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Oscar Predictions 2017

Best Picture
Will Win:
La La Land
Could Win:
No one; it’s a lock.

Best Director
Will Win: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Could Win:
No one; it’s a lock.

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Will Win: Casey Affleck (Manchester By the Sea)
Could Win:
Denzel Washington (Fences)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Will Win: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Could Win:
Dev Patel (Lion)

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Will Win: Emma Stone (La La Land)
Could Win:
No one; it’s a lock.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Will Win: Viola Davis
Could Win:
No one; it’s a lock.

Best Animated Feature
Will Win: Zootopia
Could Win:
Kubo and the Two Strings

Best Cinematography
Will Win: La La Land
Could Win:
Lion

Best Costume Design
Will Win: Jackie
Could Win:
Florence Foster Jenkins

 Best Documentary Feature
Will Win: OJ: Made in America
Could Win:
13th

Best Film Editing
Will Win: La La Land
Could Win:
Hacksaw Ridge

Best Foreign Language Film
Will Win: Toni Erdmann
Could Win:
The Salesman

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Will Win: Star Trek Beyond
Could Win:
A Man Called Ove

Best Original Score
Will Win: La La Land
Could Win:
No one; it’s a lock.

Best Original Song
Will Win: City of Stars (La La Land)
Could Win:
No one; it’s a lock.

Best Production Design
Will Win: La La Land
Could Win:
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best Sound Editing
Will Win: Arrival
Could Win:
Hacksaw Ridge

Best Sound Mixing
Will Win: La La Land
Could Win:
Arrival

Best Visual Effects
Will Win: Jungle Book
Could Win:
No one; it’s a lock.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: Moonlight
Could Win:
No one; it’s a lock.

Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: Manchester By the Sea
Could Win:
La La Land

Best Animated Short Film
Will Win: Piper
Could Win:
Borrowed Time

Best Live Action Short Film
Will Win: Sing
Could Win: 
Timecode

Best Documentary Short Subject
Will Win: The White Helmets
Could Win:
4.1 Miles

The 20 Best Films of 2015

Any list should be useful in containing films you’re not familiar with. In that sense, the purpose of this list is not to list movies in order of preference, but rather function as a suggestion to seek out significant films that might have flown under your radar. The goal is to call attention to movies you might have missed in a year where blockbusters overshadowed smaller productions.

For that reason, I have excluded “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, even though it deserves a place on this list. But let’s face it; we’ve all seen J.J. Abrams’ retro throwback. Another film I greatly admire, nowhere to be found here, is Terrence Malick’s “Knight of Cups”. Technically, Malick’s film doesn’t open nationwide till March of 2016, which disqualifies it from inclusion. That said, had it been released in 2015, I would easily call it the best film of the year. You can read my review of “Knight of Cups” here. Without further ado, the best films of the year in no particular order:


The Look of Silence
(Indonesia)

Joshua Oppenheimer follows his bizarre, “The Act of Killing”, with another brutal documentary focusing on the aftermath of a genocide. During the 1960’s Indonesian genocide, Ramli Rukun was one of millions accused of being a communist by the military dictatorship. He was taken to a nearby river where executioners repeatedly stabbed him, chopped off his penis, and drank his blood before dumping his body in the water. Decades after this horrific ordeal, Adi Rukun confronts the group of men who killed his older brother.

At first, the killers brag about their killings with nationalistic pride. “I know from experience, if you cut off a woman’s breast, it looks like a coconut milk filter, full of holes…it doesn’t matter. If they’re bad people you can hack them.” At the end of each interview, Rukun reveals to the former killer his identity, and the camera captures the most extraordinarily reaction shot, the look of silence.

 

The Lobster (Greece/UK)

“The Lobster” is a love story set in a dystopian future where single people are arrested and transferred to a hotel. There they are obliged to find a matching mate within 45 days. If they fail to meet the deadline, they are transformed into animals and released into the woods. This bizarre synopsis alone should be enough to tickle your curiosity. Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark comedy is an exercise in absurdness. It also happens to be the funniest film of the year.

If it were up to me, I would’ve awarded it the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival, where it was selected to compete for the prestigious prize. The most original film of the year mocks the many facets of society from our universal obsession of finding a compatible spouse to reproducing. “The Lobster” is pitch-perfect satire that ridicules modern dating obligations. Colin Farrell delivers one of the most underrated performances of the year.

 

Victoria (Germany)

Victoria is the most suspenseful German thriller since “Run Lola Run”. Sebastian Schipper notably shot the entire film in one single take clocking in at 134 minutes. Last year’s “Birdman” may have stolen the spotlight of this feat, but unlike “Birdman”, “Victoria” does it for real, without any smart transitional editing tricks.

Victoria is a young Spanish pianist who quickly finds herself in the midst of a heist with a group of friends she just met. Set within a single night in Berlin, the film grabs you by the throat from the get-go, and keeps you on the edge of your seat till the end. “Victoria” is pure cinematic fineness. Schipper neatly develops his characters within the first half of the night, before thrusting the characters we grew to love into realistically portrayed danger. The film also features a magnificent musical score by Nils Frahm.

 

When Marnie Was There (Japan)

 Pixar’s “Inside Out” may have the brains, but Studio Ghibli’s “When Marnie Was There” most certainly has the bigger heart. Studio Ghibli is synonym with quality animation. The truth is, every Studio Ghibli review is most likely to contain the same descriptive words, breathtaking animation, fleshed-out characters, beautiful music, and a heartwarming story.

“When Marnie Was There” is no exception. The studio’s first film since Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement is an exceptional work of art. The film tells the coming-of-age story of a young introverted foster child with asthma who is sent to the countryside by her guardians. Soon she runs into Marnie, a ghostly friend at the big mansion across the river. Through their friendship, she learns many things about herself. As for the viewer, we learn about traditional Japanese values: forgives, family, and harmony.

The Big Short (USA)

Adam McKay figured out a way to make a film centered on the credit and housing market collapse of 2008 entertaining, and that’s no easy feat. It is the strongest film explanation of the global financial crisis to date. The reason it works so well is because it takes financial concepts that are hard to grasp by the general public and packages it as a comprehensible “Wall Street Banking For Dummies” nutshell.

“The Big Short” is surprisingly light footed for a subject matter so heavy- the greatest economic tragedy since the Great Depression. McKay managed to translate finance into plain English and make it all engaging thanks to a script that boasts comedic one-liners from an all-star ensemble. Yet, the film is as unsettling as it is entertaining. It possesses the energy of “The Wolf of Wall Street” and the investigative enthusiasm of “Moneyball”.


Listen to Me Marlon (UK)

After watching Listen to Me Marlon, the first thing I did was walk over to the ticket booth to buy another ticket for the next showing. Stevan Riley dissects Brando’s life using nothing but audio recovered from tapes the actor recorded himself. He also utilises a 3D digital version of Brando’s head that the actor got made in the 1980s in order to be part of future digital performances. It’s a first documentary of its kind.

The end result is the best-documented film on, not only the most influential actor ever, but on acting itself as an art form. Riley paints Brando’s words with corresponding visuals that perfectly encapsulate the meaning behind the spoken word. Like Brando’s many monumental performances, Riley has figured out a way to showcase a portrait in a way that has never been done before. To watch this documentary is to not only understand why Brando is regarded as the greatest actor of all time, but it is to grasp the undeniable fact that he was truly one of the most remarkable human beings to ever walk this planet.

 

Tu Dors Nicole (Canada)

At one point, Nicole mentions she plans on visiting Iceland with her best friend; to which her brother’s buddy replies, “What are you going to do there?” She then thinks about it for a second and answers, “Nothing. We’ll do nothing, but we’ll be doing nothing somewhere else. Nice nothing.”

I can see viewers watching this gem and complaining that nothing really happens throughout the film, but it’s the nice kind of nothing. Besides, by watching all this beautiful shot black and white nothingness, so much can happen to the viewer.

 

Bridge of Spies (USA)

Steven Spielberg’s sharp espionage thriller is a marvelous exercise in classical-virtuoso filmmaking. “Bridge of Spies” feels like it belongs to a different era of films. Tom Hanks’ performance has Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” written all over it, and Spielberg’s classical directing cements him as a modern day Frank Capra. This is a fine piece of vintage Hollywood moviemaking.

Fans of Spielberg will find many of his signature trademarks, from the classical musical score, to the suburban family setting, great iconic set pieces, and the common theme of ordinary men achieving extraordinary tasks. The term traditional can perceived in a negative light, here I mean it in a positive way. At times when every filmmaker is trying to break new ground, the old-fashioned “Bridge of Spies” paradoxically feels rather refreshing.

 

Anomalisa (USA)

Like every Charlie Kauffman film, “Anomalisa” exposes the melancholy of the human condition in spades. However, what distinguishes it from his past work, and really any stop-motion animated film to date, is its deliberate use of that form of animation. Stop-motion and voice acting in particular serve the plot dynamics as opposed to being a filmmaking gimmick.

“Anomalisa” is a slice-of-life animation that couldn’t have articulated its message in any other form. Voice-over acting serves as a narrative plot device metaphorically symbolizing the act of falling in love. “Anomalisa” is just as much about falling out of love, as it is about falling in love. Nevertheless, what makes “Anomalisa” truly stand out is not what it is about, but how it is about what it’s about.

 

Ex Machina (UK)

In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, our two main characters examine a drip painting by Pollock. They articulate how the artist made his hand go where it wanted but didn’t plan his every move. The piece of art would never have come to be if you preplanned every stroke. Consciousness exists in the gap between randomness and deliberated action, so as long as an AI is programmed to do automatic actions, it can never be regarded as truly conscious. In order for it to be regarded as an equal, we would have to somehow prove that it acts through random chaotic impulse.

“Ex Machina” is a study of what it means to be conscious/human. With its release, I’m convinced more than ever that we are in the midst of a British New Wave in science fiction cinema. The film challenges the intellect by putting humankind, artificial intelligence, and our inevitable future together under the microscope.

 

Mad Max: Fury Road (Australia/USA)

I think by now, it’s quite clear that “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the blockbuster spectacle of the year. It has been discussed to death. With a strong feminist undertaking, mastermind George Miller pumps up his post-apocalyptic trilogy with a nitrous oxide charge of marvelous cinema.

This recklessly fast-paced motion picture is quite possible the greatest stunt film since Buster Keaton took over a locomotive in “The General”. The fact that it tackles contemporary issues such as gender equality, climate change and the inevitable water wars to come is just the icing on top – or shall I say the shooting flame on an electric guitar?

The Assassin (Taiwan)

Some critics have likened the viewing of this film to watching paint dry. But when the overall canvas resembles a scenic museum piece, you don’t really mind the slow pace; the paint can take all the time it needs to dry. Hou Hsiao-hsien’s first feature in eight years won the Best Director award at Cannes Film Festival, and with good reason, it is a feast to the senses, a moving painting if there every was one.

That said it’s not for everyone. Students of film will appreciate “The Assassin” more so than regular moviegoers. Hou creates an anti-wuxia film, replacing generic wuxia fight scenes seen in “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”, “Hero”, and “House of Flying Daggers” with soothing compositional elegance. “The Assassin” floods us with one picturesque sequence after the other. The camera often peeks at characters through thin layers of fabric curtains, ultimately unveiling the most beautifully composed film of the year.

Son of Saul (Hungary)

A Hungarian Jewish prisoner involuntary assists Nazis with operating the mass extermination inside a concentration camp. One day, as he’s forced to burn his own people, he comes across the body of young boy he takes for his son. We’ve seen one too many Holocaust films, but “Son of Saul” takes us closer to the horrors of Auschwitz than most films.

Laszlo Nemes shot the film almost entirely in close-ups sculpting a claustrophobic documentation of how a concentration camp operated. It is one of the year’s most important films. Not only does it accurately depict the horrific procedural mechanics of a concentration camp, but it also manages to use exceptional framing to trap viewers inside one of the most horrific places ever constructed by man.

 

Winter of Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (Ukraine)

Witnessing the Ukrainian revolution is bound to bring back memories of the Egyptian revolution. Watching how dictatorships similarly react to peaceful demonstrations is absolutely fascinating. In late 2013, Ukraine erupted after president Victor Yanukovych refused to sign an agreement to join the European Union, and resorted to hardening an alliance with Russia instead. “Winter of Fire” covers the almost 90 day uprising period that led to Yanukovych’s resignation.

Netflix scored its first Oscar nomination for Best Documentary in 2014, and two year later, the streaming service is emulating that success with a deeply involving look at the Ukraine situation. While “The Square” took a micro look at the Egyptian revolution by following a small group of protesters, “Winter of Fire” uses a macro bird-eye perspective look at the whole situation. Some of the images of footage presented in this documentary should send shivers down your spine.

Sicario (USA)

Denis Villeneuve takes a tactical filmmaking approach to explore morality in the violent world of drug cartels. “Sicario” fumes with chilling photography. This comes as no surprise when you have 13-time Academy Award nominated cinematographer Richard Deakins added to the mix. The film also boils with nerve-wracking tension, thanks to a thunderous score by Johann Johannsson, and Benicio Del Toro’s powerhouse performance.

Few actors demand the viewer’s utmost attention like Benicio De Toro. With only a few lines and limited screen time, Del Toro completely dominates the film from start to finish. Much like Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs”, and Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now”, one can feel Del Toro’s towering presence hovering over the whole film, even when he’s off-screen.

 

It Follows (USA)

“It Follows” is a near-perfect horror film. When I first watched this terrifying film, I was looking over my shoulder the whole way back. It very much follows you long after the credits roll. David Robert Mitchell has perfected a nerve-racking tale that is both intelligent in its use of metaphoric plot points and hypnotically terrifying, the like of which we haven’t seen since Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”.

Layered with an STD subtext where sex has metaphysical implications, the film promotes the behavior as much as it feasts on sex-related fears. This is the type of film made for drive-in theatres, and if this were to screen in a drive-in, you would more likely be glued to the screen in absolute terror than undressing your partner sitting next to you. Everything about “It Follows” is perfectly executed, from the haunting Disasterpeace original score, to the dreadful atmosphere reminiscent of the work of John Carpenter. It’s very much an impeccable exercise in pure terror.

 

Room (Ireland)

What would it be like to experience the world for the first time? “Room” tells the extraordinary story of a mother and her five-year-old child’s escape from captivity. Much of the film takes place inside a small room. This portion of the film plays out like a suffocating version of “Panic Room”. Both main characters and the camera never leave the confines of the room, which is a remarkable technical achievement in itself.

However, the film’s dark first half is perfectly balanced with a heartwarming second and third act. “Room” has the power to make us look around, and notice the little things we often take granted in life. Lenny Abrahamson practically opens a window to the world. This dark room shines with uplifting performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay.

 

Inside Out (USA)

Pixar’s latest animated masterpiece has steered viewers, both young and old, to take a deep look inside their own minds. Much of the film takes place inside the head of an eleven-year-old girl dealing with joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust. The film is full of insights about the nature of how we process emotions. More importantly, it demonstrates how we are essentially the sum of our past experiences.

Memories from different points of our life shape who we are and how we behave. We learn that every outer-experience dictates an inner emotion, and suppressing emotions like sadness won’t do any good. In fact, it is important to acknowledge and get fully immersed in every emotion to lead a healthy life. “Inside Out” compresses the universal fundamentals of humanity in a fun journey to the core of child psychology.

 

The Revenant (USA)

Alejandro González Iñárritu continues his campaign of experimental filmmaking with “The Revenant”. Iñárritu always had a flair for pulling off impossible feats. His first three features, “Amores Perros”, “21 Grams” and “Babel”, were exercises of nonlinear interconnected narratives. ”Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” appears to have no editing whatsoever, and came from the realization that “we live our lives with no editing”.

His latest entry in a very impressive filmography practices natural lighting. “The Revenant” uses no artificial lighting techniques whatsoever. Iñárritu’s dedication accumulates to an anti-revenge flick simultaneously breathtaking and brutal. In a film with standout action-packed cinematography endeavors, my favorite scene is surprisingly the film’s quietest moment. Hugh Glass encounters a lone Native American butchering a wild beast in the middle of nowhere. For the briefest moments, two individuals from opposing sides, strip themselves of titles and skin color. At desperate times, they become simply men sharing a meal.

 

45 Years (UK)

“45 Years” portrays the devastating effects of keeping secrets in a long marriage. After an incident from the past gets uncovered, we witness the old couple attempting to recapture youth in a desperate attempt to cling on the grounds they’ve built over 45 years of marriage. The film speaks of the difficulties of sustaining a relationship so long and taming retrospective jealousy. At the end, one can’t help but recognize the fragility of relationships, no matter how long-lasting.

Charlotte Rampling commands the screen with a tragic performance sizzling with subtle nuances that expose an avalanche of emotions. It is a case study in refined acting, and perhaps the most powerful female performance of the year. The final moments of “45 Years” makes very strong use of musical lyrics, helping the protagonist, and the viewer, arrive to a heartbreaking revelation.


Honorable Mentions:

“Phoenix”, “Clouds of Sils Maria”, “Charlie’s Country”, “Macbeth”, “Mustang”, “Carol”, “Beasts of No Nation”, “Hard to be a God”, “Steve Jobs”, “Theeb”, “Youth”, “Spotlight”, “Queen of Earth”, “Brooklyn”, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, “The Martian”, “Chriaq”, “The Russian Woodpecker”, “James White”, “Hitchcock/Truffaut”, “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, “Straight Outta Compton”, “Paddington”.

 

 

 

 

 

The Improbable Death of “The Cinema”

cinema

As the means of how we attain movies evolves, enthusiasts busy themselves with various concerns about the bleak future of cinema. Studio executives, theater owners, filmmakers, and film critics distress about new emerging threats that menace the foundations of the way we consume cinema. The “death of cinema” drumbeat erupts every few decades, but the thunderous echo of that alarming sound eventually vanishes into thin air.

The first tidal wave to threaten to sweep traditional movie-going experiences came with the sudden breakthrough of home video in the mid 1970s. Yet as years went by, home entertainment and traditional movie theaters found a way to coexist in harmony. The latest so-called threat to cinema is the growing popularity of, both legal and illegal, online streaming services. Despite repeated concerns, scrutinising both film history and emerging data proves that the aforementioned developments are merely fluctuations in an evolving industry where the grounds are constantly shifting.

The film industry brims with theories on what makes millenials tick, and Hollywood’s worst fear is that younger generations are drifting towards online streaming as an alternative to old entertainment consumption patterns. However, despite the youth getting seduced by the ease of online streaming, box-office numbers show they are not shying away from multiplexes for the bigger movies.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Universal Studios single handedly shattered all records collecting $5.77 billion as of August 2015 and these numbers are bound to grow with four months to go until the end of the year. The same report states that global and domestic theater attendances are spiking for other studios as well.

Ironically, Netflix’s first cinematic release in their initiative to push the boundaries of their capabilities was a major commercial flop. Beasts of No Nations performed below expectations grossing only $50,699. Yet, when it comes to producing and distributing their own films, Netflix are relativele newcomers. The low box-office turnout to an otherwise critically praised film can be attributed to the fact that viewers had the option to stream it at home. Just as Netflix struggles to break into the studio system, Hollywood studios are having a hard time establishing their presence within the online streaming platform.

BGR reports that 21st Century Fox, NBC Universal and Disney, the owners of the rival streaming service, Hulu, are finding difficulty landing on a common strategy, because “the three companies are already fiercely competitive with each other.” Cinema isn’t witnessing its own demise; we are in the midst of a continental drift within the film industry, where both Hollywood studios and streaming services awkwardly attempt to coexist.

cinema-hermosa-mundo-6

Perhaps the most logically accurate analysis of the current state of cinema comes from The Guardian’s Fred Wagner; “at the cinema, movies cater to groups of people, and thus try to appeal to plus-ones and tag-alongs as well as natural fans. That is why kids’ films have storylines for adults, and why romcoms go out of their way to attract men. But the Internet is different. As viewers are watching alone, films can be made exclusively for certain fanbases and still be confident of finding an audience.” Wagner predicts a splintering of the industry, where films are either made for the movie theatres or for other mediums.

A more compelling argument would be that streaming video is only directly affecting its home entertainment predecessors, as in physical discs such as DVDs and Blu-Rays. Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu reach a combined annual viewership of around 3.5 billion compared to an estimated 2.4 billion disc views. So in a sense, streaming video is only affecting the industry within the boundaries of home entertainment. Digitally streaming films will hammer the final nail in the coffin of movies in physical form, the same way Laserdiscs killed VHS tapes.

In a similar fashion, going to the movies in a picture house is only affected by technological advancements within the evolution of the movie-going experience. The one thing that did exist from the very beginning is the movie theater. It is practically as old as film itself, but it too evolves and constantly changes. Before nickelodeons and movie theaters, there were vaudeville houses displaying live acts, each lasting between five to ten minutes to an audience.

When the Lumiere brothers arrived to the United States, they hooked their cinematograph to the magic lantern and projected short films to a live audience in these vaudeville houses. Later on, nickelodeons came along igniting the birth of the modern theater. Deluxe theaters were built and they became the go-to place for film fans holding a capacity of up to 6000 seats. There was the casual weekly change of program and each week the decorative exterior would light up a new movie title in colourful light bulbs.

Deluxe theaters also offered a better service with ushers walking customers to their assigned seats. S.L. Rothafel is often credited for making deluxe theaters such a pleasant environment, for his motto was to treat the audience like kings and queens. He later added a cooling system and theaters were air conditioned for the first time in history. These deluxe theaters made motion pictures the dominant form of entertainment. Today, deluxe theaters are getting run over by multiplexes and IMAX cinemas projecting digital as opposed to celluloid.

The notion that streaming video threatens to kill cinema can only be viewed as a misconception, for history and data prove that home entertainment and cinemas exist within different realms of the entertainment industry. They affect preceding technology as opposed to crossing over to eliminating one another. Whenever the line between cinema and home entertainment come up, leading Hollywood filmmakers take out their chalk and draw a sharp distinctive line between the two industries by introducing a new “immersive” selling point. This long feud with home entertainment has produced innovative technological advancement such as 60 frames per second projection, 8k digital restorations, and 3D. Today, even 35-70mm film-reel projections attract art-house fanatics towards indie cinemas.

 

In Savoring a Century of ‘The Cinema’, Roger Ebert wrote “books and plays can provide us with stories. But the movies uniquely create the impression that we have had an experience. The key word is we. I have seen a lot of movies by myself, but the experience is not the same as seeing a film with a large group of strangers. The greatest movie-going experiences of my life – the premieres of Apocalypse Now and Do the Right Thing, both at the Cannes Film Festival – were great not just because of the movies but because nowhere else do more people gather in the same theater to see them. Together, we – a cross-section of humanity – had an experience, and because it mirrored our shared humanity, it was somehow spiritual; we were giving witness.” If film history taught us anything, it’s that audiences going to the movies in large masses always prevails.

cine

Film Analysis: “Knight of Cups” ★★★★★ (5/5)

knightofcupsposter_large

There’s enough spiritual clarity in “Knight of Cups” to make viewers blinded by sorrow or depression see beauty in life. Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not the sitter… It is not the sitter who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the colored canvas, reveals himself.” If there is any truth to Wilde’s words, then there’s no denying that director, Terrence Malick, is a man of goodwill and exquisite character.

This comes as no surprise, for Malick kicked off his career with two milestone films that promised the world the arrival of the next Kubrick, Shakespeare, or Mozart. His debut came in 1973 in the form of “Badlands”; today, it is regarded as a bona fide classic, and one of the greatest cinematic debuts of all time. Five years later, Malick teamed up with cinematographer Néstor Almendros and the rest is history.

During production of “Days of Heaven”, cinematographer Néstor Almendros was going blind. It is said that before each shot, he would have his assistant photograph the shot with a Polaroid camera. After that, he would view it under a high-powered magnifying glass. I can only imagine that the thought of “Days of Heaven” being possibly his last chance to cement the magnus opus of his career drove Almendros to achieving what he did. The end result was a film universally accepted among film critics at the time to be the most gorgeously photographed film ever made.

It takes one great work of art to be remembered in history, one film to gain the reputation of a master of your craft, Malick had two of those and he was just getting started. What followed is the stuff of legend. The always-reclusive Malick disappeared off the face of the earth for two decades leaving hungry fans starving for more.

While Malick had a distinctive photographic eye from the get-go, it wasn’t till the second renaissance of his career that he found his unique cinematic voice. The so-called painter was revealed with the release of “The Thin Red Line”, “The New World”, “The Tree of Life”, “To the Wonder”, and “Knight of Cups”. The aforementioned films are set in different time periods. They take place during World War II, the European colonization of the Americas, the birth of the universe, and the modern world. Yet with subject matters so far apart in time and space, they are stitched close together through a seamless therapeutic tone. The thread binding Malick films together is the look and feel of a master who has fully realized his own unique style, abstract beauty.

I have written about the painter, now it is time to explore the sitter, a screenwriter called Rick played by Christian Bale in the wonderful colored canvas that is “Knight of Cups”. Malick’s signature-floating camera trails the screenwriter as he searches for meaning in his life. Rick is surrounded by everything anyone could dream of in the glamorous extravagance of Hollywood; yet, he couldn’t feel more alone.

I was reminded of a scene in another Malick masterpiece, “The Thin Red Line”. Two soldiers have a very brief yet extremely intimate exchange of words in an empty abandoned house. “Do you ever get lonely?” one asks. A brief moment of silence follows, before the other answers, “only around people.”

As with all Malick films, the viewer drifts from one narrated philosophical thought to another, leaving the film in its full form open for interpretation. However, viewers will be able to reach a solid understanding of the message by examining the unique film poster of “Knight of Cups”.

knight of cups

The title refers to a tarot card embodying a very specific character. Rick represents the “Knight of Cups”, an intelligent dreamer with high principles who also gets easily influenced by others. The film’s core theme is encapsulated in the artwork of the poster, which refers to the work of Jacob Bohme, a German philosopher who believed that humans fall from grace, and that in order to find God again, they have to go through hell first.

Malick, a Harvard graduate in philosophy, injects more ideas in his film than most directors achieve throughout their entire filmography. At one point, Rick narrates a very significant story, which goes like this: “Once there was a young prince whose father, the king of the east, sent him down into Egypt to find a pearl. But when the prince arrived, the people poured him a cup. Drinking it, he forgot he was the son of a king, forgot about the pearl and fell into a deep sleep.”

Much like the prince, Rick, constantly tries to remember his true purpose and place in this world. “All those years living the life of someone I didn’t even know,” he narrates. “I can’t remember the man I wanted to be.” Another character tells him to find his way “from darkness to light…remember.” We also hear him whisper “wake up” to himself, which directly references the deep sleep state of the prince.

The search for our place in the cosmos doesn’t only plague Rick’s mind, but that of viewer’s as well, especially whenever Malick cuts to breathtaking exterior shots of Earth rotating in a sea of darkness. We are all lost princes searching for our identity, place and role in the short time we have on this planet. We long for something we have no recollection of, so instead, we find a way to escape our suffering.

For Rick, taking a deep dive into the stimulating world of lust and partying seems to momentarily satisfy his existence. In one scene, a bystander mentions escaping the harshness of reality by attending ketamine parties, an escapist drug of this generation. Malick also randomly cuts to picturesque shots music festivals where thousands of ravers swirl around in artificial ecstasy induced by drugs. This is a master at work; rather than spoon-feeding his message through dialogue, Malick paints it with poetic visuals.

With the release of “Knight of Cups”, at the age of 72, I’m positive that Terrence Malick is more in tune with the mindset of the current generation than any young filmmaker working today. This concurrently puts him far ahead of all veteran filmmakers attempting to regain the glory days of the pinnacles of their past.

Another character, Elizabeth, played by Natalie Portman, has a different way of escaping. She tells Rick that to avoid sadness, she goes to sleep. When she wakes up, for the briefest of moments, she doesn’t recall her troubles. Then of course she does remember and sadness flows back into her conscious. That moment of emptiness or forgetfulness before recollecting the gravity of her situation is bliss for her; it’s also another way of escape or fooling one’s self.

This all may sound a bit bleak; yet somehow Malick turns it into an extremely uplifting journey. In fact, one of the film’s most powerful moments flips a negative into a positive. A man of God explains that the people that hurt us most in our lives are simultaneously the ones that love us most. We should be grateful for this hurt, for the suffering they send us ultimately elevates us to a higher place- we become wiser better versions of ourselves. Terrence Malick’s “Knight of Cups” is philosophical fiction at its finest.

Tribeca Talks: Christopher Nolan and Bennett Miller

On a Monday evening in a packed house at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, the crowd erupted in applause as critically acclaimed directors Christopher Nolan and Bennett Miller took the stage. “Just to make things clear…how much of that was for him and how much of it was for me?” joked the two-time Academy Award nominated Miller, turning applause into laughter.

Before attending this delightful talk between two of this generation’s most prominent directors, I wondered who was responsible for making both auteurs go toe-to-toe in a Tribeca discussion. After all, their work couldn’t be more different. Miller is more driven towards heavy dramatic independent films such as Capote, Moneyball, and last year’s Cannes favorite, Foxcatcher, whereas Nolan is a blockbuster sculptor with a multi-billion dollar RESUME.

It turned out to be less of a discussion and more of a Nolan interview. Although, I would’ve loved for the spotlight to be shared by both directors, it made sense for Miller to moderate Nolan in a house full of Nolan fanboys. If IMDb message boards have taught us anything, it’s not to tick off Nolan fans.

After a brief, yet probably unnecessary, run through Nolan’s impressive filmography, Miller started to ask all the right questions. Right off the bat, it felt like one mastermind was challenging the intellect of another. Miller’s first question was if there’s a CONTINUITY of themes throughout his work.

“Not really, I try and begin every film with some interesting questions. If there’s some CONTINUITY, I’m not very conscious of it – except for leaving questions at the end of the film,” replied Nolan.

Miller, however, had done his homework, pointing out that he re-watched some of Nolan’s film the previous night, and noticed that both Inception and Interstellar revolved around a main character that tries to overcome extraordinary obstacles to reach a very simple yet human emotion. In Inception it was to reunite with his wife and kids. Similarly, in last year’s Interstellar, the main character had to travel through time and space to reunite with his daughter.

Nolan’s insightful reply channeled towards the balance between family and work: “The process of getting married and having children… I’ve tried to use that in my work. I can just always be driven by things that are important to me. I can look out the WINDOW and see my kids playing in the grass and that becomes the key image in Inception. I’d rather be out there playing with them than writing a script, but you use that emotion.”

The conversation then tiptoed to various random SUBJECTS from the importance to preserve film in a digital world, to his policy or lack of policy when working with different styled actors. At one point Miller asked Nolan about his first memory of film, to which he replied:  “My first memory of going to a film is probably seeing Snow White in re-release. I very much remember seeing the evil witch; the evil queen who transforms herself into the witch with the apple, and being absolutely terrified and going down on the floor of the movie theatre behind the seat.”

When asked about his current worst fear, Nolan said that it’s to embark on a project that you fall out of love with. “The big fear is that you get halfway through and think, ‘No, this isn’t something I really care about anymore.’ So before I embark on a project, I just have to test it, however I test it, my writing drafts or living with it, thinking about it. You have to be sure that you’re going to be as happy to be obsessed with this project three years later.”

There was a lot of talk about Nolan’s early CAREER, and how watching STAR WARS for the first time changed his life. He also modestly mentioned how he was lucky to be where he is today, because his budgets gradually increased throughout his CAREER, so he never really felt that giant leap from making indie films such as Following andMemento to mega-blockbusters like The Dark Knight trilogy and Interstellar.

It comes as no surprise that Miller kept steering the conversation towards the work that most resembled his own,Memento. “Memento is a classic example of what can happen when you don’t know what you’re doing. As you learn more and more, it gets harder and harder to put aside the rules. Making unconventional films is precarious BUSINESS.” Nolan’s answer very much reminded me of Spielberg reminiscing about his early years as a filmmaker: “As I was younger, I was more courageous, or I was more stupid. So when I think of Jaws, I think of courage and stupidity and both of those things EXISTING underwater.”

Towards the end of the discussion, the floor was OPENED to to the audience for questions, most of which revolved around young aspiring filmmakers asking for advice. The last question triggered the talk’s biggest laugh. “Alright…so at the end of Inception…” The fan wanted to shine some light on Nolan’s personal interpretation to the film’s ending (the spinning top). Bennett Miller then STEPPED in and tried to spare Nolan from answering the question. “I asked him that myself before coming out. He said it’s not for public consumption.”

The great Christopher Nolan did not need any help though, as he brushed off the question with class. “I’m certainly not going to answer that or I would have put it in the film.” He further explained that providing an explanation would kill all the interesting viewer interpretations out there, and he’d rather leave it up to the viewer to decide.

I leave you with how mastermind, Stanley Kubrick, elegantly tackled a similarly posed question: “I would not think of quarreling with your interpretation nor offer any other, as I have FOUND it always the best policy to allow the film to speak for itself.”

Great Scenes: “Gravity”

The first time Kowalski saved Stone’s life was earlier, when he told her to detach. The second time is in another post impact scene that mirrors the first. Only this time, the roles are reversed. He’s the one about to drift into infinite blackness. We see that he’s dragging her with him and the only chance for any of them to survive is if he cuts off the rope. In other words, Kowalski saves her life again through detachment. It’s not by preventing her to float with him into space, but by teaching her that sometimes it’s ok to let go, both literally and metaphorically. “You have to learn to let go,” he says. It’s a beautiful scene that should feel therapeutical for anyone carrying past grief on their shoulders for far too long.

Great Scenes: “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”

Andrew Dominik’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is one of the greatest films ever made and it may just be the most breathtaking film of the past two decades. Who could’ve imagined that the simple arrival of a doomed train could look so cinematically beautiful. This is quite possible the most breathtaking scene of its kind in all of cinema. Cinematographer Roger Deakins paints with light and shadow in perhaps his best work to date.