Monday, May 23, 2016

Happy 1,000th Entry!: A Look at My Favorite Films Since 2012

Scene from The Master
Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to announce that this marks the 1,000th entry from The Oscar Buzz. Over the past 3.5 years, I am proud to have covered all things Academy Awards as well as expanding to its history and my own personal tastes. It has been a fun ride, and I hope to continue to provide insightful content for my readers. For now, I thought that I would do as I do with every odd anniversary and celebrate by sharing a little bit more about me through film. In this case, I am going to share my 10 favorite movies since 2012 when this blog first started up. Admittedly, it's hard to narrow down the list, but these 10 films in some ways represent what I look for in films. Some of them extend beyond Oscar-nominated fare. Some of them were ironically inches from winning Best Picture. Whatever the case, these are the ones I enjoy. If you'd like, feel free to share your favorite film of the past few years and why that is in the comments below.

Rooney Mara
1. Carol (2015)

Without a doubt, the film to beat for the decade is director Todd Hayne's look at a lesbian love story starring Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. From the opening notes of Carter Burwell's phenomenal score to the final shot of Blanchett, the film embodies what cinema can be at its purest. It's beautiful and rich with metaphorical texture that rewards each additional viewing. The performances are great with Mara's being one of the most understated of last year (she should've won over Alicia Vikander). Whatever the cause, it's a love story that is about more than being gay. It's about feeling connection and happiness. If you want to live in the characters more, I'd highly recommend Patricia Highsmith's "The Price of Salt," of which the story is based upon. It's not exactly the same, but it gives you a deeper understanding of the characters with passionate and flourishing language.

2. The Master (2012)

Was there any contest that this wouldn't be on the list? Considering that The Oscar Buzz was formed largely to share my enthusiasm for the film, it would be criminal not to include it. For my money, this is director Paul Thomas Anderson's best film and features Joaquin Phoenix's best and most neurotic performance to date. Along with the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman and personal favorite Amy Adams, this is a strong ensemble film that hits all of the right notes as it explores connectivity as it relates to war and desperation. It may be a cryptic film of sorts, but that's part of the allure that makes this one of the most captivating films of recent years. 

3. Frances Ha (2013)

There's a lot about this film that feels like a lightning in a bottle. It's a small black-and-white comedy that features Greta Gerwig stumbling through life and making bad decisions. However, it's a far richer and more nuanced film than it suggests. Gerwig is one of the funniest and wittiest writers currently working (see also: Mistress America), and she is in top form here where even her smallest movement packs a joke. Beyond the basic premise, the film is also impressively a blend of New York cinema and the 60's French New Wave. Keep an eye out for the music cues, which alternate and reflect the various states of which Gerwig's character lives. It may not seem like the most impressive film on this list, but it has so much heart and honesty about finding yourself that it's hard to ignore. If it's not a cult favorite now, it likely will be within the next decade.

Oscar Isaac
4. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

It is common knowledge that I am a big fan of directors Joel and Ethan Coen. It explains then why I love this film about the 60's folk scene so much. Beyond the impressive soundtrack and pre-Star Wars Oscar Isaac giving a great performance, this embodies everything about The Coens that is great. It's often self-effacing and always going against the grain as its hero tries to make a living. There's so much passion in Isaac's performance that it is impossible to neither sympathize with him nor hate his foolishness. It's an epic that also feels like a loving tribute to those musicians who never made it, smote down before their time thanks to figures like Bob Dylan. It's funny, it's sad, it's everything that a good movie should be.

5. Life of Pi (2012)

Director Ang Lee is probably the closest to a virtuoso that we have going in cinema. While I cannot even come close to admitting that I love all of his work, he is pioneering the medium with unpredictable results. He made period pieces and LGBT dramas that if nothing else felt vital. However, his one foray into big budgeted, special effects heavy territory did lead to something that still feels awe-inspiring. Life of Pi is a film that turns a CGI Bengal tiger into one of the most sympathetic characters of 2012 and Suraj Sharma remains the biggest snub of the season. While it did give Rhythm and Hues a deserved Oscar, they unfortunately went bankrupt shortly after. Still, it's a testament to what special effects should do: improve stories by making the impossible come to life. Even then, it's smallness in scope makes the achievement all the more impressive and the story all the more affecting.

6. Inside Out (2015)

Like most people, I like Pixar films. Even then, one can easily notice that their recent output has been more experimental and less successful. Then there's Inside Out, which manages to restore a lot of faith in the studio with one of its most inventive stories to date by making the impossible (how the brain works) possible. Even the film outside of the brain works as its own sustained story. While the film can serve as a better understanding of how we think and feel, it's also a perfect love letter to why we love Pixar. No matter how you slice it, this is vintage Pixar doing what it does best and possibly even topping itself in all of the best ways possible. It's funny, smart, and very moving.

7. Stoker (2013)

While it may be course corrected in time, I do think that Mia Wasikowska may be one of the most underrated actresses of her generation. She has always given charismatic and exciting performances no matter how bizarre her subject matter is. This is mostly true in Stoker, which manages to be a horror drama that finds the scares more in the spaces in between. Matthew Goode is also great as the immoral compass that leads her to a violent, sadistic life as he flirts with Nicole Kidman. It's an unnerving film, and one that has director Chan-Wook Park making his English debut with such authority that he almost puts full time English speakers to shame. It may not be the scariest film of the decade, but it's one of the richest in tapestry; managing to be at times haunting and others campy or poetic. 

8. Before Midnight (2013)

The issue with director Richard Linklater's more revered work Boyhood is that the Before trilogy did it better (and only technically one hour longer when combined). The use of time to chronicle a relationship makes this trilogy a particularly fascinating work that manages to embody everything that makes the director great. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have the married couple characters down pat by this point, and their struggles feel so organic that you'd mistake them for the real deal. It's at times comic and tragic, but mostly works as a raw and honest look into marriage that tears away the naivety of the past and gets to the existential crises of growing old together. It's a movie that is essentially two character talking for long stretches of time. Thankfully, Linklater is a master at making this one of the most riveting things ever.

9. Spring Breakers (2013)

I'm sure that many of you are likely doing a spit take about here. Spring Breakers, really? It does seem like a stretch when you consider the many, many other masterpieces that have been released in this time frame. However, director Harmony Korine's ode to spring break has remained an alluring and singular film that is as artful as it is delusional. It may be divisive, but it's hard for me to not be charmed by its Britney Spears montage or James Franco's performance - of which hilariously got a failed Oscars campaign. Still, it is a film that manages to be meditative while reflecting on the unnerving hollowness of the young and dumb. It's a cautionary tale, and one that reflects how exciting the wrong path can often be. It may not have the best moral compass by the end, but it's still the one with quite the experience when all is said and done.

10. Queen of Earth (2015)

Closing out the list is possibly one of the most underrated films of last year. Director Alex Ross Perry's follow-up to the excellent Listen Up Philip is essentially a two woman show that reflects why Elisabeth Moss will have a solid career now that Mad Men is over. Along with Katherine Waterston (who has also had her share of hits with Steve Jobs and Inherent Vice), this is a melodrama that manages to be more unnerving thanks to drawn out tone and a solid study of how privilege can alter the way one deals with grief. The show is mostly Moss', but it still manages to be an artistic trip from Perry that makes a weekend getaway into a nightmare-fueled fight between sisters. 

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