some of which can be found only in the end credits. But it helps to have a few solid points of reference on hand when discussing the movie.)
I'm kidding, of course. The guy's only directed three theatrical features. His lens flares are still in training bras. But just you watch. Next week you'll be reading a multi-page, info-nugget viewer's guide in which some helpful listmaker sets out to sort the wheat from the chaff: "Mission: Impossible III," "Star Trek" and "Super 8": Will two of them be "best" and the other one be "worst"? Or the other way around? Look for it! (Coming soon: "The Best and Worst of Terrence Malick.")