Dead Man

The Limits of Control

As many successful American filmmakers who get their start in independent filmmaking quickly find themselves comfortable in Hollywood studios, Jim Jarmusch feels like the anachronism that the economics of filmmaking rarely find room for but the culture of cinema certainly needs. After making the No Wave-era Permanent Vacation on the seemingly post-apocalyptic landscape of a crumbling late-70s New York, Jarmusch made waves at the then-young Sundance film festival with Stranger Than Paradise, a bare bones indie that exhibited the director’s penchant for deliberate pacing, wry humor, an insistent soundtrack and a canted examination of Americana. Jarmusch’s productions are few and far between, partly due to the fact that he is ever in want of funding and seeks final cut on all his films. The process may be difficult, but it’s worth it: thirty years after Paradise, Jarmusch crafted Only Lovers Left Alive (recently released on disc and digital), a film that surprised me as both a sideways look at high-cult consumption and one of the most genuinely romantic films of this year. It is, in short, well worth the seven years of frustration that it took to get the film made and into theaters. It’s hard to imagine the same film coming from a filmmaker willing to touch studio funding. And it’s an intoxicating glimpse of what could be if more independent filmmakers were as unimpressed by studio dollars as Jarmusch. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a Son of Lee Marvin.

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Aquarium

Why Watch? What’s most striking about this short documentary about a young woman suffering from anxiety and agoraphobia is how it uses indirect camera angles to obscure our view of her even as she comes more and more into focus. Her words give us a clear picture of what she’s going through while the visuals explore the space to which she’s confined by her fear. Beautifully shot, it avoids hand-wringing and harrowing tones to shine a light on a somber, compelling subject.

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Culture Warrior

A genre nearly as old as filmmaking itself, the western thrived throughout the years of the studio system but has zigzagged across rough terrain for the past forty or so years. For the last fifteen-ish years, the struggling, commercially unfriendly genre was either manifested in a neoclassical nostalgic form limited in potential mass appeal (Appaloosa, Open Range) or in reimagined approaches that ran the gamut between contrived pap and inspired deconstructions (anything from Wild Wild West to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). But last December, True Grit – a bona fide western remake that relied on the opportunities available in the genre’s conventions rather than bells, whistles, or ironic tongues in their respective cheeks – became a smash hit. Did this film reinvigorate a genre that was on life support, as the supposed revitalization of the musical is thought to have done a decade ago, or are westerns surviving by moving along a different route altogether? Three westerns released so far this year – Gore Verbinski’s Rango, Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff, and, as of this weekend, Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens – suggest mixed directions for the dusty ol’ genre.

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If there’s one thing I love more than seeing a great movie for the first time, it’s sharing a movie that I find great with someone whom has never seen it before. It might be part of something essential in human nature: a desire to share an experience that one finds profound with those whose opinion you trust and value. Whether it be something intensely moving, shockingly original, incredibly interesting, intellectually challenging, or unprecedentedly hilarious, introducing a valuable cinematic experience to a friend can induce the most rewarding of feelings for the cinephile.

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Meek, introverted accountant William Blake (Johnny Depp) journeys West from Cleveland to the mysterious town of Machine where he’s been promised a job, only to find that the job is taken and that the company owner, John Dickinson (Robert Mitchum), is a gun-toting sociopath who listens to nobody.

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published: 12.23.2014
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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
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