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The Tree Of Life (#110 of 63)

Toronto Film Review Terrence Malick’s Voyage of Time

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Toronto Film Review: Terrence Malick’s Voyage of Time

Broad Green Pictures

Toronto Film Review: Terrence Malick’s Voyage of Time

Resembling an expansion of the creation sequence from 2011’s The Tree of Life, Voyage of Time is arguably the fullest expression of the cosmic themes that filmmaker Terrence Malick has explored for the last decade. With the exception of occasional snippets of low-grade, full-frame digital video of contemporary urban poverty, the film follows a linear trajectory from the formation of the solar system through the eventual collapse of our sun. Traveling to the corners of the globe to collect beautiful shots of unmolested nature to stand in for the prehistoric world, Malick also employs various effects to evoke the emergence of life on a planet from the primordial soup, such as drips of paint that seem to flower into tendrils of stardust, or a digitally rendered neural network to chart a map of the human brain.

Berlinale 2014 The Better Angels

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Berlinale 2014: The Better Angels
Berlinale 2014: The Better Angels

A cursory IMDb search shows that The Better Angels’s writer-director, A.J. Edwards, worked as an editorial intern on Terrence Malick’s The New World, one of five editors on To the Wonder, and as a “key artistic consultant” on The Tree of Life. It’s not quite right to say that The Better Angels exhibits Malick’s influence; it plays more like a student film assignment in copping another filmmaker’s style from stem to stern.

Set in the Indiana backwoods where Abraham Lincoln (newcomer Braydon Denney) lived as a child, The Better Angels takes a demonstrably Malickian approach to American mythmaking, locating the core of the 16th American president’s eminent integrity in his hardscrabble upbringing. Both embraced and tested by his salt-of-the-earth father (Jason Clarke) and doted on by his loving mother (Brit Marling), young Abe is shown to learn the values that would come to define his character, at least in the American historical memory: reason, self-control, morality, empathy—those titular “better angels of our nature” that he would index in his first inaugural address. As he works the land and, eventually, goes to school, there are intimations that the young man is meant for better things.

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.

Toronto International Film Festival 2012: To the Wonder and Something in the Air

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Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>To the Wonder</em> and <em>Something in the Air</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>To the Wonder</em> and <em>Something in the Air</em>

At first blush, a 16-month gap between new Terrence Malick films is an incredibly small amount of time. After all, here’s a man who’s up to now managed to produced, on average, about one film per decade, if that. However, upon actually seeing his latest work, To the Wonder, that gap feels, if anything, just right. Malick’s lavishly acclaimed 2011 effort, The Tree of Life, represented the apotheosis of a style that he had spent the better part of three decades refining, ultimately arriving with a work of unparalleled ambition and scope. In many ways, it’s the supreme representation of the Malick aesthetic, presented fully formed and without shame. It was his first clearly autobiographical film, and in both look, tone, and thematics, To the Wonder is noticeably similar, an almost seamlessly updated account of marital discord from The Tree of Life’s 1950s suburban milieu to an undefined late-century countryside landscape. Appropriate, as To the Wonder, in nearly every respect, plays like an intimate companion piece to its successor’s cosmic wonderment.

Toronto International Film Festival 2012: Spring Breakers

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Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>Spring Breakers</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>Spring Breakers</em>

Here is a film, to borrow a phrase from Don Delillo, about “the neon epic of Saturday night,” a DayGlo beach-borne fantasy of bright lights smeared and shining; it exists in this strange and beautiful place upon which Malick, Mann, and MTV incongruously converge. This is art-house maximalism with a tenor like poetry, an incisive and critical drama unafraid to relish and indulge in the subject it intends to deconstruct. You could call it “high-trash” cinema; it collects the cast-aside bric-a-brac of an ostensibly bankrupt culture—Harmony Korine operates here like some rigorously anthropological Katamari, rolling up anything and everything in his path—and transforms it into something earnestly, maybe even transcendently, gorgeous.

Spring Breakers manages in one beer-steeped swoop to both criticize and ultimately redeem the most vacuous detritus it can find: dubstep, coke, video games, beer bongs, keg stands, dreadlocks, cheap 40s, Gucci Mane’s face tattoo, the state of Florida, and the titular spring break as not only a vacation but as a very real-seeming state of being. I don’t want to oversell its intellectual or aesthetic aspirations, but in many ways the film is like Weekend reimagined as a daring iteration of Girls Gone Wild. Or, hell, maybe Jean-Luc Godard’s Step Up Revolution: It’s a radical take on a sexy summer drama by a man with serious artistic ambitions. It’s also quite obviously the best film currently touring the festival circuit.

Venice Film Festival 2012: To the Wonder

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Venice Film Festival 2012: <em>To the Wonder</em>
Venice Film Festival 2012: <em>To the Wonder</em>

Can Terrence Malick’s dream-like film grammar resonate when set in the modern world? The contemporary scenes from the otherwise mesmerizing Tree of Life, featuring a pensive Sean Penn stumbling listlessly through a soulless corporate expanse, suggested not. It’s as if the enigmatic Texan’s cinema needs a light dusting of nostalgia to make it palatable, like toast needs butter. And sections of his new film, the present day-set To the Wonder, add credence to this theory.

An alternative name for the film could have been Scenes from a Marriage, if Malick’s increasingly radical narrative style traded in scenes. We follow shards of a rocky relationship with visuals taking the form of a lucid collage of askance glances and expressionistic camera twirls. Dialogue is used sparingly, replaced by ethereal voices whispered over a haunting orchestral soundtrack. Raven-haired free-spirit Marina (Olga Kurylenko) frolics on a train and around scenic French landmarks with her new American beau, Neil, who’s lantern jawed, taciturn, and, distractingly, played by Ben Affleck. Initially it’s bracing to see Malick’s images in a new context. Early vignettes on a Normandy beach that turns gelatinous when trod on and a honey lit stroll by the banks of the Seine, where the couple are joined by Marina’s 10-year-old daughter, Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline), feel box fresh. Things get a little familiar, however, when Neil asks Marina and Tatiana to follow him across the Atlantic to his Midwest homestead.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Aaron Aradillas’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Aaron Aradillas’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Aaron Aradillas’s Top 10 Films of All Time

How do you distinguish a movie that’s one of the greatest of all time from one of your all-time favorites? Is there a distinction? Making a top 10 list of the greatest movies of all time made me realize that there is and there isn’t. For example: John McTiernan’s Die Hard is one of my favorite movies, but it didn’t make this list. On the other hand, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou is one of the greatest movies ever made, but it didn’t make this list either. Maybe it would’ve been easier to choose movies in specific genres and categories. For example: Most people would argue that Singin’ in the Rain is the greatest musical of all time. It certainly is one of them but I’d make the case that Saturday Night Fever is just as monumental an achievement in the musical genre.

But the task at hand is to make a list of the 10 movies I consider to be the greatest ever made. Following the model of the Sight & Sound critics’ poll, I consider this list to be fluid and not set in stone. Surprisingly, I didn’t agonize over this list that much (I agonize more when I make my year-end list). My choices are movies that continue to speak to me long after I can anticipate every line of dialogue, every edit, or plot point. I feel I will never fully understand why I consider these movies to be the greatest ever made. So, if some of my choices baffle you, take comfort in knowing they baffle me, too.

15 Famous Movie Heavens

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15 Famous Movie Heavens
15 Famous Movie Heavens

No, this list-maker hasn’t had the pleasure of devouring Kate Hudson’s ticking-clock romance, A Little Bit of Heaven, which sees everyone’s favorite Almost Famous alum continue to chase her first hit like an undiscerning free-baser. The movie did, however, inspire thoughts of cinema’s approach to the great hereafter, which has been visualized as everything from an inhabitable oil painting to your good old field of clouds. Diagnosed with terminal cancer by a doctor (Gael García Bernal) who in turn becomes her squeeze, Hudson’s character tries for a little heaven on earth before her time runs out. These 15 heavens, however, almost all exist on another plane.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Picture

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Picture
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Picture

That the Best Picture category’s “Will it be six or will it be seven?” question was settled as close to 10 as possible without actually being 10 isn’t merely a mark of how much of a mess this year’s Oscars are. It’s also proof positive that, despite paying lip service to the hundreds of films “eligible” to be nominated for Best Picture, by the time publicists and studios have had their say, there are never more than maybe two dozen movies in the mix. If nine movies in this hardly vintage year could reach the minimum requirement of being listed first on five percent of all ballots, then frankly the bar isn’t high enough. Even if the board of directors fixes what they’ve broken and revert next year to the five-deep slate, no matter how heartening it is for fans of The Tree of Life (which exists in an entirely different league from the rest of the other nominees) or Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (ditto), it can’t seem like much of an honor to be nominated now that the category’s perverse sliding scale has revealed just how limited Oscar voters obviously see their pool of choices.