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Month: December, 2012

2011 Film Wrap Up

Since I’ve been so behind on movies and generally only go out to see the more Hollywood crowd-pleasers, I’m going to work a year behind on Top 10 lists (or less!). Yes, Top 10 lists are pretentious, they don’t mean anything, and they are self-indulgent. But they are also fun and a helpful way to find new stuff to enjoy, especially if you already know you have similar tastes to the list-maker. Here’s the list of movies I wanted to see from 2011 and what I actually saw:

  • 30 Minutes of Less (Ruben Fleischer)
  • A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg)
  • A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)
  • A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (Todd Strauss-Schulson)
  • Attack the Block (Joe Cornish)
  • Captain America: the First Avenger (Joe Johnston)
  • Carnage (Roman Polanski)
  • Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
  • Contagion (Steven Soderberh)
  • Cowboys & Aliens (Jon Favreau)
  • Crazy, Stupid, Love (Glenn Ficarra, John Requa)
  • Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
  • Drive Angry (Patrick Lassier)
  • Hanna (Joe Wright)
  • Hawywire (Steven Soderbergh)
  • Hugo (Martin Scorsese)
  • J. Edgar (Clint Eastwood)
  • Limitless (Neil Burger)
  • Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan)
  • Martha Marcy May Marlene (T. Sean Darkin)
  • Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt)
  • Melancholia (Lars von Trier)
  • Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)
  • Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird)
  • Moneyball (Bennett Miller)
  • Mysteries of Lisbon (Raoul Ruiz)
  • Paul (Greg Mottola)
  • Rampart (Oren Moverman)
  • Rango (Gore Verbinski)
  • Restless (Gus Van Sant)
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt)
  • Shame (Steve McQueen)
  • Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Guy Ritchie)
  • Super 8 (JJ Abrams)
  • Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols)
  • The Adjustment Bureau (George Nolfi)
  • The Descendants (Alexander Payne)
  • The Ides of March (George Clooney)
  • The Interrupters (Steve James)
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher)
  • The Green Hornet (Michel Gondry)
  • The Rum Diary (Bruce Robinson)
  • The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar)
  • The Snowtown Murders (Justin Kurzel)
  • The Thing (Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr.)
  • The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
  • Young Adult (Jason Reitman)
  • Tabloid (Errol Morris)
  • Thor (Kenneth Branagh)
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Tomas Alfredson)
  • Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
  • Weekend (Andrew Haigh)

So that’s 26/52. Not a good return, but aside from a couple (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Descendants, Midnight in Paris, Melacholia), I pretty much saw the stuff I really wanted to see. Because a Top 10 seems like too much, how about 5?

5. Contagion (Steven Soderbergh)

David Fincher’s Zodiac is one of my favorite movies, so I’m ok if every genre gets Zodiaced, including disease outbreaks.

4. Young Adult (Jason Reitman)

Charlize Theron deserved an Oscar for her role as Mavis Gary. It’s a shameless, horrifying portrait: darkly funny, depressing, and desperate.

3. Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)

Beautiful and affecting. Watch it in a trance!

2. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan)

Completely out of left field, this is the sleeper of the new decade. I wish more people would see it because it is amazing. If it wasn’t so long, I would build a section of my Comp II class around it, but I can’t figure out the logistics.

1. Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn)

Do I even need to explain myself on this one? A movie that hits almost all of my cinematic sweet spots.

I’ve also been developing a shorter list of 2012’s films for this time next year. Let me know if I’m missing something essential. Here’s the stuff I’ve already seen:

  • Les Misérables (Tom Hooper)
  • Looper (Rian Johnson)
  • The Avengers (Joss Whedon)
  • The Bourne Legacy (Tony Gilroy)
  • The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard)
  • The Campaign (Jay Roach)
  • The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan)
  • The Hunger Games (Gary Ross)
  • The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)

And here’s the stuff I’m playing on hoping to maybe actually see:

  • 21 Jump Street (Phil Lord and Chris Miller)
  • Amour (Michael Haneke)
  • Anna Karenina (Joe Wright)
  • Arbitrage (Nicholas Jarecki)
  • Argo (Ben Affleck)
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin)
  • Bernie (Richard Linklater)
  • Chronicle (Josh Trank)
  • Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg)
  • Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)
  • Dredd (Pete Travis)
  • Holy Motors (Leos Carax)
  • Killer Joe (William Friedkin)
  • Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik)
  • Jack Reacher (Christopher McQuarrie)
  • Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)
  • Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh)
  • Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)
  • Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
  • Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier)
  • Premium Rush (David Koepp)
  • Prometheus (Ridley Scott)
  • Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard)
  • Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow)
  • Save the Date (Michael Mohan)
  • Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh)
  • Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell)
  • Sleepwalk With Me (Mike Birbiglia)
  • Tabu (Miguel Gomes)
  • Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley)
  • The Amazing Spider-Man (Marc Webb)
  • The Ambassador (Mads Brügger)
  • The Comedy (Rick Alverson)
  • The Hobbit (Peter Jackson)
  • The Loneliest Planet (Julia Loktev)
  • The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr)
  • The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Grienfield)
  • This is 40 (Judd Apatow)
  • West of Memphis (Amy Berg)
  • Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow)

Boom, there’s a cool 40. That’s manageable. And, unlike last year, I don’t think I’ve seen what will end up being my favorite film. There are also way more movies from this year that I am anxious to see; last year was a bit of a reach. We will see how far I actually get.

Ironically Hipster

Aside from the mind-blowing experience of seeing two of my all-time favorite bands back to back, one of the strongest impressions I gained from this summer’s Lollapalooza was that the early 90s were back. While culture always tends to cycle, I don’t think I’ve seen as direct a copy of a time-period in my life as the kids in Chicago were sporting. The neon tank tops, acid-washed cut-off shorts, and floral patters weren’t homages to the decade of their birth, they were straight up copies. Every one of them was a walking, ironic performance. It was annoying.

Christy Wampole’s New York Times editorial “How to Live Without Irony” does an excellent job of explaining this forced nostalgia. She writes, “If irony is the ethos of our age – and it is – then the hipster is our archetype of ironic living. The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting in nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions, mechanisms, and hobbies…He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.” Granted, the hipsters she’s talking about are your Williamsburg, twirly moustache, Girls-type idiots, but being hip has moved beyond niche: “almost every category of contemporary reality exhibits this will to irony.” Authentic hipsters are probably too cool for Lollapalooza, but mass culture itself has been hipsterfied.

The trap of hipster, ironic living is that it is soothing and comfortable. Irony, at least the way it is exhibited today, has none of the biting critique of the past. Instead, “the ironic frame functions as a shield against criticism…Irony is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic or otherwise.” You can’t make fun of a hipster for looking how they look because it’s all just a “joke” anyways. When you deride their style, the joke’s on you.

What is fascinating about critiquing hipster culture, though, is that through the rules it has established (forced elitism, “I heard it first” snobbery, and social judgment), it becomes very difficult to not reveal your own hipster tendencies. Wampole admits that “[She], too, [exhibits] ironic tendencies.” If you simply say that hipsters are douchebags, you are employing the hipster’s elitism and snobbery, thus making you a hipster. That admittance of your own ironic tendencies is seemingly a way out, a way to gain authenticity that then validates the critique. Weirdly, no hipster would say they are a hipster (because they are aware of the negative, herd-like connotations that implies. They are unique and special!), so by admitting you are hipsterish, you actually show that you aren’t. It’s a maze of annoying from which there is seemingly no escape.

Irony used to have a strong appeal to me and still does in some places, but as I grow older, I just don’t have the energy for it as much anymore. Or rather, I don’t have time for a certain type of irony that is self-fulfilling and self-congratulating. For example, Community is on indefinite hiatus and I just don’t care. I think its brand of “smart” comedy wore me down; while some episodes were genius (“Remedial Chaos Theory”), it became more about being in on the joke than it did about being genuine and engaging. Same goes with 30 Rock. I can only take so many ironic flashbacks before I realize there’s nothing really here and certainly nothing interesting or engaging.

In contrast, I think of the two shows that I love without reservation, that I know I will be watching until I die: Mad Men and Louie. There’s a brutality to these shows that comes not from dramatic maneuvering (something I think Breaking Bad relies on too much), but from an insistent and focused obsession with “reality”. Sure, both are stylized, Mad Men heavily, but there’s a refusal in both to stray from people and their conflicted interaction with the world. Wampole claims that moving away from hipster irony “might also consist of an honest self-inventory.” At their core, I think that’s what each show is interested in for its characters. Whereas each new episode of Breaking Bad makes me want to keep moving forward for the next plot reveal, Louie and Mad Men make me want to brood and reflect on what I just witnessed (hence the Mad Men recaps, even if I haven’t done one in ages!).

I think the season finale of the latest season of Louie is the perfect embodiment of this distinction. Louie is a show that relies heavily on irony. It just isn’t the same type of irony that has become the norm. His is the old-school irony that is used to reveal a hidden truth, not the user’s cleverness. The episode begins with a nearly comatose Louie watching his girls open their Christmas presents. With each gift, we are shown an ironic flashback of what he went through to get the gift on the table. We watch him fight in line for Jane’s blue monkey and struggle to wrap their presents. But when we see Louie’s epic battle with Lily’s once eyeless American doll, it becomes something more. The pain, frustration, and grief that Louie went through to get the doll’s eyes in place is not just a funny juxtaposition to the doll’s perfect exterior and Lily’s unknowing appreciation, it’s a representation of the unholy sacrifice that Louie is willing to make for his girls. It’s about what parents themselves are willing to do to make their kids happy (and it certainly plays of the previous three-arc story about Louie potentially taking over The Late Show). It’s irony that is both purposeful and funny. All a Community paintball episode really tells us is that the writers have seen a ton of zombie movies.

The rest of the episode is a series of ironic vignettes that play off the same formula. Some are incredibly sad, some are poetic and beautiful. But they all use irony in a way that stands in bold opposition to the way it is used in almost everything else on TV (and in film). In her essay, Wampole says that “Moving away from the ironic involves saying what you mean, meaning what you say and considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities, despite the inherent risks.” I think a show like Louie shows that there is still an avenue for irony, and that irony doesn’t necessarily have to be insincere.

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