Continuing the year in FReview. Music down. Visuals up. 2011, bitch.
Nathan: Murder by Contract / Hugo
I’m going to cheat on #2-5. Two selections for each slot; the first will be a discovery from the past, the second will be a 2011 movie. #1 is just the best thing I saw all year. Period.
Murder by Contract is one of the most sinister film noirs you will ever see. While watching it you get the sense that you are being strangled into one inevitable position. If you love noir at all (I’m looking at both of you, Tyler and Travis, after that Raymond Chandler love-fest on this site not long ago), then you need to find this movie now. Interestingly enough, Martin Scorsese is a big fan of Murder by Contract. The man has good taste.
Martin Scorsese is America’s greatest living director. That fact has been obscured by the fact that Scorsese hasn’t released anything truly compelling since Bringing Out the Dead in 1999. When news of Hugo started surfacing, I figured I might never see another great Scorsese movie. I was wrong. Way wrong. And apparently his adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s Silence is finally next up. Drool, drool.
Tyler: Parks & Recreation
My TV habits are sporadic and whimsical in nature, and I may well abandon Parks & Rec for months at a time in the months to come. But the Tremendous work unveiled throughout P & R‘s last year of productivity tops the charts regarding television that makes me laugh, body-doubling gut-busting guffaws and the rest. Now bulwarked by my beloved Adam Scott, late of Party Down, and anchored as ever by the sublime Amy Poehler, Parks & Recreation is my favorite comedy available on current TV. No, not the Al Gorebermann network–nor an actual TV, for that matter, as I’m idiot-boxless of late and stream the shit via Hulu. Either way. I worry what you heard was “Give me a lot of bacon and eggs.” What I said was “Give me all the bacon and eggs you have.” Do you understand?
Plus, the theme song is provocative. It gets people goin‘!
Travis: Beavis and Butt-head
You never know how much you’ve missed something until it comes back, and it’s just as good as you remember it being. “Is this Florida?”
Nathan: The Sound of the Mountain / Meek’s Cutoff
The Sound of the Mountain is everything that Yasujiro Ozu wishes he could’ve made. Instead of cowering to her fate as she does in the later Ozu films, Setsuko Hara, under the watchful supervision of Mikio Naruse, defies her life’s lot in shocking and beautiful ways. The only place to watch this movie (legitimately) is on Hulu Plus. I have a subscription, but it would be worth your time to try the free trial just to see this movie.
I wrote about Meek’s Cutoff earlier this year. My main concern then was interpretation. But in that article I never fully expressed how taken I was with Reichardt’s evocation of place and time. Of course I know nothing of what it was like to be lost in the Oregon desert in the 1840s. That doesn’t matter, because Reichart transported me there in one of the richest pieces of historical imagination that I’ve ever seen.
Tyler: The Dan Patrick Show
Your typical young-man sports fan, obsessive by fault and in need of constant stimulation, I was one of those guys who’d put on SportsCenter (or whatever the fuck garbage ESPN airs on any given hour) fresh from bed, numbing my groggy and sleepy anxiety with a dose of highlights and anchors that continue to taint the memory of the forebearing, brilliant SC I adored in youth. Then, I discovered DP and his Danettes, an honest, bawdy, dare-say-it manly quintet of cats whose show at times is less sports commentary than life lesson. (Their work the week the Penn State scandal broke drew tears from both callers and Patrick himself.) If you love, like me, the overdramatized spectacle that is American sport, or even the art of fine conversation (and ball-busting), you owe it to yourself, by biscuit, to pop that stream of SportsShillery and to let yourself start the day or week up right with Danny and his proteges.
Or, in other words, it’s A Prairie Home Companion for crazies who love athletics.
Travis: Justified, Season Two
The second season of FX’s latest serial crime drama is stronger than its first, which showed potential and got viewers hooked but spent too much time on procedural cases that detracted from the main story at the heart of it, the continuing saga of federal marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant, being awesome) and his old friend and perhaps greatest enemy, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, also awesome). Season Two added another great villain (or Big Bad in TV critic terms) in Mags Bennett, the matriarch of the toughest criminal clan in Harlan County, Kentucky. For her work in the role of Mags, Margo Martindale won a much-deserved Emmy. If it weren’t for another show and another villain (see below) it would have been the best season of TV this year.
Nathan: Mysterious Skin / Like Crazy
A friend of mind described Mysterious Skin thus: “hard as rocks and without cynicism”. Yes. This movie kicked the crap out of me, but it didn’t leave me feeling like life was no longer worth living. In the wake of the Penn State abuse scandal, Mysterious Skin played like a bomb going off in my living room. Brace yourself.
I was in a 3 1/2 year relationship that was mostly a long distance affair. It’s a really difficult thing to do, especially when you are young. Like Crazy hit me like a ton of bricks. The characters are made up, but their emotional states are as true as can be.
Tyler: The Descendants
Incandescent, The Descendants takes on not only plot issues of family and injury–well-reported at this point–but also proffers marked insight into a 21st-century culture of commercialism, imperialism, and just plain human decency. George Clooney will of course be nominated for an Oscar, as he should be, as should Shailene Woodley, whose Academy celebration also is in 0% doubt. But believe the hype about Alexander Payne’s latest work. Cinema knows fewer craftsmen more insightful, more wry, than an auteur I welcome back after a far-too-long seven-year hiatus. (SIDEWAYS BITCH)
Travis: Love Exposure
The best movie I saw in the theater this year isn’t new, but it was new to me, and it’s new to most of America, since, as a four-hour Japanese epic about religious cults, teenage romance, and upskirt panty pictures, it has yet to receive wide release anywhere in the US of A. Props to Los Angeles’ wonderful Cinefamily for awaring me to this bizarre masterpiece, which I wrote about at great length here.
Nathan: Raise the Red Lantern / Of Gods and Men
Zhang Yimou’s claustrophobic drama about a 19 year old Chinese woman who is forced to become the third wife of a powerful lord is a tension machine, bursting with glorious color. Songlain competes with the other wives for her husband’s attention in what amounts to a veiled attack on Communist China. Yes, this movie is an exciting drama, a political treatise, and a work of abstract art. Yimou at his best.
Of Gods and Men steadies its camera on something that few of us think about often: the habits of monastic Christians living in an extremely hostile environment. When most portrayals of Christians on film are anything but flattering, Of Gods and Men was a portrait of people trying to live their faith out in honest and difficult ways. The characters are by no means perfect, but they are exemplary. It is a rich and powerful film.
Nathan and I wrote/spoke at length about the merits of Moneyball, so I’ll keep my celebration brief. Pitt=ownage. Hill=ownage. Bennett Miller=2-for-2, thanks to this and Capote. Philip Seymour Hoffman=apparently inaccurate in his portrayal of A’s manager Art Howe, but that’s irrelevant. Moneyball=one of the sharpest, funniest, most necessary motion pictures about baseball ever made. Oh yeah. It’s also about institutional change. Say, is that relevant nowadays?
Travis: Louie, Season Two
The most experimental show on television is pushing TV comedy light-years forward. FX has given comedian Louis CK free reign creatively over his half-hour show, which is part sitcom, part stand-up, and part series of increasingly more bizarre short films. There were a number of standout episodes this year, but my favorite (if that’s the right word) was entitled “Eddie,” and co-starred Doug Stanhope as a depressed road comic returning to New York to tell Louis he’s going to kill himself. It doesn’t sound like the makings of great comedy, but it is, and beyond that, it’s great television.
Nathan: Stars in My Crown
The biggest discovery of 2011 was Jacques Tourneur’s Stars in My Crown. The only way to see this movie is through the Warner Brothers Archives Collection, a made to order DVD service that costs about $20 a title. My local video store – Orbit DVD – stocks a copy and I took the chance to see a movie I’d been trying to find for a long time. The box cover makes Stars in My Crown look like a good-time Western starring Joel McCrea. I would’ve been perfectly happy with that, but Tourner’s neglected film turned out to be something entirely different. McCrea stars as a Civil War vet who returns to a small Southern town to work as a parson. He packs pistols, yes, but he also packs some intense ideas, a razor sharp sense of humor, and some very unorthodox methods. This parson doesn’t just preach the gospel; he lives it like he’s riding a bucking bronco.
Stars in My Crown was released by MGM in 1950. It tanked at the box office, effectively relegating Tourner to the B level for the rest of his career (which was not necessarily a bad thing). But know this: Stars in My Crown is one of the bravest, most upright movies you will ever see in your life. When I finished watching it for the first time, I just sat in my seat, unable to move.
50/50 is a marvel. Hysterical and heartwrenching, it mines the experience of screenwriter Will Reiser’s battle with stage-4 spinal cancer, cast to perfection and bursting with emotion that never feels anything less than pure. Each principle involved reaches a career height, be it Joseph-Gordon Levitt as the stricken object of the titular, cancerous odds; Seth Rogen, essaying a role based upon his own role as Reiser’s right-hand-man throughout the real-life ordeal; Anna Kendrick, Katherine the therapist, cast to portray “the worst therapist ever,” transcending such juvenile direction in depicting the kind of modern cognitive assistance that saves those in true need. Angelica Huston appears in what seems a cursory role, until her presence bedrocks the most affecting scene of the picture; Bryce Dallas Howard imbues her character, a coward, with all the correct amount of grativas required to land upon the dartboard of reality. This movie inflated my heart, knocked it windstruck at all the right turns, and drove me into fits of both laughter and tears. Great filmmaking need not be dour, nor portentous; great filmmaking need only tell a great story, a grand one, and 50/50 is the grandest film of a very good year. Such achievement requires such hard work. That’s why they call ’em blowjobs!
Travis: Breaking Bad, Season Four
The moral corruption of Walter White, a cancer-stricken man who has become a cancer to all around him, is now complete, and it’s a credit to Bryan Cranston in the lead role and the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, and the team of writers and directors that bring the story to life, that as an audience we are still willing to follow his story. For those who haven’t caught up on this show, find it online somewhere (or buy the DVDs when they come out; it’s one of the few things in this internet age of piracy actually worth your cash) and set aside a weekend or two to develop an ulcer from the tension. Be sure to stock up on supplies, because you won’t want to take a break from watching. And a special mention to the supporting cast, who took on even more of the weight this year, particularly Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, the formerly happy-go-lucky meth cook slacker undergoing his own moral decline; longtime TV and movie heavy Jonathan Banks as Mike the Cleaner; and Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring, the coldblooded fast food-n’-meth kingpin ahead of Walter and Jesse at every move.