Noah Baumbach isn’t exactly the first name in a list of directors that comes to mind for a documentary about renowned filmmaker Brian De Palma. With Baumbach’s own work as of late revolving around young and somewhat hip New Yorkers (Frances Ha and his recent release Mistress America), it’s not what anyone might naturally expect him to take on as his next project.
It begins and ends with a look. In that look is hesitance, longing, desire, confusion, confidence, conviction, hope. Even love. On NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, writer and critic Glenn Weldon described real chemistry between actors living in the look, elaborating on the attraction manifesting in the movement of the eyes.
Maggie’s Plan Written by Rebecca Miller Directed by Rebecca Miller USA, 2015 Is it sexist, or at the very least unfair, to compare Rebecca Miller’s Maggie’s Plan to the works of Noah Baumbach and Woody Allen, but with a tone of derision? Either way, it’s hard to divorce Miller’s manic wit and preoccupation with middle-class …
Colin Farrell, donning a rather “Joaquin Phoenix in Her” disposition and attire, sits on the couch, facing away from his presumed wife as she tells him the details of the man for whom she’s leaving, doesn’t say much.
Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk, based on Philippe Petit’s wire walking across the Twin Towers in the early 1970s, opens on the face of its star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, thereby setting the tone for the film: Zemeckis puts much technical effort and detail into accentuating the depth and various surfaces of the actor’s face, and as the star, as wire walking Philippe, begins to talk, nothing but tall tales falls from his mouth.
Underneath the bass drops and the electronic harmony of the garage music scene of 1990s Paris is melancholy and loneliness. The parties are bursting with verve and energy, but when the music stops, so does that joy. Hansen-Løve’s examination of a young DJ over the course of twenty years is warm and tender, an incredible look at the pros and cons of following your passion, allowing art to be your escape, and the joy of music.
Great film direction can reflect great fashion. Unlike its direct competition, the earlier 2014 film Yves Saint Laurent, director and co-writer Bertrand Bonello portrays the fashion mogul with saturated palettes of grandeur in Saint Laurent. The prior film is directed by actor-turned-filmmaker Jalil Lespert, who,having less directorial experience than Bonello, doesn’t quite transform the character of Laurent with the vision and divinity as its successor. Where Lespert is almost literal, Bonello is instead deep and as complex as the character himself, picking apart every detail of the icon and the space he walked in.
His use of natural lighting, the gorgeous compositions he creates often on the fly, those long takes. This is what we talk about when we talk about Emmanuel Lubezki, the Mexican cinematographer responsible for such arresting imagery in the films of Terrence Malick (The New World, The Tree of Life, To the Wonder), Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Y tu mamá también, Gravity), the Brothers Coen (Burn After Reading), and Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Anna”, a short in the anthology To Each His Own Cinema). He is the only cinematographer in recent memory, possibly next to Roger Deakins, that pushes the form to its limits and has name recognition for such. The naturalistic beauty of The Tree of Life was nothing compared to the – wait for it – physics-defying work in Gravity. And here he is again, using a simulated long take for Iñárritu’s Birdman. “But isn’t it just a gimmick?”, you might ask. Well, yes. And that’s probably the point.
It’s not just that Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies tend to defy any one genre description; it’s that, often, it seems as if the writer-director is trying to play with many genres simultaneously. The only reason that Boogie Nights isn’t the best drama of the 1990s is that it spends a lot of time trying to be the best comedy of the 1990s instead. So Anderson’s newest, Inherent Vice, is a departure in that it mostly sticks to one style (sun-drenched film noir) and one tone (absurdist comedy). It’s also a fine film, which suffers only when measured against the insanely high standard that Anderson’s past work has set.
There’s an expansiveness to the emotionality of Spall’s performance, similar again to his paintings. His gruff, guttural line readings, his carefully naturalistic mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, and the tears he sheds are a work of art in and of themselves, allowing Leigh and Spall to create a portrait of a man that does seem to elevate the art in some way. Leigh isn’t bent on building up Turner, tearing him down, and building him up again as so many biopics are prone to do; J.M.W Turner just is. Flawed, powerful, generous, and one hell of an artist.
Even if you were not around during the 1970s, Inherent Vice comes across as a faded, nostalgic memory. Being a faithful adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel, the film recounts the dying days of the free love era, laced with the look, feel and paraphernalia of the subculture. Anderson’s comedic thriller peppers itself with restless, almost out of place laughter, while dedicating itself to the themes of the early Seventies. One is reminded of private-eye classics such as Roman Polanski’s Chinatown and Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, with traces of Zucker-Abrahams comedies like Airplane! and The Naked Gun. For many, the homage to 1970s filmmaking will be a very real and thrilling look down memory lane. For others, it’ll be a history lesson like no other found in modern day filmmaking.
Suffused with the landscapes that the famed British painter J.M.W Turner admired and translated into legend, director Mike Leigh’s newest film hints at the inner life of the man behind the accomplishments but stops well short of explicating his eccentric actions. Unable to articulate his feelings and more often than not treating the people around him with callous indifference, it’s obvious that Leigh’s Turner has cultivated an environment of emptiness that has allowed him ample space to do exactly what he wants with his life. The silence is frequently richer than the dialogue, with the luscious scenery speaking more to the turmoil of his mind than he can adequately express to those who want to be close to him. Mr. Turner tests one’s patience as we crawl through the waning years of the man’s life, but Spall’s offbeat performance and the gorgeous backdrops immerse the viewer just enough to offset the sparsity of the artist’s stunted emotional intelligence.
Wearing a dark scarf over her head to shield herself against the bright, Long Island sunlight, Little Edie Beale famously introduced her iconoclastic sense of fashion by calling her outfit “the best costume for today”. In the Maysles brothers’ documentary Grey Gardens, this single clip seems to encapsulate the greatness of that film: performance, style, agelessness. And nearly 40 years later, Albert Maysles returns to a similar, if not the same, kind of subject: Iris Apfel. In Iris, those ideas are explored with a little less than half the vitality that Grey Gardens, but on the plus side it’s a pleasure to watch.
When I finally got around to seeing Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, the thing I kept saying to people was, “Isn’t it funny that this film needs to be seen in 3D and yet itself does not justify 3D’s place within cinema?” I still hold my “it’s fine” opinion on that film, denying its status as an Avatar0esque game changer, and I thought I’d have to keep searching for that. Luckily, I found it right off the bat at the New York Film Festival: Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language 3D redefines not only 3D in film, but quite possibly film itself.
Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name, Gone Girl’s literal translation and loyal adaptation acts as the film’s best friend and worst enemy. Some of the best parts of the novel work great on screen, while others are hard to portray. Since the majority of the audience is fully aware of what’s going on, widespread alterations are inevitably taken with caution, no matter how big or small. If too much of the storyline is given away too hastily, the appeal is lost before its midpoint. Unfortunately for director David Fincher, what’s left is a campy shell of a plot extracted from any remnants of wit and mystery.
Originally birthed as an 18-minute short, premiering at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Whiplash went on to garner enough attention to become a feature full-length film. Thank God it did. The feature-length version of Whiplash masterfully showcases the pressures of perfection in a tightly plotted, beautifully shot, soberly performed package. From the creative genius of sophomore director Damien Chazelle comes a semi-autobiographical experience just as exhilarating as it is shocking. Whiplash tells the story of Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), a promising young drummer who enrolls at an elite music conservatory, where his dreams of greatness are mentored by Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a ruthless music conductor who will stop at nothing to realize his student’s potential talent. With the audience on the edge of their seats, the question constantly being taunted is thus: how far is too far for pushing a student towards greatness?
Expressing his appreciation for a painting of Proust’s bedroom, Yves Saint Laurent says, “There’s so much fidelity in it. The artist didn’t eclipse his subject.” Something similar can be said of Bertrand Bonello’s biopic of the iconic woman’s fashion designer, as the film seems content with offering fleeting glimpses of its subject drinking, smoking, pill-popping, and sketching in fervid bursts rather than trying to understand him. It doesn’t pontificate or wax philosophical or dig deeply into Saint Laurent’s psyche. It treats the man more like a piece of art to be displayed and observed. (To be fair, this year’s other Saint Laurent biopic, Yves Saint Laurent, does try to explain the man, and it fails pretty hard, so maybe Bonello has the right idea.)
In Mathieu Amalric’s The Blue Room, love is a corrosive agent, an arsenic-like poison that slowly works its way into your heart. Amalric writes, directs and stars in this contorted but calculated little flick with a dark beating heart, adapted from a slim novel by Georges Simenon. It depicts the prelude to and aftermath of a possible murder (eschewing the actual murder itself, leaving things gleefully ambiguous). Amalric plays Julien Gahyde, who’s suspected of killing his wife (Lea Drucker). Amalric’s real-life partner Stéphanie Cléau plays Julien’s mistress, Esther Despierre, whose sickly husband owns a pharmacy with his mother. Amalric displays admirable trust in his viewers; he doesn’t withhold information as much as he carefully feeds us certain contemplated bits that add up to a beautifully hazy whole.
At age 45, it feels like writer-director Noah Baumbach is getting soft. Best known for his caustic tragicomedies like Kicking and Screaming, The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, and Margot at the Wedding, he took a turn in tone for his 2012 feature Frances Ha, which starred and was co-written by Greta Gerwig. So, though the warmth of that film might surprise someone familiar with his work, that it’s a collaboration with Gerwig explains at least part of that tone. While We’re Young, though, Baumbach’s newest film which premiered at TIFF this year and made a surprise appearance at the New York Film Festival, manages to carry that affection. It’s hard to top Frances Ha, but his newest is pleasant and impressive all the same.
Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, now conquering New York after wowing audiences at film festivals all the way back to Sundance last winter, opens with a title card over black while a few taps on a snare drum build into a furious drum roll. It’s a fine way to symbolize the conflict at the center of the film, which accelerates to “furious” so quickly and easily that it’s barely perceptible. Tension builds slowly in an empathic crescendo, before snapping over and over again like the repeated pounding of a cymbal. Whatever arguments this film may inspire, it’s clear that there is no other film in existence which makes music so thrilling.
Fincher is an expert chemist when it comes to concocting the nastiest tales of cynicism and darkness. Gone Girl may not be the culmination of his efforts to date, but it’s undoubtedly a sinister piece of work. There’s an oppressive air within the film, from its meticulously created soundscape and score (from Fincher alums Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) to its plasticized aesthetic. The cynical attitude is evident from the first frame, as the camera looks at the top of Amy’s (Rosamund Pike) head and Nick (Ben Affleck) says he’d like to “crack [his] wife’s head” to reveal the secrets lying in her labyrinthine brain. From that kickoff, we understand this is not a happy marriage. Maybe Fincher feels no marriages are happy.
Horse Money is an elusive entity, a picture of eerie dreamscapes and squalid urban degradation devoid of earthly logic. Our unknowing guide is a retired brick layer named Ventura, acting as a cipher for the displaced souls of the Cape Verdean immigrants, consorting us through a saprogenic world. Director Pedro Costa crafts a hallucinatory, soul-searching labyrinth out of the squalor and grime of the Lisbon slums, known to locals as Fontainhas. It’s almost soporific in its unending calmness, but it (mostly) avoids pretensions. Ventura drifts in a solipsistic daze through various scenes of displaced landscape and artifice. He does various non-activities with unvarying detachment: he meets his estranged ex-wife, and tries to make a call on a broken phone, and uses a urinal in a derelict bathroom, and visits a doctor. Each event is visually striking, yet completely uneventful (though a door does slam at one point). The lighting is hard and Costa works often in steep contrasts; Ventura moves in and out of shadows, disappearing and reappearing like the motif from a dream.
The end of Sandra’s (Marion Cotillard) journey does not matter, it is the journey that does. And though that sounds entirely conventional, even cliché, it might be the brilliance of Belgian auteurs Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne; their ability to get away with plot points that would seem at home in the most Hollywood, middlebrow fare comes off as resonant, enthralling, and emotionally realistic. Thus, in Two Days, One Night, the Dardennes prove their relevancy and potency as directors once again.