Quick Takes – 12.05.10

This column is much later than I planned, but technical issues and precursor distractions forced me to put it off. It was a busy week, but over the weekend I finally had time to sit and enjoy some 2010 releases that I’d been missing. Here are the films I saw last week:

The Secret in Their Eyes (2010)

Grade: A | 1st Viewing

There are more ideas in Jose Juan Campanella’s Oscar winning Argentinian film than in many filmmakers’ entire career. It’s an homage to film noir with a dark mystery within, an art film with some of the best cinematography of the year, and a beautiful story about requited, but never fulfilled love. When a brutal murder is committed the film challenges our very idea of justice and if the concept of justice can even really exist. It is brilliantly told from the perspective of a retired detective reflecting on a case that forces him to reflect on his own life decisions.

The film was also a technical marvel from the cinematography to the makeup design. The actors play both younger and older versions of themselves and they execute it masterfully with the subtleties of their performances and the makeup design. There is also one of the best tracking shots that I’ve seen in a while that follows a fantastic chase through a crowded soccer stadium, starting at the top of the stands and finishing on the field.

I just finished watching A Prophet (next week’s Quick Takes) and after seeing this and The White Ribbon I actually might be in the minority that believes that The Secret in Their Eyes actually deserved the Oscar win for Best Foreign Film.

Children of Men (2006)

Grade: A | 4th Viewing

Speaking of tracking shots, I decided to re-watch the brilliant Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men last week and the film proved itself an excellent viewing experience once again. Cuaron’s camera is essentially a character within the movie dancing a fantastic ballet around the characters and scenery. The level of blocking and choreography that must have gone into some of those shots is absolutely remarkable.

Beyond the beautiful cinematography, the story is poignant and brilliant. It is among the best dystopian films ever made and continually moves up my best movies of all-time list. It’s been too long since Alfonso Cuaron directed a feature film and I look forward to his next project Gravity which is slated for release on 2012.

Please Give (2010)

Grade: B | 1st Viewing

After the rather unique opening montage, this film offered exactly what I expected without any surprises, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The film was about karma and guilt with every character existing on different planes of morality. Nearly all of the conflicts are internal with each character having their own lack of fulfillment, filling the void with sex, blue jeans, tanning, or, in the central story arc, charity work.

Nicole Holofcener does a nice job using the camera to tell the story with some clever shots including a sex scene with a golden Buddha judgingly watching in the background. The film was a sort of neo-realism and it felt like only Catherine Keener and Rebecca Hall grasped the script while many of the other actors relied on cartoonish, surface-level archetypes. The film is not a waste of time, but don’t feel the need to rush to rent it.

[Images: OutNow!]

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  • Okay, I saw:

    “The Shining” (A-): A terrific horror film, albeit a little overlong and cheesy in places. The hedge maze chase in particular was terrifying.

    “My Left Foot” (A): Dainel Day-Lewis is possibly the finest living actor. While I loved him in “There Will Be Blood”, he was even better here (and the movie is much better). The supporting actors are all stellar, as well.

    “Lost in Translation” (A): Words can’t really describe how much I loved this movie. It has a genuine magic to it, thanks to both Sofia Coppola’s intimate direction and the effortless chemistry between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson. Bonus points for one of the most perfect endings ever. This one’s probably in my top 40 of all-time. So good…

    “Sanjuro” (B+): I was a little bored by the early sections of this sequel to “Yojimbo”, but around the middle the movie really picked up. The climactic scenes are surprisingly brutalv and depressing, which in this case is a good thing.

    “The Battleship Potemkin” (A-): Apart from the rather dull final fifteen minutes, this silent piece of propoganda is one of the most rawly powerful movies I”ve ever seen. What’s odd is that even if you know you’re being manipulated (which I did), it still works. The staircase massacre is just magnificent on a technical level.

  • Also, I’m watching “Modern Times” and “Vera Drake” today. One of the benefits of being on Christmas break… tons of movie watching!

  • Wow, you’re break started early! I’m very jealous.

    Enjoy ‘Modern Times’. Did you get the Criterion version? I just picked that up on Blu-Ray, but have yet to watch it.

  • I got it from Netflix, so I don’t know which version it is. Regardless, I’m sure I’ll like it: it is Chaplin, after all.

  • Andrew R.

    My, you had a good weekend. Regarding Secret in their Eyes, it’s not as good as White Ribbon or A Prophet, but it’s still excellent and deserved it.

  • Brandon Cooley

    Children of Men is #8 on my top ten movies of the decade list. An amazing movie for so many reasons, especially the closing shot which I think a lot of people probably ignored.

    Speaking of good endings I agree that Lost in Translation ranks up there with some of the best.

    This Christmas I’m going to have a Bergman and Kurosawa marathon. So far I’ve only seen The Seventh Seal (great movie) and half of Rashomon. This weekend I’m starting it off with Ran.

  • Jose

    Childreen of Men is my favorite sci-fi movie ever.

    The only film I saw this week was Pleasantville during cinema appreciation class (we’re going over film criticsm) and it is one of the most beautiful films i have ever seen.

  • None of the foreign films from last year can hold up against A Prophet, that film is a masterpiece in so many ways.

  • Hey I just started a new blog check it out right here – http://qb11.blog.com/

  • Hey I just started a new blog. Check it out by clicking on my name.

  • BTW, I gave it the worst title. I was having a block.

  • ‘A Prophet’ is phenomenal, no doubt about that, but I liked ‘The Secret in Their Eyes’ just a little bit more.

  • Regarding “Children of Men”, I really should watch it again. I gave it an A- the first time I saw it, and I honestly can’t remember why I didn’t feel it merited an A.

    “Modern Times”, by the way… fabulous. I thought “The Great Dictator” was funnier, and I liked “City Lights” better too. Still a great film. The food machine scene was pure genius.

  • Brandon Cooley

    @ Quinn I actually like the name of the blog.

  • OH hahah thanks I actually thought of it when reading this post because of “The Secret in Their Eyes”

  • julian

    people are funny…! Personally, I consider The Secret of their eyes winning over The White Ribbon and A Prophet (two of the most distict masterpieces of European cinema lately) the single biggest scandal of oscar history in the foreign language category (even though Departures winning over Waltz with Bashir and The Class runs it a close second).

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