Tag Archives: the handmaiden

The First Annual “Should Be The Oscars”: My Picks For The Best Individuals of Film in 2016

Welcome one, welcome all. As we continue our journey through 2016, it’s time to highlight some of the individual moving parts that made 2016 so wonderful (for film). The artists, the musicians, the craftspeople, and the thinkers that put these movies together and deserve to be recognized.

More than anywhere else, a note needs to be made that this is all subjective. Even more than overall films, what works and what doesn’t varies from person to person, so this is what particularly struck me. It’s also good to note that individual elements don’t always determine the cohesive whole, which can strike differently depending on mood and thematic coherence and a mess of other elements.

Best Original Score:

Michael Giacchino, Doctor Strange

Nicholas Britell, Moonlight

Jóhann Jóhannsson, Arrival

Mica Levi, Jackie

Winner:

Justin Hurwitz, La La Land

This really shouldn’t surprise, but let’s not let its inevitability take away from what an accomplishment this score really is. Hurwitz blends the jaunty, sprightly jazz that keeps the movie upbeat with the sweeping classical strings that slowly worm their way into your heart until the beautiful and wrenching ending. La La Land‘s score is deeply important for the movie because it doesn’t just underline the beats, it is the beats. It’s through Hurwitz’s score, blended with the images, that La La Land really finds its power.

Best Original Song:

“How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, written by Opetaia Foa’i, Lin Manuel-Miranda, and Mark Mancina, performed by Auli’i Carvalho

“Montage” from Swiss Army Man, written by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, performed by Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe

“Equal Rights” from Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, written by Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Raphael Judrin, Pierre-Antoine Melki & Yoan Chirescu, produced by soFly & Nius, performed by Andy Samberg and Alecia Moore

“Drive It Like You Stole It” from Sing Street, written by John Carney and Gary Clark, performed by Sing Street

Winner: 

“Another Day of Sun” from La La Land, written by Justin Hurtwitz and Pasek and Paul, performed by The Cast of La La Land

To be honest, this was one of the hardest categories of the year, and any song on this list deserves to be up at the winner’s slot. It was even harder to pick one track from La La Land, a soundtrack that I really do love piece by piece. I choose Another Day of Sun not only because of how impressive the sequence that it accompanies is, but how emblematic it is of the movie on the whole. It’s a beautiful and charmingly fun number with a sad little core. It’s about the dreams artists share and the compromises the singers had to make to try to achieve them. It’s a thematic statement that prepares you for what you’re about to experience, and one that you’ll be whistling for a week.

Best Cinematography:

Silence, shot by Rodrigo Prieto

silence-movie-jesus-christ

The Witch, shot by Jarin Blaschke

l41yyjn1yjmjxrgvk

Lion, shot by Grieg Fraser

sunny_pawar

La La Land, shot by Linus Sandgren

source1

Winner: 

Moonlight, shot by James Laxton

source

Cinematography at its core is about the way we shape what the eye of the camera is looking at. The colors of the world we capture, the framing and the motion that tells us what these people are thinking and feeling. With that, no movie had cinematography more key to its aims and no movie succeeded more in what it tried to accomplish than Moonlight. Laxton’s eye shows us the beauty of this world, the blue shadows and the contours of the light. It shows us the way that people hold back and the pain and joy they feel. It’s Laxton’s cinematography that makes a scene between two men at a diner so pregnant with meaning, the shadows hiding the tiniest movements of their face and then revealing what they’re trying to hide. This is a gorgeous film that uses its camera at every step to tell the story.

Advertisements

The Best Films of 2016: #20-11

Let us make one thing clear. 2016 was a shitty year in a lot of ways, I think I and countless others have said that enough. But the one place it thrived and soared was in film. While the blockbusters this year were by and large disappointing, ranging from the grimly grandiose to the inanely incoherent (and that’s just Warner Brothers), those willing to dig under the surface found a wealth of treasures.

2016 was full of film that, in the smallest ways and in the largest ways, reminded us of the vitality of film art and made it clear why we’ve gone to the movies for a century now. They made us laugh and cry and drop our jaws often all in the same sequence. In a year of films that I absolutely loved, here are the 20 that stood (for me) above the rest.

20) Don’t Think Twice

thumbnail_24450

Personal, bittersweet, and surprising, Don’t Think Twice is perhaps the surest sign that Mike Birbiglia has become one of our most potent storytellers in the world of comedy. Broaching just a little bit outside of himself, Birbiglia weaves a compelling ensemble with stories that are deeply touching for anyone who’s ever been creative and forcing themselves to make compromises. Perhaps the biggest pleasure here is his cast, featuring a host of comedians who are doing some of their best work, including Keegan Michael-Key and Gillian Jacobs in two of this year’s most overlooked performances. In a year of films that struck deep, almost nothing forced you to confront yourself quite like Don’t Think Twice. 

Best Scene: The Commune’s Last Show

19) The Nice Guys

niceguy-facebookjumbo-v3

No film this angry has ever been this much fun. Shane Black’s darkly humorous tale of two amateur gumshoes in 1970s LA is a barrel of laughs and violence that’s seeking to figure exactly why the powerful have screwed the country up. It’s heavy stuff, but it’s told to you by one of the best duos of the year. Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe weren’t (before this year) two guys known for their comedy chops, but the two are an almost effortless comedy team, finding almost endless comedy just in the way that they conduct their investigation. It helps that they’re assisted by Angourie Rice whose role as the precocious daughter of Gosling’s detective is the secret foundation of this movie. The Nice Guys is just the kind of adventure only Shane Black can bring, and we’re never going to be appreciative enough that we have him.

Best Scene: Party at the Porn Producer’s House

18) Sing Street

maxresdefault1

Sing Street is the kind of film bred to be a cult classic, a deeply beloved darling among a few. Director John Carney fixes every mistake from previous Begin Again (most notably by writing songs that you want to listen to outside of the movie) and retains the huge beating heart and earnestness that make everything he’s made at least worth a watch so far. A great cast of kids anchors Sing Street, most notable because they feel like actual teenagers, not simply the construct of someone trying to remember that era. Their hopes, their fears, their sorrows, the way they process love hits so close to home, and the joys of watching them discover themselves can’t be missed.

Best Scene: “Drive It Like You Stole It.”

17) Green Room

green-room-anton-yelchin-alia-shawkat-joe-cole

Green Room certainly wasn’t a film that we hoped or expected would be in the zeitgeist, but Saulnier’s story of Punks v. Nazis holds up to its surprising pressure admirably. An unrelenting blast of raw cinematic violence, I’m sure this one was responsible for more than a few claw marks dug into seats. It’s loud, it’s intense, it’s fast, it’s political and brutal. In other words, it’s punk. In a year of great films about music, no film let the ethos of its genre seep quite so deep into the bone as Green Room. 

Best Scene: “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”

16) Hunt for the Wilderpeople

hunt2-master768

Taika Waititi has quietly become one of our cinematic treasures, a director who can put together a pitch-perfect story and cast and make it seem like he didn’t put an ounce of effort into pulling it off, that it’s just as natural for him as breathing. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a rousing adventure flick, a young boy (the wonderful Julian Dennison) and his reluctant father (Sam Neill) against the wilderness and the world. It’s a film of deep charm that finds you in love with its characters from minute 1, the kind of film that makes your day just a little better.

Best Scene: Ricky and Hec meet three hunters

15) The Lobster

the-lobster-6

If you’re single and you feel bad about it? Just watch The Lobster. I mean, you won’t necessarily feel better. You’ll laugh a lot, sure, but as much as is from the quiet absurdity of the jokes in Yorgos Lanthimos’ script, there’s plenty that ends up just being the uncomfortable recognition of real life reflected. The Lobster is a dark, brutal satire that deadpans its way through all of what it has to say, knowing it’s the quiet fury that hits all the harder. Colin Farrell’s David is perhaps one of the most surprising performances in years, an actor abandoning all vanity to give himself completely over to a character firmly opposite to him, and that chance lays dividends. The Lobster is a gorgeously bleak and hilarious and all too recognizable film.

Best Scene: David and The Shortsighted Woman’s tense walk through the mall

14) Kubo and the Two Strings

kubo_sunset_laika_focus-0

Kubo and The Two Strings is a deeply felt film, that wears surprisingly difficult ideas about death, moving on, and the power of storytelling inside every frame of its epic video-game inspired adventure. Laika went bigger than they ever had before and it paid off, making a film of the kind of sweeping power that can mean something different to everybody. For kids, they see the trials of growing up. For adults, they see the trials of moving on. It’s also possibly one of the most gorgeous pieces of animation in years with its rich color and heartstopping motion and moment after moment where you just can’t imagine how they pulled it off. Yet it’s not in the biggest moments that Kubo finds visual strength, but in its smallest, in its textures and its facial expressions. Kubo is a stunning piece of animation and a deeply affecting one.

Best Scene: A beautiful goodbye to end the movie.

13) Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

03-popstar-w529-h352

Joke for joke, this is probably the funniest comedy of the year. The Lonely Island crafted a movie that exemplified everything that brought them their deserved fame: their specificity, their enormous talent, their willingness to go weird and out-of-the-box, their ethos that anything and everything about a scene can be a joke, and the fact that they’re actually pretty strong songwriters. Popstar nails its target so dead-on that it excuses the well-worn ground they trod. It even makes you grow to care about these ridiculous people a little while you laugh at them.

Best Scene: A killer bee attack while the camera is turned off.

12) The Handmaiden

1ffmnwh3gb4iucaf1y8k5bq

The Handmaiden is not the stuffy art film the picture above makes it appear. Yes, it’s an immaculately-composed work of Gothicism from Korean master Park Chan-Wook and yes it has plenty of ambiguity and dark psychosexual mindgames. It’s all that but it’s shoved into one of the most thrilling capers the year has to offer with a wicked sense of humor and a plot that twists every which way imaginable. It’s also got a masterful cast with two leads who deserve to be up at the Oscars this year. The Handmaiden is about as exciting and enjoyable as any blockbuster and as smart and well put-together as any art film. But that’s Park Chan-Wook for you, who continues to prove why he’s one of World Cinema’s best filmmakers.

Best Scene: This is a film where I don’t think I can pick a best scene, everything is so interconnected. Gun to my head? An early scene between our two leads in a bathtub.

11) The Edge of Seventeen

45b73b25-e872-4ce6-a8da-f2c4ea989412

Boy, I saw a few horror films this year and nothing made me avert my face from the screen quite as much as The Edge of Seventeen. A painfully identifiable look at teenagerdom through the eyes of the kind of teen we don’t see a whole lot on screen (not popular, not outwardly geeky, not some kind of saint), this is a film destined to join the canon of great teen films. Kelly Fremon Craig’s directorial debut is a nimbly put together work, one that gives plenty of room to a wonderful script and an impressive cast that includes Blake Jenner showing he’s got chops and perhaps the most Woody Harrelson role that he has ever been able to play (and in that, he soars). But if Hailee Steinfeld wasn’t already a star, this would definitely be the movie that makes her one, giving one of the most impressive and nuanced performances of the year that never loses its capacity to find truth. Just a film of deep thought and feeling that wears every bit of emotion on its sleeve.

Best Scene: A confrontation between Nadine and Drian

The Handmaiden is a gothic lesbian romantic dark comedy caper all at once. And that’s pretty awesome.

The Handmaiden is a whole HELL of a lot of movie. A caper comedy, a gothic drama, a lesbian romance/erotica, and a surprisingly dark thriller all in the same movie. A lesser movie would turn this many clashing tones into an absolute mess. The Handmaiden is not a lesser movie. It’s gifted with the guiding hand of Park Chan-Wook, a director extraordinaire who is able to turn this movie into a ruthlessly enjoyable and deeply felt masterwork.

Based on the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, Sookee (Kim Tae-Ri) is a young conman and the daughter of a legendary thief hanged shortly after she was born. She’s enlisted by another conman, Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-Woo), to help him with a scheme most foul. She will become the handmaiden to the reclusive Lady Hideko (Kim Min-Hee) and Sookee will push Hideko to fall in love with the Count before her Uncle (Cho Jin-Woong) marries her. Once Fujiwara marries Hideko, he will commit her to an asylum and run off with Hideko’s inheritance, having given Sookee and other collaborators a share.

Of course, what Fujiwara didn’t count on is that Sookee and Hideko would find a connection deeper than a conman and her mark. Of course, a lot of people don’t count on a lot of things in the movie, but don’t let me get ahead of myself. It’s worth seeing the movie.

What’s funny is that I can see a world in which I don’t much care for The Handmaiden. It’s long as hell and it structurally spends a lot of time going back over the same story ground. It’s got tonal shifts all over the place and a lot of plot construction that hangs in delicate balance. This movie could have fallen apart at any point.

But it doesn’t. And though I’ve already done it, I’d hate to be so reductionist as to give all the credit to writer/director Park Chan-Wook (along with co-writer Chung Seo-Kyung). I’d hate to, but it seems like I’m going to anyway.

The Handmaiden is undeniably different from what Park has done in the past. For one, it’s the funniest of his films, far more successful at that than I’m a Cyborg, but That’s OK. While a streak of brutal black humor runs through the whole of his work, The Handmaiden has a much lighter and defter tone. It’s often riotously funny (which you wouldn’t have known from the audience I saw it with) and endlessly entertaining. In fact, for a director who seemingly made his name on such dark and difficult films as Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the biggest surprise of The Handmaiden is how accessible and entertaining it is. While his mean and sadistic streak isn’t all gone, it’s replaced by something of a genuine romantic.

What isn’t replaced though is Park’s extraordinary skill as a director. Every image he captures is perfect forward momentum through the story and just stunning to look at. Much of that he owes to his production design team, giving the film a sumptuous Gothic look, particularly in the mansion where most of the film takes place, blending wartime Japanese architecture with dark English gothic. It’s stunning and immaculately designed, but that’s not all.

It’s how Park keeps the tones shifting and blending and keeps the audience on their toes. Directing isn’t just about how you guide the camera, but how you guide the story. Park feels constantly in control of the story, giving it just the right touches of sweetness and humanity at every step to keep it from losing track of what it needs to be. This thing is just fun, there’s nothing else to it. Immaculately made and fun, a side of Park I never thought I’d really see.

That fun has plenty of core, of course. It’s a film with plenty of male gaze, but plenty of critique therein of that. It’s a film about how people fall in love and the choices they make and what they leave behind. It’s a film about sex and kink and the ways that we use it. Park has a lot on his mind (to be fair, I’m sure the original novel did too) through the story.

Of course, it’s not all about Park. Kim Tae-Ri is giving an amazing performance as Sookee, there’s plenty of layers to her performance, playing it just as fish-out-of-water as she is knowing and wry. Her chemistry with Min-hee Kim is real and palpable (in addition to Kim’s own impressive performance) and makes their romance deeply tangible.  

The Handmaiden is a really impressive piece of work, the kind of film that feels vital and reminds us exactly why film is still alive in 2016, as well as a reminder of why Park Chan-Wook is one of our most important filmmakers. Accessible and thoughtful in equal measure, it’s absolutely a story that should be seen if you have any love for film.

GRADE: A