You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘The Tree of Life’ category.

My writeups, if you haven’t already gathered, rank  the nominees in reverse order of how I like them.  But here, as John mentioned, we’re ranking the best picture movies as if we were Oscar voters.

1. The Artist.  Yeah, picking this film is almost cliche at this point in awards season.  But that’s only because it is the best film of this lot by leaps and bounds.  The others really aren’t in the ballpark.  At this point I’ve waxed rhapsodic about so many aspects of the movie that really, all that’s left to say is that all these wonderful aspects of the film: writing, directing, acting, cinematography, just everything all combines together into one really great movie.

2. Midnight in Paris.  It is a sign of how poor an Oscar year it is that when I saw the film over the summer, I was wavering over whether I thought I’d give it Oscar consideration and now it is my second-favorite film of those nominated.  It is light, fun, and not particularly deep.

3. The Help.  It is a decent movie, and pretty much nothing like what people are projecting onto it.  Race issues get people riled up, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but if you can look past all that, you’ve got a fine movie.  Maybe a little bit bloated and unfocused at times, but it is funny, warm, and entertaining.  Not one of the nine best movies of the year, but certainly no outrage.

4. The Descendants.  And here’s the part of the list with films that make me go, “Eh.”  I currently have  this film as the 36th best movie of the year.  There are certainly plenty of good things about the movie, like George Clooney and Judy Greer and Matthew Lillard and Shailene Woodley constantly being in a bikini.  Each of us has voiced our problems with the plot, chiefly the underdeveloped plotline surrounding the land deal.

5. Moneyball.  As I’ve mentioned, great job figuring out how to turn the book into a movie, but they didn’t get quite all the way there.  Every single supporting character seemed underdeveloped and underutilized to me.  But hey, it is hard to be angry about a best picture-nominated film about the economics of baseball.

6. Everything Loud and Incredibly Close.  Another one of those issue movies where people make all sorts of outlandish claims about the film trying to “solve” some really huge issue and obviously failing to do so.  It is insane, to me, that anyone could think this film was about healing the wounds from 9/11.  Sure, clearly, the events form the backdrop here, but the movie is much smaller than that.  It is about a kid who lost his dad, isn’t particularly close to his mom, and is trying to figure out his world.

7. War Horse.  Not as bad as some people would have you believe, but hardly a great movie.  My biggest problem was that it was hard to get attached to any character, so while obviously it was sad when they died and happy when they lived, it wasn’t that sad or happy.

8. Hugo.  Just a bad movie and and a horrible movie-watching experience.  Sure, it is pretty and it is great that it references the birth of cinema.  But I dunno, I prefer my movies to have an interesting story and not be boring.

9. The Tree of Life.  Speaking of boring movies that don’t have a story!  Look, I understand if you want to make the argument that this film is high art.  I won’t even disagree.  But as a movie, it is horrendous.  One of the items on the film’s imdb trivia page states that in an Italian theater, two reels of the film were switched and nobody realized the mistake for an entire week.  If your film can be shown out of order for an entire week, there is something seriously, fatally, tragically wrong with it.  I’m not saying it is the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life, but I’m also not saying I’ve ruled it out.

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Unlike other categories where voters pick one nominee, in Best Picture they rank them 1-9. Therefore my pick the winners post will follow the same format.

1. Midnight in Paris. In a season filled with nostalgic pursuits, this is the only one that seriously worked for me. It’s just an absolute delight and I had so much fun watching it. It has an enjoyable, original story and fills it with interesting characters. They’re most characters you’re already familiar with, but the film’s takes on them and their interactions are a good time. It’s all just a whimsical fantasyland. And its simple if elegant message about the nature of the past and nostalgia hit home for me.

2. The Tree of Life. Ambitious, beautiful, moving, grand. I love its structure of wispy memories paired with gorgeous music. It’s a bizarre creature that washed over me and I loved it. Plus it’s the only nominee with dinosaurs.

3. The Help. Probably the film here that surprised me the most. It’s very entertaining and I found it really effectively evoked a time and place (which always helps get me through the times the schmaltz gets dialed up to eye-rolling level). Great performances as well.

4. The Descendants. I didn’t love it, but it has some undeniable beautiful, heartfelt sentiments and moments. Even as the stories never really came together in a satisfying manner – this is the only movie where I wanted to hear more about a perpetual trust! – a sense of sadness settled within me. I have a lot of goodwill for this film though I wanted it to be more.

5. The Artist. I just never took to this like everyone else seems to have. It’s fine enough, but there’s just not enough there. It gets some flak for being slight in that it’s thematically light, but its bigger sin is being narratively slight. Not enough happens and the thrill of the silent, black and white aesthetic wears off.

6. Moneyball. I can’t deny its technical proficiencies, but even after a second viewing it still feels like maybe a quarter of a story. I just think the filmmakers concentrated on parts of the Moneyball story that I find less interesting.

7. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I never expected to like this and hell if it isn’t… adequate. It can be contrived and exasperating, but its unique perspective and occasional moments of earned emotion pull it through.

8. Hugo. It just didn’t do much for me. In fact, it mostly just bored me. I kept waiting for the magic to begin… then it ended. I guess my hard heart is a tough nut to crack.

9. War Horse. I’m going to ruin this movie for you: it’s just a damn horse. So when people do a bunch of stupid stuff for the main character they’re doing stupid stuff for a horse. And judging from the music you’d think the horse scores a winning touchdown every 20 minutes or so. Still, it has a few good WWI scenes.

The 84th Academy Awards is almost here! Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small. We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before. On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

Directing

The nominees are:

  • The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius
  • The Descendants, Alexander Payne
  • Hugo, Martin Scorsese
  • Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen
  • The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick

BRIAN

At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll just skip the pretense and toss the award to Scorsese for Hugo. Despite my minor qualms with the pacing, I loved the 3D and the general feel of the film. That it was so out of character of Scorsese makes it even better. Quickly with the rest: The Artist was a delight too; only a skilled director could make a silent film work with today’s tastes. Midnight in Paris and The Descendants each had major problems with their scripts, and since both were directed by their screenwriter, it’s hard for me to judge them separately. Oh and Tree of Life? HAHAHAHAHAHAH. Right.

JOHN

In the context of this season, the nominees for Director are quite good. I might not be all that fond of most of the nominees but even they are directorial achievements.

At the very top of the category is sort of an embarrassment of riches for me. Midnight in Paris is my favorite film of the year. The writing and acting really put it over the top, but Allen does a masterful job striking the right tone and keeping the pace zipping along. He also elicits a number of fine performances from mostly lesser known actors that readily recall the real life people they are portraying without slipping into caricature.

But my winner in this category is actually my second favorite Best Picture nominee, Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life. It’s a film that’s packed to the gills with directorial ambition, combining images, music, and a wispy narrative into a fragmented memory poem, audaciously scoped against no less than the history of the universe. It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced. Even if it still leaves me somewhat bewildered it made an unforgettable impact. There’s no other director who imparted such vision.

Two other lesser nominees also presented visions that didn’t always work for me, but I appreciate the efforts. I enjoy seeing directors like Scorsese and Hazanavicius take chances and really make their marks. I think both had pacing problems, but the worst thing I can say about either is that they just didn’t connect with me, which isn’t a terrible fault. If a film is going to misfire, it may as well do it with some panache! And while Payne directs with less flair, I do give him credit for building a film with a good sense of tone. In a jumbled story it’s the atmosphere that really pulls The Descendants through.

It has been quite a year for ambitious directors. My top nine of the year (https://goldengrouches.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/top-nines-through-january/) is filled with stylish, atmospheric films, from the cool (Steve Soderbergh’s Contagion and Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) to the disturbing (Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In and Steve McQueen’s Shame). Even something that was ultimately disappointing to us, like Drive, heralded the arrival of a promising talent.

ADAM

Woody AllenMidnight in Paris.

JARED

It isn’t exactly right for me to say I hate Terrence Malick.  I think it is more that I hate the Academy voters (and anyone else who gave The Tree of Life a glowing review) for giving me a good reason to watch the film.  Also, for all I know, Malick may be a warm and generous person.  So perhaps it would be more fair for me to say I hate his work.  Whatever promise the script may or may not have showed (and Sean Penn is on record saying the script was way more logical, one of the best he’s ever read, and nothing like what ended up on screen), Malick as director brutally hacked and mangled until it was something so stupefyingly awful, that pretentious snobs everywhere were all but forced to acknowledge it as a masterpiece.

I think I like everything about Martin Scorsese except for the movies he makes.  A lot of my problems with Hugo were with the script.  But I also found the movie generally boring, and a lot of that is on the director, for not finding ways to keep me engaged.  I don’t really have much to say about Alexander Payne.  I seem to be a little bit lower on him than other people, but not exorbitantly so.  I’m not entirely certain what all the fuss is about with the film, but I’m also not sure I would have liked it much more with anyone else directing.

You have to admire someone who is Woody Allen’s age who can keep cranking out movie after movie.  Some directors take years and years to make something that won’t look or feel nearly as good as Midnight in Paris.  I really appreciate that about Allen.  In particular, I think Allen did a good job differentiating between the different eras.  And especially, while the film is obviously in some way a love letter to Paris, Allen makes sure never to allow the film to go overboard and become a Love Letter to Paris.

But I think it has to be Michel Hazanavicius here.  Making a silent, black and white film that’s a crowdpleaser?  Give me a break.  That’s insane.  How many directors would have the balls to attempt that, much less be able to pull it off?  The Artist manages to have the feel of a old time movie as well as a new one, while always feeling classic.

The 84th Academy Awards is almost here!  Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small.  We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before.  On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

This time we are going to talk about Cinematography and Film Editing.

Cinematography

The nominees are:

  • The Artist, Guillaume Schiffman
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Jeff Cronenweth
  • Hugo, Robert Richardson
  • The Tree of Life, Emmanuel Lubezki
  • War Horse, Janusz Kaminski

JOHN

When I saw War Horse, I thought it was being projected incorrectly. Particularly in the opening act as our remarkable horse is mucking about in the mud, the lighting is so bizarre that I thought it looked like a sound stage. It turns out they were specifically going for an old-fashioned visual style and lit accordingly. But, well, it’s not for me. I understand that shooting in black and white requires some special considerations from equipment to lighting and The Artist certainly has some visual flair, so I suppose I won’t begrudge its nomination. Dragon Tattoo and Hugo both look great, though the 3D was sort of a miss for me in the latter, but The Tree of Life really takes this in a walk. Even though it drives my colleagues nuts, the bulk of the film is a stream of exquisitely crafted shots. Lightbeams, clouds, reflections. A little meandering, but gorgeous! It’s really just a visual delight. And while I know that’s all part of Malick’s style, DP Emmanuel Lubezki still captured those images and they aren’t the delicate, crisp visuals that they are without him.

ADAM

As much as it pains me to say it, The Tree of Life should win Cinematography (if for no other reason than it shouldn’t even be considered a “movie” without the fantastic camera shots).

JARED

There are differing schools of thought on just how invisible good cinematography should be, but I think everyone can agree that great cinematography shouldn’t be distracting.  Well, everyone save for Janusz Kaminski, apparently.  His shots may be pretty, but they are so repeatedly in your face, demanding you acknowledge their beauty.  If I were to guess, it seems like there were a few specific shots that locked in his nomination here, and I would have edited every single one out for taking away from the film.  The cold, gray feel of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems rather appropriate, though I’m not sure anything stands out in particular.  Here’s some thoughts from Robert Richardson, cinematographer for Hugo, on the film.  I’m not sure if it is fair or not, but I’m docking the film some for the 3D here.  If Hugo represents the new frontier of 3D movies, then to me, 3D is dead.  Here’s an interview with Guilluame Schiffman, cinematographer of The Artist.  I was struck by how the film managed to look both old and new.  It is impressive to end up not looking like a replica, or a parody, of old black and white films while still feeling like it was something more than someone just hit the switch for black and white.  Schiffman talks about light in the interview, and I really liked the lighting of the scenes just before the fire.  In the end, though, if John and Adam can agree on something, seems like I’m going to be with them.  Whatever my thoughts on The Tree of Life as a movie, it seems impossible to argue against the cinematography.  The shots were, yes, beautiful and memorable and exquisite.  But they did all that while feeling so essential to the movie as a whole.

BRIAN

I wish I knew more about how the film industry, the production aspect essentially. I don’t wholly understand how to split out film editing from directing from cinematography from each other. Who makes specific decisions on how to film a particular scene or splice a set of scenes together? Who should I really be giving credit to? Hopefully, the Oscar voters themselves know how to divvy up the credit, but I’m probably giving them too much credence. No matter, I’ll use this space to offer the first in a series of why Hugo is my favorite movie of the year.

I have seen two movies that give me hope for the future of 3D technology: Avatar and Hugo. The former bombarded me with visual awe, in part because that’s what James Cameron does and in part to obscure the weaknesses in plot and character development (also what James Cameron does). But Hugo uses the technology to create the atmospherics surrounding Hugo the character. The opening sequence especially threw me into the world of early-20th-century Paris — first the snow that appeared to be falling on my feet and then the journey through the clock gears of the Montparnasse station. The movie itself is a mash note to the early days of film and the imaginative spirit of the industry’s pioneers – and Scorsese and his team created a film that the Georges Melieses of the world would have made had the technology existed. I was enthralled by the film for multiple reasons, but the aesthetics made me yearn to be a part of Hugo’s world.

As for the other nominees, I’d also be pleased to see recognition for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Artist, as both also built a world in which even if I don’t want to visit it (those Scandanavians are scary!), I feel as though I understand the types of characters who live there.

MoneyballWar HorseThe Descendants and Tree of Life — all of them leave me cold and uninterested.

Film Editing

The nominees are:

  • The Artist, Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
  • The Descendants, Kevin Tent
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
  • Hugo, Thelma Schoonmaker
  • Moneyball, Christopher Tellefson

JOHN

Film Editing is an interesting category, partly because I’m not sure I’d always be able to tell a well edited film! The Artist, Hugo, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo all had bloat issues. I know that’s not all editing; it’s not the editors’ fault that the script for Dragon Tattoo calls for a story that just refuses to end. On the other hand, I had significant problems with The Descendants and Moneyball but still found them slickly edited. The visual style of Moneyball gives a film about numbers some flash. The segues between scenes are something I definitely noticed on a second viewing. I suppose I pick The Descendants as my winner for its tonal balancing act. The dramatic parts don’t become over the top and the comedic parts are nicely balanced by pathos. Yes, that’s also parts writing, acting, and directing, but hitting the right beats and matching with the right shots are all within the Editing realm.

Snubs: To me, the master Editing work of the year is in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. In such a dense, non-stop story, the editing needs to be precise to keep it all coherent. But this is also a film that keeps its revelations understated, allowing the audience to figure things out for itself. With that in mind, editing is key. A shot lingers just long enough to register who that character is out in the courtyard or to note that there’s something odd with one man’s shoes. It’s always just enough to tease without hammering its points home.

JARED

I feel completely out of my depth when talking about editing, so I’ll keep it brief.  I’ve found the article I’ve read on the discipline fascinating, but it kinda seems that without knowledge of the script and total footage the editor had to work with, bestowing honors is something of a crapshoot.  I’m going with Moneyball.  I had a number of problems with the movie, one of which was some of the weird scenes that felt out of place from the standpoint of the story.  But these stylistic touches, or flashes to statistics from a computer, or video from a baseball all felt like they organically flowed, and I’m going to chalk that up to the editing.

After intense media speculation, I am pleased to confirm that I have indeed won Movieline’s 10-Word Tree of Life Review contest.

Later this week I will humbly accept my prize of a Tree of Life blu-ray combo pack at a ceremony at my mailbox. I can’t help but think back to the long series of events that culminated with my receipt of this prestigious prize for film criticism: the Big Bang, the creation of the earth, the dawn of life, the first flicker of empathy in a dinosaur, a dreamy frolic on a beach.

When viewed in the context of the history of the universe – of all there has been and all there will ever be – it’s clear that this is prize is a very, very big deal.

My winning ten word review:

Meditative examination of life’s – Whoa look at that cool sunbeam!

When I heard of the contest, two inspirations immediately came to mind. The first was a Sight and Sound interview with Malick DP Emmanuel Lebezki regarding the director’s flittering attention span:

Sometimes I would be preparing a shot with 50 extras and Terry would say, “Oh look, the wind is blowing in those trees. Let’s run down and bring Pocahontas.” I’d say, “We’ve got 50 extras!” He’d say, “Who cares!”

I knew I wanted to convey how the film contends to tackle cosmic questions but constantly detours to random shots that Malick must have thought looked pretty. (Or maybe that’s part of the point? That there’s wonder even in the way a sunbeam pierces a room?)

The influence for my award-winning review’s structure is, oddly enough, a Survivor confessional that’s fairly legendary for the show’s rabid fans, like myself. The original weirdo from the first season, Greg, is talking about avoiding the game’s darker side when he stops suddenly to point out a cool flying fish. It’s weird how random cultural references stay with you and this has been my model for someone who is distractable and easily enthused for a decade.

Whoa look at that cool universe!

I was pretty sure I would win after submitting that review, just as the expanding cosmos inexorably resulted in a conflicted childhood in 1950s Waco. It was substantive and funny, which I thought was a winning combination. Too many of the other entries were too earnest and therefore boring. “An existential foray addressing questions about self, family and universe.” True, but lame! But I wanted to include something about how the movie needed more dinosaurs, so I entered again:

Film mirrors universe with one absolute truth: needs more dinosaurs

Not bad, but it needed some tightening. I tried again:

Just like everything it could use a few more dinosaurs

I think this one went too far the other way by not being profound enough. There’s a great way to state the obvious truth that the movie needs more dinosaurs in ten words but I haven’t found it yet. I also pondered composing a joke about how Sean Penn was a really ugly dinosaur.

I finished with two others. The first is a quote from an Animaniacs song but it jives with the film’s themes.

It’s a great big universe and we’re all really puny

My final, last-minute entry I am rather proud of. It relates back to my prize-winning entry’s concern, dealing with the erratic attentions of the film.

We interrupt your plot to bring you random youtube clips

Beyond (sometimes erratic) imagery, the other main impression that stayed with me is the film’s fragmented structure, reminiscent of the nature of memory. It makes it a film you experience and let wash over you more than watch traditionally. It’s structured like it was something you in your past and are now thinking back on. Memories do not have traditional story arcs. It’s beautiful and fascinating.

But good luck distilling that into ten words.

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