There are a lot of different things that you could accuse Danish Auteur Lars von Trier of, but being talentless is not one of them. His previous effort, Antichrist, is a beautifully rendered and occasionally stirring schlock-fest, bouncing between scenes of visual magic, coming back with ones both offensive and vile. What a treat it is, then, to see Trier craft as full and moving a film as Melancholia, realizing potentials that he had recently only explored. Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg star as Justine and Claire, a pair of sisters with some true disasters to address. We spend the first half of the film at Justine's wedding, where her crushing, dominating state of depression rears its ugly, all-encompassing head. The second half, however, is primarily spent with Claire and her inattentive husband (Kiefer Sutherland), as they worry about the appearance of a formerly undiscovered planet named Melancholia, which is hurling towards the planet earth as we speak. The movie is perfectly performed, most especially by Cannes Best Actress winner Dunst, and the slow-motion visuals of end times, arriving in perfect contrast to the digital, hand-held style of the rest of the film, are nothing short of mesmerizing. Despite how insane the whole thing sounds, Trier's human-anilation-equals-depression metaphor is impossibly deft, explaining the pain and utter helplessness of the mood through themes of (literal) cosmic dread. Both Dunst and von Trier have had publicly documented battles with depression, and their efforts in front of and behind the camera show a fierce, unwavering determination to be able to explain the sensation in detail. Mission accomplished.
Puss in Boots
From a heavy work with some of the loftiest aspirations of the year, to a feather-weight afternoon matinee, Shrek-spin-off Puss in Boots is one of the year's finest flights into complete and total triviality. The triumphant Tabby, voiced as always by Antonio Banderas, is here seen in his younger years. Having been banished from his hometown, Puss aims to make things right by scoring enough scratch to make up for his dastardly deed that is at first only alluded to. His plan: to steal the magic beans that are currently being held by the dunder-headed Jack and Jill. To accomplish this, he'll need the help of old friend Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), and a sexy sleuth by the name of Kitty Softpaws (Selma Hayek). Going against the grain of all that's common in kids-pics these days, Puss in Boots tells a very straight-forward story, refusing to crowd its tidy plot with useless side characters and time-consuming asides. The movie might feel a bit slight as a result, but the animation is dazzling, plenty of the jokes hit their mark, and you won't look at your watch once. This isn't a Pixar-style triumph, but in a year that has been shockingly low on proper cartoons, this is easily the best plotted and paced of the bunch.
The hype and spotlight on Odd Future, San Francisco's hip-hop/R&B/offense-athon collective, have always been squarely focused on Tyler, the Creator, the group's chief provocateur and MTV's Best New Artist Winner, but it might be Frank Ocean who's making the best music. Besides contributing a slew of catchy-as-hell hip-hop hooks in the last several months, Ocean released his own stellar mixtape, an offering that it somehow took the better part of a year to finally catch up with. Singles Novacane and Songs for Women are as silky and catchy as you would expect from a champion of the genre, but its the playlist's surprises, such as the smooth-as-can-be beat on Lovecrimes, or the myriad of unexpected samples that range from Coldplay, to MGMT, to The Eagles. Ocean's voice doesn't ever ascend to heaven the way that R. Kelly and The Weeknd are known for, but rather glides along on top of subtle, textured backings. There's a reason I wasn't in love with Nostalgia, Ultra. from first listen: It's a grower, made out of softer, more laid-back sounds than the genre is used to, but give it a fair chance, and you won't be able to stop listening.