Manchester by the Sea

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There’s a truly splendid scene that occurs near the end of the first act of Silver Linings Playbook, in which Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) invites Pat (Bradley Cooper) to have sex with her, cries upon his chest, slaps him and walks away in the span of about sixty seconds. The scene is etched into my memory for being a flawless depiction of how we process grief, and so is Jennifer Lawrence’s indelible performance.

Manchester by the Sea lasts two hours and seventeen minutes, and about a third of the running time is devoted to characters acting out, coping, and dealing with pain the same way Jennifer Lawrence did. But while David O’Russell’s picture featured silver linings, Manchester by the Sea is not interested in grand romantic gestures of hope, or in characters saving each other from their pits of despair.
But it also does not punish its audience by being bleak or depressing, the way some movies dealing with death tend to do.
Agony does not mean the absence of humor, so the movie has some of that; death does not entail the loss of carnal desire, so the movie features some of that as well; some traumas are too painful to overcome in a two hour picture, so Manchester by the Sea gives us a protagonist so miserable that he becomes the most human character I have seen at the cinema in a very long time.

A+

Solace

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My grandpa died last week. On the months leading up to his death, he lost so much weight as to have the fat in his body replaced with pure bone and skin; he had but brief flashes of lucidity, most of the time not knowing who the people around him were; he no longer spoke, or got out of bed, his days spent lying down, in a near comatose state.
On the day before he died, his daughters agreed to bring him home from the hospital and took him off the IV.
I would be lying if I said I had not thought of that many, many times before.

Solace asks you to consider the dilemma: Is it better for people with terminal illnesses to die painlessly before their lives become a parade of never ending agony? Or is it better to let life run its course and watch as our loved ones slowly wither away, recognizing that we are not God and therefore there is nothing we can do about it?

B-

Favorite Scenes 2015

Cinema is much more than the sum of its parts. In any given movie, if I’m lucky, there is one or more aspects to the finished product that stands on its own. Whether a performance or a musical score, the features that make up a movie enthrall me.
I went over the 177 films I watched this year in search of the ten most memorable scenes contained within them. Because every compilation is subjective, these are not, by any means, the finest scenes I watched.
They are the ones that made me cringe, smile, cry, and spoke to me in some way or another; the ones that kept reminding me why I like movies so much.
In alphabetical order:

Force Majeure – Couples Dinnerforce-majeure3

Public embarrassment at the dinner table is at the top of the most uncomfortable things I can imagine. The other would be having the girl I love find out I am not only a spineless dweeb, but a liar too. These two collide magically when Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) are having dinner with strangers, and the conversation devolves into an earlier incident the couple had. Funny at first, then absolutely squirm worthy, the scene ultimately becomes a sad portrait of a marriage that much like the mountain at the lodge they are staying, is about to explode.

Mississippi Grind – Grand Piano and Dreams

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Ben Mendelsohn is one of the most interesting actors around. This year alone I saw him in a Western (Slow West), a thriller (Black Sea), a historical epic (Exodus: Gods and Kings), and a superhero movie (The Dark Knight Rises). But it was his turn as Gerry, the depressed and gambling prone former shell of a man in Anna Boden’s Mississippi Grind which let me know I was never going to forget about him.
The moment where he sits at the piano and starts to play Gymnopédie No.1 to Vanessa, a prostitute he just met hours before, is beautiful in its simplicity. And then he confesses something to her. And she confesses back. Much like Mendelsohn himself, the moment is unforgettable.

Polisse – Goodbye Mommy

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Sometimes it is necessary to engage in cinema that is made outside of the U.S. if only to observe how filmmakers approach material that American directors would do so very different. If an immigrant woman is forced to abandon her only child in the hands of police care, you have two choices: you appeal to sentimentality and play it for tears, which is how most American pictures function; or you go the route of Polisse. The camera never tells you how to feel. Much like a documentary, it is simply recording another day at the office for these unsung heroes. The tears this time are earned.

Pride and Prejudice – Bliss

71562291_1280x960This is on my list simply because it is lovely. The loveliest actually. Too lovely to ignore.

Run All Night – Escape

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Little did I know, walking into the theater that spring afternoon, that the latest Liam Neeson shoot ‘em up was not only going to become my favorite, but that I’d still be talking about it eight months later. The scene in question occurs halfway through the movie, in which a beaten and bloodied Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) limps his way to freedom alongside his son Mike (Joel Kinnaman). It consists simply in them trying to evade capture by the police. There are no explosions or CGI monsters behind them. It is just a father trying to do what’s right for his son for the first time in his life; and a son, giving his dad a second chance.

Swingers – Voicemail

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Maybe it’s because I’ve been as pathetic as Mike (Jon Favreau) is. Maybe because, long ago in my youth, I might have done something similar. Whatever the reason, once Mike picks up the phone at three in the morning and starts to leave a series of increasingly desperate and despondent voicemails in the phone of a girl he just met, it’s impossible to look away.

The Dark Knight Rises – Bruce Rises

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Because I did not watch Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy when it came out, once I finally did, I did not approach each film as an event. I saw it as a Greek tragedy adapted for modern times consisting of three acts. The element that bonded the acts to each other and is present throughout the entire story is bats. The most significant use of the animals arrives in the last film, as Bruce Wayne attempts to escape the hell Bane locked him in. From the start, the series has been about Bruce’s quest to defeat fear. Spurred by his father’s dying words of “do not be afraid”, Bruce tries to overcome fear. That Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) is the one villain who is present throughout the trilogy is telling. Here in prison however, Bruce discovers what he has been searching for since the moment a crook gunned down his parents more than twenty years ago. Fear does not have to be your enemy. And as he escalates the prison’s walls, bats come flying out. Bruce Wayne’s journey is complete. And so is Batman’s.

The Final Girls – New Beginning

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What wouldn’t we give to be back in the arms of a loved one we lost? For a moment, it does not seem real. The sting of loss overwhelms so much that it must be a dream; life is not supposed to hurt this much. Max (Taissa Farmiga) sits with her mom discussing the endless possibilities of being alive. Seeing Max’s face display surprise, sadness and hope, sometimes within the same beat, is heartbreaking. I was expecting a silly slasher comedy; what I got instead was the best model I’ve ever seen on Kubler-Ross’s 5 Stages of Grief.

The Theory of Everything – Flashback of a Life

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This is where the movie tells you to take out your bag of tissues. Usually, I’d roll my eyes and wait for the credits to start rolling, but during the two hour runtime I had become incredibly invested in Jane and Stephen’s romance. Indeed, this movie is a romance, plain and simple. It deserves to go out big.

Wild Tales– Pasternak

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This is probably one of the most inventive, if not the absolute funniest, cold openings I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Life Itself

LIFE ITSELF - FINAL SUNDANCE POSTER-page-0015 years ago I sent an email to Roger Ebert and he wrote me back.
The questions included in my message were, looking back, painfully unsubstantial and nearly pointless, yet the man actually took time off and answered each and every one of them.
I still have the response printed in my room.

4 months before he passed away, I left a comment on one of his Journal entries. My writing was no longer pretentious and I was, by the mercy of God, past the point where I had lofty aspirations of being noticed by the wonder of my prose.
I simply wrote to him what was in my heart. I, like everybody else, wanted him to get better.
His 6 word reply to my message is one that I will always carry with me.
“I want to be like you”, Ebert wrote.

I nearly cried right there, and I cried the day after his leave of presence went up and his passing was in the news everywhere.
I have never cried and doubt I will ever again for the death of somebody I did not even know.
But I really do feel as if the power of his words and paragraphs was so that it did not matter if one read him on a computer screen thousands of miles away, or listened to him at a World Conference. It reached out and touched your soul, and even if limited, you still got to know him.

B