James Benning’s 1995 masterpiece Deseret screened at the Sydney Film Festival earlier this year, and Benning himself attended the screening. After the screening, I asked him about the extent to which he sees cinema as editing: the compression of time from an inexorable linear continuum into a matter of hours. Benning replied by saying editing, especially Eisensteinean modes of montage, contains innate fabrications; that it hinders accuracy and truth. The Benning of late has focused on an observational, verite form of filmmaking. His Ten Skies (2004) entirely comprises ten ten-minute worm’s-eye-view shots of the sky; his Nightfall (2012) consists of a single 98-minute take.
Wong Kar-Wai has proven himself to be a great director – In the Mood for Love is one of the greatest films of the 2000s. However, all the creative talent involved in the production of Chungking Express, including veteran actor Tony Leung and Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle, could not save Kar-Wai’s breakthrough film from being a mawkish structural mess that fails to engage on either an intellectual or emotional level. Doyle’s aesthetics are certainly dazzling, but its oneiric formalism is ultimately empty and its post-structuralism is overwhelmingly ineffective.
Two of the most renowned postmodern films are Michael Haneke’s Funny Games and Benoit Poelvoorde’s Man Bites Dog. These two films provide a censure of hyperreal violence to an audience who are somewhat willing to listen – the arthouse crowd who are challenged and disturbed but not life-altered by the films. It is a shame that the mainstream – the real target of Funny Games and Man Bites Dog – would never watch a foreign-language, post-structuralist film of that nature (even Haneke’s 2007 shot-for-shot remake of Funny Games in English starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth flopped at the box office). Writer-director Rick Alverson’s The Comedy too was a financial failure; its niche is so narrow, resulting in box office earnings of a mere $40 000. Perhaps unlike the aforementioned postmodern films, The Comedy has no delusions of targeting and attacking the mainstream. The only people who would ever watch The Comedy are the people who are being critiqued by the film, which makes it so thematically acute, affecting and economically doomed.
I have grown up watching the films of Richard Linklater. When I was 10, School of Rock was the perfect film for me at that stage in my life – it is a film about counter-culturalism framed through a stifled education system. Dazed and Confused was the film for me at age 14, for largely the same reasons. When I was around 16, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset provided an acute conflation of romanticism and cynicism that matched my adolescent worldview. Slacker was the film for me when I finished school, possessing the same fractured, existential uncertainty that I was then consumed by, and largely still feel encumbered by today. Before Midnight is the film for the future me; I adore it now, but the film’s explication of long-term relationships and aging will perhaps only truly affect me in thirty or more years from now.
A filmmaker like Linklater holds so much good will with me already, and few other directors have shaped my perspective like Linklater. Entering Boyhood, it was difficult for me to leave my sappily sentimental feelings towards Linklater’s directorial style at the door and be truly objective. Nonetheless, I sincerely believe that Boyhood is the film for me at this stage in my life.
The Oscars are tomorrow. I know that. You know that. And with fewer than 24 hours to go, I feel as though it’s time for me to purposelessly predict what will win. Instead of merely predicting who and what will win each award, I will add my own opinions as well; who I think should win out of these nominees, and who I felt was snubbed of a worthy nomination (try to see through my pro-Inside Llewyn Davis bias).
So here it goes!
If you listen to the drones of the hoi polloi, you’ll have heard that Frozen is the greatest Disney film since The Lion King. While Frozen is a beautifully animated film, it is a movie that ultimately succumbs to the predictability that it aims to eschew. A film like the excellent Tangled has no preconceptions of originality, and Tangled is a great film because of its unpretentious simplicity, and its willingness to be an exclusively visual film. In contrast, Frozen attempts to provide a novel spin on the ‘Disney Princess’ model, and despite a solid first hour, its final act is inherently disappointing.
I haven’t seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies (partly on principle), and I didn’t love 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. But compared to The Desolation of Smaug, An Unexpected Journey looks like Raiders of the Lost Ark in terms of plot and adventure, and looks Taxi Driver in terms of character study. The overriding problem with Desolation is that the eponymous Hobbit – Bilbo Baggins – is not the focus of the film. Say what you will about the terrible attempts at humour and the needless plot diversions in An Unexpected Journey, but at least the first film mostly realised that Bilbo is the fulcrum for all the film’s events.