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The Sky Is Not Falling: Liberating Independent Film And Video From A Prehistoric Value System // submit a post -- nelson@nelsoncarvajal.com

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

VIDEO: Top 25 Films of 2016


While many were quick to dismiss 2016 as an altogether terrible year--largely due to the year rounding out with TV celeb Donald Trump as the President Elect--it wasn't a throwaway year for the movies. During a time of national unrest and uncertainty, the narratives that graced the silver screen beamed with characters, ideas and themes of unfettered hope...for better or for worse.

Whether it was the harsh lesson of growing up and having your heart broken (Café Society) or choosing to live a lie in exchange for short-term happiness (The Light Between Oceans), the individuals we followed in the cinema were the silver screen embodiment of our unabashed urges to make that jump, to take a leap of faith and step away from our secure existence and reach out to the unknown.

The most striking image of the year came in Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, when linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) approached a white void in the form of an alien wall inside of a UFO vessel -- an almost perfect double for the movie screen itself. The fact that her character ultimately chooses love above all knowledge and certainty of what lies ahead is the grandest gesture of romanticism. It's no wonder Villeneuve has directed some of the recent best films of the year, Prisoners in 2013 and Sicario in 2015. This guy is the real deal.

But the best film of 2016 was made by one of the all-time masters of cinema: the inimitable Martin Scorsese. His long-gestating passion project Silence is big, magnificent, moving, messy at times, quieter than usual and finally unforgettable. This is Scorsese's Heaven's Gate. And running with the theme of unfettered hope, the film's protagonist Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) is put through one of the ultimate tests of hope--one of his faith being challenged. This isn't so much an anthropological film about religion as it is a searing exploration of human will and resilience. The fact that it finds horror and grace on the same wavelength is something that has stuck with me since the days of watching it. It is an unexpected stunner of personal agony and yet it is gloriously presented on a wide scale, from the art direction to the sweeping cinematography, to jaw dropping technical bravado. It's fitting that the best film of the year is called Silence; it is in silence that we have a common thread when watching films, and more importantly, when observing and listening to ourselves, to our hearts.

25. Café Society - Directed by Woody Allen
24. Nocturnal Animals
- Directed by Tom Ford
23. Florence Foster Jenkins
- Directed by Stephen Frears
22. The Conjuring 2
- Directed by James Wan
21. Fences
- Directed by Denzel Washington
20. Hacksaw Ridge
- Directed by Mel Gibson
19. 20th Century Women
- Directed by Mike Mills


18. The Light Between Oceans - Directed by Derek Cianfrance
17. The Nice Guys
- Directed by Shane Black
16. Loving
- Directed by Jeff Nichols
15. Sausage Party
- Directed by  Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon
14. Midnight Special
- Directed by Jeff Nichols 
13. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - Directed by Gareth Edwards
12. The Neon Demon -
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn


11. 10 Cloverfield Lane - Directed by Dan Trachtenberg
10. Moonlight
- Directed by Barry Jenkins
9. Jackie
- Directed by Pablo Larraín
8. The Lobster
- Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
7. Voyage of Time
- Directed by Terrence Malick 
6. Hell Or High Water - Directed by David Mackenzie
5. La La Land
- Directed by Damien Chazelle


4. Arrival - Directed by Denis Villeneuve
3. Knight of Cups
- Directed by Terrence Malick
2. Manchester by the Sea
- Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
1. Silence
- Directed by Martin Scorsese

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Castro: El Comandante, El Comediante -- a VIDEO ESSAY on American mainstream media's depiction of a revolutionary

Fidel Castro passed away over Thanksgiving break. Castro, without question one of the towering figures of the 20th century, was a politician, a revolutionary, a prime minister and the president of Cuba. His story, his influence, his polarizing presence and his impact on history is--as the kids would say--"epic." And yet, when I finally learned of his passing over this past weekend, an unnerving realization hit me: American mainstream media didn't really do him justice.

Normally, when such an impressive person from the political or pop culture stratosphere passes away, I tend to seek out richer writings on the person and in most cases, a thorough film or biopic exploring his or her legacy. Strangely, in Castro's case, outside of some documentaries, the American cinema never bothered making a film solely about Castro; his most memorable silver screen portrayals were in the really awful Che! from 1969 and in the exceptional and stirring Che from 2008. But look at those movie titles; they're about Che Guevara, not Castro. Castro is simply in the periphery in both films.

More bothersome, is how in the last twenty years American television has mostly propped him up as farce; he became a caricature, thrown in with the likes of a lame duck president like George W. Bush. But even Bush was honored with a terrific Oliver Stone film (W.) that would explore and investigate the man himself.

I say all this because I feel that at this very moment, we're at a unnerving crossing point. If Castro's robust legacy (spanning over forty seven years) as a political leader, a Marxist–Leninist and Cuban nationalist is merely summed up in American mainstream media as a loud, machismo TV personality, then what are we to make of President-elect Donald Trump? Trump is a person with zero political experience. He's a loud, bullying, problematic and dangerous Republican puppet who was literally birthed from the television set; a reality TV host and a sensationalist pop culture fixture--forget his constantly scrutinized business and real estate background. Trump is literally an outspoken real-life caricature who is simply here for the spotlight. And yet now he stands on the eve of being the President of the United States of America, after already awakening (if not exposing) the deep rooted racism and sexism in various parts of the country. And his political resume pales compared to Castro's.

American mainstream media perhaps is now more powerful than ever. It scares me to think what will happen next if we don't curate it more efficiently and create more enlightening content.