Tag Archives: Ryan Gosling

“Lost River” — Best Films of 2015

by Gabriel Valdez

We grow up. We lose what we were taught was stability. The world falls out from under us. The fairy tales we love risk turning from possibility to desperation as we retell them. “Lost River” is difficult to describe. It is Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut. It is not loved. It has a 5.8 on IMDB and a 42 on Metacritic. Take from that what you will. Few films have ever demolished me like this one.

“Lost River” turns the idea of post-apocalypse via mortgage crisis into a story that bridges magical realism, Italian giallo horror, and 80s small-town fantasy.

It follows two families left behind in a crumbling suburb, abandoned houses being torn down around them. Its younger characters yearn for the fantasy of the films they watch on TV; its older characters increasingly adopt fantasies of violence as their outlet. Each finds sustenance enough to carry on – not for themselves, but for those next to them, for those more helpless than they are. Yet there are also those who use the shock of failure and bankruptcy to take what they want – they are men who seek to dominate and turn the ruined environment others suffer into their own predatory fantasies.

“Lost River” calls on a range of other films as influences – “Drive,” “Suspiria,” and even “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

Christina Hendricks is awe-inspiring in her role. Saoirse Ronan is heartbreaking. Matt Smith is far more threatening and imbalanced than I thought the “Doctor Who” actor could ever play. Ben Mendelsohn is one of cinema’s most unheralded and creepiest character actors. Iain De Caestecker and Eva Mendes carry the heart of the film. I love the movies that feel like they break some part of me, so that I can rebuild that piece of myself with the hints of a new understanding.

“Lost River” is like a book I put down upon finishing its last page, yet can never fully leave. I need its characters to still exist, to still be moving forward and building their lives, finding moments to play, to look at the sky, to sing a song. They will live as people I love for as long as I remember the fairy tales and stories and myths that I’ve been told across my life.

There are books that I will never fully close, and there are movies where I’ll forever be caught between their last frame and the credits. For me to believe fairy tales still hold possibility, and stave off the loss life earns through attrition, I have to know that the people I grow to love in the stories that break and rebuild me are never fully lost.

“Lost River” will never be fully lost to me.

Lost River poster

Images are from Coyote Productions, Sensacine, and Coming Soon.

The Best Film of 2013 — “The Place Beyond the Pines”

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The books that meant the most to me as a kid were the ones where, once I put them down, I’d feel a sadness at having left their characters behind. I remember closing White Fang and feeling a sadness I’d never felt before. I can’t remember how young I was, but it was profound to miss a dog who didn’t even exist. Little did I know I was practicing for the first time one of the most defining feelings of a person’s life.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a film that meanders like an 800-page novel, with the details of entire generations of lives laid bare. Its first act concerns motorcycle stuntman Luke (Ryan Gosling). He performs in a traveling carnival, but settles down when he discovers one of his girls in port, Romina (Eva Mendes), has a baby son. It’s his, and even though Romina is in a relationship with someone else, Luke wants to be a part of his child’s life. Luke has no prospects, however, and is talked into taking advantage of his unique skills by robbing banks.

The second act follows rookie cop Avery (Bradley Cooper). You can imagine how he and Luke encounter each other. Like Luke, Avery has a baby son. Avery comes from privilege, however, and even if he lacks the foresight, his father Al (Harris Yulan) will make sure that Avery’s track takes him into politics. To reveal too much about Avery’s plot would be to spoil some hard, left turns the film takes.

The third act follows Luke’s and Avery’s sons, 15 years later. Of how they meet or what transpires afterward, I won’t say anything else. The results are a mix of tragedy and hope.

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The Place Beyond the Pines is about the cycle of violence, the reality that drives the hopeless toward crime and the privileged to idolize it. It’s about the inevitable corruption that growing older has on the ideals of our younger selves and it’s about those beautiful moments that stay in our hearts forever, that let us survive the worst that life comes to throw at us. It’s about forgiveness, vengeance, struggle and honesty. It’s about the first time we share something special with a loved one, intending to repeat it for the rest of our lives and never getting to. It’s about how quickly we leave our dreams behind for what’s practical or what others expect of us. It’s about more than any single movie I may have ever seen before. How it fits its story into two hours and 20 minutes is beyond me.

2013 was awash in impossible movies – the relentlessness and importance of 12 Years a Slave, the technical splendor and intensity of Gravity, the outsized antics of American Hustle, the absurdity of Spring Breakers. No film may be more impossible than The Place Beyond the Pines, however. It has no camera tricks you haven’t seen before and it isn’t outlandish in any way. Its characters aren’t nearly as likeable as those other films’. Instead, writer-director Derek Cianfrance tells a human story, and weaves it together with another human story and another and another into something that, once the credits roll, makes you yearn for just one more moment to watch those characters exist.

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When the movie was done, and I got up to pull the DVD, it was 1:30 a.m., it was snowing outside, and I could do nothing more than lean back against the wall and miss those characters a long moment. I’d spent the week caring for a very sick pet whom I hope is on the mend, and putting things in place for projects I’d like to do later in the year, once New England thaws out. It had been the latest of many stressful weeks, but I was reminded that the week of stress is just one of many things that shapes us. We have a habit of looking at photographs of times past, of a day at the beach with an ex, of a grandmother you never got to know, of cheesy family vacation photos when everyone was wearing 90s haircuts, and we do it to yearn, to repeat in our minds the echo of a moment we can never repeat, or to play out in our minds the possibilities of paths not taken.

The Place Beyond the Pines, when all is said and done, has much the same effect. We look at its characters at the end, and we know where those paths went, how they got to the place they are, and we understand so deeply that feeling of nostalgia, of contemplation, of playing pretend with an echo in our heads. This is what The Place Beyond the Pines is, beyond a crime thriller and a chase scene and domestic drama and love story. It’s that moment of closing a book, of looking at a photo. It is regret and acceptance and the strange feeling of possibility into which they somehow translate. This is a brave, unprecedented narrative, by turns exciting, cold, languorous, intense, heated, inscrutable, and heartbreaking. This is lives trapped in amber. This is the film of the year.

Pines Trail