Little Women

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Like Keira Knightley before her, Saoirse Ronan appears to have been typecast. While Knightley shone in period pieces, a vision in lavish costumes, Ronan is but a couple of centuries ahead of her. A reason for this might be her face. Saoirse Ronan has sad eyes, eyes that tell you a thousand tales by just staring at you. Her face projects weary innocence and unexpressed dreams. Maybe that’s why she keeps appearing in films about early America and Britain: she’s the personification of those countries during those periods of time. Where everything seemed possible if we could but put the past behind us.

In Little Women, she’s as good as always. There’s a moment in which she delivers a heartfelt protestation on the expectations of women, while mourning her own loneliness, that is deeply genuine and so sad.

A-

Atonement

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I’ve been staring at my keyboard for the past twenty minutes, debating on a multitude of possible paragraphs that could open this entry. An option I considered was outright stating that Atonement is the best picture I’ve seen all year, while simultaneously declaring that I will never again watch it. Another option included breaking down one of the many sumptuous and majestic shots that adorn the film, each one as breathtaking as the last, a postcard perfect rendition to love and war. It’s rare when I’ve no clue as to where to start discussing a film, or the emotions brought about by one; but then again, films with the devastating cumulative power of Atonement are as equally rare.

Loyal reader(s?) of this blog will know (bless you) of my visceral response to romance films. One of the palpable symptoms of being in love with a ghost is to be attuned to its stories. Yet emotions rarely cloud judgement. Take for instance Blue Jay, another melancholic look at the love that could’ve been. I reacted strongly to that film, while at the same time being aware of its shortcomings. But there are no flaws to be found in Atonement.

The performances are masterful. Consider the scene, very early on, in which Robbie (James McAvoy) apologizes to Cecilia (Keira Knightley) for giving her an anatomically explicit letter. Cecilia’s words imply outrage, but her facial expressions convey something else; amusement, even a certain amount of flattery. Their exchange lasts about twenty seconds, yet it makes everything that occurs immediately after appear natural, logical.

The photography is also heavenly. Nearing the end of the odyssey, Robbie stumbles upon a giant screen showing two lovers kissing. The nameless film is in black and white, and Robbie is shrouded by shadows; when he looks up and sees the kiss, he immediately drops his whole head down. It is an agonizing moment in a picture replete with them; the way the camera frames Robbie, slightly off center with the giant kiss happening in the background, is one of the most memorable shots I have ever seen, in terms of both beauty and storytelling.

And of course love and regret, two words (emotions?) that appear to go hand in hand. This is an achingly tender picture. The brief moments that Robbie and Cecilia share burrowed into my mind, replaying over and over during the sad spectacles that tears and keeps them apart. “Come back”, she says to him, and it’s not only Robbie craving to do so during the entire film, but myself as well, aching to encounter peace and happiness again. Every time the camera cut back to either lover, distant from the other by a thousand miles of pain and loss, my heart broke.

But the film, being as smart as it is, also presents the catalyst of this tragedy, Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), as somebody to feel tenderness for. The audience comes to understand her motivations, and while forgiveness may still be hard to come by, it is difficult not to be moved by her genuine regret. I will remember the last shot of her for a very long time.

Easily one of the most profoundly poignant pictures I have ever seen, Atonement crescendo’d its way into my very soul, and I’ll wager it will remain there for a while.

A+

 

Lady Bird

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Lady Bird had me going back to the well of adolescence, to sip on the memories of exuberant passion and exasperation. There are many movies dealing in the maddeningly glorious years of youth, but most of them merely show it; Lady Bird actually feels like you are back at your friend’s house crying over the love of your life while eating cheese.

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Favorite Scenes 2016

There was a three month window in the middle of the year in which I only watched one movie. I was living in Amsterdam working at a youth hostel this summer, and while the desire to watch movies never declined, the opportunities sure did. My time in Amsterdam was utterly fantastic and six months on I continue to experience the effects of it. I watch less and less movies.
However, they can still enthrall and fascinate me and I still found time to watch a few and discover certain sequences and scenes which I carry in my mind long after they are over.
In alphabetical order:

(500) Days of Summer – Expectations v Reality

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In 3 minutes director Marc Webb manages to convey through the use of splitscreen the spectacular high love intoxicates a person with, and the miserable despair that sets in once love vanishes. The way Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) storms off the building and avoids an incoming couple by darting from sidewalk to street is one of the finest examples ever shown in motion pictures of heartbreak. What’s left of one’s heart is so fragile that the mere sight of others happiness can be enough to deliver the final blow.

Anomalisa – The Morning After

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For a while it really does seem like Michael (David Thewlis) is the victim of a global conspiracy intent on keeping him miserable. This assumption is what makes his meeting with Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) seem special and one roots for a happy conclusion for this new couple. The moment when Lisa’s voice changes and becomes like everybody elses’s was one of the most shocking movie moments of the year. Everything makes perfect sense now, and the fact that Charlie Kauffman understands this about human nature makes him the closest thing to a genius I can think of. In life nobody is every guilty or wants to be held accountable for their misdeeds; we are all victims and our unhappiness is not a product of our own making, but can be attributed to a lousy spouse, ungrateful children, crappy boss, etc. Michael will die wallowing in his own misery because he refuses to accept a simple truth: in order to have a better life, he should start being a better person.

Brooklyn – I love you too

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“So the next time you tell me you love me, if there is a next time, I’ll say I love you too.”
I have watched and re watched this scene countless of times, elated by the achingly lovely speech delivered by Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) to her astonished suitor.

The End of the Tour – Less alone

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The innate fear of solitude found in billions of souls across the globe makes for many a tragedy. In the case of David Foster Wallace it produced fantastic literature and a life shortly lived. This final scene is painful not because it shows death, but because it shows a glimpse of a life that could have been; David (Jason Segel) dancing like nobody is watching, enjoying the happiness that never came as easy or as often as his words did.

Man Up – Quid pro Quo

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After I lost twenty dollars in New Orleans in the most stupidest of ways this fall, my best friend’s father said “Love believes everything”. It seems to me he was not that far off from the truth, and I may just be a romantic soul. The final scene in this silly movie brought tears to my eyes, warmed my heart and gave me thoughts of “dang, when will it be my turn to give an epic speech?”.

Rogue One – Darth Vader chases Death Star plans

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There is no need for this scene to exist, just as there is no need for this movie to exist. Both a prequel to a beloved trilogy and a sequel to despised one, Rogue One is the product of Disney executives experimenting to discover whether a standalone Star Wars story can still pull in money.
The fact that in the midst of such less than noble factors the final sequence could be so thrilling while at the same time cementing the legend of Darth Vader in the eyes of fans both new and old, is truly something to behold.

Rosemary’s Baby – Hail Satan!

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The natural conclusion to the nightmarish events that occur in this movie is both despairing and hopeless. When Rosemary (Mia Farrow) enters a room full of devil worshipers wielding a knife, my hope was for her to use the weapon to slice and dice every person in sight. Yet in a world driven by madness, hope is futile. The abject terror that came over me once I slowly realized this was how the world ended–Satan’s son will grow up to rule mankind–is unparalleled to any other movie moment this year.

Sleeping with Other People – Elaine!

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Oh to be in love! Perhaps if I am ever fortunate enough to experience the thrills of romance the way the characters in my movies do I will stop listing all these heartwarming moments as my favorites of the year.

The Witch – Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?

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Goosebumps came over me the moment the devil makes an offer Thomasin (Anya Taylor Joy) can’t refuse. Rarely had I seen sin explained so succinctly in movies. The joys of this world may be temporary and deceitful, but they are joys nevertheless. Christ asks those who love Him to abstain from the pleasures of this world not out of arbitrary rules, but because our deliciousness is found in Him-His love, His mercies and His everlasting promises are what we live for and look forward to. But for those who do not believe? There is no reason for them to not shed their robes and follow Black Phillip into the darkness and lose themselves in the ecstasy of the night. But light will come, eventually.
And that’s what’s scary.

Youth – Ceiling Gazing

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The most hauntingly poetic sequence I watched this year occurred halfway through this film, in which Paolo Sorrentino presents us with all of the characters of his story, and their various doubts and tribulations. The sequence, set to the nostalgic melody of “Ceiling Gazing”, reminded me of the sheer magic of The Great Beauty. While this film ultimately falls short of the latter’s greatness, it is still a testament to the immense talent and insight the director has.