Spirited Away

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This is a week of cinematic imagination. Tuesday brought the arrival of Ben Stiller’s journeying remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and this Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since Joel and Clementine raced through his mind trying to hide in memories and avoid permanent erasure. While that film strove to take something from the memory, there are countless films that strive to add to it, relishing in the many ways the imagination manifests, from a little girl’s fantastical journey into strength, to one man’s struggle to break out of a dream. Sadly, Figment isn’t taking us on this journey, but the imaginative movies that follow show the possibilities of the mind – as a childish pursuit, an adult coping mechanism, and a wonderfully idiosyncratic way of life.

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Simpsons-Miyazaki-Ghibli4

For the first eight years of its existence, The Simpsons was one of the most vital things happening in popular culture. It was sharp, it was funny, and it did a great deal to introduce smart comedy to mainstream audiences. That was a long time ago though, and The Simpsons has been on the air for so many years now and has amassed so many seasons of questionable content that it really couldn’t feel any less vital or relevant to the current cultural conversation. At this point, the only time the show even makes any headlines is when it pulls off some sort of elaborate animation gimmick, like when Guillermo del Toro animated the opening for their annual ‘Treehouse of Horror’ episode and stuffed it full of all sorts of references to his movies. While this is a sad reality, at least we have these occasional gimmicks to act as reminders of how much The Simpsons once meant to all of our developing geek brains. And, hey, would you look at that… it seems like the show is about to air yet another one of those attention-grabbing gimmicks, and one that is going to be of special interest to film fans, because it involves the work of a pretty much universally beloved filmmaker. To cut to the chase, this Sunday’s episode of the show is going to feature a sequence that pays tribute to animation master Hayao Miyazaki, and seeing as the sequence has been put up on Youtube already, […]

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Rian Johnson’s new film, Looper, is a pretty awesome time travel flick, one with as many elements that are clever and original as there are purposefully derivative and influenced. It’s the kind of smart and stylish sci-fi cinema we expect every once in a while on the festival circuit, like Sound of My Voice (which hits DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday), rather than from a major Hollywood studio. Looper does fit the indie model, though, since Sony/Tristar picked it up for distribution only after it was done shooting, yet as Brian’s review of the film attests, we can still consider it a good sign for mainstream movies of this genre, and we can hope that Hollywood will see Johnson as the sort of directorial talent they need. But is it the best science fiction film since The Matrix? That’s a question posed in a headline from Time magazine yesterday, though its respective post doesn’t address such a discussion let alone attempt to answer the inquiry. Well, if we exclude superhero movies, animated features (Pixar, Miyazaki and The Iron Giant among them) and the Star Trek reboot, Looper is currently one of only two original studio films of its order to be battling for the status of best reviewed since the Wachowskis’ groundbreaking modern classic. The other is Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men.

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It began with 32 films from around the world. Those films represented the greatness that each country has either on display every week at the box office or hidden away inside the potential of fresh young filmmakers. There were heavy-hitters like Return of the King who fell and virtually unknown contenders like Slovenka that surprised. There were westerns and dramas and comedies and movies that defy description. There were some neck-and-neck battles and there were blow outs. All of that deposits us here on the doorstep of the championship with two films who have earned the right to call themselves champions going head to head. In this case, it’s the cowled head of The Batman and the giant, unsupported-by-a-neck head of a witch. The Dark Knight versus Spirited Away. Two films to celebrate, but only one can be crowned champion.

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By making it all the way to the Final Four, these films have proven their supremacy, but only one can survive through to the Championship for a chance at eternal glory (that comes around every four years). Spirited Away is already coming into the round as the giant slayer by taking down Return of the King, but City of God took down a favorite of its own in Pan’s Labyrinth. Two underdogs that have proven victorious. Now, one of them has to go home before the big dance. Who will it be?

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After the bout between Amelie and The Dark Knight, the most anticipated fight of this round is without a doubt Spirited Away and Return of the King. Both have huge followings, both are critically acclaimed, and both are truly brilliant works of art. The experts are stumped as to what will be the magic bullet in choosing one film over the other, except the fanboy aspect that remains loyal to Middle Earth. However, there’s also a fanboy aspect that remains loyal to Miyazaki. Going in, it’s anyone’s game.

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Wow. What a ride. After a full week of heated competition, we’ve been deposited here at the threshold of Round Three. The teams that survive what promises to be a brutal round of competition will be the final four standing, and will be only one more victory away from standing strong in the Championship Round. Many great films have fallen, and what remains includes a meddling French girl, a haunted hero in a cape and cowl, a man who spies on others, an ex-porn star, a young girl working for a witch, a man who would be king, impoverished youths in Brazil, and a girl caught between the horrors of WWII Spain and a giant faun.

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In what might be my favorite pairing of the entire tournament just for the sheer double feature potential, the legendary Miyazaki sees his masterpiece Spirited Away boldly represent Japan against the iconic Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier and his Antichrist. Child-like wonder and abject terror. A perfect pairing. Chaos reigned over the cult gross-out of Human Centipede and the spirit-filled animated adventure beat the lesser-known film Moolaade, but both films actually have a fight this round. Let’s see what happens.

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As if to mimic the soccer world, Cameroon is heavily out-gunned here in the Movie World Cup. Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is beloved the world around and considered a modern classic, but Moolaade is a truly great film in its own right. It will be difficult for it to pull out a victory, but it should be sought out and seen nevertheless.

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So it turns out that Alice in Wonderland isn’t that wonderful. If you need some actual wonder in your life, check out these 12 films and put on a record by the Oneders.

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Just over 3,000 films were released in the past ten years. Instead of sleeping, Neil and Cole (with the help of a supercomputer) whittle that list down to the best 1%.

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culturewarrior-animated09

While 2009 may have been a weak year for movies overall, animated films shined in a way they haven’t in a very long time.

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published: 12.19.2014
A-
published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+


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