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Melancholia (#110 of 20)

Berlinale 2014 Nymphomaniac: Volume I

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Berlinale 2014: Nymphomaniac: Volume I
Berlinale 2014: Nymphomaniac: Volume I

The first half of Lars von Trier’s probable masterpiece, Nymphomaniac, arrives on eddies of a “playful” publicity campaign that threatened to flatten the licentiousness (and even the straight-up sexiness) of the subject matter into a string of dopey gags. A series of posters featuring ASCII-rendered genitalia and photos capturing its international cast mid-coitus, were mischievous in a way consistent with von Trier’s own smirking, ludic impishness—the pranksterish postures that ignite even his worst and most boring work.

At the risk of whittling one of the most thorny, interesting, and exasperating of living filmmakers down to a single problem, the central concern (for me, at least) with von Trier and his films is that this playfulness rather easily teeters into boring didacticism. His button-pushing provocations—both in terms of his films’ frequently controversial material (rape, depression, mental retardation, racism, more rape) and the ideas (or discernible whiffs of ideas) that drive them—become needling and banal.

It’s like we’re constantly asked to take for granted that von Trier is playing his own devil’s advocate, putting across visions of nihilistic reckoning, sneering at the feeble human soul’s instinctual gravitation toward corruptibility and self-pollution, while simultaneously being asked to believe that he somehow believes the opposite. He angers and riles us and ignites the passion and intellect, while not really meaning any of it, off in the corner with that shit-eating grin on his face offered up as some mawkish mea culpa. He’s like Gabbo on The Simpsons, bashfully offering little else in his own defense beyond, basically, “I’m a bad widdle boy.” It’s infuriating. And much more so because it’s meant to be exactly that.

Fantastic Fest 2013: Coherence, Patrick, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, & The Congress

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Fantastic Fest 2013: <em>Coherence</em>, <em>Patrick</em>, <em>Why Don’t You Play in Hell?</em>, & <em>The Congress</em>
Fantastic Fest 2013: <em>Coherence</em>, <em>Patrick</em>, <em>Why Don’t You Play in Hell?</em>, & <em>The Congress</em>

This year, the ever-anarchic and genre-heavy nerd Valhalla known as Fantastic Fest delivered more blood-soaked, supernaturally tinged cinematic offerings from around the globe and advocated a distinct devil-may-care endorsement of debauchery. As the saying goes, “chaos reigns.” This cheeky slogan was eagerly adopted by the film festival’s organizers as an unofficial motto, derived of course from Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, which screened at the festival in 2009. From opening-night premieres of loud, big-budget, guns-a’-blazin fare like Robert Rodriguez’s Machete Kills to non-cinematic, Texas-style, off-site savagery such as outings to hunt wild hogs from helicopters (seriously!), it’s in many ways difficult to believe that this year’s Fantastic Fest was both real and somehow completely legal.

Poster Lab: Nymphomaniac

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Poster Lab: <em>Nymphomaniac</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Nymphomaniac</em>

With little more than two strategically placed parentheses, Lars von Trier may well have delivered the best poster of the year, a preposterously simple, characteristically devious tease that succeeds in saying nothing and, potentially, everything about his latest film. Reported, more than a year ago, to be a two-part endeavor (details of when and how each part will be released remain somewhat ambiguous), the self-explanatory Nymphomaniac stars von Trier’s masochistic muse, Charlotte Gainsbourg, as a self-diagnosed sex addict, who, at age 50, spills her lifelong string of trysts to a man (Stellan Skarsgård) who finds her beaten in the street. That’s essentially all that’s known, aside from the fact that the film will include bona fide, non-simulated sex, and that Shia LaBeouf will be among the libidinous partners baring all.

Depending on how you received Antichrist, a sins-of-the-mother horrorshow that culminated with one of cinema’s most unshakable acts of violence (you know the one), von Trier can be viewed as a conscience-deprived misogynist or the world’s most offbeat feminist. In either case, there’s no getting past his fascination with female genitalia, which is bluntly evoked here without any immediate crudeness. One might call the apparent obsession Freudian, but such a common label seems dumbly reductive for a man of von Trier’s oft-immeasurable thematic predilections. Still, Sigmund would be proud if he moseyed over to the movie’s current website, which, speaking of revisiting the past, lets the viewer enter those parentheses via a move of the scroll bar, simulating the ultimate return to the ultimate source.

15 Famous Big Weddings

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15 Famous Big Weddings
15 Famous Big Weddings

This weekend, multiplexes will be hit with what’s surely aiming to be the Valentine’s Day of wedding flicks. Directed by Justin Zackham, The Big Wedding packs Robert De Niro, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton, Katherine Heigl, Robin Williams, and more into a cast that’s led my Amanda Seyfried and Ben Barnes as the bride and groom. The titular celebration calls to mind a whole lot of substantial cinema nuptials, which stretch from good to great, and occur within chick flicks and masterpieces. We’ve rounded up 15 movie weddings that—aw, hell—take the cake.

Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Picture

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Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Picture
Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Picture

Anyone who’s invested in the preposterous hoopla of Oscarology has suffered at least one headache while poring over the Academy’s explanation-resistant math. So to ensure you needn’t have the Excedrin within reach, let’s keep the voting blather to a minimum and focus on what seem to be the most pivotal factors in this year’s top race. First of all, as was the case in the past two years, a solid, conventional roster of five movies has emerged, despite a field that welcomes additional contenders (for the headache-free unwashed, those five are The Artist, The Descendants, The Help, Hugo, and Midnight in Paris). No pundit in the game will tell you those huggable favorites aren’t done deals, so best to nudge them aside and hurry along.

Adjusted rules allow anywhere from five to 10 nominees to fight it out for Best Picture, and to test the new system, the Academy held mock recounts for every race over the past decade. Results were scattered, and many years produced more than five finalists, but none were able to pack the entire slate (ergo, fewer sore thumbs like The Blind Side dirtying up the ballot, to say the least). It’s conceivable, then, that this year won’t go 10-wide either, and the recounts help to justify an eight-nominee total that’s felt just right for weeks. There are those who’ll tell you the ironclad quintet is as far as the field will go, just as there are those who’ll say preferential voting isn’t all that different than it’s always been. But if one is to accept conventional wisdom that first-place rankings are especially crucial, and that movies have to battle especially hard to join the elite pack, then predictions come down to which films seem believable as voters’ picks for 2011’s tip-top.

Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions Director

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Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Director
Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Director

The directing race has boiled down to nine names, four of which you can pretty safely etch into stone. Michel Hazanavicius, whose surname becomes quite easy to spell after constant repetition, is your frontrunner, as both he and his film seem rather insurmountable at this point. Martin Scorsese is next in line for the prize, boosted by a victory at the Golden Globes and the bonus of being Martin Scorsese (if the Academy wanted to split picture and director for one big cine-stalgia duet, the Hugo helmer would surely be sitting pretty). Alexander Payne will hear his name called for The Descendants, a movie that should be snagging more love for its makers than for its blandly reliable star. And Woody Allen, Oscar Hall of Famer and all-around oxymoronic humanist misanthrope, is a shoo-in for his adorable, CliffsNotes time machine, Midnight in Paris.

Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actress

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Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actress
Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actress

Which performance will land Jessica Chastain her first Oscar nomination? Heading into awards season, that was the biggest question surrounding the Supporting Actress race, and with The Help having certainly surged ahead of films like The Tree of Life and Take Shelter, the question seems all but answered. Still, one could justifiably go to bat for each of the six supporting turns Chastain delivered last year. For instance, the otherwise mediocre spy thriller The Debt, an ensemble piece, unwittingly became a Chastain showcase, as the red-headed natural towered above everything around her while proving her wide range.

Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Cinematography

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Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Cinematography
Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Cinematography

As evidenced by recent colorless contenders like Good Night, and Good Luck and The White Ribbon, the Academy rarely passes up the chance to gush over black-and-white lensing. And since they’re not about to toss a bone to The Turin Horse, The Artist’s Guillaume Schiffman will surely be nominated here, an inevitability that, unlike some other impending nods, will be more about formal fundamentals than the film’s overall dominance. The cinematographer to beat, however, is most certainly Emmanuel Lubezki, whose tireless, all-consuming work in The Tree of Life has already netted him trophies from the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the Broadcast Film Critics. Lubezki’s win from the latter body was shared with War Horse’s Janusz Kamiński, who, despite being dissed by the American Society of Cinematographers (they shrewdly gave his spot to Hoyte van Hoytema for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), will likely see his throwback tableaux and battles royal compete in the big race.