Which is my way of saying “Get ready for some bite-sized morsel reviews” because I’ve been busy playing quite a bit of catch-up on the decade. And with that, away we go! Not to be confused with the Sam Mendes film which has already topped one of my lists so far–Worst Films of 2009, but that’s a story for another article.

Irreversible

Irreversible

Irreversible (Gaspar Noe, 2003 – 1st viewing): This controversial French film is a tough sit. It is a film that hits the ground running with an extreme act of violence (more on that later) and whose notorious centerpiece is a 9-minute, unbroken shot of the brutal rape and beating of a woman. Having Monica Belluci in this role is almost a perverse test on Noe’s part–it’s as if he dares any guy in the audience to be excited by the scene, by mere fact of it featuring one of the most beautiful women in the world. But as Roger Ebert observed, it’s really like porn in reverse–sex and violence is our jump-off point for the rest of the story rather than the payoff. If you can get past the frightening violence, the main character’s raging homophobia in the first 20 minutes, and the wholly disorienting camerawork, you’ll find a fascinating study on revenge and, more importantly, grief. It doesn’t take multiple viewings to see two concurrent stories: Marcus’ story of stopping at nothing to punish the man who attacked Alex, and Pierre’s story of trying everything in his power not to give into that primal urge to avenge her (though Marcus is dating Alex when we enter the story, she used to date Pierre).

Zodiac

Zodiac

Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007 – 1st viewing): Every rave I’d read talks about the way the film deals with obsession, and that is handled brilliantly. Fewer had made a point of singling out DP Harris Savides for his astounding work (the use of the color in the film is particularly commendable–I saw colors in this film that look almost truer than life). I was only a bit surprised by the way Fincher catches you trying to think like the killer, forcing you to examine your own (and your society’s) fascination with serial murderers. But the real shock of Zodiac, Fincher’s finest film since Fight Club? How funny it is. Robert Downey, Jr. steals every scene he’s in. Some of the victims that the Zodiac takes his time with make absurd pleas (“If there’s anything else I can do for you, maybe I can write you a check.”). And a back-and-forth over whether to mail or fax something employs an exquisite deadpan in its send-up of bureaucracy where recent critical darling In The Loop would have opted for screaming a string of obscenities. Of my decade retrospective, Zodiac towers above the rest as my greatest find.

The Hangover

The Hangover

The Hangover (Todd Phillips, 2009 – 3rd viewing): Hey, every once in a while, you need some comfort food. But to say that The Hangover was less demanding after watching Zodiac isn’t to say it’s not interesting. Todd Phillips gives us a rarely offered glimpse of Las Vegas after the lights go out and the hot desert sun beats down across your forehead. It’s a film with two brilliant bait-and-switch moments. The first happens before the opening credits, where we’re offered the scene of a wedding being set up, something out of your typical romantic comedy. Then, with one cut, Phillips turns the entire visual language on its ear. The fullness of a crowded room is replaced by the vastness of an empty desert. Browns and greens and whites are washed out into a burned out tan and orange. Immobile cameras can’t stop shaking. It’s jarring and a wonderful kick-start to the film. The second comes after the guys’ toast on the roof. Just when we expect the film to be a bevy of amoral hedonistic delights, the party’s already over, and the boys must pay for their indulgences. On top of being a movie of impeccable timing, exciting physical humor, and clever language-based jokes (Alan’s reference to Rain Man as a “re-TARD” is particularly smart), it’s a movie that revels in debauchery, but shows that debauchery has its consequences (and in many cases, they are life and death). These men go through a major change. The film may not spell it out blatantly, but if you think that the Phil we see at the end cradling his son and being charmingly flirtatious with his wife is the same Phil at the beginning who says “I fucking hate my life,” then I can’t help you.

And that’s just a little under half of what I’ve taken in in the past week. Be on the lookout for Vol. 2, folks.

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