Sunday, December 30, 2012
1. Beasts of Southern Wild
Beasts of Southern Wild took me on a journey from start to finish. I smiled, I laughed, I cried. I was in awe. The star of Beasts, Quevenzhane Wallis (“Hushpuppy”) is just six years old, and she gives a complete, thorough and heart wrenching performance. This movie is so beautifully filmed that I have trouble putting into words how mesmerizing and sincere it really is.
In a bayou somewhere in southern America, 6-year-old girl Hushpuppy lives with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in a self-sustaining community called the Bathtub. Living outside of the western world, they learn to survive together, battling against the elements and hunting for food. For Hushpuppy, affectionately dubbed "boss lady" by her father, every day is like a holiday, and the film is shot as such. Somehow director Benh Zeitlin is able to shoot a very dirty, complicated, to-the-roots community as something beautiful and pure. Hushpuppy is fascinated by nature and life, often pressing her ear against animals in search of a heartbeat, so the prospect of her world collapsing sends her active imagination running wild.
The film has many fantastical moments, and it truly is a flawless debut feature that will stay with you days after it’s finale. It captures the human relationship with nature, a fragile ecological environment and a community’s attachment to their home despite the dangerous placed upon them, and coming-of-age childhood wonder. Beasts of Southern Wild is extraordinary, it’s deeply moving, and it takes my #1 spot on this list.
2. Life of Pi
I was skeptic of Life Of Pi, I wasn’t sure how the tiger was going to work, and the trailers leading up to the film’s release were drawn out, and they had a whiff of pretention. This film (in 3D) really won me over and I sincerely think I walked out of the theater a better and stronger human being. It’s that good. I still haven’t been able to shake the thought-provoking finale. The film begins with a young writer looking for the subject of his next book. He has been told to speak with a man named Pi, an immigrant born in India who now resides with his family in Canada. The writer has heard that Pi’s story is so amazing that it will make him believe in God.
Pi transports us back to 1970s India where his younger self is living with his family in Pondicherry, India. His father is a zookeeper and the inquisitive Pi has spent a large chunk of his life surrounded by an assortment of animals from around the globe. Due to the increasing political unrest within India, the family has decided to sell the animals and move to a more stable life in North America.
Sadly, the freighter ship on which they are travelling encounters a freak storm and sinks in the middle of the night. It all happens in a flash and Pi wakes up on a lifeboat drifting aimlessly across the ocean. He’s the only person on board… but Pi is not alone. Hidden beneath the lifeboat’s tarpaulin are a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Suffice to say that this isn’t a situation that can remain stable for very long. We know that Pi survives, evidenced by the fact that he is still alive to tell the story, but how did he pull it off? What does one do when stuck on a tiny boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean with next-to-no food while in the company of a tiger? Things become less and less plausible and believable with each passing scene and you will be put to the test – is this a fantasy film? What am I seeing?
Ang Lee does a wonderful job of adapting a rather complicated book and bringing it to life on the big screen – there are slow moments in the middle of the film, but the final outcome is completely worth it. This is an emotional film – and again, perhaps my #2 spot is based on a film’s ability to move me and transport me to another world, making me really feel things, but that is what the magic of movies is all about for me.
3. Holy Motors
I love movies that require discussion – hours of discussion after the first viewing. There is a lot going on in Holy Motors, and each segment in the film is more fascinating and thought provoking than the last (although the homeless man who kidnaps the model and eats flowers probably takes the cake for me). I suspect that Holy Motors is a love song to the power of cinema, to the power of genres and their effects on us as audiences. Holy Motors demonstrates an interesting look behind-the-scenes of cinema as well, and how playing different roles (as actors do) can take a toll on family life, romantic relationships, and it can blur the lines between reality and fantasy. The film is his pointed lamentation about the ever-changing face of film across the decades, from silent, black and white movies to talkies and now from celluloid to digital. Carax demonstrates concern over the mechanical taking over the human – which is why the limousines converse at the end of the film, as if they are controlling everything (hence the “holy motor” over the flesh and body).
You need to completely commit to Holy Motors, give yourself over to it entirely to get the full benefits of this cinematic wild ride. Director Leos Carax claims his film is really about nothing, it’s just a delicious visual journey, and I think part of the film’s enjoyment is coming up with your own interpretation – you get to be an active audience member – something that Hollywood takes away from us so often in major Blockbuster lack luster turn-your-brain-off kinds of films. Holy Motors is insane, genuine, original, and completely sincere.
I really like Ben Affleck. Watching the recent Director’s Round Table held by the Hollywood Reporter, he spoke sincerely and openly, but he also asked questions of the other directors – clearly checking his own ego at the door and soaking up the skill and practice of others like a sponge. This is the kind of director who will do big things in the future, and Argo is a great start (although I really loved The Town as well, so he’s already on his way up).
The suspense in this film is so intense – I was on the edge of my seat, and I left the theater with bits of velour under my fingernails, I was scratching at the armrests so often. The fact that this story was a US state secret means that we never know what might happen next, which adds a kick of unpredictability to the suspenseful final act. Although it does feel somewhat heightened and “Hollywood-ed” by every movie trick in the book, from power ballad music to manic cross cutting effects, Affleck directs it with real skill, crafting a politically aware action thriller that's also one of the most enjoyable romps of the year.
The performances by Helen Mirren (Alma) and Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock) win you over in this film, about the making of Psycho and the relationship between Hitch and his wife. It also examines Hitch’s deep insecurities about his career, his marriage, and his personhood. It’s also almost heart-stopping to watch James D’Arcy in the role of Anthony Perkins – his performance is so dead on, and he looks so much like the late actor that it’s disturbing. For many critics, this film was mediocre, but I’m a sucker for movies-about-movies, and I really enjoyed what director Sacha Gervasi did with the Ed Geinn back story and how that story was such a crucial element to the writing and making of Psycho.
Hitchcock is told in a really interesting way – the film is presented very much like an episode from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, with the famous and unforgettable theme song - and the film closes with the same. It’s a tribute to Hitchcock’s masterpiece, and it’s a tribute that only works because of its strong cast of actors. Hopkins and Mirren take what could have been an ordinary film and elevate it to the status of one of the year’s best. Hitchcock would be proud.
6. Silver Linings Playbook
There are a few elements in this film that make it the fantastic movie that is – the actors is a good place to start. Jennifer Lawrence gives the strongest performance - she’s amazing and believable and beautifully crazy. Bradley Cooper is also fantastic, and his transformation from out-of-control bipolar to medicated, happy and focused is really something to see, his whole body transforms and you can even see this transformation in his physicality and the way that he moves. The script is also undeniably fantastic, paying attention to relationships and the complications associated with growing up, taking responsibility, and moving forward. The soundtrack is an added bonus. Silver Linings Playbook is a dysfunctional and delightful romantic comedy and David O. Russell is clearly a gifted and insightful director. Dealing with the subject of mental illness can be a tricky process for any filmmaker; with many opting for a bigger is better approach in order to garner a reaction. While Russell doesn’t shy away from the inevitable theatricality that comes with a bi-polar afflicted character, he firmly makes the point that Silver Linings Playbook is not a film about mental illness, but is a strong, heartfelt movie that features characters with mental illness. You won’t be expecting a happy ending, but when you get one – it makes the film all more loveable and wonderful.
Yes, The Sessions is a really beautiful movie about a paralyzed man who has never had sex with a woman but The Sessions is more about what a sensitive man with a genuine heart can give and teach to the women around him – from his caretakers, to his sex therapist. These women learn and gain more from poet Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes, who gives a flawless performance) than he takes away from them. I was equally touched, though, by William H. Macy as the compassionate Roman Catholic priest (seemingly a dying breed nowadays) who serves as Mark’s spiritual and unwitting sexual advisor. But perhaps more than anything, The Sessions impressed and moved me with its all-too-rare, positive approach to human sexuality. While Hunt’s real-life sex surrogate is the least-developed character in the film (yet because of Hunt’s performance, she is the most unforgettable as well), she rightly demonstrates and learns for herself that sex entails much more than intercourse. The Sessions is a truly beautiful movie.
The adults act like children and the children act like adults. Moonrise Kingdom is probably the most romantic movie ever made for the hipster generation. Wes Anderson does it again with a cast of greats playing oddball loveables: Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Ed Norton and Bruce Willis to name a few. The two main roles are two preteen kids (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) who run away together to go camping on a secluded New England cove, which sets the adults of the small island town on a manhunt.
Moonrise Kingdom is a witty and delightful comedy that was an easy summer hit. With its Wes-ian deadpan dialogue and damaged characters, Moonrise Kingdom casts a unique and charming spell and is surprisingly hopeful, especially with the help it the stylized cinematography, ripe with yellows and blues. It’s Wes Anderson at his best – my favorite of his since Rushmore.
21 Jump Street is easily the funniest film I’ve seen all year – I’m a huge Jonah Hill fan, but I’m not much for Channing Tatum. If any film can make me actually like Tatum, it deserves a spot on the Top 10. The film itself is quite a surprise; between the semi-improv stylings of writer and star Jonah Hill and the film's television roots, we should all know what to expect from this action comedy caper. And yet, the rapid fire scripted gags mixed with the general silly behavior from the co-stars make for hugely fun viewing. It’s not necessarily a sharp script that’s big or clever, but you just know that everyone had a blast making this film and it comes across in every scene. And hell, I almost peed my pants a little watching it for the first time, I was laughing so hard. With a sequel hinted at nicely, and already confirmed by Hill, we look forward to following these boys all the way through college!
10. Turn Me On, Dammit!
The little Norwegian film that hardly anyone I know has heard of is easily one of my favorites of the year. In fact, it probably deserves a spot higher than #10. North American film is so overcrowded with tales of teenaged boys’ sexual awakenings -- of the rage of their adolescent horniness and the despair that it will ever be mollified, no longer a child yet not quite an adult – and we’ve seen this story played out over and over since the 1980s, from Porky’s to American Pie. Is this often perverse and humorous genre tired? Is there nothing new to say in an overplayed subgenre? The answer? Yes there is, in the form of Turn Me On, Dammit!
This film is almost shocking in how it depicts 15-year-old Alma’s all-consuming confusion, anxiety, and sexual desperation: with a candid carnality the likes of which is de rigueur for the horny-boy subgenre, but is entirely absent from film when it comes to depicting the trials of adolescent girls. (There simply is no such a thing as the horny-girl subgenre, which is what makes this film so remarkable and curious. You won’t be able to navigate your way through it, so it’s best you just sit there and absorb it, and enjoy. Alma (refreshing played by Helene Bergsholm) is in love with her schoolmate Artur (Matias Myren), but rather than the typical romantic flowers and candy fantasies that most young women have, Alma is consumed with thoughts of raw sex, and it’s her unquenchable need that drives her to the sort of masturbatory misadventures. Girls and women this carnal are typically treated by Hollywood films as monsters or freaks, not the ordinary, unremarkable girl Alma is.
The most important is that this is adolescence told from a female point of view, by a female director (Jannicke Jacobsen) and Jacobsen doesn’t confine herself to straightforward, naturalistic narrative in Turn Me On, Dammit!; instead, she uses fantasy sequences and black-and-white freeze frames to explore her lead character’s thoughts and feelings.
Turn Me On, Dammit! is a sweet and very low-key film that observes the disorder and frustrating feelings of adolescence from the knowing mind and eye of adulthood. See it. Now.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Hunger Games (I won't justify this choice and I won't say much except for the fact that I had a GREAT time in the theater watching it, I think Jennifer Lawrence is perfect, and I think this movie gave a lot of young women a positive role model who is strong, smart, and down to earth. I loved this movie, and I have only positive things to say about it), Jeff Who Lives At Home, Take This Waltz
Zero Dark Thirty: (the first half is SO good – but Jessica Chastain isn’t believable in the role (thus I’m not sure what all the hype is about) and by the second half, I found myself removed from the film as a result. Bigelow is a great action and suspense I went into this film with very high expectations, and perhaps the reason why the film and Chastain’s performance didn’t blow me away was because I was expecting to be blown away. Whether that’s the case or not, this film was great for suspense, but it lacked in story and emotion for me. It takes the 11th spot on the list.
The Master – if this is a movie about a man’s intense, complex and mutli-layered relationship with his bootlegger, than I like it. If Joaquin is the Master and Hoffman is the subordinate, then I like it. However, I’m not really sure what this film is about, therefore it doesn’t mesmerize me in the same way that it did for so many other critics out there. It’s possible that I just didn’t get it but after reading so many other reviews, I don’t think reviewers really got it, either. I think reviewers and critics were afraid to admit their disdain for the film, I think they were afraid to say, “I’m a critic by profession, and I didn’t understand this movie.” Phoenix and Hoffman are brilliant actors, and Amy Adams did a wonderful job as well; I can’t take that away from the film, nor would I want to. But fantastic performances and often-breathtaking cinematography (which – occasionally went out of focus during moments I didn’t think were appropriate) a Top-10 film do not make. Many have credited The Master as a “masterpiece”. My opinion? I wish PTA still made movies about sex and drugs in the 1970s.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
Thursday, December 27, 2012
I expect to take a bit of heat for this choice – and I have no issue with that. The Pact disappointed a lot of audiences, but I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. I saw this film all alone in the dark, and I won’t give anything away – but if you haven’t seen it yet, I suggest you do the same. The film mixes suspense, the supernatural, and the super-creepy in a perfect mix of thrills, chills, and gross-me-outs. This film surprised me. I knew nothing about it going in, and I will admit that I didn’t see the genre-typical “twist” coming at all. That’s worth a #1 spot to me.
I have unfortunately subjected myself to the CW’s 90210 on more than one occasion (a friend had a reoccurring role in the show), but it’s because of this that Excision blew me away the way that it did. AnnaLynne McCord, the star of both 90210 and Excision, is a (normally) beautiful young actress who plays an ugly (inside and out), disturbed, bullied, and confused young woman. She yearns to be a surgeon, and her dreams of Doctorhood are beginning to consume her thoughts entirely. With hints of black comedy, Excision is fantastically beautiful in its cinematography, and just as you are starting to warm and sympathize with our leading lady, the plot takes a nasty turn toward evils-ville. And to think, the first time I watched this film, I thought for a split second that the surgery might have really worked!
I loved The Cabin In The Woods when I first saw it – and rightfully so, because it’s one of the best horror films of the year. However, it’s not scary. It’s funny, it’s nostalgic, and I enjoyed it – but I don’t want horror to go in this direction in 2013. Let’s bring back the fear. This film was released in April, and since then, I’ve discussed it with just about everyone I know, and perhaps I’m just sick and tired of it, but whatever the reason, it only takes the third spot this year.
I feel like a jerk putting this film on my list, because it won’t be released mainstream until 2013. However, I put Kill List in my Top 10 last year, and that film was released this year, so I’m just following suit. Resolution is an independent horror film directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. It's a breath of fresh air, it’s upsetting, it’s disturbing, and it’s utterly raw. I believe it will be the little film that could, and it’s going to kill Top 10 Horror Lists in 2013. Get stoked.
The point of this film, which apparently caused mass walkouts when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival (and not because it was a bad film), is how we are conditioned to do things that go against our natural and basic instincts as long as we believe we have the law on our side. This film upset me, it angered me, and it confused me. If you’re at work, and you receive a phone call from an authoritative figure – at what point do you – and can you - say “no”? This film struck me with fear in a big way: it’s based on a true story. Correction – based on true stories. Plural. That’s terrifying! I watched this film alone, did some research on Google to verify what I had watched, and then I took a shower because I felt dirty. That seems to be the trend in this year’s horror viewing.
Agoraphobia and anti-social attitudes have become more common in the last decade thanks to the internet – we don’t have to leave our houses to shop anymore, to date anymore, even food can be ordered at the click of a button. It’s that easy. Ciaran Foy’s Citadel takes this notion and runs wild with it, all the way to the crossroads where social allegory meets psychological horror. Here, wayward youths have left anti-social far behind and they’re feral and demonic, the monsters in a monster flick. This film has several different layers, opening with a bang that the conclusion doesn’t quite live up to – but that’s okay, you will forgive it because Citadel really is an overall scary, well-made film.
V/H/S is on my list because I’m a sucker for anthologies. I also enjoy that the horror genre feels like a club – and directors who are in the club get together and make scary and entertaining film such as this one. Like Chillerama last year, this anthology isn’t perfect (some sequences are weaker than others), but overall there are good scares in this film – and they come from a place of cares; directors who want to contribute to the genre because of their genuine love of it. My personal favorite sequences is 10/31/98, written and directed by Radio Silence.
ParaNorman is a nostalgic masterpiece and a new take in the zombie genre (and not just because it’s animated, but that does help – we don’t often see zombies like these)! I liked this film the minute the opening credits began and the 80s influenced music started up.
Sinister has its faults, and most of them happen in the second half of the film. The reason why this film makes my Top 10 is because the first half is so good. The Super 8 footage is unsettling, and the amount of darkness in this film (Ethan Hawke walks through the pitch black almost every night, and every time, I’m terrified) leaves you feeling vulnerable and hyper-aware. Sinister gets the 9th spot only because what awaits Ethan just isn’t as scary as I’d like it to be (especially when it appears on his laptop screen and directly addresses the camera). Oh, and then there are the leaping and bounding ghost children. 9th spot it is!
10. Sleep Tight
Jaume Balagueró of Rec fame has brought us Sleep Tight, a horror treat that will ensure you never feel safe falling asleep in your apartment building again. I hope your landlord is sweeter than Cesar!
Honorable Mentions: Absentia, The Woman In Black, Silent House (just because Elizabeth Olsen is so good in everything). For my NON-HORROR Top 10 Best Films of the Year, stay tuned and visit www.liannespiderbaby.com often!
Friday, December 14, 2012
|Sybil Danning and Lianne Spiderbaby|
Sybil Danning (the kick-butt actress who is featured in my book, GRINDHOUSE GIRLS) and I, Lianne Spiderbaby at Comikaze, Los Angeles
photo cred: John Humphrey
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
It's true - and it will finally be available in late 2013/early 2014, GRINDHOUSE GIRLS: CINEMA'S HARDEST WORKING WOMEN by Lianne Spiderbaby is being published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillian Publishing House. The book is currently undergoing the editing process and there will be plenty more news and updates to come.
St. Martin's Press was my #1 choice for publishing, so I'm very happy and excited. St. Martin's has acquired the North American rights for the book, and I will be striking international deals in the upcoming months, so more news to come for those of you in the UK, Europe, and Asia.
The foreword will be written by my favorite grindhouse friend, Quentin Tarantino.
"Journalist Lianne Spiderbaby is writing an in-depth look at the infamous exploitation actresses of the 1970s and 80s and how their groundbreaking films reflected the societal changes occuring around them and influenced a generation of filmmaking, GRINDHOUSE GIRLS: Cinema's Hardest Working Women profiles, celebrates, and tells the story of these fascinating women who took great risks to get ahead in their career, who stripped naked for the cameras, had their hair matted with stage blood, who took chances on directors that didn?t have much money or means to create their outrageous visions. Women like Tura Satana, Pam Grier, and Sybil Danning maintain an aura of strength, fearless in the face of men and crime. There is no better time to acknowledge the actresses that gave us everything that most Hollywood actresses could not: sex, drugs, violence, shock, rock, and rebellion.
Quentin Tarantino will write the foreword.
Brendan Deneen at St. Martin's Press acquired North American rights."