There are a few movies in my top ten that some of you people really dropped the ball on. Starting with number ten.
10. INHERENT VICE (Anderson, 2014)
Paul Thomas Anderson's pitch-perfect Thomas Pynchon adaptation couldn't help but win over the hearts and minds of cinephiles, yet somehow it mostly did. I couldn't have been more shocked to read dismissive reviews from reputable critics who found it boring, off-key, joyless, or whatever. I had no explanation for it then, and after about ten more viewings, I remain every bit as baffled.
Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) may be the most endearing protagonist of the decade, a stoner detective who still believes in the Utopian Dream of the '60s while also mourning its now-obvious loss as the calendar flips to 1970. Like the honorable cowboy in a world that no longer needs cowboys, Doc rides the high country of Los Angeles through a rough landscape of hippies, black-power activists, Neo-Nazi bikers, and rogue dentists on a quest for a missing husband (among others) and for the love of his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston). The eccentric shaggy-dog story is hilarious, but is also imbued with an at-times overwhelming poignancy by the constant longing for that lost paradise, a feeling powerfully evoked by the film's opening image, a shot between two beach houses looking out at the placid water.
Anderson populates the film with fantastic supporting actors. From the instant she appears on screen, Jeannie Berlin's flinty Aunt Reet practically demands her own spin-off franchise. And as Bigfoot Bjornsen, the real L.A. cop who plays a TV cop, Josh Brolin provides an antagonist to match ol' Doc, equal parts authoritarian monster and pathetic coward. And Bigfoot sure knows how to thaw a frozen banana.
I loved “Inherent Vice” so much I raced back to the theater each of the next two days while I still had the opportunity to lose myself in its elegiac world on the big screen. And to soak up the killer soundtrack again. The movie also inspired me to read Thomas Pynchon, not just “Inherent Vice” but all of Pynchon, from “V.” through “Bleeding Edge.” “Mason & Dixon” is my favorite, in case you want to know. That alone makes “Inherent Vice” one of the films that has had the most direct and significant positive impact on my life. It's difficult to write about it without wanting to return for one more visit with Doc and the gang. Moto panakeiku!
Director Leos Carax celebrates the archaic but adaptable machine known as the human body from the film's opening shots featuring Etienne-Jules Marey's 19th-century studies in locomotion. It can't be a coincidence that Carax chose Kylie Minogue, whose first pop hit was a cover of “The Loco-Motion,” for a major cameo, right?
Human (???) dynamo Denis Lavant proves to be a living, breathing Marey study himself, a lithe, feral body in constant motion who, as the multi-talented Monsieur Oscar, conducts a series of clandestine missions in Paris while being chauffeured in a limo (another sleek, archaic machine) by Edith Scob. M. Oscar's missions involve donning a motion-capture suit to write around with a remarkably pliable actress, literally chewing the scenery, and squeezing the hell out of an accordion in the most memorable musical number of the decade. There is truly no film performer in the world even remotely similar to Denis Lavant.
“Holy Motors” maintains its kinetic fury as it mourns losses both great and small, many of which involve the modern consumer's unquestioning embrace of anything small and portable and convenient because, as we all know, convenience is the mother of all great art. For those of you who think that all the fussing over the digital transformation of cinema (and other aspects of culture and history) is just a bunch of Neo-Luddite hand-wringing, all I have to say to you is : trois, douze, merde!
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