The Daily Beast’s Best Movies (Thus Far) of 2014, with Commentary From Self

This time, no pussyfooting around (what, self wonders, is the origin of that word ‘pussyfooting’?), self will go directly to the list she stumbled across today, on The Daily Beast.

The Best Movies of 2014 (So Far):

  1. Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater.  Wow, self has heard such great things about this movie.  Read Sheila O’Malley’s dissection/praise of it, here.
  2. Snowpiercer, directed by South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho and starring, of all people, CHRIS EVANS!  Frickin’ hot Captain America!  It is science fiction, it is the year 2031, it is dystopian (Pardon self’s french:  Dystopian is fast becoming the most-overused word in the movie reviewer’s lexicon)
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed of course by Wes Anderson and featuring not one but TWO pairs of bedroom eyes (Fiennes and Brody’s) and the best birthmark ever to appear in a supporting role in a movie — wait, didn’t this movie come out last year?  Nevertheless.  Self liked it.  Onwards!
  4. The Raid 2, the first truly kick-ass action movie from Asia in a long, long time, and it’s from Indonesia.  Self missed the sequel, but the first one was pulse-poundingly great.  The first one was FIVE STARS!
  5. Ida, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, and of course Polish. Set in 1960s Poland etc. Next!
  6. Only Lovers Left Alive, directed by Jim Jarmusch:  A vampire movie!  Directed by His Fabulousness!  And starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton!  Sold!
  7. Manakamana, directed by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez:  a documentary about various enlightenment seekers who make the pilgrimage to Nepal’s Manakamana temple.  Self wants to see it.  She may end up wanting to make the pilgrimage herself.  But pilgrimages never quite come out the way self expects.  She’s got the requisite curiosity, and that in spades, but travel tends to bring out the cynic in her.
  8. The Immigrant, directed by James Gray:  Starring — oh no! — Joaquin Phoenix, an actor who has singularly failed to arouse even one iota of interest in self, not even when he played Johnny Cash and self ended up ferrying Niece G and a whole car full of Stanford freshmen to the Redwood City Bayshore Cinema to see Walk the Line.  But why oh why is he paired with the lovely Marion Cotillard, an actress whose performance in that whale movie, Rust and Bone, the one where she played a whale trainer who loses her legs in a horrific accident in a Seaworld-like theme park, turned self into a sobbing mess for exactly three months — wow, this is a tough one.  Jury’s still out on this one.
  9. Begin Again, directed by John Carney.  Self saw this just yesterday.  Of its inclusion in this list she can thus unequivocally say:  YES! YES! YES! At first it would seem a most unlikely choice for one of The Daily Beast’s Best Movies (Thus Far) of 2014, because let’s just say Keira Knightley as a twee British singer who is done wrong by a self-absorbed boyfriend played by People’s Most Beautiful Person of 2013, Maroon Five front man Adam Levine, is not exactly what one automatically thinks of as “Best Movie” material, but what the hoo, self bit down her reservations and she ended up loving Mark Ruffalo’s performance (which was only to be expected), and she loved Keira Knightley’s performance, and she loved Hailee Seinfeld’s performance, and she even loved Adam Levine’s performance, and the only so-so performance came surprisingly from an actress self normally admires, Catherine Keener.
  10. Palo Alto, directed by Gia Coppola (granddaughter of Francis Ford), and based on the short story collection by that flake (who also happens to be a surprisingly good actor) James Franco.  She is so tired of Franco’s ubiquitous talent, but yes she did indeed browse through this collection when she first saw it in Kepler’s, last year.  And — self hates you, James Franco!  Because the stories were quite good!  Aaaargh!  And self loves Mia Wasiwokska.  Ever since she saw her in Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre, and The Kids Are All Right.
  11. Life Itself, a documentary by Steve James, about the late great Roger Ebert.  Of course self will see it.  Of course.
  12. Neighbors, by Nicholas Forgetting Sarah Marshall Stoller.  Self somehow missed this one when it came to the local cineplex.  But she likes the premise.  She even likes the cast (Rogen, Rose Byrne, the younger Franco, and Zac E)
  13. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Matt Felicity Reeves:  Oh yes, this was the movie self saw just the day before she saw Begin Again (Yes, self is quite a movie nut) and it was definitely great.  Any movie in which the apes outshine Jason Clarke and Keri Russell is indisputably great.  Kudos to Jason Clarke for not acting too hard.  He has a real, shambling, laid-back charm.  BTW, Keri Russell has very toned arms.  Self found the sight of them a tad distracting.  Because the actress obviously had to have put in many, many gym hours in order to get arms like those.  And self wasn’t sure this was something Russell’s movie character might have done. (Anyone have the same reaction?  Self, why must you always be such a nitpicker!)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

Saltiness of Language

Today self finally got to see the Book of Kells.

It’s cool that you pay 5 euros (about $7) for an audio tour but you get to keep it.  The device is about the size of a cigarette lighter.

Self’s advice for anyone who wants to see it is:  go in the morning, first thing.  Self got to the exhibit at around 1 p.m., and it was packed.  Everyone wants to gaze reverently at the book itself, under glass, so you feel guilty about lingering.  Plus if you’re as diminutive as self is, you’ll be trampled.  Honestly.

Afterwards, she went to Bewley’s, where she re-lived memories of having tea and scones with the writer Catherine Dunne (through the kind intro of Zack Linmark, who connected Catherine and self on FB) on only her second day in Ireland.

Today, she got a seat on the second floor of Bewley’s and had some tea.

She’s been reading Catherine Dunne’s newest novel (which she autographed, such a thrill), The Things We Know, which begins on a boat:

We had just heeled over, at a good forty-five degree angle.  The spray soaked the two of us and small pools of water blistered across the deck.  They glinted up at us, filled with late afternoon sunshine.  We were in our element.

The husband and wife on the boat are in some kind of emotional crisis.  The husband describes his wife:  “She seemed brittle, her eyes had darkened like seawater.”

There is a kind of pungency to the Irish voice.  It doesn’t matter who is speaking, conversations just naturally seem to veer towards the darkly comic.

For instance, this morning she overheard the following conversation:

Man:  Lovely day.

Woman:  Isn’t it.  A lady was murdered.  She was having an affair apparently and her husband found out.

Man:  Well she won’t be doing that again.

Stay tuned.

 

Of Brienne of Tarth, Katniss Everdeen, and Other Favorite Heroines

Today, self watched “Frozen.”  What. A. Great. Movie. Self loved it so much, she almost wanted to sit through a second screening.  It was about sisters, one of whom has to shoulder the burdens of becoming Queen, while the other one gets to be brave and feisty and stubborn and wrong and lead a more interesting life. Well, both sisters are wrong, at various points.  But self identified with the older sister, the one who feels her lot in life is to live in sorrowful isolation.  Self cried, harder even than she did in Catching Fire.  As she walked out of the theater, self heard a couple of older teen-aged girls raving about the music:  “Wasn’t that song by Demi Lovato?”

Last night, she decided to get caught up on another of her favorite heroines, Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne of Tarth in HBO’s Game of Thrones.  In an interview in October, Gwendoline said that her part in GOT was done.  Self got such a shock on hearing that, because it can only mean one thing:  Brienne gets killed in Season 4.  Noooooo!!!

And, this little morsel:  self read somewhere that Jennifer Lawrence got hurt while filming a scene in Mockingjay — apparently the mishap involved choking.  OK, now, what scene could that have been?  Could that be the one with hijacked Peeta after his rescue from the Capitol?  Because doesn’t he put his two hands on Katniss’s neck and — self, STOP RIGHT THERE!

And now, to the ostensible reason for this post:

Lev Grossman of Time Magazine conducted a five-part interview with Suzanne Collins and Francis Lawrence on The Hunger Games.  The final part was published 22 November 2013.  Here’s an excerpt:

Lev Grossman:  When I read people writing about The Hunger Games, there seems to be a split between people who read it as an allegory of the emotional experience of being an adolescent, and there are people who read it more literally as an exploration of the moral issues surrounding war and political oppression.  Is it both?  Are you comfortable with both?

Suzanne Collins:  I have read so many interpretations.  There’s a whole Christian allegory.  There’s you know, I’ve seen people talk about it like Plato’s cave, which is really fun.  I’ve seen an indictment of big government.  I’ve seen, you know, the 99 percent kind of thing.  I think people bring a lot of themselves to the book.  When Hunger Games first came out, I could tell people were having very different experiences.  It’s a war story.  It’s a romance.  Other people are like, it’s an action-adventure story.

You know, for me it was always first and foremost a war story, but whatever brings you into the story is fine with me.  And then, of course, if a person interprets it as an adolescent experience or a Christian allegory, you can’t tell them they didn’t.  That was their genuine response to it, and they’re going to have it, and that’s fine.  You can’t both write and then sit on the other side and interpret it for people.

I can tell you that for me it was a war story.  But it also has so many ethical issues because you’re dealing with war, and there’s all these other ethical issues surrounding with, you know, there’s violence, there’s war, there’s hunger, there’s the propaganda, there’s the environment’s been destroyed, there’s a ruthless government, misuse of power and all these other elements that come into play with it, and people may respond to ones that are most important to them, and you know other people come for the love story.  That’s fine.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Reading Variety’s IN MEMORIAM, 2013

Ray Dolby, founder of Dolby Laboratories, died in San Francisco in September.  He was 80.

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, screenwriter and novelist, who collaborated with filmmakers James Ivory and Ismail Merchant on A Room With a View and Howard’s End, died in April.  She was 85.

Van Cliburn, Imelda Marcos’s frequent guest in Manila, died in February.  He was 78.

Actress Karen Black died in August.  She was in Five Easy Pieces and Nashville.  She was 74.

Actress Eileen Brennan died in July.  She was 80.

David Frost (most famous for interviewing Nixon), died in August. Age not stated.

Ray Harryhausen, who pioneered special effects for such movies as Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, died in May.  He was 92.

Esther Williams, a statue of whom is still in Santa Fe Resort in Bacolod, and who starred in MGM “aquatic spectaculars” like Bathing Beauty and Million-Dollar Mermaid, died in June.  She was 91.

Elmore Leonard, bestselling author of Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and Out of Sight, whose most recent collaboration was on the F/X series Justified, died in August.  He was 87.

Dennis Farina, former Chicago cop who became famous for playing cops, most recently in Law & Order, died in July.  He was 69.

Jean Stapleton, whose iconic role was as Edith Bunker in All in the Family, died in May.  She was 90.

Annette Funicello, former Mouseketeer, died in April.  Self knows not why her name sticks in self’s mind.  She was 70.

Roger Ebert, film critic, died in April.  He was 70.

Peter O’Toole, one of self’s favorite actors, a true genius, died earlier this month.  He was 81.

Corey Monteith, of Glee, died in July.  He was 31.

James Gandolfini died in June.  He was 51.

Lou Reed, singer-songwriter, died in October.  He was 71.

Paul Walker died in November.  He was 40.

Pajiba Reviews AMERICAN HUSTLE

Self loves Daniel Carlson’s review of American Hustle on Pajiba.  Clearly, here is a man who knows his David O. Russell.  Not only that, he seems to know the 70s (“This song is really from 2001!”)

Self surmises he is not twenty-something.  He could be thirty-something.  Maybe even forty-something.  Self hates when a review shows the writer’s utter lack of familiarity with anything earlier than 1990.

Back to the review:  First, Carlson tells us about Abscam.  He explains why this film is not really a fact-built case.  Why it posits a kind of parallel universe — a theory, if you will.

But who cares about a theoretical posit of Abscam?

Until she saw American Hustle, self had completely forgotten about Abscam.  You see, so many things have happened to self in the 30 years since:  she went to grad school, she lived in New York, she got married, raised a child, wrote four books, edited an anthology, bought two houses, three cars, read an infinite number of books (She averaged about 60 books a year, at one point).  Yet, she was completely absorbed by Russell’s film.  Clearly, if Abscam unfolded, then the process of how must be probed.  And probing can be very, very fun.  Especially if one focuses on the emotions of the parties involved, to show how these emotions lead to behaviors that lead to further behaviors, and how everything begins to topple like a line of Dominos.

“Because a lie always looks better when it’s a little bit true.  We’ll dismiss out of hand those statements that feel totally improbable, but the ones that use things we know to be true —  facts, people, our own experience —  are harder to untangle.  From a storytelling standpoint, you get an extra oomph when you claim to be based on a true story, even if the final product is so far removed from historical fact that it makes no sense to claim kinship with it.  Watching American Hustle to learn about Abscam would be like reading Wikipedia to learn how to perform brain surgery, but the film still gets some juice for looking just enough like real life to fool us for a moment.  And in those moments, we forget the levels of fakery and connect with what’s happening on screen.  So the lies, inspired by the truth, wind up coming full circle to inspire a truth of their own.”

How doe we know the film is trying to depict “real life”?  Because the very first scene is of a man trying to arrange his thinning hair into an elaborate comb-over.  Never, ever before in the history of cinema has there been an opening scene like this.

Which then leads to the question:  Why would anyone want to watch a movie “to learn about Abscam?”  For that matter, who watches movies to learn about anything? Movies are specifically about experiencing, learning is a completely unintended (if welcome) side effect.

Self posits that maybe 75% of the people who went to see American Hustle went to see Jennifer Lawrence.  Or Christian Bale.  Or Amy Adams.

Lawrence’s star burns so bright now.  So do Bales’ and Adams’s.  And Cooper’s.  And Renner’s.

Carlson even dares to bring up the film’s “total lack of moral reckoning.”  Which makes the proceedings twice as fun!  For, in the words of the immortal Plutarch Heavensbee, “It’s appalling.  Still, if you abandon your moral judgment, it can be fun.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Spotted in “Anchorman 2″

Borat * Doby the Shark * Christina Applegate * Will Ferrell * Paul Rudd * Steve Carell * Kristen Wiig * Liam Neeson * Kanye * Kirsten Dunst (as a beautiful goddess!) * an RV on cruise control * random comment about Filipinos * GNN (for Global News Network) * Marion Cotillard * Jim Carrey * Tina Fey/Amy Poehler * Vince Vaughn * precocious piano-playing kid

The funniest thing in Anchorman 2 (outside of Will Ferrell and Steve Carell) was a deliciously smarmy TV anchorman played by James Marsden.  Self isn’t a big Marsden fan, but she really liked his performance here.

This is not really a review of Anchorman 2.  If you liked the original movie, you will love this one.

Oh, and something else:  the way Kristen Wiig’s character and Steve Carell’s character drive an uptight newswoman almost crazy is 100% believable.  If someone who worked for you in an office screamed at maximum volume like that, would it qualify as abuse?  Do dear blog readers realize how difficult it would be to label — even describe — such behavior?  Therefore, it is brilliant.

On to Pajiba’s picks of the 5 Best Skits of SNL, which self read via Salon.com

Self loved the just-ended season of SNL.  She watched it (almost every Saturday) without fail (but still managed to miss Kerry Washington’s hosting gig, which apparently was the best episode of the season, according to Salon.com — go figure!)

She caught Ed Norton (meh) and John Goodman (more meh) and Jimmy Fallon last week (surprisingly meh) and Josh Hutcherson (adorable!).

She missed Miley Cyrus’s appearance.

The best SNL skit of the season was a pitch-perfect parody of Wes Anderson (during Ed Norton’s hosting gig), called “The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders.”  Watch and be slayed, dear blog readers!  Self loved the way Ed Norton channeled Owen Wilson.  It wasn’t just the bleached blonde wig (although that was pretty fabulous).  It was the way Norton nailed the Owen Wilson drawl, the whole surfer-dude affect.

Stay tuned.

Eric Snider on TWITCHFILM (His Review of HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE)

Addendum for Sunday, 29 December 2013:

Have not agreed much with Dear Eric lately, but am resurrecting this weeks-old post because the quote from Plutarch Heavensbee (scroll all the way down) is so heavenly, and I’ve been mentioning it like mad, esp on Facebook!

*     *     *     *     *

Eric D. Snider can be so much fun to quote.  She hasn’t quoted him in a while, though.  Self owes him her deepest deepest gratitude for apprising her of the excellence of the following films:

  • How To Train Your Dragon
  • From Paris With Love (which is still self’s FAVORITE Jonathan Rhys Meyers movie, she kids you not!  She says this totally without irony)
  • The Raid:  Redemption (Self’s first Indonesian movie.  She gives it five stars!  She adores over-the-top, cheeky violence!)

If not for Eric D. Snider, self might have been suckered into seeing such high-quality cinematic products as:

  • The Counselor
  • Ender’s Game (At one point, Sole Fruit of Her Loins was very into this series by Orson Scott Card)
  • Last Vegas

But no!  Because of Eric D. Snider, self has now and then managed to hang on to ten bucks and two hours!  And, since life is short, she would never be able to get those back.  NEVER!

Today, self has endless free time.  Christmas is not yet here, and no one is coming to visit.  The day is yet young:  self has (so far) filled up her time with hanging Christmas decorations and writing Christmas cards.  If one were to ask self what the best use of her time would be at this moment, she might respond that if she were not able to write, or were not in the mood to write, she would be in the downtown Century 20, watching Hunger Games: Catching Fire for the fourth time.

But since self believes in “moderation in all things,” she has decided to go scarf up her copies of The Hunger Games books, which she hasn’t actually laid eyes on in at least two years.  She goes hunting all over son’s room, and cannot for the life of her remember where to look.  She hopes she didn’t leave them in Bacolod.

Anyhoo, Eric D. Snider has reviewed Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and instead of sharing his entire review, self will zoom in on a quote from Plutarch Heavensbee that he includes in his review (You know, if self didn’t know any better, she’d almost think the entire Hunger Games trilogy was a satire, a cheeky thing to be played strictly for laughs.  Especially when characters have names like “Peeta” who is a baker — tell self you didn’t immediately think of pita bread! — and Effie Trinket — Did you not think the name could be referring to something like: “This is just EFFING hilarious!”)

Our man Plutarch has decided to ask Katniss for a dance.  They’re twirling around a ballroom, making small talk.  It’s the kind of thing Natalie Dormer’s character in the TV series Game of Thrones (Margaery Tyrell) does so well.  While looking very poised and serene, she manages to produce words that function something like razor points.  So Plutarch is saying to Katniss:  “It’s appalling.  Still, if you abandon your moral judgement, it can be fun.”

Is that a direct quote from the book?  If it is, Suzanne Collins needs to be congratulated.  Because, as Eric D. Snider says, it “is true of so many things.”  (BTW, only an actor as skilled as Philip Seymour Hoffman could inject that line with the right amount of sarcasm.  Oh, the delivery, the delivery!)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Self’s Nightmare and “Mockingjay” Movie Spoilers

Good Grief!  The dream self had in the wee hours today:  She had re-enrolled at Stanford (Her Dream Self was apparently one of those people who believe that one can never have too many advanced degrees).  But this time, she completely forgot that there was such a thing as attending class.  And by the time she realized this, it was already the final week of the quarter.  And she had never submitted a single assignment.  It all just slipped by her, honestly.  This qualifies as an honest-to-goodness “panic dream.”  It was horrible.  Really sweat-inducing.  Mebbe she shouldn’t have watched “Sleepy Hollow.”  The golem was extremely convincing, though.

And, since self awoke, about 2:30 a.m., and didn’t have any good story ideas, she began to do the next best thing, which was to read every single post on Mockingjay, the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy, and she discovered on Buzzfeed a very interesting list, and she could not stop laughing when she read:

“. . .  good grief, after spending two full movies watching Katniss gaze longingly into Gale’s crazy-handsome face, it is just a numbing downer to spend two full movies watching them bicker without ever bothering to talk things out.  Possible solution:  Perhaps Katniss could seek out Gale for some comfort, especially if Gale happened to be shirtless.  For once.”

Self wholeheartedly agrees with this one.  There is in fact a shirtless-Gale Moment in Catching Fire, but it’s a bit distracting because he is being whipped and there’s a lot of blood splaying all over the place.  Hopefully, by Mockingjay, his scars will have healed, and maybe he could be shot from just the front, which is the unblemished part of his torso.

Another spoiler:  Katniss ends up with you-know-who, and this is truly a case of her wanting to be needed, because there’s little point in getting together with someone who has been brainwashed so thoroughly that he thinks you are an evil person who needs to be done away with.  This because the point has to be made that “choosing to violently overthrow a totalitarian regime is itself a destructive act from which there is little hope of fully healing.”  EEEEKKK!!!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Guardian: Top 10 Action Movies

Self really loves The Guardian’s film blog.  The articles are meaty.  They make self want to leave comments.

Tonight, she lands on their “Top 10 Action Movies” list, and is sort of loving that it begins with “The Last of the Mohicans.”  She totally agrees with the inclusion of “Die Hard” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Why is She loves Cary Grant in “North by Northwest” but doesn’t think ANY Hitchcock movie belongs in a list of Top 10 action movies.  All of Hitchcock’s movies were about suspicion. The action is merely incidental.

Naturally, when self is dissatisfied with a list, she is compelled to make up her own.

For instance, she doesn’t understand why none of the Bourne movies made it into The Guardian’s list.

She also thinks “The Raid: Redemption,” a very violent, bloody, but fascinating movie from Indonesia should be on the list.

What about “The French Connection”?

What about “The Road Warrior”?

What about “Speed”?

Let’s see, self’s Top 10 Action Movie list would be:

  1. The Last of the Mohicans
  2. The Raid:  Redemption
  3. The French Connection
  4. Road Warrior
  5. Speed
  6. Die Hard
  7. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  8. The first Bourne
  9. La Femme Nikita
  10. Mongol

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Nicholson Baker on The New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog via NYTBR

Bottom of p. 4, The New York Times Book Review of Sunday, 25 August 2013:

“Quotable”

I look on the Internet, and there’s a lot of stuff, but it doesn’t seem any different to me than it felt like when I used to go to a newsstand and there was Elle magazine and professional-wrestling magazines and highbrow magazines, men’s fashion, women’s fashion, comics, just that . . .  blast of everythingness that comes at you.  Well, that’s what comes out of the computer screen now.  It’s very similar in its . . .  texture to what the newsstand, let’s say, at Harvard Square felt like back in the day.

–  Nicholson Baker, on The New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog

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