Saturday, January 29, 2011

Top Ten Most Sublime Rock Songs

I think these are the most sublime rock songs ever produced. They aren't all terribly significant but they all perfectly embody good rock music. Plus they're all awesome!

10. Fade to Black (1998) by Apocalyptica

9. Disarm (1993) by The Smashing Pumpkins

8. Sweet Child o' Mine (1987) by Guns N' Roses

7. Comfortably Numb (1979) by Pink Floyd

6. (Don't Fear) The Reaper (1976) by Blue Oyster Cult

5. Hotel California (1976) by The Eagles

4. Bohemian Rhapsody (1975) by Queen

3. Stairway to Heaven (1971) by Led Zeppelin

2. Layla (1970) by Derek and the Dominoes

1. All Along the Watchtower (1968) by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Friday, January 28, 2011

Why Cinema Superheroes are Here to Stay

The two greatest directors working in Hollywood right now are Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky. They are the main reason that I have great hope for Cinema's future. They are the Hitchcock and Kubrick (respectively) of my generation. The one deals with intelligent and highly entertaining psychological thrillers, which also happen to turn a profit. The other existential dark dramas that often border on the surreal. Hitchcock and Kubrick, exactly.

Nolan and Aronofsky's films represent the very highest ideals of true auteur cinema: visual story telling that seeks to enthrall and entertain while asking the central questions of human existence. This is art at its best. To quote Steel Magnolias: "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion." To be entertained and yet heart broken by the same piece of storytelling is incredibly difficult and yet these artists have done it time and again.

In an age where the word Auteur has lost all serious meaning in popular film criticism these two men have almost singlehandedly taken hold of the idea Sarris and the French film theorists were proposing and fully embodied the Director as Filmmaker and artist. Not only are they making great films but they are involved in every aspect of the film creation process and have formed lasting relationships with wonderful composers and cinematographers. So they're humble and honest Auteurs as well. They are aware that their success has been related to their trust and relationship with other artists.

The similarities between these two filmmakers start in 1998. They both released black and white low budget independent films. Both films were met with critical success. Both films were odd and unique. Since then their films have differed dramatically. But next year their filmographies will intersect again in a big way. Nolan will be releasing the climax to his Batman Trilogy and Aronofsky will be rounding out his second thematic film trilogy with his first foray into mainstream commercial fair (though it will most likely look like neither). Both films just happen to be about comic book superheroes.

Not much is known at this time about Aronofsky's The Wolverine. But I predict that it will be the capstone to his second trilogy of films. His first trilogy is about obsession and the forms it can take. The first two end with pretty bleak solutions to the problem of human existence and obsession. The last film has the key to the solution. And this second trilogy is the same, though more complex emotionally.

The Wrestler and Black Swan are character studies of a person whose whole existence is based around a performing art and their subsequent isolation (to be before others is to be truly alone). The Wrestler's focus is on a low brow performing art, masculinity, and absolute realism. Black Swan is about a very high brow performing art, femininity, and surrealism. Both films end with the Character's becoming the very embodiment of their particular art and then possibly (spoiler alert)

that thing consuming and ultimately killing them. The Wolverine will do all these things as well, except probably not emphasize Logan's performance of his profession before others. But it will involve Logan being consumed by The Wolverine, just as The Wrestler and Black Swan dealt with their respective characters being consumed by those things. But Aronofsky will have a less bleak ending for Logan, maybe even positive. The Fountain in many ways displays the synthesis between addiction and scientific obsession that are the major themes of Pi and Requiem, while also giving the solution to these respective problems: death to self and union with the divine. The Wolverine will show something similar. And its also interesting to note that Hugh Jackman is playing the main character in both films. Also a comic book film can be considered a sort of half way house between Realism and Surrealism. A serious study of how masculinity and femininity relate to each other will also be involved.

Logan must embrace his destiny while maintaining human relationships, this is where both main characters from The Wrestler and Black Swan failed. He is a killer, and must struggle with this as his telos. John Rambo does the same thing in his film series. But its not killing in itself which is their (John and Logan) life's work, its the ability to protect others and accomplish heroic feats that no one else can do as they can.

For example, in First Blood John is acting out of rage and frustration. He is not fulfilling his true telos just reveling in violence. But over the course of the next 3 films he embraces that death dealing is his primary talent and uses it to help and protect others. The Wolverine will be part of a similar cycle of futility leading to self discovery. What the characters in the previous two films have done is viewed their telos as the end of their lives, not as a means to the true end of their lives: human relationship aka love. And this is what causes their self destruction. Logan will be forced to deal with genuine human love and how it heals his personal pain, and how his vulnerability, self denial, and love for another will heal another persons pain as well. This will most likely happen in relation to a woman who is close to being his equal in combat. They will form a synthesis completing each other and enabling each other to better fight the narrative's villain.

And Nolan's film will be similar in some regards. I predicated that his third Batman film would be ultimately about resurrection as soon as the credits for The Dark Knight began to roll. So you can imagine my excitement when the title for the film was finally released. Batman Begins is about Birth, The Dark Knight is about Death, and The Dark Knight Rises will be about Resurrection. That is a severe gloss on each film, they are more profound than that. But it's basically the Christological cycle. Batman takes on the guilt and image of Gotham and working from inside that image becomes Gotham's permanent savior. The Dark Knight Rises will not end with Batman putting down his cape and cowl but taking them on even more fully: he will take them on forever. They will become his permanent identity and Gotham will finally understand that he is their only hope for salvation.

Both of these films will be the best films that are made in 2012, and both will probably be snubbed by many major Awards committees. But what they will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt is that Nolan and Aronofsky are the best they are at what they do and what they do best is pretty nice. They will also finally and fully establish the super hero/comic book film as a serious film genre that opens up new possibilities for mise en scene and other aspects of filmmaking. There are worlds and worlds of characters and storylines just waiting for talented artists to adapt into great films. 2012 may well be the most important year for 21st century cinema.

Needless to say I'm pretty excited.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Cynical Manifesto: The Nominees of 2011 and why I couldn't care less.

Greetings, fellow bloggers. Posted below are my thoughts on the nominees and why I think the Academy may have swallowed one too many poison pills involving the Coens.

BEST PICTURE:

Who I want to win: The Social Network.
Why: Because Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher have created a contemporary snapshot of my generations fascinations and foibles, and they did so with class and dexterity. Also, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross gave me a happy.

Who will win: The King's Speech
Why: well-acted, seasonal characters, historical and contemporary significance, Colin Firth. It is really up between The King's Speech and Social Network.

Who shouldn't win: True Grit
Why: because it sucked. Specifically, it is a timid genre piece that does nothing new with an already exhausted genre. I don't dislike The Coens but they really don't need a follow up award for such a generic picture when No Country for Old Men was a masterpiece.

BEST ACTOR:

Who I want to win: Jesse Eisenberg
Why: He makes a convincing but complex jerk/genius. He has also been consistently choosing decent scripts and improving. His performance in The Squid and the Whale was fantastic.

Who will win: Colin Firth
Why: without him, The King's Speech would not have worked in my humble opinion. The great Geoffrey Rush not included.

Who shouldn't win: Jeff Bridges
Why: just because the Dude puts on an eye patch doesn't mean we can't see him channeling that slacker the entire film. I love Bridges, but it was not near the performance of Crazy Heart. Or The Big Lebowski.

BEST ACTRESS:

Who will win: Natalie Portman
Why: because she has come a long way from Episode I. And, frankly, she deserves it.

Who should win: Natalie Portman
Why: see above.

Who shouldn't win: Annette Benning
Why: Out of the nominees, her performance felt significantly hollow in spite of her being a seasoned actress (loved her in American Beauty).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Who I want to win: Christian Bale
Why: because very few actors can shift from one devastating performance to the next with such grace. The Machinist and American Psycho and now The Fighter. He is a transformational actor, and it is time he got his recognition.

Who will win: Christian Bale
Why: see above

Who shouldn't win: Jeremy Renner
Why: I'm a huge fan ever since I saw him in SWAT and The Hurt Locker, and his performance in The Town was smoldering. However, in light of the other nominees, I think he is the least likely.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Who I want to win: Amy Adams
Why: a consistent actress who continually surprises me. In every film I see her in, she continues to grow in her craft.

Who will win: Hailee Steinfeld
Why: because she was the best part of True Grit, and it wouldn't surprise me to see the Academy buckle on this one.

Who shouldn't win: Helena Bonham Carter/ Hailee Steinfeld
Why: I'm biased against both of them. Helena because she is the reason Tim Burton hasn't made a good movie since...Sweeney Todd. Crap. That was recent wasn't it? I guess I can't choose one. I choose neither.

BEST DIRECTOR:

Who I want to win: Christopher Nolan
Why: Oh, wait...

Who will win: David Fincher
Why: because--as I've mentioned before--the people who continually hone their craft and rise to near cinematic perfection deserve to be rewarded.

Who shouldn't win: The Coens
Why: Love them. Hate True Grit.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

Who I want to win: Inception
Why: Though not without it's emotional flaws, Inception was a bold and ultimately fascinating technical journey. Well-told and thematically fascinating.

Who will win: The King's Speech
Why: the journey through history to the bumpy narrative process, The King's Speech was exceptionally well-written and historical. Did I mention Colin Firth spoke many of the lines?

Who shouldn't win: The Kid's Are All Right
Why: Regardless of one's thoughts on gay marriage/civil unions (and I'm more liberal on that issue), the script never rang emotionally true and often resorted to unconvincing emotional twists that never really settled into a concrete character setting.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

Who I want to win: The Social Network
Why: I think Aaron Sorkin is a pretentious fool when it comes to politics, but he is also my favorite writer. Our relationship is based on how he can make me feel in the dark theater and, golly darn it, he makes me feel swell. A sweltering, dizzying screenplay that had me rereading it four different times. In the dark.

Who will win: The Social Network
Why: this is easy. Just read above.

Who shouldn't win: The Coens
Why: this is also easy. Just read above as well.

I have to run and do homework, but I will finish this list up in section.

Thank you for reading.

--N

Who will win this year's Academy Awards

These are my picks for who will win at the Academy this year, not who I think should win. With some short commentary.

1. Best Actor: Colin Firth

This is a pretty easy pick.

2. Best Supporting Actor: Geoffrey Rush

A good case could be made for several other actors nominated this year, and the biggest problem with Rush winning is that he already has a best Actor Oscar and no one else nominated this year has an Oscar of any kind. But Rush was truly fantastic, and he's much older than the other nominees. Also The King's Speech works so well primarily because of Rush and Firth together.

3. Best Actress: Natalie Portman

This isn't quite as easy as picking Firth, but it's close. Portman was like a force of nature in this film.

4. Supporting Actress: Either Amy Adams or Melissa Leo

When multiple actors are competing for the same category it seems as though the Academy usually snubs both. But I don't think that will be the case this year.

5. Animated Feature Film: The Illusionist

This is easier than picking Firth. Toy Story 3 and Dragon were excellent and entertaining but that's about all. Nothing about them was artistic in anyway. Artistic is The Illusionist's middle name (if it had one). The Academy is a total sucker for animated films like this. I haven't even seen it, but I know the Academy is going with this. It's french for crying out loud!

6. Art Direction: Inception

Everybody knows that this was easily one of the best films of the year, and a landmark in a young important Director's career. But its too action oriented to get any of the serious awards. So it will receive almost every technical award it has been nominated for, starting with this one.

7. Cinematography: This is impossible to determine absolutely, all five are deserving in different ways, but my gut tells me it will ultimately be between Libatique and Pfister...and I'm calling Pfister. Mostly because of the reasons given for Art Direction. Since Portman is pretty much a shoo-in for Best Actress the Academy won't feel the need to give Black Swan other awards the way it will for Inception.

8. Costume Design: I really don't care, but Wonderland's costumes were great. I'm picking that just to pick something.

9. Directing: David Fincher

This battle really should be between Aronofsky and Nolan. They are better directors (probably the two best Director's working right now) but Fincher has been making good films longer and Nolan's filmography has been too action/comic book oriented, as well as financially successful. Also Nolan still isn't even nominated in this category! And since this is Aronofsky's first nomination there's no way he's getting it. The Coen brothers are disqualified because they finally won their first director Oscar recently and honestly True Grit was really good but not quite Coen good, so they wouldn't be winning for their stunning remake anyway. Fincher's got it. I don't think he was the best director this year, but he made a great film and he's been doing that for a while.

10. Documentary: I really don't care, the documentary category is notoriously stupid at the Oscars

11. Documentary Short Subject: I care even less...

12. Film Editing: Inception deserves this but its not even nominated, so I'm going with Black Swan

13. Foreign Language Film: I care, but I haven't seen any of the nominees this year

14. Makeup: this year, I don't care, but I'll go with Wolfman just cause I like the original Lon Chaney Jr. film and they went with a similar retro design

15. Original Score: The Social Network (even though Inception probably deserves to win) Trent Reznor is always sexy

16. Original Song: Toy Story 3, if anything else wins blech!

17. Best Picture: The Social Network

The Social Network is not the best film that was made this year. Black Swan and Inception were. But Fincher's opus was probably the most balanced. It was a truly great film about a very interesting and enduring topic. It is thematically the Citizen Kane of my generation. It had several fantastic performances. Basically this film is flawless, but it has something else that Nolan's and Aronofsky's incredible films didn't have: a meaningful historic narrative. If a film is making a "social" point (no pun intended) while being generally awesome the Academy is going to pick it, nine times out of ten. That's how Ghandi beat E.T., Chariots of Fire beat Raider's of the Lost Ark, Hurt Locker beat Avatar etc. (even though unlike those other films Avatar actually sucked)

18. Animated Short Film: Who cares?

19. Live Action Short Film: Really who cares? I'm actually asking

20. Sound Editing: This is a toss up, but based on previous argumentation I'm going with Inception

21. Sound Mixing: This is also a toss up, but based on previous argumentation I'm going with Inception

22. Visual Effects: Inception, based on the previous argumentation

23. Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network

I'm just going with the old gut on this one. The Social Network was sexy while being meaningful. I think this is the safest bet.

24. Original Screenplay: The King's Speech

The Fighter and Inception might be more deserving overall, in terms of structure and originality, but The King's Speech was clever, meaningful, and inspiring. It's also true.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Thomas on Suffering

"It is plain that the general of an army does not spare his more active soldiers dangers or exertions, but as the plan of battle requires, he sometimes lays them open to greater dangers and greater exertions. But after the attainment of victory, he bestows greater honor on the more active soldiers. So also the head of a household assigns greater exertions to his better servants, but when it is time to reward them, he lavishes greater gifts on them. And so neither is it characteristic of divine providence that it should exempt good people more from the adversities and exertions of the present life, but rather that it reward them more at the end."