The Master

Capote

There’s a unique double-take aspect to Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s magnetism that defined many of the diverse roles he inhabited. Hoffman was a chameleon, able to lend even the smallest part a distinct impression that he knew the character’s entire history. But Hoffman’s chameleonic skills were internal, not external; he “looked” relatively the same across much of his work. More specifically, Hoffman looked like a man we could pass by on a crowded city street without ever noticing, and that’s partly why his roles could take us by surprise. As Hoffman carefully unfolded his characters, we began to realize he was rarely as “normal” as first impressions made it seem; his characters were often weighed down by some burdensome personal history, a phantom force that they continue to reckon with daily. Hoffman’s charisma was subtle and patient, captivating an audience that eventually began to associate him with the best of late ‘90s and early 21st century American movies. Hoffman, in effect, became a signature of quality, a sign that legitimated a project as thoughtful, worthwhile filmmaking. By the time he won the award for Best Actor for 2005’s Capote, it was for fans of P.T. Anderson and Todd Solondz a belated recognition of a committed and unorthodox talent; for the rest of Hollywood and those who had not yet fallen under his spell, this was an introduction an unlikely leading man.

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Drinking Games

Nominated for three Oscars, The Master was a passion project for director P.T. Anderson. It pulled the veil back on a fictionalized account of Scientology as well as proving that Joaquin Phoenix can secure award nominations for any role in which he beats up plumbing. Thought not entirely mainstream, it was a darling of art-house film fans, and The Master also prominently features homemade booze as a subplot and symbol. This is enough of an excuse to knock back a few drinks while watching the film’s crisp transfer on Blu-ray or DVD.

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discs simple life

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. A Simple Life Roger (Andy Lau) is a movie producer who returns home to find that the woman (Deanie Ip) who worked as his family’s maid since he was a child has suffered a stroke. He decides to set aside his affairs and focus on helping her, but as he struggles to manage the role of caregiver she finds it difficult to be the one being cared for. Lau is an international star known more for action films and rom-coms, but he does a fantastic job with the drama here. The real draw though is Ip who manages to deliver a character earns our respect, makes us laugh and breaks our hearts in equal measure. It’s an incredibly sweet film about finding the best in each other and ourselves, and it wisely avoids melodrama in exchange for more time spent developing characters and warm exchanges. [Blu-ray extras: None]

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Basic CMYK

Tomorrow, during the Academy Awards ceremony and telecast, Mondo will be unveiling new posters for sale tied to the Oscar-nominated films (visit the shop here). It’s their second year doing a special series like this, and you may recall last year’s designs for Rango, Hugo and others. As you can see above, we’ve gotten a preview of their 2013 crop with artwork revealed for posters for The Master, Les Miserables and ParaNorman. You can see these in full after the jump along with a massive gallery featuring some older designs for current and past Oscar nominees.

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Best Movies of 2012

Earlier this year, we organized a vote between a bunch of internet film critics (and a handful of filmmakers) to come up with what they would cumulatively exalt as the best movies of all time. It’s not like we had to pull teeth or anything (we left our hammer at home), but compiling lists of the best movies of 2012 was a lot easier. People have just been giving away their opinions over the past few weeks. While that was a large-scale project, this ones admittedly a bit fluffier. I compiled as many Best Of lists as I could from notable online movie outlets, assigned point values for the movies listed (#10 gets 1 point, #1 gets 10 points) and plugged everything into my TI-82. It took a while to compute since I was playing this awesome game where you’re a 3-pixel wide race car and you have to avoid slamming into stuff, but the results were…

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The Best Movie Trailers of 2012

Everyone knows you can’t judge a book by its cover, but were you aware that movies shouldn’t be judged by a trailer either? I know, seems counter-intuitive, but while the trailer advertises a feature the two aren’t interchangeable. Terrible trailers sometimes give way to fantastic films just as brilliant trailers sometimes reveal ridiculously bad ones. It’s a crap shoot really. The list below features twelve of our favorite trailers that premiered in 2012. Some of the movies turned out to be gems, others ended up being far less impressive and a few won’t be released until 2013, but all of them made us excited to watch one more movie…

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Culture Warrior on 2012

In this end-of-year editorial, Landon Palmer discusses the pattern that movies demonstrated in 2012 for telling stories through protagonists defined by their various personality traits rather than through conventional, straightforward characters. In so doing, movies this year showed how our individual identities have become divided within various aspects of modern social life. This trend made some of the year’s movies incredibly interesting, while others suffered from a personality disorder. Landon argues that movies ranging from The Hunger Games to The Dark Knight Rises to Holy Motors alongside cultural events and institutions like the Presidential election, social media, and “Gangnam Style” all contributed to a year in which popular culture is finally became open about its constant engagement with multiple cults of personality. Six years ago, Time magazine famously named its eagerly anticipated “Person of the Year” You in big, bold letters. Its cover even featured a mirror. As a result of the established popularity of supposedly democratized media outlets like Facebook and the home of the cover’s proverbial “You,” YouTube, Time declared 2006 as the year in which the masses were equipped with the ability to empower themselves for public expressions of individual identity. More than a half decade later, social media is no longer something new to adjust to, but a norm of living with access to technology. Supposing that Time’s prophecy proved largely correct, what does it mean to live in a 21st century where we each have perpetual access to refracting our respective mirrors?

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12year_disappointments

If there’s one word I think of that’s best tied to the story of film in 2012, it’s “disappointing.” That’s not to say that 2012 was a disappointing year for movies. I don’t know if it was the best in a while, as some of my fellow critics claim, but then I still haven’t seen a lot of the “best” titles of the year. What I do know is that there were enough movies that really, really, really disappointed a lot of people, and so I feel like I heard — or read — the word “disappointing” more than any other. Whether it was a long-awaited prequel to a classic helmed by the original’s director or the expected return to form for a filmmaker or a final installment of a much-worshipped superhero trilogy or a reboot of a beloved comic-based franchise or a new animated feature from a usually dependable studio, there were plenty of major releases that turned out to be less than satisfying. At least for some.

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Megan Ellison

If you salivated over adult dramas and auteur filmmaking in 2012, you have a Hindu Goddess and a 26-year-old film school dropout to thank. The Hindu Goddess is Annapurna, the “mother who feeds” and the namesake for the film school dropout’s production company, and our filmmaker of the year is Megan Ellison, the Goddess of Nourishment for World Class Directors. Over the past decade, the big six studios all but gave up on adult dramas, period pieces without capes and anything that cost more than ten but less than one-hundred million dollars. Movie writers love to pontificate on whether something controversial like Rosemary’s Baby could get made today (Friday nights at the bar get heated), but there’s an even shorter conversation about something like Regarding Henry or Witness – mature stories that have no real chance at the studio system of 2012. Fortunately, that need is being filled in part by Ellison and her massive personal fortune. Which is probably why, when I asked editors for three major film websites to weigh in on what would never be the same after 2012, all of them wanted to talk about Ellison. Sure, the digital takeover was big; crowdsourcing was a game-changer; but it was Ellison’s name on everyone’s lips. So what exactly do we have to thank her for?

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Aural Fixation - Large

We may stand in line to get our hands on the latest technology and watch as record stores close their doors as more and more music fans turn to iTunes and digital downloads instead of physical CDs, but there is still something about vinyl records that keep people coming back for more. While digital files are crisp and polished, it is almost impossible for a studio to duplicate the richness that comes from vinyl – plus those little imperfections and pops that come from listening to a record can sometimes be the best part. Even though CDs may seem like they are becoming a way of the past, there is a new trend coming forward and one that seems to be popping up more and more with soundtrack releases – the option to get these compilations on vintage vinyl. While he is known for creating electric scores for films such as Traffic and Contagion, Cliff Martinez’s work is also layered making it a prime choice to take a spin on the ol’ record player. This year Martinez’s work got the vinyl treatment twice with Milan Records releasing his dark and seductive score for Arbitrage and Mondo releasing his iconic score for Drive as a double vinyl album and enlisting artist Tyler Stout to create the album cover and package design. While the large cover that house these records allow artists more room for creative expressive and memorable images, it is the records themselves that give these scores added depth, providing […]

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Sally Field in Lincoln 2012

Should we reward the films that challenge us? More pointedly, is that the role of the Academy Awards? Sasha Stone opened her State of the Race column this week by raising that very question. The two most recent Best Picture winners, The King’s Speech and The Artist¸ don’t exactly demand soul searching. They “offered a path of least resistance; they delivered a lot but asked so little of us in return,” she explains. Yet in 2012, a year of such great political conflict and often ugly national bickering, we might be in the mood to laud films that strike closer to our core. For Stone, this leads directly into a proclamation of Lincoln’s historical weight. Her argument casts Steven Spielberg’s film as period piece that reaches into the present, calling on us to examine our wounds so that we may prepare for the future. There is no better time for such a powerful work about America to arrive and take Oscar gold, reminding us to continue on the road to a better society in the spirit of the Great Emancipator. The same logic can be applied to other films in the race as well, from Argo to the (as yet unseen) Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty.

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As far as I can tell, regular folk don’t care for movies about movies or films about filmmaking. They used to, back when Hollywood was a more glamourous and idolized place for Americans. Classics like Sunset Boulevard, Singin’ in the Rain, The Bad and the Beautiful and the 1954 version of A Star is Born were among the top-grossing releases of their time. But 60 years later, it seems the only people really interested in stories of Hollywood, actors, directors, screenwriters, et al. are people involved with the film industry — the self-indulgence being one step below all the awards nonsense — and movie geeks, including film critics and fans. If you’re reading Film School Rejects, you’re not one of the aforementioned “regular folk,” and you probably get more of a kick out of stuff like Living in Oblivion, Ed Wood, Get Shorty, State and Main, The Hard Way, The Last Tycoon, The Stunt Man, The Big Picture, The Player, Bowfinger, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Argo than those people do. While it is true that The Artist faced the challenge of being a silent film, another major obstacle in the way of box office success must have been its Hollywood setting. Argo isn’t really literally about filmmaking, though, and that might be working in its favor. Ben Affleck‘s period thriller, which is expected to finally take the top spot at the box office this weekend, is about not making a film, so it should have the opposite result of most movies in which […]

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Some of you may already know me by my Twitter handle: @thefilmcynic. It’s a name I’ve gone by for nearly a decade (so, before current social media outlets), because I’m very cynical about the film industry and try to keep my expectations low. I’m also very cynical about the Academy Awards and awards season in general, because we devote so much focus on them — with a wide spectrum of positive and negative angles — and they’re really a bunch of malarkey (much like the V.P. debate, which has inspired my newfound obsession with that word). So, the higher ups at FSR have asked me to write a cynical column devoted to the Oscars. The first one is inspired by the films Seven Psychopaths, Looper and Lincoln and their celebrated performances. As someone who has studied acting (I’m not very good at it), I’ve long taken issue with the way people look at film performances, because there are just so many different kinds. But there are two real distinct types that we tend to recognize while watching and writing about movies that aren’t acknowledged by the Academy: realistic and artificial. The former has been a big favorite since method acting came into play, though it doesn’t necessarily apply to that style nor does that style necessarily always mean realism. The latter could be more expressive and therefore goes back to the dawn of cinema and its silent performances or could even be more stiff, if that’s what’s intended. Directors who […]

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Reject Recap: The Best of Film School Rejects

You may not want to see Taken 2 (it’s really quite terrible), but you hopefully want to take two on the week, as in revisit our last seven days of content to make sure you didn’t miss anything. It’s been another full session, as we closed out our Fantastic Fest coverage and dug deeper into the New York Film Festival with reviews and features courtesy of our incredibly smart guest contributors Caitlin Hughes and Daniel Walber along with the always excellent Jack Giroux. Speaking of reviews, in addition to that deservedly negative take on the Taken sequel, we republished fest responses to Frankenweenie, The House I Live In, Butter and V/H/S. Interviews this week included Hotel Transylvania director Genndy Tartakovsky and The Paperboy director Lee Daniels. Visit the trailers tag for first looks at the latest Die Hard, the next Lars von Trier and Rob Zombie films, Lone Ranger and a porn star documentary. And, as always, keep track of our daily short film showcase, TV coverage and other favorite columns via their respective buttons around the main page. Bookmark where you will. In addition to all that, you can check out our ten best features from the past week plus some other recommended reading after the break.

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A week or so ago, our Christopher Campbell wrote a piece posing the burning question: What is the Meaning of The Master? The fact is, he isn’t the only one asking. Some have harshly compared writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson to the film’s “titular” cult leader, believing Anderson also has no clue what he’s trying to say. Campbell theorized, “Maybe the reality is that there is nothing there. And yet maybe that lack of meaning is in fact its meaning,” but then went on to discount that interpretation of the film’s point, along with others. What is Anderson trying to say about religion? Is he saying, as Campbell speculates, that it’s all meaningless? In simple reality, to the obvious disappoint of many, is that Anderson is attempting to do no such thing. Even as it attempts ephemeral whatdoesitallmean-ness, The Master can be broken down to one simple sentence: a beautiful, tragic friendship between someone who has no interest in answers and a man who knows he has none of them. It’s solely a story of two distinct men, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Some could argue that’s too simplistic of a story for Paul Thomas Anderson, but Anderson has never been a “message” filmmaker. He’s always been a “relationship” filmmaker. The Master strives to be nothing more than another character study from Anderson told on a big, bold, beautiful canvas, not a hard-hitting critique of religion.

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Reject Recap: The Best of Film School Rejects

Jesus H. Franco, it’s been a busy week here at Film School Rejects. Mainly because of Fantastic Fest, of course. Since the last Reject Recap, we’ve posted 36 reviews of films from the event, plus six interviews, including one with Tim Burton. And we’re not done. The festival may be over, but we’ll still be rolling out the coverage for a couple more days. Obviously, this link to all that content, which can take you in reverse through that which you’ve missed and forward to what will appear (once it appears), is a crucial bookmark for you in these post-fantastic times. Once again, you can easily track through the week’s prominent other features by clicking on buttons around the main page, but here are some links to help you out: reviews (new releases include Pitch Perfect, Won’t Back Down, The Hole, Hotel Transylvania and Hello I Must Be Going); interviews (including Brian DePalma); the Reject Radio podcast (this week was episode 150!); Short Film of the Day and of course your best spot for the most pertinent movie news. Check out our ten best features from the past week plus some other additional reading after the break.

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Culture Warrior

In 2002, a shift occurred in the structure and thematic concerns that inform the style, characters, and narratives of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films. Anderson’s fourth film, Punch-Drunk Love, clocking in at only ninety-four minutes (exactly half the length of his previous Magnolia) seemed a necessary exercise in modesty for the ambitious auteur, a means of proving himself capable of telling a story that focuses on the lives of less than a half dozen characters in a running time that is far from daunting. This film seemed, at the time, to be a momentary departure. Certainly Anderson, after working Adam Sandler toward what will certainly remain the greatest performance of his career, would return to constructing complex labyrinths depicting the intertwining lives of many memorable characters. After all, Punch-Drunk Love only featured two members of Anderson’s signature ensemble (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzman). But as There Will Be Blood indicated, Anderson intended no such return to Altmanesque mosaics, opting instead to dive even further into the impenetrable psychologies of enigmatic leading men, an interest that has almost inevitably led Anderson’s trajectory to The Master.

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Now that Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master is in slightly wider release than it was in its opening weekend, perhaps it is time to discuss this period drama, which is perplexing both critics and regular moviegoers alike. More than the fact that a lot of people are now able to finally see the film, the interesting thing is that many have now watched it two or three times (at least) in an attempt to get more out of the thing. Countless reviews have pointed out that The Master is difficult to fully understand on a single viewing, and audiences of all levels of intellect are coming out declaring that they need to see it again. Plenty are doing so, but are they any closer to finding answers? No film requires or should require multiple viewings, and pretty much any film watched more than once can deliver previously unseen pieces and welcome new considerations. But The Master, whether constructed out of certain meaning or, as might be hinted through a significant line from the film, Anderson just made it all up as he went along without too much thought, is the sort of glorious cinema that we look at as a fun puzzle. We can imagine that one day a documentary similar to Room 237 will present obsessive PTA fans over-analyzing everything from the commanding performances to the film’s subtler nooks and crannies.

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Paul Thomas Anderson

By now, a large amount of people have been able to see The Master and to build a few sandcastles with Paul Thomas Anderson. The director has grown from a young man fascinated by the nondescript buildings with porn being shot inside to a formidable creator, exploring twists on religion and family. He’s got film fans in his palm, which makes every new project he releases an event movie. But he still remembers to wait until the coffee is poured. So here is a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a 70mm heavyweight.

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Future Alamo Drafthouse

What is Movie News After Dark? It’s about to be your deviant nightly gut punch of pure awesome. Pure. Awesome. Our evening begins with a look at the new Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX. Some of you may be wondering, “why lead with something so local in a column that’s read in over 50 countries?” Because it’s relevant to our upcoming barrage of coverage from Fantastic Fest. You see, the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar is where Fantastic Fest lives. This year, it’s been repainted to look like it’s part of the movie Frankenweenie. Next year, it will look like the futuristic CineMecca you see above. The booking of flights for Fantastic Fest 2013 begins now, friends.

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