Margin Call (2011)
Grade: B+ | 1st Viewing
Rarely has a film been so simultaneously enthralling and infuriating as J.C. Chandor’s directorial debut Margin Call. The star studded cast and tight script do an excellent job of humanizing the people behind one of the greatest economic downturns in U.S. history. One of the best things the film accomplishes is establishing the hierarchy of every member of its huge ensemble and portraying how they individually react to the news that their company has worthless assets that are about to bankrupt the company. Some face more of a moral conundrum than others, but in the end they all turn for the worse.
Charles Ferguson’s 2010 film Inside Job does a better job of taking a look behind the financial crisis and I like it better because it essentially presents all of the bankers as villains (even the experts that Ferguson interviews). Margin Call is more interested in showing that not all actors in the meltdown were evil. It’s probably more honest, but a lot less fun.
Grade: A | 1st Viewing
It might be a stretch, but since both films are fresh on my mind I am going to compare Andrew Haigh’s Weekend with Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love. The two are related in the sense that the central relationship they portray is not unrequited love, but resisted love. The two central characters are drawn together like magnets, but they resist a relationship because of outside forces. Haigh does a fantastic job of using a less is more approach to the shot construction and the camera feels more like its eavesdropping than invading the characters’ space.
The best discovery in Weekend was actor Tom Cullen who stands out in a brilliantly subtle lead performance. He is never comfortable in his own skin and we see that with every head down step he takes. He gets remarkably close to an ideal romantic moment when he is kissing his new love interest goodbye, but their “Notting Hill moment” is ruined by a cruel remark made by an off-screen youth. It’s a tragic juxtaposition that shows that a gay love story in the present cannot escape the cruelties of the world around.
Midnight in Paris (2011)
Grade: A | 2nd Viewing
Even knowing what was going to happen in this smart and surprising comedy did not prevent a smile from invading my face. The first time that Owen Wilson’s Gil gets into the car and is transported back to 1920s Paris is one of the most purely joyful moments of the year. A lot of films this year have been primarily about nostalgia, but Midnight in Paris might be the best because it not only portrays hilarious parodies of recognizable figures from the past, but also propels the protagonist and the audience forward as we all realize the present the most romantic place to exist.
The film also made me feel guilty that I have not read more Hemingway and Fitzgerald novels, or seen more Dali or Picasso paintings. Art that makes you appreciate (or want to appreciate) art is always a good thing.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2011)
Grade: C+ | 1st Viewing
I am not too proud to admit when I did not completely understand a movie, and I suspect that the person who wrote the synopsis for IMDb did not get it either: “On his deathbed, Uncle Boonmee, recalls his many past lives.” The biggest thing that I struggled with is the film’s hard to pin tone. Since the subject is a man facing his mortality and the film is darkly lit, it seemed like director Apichatpong Weerasethakul was attempting to be very serious in his approach. However, the concept of two people carrying on a normal conversation about the banalities of everyday life while seated at a table with the ghost of his wife and his “ghost monkey” son was absurdly funny to me.
I cannot deny, however, that the film was masterfully shot. Many of the shots were dragged out longer than necessary, but never has wandering through a cave or jungle been so beautiful and suspenseful. This is a film that needs to be seen a second time, but I am not going to rush to do that.