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Top Ten Films for 2013

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

Although such lists are inherently ridiculous, here are my ten best films of 2013, in no particular order.

Le Weekend (Roger Michell)

Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite)

In A World (Lake Bell)

What Maisie Knew (Scott McGehee, David Siegel)

The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg)

12 Years A Slave (Steve McQueen)

The Purge (James DeMonaco)

A Teacher (Hannah Fidell)

Adore (aka Two Mothers; Anne Fontaine)

Bastards (Claire Denis)

Significantly, none of these films with the exception of The Purge got any real national distribution, and many people will no doubt think this an aberrant choice, and perhaps it is, but for me, The Purge was economical, sharply observed, made some good points about the direction our society is headed in, and then got out of the room in under 85 minutes, which alone makes it an outlier in the bloated consumer economy of today’s mainstream cinema; Le Weekend tries to pass itself off as a comedy in the DVD packaging and posters, but it’s one of the most devastating and personal examinations of loss and failure I’ve ever seen; Blackfish is a properly despairing and unforgiving documentary, further testament to the fact that we’re destroying the planet and killing its wildlife in the process, all in the name of amusement; Lake Bell pulled off a triple-threat effortlessly with In A World, in which she wrote, directed and acted in a comedy/drama about a young woman trying to break into the voiceover business; and What Maisie Knew placed Henry James in modern Manhattan with style and immaculate conciseness.

The Hunt is a ringing indictment of mob mentality in a small town, with an unforgettable and absolutely “right” ending; Twelve Years A Slave was the most unflinching look at slavery that the screen has yet given us; A Teacher got unjustly trashed by nearly every other critic out there, but I thought it was a smart and affecting first feature, and will look for more from Hannah Fidell in the future; Adore (aka Two Mothers, aka Perfect Mothers, aka Adoration — make up your mind already!) offered a brilliant Doris Lessing novella adapted for the screen, a modern day family horror story in which two women take each other’s sons for lovers with predictably disastrous results, directed with a sure hand by the gifted Anne Fontaine; and Bastards shows us why Claire Denis continues to be one of the directors who matter, with a gritty 21st century Neo-Noir that is both compelling and stylish.

There were other worthy films out there, but not much mainstream work; as always, new cinema comes from the margins.

What Maisie Knew

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

What Maisie Knew is a sharp, smart, effective little film, well worth your time.

As the film’s press kit notes, “directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, written by Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne, starring Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgård, Steve Coogan and Joanna Vanderham, introducing Onata Aprile as Maisie, the film is a contemporary reimagining of Henry James’ novel, What Maisie Knew tells the story of a little girl’s struggle for grace in the midst of her parents’ bitter custody battle. Told through the eyes of the title’s heroine, Maisie navigates this ever-widening turmoil with a six-year-old’s innocence, charm and generosity of spirit.

An aging rock star (Moore) and a contemporary art dealer (Coogan)—Susanna and Beale are too self-involved even to notice their neglect and inadequacy as parents; their fight for Maisie is just another battle in an epic war of personalities. As they raise the stakes by taking on inappropriate new partners, the ex-nanny Margo and the much younger bartender Lincoln (Vanderham and Skarsgård), the shuffling of Maisie from household to household becomes more and more callous, the consequences more and more troubling.

Always watchful, however, Maisie begins to understand that the path through this morass of adult childishness and selfish blindness will have to be of her own making.” What could easily have been treacly and sentimental here is rendered in bold, aggressive strokes, and while all the performances are standouts, Onata Aprile is the real center of the film, and she holds both the screen, and the audience’s attention, effortlessly.

You can see the trailer for the film by clicking here, or on the image above.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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