Monday, March 10, 2014

YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE 2013 MURIELS

It’s all over for another year, and I don’t mean the Academy Awards. (Well, that too, but then we all knew that was over, yes?) The final tallies for the 2013 Muriel Awards have been published by Muriel proprietors Paul Clark and Steve Carlson, and as usual the winners span a broad spectrum of the year’s cinema and a healthy selection of writing about it as well.  With that in mind, I’m now proud to present here each Muriel category with a sampling of the writing submitted for the winning film and a link to the full piece, along with my gratitude to Paul and Steve for once again being allowed to take part in what has become one of the activities of the year that I most look forward to diving into. Cheers, gents, and here’s to Muriels 2014, which is only a few months away!



What’s completely nuts and kind of amazing is how Franco’s character morphs into becoming the emotional center of the film. Spring Breakers continually blurs the line between celebrating its excess and serving as a cautionary tale about falling under its spell. Director Harmony Korine invites his audience to participate in the glorification of spraaaang break but also provides an opportunity to harshly view its ridiculous, seamy underbelly.As Alien, Franco embodies it all.” (Patrick Williamson)



Perhaps it's sentimental, but there is nonetheless an ever-presented specter haunting audiences who saw her in the film and then on the red carpet: “What monster could do those horrible things to someone so beautiful?” The true horror is that the monsters that did those things didn't discriminate based on beauty or lack thereof, and those monsters were us. But the thing that makes Lupita Nyong'o such a glory to behold as a star is that her presence is not a rebuke.” (Danny Bowes)



Federico Fellini’s  is one of those films that is so monumental and so influential that it’s hard to say anything new about it. Like Citizen Kane, it’s been so canonized that perhaps new viewers can’t help but be disappointed as they go in with the peak of expectations. For others, perhaps  is like an ubiquitous classic rock song that they wish would go away to make room for others. Personally though, I find  amazingly fresh each time I revisit it.” (George Wu)



Those expecting an earnest documentary approach to the cultural climate informing Inside Llewyn Davis, one which precisely lays out the scene and the means by which we are to understand it from a historical perspective, will inevitably be put off by the Coens’ typically perverse challenge to understand a landmark moment in musical history from the point of view of a fly on the wall. We are, after all, inside Llewyn Davis, a place where music has lost its meaning as a social tool, as a means of reciprocal human connection, or as anything other than the nearly abstract expression of pure talent and the desire to be recognized. (In this regard, it ought to have resonated more fully than it apparently did in the age of American Idol and instant, disposable fame.)” (Dennis Cozzalio)



Films which navigate their way across large periods of time habitually feature characters whose development feels stilted; there is a lack of naturalism which too often truncates all of the moments most essential to bringing a character to life. Exarchopoulos brilliantly sidesteps this typical pratfall, managing to age from combustible teenager to resolved young woman, capturing both the histrionics and subtleties of this most difficult transitional period with equal aplomb. Whether she is grappling with the moral erosion that comes with an understanding of the power she holds over another’s individual’s happiness or fighting off the near suffocation she feels when she sees herself losing something she doesn’t think she can survive losing, Exarchopoulos is utterly transfixing.” (Luke Gorham)



Allow me then to make the case that Die Hard, isolated from the four increasingly wearying sequels it spawned, is the finest action film of the 1980’s, which would then place it high in the running for the greatest action film of all time. Crafted with a watchmaker’s precision (there is literally not a single wasted camera move or extraneous line of dialogue) and a modest budget that subsequent installments would blow to smithereens, the original Die Hard remains, in spite of its reputation, a reluctantly violent and, dare I say thoughtful, entry into the action genre. If you truly love these kinds of films, this as high a watermark as they come.”  (Andrew Dignan)



The Wolf of Wall Street is one of Schoonmaker's finest collaborations with Scorsese, though her contributions can be easily overlooked or forgotten in this exasperating film. A moment in the first hour of the film, exemplifying the deftness of Schoonmaker's hand, occurs right before a raucous Long Island beachfront party: a man (never seen in the film or after) lifts his head from a pool of water, which is then interrupted with a few brief moments of green lightning bolts from Portrait of Jennie before cutting to a rather traditional shot of an overhead helicopter shot of said party; what this brief jolt of energy does is remind us how, in cinema, tangential and (at first blush) inconsequential moments build anticipation.” (Michael Lieberman)

Best Body of Work


At some point, I have to imagine he had a conversation with either his agent, his wife or himself (maybe all three) that redirected a career largely wasted on rom-com throwaways (Fool’s Gold,Failure to Launch) and misfired attempts at prestige pieces (A Time to Kill, We Are Marshall) in favor of a string of much stranger, more challenging roles that started with 2012’s Magic Mike. Something about the way he played Dallas, the King Dick owner of a male strip club, made us look at middle-age McConaughey differently. He was still the handsome hardbody with Southern Charm but the experience you saw written on his face and translated in his demeanor made him seem sketchy, even unstable. He was still a guy women would go home with but they might not go bragging about it to their friends anymore.” (Bryan Whitefield)



The visual touchstone for the film, set in the early ‘60s Greenwich Village folk scene, is the cover of "The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan," and indeed the bulk of Llewyn Davis evokes a world extending past the borders of that famous shot of Dylan and his girlfriend Suze Rotolo huddling against the cold on a slushy New York street. Through Delbonnel’s lens, this world is soft and slightly dreamlike, suggesting our collective memory of a time and a scene we never actually experienced.” (Scott Von Doviak)



“(Ellen) Lewis has cast all of Scorsese’s features since 1988’s New York Stories. Think of all the great faces, unforgettable mugs and breakthrough character actors the two have given us since. Scorsese’s predilections tend toward tough guys, but the films expose masculine frailties masked by machismo. In light of this, it is illustrative that the first person to begin visualizing his films, the casting director, and the last person to shape them, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, are both women.” (Kevin Cecil)



The Act of Killing becomes a vivid examination of the act of killing, a surreal, multi-layered study of depravity and cruelty that tests viewers’ notions of the nature of evil and the capacity for it to flourish in “normal” people. It is through this lens that Oppenheimer’s thesis becomes disturbing at an even deeper level. It’s one thing to see a murderer boast and joke about killing in that they remain safely alien; it’s a much different, much more intimate experience to see a murderer ultimately feel guilt and shame, and when Anwar dry heaves and questions his past deeds near the end of the film, he becomes that much more fully human, that much closer to you and me.” (Daniel Getahun)



There have been countless movies about falling in love, but only a handful about being in the thick of it, and Before Midnight may be the best. Linklater, Delpy and Hawke perfectly capture the familiarity and ease a longtime couple develops, the shorthand of the shared narrative of their lives, the fine line between playful banter and provocative jabs at unresolved issues, and the way a tender moment can turn into a full-blown argument in moments because of one misstep.” (Andrew Bemis)



Lars Von Trier is a cruel filmmaker. In an oeuvre filled with inhumane acts and painful sacrifices, Dogville (a film I consider, in no small words, an unassailable masterpiece) may be his cruelest barb – a hunting knife in the gut, slowly plunged in and then messily and violently twisted for what seems forever.” (Steve Carlson)



Scorsese’s film as a whole suggests that our so-called captains of industry, the much-vaunted “job creators” who drive our economy, are often no more than insatiable ego-driven fratboys. Belfort and Azoff wrestling with each other in slo-mo on a kitchen floor is the true face of the 1%." (Jeffrey McMahon)



Borrowing shots from Dryer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, Scorsese puts Belfort and his crew of morlocks on the same moral level as those who burn innocent young girls at the stake. Then, just in case you missed the point, he has them enthusiastically do the chant from Freaks. Not only are the brokers in Wall Street subhuman, they are gleefully subhuman - an argument advanced in the form of cinematic references.” (Bryce Wilson)



“That's where Sorrentino's relatively callow interest lies: through deductive experience, Titta eventually realizes what he wants and why he wants it. Meaning: his daydream romance with Sofia (Olivia Magnani, Anna's granddaughter) teaches him that he wants to die a heroic death. So the film's title is, realistically, a feint. Titta's love for Sofia is so sublimated that she's only ever an idea to him. That chilly attitude is a uniquely Sorrentinian tic. He refuses to sentimentalize romance. Instead, he prefers romantics that don't care for material, earthy love.” (Simon Abrams on Les Consequences de L'amour, plus Danny Bowes, Jim Emerson and, Andrew Bemis)



Exarchopoulos has admitted she had to 'lose herself' in the role - if losing oneself creates an indelible, artistic performance such as this, lose away, ladies. Lose away." (Matthew Lotti)



“(I)nstead of grand movements, (Paul) Eenhorn creates a cheery disposition using his face, the kind of face that looks like he’s been working in movies for four decades without you ever noticing him. To bolster this tension, Eenhoorn uses something else: the pause. We learn less from what he is doing than how he reacts - witness the slight changes in his eyes as his friend explains his predicament or the spaces and careful choices of when to speak while on the phone with his daughter. His is a quiet confidence he uses to stay level during any moment where things could go south.” (Peter Labuza on This is Martin Bonner, plus Darren Hughes, Matthew Lotti, Dennis Cozzalio and Daniel Cook Johnson)


 

“But survival is life, after all, and via the conduit of Ejiofor's performance, Solomon exists with a vibrancy and immediacy that strikes the audience as sharply as a whip across the spine. Solomon's thoughts may be confined, but Ejiofor opens the man's soul and proceeds to give us a guided and enlightening tour. His eyes become our eyes, his consciousness, our conscience. Ejiofor's performance is so expansive, so deep, that an audience not only experiences the visceral horror of his external condition, but empathizes with the internal agony of his tortured psyche. It is a wonderful and terrible thing to behold.”  (Donald Carder)



Though Wong has Gong Er articulate some of this verbally in her final scenes with Ip Man, really, all one needs to see is Zhang Ziyi’s hauntingly weary expression to feel that sense of undying regret in your bones. That face, previously so full of curiosity and purpose, now looks fatigued, hollowed out, soulless. For all the high-flying fireworks of its major action set pieces and extravagant visual beauties on display, the most purely, directly affecting images in all of The Grandmaster turn out to be simple close-ups of Zhang Ziyi contemplating the life she could have lived - the fuller life she will never have." (Jason Alley, Kenji Fujishima, Kevin Cecil, Sam Juliano, Paul Clark, Steve Carlson)



“…what most impressed me about In a World… is the calculation on Bell's part to essentially write herself a role that showed off her unique vocal talents in a way that felt essential to the story. In a sense, this is one of the best acting reels ever made. Like all great independent films, Bell started with an inventory of what she had freely available to her and made a film that maximized it. And in doing so, she not only announced herself as a writer/director to watch, but also an actor with range far beyond…well…several Ashton Kutcher movies I've never seen. If she never acts again, she's got a career as a director. If she never directs again, she just got herself a lot more acting gigs." (Jason Shawhan, Andrew Dignan, Glenn Heath, Lucas McNelly, Phil Dyess-Nugent)



“Such was my delight in Blancanieves that I saw it in the theater twice in the span of four days. I don't remember the last time I did that. This is a film that ran a needle-fine wire into the pleasure center of my brain. It's a film that plays like a lost Tod Browning film, rediscovered and restored by Pedro Almodovar. I hardly know how to convey how much I loved it.” (Christianne Benedict)



"Somewhere between a Rabelaisian paean to Earthly pleasures and a serious inquiry into the folly of man’s desire for knowledge, Alexander Sokurov’s Faust is quite unlike any other cinematic event I encountered in 2013. The film, which adapts Goethe’s masterwork, sees no difference between its high aspirations and its low humor - an opening CGI shot sets up an epic mythology, only to end with a blurry shot of a cadaver's flaccid penis. The film waltzes through a maze of life’s lowly pleasures (a bath of virgins, a drunken pub, mockery at a funeral), all in the hopes of finding what will cause man to betray his intellect.” (Peter Labuza)



Night Across the Street is necessarily the work of an older artist. Compare it with an earlier Ruiz film, like City of Pirates, and you'll see that memories, myths, and real people are no longer competing with each other for validity. There's no struggle here, just an impassioned sigh about how necessarily confusing and exciting the passage of time can be at the end of life.” (Simon Abrams)



Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh’s homage to the thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock — billed as the auteur’s final theatrical film — is a good, old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment with thoughtful undercurrents. In fact, even labeling this an homage seems like a slight, as it’s truly an original and wholly new product. Soderbergh marries Hitchcockian techniques with the hyper-digital aesthetic of his late period to craft a film that’s about elemental fears in modern society. Killer birds and shower-stabbings scared us yesterday, so Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns must invoke a phobia more specific to contemporary Americans: the potentially dangerous consequences of an over-medicated populace.” (Danny Baldwin)



The monkey on the back of Sheri Moon Zombie’s Heidi LaRoc (a/k/a Adelheid Elizabeth Hawthorne, rejector of patrician custom and mores), driving her headlong into the abyss, is either an ancient plan of infernal vengeance set forth by a cult slaughtered by an overzealous witchfinder, or a recursive inability to get out from under a crack habit; either way, you lose. It’s as schematic as the cruelest of Haneke/Von Trier scenarios, but there’s so much more here - a leap beyond the sleazy rednecks, roadhouses splattered red, and grungy shocks that lurked around every corner in Zombie’s previous works. It has the sensibility of a Hammer classic but with the sense of geographic terror that Kubrick excelled at and the Russellian freakout as well. But the voice at the center is distinctively Zombie's - and it aches.” (Jason Shawhan on The Lords of Salem)



"That Claire Denis had made a film noir came as little surprise. Denis is a classic auteur in the sense that, throughout her 25-year career, her visual style and thematic preoccupations have remained remarkably consistent, regardless of subject or genre… However, the pitch darkness of Bastards, its near-total nihilism and its treatment of sexual violence, caught many critics and viewers off guard. Reviews were mixed coming out of Cannes, where it premiered in Un Certain Regard, and even Denis’s strongest advocates (I’d include myself among them) have been slower than usual to fully embrace it. Bastards is indeed a hard film to love. It’s wicked, painful, and soul-sick. It’s also the best new release I saw in 2013.” (Darren Hughes)



“Miyazaki has been accused of whitewashing Japan's aggression, when nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, he sees a country increasingly prone to that exact behavior, to ignoring its own history in favor of a more reactionary traditionalism. As Horikoshi single-mindedly realizes his wish, either deliberately blind to or innocently ignorant of its consequences, Miyazaki draws a parallel with what he sees as his country's increasingly selective recontextualization of its history to serve an uncertain future. The Wind Rises isn't an ode to a perfect dream or a lionization of its dreamer, it's a gentle warning from a man who knows what it's like to give up his dreams to the world." (Matt Lynch)



“It's impossible to write about Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine without referring to A Streetcar Named Desire. Both works are about fragile, refined women who find themselves displaced and dependent upon the kindness of strangers following scandal and subsequent nervous breakdowns... What distinguishes Blue Jasmine as an original work, however, is Allen's skillful blending of flashbacks into the main narrative, providing contrasts between Jasmine's charmed former life and the harsh reality of her present life in which she's forced to re-invent herself.” (Kevin Dufresne)



The characters in Alexander Payne’s films have lived. No other working filmmaker populates his films with so many individuals that give the impression of depth, the look of one who really is the sum of all of their experiences, for better or worse. And few characters in any movie seem to have lived as much as Woody Grant (Bruce Dern)…” (James Frazier on Nebraska)



Sheridan and Lofland anchor the movie in a believable friendship of two teenage boys, balanced between the kind of good-natured putdowns that can mask insecurity about masculinity (the first exchange between the two: “What the shit?” “Suck it.”) and a genuine, heartfelt love. They’re right at the age when the bond between male friends starts to become less important than potential bonds with members of the opposite sex, and while Neckbone has a coldly pragmatic view of that prospect, speaking matter-of-factly about his uncle’s “doin’ it music” and inquiring about the quality of the breasts on Ellis’ object of affection, Ellis is an unabashed romantic. He views the doomed love story between the volatile Mud and his equally unstable girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) as a grand romance to be emulated and encouraged, no matter what the consequences.” (Josh Bell on Mud)



Everything is finite in Frances Ha, whether it's a montage-length Christmas back home or an especially low period Frances spends in a dorm at her alma mater. Everything contributes to her gradual maturation, which builds over the film's concise 86 minutes, yet never results in any sudden realizations, because this isn't that kind of movie. Instead of being vocalized, Frances' many regrets and rare moments of grace register on Gerwig's body: in her creased brow, strained laugh, and set of gawky mannerisms. The movie can stand to be cut so economically because its star's body language is so dense with subtext.” (Andreas Stoehr)



"The title of Terrence Malick’s stunning To the Wonder acts as both metaphor and call to action. It reveals what the film is about, what Malick wants to do, and what Malick wants his audience to do. In this last respect, the title differs from that of his last film, The Tree of Life. Where that title is self-contained and iconic, To the Wonder is aspirational; it describes a journey and a goal. This difference helps to explain why To the Wonder, while of a piece with The Tree of Life, is more than just the earlier film’s leftovers. It’s less cosmic, more earthbound.” (Matt Noller)



“From the brilliantly cross-cut opening, Drug War hits the ground running: The film opens with a series of suspicious faces on a busy expressway. We know right away that some of these are cops, and some of these are criminals. Figuring out who is who is just part of the game, and the next 3 to 4 days of mayhem that unfolds details an obsessed detective and his attempts to coerce a captured drug lord into assisting with an ever-expanding sting operation. The amount of flip-flopping and psychological power plays that ensue are enough to make even the most attentive viewer crave a second screening… You can bet that somewhere Robert Aldrich and Don Siegel are chomping cigars and high-fiving over this one." (Adam Lemke)



(The Great) Beauty pulls off the amazing hat trick of being the most lively, vivacious, downright fun movie about the inevitability of death ever made. It begins with a Japanese tourist croaking during a snapshot-taking spree. But before you get doused with the morbidity of it all, the movie then cuts to an insane rooftop birthday party – the writer’s birthday party, by the way – that could wake the dead.” (Craig Lindsey)



“An existential puzzle that’s genuinely romantic and get-under-your-skin horrific, the film touches on the fragility of memory and identity, the perils of the material world and the unspoken traumas that connect us. The rhythms and organic chemistry that develop between Carruth and Seimetz give this mindfuck a warm human heart” (Melissa Starker on Upstream Color)



“Abbas Kiarostami is a master filmmaker, using every single camera choice to maximum effect and dangling the possibilities of character perspective in front of us like catnip.” (Catherine Stebbins on Like Someone In Love)



“This is both a $100 million experimental film and cinematic narrative boiled down to its essence, drawing the viewer into the skin of one person struggling to struggling just to stay alive. In lesser hands, dependence on so much technology, in an environment as fully, artificially constructed as this one, would mainly serve to get in between the director and the people he’s putting onscreen. Cuaron seems as totally in control and as intimately connected to his lead actress as Max Ophuls tracking Danielle Darrieux through a ballroom.” (Phil Dyess-Nugent on Gravity)



“In a profound way this is a story about the power of movies. The allure of being in one causes these war criminals to open up about what they did, to call attention to it. The act of filming one forces them to face the horror of their actions, to admit the lies that they'd been telling all these years, to unmask themselves as savages in front of their own families (who they are clueless enough to have playing victims in many scenes). While their movie clumsily tries to glorify their activities (there's even a musical dream sequence where a victim pins a medal on his killer, Anwar Congo, as thanks for sending him to Heaven), Oppenheimer's documentary reveals these monsters as merely, pathetically, human.” (Vern on The Act of Killing)



“I knew that 12 Years a Slave was the best movie I would see in 2013 almost immediately. And this is saying a lot, since 2013 was a very, VERY good year. What is interesting to me is that it is such a powerful film, and so overwhelming, that only after this third viewing could I even begin to focus on small details and individual elements. The first two times I watched it, practically all I could feel when it was over was shell shock, both at the depth of the experience and my extreme admiration for everything about it.” (Jason Alley)



“There are so many ways to look at the movie. Watch how Llewyn uses his music as a tool: a weapon, a shield, a challenge, a payment, a bribe, a gift, a meal ticket, a proof of authenticity, an apology... You could see it as a kind of Raging Bull with an acoustic musician instead of a boxer, a man so steeped in pride and self-loathing that his life has become an effort to build a monument to his own iconoclasm and unlovability, cloaked in a form of non-careerist ideological purity. And then there’s the cat…” (Jim Emerson on Inside Llewyn Davis)



“The joy it has provoked in the people who like it and the irksome hate that it manages to stir in those who don’t mark it as a film outside of indifference - this is meant to bring forth strong feelings either way. As the first movie written solely by Spike Jonze, it shows how his visual flair, familiar from his previous short films, music videos and feature-length films, also translates to the written word as a kind of delicate ambition, as in the delicacy of an object that appears plain but caries with it a beautiful and ineffable inner light.” (Jaime Grijalba on Her)



“So much has been written online about The Wolf of Wall Street that trying to follow the talented likes of Richard Brody, Glenn Kenny, and Nick Pinkerton in 150 words feels akin to being the guy who has to give a speech after Jordan Belfort at Stratton Oakmont. Still, consider the plea of this penny stock of a blurb: this is Scorsese's greatest in nearly twenty-five years, from Leonardo DiCaprio's career-best work to the masterful way the pitch-black satire both entertains us and makes us hurt. Far too much has been made of alleged glorification of the leading character by refusing to show the victims. Seeing as how the victims weren't present in his life, I'm not sure why anyone would expect them to be present in his film. Besides, does anyone expect a simply-sold message from an artist the likes of Scorsese?” (Russell Hainline)




“Another expansion made here allows for the setting of the film to become its own kind of character. While the Vienna of Sunrise and the twilight-hued Paris of Sunset had a presence in those films, Greece is an integral part of Midnight in ways both sardonic (there are several jokes made about the country and how its histories of tragedy render it a dubious vacation spot) and existential (this story had to be told away from both Jesse and CĂ©line’s home, to better catalyze the moment when they each must decide where to return). Even more so than with the real-time gambit of Sunrise, this is a film that truly embraces European arthouse aesthetics, from the loving homage to Eric Rohmer’s The Green Ray to the perhaps-coincidental similarity to recent years’ other European cross-cultural walk-and-talk essay on relationship dynamics. And with a sharp understanding of his film’s grammar, Linklater ensures that his landscape comments on his characters as much they do on the landscape.” (Sam C. Mac)

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2 comments:

Paul Eenhoorn said...

Really appreciate your critiques and support for my work. Thank you.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

You are most welcome, Mr. Eenhorn. I have passed along your appreciation to Peter Labuza, who wrote the appreciative piece on your performance. And I will say that I cannot wait to see Land ho!