Musical Melancholy: Damien Chazelle’s La La Land

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Is there any genre that excites such undeserving scorn and hatred as the Musical? It seems that the very core of this hatred is nothing more than a revulsion to unceasing optimism and a complete refusal to suspend your disbelieve that normal people would burst out into song at random intervals.

I won’t say that La La Land solves this problem, nor that it is a problem.…

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Queerness and Narrative: Todd Haynes’s Carol

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This is one part in a series of short essays on Todd Haynes’s Carol (2015). This part is on narrative structure and the film’s relationship to an older film, David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945).

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Seeing and Desire: Todd Haynes’s Carol

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This is one part in a series of short essays on Todd Haynes’s Carol (2015). This part is on aesthetics and including a close reading of Todd Haynes’s film in a tradition alongside Douglas Sirk and Vincente Minnelli.

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Meaning That Matters: George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road

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Mad Max: Fury Road is the best political film of 2015. The pleasure I take in saying that is more immense than I can explain coherently. My father raised me, cinematically speaking, on the masterpieces of the 1970s—All the President’s Men, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dog Day Afternoon—and if nothing else, what is apparent in those films is a steadfast political atmosphere. Today, for better or worse, the films we see on screen are politically noncommittal. One either has to dig for any political subtext, or it exists as middle ground between two more devoted extremes. George Miller, the veteran filmmaker (of the previous Mad Max films, as well as both Happy Feet—fun fact), directs Fury Road, whether he admits it or not, fully aware of the feminist charge that electrifies the entire film.

The film begins with the eponymous hero, Max (Tom Hardy). He provides us with expository detail, and as soon as we understand the post-apocalyptic context, he is appropriately done away with—captured, branded, and turned into a human blood bag, used to energize the War Boys, who do the bidding of the savage patriarch Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).…

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A Little More Consideration: James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour

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The character of David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour is an overpowering presence. Director James Ponsoldt is a more than capable director, yet here his direction comes off as uneven, perhaps because of the charismatic enormity of Wallace as both a character and a thinker. …

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A City of Desolation: J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year

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A Most Violent Year is an exercise in that 1970s New Hollywood style that has become so common in recent films that it may as well now be a considered a contemporary genre of its own. Dark lighting, steady shots, gritty urban realism, a political atmosphere, and a cynical and stark worldview are all attributes of The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon, and Serpico, amongst others, and A Most Violent Year utilizes all of them, which weighs on the film heavily.

A Most Violent Year is about the young owner of a growing oil company, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), whose trucks are being hijacked, men beaten, and oil stolen just as he is trying to close a deal on a riverfront property. He’s losing money; his drivers are getting nervous; he’s showing vulnerability. Adding to that, the DA’s office is bringing up charges against him for possible illegal activities. The year of the title is 1981, which was one of the most violent in New York City’s history.…

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Earnestness: Glatzer & Westmoreland’s Still Alice

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Pauline Kael wrote, after seeing Shoeshine (1946): “I came out of the theater, tears streaming, and overheard the petulant voice of a college girl complaining to her boyfriend, ‘Well I don’t see what was so special about that movie.’ I walked up the street, crying blindly, no longer certain whether my tears were for the tragedy on the screen, the hopelessness I felt for myself, or the alienation I felt from those who could not experience the radiance of Shoeshine. For if people cannot feel Shoeshine, what can they feel?”

A similar experience for me happened when watching Still Alice; a heartwrenching existential play written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. …

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The Filmmaker as God: Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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Who is the star of Birdman? I ask genuinely, as director Alejandro González Iñárritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (fresh off an Oscar win for Gravity), and star Michael Keaton, seem perfectly content to live harmoniously in this wonder of a film, while also threatening to overwhelm each other to stand as the true star. It’s a film about egos though, so I suppose this is only fitting.…

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Sweet Melancholy: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice

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“Listen carefully to first criticisms made of your work. Note just what it is about your work that critics don’t like–then cultivate it. That’s the only part of your work that’s individual and worth keeping.” – Jean Cocteau

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