I’m currently working on my own year-end list, as per GitM tradition, and be advised: I’ll probably give myself a few more weeks into 2015 since I have so many holes still to plug. (Even if I was in top movie-going form at the moment, which I’m not, DC is still a second tier town in terms of the release schedule.)
But in the meantime, and also as in year’s past, David Ehrlich has assembled another very impressive Best of the Year video with his choices. I disagree mightily with some of his picks — let’s just say Nymphomaniac won’t be cracking my list — but, once again, Ehrlich’s infectiously fun Super-Cut makes me wish I’d seen more movies this year.
On the thirtieth anniversary of Blood Simple — and as we all await Hail Caesar! — The Atlantic‘s Chris Orr has revisited and ranked all sixteen Coen films in sixteen days. I’d quibble with some of the rankings of course — Lebowski and A Serious Man are top-shelf, imo, and Intolerable Cruelty is oft-overlooked — but anybody who has Miller’s Crossing atop their list is my kinda people. Character. Ethics.
Roger Ebert, the reigning Dean of film critics, 1942-2013. As a movie reviewer, I often didn’t agree with him – I found his sensibilities a bit too saccharine for my taste. But as a writer and convivial voice, he was always inviting, and and always worth reading, and few established columnists have embraced the democratic give-and-take of writing on the web as much as he did. R.I.P.
Continuing his recent renaissance as a cultural critic, Kareem explains why the otherwise entertaining Django shouldn’t be an Oscar contender. I agree with the take-films-seriously sentiment, but, at least as far as Oscar goes, that ship sailed decades ago (and he’s too charitable to the excellent-but-also-flawed Lincoln.)
Also making the round today, Christoph Waltz and the SNL gang’s Djesus Uncrossed. A funny idea almost redeemed by Waltz, but as with so much SNL fare the execution is less clever than it should be.
Criterion Corner critic David Ehrlich makes a video announcing his top 25 of 2012. This isn’t my list by any means — I still have some catching up to do, but suffice to say, The Master won’t be on whatever I come up with — but this is a beautifully edited video nonetheless.
All in all, an interesting debate. In terms of the macro-arguments about film, I find myself leaning toward Kahn: After hundred years of film-going, I think audiences are savvier about the basic syntax than Emerson suggests. But I also agree with Emerson that Nolan is not a particularly impressive action director,and that his action sequences do feel choppy and confusing at times. This is great for something like Batman Begins, when Bats is trying to sow confusion, but otherwise not as satisfying as, say, the truck chase in Raiders.
“I’d say he was probably the most successful versatile director in Hollywood. He could do just about anything really well, from science fiction to cult thrillers to domestic dramas to westerns to romantic comedies.” To, of course, Star Wars films. Director Irvin Kershner, 1923-2010. (The great Kershner pic above via Quint at AICN.)
Salon‘s Matt Zoller Seitz (formerly of The House Next Door), sings the praises of AMC, home to Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Rubicon. I watch all of those except Rubicon, which is still languishing on the DVR for the time being. (Now that it’s canceled, unfortunately, I may never get around to uncorking it. This was also the fate of Carnivale.) As for The Walking Dead, it’s seriously overwritten at times — the sisterly pow-wow about fishing at the top of Episode 4 was just embarrassing — but I’ll stick around through the first season at least.
For even as our main character Malik (Tahar Rahim) wiles away years in “the corner of his room” in a French prison, he’s always watching, his mind’s always whirring. A Prophet is possessed of that same quiet, impressive, and inexorable intelligence. Audiard’s movie feels a bit on the long side, and, as you might expect from any movie about life in the Big House (even a French Maison Grande where everyone has separate cells and au bon pain is served on the regular) it can be hard to sit through at times. But it’s also a film that keeps making clever choices, lingering on a small detail or adding that little extra flourish that really makes various scenes resonate.
As A Prophet begins, our young prisoner is being processed for a six-year-stint in the joint for crimes unknown, although it sounds like roughing up a cop was involved. With no family or friends to speak of and a lousy public defender (Rabah Loucif) who just wants the paperwork cleared so he can get paid, Malik enters jail with nothing to his name except a desiccated cigarette and one 50-franc note. How could things get worse? Well, for starters, Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup) — the head of the Corsican gang who are the reigning ethnic power in Malik’s prison — may decide he wants an Arab prisoner (Hichem Yacoubi) murdered, and that Malik is just the fresh meat who can get into the Muslim block and get the job done. Hey, everybody’s got to start somewhere.
After wrestling with this dirty deed and its consequences, and picking up an unorthodox roommate, Malik goes from working in the prison’s blue jean factory to being the Corsicans’ new cook, maid, and whipping boy. He starts to make more friends, like Ryad (Adel Bencherif), the testicular cancer survivor who teaches him to read, and Jordi the Gypsy (Reda Kateb), the guy to go to for the quality hash. He starts to understand the prison’s racial fissures, like the great divide between the Corsicans (who treat like him an Arab, and who happen to have the guards in their pocket) and the Muslims (who treat him like a Corsican, and whose numbers are growing.) And, particularly after he establishes some friends on the outside, he starts seeing some angles to make some real money…if his Corsican masters will let him and live.
As critics go, I’m not usually a fan of the NYT’s Manohla Dargis, but her blurb in this trailer — “precisely observed” — is a very good way of putting this movie’s main strength. Time and again, A Prophet colors in its margins with small, wordless, and often devastating details. We watch Malik slice up his mouth over and over again as he tries to learn how to squirrel a razor blade in his cheek. After a day-long furlough that brings him to the beach, we see him slowly run the sand from his shoe through his fingers. When Malik one day gets on a flight, he initiates his full-cavity-search rigamarole in the security line, expecting no different from the French TSA than what he gets in prison every night.
Like I said, there are some scenes in A Prophet that can be hard to watch, and a few of the usual arthouse types at my Saturday afternoon viewing walked out. This is prison after all, and no Green Mile Oscar-bait prison either. Still, while I don’t think I’d want to see it again anytime soon, the movie definitely has moments of real grace, beauty, and haunting power. (Along with the aforementioned penchant for great novelistic details, I especially liked some of the deliriously creepy “dream” sequences in Malik’s prison cell, and particularly as they become normalized to him over the years.)
Did I like A Prophet better than Terribly Happy? Hmm, hard to say — they’re very different kinds of films, this one as sprawling and Scorsesean as Happy was lean and Coen-y. But, of the Best Foreign Film nominees in 2010, this was a much more worthwhile flick than The White Ribbon, and if The Secret in Their Eyes is better, it must be really something.