By Gabriel Renggli
The Matrix movies are a strange beast. The Matrix redefined the action genre, using cinematography, choreography, costumes, and special effects to raise shoot-outs and punch-ups to new levels of stylisation. The Matrix Reloaded was bigger, louder, and less focused, but cool enough to have our teenage selves excited, for the most part. The Matrix Revolutions was my first big lesson in how thoroughly an anticipated production can let down its fan base. Revolutions helped to get underway some considerable backlash, as people started looking more critically at the other two films, too. By now, the consensus seems to be that we allowed ourselves to be taken in by a case of form over substance. As in: boy, did these films ever look good, but, boy, did they make no sense at all from a story-telling or philosophical point of view.
By Alan Mattli
NOTE: This is a translation of my own article, originally published in German.
What do Ryan Coogler’s Marvel blockbuster Black Panther and Wes Anderson’s stop-motion adventure Isle of Dogs have in common? Well, there’s the fact that both titles feature animals. Oh, and both are American films that, crucially, are set outside the United States. But the two most important similarities are about reception: not only are both movies among the year’s best so far; few other releases generated as much discussion in the media. You’d think that this fact, along with my opinion of the two films, would be more than cogent reasons for me to review them.
However, since February, when I saw both works for the first – and not the last – time, I’ve been putting off writing about them, even though I’m less than enthusiastic about the thought of letting two five-star movies pass me by without comment. The reason for this is not a lack of intriguing talking points or stylistic choices but the knowledge of not being able to add anything meaningful to the existing discourse.
By Alan Mattli
Warning: This review contains major spoilers.
An ambitious and overwhelming tale of biological hybrids and a cinematic hybrid itself, a curious case of Apocalypse Now-meets-Under the Skin, Alex Garland’s sci-fi horror film Annihilation, a Netflix exclusive outside of North America and China, is something of a masterpiece. Based on the eponymous novel by Jeff VanderMeer, Garland’s sophomore directing effort expands upon the subdued, slow-burning intensity of his 2015 debut, the brilliant Ex Machina, and fully commits to the idea that in some stories, suggestiveness, abstraction, and open questions trump neat resolutions.
Plenty of commentators take issue with what Garland has attempted here (just take a look at the IMDb reviews), with some criticising the film for its supposed failings as an adaptation while others dwell on what they perceive to be immersion-breaking plot holes. Some also make more valid points, mainly highlighting issues with the script, which is fair enough: its language is functional, steely and stylised, which works a treat in some instances but jars in others.
But here’s what strikes me after three viewings of this extraordinary movie: I don’t care. Continue reading
By Alan Mattli
If, for whatever reason, you have managed to elude the pop-cultural phenomenon known as The Room, here is the short version: in 2003, Tommy Wiseau, a mysterious and inexplicably rich eccentric of possibly Eastern European descent, poured millions of dollars into the making of a romantic drama film called The Room. Written, directed, and produced by, and starring Wiseau, it made less than $2,000 during its two-week run but later gained an international cult following for being hilariously awful in every respect.
Naturally, such an artefact, whose release and subsequent rise in popularity coincided with the dawn of Web 2.0, is ripe for mythologizing. People wondered how such an atrocity could ever get made. Continue reading
By Alan Mattli
The year is over – time for the best-of lists to pour in; time for me to throw my own picks for the best films of the year into the mix. It may be excruciating to choose favourites – arguably even “anti-art”, as New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum puts it – but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look forward to the process every single year, again and again. In 2017, I didn’t even struggle to find a clear film of the year, which, as regular readers of my lists will know, has become something of a rarity recently.
All in all, 18 films made it into the circle of year-end favourites, some of them being holdovers from the 2016-17 Oscar race. As always, my list doesn’t abound with current critical darlings because works like Call Me by Your Name, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, The Post, or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri have yet to open theatrically in Switzerland. Eight honourable mentions (highlighted in bold) will set the scene before I present you with my choices for the top ten films of 2017.
By Alan Mattli
There is a moment in the climactic sequence of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ new film where the cinema audience is presented with a series of shots showing the people lining the stands of the Houston Astrodome, come to see the much-publicised “Battle of the Sexes” – the 1973 tennis match between feminist ace Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and senior pro and self-proclaimed “male chauvinist” Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).
Women and men with bellbottom jeans and patterned vests hold up signs in support of “BJK”, older couples carry placards adorned with Riggs’ garish colours of choice – red and yellow –, young men wear t-shirts on which they proudly claim the title of “chauvinist pig”. In keeping with the staging of the whole sequence, which mimics the well-established format of televised tennis in all its static glory, it is both unclear and wholly beside the point whether Faris and Dayton, best known for directing the Oscar-winning Little Miss Sunshine (2006), used actors or stock footage to create these establishing shots. What matters is that the scene credibly reflects the social reaction to the titular battle.
By Alan Mattli
If, by any chance, you have been occasionally checking in on my film writing over the past few years, you might have noticed that I have a weakness for lists. Every year, I look forward to December, when the time once again comes to go through what I’ve seen throughout the year and to then choose my top ten movies of that period (while we’re on the subject: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016).
So it might not come as a surprise that there is a special place in my mind for the year 2019 – the year in which, hopefully, I will get to pen two lists; my take on the best of 2019 and my round-up of the decade’s standout works. Fully aware that this is not the most reasonable or urgent preoccupation to entertain in the early days of 2017, I nevertheless compiled a longlist of potential contenders for the latter collection as well as a year-by-year rundown of what I have to catch up on recently. In other words, I’m always on the lookout for list material these days.
Now, the other day, I watched two movies I hadn’t seen in years. Continue reading