Tuesday, February 18, 2014

IT'S THE ANNUAL INCREDIBLY OVERDUE ZOMBIE YEAR IN REVIEW!!!



"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."  I wish I had a better excuse than that for why this year-end wrap-up blog never seems to arrive around the actual end of the year.  But given all the promotional appearances and podcast recordings that continue for Dan O'Bannon's Guide to Screenplay Structure, plus a looming deadline for a book proposal I'm currently preparing, and you have what will surely be the latest "best of 2013" list that you're likely to find.  My usual goal is to be sure to have this in no later than the Oscars, and with less than two weeks to go, I figured I'd finally free up some time to take care of it.  (Most of the book proposal details are in the hands of my co-author now...looking forward to seeing what she comes up with...)

So, before we get to the best that the previous year had to offer, let's scrape 2013's dog muck off of our shoes with the five worst films of the year...

5.  BULLET TO THE HEAD

I feel as if I should make it clear that this rating is in no way motivated by the bad blood that existed between Dan O'Bannon and Bullet director Walter Hill after their checkered-to-say-the-least relationship during the production of Alien.  In fact, I have long been something of a Hill fan, greatly appreciating his existentialist approach to the action genre and commitment to the better-than-it-needs-to-be B movie; I'm happy to expound on the virtues of Trespass, Undisputed, and 48 Hrs. (still the Platonic ideal of the buddy cop action comedy) to anyone who will listen.  And given my predilection for mid-budget action thrillers and my sometimes-wrongheaded but undeniable affection for Sylvester Stallone, I'm the perfect audience for Bullet to the Head if you pull it off right.  And man, did they pull it off wrong.  Over-the-hill assassin Stallone joins forces with a D.C. cop (charisma vacuum Sung Kang of the Fast & Furious series) to take on a criminal conspiracy involving a welter of details I can't be bothered to remember, plus Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa, who at least acquits himself admirably in the action scenes.  I like guns and fistfights in my movies as much as the next red-meat-craving groundling, but this one just put me to sleep.  It plays more like a remnant from Stallone's brief sojourn into the realm of direct-to-video than like anything that has any business getting a theatrical release...and that statement is actually terribly unfair to the quality work being put out in the DTV realm by Dolph Lundgren, William Kaufman, and other filmmakers.  Bullet boasts a great, roughneck blues-rock score by Steve Mazzaro and absolutely nothing else really worthy of commendation.

4.  R.I.P.D.

If you liked the Men in Black films, but thought that they needed less aliens and more ghosts, or rather just ghosts instead of aliens, your prayers have been answered.  Based, like Bullet to the Head, on a cult comic book series (and fair warning...this isn't the last comics-based film in the bottom five), R.I.P.D. proves just how much color, noise and movement you can pack into a motion picture and still wind up with an utterly coma-inducing result.  Ryan Reynolds, again making us question his presence in an ostensibly A-list project, plays a recently slain cop who joins forces with the spirit of an Old West lawman (Jeff Bridges in a half-hearted pastiche / parody of his terrific take on Rooster Cogburn from True Grit) to battle "deados" intent on taking over modern-day Boston, again proving itself to be America's least visually distinctive oft-used film location.  Everything in the picture is material we've already seen in Men in Black, just not as good:  The creature designs are uninspired, the weapons are not particularly eye-catching or powerful, and Mary-Louise Parker may be prettier than Rip Torn, but she's certainly not funnier.  The film pushes some quirky attempts at world-building that fall flat (apparently, ghosts can't bear to be in the presence of spicy Indian food...don't ask me, I didn't make it up), and by the time we hit the swirly, cacophonous climax, we've honestly forgotten what the villains' plot is and why we should really care.  This was one of the last films I saw in 2013; I skipped it in theaters after being talked out of seeing it by my ex-Zombette, who objected to the "abysmal" trailer.  But at least watching it at home on a Redboxed Blu-ray, I could stretch out on the floor if I wanted to nod off during it.  And I wanted to.  And I did.

3.  HARRY DEAN STANTON:  PARTLY FICTION

This one just breaks my heart, as for the first time, my annual Human Centipede Award for least rewarding cinematic experience of the year goes to a documentary.  Filmmaker Sophie Huber has hit on a strong idea:  A feature-length doc exploring the life and career of Harry Dean Stanton, that genius of a character actor with the face of an undertaker and the soul of a poet (his credits, of course, include Alien, in which he is terrific).  But Huber, working with the gifted cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (The Avengers), turns in a 77-minute illustration of one of my cardinal rules of cinema:  You can't fake depth.  The moody lighting and somnambulant editing attempt to present every nugget out of Stanton's mouth as purest profundity.  But mostly, the film just lulls us into a stupor, only occasionally perked up by the rare pithy insight (Stanton at one point opines, with a wry smile, "I think I've managed to avoid success artfully") and a nice scene at the end in which Stanton, who often seems like he'd rather be discussing his music than his cinema career, performs a duet with the ever-craggy Kris Kristofferson.  I rank this lower than R.I.P.D. only because unlike that film, I actually went into this expecting to love it.  Imagine my disappointment.  Oh well.  We'll always have Brett.

2.  MAN OF STEEL

On his year-end round-up show, F This Movie! host Patrick Bromley declared that "anyone who calls Man of Steel one of the worst films of the year is talking out of their ass".  Well, then, call me Ace Ventura, because Zack Snyder's take on Superman is the utter pits, one of the most depressing and dismal objects to pass itself off as a superhero film in quite some time.  Going for the dark gravity of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy (Nolan is credited as co-producer and shares story "honors" with David S. Goyer, also partly responsible for the worst film of 2012), Snyder never once stops to think whether such an approach is a good fit for the material.  Superman has always been the bright, optimistic yin to Batman's grim, brooding yang.  Recalibrating his legend on the same emotional valence as Batman's was destined to fail, and it does, loudly and spectacularly.  Henry Cavill's take on Superman is smug and unlikable, Amy Adams brings little to remember to the role of Lois Lane, and Russell Crowe does his best with the absolute silliest material in the script.  Combine that with murky, jittery handheld camerawork by Amir Mokri and a final-hour action set piece that is basically the audiovisual equivalent of a blackjack to the back of the skull, and you have a blockbuster that expends maximum effort to create minimum joy and entertainment.  You know a Superman film is in trouble when you're sitting there thinking, "Boy, I hope they get back to the Smallville flashbacks!  That's the best stuff!"  Kevin Costner and Diane Lane get a pass for this.  Everyone else:  Back to the drawing board.

1.  AUSTENLAND

I almost feel bad kicking such a little-seen, barely-regarded film, but discredit must be given where it is due.  Jerusha Hess's adaptation of Shannon Hale's chick-lit hit is a classic example of a cute premise that the filmmakers have absolutely no idea how to utilize.  Keri Russell (perky enough and not really the problem) plays a lifelong Jane Austen obsessive who spends her life savings on a trip to an Austen fantasy camp in England, where she does herself up in the dresses of the era and gets caught in a love triangle between an actor playing a stuffy Mr. Darcy type (J.J. Feild) and the resort's gruffly handsome groundskeeper (Bret McKenzie), who just might have a secret or two up his sleeve.  Again, cute idea.  But unless the sight of modern people in period clothing sends you into gales of helpless laughter, there is nothing, nothing coming back at you from the screen to get excited about here.  The film seems to be almost afraid of its material, as if it doesn't want to really come out swinging, for fear of offending the Austenophiles who are, let's face it, the film's principal audience.  (I hate to sound like a bigot here, but I think this is a case where Hess's values as a Mormon filmmaker might have kept her from pushing the material to some gleefully vulgar extremes...think of what someone like in-his-prime Mel Brooks could have done with this concept.)  As the resort's stiff-upper-lipped director, Jane Seymour is ready to party, if only they'd given her some good jokes to work with, and as a loudly crude fellow guest, Jennifer Coolidge proves what I've long suspected about her...namely, that she just isn't funny.  Demerits as well for casting McKenzie, a brilliantly skilled Oscar-winning composer, and still filling your soundtrack with aural cotton candy by something called Emmy the Great.  MAJOR demerits for featuring a sexual assault on the Russell character by a supporting player who, after his attempted rape, never appears onscreen again.  Even the sometimes dismayingly easy-to-please romcom audience avoided this one.  Very good call.  

*   *   *  *  *  

Before we get to the year's best, I do feel the need to feature my first ever "honorable mention" for a film that screened as a theatrical feature in most of the rest of the world (it was even in competition at the Cannes Film Festival), and might have done so in America were we not living a country filled with tight-assed, hateful prudes.  I'm speaking, of course, of Steven Soderbergh's funny, thoughtful and surprisingly effective Behind the Candelabra, a realization of Scott Thorson's dishy memoir of his romantic entanglement with Liberace, the most confusing case of closet-dwelling that worked in entertainment history.  Michael Douglas and Matt Damon both turn in near-career-best work as the peacocky pianist and his young sexual charge, and the passion, rage and tenderness with which they suffuse the men's relationship make it a cinematic romance for the ages.  Terrific supporting turns abound, particularly from Debbie Reynolds as Liberace's brutally passive-aggressive mother; Rob Lowe, effortlessly hilarious as a pulled-tighter-than-tight plastic surgeon; Nicky Katt as a snappily smug drug dealer; and the ineffable Bruce Ramsay as Liberace's spoiled little bitch of a houseboy.  Richard Lagravanese's sharp and unsentimental script also is a subtle and satisfying look at the days when every gay mainstream entertainer lived in the closet, partly on the good graces of an audience who assumed everyone was straight as a matter of course.  It's the year's best biopic, and had it played in U.S. theaters, it definitely would have made my top 10.

But what theatrical releases did?  Here, for your enjoyment and hopefully approval, are the Movie Zombie's top 10 films of 2013...

10.  AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY

Anyone that knows me knows that the intimate, close-quarters relationship drama is not really my favorite genre of film.  I generally feel that this type of material is better handled in prose fiction, where the writer can really tap us into the mindset of his characters, or on the stage, where the playwright has the luxury of utilizing the soliloquy to gives us characters' thoughts as dialogue (indeed, John Wells's film has its roots on the stage, in Tracy Letts's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama).  And indeed, when I first saw the trailer for this film, packed to the gills as it is with award-winning star talent, I thought it looked like a picture that would have less than nothing to offer me.  Imagine my surprise, then, when the snarling bite of Letts's dialogue and the pitiless honesty of the admittedly high-pitched performances took hold of me.  The results were funny, unsparing, and unexpectedly potent, with small cinematic filigrees that open up the material and somehow, amazingly, never made me feel like I was just looking at a filmed play.  Naturally, in a bench of actors this deep, a few performers get a little lost in the shuffle; Ewan McGregor is a tiny touch out of his depth as an adulterous college professor, and Juliette Lewis spends a good bit of the picture skirting the edge of country caricature.  But the performers who do work sock home their juicy roles with conviction and glee.  Julia Roberts has never been better onscreen:  uninhibited, angry and wounded to the quick.  Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper are beautifully lived-in as a married couple with a profoundly unsettling secret.  And Meryl Streep, who dances a fine line between beauty and grotesquerie throughout, manages to crack the carapace of actorly artifice here to hit at something dangerous, deep and very human. 

9.  PHILOMENA

Another film that could easily have gone awry is Stephen Frears's fact-based comic drama about a working-class Irishwoman (Judi Dench, enjoying for once getting to play someone who's not superior to everyone in the room) who enlists the help of a skeptical former journalist (Steve Coogan, who also co-scripted) to track down the out-of-wedlock son that was sold to America by a pack of duplicitous nuns decades before.  The raw material is here for a baldly didactic expose or a crudely sentimental weepie, but Frears, working with peerless taste and restraint, manages to find a gentle, yearning tone that is dead-on right for the material.  Coogan and Jeff Pope's screenplay is thought-provoking without being preachy, gives each character the courtesy of their often contradictory opinions, and finds room within potentially tragic material for some sly wit in a very English vein.  The film is also smart enough to not attempt to resolve the difficult issues at its center; age-old questions of morality and faith are at play here, and no 98-minute British indie drama can hope to solve all that.  But we do get a couple of wonderful lead performances.  Dench's Oscar-nominated turn is a master class in making a character specific and comic without resorting to mockery, and Coogan might very well have netted himself a best supporting actor nomination in a leaner year; his BBC newsman turned reluctant confidant is wryly amused and above-it-all, until the circumstances force him to fiercely speak his mind.  This is the type of picture that gives "issue" movies a good name.

8.  THIS IS THE END

I usually find room on this countdown for one balls-out comedy per year, no film of 2013 made me laugh harder than Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's gonzo tale of the apocalypse smacking a gang of self-satisfied celebrities right in the nuts.  The emerging theme of this countdown seems to be "films that have no business working as well as they do," and indeed, if this one, with its gaggle of comic and music heavy-hitters all playing themselves, had gone wrong, it might very well have been one of the year's worst, a calamitous disaster of navel-gazing and R-rated CGI effects.  But Rogen and Goldberg masterfully spin the characters against each other, exaggerating the stars' public personas (James Franco's affable stonerism, Danny McBride's impish evil streak) to brilliant ends.  As this gang of buddies ride out the end of creation in Franco's hip Hollywood pad, genuine narrative threads begin to emerge, old wounds are picked open to bleed and pus up afresh, scores are settled, lifelong bonds rekindled...oh, and Jonah Hill gets raped by a gigantic demon cock while a shovel-wielding Emma Watson steals all the fellas' food.  Everyone gets great moments in the comic sun here:  Jonah Hill hysterically prays for a fellow shelter-dweller's demise, while introducing himself to God as "Jonah Hill...you know, from Moneyball..."; Franco's ecstatic reaction to a bite of a forbidden Milky Way bar; and every time Danny McBride, in an Oscar-nomination-worthy supporting turn, opens his mouth or does anything.  McBride is an actor who blows hot and cold for me (he was, after all, the star and co-writer of the worst film of 2011), but here he's never been funnier.  Rogen and Goldberg also prove themselves to be surprisingly adept filmmakers; This Is The End has quality FX and a rich, moody look (the cinematographer is Brandon Trost), and the demon attacks, when they come, have a shocking heft.  It makes me want to see them take on a straight-up horror film.  Think about it, gentlemen.  This thing was a hit; you have the clout to make it happen.

7.  THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

In the interest of "Jesus, Zombie, haven't you gone on enough already?", I've previously written a full-length review of this film.  Check it out here.  

6.  BEFORE MIDNIGHT

In yet another expose of my horrific hypocrisy, this list by a man who declared that relationship dramas aren't really his thing arrives at its second relationship drama.  But honestly, what can one do when a film emerges with the piercing, eyes-wide-open take on relationships and the compromises and thwarted dreams they can sometimes represent of Richard Linkater's third film is his near-unprecedented "Before Trilogy"?  Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have now lived with Jesse and Celine for nearly twenty years now, and they bring all of that time and all of their talent to bear on what may be the best film of the series.  The couple have now been together (though unmarried) since the end of 2004's Before Sunset, and they have found that the dreamy mysteries and romance that surrounded them on their first night together in Vienna...well, life happened to them while they were busy making other plans.  The film finds them at a writers' retreat in the Greek Islands, where the gift of a hotel suite for a romantic evening turns into a nightmare when the rendezvous explodes into one of those arguments in which things are said that can never be unsaid, or unheard, or un-understood.  It's a beautifully written and powerfully acted showdown, with Deply (who plays much of the scene bare-breasted) at her peak for the series, a decade's worth of fury, frustration and being taken for granted bursting out of every pore of her being.  Given that this is a trilogy of films that consist in large part simply of people walking and talking, the dialogue better be pretty terrific to make it work, and Linklater, Hawke and Delpy (Oscar-nominated for their writing here) step up to the plate with lines that sting and sentiments that sink in strong and deep.  Linklater also continues to push the cinematic bounds of a potentially stodgy set-up; one early scene, a simple shot of Delpy and Hawke chatting in the car while their kids sleep in the backseat, goes on for seemingly (and thrillingly) as long as the opening shot from Gravity, a testament to the stars' skill and commitment.  Linklater has not formally announced a fourth film, but I know I'd be very curious to see where Jesse and Celine find themselves in nine years' time.  I fear, though, for what I might see there, given the harsh truth this film has the courage to unearth.

5.  THE WORLD'S END

This year's other old-buddies-face-the-apocalypse comedy, Edgar Wright's The World's End is like nothing else on the screen in 2013, a how-did-they-manage-this hybrid of lad's-reunion farce, English country town travelogue, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers sci-fi horror thriller, with a soupรงon of Mad Max dolloped on for a laugh.  And somehow, somehow, Wright, working from a dazzlingly original screenplay by co-star Simon Pegg and himself, sends this contraption soaring, in arguably the year's most purely joyous piece of filmmaking.  This is a director working at the utter peak of his powers.  The laughs land like punches to the gut, as do the punches to the gut in the film's balls-to-the-wall action sequences (a sprawling brawl in a men's room elicited spontaneous applause in the theater where I saw this).  And Wright has the daring to treat the pain and regret of his characters not as another gag, but with real weight and consideration, making this the rare comedy that might make you cry as hard as you laugh.  Pegg leads a gang of his old mates (Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and the incomparable Nick Frost) on a one-last-ride replica of an infamous pub crawl they never finished in their youth, only to find that their hometown has been overtaken by robotic pod people eager to do the same to them.  It's a "you can't go home again" allegory Thomas Wolfe himself might have envied, and Pegg's pathetic and touching old-school hanger-on, clinging to the past glory that is the only tattered remnant of happiness he has left, is a marvelously original creation, one of the best characters and performances in a film this year.  A lot of the online coverage of this film has focused on how it fits into Wright's "Cornetto Trilogy", the allusions and inside gags that tie it to its sister films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (both of which are just as inventive and entertaining as this).  While those sorts of activities can be fun for the die-hards, I really hope it doesn't distract them from the singular achievement of The World's End.  Trilogy or no, this film is really one of a kind.

4.  BLUE JASMINE

Okay.  I am not here to talk about Woody Allen.  Unless you want to talk about how Blue Jasmine is, two years after Midnight in Paris, another top-class production from one of America's most important auteurs.  About how the screenplay, which bleeds for its lead character even as it condemns her and the lifestyle she loves above anything else on earth, is one of Allen's sharpest to date.  About how Allen's direction, at the age of 77 (he turned 78 in December, after this film's release), is some of the toughest and most supple of his career.  About Cate Blanchett, who gives a career-high-point performance in the titular role of the ex-wife of a Madoff-type Ponzi schemer trying to pull her life together after the end, and not doing too fine a job of it.  About Sally Hawkins, as Jasmine's sister, who matches Blanchett as a good woman with relentlessly poor taste in men.  About a typical-for-Allen cast of heavy hitters doing rock-solid supporting work:  Alec Baldwin, self-satisfaction oozing out of his very soul as the con artist; Bobby Cannavale, as Hawkins's boyfriend, who would be a good guy if he wasn't such a son of a bitch; and God bless him, Andrew Dice Clay, surprising audiences and critics alike with a soulful and deeply pained performance as Hawkins's ex-husband, who lost everything at the hands of Baldwin and Blanchett.  About how Allen was willing to cast an unexpectedly critical eye on the one-percenters who, let's be honest, constitute his circle of intimates (I remember talking to friends about whether or not Allen actually knew Madoff, and concluding that he must at least have made his acquaintance).  About how Allen is unsparing in his depiction of Jasmine's trials, leading to a final shot that may be Allen's most haunting.  About the fact that Blue Jasmine is, in my opinion, the best straight drama Woody Allen has ever made.  We can talk about those things all you like.  

3.  INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

I am notorious amongst my friends for being very seldom moved to tears by movies.  I've been called a monster, a robot; I stunned my brother-in-law into silence by telling him that I didn't cry at the end of Rudy (my explanation:  I didn't go to Notre Dame; what do I care if he gets to play?).  I'm a tough nut to crack at the movies, tears-wise.  And the Coen brothers got me this year with nothing but a cat running through a subway, and the most bittersweet folk song I've ever heard.  Joel and Ethan's pitiless and heartfelt look at a week in the life of an immensely gifted but self-sabotaging early '60s folk singer is one of the year's most moving film experiences, a love letter to a long-gone and well-loved era of music and a hopeful wake-up call to anyone with passionate drives who keeps failing at their own hands.  The Coens' recreation of the Village folk scene of the era is lived-in and inspired (the art direction team, in my opinion, deserved an Oscar), and Bruno Delbonnel's camera bathes the scene in shadows and light at once nostalgic and foreboding.  The music is presented with delicacy and affection, but the Coens are wise enough to never let the songs overshadow the singers, because that man over there with the guitar?  He's real, and he's hurting to his marrow.  Oscar Isaac, in a revelatory performance, gives himself utterly over to Llewyn; his pain and anger are as ferocious as his voice and guitar playing are tender and thoughtful (Isaac does all his own playing and singing here, making his exclusion from this year's best actor Oscar race even more ridiculous).  He receives strong support from Carey Mulligan as another bad-choice-making good woman; John Goodman as a drug-addled jazz man with little patience for folkies; and, in one brief but brutally well-observed scene, F. Murray Abraham as a musical guru with the power to make kings...or strike them back down into the dirt.  The Coen brothers are frequently accused of having contempt for their characters, but few filmmakers loved, pitied and understood their protagonists more this year than they did Llewyn Davis.

2.  GRAVITY

Gravity, for me, was this year's Dark Knight, the most complete filmgoing experience I had in 2013.  Very few films can tell a dramatically satisfying story, provide a thrillingly cathartic emotional journey, and represent a technical triumph in the bargain.  That director / co-writer Alfonso Cuaron manages this task, while making it look as effortless as floating weightlessly in the empyrean, is a considerable achievement not to be ignored.  (And indeed it hasn't been; Cuaron has won a raft of Best Director honors for the film already, and is the presumptive favorite to take the Oscar on March 2.)  It's a relatively simple story:  A team of astronauts repairing a space station are stranded in zero gravity when their craft is destroyed by flying space junk, and two of the space walkers have to try, somehow, against odds as big as the earth itself, to get back home.  That's it for narrative, but Cuaron, working from a script he wrote with his son Jonas, spins out the obstacles in the astronauts' path with such invention, such an ever-escalating sense of danger and threat, that the film never tips over into tedium (a quality also supported by the picture's refreshingly compact 91-minute running time).  Cuaron also finds room for human drama, as the lead astronaut, played by Sandra Bullock in an Oscar-nominated performance that is easily the best work I've ever seen her do, reveals her reasons for being in space and reminds us that many people find themselves where they are not by going there, but by running from something else.  It's the story of a damaged woman rediscovering her will to be a part of the human family...not a mean feat for a film that is, for much of its running time, a one-woman show.  Gravity stands to dominate in the technical categories at the Dolby Theater in two weeks, and very well it should.  The visual effects team work the kind of wonders that make you forget you're looking at CGI; Steven Price's score is thunderous, emotional and inventive all at once, much like the film it accompanies; and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who will hopefully set right the wrong of his loss in 2006 for his work on Cuaron's Children of Men, dazzles with camerawork that can only be called sublime, including a nearly twelve-minute-long opening tracking shot that must rank among the great technical achievements in the history of cinema.  Gravity comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on the 25th of this month, but if you haven't seen it and you can find it, see it in a theater, in 3-D.  In IMAX if you can.  I'm not one to toot a horn for techie frills like that, but Gravity is a film that demands, and deserves, the grandest presentation imaginable.

1.  ALL IS LOST

I have not found myself recommending my favorite film of the year to that many people.  Honestly, I haven't even really talked about it all that much with anyone.  But it's for a very specific reason.  They say that if you see enough films, you will eventually, literally or metaphorically, see your own life story played out on screen.  And when I watched J.C. Chandor's thrillingly intimate look at a man (Robert Redford, who joins the cadre of actors doing the best work of their career onscreen this year) battling the elements and the sinking yacht he has found himself on, my faculties shut down.  I couldn't be objective.  Because I just felt like I was watching a film about me.  As a writer who has battled and is still battling, on a daily basis, an industry that has no real use or desire for the work that you pour everything you have into, no matter the cost, no matter how correctly you follow their protocols, no matter how deftly you pacify the gatekeepers of the business...it's a wonder every writer in the world didn't see themselves in this story.  Aren't all of us basically clinging to the bow beam of a sinking ship as we shout to the heavens, "But I did everything right!"  Redford's character (billed marvelously in the credits as simply "Our Man") makes no mistakes, follows every rule, does his utmost...and it all falls apart around him.  It's the same story as Gravity, really, but if that was an epic poem, this is a haiku:  spare, simple, unadorned with an excess of dramatic fluff or falsehood.  Redford barely even speaks in the film; he's the only character onscreen for the entire running time, and aside from an opening voice-over, his lines can almost be counted on one hand.  What we're left with instead is a master class in building character through action.  There's a moment where Redford (another character who finds himself where he is by running from something else) simply stops himself from reading a greeting card that is the most powerfully emotional expression I saw on screen all year.  Chandor, following up 2011's dazzlingly loquacious Wall Street drama Margin Call  with this stripped-down near-silent action painting of a film, is quickly emerging as one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers, a chance-taker with the chops to back up his visions.  Chances are good that you won't find All is Lost nearly as powerful or transcendent as I did.

Unless, of course, it's a film about you, too.  

1 comment:

  1. Hard to argue with those top 3, good sir. Well done once again!

    ReplyDelete