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 The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2015 
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Stuwie wrote:
How was the character development in TH8? Because I've found that that's always been the deciding factor for me when it comes to QT's work; when he cares about developing his characters, his stuff is consistently good. When he doesn't? Not so much.


It's a bit of a mixed bag, since there's such a large cast. Certain characters are very well realized and given a lot of opportunity to shine. Others, like Bob / The Mexican, are less developed. Much of the film plays out with dialogue, so we certainly get a lot of time to learn about them. I will say that the viewers' attitudes are likely to shift on some characters as we learn more about them.

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Sat Mar 19, 2016 10:30 am
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9. The Assassin

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From the moment Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Assassin came on the theater screen until the time it ended, I felt like I was in another world. The visual aesthetic combined with the pacing transports the viewer to eighth century China, provided they're able to give the film their full attention. I often find myself getting lost in movies, but it's rare that it happens to this extent.

This will sound hyperbolic, but The Assassin may be the most beautiful looking film I've ever seen. Mark Lee Ping Bin's cinematography is so gorgeous that I occasionally found myself mouthing the word "wow" or looking on in stunned admiration. Every frame of this film is so good that you could pause it at any time, snap the screenshot and hang it on your wall. Interestingly, the film uses a near 4:3 aspect ratio for most of its running time, though we see it break into a more standard ratio for a musical scene involving a zither, for instance, which makes the instrument look full and majestic by contrast. There's also the use of black and white to show scenes from the past, prior to Yinnian's assignment in Weibo. The Assassin won the Golden Horse award and the Asian Film award for best cinematography, though it was sadly ignored at many other awards ceremonies. If you watch this film on a DVD you are doing yourself a great disservice, as Blu Ray technology exists for a movie like this one.

Despite its obvious strengths, this is a film that I've seen get a lot of criticism on social media and film forums. Some declare it a masterpiece, while others simply didn't connect with it and found it plodding or dull. Admittedly, the story is not expository at all. Character motivations and plot points are very slowly revealed, and there were times during my first viewing where I was having trouble piecing it together. However, this seems like a deliberate approach on Hou Hsiao-hsien's part. The film asks a lot of its audience, but it rewards attention to detail. As the script goes on, I think everyone will recognize the character motivations and political circumstances. This slow reveal makes things feel that much more exciting once we recognize what's at stake, anticipating what decisions Yinnian will make before the story comes to a close. While I obviously can't reveal the ending of the film, the closing shot is one that stayed with me for a long time. Like the film itself, it's not the sort of thing you see every day.

Allow yourself the opportunity to get lost in this film. Honestly, there aren't too many films that are as artistically ambitious as this, and even fewer that can pull it off with such grace. This is a beautiful and haunting work of art.

8. World of Tomorrow

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World of Tomorrow is only sixteen minutes long. It's also drawn with stick figure animation and what seems like an almost non-existent budget. Despite all of this, the film is packed with some of the most original and provocative science fiction I've ever seen. The story involves a young girl named Emily who is contacted by a mysterious woman. The stranger reveals that she is this young girl's future self, a third generation Emily whose consciousness has been passed along through hundreds of years in a transfer and cloning process. With an apocalyptic event imminent in Emily's distant future, she has decided to reach back through time and speak to her young self about the life she lived. 

Using experimental time travel and memory transfer, the third generation Emily is able to show Emily Prime her future world in all its complexity and wonder. The two wander through seemingly random memories, though there are obvious thematic parallels in these shared visions. As we progress through them, we're treated to a plethora of bold sci-fi ideas. Many of these individual concepts could make for a feature length film, yet they're presented to us at a relentless pace. All of this makes World of Tomorrow eminently re-watchable and it provides excellent fodder for philosophical discussion.

The film is emotionally heavy, but it's also able to utilize the audience's sense of adventure and humor. Above all, this is an intellectually profound film that will challenge audiences in all the best ways. I'm sure that I'll still be thinking about it years later. There's really not much to say about this short film other than "Bravo, Mr. Hertzfeldt". If you haven't already, you should go watch it right now.

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Sat Mar 19, 2016 10:30 am
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So far I've seen one of the films posted, and it's probably sort of appropriately posted maybe.

Keep up the sort of appropriate maybe work!

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Sun Mar 20, 2016 1:25 am
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LEAVES wrote:
So far I've seen one of the films posted, and it's probably sort of appropriately posted maybe.

Keep up the sort of appropriate maybe work!


In all my years of doing these lists, this is the most appropriate reply I've ever received. Well, maybe...

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Sun Mar 20, 2016 5:29 am
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7. Youth

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Paolo Sorrentino's latest film opens with several minutes of music. We see a a musical performance of The Retrosettes 'You've Got The Love' at an alpine resort, the camera intimately close to the singer's face as the circular stage rotates continuously. The luxurious Swiss backdrop is blurred, though we can see people dancing beneath the night sky. Several hours later, the film ends with another musical performance.

Michael Caine's character, the composer Fred Ballinger, has a line in the movie about how he was never skilled with words. He claims that music is the only thing he was ever any good at, because you don't need thoughts and experience to understand music - it just is. There may not be a better summary of Youth than this. It's easy to get lost in the film's complexity, as it's loaded with themes and ideas that may seem all over the map. Yet the film is always captivating. There was never a dull moment where it wasn't eliciting some type of response from me. It's filled to the brim with comedy and absurdity, but there are moments of sheer wonder and even sadness. The film moves its audience like a beautiful piece of music, eliciting these emotional reactions in us even if we can't say why.

On the surface, the film appears to be about two elderly friends played by Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel. The two men are living out their final years at an upscale Swiss resort, reminiscing on their past experiences and feeling melancholic about their loss of memory. Caine's character is a retired composer who is refusing to do his conduct his simple songs for the Queen of England, while Keitel's character is a director working on his final film entitled Life's Last Day. We're joined by other notable characters like Ballinger's daughter, played by Rachel Weisz, a woman looking after her father and undergoing a rough breakup. Paul Dano's character is a Hollywood leading man, yet he laments the fact that he's only remembered for playing the part of a robot in a blockbuster film, rather than his work on independent films. This hodgepodge of plot and character develops in interesting ways, yet it's all secondary to the experience of watching the film. It's not the sort of movie that has a conventional plot, as it's more interested in the overall experience than any individual character. There's another line in the film spoken by Keitel's character where he says "You say emotions are overrated. Emotions are all we've got." Again echoing this theme of emotional resonance trumping narrative.

As you might expect, the film is brilliantly realized in terms of direction and acting. Michael Caine and Rachel Weisz are particularly excellent here, giving the caliber of performances that we've come to expect from them. I'm very interested to see what Paolo Sorrentino does next, as his last two films have been stellar. If you enjoyed The Great Beauty as I did, then you owe it to yourself to watch Youth. Likewise, if you didn't enjoy The Great Beauty, then you probably won't be won over here, as Youth covers a lot of the same thematic territory.

6. Carol

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I've always been a fan of the saying 'better a pebble with flaws than a diamond without'. It's difficult enough to find examples of movies without flaws, and even when you do it's often a mediocre product without any obvious problems. Not only am I unable to find any blemishes on Carol, but nearly every aspect of the film is exceptional. That's an unusual thing, and Carol is a rare treat.

Based on Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt, Todd Haynes' adaptation centers on a female relationship in 1950s Manhattan. It's about the relationship between a young store clerk named Therese and an older married woman named Carol. The marriage is one of convenience, however, and it doesn't initially stand in the way of their bond and eventual romance. As Carol's marriage begins to unravel she decides to divorce her husband Harge, but by then it has become increasingly apparent to him that Carol's friend Abby is really an ex-lover, and that her current interest in Therese is romantic. With the law on his side, he threatens to revoke custody of their daughter if their marriage ends. Carol then finds herself faced with an impossible choice between the woman she loves and her own daughter.

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara have such a rich chemistry in this film. I've long been a fan of both actresses, so seeing them be able to play off one another is exciting. Some have argued that Blanchett gives the performance of her career in this film, which is a tall order when you consider her work on films like Blue Jasmine, but a case can certainly be made. Rooney Mara may actually be even better, which doesn't shock me given her work on films like Dragon Tattoo. It's often said that acting is reacting, and the subtle mannerisms and inflections feel completely real. So much of the communication between these two actresses is nonverbal, as a slight glance or the placement of a hand says so much without dialogue. I can't remember the last time I've been so emotionally invested in an on-screen romance.

I could keep going about all the positive aspects in the film. The gorgeous cinematography, impeccable set & costume design, the lovely score which boasts the best theme music of the year etc. all of it comes together in harmony. The social and political implications are obvious, exploring themes that still resonate strongly today. But at its core, this is a film about the anguish of forbidden love. For as long as there's been romance, the heart has often wanted what it can't have. The pain of unrequited love is powerful and knows no time period or gender. This is destined to become one of the all-time great romance films. It should be as resonant fifty years from now as it is today.

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Sun Mar 20, 2016 5:29 am
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The Bad Guy wrote:
Older films tend to be more revered, whether it's deserved or not. A film made by a director from twenty years ago has an automatic leg up on a film that came out a few months ago. I've been a part of post viewing Q&As or film discussions where people have said you can't compare established classic film A to movie we just watched B. But at some point, classic film A was just another movie playing on a Thursday evening. It takes time for works of art to gain academic approval, and some deserving works simply aren't seen by enough people to merit that consideration. In the end, however, literary professors will eventually concede Jane Austin wrote some good books. The reason I mention all of this is because I believe Tarantino's last three films may be his best, so I'll be very interested to see how people are ranking and talking about his filmography decades from now.

I like these points. But the 20-year old film is seen in a vastly different environment from when it was new. And...even though literary professors will concede that Jane Austin wrote some good books, students who are reading one or more of her books for the first time may not agree at all! Plus, not everyone who sees the 20-year old film will agree that it is any better than the brand new films. I think there is more likely to be higher esteem for the older film simply because people (some people) are still watching it after a couple of decades. Most films are unknown (practically) by the time they are a decade old. Which makes film preservation a hit and miss kind of thing.

And there are a sadly large number of films that I loved when I was a teen or 20-something, but I really can't understand what I saw in them when I see them, now. Hmm. I guess they started off as "great" and later, after the passage of time, became just another film that I saw on a Thursday night! :)

So, I hope you live long enough to complete your experiment. A few times over, actually. :up:

I recently piled in for a Netflix stream of Inglorious Basterds after enjoying Kill Bill (part two is a far superior movie, I think), but the stream failed and totally reset my Blu player. I haven't tried watching the film since then, but I'll get around to it. When I restarted the Netflix app, I decided it was too late for a 2hr+ movie that night.

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Sun Mar 20, 2016 8:27 am
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The Bad Guy wrote:
There may not be a better summary of Youth than this.

BTW, have I ever bothered to point out that I totally enjoy your writing?

If not, I have been remiss.

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I had fun. Thanks for reading!

"The wealthy and powerful always remind us that cream rises to the top.
What they fail to acknowledge is that pond scum also rises to the top.
And there is a lot more pond scum in the world than there is cream.
If you become rich and powerful, I hope that you will be cream rather than pond scum." --YTMN

Rematch Resurrection Catalog for Rounds 1-4 New post 180721 -- YTMN's Remake Rematch Thread.
Thread Resurrected 21 Jul 2018. Thread abandoned 1 Aug 2017. Thread COMPLETE 25 May 14 (2d time!)


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Sun Mar 20, 2016 8:29 am
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Gort wrote:
I like these points. But the 20-year old film is seen in a vastly different environment from when it was new. And...even though literary professors will concede that Jane Austen wrote some good books, students who are reading one or more of her books for the first time may not agree at all! Plus, not everyone who sees the 20-year old film will agree that it is any better than the brand new films. I think there is more likely to be higher esteem for the older film simply because people (some people) are still watching it after a couple of decades. Most films are unknown (practically) by the time they are a decade old. Which makes film preservation a hit and miss kind of thing.

And there are a sadly large number of films that I loved when I was a teen or 20-something, but I really can't understand what I saw in them when I see them, now. Hmm. I guess they started off as "great" and later, after the passage of time, became just another film that I saw on a Thursday night! :)

So, I hope you live long enough to complete your experiment. A few times over, actually. :up:

I recently piled in for a Netflix stream of Inglorious Basterds after enjoying Kill Bill (part two is a far superior movie, I think), but the stream failed and totally reset my Blu player. I haven't tried watching the film since then, but I'll get around to it. When I restarted the Netflix app, I decided it was too late for a 2hr+ movie that night.


Of course, not everyone who is assigned a classic work of literature at university is going to enjoy it, nor is someone guaranteed to enjoy 8 1/2 more than the latest Paolo Sorrentino film. I guess the point you're driving at is that because these films have stood the test of the time they're afforded more reverence, as tastes can be fickle or films can be more relevant in the moment. Is anyone really going to care about Slumdog Millionaire or The King's Speech in 20 years? Probably not, even though they were Oscar winners in their day.

But I'd also argue that it cuts both ways. One of the films that's going to be in my top 5 this year was hardly seen by anyone, and though it played at Cannes it didn't seem to generate a lot of buzz. I personally consider it a masterpiece, but even if a small handful agree with me it's not likely to be remembered. Film preservation and critical acclaim are an inexact science, because you're not only dealing with a subjective medium, you're also flooded with more content than can be be assessed fairly.

In the case of someone like Tarantino, however, it seems safe to say that his works will be remembered. The only issue is how people evaluate the quality of his work earlier vs later in his career. I personally think Inglourious Basterds is better than Pulp Fiction and would rather watch The Hateful Eight than Reservoir Dogs. Considering how highbrow vs lowbrow is partly assessed by age, this is a hard sell at the moment. I'll be curious to see how something like Basterds is considered once it's all said and done.

By the way, if you do get around to watching it I'd be curious to know what you think.

Gort wrote:
BTW, have I ever bothered to point out that I totally enjoy your writing?

If not, I have been remiss.


Thank you

I appreciate the compliment :up:

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Mon Mar 21, 2016 4:20 am
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5. Wild Tales

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It's kind of odd that there aren't more movies like this. Wild Tales is basically an anthology film, telling six different stories in roughly two hours. The characters have nothing to do with each other, thankfully avoiding the gimmick of having the plots intersect. But the tales all have something in common thematically, as they each deal with people at their worst moments. There's a common thread of revenge through these stories, and if you take the six plots as a whole it's not hard to see writer/director Damián Szifron's intention.

The most important thing to mention about Wild Tales is that it's fun. It's a blast, actually. Movies this outright entertaining don't come out very often but I sure wish they did. As you might expect from an Argentinian film, the only theater that played it in my area was a more independent art house place. But even among a more highbrow audience, there were laughs and gasps the likes of which you'd expect at a raunchy comedy playing at a United Artists. For a movie that's often quite dark, it's filled to the brim with jokes. Even the most violent or twisted segments are captivating, like a beautiful disaster that we can't help but look away from. The film is like a roller-coaster of voyeuristic carnage and excitement from beginning to end.

I don't want to delve too deeply into each plot, as each of these plays out better if you know next to nothing going in. I will say that some of my favorite segments were the road rage bit and the car towing fiasco. But, for me, the one that elevates the film to greatness is the final segment of the wedding. It's probably at or near the very top if you're talking about the craziest movie weddings of all time. Not only is it the most memorable of the six segments, but it's the perfect thematic note to end the film on. When the music began playing and the credits came up on the screen, I knew I'd just seen something special.

A few of the segments aren't as strong as the others, but even then they're still very much worth watching. This is a sharply edited and energetic film with a really cool soundtrack as well. If you're fan of short films or simply like being entertained, then you really need to see this one.

4. Ex Machina

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The author Sam Harris attended a private conference on artificial intelligence about a year ago. Although he was legally prohibited from mentioning who else was at the conference, as the event was shrouded in secrecy. He was a bit alarmed at the timescale that people were viewing the inevitable rise of A.I., which he had thought was nearly a half century away. But everyone at the event seemed to think this was something imminent in the next twenty years, or even sooner. An anonymous friend of his, who he has always thought of as a fairly reasonable guy and not prone to hyperbole, even claimed that the rapid rise of advanced A.I. was a greater threat to the long term survival of mankind than nuclear weapons or climate change. Harris' friend isn't alone either, as Elon Musk has also talked about the unchecked advance of A.I. as "summoning the demon".

All the implications and perils of an advanced artificial intelligence are explored in writer/director Alex Garland's latest film, Ex Machina. The story deals with a young software engineer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) who wins a lottery contest to spend a weekend at the estate of Bluebook's creator and CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). But as Caleb arrives at the gorgeous and secluded estate, Nathan reveals his true intentions. He has created an A.I. and wants to run a Turing test between his robot Ava (Alicia Vikander) and Caleb. As the test progresses, we're introduced to a bevy of ideas about the nature of artificial intelligence and what it means to be human. For instance, if you create a computer that is unbeatable at chess, would it even know what chess is or that it's playing a game?

While Ex Machina is primarily a movie of ideas, it's also a suspenseful mystery. Caleb increasingly wonders whether he can trust Nathan, as much of what he was told at the outset was false or misleading. But at the same time, we're also left to wonder about Ava's intentions. After all, what will happen to her if she doesn't pass the Turing test? Even if she does, how does she know that her memory won't be wiped for a more advanced model? It's a life-changing experience for both Caleb and Ava, as each of them is encountering something new for the first time. As their understanding of one another deepens, how will their relationship impact the results of the study and where is it all headed?

Domhnall Gleeson is good, but as you might expect, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander are the ones that really shine. The film also has a visual flare to it, with the cinematography making good use of the house and surrounding environment. The visual effects team did a great job on such a small budget as well, even taking home the Oscar in their category. But, in my opinion, the real star here is the intelligent script that addresses fundamental questions about A.I. in ways that are rarely handled in movies. It's the kind of story you'll want to go back and look at a second or third time, as Ex Machina really benefits from repeat viewings.

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Mon Mar 21, 2016 6:15 am
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3. Breathe

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I didn't hear about Breathe (aka Respire) until very late last year. The film got almost no distribution and nobody I knew was talking about it. But I was intrigued when I heard that Mélanie Laurent, the actress of Inglourious Basterds and Beginners, had directed a film. I've always liked her acting, but I wasn't aware of her as a director until now. After seeing this masterpiece, I will always think of her as a director first and an actress second.

The film reveals its thematic focus early on. Our young protagonist, Charlene, is listening to her high school teacher ask the class whether passion diminishes our liberty. Do our emotions make us more free or less free? After all, we can't control what we feel. Passion is harmful when it becomes excessive, he warns, which is most of the time. The film explores this idea through a high school friendship between Charlene and a new arrival named Sarah. Sarah is, in many ways, everything the diminutive Charlene isn't - confident, spontaneous, and outgoing. Almost immediately, Charlene finds herself under Sarah's spell. The two girls form an instant connection, spending nearly all of their time together and becoming emotionally intimate.

Somewhere along the way, however, the friendship starts to sour. As Charlene obsesses over the schism, the problem only worsens. In one particularly memorable scene, Charlene and Sarah reach their lowest point. From this moment on, it's hard to see the two ever getting back together. The girl who was once Charlene's best friend quickly transforms into her tormentor. The personal secrets she had shared with Sarah are now weaponized against her in the form of malicious gossip. Charlene could fight back, but she chooses not to. Instead, she recoils into her private world of misery and abuse. She does this because, despite everything she's going through, she still loves Sarah and desperately clings to the hope that they can be reunited.

Charlene isn't alone in feeling this way, either. Other characters have relatively little screen time, but we see several examples of people who pin their hopes to people that may not deserve it. Before Charlene met Sarah, her best friend was a girl named Victoire. Even after the friendship with Sarah becomes poisoned, she continues to ignore a tearful Victoire who longs to be close to her old friend again. A boy named Lucas is infatuated with Charlene, yet she acts as though he doesn't exist. Even Charlene's mother is in a relationship filled with emotional abuse and infidelity, yet she continues to make excuses for the man she loves. In one memorable scene, she asks her mother why she always goes back to him, knowing how wrong he is for her. Her mother simply replies "because I can't do otherwise". So much for passion making us more free.

Mélanie Laurent directs this film like a seasoned pro, showing that she's an immensely talented filmmaker. I hope someone out there is taking notice of Laurent, because it would be a tragedy if she can't garner enough opportunity to make this a successful career. Joséphine Japy and Lou de Laâge are flat out brilliant in this as well, giving two of the better performances I saw last year. I could see both of them going on to be well-known actresses for decades to come. As for the film as a whole, I've already stated that I consider it a masterpiece. I watch films often, but it's very unusual that I'm as shell-shocked from a viewing as I was here. I was literally walking around for days afterward thinking "Oh, my God, that freaking movie..."

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Tue Mar 22, 2016 10:43 am
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Ooooooooohh he teasin it... he teasin...


Tue Mar 22, 2016 1:03 pm
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I've never fallen completely under the Hertzfeldt spell, not being that big a fan of the one or two others I saw, but I thought World of Tomorrow was worth all of its hype. I loved it.

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Tue Mar 22, 2016 5:57 pm
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Have you seen It's Such a Beautiful Day? His early stuff is, for the most part, merely funny, but his more recent work is more nuanced and uses his comedic sense to bring home some real pathos. World of Tomorrow is wonderfully concise, but I'd say I prefer the triptych of It's Such a Beautiful Day. It reaches higher heights and has some similar themes to World of Tomorrow.

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Wed Mar 23, 2016 3:12 am
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I think you guys mean that it's a lovely day...


Wed Mar 23, 2016 3:31 am
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Macrology wrote:
It's Such a Beautiful Day

Getting a huge headache while watching that movie was a bit worrisome.

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Wed Mar 23, 2016 8:28 am
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jade_vine wrote:
I've never fallen completely under the Hertzfeldt spell, not being that big a fan of the one or two others I saw, but I thought World of Tomorrow was worth all of its hype. I loved it.


I've also never been as on board with Hertzfeldt as many others, but I think it's safe to say I enjoyed his previous works more than you did. It wasn't until I saw World of Tomorrow that I felt like the hype some people give him was fully warranted.

Macrology wrote:
Have you seen It's Such a Beautiful Day? His early stuff is, for the most part, merely funny, but his more recent work is more nuanced and uses his comedic sense to bring home some real pathos. World of Tomorrow is wonderfully concise, but I'd say I prefer the triptych of It's Such a Beautiful Day. It reaches higher heights and has some similar themes to World of Tomorrow.


It's Such a Beautiful Day made the back end of my list in 2012. It's a movie I enjoyed and my second favorite of his, but I personally prefer the ideas and sci-fi ambition of WoT. I'm actually curious to go back and watch it again, though. It's been nearly three years since I last saw it.

I agree that Hertzfeldt has some thematic overlap in his work, by the way. The distinctive stick figure animation isn't the only thing making him an auteur.

Samm@el wrote:
I think you guys mean that it's a lovely day...


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Colonel Kurz wrote:
Getting a huge headache while watching [It's Such a Beautiful Day] was a bit worrisome.


Yikes, I can see that being the wrong type of film for a headache.

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2. Sicario

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The first seven minutes of Sicario are going to give people nightmares. We arrive at a crime scene that is profoundly disturbing. But instead of showing us the horrifying imagery and moving on, the film comes back to these shots and hangs on them. The audience might want to look away, but the camera won't let us. We're meant to feel uncomfortable. We're not supposed to forget what we've seen.

Sicario lays its cards on the table early. If you're uncomfortable with what you're watching, then you're free to leave. But, more importantly, it's letting us know what's at stake. The only question left is how far you're willing to go to stop this. When our protagonist is given the opportunity to join an inter-agency task force, she is asked by her superior to think very carefully before responding. She only asks one question - "Do we get a shot at the men responsible for today?" When the answer is yes, she immediately volunteers. Unfortunately, she doesn't realize what she's gotten herself into.

The real conflict of this film isn't between the cartels and law enforcement. The battle is an ethical one, waged between our protagonist Kate Macer and the man in charge of the special operation, Matt Graver. Kate is an inexperienced but principled agent, someone who believes in the rule of law and doing things by the book. Graver is an uncompromising pragmatist, willing to get his hands dirty and skirt the rules whenever necessary. He is perfectly willing to use extreme measures like torture or placing innocents in harms way, so long as it achieves a worthwhile objective. Emily Blunt's character is our eyes and ears, so it's not surprising that she's the moral center of the film. Yet the script also paints her as being in over her head or ill-equipped to deal with these problems. Her views are admirable, but their application in this war often appears naive. What I love about this script is that it's asking some very difficult questions about whether the ends justify the means, and it's not offering any easy answers. In the end, it's up to you to decide what your principles are.

The film is masterfully done on almost every level. The three main performances by Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin are excellent. A lot of people felt that composer Jóhann Jóhannsson had the best original score of the year, offering a dark, pulsing soundtrack that feels ominous and almost evil at times. Director Denis Villeneuve has been steadily upping his game, and with this film he should now have everyone's full attention as a rising star in the industry. But the man of the hour is obviously Roger Deakins, who I thought did the best job of any cinematographer last year. Unlike The Revenant or The Assassin, much of Sicario takes place in fairly ordinary environments that you wouldn't think of as photogenic. Somehow, Deakins is able to make magic out of nearly every frame of this picture, using a technical precision and attention to detail that's stunning. There is a scene where a pack of black SUVs cross over into Juárez which I've seen over and over again, never tiring of its craftsmanship. Other shots, like the one I chose for this review, or so clever and beautiful that they almost seem obvious in retrospect.

This isn't a movie for the faint of heart, but it's one you owe it to yourself to watch. Its script challenges our moral boundaries, and it makes for a fascinating reference point when discussing modern issues like America's drone program or the drug war. The ideas at play in this film date back to thinkers like Machievelli and Kant. There's plenty to be said for the differing views presented in this film. It should make for some very interesting post-viewing analysis and debate. But if nothing else, it's one hell of a ride.

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Wed Mar 23, 2016 11:06 am
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The Bad Guy wrote:
2. Sicario

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The first seven minutes of Sicario are going to give people nightmares. We arrive at a crime scene that is profoundly disturbing. But instead of showing us the horrifying imagery and moving on, the film comes back to these shots and hangs on them. The audience might want to look away, but the camera won't let us. We're meant to feel uncomfortable. We're not supposed to forget what we've seen.

Sicario lays its cards on the table early. If you're uncomfortable with what you're watching, then you're free to leave. But, more importantly, it's letting us know what's at stake. The only question left is how far you're willing to go to stop this. When our protagonist is given the opportunity to join an inter-agency task force, she is asked by her superior to think very carefully before responding. She only asks one question - "Do we get a shot at the men responsible for today?" When the answer is yes, she immediately volunteers. Unfortunately, she doesn't realize what she's gotten herself into.

The real conflict of this film isn't between the cartels and law enforcement. The battle is an ethical one, waged between our protagonist Kate Macer and the man in charge of the special operation, Matt Graver. Kate is an inexperienced but principled agent, someone who believes in the rule of law and doing things by the book. Graver is an uncompromising pragmatist, willing to get his hands dirty and skirt the rules whenever necessary. He is perfectly willing to use extreme measures like torture or placing innocents in harms way, so long as it achieves a worthwhile objective. Emily Blunt's character is our eyes and ears, so it's not surprising that she's the moral center of the film. Yet the script also paints her as being in over her head or ill-equipped to deal with these problems. Her views are admirable, but their application in this war often appears naive. What I love about this script is that it's asking some very difficult questions about whether the ends justify the means, and it's not offering any easy answers. In the end, it's up to you to decide what your principles are.

The film is masterfully done on almost every level. The three main performances by Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin are excellent. A lot of people felt that composer Jóhann Jóhannsson had the best original score of the year, offering a dark, pulsing soundtrack that feels ominous and almost evil at times. Director Denis Villeneuve has been steadily upping his game, and with this film he should now have everyone's full attention as a rising star in the industry. But the man of the hour is obviously Roger Deakins, who I thought did the best job of any cinematographer last year. Unlike The Revenant or The Assassin, much of Sicario takes place in fairly ordinary environments that you wouldn't think of as photogenic. Somehow, Deakins is able to make magic out of nearly every frame of this picture, using a technical precision and attention to detail that's stunning. There is a scene where a pack of black SUVs cross over into Juárez which I've seen over and over again, never tiring of its craftsmanship. Other shots, like the one I chose for this review, or so clever and beautiful that they almost seem obvious in retrospect.

This isn't a movie for the faint of heart, but it's one you owe it to yourself to watch. Its script challenges our moral boundaries, and it makes for a fascinating reference point when discussing modern issues like America's drone program or the drug war. The ideas at play in this film date back to thinkers like Machievelli and Kant. There's plenty to be said for the differing views presented in this film. It should make for some very interesting post-viewing analysis and debate. But if nothing else, it's one hell of a ride.


I've heard great things, really excited to watch this. Could have watched it today in fact but for some reason I chose Terminator Genisys instead.

Fucking oof! Sooooo bad.


Thu Mar 24, 2016 11:42 am
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Samm@el wrote:
I've heard great things, really excited to watch this. Could have watched it today in fact but for some reason I chose Terminator Genisys instead.

Fucking oof! Sooooo bad.


Oh, good lord...

Why did you do that? Hopefully you'll use some mouthwash and move on to Sicario next.

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Thu Mar 24, 2016 12:32 pm
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1. Mad Max: Fury Road

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There's a moment from Mad Max: Fury Road that I'll always remember. Our protagonist, Furiosa, is driving a war rig into a massive storm. With three war parties in pursuit, she can either surrender or risk dying in the tempest. As the rig goes into the storm, the music shifts from a frenetic action score to a stunning orchestral interlude. The apocalyptic winds carry her pursuers into the sky, their bodies tossed amidst the lightning and explosions. Most movies couldn't even dream of a scene like this. If they did, it would be saved as the epic finale after hours of buildup. But this isn't a normal movie, and this amazing sequence takes place before we've even hit the half hour marker.

Much of the criticism I've heard regarding George Miller's latest film is based on the screenplay. It's not uncommon to hear someone deride it as nothing more than a two hour chase sequence. I'll touch on some of these criticisms later, but whether these charges have merit misses the point. Regardless of what you might think about the script, it's merely one aspect of a larger whole. No matter how good or bad a script is, it's something that precedes every other aspect of film-making. At a basic level, the screenplay is going to need a budget. It's going to need a director and a team of artists to pull it off. In this case you're going to need costume designers, makeup artists, sound designers, sound editors, film editors, a cinematographer, a composer, stunt experts, production designers, a visual effects team, actors... you get the idea. You can go down the line and give it a nearly perfect grade in every category. It's no accident that this film won six Oscars and more cumulative awards than any other film in 2015. Believe it or not, every aspect of film-making is important when it comes to making a good film.

But let's take a step back and examine this maligned screenplay. A lot of the criticism stems from its lack of dialogue and character development, as we're shown just enough to get the gears going. An unfavorable reading of this might argue that this is action porn like The Raid: Redemption, a movie that has spectacular action but is paper thin on story. I actually don't feel this is the case here. In fact, what I think Mad Max: Fury Road does is actually very clever, though it's admittedly difficult to see on a first viewing. While most big budget films give us too much exposition, this film intentionally gives us almost none. We have enough relevant information to follow the story, but there are layers here that you might not get until your second or third viewing. Further still, there are some mysteries that are left to viewer interpretation. A savvy viewer might realize that the dynamics between Furiosa and her crew suggest a long-standing relationship, and that she's obviously done missions like this for Immortan many times before. When she talks about redemption, we don't know exactly what she means, but we're able to connect the dots. But when she says her line about being remembered, that's something you'll be left pondering whether you see the film once or eleven times. Furiosa's character has a hidden back story that could probably be an entirely separate film, but she's not the only example of how this film is imaginative and open to interpretation.

There are so many impressive things I could say about this film, like how there's surprisingly little CGI and it uses incredibly dangerous stunt work for its choreography. I could go on about Junkie XL's phenomenal soundtrack, or talk about how George Miller is a 71-year-old rock-star. But I imagine you don't want to read a twenty paragraph review where I run down the list from A to Z. Suffice it to say, this film had a more profound impact on me than anything I saw last year. I consider 2015 to be maybe the best year in modern memory, but putting this film at the number one spot wasn't a difficult choice. I admittedly wasn't as excited for this project as many of my friends, but when I left the theater after my first viewing I was flabbergasted. I went back to see it again in the theaters. I re-watched it over and over again on Blu Ray. The more I see of this film, the more I'm convinced it's a timeless classic and a true masterpiece. It's the best action movie I've ever seen.

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Thu Mar 24, 2016 12:33 pm
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The Bad Guy wrote:

Oh, good lord...

Why did you do that? Hopefully you'll use some mouthwash and move on to Sicario next.


I wanted so badly to believe... :(


Thu Mar 24, 2016 1:34 pm
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Ahh both Sicario and Mad Max.
Sicario reminded me of ZDT but more restrained. I love that a lot of the stuff was implied.


Thu Mar 24, 2016 2:19 pm
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I prefer Sicario over Mad Max. It's close, though.

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Thu Mar 24, 2016 3:00 pm
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I've only seen 16/51, not even a third! I never really got on board with the excessive love for either of your top two, I enjoyed them (if enjoy is the right word for Sicario) but didn't connect with them on any personal level. But your write-ups are making me wanna re-watch them anyway. Thanks for doing this, I have some serious catching up to do!


Thu Mar 24, 2016 11:53 pm
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Samm@el wrote:
I wanted so badly to believe... :(


I understand. There's a little Fox Mulder in all of us.

Ace wrote:
Ahh both Sicario and Mad Max.
Sicario reminded me of ZDT but more restrained. I love that a lot of the stuff was implied.


They're very different films in some ways, but I can see the comparison. Both have a central female protagonist and that redacted, special ops feel to them. They raise some similar ethical questions. I think Sicario is more keenly focused on these questions though, whereas ZDT has a lot more to do with Maya's obsession.

MadMan wrote:
I prefer Sicario over Mad Max. It's close, though.


I felt this way after I first saw Sicario, but then I kept watching Mad Max...

Actually ended up seeing both of them quite a few times. Are they both at or near the top of your list, too?

MrCarmady wrote:
I've only seen 16/51, not even a third! I never really got on board with the excessive love for either of your top two, I enjoyed them (if enjoy is the right word for Sicario) but didn't connect with them on any personal level. But your write-ups are making me wanna re-watch them anyway. Thanks for doing this, I have some serious catching up to do!


I know what you mean regarding Sicario. I remember someone who worked on The Wire being uncomfortable when people would tell him "the show is so awesome/entertaining!", particularly around the fourth season. Watching Sicario certainly isn't light viewing, though I appreciated its uncompromisingly dark focus.

I appreciate the comment about the write-ups, even if they clearly weren't your two favorites. Also, thanks for following along and reading. I hope this list helps you discover some new things you'll enjoy and/or remind you of films you'd meant to see but didn't get to.

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Fri Mar 25, 2016 12:15 pm
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Sicario is currently my #1 of 2015. Or #2. Not sure yet. Mad Max is in my Top 5.

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Fri Mar 25, 2016 3:04 pm
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Very entertaining list! I really need to see Breathe.

For reference, my list looks something like this:

    The Assassin
    Hard to Be a God
    Clouds of Sils Maria
    Phoenix
    Jauja
    Horse Money
    Gueros
    Tokyo Tribe
    Mad Max
    Amour Fou

Though Girlhood, Gett, Slow River, About Elly, and Mommy are right up there, too.

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Sat Mar 26, 2016 2:20 am
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Grt thread, saw about elly recently and it was indeed scrumptious.


Sat Mar 26, 2016 3:19 am
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MadMan wrote:
Sicario is currently my #1 of 2015. Or #2. Not sure yet. Mad Max is in my Top 5.


:up:

Shieldmaiden wrote:
Very entertaining list! I really need to see Breathe.

For reference, my list looks something like this:

    The Assassin
    Hard to Be a God
    Clouds of Sils Maria
    Phoenix
    Jauja
    Horse Money
    Gueros
    Tokyo Tribe
    Mad Max
    Amour Fou

Though Girlhood, Gett, Slow River, About Elly, and Mommy are right up there, too.


Juaja was one of the more interesting dream logic films in modern memory. Definitely one of the stranger and more memorable films from the past year.

I wasn't quite as taken with Clouds of Sils Maria as some others, but I enjoyed it. I liked how the script of the film ran parallel to the script of the play in a lot of instances. Also, Kristen Stewart can act!? Who knew...

Horse Money was one that I respected more than I actually enjoyed. The cinematography was nice etc. but it wasn't nearly as compelling/interesting for me, personally.

I actually didn't get around to seeing Gueros, though my rental store has it and I want to see it. I simply ran out of time between work and everything else. Amour Fou is another one I didn't see, but checking the IMDB dates it appears that it still has yet to get a U.S. release. I'd like to correct both of these omissions soon, given how highly you think of them.

Abbas wrote:
Grt thread, saw about elly recently and it was indeed scrumptious.


Thanks

About Elly is certainly a compelling drama. Glad you enjoyed it.

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Wed Mar 30, 2016 9:27 am
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The Bad Guy wrote:
I actually didn't get around to seeing Gueros, though my rental store has it and I want to see it. I simply ran out of time between work and everything else. Amour Fou is another one I didn't see, but checking the IMDB dates it appears that it still has yet to get a U.S. release.
Yeah, Güeros is really worth seeing, as much for the potential of its new-ish director as its buoyant style. Amour Fou showed in NYC in March 2015, and that's all it'll get, I'm afraid. It's on Netflix, though!

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