tongue-tied lightning

The Best Films of 2011: #5 The Tree of Life
March 18, 2012, 11:46 PM
Filed under: film | Tags: , , , ,

It’s hard to imagine there’s a film that’s been dissected and torn apart by critics more this year than the Tree of Life, which makes finding something new to say about it rather difficult. I have my qualms with it; the Sean Penn scenes feel disconnected from the rest of the film, the dinosaurs are… dinosaurs and the new-agey climax is perhaps a bit much. The rest of the film, however, is so overpowering that it isn’t hard to cast those concerns aside, to lose yourself in the grandeur of the creation sequence, to become immersed in memories of a childhood that seem all too familiar.

As I sat watching the film in the theater for the first time I remember thinking “this is what memory feels like.” The snippets and reflections, the flights of fancy that couldn’t possibly be legitimate, the imagined experiences of others. If there’s one thing that has stuck with me it’s that Malick seems to have found a cinematic analogue for the way we reflect on life, one that feels completely organic. It’s messiness and density are perhaps endemic to that conceit, as are the tenuous connections and layers of meaning that connect one scene to the next.

There have been hints of something like The Tree of Life in each of Malick’s previous films but this feels like the first time we’ve seen Malick completely unfiltered. The poetry, the melding of voiceover and image that seems so distinctly him was hardly present in Badlands. With each successive film it’s become more imposing, until it exists at the expense of all but the barest semblance of a narrative as it does here. This is one man’s life and ideas poured into what feels like a consummate work of art, and for that it is kind of breathtaking, whatever minor problems I may have with it.


2010 Viewing Log #5

I’ve been neglecting these logs, so we’ll play catch up.  I’d like to get a couple pieces up sooner or later and my best of 2009 should be up around the end of the month/early march so hang in there.  The blog isn’t dead, just resting.

Lorna’s Silence This is the first Dardennes’ film that’s really connected with me on an emotional level.  I dug it alot.  The acting is top notch, particularly Jeremie Renier, in the second fantastic supporting role he had last year.  The contrast between his character in this and Summer Hours is quite stark.  But why this really worked for me is that unlike The Son I didn’t find their aesthetic suffocating here.  The story breathed and I went along with it, more on this later.  ***1/2

Treeless Mountain In an A.O. Scott piece earlier this year he lumped this film in a category with the films of Ryan Boden & Anna Fleck, Kelly Reichardt and Ramin Bahrani.  I really don’t think it belongs in that category.  I was quite bored by it and didn’t think it had much interesting to say.  Also, it begs comparison to Koreeda’s Nobody Knows and that only hurts it. **

Pierrot le Fou (rewatch) Sometimes the second time is a charm.  The first time I watched this I enjoyed it but wasn’t blown away (poor choice of words?).  This time I decided to watch it on a whim and was completely engrossed.  It feels really alive, and while I know it’s kind of a transitional film from Godard’s New Wave period to his political period, if I wanted to show someone what the French New Wave was all about, I might show them this film.  ***1/2

Badlands This isn’t a bad film by any means, but it feels a bit derivative, which would be OK if it really added anything to the genre.  It’s as if Malick is still struggling to find his style.  I don’t find Martin Sheen or Sissy Spacek very engrossing.  Nor the film itself really. **1/2

Days of Heaven Ah, here is the Malick I know and love.  What a lovely film, certainly one of the most beautifully photographed I’ve seen.  The story here works and the lead performances are really strong.  It’s a shame Richard Gere doesn’t do work like this anymore, because he is a talent, even if he often chooses to squander it.  Brooke Adams is fantastic as well, and I fell in love with her along with Sam Shepherd.  All the weaknesses Badland possessed aren’t in evidence here, nearly as good as The New World.  ***1/2

The Limits of Control (rewatch) Fantastic film, I’m tempted to call it Jarmusch’s best but it’s been awhile since I’ve seen Dead Man.  I was pleased to see my appreciation of it didn’t dwindle and the minimalism and repetition was just as engrossing as it was the first time through.  There is one scene I could do without, his rendezvous with Youki Kudoh on the train.  I’m not sure if it’s the writing or the stilted acting, but that scene reeks of the Philosophy 101 stench the rest of the film avoids. ***1/2

The Thin Red Line I’m not typically a fan of war films, but as far as they go, this is near the top.  What a cast Malick amassed for this.  Some people stick out, notably Travolta, but for the most part it really works.  Also, the cinematography doesn’t always seem on point, though it could just be that battleships don’t make for the most photogenic sets.  If I have to watch a serious minded WWII film I suppose this is about as good as I could do.  ***

Alphaville Perhaps I’ll come back to this and, like Pierrot le Fou, it will work for me, but as of now I’d say it’s middling Godard.  The mix of sci-fi and noir works but he doesn’t do anything too interesting with it, or at least nothing he hasn’t done better elsewhere.  One thing that really annoyed me was the voice of the central computer.  I can’t recall ever finding a voice in a film as grating as that.  Obnoxious.  **1/2