Tag Archives: The Place Beyond the Pines

My Top 10 Films of the ‘10s

The chance to write a “best of the decade” list is pretty rare, and I tend to put an inordinate amount of weight on the task. (If you happen to be curious about the full 100-film list I put together for the 2010s while preparing, you can find it on my Letterboxd here.) It was actually helpful looking back at the “best of the 2000s” list I published a full 10 years ago and realizing that half of the films on that list wouldn’t make the cut if I re-made it today. Tastes change, but these sorts of lists, to me, are an interesting way to at least capture a moment in time.

So, without further ado, here are the 10 films that I (for now) consider my favourites of the decade that was the 2010s.

Fish Tank

10. Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2010)

We’re starting with a slightly “controversial” choice, considering Fish Tank came out in the UK (and played quite a few film festivals) in late 2009. However, it didn’t get its North American theatrical release until January 2010, so I count it as a ‘10s film. And indeed, Fish Tank seemed to usher in a spate of films about economic disparity in the UK throughout the decade that followed. But it was Arnold’s naturalism in telling the story of young Mia (Katie Jarvis), a young woman fighting (often literally) to break out of the suppressive social class she’s been raised in, that had the biggest emotional impact on me. It is a quiet film full of extremely flawed characters who are given the empathy to simply exist as they are. It’s the film on this list that I’ve had the longest to sit with, and it’s haunted me since I first saw it.

Columbus

9. Columbus (Kogonoda, 2017)

Speaking of empathy, there was perhaps not a kinder film I saw all decade than Kogonoda’s stunning debut, Columbus. Haley Lu Richardson and John Cho play extremely warm, realistic characters and the pure bliss in watching them share ideas, learn from each other, and explore the unique architecture in the titular Columbus, Indiana is far stronger than it has any right to be in such a simple film. It’s a film that some absolutely adore and others shrug at. I just sat there in the theatre absorbing every beautiful frame.

Lore

8. Lore (Cate Shortland, 2013)

Cate Shortland is a director who doesn’t make nearly as many films as I’d like, having released just three in total since her debut in 2004. (Although she’s about to get a major bump in notoriety, given that her next project is 2020’s Black Widow.) Her second film, Lore, tells the harrowing tale of a group of young German siblings who must flee their home unaccompanied after the end of World War II. It is a quietly stressful adventure tale, a coming-of-age story, and an artfully told period piece all at once. It also boasts captivating performances from its young German leads, Saskia Rosendahl and Kai Malina, and pitch-perfect cinematography. This is the least well-known film on the list, but one that I think a lot of people would appreciate if they sought it out.

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7. The End of the Tour (James Ponsoldt, 2015)

After this year’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, I’m going to put forward a motion that we retire the narrative structure of having a journalist interviewing a celebrity as the premise of a film. However, that structure was less overused when The End of the Tour was made, and Ponsoldt chooses it not out of convenience, but as the entire emotional crux of his story. It also helps that the two men being depicted (David Foster Wallace and journalist David Lipsky) are much more evenly-matched in their respective career accomplishments at the time the film takes place, acting as a mirror, an echo, and a sounding board for each other. (They also have a rich real-life text to draw from, as Lipsky published an entire book containing his conversations with Wallace during his book tour for Infinite Jest.) Ponsoldt depicts their relationship so cleanly, yet realistically, creating an incredibly emotionally rich film from conversations may on the surface sometimes seem offhanded or even banal. Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg also turn in wonderful performances, seeming impressively unburdened by the “real life-ness” of the characters they’re playing. It’s a fun hangout film, as also one that sneaks up on you with an understated emotional wallop.

Oslo August 31

6. Oslo, August 31 (Joachim Trier, 2012)

I do tend to love depressing Scandinavian films, and Oslo, August 31 is a prime example. Set over the course of one day in the life of a man who’s been temporarily let out of rehab to attend a job interview, it’s a meditative, artful take on addiction. Trier levels up from his already impressive debut, 2007’s Reprise, and creates something even more beautiful and deeply felt. I only caught up with the film this past year, but I’m actually glad that I watched it now (rather than in my early 20’s when it first came out) because I found a relatable aspect (aside from the topic of drug addiction) that wouldn’t have hit me in the same way eight years ago; through the people that Anders interacts with in vignettes throughout the film, Trier perfectly illustrates that sense of feeling alienated from those around you by not having followed the path that you’re “supposed” to by the time you hit 30-ish. It’s not quite the main theme of the film, but it’s sprinkled as an undercurrent throughout, and it really hit me in a relatable, raw (though not necessarily sad) way. Oslo, August 31 is a stunner and, for me, was a great example of watching the right film at the right time.

Roma Cuaron

5. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, 2018)

I would struggle to think, on a frame-by-frame basis, of a more beautiful film that came out this decade. There was something about Roma that I found so captivating, despite its seeming straightforwardness. I know some found it a bit emotionally disconnected, but I was right there with Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) from frame one through to the end of her quietly seismic journey. This is perhaps partly because Cuarón crafted it with so much love, and the autobiographical elements came through beautifully. I could have watched another of hour of his vibrant, wistful, clear-eyed point of view.

Lost City of Z Gray

4. The Lost City of Z (James Gray, 2017)

James Gray was another director who succeeded at transporting viewers to a perfectly realized world, here with The Lost City of Z. Having caught up with it earlier this year (on gorgeous 35mm projection, no less) I immediately fell in love with how it evoked a sweeping historical epic, but depicted with a modern sensibility. Gray perfectly (yet deliberately) paced this tale of a single-minded adventurer, and I was along for the journey every step of the way.

The Social Network

3. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)

I could write thousands of words on The Social Network (and maybe have, over the course of my various viewings throughout the decade). There was no film that I watched more in the ‘10s (five times, in case you were wondering), and The Social Network holds up perfectly every time I watch it. From the performances to the score to the cinematography to the Sorkin script, it’s one of the extremely few films that I would classify as close to perfect. There is a rhythm to it that is unlike any other film that came out in the past 10 years, and it seems to somehow only gain relevance as time goes on. When I think of why I love movies, this is a film that almost always pops into my mind.

OJ Made in America

2. O.J.: Made in America (Ezra Edelman, 2016)

The ’10s was definitely the first decade where I paid attention to documentaries. (Prior to this, my knowledge of docs pretty much started and ended with Supersize Me and March of the Penguins.) And I saw a lot of really great ones. But the one that eclipsed all the others (both in terms of my appreciation for it, and just it’s sheer length) was Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made in America. It’s a film that feels daunting to write about, because it does so much over the course of its nearly 8 hours. (And yes, I do consider it a movie, rather than a miniseries.) It is an incisive examination of American culture, a compelling “true crime”-style story, and an extremely thorough dive into the psyche of one of the most inscrutable figures in pop culture. And it’s all constructed with such an elegance that it’s impossible not to admire its craft, even as you’re engrossed in the story. This is an accessible, definitive, and unique take on a story that many of us thought we already knew. And, on top of that, it’s a film that’ll probably make you question why you had been so quick to form your previously-held opinions on its central figure.

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1. The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance, 2013)

Lists like these are always extremely subjective (hence why I’ve called this post “MY Top 10 Films of the ‘10s”) but there’s no other way I can really explain putting The Place Beyond the Pines in my number one spot beyond to say that it was just my personal favourite film of the past 10 years. I think it’s incredibly well-constructed, expertly acted, and tells a gripping story. I do think it’s a quantifiably great film. But the simpler, non-critical way to describe it is that it just “clicked” with me. Cianfrance, coming off 2010’s emotionally thorny, almost uncomfortably intimate Blue Valentine, crafted a big, generation-sweeping family epic with The Place Beyond the Pines. He balances the film’s unique structure perfectly, dividing it into three distinct parts that are satisfying on their own, but that also resonate with each other in fascinating ways. And though it’s a film that has a “twist” that seems like it might lose its impact after seeing it once, I found the film has only gained complexity and impact on multiple subsequent viewings. I’ve been on a quest ever since to find other films that balance the same level of bold structure and craft with deeply humanistic storytelling.

The Place Beyond the Pines is not a film you’re likely to see on a lot of other “best of the decade” lists (let alone at the top), but for me, it’s the film that defined my movie-watching in the 2010s.

Top 10 Movies of 2013

Alright, so there’s still a lot from 2013 that I haven’t yet seen. BUT I’ve also seen some fantastic movies as it is, and I’m getting swept up in the end-of-year lists, so here’s my top 10 movies of the year at this point.

(Just know that Spike Jonze’s Her would probably be on this list, but it doesn’t get released near me until mid-January.)

Honorable Mentions: Blue Jasmine, Star Trek Into Darkness, Before Midnight, Stoker

10. Fruitvale Station

Yes, the movie can be a bit heavy-handed, but overall, it does a great job of showing who Oscar Grant was as a person. We see so many little interactions that seem innocuous on their own but are fascinating to watch and ultimately add up to something much bigger by the film’s heartbreaking end.

9. Nebraska

This is a film that I certainly enjoyed at the time, but it has really grown on me in the weeks since I’ve seen it. It’s funny, touching, and dark all at the same time, boasting great performances and a pleasantly offbeat visual style.

8. Dallas Buyers Club

McConaughey and Leto turn in career-best performances, completely inhabiting the complex characters they are given. But there is more to Jean-Marc Vallee’s film than the sum of its actors. He tells a tender underdog story, refusing to be morose and instead filling every inch of the screen with genuine warmth and an effective visual tone. It’s grim, but it’s also inspiring.

7. Something in the Air

Olivier Assayas’ latest film follows a group of teenagers living in France during the aftermath of the May 1968 protests. While its opening half hour is haunting for the depiction of the violent demonstrations that our protagonists become involved in, the film really falls into its groove after that point, when it shows the fracturing of the group of friends upon graduation. They shift and detach from each other in subtle ways, and Assayas expresses this beautifully, enveloping the film in a warm, hazy sense of nostalgia.

6. Gravity

I’ve seen a lot of people trying to oversell Gravity as a deeper film than it is, but if you accept what is actually given to us, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Sandra Bullock is charming, exasperating, and relatable all at once, turning in an amazingly layered performance considering that she is not given all that much to work with. And indeed, Cuaron has crafted something truly special in the film’s visuals. The scope is something to behold, and Gravity is no doubt a highly impressive and entertaining achievement.

5. 12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is not only an “important” film, but also an impeccably crafted one. It is his most accessible film yet, but it still offers his signature visual grit and no-nonsense take on some very dark subject matter. Every scene in this movie feels vital, and it all adds up to a punishing but ultimately emotionally resonant epic. Led by a completely electric Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave is a film that everyone should make the time to see.

4. Lore

In Germany during the aftermath of WWII, teenage Lore is forced to bring her four younger siblings on a trek across the German countryside after the disappearance of their Nazi parents. Along the way, they meet a young man who challenges the hatred that has been instilled in them, adding another layer of tension to an already very taught film. Lore doesn’t pull its punches, and it feels something like Winter’s Bone crossed with a Michael Haneke film. It’s stark and beautifully aching, boasting revelatory performances from its two young breakout stars, Saskia Rosendahl and Kai Malina.

3. Prisoners

Prisoners is an unrelenting thriller that sits somewhere between arthouse and mainstream. This seemed to make it an unfortunate mismatch for a lot of moviegoers, and despite its star-studded cast, it failed to make much of a dent in the public consciousness. This is a real shame, as Denis Villeneuve has created a visceral, often brutal near-masterpiece here. Partly thanks to Roger Deakins’ impeccably icy cinematography, Villeneuve seems to relish keeping the audience tense and on their toes to an extent that few films manage to achieve. Jake Gyllenhaal turns in the best performance of his career here, and Prisoners is a rare film that plays its suspense perfectly and left me completely satisfied as the credits rolled.

2. Mud

I love Dazed and Confused as much as the next person, but I have seen (and, in many cases, avoided) enough post-2000 Matthew McConaughey rom-coms to sour any goodwill stemming from one movie that came out 20 years ago. Yet here we are in 2013, and somehow McConaughey is one of the most interesting actors we’ve got working. And his first great performance of the year came in Mud, Jeff Nichols’ follow-up to the eerie critical favourite Take Shelter.

Mud is a somewhat nostalgic look at youth in the vein of Stand By Me. Young star Tye Sheridan is completely believable and often heartbreaking as Ellis, a good-hearted kid from poor circumstances. But it’s McConaughey as the enigmatic titular Mud that gives the movie
a unique wildcard. It’s a surprisingly toned-down performance from McConaughey, and his on-screen chemistry with Sheridan is a treat to behold. There’s something so sturdy and sad about their relationship. That combined with Nichol’s languid look at small town America and the loss of youthful innocence makes Mud a quietly beautiful and piercing ride.

1. The Place Beyond the Pines

As I walked out of the TIFF screening of The Place Beyond the Pines in September 2012, I knew I’d seen something special. A genuine achievement in filmmaking at a point in time where a lot of movies seem to blur together. And while I saw many other good and very good films over the course of 2013, none of them could quite touch my early TIFF favourite. (The same thing might just happen for me again in 2014 with Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves.)

I went to see The Place Beyond the Pines again during its theatrical release and loved it just as much the second time around. The plot turns may not have been surprising this time, but knowing what was coming made the movie even more urgent and aching. I’d initially thought that the second third of the film (which revolves around Cooper’s character) was the film’s weakest aspect. But knowing where that storyline leads only amplified the damage of his character and it made me appreciate that storyline and Cooper’s performance far more.

This is a sprawling movie that explores a lot of heady territory when it comes to family, the consequences of our actions, and legacy. I’ve found it’s impossible to do The Place Beyond the Pines justice with a simple plot description, and I think this is a testament to the film’s power. On the surface, the story and themes of this movie aren’t groundbreaking. Yet, the way that it’s constructed and its tone almost turn it into something completely different, and the results are breathtaking.

There’s almost a dampness to this film that just sort of…seeps in as you’re watching and long after the film ends. It’s difficult to explain. But regardless, this is a movie that’s sat with me for over a year now, and it’s impacted me in a way that very few films do.

TIFF 2012: The Place Beyond the Pines

Just a few days in, and TIFF has already screened a spat of critic and movie fan favourites. From grand blockbusters like Looper and Cloud Atlas to human dramas like Argo and The Master, big stars and big directors are already pleasing crowds at the festival. And you might as well add Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines, to that list. Met with generally positive response from critics, the film is likely to connect on a gut level with many viewers.

Pines made its world premiere on Friday night, and I entered the press screening early this morning with the unique experience of knowing virtually nothing about the film. And honestly, it’s best to know as little as possible about this film going into it. As such, I’ll be very vague with the plot description. Ryan Gosling plays Luke, a motorcycle stunt driver. Bradley Cooper plays Avery, a newly minted and overqualified police officer. When Luke gets caught up in some illegal activities, the two inevitably come face to face. Their meeting then sparks a chain reaction of repercussions that affect not only them, but also their family.

At its core, The Place Beyond the Pines is a story about masculinity and the consequences of actions. And Cianfrance evokes the ache of regret beautifully. There is a palpable sense of uncertainty, and like the characters on screen, the audience is held in a constant state of tension. This is not an action-packed movie, yet there is such suspense in every character interaction. A number of figurative threads could be pulled at any time during this film and the lives of the characters would almost instantly unravel.

Cooper perhaps does the best job of conveying this unsettled tone. Much of the latter part of the film deals with Avery’s struggle to come to terms with his past decisions, and Cooper gives an aching, slow-burning performance. His character is wonderfully complex, and Cooper sinks his teeth into every nuance of the role. It’s easily his best performance to date.

Also breaking new ground here is up-and-comer Dane DeHaan. Though DeHaan does not appear until later on in the film, his character quickly becomes a key player, and DeHaan deftly navigates the epic relationship landscape that Cianfrance has constructed by this point. He’s already impressed me this year in Chronicle and Lawless, but now given a meaty dramatic role, DeHaan shines even brighter. He’s given some scenes that easily could have seemed overly laboured or difficult to believe, but DeHaan’s easy naturalness never wavers. He just sinks into the role and inhabits every corner of it.

Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises)gives another fantastic, chameleon-like performance as a man who takes Luke under his wing. His subtle humour is welcome in this heavy film, yet his character also has plenty of demons of his own. Gosling turns in yet another great, emotionally captivating performance, and Eva Mendes is surprisingly good as the woman his character peruses.

One thing that really surprised me about The Place Beyond the Pines was the scope of the film. Cianfrance has experimented with time lapses already in Blue Valentine, but while that film felt suffocating in its intimacy, Pines feels almost grand and epic in its ever-expanding story. And Cianfrance put every minute of the two and a quarter hour runtime to good use. Yes, a couple of story elements feel a bit convenient and/or melodramatic. And yes, I did find the second third of the film to be a little too conventional in its “dirty cop” tropes (though Ray Liotta is great in his very small role). But ultimately, none of that mattered. The Place Beyond the Pines packs an emotional punch the gut. This movie is about the consequences of our actions. And as characters’ past decisions start to affect innocent people, it’s hard not to get engrossed in the injustice and tragedy of it all. Simply put, The Place Beyond the Pines feels poetic without being pretentious. It might not fully satisfy those looking for a bit more violence in their studies in machismo, but the slow-burning drama makes for a far more substantial product.

9/10

TIFF Gears Up for Big Stars, Big Hits

The Toronto International Film Festival announced its first wave of festival programming via a live press conference this morning. After weeks of speculation and rumour, it turns out that many of the films that fans were hoping to see on the list will in fact play at the festival this year.

TIFF, which usually favours smaller, independent fare, will play host to a couple of big-budget blockbusters-to-be in September. Rian Johnson’s Looper will open the festival with a special gala on September 6. The sci-fi action film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt, and is set to hit theatres for a major release on September 28. This marks a significant step up for TIFF’s opening film in terms of budget and profile. Last year’s opening film was the U2 documentary From the Sky Down, and the year before that, the Charles Darwin biopic, Creation.

The folks at TIFF also announced that the Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas will also premiere at the festival. Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant and boasting an estimated budget of $140 million, this is definitely one of the biggest films TIFF has ever welcomed.

On a slightly smaller scale but no less exciting is the announcement that Terrence Malick’s latest project, To the Wonder, will screen at TIFF. Given the long post-production life of The Tree of Life and Mallick’s typical long gaps between films, some fans thought it was unlikely Mallick’s next project would be ready in time. However, the film, which stars Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, and Javier Bardem will in fact make its world premiere at TIFF this year.

Other big name directors whose films will show at TIFF include Ben Affleck with Argo (starring Affleck and Bryan Cranston), David O. Russell with Silver Linings Playbook (starring Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, and Jennifer Lawrence), Noah Baumbach with Frances Ha (starring Greta Gerwig), Joe Wright with Anna Karenina (starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law), and Robert Redford with his star-packed The Company You Keep (Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Terrence Howard, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Elliott, Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins, Nick Nolte, Brit Marling, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, and Chris Cooper).

Speaking of stars, TIFF will once again celebrate Ryan Gosling, as they host the world premiere of The Place Beyond the Pines. Directed by Blue Valentine helmer Derek Cianfrance, the film stars Gosling and Bradley Cooper as a stunt rider and a cop who square off. Other big names you might see walking around Toronto this September include Zac Efron (At Any Price), Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone), Bill Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson), Jake Gyllenhaal (End of Watch), Kevin Bacon (Jayne Mansfield’s Car), and Kristen Wiig’s (Imogene).

And while it’s easy to get caught up in the glitzy star spectacle that TIFF can become, it is also a festival that honours a lot of Canadian and foreign films, too. TIFF will round out its line-up in the coming weeks with more of these titles. For now, though, we know that Ruba Naddi’s Inescapable (starring Marisa Tomei and Fringe‘s Joshua Jackson) and Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children will be two Canadian films having their world premieres at TIFF. The latter also tie’s into the festival’s “City to City” theme, which this year will highlight films from and about Mumbai, India.

The Toronto International Film Festival will run September 6-16. See the full list of films announced this morning at tiff.net/thefestival/filmprogramming