Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Holy Motors!! It's Our Top Five Picks of 2012 for PBR Film Club!
These aren't necessarily my personal favorites of the year, but due to various reasons ("difficulty," inscrutability, literary qualities, etc) they are prime candidates for future viewings by the PBR Film Club crew.
1) Holy Motors
Remember the classic scene in The Simpsons where Homer catches a bit of Twin Peaks on TV--Agent Cooper dancing with a unicorn--and exclaims, "Brilliant!" You'll feel like that quite often in Carax's Holy Motors, which you can pompously proclaim is a meditation on performance, or the nature of cinema, or humanity and technology, etc etc. Or you can just kick back and soak up a film that features a scene of Denis Lavant dressed like a nasty little leprechaun, prancing around nude with a boner (this is a French film, meaning you can show a full boner on screen) while chewing on flowers and money and Eva Mendes' hair, not to mention a scene where Kylie Minogue pops up for an unexpected musical number. Oh, and the accordion flash-mob scene! And the very Lynch-y opening scenes with secret doors to other worlds and Carax himself hanging out in a theater.
My pick for the best merger of source material and director. Cronenberg nails DeLillo's atmosphere of chilly disconnection as we watch emotionless millionaire Robert Pattinson gliding through a day in New York in his limousine, wishing he could "feel" something. The "talkiest" movie of the year? Probably. And everyone talks in DeLillo-ese: hyper-articulate, stylized conversations that feel deliberately artificial and disjointed. Kudos to Pattinson, who's about as far from the cinematic world of Twilight as it's possible to get. Oddly enough, this would make a perfect companion piece for Holy Motors, as both are set largely in limos and Holy Motors seems to provide the answer to a question posed by Cosmopolis: where do all the limos go at night?
The year's most ambitious movie was surely destined to be a box-office flop, but it's probably about the best film version one could hope of David Mitchell's "unfilmable" novel. While much of the novel's darkness gets smoothed over in favor of the Wachowskis' warmer, fuzzier take on reincarnation, I think a lot of the film is still a masterful, operatic, simultaneous orchestration of a whole lot of narrative threads that, in the novel, remain separate. Somebody did some VERY good close-reading in putting this thing together. I suspect its reputation will grow over the years (though it's no Brazil or Blade Runner and some of its make-up work will look forever hokey!
Yes, yes, the characters don't grow and learn. The motivations are ambiguous. The meaning is unclear. But Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dowd still feel as deep and rich as the characters in any novel I read last year. Like many great novels, PTA's film will be endlessly studied and interpreted. And widely hated by far more people than ones who like it. While we all know that Daniel Day Lewis is a lock for Best Actor with Lincoln, Phoenix's Freddie Quell is the performance that will rattle you.
Killing Them Softly:
Speaking of widely hated, Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly died a quick death at the box office and received outrageously low audience scores from many who surely didn't enjoy the fact that a Brad Pitt hitman flick consisted mostly of long conversations in cars and under highway overpasses (in fact, it's one of only 8 films to receive an "F" from Cinemascore post-screening surveys; another is Bug, a film I also love to defend). In other ways, too, Softly consistently violates expectations in audience-infuriating ways. Many scenes dispense with a soundtrack in favor of political speeches about the financial crisis, a technique dismissed as heavy-handed by many critics in its attempts to link the world of crime to the world of government. And it IS heavy-handed, but so much so that it takes on an almost Brechtian "alienation effect." I didn't like the film, which is also unremittingly cruel and nasty, but I ultimately had to admire it.