Tag Archives: The Master

The Best Films of 2012

Let me analyze my end-of-the-year top ten list for the moment: three French films, two Americans and one of each from Portugal, Belgium, South Korea, Greece and the United Kingdom. This list also includes two female directors, two Andersons and two fellow Longhorns. Some of these statistics may be more meaningful than others, but I’m inclined to say that 2012 was a great year at the cinema for me. Making a list like this is highly subjective. My job as a critic is to articulate why the following ten films are better than everything else I’ve seen this past year.

1. The Master

When I left the Alamo Ritz after seeing Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film in 70 mm projection for the first time, my opinion of it was inconclusive. I thought it was an exquisitely shot picture featuring some of the best acting in recent memory, but I was unsure if I liked it as much as I had hoped. But this film about a lost soul and his spiritual mentor haunted me in the days since. It is one of those movies that the more I think about it the more I come to like it. Eventually, I returned to the Ritz for a second viewing and it resonated with me on a much deeper level than the first viewing. Everything made sense to me this time. Anderson aptly conveys the feelings of his characters through the subtext instead of heavily relying on the meticulously written dialogue marked in his earlier films. In the years to come, The Master shall be cited as an important work by one of the great visionaries in American cinema of his time.

2. Holy Motors

There is no more exciting cinematic experience in 2012 than watching Léos Carax’s Holy Motors. In his first full-length feature since Pola X in 1999, the French filmmaker teams up with longtime collaborator and actor extraordinaire Denis Levant in this strange limo-ride that not only pays homage to cinema (or acting, specifically) but turns itself on its head. Conventions are completely thrown out the window, so please don’t bother yourself with the puny pleasures of plots and logic. Instead, follow Levant’s Monsieur Oscar deep into the rabbit hole where green screen alien-humping, family melodrama and gangster knife fight all come together swimmingly. And how can one forget the greatest musical interlude ever commissioned for a film? Oscar and his accordion gang’s cover of R.L. Burnside’s “Let My Baby Ride” pleases the ears and cheers the soul. It is a damn shame that Holy Motors only made $641K for its U.S. distributor Indomina (which has recently announced the closing of its distribution branch) because a film of such quality deserved a lot better treatment.

3. Tabu

Following up his concert-documentary-turned-fictional drama Our Beloved Month of August, Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Gomes has turned heads at every festival he attended with Tabu, an unpredictable film that playfully alludes to F.W. Murnau’s 1931 film of the same name (and same chapter titles but in reverse order). In the first half, a kind-hearted woman is concerned with her elderly neighbor, Aurora, whose paranoia threads between fact and fiction. In the later half—where the film kicks into high gear, Aurora’s past life in colonial Africa is presented in an inventive flashback that has all the dialogue silenced in favor of the voiceover by Aurora’s erstwhile lover. Gomes toys with the essence of storytelling with an imagination that rivals the dream-like pictures of Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The former film critic also utilizes all the tools in his toolbox—black and white cinematography in 35 mm and 16 mm, 1.33:1 aspect ratio and a Spanish cover version of “Be My Baby” among other pop songs—to create this cinephilic wet dream.

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The Stranger and the Rebel: Paul Thomas Anderson’s THE MASTER

Francisco Lo sees traces of John Ford and Albert Camus in the best film of 2012—Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master.

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Very little is revealed about Freddie Quell before the end of World War II. Freddie, the protagonist played by Joaquin Phoenix, is on the verge of completing his deployment and is shown going through a series of mental health assessments in the first act. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson diabolically alienates any causal audience by introducing him in the most unflattering light possible—making lewd jokes and masturbating at the sea. The Navy man is a self-destructive alcoholic who makes a pass at any object that resembles the female body. This walking Freudian specimen meets his match when he stumbles onto a ship captained by Lancaster Dodd—a leader of a spiritual and faux-scientific movement called The Cause. Played by Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dodd—the eponymous “master”—is instantly intrigued by the erratic Freddie, whom a self-proclaimed Renaissance man like him has little in common with at face value. Long before The Master was released, there was already plenty of chatter about the uncanny similarities between Hoffman’s character and L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. In fact, Anderson made no secret that many of the ideas and practices behind The Cause is derived from Hubbard’s Dianetics, though his film is nowhere near as critical of Scientology as the tabloids have presumed. The role of the cult in The Master is similar to the role porn plays in Boogie Nights—it simply serves as the milieu of the characters but not as the thematic center of the film.

At its core, The Master is about Freddie’s numerous failed attempts at connecting with the rest of humanity. Without divulging much on his experience at war and his relationships with his family, Anderson leaves it up to the individual viewer to interpret Freddie’s current actions, which allows more room for empathy as each viewer is more likely to project his/her own personal experience in the absence of context regarding to Freddie. Doris (Madisen Beaty), the girl next door from his hometown, is the only shred of Freddie’s past that is presented to us through a few snippets of flashbacks, which are also the few fleeting moments that shows us a gentler side of Freddie. Continue reading

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