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.
There are few filmic trilogies that end with a bang. Often, the final instalment in a trilogy fizzles out disappointingly like the last sparkler on New Year’s Eve. There are a handful of existential quandaries that have perplexed me recently. Why doesn’t the word umlaut have an umlaut? Why don’t I have Catholic guilt about my lack of Catholic guilt? And, most significantly, why can’t the third film in a trilogy sustain the same energy and artistry as the previous two films? In trilogies such as Star Wars, The Godfather, The Dark Knight, Evil Dead and even the excellent Apu and Three Colours, the third film is my least favourite. Perhaps this is why I embraced Before Midnight so whole-heartedly; it ends the superb Before trilogy in, for want of a better word, a perfect way. Before, like Toy Story, is one of the few trilogies that get consistently better with each film.
Cristian Mungiu is possibly the most distinctive and intriguing young auteur working today. The Romanian writer and director was behind 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, my favourite film of the 21st Century so far. Mungiu proves with his latest film Beyond the Hills that his vision is singular and uncompromising. His acumen is unique, consistently examining the specificities and ambiguities of female friendships within overarching socio-religious paradigms in most of his films. He does so with a perspicacious style involving naturalistic dialogue, hand-held back-to-the-camera shots and lengthy takes that make Bela Tarr look like Paul Greengrass.
Upstream Color is a mesmeric, stimulating cinematic experience. It is aesthetically beguiling and formally challenging, and comes as a welcome return to the world of independent cinema for director, writer, cinematographer, editor, composer and actor Shane Carruth. The one-man-band that is Shane Carruth, controlling his films like an auteurist Tommy Wiseau, made his debut film Primer on a smaller budget than a Pavement music video. Primer was made in 2004, and Carruth did not make another film for nine years.