Director: Matt Ross
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler
Disconnected. Viggo Mortensen plays Ben, an oddball father raising 6 kids in the wilderness far away from America’s contemporary consumerist society. The children hunt by day, read works of challenging literature by campfire at night, and celebrate the birthday of Noam Chomsky instead of Christmas. A morally admirable bunch of characters we don’t ever connect with or really care what happens to.
The film begins with the death of the children’s mother who we know nothing about, or the impact she had, if any, on any of her children. Her death and upcoming funeral is a narrative driving force in the film as the gang hits the road in their school bus, but the journey is hard to care about. As in The Road, Viggo must guide his offspring through a wasteland of undesirables, but this journey is far less engaging and one where their troubles are self-inflicted. Ben’s authoritarian and liberal mindset throughout is tiring and confusing.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester
2001 is a total cinematic experience. Kubrick is a big director and only he could have tackled the source material, in the manner it deserved at least. Arthur C. Clarke and Kubrick were thinking of bigger ideas, ideas which both alienated themselves from humanity and elevated themselves to the status of genius.
Thanks to Kubrick, whenever we look at scenes of sprawling stars, we think of (or at least I think of) Johann Strauss’ waltz “Blue Danube”. We have an idea of classical music as perfectly constructed melody. Strauss’ waltz flows as it should and resolves itself in a crescendo of perfect harmony as we watch the docking of Bowman’s space shuttle in 2001. It’s slow, interesting, beautiful, and immensely watchable – tenets sustained throughout the film.
2001 is about everything. Humanity and where it comes from, technology and what it does to us, the future and what’s in store for us. In the robotic HAL 9000 we are given the most human character of the film: he tries to make sense of his existence and give order to it, he harms his friends while trying to do what is right, and suffers a total breakdown while singing and recounting childhood memories. The interplay between technology and humanity is of central importance to Kubrick. We can only dream of how he would have made A.I. Artificial Intelligence work on the big screen. Spielberg gave it a good go, but it’s not on the level of Kubrick’s visuals.
There is no doubt that this film has inspired artistic and scientific disciplines alike by giving a visualization to what many could only dream of. Above all other accomplishments, this film achieves transcendence – a connection on a human level to something so alien. As Carl Sagan said: “We are made of starstuff.”
Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Fassbender…
It took a strangely long time for a film like 12 Years a Slave to surface. And when it did, Hollywood finally decided it was time to address the issue of America’s past all at once, with Tarantino’s Django Unchained released in the same Oscar season.
Steve McQueen’s films are powerful. We already saw the impact of his lengthy and lingering scenes in Hunger and Shame, but given the gravitas of the subject at hand, this film was never going to be anything other than a complete triumph. McQueen and director of photography Sean Bobbitt have created the most realisitc representation of the antebellum United States that has ever been seen on screen. The shocking violence of this time in America’s history is not diluted. Scenes are brutally honest and like those two trademark scenes from Hunger, they linger. That there is no escape from what you are watching unfold is the true achievement of this film. You can’t retreat to any comforting scenes, this is America’s legacy of brutality in full display.
The performances are physically furious. Fassbender is excellent throughout. A pathetic and evil plague that never goes away. A constant tryant from start to finish, that like the subject of the film, still needs to be addressed at the film’s close. Ejofor and Nyong’o are both outstanding in their leading roles.
One of the best and most important films of the decade and the deserved Best Picture winner of 2014. Recommend you view it in a triple bill with Django Unchained and Dave Chappelle’s time haters.
Director: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam…
Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men is one of the most enjoyable film-watching experiences I have ever had. This is peak Lumet – technical film-making skills and remarkable acting performances. The film is set around the table of a 12-man jury that deliberates on the fate of a young man accused of murder.
At the start of the film the camera is positioned above the men at the table, forcing the viewer to look down on the jury. As the film progresses, the camera moves down to the level of the actors, making the actors address the audience on the same level. By decision time, and the end of the film, camera and audience are below the jury looking up. Henry Fonda’s persuasion of Lee J. Cobb out of a miscarriage of justice is made all the important with Lumet’s direction. Focal length manipulation is also used so effectively to increase the sense of claustrophobia that you’d need a chainsaw to cut through the tension. The sweat on Fonda and company’s heads practically oozes through the screen.
12 Angry Men is the precursor to tense, claustrophobic, close-shot films like Glengarry Glen Ross, another classic driven by strong performance. Technically perfect and immensely entertaining, 12 Angry Men is an all-time classic which hasn’t aged.
Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock doesn’t feel the same: “12 Angry Men is preposterous, Kenneth. 11 decent Americans are getting swayed by Jane Fonda’s father?”