Bryan Singer saves the Future, Past

I’m going to jump in here and disagree with Scout. I thought Days of future past was not terrible. In fact, I would argue that that should be Bryan Singer’s byline. Bryan Singer: Not Terrible. His whole career could be summed up by those two words. But what interested me is how, despite frequently roaming between shrug-worthy and laughably bad, the X-Men movies have always been about way more than just being X-Men movies. But this most recent movie has somehow become a closed cultural loop. An allegory for nothing but itself. Which I kind of liked.

The first X-Men movie is a product of its age. It was the first superhero movie that didn’t suck. And to all you guys who love Donner’s Superman or Burton’s Batman, I’m sorry, but those movies suck. I’m not going to say X-Men is fabulous. It is simply not shitty. It turns being a mutant into an allegory for being institutionally ostracized.  And it is pleasant. Talented actors bring home the various ways in which we handle our stigmas and there are some not laughable super hero fight scenes. All in all it is a sort of bland film, but a strong statement. This genre does not have to suck. Singer opened a door which other more talented people (Raimi, Favreau, Whedon, Black, the Russo Brothers) eventually walked through.

X2 is what people are talking about when they say “Hollywood’s Gay Agenda,” and I love it for that, and Alan Cumming, who is just too much fun. The movie brings its allegory sailing home with a coming out scene to boot. There are less cringe-worthy one liners than its predecessor, and one ingenious action set-piece for the ages. It is about being gay and it has no interest in beating around the bush.

The X-Men and Wolverine movies went on to continue to use mutant powers as allegories for lots of things and with varying success. But the whole franchise became wildly uneven without Ratner’s intense middle ground directing.

I was interested in what Singer would do when he finally returned to his franchise after so many years apart. Now that we are in a golden age of super hero films (an age he helped create), what would Days of Future Past be about. Because it would sure as shit not be about the characters and plot. Well, weirdly enough, the movie is actually an allegory for itself. It is two hours and ten minutes of Bryan Singer saying “Look, guys. We’ve really fucked this all up. Somewhere in the past we made a mistake and now our once golden franchise is ruined. Let’s go back in time, ditch everyone except Hugh Jackman, and make the whole thing about Jennifer Lawrence. Because people seem to really like Jennifer Lawrence.” This movie is so aware of its own place as a movie in a franchise that it manages to ret-con out, entirely, the Brett Ratner shit show that was X-Men: Last Stand and give all the old stars the happy ending they deserved. It’s a nice sentiment. The stakes have always been the franchise, not any of these people’s actual lives, and in the end, it was not “the day” that was saved. It was the franchise.  

The Simple Art of Codependency - Hannibal Season 2

The finale of this season of Hannibal isn’t titled “Imago” because it wouldn't have fit the season’s theme of Japanese food preparation. However, about halfway through the season’s final episode, two characters let us know why it would have made a perfect alternate title. For those who don’t already know it’s the final form of an insect’s transformation from larva to adult and bringing it up anywhere in the second season would have been appropriate. The fact that the Bryan Fuller and his team of writers decided to keep this conversation close to the chest until the finale was a great idea though. It packed far more of a wallop when it arrived because Hannibal allowed itself to change this season. It stopped being a series that followed a case of the week formula (albeit a more gruesome take on the recipe than any on record) and only allowed itself a thin overarching season plot. I can’t stand television like this but Hannibal did it so well that it became a tolerable formula. From week to week the show presented its viewers with a ballet of blood that turned murder into a legitimate art form in every way that shows like Dexter, which frankly can go fuck itself, managed to fail at. But by changing the formula that the series' fans had come to know and love, season 2 of Hannibal knocked our expectations of the show on their ear. The show slowed waaaaaay down. No more was it merely a killer of the week kind of show. Hannibal tried for a new kind of horror. It took Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) who we’d all begun to rely on as an infallible source of true justice and has him switch sides with Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). The pair begin taking pages out of each other’s books and the result is a season that shows us what can happen when two men who are each incredibly dangerous in their own way begin to allow the boundaries between them to blur. 
Hannibal got itself famous (at least with critics) for being one of the most beautifully shot and beautifully violent (again, just with critics) series to ever grace the small screen. The fact that it lives on NBC is a mystery to rival the Tunguska event. I watched the series after having seen all but the latest Hannibal film (Hannibal Rising) and enjoying all of them despite Brett Ratner’s horrific track record as a filmmaker - Red Dragon is by far his best film - and the pure awfulness of the series’ final chronological installment, 2001's Hannibal, which is up there with Ridley Scott’s worst films. It got me wondering why none of the films, with the exception of Hannibal, ever attempted anything as inventive as the visual style that the TV series has made its bread and butter. Director of Photography John Mathieson uses the already gorgeous palette provided by Florence, Italy to help Scott's Hannibal take on new life as a thing of visual beauty. Hannibal’s series cinematographer James Hawkinson seems to have taken brief inspiration from Mathieson before going off on a wild quest to create a show that would rival even Game of Thones in how painfully beautiful it was to look at.  

That visual style really ends up being the only thing about Hannibal’s second season that resembles its first. The plotlines this time around have felt more like Lecter himself was listening to music and painting to the tempo. It began at a fairly rapid clip with familiar faces dropping like flies but as it carried on it began to slow down and spend a lot of its time meditating on Will and Hannibal’s relationship. Hannibal tries as hard as he can to drag Will down (or up?) to his level and become a killer while Will resists. We, of course, begin to see cracks, sometimes big ones, in Will’s defense and we begin to genuinely fear for him in a way we never had to in season one. We now have to fear for his very soul.
This season also manages to invert the previous season’ structure by making Will a reliable narrator once again. When we first met Will in season one he was a good but troubled cop who was beginning to unravel by the end of the pilot. We had to watch over the subsequent twelve episodes as Will came completely apart at the seams due to his time in therapy with Hannibal Lecter. But after last season’s left field (though not unwelcome) finale, we got to watch Will rebuild himself back into someone who’s both sane and very dangerous to those who continue to walk the earth doing evil. He becomes the only person with enough mental capacity to outsmart Hannibal but because the writers never make it easy on him we really never know how it’s going to go down. This matching of wits may actually be why the writers decided to make Hannibal and Will some kind of genius sadistic team in the season’s latter half and pit (sorry for the incoming pun) them against Mason Verger (Michael Pitt) whose appearance represents both a wonderful callback to Gary Oldman’s stellar performance but also a unique source of total fear. Mason is a dangerous foe and even though lovers of the film series know his fate we still aren’t quite sure if the tv version is going to take the same road to get there so all our favorite characters are suddenly in harm's way.
Watching the season back in a rapid fire fashion results in some very thrilling television. Apart from a court room drama episode (the season’s low point for sure) the first half of the season moves incredibly quickly and the framing device presented in the premiere’s opening minutes keeps you aching to get back to it at the end of the season. Hannibal plays a much larger role this season than he did before. He gets his hands far more dirty and doesn’t just come off as some kind of god that the law abiding characters of the series waste their efforts trying to stop. Instead we see Hannibal as a fallen angel who's so enamored with humanity that he allows others to see a very human side of him and even though he rarely makes a mistake, he’s a much more sympathetic monster than we got in the first season and it makes it that much more interesting when Will finally goes toe-to-toe with him. The odds are finally evened up. Fuller and his writing staff have established that they like their creative liberties, which means the stakes are quite high.
Hannibal’s second season allowed itself a lot of creative license and I applaud them for doing so. The show pulled back on its gruesome nature but it traded a gimmick for far better long form storytelling. Not to beat a dead horse but I can’t believe this show ran on NBC. It’s astounding when you think about the kinds of themes this season focused on and how many times it made its viewers stare into the heart of human darkness and didn’t let them look away when it opened its eyes and stared back. The second season is the series’ imago; its final transformation. I have no fear for the third season but it became clear while watching the finale that the writers were prepared to throw in the towel. The series was renewed but extremely late in this season’s run and the finale’s final moments are certainly geared toward the idea that they could have been the shows last. I await it excitedly but I think Hannibal will be forced to reinvent itself again in order to keep becoming the best thing it can be.

In The Future Past

I could, in actual fact, not have been anymore excited for X-Men: Days of Future Past than I was. It could have been fucking killer. I don't care for the X-Men films as entertainment or art. No one should. They're neither. We all know what we go to those movies for. Names. Endless slews of the silliest names ever written down delivered with gravitas usually reserved for announcing the death toll following a natural disaster. "There's a very powerful mutant named Erik Lensherr, known as Magneto." "This is Doctor Jean Grey." "Logan!" "Scott, don't." "Jean" "Logan, meet Hank McCoy." "Jean?" "Jean." Can't get enough names. For years now I've cracked up in public at the mere thought of Patrick Stewart looking into a camera and saying "Dr. Jean Grey."  No one says "Dr. Jean Grey" better than Patrick Stewart. Sadly he doesn't say it in Days of Future Past. No one does. That's problem number one. There are a bunch more. The biggest issue I have with the X-Men movies is that they want to be taken seriously. What's that they say about people who are always quick to invoke Hitler and the Holocaust? Well Bryan Singer does it right out of the gate in the first X-Men, announcing to everyone that Marvel Movies were serious art and needed to be considered so. And they're called Graphic Novels! While he was doing this he was also evidently molesting teenage boys on an island. I believe the victims who've come forward and said this. Why? Because the man who made X-Men: Days of Future Past quite plainly suffers from arrested development of the sort that cop shows always tell me is endemic to child rapists. In fairness I might wake up tomorrow and find that Singer's innocent, but he'll still be a terrible director. He'll always be a terrible director. I used to think his success was harmless enough. Those days are over. You might say they're in the future past, if you were a stupid asshole. 

It bears repeating that this movie is called Days of Future Past. Adults, many of them, said, "yeah, great." In college my friend and Apocalypse Now's TV critic Tucker Johnson made a short movie called Time Cops. It's still on youtube if you're curious. In that dumb fucking bullshit, I say the words "Future Past" in a voice strongly redolent of Roger Rabbit's cousin from the Bronx. Let's call him Salvatore Rabbit. That, like "Future Past" was a bad joke. One that I came up with as soon as Tucker said "I'm rolling." The whole film took five minutes to write and shoot. What excuse do the makers of this movie have? I'd like to know. And can we talk about Dawn of Justice? But seriously folks. I had a fine enough time giggling like a dickhead at the first twenty-five minutes of dumb shit and there are good performances buried in here, but let's not lose sight of what a fundamentally lazy and awful movie this is. 

Open on characters wearing fetish gear with painted faces. Capes are used a lot. Some of them are half-capes. You know, like in Schindler's List. They run around and get properly murdered and then we're reintroduced to characters we all know because we're sitting in the audience. We've seen the X-Men movies because we can't get enough of the rapid fire name-dropping of fictional characters. That was established above but I'm restating it for you in case you skipped to this paragraph. The same way Singer assumes at random that we don't know what the fuck is going on. Rather than explain his rip-off apocalypse, the one he stole from the even more boring Matrix movies, right down to the name of his evil drones, he proceeds to tell us a lot of stuff we already know. 

"The apocalypse starts in 1973. 1973. You've got to go back to 1973." says Patrick Stewart. Then he says it again. Then again. And once more. And then again. It's no "This is Doctor Jean Gray," but I still laughed like an idiot everytime he said it. "Hi, I'm Wolverine, you might not know this but I regenerate after being wounded." He doesn't say this to us, which, might have actually been helpful to newbie audience members, he says this to the people he's spent every day of the last ten years with. That's just smart writing. These mutants, who were ok the last time we saw them, are now being hunted by drones who were never a thing before now. Why? Because Singer's liberal enough to invoke the holocaust, piss on Obama's leg about drones, and then sexually assault young men. Don't get me wrong, every filmmaker who's made a movie about the evils of drones was right to do so. Where were y'all during the Bush administration? If you're Bryan Singer I guess you were sexually assaulting young men on your private island and making holocaust movies starring Tom Cruise. And how dare this guy make movies whose message is: "it's ok to be different" when you were ensuring that kids had to walk around with secrets like one of your mutants. For a culture that treats women like an afterthought most of the time, we still made a huge deal out of Woody Allen's rape scandal. As we should have. Why aren't we making a bigger deal out of Singer's? Because this country has even less time for gay men than it does women? Great. 

After Patrick Stewart narrates us into the future, the film picks up a lot of stupid momentum and never lets go. This is good because it gets us away from Bryan Singer painting the faces of young people so they look like anime characters and giving everyone a cape. It also gets us to the real acting. Ellen Page is fine, nothing bad to say about her. There was once a time when Halle Berry was above this. Not anymore. She fits the milieu perfectly. Patrick Stewart and Ian Mckellen look shockingly like two men waiting to get back to the Cort and finish their run of Waiting For Godot. Hugh Jackman, wisely realizing that after The Wolverine he was never going to be in a better movie about this character, has thrown in the towel. He can't stop smirking at everything, he doesn't scowl anymore, he seems to have bought into the premise so deeply that he's currently in the mind of his younger self on a beach spending all that sweet, sweet X-Men money. Good for him. He just happens to look like a terrible actor because he's caught between James MacAvoy and Michael Fassbender, both of them GOING FOR IT. Like Oliver Reed before them, neither man knows the meaning of phoning it in. McAvoy is all wet earnestness and Fassbender is absolutely terrifying as a man who knows he's capable of getting what he wants. Good on Matthew Vaughn for casting them. Singer gets no credit because he squeezes them into a film so fucking goofy it couldn't begin to earn them. The only thing I'm willing to give Singer credit for is a half-great sequence where silver-haired Whiplash or whatever his name is goes around a wet room changing minute details, set to Jim Croce. The problem with that is he's listening to the song on...what? A portable 8 track? I heard the word "1973" fifty eight hundred times before anyone went back in time, so how could you, the director, have possibly forgotten when your goddamn movie is set? And besides it's too shiny and plastic and safe, like the rest of the movie. Jennifer Lawrence is largely pretty awful, for which there's no excuse as she's a great actress. Singer didn't direct her performance, just her tits and ass in that blue body suit. Like any adult might. Who needs to make sure his lead actress doesn't look ridiculous when he can ensure that she looks like a perverse fanboy wetdream. It's Amy Adams in American Hustle all over again. At a certain point it's not filmmaking, it's just pointing a camera at a prop and fuck you. Also, she's the film's only female character other than Ellen Page, who gets maybe ten minutes of screentime. Awesome. 

How do you fall asleep at the wheel when your car cost a half a billion dollars? It's not just careless, it's fucking rude. McAvoy's young Professor X reads the thoughts of people gathered for fat, melty-faced president Nixon's address. One young woman's thoughts: "I'm Pregnant." To quote every critic on twitter: Are you? Are you pregnant? When the drones are revealed some marines salute them, including a headband wearing hippie who could be Ron Kovic. Fuck off. The drones themselves look like child-friendly versions of something out of Trigun, and in no way resemble anything from before 1985. They also see in MS-DOS. What year is it supposed to be again? I forget. He quotes Apocalypse Now (the gall), he rips off Terminator 2, he claims JFK's a mutant, he pays backhanded compliments to Nixon, he lets Fassbender exit by floating away and lifting his arms as if to say "I don't know anymore." Me fucking neither. 

I never liked Singer. I hate The Usual Suspects, which is approximately weird men in well-lit rooms talking up a plot that never shows. Forgettable doesn't even begin to cover the likes of Valkyrie and Superman Returns. Did anyone like Jack The Giant Killer? I guess someone must, right? One thing is clear throughout his work, the fetishization of handsome supermen. He was never good but he's been getting worse ever since X-Men, which truly does look like Schindler's List next to The Usual Suspects and Days of Future Past. The strongest scenes in Days that don't involve McAvoy and Fassbender involve well-dressed men standing in small groups. Not much to hang a film on. Singer is a man obsessed by a fantasy world he refuses to leave, both on and off screen. It just so happens that all this time his ineffable mediocrity was the least of his crimes. I'm sure those box office figures are going to seem like a comfort so allow me to be the first to say: You're not an artist, you deserve to go to jail, and your boring, sloppy movies will be forgotten long before your sexual assault charges. 

A Rebuttal

The following is Noah Lyons' response to Armond White's review of Under The Skin:

To Armond,

I am not sure how or why you have distilled this film into a crude case study of antiquated Freudian analysis, Armond. This film is not anti-"sex". It is a film shot from the perspective of an alien; thus, our world is objectified through the camera indiscriminately. The alien, most likely genderless, is not expressing any anti-male sentiment nor motivated by a 1970s "feminist revenge" . This is not I Spit on Your Grave, not Species, nor an adolescent "Everynerd moral". It is a study of perspective, the (in)compatibility of antipodal modes of consciousness, and the ineffability of a truly Other - the extreme Otherness of the "Face" of Levinas, of an unknowable "God", the empty blank spaces between and behind "text" and "image".

Freud is to blame for the prevalent notion, among both conservative essentialists and liberal pluralists, that everything is reducible to sex, the phallus, castration, and the like. The alien in Under the Skin is an entity that objectively apprehends and engages our planet. Once this would have played as a male alien (both in sci-fi and horror). An obvious misogyny there, reacted to by the rape-revenges of the 70s and bold feminism thereafter. It is curious that, in the 21st century, a female alien threat is automatically read as "anti-sex" and "anti-man". The film is not a Freudian castration, but such a view as you espouse is certainly a fear of castration. Even if there was some Manichean element at play here, following your lead, the second half of the film is a reversal (in form and narrative) of the sexual dynamics, thus revealing the fallibility of any POV from before.

I think you are making the common fallacy of misplaced concreteness, i.e. misplaced subjectivity. A misogynistic character does not imply the artist is misogynist. When a film is clearly as self-aware of its codes and structure as this one, you should entertain the notion that your perceived misogyny and sexphobia is maybe your own critical praxis pushed upon the film?

To impose one thematic conclusion: it is about inter-relationality; is such relation contiguous with emotions, or is it a mere sensory necessity of the body? There is more to male-female relationships. The danger of an extreme reading such as yours, ( that employs gender theory so heavy-handedly that it becomes rather absolutist and objective) is it limits the possibility of Being and perspective. This is the whole point of the science-fiction genre; to dismantle our language and society's binaries, categories, et al.

Finally, I would point out that your review exhibits more sexphobia than the film. The film challenges you and I to consider the human body, and how we relate with each other, from a viewpoint completely alien to even our academic liberal theories. Not everything is a metaphor for the phallus. Not every relationship or theory revolves around the male. And most importantly, a character or symbol is always particular - it is not universal or categorical.

-Noah Adrien Lyons

The Encyclopedia of Film Criticism: Ben Sachs

Ben Sachs
...the ending of a life drags the entire movie to a halt, forcing the viewer to reflect on what an extraordinary object his or her body is...Of all the arts, cinema may provide the best vehicle for inspiring this sort of reflection, as the manipulation of time is such an important aspect of the medium.

Contributed to: The Chicago Reader, The Bleader, CINE-FILE, MUBI.

Noted champion of: Takashi Miike, Robert Mulligan, Alain Resnais, Johnny To, Ulrich Seidl's "Paradise" trilogy, Leos Carax, Pedro Almodóvar.

Influences: "Lindsay Anderson, "What is Cinema? by Andre Bazin, Films and Feelings by Raymond Durgnat, The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan by Robin Wood, and every film critic who’s written for the Reader."

Ben Sachs (1983-) was born in Waukegan, IL and over the last four years has become one of the most consistent writers in the fertile Chicago critical scene. Sachs moved to Chicago in 2005 after graduating from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. From his bio on the Chicago Reader website, where he's been a full-time critic and blogger since 2011: I started writing film criticism for the Reader in September 2010 with a capsule review of the wrestling movie Legendary; since December 2011 I've written daily posts for the Bleader. Before that, I had been a regular contributor to the local website CINE-FILE, for which I'd been writing since its conception in 2007....In other movie-related business, I've introduced screenings at Doc Films, taught classes at Facets Multimedia, and continue to volunteer regularly at Bucktown’s Odd Obsession Movies. Before he started contributing to CINE-FILE, Sachs wrote plays, drummed for a band, and worked odd jobs, all without a huge measure of success. CINE-FILE isn't only where he honed his critical chops, it's also where his wife Kathleen Sachs (née Keish) writes.  

That last is not included arbitrarily. Perhaps more than any other critic or blogger, Sachs' family defines and broadens his writing. Whether ecstatic or melancholy (one of the most endearing and engrossing modes he writes in), his writing is deepened by his understanding of what his family means to him and has given to him. Recently he wrote a brief, touching piece about his cousin Naomi entitled "The family member who most influenced me as a critic." His nakedness in front of memory and the impact of this very special person is overwhelming. As in his writing on films, he reaches for small, tactile details hiding in his recollection, trying to better understand his cousin, his relationship to her and who he is. How he fits into the world, starting with his home in Chicago. From a piece about watching the films of Alain Resnais: At the time, I was either unemployed or working part-time—I don't remember which, but I was in a position to go to the movies on weekday afternoons, and I did this often to save money. The small audiences often consisted of retirees, specifically old women who went in pairs and chatted through the films. I liked sharing the theater with them; they made the auditorium feel fuller than it was, and they made me think of my paternal grandmother, a lifelong moviegoer who, in her last days of spectatorship, would convince reclusive old women in her apartment building to accompany her to the show. This leads into a discussion of his grandparents, alive with little tidbits about their habits, the things they'd say, etc. Being at the movies with my grandparents the day before I went back to school, it felt somehow heavier than going at other times or with other people. In autumn and winter, the sky would be bright when we went in and dark when we came out—it only added to the feeling that I was hiding from my responsibilities when they indulged me this way. The memory give way to an unbearably sad final sentiment, after meeting an elderly woman who in no way reminds him of his grandparents after a screening of Private Fears in Public Places: the movie made us equals in loneliness. Whatever that feeling was on all those Sunday afternoons, this was its opposite, a quiet terror that I had nothing to return to after watching the film. Exquisitely upsetting. Sachs' blogposts at the Bleader often read like passages from a novel, one that I hope he some day finishes. 

Sachs is never less than honest about his own bias; just this week he wrote a piece about his slight re-evaluation of a documentary he reviewed earlier in the year. He allows himself hindsight and admits when he's made mistakes. He opens himself up to visions he doesn't connect with or understand, meets everyone halfway when he can. Sachs' first major coup as a critic was a series on the films of Takashi Miike for Mubi's Notebook. His writing here takes on the same darkly profound current that colours so much of the Japanese Auteur's work. His phrasing is bold and sticks in the brain with the power of Miike's best images. They make for a great entrée into both Miike and Sachs, and they introduce a concept that serves as something like an unspoken mantra to his criticism. The idea, appropriated from Miike, that he never left a room or walked out of a film because it was ugly or bad. "Even the most routine action film, he argued, will contain some moment of beauty; you just have to keep your eyes open and find it." And finding the beauty in the most unusual places is one of Sachs' strengths, whether in an obscure 70s film like Sometimes a Great Notion or a modern comedy like The To Do List. His optimism as a critic ultimately outweighs his melancholy, no matter how beautiful and engrossing the latter is. To quote a poem Sachs brought to my attention: ...we receive but what we give, And in our life alone does Nature live...To the poor loveless ever-anxious crowd, Ah! from the soul itself must issue forth A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud Enveloping the Earth...

On Sometimes a Great Notion
"The human body wants to live," I remember a high school teacher saying, after explaining to our class how difficult it was to asphyxiate yourself. Once you lose consciousness, he told us, you can't apply pressure to whatever it is you're pushing to your mouth and nose, and air reenters your body. (He taught world history; I'm not sure how the subject came up.) In most cases it takes a long time before a body expires—even typically demure people discover unknown strength when violently attacked or pinned beneath a heavy object. This is why the climax of Sometimes a Great Notion is so devastating. As the scene goes on, the voice of instinct tells you that this victim must survive, no matter how terrible the situation gets. It's an instinct supported by countless narrative films, which train us to think that death happens quickly and that long, suspenseful sequences will resolve well.

On Robert Mulligan
Still, Mulligan's filmmaking was more powerful when he was working with less-straightforward material. As a case in point, check out his other feature of 1965, the movie-land drama Inside Daisy Clover. The script, by former film critic Gavin Lambert, is rife with allusions to Hollywood history (the movie takes place in the 1930s, though it invokes scandals that go back to the silent era) and contains several shocking plot twists. Mulligan's direction grounds the material, which might have become hysterical or overly cerebral in other hands, in a firm sense of character. Better yet, the straight-ahead presentation of the early scenes gives you no idea how dark the story will get in the second half—in this case, Mulligan's borderline squarishness proves an excellent poker face.

On Izo
Surprisingly, the film is most wearying when it’s at its most violent. Miike’s directed some of the most audacious scenes of violence in modern cinema, not to mention dozens of generic crime movies: It’s no secret he can shoot a decent action scene pretty much reflexively. In Izo, the swordfights generally occur in an unremarkable pattern of several-clashes-then-victorious-blow familiar to anyone who’s ever seen ten minutes of a samurai film.  There are also a lot of them. The fights’ maddening regularity is the main reason why the film is so difficult to watch, but not for the obvious explanation that they’re too graphic. (In fact, the violence here is relatively restrained for Miike.) The awful truth is that they’re boring. It’s by now a cliché to say the atrocities of the 20th century were the most inhumane that have yet been conceived. Less often said is what our responsibilities are, as inheritors of those atrocities, in the 21st century. For most people, the default response is a kind of paralysis. The information has been shoved down our throats, and we see enough violence on TV to know it isn’t pretty. (Izo reflects this numbing familiarity with sequences of stock footage that show up throughout the film. They show more familiar stuff: the Nuremberg rallies, the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, et cetera. One of the movie’s great jokes is to insert benign images into these montages—people on amusement park rides, old advertisements—that further deny them any power.) Perhaps that cliché is ultimately comforting: If things were definitively bad in the last century, we don’t have to worry about them getting worse. And yet the impulse to cause others harm is never far from us.  Look at any news report about a terrorist attack or, more tellingly, the way ordinary people respond to them with calls for vengeance.  Again, this is nothing new; but how often do we think about the weight of past atrocities when impelled to violence ourselves? The great accomplishment of Izo is that it forces the viewer to do just that, over two hours of unrelenting focus analogous to prayer

The 2013 Monsieur Oscars

This is a clearly well overdue appraisal of my favourite stuff in motion pictures from 2013. The Monsieur Oscars. I've adapted the categories as the year in film called for it. Each year has to be pliable or I risk not meeting the films on their own terms.

Favourite Fiction Film of the Year

1. The Immigrant
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
3. Dormant Beauty
4. The Past
5. You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
6. Computer Chess
7. The Wolf of Wall Street
8. 12 Years A Slave
9. A Touch of Sin
10. A Field In England
 11. The Congress

Favourite Non-Fiction Film of the Year

1. Leviathan
2. The Act of Killing
3. Traveling Light
4. Let The Fire Burn
5. Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?
6. A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness
7. White Epilepsy
8. An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
9. The Last Time I Saw Macao
10. The Jeffrey Dahmer Files 
 11. The Source Family

Favourite Performance by a Director

 1. Marco Bellocchio - Dormant Beauty
2. James Gray - The Immigrant
3. Andrew Bujalski - Computer Chess
4. Ben Wheatley - A Field In England / Sightseers
5. Chantal Akerman - Almayer's Folly
6. Raúl Ruiz - la Noche de Enfrente
7. Sofia Coppola - The Bling Ring
8. Ari Folman - The Congress
9. Pablo Larraín - No
10. Rob Zombie - The Lords of Salem
 11. Jia Zhangke - A Touch of Sin

Favourite Screenplay

1. Computer Chess - Andrew Bujalski   
 2. Dormant Beauty - Stefano Rulli, Veronica Raimo, Marco Bellocchio
3. It's A Disaster - Todd Berger
4. A Field In England - Amy Jump
5. Moebius - Kim Ki-Duk
6. The Congress - Ari Folman
7. The Immigrant - James Gray & Ric Menello
8. Wadjda - Haifaa Al-Mansou
9. Alpha Papa - Peter Baynham, Steve Coogan, Neil & Rob Gibbons & Armando Iannucci
10. Drug War - Wa Ka Fai, Yau Nai Hoi, Ryker Chan, Yu Xi

Favourite Cinematography

1. Darius Khondji - The Immigrant
2. Renato Berta - Gebo & The Shadow
3. Antonio Riestra - Mama
4. Daniele Ciprì - Dormant Beauty 
5. Chung-hoon Chung - Stoker
6. Lucian Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel, and the crew of a boat - Leviathan
7. Steven Soderbergh - Side Effects
8. Bruno Delbonnel - Inside Llewyn Davis
9. Philippe Le Sourd - The Grandmaster
10. Anthony Dod Mantle - Rush / Trance
11. Luca Bigazzi - The Great Beauty
12. Emmanuel Lubezki - To The Wonder
13. Oleg Mutu - In The Fog
14. Rob Hardy - Shadow Dancer
 15. Feliksas Abrukauskas - Vanishing Waves

Favourite Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role

1. Jessica Chastain & Megan Charpentier - Mama
2. Barbara Sukowa - Hannah Arendt
3. Jane Levy - Evil Dead
4. Elizabeth Moss - Top of the Lake
5. Marion Cotillard - The Immigrant
6. Missy Keating - Dark Touch
7. Juliet Binoche - Camille Claudel 1915
8. Jeong Eun-Chae - Nobody's Daughter Haewon
9. Waad Mohammed - Wadjda
10. Andrea Riseborough - Shadow Dancer
11. Abigal Breslin - Haunter

Favourite Performance by an Actor in a Lead Role

1. Oscar Isaac - Inside Llewin Davis
2. Leonardo DiCaprio - Wolf of Wall Street
3. Michel Lonsdale - Gebo & The Shadow 
4. Johan Philip Asbæk - A Hijacking
5. Toni Servillo - Dormant Beauty
6. Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years A Slave
7. Ben Affleck - To The Wonder
8. Reece Shearsmith - A Field in England 
9. Vincent Gallo - The Legend of Kaspar Hauser
10. Robert Redford - All Is Lost

Favourite Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

1. Isabelle Nélisse - Mama
2. Lupita Nyong'o, Adepero Oduye & Alfre Woodard  - 12 Years A Slave
3. Jeanne Moreau - Gebo & The Shadow
4. Rachel McAdams - To The Wonder
5. Debbie Reynolds - Behind The Candelabra 
6. Emma Watson - The Bling Ring
7. Daniella Kertesz - World War Z
8. Noomi Rapace - Dead Man Down
9. Alexandra Maria Lara - Rush
10. Joey Lauren Adams - Blue Caprice

Favourite Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

1. Forest Whitaker - Out of the Furnace
2. Pier Giorgio Bellochio - Dormant Beauty 
3. Sharlto Copley - Elysium / Oldboy / Europa Report
4. James Franco - Spring Breakers
5. Javier Bardem - To The Wonder / The Counselor
6. Martin Landau & Adam Goldberg - Anna Nicole
7. Jeremy Renner - American Hustle / The Immigrant
8. Stacey Keach - Nebraska
9. Jim Caviezel - Escape Plan
10. Paul Dano - 12 Years A Slave
11. Michael Parks & Bill Sage - We Are What We Are
12. David Wenham - Top of the Lake

Special mention for actors I'm always happy to see who didn't get much screentime: Ralph Brown - Stoker, Kyle Chandler - The Spectacular Now, Mark Rappaport - Kiss of the Damned, Oliver Platt & Timothy Spall - Ginger & Rosa

Favourite Performance by an Ensemble

1. You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
2. A Hijacking
3. It's A Disaster
4. 12 Years A Slave
5. Wolf of Wall Street
6. The Counselor
7. Gold
8. In A World...
9. Blondie
10. Out of the Furnace
11. Drug War
12. Last Days On Mars
13. A Touch of Sin
14. McCanick
15. For Love's Sake

Special mention to Dario Argento's Dracula, which had a perfect cast, directed terribly. 

Favourite Duet Performances

1. Jean-Nicolas Dafflon & Hélène Rocheteau - White Epiliepsy
2. Tom Hanks & Barkhad Abdi - Captain Phillips
3. Will Forte & Bruce Dern - Nebraska
4. Daniel Bruhl & Chris Hemsworth - Rush
5. Frank Langella & Christopher Plummer - Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight
6. Isaiah Washington & Tequan Richmond - Blue Caprice
7. Matt Damon & Michael Douglas - Behind The Candelabra 
8. Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy - Before Midnight
9. James Gandolfini & Julia Louis Dreyfus - Enough Said
10. Noam Chomsky & Michel Gondry - Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?
 11. Helena Bonham Carter & Dominic West - Burton & Taylor

Achievement in Sound Design

1. Leviathan
2. White Epilepsy
3. Stoker
4. The Wolf of Wall Street
5. To The Wonder
6. A Field In England
7. The World's End
8. The Immigrant
9. Inside Llewyn Davis
10. The Lone Ranger

Favourite Original Score

1. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - West of Memphis
2. Frankie Chan - The Grandmaster
3. Roque Baños - The Evil Dead
4. James Williams - A Field In England
5. Cliff Martinez - Only God Forgives
6. Alex Ebert - All is Lost
7. Christopher Spelman - The Immigrant
8. Carlo Crivelli - Dormant Beauty
9. Arcade Fire & Owen Pallett - Her
10. Sara Neufeld & Owen Pallett - Blue Caprice
11. Hans Zimmer - The Lone Ranger

Achievement in Art Direction

1. The Congress
2. Dormant Beauty
3. Vanishing Waves
4. The Immigrant
5. Trance
6. 12 Years A Slave
7. Inside Llewyn Davis
8. The Lone Ranger
9. For Love's Sake
10. The Bling Ring
 11. A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

Achievement in Production Design

1. The Grandmaster
2. Stoker
3. Evil Dead
4. Trance
5. Inside Llewyn Davis
6. Mud
7. No
8. The Immigrant
9. Drug War
10. The Lone Ranger

Hardest I Laughed

1. It's A Disaster
2. The Wolf of Wall Street
3. Hellbaby
4. Alpha Papa
5. The Bling Ring
6. Frances Ha
7. Moebius
8. Nebraska
9. In A World...
10. White House Down
 11. Paradise: Faith

I cried during...

1. Vanishing Waves
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
3. Frozen
4. Her
5. Me & You

Special mention...

Tactile old-fashioned Action films

1. Riddick
2. Elysium
3. Drug War
4. Outrage Beyond
5. Shield of Straw
6. White House Down
7. Bullet To The Head
8. The Lone Ranger
9. The Wolverine

Satisfying arthouse headtrips

1. Vanishing Waves
2. The Congress
3. The Legend of Kaspar Hauser
4. Stranger By The Lake
5. The Wall
6. A Field In England
7. Computer Chess
8. Stranger By The Lake
9. Gold
10. In The Fog

I hardly saw any animated films but loved The Congress and Frozen.