List: Top 30 Most Anticipated Fall Films (Sept-Dec 2013)

It’s that time of year again! Prestige season when awards-bait fodder gets tossed out to the masses and where festival films are chewed up by critics with non-festival goers frothing at the mouth for hyperbolic tweets and reviews. The time of year when the hype-bar soars and awards-talk becomes the primary context for discussion. With each passing year I learn more and more the difference between letting anticipation get to me and letting hype get to me. They are two very different things. One of them healthy, the other dangerous, unfair and problematic.

Many sites gear towards a more collective gathering of films to look forward to, but an advantage of having an individual blog is that my to-see lists are always filtered through what I am most looking forward to. So while you’ll see a ton of stuff on here that is on everyone’s list, there’s a lot of stuff that you will note is missing. Oldboy, Carrie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Saving Mr. Banks, Thor: The Dark World, August: Osage County, Ender’s Game, The Book Thief, About Time, Captain Phillips, The Fifth Estate, Rush, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Philomena, The Invisible Woman, Out of the Furnace and many more are not on this list . Many of those I’d like to see, but my interest ranges from indifferent to it-just-didn’t-make-the-cut. The complete list of films that did not make the cut but are on my eventual to-see list are at the bottom.

Obviously there will be changes in the release schedule these upcoming months with new dates added and new curiosities emerging. I’ll be sure to make additions when necessary. Also, this time of year doesn’t have a ton of international releases to choose from so forgive how US-centric this is.

What Fall films are you anticipating?

30. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lawrence)
Release Date: November 2

I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Hunger Games adaptation, but there was certainly a lot to admire there and I’m hoping for the best with its sequel. At the very least, Jennifer Lawrence makes for a compelling Katniss, giving a performance that far eclipsed her Oscar-winning work last year. I enjoy the books but the additions of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amanda Plummer are a real clincher.

AMF_7277 (341 of 376).NEF
29. Dallas Buyers Club (Vallée)
Release Date: November 1

This seems to follow a familiar trajectory but look at that the attention-demanding McConaughey transformation, an acting gimmick that is almost always backed up by worthy emotive work. I’ve been a huge follower of The Second Coming of McConaughey, and from a look-at-me-I’m-acting perspective this project feels like an apex of sorts for him. The AIDS epidemic and the search for alternative treatments is something is a historical topic I’m always extremely interested in, not to mention Jared Leto in drag, so I can’t wait to see how said issue is addressed within the biopic formula.

28. All is Lost (Chandor)

Release Date: October 18th

J.C Chandor’s ambitious second film after the mostly engaging Margin Call comes to us overflowing with festival raves. A one-man show for Robert Redford, and only the first person-in-isolated-peril film on this list, I’m very much looking forward to an existential man-against-the-elements story.

27. A Teacher (Fidell)
Release Date: September 6th

Reactions to Hannah Fidell’s debut feature have been all over the map, but I’m always up for seeing the psychological process of a conflicting crisis and the havoc it wreaks on a woman’s mind and life. This is definitely a film I’ll be checking out.

26. Informant (Meltzer)
Release Date: September 13

A documentary about Brandon Darby that I’ve been hearing a lot of positive talk about. Most often, the reasons I want to see a film are very simple!
25. Plush (Hardwicke)
Release Date: September 13

Female-directed erotic thriller about a rock star possibly losing her mind complete with kink? I feel like this was made for me. This could very well end up being awful but this is right up my alley, as Catherine Hardwicke continues attempting to shed her Twilight-skin and Emily Browning continues down her trek through provocation.

24. The Armstrong Lie (Gibney)
Release Date: November 8th

I didn’t follow the Lance Armstrong controversy closely but I’m incredibly drawn to the idea of a documentary about him directed by none other than Alex Gibney. The fact that this was initially shelved and then re-opened following the shitstorm makes this even more compelling.
23. Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (Huber)
Release Date: September 13th

An anecdotal documentary about Harry Dean Stanton featuring every cool person to ever exist, not least of which; Harry Dean Stanton! Need I say more?

22. Anchorman: The Legend Continues (McKay)
Release Date: December 20th

Anchorman is one of the few recent mainstream comedies I love, without a doubt one of my favorites of all-time. I’m hesitant about a sequel but so damn hopeful at the same time. Between the talent involved, and the characters they are working with, there’s a lot of potential.

21. The Monuments Men (Clooney)
Release Date: December 18th

OK, so the trailer makes it look like WWII Ocean’s Eleven. But it’s about preserving art, culture and history. It’s about archives for God’s sake! It doesn’t get better than that. I wasn’t a fan of Clooney’s last film, but he’s working with inherently excellent material, a true story and a highly acclaimed non-fiction book. I for one am really interested to see how he and his collaborators transform this story into a resonant and accessible narrative.

A Touch of Sin film still
20. A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke)
Release Date: September 28th

Confession: I’ve still never seen a Jia Zhangke film. I realize this needs to change soon. He’s long been on my list of Directors I Should Be Familiar with. But I’m at least smart enough to know that any time he makes a film, it’s a cue for my eyes and ears to perk up. And so here you are.

19. The Counselor (Scott)
Release Date: October 25

This is Cormac McCarthy’s first jab at screenwriting so I’m dying to know how this turns out. The trailer also left me particularly lured in by the Cameron Diaz character. It looks like she’s got a juicy part here, claws out and all.

18. Labor Day (Reitman)
Release Date: December 25th (limited)

Based on a Joyce Maynard novel, Labor Day sounds like a chamber piece full of bottled-up emotion and conflict. Reitman’s last film happens to be my favorite of 2011. So though Diablo Cody was a huge part of that, it’s still a contributing factor and Reitman is nothing if not reliable.

17. American Hustle (Russell)
Release Date: December 25

Lots of scandal, crime, bad hair and sleaze await, brought to us by an all-star cast (most excited about Louis C.K popping up obviously) and a director coming off of a massive hit. It’s also notably a script from the Black List. What I’m the most intrigued about here is tone. David O. Russell is a master of tone when he’s on his game/servicing material in need of a perfect balance. The crime movies I’m anticipating this fall are hopefully going to spice things up and not play it straight.

The Past by Asghar Farhadi 1--621x414
16. The Past (Farhadi)
Release Date: December 20th

Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to A Separation. That’s all that needs to be said. I’ve been waiting for this one a long while. Can we also just appreciate the sickening beauty of Tahar Rahim?

15. We Are What We Are (Mickle)
Release Date: September 27

A remake of a much-talked about Mexican film from 2010, which I still haven’t gotten around to seeing. The trailer for this looks evocative and haunting. Artsy horror is a of automatic interest to me, it’s had positive word-of-mouth, and it looks beautiful besides.

14. A Single Shot (Rosenthal)
Release Date: September 20th

Anything starring Sam Rockwell is clearly going to be both on my to-see list and worth watching regardless. But this is also the kind of Southern Gothic crime story that I naturally drift towards. Haggard and atmospheric.

13. Wadjda (Haifaa Al-Mansour)
Release Date: September 13 (limited)

The first film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first feature length film made by a Saudi female, this is a monumentally important milestone. All I’ve been hearing are wonderful things about Wadjda. That it’s got distribution here where many will be able to see it is a big big deal.

12. The Wolf of Wall Street (Scorsese)
Release Date: November 15th

Much like American Hustle, what interests me with Scorsese’s latest, a 180 away from Hugo, is the question of tone. The balls-out trailer drowning in reckless extravaganza is hopefully a hint of what is to come. I’m not interested in this story if it’s played even remotely straight. I want absurdity and abandon. I don’t want something that dares to ask me to give a fuck about any of these people. Based on the trailer, It looks very promising. Let’s hope the completed product can deliver more of the same.

Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond In 'Blue Caprice' 2013

11. Blue Caprice (Moors)
Release Date: September 13th (limited)

Inspired by the Beltway sniper attacks, the trailer for this intrigued me immediately with its chilling atmosphere, so much so that it shot up to the top portion of my to-see list. I seriously cannot wait for this.

10. Kill Your Darlings (Krokias)
Release Date: October 16

Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg. Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr. Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac. Ben Foster as William Burroughs. Michael C. Hall as David Kammerer. Stop me when you’ve heard enough. I’ve been waiting for this film a very long time and it’s been in the conceptual works since 2009. I’m hearing solid, if not revelatory rumblings, and that’s more than enough for me. I cannot wait to see how they interpret this true story of a murder early in the lives of these unconscionably influential individuals. I’m also a huge supporter of Daniel Radcliffe and his post-Potter career and I don’t think there’s anything I’m anticipating more than seeing him have sexual chemistry with DeHaan and Huston. Dane DeHaan has become one of my favorite young actors, so any chance I get to see him is exciting. There’s just so many pretty people in this movie. But seriously; this is my favorite ensemble cast of the fall.

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9. Prisoners (Villeneuve)
Release Date: September 20th

This was on my radar once Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) became attached. Then the trailer and advance buzz really got me revved. It looks brutal and searing; a horrific and impossible situation that just gets worse and worse. This looks like exactly the kind of film we need more of in mainstream US film. Murky, immersive, and genuinely emotionally challenging whilst maintaining a director’s touch. I’m also always rooting for Hugh Jackman to do projects that show how talented he is, and this looks like it will be the perfect chance for that. Lastly; Roger Fucking Deakins.

www.indiewire.com8. Bastards (Denis)
Release Date: October 25th It’s new Claire Denis, which is not only reason for celebration but gets this an automatic place in the top 10.

7. Enough Said (Holofcener)
Release Date: September 18th

A collaboration between Nicole Holofcener and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss is a collaboration I didn’t even realize I wanted, but the second I heard about it my heart leapt. Louis-Dreyfuss rarely gets to dip her toes in film, let alone to star in one, and she’s one of the greatest people working in comedy. By the way, if you aren’t watching Veep, you’re time is not being utilized well.  But new Holofcener is a great thing in and of itself; Please Give is one of the most underrated films I’ve seen in recent years. And it goes without saying that we are all looking forward to the bittersweet experience of seeing James Gandolfini in one of his final roles.

6. Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen Brothers)
Release Date:  December 20th

It’s been three years since True Grit and yet somehow it feels like it’s been even longer. What has interested me perhaps the most about this film is something either Joel or Ethan said about Inside Llewyn Davis being about failure and the idea of exploring a character who is present during a monumental time in music but not quite able to make his mark. I love the idea of a film being about coming to terms with this or at the very least addressing it, and the trailer indicates a somber poignancy amidst the bleak humor that looks wondrous. And this also notably has Oscar Isaac gets his completely deserving breakout role in film. Finally.

5. 12 Years a Slave (McQueen)
Release Date: October 18th (limited)

The festival raves for this highly anticipated project have been through the roof. Steve McQueen, one of the most praised and respected  young directors working today has tackled the challenge of bringing an actual slave narrative to the screen. And by all accounts this looks like a vital film, appropriately brutal and full of nightmarish survival. It looks it has the potential to stand as an example of what film can do and luckily this is prepped to be seen by many.
4. Blue is the Warmest Color (Kechiche)
Release Date: October 25

It’s been a long time since I’ve been so conflicted about my interest in a film. On the one hand, I’m dying to see it; its acclaim has been unstoppable and overwhelming and it even won the Palme D’Or, usually a guarantee for me. Plus, it’s up my alley, full-stop.

I try to put aside any personal scandal/controversy aside when taking another person’s art into consideration. And yet, the production  experiences of Lea Seydoux and Adele Exacrchopoulos sound so uniformly disturbing that it’s going to be difficult to distract myself from that while watching. At least they seem mostly proud with the final product, were the first actors to ever share a Palme D’Or with a director, and have a friendship-through-mutual-trauma to show for it.

At the very least it’ll be interesting to see how all of this, and Julie Maroh’s comments, impacts its US reception. Having said all that, if we let it alter how we see the film irrevocably, everything they experienced would have been for nothing. And if I can mostly put it aside when it comes to the experiences of Bjork and Maria Schnieder, to name a couple of more famous cases, I’ll do my best here as well. Because seriously; this looks amazing.

3. Gravity (Cuaron)
Release Date: October 4th

Many years, cast changes and production restarts later, Gravity is finally here. An impossibly ambitious project that looks like an overwhelming sensory experience and a technical achievement people for the ages. The trailer brings me to tears; not because of typical movie-going emotions, but because we can actually feel how terrifying Bullock’s situation is; the helplessness, the terror, the panic,. The idea of going through 90 minutes of this is hard to imagine. But I can’t wait to do it.  Can we also appreciate that it has been 7 years since Children of Men?

Steve Carell in Foxcatcher
2. Foxcatcher (Miller)
Release Date: December 20th

My #2 is a film nobody has seen and which has no trailer. A grand total of 3 stills have been released. Bennett Miller has had this passion project in the conceptual works as far back as his work on Capote. Every single thing about this project has me hooked. I am a huge Steve Carell fan and this is a massive departure for him with the actor tapping into some very dark places for a bizarre and ambiguous true story. Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures is very quickly becoming a surefire stamp of quality and Miller has elevated both the biopic and sports film which his contributions to each.  I desperately hope that Foxcatcher can join the ranks of Capote and Moneyball for a third stellar picture.

1. Her (Jonze)
Release Date: December 18th

Another film that hasn’t yet been seen, it should go without saying that Her is the film I am most looking forward to this fall. Spike Jonze films all have a melancholic air about them, an air that has prevented me from revisiting two of his films since seeing them in theaters. There’s a difference between a depressing film and a melancholic film. I have an easier time with depressing films by far. But Jonze’s work is always a unique vision, high concept in some fashion, made memorable by its visuals and ideas. The stunningly promising trailer is a hint of what is to come, surely a film like no other.

The Rest:
Camille Claudel, 1915
August: Osage County
Out of the Furnace
In the Name Of
Le Week-end
The Invisible Woman
The Fifth Estate
Bettie Page Reveals All
Escape from Tomorrow
Touchy Feely
Captain Phillips
Insidious: Chapter 2
Price of Gold
Thanks for Sharing
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete
Haute Cuisine
The Institute
The Last Time I Saw Macao
Jack Ryan
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
About Time
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Mr. Nobody
How I Live Now
The Book Thief
Ender’s Game
Thor: The Dark World
Saving Mr. Banks
Romeo & Juliet
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Out in the Dark
Escape Plan
The Great Beauty
Grace of Monaco


List: 10 of the Worst Film Posters of 2012

Everyone is gearing up for the Oscar nominations tomorrow and while everyone is already pretty much done with their 2012 film lists, I’m just now gearing up to do mine. The next couple of weeks will feature a number of silly little lists that recap what stuck out for me in the year in film.

Coming up with the ten worst posters of the year is a much more difficult task than picking my favorites. For one thing, there are heaps upon heaps of mediocre to terrible movie posters. It becomes challenging to sift through and separate the merely bad to the incomprehensibly terrible especially when bad posters need to make their impression in a split second as there’s a lot to sift through. Any of my choices could very easily be switched out and replaced with something equally worthy of a slot.

I feel like there was a lot more variety with my list last year and a lot less guffaw-worthy picks this year. My choices can be boiled down to trends of overstuffed clutter, dazed and confused faces stacked up next to each other, bland-as-bland-can-be and a general feeling of laziness.

What were your worst posters of the year? Since there are dozens of others as bad as the ten I chose, tell me what stuck out to you as the WORST.

There’s no order to these this year. I didn’t feel like there was a clear number one or two for that matter. So I just shuffled them arbitrarily for your viewing displeasure.


Wrath of the Titans
This Wrath of the Titans poster stands to represent the countless (thousands really) action-epic character posters each year. I chose this one because it managed to somehow ruin the Greek God beauty that is Edgar Ramirez. Look at that! Do you ‘Feel the Wrath’ when you look at his face? He looks like he’s taking a dump.


Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

What I hate-love about this poster is the way the title contrasts with the ensemble cast. Lucy Liu looks radiant and unaffected but everyone else looks skeptical. “Really?” they say. “Someday this pain will be useful to me? Really?” Nobody is convinced. Anything that says ‘from the producers of Life is Beautiful‘ is an automatic fail because fuck that noise.  Random squares of faces on a poster is the standard trope of the ensemble indie drama and I unequivocally hate it. There must be a better way to advertise smaller ensemble dramas. I know the main selling point is the actors but there must be a better way.


Soldiers of FortuneAgain, it’s the faces that do it for me. On the one hand you’ve got James Cromwell, eyes like a hawk, roaring to go snipe some enemy folk. Then you’ve got….everyone else. With the mild exception of Ving Rhames aside, everyone else looks sooo bored. These actors are all contemplating the state of their careers and are coming up blank. “How did it come to this?”, as they half-heartedly shake their heads. These are Soldiers of Fortune? These are “the best” that the tagline refers to?


Stolen looks more like a Taken rip-off than Taken 2 was a Taken rip-off. It’s to be expected, but my God, have you no shame? Stolen is a synonym of Taken! It has the same color orange that was used for the most often seen posters for Taken and Taken 2. It is covered in text explicitly laying out in numbers and cold hard facts that this is the same plot as Taken. The one difference? Instead of Liam Neeson looking down, stoic and determined, we’ve got Nicolas Cage…running away from an upside down exploding car….


Think Like a Man
Let the mind games begin. Because women play mind games. None of the women are looking directly at the camera. All of the men are. Clearly a one-sided take on gender relations, this poster reads as a sympathy plea from the men. The women may be beautiful but the guys facial expressions read as “can you believe what I gotta deal with?” Indeed. I’m sure my issues would lie even more in the actual film than the poster which likely accurately represents the product.


The Babymakers

The jizz is up you guys. The jizz is up. I’m beside myself with laughter. Again with the nondescript faces against nondescript backgrounds against an even more nondescript white poster. Are these supposed to be facial expressions of various surprise? A baby is coming! There is nothing appealing about this. I don’t see how it could make anyone interested in seeing it, even the Beerfest demographic.


generation Um…
Worst. Film. Title. Ever. Also one of the worst posters ever. What is this, 1999? This looks horrible. I’m pretty sure Keanu Reeves is not in the same generation as these nubile youngsters but fine. Sex, drugs and indecision. Sounds like a breath of fresh air, this film does. And AGAIN with the blank expressions. Yep, that looks to me like indecision. Life whizzes past them in a flurry of colorful flashes. I love Keanu’s ‘what are you looking at’ face. Great stuff.


The Trouble with Bliss

This must have been a really early poster because the title of this was changed and the subsequent posters, while not good, are nowhere near as embarrassing as this. That’s what this is; embarrassing. I could have done this. I seriously think I could have done this and I know nothing about nothing. That this was ever released as an official piece of advertising is just sad. I don’t care how low-budget you are. There’s enough people with enough skill who can work with next to nothing and come up with more than this. And I adore you Michael C. Hall but you look icky and grody. Brie Larson’s out-of-focus legs are making a better impression on me. I feel like I’m in a middle-aged slacker’s bedroom (not a good feeling)….which has a giant map in it…?


A Thousand Words
There’s no logic here. The film’s main poster was far from a winner, but this other one apparently exists. It’s a beyond lazy greatest hits splicing from the film’s various parts. He’s a family man! He helps the elderly! He’s helping a blind man cross the street! He’s kissing Kerry Washington’s forehead (she deserves so much better)! It’s got a two-part tagline that describes the plot and the point of the film in one go because you certainly can’t figure out what the hell is going on from the images. The font is unspeakably awful. There’s no structure. There isn’t even a border around the publicity stills. The poster literally is just a bunch of publicity stills. With Eddie Murphy doing his thing in the center.

50 Favorite New-to-Me Films Seen in 2012

Pussy Goes Grr’s recent post on her favorite new-to-me films she saw this year inspired me to do my own. I had a project of watching a bunch of film from each decade that petered out for me mid-year. But from the considerable amount of film-viewing I did accomplish, I saw a boatload of great work. Here are the 50 non-2012 releases that I plan on having life-long affairs with.

Note: These aren’t ranked at all.

1. The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933, Korda)
2.The Ox-Bow Incident (1943, Wellman)
3. The Conformist (1970, Bertolucci)
4. This Land is Mine (1943, Renoir)
5. A Separation (2011, Farhadi)
6. Sabrina (1954, Wilder)
7. Pepe le Moko (1937, Duvivier)
8. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943, Powell and Pressburger)
9. Caught (1949, Ophuls)
10. Les Dames du Bois du Bologne (1945, Bresson)
11. Le Jour Se Leve (1939, Carne)
12. The Smiling Lieutenant (1931, Lubitsch)
13. Shanghai Express (1932, von Sternberg)
14. Destry Rides Again (1939, Marshall)
15. The Gay Divorcee (1934, Sandrich)
16. Only Angels Have Wings (1939, Hawks)
17. People on Sunday (1930, Siodmak and Ulmer)
18. Rembrandt (1936, Korda)
19. A Page of Madness (1926, Kinugasa)
20. Pygmalion (1938, Asquith and Howard)
21. Love Me Tonight (1932, Mamoulian)
22. Holiday (1938, Cukor):
23. The Pearls of the Crown (1937, Guitry)
24. The Story of a Cheat (1936, Guitry)
25. Madam Satan (1930, Demille)
26. Désiré (1937, Guitry)
27. The Edward G. Robinson vignette in Tales of Manhattan (1942, Duvivier)
28. The Heroic Trio (1993, To)
29. Secret Beyond the Door… (1948, Lang)
30. Green for Danger (1946, Gilliat)
31. The Thief of Bagdad (1940, Powell, et al)
32. The More the Merrier (1943, Stevens)
33. Brighton Rock (1948, Boulting)
34. Shoeshine (1946, De Sica)
35. Ordet (1955, Dreyer)
36. Los Olvidados (1950, Buñuel)
37. Germany Year Zero (1948, Rossellini)
38. Yes, Madam (1985)
39. Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970)
40. Nights of Cabiria (1957, Fellini)
41. The Furies (1950, Mann)
42. Senso (1954, Visconti)
43. The Band Wagon (1953, Minnelli)
44. Les Enfants Terribles (1950, Melville)
45. Red Desert (1964, Antonioni)
46. Harakiri (1962, Kobayashi)
47. Smiles of a Summer Night (1955, Bergman)
48. Street of Shame (1956, Mizoguchi)
49. Caged (1950, Marshall)
50. Daisies (1966, Chytilová)

List: Top 20 Film Posters of 2012

It’s that time of year again; and joy and elation of 2012 lists! The others will be posted in January, far after everyone is sick of reading round-ups of the past 12 months. But since I’ve got stuff to catch up on, the date stays.

The poster lists are perhaps the ones I always look forward to the most. The vast majority of film posters, in their primary advertising function, are rehashes of the same basic format depending on the genre and plot. Not to sound too condescending but casual movie-goers tend to gravitate towards repetition and the comfort of being able to rely on concrete expectations. Posters have to sell this too. Marketers want people to be able to look at a poster and know what they are going to get when they walk into that theater.

But this is a considerable generalization; for all the forgettable to questionable images each year has to offer, there are a lot of top-notch posters too. These are the 20 posters that rank as my favorites from 2012. The only condition is that it had to get a US release this year and only one poster per film. Since most films do not get released here, it disqualifies a lot of great work, but it would just be too hard to sift through everything otherwise.

Here is 2011’s list:

And 2010’s:

The best poster I came across that I could not count (but will post here anyways because, um, amazing) is Xavier Dolan’s latest Laurence Anyways which right now has no US release date. Does it even have distribution yet? Not sure. Anyways, it’s very Last Tango in Paris, very effortlessly retro, very pink and just all-around sickening.


So while in theory, this is supposed to be about the poster art and not the films attached to them, it is impossible not to bring that context into the proceedings. If this list has is skewed towards my own taste (I’ve seen 16/20 of the films) from this year than that would be why.


Honorable Mention:  2 Days in New York

My reason for this is the instantaneous reaction to the colors which are vibrant, lively and look almost crayon-like in execution. It is a very simple and even bland image, even if it feels sacrilegious to refer to a picture of Julie Delpy as bland. But I am easy to please and while there were plenty of more creative options out there to choose from, my instinct said ‘oooooh cooolllllooooorrrsssss’. I also cannot get enough of how the colors ever so slightly run into their hair.


20. Gerhard Richter Painting

We continue on the ‘Katie is Easily Pleased by Colors’ theme (an ongoing one that will appear constantly). The poster quite literally reflects the title of the film. Cheeky. The long sequences in this doc that show Gerhard Richter painting is some of the best documentary footage from this year. Honestly, this could have been the whole film and it would likely have an even higher spot on my year-end list.  So the poster evokes a sequence I could not take my eyes off of, so between that and the startling colors = on the list.


19. Lincoln

This is a surreally uncanny image that immediately immortalizes the idea of Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln. It’s actually disturbingly uncanny. The longer you look at it the more reality seems to implode on itself. Has Daniel Day-Lewis always been Lincoln? Was Lincoln in fact Daniel Day-Lewis? Oh, the questions this poster raises. The profile shot and the statuesque look really make this the best it can be.


18. Zero Dark Thirty

I love me some minimalist posters. This one is a teaser image that just sticks with you immediately. I cannot get enough of the redaction and how the only actual additional non-text element of this poster is something that tries to take away. Like everyone else I cannot wait to see what Kathryn Bigelow does with this film and the way its advertising was handled has been thoroughly successful.


17. Michael

Another really minimal poster, but with all honesty, how does one go about advertising a difficult-to-watch (but for my money worth it) arthouse film about a pedophile who has a boy in his basement? So I’d call this a resounding success on all counts considering that it gets around the challenge and is fabulous to boot. The color choice is memorable as well as the puzzle concept allowing for subtle shading and dimension.


16. Girl Model

This poster is really just one of the first shots of Girl Model, a haunting documentary that just scratches the surface of the unsurprisingly seedy underbelly of the bottom rungs of the modeling industry. The mirror image creates a slight distortion that reflects the sad logic of how this occupational world works. And I love slightly out-of-focus images and the mirror gives it that inestimable ‘feel’ that I am so drawn to.


15. Attenberg

I could have easily chosen another poster from the film but went with this one which really captures the off-kilter strangeness of the small but very significant recent wave of Greek films to make their way over here. First of all, I love this scene. Throughout Attenberg are sprinkled scenes of the main character and her friend walking along a street in increasingly complex synchronization. There is something about two young girls letting in their instincts and being confrontational about it that reminds the amazing feminist and surrealist film Daisies. So there’s that. The poster has a great combination of having a simple background that forces focus to the pose and stance of the subjects. It reflects the extremely strong focus these films have on the body and body language with its possible contortions and positions.

Here is the scene containing the pose depicted:


14. Frankenweenie

It’s a Tim Burton sketch so of course this poster rules. It is like they are saying ‘don’t forget Tim Burton was once capable of not sucking’. It is a strong enforcer of the idea that Burton is revisiting and updating his roots with this one. This was not one of the main posters used for the marketing, which from that standpoint I understand. But it’s a gorgeous illustration that brings the Sparky design back to its “Family Dog” influence (more like replica) and he has just about the quirkiest expression of endearment I’ve ever seen.


13. Paul Williams Still Alive

Stop Making Sense font; check. The top of Paul Williams head; check. Number 13 spot; check.


12. Elena

The illustration here is so stark and evocative. It depicts two colors, trees, the outline of a person looking out and a bird flying by. The color feels like the sun is just about to rise which is how Elena starts. The left side is used for some deserved festival bracket whoring. It’s a foreboding image with a blue I cannot take my eyes off of. And I love that microscopic eye detail on the bird.


11. The Cabin in the Woods

Another poster that was nowhere near the primary one used but thankfully it was given the frameworthy poster treatment. A take on Escher’s Relativity, the sepia-toned drawing nails what Drew Goddard/Joss Whedon’s film is really about. The picture gets the trapped and constructed environment of the characters. And the tagline, which seems cliché at first glance, just like the purposely broad title, is actually perfect.


10. Sound of My Voice

This is so mysterious and ambiguous just like the film’s conceit. The handshake feels like another language. The instructional format feels like a retro kitsch-piece. The crunched up folding makes it seem like we are looking at something we shouldn’t be seeing. It feels like something from a pastime, which is apt given what the characters in the story’s cult are wont to believe.


9. Paranorman

There is a whole batch of Paranorman posters equally fabulous that could be in its place. Again, the main posters were certainly serviceable but there is a whole slew of great artwork that was done to promote the Focus Features film. It’s the blocking of the different images that draws me in as well as, again, the use of the orange, green and blue colors. The way the font is strewn across the poster is reminiscent of a 50’s B-movie.


8. Compliance

This is my number one movie I haven’t seen this year. I feel like it’s got a fair shot at being near the top of my year-end list, however unfair those expectations may be. Dreama Walker, who can be seen on “Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23”, has a somehow enigmatic expressionlessness. I just love this shot and where she is in the frame related to the text. And quotes galore! Quotes make you go ‘ooooh what is this about’. Walker’s prominence in the poster could mean anything. Add in the dubious title and I was dying to find out what all the fuss and controversy of the film was about and whether or not it was justified. It grabbed my interest immediately; exactly what a poster is supposed to do.


7. The Master

The film is quite a bit like a Rorschach test. Though one pops up early in The Master, this image also reflects the open-wide interpretive room of the characters and how they interact with and change each other. It’s an enigma but at the same time it’s not. Again, loving the folded-up quality, making it seem like a pamphlet of sorts. There is a black-and-white version but I actually prefer the color. In a substantial misrepresentation, Joaquin Phoenix is looking far too sane, no?


6. Holy Motors

This would have been in the top 5 if not for the distracting title art. The title art and font look very cheap to me and is not successfully integrated into the rest of the poster. It looks like the title is uncomfortably resting on top instead of being part of. But Denis Lavant, playing many different identities here, is seen as a black shadowed blank slate. The headlights of the limo are the eyes, placed in the headspace, which is likely where the film takes place. At the very least Holy Motors has its own internal logic that gleefully defies any explanation. And the poster certainly hints at this. My favorite thing about this is the sketchy yellow scribble. Just one of those inspired touches.


5. Beauty is Embarrassing

Using Wayne White work in a documentary about Wayne White equals a spot in my Top 5 posters. It’s playfully bizarre and the way the letters form a kind of landscape in the background is seamlessly appropriate.


4. Alps

Here is yet another minimalist poster. The abstract Dogtooth poster had a place this high as well two years ago. This one actually has the characters in it and I find the shape their placement creates to be hypnotic, much like the film. There is an almost slightly oversaturated grainy quality to the images that make them blend in with the background in interesting ways. And anything featuring Aggeliki Papoulia’s mesmerizing face is okay by me.


3. Barbara

I think you all know what’s coming. You can sense it the second you look at the poster. COLORS!!!! Oh the glorious combination of these colors! Look at how lush this visual is. It’s quite stunning. Everything pops here and it’s a really creative poster in a lot of subtle ways. The red! The green! The yellow! The title placement! See? Subtle.


2. The Loneliest Planet

Let’s start with that intensely profound statement at the top. Jeez Louise. Talk about lofty expectations. After Compliance and Amour, this is probably what I’m craving to see the most that I haven’t yet. Luckily it’s on demand so first thing when I get back to CT? Yep. This gorgeous green, which just barely reveals itself as actual land is to die for, as is the juxtaposition of the two close-up faces against their far-away selves amidst the green. And let’s talk about that red hair! Well, okay I’ve got nothing more to say about it….but look at it! And are her eyes green too? This poster just stuck with me instantaneously and its pleasing to look at but also further piques my interest.


1. The Innkeepers

I already knew this would be my number 1 poster before even doing my 2011 list last year. Since The Innkeepers had been kicking around at fests for a while, the poster has been out for quite some time. It’s so intricate and beautifully haunting. It’s got a snarky tagline. The blue-grays, the title design, the borders and shapes; all of it is flawless. There’s a lot going on here but it’s not too much. And lastly, it’s got my favorite film character from a 2012 film no contest. Yeah, I’m looking at you Sara Paxton.
Stay tuned because within the next week my Top 10 Worst Posters of 2012 will be posted.

List of 1940’s Films to See

I’m embarking on decades throughout the year; I am currently making my way through the 1940’s. At first I was sad to leave the 1930’s; too sad. I went into the 40’s resenting them, a patently ridiculous sentiment. Quickly though, my hesitancy washed away. Of the films I have watched so far, a handful of them would already be placed among my admittedly large group of all-time favorites. I tried to narrow the list down to 20 but this never seems to work. So I’m watching as many of these as I can before mid-May. I did the 20’s and 30’s earlier this year watching from each about 15 and 35 films respectively. I won’t be able to make it through all of these but I hope to keep this as a reference guide. I feel like I’m pretty well-viewed, especially for being 24, so if a film does not appear it may be because I’ve seen it already.I have a 70-page Word Document chronologically chronicling every film I have ever seen (this was a huge project for a while) and I have seen roughly 120 films from the 1940’s

I have no idea what will happen when I get to the 70’s and 80’s, two decades I’ve seen a lot from, but comparatively speaking to how much there is, I haven’t even scratched the surface from those s in particular.

Note: I had a lot of amazing help on this list from Andreas from Pussy Goes Grrr. She was kind enough to make a post for me in which she brought together five ‘obscure-ish’ films from each year that were recommendations from her to everyone. Luckily I had only seen a little over 10 of them. Her picks were a wonderful combination of films that were either on my brainstorm list (that she had seen and recommended them provided further incentive to see them) or were films I had not heard of and was delighted to come across.

The goal here was to have a mix of well-known canon films and obscurities or at the very least films that may not be universally known amongst film buffs.

So here is the list. In bold are the films I have watched since making the list. Please comment and tell me which ones I would be crazy not to miss; I will not have time to watch all of these in a mere 3 weeks!

Whisky Galore!
The Man in Grey
They Live by Night
The Man Who Came to Dinner
Night Train to Munich
The Thief of Bagdad
City for Conquest
The Flame of New Orleans
Man Hunt
Kings Row
Day of Wrath
The More the Merrier
Henry V
National Velvet
The Children Are Watching Us
The Lodger
Green for Danger
No Regrets for Our Youth
The Red House
Thieves Highway
The Seventh Veil
The Small Back Room
Oliver Twist
Act of Violence
Blood of the Beasts
On the Town
La Terra Trema
Tales of Manhattan
Miracle on 34th Street
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Foreign Correspondent
Ivan the Terrible Part I
Dark Passage
Odd Man Out
Meet John Doe
Cabin in the Sky
The Clock
The Woman in the Window
The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry
Secret Beyond the Door…
A Canterbury Tale
Brighton Rock
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Shanghai Gesture
The Suspect
My Favorite Wife
The Set-Up
The Devil and Daniel Webster
Criss Cross
The Big Clock
The Wolf Man
The Dark Mirror
The 49th Parallel
And Then There Were None
Pride of the Yankees
Spring in a Small Town
Stray Dog
Drunken Angel
The 47 Ronin
Meshes of the Afternoon
Listen to Britain
Fires Were Started

List: Film Characters I Have an Irrational Hatred Towards Part 3: Charlie Bucket & Grandpa Joe

An unexpected installment this week. I found myself incapable of summing up my thoughts about these characters in a few paragraphs. So here is a whole host of rambling nonsense that hopefully sums up how I feel about these folks. I am also convinced that this post may prove as evidence of my insanity.

The next installment will cover the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Charlie Bucket, Grandpa Joe and the Entire Bucket Family (yes, even the bedridden grandparents) – Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

On the surface, Charlie Bucket sounds like a poster child for generosity, innocence and honesty. Sometimes casting and performance can muddle up the transfer from page to screen. This is exactly what happened with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The Charlie Bucket of the Roald Dahl book and vastly inferior 2005 Tim Burton film convey the proper Dickensian poverty-stricken empathy. This kid deserves the best there is; what a selfless creature! A bad performance has the power to make even the noblest characteristics seem like a pile of overreaching piety and incessant defeatism. Ladies and gentlemen; Peter Ostrum:

It is not a coincidence that Charlie Bucket was Peter Ostrum’s only performance. He left acting at a very early age and rightly so. Nobody can call this performance good. It is a catastrophe. Overly strained and entirely one-note, Ostrum inspires a special kind of irrational hatred. Case in point; the amount of time I have spent rolling my eyes at innocuous lines like “It’s payday Mr. Jopeck” proves Ostrum’s ability to annoy with even the simplest of dialogue. It also proves that I may be a little insane.

Then we have Grandpa Joe; a source of never-give-up enthusiasm. He always believes in Charlie and in his heart knows he will go places and rise above the cards he has been dealt. He is always looking out for his grandson and encouraging him to never give up. An incident of miscasting takes all of these lovely traits and spits them out as across-the-board selfishness. What a flibbertigibbet wackadoo, and I do not mean that as a compliment. At one point he says “If she’s a lady, then I’m a Vermicious Knid”. No Grandpa Joe; that would be an insult to Vermicious Knids. Ladies and gentlemen; Jack Albertson:

Jack Albertson is a fine actor, but his portrayal never roused my sense of spirit. The man stays bedridden for decades, even though Charlie and his mother are left to scramble together any scraps of pittance pay in order to stay in their broken-down abode. Yet when Charlie wins the Golden Ticket, he is suddenly able to stumble out of bed? By the end of “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket”, Grandpa Joe is jumping and springing and leaping around like a total asshole, not to mention showing off way more Grandpa Joe leg than I never needed to see:

Way to prioritize. Apparently a desperately impoverished family is not enough to get your ass out of bed, but a visit to a freaking chocolate factory is? How can I like someone this selfish? Grandpa Joe is clearly supposed to be quite flawed yet ultimately endearing; but he isn’t here. The lyrics to the song do not generate sympathy; he sounds like a person who gave up on life very early on, and is now using Charlie’s ticket to give himself an entirely falsified sense of purpose. But that’s just me.

In case it is not clear at this point, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is completely engrained in me. The thing practically runs through my veins. Some films you see enough times to carve out an individualized connection with it. What makes my relationship with this film so distinctive (in comparison to my relationship with the other films I love), is the dissonance between what I get out of watching it. The second half of this film, which sees Gene Wilder take center stage, is legitimately great. In fact, there is no performance I cherish more than Wilder’s work here. Yet the first half is wildly uneven as it sets up Charlie’s woeful predicament and his unlikely journey to the gates of Willy Wonka’s factory.

On the one hand, the slightly absurdist scenes depicting how far adults will go to find the tickets are one-minute nuggets of darkly comedic gold. The frenzy that the Golden Ticket fiasco ensues is supposed to be funny; except when it comes to Charlie. Charlie and his decrepit bunch of relatives are supposed to be taken seriously. They live in a hole of their own self-perpetuating misery entirely outside the comedy going on around them. Between the sad attempts to play this storyline completely straight, and the bad casting and execution, everything involving the Bucket family becomes unintentionally funny.

Charlie’s mother swishing around nondescript blue sheets in dirty water with a big wooden paddle: hilarious. Charlie being derided by his teacher and classmates because a Wonka-related math problem forces him to announce he has only opened two chocolate bars: hilarious. Charlie silently sobbing in his bed after hearing news of the soon-to-be-revealed fraudulent fifth ticket: hilarious.  Remember when Charlie pitifully tricks his family into thinking he got a Golden Ticket in his birthday chocolate bar, only to say – “Fooled you didn’t I? You thought I really had it” (yeah Charlie; you showed them), with that always-present expression of his that suggests his dog was just hit by a car? That scene makes me laugh harder than most comedies.

It would be entirely possible for me to do a list of least favorite Charlie Bucket expressions. They would all be variations of the same thing. I could do this; but even I have my limits. But here’s a sampling:

There are certain lines of dialogue that are so overly saccharine and self-deprecating, how is anyone supposed to do anything but laugh?

Charlie: [to Grandpa Joe, after opening the Wonka bar they think has the last Golden Ticket in it] “You know… I’ll bet those Golden Tickets make the chocolate taste terrible.”

Charlie’s Mom: (about a loaf of bread) “A real banquet”
Grandpa Joe: “When a loaf of bread looks like a banquet, I’ve no right buying tobacco.”

The above is pretty much the representative example of Grandpa Joe’s selfishness. You know what? You are right; you have no right buying tobacco. He is all talk and no action. His words mean nothing.

To this day, I skip the “Cheer Up Charlie” scene. Leave it to Charlie Bucket to be the subject of quite possibly the worst song in a musical.

“You get blue like everyone
But me and Grandpa Joe
Can make your troubles go away
Blow away, there they go…”

Someone get me a paper bag to hurl into.

When they gulp down the Fizzy Lifting Drinks, I always hope the fan annihilates them, but this unsurprisingly never takes place.

As I mentioned earlier, their so-called saintly characteristics have the opposite effect; they are either funny or infuriating or both. Here is an onslaught of examples (I have so many things to say, I have resorted to bullet points):

“The Candy Man” song features Bill freely tossing out candy to a crowd of children. The song ends and the camera cuts to this face:

Seriously? Charlie; he was literally throwing candy to all the children. You could have walked in and joined the party, but no. That would be Un-Bucket-like of him. The film’s first shot of Charlie shows him as he will appear throughout the entire film; with his trademarked sulky ‘my dog just died’ face.

-Grandpa Joe trying to give Charlie supposedly false hope feels needlessly cruel as opposed to well-meaning.

– Why does Charlie choose Grandpa Joe as his guest to the factory? I realize he is the clear favorite of the bunch…but surely Charlie’s long-suffering and hard-working mother deserves it by default.

– Grandpa Joe’s seemingly throwaway line during “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” in which he exclaims, “It’s ours Charlie” is maddening. Way to steal the thunder Joe. Last time I checked, it was Charlie’s ticket. You’re just along for the ride.

– When Willy Wonka walks out with his slow limp, everyone seems disappointed, including Charlie and Grandpa Joe. Really? He is limping people. Are Charlie and Grandpa Joe really that shallow? Of course they are.

The climactic verbal throwdown that takes place is what takes the cake for me. It is separate from the rest, which I have mostly turned into a mock-fest across time. To this day, the end of the film never fails to piss me off. Charlie and Grandpa Joe are incapable of taking the blame for what they have done. They knowingly broke the rules with the Fizzy-Lifting Drinks and at no point do they apologize for their sorry excuse for a mishap. Wonka understandably yells at them, letting them know that yes, their random absence from the group did not go unnoticed and uninvestigated. That gaping silence where Grandpa Joe’s incessant quips usually are was probably the tip-off.

Grandpa Joe then unleashes an undeservedly moralistic speech about crushing a boy’s dreams and smashing them to pieces. He is really overcompensating for his own fault in the entire situation, but somehow this is supposed to be seen as an old man heroically taking a stand for his grandson. Charlie in the meantime, crushed and oozing ‘my dog just died’ face seems disappointed in Wonka the man. Really? Think this through Charlie. I know you have no brain cells and that all your energy is spent moping, but surely you are capable of seeing the situation for what it is? Grandpa Joe is the one that goaded you into taking a sip. If something had happened, Wonka would be held responsible and his life’s work would be down the drain in an instant. They signed a contract! But no; Charlie only has enough energy to mope on over to return the damn Everlasting Gobstopper, a cheap reverse psychology ploy that Wonka falls for.

My hatred for Charlie, Grandpa Joe and the rest of the Buckets has become a major factor in what I get out of this film. I love hating them. I have seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory so many times that an evolution has taken place over two decades. A comforting familiarity has surrounded the film, and that includes my loathing for half the cast. Making fun of these characters has become almost a pastime over the years. Time and time again watching it with various family members has turned into a collective mocking of line deliveries, gawking at how unbearable these fucking characters really are.

The irrational hatred I have for these characters does not ruin Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; far from it. In fact the opposite is true; it has become entirely essential to my viewing experience.

List: Film Characters I Have an Irrational Hatred Towards Part 2: The 1940’s-1960’s

Have you ever watched a film and found yourself thinking “My God, but that character is getting on my nerves”, when said character is not necessarily meant to? There are plenty of onscreen characters throughout the years who are meant to be vexing or obnoxious. But at what point does that frustration transform into something a little more intense?

What do I mean by intense? Here are two possible definitions. First is that the hatred extends far past what is meant to be felt, becoming a somewhat preposterous fixation. The second is that the ‘irrational hatred’ for the character overflows to the point where you begin feeling adverse effects to the entire film itself.

Of course, these are more extreme side effects of the topic in question. For one thing, there are plenty of characters on this list that get on my nerves, but have never jeopardized my willingness to rewatch the film they are part of. For another thing, some of the characters on this list are supposed to get on your nerves; to a point. When you cannot move past it, when it grates on you beyond normalized reason, then it counts for this list, whether one is supposed to be annoyed by the character or not.

Something else to note; it does not have to be the character. In fact, many of the lists inclusions irritate me because of the performances attached to the character.

This is not the type of list I see around too much and so I thought it would be a fun and harmless road down which to venture. I like these kinds of lists that really have nothing to do with being the end-all be-all of anything, and focus more on ones personalized relationship with a variety of films. And anyone that reads this blog with any regularity knows I favor embracing the subjectivity of lists and somewhat resent (at least for myself) any attempts for a list to speak for anyone but myself.

The idea for this list came about from reminiscing about Apollo 13. In a management class for my graduate school classes for Library Science, we watched a few clips from the film. We had to discuss the various methods of group collaboration taking place and insert all the terminology we had been discussing about teams and groups into examples from the scenes (most featuring Ed Harris). I had been thinking about how much I truly like Apollo 13, and was lamenting about how long it had been since I watched it.

I then started to think about the one glaring downside to that film; Kathleen Quinlan. I flat-out do not like Kathleen Quinlan in this film. I realize that she was stuck with the obligatory ‘wife’ role and that it’s a pretty thankless part (although not thankless enough; she was nominated for an Oscar). There are a lot of similar thankless roles that actresses get saddled with, but none really got on my nerves the way she did. My memory recalls one worried facial expression throughout, and distractingly garish late 60’s/early 70’s wardrobe and makeup. At a certain point the negative feelings I have become inexplicable.

And thus the idea for this list was born.

There are some questionable choices here; I realize this. Some of the irrationality can be argued. I have a few characters on here where my reactions could be argued as being completely rational.

There were many that came to my head and I decided not to put them on. I felt either that my feelings were entirely too justified or that too many people hate the character for it to really feel ‘irrational’. How can it feel ‘irrational’ if so many others hate them as well? So no Jar-Jar Binks will be found here.

I hope everyone enjoyed the first installment of “Film Characters I Have an Irrational Hatred Towards”. It is now time for installment to, which will be covering three decades; the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s. I wish I were able to come up with more for this 30 year span but alas.

Someone I decided not to put here is Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The reason for this is, though I physically am unable to watch his scenes, I feel entirely justified in my hating him. I don’t find it to be irrational. I think we can all agree that performance is as bad and offensive as it gets.

What would you have put for these decades? Hopefully you can come with more than I was able to.

Pinocchio – voiced by Dickie Jones – Pinocchio (1940)

This installment kicks off with another major Disney character. I have a stronger fondness for this film than I do for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It attains a majestic quality at points and its certainly one of Disney’s most beautiful pieces of animation. Pinocchio is a naive wooden being; he does not have any life experience to guide him. He is a child, a selfish and foolish wooden child, who gets himself into a host of perilous situations.

Overcoming this selfishness and naiveté is embedded in the parable of this story. The journey is about him overcoming this near-fatal flaw. Still though; it is difficult to get past just how idiotic Pinocchio can be. His shockingly devil-may-care attitude is pretty staggering for someone who has only been in existence for a mere day.

The reasonable part of my brain keeps saying “but Pinocchio has no idea how the world works”. And the sillier, far too heavily involved part of my brain says “with the equally bothersome Jiminy Cricket at his side he has no excuse. Screw him; I hope he ends up a donkey slave”. It’s a bad sign when you want a cherubic character like Pinocchio to get his comeuppance.

Charlie – Teresa Wright – Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Over the years I never had a problem with Teresa Wright as Charlie. I thought her character was relatable and refreshing; a bored small-town girl who is just waiting for something exciting to happen.

The last time I watched it her incessant enthusiasm and refusal to see a situation for what it is got on my nerves. She is far too happy in the beginning and far too stubborn in the end. She plays these two emotions in every single scene and uses restlessness as a go-between throughout. And I realize how unreasonable it is to expect Charlie to see the situation for what it is. We as the audience have the advantage of omniscience.

I don’t hate Charlie; but as I get older, I just don’t like her very much. She strikes a high-pitched note that gets a little too under the skin. Every time she says “Uncle Charlie” all I hear are nails on a chalkboard.

Uncle Billy – Thomas Mitchell – It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Is there a bigger snafu than Uncle Billy’s misplacement of $8,000 in It’s a Wonderful Life?

It was an honest mistake. The guilt Billy feels as a result turns him into a far more tragic figure than George Bailey at his worst. In the end, it all turns out all right. We can forgive Uncle Billy right? Wrong.

Why anyone would ever trust Uncle Billy with that much money is beyond me. In a sense this whole thing is George’s fault too. Yet Uncle Billy will always remain an irrational source of aggravation for me. His nonexistent ability to keep track of large sums of money effects how I see him from the get-go. Uncle Billy and his stupid goddamn crows are the pits.

I don’t know how many times I have seen It’s a Wonderful Life; lots. One would think my fury would die down, but no. It doesn’t. Not even close. The tradition of watching Capra’s masterpiece every Christmas season is coupled with yearly shouting matches I have with myself. Without fail I always end up hurling insults at a lit-up box that projects Uncle Billy’s dimwittedness. Without fail I always end up shaking my head in shame, smacking my hand to my forehead mumbling “He’s so fucking stupid. Why is he so fucking stupid?”

It is safe to say my feelings got out of hand long ago.

Uncle Billy is cinema’s biggest hooplehead.

Richard Sherman – Tom Ewell – The Seven Year Itch (1955)

Tom Ewell gets the distinction of playing the only character from the 1950’s to appear on this list. Sad isn’t it? But just look at that face. Ew. Ew. Ew.

Part of it is that I rather superficially don’t like his face.  He has that vibe that suggests he belongs on a 1960’s sitcom destined to forever be accompanied by a laugh track. His performance, which is admittedly good, is shadowed by his experiences performing the role on stage. He plays the part as if for a live audience, hence the laugh track vibe. The incessant ongoing monologue isn’t exactly endearing either.

He belongs to a class of bumbling overzealous male characters. His character and Ewell’s performance are exactly what they are meant to be; but that does not mean I have to like him.

The Jets – played by various – West Side Story (1961)

It was a long time ago when I realized I side with the Sharks in West Side Story. There is a sympathetic quality there as well as a laid-back ‘cool’ factor that The Jets lack. The Jets may have the song ‘Cool’ (the film’s best scene and the most exhilarating musical number I have ever seen onscreen), but that song is about harnessing rage and anger and not about actually being cool. Because they aren’t cool; they are lame.

By ‘The Jets’, I mean everyone excluding Riff and ex-Jet Tony. Tony is a massive sap but at least he possesses a modicum of common sense. And Riff is Russ Tamblyn and there will be no hating on Russ Tamblyn.

The ‘Daddio’ speak allows staginess to emerge in their dialogue scenes where every Jet takes turns shouting random words. It is painful.

The gang is really all The Jets have; their downtrodden lives suggest they have little to look forward to in life. I get it. I’m supposed to care. But I don’t. I care about the Sharks.

Action is by far my least favorite Jet or as I like to call him, Matt LeBlanc’s doppelganger.

Did I mention the part where they humiliate and assault Anita? Unforgiveable.

John Linden – Sidney Berger – Carnival of Souls (1962)

Sidney Berger knocks Carnival of Souls down a couple of notches with his insufferably lecherous skeeveball character. He detracts with his presence, taking away from what is otherwise a fabulously unsettling film. It feels like a glaring waste of time to use a subplot to showcase him. Berger is gross, slimy and the definition of obnoxious. I could not figure out the point of him when I first saw it and looking back, I am still perplexed by his presence.

Emeline Marcus-Finch – Dorothy Provine – It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1964)

There are few films I have seen more than It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,  which is odd because it does not represent the kind of comedy I like at all. By all accounts the film’s humor should annoy me but it doesn’t. It is one of my favorite comedies and I can quote it back to front. But Emeline will always be a major thorn in my side.

Emeline is supposed to be the innocent character. She is the poor soul who is dragged on a wild goose chase while everyone around her becomes increasingly obsessive over massive wads of cash. We are supposed to see her as the one uncontaminated character in the ensemble cast.

When you play Ethel Merman’s daughter and you are the more insufferable of the two, you know it’s bad.

Where the film sees unselfishness, I see an unendurable superiority complex. The ensemble cast’s desire for the money is not the problem. The problem is their inability to be reasonable people and come up with a method of equally distributing the money to everyone’s satisfaction. That is their downfall.

Call me unethical, but even though the money belongs with authorities and they have no right to it, I completely sympathize with their initial cause to get the money. Emeline’s haughty disapproval with the whole endeavor shows her as a stick-in-the-mud to the extreme; a nagging, prudish, bitch of a woman who is supposedly the film’s only moral character. If that is what moral looks like, then hand me a shovel so I can go look for the big W.

Blanche – Estelle Parsons – Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

What is unfortunate about this is that I cannot get past her shrillness to appreciate Parsons’ work as a performance. I have no idea if her work here is extraordinary or painfully overdone. Is every beat her acting hits purposeful? Am I supposed to find any redeeming qualities in this person? Should I feel remorse or compassion? I honestly can’t tell. If I am supposed to feel these things I am sorry to say I didn’t.

Parsons falls into the headache-inducing category here. It has been years since watching Bonnie and Clyde, but I remember wanting to jump out the nearest window in regards to Blanche. My hatred for her extends to the point where when I first saw it as a teenager; she became my most hated character in any film I had seen up to that point.

Barbara – Judith O’Dea – Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Showing a more realistic depiction of what would likely happen after a traumatic experience, such as the one Barbara has at the beginning of Night of the Living Dead, may not always be a good call. In the case of Judith O’Dea, she represents the archaic idea that women are useless shrieking creatures who are incapable of action in the face of danger. She bogs down the picture with her frenzied pouting recollections. When Ben slaps her across the face, hitting a woman actually comes a triumphant moment as a viewer, which as a woman is a really depressing confession to make.

List: Film Characters I Have an Irrational Hatred Towards Part 1: The 1930’s

Have you ever watched a film and found yourself thinking “My God, but that character is getting on my nerves”, when said character is not necessarily meant to? There are plenty of onscreen characters throughout the years who are meant to be vexing or obnoxious. But at what point does that frustration transform into something a little more intense?

What do I mean by intense? Here are two possible definitions. First is that the hatred extends far past what is meant to be felt, becoming a somewhat preposterous fixation. The second is that the ‘irrational hatred’ for the character overflows to the point where you begin feeling adverse effects to the entire film itself.

Of course, these are more extreme side effects of the topic in question. For one thing, there are plenty of characters on this list that get on my nerves, but have never jeopardized my willingness to rewatch the film they are part of. For another thing, some of the characters on this list are supposed to get on your nerves; to a point. When you cannot move past it, when it grates on you beyond normalized reason, then it counts for this list, whether one is supposed to be annoyed by the character or not.

Something else to note; it does not have to be the character. In fact, many of the lists inclusions irritate me because of the performances attached to the character.

This is not the type of list I see around too much and so I thought it would be a fun and harmless road down which to venture. I like these kinds of lists that really have nothing to do with being the end-all be-all of anything, and focus more on ones personalized relationship with a variety of films. And anyone that reads this blog with any regularity knows I favor embracing the subjectivity of lists and somewhat resent (at least for myself) any attempts for a list to speak for anyone but myself.

The idea for this list came about from reminiscing about Apollo 13. In a management class for my graduate school classes for Library Science, we watched a few clips from the film. We had to discuss the various methods of group collaboration taking place and insert all the terminology we had been discussing about teams and groups into examples from the scenes (most featuring Ed Harris). I had been thinking about how much I truly like Apollo 13, and was lamenting about how long it had been since I watched it.

I then started to think about the one glaring downside to that film; Kathleen Quinlan. I flat-out do not like Kathleen Quinlan in this film. I realize that she was stuck with the obligatory ‘wife’ role and that it’s a pretty thankless part (although not thankless enough; she was nominated for an Oscar). There are a lot of similar thankless roles that actresses get saddled with, but none really got on my nerves the way she did. My memory recalls one worried facial expression throughout, and distractingly garish late 60’s/early 70’s wardrobe and makeup. At a certain point the negative feelings I have become inexplicable.

And thus the idea for this list was born.

There are some questionable choices here; I realize this. Some of the irrationality can be argued. I have a few characters on here where my reactions could be argued as being completely rational.

There were many that came to my head and I decided not to put them on. I felt either that my feelings were entirely too justified or that too many people hate the character for it to really feel ‘irrational’. How can it feel ‘irrational’ if so many others hate them as well? So no Jar-Jar Binks will be found here.

I am breaking them up into unordered chronological installments. I happened to have a lot from the 1930’s, but the next installment will cover at least two decades.

Examples of characters that did not make this first portion are Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, Margaret Lockwood as Jenny in The Stars Look Down, Walter Huston as ‘Deadlegs’ Flint in Kongo and Norma Shearer as Mary Haines in The Women.

What characters do you have an irrational hatred towards from this or any decade?

Virginia Cherrill – A Blind Girl – City Lights (1931)

A sweet innocent blind girl just trying to make ends meet; what’s not to like? It should be the easiest grab for audience sympathy ever. The Tramp is head over heels for her, and if he is, we must be; right?

City Lights is one of my absolute favorite films. It is near perfect. The only thing that has never worked for me was Cherrill as ‘A Blind Girl’. My investment stems from my emotional stake in The Tramp’s happiness. I care because he cares. I never care for her predicament at face value. Does this make me a heartless bitch? I think not.

To be unashamedly shallow, she looks like a snot; am I wrong? Her supposed innocence feels transparent. It looks like she constantly smells some indistinguishable stink in the air. I would not have been surprised if the film had ended with the shocking twist that she had been playing him for a fool the entire time. When it comes down to it, I just never bought the act she was selling.

Frederic March – Marcus Superbus – The Sign of the Cross (1932)

Is there a more salacious Pre-Code film than the giant hypocrisy that is Cecil B. Demille’s The Sign of the Cross? A film that wants to have its torture orgy-ridden cake and eat it too; this is a must-watch train-wreck oddity of its time. The sheer unabashed indulgence of splendor (it’s well worth seeing if only for the spectacle and the luscious performances of Charles Laughton and Claudette Colbert) and the gall it has to drown itself in false piety is unbelievable.

This false piety is embodied by the Marcuc Superbus character. Fredric March is sorely miscast and forced into tight curls and a constant display of upper thigh. He is also weighted down with unbearably corny dialogue. But it is his ‘arc’ that is intolerable. He immediately falls for Elissa Landi’s Mercia (a devout Christian in the age of Nero) and becomes insistent on seducing her. He pretends to give a shit about the Christian cause, but really thinks it is all a joke. He unsuccessfully humiliates her as he attempts to subject her to an orgy as everyone laughs at her purity. Then in the final minutes, he joins her in death because he loves her? Huh?

I repeat; huh? It is unbelievably soapy, unearned and outright dull. But somehow through it all, March’s character frustrated me more than the bad writing, dry religious goings-on and hypocrisy. Never for one second does it make sense that he would fall for Mercia when he had Claudette Colbert (and her milk-bath soaked breasts) lusting after him. He is a douchebag cad throughout and March’s performance is just plain bad; as in, one of the worst I have ever seen.

Charles Ruggles – Peter Yates – Murders in the Zoo (1933)

Does anybody really like Charles Ruggles? Has anyone ever uttered the words “I am a Charles Ruggles fan?” I can guarantee you will never hear those words from my lips. Ruggles was a go-to character actor of the time. His general persona was that of a befuddled stuttering man  who would often get tangled-up in his own words while transparently putting on airs. He happens to have a supporting role in my favorite film Bringing Up Baby. I can usually tolerate him. Not in Murders in the Zoo, which I watched last year while covering all my bases for my Pre-Code Horror list.

From my write-up on “Pre-Code Horror: The 9 Films that Didn’t Make the Cut”: “Murders in the Zoo is brought down by none other than…Charles Ruggles….lots of Charles Ruggles. Ruggles gets the confounding honor of top-billing instead of Lionel Atwill. He plays a public relations type who gets to do his stuttering imbecilic fool act for what feels like eternity and what is actually a significant chunk of a film with a runtime of just over an hour.”

That pretty much sums it up. It is a performance that an active chore to sit through. While a lot of these performances and characters grate on me in ways far beyond what they should, there are few that reach this level of aggravation.

Katharine Hepburn – Jo March – Little Women (1933)

Don’t get me wrong; I love Katharine Hepburn. Part of me can admit that most of this entry is personal bias. I was born in 1987. In 1994, Gillian Armstrong’s Little Women was released and I distinctly remember seeing it in theaters at age seven. It had a deep and indescribable effect on me and continues to today; it would rank in my top five favorite films of all time. You see, to me, Winona Ryder is Jo March. Her portrayal remains one of my most cherished performances and characters. So to see Hepburn in this role was something that put me immediately on the defensive.

Clearly I realize this is unreasonable behavior. Normally I have no problem accepting the basic fact of life that beloved novels will have multiple adaptations. Different character depictions and interpretations deserve to be taken as separate entities even if (and when) comparisons inevitably come into play. Normally I can realize basic rationalities such as this; but not with Jo March. Winona Ryder is Jo March. I become a petulant child when it comes to my feelings on this.

Katharine Hepburn as Jo March can be a tad grating at times to say the least. It feels too easy, despite being a great idea in theory. They share spunk and drive and an everlasting search for the deeper meanings of life. In practice though, Katharine Hepburn as Jo March feels a bit like Katharine Hepburn as Katharine Hepburn. I said it twice and I will say it one last time; Winona Ryder is and will always be my Jo March.

Margaret Dumont – Various Characters – Any and all Marx Brothers films

Blasphemy you say? Well, I cannot help it. But she is like the fifth Marx Brother! Essential to the ensemble! She had an undervalued and difficult job! All true.

The simple truth of it is that I cannot stand her. Yet my eyes always helplessly drift towards her as the jokes land. Not because I am in Dumont-loving denial; it is merely the masochist in me.  Her reactions never fail to have the same effect; I take a deep breath so as to not lose my cool over performances given over 70 years ago.

I realize that there is only so much variety to be had when your job is to be the butt of jokes across several films and to be the reacting party over and over and over again. Here is my problem with Dumont; not only are her reactions all exactly the same, but I have never and will never be able to get past the antiquated theatricality to her. Her acting is unbearably stagey and try though I might, I cannot get past it.

I realize all of the ‘buts’ that could be thrown in here. Though, this is an ‘irrational hatred’ list after all. And that is exactly what I have for Mrs. Margaret Dumont.

Mickey Rooney – Puck – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)

I first saw the 1935 film version of Shakespeare’s play (my favorite of his besides Hamlet) about eight years ago on Turner Classic Movies. Generally, I enjoyed it. In particular, James Cagney as Bottom was inspired and unforgettable. But I am unsure whether I could sit through this again. Why? Two words: Mickey Rooney.

That he is playing Puck, marvelous mischievous Puck, only makes his performance all the more depressing to think about. As far as purely obnoxious performances go, this one takes the cake. I mean really. I do not know if there is a more obnoxious performance in the whole of cinema. In his earlier decades, Mickey Rooney had an energy level one could equate with pure adrenaline. As a young teenager here, this is raised to a maximum.

Just thinking about him is giving me a headache. It is all a blur. All I remember are these horrible guffawing noises he would make. A barrage of screeches, snorts, squeals, bulging eyes and manic energy. Is this an accurate description of his performance? I have no idea; it has been eight years and I sure as hell never intend to watch his performance again to confirm or deny my fuzzy remembrances.

Ruth Chatteron – Fran Dodsworth – Dodsworth (1936)

This is a tricky one; a really truly tricky one. Technically Chatterton should not even count. Her repulsive unappreciative character is an entirely purposeful creation (adapted from the play). Everything I felt towards her is meant. Nobody who has seen the film would ever question why I might feel this way. I can still recall what I felt while watching it in a heartbeat. There was a strong urge, rarely matched, to reach in and shake her, slap her and even shove her off a tall building. I recall heaving and puffing, even yelling at the television set despite being all by me while watching. My frustration with her nearly brought me to tears.  It has been too long for me to remember whether we were supposed to feel any sympathy for her at any point, but I never did.

Her placement on this list is due to my uncertainty whether or not I ever want to see Dodsworth again despite liking it very much. I think of all of the heavy and/or disturbing films I have seen multiple times (or films I’ve seen once but would see again eventually) and compare it with my possible unwillingness to sit through Chatterton’s despicable character. I am positive that at some point in my life I will rewatch Inside with no qualms whatsoever. But Dodsworth? I do not know. Because of this, her placement here felt necessary. Even if I would never in a million years call my hatred for her irrational.

Adriana Caselotti (voice) Snow White – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

There was a time in my life where I had an obsession with Disney films. My love for them has not lessened, but there was a particular time of concentrated obsession. I constantly had all of my Disney DVD’s in rotation, keeping them on while I did homework after school every day all through high school. I made tons of ambitious Disney lists. I got to know all of these films very well through sheer repetition.

When is the last time you sat and watched Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?  Maybe you have forgotten or never noticed, but Snow White is the worst. The film is generally a joy, unarguably important and fantastically creative in its animation. Our first Disney princess however, leaves much to be desired.

She is a concoction of uselessness. This goes beyond the expected levels of non-agency that the Disney princesses (at least in earlier decades), tended not to possess. Snow White is just plain stupid. She really is quite the moron. Sadly, this and helplessness are her only characteristics. Oh, and a natural inclination towards domesticity. None of this is even remotely surprising and it is only part of the reason why I have allowed an animated character to wring my hands up in impatience.

When it comes down to it, the clincher is Adriana Caselotti’s voice work. It sounds like someone took the affected iconic voice of Marilyn Monroe, distilled it to its purest form and turned the dial to eleven. Let us ignore the fact that Monroe was eleven when this was released. The voice is unbearable. It has the potential to evoke involuntary eye twitching.

Virginia Walker – Alice Swallow – Bringing Up Baby (1938)

The anger I carry towards this character does not compare to the other entries in this first set. Yet Alice Swallow still bothers me beyond what is meant. This is a character whom we immediately recognize as being the wrong match for Cary Grant’s David Huxley. She is stuffy, prim and curt. She is a party pooper of the first degree. We are not supposed to like her.

If we are not supposed to like her then why put her on? Because she is a caricature who barely gets any screen time. Alice is not for one moment in danger of keeping David away from what he wants. She is a physical representation of what needs to change in his life. She never feels like a real human being. And she appears in the very beginning and end of the film.

She is on this list because I spend far too much time hating a character that not even the film itself takes with a modicum of seriousness.

List: Top 30 Most Anticipated Films (January to April 2012)

The early months of the year are usually pretty empty when it comes to quality studio releases. But luckily for us cinephiles, the early months are jam-packed with smaller releases of long-awaited international fare and smaller indie flicks finally getting their release dates. January through April becomes an exciting time for films despite the assumption that there is nothing out there to see. Additionally, there are always several big releases that surprise with their quality, seemingly coming out of nowhere (and those that don’t come out of nowhere with solid reception such as The Grey and Haywire) with a release that could have only come during this time of the year. I think we can agree that Chronicle fits that slot. I usually have some kind of interest in the majority of releases, whether it be for genuine interest or for guilty pleasure reasons. I’m pretty surprised that my 30 is this jam-packed.I can’t think of a more internationally eclectic group of films that have ever made up one of my Anticipated Films list (and I’ve been doing these 3 times a year since 2006). I’ve got films represented in the 30 alone from the UK, Greece, Albania, Chile, Mexico, Poland, Norway, France, Japan, Turkey, Belgium, Israel, Iran, Indonesia, Austria and Australia!

A lot of the films that did not make the cut I am very excited to see. For example, I think the comedic duo of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street looks inspired; yes I said it, inspired. Though Norwegian Wood was a book I felt would have been more meaningful to me if I read it as a teenager, I’m very interested in seeing its adaptation, and with Rinko Kikuchi no less. Just how much of a disaster will Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance be? I don’t know, but I want to see the insane end result with the Crank directors at the helm. Whether is be a passing interest (‘yeah I guess I’ll see through Netflix someday) or an active one, there’s obviously a lot coming out that looks in some way intriguing. Here are the 30 that made the cut, in order, with very short bullet point reasons.

A side note: When I list the synopsis as a reason, I should be clear that this is an element of interest with all these choices (clearly), but that the films where I cite synopsis as a reason means it particularly stands out even more so than the films I did not put it in for.

30. In Darkness

Why? New Agnieszka Holland films are a rarity.

29. Chronicle

Why? For someone pretty sick of superhero films, this sounds like a nice change of pace that seems to embrace the inherent and realistic selfishness of people. The warm reception solidifies its spot.

28. Bernie

Why? Richard Linklater, synopsis and Jack Black doing something I am actually interested in that does not include voicing an animated panda.

27. The Hunter

Why? Willem Dafoe, synopsis. While not the biggest fan of Sleeping Beauty, I love Julia Leigh’s ideas and want to see a work of hers adapted for the screen by someone more capable of filming it than Leigh herself.

26. Friends with Kids

Why? The cast which includes Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Maya Rudolph and the delectable Jon Hamm. Only concern is Westfeldt as lead; not really a commanding presence but we shall see. Plus, it’s her project so she has every right to place herself front-and-center.

25. The Kid with a Bike

Why? Dardenne Brothers, acclaim build-up since Cannes, Cecile de France and Jeremie Renier.

24. Post Mortem

Why? Synopsis. Although I haven’t seen Tony Manero, I know of its acclaim and that Pablo Larrain is one to watch judging by the formers praise.

23. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Why? It’s placement on countless 2011 film lists from those who had seen it, its universal acclaim

22. The Innkeepers

Why? Ti West’s follow-up to The House of the Devil, been making the rounds since SXSW premiere last March, divisive opinions have me further intrigued (although I don’t know the specifics; a new-years resolution is to read less about a film’s reception before seeing it. Nothing really beyond basic critical reaction is my goal)

21. The Woman in Black

Why? Daniel Radcliffe’s first onscreen post-Potter role, Hammer Films output, looks like an entirely old-fashioned ghost story relying on atmosphere which pulls me in, James Watkins (director of Eden Lake which I failed to get to this past October, but who I assume is a director with some kind of credibility)

20. Footnote

Why? Synopsis, critical reception

19. Haywire (seen)

Why? Building a film around a female MMA retiree for the sole purpose of exhibiting her physical skills, Steveb Soderbergh, ensemble cast

18. The Secret World of Arietty

Why? Studio Ghibli

17. The Forgiveness of Blood

Why? Synopsis, Joshua Marston’s nine-year after-the-fact follow-up to Maria Full of Grace

16. The Deep Blue Sea

Why? Terence Davies, months and months of festival buzz build-up, based on a Terence Rattigan play, Tom Hiddleston

15. Attenberg

Why? The endless comparisons (both favorable and unfavorable) to Dogtooth, hearing about this film for the year and a half since its first festival premiere and having wanted to see it way back then.

14. Miss Bala

Why? Synopsis, critical reception

13. Michael

Why? Festival acclaim, made by Haneke’s casting director, intrigued by use of controversial subject matter

12. Cabin in the Woods

Why? Joss Whedon’s involvement, finally getting released after years of sitting on the shelf, Amy Acker, synopsis, genre

11. Headhunters

Why? Festival buzz, while I don’t pay much heed to IMDB scores, when something has a 7.5 from 5,000 votes I take notice, based on a Jo Nesbo novel whose novels I haven’t read but is very well-renowned meaning this is assumedly based on solid source material, Nikolas Coster-Waldau is the Norwegian Josh Holloway (and also the luscious Jaime Lannister).

10. Bully (documentary)

Why? Extremely important and timely subject matter that needs exploration and at the very least addressing in all forms including the documentary medium.

9. Bullhead

Why? Synopsis, buzz, critical reception

8. Crazy Horse (documentary)

Why? Two words; Frederick. Wiseman.

7. This is Not a Film (documentary)

Why? I shouldn’t even have to give reasons here. If the fact that this is absolutely necessary to see does not slam you over the film once you’ve got the proper context for its existence, then I just don’t want to know you.

6. The Raid

Why? Been wanting to drown my eyeballs in this since its reaction at Toronto and subsequent trailer release, exactly the kind of genre flick I anticipate

5. Snowtown

Why? Yet another film I’ve been waiting to see for quite some time (tracking back at the very least to Toronto; see this is why this time of year is awesome, because all these festival films I’ve been waiting to see for months finally get released), synopsis, acclaim

4. Sound of My Voice

Why? Synopsis, the first of two collaborative efforts (each of slightly different sorts) between Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij whose upcoming similarly cult-infiltration based The East is one of my very highly anticipated upcoming films, early buzz.

3. Damsels in Distress

Why? Whit Stillman’s first film in an incomprehensible 14 years. Enough said.

2. Kill List

Why? Since hearing about this from last years SXSW this has been at the top of my highly anticipated films, all-over-the-map critical reaction, hush-hush “Don’t read anything about it, just go see it” comments

1. The Hunger Games

Why? Not at all sorry to break it to you folks, but I’m a “Hunger Games” fan, which clearly means I am more excited about this than anything else coming out through April. With Gary Ross at the helm and Billy Ray being a screenplay contributor (not to mention the quality of the images and footage seen thus far), you can bet I’m counting down the days for this. And I feel bad for anybody willing to immediately write it off.

The rest (in alphabetical order):

21 Jump Street
4:44 Last Day on Earth
Being Flynn
Black Butterflies
Casa de mi Padre
Chico and Rita
Darling Companion
Declaration of War
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
House at the End of the Street
Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
John Carter
Mirror Mirror
Movie 43
Natural Selection
Norwegian Wood
On the Ice
Perfect Sense
Pirates! Band of Misfits
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Silent House
The Decoy Bride
The Five-Year Engagement
The Front Line
The Grey
The Moth Diaries
The Raven
The Salt of Life
The Turin Horse
Thin Ice

List: Top 30 Films of 2011 #15-1

Here you are, at long last, the final 15. I realize that the pictures for the 30-16 entry were a bit wonky. Hopefully it will look better for this entry. Again, this is a ‘favorite’ list, not a ‘best’. What were your favorites of the year?

15.  A Separation  (Farhadi)

Disputes become complicated very quickly, especially when the self-deception of individuals comes into play. Asghar Farhadi, who wrote and directed this masterful work, looks at the complex inner workings of individual desperation and pride. These motivations are presented through characters that are not malicious but are just trying to get by. Furthermore, Farhadi casts no judgment onto the various imperfect players involved, seeming to understand that situations get complicated fast. The truth becomes muddled beyond the comprehension of the law officers, immediate family members and even the two characters directly involved with the incident.

Farhadi presents this as a fact-of-life, combining universality and the specificity of Iranian culture. Every character is complex as the central incident and its aftermath unfolds at the same time as the breakdown of a marriage. There are no easy answers, no saints and no malevolence for malevolence sake. A Separation is heated from start-to-finish and it is impossible not to get caught up in all its sprawling glory as our sympathies shift and hover, grow and lessen. Reveals are slowly doled out with the skill of a deft thriller without getting caught up in any genre trappings. A Separation captures life in all its messiness.

14. Certified Copy (Kiarostami)

A film of halves; entirely based in conversation, simultaneously light and heavy. Certified Copy is about the burgeoning passion of a new love and companion, but also about the disintegration of a romance weighted down by history. It is a mysterious and ambiguous experience and the definition of transfixing. It is less about spending your time trying to decipher the exact nature of the central relationship and more about soaking in its essence, the conversation and the performances. It is about appreciating the ever-shifting but always simultaneous presence of the multiple phases of a dense relationship.

However one chooses to interpret or not interpret Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, it ensures that it can be experienced in a multitude of contexts, forming its own unique relationship with the viewer that is all their own. While this is something that always occurs with film and is something we often take for granted, Certified Copy seems to exist for this purpose, and what a gift it is.

13. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Yates)

It is at this point where the numbers become even more arbitrary than they already are. Honestly, I love this film as much as my number 1. So think of these next 13 films as essentially being equal with each other in my mind.

Deathly Hallows: Part 2 represented the end of an era for me and the countless others that grew up a Harry Potter fan. I grew with this series; the first film came out when I was fourteen. I may not have been a child as the franchise started (it was through the films that I became a fan of the books, not the other way around) but I threw myself whole-heartedly into the books and films, and my adolescence was positively littered with Potter-dom. I still believe it is somewhat taken for granted that we were able to experience a franchise that ran this long and that stayed this arguably consistent in quality. The Potter series means more than words to me, so to find that the final film met my expectations to the utmost was in certain regards more rewarding than anything else I saw this year.

Nothing impressed me more than Snape’s swan song; an appropriate tribute to the character, heartbreakingly played by Alan Rickman. The battles and buildup are as successfully epic as the seven films of buildup have sustained. The entire picture is wall-to-wall dazzling, enhancing Part 1 and striving boldly and confidently forth to its capstone conclusion. While nothing can quite match my first experience of it, it ranks in the top three of the franchise for me. This series will be a part of me the rest of my life and I cherish my ability to revisit it at any time I please.

12. Hugo (Scorsese)

I thought it wise to pair my two favorite ‘children’s’ films together. Even more than Harry Potter (where adults represent a large portion of its legions of fans), Hugo feels made more for adult appreciation than for kids. This is not to say that children will not enjoy it as it does contain more than enough of the magic and intrigue that comes with children’s fantasy. Indeed, it has the unmatchable splendor of its own contained world; a train station in 1920’s Paris. It has a central mystery, a mysterious key, automatons, a colorful cast of inhabitants and the rediscovery of a forgotten legend.

Martin Scorsese makes Hugo a singular film experience for several reasons, entirely making up for any uneven pacing or eventual anti-mystery. The first is the 3D; it will be interesting to see how the film fares without it. It functions almost as a physical argument for the form. It does not have to be a gimmick; when someone with legitimate drive to make use of the form, to mold it to support and enhance the world within, it can be unforgettable.

The second is the sense of wonder it contains which is infectious and addictive. Scorsese makes you want to stay in that station. Amidst the darker plot appendages, there is an exuberance, the uniqueness of fantastical discovery that brings one back to childhood. The third is the heart of Hugo, as it reveals itself to be a tribute to the magic of film through its love for central character George Melies.

There is an understanding of what we all see in film that makes us love it so, that brings about an instantly deep connection with Hugo. This aspect of it is what comes straight from the director’s heart, whose passionate work for film preservation is constant and incredibly important. Hugo left me in a drunken haze of film appreciation and an unparalleled respect for the origins of an art form.

11. The Tree of Life (Malick)

I suppose many think this should be much higher on this list. Love it though I do, there is a connection with certain films that I make that results in thinking of said film as ‘one of mine’. It is a relatable feeling to see something and to form a connection with it that allows it to be hoarded amongst a collection of personal favorites. I have this connection with The Thin Red Line and with Badlands and with large chunks of The Tree of Life. Most of the film, starting with the formation of the universe and leading almost through to the end is a transcendent voyage unlike any other. For some reason though, the Sean Penn bookends and the somewhat problematic portrayal of Jessica Chastain (the character, not the performance; she is wonderful) as an all-too angelic saintly mother struck a wrong chord for me. I also question the film’s depth, mainly because The Tree of Life seems more like a record of the memory and singular experience of childhood and a pondering drift through life’s big questions and origins as opposed to something that is particularly complicated in essence. It’s technical achievement, construction and execution is more complicated and ingenious than words can describe, but the finished product, to me at least, does not feel like it is meant to anything but a gloriously complex (in form) but ultimately abstract expression.

More than anything, I do not want this interpretation of abstraction to be taken as a knock; this is what I love about it. I feel lucky to have experienced something this beautiful, poetic, enchanting and moving. I felt brought back to childhood despite watching an individual depiction of it, and the strange and elemental feelings I experienced while watching is something I will never forget. And its drifting ponderous nature; this is also what I love about The Tree of Life. It considers the big and the small and asks us to glide along with it as it moves in and out of its many facets. Terrence Malick has so much skill that he is able to take us through his thoughts and Jack’s memories with the kind of ambition that results in something new and special. Parts of it feel like a continuation on what Walt Disney was getting at with his ‘Rite of Spring’ segment of Fantasia. Other parts feel like a journey of growing up, of the realization that parents expect things of you and that innocence can no longer be maintained. No film this year or in the past several years has been discussed and delved into more than The Tree of Life. While I feel that the film is more of an experience, something that to a degree defies analyzing, it is justifiably worshipped by many in the kind of passionate way that only Malick can incite.

10. I Saw the Devil (Kim)
Full Review Link: 

I Saw the Devil is an example of a film I hoard as ‘one of mine’. I perk up when I hear its name, I want to shove it into people’s eyes and praise it to the high heavens. Because I Saw the Devil does something extremely clever with the revenge genre; it sets out to be the end-all be-all, to distill its cliches into an essence of basic emotions, using repetition and pure brutality to really get at what this genre is all about.

What others may see as one-note is actually a very purposeful execution complete with uncomplicated character types and uncomplicated motivations. It uses what may be considered weaknesses in other films and turns them around, using it to an advantage. I Saw the Devil takes revenge as far as it can go, thereby making it automatically relevant. The film excels, because noted South Korean director Kim Ji-woon knows how to tell a story with effectiveness and panache, unlike many others who venture down extremist territory.

The idea that one must become a monster to destroy a monster is familiar. The really wonderful study that takes place in the film are Soo-hyun’s craving to prolong the satisfying feeling revenge gives him, and the idea of revenge as a functioning stopgap between the actual mourning process.

Kim Ji-Woon is a filmmaker who knows how and when to use style. He chooses his moments carefully and infuses them with a trendy sensibility without allowing style to overwhelm his film. His always impeccably choreographed fight scenes are on display, riveting as ever. A confrontation in a greenhouse as well as a rather incredible scene that takes place in a taxi cab are two examples where Kim’s penchant for building up tension and delivering action heavy scenes are on display.

The pacing here is among the most accomplished of 2011. Clocking in at almost two and a half hours, the film flies by, yet it never feels rushed. Kim takes his time letting the story unfold and allowing atmosphere and mood to sink in, without the running time ever imposing itself. It is fully engrossing throughout which is not an easy feat.

I have seen this film twice and it strengthened for me the second time; it is and exhausting roller-coaster that is well worth the ride.

9. Hanna (Wright)
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I will be the first to admit that Hanna is not entirely strong. The father-daughter relationship falters, and Wright’s attempts to create a layered fairy tale do not pan out with quite the success he clearly wants it to. But for a multitude of reasons, Hanna is a stylized dream come true for me.

Joe Wright takes himself completely out of his comfort zone with an entirely new type of project. The resulting visual experimentation from Wright’s involvement is invigorating to the extreme; a feast on the eyes and ears that overcomes the script’s shortcomings. His use of tracking shots, extreme close-ups, extreme long shots, handheld camera work and much more all contribute to Hanna’s singularly high-powered style. He also keeps a lot of the action in camera, making the choreography stand out. Whether creating an engaging hyper-stylistic action set piece or subjectively aligning the audience with Hanna’s experiences, Wright always has motivations for his choices and it is a delight to work through them while watching the film.

Along with Wright and Ronan, the third irreplaceable element of Hanna is the score provided by The Chemical Brothers. As opposed to using music to manipulate the audience into certain emotions, Wright creates several different effects with the sound of hypnotic bass-heavy electronica. The score is first introduced at a very precisely chosen moment. Throughout, the music forms a cohesive relationship with the diegetic sound, with both influencing and informing each other. It is also used to crucially represent and accompany each of the action set-pieces. The music The Chemical Brothers have created here is addictive and is as important anything in Hanna.

When all is said and done, Hanna had me entirely at “I just missed your heart”.

8. Melancholia (von Trier)
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It may seem contradictory to say that Lars von Trier’s end-of-the world opus is the director as his most peaceful and life-affirming; but it is. This isn’t to say that Melancholia is sunshine and rainbows; just look at the title and basic plot synopsis. But this is the Danish auteur reaching out and making a human connection with his audience as much as he likely ever will. It is a meditative exploration of the unexpectedly dichotomous nature (and the ways the two converge) between depression that renders one immobile in life, and having to face that which we will all eventually come to meet; death.

Dunst and von Trier, both having first-hand experience with depression, make painstaking connections with Justine that culminate in an uncompromising understanding and loyalty to her. They are unwilling to cater to standard cause-and-effect rules of characterization or to apologize for the frustration and lack of sympathy she can elicit.  For those of us who know what bouts of depression are like, this reveals it in all of its extreme truths and ugliness. Von Trier’s previous film Antichrist was made as he went through a severe depression, and no matter what one thinks of that work, looking at Melancholia in the context of a follow-up to his previous film will make for worthwhile discourse someday. In fact, it seems like an entirely essential context to have going into the film.

Melancholia is one of those films that successfully fulfill their ambitions in dealing with profound and fundamental subject matter on a grand level of intellectually-based intuition. You come away with, yes lots to talk about, but just as importantly, a feeling that a filmmaker has come upon something almost indescribable that gets at how we experience life, death and what it all means (or ultimately doesn’t mean). Synecdoche, New York is one of these films (an example that goes about it in an infinitely complex fashion, whereas Melancholia and The Tree of Life is based in abstraction and how the writers’directors have experienced life.) The Tree of Life is another. Some might call these films pretentious but this is reductive and dismissive. Lars von Trier’s latest film is his most accessible, but is no less thought-provoking. In fact, if there is one film that will temporarily win over his detractors, it would be this one. It takes us through the cathartic process of grieving mankind with a scrutinizing look at depression, death, acceptance and world annihilation with an uncharacteristically humanistic eye.

7. The Arbor (Bernard)

Speaking of Synecdoche, New York, here is a film that gets at truth through conceptual reenactment and fiction. What could have been a disastrous execution (the film consists of interviews lip-synched by actors who address the camera) is just the opposite. The past comes to life, going beyond narrative and documentary films, achieving something that exists in between.

The actors become a vessel for the voices and the people behind them. The actors are literal messengers, and having them address the camera, and in turn the audience, creates an intimate connection between the documentaries subject and those who knew her, and us. We also get to know subject Andrea Dunbar through watching segments of her plays performed by actors in the actual slums of Bradford, West Yorkshire where she grew up and lived.

The Arbor is about as deeply depressing as it gets, and director Clio Bernard keeps the frames uncluttered, letting the format and interview material speak for itself by presenting it in a progressive but simple way.

6. We Need To Talk About Kevin (Ramsay)

Here we go with the word abstract again; I tend to love films presented in such a way. The visual representation of an emotional state and a literal materialization of the fearful apathy of motherhood are what We Need to Talk About Kevin is getting at. I may love this film partly because Lionel Shriver’s novel is one of my absolute favorites, and I was able to see Eva and immediately heap upon her 450 pages of the author’s anything but abstract contextualization. The symbolism may be is in-your-face with splattered reds everywhere (for a start), but it represents a state of being and a constant reminder of the guilt and loss Eva feels that cannot be expunged. Kevin exists as the embodiment of a worst-case scenario, a being whose chief understanding of the world is borne out of his instinctual knowledge of Eva’s motherly indifference.

5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Alfredson)

When Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy ended, I immediately wanted to revisit it, getting the sense that my love and appreciation for it would only grow over time. Above all other films from this past year, I became the most attached to Tinker’s feel and atmosphere above any other. Tomas Alfredson’s second feature (his first being Let the Right One In), is another adaptation. Everything from the cinematography to Alberto Iglesias’ fabulously wistful jazz score is in a lurking state of mourning.

The film mourns for an era fading before the characters eyes with its air of grey repression amidst the period world of Britain’s M-16 intelligence. It boils down the plot density of the novel into its essentials, without ever having narrative clarity as its priority. Reading the novel before seeing the film did allow me a basic understanding of what happens (which was a task in itself as I find myself easily lost within these types of stories), but the film is not about that. With the ensemble cast of the year, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a treasure trove of intrigue.

4. Drive (Refn)
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It is an all too uncommon feeling when a film ends and you realize you are not yet ready to leave its world. This is the feeling I had when Drive ended. It is a slick retro ride, filled with homage and influence, operating as a nostalgic demonstration of American genre filmmaking and oozing European sensibilities, complete with existentialist sleaze and minimalist touches. It is a hybrid creature that dabbles in a number of genres that are all in harmony through Nicolas Winding Refn’s infectious appreciation for using cinema to create mood and atmosphere.

It is clear that Refn has been influenced at every turn. But it is not a hollow experience; far from it. Perhaps what impressed me the most about Drive is the smoothness with which Refn blends what is a clear unabashed love for both high and low art. He lets them bleed together in what can be succinctly described as effortless cool. There is a stable assuredness in every shot, every movement and every creative choice made here. One cannot help but want to revisit Drive and explore those choices, the motivations behind them and why they work as well as they do. This is confident filmmaking on display. The mere construction of it is something to behold.

The thankless female characters may be a slight misstep, but it is a minor quibble. With Drive, Refn represents cinema at its most assured, plowing directly into the heart of genre filmmaking.

3. Take Shelter (Nichols)
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Jeff Nichols does not play the ‘is he or isn’t he’ game with his audience; Curtis (Michael Shannon) is succumbing to paranoid schizophrenia. We are invited to simultaneously experience events as the protagonist does, and to see the reality of the situation at the same time. Take Shelter is an astonishing second feature by director Nichols whose first feature Shotgun Stories, plays out as pre-destined Greek tragedy. The interplay between conscious choice and being pulled further and further into something that was, on some level, always going to happen is present in both films. In Take Shelter, poor conscious decisions are made by Curtis, but he is also being helplessly dragged down by family legacies and a general feeling of doom.

Take Shelter affected me quite heavily, mainly because it preyed on my fears and depicted them in ways that service the sad reality of the situation as opposed to the heightened subjective journey. After death, going insane might be my biggest fear. It is the suddenness of certain disorders existence that strikes me. Some of the heavier psychological disorders don’t creep their way into you; they make sudden and grandiose entrances.

Curtis’ psychological descent clearly represents the current state of America, and the film never tries to hide this. Nichols wants you to know what he is really getting at. There are a couple of reasons it works. One is that the film does not feel preachy even in its openness; in fact, its message feels necessary. No matter what your political inclinations are, it is difficult not to feel the growing sense of dread all around us. Nichols takes that familiarized feeling and translates it into a different filmic context. In that sense, Take Shelter is frightening in its resonance. It may manifest itself openly, but Take Shelter works hauntingly well because of Nichols’ precision and ability to have his film make its mark in more ways than one.

2. Project Nim (Marsh)
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When discussing Project Nim, it becomes tempting to immediately spring into all-out praise mode. James Marsh approaches stories from different angles. 2008’s Man on Wire functions as a heist narrative. Project Nim is a chimpanzee biopic. Herb Terrace’s experiment was amateurish and botched from the start. By default, this allows Marsh to focus all his energies on telling Nim’s heartbreaking story, using archival footage and some very honest and candid interviews by the many people who came in and out of Nim’s life.

Project Nim is structured as a biopic that allows us to be acquainted with Nim as well as understand our incapacity to truly know a wild animal. All of the action is focused around the chimp, but the film says so much more through the story it tells. It is about humanity and our need to control and manipulate everything to be more like us. It is about the incompetence of man. It is about the well-meaning individuals like Joyce Butler, who care so deeply but are powerless in the bigger picture, and those like Bob Ingersol and Dr. James Mahoney, who never give up on making a difference.

Those who see Project Nim will be heartbroken. It works on many different levels, but people will remember first and foremost the story of Nim’s unstable life. James Marsh has told an unforgettable story and Project Nim is a true accomplishment.

1. Young Adult (Reitman)

Young Adult sadly did not connect with audiences based on box-office numbers and divided the people who did take the time to go see it. My number one was not clear this year; over the last few weeks, I have had about five different films in the top slot. So many character types have had countless films of their own, but to tread new ground and focus with someone like Mavis Gary offers something fresh and new; it took me in entirely. The film would not have succeeded if some did not walk away annoyed and frustrated; this only enhances how uncompromising and ugly its honesty can be.

Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody have created something that feels completely organic; effortless and seemingly simple when it is actually incredibly layered and intricate. Cody knows Mavis Gary in-and-out and pulls no punches when presenting her to us. She is delusional and ruthless; a total basket case who lives either in one extreme lazy sweats and reality TV consumption or another extreme of all-day primping as she presents herself to her old town with unrelenting purpose.

Theron fully inhabits Mavis as someone who cannot see past her own perspective or selfishness. She seems genuinely confused by the existence of certain emotions, and seeing her try to fake her way through them when she needs to is truly something else. This is also the first film I have seen to depict Trichotillomania and I have a special appreciation of the film for this reason. It is a compulsive disorder I have lived with since a young age, only with me the eyelashes are victimized and not the hair as with Mavis.

Young Adult turns expectations on its head with its kitchen scene that denies the audience the expected character turnaround, except that Cody dangles the possibility in front of our face first, making it all the more fascinating. Mavis’ relationship with Patton Oswalt’s Matt is one of the more distinctive interactions between two characters I have seen as he brings a self-aware sadness and longing to the proceedings. He is filled with the same emotions as Mavis but one is delusional while the other is not.

Young Adult is a film I felt an instant connection with; I laughed a lot, I cringed a lot, but mostly I admired the delicate craftsmanship at work from the spot-on writing and directing to the perfect acting. It is a blistering piece that is on the one hand an awkward comedy about emotionally stunted growth. On the other, it is a frighteningly candid character study about how sad it is to be so constricted by a superiority complex and perception of the world including where one places oneself within it.

Complete List of Films Seen in 201113 Assassins, 50/50, A Better Life, A Dangerous Method, Albert Nobbs, American Grindhouse, Another Earth, Attack the Block, Beastly, Beginners, Being Elmo, Bellflower, Bill Cunningham, New York, Biutiful, Black Death, Bobby Fischer Against the World, Bridesmaids, Buck, Cameraman: the Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, Captain America: The First Avenger, Carnage, Cars 2, Caterpillar, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Cedar Rapids, Certified Copy, Cold Fish, Cold Weather, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, Contagion,, Cracks, Crazy, Stupid, Love, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Dream Home, Drive, Edge of Dreaming, Hanna, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Hesher, Hobo with a Shotgun, Horrible Bosses, Hugo, I Saw the Devil, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, In a Better World, In Time, Incendies, Insidious, J. Edgar, Jane Eyre, Kung Fu Panda 2, Last Night, Le Quattro Volte, Love Crime, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Meek’s Cutoff, Melancholia, Midnight in Paris, Mildred Pierce, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Moneyball, My Week with Marilyn, Of Gods and Men, Outrage, Page One: Inside the New York Times, Passion Play, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Poetry, Project Nim, Rampart, Rango, Red Riding Hood, Red State, Redline, Retreat, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rubber, Scream 4, Senna, Shame, Sleeping Beauty, Source Code, Submarine, Sucker Punch, Super, Super 8, Tabloid, Take Shelter, Terri, The Adventures of Tintin, The Arbor, The Artist, The Debt,The Descendants, The Devil’s Double, The Double Hour, The Future, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Green Hornet, The Help, The Housemaid, The Ides of March, The Last Circus, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Mill and the Cross, The Muppets, The Rite, The Roommate, A Separation, The Skin I Live In, The Sleeping Beauty, The Thing, The Tree of Life, The Trip, The Ward, The Woman, Thor, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, TrollHunter, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Tyrannosaur, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Unknown, War Horse, Warrior, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Weekend, Win Win, Winnie the Pooh, X-Men: First Class, Young Adult, Your Highness, Yves Saint-Laurent: L’Amour Fou