The 5th Annual Davies Awards in Film

A Look Back at 2010:

In 2009, Hollywood went to war and for the most part blew us away if not with the actual quality of their output, with their audacity at least.  In 2010 they took a deep breath and dove back into the shadows and dark alleys of the mind.  It was the year of the Neo-Noir Renaissance.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 (2nd movement) is probably one of the most recognizable and widely used pieces of classical music.  Filmmakers have returned to it over and over again – Tom Hooper just did for the excellent closing montage to The King’s Speech.  But I feel this piece of music represents clearly what the 2010 year in film was all about:  dark, brooding, steady, prone to dramatic swells, often formulaic, but very well crafted.  Tell me you don’t see a bit of the same madness in Carlos Kleiber conducting that we saw in Scorsese, Nolan and Aronofsky directing in 2010.

Unlike most years, it started off like gangbusters with two masters delivering wildly entertaining larks that owed as much debt to their own past efforts at they did to Hitchcock:  Martin Scorsese’s “in your face” Shutter Island and Roman Polanski’s more subtle and refined The Ghost Writer.  The trend towards neo-noir continued and reached its zenith in the summer with two polarizingly opposite films:  Debra Granik’s independent and devilishly simple Winter’s Bone and Christopher Nolan’s wickedly complex mega-blockbuster Inception.  Even some of the heavy-hitters at the end of the year, like Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan or The Coen Brothers’ True Grit owed some debt to noir.

Overall, it was a solid, consistent year for films and a nice way to kick-off a new decade of cinema.  There was nothing earth-shattering or revolutionary, but there were plenty of reasons to be entertained in 2010… Continue reading

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Cinematic Rites of Passage

Cinema, the youngest of the great art forms, has wrestled in its time with defining its own archetypes.  Some have been pilfered from other art forms…literature and theater and opera…your classic Oedipal complexes and hero-worship.  But there is one archetype that has evolved into something purely cinematic.  It’s been there from the earliest days.  We saw it with Dreyer and Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc, a prototypical materializing of The Director orchestrating The Performance from The Actress.  In its infancy, cinema gleaned from the religious.  After its golden era of youth, as it settled into cynicism and postmodernism, it became more deranged.  Polanski’s Repulsion…Bergman’s Persona…Altman’s 3 Women…Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.  There have been seeds of it planted in horror as well…Argento’s Suspiria…De Palma’s Carrie

We know the characters:  The ingenue dying to land her first big role (Natalie Portman), the fallen star (Winona Ryder), the obsessive mother figure (Barbara Hershey), the psychotic director (Vincent Cassel) and the dark femalien foil to the ingenue (Mila Kunis).  To play these parts…to choreograph this masturbatory madness…it’s become a cinematic rite of passage.  Darren Aronofsky — impregnating the archetype with his own hang-ups — makes his film, his rite of passage about the achievement of perfection.  He’s so comfortable with the archetype that the first spoken words of the film following a fade from black are, “I had the craziest dream last night.”  He closes arrogantly with, “It’s perfection.”  Fade to white. 

Portman speaks both of these lines, and the transformation we witness in between…well…it’s the archetype as we’ve never quite seen it before.  Everything we think we know about the archetype is spun seductively into the mind of The Actress!  Her character and Aronofsky’s camera twirls like a ballerina out of control…but there’s nothing graceless or mad about The Performance.  Portman has us just where she wants us.  She is in complete control at all times.  Never once did I think she lost herself.  Continue reading

Wait Until Next Year

Another year goes by and still no sign of Malick's TREE.

Sadly cinephiles will have to go through another holiday season without unwrapping Terrence Malick’s ridiculously long-awaited epic Tree of Life.  But just wait until next year!  December of 2011 is shaping up to potentially be one for the ages as we will finally (dear god, please) get to see Malick’s Tree of Life, Marty Scorsese will be unleashing his experimental 3D adaptation of the acclaimed children’s book Hugo Cabret, and Paul Thomas Anderson will hopefully be delivering his thinly veiled critique of Scientology with the already controversial The Master.

Meanwhile in 2010, before taking a look at the months ahead as Hollywood gears up for their Prestige Picture season, let’s round-up some of the Oscar hopefuls already released.  With the field open wide to 10 Best Picture slots, I think we already have at least five shoe-ins: Continue reading