The Secret of Kells (2009)


I don't know if I've ever said this, but Animation is always one of my favorite categories when it comes to the Oscars. This year, the only one I haven't seen thus far is The Princess and the Frog, and because Disney already submitted Up, I don't really feel the need. I've stated openly that Coraline would be my top choice, but upon viewing this film a couple days ago, I'm not so sure. I hadn't even heard of it before the nominations came out and so I had no idea what to expect. What I found blew me away. 

There's no question that the animation in this movie is spectacular. It was a collaboration between Belgian, French and Irish filmmakers/animators, and it was very clear that a lot of the film was hand painted and sketched out with intricate detail. I loved watching the background stay still while the characters moved, because even if it wasn't as true to life as a lot of computer animation, you could tell the animators had created actual art that the characters (who contrasted this detail with their sharp edges and stylized shapes) were moving through. The animation had an old-time, rustic feel that echoed the subject of illuminated manuscripts that much of the film centered around, and it was so easy to be completely sucked in to the gorgeous world that Brendan spends his time exploring. 

What surprised me about this film was its extremely dark subject matter. I found the Vikings to be legitimately terrifying, and had I been a child watching, I probably would have had nightmares. These are not your typical Disney villains- there are no comical pratfalls or obvious weaknesses, only looming, ominous killers dressed in black that bring destruction everywhere they go. The other demons Brendan must face- the wolves, the giant snake- all have some aspect to them that takes the edge off; Ashley protects him from forest villains and the things he faces in the Dark Place are all drawn in outlines, as if you're watching Harold and the Purple Crayon on the screen. Somehow, you know during these points that he'll be OK, but the Vikings? Anything can happen, which is a terrifying formula for an animated children's movie to adopt. 

What I loved about this movie was that it simply existed for what it was. What I mean by that is that it didn't try to sell itself to any particular demographic. There were no obvious slapstick jokes for young children, or modern references for adults to understand. The only thing you were focused on was the story of Brendan and the Abbey, and that was way more important than trying to feel like the movie was made for you. It's timeless, putting all its effort and attention into the moment that it is trying to convey, and there's no concern for making sure you enjoy yourself, a quality that movies like Up and The Fantastic Mr. Fox lack. In that way, I enjoyed myself immensely because the film was so easy to watch- I wasn't constantly trying to understand every reference for my age group, and I didn't feel the need to like it because the filmmakers wanted me to. There was a respect for the intelligence of the audience that you rarely find in animated films. 

I've written about how I would have liked Up had the animators just grew a pair and decided that it was OK for Pixar to make a film marketed at an older age group. Instead, they threw in some gimmicks to make children laugh in what would have otherwise been a beautiful, nostalgic film about love and loss. It therefore makes me really sad to watch movies like The Secret of Kells because they're always under-marketed, under-appreciated, and under-acknowledged, and I know this will be the case at this year's Oscars. Up will win Best Animated Feature, but honestly, if it were up to me, The Secret of Kells would be my pick because of the quality of the animation and the lack of commercial bullshit. Either way, I hope the animators understand that, award or not, they've created a beautiful collaboration that culminated in a film that can only be described as breathtaking. 


The Movie Mistress


It's Oscar Time!!

Okay. There's only a week left. Oscar mode is in full swing. I will undoubtedly make a Predictions list because it's just what I do. I want to start, however, by highlighting one of this year's Best Picture Nominees (my personal favorite, actually). It didn't do too well at the Golden Globes, but maybe the Academy knows better. 

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)

Right off the bat, this movie shines because it provides a perfect divide between the Precious' fantasy world and the sharp edge of reality, a theme repeated over and over throughout the bulk of the film. The opening sets the precedence for the excitement that occurs for the rest of the movie, and I loved how the opening colors and vibrant soft images of Precious' imagination immediately contrast with both the muted oranges of her home and sickly greens of her high school.

The use of color was not the only thing that stood out for me as an effective method of showing the distinct differences in Precious' personalities (her outward projected personality of being indifferent and her inward personality of caring deeply about herself and her children). I found the characters surrounding Precious to all be some sort of reflection of what she wants out life- Ms. Rain and her loving, homogenous relationship, Mrs. Weiss and her stable job, and of course Nurse John being a light skinned male (Precious asserts that she desires a light-skinned boyfriend). Each of Precious' encounters with her mother is contrasted with her encounters with the other people in the films until both worlds and personalities melt into a breakdown when Precious discovers she's HIV positive. 

It goes without saying that Mo'Nique totally deserved her Golden Globe, and completely deserves an Oscar. The last scene with her in the welfare office gave me chills the first time I saw it. I also can't imagine tossing a baby (even if it is just a doll, which it had to be, I'm sure) onto a couch with no regard to its well being. I know a lot of people are referring to her performance as a gimmick, something the Academy has to vote for out of sympathy for the character (a sort of "vote for her if you have any heart at all" type of deal), but frankly I think that's bullshit. I think people didn't expect that performance out of a comedian and therefore gave her a lot of press because she was a comedian first. That being said, I think she deserves an Oscar even more because of that. 

But I digress- I'm here to discuss the film itself, which is a gem among a year full of high budget blockbusters. The amount of realism in this movie astounded me despite its heavy, melodramatic content. I found myself totally engrossed in Precious' world and could imagine the entire plot as if it were happening in another part of the country at that moment, somewhere where I was not. I think that's the magic in this film- Precious is a character who is timeless, whose struggles with self worth and abuse could be happening to anyone, at any point in time. This movie exists within a small bubble of a serious issue, and for a couple hours you can enter that bubble, and come out of it a newly enlightened person. 

My one criticism with this film is the ending scene. I fully appreciated Mo'Niques powerful end monologue, but I didn't understand the need for her to come to the welfare office. Precious had obviously been living on her own for a while, so the only explanation I can think of for that scene was that Mrs. Weiss wanted to act as a mediator for Precious and her mother and resolve their issues. If that's the case, I can't imagine why a welfare worker would want to do that, although maybe that's the point of implying that she and Precious became close with their sessions. The defining line of the movie, however, comes when Precious says, "You're nice and all, but you can't handle any of this." 

Overall, I would give this 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. It's that good. Is it worthy of Best Picture? I certainly think so, although I could easily be happy with a lot of the others on the list of ten. We'll just have to see what happens. 


The Movie Mistress


Once Upon A Time in the West (1968)



I am not a huge fan of Westerns. I find them to be slow and monotonous, and the closest I can come to actually finding enjoyment in one is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (which, you can argue is more about the decline of the classic Western than being a Western itself). And, of course, Blazing Saddles. Still, I found this movie to capture the exact feeling of lethargy and ruthlessness that I imagine living in 1890s cattle country evoked. Within minutes, I found myself entranced by the take-no-prisoners attitude that I normally find to be dull. In my book, therefore, this movie was a success, although I apologize if I don’t use names because honestly, I couldn’t keep track of who anyone actually was.

The use of eyes in this movie is wonderful, although I suppose that’s the stereotypical “Western” technique. The scene following the jailbreak is brilliant, building tension by only revealing what is happening through the use of eyes and exterior sounds. I love the nonchalant look on all the customers’ faces, as though they can both sense what’s happening and not be surprised.

I found myself really liking the female protagonist in the film, although it might be because most women in Westerns are portrayed as weak and inferior (think Legends of the Fall), whereas Claudia Cardinale is strong and intelligent, someone you can actually see surviving against a sea of unruly gun-slinging men. I love the scene where she is approached by the man who killed her husband.

I’m not going to go into much more detail, but I found myself pleasantly surprised by this Western gem (much, much better than when I saw The Searchers- maybe I’ll write about that experience another time).

Watch out for the man with the harmonica!

The Movie Mistress


Shameless Self Promotion


Thanks to M. Carter for pointing out that I was listed on "600 Movie Blogs You Might Have Missed"! I'll post the link here. Also TotalFilm is super fucking fun to poke around in, if you are like me and have no motivation to actually work. 

Up Next: Once Upon A Time in the West (1968). Also there might be a double feature if I'm feeling particularly generous. I haven't exactly been whoring myself out to movies lately, so it might be high time to do so. 


The Movie Mistress


The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)



“Just what this country needs: a cock in a frock on a rock.”

With a soundtrack that ranges from The Village People to Judy Garland to ABBA, this movie is, in my opinion, amazingly awesome, and every time I watch it I find it to be funnier and funnier. Though at times incredibly non-PC, I think half the reason it’s so successful is because it gives overdramatized accounts of real situations (example: Bob the hippie marrying an illegal Filipino woman while drunk). It’s this glam-ing up of characters both in the literal sense and situational sense that makes this movie brilliant.

One of the reasons I love this movie is because it’s legitimately funny without seeming too dated even though it was made over fifteen years ago. I like that when Bernadette goes for help, the people she brings back aren’t all that accommodating, and you actually laugh even though it’s sort of a shitty situation the girls find themselves in and has really offensive undertones. The idea of the characters being rejected by the over-conservative mainstream is both mocked and satired, creating a light-hearted flick with deep, complex problems and issues. It’s one of those films where you don’t think about what happened until after it already happened, so you’re left with something to discuss hours after the film has passed.

I also like that the tension Mitzi builds up before meeting his wife isn’t added to by an incredibly awkward situation. The flashbacks of his son being born heighten the drama, but rather than confront her with strange, I-haven’t-seen-you-in-a-million-years-and-don’t-know-what-to-do confusion, there’s a realistic reunion where the two of them realize that underneath everything, they’re still friends.

There’s not much to this movie that you can’t like, although the first time I watched it, I think I was a bit too young to look at ping-pong balls ever again. Now I can appreciate the ridiculousness of the burlesque mockery, where that type of sexual degradation is accepted more than drag queens. I realize the dark comedy and social statement the creators of this movie tried to get across, and I have the ultimate fucking respect.

If you haven’t seen this movie (which, if you’re in the 1001 Movie Club, I hope you did), go rent it now, or buy it even. It’s both outwardly and inwardly funny, as well as warm, sentimental, and intensely dramatic all in one. Hell, I might just go watch it again.


The Movie Mistress