"The possibility of a digital, on-demand afterlife guarantees at least a theoretically universal long-tail immortality to blockbusters and curiosities alike. But this state of database nonoblivion is not the same as being held in memory. Which movies are sure to be remembered? Which movies deserve to be? Are these really two different questions?" Ruminating on the films of the past decade, AO Scott lays out his reasoning for presenting his early Best Of list for what'll evidently be a special issue of the New York Times Magazine on
movies [turns out, it's this year's "Screens" issue] (you may have already seen bits of Lynn Hirschberg's piece on Megan Fox bitterly quoted on a zillion film blogs) as two lists, "Movies of Influence" and "Movies of Quality."
A year (or two or more) from now, will we be arguing that any one (or two or more) of the films released in theaters this week deserves a place on one of those lists? Here's how they're faring in the court of opinion-on-deadline.
David Denby in the New Yorker: "In The Messenger, Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), an Army lifer with a shaved head and a face like a cement block, and Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), a coiled, secretive Iraq-war hero, work together in one of the most difficult jobs in the armed services: informing parents and spouses that a loved one has been killed. They tell them immediately, hard upon the death, before the news can appear on the Internet or in the local paper. Messengers? For the families, the sternly polite men, arriving at the door in bemedalled uniforms and tilted berets, seem to be death itself. There's an excruciatingly obvious but unavoidable irony here: The Messenger has also taken on the unwelcome task of telling its audience what it doesn't much want to hear - how families are devastated by war. Yet the film is neither dutiful nor solemn. This is a fully felt, morally alert, marvellously acted piece of work. Despite the grim subject, it's a sweet-tempered movie, with moments of explosive humor - an entertainment."
"Granted, America needs to grieve," offers Stuart Klawans in the Nation, "but it won't pay at the box office for 105 minutes of pure mourning. So we get the rest of The Messenger, which develops the little hints of backstory about Foster that were planted in the first third, while moving him into an awkward courtship with a freshly widowed military wife (Samantha Morton). The adrenaline level drops, the whiff of political bile dissipates and The Messenger becomes a lesser film than it was at the beginning - but not at all a bad one."
More from Noel Murray (AV Club), Jeff Reichert (indieWIRE), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York), AO Scott (NYT) and Ryan Stewart (Slant). Deborah Sontag has background on the film's making in the NYT. James van Maanen interviews director Oren Moverman. Interviews with Harrelson: Aaron Hillis (Voice) and Andrew O'Hehir (Salon); interviews with Foster: Aaron Hillis (IFC) and Keith Uhlich (TONY); Capone interviews Moverman and Foster for AICN; Movieline's Seth Abramovitch talks with Morton.
"You've heard it already," begins Michael Atkinson at IFC, "how Wes Anderson's model railroad-making and Tinker Toy-like narrative constructions, emotionally unmediated characters, pleasure with antiqued surfaces and visual tableaux-love would've led him eventually to making an animated film, more probably a stop motion animation, and thus we have Fantastic Mr Fox, a frame-by-frame expression of the single man's passion for particular detail that's no less obsessive than your average Jan Švankmajer. So, Andersonites will kvell, and those on whom the filmmaker's whimsical vision has been lost or squandered will wonder what in hell their children are supposed to make of the thing."
Dana Stevens at Slate: "The infinitely detailed sets and props: acorn-patterned wallpaper, cutlery made from deer hooves, bespoke corduroy jackets with tiny stalks of wheat in place of pocket squares! You don't want to watch this movie, you want to climb inside it and play."
More from Chris Barsanti (Filmcritic.com), Marcy Dermansky, David Edelstein (New York), Steve Erickson (Gay City News), Scott Foundas (Voice), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Mary Pols (Time), Nicolas Rapold (L), Vadim Rizov (GreenCine Daily), James Rocchi (MSN Movies), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Bernardo Rondeau (LACMA), Nick Schager (Slant), AO Scott (NYT), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Keith Uhlich (TONY), Armond White (New York Press) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
George Clooney is "surely the modern idea and ideal of stardom," argues Time's Richard Corliss. Interviews with Anderson: Alex Billington (FirstShowing) and Krista Smith (Vanity Fair). Interviews with Jason Schwartzman: Kelsey Keith (Flavorpill) and Mike Ryan (Vulture).
Online listening tip. IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss the "Pleasures of Stop Motion Animation." Online viewing tip #1. Anderson made a video first draft of Fox by acting out the individual scenes. Hitfix has clips. Online viewing tip #2. Revisit Matt Zoller Seitz's series on Anderson at Moving Image Source.
Earlier: Reviews from London.
"Other movies have explosions; 2012 has an atom-bomb-size detonation that wipes Yellowstone off the map. Other movies have earthquakes; 2012 sends California sinking, in flames, into the sea. Other movies kill thousands; 2012 kills zillions without breaking a sweat." Dan Kois in the Washington Post: "It's the kind of movie that expects that audiences, shortly after watching the entire population of India subsumed by a tidal wave, will urge on a fluffy white dog as she crosses a chasm and leaps into her owner's arms. It's the kind of movie that has a father conduct a heart-to-heart with his son shortly before belly-landing a jumbo jet on a glacier. It preys on an audience's willingness to cheer for heroes even as we consign faceless masses to the narrative dustbin."
For Nick Schager, "2012 may be the dimmest, most clichéd, most simultaneously maudlin and callous big-ticket film of the year, a dunderheaded end-of-the-world special-effects extravaganza that stands as the defining entrant in, and the nadir of, the disaster porn genre."
More from Simon Abrams (Slant), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Josef Braun, Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Ed Champion, Richard Corliss (Time), Manohla Dargis (NYT), Erin Donovan, Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), David Edelstein (New York), David Fellerath (Independent Weekly), Tom Huddleston (Time Out London), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix), Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle), Paul Matwychuk, Christopher Orr (New Republic), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Tim Robey (Telegraph), James Rocchi (MSN Movies), Armond White (NYP), Chuck Wilson (Voice) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
Tyler Gray has background on the film's making in the NYT. Interviews with director Roland Emmerich: Daniel Feinberg (Hitfix) and ST VanAirsdale (Movieline); interviews with John Cusack: once again, Fienberg and VanAirsdale. "Why is cinema obsessed with 'the end'?" asks Kevin Maher in the London Times.
Mike Russell's got a fun new comic: "Make Your Own Disaster Movie." Be sure to read the "Endnotes & Digressions." Online listening tip. AV Talk. Online viewing tip. The Observer's Jason Solomons talks with Emmerich.
Believe it or not, people are actually buying into this idea that the Mayans predicted that the world would end on December 21, 2012. In h+ Magazine, Mark Dery explains why this "carnival of bunkum," whose top pitchman is Daniel Pinchbeck, author of - get this - 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, is not just a cruel joke on the gullible but racist fear-mongering as well.
"Boys will be boys and often at top volume in Pirate Radio, Richard Curtis's fanciful fiction about rebel broadcasters who, in the mid-1960s, blasted British airwaves and eardrums with the Stones, the Kinks and the Who, among other youth-quaking greats of the era." Manohla Dargis in the NYT: "Stuffed with playful character actors and carpeted with wall-to-wall tunes, the film makes for easy viewing and easier listening, even if Mr Curtis, who wrote and directed, has nothing really to say about these rebels for whom rock 'n' roll was both life's rhyme and its reason."
More from Sam Adams (Philadelphia City Paper), Julien Allen (Reverse Shot), David Berry (Vue Weekly), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Eric Grandy (Stranger), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), James Rocchi (Redblog), Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle), Shawn Levy (Oregonian), Mimi Luse (L), Peter Martin (Cinematical), Paul Matwychuk, Michelle Orange (Movieline), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Nick Schager (Slant), Betsy Sharkey (LAT), Ella Taylor (NPR), Robert Wilonsky (Voice) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
Pirate Radio is indeed "Inspired by a True Story," but, blogging for Slate, Eric Hynes notes that Curtis "is probably wise, if not terribly truthful, to dramatize the fight for the right to party instead of the fight for the right to sell adverts."
And FilmInFocus launches series on cinematic Liverpool.
"Scott McGehee and David Siegel's Uncertainty returns the filmmaking team to the dualities of their 1993 debut feature Suture, a science-fiction oddity about the reunion between two brothers who are told they look similar, even though one is black and the other is white." Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "McGehee and Siegel have remained icy clinicians, given to arms-length deconstructions like the thriller The Deep End or the runaway mysticism of Bee Season. Uncertainty finds them indulging their most academic instincts, fiddling with a bifurcated structure without bothering to flesh out their thin ideas about choices made and deferred, and the hand of destiny. They're like architects of a beautiful home that's completely uninhabitable."
More from Michael Atkinson (IFC), Stephen Holden (NYT), Ella Taylor (Voice), Keith Uhlich (TONY) and James van Maanen. For Filmmaker, Brandon Harris talks with McGehee and Siegel. Jenni Miller talks with Joseph Gordon-Levitt for Cinematical. And IFC's Alison Willmore revisits eight other "What-If" movies.
TONY's David Fear on Dare: "Adam Salky's high-school soap offers a virtual Spumoni of caricatured adolescent hand-wringing. When subtlety equals a drama-class performance of A Streetcar Named Desire's rape scene, expect a bumpy ride." More from Adam Keleman (Slant), Andrew Schenker (Voice) and AO Scott (NYT).
"With more references to vaginas than Our Bodies, Ourselves, Sebastian Gutierrez's Almodóvar-in-the-'80s accented comedy [Women in Trouble] isn't quite the unequivocal embrace of pussy power it tries to be," warns Melissa Anderson in the Voice. More from Matthew Connolly (Slant), Manohla Dargis (NYT), David Fear (TONY) and Scott Tobias (AV Club).
"So here's the real question about capitalism, the one nobody really wants to face," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "Does it create gross inequality as an unfortunate byproduct of its energy and dynamism - or is gross inequality itself, between rich and poor, between the industrialized North and the underdeveloped South, the principal product of capitalism over the last five centuries? Philippe Diaz's powerful and upsetting documentary The End of Poverty?, which weaves together a wide range of talking-head experts and a startling array of ordinary poor people and their advocates from around the globe, casts a strong vote for Option B. Unfortunately, that answer is virtually off-limits in public discussion these days, and is likely to make the film and its French-American director unpalatable to precisely the audiences who should see it and think about it."
More from Neil Genzlinger (NYT), Aaron Hillis (TONY), Nathan Rabin (AV Club), Andrew Schenker (Voice) and Lauren Wissot (Slant).
"Like Doug Block's 51 Birch Street, William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe shows media-savvy children reckoning with the conflict between their childhood worship of their father, and their revised adult understanding of his behavior." Mimi Luse in the L Magazine: "Neither vilifying nor glorifying him, the daughters of the late civil-rights lawyer William Kunstler have produced a clear-eyed biopic that weighs the questionable aspects of his past against his heroic achievements."
More from Stephen Holden (NYT), Noel Murray (AV Club), Ella Taylor (Voice), Keith Uhlich (TONY) and Bill Weber (Slant).
Aaron Hillis in TONY on Four Seasons Lodge: "New York Times writer Andrew Jacobs makes his warmly entertaining directorial debut, inspired by a series of articles he filed on summers in the Catskills. For the past quarter century, a group of Holocaust survivors has headed upstate annually for rowdy poker games, kvetching and telling corny jokes." Asks Ella Taylor in the NYT: "What can Holocaust survival possibly mean but the awesome spectacle of life triumphing over annihilation by stubbornly reasserting itself, over and over again?"
More from Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant), Michelle Orange (Movieline) and James van Maanen.
"Fans of the writer and musician Robert Palmer, who was chief pop-music critic of The New York Times from 1981 to 1988, should not come to the documentary The Hand of Fatima expecting a comprehensive look at his life, his writing or his role in American music," writes Mike Hale in the NYT. "The film's director, Augusta Palmer, is Robert Palmer's daughter, and she has a different - though perfectly understandable - agenda." Writing for Artforum, Amy Taubin "would have preferred to witness less of the personal drama and more of the music." More from Matt Connolly (NYP), Aaron Hillis (Voice), Jay Ruttenberg (TONY) and Bill Weber (Slant).
"Give Peter Rodger credit for audacity," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant: "In Oh My God, the writer, director, producer, and DP jets around the world, traveling from Africa to India, Japan to Israel, to ask an assortment of religious leaders and extremists, everyday people, and celebrity ringers that vague, if endlessly provocative question, 'What is God?'" But it all "dissolves into empty exercise when we realize that Rodger is simply shaping his material to accord with a predetermined viewpoint." More from Stephen Holden (NYT), Kevin B Lee (TONY) and Nick Pinkerton (Voice).
"Picture a peacenik who in his private moments enjoys looking at pictures of horribly mutilated bodies," suggests Neil Genzlinger in the NYT. "That is the vibe given off by The Good Soldier, a film whose benign-sounding title and Veterans Day release give a false impression of what it actually is: an attack on the military, drenched in blood." More from Aaron Hillis (Voice), Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant) and Ronnie Scheib (Variety).
For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism opens today in San Francisco, Chicago and Winnipeg and screens tomorrow at the St Louis International Film Festival. Walter Addiego in the San Francisco Chronicle: "If you're passionate about movies, you should see this one. It's short on production values, but that's appropriate - no one ever became a film critic for the money."
Seicho Matsumoto's novel Zero no Shoten (Zero Focus) was adapted in 1961 by Yoshitaro Nomura, and now again by Isshin Inudo. For the Japan Times' Mark Schilling, this new film, "which centers on a woman's desperate search for her missing newlywed husband, evokes the work of Alfred Hitchcock in everything from its saturated colors and portentous, dreamy tone (a la Vertigo) to its spectacular location where a character takes a long, fatal plunge (as in Saboteur and North by Northwest). But I also caught echoes of German filmmaker Douglas Sirk, the 1950s master of the 'woman's picture,' who dramatized the unpleasant consequences for women whose life choices violated the era's social and moral rules, such as the upper-middle-class widow's relationship with her younger gardener in All that Heaven Allows. Inudo, like Sirk, treats these choices - and the punishments inflicted on the women who make them, with a seriousness that is both right and thrillingly over-ripe."
From the Guardian comes news that Michael Haneke and Michel Houellebecq have discussed working together. Meantime, The White Ribbon opens in the UK today. For the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, it's " ghost story without a ghost, a whodunnit without a denouement, a historical parable without a lesson, and for two and a half hours, this unforgettably disturbing and mysterious film leads its viewers alongside an abyss of anxiety."
More from Dave Calhoun (Time Out London), Ryan Gilbey (New Statesman), Anthony Quinn (Independent), Nick Schager, Sukhdev Sandhu (Telegraph) and Toby Young (Times).
Earlier: "Debating Haneke (and Brecht)." The Auteurs and Artificial Eye are proud to present a retrospective of Haneke's work, right here.
Updates, 11/14: More on Fantastic Mr Fox: Jeff Reichert (Reverse Shot). And a bit of online listening from Aaron Hillis, who talks with Schwartzman at GreenCine Daily.
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