Tag Archives: The Missing Picture

Wednesday Collective — Irish Abandon, Italian Beauty, Ukrainian Soul

The first two articles this week are the very definition of how to write about film. Anyone who studies or makes movies should read them. Let’s dive right in.

“How John Ford Fought McCarthyism”

The Quiet Man

This is an engaging look back at John Ford’s The Quiet Man, a movie about a man so fed up with America, he moves to a third-world, 1950s Ireland. Ford is best known for his Westerns, but The Quiet Man is a subversive reaction to the witch hunt for Communists orchestrated by Senator Eugene McCarthy in the 1950s. In detailing how Ford got outspoken McCarthy supporter John Wayne to star, how critics stepped lightly in their reviews, and how the film was a box office smash, New Republic writer Ben Schwartz outlines how Ford’s film attacked the very nostalgia on which McCarthy’s breed of hatred was based.

La grande bellezza, The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty came out for home release this week. The Oscar winner for best foreign language film is written up by Alessia Palanti in a spectacular essay that also tackles nostalgia as a political tool, while linking the sin-eating nature of circular consumerism, the self-fulfilling prophecy of celebrity-as-celebrity, and the hijacking of connoisseurship. It’s a truly stunning essay from a writer who uses her historical and technical knowledge to break the film down into its cultural components.

“The Occupied Soul of Ukraine

My Joy

I’d say Ukraine’s been in the news a lot lately, but since it doesn’t have a missing passenger plane CNN can theorize was hijacked by a psychic alien yeti, it really hasn’t. Regardless, Anthony Kaufman at Fandor writes about Sergei Loznitsa, a Belarussian filmmaker whose My Joy and In the Fog contemplate the sense of dislocation caused by the oppression Russian and European Ukrainians exert on each other.

You might also check out this Hollywood Reporter brief about the (so far losing) effort to keep Ukraine’s national film industry bipartisan.

Recreating Genocide in Clay

The Missing Picture

The Missing Picture is a film about the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. It’s directed by Rithy Panh, who lost his father, mother, sisters, and nephews, and was himself enslaved. There are very few documents that survive to tell the story – the Khmer Rouge systematically destroyed nearly all film and video evidence of their atrocities. Every connection to his past was taken from Panh, even the evidence to communicate to others about his loss. He decided to tell his memoir through what footage is left and the use of clay figurines to stand in for what was missing. Fast Company tells the story of how he came to that decision. I can barely get past the trailer at the bottom; I fear and anticipate the import and impact of an hour-and-a-half of it.

Storytelling in the Circus – James Thierree

James Thiérrée

Never mind that he’s Charlie Chaplin’s grandson, James Thierree himself has long been an artist of renown. His approach to circus is small-scale, technically complex, and emotionally engaging. Thierree places a concise vernacular on the balance between possessive and generous storytelling that artists of all stripes seek.

Thanks to Elizabeth Quilter for the heads-up on this.

The Disconnect Between Critics and Audiences

I don’t like scoring movies. It’s too arbitrary a way to define any piece of art, especially one on which hundreds – sometimes thousands – of artists have collaborated. Avatar may be a tremendous piece of entertainment, but is it as important as even the most middling documentary? Should there be separate scores for entertainment and importance? Lost in many critics’ weekly reviews is the search for meaning both present and missing in particular movies, replaced by a good-bad scale that’s become obsolete.

So I don’t like scores, but they’re useful for the kind of statistical analysis writer-producer Stephen Follows posts on his blog. It concerns how critics and audiences diverge in scoring individual movies, genres of movies, and even movies from specific studios. His analysis isn’t so much a solution as it is a part of the diagnosis, but he comes up with some revealing findings.

Yours, Mine, and Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars

Scott Tobias at The Dissolve considers the creative choices of Veronica Mars, a TV show that used Kickstarter to crowdsource more than $5 million for a movie continuation. How much is a Kickstarted film creatively constrained by a need for fan service, versus a comparable movie like Firefly-spinoff Serenity, which owed its existence to fans, but didn’t owe its funding to them? Tobias claims Veronica Mars as a movie is sidetracked by its allegiance to fans, while Serenity owed its allegiance to the story its creator wanted to tell.

Under the Skin, part two

Under the Skin

I wrote about Mica Levi’s brave, disturbing score for Scarlett Johansson-experiment Under the Skin last week. You can listen to the whole thing over at Pitchfork.

Celebrities Mug for Muppets

Muppets Cameos

Were you wondering about all the celebrity cameos in Muppets Most Wanted? Worried that you missed one? Did you even want them ranked (wrongly)? Then you should see a doctor about these urges. In the meantime, this list from film mag Vulture should sate your unnatural cravings.

A Whole Lotta Christian Bale: The Films of 2014, #10-1

The Missing Picture

10. The Missing Picture

March 19 — Rithy Panh tells his memoir of the Khmer Rouge massacres in 1970s Cambodia, using clay figures to fill in for the archival footage that’s missing from one of the most forgotten genocides in 20th century history. It’s an idea that sounds like a student art project gone wrong, but it’s one that in its simplicity becomes overwhelming even in a 2-minute trailer. The Missing Picture is currently up for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. You can watch that trailer here.

Gone Girl

9. Gone Girl

October 3 — If Se7en, Zodiac, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo have proven anything, it’s that David Fincher is the greatest modern director of the movie mystery. Gillian Flynn, who wrote the bestselling novel, is handling the screenplay solo, and it’s rare for a first-time screenwriter to be given that kind of carte blanche for a major release. Rosamund Pike joins Ben Affleck, Tyler Perry, and Neil Patrick Harris in what has got to be the strangest cast Fincher’s ever lined up. This last gives me pause enough to not rank this higher, but Fincher’s track record is just too strong to keep it out of the top 10.


8. Noah

March 28 — Darren Aronofsky makes dark, disturbing films like Black Swan. His Requiem for a Dream, about the drug addictions of four New Yorkers, requires emotional recovery time after viewing. Noah is out of left field for him, though he says it’s been his dream project since youth. No one knows how accurate to Judeo-Christian interpretation his adaptation of the Biblical Flood will or won’t be. Previews make it look like he’s playing it straight. Some test screenings for religious groups resulted in criticism, some didn’t. It was enough to cause the studio and Aronofsky to fight publicly over final cut, which any Aronofsky fan could’ve predicted miles off. Let’s hope Aronofsky kept his vision intact. Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, and Emma Watson star. You can watch the trailer in all its madcap visual glory here.

Inherent Vice

7. Inherent Vice

No date set — There Will Be Blood was a statement film that immediately took its place as one of the most important movies in America’s cinematic history. Director P.T. Anderson’s Inherent Vice, based on the Thomas Pynchon novel and starring Joaquin Phoenix and Jena Malone, earns a place based on the fact that Anderson has yet to misfire. Phoenix is already one of our best actors. Malone is overdue for recognition. They’re joined by Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, and Reese Witherspoon.


6. Exodus

December 12 — Starring Christian Bale as Moses. If that’s not event viewing, I don’t know what is. The last time director Ridley Scott ventured back in time in the Middle East, it was for the Crusade-era epic Kingdom of Heaven. The theatrical release was a gutted mess that cut out entire protagonists, and it was only in the director’s cut that the film evolved from a middling action movie into a profound contemplation on faith, moral obligations, and one’s place in the world. That director’s cut is Scott’s best film by far, and most will never see it. It’s exciting that he’s finally returning to his favorite subject matter, and with Bale, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul, and Sigourney Weaver on board to boot.

Jiro and paper airplane_out

5. The Wind Rises

February 21 — I hit on this in my Godzilla preview, but the most important filmmaking in the post-World War 2 era was done in Japan. It was a country possessed by regret and a national shame for blindly following its fascist leaders into war, and traumatized by the dropping of two atomic bombs. Hayao Miyazaki is the director responsible for Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. His animated worlds are evocative and emotional, but in his swan song, he trades in the fantasy genre to tell the story of an idealistic dreamer, a Japanese airplane designer, whose creations are used for war. The Wind Rises is currently up for an Oscar as Best Animated Film. Watch the trailer here.

Knight of Cups

4. Lawless & Knight of Cups

No date set — Terrence Malick is one of the most enigmatic directors in history. He made only three films in 30 years, each more lauded than the last, and now he’s made four films in the last four years. Both Lawless and Knight of Cups star Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, and Natalie Portman. Knight of Cups is about a man’s celebrity and excess in Hollywood. Lawless, which will likely be retitled, is about two intersecting love triangles in the Austin, TX music scene. It’s the higher profile of the two and also stars Angela Bettis, Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Holly Hunter, Val Kilmer, and Rooney Mara. These aren’t to be confused with Voyage of Time, which is Malick’s upcoming film about…the universe?…and was filmed in Kenya, and may not arrive this year. Heck, it’s Malick, we might not see any of these films until 2029, but chances are we’ll get the Bale pairing this year.


3. Serena

No date set — Susanne Bier’s After the Wedding was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2007. Her In a Better World won it in 2011. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are both nominated in acting categories this year for American Hustle. It’s Lawrence’s third nomination. She won Best Actress last year.

In Serena, Lawrence is Serena Pemberton, a depression-era Lady MacBeth to Cooper’s timber baron George. Serena is the single role I’m most excited to witness in the coming year. Based on its pedigree, if a man had directed this, it’d be on everyone’s top 10 lists. As is, it’s virtually nonexistent.

The Raid 2 e

2. The Raid 2

March 28 — The usual answer to, “What is the best action movie ever made?” is Die Hard. This is wrong. The correct answer is Raiders of the Lost Ark. Well, it was. In 2011, The Raid: Redemption complicated that answer. It was an Indonesian film by a Welsh director about an ill-fated police raid, and it combined the best of martial arts, gangster, horror, and Western action movies. The action was brutal, fast, emotional, and intelligent, but the tension that gave it its context was unparalleled. It wasn’t just a superb action movie, it was a superb movie, period. The sequel looks every bit as artful and intense while broadening the scope of its story. Watch the trailer here.


1. Interstellar

November 7 — Little is known about director Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to The Dark Knight trilogy. It’s about space travel and the discovery of a wormhole. A mysterious, heartbreaking, and inspirational trailer is our only clue, yet it doesn’t give a shred of plot away. The cast is a you-pick-’em of top flight actors – Anne Hathaway, Matthew McConaughey, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, John Lithgow. Nolan’s last standalone film was Inception, and that was worth the wait. Interstellar is the movie event of the year. Watch the trailer here. It’s worth it.