50. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) Dir. Wes Anderson
It’s always a great day when you get to feast your eyes on a new Wes Anderson adventure and The Grand Budapest Hotel is his most ambitious and hectic yet. It moves at the speed of 30s screwball comedies, like total lighting. It takes a good 20 minutes or so to settle into it’s story with it’s Russian doll-like labyrinth of narrators, first Tom Wilkinson, then Jude Law, then F. Murray Abraham, (a trademark of writer Stefan Zweig who inspired the film) but once Ralph Fiennes waltzes into the proceedings the film comes into focus and the whole thing just takes flight gloriously.
I think Fantastic Mr. Fox is the best thing that happened to Wes Anderson’s career because it seemed to open his vision up to more fantastic forms. Every film he’s made since then has felt more and more like a hand-crafted, stop-motion adventure brought to life. He’s becoming more confident and ambitious, his style becoming more refined and layered. The matte-paintings and miniatures have become more prominent and fantastical. Anderson’s films no longer feel like heightened corners of our reality, instead they take place in a universe that’s completely his own and it’s total magic. The way all his shots cut together and the music, typeface, art direction and production design and performances sing in harmony together is so effortless, everything just seems to slot into place like a jigsaw. It’s a truly remarkable feat of directorial authorship.
I always find it really hard to criticise a Wes Anderson movie or even try and review it with pros and cons because they are just so unique and singular that they operate by their own rules that you have to either accept and embrace or dismiss and ignore them. If you’re familiar with Anderson you know what you’re in store for and if you like it, you’ll love this movie. It’s another stunning trip into his world, coloured, performed and orchestrated with a breathless confidence. It’s all at once a love story, a biting comedy, a physical farce, a screwball odyssey and a gothic fantasy brought to life by an astonishing ensemble of actors. Just look at the names on that poster, every actor there is capable of leading a film on their but here they’re happy to work in tandem to fill out a plethora of colourful supporting roles. Like all of his other films The Grand Budapest Hotel is infectious and visionary. Honestly, it’s pretty great.
I mean love him or hate him Wes Anderson has developed this incredibly complicated and singular style over his career that is totally unique to him. The way his camera moves, the art direction, the music, the costumes, the typography, the way his actors move and deliver dialogue, it all just works in harmony to become this unique thing that’s unlike anything that came before it or since. In the history of film there aren’t many filmmakers at all who have accomplished that total controlled view and manipulated aesthetic that genuinely makes you look at the world through a new pair of eyes. You can’t even criticise Anderson’s movies for being anything other than “Wes Anderson-esque” because they’re just their own distinct thing and you either go with it and enjoy it or don’t. It’s amazing and a really special body of work when you think about it.
I saw Grand Budapest Hotel yesterday and what a blessed world we live in where Wes Anderson gets to make the films he wants to make and we just get to sit back and enjoy them.
I’m watching Alfonso Cuarón’s first movie Solo Con tu Pareja and man it always takes me a second to remember that the same guy who made Children of Men and Gravity also made Y tu mama Tambien and then I like him even more.
49. The Stuff (1985) Dir. Larry Cohen
From what I know about Larry Cohen and the few encounters I’ve had with his work (Maniac Cop etc.) he seems to be obsessed with gloriously insane concepts and The Stuff is certainly one of them. It’s quite dated by today’s standards and is extremely uninteresting in regards to the way it’s shot - there is no sense of a distinct directorial vision or anything - but it is totally unique and singular. There are dashes of brilliant satire, not exactly subtle by any means, but still funny and thought-provoking. I really love the special effects too. They’re rubbery, stupid and fake-as-hell but you can’t beat the charm that comes with these low-budget practical effects. It’s the kind of stuff (pun alert) that made me fall in love with movies in the first place. It’s just a very wacky film that is constantly taking you by surprise with both it’s plot and casting (Danny Aiello? Paul Sorvino?!) Shlocky, fun and enjoyable.
My favourite tidbit from the Gravity blu is that Cuarón decided to flip half of the opening shot after he watched the film upside down. It took 3 months of rendering. Amazing.
I’ve been plowing through all of the special features on the Gravity blu-ray over the past few days and the technical level of excellence on that movie is honestly just mind-blowing. A week ago I wouldn’t have even included the film in my top twenty from 2013 but I’ve really been obsessing over it recently, kind of had a delayed reaction effect on me I think. Not that I didn’t like the film by any means, it just didn’t do much for me beyond the surface pleasures. But man, Cuaron is just on a whole other level.
47/48. Nymph()maniac Vols. 1 & 2 (2014) Dir. Lars von Trier
The great thing about a new Lars von Trier movie is that you know you’re gona have a lot to talk about once the credits have rolled. So perhaps the most surprising thing about Nymphomaniac, which has arrived in two mammoth volumes and promised to be his most explicit and provocative effort yet, is just how incidental and toothless the whole thing seems. Though part of me suspects this might be von Trier’s intention. While yes, it is a 4 hour epic charting one woman’s sexual odyssey that features plenty of explicit and genuine intercourse, the focus is much more literary and cerebral and the tone is more flirtatious as opposed to being predictably seductive or horrific. The film didn’t shock me. It didn’t make me gasp at it’s bold choices or grand gestures, instead it put a smile on my face. It’s cheeky, not vicious. This is probably von Trier’s most playful film. Always the mischief maker, his experimentation here knows no bounds even to the point of being laughably distracting. Titles are splashed across the screen to illustrate the amount of thrusts during a sexual encounter, Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild blares as Young Joe and her friend prowl a train car in skimpy outfits in one of the many amusing music choices and absurd sexual comparisons and juxtapositions are observed and explored. It feels like the definitive Lars von Trier movie. Practically every actor from his trusted repertoire of performers makes an appearance as well as his stylistic choices: the chapter structure, the operatic emotions - it’s all here. It may not be his greatest film but it’s definitely a grand culmination of everything his career has stood for up to this point. It feels like a big encore. There’s even a playful nod to Antichrist's notorious opening scene that is way too fun for me to spoil here.
It’s certainly an ambitious piece of work but isn’t quite as earth-shattering as it’s presentation would have you expect. It’s all over the place and often a victim of it’s own indulgences. The framing device featuring Gainsbourg’s Joe recounting her story to Stellan Skarsgård's Steligman works in solitude as a captivating chamber piece but throws the flow off of the other sequences as it constantly cuts back and forth between past and present. The endless sex sequences soon feel repetitive and pointless too. Maybe I'm just a victim of the internet where explicit material is commonplace and with the recent Stranger by the Lake presenting uncensored sex in such a casual way, shots of bodily fluids or penetration just isn’t that shocking or revelatory to me anymore. Still, Nymphomaniac is a gripping beast of an experiment with a truly bizarre ensemble of actors all going for broke with totally committed performances. For some their fearless gamble pays off to sublime effect (Gainsbourg, Jamie Bell, Christian Slater, Skarsgård and Stacy Martin) for others the results are less successful (Shia LeBeouf sporting the most puzzling accent I’ve ever come across and Uma Thurman I haven’t made my mind up on). I definitely enjoyed the film a lot but as a long time fan of von Trier this just didn’t rattle my cage or dig into my soul as deep as I expected. Contrary to what was promised and how aggressive von Trier’s stories have been in the past, this one felt very tame, well-behaved and pretty good-natured which is astonishing considering the dark corners he explores. Nymphomaniac is like von Trier’s Greatest Hits CD as opposed to his magnum opus but yknow, with a lot of sex.
SO I finally finished both volumes of Nymphomaniac last night, Grand Budapest Hotel hits cinemas on Friday, Under the Skin and The Zero Theorem the week after and yup this is a goood month for movies.