Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Let the Right One In (2008)
I was floored by Tomas Alfredson's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" the first time I saw it, though (as is usually the case for me, even with movies that don't negotiate complex plots in slyly evasive/elliptical styles), I couldn't have told you exactly what happened. That didn't concern me at all, however, because like its central character George Smiley (Gary Oldman), the movie is so meticulously observant that I never felt I was missing out on anything important, even when I wasn't sure exactly what was going on. It kept me in the emotional moment, and I knew I could figure out the details later on.
The stories behind the relationships at the Circus (nickname for Britain's covert intelligence agency) were tangled -- and yet clearly delineated -- enough to deliver a cumulative emotional payoff. And the more I lived with the vivid memory of the movie (it has stayed with me, unshakably), and the more times I've seen it (thrice, so far), the more my appreciation of it has grown. It has slowly climbed up my list of 2011 favorites, and by the second time I saw it, I was absolutely sure it had eclipsed any other English-language movie I'd seen during the year.
(For gaffe squadders who enjoy those fits of righteous indignation that only award nominations can truly provide, let me suggest that the most egregious oversight in this year's Oscar batch is the lack of acknowledgment for "Tinker Tailor" in the categories of best picture, supporting actor (anyone), supporting actress (Kathy Burke), cinematography, art direction, editing, costume design, and so on down the line. Screenplay, actor and music -- all well-deserved, though.)
First-rate movies often inspire first-rate criticism, and it's been thrilling to read some of the year's best writing inspired by one of its best movies. Here's a sample of some of the finest stuff I've read (all of it after I saw, and wrote a little about, the movie -- so beware of spoilers), with links to the full pieces, which I strongly recommend you follow.
A few weeks ago on Facebook -- that sly keeper of family secrets, whose memory seems to have increased incrementally with its new Timeline mumbo-jumbo -- an actor of some repute posted a list of the best Twitter accounts of 2011, as compiled by a wholly forgettable outlet. He had been placed relatively highly, and someone commented that it was a very subjective list. Apart from the fact that taking issue with "a list of the best Twitter accounts of 2011, lol" is by definition absurd, the statement presented a logical fallacy (I am fully aware of the irony of regarding a throwaway Facebook comment in such depth). All lists are subjective: that's why they're lists. Nonetheless, this fairly simple fact gets lost in the year-end frenzy as interested parties start calling for the list-maker's head, like angry villagers wielding pitchforks, if and when their favoured books, albums, films, etc fail to place on a given critic's compilation of the year's best.
(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:
Marie writes: Did you know that the world's steepest roller-coaster is the Takabisha, which opened earlier this year at the Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park in Yamanash, Japan? The ride lasts just 112 seconds but is packed with exciting features including seven twists, blackened tunnels and a 43m-high peak. But the most impressive thing about Takabisha is the 121 degree free-fall, so steep that it's been recognized by the Guinness World Records as the steepest roller-coaster made from steel!
Marie writes: I attended three different elementary schools; St. Peter's, Our Lady of Mercy (which was anything but) and finally St. Micheal's; where I met my Canadian-Italian chum, Marta Chiavacci (key-a-vah-chee) who was born here to Italian immigrants. We lost touch after high school, moving in different directions til in the wake of a trip to Venice and eager to practice my bad Italian and bore friends with tales of my travels abroad, I sought her out again.We've kept in touch ever since, meeting whenever schedules permit; Marta traveling more than most (she's a wine Sommelier) living partly in Lucca, Italy, and happily in sin with her significant other, the great Francesco. I saw her recently and took photos so that I might show and tell, in here. For of all the friends I have, she's the most different from myself; the contrast between us, a never-ending source of delight. Besides, it was a nice afternoon in Vancouver and her condo has a view of False Creek...smile...
(click images to enlarge)
Marie writes: Gone fishing...aka: in the past 48 hrs, Movable Type was down so I couldn't work, my friend Siri came over with belated birthday presents, and I built a custom mesh screen for my kitchen window in advance of expected hot weather. So this week's Newsletter is a bit lighter than usual.
"There is sin and evil in the world, and we're enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might. Our nation, too, has a legacy of evil with which it must deal." -- Ronald Reagan, in the 1983 "Evil Empire" speech, quoted in Matt Reeves' "Let Me In"
It was the pre-nuclear winter of our discontent. The Cold War was at its coldest since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Jonathan Schell's 1981 New Yorker series about the catastrophic climatic effects of a full-scale nuclear war became a best-selling book, "The Fate of the Earth," in 1982. By 1983, with the escalation in rhetoric between Ronald Reagan and Soviet leaders, movies like Lynne Littman's "Testament" and Nicholas Meyer's "The Day After" -- one a bleak art-house drama; the other a network television nightmare -- were dealing seriously with the prospect of American life in the wake of atomic armageddon, as if to prepare us for the inevitable.
It was one of the darkest periods in modern American history (being too young to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, I recall only the aftermath of 9/11and the invasion of Iraq with comparable feelings of doom). And the snowy, barren landscapes of (where else?) Los Alamos, New Mexico, provide the Americanized setting for Matt Reeves' "Let Me In," a remake of Tomas Alfredson's magnificent Swedish horror film, Let the Right One In" (2008).
Marie writes: Club member and noted blog contributor Tom Dark took this astonishing photograph near his home in Abiqui, New Mexico. The "unknown entity" appeared without warning and after a failed attempt to communicate, fled the scene. Tom stopped short of saying "alien" to describe the encounter, but I think it's safe to say that whatever he saw, it was pretty damned freaky. It sure can't be mistaken for anything terrestrial; like a horse pressing its nose up to the camera and the lens causing foreshortening. As it totally does not look like that at all. (click to enlarge.)
The grand Poobah writes: I have been assured by many posters on my video games blog entry that it took decades for the cinema to gain recognition as an art form. Untrue. Among the first to admire it was Leo Tolstoy, and I reprinted his late 19th-century reaction in my Book of Film. In 1908, Tolstoy and his family appeared in an early motion picture, and if you saw The Last Station (2009) you may want to compare your memories with the real thing. Here is some information about those in the film.
The Last Station (2009) Director Michael Hoffman. Cast: James McAvoy, Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Paul Giamatti and Kerry Condon."The Last Station" focuses on the last year of Count Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), a full-bearded Shakespearian figure presiding over a household of intrigues. The chief schemer is Chertkov (Giamatti), his intense follower, who idealistically believes Tolstoy should leave his literary fortune to the Russian people. It's just the sort of idea that Tolstoy might seize upon in his utopian zeal. Sofya (Helen Mirren), on behalf of herself and her children, is livid." - Ebert. You can read Roger's full review HERE.
Yes it is, I'm afraid. Or almost. Good grief, I know, it's not even Thanksgiving yet and they've already got the festive "Best Of" decorations up in the stores! And I know lots of critics who've been told by their editors to start working on their big '00s lists -- so, reluctantly, I've begun to ponder mine, as well. I haven't even taken a first stab at it but I can tell you this: It will probably not resemble the Top 100 list published a few days ago in the Times of London. Oh, sure, I can conceive of putting together some kind of list that includes "Crash" (#98), "Bowling for Columbine" (#77), "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (#28), "Slumdog Millionaire" (#6) and the like -- but such a ranking would not be comprised of movies that I hold in high esteem. (Have any of the decades' movies plummeted in reputation more dramatically than "Columbine" and "Crash"?)
If you want to page through the Times' list, you can go ahead and start here. It's not all so bad. Meanwhile, here are the top 20 -- with links to things I've written about some of the titles:
or: as promised, an explication of why I chose these pictures and sounds:
I. Titles: Chad Feldheimer gives the invocation (Brad Pitt in Joel and Ethan Coen's "Burn After Reading").
II. Prologue: Hannah Schygulla, Goddess of Fassbinder, Animating Spirit of Cinema, awakens to look us in the eye and set the movie-countdown in motion. (From "The Edge of Heaven." I tweaked it to begin in black and white and fade into color.)
10. "The Fall" (Tarsem Singh; comedy, Western/Eastern, fantasy, adventure). "The Fall" is a tall tale about storytelling and the movies -- the shadows that flicker on screens and the images that excite our imaginations. It is a tale told by an injured American stunt man, bedridden in a Los Angeles hospital circa 1915, and filtered through the consciousness of a little Romanian girl with limited English and a broken arm. She craves the story as much as he craves morphine. He becomes a too-human god, creator and destroyer of worlds; she becomes hooked.
The shot quoted above is a piece of shadowplay from the opening sequence -- the reverse-image of a bridge and a locomotive imprinted on the surface of the water. The white specks are men in the water. A figure on the shadow-bridge tosses them a rope, which becomes a thread linking the positive and negative sides of the picture in the same shot. The rope itself snakes out in shadow (in the foreground, illuminated from behind, not cast on the water) until the tangled coil appears, falling through sunlight, set off against the shadow of a pillar of smoke, and the "tail" is swallowed up by the black of the bridge. "The Fall" accomplishes astounding feats like that throughout.
Mike Myers' "The Love Guru" was chosen worst picture of the year in the Second Annual Ninth Annual Village Voice/LA Weekly Film Poll, in which I was but one of 81 balloteers. I may have been fortunate in that I didn't see it. Nor was I exposed to runner-up Alan Ball's "Towelhead," which was followed by a multiple tie for third-lousiest between "Burn After Reading," "Changeling," "Doubt," "Gran Torino," "Rachel Getting Married," "Step Brothers," and "Synecdoche, New York." The reason I mention this first is that most of these films (OK, not "Love Guru") were also chosen by some as among the best movies of the year, and they were directed by a few critical darlings: Joel and Ethan Coen, Clint Eastwood (twice), Jonathan Demme, Charlie Kaufman...
This year's poll favorites:
10) "Synechdoche, New York" (Charlie Kaufman, USA)
9) "Let the Right One In" (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)
8) "Wendy and Lucy" (Kelly Reichardt, USA)
7) "Milk" (Gus Van Sant, USA)
6) "Waltz With Bashir" (Ari Folman, Israel)
Is it possible that an animated robot will edge out Batman and Benjamin Button in awards season this year? "Wall-E," starring a mechanical garbage collector of the future, cleaned up today in the 2008 Chicago Film Critics Association Awards. The Pixar/Disney production won for best picture, best original screenplay, best original score and best animated film.