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And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

“Just pretend like it’s a video game.”

-Candy, Spring Breakers

“Spring break forever, bitches.”

-Alien, Spring Breakers

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Few films use animals to comment on its characters to the extent that Sátántangó does. This thematic conceit is laid out in the film’s notorious opening shot, an 8+ minute tracking shot of cows grazing a barren Hungarian wasteland, moving from one muddy patch to the next with little sense of purpose (and occasionally trying to screw each other). Aside from its purpose as a stylistic rejoinder to the much more audience-friendly pacing and aesthetics of typical films, it functions as an amusing, low-key overture for the rest of the film. Because dumb animals living purposeless lives in flux, and occasionally screwing each other, isn’t far from the mark in describing Sátántangó‘s characters. The people in this film are thoughtless and crude, content to mire around in the muck; only financial opportunity (more to the point, greed, a base instinct) acts as sufficient motivation for them to get off their asses and do something. Even then, they’re led around by the nose as a rabbit might be with a carrot, instead of taking their own initiative.

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One of the most annoying things that crops up in any discussion of film is the concept of “directorial intent.” The notion is that, if a director had a specific intent in mind when shooting his film – be it a political message, a tone, or whatever else – then this is a valid argument in favor of the presence of that message or tone. Or, put more simply, that the director’s interpretation of his own work is the only valid one.

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Getting to the heart of Robert Altman’s 1975 masterpiece, Nashville, is a monumental task. Aside from its ostensible sprawl – how can I encapsulate the many ways in which its cast of over 20 main characters moved me so much? – Altman takes on so many subjects and targets that the film, as much as anything, leaves you breathless by the time its shocking climax rolls around. It’s at once an epic, an intimate character film, a satire of the 70s country music scene (and in equal measure – though some, including 70s country stars, would disagree – an appreciation of it), an examination and criticism of America’s celebrity culture (a “nation of groupies,” as one Playboy interviewer put it) and political culture. The scope of Altman’s film is stunning enough, but that he succeeds in bringing it all together into a rich tapestry that is funny, somber, tragic, and joyous all at once is what makes it such a treasure.

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Bring It On, as a mostly little-remembered teen comedy from 2000 – except maybe as a punch-line – exists in a sort of weird transitory zone. And I don’t mean chronologically, though maybe that’s part of it, with American Pie, which kick-started most of the teen comedies of the last decade, having been released one year prior. Rather, I mean that its tone and its level of profane humor seem to fall somewhere in between the cleaner-cut films of the 80s and 90s and the absurdly obscene films of the 2000s (culminating in the deplorable I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell). (And again, American Pie is a good place to pin the transition, but even that is far more conservative than most people probably remember – look to the sequels for the real raunchy stuff.)

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything remotely like Hausu, the 1977 horror-comedy that’s been making the rounds in a new print from Janus films. It goes so far over the top, and operates with such utter conviction in its stylish absurdity that while the temptation is to laugh, it’s never at the film so much as with it. And its style is utterly inimitable.

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I have a soft spot for ridiculous action movies. Most every guy does, but all I require is that they embrace their own inherent ridiculousness and I’ll have a good time. The previews for From Paris with Love made it look right up my alley – John Travolta as a bear-looking CIA operative wreaking havoc in Paris with a bevy of guns and explosives while Jonathan Rhys-Meyers tags along? Sold. And while it has its entertaining spots, it becomes far too bogged down with its overwrought story instead of giving the audience what it came to see – explosions and bullets.

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One of the most draining experiences any moviegoer can have is to watch Béla Tarr’s epic Sátántangó. The film runs for seven-and-a-half hours, and Tarr has stated his intentions that the film be viewed, if at all possible, in a single sitting – a nigh unreasonable demand for most of the moviegoing public. The longest movies you’ll typically find as box office smashes run no longer than three hours – think Titanic or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill – four hours when combining volumes 1 and 2 –  was split down the middle by MGM for fear that a movie of that length wouldn’t be tolerable for most audiences. And that was Quentin Tarantino, mainstream virtuoso wonderkind, making the most anticipated film of the year. So imagine the reactions the moviegoing public would have to something like Sátántangó which is daunting not just for its length but for its utterly glacial pace and seemingly unreasonable shot lengths. It’s an endurance trial in more ways than one, not just taken as a whole but seen as a series of episodes, many of which run well beyond a length that can be justified by the film’s sparse narrative.

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Cabiria is one of the most likable and sympathetic characters in any film I’ve seen. A smile on her face is enough to brighten the screen; conversely, when Cabiria is feeling down, it casts a pall over the mood of the entire film. Nights of Cabiria follows her as she struggles to maintain in the face of constant adversity, and as a result the film’s strength is reliant on Giulietta Masina’s performance, who delivers in spades. It’s one of the most endearing performances I can think of, and to spend 2 hours with Cabiria is in and of itself enough reason to watch the film.

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Paul Thomas Anderson is restless. After seeing Magnolia, I didn’t figure there was much chance he could make anything else as creative and freewheeling, but Boogie Nights put to rest any doubt I had about his virtuosic skills. The film rushes through its plot, blistering through late-70s/early-80s Los Angeles and through the world of professional pornography, cramming so much detail into 150 minutes that it feels half that long. And despite wearing obvious Scorsese influences on his sleeve, Boogie Nights feels utterly original and endlessly creative because of Anderson’s ability to recontextualize elements of other artists and form them into a brilliant pastiche.

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