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Paul Jensen

Silver Winners: 71-80

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AND LIFE GOES ON... (1992) 4.5 stars

The second chapter in Kiarostami's masterful trilogy on filmmaking. At times tragic, other times joyful, interest is everywhere.

 

Genre: Drama
Director: Abbas Kiarostami

 

SAFE (1995) 4.5 stars

A powerful, bold and enigmatic feminist film. This is what true independent cinema is really all about. Julianne Moore gives what is perhaps the performance of the decade. The absolute brilliance of the story is how Haynes doesn't presume to have the answers. His humility shines through and the various interpretations keep this masterful art film extremely relevant. Creepy, haunting, sad and highly complex. Antonioni would be proud. This provocative film was voted as one of the best of the 90's. It's both a brave feminist film and a critical view on our "self-help" generation.

 

Genre: Drama
Director: Todd Hayes

 

UMBERTO D (1952) 4.5 stars

Yet another simple but profoundly moving tale from De Sica. How does he make it all seem so easy? He says the most with the least. An old Man and his little Dog, struggling to get by during hard times. It's artful but completely accessible (not an easy balancing act.).

 

Genre: Foreign
Director: Vittoria De Sica

 

SECRETS & LIES (1996) 4.5 stars

Emotionally devastating. Mike Leigh's understanding of human nature is staggering. The long takes elevate this unflinchingly honest film to heights of pure genius. The outdoor dinner shot is a prime example of totally riveting filmmaking. Unlike a Hollywood melodrama, there are so few close-ups. Leigh leaves it completely up to us regarding where to look. In classic Cassavetes fashion, Leigh expects us to be as creative with our own eye. It's all in the details. Deceivingly banal glances are loaded with subtext and offhand comments are rife with dramatic tension. Naturally, the performances are first-rate across the board. This is real life, delivered to the screen with humility, respect and compassion.

 

Genre: Drama
Director: Mike Leigh

 

ANOTHER YEAR (2010) 4.5 stars

Mike Leigh nails it again. Easily one of his finest and most emotionally accurate films. What an incredible cast of characters! Mary steals the show as the heart-breaking and pathetic individual who is completely alone and only has herself to blame. Just like the opening scene with the grumpy old lady, you've got to take responsibility for your actions. Simply put: it's up to you. Gerri and Tom may seem perfect, but that's the point. They are the only solid thing in this movie of dysfunctional losers. We care about this sad assortment of aimless individuals. Yet, we can't help but cringe when we see them interact. Another Year proves once again that Mike Leigh is a master who few can compare with. His stories and characters are honest, painful and let's not forget, at times, extremely funny.

 

Genre: Drama
Director: Mike Leigh

 

RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) 4.5 stars

The strength of the story and characters prevail. The presence of Vader, Luke and the Emperor is extremely compelling; particularly due to the added complexities in the prequel trilogy. The final space battle is among the greatest in sci-fi/fantasy films and when Luke honors his Sister's name and attacks Vader, it still moves me to tears. It's a satisfying conclusion to the greatest saga in movie history.

 

Genre: Sci-fi
Director: Richard Marquand

 

THE WORLD (2005) 4.5 stars

Jia Zhangke's masterpiece. The originality throughout had me engrossed and the film was impossible to predict. There is so much life intertwined in this picture. From backstage Artisan life, absurd re-creations of landmark monuments, heartbreaking moments of characters trying to connect, to startling animated sequences that lend the film an "anything is possible" allure. I couldn't take my eyes off this relevant and humanistic piece of cinema - true poetry.

 

Genre: Foreign
Director: Jia Zhangke

 

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) 4.5

It's an unpleasant film but a one-of-a-kind horror experience. Easily, one of the most disturbing movies ever made. The brilliance behind this pseudo documentary approach, is how all the nasty imagery builds slowly until you feel overwhelmed by its dirtiness. The poor female lead goes through hell and the audience experiences it with her. So much of the movie is working subliminally and tapping into our childhood fears and nightmares. Despite the film not being gory, it hits you with a sledgehammer. The sound design is horrifying and very effective. The film simply remains one of the most terrifying and brilliant horror experiences of all time.

 

Genre: Horror
Director: Tobe Hooper

 

ANTICHRIST (2009) 4.5 stars

It's insane how much Lars Von Trier accomplishes with basically just two actors in the woods. I can't recall the last time I was this terrified while watching a movie. It felt as if anything could happen. Not only is this one of my all-time favorite horror films but also one of the most supremely intelligent horror films ever made. Inspired by the silent Swedish classic, Haxan, as well as elements from both Tarkovsky and Dreyer, Antichrist achieves a profound terror that manages to balance between marital domestic violence and satanic witchcraft. The stunningly gorgeous book-ending sequences are unforgettable. The cryptic, harrowing and enthralling animals scattered throughout the story evoke ancient fairy tales. I've never been so frightened by a fox. Yes, the film is provocative but thank God there are directors who still push the envelope and actually have something to say. Lars Von Trier continues to explore the ART of cinema and I for one eagerly anticipate his next experiment. Fans of the film should check out Zulawski's Possession. They both share a great deal of the same horror and intrigue.

 

Genre: Horror
Director: Lars Von Trier

 

SKYFALL (2012) 4.5 stars

There are so many thrilling components that work and Sam Mendes expertly balances a dark and realistic story with plenty of homages to the Bond series. It feels fresh and familiar at the same time. Much like Nolan's second chapter, The Dark Knight, there is plenty of subtext and much to ruminate over. After what is the best Bond opening EVER, the story becomes thematically rich, emotionally powerful and has one of the all-time best Bond villains. (Thanks to Roger Deakins, they also end up with the most visually striking Bond film). Simply put: Skyfall is a strong competitor for the best 007 film, giving Casino Royale a run for its money. One of my favorite themes in the film is how it's all about going back to the origins. It's addressing the validity of old age. Are Bond, M and MI6 all finished? The characters return to their past - it's an origin story (and trilogy), both for Bond but also for the franchise. Back to the basics is a re-occurring element throughout. Happy 50th indeed. One of the thematic elements that I'm intrigued by is summed up in the re-occurring line, "Think upon your sins". This permeates throughout the film...

In the very first scene we see Bond trying to save a guy from bleeding to death. M tells him to forget about the dying victim and continue with the mission. This is constant throughout. MI6 is not really interested in saving lives. For example, Bond waits in Shanghai until the sniper kills. Or when the poor Bond girl gets shot by Bardem moments before Bond and MI6 capture him. It seems there are countless of characters (both trivial and important) that pay with their lives. Naturally, this is what links Bond to the villain. They've both been wronged by MI6. What a great motivation for the antagonist - to make Mi6 pay for their neglect and sins.

I also love the whole back-to-basics approach. From the seduction in the shower, to the Aston martin, to Q and the gadgets, totally simplified with just a gun and radio, to the "new" headquarters of MI6 (totally old school), to even the sweet Live and Let Die reference when Bond leaps across a reptile's back. It's a complete origin story, not just for Bond - his home, Skyfall - but also for the franchise. With this Daniel Craig trilogy, his origins are complete. As he says, "Skyfall? DONE. Mum has indeed done one thing right - she created Bond and now he's ready for his role as 007 with "Pleasure".

 

Genre: Action
Director: Sam Mendes

 

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