Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Reel Simple Top 10: #2 & #1

And just like that, we're down to #2 and #1. Thanks for sticking with me through this series!

If you missed #4 & #3, read them here.

If you missed #6 & #5, read them here.

If you missed #8 & #7, read them here.

If you missed #10 & #9, read them here.

#2: Blue Jasmine
Cast:  Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin
Director: Woody Allen
Release Year: 2013

I blame it on my chronic fear of flying, but I usually have no recollection of movies that I watch on airplanes. So it’s truly saying something that I not only remembered, but thoroughly enjoyed Woody Allen’s latest cinematic display of neuroses.

Blue Jasmine centers on its title character, whose husband’s fraudulent business affairs have left her bankrupt and grasping for dear life onto the dredges of her once-opulent existence in New York City as she relocates to her decidedly less extravagant sister’s humble home in San Francisco. The film is an undisguised shadow of Tennessee Williams’ iconic 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire; although, Jasmine’s excessive pill-popping, martini-guzzling, muttering-to-herself habits almost make Blanche DuBois look like she has it all together. Prickling with nervous energy and wobbling on the brink of complete unhingement, Jasmine’s frenetic struggle to recoup from her financial blows and psychological humiliation is pathetic in the most fascinating way.

Sally Hawkins and Alec Baldwin turn in notable performances but, as expected (and necessary), the film belongs to the actor in the title role. Cate Blanchett adopts the role of the derailed Jasmine to perfection, careening from one extreme of childish denial to another of unapologetic pompousness and yet another of pure insanity. I’d never thought I’d love a character that stressed me out so much.  If you (like me) have always been on the fence about Allen’s particular brand of storytelling, Blue Jasmine—and Blanchett—may just have scored him a few favorable points.

#1: Le Grand Amour
Cast: Pierre Etaix, Annie Fratellini, Nicole Calfan, Alain Janey 
Director: Pierre Etaix
Release Year: 1969

Released in 1969, but withheld from distribution due to legal battles and deals gone wrong, Le Grand Amour may be the oldest film featured on this list, but it could very well be one of the best.

I won’t pretend to be an authority on French cinema. Sure, we covered the New Wave in my college Film Theory class, and I’m not completely oblivious to the enduring influence of comic auteurs like Jaques Tati, but by and large, I watched Le Grand Amour as “green” and as unassumingly as any regular moviegoer. This is probably why, once the film ended, I couldn’t get out of the theater and back home fast enough to Google the heck out of Pierre Etaix, with one question constantly churning in my mind: Why, why has a movie like this been stuck in a vault all these years when movies like this are allowed to even be made?  The injustice baffles me.

Le Grand Amour follows a young middle-class man, whose reluctant acquiescence to marriage propels him into a colorless existence of regrets, boredom, and unfulfilled fantasies of freedom.

The film is undoubtedly a judgment of the bourgeoisie existence–the lengthy grapevine through which community gossip travels, the excruciating obligations of upper middle-class domesticity, the monotonous rhythm of work– but Etaix is never bitter or malicious in his portrayal, choosing instead to imply a critical undertone through whimsical daydreams, hints of slapstick, and self-referential humor. It is one of the sweetest, most good-natured expressions of social commentary that I’ve ever seen.

Whatever I say to laud Le Grand Amour will be inadequate. Do yourself a favor and watch it for yourself. It may just be one of the best films you watch this year, too.

And finally, a sneak peek at the upcoming films as well as those I just didn't get to this year, that I'm most looking forward to watching in 2014:

American Hustle

Maybe this was a bad idea, because I just realized I could go on and on….

Here's to another year of magic at the movies!

Which was the best film you watched in 2013?
Which films are you looking forward to watching in 2014?

Reel Simple's Top 10: #4 & #3

Into the final stretch now!

In case you missed #6 & #5, read them here.

In case you missed #8 & #7, read them here.

In case you missed #10 & #9, read them here.

#4: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Cast: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Release Year: 2012

The second story on this list about the awkward teen years,* I was gifted The Perks of Being a Wallflower book by a very dear friend in college. Reading it, I was quickly endeared to the central character/narrator of Charlie (Logan Lerman), an eccentric, intelligent, and highly introverted 14 year old with a troubled past. On his first day of high school, popular seniors and half-siblings Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller) adopt Charlie into their quirky, motley clique, whose unquestioning acceptance of him sets the stage for the evolution of his own self-esteem.

Often, especially if we’ve emerged from that adolescent chapter of our lives relatively unscathed, we forget how truly difficult it was, and how deeply formative it is to who we have eventually become.  Set in the early 1990s, Perks is a profound and perceptive reminder of that period, handled with incredible heart by writer/director Stephen Chbosky, who adapted the film from his own novel.  Vulnerabilities and inner strengths both emerge as Charlie and his new pals navigate the familiar rites of passage that accompany adolescence, from parent-less parties and debut games of Spin the Bottle to identity crises and first loves. 

 But most touching is the relationship Charlie builds with Patrick and Sam, who not only challenge and protect him, but need him just as much in return. Lerman, Miller, and Watson infuse truth and soul into Chbosky’s characters to recreate their ineffable bond from page to screen. Never in a million years did I think I’d say this, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower almost, almost makes me want to go back to high school—just for the chance to find friends like these.

* can you tell I have a deep connection to that particular phase? J

#3: The Intouchables
Cast: Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy
Directors: Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano
Release Year: 2011

A few things make The Intouchables impressive right off the bat: not only is it one of Frances’s biggest box-office successes ever, but it also earned actor Omar Sy the prestigious 2012 Cesar Award over Jean Dujardin, the charismatic star who won us all over in The Artist.  Though the narrative of the movie isn’t especially groundbreaking—a man transformed by an unlikely friendship–its roots in a true story lends the film a credibility and depth beyond purely fairy-tale fluff.

In need of a new caregiver, quadriplegic, widowed, and curmudgeonly mogul Philippe (François Cluzet) hires ex-convict Driss (Sy) on a whim. Unlike Philippe’s previous live-in aids, Driss doesn’t give him a pass for his disability, nor does he perceive him through a pitying lens. Impulsive and brazen, but well meaning at his core, Driss’s natural joie-de-vivre begins to permeate into his cranky employer’s cheerless world.

Essentially a buddy film, the story’s effectiveness comes largely from the rapport between the two lead actors. Cluzet and Sy have been cast perfectly, exuding a potent bond that blends crude humor and heated banter with protectiveness and affection as Driss re-injects energy into Philippe’s life. The Intouchables has its corny, regrettably over-the-top moments, but for its overarching optimism and the personal chord it struck with its message of living in the moment, it makes my list this year.