The Movie Club

De Niro Finally Got Around to Acting Again and No One Noticed
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 6 2011 5:31 PM

The Movie Club

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Still from Enter the Void. Click image to expand.
Paz de la Huerta in Enter the Void

Dearest Movie Club, Dan's shout-out to "that ridiculous, phantasmagorical semimasterpiece"Enter the Void reminds me of birthday cake.

Let's back up, and please bear with me: Adam Gopnik wrote a story in last week's New Yorker about "the history, and the future, of desserts." This ultimately involved going to Spain, where he learned about hot ice cream and ate an unfathomably complicated course designed to "re-create the emotions [great Barcelona soccer player] Lionel Messi feels when he scores a goal," but first, he went downtown and talked to Alex Stupak, the pastry chef at WD-50. Stupak gave this great spiel on why what he does is "the closest thing a human being can get to creating a new food."

All cooking has an alchemy to it, but between a savory entree and a dessert, there's generally a difference in what happens to the ingredients. When you eat, say, coq au vin, the elements are transparent: You can taste the chicken and the wine. Not so when it comes to the flour, eggs, food coloring, etc., in cake. "Pastry is infinitely exciting, because it's less about showing the greatness of nature, and more about transmitting taste and flavor," Stupak tells Gopnik. "Desserts are naturally denatured food. Birthday cake is the most denatured thing on earth."

Here's where I'm going with this: Birthday cake is a concept that virtually any American understands—loaded with sense memory and nostalgia—but I daresay very few of us, when eating birthday cake, can identify the ingredients and trace them back to their natural state. So many processes of transformation have occurred between the natural existence of sugar cane and its manifestation as bright blue icing coating a fork, and the distance between the two is actually part of the appeal.

I get off on birthday-cake cinema, and Enter the Void was the ultimate 2010 example of that: Shot after shot frustrates any attempt to analyze exactly how the images were constructed, and that abstraction makes the themes—as stoopid as they are—all the more impactful. In terms of totally baffling sensory experiences that approximate the movie version of "the closest thing a human being can get to creating a new food," I'd also point to certain sequences of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, much of Tron, the one-man Rambo stunt Flooding With Love For the Kid, Brent Green's live-action-stop-motion oddity Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then, Film Socialisme, and, of course, Trash Humpers.

To a lesser extent, some trace of disorientation marked many of my most memorable movie moments and elements of 2010: All three lead performances in Stone (poor Robert De Niro—he actually gets off his ass and, like, acts, and no one pays any attention); the first two acts of Dogtooth, climaxing with the older sister's one-woman performance of Rocky; at least the first half of The Red Chapel (in a year obsessed with ambiguously realistic fakes, it injects some much needed humor into the vagaries of constructed reality); I'm Still Here's chronicle of Joaquin Phoenix's fateful Letterman appearance—fundamentally recasting what had been fodder for YouTube mockery into some kind of inadvertent tragedy; the laptop-generated spectacular of the climax of Monsters; How Do You Know's incredible delivery-room scene and its transition from light comedy to heartfelt romantic confession to self-reflexive comic reenactment of a sincere moment lost forever; the narrative break by which Sean Parker is introduced in The Social Network, a kind of story-shifting sidebar on charisma and calculation rivaled onscreen this year only by Carlos' first sex scene with Magdalena Kopp.

And with that, I'll say my farewells. It was truly a blast to chew over the year with y'all. Oh, and here are a few films I saw in 2010 that I can't wait to talk about in 2011: Kelly Reichart's Meek's Cutoff; Zeina Durra's The Imperialists Are Still Alive!; and Rubber, an American road movie made by a famous French DJ, about an anthropomorphized tire named "Robert" who blows shit up with his mind. Vive le cinéma!!

Love,
Karina

Still of Paz de la Huerta courtesy IFC films.

Karina Longworth is the creator/host of You Must Remember This, a podcast about the secret/forgotten history of Hollywood's first century. She is the author of books about George Lucas, Al Pacino and Meryl Streep, and has contributed to LA Weekly, the Guardian, NPR, Vulture, and other publications.