Thursday, December 26, 2019

Cinema 2010's: The Notable Works, a Preliminary Report of the Best Movies of the Decade(2010 to 2019)

Game Changers:

The Blackcoat's Daughter
Damsels in Distress
Tron Legacy
The World's End
Hail, Caesar!
The Hunt(Danish)
At the peak are the films above. These works stand out from the rest of the field for their originality, depth, vision, mastery, brilliance and/or perfection. They have something more than excellence or even greatness. Each is singular and extraordinary, truly one of a kind in power or subtlety. They have a sublime quality rare even in great works. Films of this kind are becoming rarer by the day for the simple reason that cinema has been an established art form for some time, meaning originality is ever harder to come by. Indeed, even of the films listed above, it's arguable that only MOTHER! by Darren Aronofsky is truly original, a work that somehow managed to break through the sight-and-sound barrier into a new dimension in cinema. Still, there is something to be said for TRON: LEGACY, one of the most inventive uses of computer technology. Though ANT-MAN, the new ROBOCOP, and ENDER'S GAME are contenders in top-notch special effects, they are rather thin on ideas. In contrast, TRON: LEGACY, with its exploration of the gateway between creativity and spirituality, is ultimately more than a visual roller-coaster ride. INCEPTION, certainly not lacking for ingenuity, could have been part of this elite list, but its literal-minded conception of the dream world, Michael-Bay-style action scenes, and bloated monumentalism held it down from soaring above the clouds. Of the honored films, six or seven qualify as works of genre, but they also transcend, redefine, and/or annihilate restrictions intrinsic to the form. Thus, MOTHER! and THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER are much more than what we would expect from Horror. And DAMSELS IN DISTRESS and HAIL, CAESAR! offer food for thought along with laughs, of which there are many. THE WORLD'S END is the most 'frivolous' film on the list, and one may ask why it's ranked so highly. Because breakneck wit and brilliance at such level is truly a wonder to behold. At every turn, it outpaces expectation. Furthermore, unlike other Edgar Wright movies that are big on laughter but thin on character, THE WORLD'S END is surprisingly affecting as a story of friendship and memory. TRON: LEGACY is clearly sci-fi, but like the best works in the genre, its question is essentially spiritual, about the realization of a deeper truth unknown to the conscious realm of reason and logic. Martin Scorsese's SILENCE, Thomas Vinterberg's THE HUNT, and Chris Nolan's DUNKIRK are what one might call 'art films', though one could place Nolan's film in the 'War Movie' category. But then, there are war movies and then there films about war, and DUNKIRK belongs in the latter category. It's like GOODFELLAS is more a film about gangsters than a movie in the gangster genre(like SCARFACE and LITTLE CAESAR). SILENCE continues in the excellent vein of KUNDUN and goes even further in its rumination on the paradoxical nature of Christianity. It also exorcises what went so wrong with THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, a work with all the elements of greatness but stumbled embarrassingly with judgement calls, not least in casting. THE HUNT is one of the most agonizing films in a long time, but its pain is earned honestly. It is also an improvement over Vinterberg's earlier Dogma-films that favored crudity and sensationalism over precision and meaning. It's difficult to think of another film with focus as intense as in THE HUNT, and it is the real thing, unlike the expensive exploitation movie PRISONERS that looks great but is utterly sick. On the surface, THE HUNT may seem like a run-of-the-mill sullen European 'art film' with a depressive view of life, but the narrative mines the impossible nature of truth. Because we the viewer are close to the main character, we know of the injustice of what he goes through, but there are no villains here, and even the 'hero' could easily be on the other side if someone else had come under the suspicion. In avoiding the cheap shots of moralism — even many so-called 'art films' are hardly more complex on moral issues than Stephen King stories — , THE HUNT is all the more dark and tragic. The theme is bigger than the difficulty of justice; it's about the impossibility of truth. This isn't to say truth is relative or subjective as it's more than obvious in many cases that someone really is guilty of something — if anyone still believes Jussie Smollett's story, he is either retarded or hopeless. Rather, there are cases where the only truth we have is the accusation and the denial, and so much of reality falls into that dark hole. If RASHOMON is about the egoism of truth, THE HUNT is about the solitude of truth. And yet, we can't blame the people of the town for trusting the child who made the accusation, and we can't blame the child for conforming to neo-puritanism of the times in search for new witches in a world hungry for moral justification. Speaking of Art Cinema, one could argue MOTHER! is more an Art Film than a work of horror. Indeed, if it is genre, it would be the first such in Aronofsky's body of work, though, to be sure, all of his films have genre touches. In a way, Aronofsky has been one of the most personal directors, and all of his films qualify as Art Cinema on par with the works of Ingmar Bergman, Shohei Imamura, and Jean-Luc Godard. And yet, his penchant for sensationalism and endless references to pop culture(rivaling David Lynch) has suggested more a hipster-hustler-prophet(like the grotesque James Toback) than a dedicated artist, and this accounts for why all his films prior to MOTHER! have been intermittently successful as art, though when his punches land, they are as formidable as any moment in cinema — consider the final scene in THE WRESTLER, one of the greatest ever. But with MOTHER!, Aronofsky made it to that special place, the Olympus(or Hades as the case may be) of achievement rarely approached by even the greatest. Bergman and Fellini made it once each, respectively with PERSONA and 8 1/2. Bunuel, Tarkovsky, and Lynch twice each, respectively with UN CHIEN ANDALOU & LOS OLVIDADOS, ANDREI RUBLEV & STALKER and ERASERHEAD & MULHOLLAND DR. To find oneself in this company, one needs something more than conscious creativity, experience, knowledge, and craft. One needs contact with the Muse of Mystery, a power that the Jeff Bridges character came to channel in TRON: LEGACY. In terms of meaning and message, MOTHER! continues in the vein of his earlier works. What sets it apart is the intensity running ahead of conscious control. If ever there was a case of creative nuclear melt-down, this is it. It is the Chernobyl of cinema, and it is amazing how Aronofsky managed to mold something so crystalline out of this radioactive chaos. He pulled a diamond out of the coals of hell. The nucleus of the idea got amplified by neural leaps and bounds by a man who wrote/directed as if possessed. Though the film is about chaos, doom, and world gone mad, Aronofsky never lost control of the material(as Nolan sometimes did in INCEPTION and as Gilliam invariably does). It is tour-de-force, all the more powerful because the inspiration sprung from deep within. After all, plenty of directors have given us mad visions. Think of Alan Parker with PINK FLOYD THE WALL and ANGEL HEART. Or, Joel Schumacher with FLATLINERS and Adrian Lyne with JACOB'S LADDER. Lyne's movie is very good, and Schumacher's has its moments. Parker is mostly obnoxious(and Terry Gilliam is among the worst of the madcappers). But with a few exceptional moments in JACOB'S LADDER, most of the craziness is on the surface, the stuff of visual trickery and stylistic flourish(borrowed generously from earlier masters, especially Lang, Murnau, and Welles). In contrast, MOTHER! cuts and probes deep, touching sensitive nerves — like an extended version of the squirming-brain scene in PI — associated with spiritual and existential anxiety. It's the difference between "Gimme Shelter" by the Stones and all those heavy-duty loud-as-hell Heavy Metal songs. The Rolling Stones' song emerged like a maelstrom from a dark and disturbed place and had a genuine element of the Faustian. In contrast, most of heavy metal rock is superficial posturing as 'bad boys'. It's almost as if Aronofsky made a psycho-spatial version of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN that involves everything from the smallest atoms to the biggest stars, all of them embodied in the madness that engulfs a single home. If Charlie Kaufman connects dots in mental-scape and if David Lynch lurks in the sewage of the mind, Aronofsky went all out and blew out the entire neural fuse-box. It's been said that all of a man's life passes before his eyes at the moment of death, and MOTHER! is like all of history passing by before our collective eyes as the West faces doom, what Douglas Murray politely refers to as the 'strange death of Europe'. Aronofsky, being a crazy Jew, probably delights in the fall of the white race, but MOTHER! is as much a subconscious as a conscious work, and what it reveals is that even the proggy cosmo-Jewish mind is deeply anxious about a world in hyper-acceleration mode spiraling out of control of what had long been the gravitational orbit. One wonders where Aronofsky will go from here. A truly great work is as much a curse as well as a blessing. After one climbs the Everest, what else is there? Only a handful of artists managed to make works comparable to their first peak. Consider Kubrick with BARRY LYNDON and SHINING after 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. If Aronosfky can conceive of another work as powerful as MOTHER!(his THE WILD BUNCH), he will enter the pantheon. Or he may end up like Lina Wertmuller who, after her masterpiece SEVEN BEAUTIES, never came close(and even ended up at times with self-parody). And personally, I don't think Cassavetes did anything truly worthy after his greatest work HUSBANDS. As different as Whit Stillman's DAMSELS IN DISTRESS is from MOTHER!, they have one thing in common. Both are perfectionist culminations of artists who reshaped their earlier ideas & fixations with greater mastery and inspiration. As such, neither film has any fat or off-moment. Granted, the lack of 'perfection' is part of the charm of films like METROPOLITAN, THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, THE WRESTLER, and NOAH, but there is something to be said for a film that's cut like a perfect diamond. DAMSELS IN DISTRESS is a true gem, each gleam of which radiates with goofy charm and oddball humor. But it's not only one of the funniest things I've ever seen but a wistful musing on the role of love and romance in the arc of history and lifeline of civilization. That Stillman artfully touched on grand themes with such good humor and brevity of narrative is a testament to how things can go right with the right story, right cast, and right mood. But, as with Aronofsky and MOTHER!, I worry about Stillman. Where can he go from here? While he can go on making good movies, will he reach such heights again? Francois Truffaut for one never reached the greatness of JULES AND JIM despite his many good subsequent films. Coen Brothers HAIL, CAESAR! is a movie I dreaded seeing. Were they doing Mel Brooks? Actually, the remarkable movie has more in common with DR. STRANGELOVE. If Kubrick's masterpiece had the audacity to treat Mass Death by nuclear holocaust as satire, Coens' comedy is about the birth of the Western Template via synthesis of Jewish Prophecy and Roman Imperialism. The approach is both cynical & mocking and sincere & moving, not least because it's about a Hollywood production of a Biblical epic involving insipid movie stars, resentful ideologues(mostly writers who get crumbs), bullying executives, and nosy gossip columnists. Neo-Imperial Hollywood with its Money and Myth-making serves as a metaphor for Western Civilization(much like NASHVILLE by Altman stood for America) since the arrival of Jesus, the figure who paradoxically did most to divide Jews and Gentiles by bringing Gentiles over to Jewish myths. European Christians who came to worship a Jew as the Son of God also came to regard Jews as the killer of their Lord. And yet, it was in America that somehow Jews came to inherit and take over the Holy Roman Template. HAIL, CAESAR! can be enjoyed as straightforward comedy about what happens on movie sets, or it can be approached as a grand game theory of history. The main character in the movie is given a chance to work in the Death Industry of nuclear arms, the weapons that blow up the world in DR. STRANGELOVE, but he sticks to serving the Hollywood Myth Machine as the true church of America, and one controlled by 'wise' and mysterious Jewish moguls. A truly multi-faceted work that can be enjoyed on several levels. As for DUNKIRK, it's something of a surprise to myself that it ranks so high. On the surface, it seems like just another good war film, and it's hard to think of a scene that stands out as particularly special or different from what other war films have done. It's not a work of intensely great moments like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. It's not a high-concept work like THIN RED LINE. It lacks the epic scope of Kobayashi's HUMAN CONDITION or the intimacy of Rossellini's PAISAN. It lacks the edginess of FIRES ON THE PLAIN or audacity of FULL METAL JACKET. And yet, cumulatively all the moments add up to something ennobling and beautiful. In a way, DUNKIRK is a COUNTER-WAR-MOVIE, which is different from Anti-War Films. DUNKIRK is most notable not for what it teaches us about war or WWII in particular but its approach to the subject of war. Thus, what Nolan was working against was the claims or cliches inherent in the genre. After WWII, war movies became a genre unto themselves and one-after-another was knocked out by Hollywood with regularity approaching Westerns. Since the post-Vietnam-War Era, serious film-makers have generally made what came to be known as Anti-War films that showed in grisly and grim details the horrors of war and its psychological toll. Oliver Stone became most famous with PLATOON. As the bad memory of Vietnam faded and the Jew-run US asserted itself as the Lone Superpower empire, a certain nostalgia developed for the Greatest Generation, and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was meant as a tribute to them(and for future wars targeting New Hitlers). Though opposites, what PLATOON and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN have in common is a sense of self-importance, also true of THE DEER HUNTER and APOCALYPSE NOW. PLATOON is an intense statement about America's sins, and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN is a grand tribute to America as a redeemer-nation. Because of the extreme nature of war(and as war movies aren't routinely cranked out like after WWII), makers of war movies tend to go for grandiosity in statement and/or production, the object of mockery in TROPIC THUNDER. The message tends to be either patriotic, a paean to noble patriotic soldiers(like Mel Gibson's WE WERE SOLDIERS), or 'radical', an indictment of the meaninglessness of war where pawns are used to serve the vanities of those in power. DUNKIRK, though obviously made in honor of the WWII generation of Britain, is rather muted and mannered. And it refrains from grand statements and makes no claims to be the Mother of all War Movies upping the ante. Rather, with efficiency and grace, Nolan shows war as the culmination of all the little moments, by soldiers and civilians, those fleeing and those rushing to help the fleeing. Despite all the violence and terror, there are no earth-shaking BIG MOMENTS as in PLATOON or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. As such, every moment is on the human scale and as important or no less important than any other, and we never forget that war, despite its awesome scale, is experienced by each participant on the human level. Some of the most memorable scenes are the quietest, as when the father of one of the rescue boats cues his son not to press upon a traumatized soldier whose panic led to the death of his friend. It is this human quality and the element of grace in pacing, duration, and details that ultimately leave a deeper and richer impression. PLATOON and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN have intense moments that overpower us with emotions(and guts-and-glory or guts-and-gory), but once the film is over and we leave the theater, we feel a bit embarrassed for having been put through the wringer. With DUNKIRK,there is no hangover as Nolan's objective wasn't to overwhelm us with the Moment or the Meaning. As such, the film not only show the Brits at war but embodies the very spirit of hardy stoicism and civic spirit, something that eroded with the rise of Rock Star egotism in the 60s. Of all the films listed below, THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER is the one I care about most, one I wouldn't mind watching over and over. It is the darkest film by far. If MOTHER! is about the failure of Heaven on Earth, THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER is about love in hell. The young woman in the film ends up killing two very sweet ladies who've devoted their life to serving girls on campus. She also murders a man and wife coping with the worst kind of tragedy. And yet, she feels no remorse because she is in love with the Devil. In THE EXORCIST, the girl is saved when the Devil is lifted from her body. In THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER, the love for the Devil lingers long after the exorcism. Also, the young woman isn't merely a hapless victim but a participant in the seduction and corruption. It is one of the strangest and most provocative films about the power of Evil. At the end of THE THIRD MAN, despite the woman knowing that Harry Lime was a monster and even meant to betray her, she is still in love with him and completely blind(and even contemptuous) of the man who did the right thing. There have been many stories about Evil and horror, but I don't believe I've quite seen a film that delves so subtly into the area of the soul that can fall in love with the unspeakable. THE WITCH treads similar grounds but, good as it is, is a comic strip compared to THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER.


Life of Pi
True Grit
The Irishman
The Adventures of Tintin
Before Midnight
Blue Jasmine
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Kings of Summer
The Wolf of Wall Street
Before I Disappear
August Osage County
The Counselor (Scott)
Slow West
Turin Horse
American Animals
Unknown Soldier(Finland)
Elena (Russia)
Twin Peaks the Return
Maps to the Stars
Ash Is Purest White
Poetry (Lee)
Snow White and the Huntsman
Sunset Song
Journey's End
These films in the 'Masterwork' category fall a bit short due to artistic compromise, thematic limitation, conventionality, incompleteness, and/or lack of sufficient depth/imagination. LIFE OF PI is full of wonderment and heartbreak in its blend of fairy tale and tragedy, but the self-help vibes render it a bit pat, even smug. Still, it's one of the rare works with artistic use of special effects. INCEPTION could have been an all-time great movie, but Nolan overloaded it with blockbuster elements. Perhaps, that was the only way he could have gotten it made, but it is seriously compromised. It's too bad because Nolan came up with ingenious complications from a deceptively simple idea, much like Asimov with the three laws of robots. Even more inspired was the delving into how the personal underlies the 'political' or 'business' side of life, something the hero wrestlers with even as he goes about tampering with the psyche of his target. The concept merges cold calculation of business, keen logic of psychology, and poetic poignancy, with implications dark and profound. It envisions a world where the most intimate and private space can be hacked and altered. But then, in a way, such mind-control techniques have always existed via the power of arts, drama, and music whose effects seep into our psyche and fundamentally alter our way of seeing ourselves and the world. In our time, Jews use these means of media to hypnotize and manipulate us at the deep level as so much of arts & entertainment appeal to us emotionally and subliminally, altering our perceptions from within. So many people have been 'incepted' trance-like without their ever knowing who manipulated them and how. TRUE GRIT by the Coens is a movie I disliked rather intensely because the female character is so repulsive in looks and behavior, but upon second viewing, she is exactly as the Coens intended. We can't fault the movie for having an unlikable character as unlikable-ness is a fact of life, and something that art/entertainment exist to reflect. Besides, its her very unlikable-ness that drives the narrative. She has the tenacity of a bulldog. Jeff Bridges' performance teeters into caricature at times, and everyone knows the basic story from the John Wayne original. Still, it's a solid work all around and with some truly inspired moments that rival any in cinema. One thing for sure, the Coens have certainly graduated into Movie Mastery in the new century. There are no surprises in Steven Spielberg's rendition of THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN except that it's superbly done, much more so than most movies of the kind. You just have to appreciate the expertise and ingenuity of everyone involved in the project. Richard Linklater's BEFORE SUNSET is the Goldilocks middle between the overly cute and coy BEFORE SUNRISE and the tiresomely sour and bitter BEFORE MIDNIGHT. BEFORE SUNSET retraces the romanticism of the first while foreboding the weariness of the third. It's a perfect little film, and maybe it should have ended there, just like BOYHOOD would have done better to end at its halfway mark. BLUE JASMINE is Woody Allen's best in a long time. Though more tragedy than drama, it is amusing throughout. It's a story about a woman who deserves all her woes but still wins our sympathy because the audience can see themselves in her vanity, (self)deceptions, and desperation. She feels the perennial victim without any regard for all those wronged by the ill-gotten loot that had once propped up her lifestyle. The one time she acted against financial security was out of egotism and vanity, to get even with her cheating husband. As such, it is a damning indictment of the coastal elite class and its attitudes. It's about emotional as well as material selfishness, but then, the latter often follows from the former. The problem isn't merely too-much-money but the very mindset of entitlement. Just like the girl in THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER is still with the Devil despite having been exorcised, Jasmine still thinks and talks 'rich' though fallen flat on the ground. It's been compared to STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE but also reminds us of HOUSE OF MIRTH. Privilege isn't merely a status but a state-of-mind, and there are few sadder things than a person still stuck in one mindset while having been pushed into another social setting. The mind fails to adapt to the changed reality, thus goes mad. GRAVITY isn't much in terms of concept or theme but what awesome use of technology. It is surely one of the few times when 3D was justified in cinema. Like most sci-fi movies heavy on effects but weak on themes, GRAVITY's reputation will surely diminish in time, but what an experience it was on the big screen. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS seems a bit unsatisfying though the reasons may be intrinsic to its strengths as well. The Coens created a full-fleshed character with a lively personality, but he isn't given much to do and is flattened into the bleak and dreary landscape between NY and Chicago. Davis is a folk-singer without contact with the folks. He's a creature of big cities. Also, he wants to be famous, a star, but works in the folk idiom that is supposed to be humble. Davis is aware that many in the folk scene are poseurs, fakes, & hipsters, and strives to be different, a real artist. At a club, he mocks the one woman who is truly of folk background and gets punched by her husband in a scene reminiscent of George Bailey getting knocked out by the angry husband in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. It is a thoughtful work about the price of freedom and also a worthy tribute to all the contemporaries of Dylan who failed to become him(and oddly enough, it is better than most movies about or with Dylan, the exception of course being PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID). It also has one of the most remarkable uses of animals in movies. KINGS OF SUMMER is one of the best youth movies in a long time. The quality of youth/teen movies have improved in the 2000s. One merely needs to think of the 80s when most coming-of-age movies were either John Hughes' silly teen comedies(though some are endearing) and all those trashy sex comedies. THE SURE THING was one of the few good ones from the decade, and the 90s weren't much better. In more recent yrs, even youth movies I don't like(and even detest) tend to be made with more intelligence and personal style, and KINGS OF SUMMER is the clear winner. Even its sitcom-like parts are done to perfection. It captures the immaturity, excitement, romanticism, and naivete of youth. Also, the characters are eccentric to the point of amusement without becoming freaks or caricatures. Youth is the sun-packed noon of life, and KINGS OF SUMMER glows with radiance. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET features Martin Scorsese firing on all cylinders. But its de-emphasis of the Jewish angle robs it of meaning. Consider THE GODFATHER and GOODFELLAS where very little is made of the fact that they're about Italian-Americans. As such, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET becomes a rather generic travelogue about greed and debauchery. Without grounding in some specific social or cultural milieu, all the lunacy turns into boisterous ANIMAL-HOUSE-like revelry, even celebration, of white collar 'gangsta' life. As such, its ultimate meaning is hardly different from that of OLD SCHOOL. True, there is something about how Belfort's life falls apart, he loses his wife & family, and has to do time behind bars. But the good times are presented with such pizzazz that the moral reminders become just a footnote. Still, there are some scenes in the movie(esp those with Jonah Hill) that are as good as anything Scorsese has done. BEFORE I DISAPPEAR, written, directed, and acted by Shawn Christensen is a truly audacious film on all levels, worthy of comparison to Bunuel. It deftly interweaves several plot-lines and, more remarkably, contrasting emotional strains to create a bewildering picture of life as a state of constant collision of social forces and inner turmoil. Most movies fit like easy puzzles, but BEFORE I DISAPPEAR is one where the pieces fall in place in unexpected ways. Depressing but also exhilarating in a way. AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY has unpleasant people bickering and making fools of themselves, but it's finely directed, excellently acted all around, and true to life. THE COUNSELOR in the hands of Ridley Scott is bit too slick for a dark and damning film about the dynamics of globalist-capitalism where first world neo-imperialism merges with third world tribal-gangsterism. In that regard, it is less satisfying and entertaining than NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Still, if the Coens pared(and diminished) their material to a harrowing bare-bones action flick, THE COUNSELOR sticks closer to the central theme of the world on edge as the result of melting borders(more dangerous than melting ice caps) and fading authority. Best of all, it has ruthless courage about the price of the New World Order. Play with fire, and just know there may be no way out. And of course, there will be collateral damage for the innocents, but then, who is innocent in a world where everyone is on the same grid? SLOW WEST is the one film on this list that could have made it on the higher category of 'Game Changers'. A special kind of Western, there is really nothing else like it. As concept and in tone, it is closer in spirit to HAROLD AND MAUDE and DAMSELS IN DISTRESS. It is less a Western with quirky elements than a quirky romantic story situated in the West. Indeed, the story begins not in the American West but some place in Scotland. Thus, it's less about the people of the American West than a Scottish dreamer who ventures even as afar as the Wild West to find his true love. Not surprisingly, it didn't do much at the box office but deserves to be a genuine Cult Film. AMERICAN ANIMALS deftly retraces the ill-conceived heist of rare Audubon books by college students who channel the old pioneer/outlaw energies in the current America that no longer has use for such. The irony, of course, is that in a way the young men have more in common with the spirit of Audubon the adventurer-artist than the official institution that keeps everything under lock and key. In this respect, AMERICAN ANIMALS has something in common with INTO THE WILD, KINGS OF SUMMER, and CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, all of which are about people dropping out of society to reconnect with the primal, authentic, and personal. Still, AMERICAN ANIMALS is under no illusion that the crime could be justified on any grounds. It is also a lesson on how tricks of psychology and influence of pop culture myths can make even people from respectable and law-abiding backgrounds to lose sight of the barrier between reality and fantasy. TOMORROWLAND was considered a failure, and perhaps that explains why Disney prefers to stick with the tried-and-tested Marvel and STAR WARS 'franchises'. After all, TOMORROWLAND, though owing its inspiration to earlier works, was created from scratch as an original idea. And it is fantastic in imagination and brilliant in execution. It is also genuinely oddball and a bit twisted, and those factors may have perplexed parents and children alike. It's too bad that when Disney actually did something amazingly original, the public said no. ELENA is a stark tale of class and privilege. Moreover, it's a cautionary tale of how mere privilege can lose out to blood loyalty. TWIN PEAKS THE RETURN is a TV series, so why here? Because Lynch is a major figure in American Cinema. While TWIN PEAKS THE RETURN is overlong and goes off in too many tangents, it has many great passages and arrives at a truly horrifying 'closure', scarred by the most frightening scream in cinema. Possibly Lynch's last major work, it is reminder that no matter how much we try to escape from or resolve our issues and problems via the form of art and entertainment, there is no way out. In that, it shares with THE COUNSELOR a truly tragic view of life. MAPS TO THE STARS by David Cronenberg isn't easy viewing as just about everyone is about the least likable character one can imagine. Selfish, stupid, vain, nasty, vicious, vengeful, etc. Still, far more than the sometimes hokey COSMOPOLIS, it is a cold indictment of the soulless modernity of celebrity & idolatry. ASH IS THE PUREST WHITE by Zhangke Jia is another none-too-enjoyable film but it's convincing as a story of life. Like him or not, Jia is interested in what-is than what-we-want, and as such, is a true artist. What makes cinema entertaining is the meeting of the minds between us and the characters and between the characters. We want to see attractive people as our alter egos, and most movies feature attractive or appealing actors. Also, for dreams to come true, there must be a meeting of the minds between the principal characters so that, though once divided, they are one for all and all for one. But life rarely works that way, and Jia's ASH IS PUREST WHITE is about the impossibility of love among impossible individuals. Just when one gazes into the heart of another, the latter's heart is resolutely and stone-cold elsewhere. As Jia accepts it as reality, there is no sentimentality or melodramatic pathos. Just the painful realization that life is as is. Jia's works may be hard to take — and I've never been a fan — because his films suggest at genre formula but stolidly remain in the mode of realism. Because ASH IS THE PUREST WHITE involves gangsters and a moll, we approach it with certain expectations, but what's missing is the process that filters out the roughness and churns out a smooth familiar narrative. Most movies are processed meat, but Jia gives us raw meat. Not easy to chew on but the blood and fiber taste real. POETRY by Lee Chang-Dong uses the onset of Alzheimer's Disease as metaphor for social amnesia that makes people blind and forgetful of what really matters in terms of truth and justice. It is perhaps overly elaborate as story-telling but has an always welcome message that appearances can deceive. SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN may be derivative and overly reliant on action/spectacle/special effects, but it's the best of its kind. Along with LIFE OF PI, TRON LEGACY, GRAVITY, and few others, it totally justifies CGI as art-form in its own right. It is also edited to perfection with zero fat. JOURNEY'S END is war tragedy done to perfection. SUNSET SONG is heartfelt elegy made with equal measure of grit and grace. TURIN HORSE, like anything by Bela Tarr, isn't easy to take but worthy of respect. Tarr is for real, and his meditation on life flows from within as harbingers of dark times. If Ingmar Bergman operated with surgical precision, Tarr's heavy blows fall with blunt density to bruise our modern complacence. UNKNOWN SOLDIER is a remarkable film that features soldiers simply as men than as heroes, martyrs, victims or villains, which sounds simple enough but isn't easy to pull off in the extreme framework of something so politicized, sensationalized, moralized, and mythologized as war. It is what Sam Peckinpah's CROSS OF IRON should have been. Perhaps, I should rank it even higher. Just when you think War Movies have nothing more to add comes this masterpiece from Finland.


The Master
A Separation
The Conspirator
Shutter Island
Touch of Sin
The Way Back
Blade Runner 2049
Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
The Neon Demon
Ender's Game
The Great Beauty
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
American Sniper
Bridge of Spies
Queen and Country
The German Doctor
The Day
The Mule
Moonrise Kingdom
All Is Lost
Coming Home (Yimou)
Upstream Color
American Pastoral
Life Father Like Son
A Prophet (2009, released in US in 2010)
Rules Don't Apply
Joe (Nicholas Cage)
Act of Killing
Of Gods and Men
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
The Witch
Silent Souls
War Horse
Everybody Wants Some
This Must Be the Place
11 Flowers
Boardwalk Empire Episodes 1,2

Worthy Efforts:

Despicable Me
The American
The Devil
In a World
Uncut Gems
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
The Grey
Phil Specter (Mamet)
El Camino
Give Me Liberty
The Disaster Artist
The Ward
A Dangerous Method
Apollo 11
Manchester by the Sea
J. Edgar
Cold in July
Cold War
After the Storm
Oslo August 31
John Carter
Devil's Knot
Third Murder
Florida Project
The Hunger Games
The Fighter
Mother (Bong - 2009, released in US in 2010)
Captain Fantastic
The Bling Ring
American Hustle
White Material (2009, released in US in 2010)
Where Is Kyra?
Lone Survivor
Hunt for Wilderpeople
Lego Movie
Hacksaw Ridge
Love and Mercy
Black Sea
End of the Tour
Mistress America
Wolf Totem
Cafe Society
The Captive
The Glass Castle
American Made
Ready Player One
Hot Summer Nights
First Man
Visit (Shyamalan)
Goodbye First Love
Three (Johnny To)
I Wish
Our Little Sister
Only Lovers Left Alive
Baby Driver
Winter's Bone
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
Force Majeure
First Reformed
Toni Erdmann
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt 1

Not without Merit:

Star Wars: Rogue One
Only God Forgives
Jeepers Creepers 3
Please Give
300: Rise of an Empire
Resident Evil: Afterlife
Resident Evil: Retribution
Resident Evil: Final Chapter
Edge of Tomorrow
The Lighthouse
Short Term 12
Rebel in the Rye
Exit Through the Gift Shop
127 Hours
Wind Rises
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Frances Ha
Blue Valentine
World of Kanako
Savages (Stone)
Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt 2

Lauded Movies I Detest(or Protest):

Black Swan
The Social Network
Gone Girl
Tree of Life
Before Midnight
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Zero Dark Thirty
Perks of Being a Wall Flower
Big Short
Ad Astra
Remember (Egoyan)
La La Land
Dark Knight Rises
Dragged Across Concrete
Never Let Me Go
The Martian
Rise of Planet of the Apes
Ex Machina
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Hell or High Water
Steve Jobs
Killer Joe
The Place Beyond the Pines
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
The Guest
It Follows
Safety Not Guaranteed
Scott Pilgrim and the World
The Artist
The Most Dangerous Year
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Mad Max: Fury Road
Take Shelter
Rabbit Hole
Margin Call
Madeline's Madeline
Under the Skin
Killing Them Softly
Knight of Cups
John Wick
Stories We Tell
Eighth Grade
Let the Sunshine In
Star Wars: Force Awakens

Yet to Watch(or Need to Re-Watch for Fuller Assessment)

Life of Riley
You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
An Elephant Sitting Still
12 Years a Slave
Two Days, One Night
Certified Copy
Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain Philips
I Saw the Devil
Lady Bird
Inherent Vice
Phantom Thread
Embrace of the Serpent
Four Lions
Mountains May Depart
I, Daniel Blake
What We Do in the Shadows
Love and Friendship
(500) Days of Summer
Son of Saul
Hard to be a God
Tepenin Ardi

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