REVIEW: The Immigrant

The Immigrant 3

The Immigrant
Directed by: James Gray
Written by: James Gray & Ric Menello
Starring: Marion Coitillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner

The American Dream, that simulacrum of perfection and success, has been scrupulously examined in a number of films released in the past year.  From the party-girl criminals of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers to the celebrity-minded teenagers in Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring to Michael Bay’s abhorrent bodybuilders in Pain & Gain, filmmakers, mostly established auteurs, are examining what it means to live in a country essentially founded on an illusory sense of entitlement. Most people living in this country nowadays know (or, at least, should) this isn’t how our (oligarchical, downright cruel) society works, but all anyone can do is try and live a life based on these bygone notions of freedom.

The aforementioned films took this idea to its endpoint, dealing with characters so far off the deep end—jaded from real-world banality—that they will do almost anything to reach an easy existence. James Gray’s new film “The Immigrant” portrays a character yet unaware of the Promised Land’s true nature; the totality of her being rests on a false promise.

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Our Favorite Performances of 2012

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1. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)- There must be something about Paul Thomas Anderson that gets such raw, elemental performances for his movies.  Phoenix, after his faux crazy odyssey, gives The Master such ferocious, filthy life that he managed to beat all the other fantastic roles this year, including the great Daniel Day-Lewis (who also gave Anderson an immortal performance in There Will Be Blood).

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2. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)- Though Lincoln is an ensemble drama, it is built from the ground up around a character that needed to be reigned in and humanized.  Day-Lewis is not larger than life as our 16th president because that would’ve added layers of cheese to a movie that was already scored by John Williams.  His take on Lincoln often appears exhausted, both physically and emotionally, as he should be while overseeing the Civil War while trying to push through the 13th amendment to ban slavery and contend with family drama.

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3.  Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)- The slow, ruthless decline of Anne during Michael Haneke’s Amour is essential to the movie’s success.  From her first, silent stroke at the breakfast table to her crippled, mangled body by the end, this is a performance that required great emotional honesty without overdoing it.  She gives one of the most wrenching depictions of hopeless, helpless illness ever.

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REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan (screenplay), Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer (story) and Bob Kane (characters)
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

It’s often impossible for a highly anticipated movie to live up to expectations, though Christopher Nolan certainly gives it his all in the conclusion to his Batman trilogy.  The Dark Knight Rises is as large-scale a production as almost anything that Hollywood cranks out on James Cameron’s down time, a pitch black morality play on the grandest scale imaginable.

Nolan is one of the premiere modern directorial maximalists, able to sustain brooding tone and narrative complexity while also delivering spectacle on a blockbuster scale.  His movies, however uneven in quality, are always eye-popping and visually inventive.  The Dark Knight Rises is not the near-masterpiece that its predecessor was, though like the first film in the trilogy it is still a highly admirable, disturbingly relevant vision.

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CANNES REVIEW: Rust & Bone

Rust & Bone
Directed by: Jacques Audiard
Written by: Jacques Audiard & Thomas Bidegain  (screenplay), Craig Davidson (story)
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Céline Sallette and Bouli Lanners

The French drama Rust & Bone, from equally French director Jacques Audiard, assembles some of the most talented people in all filmmaking departments together to tell an emotionally and physically violent story about love and survival.  It could’ve so easily been Oscar bait if the writing and the performances weren’t so emotionally uncompromising.

Audiard made a huge splash in many film circles  in 2009 and 2010 with A Prophet, a  violent and uncompromising vision set at the genre crossroads of organized crime and prison films.  Rust & Bone, while still concerned with the loss of humanity and the repression of violent impulses, tells a decidedly weirder story about a homeless father and son and a whale trainer.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, and Corey Stoll

Finally, the first movie of the summer that deserves the label “art.”  Woody Allen continues his stroll through Europe with this weird, touching, and hilarious trip through the streets of Paris.  Midnight in Paris was the opener of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, mostly because it’s everything the French love: funny, beautiful, and set in France.

Allen’s career has been an almost definitive representation of the “on-again, off-again” method of filmmaking.  He cranks out movies like nobody’s business, and many of them are masterpieces.  Some of them, especially recently, have been almost universal flops.  He is at his best when he takes the usual characters- neurotic artist, muse, pretentious academic- and puts them in something that isn’t about them.

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SPOTLIGHT: Marion Cotillard

Marion Cotillard wasn’t very famous when she won the Best Actress Oscar in 2008 for her performance in La Vie en Rose, but after starring opposite Johnny Depp and appearing as a crucial character in a Christopher Nolan film, she began to be a recognizable face among the summer movie crowd even if they still couldn’t quite place her.  Cotillard is one of the most technically proficient actresses working today, using her eyes to level the audience and bring them into the rapture of the fiction that she inhabits.  Not since Catherine Deneuve has a French actress been accessible to American audiences at this level.  Set to appear in a new thriller from Steven Soderbergh later this year as well as next year’s inevitably successful new Nolan Batman film, she most recently captured hearts and minds in Woody Allen’s excellent French-set comedy Midnight in Paris.

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REVIEW: Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, and Corey Stoll

Finally, the first movie of the summer that deserves the label “art.”  Woody Allen continues his stroll through Europe with this weird, touching, and hilarious trip through the streets of Paris.  Midnight in Paris was the opener of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, mostly because it’s everything the French love: funny, beautiful, and set in France.

Allen’s career has been an almost definitive representation of the “on-again, off-again” method of filmmaking.  He cranks out movies like nobody’s business, and many of them are masterpieces.  Some of them, especially recently, have been almost universal flops.  He is at his best when he takes the usual characters- neurotic artist, muse, pretentious academic- and puts them in something that isn’t about them.

Continue reading