Sunday, December 11, 2016
Once again I try to continue the tradition that comes down from critic Jim Emerson, who used to do this on his blog Scanners (you can also google to find moments out of time in years past). This is meant to showcase moments in movies that really stuck out as being special, whether it's because of the acting or the directing, the music or the mood, what it does to juxtapose things (that'll be the first one right out of the gate) or to give us all something to remember the movie by. It doesn't even need to be a GREAT film overall, and indeed not all of these are. But it's simply films that stood out for one reason or another as the most memorable of this 2016 movie year
(also for this blog, unlike in the past, if I can find the video of the scene, it'll be here):
1) 13TH (dir: Ava Duvernay)
Easily the scene to most make me uncomfortable of the year, but rightfully so since, at the time I watched it, Donald Trump was not the 45th president elect of the country.. but deep down I knew that he could be, possibly, even within a small piece of a percentage of a chance, and that these people at these rallies were not going away. Now that he is, it carries a greater, heavier, WTF ARE WE DOING IN OUR COUNTRY weight (and especially I keep flashing to those cuts between the black and white footage of the man being pushed with the woman at the rally).
I won't even try to describe what Ava DuVernay does here except that she presents past and present into such a moment that is tragic because of how it repeats itself. No one sees the patterns that occur from one time to the next, and that racial hatred is something that is passed down and grows like a fungus when engendered by the wrong people.
2) MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (dir: Kenneth Lonergan) (SPOILERS)
A man flashes back while sitting in a lawyer's office being told that he has been entrusted (unless he fully refuses) to become the guardian to his nephew. Up until this point in the film we've had some flashbacks already with Affleck's character when he had a home, kids, and a wife played by Michelle Williams. But we don't see why he's not with them now, that he's living instead in some lowly one-room pad in some outskirt of Boston. But in a series of flashes leading up to this 'Moment out of Time', he comes home after a late night walk to get some wood and groceries at the store, only to find his... house is burning down, and that his wife is outside but his kids are in it. Dead. Gone.
But the real Out of Time Moment for me (which isn't available online - guess it's kind of spoilery) is when his wife, who has inhaled a lot of smoke and has to be taken to the hospital (also in, you know, complete fucking hysterics over losing her children all at once, one of them a baby), is put on a stretcher. The stretcher can't seem to get on to the ambulance van despite repeated attempts. Finally it happens, but it feels like it's still a struggle to push her inside and close the doors. Everything takes longer and is more arduous and is a complete nightmare that seems to never end when endless grief is in front of you (and according to Lonergan at a Q&A this was an actual mistake during filming, not scripted, but he kept it in).
3) GREEN ROOM (dir: Jeremy Saulnier)
This is a kick-you-in-the-solar-plexus kind of movie, the likes of which I loved to watch with my friends back in high school (and even middle school), and it's rough, raw, fuck-you-in-the-face violent exploitation flicks that don't kid around (I'm talking about, oh, Suburbia and Kids and Romper Stomper to name a few). Saulnier has a great cast assembled here, and the way we're fully introduced into this world that this rag-tag punk rock band (they don't even have a facebook page!) is when they go on stage at a neo-Nazi/Skin-head/white supremacist bar and perform as their first number a cover of the Dead Kennedy's NAZI PUNKS: FUCK OFF.
Considering this year as well, this is catharsis and a half, and truly a punk rock moment.
4) KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (dir: Travis Knight)
There's a scene early on in this film where Kubo comes home after a day of performing his magic tricks in the city - he can make little origami Samurai figures come to life and tell quick stories to capture people's imaginations - and has to take care of his mother. She is staring off into space. She isn't a total vegetable, but she's been through a LOT in life (the prologue shows her protecting her son from being blinded by her God of a father, no really he's a God, and almost died in the process, breaking off ties with them all). She has major PTSD still by this moment. It's a quiet thing to see between son and mother as he takes care of her, gets her ready for bed, and she has the expression of someone in an Ingmar Bergman existential is-God-even-fucking-THERE wintry drama and... I mean that as a compliment.
5) RULES DON'T APPLY (dir: Warren Beatty)
This movie is a mess, but it's the kind of mess that only a director like Warren Beatty gets to make these days, or at least those who get final cut (whether he was told though to keep it under 2 1/2 hours by the studio may be arguable). It's a choppy thing to watch at times - scenes just END without any explanation - but it's also a highly entertaining experience because Beatty has been wanting to make this for years and it shows: he knows the cadences and weird rhythms of Howard Hughes, but more than that he's a master at the awkward-reaction kind of comedy (you can see this awkwardness in many of his performances, even in dramas like Bonnie and Clyde and McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and especially in Reds) where, even though he's the lead, he can give a look or a stare and it says so much about this person *thinking* about what another actor is saying or doing.
The scene from this that sticks out as a 'Moment Out of Time' is when Alden Ehrenreich's character, who has been driving around the girls and women under contract to Howard Hughes but has not actually met the man, gets to meet him very late one night on a pier. The two men walk slowly together and Hughes asks about this young man, and right back at him the young man asks Hughes about some things - he has some ideas for businesses and an investment in particular - and this is the first time we're getting a good look at Beatty as Hughes (we see him only once before, and this is about 40 minutes into the movie, when he meets Lily Collins' character in a dark room to have a bite to eat and a chat). But this is all in one long shot, easily the best moment for Caleb Deschanel as a director of photography for the film, and it goes on and on and where is it leading to?
Oh, Hughes has, uh, set up at the end of this walk (wherever this is on this pier) a table where burgers and fries and sodas are waiting for them since, well, Hughes is in the mood for a good burger and damn the time it is he'll get it! While sadly this video isn't online yet for this moment, there is another that I'll share where Beatty does the repeating-a-statement bit which one might remember as being a big part of THE AVIATOR.
6) DOCTOR STRANGE (d: Scott Derrickson)
Steven Strange wants - needs - help. He can't get his hands to work like they used to (or how he would *demand* them to get done through his stubborn sense of self), and it leads him to a I-Have-No-Choice moment where he takes the advice of a man who somehow was able to walk again despite being seemingly totally crippled - and it's in the city after that infamous Bob Seger song!
He meets 'The Ancient One' and is told that if he commits to the Mystic Arts, he can not simply cure himself - he can see what is beyond this world, into MANY worlds. He calls hogwash on it as a devout atheist and then...
Walt Disney Studios invites you to the HOLY SHIT IT'S THE VISUAL EQUIVALENT OF PINK FLOYD'S ANY COLOUR YOU LIKE!
Oh, and it's right after this Strange decides he needs to be taught for sure, and is kicked out the door.
But this one look into the 'Multiverse' is so astonishing that it deserves an Oscar on its own. I mean .... fuuuuuuuck! And the rest of the movie's very good as well.
7) LOVING (d: Jeff Nichols)
One of the family friends (or it may be a brother or relative, I forget) that Richard Perry Loving has married into - he's white, his wife is black - is having drinks at a bar (Loving's not alone and there's other black guys there), and this comes at a time when there is immense pressure; the Lovings have been put into the spotlight because of their case being of main focus by ACLU lawyers going forward re: being married and an illegal crime in the state of Virginia. One of these guys is pissed at Richard for getting Mildred into this.
Doesn't he know that he's not really black, he says over drinks (one of the guys tells him to be quiet, but right now he wont, he's got to speak his mind), and asks why he doesn't just divorce her so he can get on with his life and Mildred hers. He sits there stewing... or is it? He doesn't look like he's about to lash out, which seems like it would be the apt response. No, in this moment out of time he... sits there, pondering.
He almost has a curious face. Would it be easier to do this? Of course it would be. But life isn't easy, not for Richard Perry Loving or his wife Mildred who he loves more than anything in the world (well, his kids too, but especially her), so he can't agree with the guy. But does he dismiss it out of hand, either? It's a scene that might hint at ambiguity for Richard, and while the immediate next scene - Richard coming home still tipsy and telling his wife with tears in his eyes, "I can protect you... I can protect you!" - squashes what he thinks and feels, I'd want to ask Nichols why he put this scene in the film at the bar, where this black man asks a direct question that, frankly, could make a lot of sense... but, of course, love never makes sense, does it?
8) THE WITCH (d: Robert Eggers)
This is a movie I thought would go for the usual thing in such stories dealing with witchcraft which is at least to some extent ambiguity, like, here is a religious family, they are ostracized, they turn on each other, paranoia and suspicions arise, particularly how women had less than zero rights at the time and were seen as breeders and mothers and that was it and if they weren't in line witches and yet.... Witches in this world are real. The two notions aren't mutually exclusive either: here is a film where the people are on edge and fearing of Satan and the devil and being absolutely disgusting human beings to each other (especially to the daughter who, by the very end, will turn to Satan), and yet... Witches are very real.
This revelation stuck with me. While I was in the theater I put a Black Sabbath song to it - it might've not even had to do with witches, just a song with a spooky tone like 'The Writ' - which is sometimes for me a sign of a filmmaker who has really hit it out of the park (another example of this is when we get to the "punch-line" of Godard's WEEK-END and it's the dead body, 'Riders on the Storm' by the Doors popped into my head)
9) O.J. Made in America (d: Ezra Edelstein)
Watched all 7 1/2 hours in one sitting and I'm glad I did. This packs a wallop as far as putting you into what it means to be part of the National Character of America, which is... frankly, not a nice place to be. It's tough to actually MAKE IT as someone who is a hero to people, the nation or even the world over, when one is a minority and working as an entertainer (and football is entertainment). I could pick out a lot of moments here, but one that sticks out to me is in the first episode, or rather it's two moments connected together:
O.J. is sought out by the Hertz rental car company for a commercial in the 1970's - he's known for running like a motherfucker, so he's put in a storyline that he is running across an airport to get to his ride in time - and we see this commercial and it's wildly entertaining in its 70's commercial way (and originally this was meant for a regular businessman, and it was thought, hey, no one will believe that a businessman can do that so fast... but OJ, hmm). What happens though that's key is that we see what the director of the commercial did to make OJ seem more appealing: everyone around him, the "average Joes and Janes" at the airport who see OJ pass by (one of which a little old white lady who says "Go, OJ, Go!" or something to that effect), is white and respectable. He's getting the *approval* of white society in a way that is not obvious on a first or even second viewing, it just seems like 'Hey, people like OJ!"
But, like any product put forward to society (not even Hertz, I mean Orenthal James Simpson), image is everything. It was this commercial in a big way, by the way, that made OJ a much bigger deal than he already was, and he was known for being a Heisman trophy winning minor celebrity football player for the Bills with a 2,000 yard run for the 1973 season. So.... yeah... And the moral of the story is: what happens when a black man is, as George Carlin might say, not "openly black" but "openly white" and just *happen* to be black(?) This sequence showing the inner workings of the making of a commercial is astonishing,
10) DEADPOOL (d: Tim Miller)
Just that moment where Wade Wilson's tiny hand makes an appearance next to his friend Bline Al. It's so charming and creepy at the same time. I love it. (It's not quite in this clip but it is made mention)
11) KNIGHT OF CUPS (d: Terrence Malick)
I could pick if I wanted to one of the myriad of poetic-philosophical-spiritual-meditative beats (and myriad is a good work to use for 21st century Malick cinema), but I actually remember the most in Knight of Cups two things: 1) that there is a set piece that actually *shows the character in a moment of drama*, even if it's something as basic as, say, an earthquake. and 2) there's a bit of... humor to this movie? The target may be too obvious - Hollywood's self-consciousness, narcissism, and self of 'OMG LIKE WE ARE SO LIKE FAMOUS Y'KNOW!' But I'd take this over whatever the fuck he was doing with To the Wonder.
Here is a sample of what I mean, featuring Antonio Banderas and Joe Managiello:
12) Moonlight (d: Barry Jenkins)
... when the kid hits the other kid with a chair. Cinematically, of course, it carries a lot of build up and explosive pay-off, as we're following our protagonist through the hallway in school, into the room, and then as he picks up the chair and hits him like all reason might be off but....... this is a feeling that I know. Real rage being taken out on a bully in a movie, and it feeling not only earned but tragic in its way, this is something that made me think "yeah, I wasn't gay in middle school, but this was *exactly* what middle school was like, often, at least every other day." It's a scary thing to think back to them, but Moonlight did that, painfully, exactly, and startlingly. I hadn't felt so shaken up by seeing such a personal act of violence like that that connected with me since, oh, I don't know, Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love (which reflected how I felt at 18 too, full of a lot of bottled up anger).
13) Captain America: Civil War (d: the Russo brothers)
Uh... how about when Iron Man confronts Cap and Bucky when they first enter that Russian station, and when Tony quips - "hey, Manchurian Candidate!" to Bucky - well.... that's not so funny anymore....
14) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (d: Gareth Edwards)
Peter Cushing returns to the film that one might call Episode 3.5 or 3.75 or 3.6 7/8ths or whatever... Peter. Fucking. Cushing. Dr. Frankenstein-Sherlock-Holmes-motherfucking-Cushing. In CGI form, like this is that Super Bowl ad from years back where Christopher Reeve could walk again. Only now, if you're ready for this folks, it's actually *good*, like it's convincing, like you almost, kinda, sort believe that Cushing, a man who has been dead for 22 years, is acting in the same scene with Ben Mendehlson... and doing it WELL... except this is not Cushing. Not really. But it is. This is 'you don't know it, but your BRAIN does' stuff here.
This is someone standing in and the equivalent of Golem being painted on his face and it's convincing enough to the point where I now dread this becoming a thing with movies to come. One day we may not have actors with their faces on screen that we can empathize with - that's the thing about actors, it's empathy machine time (which is why Darth Vader, albeit he makes a pun, is still a truly iconic horror-samurai movie presence in his few moments in this movie too, no eyeballs to look at) - so... what then?
Leaving Rogue One, which I thought was alright, and even feeling that I wondered if I might get flack for not thinking it was OMG amazing or OMG terrible, just alright, this was what was on my mind the most (Leia is also briefly seen, also in full CGI, which was a mistake, but in a way not as mortifying as Cushing as Tarkin... just... my God. It's a Moment out of time for all time)...