Mixtapes for Hookers

The Ten Best Movies (Of The Ten I Saw This Year), Part 1

The Master

Okay, so I only saw ten movies this year, so this list isn’t by any means a list of the ten best movies of the year. (In fact, this might be the first year since maybe high school that I actually went to a movie theater ten times.) And I actually liked all ten of them! Meaning either that I’ve got a really good sense of what to see, or else I’m getting soft and uncritical. Anyway, here’s some thoughts. I tried not to spoil anything although I probably did.


10. The Master
The first Paul Thomas Anderson movie that I haven’t totally fallen in love with, The Master has amazing sets (his movies always do), amazing cinematography (ditto), and a script that veers, but only slightly, from Anderson’s lifelong thesis that our parents exist mainly to fuck us up as much as they possibly can.

I like how very slowly everything happens, and I like Philip Seymour Hoffman as the leader of a small but devoted cult. The problem, really, is Joaquin Phoenix.  I hoped that something would click in hindsight, but his performance just seems hammier as time goes by. About a decade ago, in Punch-Drunk Love, Anderson took the dreadful Adam Sandler and made something really beautiful out of his trademark schtick (irrational anger). So why, in The Master, did I feel like every one of Phoenix’s many affectations was a plea to Oscar voters?


9. Anna Karenina
Another film I would have liked more had a different actor been cast as the lead. The film’s lush opening pace—sets rising and falling while accordion players cross in front of the camera—can’t be maintained, but when Keira Knightley’s is required to carry the story, that’s when things start to go south a little.

God, she’s lame. I don’t think you’re supposed to find Jude Law, as her relatively saintly husband, to be the tragic hero of the story, but he is, both for putting up with her embarrassing adulterous shenanigans and also largely for marrying her in the first place.

But I’ve never read the twelve hundred pages of Tolstoy’s novel, so for all I know maybe Anna really should be the least compelling character in the film.


8. The Hunger Games
It seems like so long ago that I went to the movies to see the story of Katniss Everdean and, um, that boy with the lips. Though I was unfamiliar with the beloved series of books (beyond knowing that they were phenomenally popular) I liked the movie quite a bit. Even if it did temporarily extinguish my decade-and-a-half-long crush on Stanley Tucci. (A crush that was rekindled only when I passed him on a New York street this summer and realized that he hadn’t actually morphed into a plastic caricature of himself; good job, Hunger Games makeup team!)

Speaking of makeup, I can’t help it: my favorite character in the movie is surely Effie Trinket, the exceedingly pasty hostess of the horrid government program that pits teenagers against one another to act out a literal class war, the one rigged to keep poor people in their places.


7. Pitch Perfect
When I was in high school, and more around the time that I started college, a series of transgressive-seeming teen comedies came out, ones which got a lot of their jokes from the stupidity of bitchy blonde girls and, in most of them, the one Asian girl that was peripherally a part of their clique. The popular girls would say racist things and there would be a meta level of awareness that made it okay to laugh at. (“Even Anne Chung!“, etc.)

Now that I’m in my thirties and this is still happening, I’m wondering if we as a society might be ready to move on from quiet Asian stereotypes?

On the other hand, the twin devourer in Pitch Perfect is so completely over the top—why is someone with no voice in an a cappella group, anyway?—that I wonder whether this might not be a great example.

The funniest part of the movie, though, is probably its idea of how college radio stations work.

"Funkytown" ©Photo: Jan Thijs

6. Funkytown
A French-Canadian disco biopic, Funkytown presents the story of one club as a sprawling epic, with many, many characters and interwoven plotlines. I saw it at the Boston LGBT Film Festival at the ICA this spring, but the gay plot’s the least interesting part of the movie.

What I liked best about Funkytown was that every character is deeply flawed, but none of them are totally awful. In a way, the most sympathetic character is the drug dealer that hastens the unraveling of television personality Bastien Lavallée. And the worst, a struggling agent, is also the most fun to watch.

Being unfamiliar with Québecois film, and this movie is surely the most bilingual I’ve ever seen, I also appreciated the juxtaposition between Mimi, a Nancy Sinatra-esque singer who can’t overcome an inability to speak English, with Adriana, a pretty American movel who fails at television because she can’t be bothered to learn French.

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