Revisiting Phoenix – The Best Film of the 2010s

Nina Hoss in Phoenix – The Performance and Film of the Decade
Denis Villenueve (directing Amy Adams in Arrival) – The Director of the Decade
Ryan Gosling in Drive – the Performer of the Decade

The 2010s: the decade of Obama and Trump, hope and hate, dashed dreams and heightened anxiety, increasing interconnectedness that lead to both positive grassroots movements and sharper divisions, social media overload, hacks into our privacy and once sacred institutions, political chaos, and drones delivering both presents and bombs.

Personally, this was the decade I traveled abroad for the first time and ultimately visited six different countries. I advanced multiple rungs in my corporate career. I met an amazing woman – our first date was seeing the Roger Ebert documentary Life Itself – who I married. We then bought a wonderful old house together in a charming neighborhood, and became parents to an awesome little boy. I also published a novel, Then Came Darkness, that will likely always be my own sentimental favorite piece of work.

Film was right there with me every step of the way, mirroring the light (La La Land) and increasing darkness (most of Villeneuve’s output) in the world at large, sometimes in the breadth of the same film (Arrival, Drive, The Tree of Life).

It’s terms of consistency of output, Denis Villenueve had a banner decade and directed more list entries than any other auteur: Arrival, Enemy, Sicario, Blade Runner 2049. It was also a great decade for Ryan Gosling, who is the performer who shows up on more list entries than any other: Drive, La La Land, The Place Beyond the Pines, Blade Runner 2049. The Gos also brought my wife and I together as our shared love for him was one of the first topics of discussion the night we met at a rooftop party, both of us reluctant guests of mutual acquaintances. Her favorite Gos performance was Half Nelson, mine was Drive. We abhorred The Notebook. Both of us passed each other’s first test.

But I digress. Back to the decade at hand where some films reflected the anxious yet still somehow hopeful mood of the moment through depictions of complex modern relationship (Moonlight, Waves), while others just flat out broadcast our deepest modern anxieties (Take Shelter, Enemy, Sicario, Us). Still others looked back and reminded us there were times before ours even more tumultuous (Phoenix). Still others bent time (Inception, The Tree of Life, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) while others stood austerely outside of any context and proved the timeless nature of art (Phantom Thread).

Some could’ve only been made with the boldness of young auteurs finding their voice (Moonlight, Us, Waves), while some could’ve only been made by a reflective master looking back on their career (The Irishman). Then there were others that could’ve only been made by auteurs in their prime (Arrival, Inception, Phoenix).

Yet some could’ve only been made by a depressed madman looking for the beauty in the end of the world (Melancholia). And still some blazed a trail so defiant in their logic and reason for being (a continuation of a series thought long dead directed by a senior citizen) that they perfectly reflected the madness of our times by showcasing an even madder future (Mad Max: Fury Road).

But the movie that I think about probably more than any other film of the decade; a film whose climax features a haunting, emotional, draining, and ultimately uplifting rendition of Sarah Vaughn’s “Speak Low” that was so memorable my wife and I later added it to our wedding song list; a film that I compared to such classics like The Third Man (routinely in my Top Five of All Time) and Hitchcock’s Notorious…is none other than Christian Petzold’s neo-noir psychological slow-burner about survivor’s guilt and hidden identities, Phoenix. Just as Nelly (played by Nina Hoss in a performance for the ages) survived her husband’s betrayal, WWII and the Holocaust, so did all of us looking back now survive the wild anxiety-riddled ebbs and flows of the 2010s. Phoenix is without a doubt, the greatest film of the decade.

FilmYearDirectorDecade Rank
Phoenix2015Christian Petzold1
Phantom Thread2017Paul Thomas Anderson2
If Beale Street Could Talk2018Barry Jenkins3
Inception2010Christopher Nolan4
The Tree of Life2011Terrence Malick5
Mad Max: Fury Road2015George Miller6
Waves2019Trey Edward Shults7
Melancholia2011Lars Von Trier8
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives2011Apichatpong Weerasethakul9
Drive2011Nicolas Winding Refn10
The Irishman2019Martin Scorsese11
Arrival2016Denis Villeneuve12
12 Years a Slave2013Steve McQueen13
Winter’s Bone2010Debra Granik14
Interstellar2014Christopher Nolan15
Moonlight2016Barry Jenkins16
La La Land2016Damien Chazelle17
Cold War2018Pawel Pawlikowski18
Lean on Pete2018Andrew Haigh19
The Place Beyond the Pines2013Derek Cianfrance20
Take Shelter2011Jeff Nichols21
Biutiful2010Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu22
Transit2019Christian Petzold23
Us2019Jordan Peele24
Personal Shopper2017Olivier Assayas25
A Separation2011Asghar FarhadiHM
Lincoln2012Steven SpielbergHM
The Grey2012James CarnahanHM
The Impossible2012Juan Antonio BayonaHM
The Master2012Paul Thomas AndersonHM
Gravity2013Alfonso CuaronHM
Inside Llewyn Davis2013The Coen BrothersHM
Mud2013Jeff NicholsHM
Blue Ruin2014Jeremy SaulnierHM
Enemy2014Denis VilleneuveHM
Sicario2015Denis VilleneuveHM
The Salesman2016Asghar FarhadiHM
Dunkirk2017Christopher NolanHM
Blade Runner 20492017Denis VilleneuveHM
Wind River2017Taylor SheridanHM
BlacKkKlansman2018Spike LeeHM
Roma2018Alfonso CuaronHM

Written by D. H. Schleicher

The 7th Annual Davies Awards in Film

Hollywood zeroed in on real drama and history in 2012, and they hit their mark.

Hollywood zeroed in on real drama and history in 2012, and they hit their mark.

A Look Back at 2012:

There’s so much to say about the year in film that was 2012. In many ways it was like two distinct years. The first half was grim and borderline torturous with the only bright spots being two films that came out of the blue to depict with great grit and emotion man vs. his own nature (guised as man vs. nature) in The Grey and The Hunter. In the summer, we were met with art house films critics were too eager to gush over. Yes, Moonrise Kingdom was Wes Anderson’s most charming film in a while, but it was still a Wes Anderson film. And yes, Beasts of the Southern Wild had a cool title and interesting set-up, but it really didn’t make any sense.

Oddly, at the multiplex things were clearer as some of the heavy hitters were well above average. The Hunger Games offered a new series positively literary when compared to the god-awfulness of The Twilight series (finally put to rest this year). Many people didn’t like it, but I still got a kick out of Prometheus while The Dark Knight Rises was a fine conclusion to a fine trilogy. Even The Avengers (overrated by fanboys) was above average…though it was still a comic book movie. This trend continued into the fall with the best James Bond film of the modern era, Skyfall, lighting the box office on fire.

Quietly simmering beneath all of this pop-culture hubbub was a snarky good year for neo-noir with the twisty sci-fi yarn Looper at the multiplexes and art houses runneth over with films like the Russian melodrama Elena, Friedkin’s southern-fried piece of Americana trash Killer Joe and the Twin Peaksian French entry Nobody Else But You.

But it wasn’t until the fall that things got real and filmmakers tapped into history to deliver highly polished professional products of the most prestigious order.
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The Cause of Love and War in The Master

A man adrift.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is an infinitely sad tale of doomed love and repeated miseries.

(READ CAREFULLY – SPOILERS AHEAD)

Poor Freddie Quell (a resurrected from the ashes Joaquin Phoenix) – the guy was doomed from the start.  From infancy, the people he loved the most were destined to ruin him – his father a drunk and his mother insane.  Adrift at sea in war-time, a lovely girl named Doris (Madisen Beaty) starts writing him letters.  When he returns home to court her, he realizes she is too young, only sixteen, and uncomfortably dedicated to the idea of their love.  Freddie has no choice but to go away.

Years pass and his troubles brew, soothed only by his homebrewed hooch and pleasures of the flesh.  Finally, he stumbles drunk onto a party boat lit up like a Christmas tree, afloat on a San Franciscan dock and temporarily home to The Cause.  There love finds him again, in the form of a charismatic cult leader named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman – exceeding even his own increasingly high standards of acting) who introduces himself to a nervous Freddie as “just a man.”  But their love, too, is doomed.

Of course none of this is presented so cleanly.  The calculated precision of Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction, clean lines of Mihai Malaimare Jr’s photography, and the impeccable production design of Jack Fisk create a strange dichotomy to the chaos living within the characters being studied.  Continue reading

The Spin on Paul Thomas Anderson

A master schooling a master.

In honor of the release of The Master later this month, The Spin is turning its wheels towards Paul Thomas Anderson – writer/director extraordinaire – a true auteur. The great chronicler of Southern California, cancers both physical and metaphorical, dysfunctional makeshift families, deranged father-figures, damaged sons, melancholy and death is arguably the most ambitious American filmmaker working today. But he has only achieved that status through evolution…through finding his voice. Here we will revisit his three most signature works: Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood and track the course of his discovery.

“This is the film I want them to remember me by.” – Jack Horner, Boogie Nights

On its surface, Boogie Nights – the grand piece of nostalgia celebrating a pre-AIDS, pre-video porntopia – would appear as a lark – a jokey, ballsy, “Look, Ma, I’m a Hipster Director!” type feature designed to showcase a young man’s skill behind the camera and his cocky nerve to tell a scandalous tale. When you look deeper, the film is anything but that.

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Trailer Park Art in The Master

We’re all drowning in mediocrity, the new poster for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master seems to be telling us.  The announcement of “This Fall – 2012” appears as a wine vintage or wedding announcement.

But PTA doesn’t play those “glass half full – glass half empty” games with his audience.  His cup always runneth over…be it with oil as in There Will Be Blood or with…well…other fluids…as in Boogie Nights.  Sometimes he rains frogs on us like he did in Magnolia.

Whatever he does, he wants to overwhelm.  His movies are not to be watched but to be experienced.  Love them or hate them…they are always “something” – or better yet, when compared to other films…”something else.” 

Yes – some people make films for the masses…others are masters of their art and make films like The Master.  I don’t pretend to prejudge the finished product…but you can tell a lot from a well crafted trailer…and if nothing else, PTA’s latest promises to be “something to talk about.” 

On the heels of two cold, clinical character-study teasers, we get the first full-blow trailer for The Master below.  Much ballyhooed as a thinly veiled critique on Scientology, this trailer proves that while some highlights of L. Ron Hubbard’s life may have provided inspiration or jumping-off points, The Master is purely in PTA’s wheelhouse exploring the stress of makeshift/non-traditional families and the deep troubling waters of bonds between delusional father-figures and tortured sons.  Continue reading

Serena, Honest Abe, Rising Knights, Multiple Malicks and The Master On Tap

Quite an unusual docket is shaping up for 2012, 2013 and beyond.  Despite the usual shit Hollywood shovels, there are some upcoming films worth talking about.

First up on the horizon is the new news around the film adaptation of Ron Rash’s Serena, which ranks as one of my favorite novels of this century and I instantly imagined as a There Will Be Blood meets Macbeth in the Carolina Highlands film epic.  Originally, and promising though preditable, Darren Aronofsky had been on tap to direct with Angelina Jolie in the lead role.  But now the tides have shifted, and Oscar winner Susanne Bier is taking the helm.  It’s definitely out of Bier’s comfort zone, but if handled right, it could be a breakthrough for the Danish director and she definitely has the chops to put on an interesting spin – but it could also be a disaster. 

Can Jennifer Lawrence transform into the menacing Serena Pemberton?

Even more inspired is the choice of Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role.  She seems way too young, but as Winter’s Bone showed, she’s capable of being a true chameleon while getting down and dirty, and along with Bier, she has the opportunity to really turn heads here.  Less inspired and downright troubling is the casting of no-talent ass-clown Bradley Cooper, a smug comedic actor who lacks the gravitas needed for playing George Pemberton.  Maybe the idea is to cast someone like him so that Lawrence can really shine – but it’s a gamble – and it will be interesting to see if it pays off. 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