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Countdown to Top Ten 2K11: “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

Countdown to Top Ten 2K11: “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (photo)

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Countdown to Top Ten 2K11 is a column with one simple goal: to help you decide what films you need to see before making your end of the year top ten list. Each installment features my thoughts on a critically acclaimed 2011 movie, a sampling of other critics’ reactions, the odds of the film making my own list, and the reasons why it might make yours.

This time we’re covering “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” the disturbing story of a mass murdering kid and his shell-shocked mom. But will this mother-son drama end up as the big daddy on your year-end top ten list? Let’s find out.

Movie: “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Plot Synopsis: A woman struggles to come to grips with her teenage son’s brutal crimes, which have left her a pariah and an outcast in her hometown.
What the Critics Said: “A bleak meditation on the inexorable power of nature,” Dana Stevens, Slate
“Easily 2011’s grimmest motion picture,” James Berardinelli, ReelViews
“Part horror, part drama, part cautionary tale,” Laremy Legal, Film.com
Were They Right? It might not be the absolute grimmest motion picture of the year — “I Saw the Devil” wasn’t exactly an uplifting portrait of humanity at its best, either — but it’s definitely in the discussion. This is a two hour journey into the soul of a broken woman. Her son is a murderer and everyone she knows hates her because of it. She hides in her house, drinking away the pain. In other words: you can leave your funny bone at home when you head out to the theater for “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” You won’t be needing it.

But while the film is grim, it never becomes tedious or depressing. That’s because Eva, the woman grappling with all that guilt and self-loathing, is played by Tilda Swinton, one of the best actors in the universe and, true to form, she delivers an incredible performance here. The movie bounces back and forth between Eva’s past and present, and in order to differentiate the time frames Swinton wears two different looks: short, hip hairstyle in the past; long, drab ‘do in the present. But Swinton’s so good at demarcating the two Evas with posture and body language that she doesn’t need the visual shorthand (or short hair, in this case). You can even tell which Eva you’re watching without watching at all. If you closed your eyes during the movie and just listened to the way Swinton modulates her voice, you’d know where and when you are. She’s fantastic.

The series of kids who play her devil spawned son Kevin are excellent as well, especially elementary-school-aged Jasper Newell, one of the most convincing bad seed psycho-tots I’ve ever seen onscreen. Kevin, it seems, was just born evil. He cries non-stop as a baby, won’t talk as a toddler, then refuses to use the toilet because he prefers to make his mother clean up his crap. Then again, Eva may not be completely innocent here (I, for one, would have reconsidered my husband’s purchase of an archery set, especially after my son started shooting arrows at my head). A self-described “adventurer” and world-travelling author she was clearly uncomfortable in the role of mother and never really warmed to her baby the same way her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) did. The mental chess game between mother and son is riveting, and because we always know Kevin’s endgame, it’s absolutely chilling too.

Director Lynne Ramsay’s work with Swinton is incredible, but I was less enamored with some of her stylistic choices. The complex editing structure in which sound and images trigger sudden jumps between memory and reality effectively conveys the feeling of living in one time while being trapped by memory and guilt in another. But too often the trigger is the massive splatter of red paint that someone douses on her house and her car. So many scenes feature Eva cleaning up that paint, scrubbing and scraping and sanding it until her hands are caked in blood-like redness. It’s an effective visual representation of her unshakable grief, but it’s also a bit too on-the-nose. On the other hand, I found the final conversation between Eva and Kevin way too obtuse and anti-climactic. The whole movie builds to a confrontation that resolves nothing. I’ve no doubt Ramsay wanted to suggest that some of life’s worst horrors have no explanation. Maybe that’s viewpoint is just too grim for me.

Worthy of an Oscar Nomination For: Best Actress (Tilda Swinton), Best Editing (Joe Bini).
Chances of Making My Top Ten: The strength of the structure and the acting make it close, but the ending might keep it off. I’d say its chances are slightly worse than the chances that the woman who brought her baby to the theater with her to see “We Need to Talk About Kevin” regretted that decision.
It Might Make Your Top Ten List If: you’re a big Tilda Swinton fan; you dig time-drunk character pieces; you believe children are evil and have been searching for a movie to show your spouse to ensure he or she never asks you about having kids ever again.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is now playing in New York and Los Angeles. It expands to more theaters in January.

Previously in Countdown to Top Ten 2K11
“Point Blank,” directed by Fred Cavayé
“The Arbor,” directed by Clio Barnard
“Cold Weather,” directed by Aaron Katz
“Meek’s Cutoff,” directed by Kelly Reichardt
“Margin Call,” directed by J.C. Chandor
“Bill Cunningham New York,” directed by Richard Press
“Hanna,” directed by Joe Wright

Have a movie you wanted covered in a future installment of Countdown to Top Ten 2K11? Let me know on Twitter.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.