Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Culture Warrior

For the first time in recent memory, I’m going into Oscar Sunday having no idea who is likely to take home many of the major awards. I’m sure there are entire websites out there devoted to an accurate prediction of who and what will take home the gold on Sunday, but there seems something a bit different about this year. Of the nine films nominated, I don’t have a clear sense of what would be the top five had AMPAS not changed the number of entries in the top category. While The Artist may clearly have more of a chance than, say, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, there’s no grand battle between likely leads like there was between The King’s Speech and The Social Network last year. And I don’t think I’m alone in stating that this year’s uninspiring list of nominees seems to reflect a growing indifference against the ceremony itself. Sure, on Sunday, like I have every year since I was eleven years old, I’ll watch the entire ceremony from beginning to end. And, like every year since I was twenty-one years old, I’ll make fun of the pompous and excessive self-congratulatory nature of the proceedings. But while in most years I have had some skin in the game, besides the two nominations afforded to the excellent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the presence of the transcendentally excellent Pina in the Best Documentary Feature category, this year I didn’t even get a sense that the Academy was awarding […]

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The Best Films of 2011

It has come time once again to move from celebrating the worst, most annoying and most discussed films of the year — something we do at the front of our Year in Review for a reason — and start celebrating those films that have earned places in our hearts, celebrating all the best of 2011, a year that, on the whole, wasn’t such a bad year at the movies. And once again I’m honored to present my top picks of the year, as the Publisher of Film School Rejects. It’s not a vanity thing, but more of a tradition. Since the site’s inception, I’ve always presented my best of the year as The Editor’s Picks. And while I’m honored by this opportunity and enjoy it immensely, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably waiting with bated breath for what will come later in the week when we release The Staff Picks. Because they are the ones who are really interesting. But until then, you get me and my odd gathering of best films from the year that was.

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Culture Warrior

Usually I’m quite cynical about end-of-year lists, as they demand a forced encapsulation of an arbitrary block of time that is not yet over into something simplified. I typically find end-of-year lists fun, but rarely useful. But 2011 is different. As Scott Tobias pointed out, while “quiet,” this was a surprisingly strong year for interesting and risk-taking films. What’s most interesting has been the variety: barely anything has emerged as a leading contender that tops either critics’ lists or dominates awards buzz. Quite honestly, at the end of 2010 I struggled to find compelling topics, trends, and events to define the year in cinema. The final days of 2011 brought a quite opposite struggle, for this year’s surprising glut of interesting and disparate films spoke to one another in a way that makes it difficult to isolate any of the year’s significant works. Arguments in the critical community actually led to insightful points as they addressed essential questions of what it means to be a filmgoer and a cinephile. Mainstream Hollywood machine-work and limited release arthouse fare defied expectations in several directions. New stars arose. Tired Hollywood rituals and ostensibly reliable technologies both met new breaking points. “2011” hangs over this year in cinema, and the interaction between the films – and the events and conversations that surrounded them – makes this year’s offerings particular to their time and subject to their context. This is what I took away from this surprising year:

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This Week in DVD

It’s the last DVD release week of November, and judging by the stellar releases out today it’s fair to say Christmas has come early. There are several titles, big and small, deserving of a purchase or at least a rent, and they’re pretty widespread genre-wise too. Some of the week’s offerings include Tucker & Dale vs Evil, Our Idiot Brother, Friends with Benefits, 30 Minutes or Less and more. As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Another Earth The unfortunately named Rhoda (Brit Marling) is a bright high-school graduate with a limitless future, but on the night a new planet is discovered in the night sky above she celebrates a bit too hard and smashes her car into a family of three. A few years later, Rhoda is released from prison and makes an attempt at an apology to the man (William Mapother) she injured and whose wife and child she killed. Communication with the new planet has also revealed that it is a mirror image of our own as far as geography and population, but that different choices there may have given way to different events. Marling co-wrote this intriguing and often mesmerizing sc-fi/drama with director Mike Cahill, and while the logic and explanation behind the science fiction aspects are woefully lacking the drama, character work and “what if?” scenarios are excellent. As she does in the somewhat superior Sound of My Voice Marling brings an ethereal and fragile presence to […]

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This Week in Blu-ray

This Week in Blu-ray we celebrate the post-Black Friday hangover with a very light week. If you didn’t buy The Matrix trilogy for $28 dollars today, you should do that. Then move on to more pertinent matters, including the support of great horror comedies that sat on the proverbial shelf far too long, R-rated comedies about bombs and Werner Herzog’s journey into the depths of human emossshun, courtesy of really old cave drawings. It’s going to be a pretty diverse week, so you might want to keep reading. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil The Pitch: “What are you going to say? I don’t know what happened officer, these college kids just showed up and started killing themselves all over my property.” Why Buy? A few years back, when this unfortunately shelved genre comedy broke onto the scene in the snowy streets of Park City, Utah, I was one of those critics who was brave enough to name it one of my Must See Movies of Sundance 2010. We would later go on to include it in our list of Must See Movies of SXSW 2010. And it might as well have made our list of Must See Movies of SXSW 2011, as it played there, too. This movie spent more than its share of time in festival circuit hell. And now that it’s on Blu-ray, it’s time for folks like me to remind you that it’s one of the funniest, most clever flicks I’ve seen in a long while. And if […]

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Culture Warrior

The self-reflexive practices of the meta-film take various forms. On the one hand, there’s the legacy of cinephilic directors from Brian De Palma to P. T. Anderson to Robert Rodriguez who shout out to specific films through their in-crowd referencing, or even go so far as to structure entire narratives through tributes to cinema’s past. Then there’s “the wink,” those film’s, like this weekend’s The Muppets, who exercise cheeky humor by breaking the fourth wall and by constant reference to the fact that they are in a heavily constructed film reality. The third category is less common, but perhaps the most interesting. There has been a recent influx of films that don’t use past films to construct present narratives or engage in Brecht-light humor, but have as their central narrative concern the broad developmental history of the medium itself, from practices of filmgoing to particularities of projection, and anything in between. Bertolucci’s The Dreamers is a good example of this mode of meta-filmmaking, but more high-profile films have begin to make this turn, specifically by directors who formerly operated in the first (and perhaps most common) category, like Tarantino with Inglourious Basterds two years ago. Now Martin Scorsese has followed suit with the 3D love letter to early cinema and film preservation that is Hugo.

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The supplementary title for Werner Herzog’s new documentary about capital punishment is “A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life.” These clauses are placed in a perplexing order that seems, at first, to run in reverse. However, when viewing the film, it becomes abundantly clear why life is not necessarily a linear trajectory that ends in death, with all the mutual exclusivity implied in the assumed separation of these categories. Instead, Into the Abyss argues that death is something one perpetually lives with, especially the certain knowledge of impending death in the case of state-run execution or in the memory of death when one’s loved one has been murdered. The certainty and harsh reality of death not only plagues the prisoner and the victim’s kin, but also profoundly effects a large array of individuals involved directly or indirectly with every heinous crime and execution. The timing of the release of Into the Abyss is worth noting. In September, Troy Davis was executed in the face of massive public protest and significant lingering doubts as to the fairness of his trial. Many anti-death penalty advocates saw the case as a potentially fatal blow for state-run execution, as it illuminated flaws within the system which in turn troubled capital punishment’s logic of justice. A mere two months later, the Troy Davis case has been almost completely forgotten in the public sphere as the news cycle has turned its lenses to Occupy movements and the ongoing reality show known as GOP debates. The […]

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