Touchstone Pictures via Everett Collection
For a career that was spent constructing mystical worlds like the ones seen Princess Mononoke, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Spirited Away, it might seem a little odd that Hayao Miyazaki's swan song is centered on the real-life story of about the famed aeronautical engineer Jiro Hirokishi. But even though there aren't any magical creatures flying around the skies of a very true-to-life 20th century Tokyo, that doesn't mean that The Wind Rises is lacking in wonder. In fact, Miyazaki's last film may be his most inspiring yet, and is doubtlessly his most personal. After all, it's hard not to see the parallels between the subject of The Wind Rises and its creator himself.
The film follows the famed aeronautical engineer who dreamed of flight, but is kept out of the cockpit thanks to his nearsightedness. Instead, Jiro decides to focus his attention on designing and creating planes. He’s the kind of person that can see inspiration in the slope of a fish bone; every little slice of life can serve as source of inspiration.
Eventually, Jiro becomes Japan's premiere aeronautical engineer — and how could he not when he has the voice of Stanley Tucci in his ear, spurring him on? Tucci plays a dreamed-up version of Giovanni Caproni, a real life Italian aircraft engineer who inspires Jiro to keep working towards his goals. The dream sequences where Caproni visits Jiro are some of the film's finest moments, and Tucci puts as much Italian-accented verve and hope into his performance that almost inspires you to get out of your theater chair and start tinkering with whatever pursuit lifts your own wings. It is in these dream sequences where The Wind Rises really soars, as we watch the two inventors construct odd, curious, and wondrous flying contraptions that can take to the skies, even when the real world physics won't allow them to. Rises might lacks the fantastical worlds and creatures that populate Miyazaki's other works, but it's no less magical. But beyond the wonder of building airplanes, there are hard truths to be learned, and as Jiro realized soon enough, his creations will be dropping the bombs that will serve as Japan's introduction to much of the western world.
Touchstone Pictures via Everett Collection
But for all the fantastic dreamscapes and characters that populate Jiro's world, from Tucci's lively Caproni, to Jiro's excitable sister who has dreams of her own, to even his love interest Naoko, the one flaw in the film seems to be Jiro himself. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who voices Jiro in the English translation of the film, sounds utterly lifeless, and even in the film's emotional peaks and valleys, it sounds like he's reading a telephone book. And while the rest of the English voice cast mostly soars to the occasion, including Martin Short who voices Jiro's hot-tempered boss, and Werner Herzog who helps give the enigmatic Castorp an air of mystery, Jiro is a black hole of personality, and Levitt doesn't manage to give much of anything to Jiro.
The Wind Rises is also a crash course in early 20th century Japan, as we see a country yearning to show the world it's mettle, and we get a peak at the countries' growing pains. We see various events play out on screen including a beautifully animated depiction of the 1923 earthquake that levels Tokyo, and rips through japan like a cresting tidal wave (Studio Ghibli is in top form in the animation department as usual). We also see glimpses of the tuberculosis crisis, the depression, and the early foundations of Japan's relationship with Nazi Germany. These events don't take away from what is firmly Jiro's story, but serve as context to his journey
The Wind Rises is an ode to the dreamers. It's for the creatives who craft their goals in their heads, and unleash their creations for the world to see. It's a uniquely inspiring film that stands with the best of Miyazaki's filmography, and provides a graceful end note to a marvelous career.
With no new releases from Lars Von Trier, Werner Herzog, David Lynch, David Cronenberg or Richard Kelly, 2010 projected to be a down, if not disastrous year for the WTF Awards – our annual celebration of the most bizarre, baffling, head-scratching and cringe-worthy moments in cinema. Thankfully, the filmmaking community, as it has always done in times of crisis, rallied to fill the void left by the absence of these WTF titans, providing us with an abundance of examples worthy of honor with the Frank Trophy. The Frankie (so named for the beloved character from Donnie Darko) may not be the most prestigious award in Hollywood, but it is undoubtedly the tallest.
This year's winners:
Most Surprising Hit: Alice in Wonderland
That Tim Burton’s CGI confection was a hit is not a surprise; that it grossed over a billion dollars worldwide – enough to rank sixth all-time -- is. Goth and emo kids, it seems, have access to significantly more disposable income than anyone previously thought. And they appear to be multiplying. Time to start building that shelter – and buying Hot Topic stock.
Most Inexplicable Flop: The Tourist
Plenty of films disappointed at the box office last year – 2010’s total tally was the lowest in 12 years – but none boasted the star power (Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp!) and sexy, exotic locales (Paris! Venice!) of The Tourist. Then again, the same combination also failed Eat Pray Love. Perhaps directing and screenwriting still matter after all.
Best Inadvertent Horror Flick: Tie –
The Nutcracker 3D – A children’s movie that triggers instantaneous terror among most children who see it? Sounds pretty darn hilarious to me. Which is why I don’t have kids.
Sex and the City 2 – Four solipsistic ghouls marauding across the Middle East, leaving dignity, good taste and America’s reputation throughout the Islamic world in their gruesome menopausal wake. Eli Roth can only dream of this kind of revulsion.
Movie Whose Mere Existence May Prompt You to Consider Ending Yours: The Bounty Hunter
On the plus side, whenever someone at a party questions the difficulty of a job that entails watching movies for a living, I can now effectively silence them with just three words.
Most Superbly Crafted Film I Never Want to See Again: Black Swan
So prodigious are director-sadist Darren Aronofsky’s abilities to unnerve that even the presence of a Natalie Portman/Mila Kunis girl-on-girl sex scene fails to inspire repeat viewings of his critically-acclaimed camp freakout. Aronofsky achieved the same feat with his nails-on-blackboard brilliant Requiem for a Dream, in which even a fully nude Jennifer Connelly couldn’t ease the existential dread.
Movie That Could Only Have Come Out of Scandinavia: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Leave it to those freaky Fins to re-imagine Santa Claus as a child-abducting, reindeer-slaughtering monster served by a corps of naked, shriveled elves. Jalmari Helander’s coffee-black comedy is perfect entertainment for tots not sufficiently traumatized by The Nutcracker 3D.
Most Egregious Bait-and-Switch: The American
As much as I enjoyed Anton Corbijn’s avowedly minimalist take on the quintessential “one last job” tale, I couldn’t help but feel for moviegoers who, lured by the film’s somewhat misleading marketing, went to see it expecting a polished popcorn thriller more worthy of an A-lister like George Clooney. Instead they got a spare, melancholy art flick, albeit one with a surfeit of nudity.
Most Disturbing “Love” Scene: Splice
Adrian Brody’s mad genetic scientist enjoys a drunken dalliance with Dren, the androgynous (and uncomfortably hot) offspring of his unholy experiments, in a scene glazed with just enough sensuality by director Vincenzo Natali to make our discomfort visceral. That the creature’s jambalaya genome includes bits of his own DNA as well as that of several other animals, qualifying the act as both incest and bestiality, is the icing on the cringe-cake.
Most Dubious Marketing Tagline: “From the Mind of M. Night Shyamalan” – Devil
Best WTF Cameo: Ed Corbin (The Bear Man), True Grit
In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn enjoy an awkward exchange with a hulking figure, clad in a bear suit and towing a corpse, who inquires in a creepy drawl as to whether either of them require medical attention. The scene wasn’t in Charles Portis’ source novel; it’s purely a creation of the Coen Brothers, whose yen for quirky peripheral characters is unmatched.
The George Lucas Award for Achievement in Legacy Dismantling: Kevin Smith
At first heralded as the voice of a generation and an inspiration to aspiring indie auteurs, the Clerks director has since degenerated into a just another Hollywood hack, reaching his creative nadir in 2010 with his buddy-cop flop, Cop Out. As a fan of his early work, I’m sad to see that he’s essentially become the Insane Clown Posse of filmmakers: amateurish, puerile, gimmicky, and a joke to everyone outside his army of inexplicably devoted followers.
Most Disconcerting Movie Trend: The Live-Action Comedy Famine
While animated comedies continued their profitable reign in 2010, their live-action counterparts were rejected en mass by moviegoers. Part of this can be explained by the dearth of quality titles; the rundown of rom-coms in particular -- Leap Year, The Bounty Hunter, Killers, When in Rome, The Switch, How Do You Know, et al -- reads like a to-do list at Guantanamo, and Little Fockers is now routinely invoked in pagan rituals to summon the fertility demon Naberus. But what’s more distressing is that the better comedies, like Easy A, Get Him to the Greek, MacGruber, and Hot Tub Time Machine, struggled to find audiences as well.
WTF Performer of the Year: James Franco
Let’s be honest: Any year in which Nicolas Cage makes a film is a year in which he wins this award. The man owns this category like Wilt Chamberlain owned the paint. As such, like Chamberlain, his dominance has inspired a rule change: In the interest of variety, the award will henceforth be known as the “Nicolas Cage Award for Achievement in WTF Performance.”
In 2010, no other actor dazzled, confused and, indeed, nauseated us as much as James Franco. His artistic output – from creative writing to cross-dressing photo shoots to Funny or Die shorts to big-budget cameos to his continued run on General Hospital -- was nothing short of baffling. And the strangest thing is, it all paid off. Among other accolades, he’s received his first Oscar nomination for his performance as arm-severing bicyclist Aron Ralston in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours.
Whichever agents negotiated Franco’s pact with Satan have earned their 5%.
WTF Movie of the Year: Splice
Human Centipede’s grotesqueries, while numerous and undoubtedly WTF-worthy, were of a strictly intestinal variety. Splice’s approach was much more holistic: It not only churned your stomach; it skull-f*cked your id. This is the kind of boldly batsh*t filmmaking for which the WTF Awards were invented. Congratulations to director Vincenzo Natali; we hope this helps ease the disappointment of losing out at the Teen Choice Awards.