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Pan's Labyrinth (#110 of 6)

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Cinematography

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Cinematography
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

As R. Kurt Osenlund pointed out yesterday, there are plenty of categories more flashily controversial this year, but none have become as big a flash point among cinephiles as the cinematography prize. No demographic is more certain that one of Oscar’s longest-running contemporary injustices is its failure to coronate Emmanuel Lubezki, whose lucidly expressive images have now earned him six nominations and a near-fanatic cult devotion. Having to cope with the losses he’s suffered his last three times at bat—with The New World, Children of Men, and The Tree of Life respectively falling to Memoirs of a Geisha, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Hugo—are, for acolytes, like living in an alternate universe where John Alcott’s work on Barry Lyndon lost to Robert L. Surtees’s The Hindenburg, or Sven Nykvist’s lensing of Cries & Whispers lost to Surtees’s The Sting, or Néstor Almendros’s Days of Heaven lost to Robert Surtees’s Same Time, Next Year. Adding insult to injury last time around was the fact that Lubezki’s richly textured analog work in The Tree of Life was chewed up and spit out by the Academy’s now-insatiable sweet tooth for CGI-heavy 3D toy boxes, a trend that’s held for the last four years running.

Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions

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Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions
Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions

One of the casual disappointments of the ways we often regard art of all forms is born of that feeling of exclusion that’s often projected and even more often felt. There’s a sense that you have to be educated formally to understand art and to discuss it seriously, and that you might have to be a member of an intangible club of lofty intellectuals in order to be empowered to express a thought about a book or a film or a song that you hope to be taken seriously by others. This is a tragedy, because all great art is an act of democracy that can be felt by everyone. Yes, your background will affect your responses to art, of course, and why wouldn’t it? Your background, which is to say the texture of your life (your childhood, friends, lovers past and present, jobs, education), informs your responses to everything.

Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions is a passionate and engaging read, particularly for fans of del Toro’s films, and, most particularly, for monster aficionados of all ages, shapes, and stripes, but it’s most valuable for the way it expresses the filmmaker’s voracious appetite for knowledge. This is an erudite man, and he wears his references lightly, sensually: He invites you into the realms of his obsessions, which include symbolist painters such as Arnold Bocklin, Odilon Redon, and Carlos Schwabe, and writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, Arthur Machen, and Stephen King. All of these artists figure prominently in Cabinet of Curiosities, and so do a variety of other painters, composers, and even biologists. You may have a hell of a reading list after even casually thumbing through this volume.

Spirituality Through Narrative: Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Take 2

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Spirituality Through Narrative: <em>Hellboy II: The Golden Army</em>, Take 2
Spirituality Through Narrative: <em>Hellboy II: The Golden Army</em>, Take 2

While a number of critics are positioning Hellboy II: The Golden Army in relation to director Guillermo del Toro’s forthcoming venture into Middle-earth, the film sits more comfortably as a companion piece to the director’s last film, Pan’s Labyrinth. The 2006 Oscar-winner was not just formally beautiful, but resonated with deeply realized themes of spirituality and the necessity of storytelling. Structurally and aesthetically, del Toro rendered two worlds—fascist Spain and a magical fairy world—that couldn’t thrive, grow, or exist without the other. He carefully denied the viewer the pleasure of escaping into myth or narrative, while also establishing a disjointed “reality,” with persistent intrusions of the fantastic. This was precisely his purpose: to illustrate that these two worlds are mutually constitutive and inseparable from one another.

2007: It’s Okay to Play Catch-Up

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2007: It’s Okay to Play Catch-Up
2007: It’s Okay to Play Catch-Up

Commentary, first.

1. A landmark year for me as well as for the movies. Returning to school proved the right thing to do, despite all the concessions that go with such a decision. Not only did I find the vocabulary I’d always yearned for, and lacked, it keeps growing as I keep writing and reading. I giggle to think of how measly my first attempts at film writing were back when I joined the blogosphere a mere year and a half ago. I giggle more when I realize how right on I was about some movies back then without really knowing why (beyond “that made me cry” or “that was a dope edit” or “Wes Anderson’s wit speaks for me”). What makes me giggle the most is coming to understand how cool it is to change one’s mind. Before 2007 I was a staunch platformist: this is what I believe, deal with it. 2007 taught me some humility, in school and out. Not that I don’t stand by my arguments: I will continue to defend my use and experience with and understanding of the English language. Yet I find myself more willing to have a conversation about a topic, with a topic, to take my time with a topic (films, books, meals, loves, families, etc). This topic of conversation finds its best example, perhaps, in my engagement with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou during the first half of this year. I wrote a big, long paper about Wes Anderson’s fourth film at the end of my first semester back at Berkeley detailing how I’ve come to appreciate the picture. I still think it a fine piece of writing, one I enjoyed revisiting this week, but I view it as a necessary step, a stage of my education, if you will, towards a better understanding of what film is, and how film works, and how to write about both, from my experience. More simply: I would not write the same thing about The Life Aquatic again, now. I would write something more film-specific about its liquid, eternal philosophy. But I may keep that final paragraph.

The 79th Annual Academy Award Nominations

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The 79th Annual Academy Award Nominations
The 79th Annual Academy Award Nominations

Best Picture: “Babel,” “The Departed,” “Letters From Iwo Jima,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Queen.”

Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, “Blood Diamond”; Ryan Gosling, “Half Nelson”; Peter O’Toole, “Venus”; Will Smith, “The Pursuit of Happyness”; Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland.”

Actress: Penélope Cruz, “Volver”; Judi Dench, “Notes on a Scandal”; Helen Mirren, “The Queen”; Meryl Streep, “The Devil Wears Prada”; Kate Winslet, “Little Children.”

Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin, “Little Miss Sunshine”; Jackie Earle Haley, “Little Children”; Djimon Hounsou, “Blood Diamond”; Eddie Murphy, “Dreamgirls”; Mark Wahlberg, “The Departed.”

The Banality of Good and Evil: Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth

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The Banality of Good and Evil: Guillermo del Toro’s <em>Pan’s Labyrinth</em>
The Banality of Good and Evil: Guillermo del Toro’s <em>Pan’s Labyrinth</em>

Pan’s Labyrinth is a thoroughly mediocre movie—not egregiously bad, but dull and unremarkable and easy to dismiss. At least, it would be easy to dismiss, were it not for the insane across-the-board critical acclaim that it’s managed to garner. It’s not enough for these people to say “go see a sweet little fantasy flick, it’s good;” they must instead find deep and redemptive significance in what is at best a fairy tale retread with fascist gunfight appendices. But the fact that the film is a repetition of the fairy tale structure is exactly what people find so profound: Roger Ebert led the charge with his predictable declaration of “A fairy tale for grown-ups!“that was mirrored by other critics, as if dressing up a bedtime story with Francoreferences and bloodshed were doing anything other than gilding a wilted lily.

The film itself does little to engage the mind. We are introduced to 12-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) as she drives with an official escort into a forest compound somewhere in Spain; it’s the waning days of WWII, and her new stepfather—the bloodthirsty fascist Vidal (Sergi López)—has designs on her pregnant mother’s child, which he expects to be the son to carry on his name. In true fairy-tale fashion, the film sets up the Wicked Step-parent as an oppressive ogre so as to give the put-upon child a reason to fantasize—and perhaps subconsciously call those fantasies to life. Sure enough, she’s soon visited by a fairy who leads her into an abandoned forest labyrinth to find a wacky-looking faun (Doug Jones) at the center. Turns out Ofelia’s the reincarnation of a long-lost princess from a fantasy world (whatever it’s called; I blacked out during the exposition), and that she has to perform some tasks in order to restore her position.