Wednesday, December 1, 2010

For Your Consideration

It's getting closer to that time of the year, Oscar season is arriving. I can't wait to be disappointed in a few months time. New sites from studios pushing films for this Oscar season are popping up.

Focus Features

Warner Brothers

Lions Gate

The Weinstein Company

Dreamworks Animation

Roadside Attractions

Sony Pictures

Walt Disney

From these my personal favorite is Focus Features. My current two favorite films I've seen this year are both being pushed by Focus, The American and Greenberg. Plus Somewhere is my most anticipated film of the year behind Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist. If any of those will win anything is different a story. Coppola's Somewhere I can assume will get a nomination though I have my doubts whether it'll win anything. It's been received rather well, even winning Best Film at the Venice Film Festival so I'm assuming it'll grab a spot in that category. Though it's still too soon to be making a lot of Oscar predictions.

Next we have Warner Brothers with Inception, Hereafter, and The Town as their front runners it seems, all from popular film makers though Eastwood's Hereafter received less praise than could be hoped for when it came out.

Next we have The Weinstein Company with The King's Speech as their big Oscar contender, I can make a good assumption that it'll pick up a handful of nominations.

Roadside Attractions' film Winter's Bone has gotten a lot of attention recently so maybe that can pick up some momentum though I don't know how likely that'll be. Though they also have Biutiful starring Oscar winner Javier Bardem and from another well liked director.

Disney's Toy Story 3 is their crown jewel while the other films they're pushing are mainly technical award stuff and Tangled which will sure to take an animated feature nomination. Which doesn't look good for Dreamworks Animation, though How to Train Your Dragon is one of their better features I can't see it coming up on top against something like Toy Story 3, which has a chance to be the second Pixar feature to take a best picture nomination.

We also have Sony Pictures which is pushing probably the main certainty for a best picture nomination, The Social Network which also has a good chance of winning best picture this year as well. I would expect it's currently the front runner, but it's too close to call especially since we haven't even seen nominations yet.

Though this is only a glimpse of what's to come. I'm sure Fox Searchlight's Black Swan will have a lot of attention this Oscar season as well as the new True Grit adaptation from the Coen brothers among other films like Danny Boyle's 127 Hours.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I'm With You in Rockland.

Howl (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 2010)
Recently Viewed

Howl, based on Allen Ginsberg's momentous poem of the same name, by known documentary filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman is an experimental film consisting of several sections: The 1957 obscenity trial held to determine the artistic merit of the poem, Ginsberg's historic Six Gallery debut reading of Howl, surreal animated sequences that accompany the words of the poem, and an interview with Ginsberg (James Franco) which explores important moments of his life and reflections on writing. Rather than delivering a standard biopic about Ginsberg, Epstein and Friedman have made a film that uses the poet's past as an expression of individual and personal discovery and celebration while using his poem to discuss writing, and in a broader sense art as a whole, as an extension of the writer or artist. Espstein and Friedman are generally known for documentary films such as The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) and The Celluloid Closet (1995) but with Howl they step out of their comfort zone and take a chance on something different, a film about the complexity of art and the importance for expressive freedom which blurs cinematic lines as it combines their documentary style with a dramatic retelling of Ginsberg's reflections and surrealist visual imagery.

Franco's performance as Ginsberg is one of the many highlights of the film. During the interview segments Franco is direct and displays openness in his portrayal of the poet while never overblowing the performance. During the Six Gallery reading he delivers Ginsberg's words with conviction and exuberance. The focus of Ginsberg's life revolves around his realization about his homosexuality and the importance that it had on discovering who he was as an individual and a writer. Howl uses this revelation as encouragement in a broader sense, it isn't only about one man accepting his own sexual orientation but about people being proud of who they are in general and not allowing themselves to be ashamed if they don't fit into social norms.

The scenes during the obscenity trail work not because of the anticipation of an unknown outcome, since it's documented history we don't need to worry about that, but because of the content of the proceedings. The prosecution and defense call a series of expert literary critics as witnesses to discuss the apparent or absent artistic value of Ginsberg's work. There are naysayers and there are admirers of the poem. None of the admirers appear to claim they have complete understanding of everything Ginsberg wants to express but they try their best to interpret their feelings and thoughts on the poem. The naysayers can be summed up by those who are offended, unaware of it's value, above it, or combination of the three. One of the finest moments of the film is when one of the witnesses is asked what a few lines of the poem mean in a narrative sense and they reply by saying "Sir, you can't translate poetry into prose, that's why it is poetry." On the other side there's the testimony of Professor David Kirk (Jeff Daniels) who claims to discredit any of the poem's literary value with quantifiable standards based on his judgment of its form and content. I find this the worst kind of critic, one more concerned with their own expertise and opinion than the work they happen to be discussing. His efforts only proceed to confine artistic value, not define it.

The riskiest portions of the film are definitely the animated sequences. They are also the most elusive parts of the movie to express my appreciation. They are definitely going to be the hardest for audiences to digest considering they lack a definable narrative and are at times bizarre, unsettling, and even jarring. But at the same time they're graceful and much like Howl itself, liberating. I can't help but think of the sections of Disney's Fantasia (1940), especially the earlier segments, with its visuals that accompany famous music. With Howl however, Ginsberg's words are the musical notes that supply inspiration for the images dancing across the screen. Also, like Ginsberg's poem, the images and visual motifs provide just the same openness and frankness. The repeated images and sounds of a typewriter are seen and heard throughout the picture and compared to modern day computer typing, writing on a typewriter just gives the impression of such stronger purpose as well as a representation of the extension of an artist. To a writer it's a personalized instrument and this enforces the idea that an artist's work is an extension of their own voice and body, what they have to say is of value and importance because only they have the rights to those words, to that voice, to that life. To judge such a film as a common biopic would be as great a crime as to try and convert poetry to prose, to construct boundaries around jazz, to cage art by some arbitrary standards of criticism, to tell man he wasn't meant to fly, or to try and understand the open words of an artist with a closed mind and clenched teeth.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lives of Future's Past.

81. Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2001)
100 Films of the 2000s

It's been too long since I've last posted something here. I've been busy but I'd like to dive back into this as soon as possible and what better way than with a film that most people have probably never seen? From Taiwan the next movie on my list is Hou Hsaio-Hsien's Millennium Mambo, a movie narrated by a woman reflecting on the past of a young girl, Vicky, caught in the rash turmoil of youth, relationships, and growing into herself as an adult and into the world. I always assumed that the narrator was the young girl in the story though even if this is true, it could also not be true, in that she has changed, grown since then into a different woman and these reflections of the past are of a different life entirely.

Like all the Taiwanese films that will appear on this list (there are a few others, stick with me here) it isn't a film for everyone, especially not most mainstream American movie goers. Many would consider this a slow film and I don't think I could really disagree with them for the most part, but I also don't believe that fast pacing in a film or story is necessarily good pacing. First, it depends on the movie or story in question and what kind of experience it's going to deliver, as well as the quality in executing this, there are some films that while having breakneck pacing they never really carry the audience along with it, coming to a conclusion before it's worth celebrating. With Millennium Mambo and Hsiao-Hsien's other films I've seen he uses his time to slow the picture down, it works so well because this picture is about experiencing Vicky's life along with her, much the way the woman reflecting on the past is trying to understand just the reasons behind her decisions. Why she stuck around in an abusive relationship, why she felt she was in love, or wasn't, or wanted to be, and what it means to be young and reckless and to make much of the same choices and same mistakes.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the film is the way it uses the past and future, the way it uses perceptions of time to create a feeling in the picture. The events in the film taking place begin in 2001 but the narration states that this occurred ten years in the past. This allows the movie to at the same time be a piece reflecting on the past but also preparing for the future. Not as much a cautionary tale as it is a work about coming of age and what an influential moment young adulthood can be and how it can shape one's future as well.

10 Films of 2001:

Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2001)
9. Gosford Park (Robert Altman)
10. Waking Life (Richard Linklater)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Rat By Any Other Name.

82. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
100 Films of the 2000s

Martin Scorsese's return to the volatile world of crime fiction is perhaps one of the best remakes available. Adapted from the Hong Kong police drama Infernal Affairs (2002) Scorsese's movie lifts the conflict from Hong Kong and places it in Boston. Two stories surrounding separate police officers run parallel, one an undercover cop, Billy Costigan, played by Leonardo DiCaprio infiltrating the Boston mafia and the other, Collin Sullivan, played by Matt Damon who acts as mole for the mob, as a man inside the police department.

Scorsese's crime movies have always done a fine job with walking between the conflicting morality of a life in crime opposed to its allure and benefits and The Departed is no different. Sullivan's ambitions take control over his character. With political aspirations he feels little remorse hurdling over the justice system for personal gain. Sullivan and Costigan's stories run as juxtaposed tragedies showing the cost and loss of both sides of crime. Like stated at the beginning of the film, one of it's strongest themes is that of survival, but the priced payed for that survival and ability to thrive in such an environment is one's own honor and loyalty, that or their life.

The film also boasts a terrific cast of household names with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, and Martin Sheen joining Damon and DiCaprio. Also, the rest of the players from Ray Winston, Mark Wahlberg, Vera Farmiga, to Anthony Anderson are all in great form as well. It's superb cast elevates the drama and urgency of a picture that already has career topping turns from Damon and DiCaprio. Also accentuating the drama is Martin Scorsese's well known skill for constructing a great accompanying soundtrack. The director really knows his music and The Departed's soundtrack is more proof to that claim, adding excitement and improving emotion when the need arrises. This isn't a movie to be dismissed purely because it's another American remake, though it's understandable if that's an early thought considering what's been done to many foreign movies, especially in the last ten years. Nor would I suggest missing out on Infernal Affairs either (it does star one of my favorite actors, Tony Leung), both Infernal Affairs and The Departed are great pictures well worth seeing on their own.

10 Films of 2006:

7. The Departed (Martin Scorsese)
8. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
(Tom Tykwer)
9. A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater)

10. The Host (
Joon-Ho Bong)

Eye of the Beholder.

83. The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh, 2009)
100 Films of the 2000s

From workaholic director Steven Soderbergh comes one of the best sleeper hits of 2009. Based on actual events propelled by one Mark Whitacre, The Informant! is a satirical comedy starring Matt Damon as the infamous Whitacre and proves to be one of the cleverer comedies of the year. Whitacre, working for a large food processing company turns government whistle blower after apparent threats from an outside source as well as attempting to pull the lid off of a huge price fixing operation. However, the further we're pulled into Whitacre's head the more tangled the story becomes when things aren't necessarily what we've been led to believe.

The movie is often times very funny, Matt Damon stars as Whitacre and gives one of his best character performances to date. At times bumbling and flabbergasted he dives head first into the world of undercover FBI operations and the results are quite rewarding. Some of the best comedic moments involve some of Whitacre's almost childlike interactions with the FBI and their operation. It's an interesting comedy to say the least, first off because it's humor is not only propelled by character rather than concept gags but secondly because it's based on true events and actual people. It's true that the real world really can be stranger than fiction.

The movie is smart enough before it even leaps into it's major turning point where we start to see what is actually going on within the story making it far more complex a comedy than expected. It is also revealed that Whitacre suffers from bipolar disorder which goes to explain much of his actions throughout the film, not the bumbling amateur FBI stuff but what's later revealed to be his coaxing with certain facts and falsehoods. We also begin to understand the nature of the monologues we're given by Damon's narration, which are often times very funny. They're another way in which the movie pulls us even further into Whitacre's own head, not to emerge until the end of the picture, and it's an intriguing and often times hilarious excursion.

10 Films of 2009:

8. The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh)
9. Up in the Air (Jason Reitman)
10. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (Werner Herzog)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Only Thing to Fear.

84. Good Night, and Good Luck (George Clooney, 2005)
100 Films of the 2000s

In 2005 George Clooney directed his second feature film, the black and white Good Night, and Good Luck. The film chronicles the on-air battle between seasoned television host and journalist Edward R. Murrow and senator Joseph McCarthy over McCarthy's anti-communist hearings and investigations in the 1950s. Murrow's program strikes a blow to McCarthy's interrogations though it soon ends following the clash between the media man and the senator from Wisconsin. More importantly however, after that moment the state of television journalism and politics was changed forever.

Though the film documents McCarthy's hearings on alleged communists and communist sympathizers it doesn't merely offer a simple condemnation of McCarthy's witch hunts. It's primary intent is to address the use of our news media and primarily television journalism as an outlet for delivering information rather than just entertainment, to use television to address important issues rather than just run cigarette ads and comedic talk shows. Clooney bookends his film with a speech from Murrow on the state of television journalism and it's uses and above all it's importance. George Clooney stated that the project began interesting him because he felt it was time "to raise the idea of using fear to stifle political debate" (Brooks, Brian. indieWIRE, "Clooney Speaks Out About Journalism and Filmmaking As NYFF Opens." Retrieved: April 24, 2007) and also majored in journalism in school. Not only does Clooney's film succeed in displaying the importance of integrity and responsibility in television journalism it also captures the look and feel of the time quite well with music and sets that represent the 1950s authentically.

What interests me even more about the film is what the state of televised journalism has become today as well as the conflict between opinion journalism and unbiased reporting. Though Murraw's actions blur the line between the two we can see the nobility in his actions. He and his crew saw what they viewed as injustice and took action. However, today not only has the line between opinion journalism and unbiased reporting become almost nonexistent, conflicting news outlets push political agendas almost shamelessly or attempt to create divide among political views for sake of ratings and it seems that Murrow's push for integrity in journalism and its use to inform has been misshapen and discarded. They took what was useful for personal gain and abandoned what was important in principle.

10 Films of 2005:

10. Good Night, and Good Luck (George Clooney)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Prodigal Son.

Months ago I mentioned that I was also planning on two other projects besides the long countdown of a hundred films from the 2000s, one which will be my views and rankings on the wonderfully imaginative movies of Hayao Miyazaki, the other a similar list from the godfather of the psychological horror film, producer Val Lewton. However, with these three projects I also wanted to periodically post about a wide variety of movies that the only connection between them will be that they have just been recently watched and that I would like to give a few words and thoughts on them. So without further delay I will give a small taste. Folks, this is Recently Viewed.

Batman: Under the Red Hood
(Brandon Vietti, 2010)
Recently Viewed

Considering this was just released a few days ago this Tuesday I thought it would be as good a time as ever to mention Batman: Under the Red Hood in my new Recently Viewed segment.

First off, a brief summary of the movie. The story begins with the death of the second person to wear the mantel of Batman's sidekick and partner, Jason Todd as Robin, at the hands of the joker. Years later a new vigilante, The Red Hood, appears in Gotham willing to not only fight crime, but to exterminate it. Batman has a new rival, one that goes against his moral code which is that under no circumstances, he doesn't kill. The more that's revealed about this Red Hood the closer his connection to Wayne and perhaps the more dangerous he is to Batman.

First off, I want to say that I don't think this movie is as good as any of the feature length films involved with the story line that directly connects to Batman the Animated Series from the early 1990s, Batman Mask of the Phantasm (1993) especially, though it is most likely better than most of the recent animated outings from DC. The animation is alright, the style isn't anything new though, but it is certainly a polished visual presentation of what Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010) and Green Lantern First Flight (2009) had to offer.

The plot unfolds reasonably well, though those who aren't as familiar with Batman's history throughout the comic series may be slightly lost with a number of the names and significance of the characters, enough information is given that they can follow along without large problems or ignorance of the events in the movie. My main problem with the movie is while the pacing is very fast, it's actually too quick. Plus there isn't enough story involved with its rapid pacing. Rather than giving much needed time to develop the relationship Batman has with his wards it races to the next action sequence. Though admittedly they are well choreographed, they don't add a lot of substance to the story and I found them somewhat tedious by the time Batman and Red Hood were disposing of mercenaries in super suits. Though rapid pacing is something that's become a staple in modern day movie making that has disappointed me greatly. Movie producers seem to think that an audience always needs actions happening in rapid succession for their films to be appreciated or even good and I would disagree. Just because a story's plot is always advancing doesn't necessarily mean it's developing, and without meaning behind a film I tend to lose interest rather quickly. This is also the main fault I would have with The Dark Knight (2008), an overall fine movie, is that the pacing is so quick that rarely are we able to comprehend exactly what's occurring in the film and become fully engaged in it, at least not more than on a base level excitement.

The voice acting is passable for the most part, though I don't entirely like what DiMaggio attempts with his Joker. I am also aware I've been spoiled by the great voice actors from the animated series. Neil Patrick Harris stands out as a fine choice for Nightwing, though the character feels so disposable in the movie, only as a comic relief rather than further developing Batman's relationships with those close to him, that it's a shame and a missed opportunity.

However, with all the criticism I have for the movie it's still worth checking out, especially for any fans of the character or comic superheros in general. Though some of the dialogue isn't as polished as it could be, the movie is still a darker and more adult oriented presentation than any of the recent DC animated films as of late and that should especially make a number of Batman fans happy. Plus the final act is pretty impressive and exciting. It really is where the movie really takes shape, as an action movie where the action adds to the dynamic of the film and where the drama is its most potent.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Another World Upon Our Own.

85. Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog, 2008)
100 Films of the 2000s

The second documentary I have for this list is Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World. Encounters at the End of the World is not what you would initially expect from a film about the people that live and work in one of the most unforgiving locations on our planet. Though it does do a fine job documenting their work studying Antarctica, Herzog uses his film, in his general fashion, to attain much loftier and philosophical goals. Herzog even has a pleasant jab early on in the movie's narration stating that "this isn't a film about fluffy penguins."

Amazingly the entire film crew for Encounters at the End of the World consisted only of Werner Herzog himself and his photographer Peter Zeitlinger. Due to a grant received from The National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists and Writers Program Herzog had more freedom than filmmakers would generally have filming in Antarctica though he had less than two months to shoot the movie. Daunting tasks and a short period of time to complete them is nothing new for Herzog. For Grizzly Man (2005) he edited his film from over 85 hours of recorded footage. For Fitzcarraldo (1982) he famously hauled a 320 ton steamship up the side of a hill and over. Plus the man has been close friends with the infamous and volatile Klaus Kinski and worked with him regularly for decades. Antarctica may appear to be harsh, unforgiving, and deadly but it is no Klaus Kinski.

Werner Herzog's film is marvelous in it's depiction of a place on our planet that is still mysterious and even seemingly alien. The people that live and work there can sometimes appear as unique as the environment and the lives they lead in this frozen wilderness are certainly extraordinary. Zeitlinger's photography is a wonder as well, capturing creatures and shots of Antarctica's frozen landscape and underwater locations in a way that exudes curiosity and awe. Herzog not only films this intriguing place and its people in a captivating fashion, he is able to use Encounters at the End of the World to explore the nature of our place on this planet, and our future. He ponders on our existence and how we live, and more specifically how we live in relation to our environment and our planet. It's an important film not only because of how much there is to still discover about the planet Earth but how much there is to discover about ourselves and to perhaps change for the better.

10 Films of 2008:

8. Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog)
9. Paranoid Park
(Gus Van Sant)
10. Redbelt (David Mamet)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Lightness of Being.

86. Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, 2009)
Modified from a post on March 2nd, 2010.

I find Up in the Air to be one of the most surprising and unexpected triumphs of 2009. The film comes from director Jason Reitman, the director of Thank You for Smoking (2005) and the Oscar nominated Juno (2007). Also, if you were wondering and didn't already know, he is indeed the son of Ivan Reitman, the director of Ghost Busters (1984) and Stripes (1981). At the beginning of the Oscar season I even guessed that Up in the Air had a big chance to take best picture. It had a number of magazine article campaigns, had great reviews, and it's principle cast were hitting their mark promoting the film but sadly the buzz died down considerably. Plus the campaign for The Hurt Locker went into full force which of course ended with it nabbing a number of the top awards.

The movie follows George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a career hatchetman hired out from a company to handle the dirty work of firing employees from businesses that are unwilling to do the job personally. Bingham is a man of finely tuned people skills, his success is driven by how well he understands the way in which people tick. His job is thrown on its head when an up-and-coming employee, Natalie Keener (Played by Anna Kendrick), proposes a new more efficient and economically sound way of laying people off, by computer interface. What follows is Natalie accompanying Bingham on a few of his rounds to fully get a grasp on the way he works, a first hand experience in his working world, and to compare and contrast their techniques.

The film is mainly a commentary on the impersonal impression of the global information age. Luckily this focus is able to deter the movie from feeling like a dated piece on the current economic state of the country. Bingham himself is a product of the era in which he lives, always surrounded by people yet never truly connecting with them. They're his colleagues, business associates, fellow passengers, or service attendants but never his close personal loved ones. He has no connections grounding him, not his family and not even a place he can really call home, except for the sky. His business is also a product of the times. Like I mentioned before, the workers he lays off are from other businesses, ones that have to hire someone outside to do the uncomfortable job for them, starting the film's level of disconnection. The integration of Natalie's new business proposal is likely to further this divide. The difference between Bingham and his company is that Bingham is at heart a good guy, he just isn't able, or perhaps meant to connect with other human beings. It's just not in his nature.

Clooney is in top form. I remember reading an article I believe from roughly two years ago about the actor that stated he was one of the few actors today comparable to the likes of Cary Grant, Clark Gable, and so forth and Clooney holds up to the claim exceptionally well in Up in the Air. It's an admirable accomplishment to take a character responsible for delivering terrible news to other individuals on a daily basis and make the man extremely likable and few actors could pull that task off as well as he does.

Now while the movie is essentially a drama that doesn't mean it's an outright downer. Reitman's dramas have been pocketed with many great comedic moments and Up in the Air is no different. In fact I would claim this to be his best movie yet. While Thank You for Smoking is indeed very clever, it's a bit of a caricature, especially in comparison to the more realistically grounded (Intentional, forgive me) Up in the Air and while Juno has a lot of emotional weight behind it I find that somewhat deflated by its characters and dialogue which occasionally ring false. However, Up in the Air's shortcoming's are minor in comparison and is not something to be missed. It's powerful and effective in a way that isn't overbearing and it's able to put a silver lining of optimism in even the darkest of clouds.

10 Films of 2009:

9. Up in the Air (Jason Reitman)
10. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (Werner Herzog)

Monday, July 19, 2010

About an Artist Growing Old.

87. The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005)

Where to start with a character such as the indie rock legend Daniel Johnston. Individual stories and pieces of information about the man sound fictitious at best, compounded altogether, which this rock documentary does, sound like grand Rock and Roll myth. The Devil and Daniel Johnston is the first of a few documentaries on this list (though I hope to post a couple more when I give honorable mentions for movies not on the list soon enough). Johnston was born in Sacramento, California and grew up in West Virginia. At an early age his creative talents were evident but his family, which happened to be based in conservative religious values, was concerned with where he was going in life.

At a young age Johnston began taping home-made cassette recordings of music inspired by The Beatles that he would write and perform on his own. His musical career hit a jumping point when he lived in Austin, Texas after handing out his cassette recordings to nearly anyone he met connected with professional music. Attention skyrocketed when Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain was photographed wearing a t-shirt with the image from Johnston's album Hi, How Are You? This caused record companies to begin competing for the artist even though Johnston currently resided in a mental institution after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

To begin work on his studio album in a mental institution is only one of the few seemingly outlandish stories behind Johnston's life. Others include suffering an episode in New York while the band Sonic Youth searched the city for him and throwing the keys of an airplane out the window while it was still airborne. Though his chaotic escapades brought on by his mental disorder built his infamy as an extreme rock eccentric his deeply heartfelt music built his notoriety as an artist. Admittedly Johnston was and is not a technically gifted musician in that he can't play particularly well, and now given the medication he has to take this is even more evident, but as a true artist, as a musician able to use his craft to capture the love, hurt, desire, and other emotions within himself, he is a master artist with few equals. With music about unrequited love and personal identification Johnston boldly projects his humanity to be identified by the rest of the world, a gift from a tormented musical poet, to be cherished.

10 Films of 2005:

The Devil and Daniel Johnston just slightly misses the list for 2005 by one spot.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The New Orleans Bedlam Police Department.

88. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (Werner Herzog, 2009)

Inspired by the 1992 film Bad Lieutenant starring Harvey Keitel, Herzog's film is said to neither be a sequel nor a straight remake. Nicolas Cage stars as Terrence McDonagh, a police officer working in post Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. During the flooding of a prison block he severely injures his back attempting to help one of the prisoners out of their flooding jail cell. Upon recovering he is told that he'll experience back pain indefinitely and is prescribed for medication to alleviate the injury. This is where McDonagh's spiral into corruption first begins.

From the point that he injures his back in the flooding taking place during Hurricane Katrina Terrence McDonagh transforms into the quintessential antihero. Spiraling into his own corruption and self preservation he becomes wrapped into a life of drug use, bribed sexual favors, and eventually joins forces with the primary crime boss in the city. Nicolas Cage's performance as the corrupt, almost pitiful, detective is a remarkable oddity. Herzog's control of the actor seems less like strict direction and more like he released a raving madman from an asylum and let him run rampant throughout the film, nudging him in certain directions, shifting his performance though not controlling it. Thus Nicolas Cage is at his most unrestrained and while his performance may seem a little unorthodox, he even changes accents at times throughout the movie, it fits the character and the picture like a glove, giving a more than memorable portrayal of an unhinged police officer on the edge of his own well being and own sanity.

Another primary interesting aspect of the film is its time period and setting. The place and time are of course New Orleans following Katrina's destruction of the city. Crime has risen and authoritative justice has been tarnished and corrupted. The fact that McDonagh injures himself during the storm, which serves as the catalyst to his downfall into depravity is an important moment to note. McDonagh's only selfless act, saving a man from drowning, takes place before the after effects of the storm. The hurricane washes the filth from the cracks and rather than carrying them away brings them to the surface. We see the faults and imperfections of a part of the governing body, a section of the state designed to serve and protect doing the opposite, and these problems are naturally human imperfections with the men in a position of power.

10 Films of 2009:

10. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (Werner Herzog)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Love, Love Will Tear Us Apart Again.

89. Control (Anton Corbijn, 2007)

Control is a biographical film chronicling the rise of the hugely influential rock band Joy Division, primarily focusing on their lead singer Ian Curtis up until his untimely death. There are a number of things that need to be mentioned when talking about the film, primarily three things, the film's dedicated director and well known photographer Anton Corbijn, the irreplaceable Ian Curtis, and the band itself. Corbijn worked as a well known photographer and has also over the years directed many music videos for bands such as Nirvana, Echo & the Bunnymen, Depeche Mode, and of course, Joy Division. Corbijn himself claims to have a personal connection with the film, living in England at the time, working with the band for photo shoots, and experiencing the way Joy Division's music defined his time there. His talent as a photographer is evident in the construction of the look of the film, presented in black and white to "reflect the atmosphere of Joy Division and the mood of the era" (Control: The Ian Curtis film). Corbijn also financed a large percentage of the production of the film personally.

Next, the band itself, Joy Division began using energy and influence of the seventies punk revolution and developed it into a sound that became the definitive representation of the post-punk genre that naturally followed punk rock. Unfortunately their rise was short lived with the death of their front man Ian Curtis, and continuing without Curtis as the newly formed New Order. Curtis himself is one of the most interesting individuals in the history of Rock and Roll and his sudden death ranks up there as a tragedy comparable to the deaths of Buddy Holly and John Lennon, musicians who died far too young and too soon. A passionate performer and a complex and introspective lyricist Curtis defined Joy Division's image and sound with his unique stage presence and his deeply personal expression through his song writing.

Virtual unknown Sam Riley portrays the tragic Curtis near flawlessly. Like I said in an earlier post, it's a rare thing when an actor can inhabit a character such as Curtis, such an iconic character in rock history and come off not as a parody of the individual but a genuine believable recreation. Corbijn's film not only captures the turmoil and depression in the mind of Curtis, suffering from epilepsy, it also captures the time period and state of rock music. With music finding the beauty in Curtis' suffering, the film and music serve as remarkable capsules of the expression of an individual that left an impact on generations to follow.

10 Films of 2007:

8. Control (
Anton Corbijn)
9. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton)
10. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Truly Inseparable Siblings.

90. A Tale of Two Sisters (Ji-woon Kim, 2003)

Another foreign film from 2003 to land on my 100 movies list is Ji-woon Kim's psychological horror film A Tale of Two Sisters. After a while someone just may notice the large number of Asian films that are to appear on this list, and even more specifically, films from Korea. There are at least four Korean directors to have work that appears on my list and Ji-woon Kim joins Chan-wook Park (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, 2002) and Joon-ho Bong (The Host, 2006) among ones I've already mentioned. Unfortunately A Tale of Two Sisters is the only film I've yet to see from Kim but it leaves me eagerly anticipating more.

In the movie a pair of sisters with a strong bond between them clash with their stepmother's apparent cruelty as well as experience a series of seemingly paranormal hauntings within their home. I will refrain from saying more because there are a handful of things that are better left to the first viewing of the movie. The film relies on an in depth psychological twist that is the bulk of its emotional strength. But unlike the psychological twist in something like the end of 2003's French horror film High Tension, A Tale of Two Sister's revelation feels not only appropriate, it's one of the major strengths of the picture.

There are a handful of aspects of A Tale of Two Sisters that remind me of the godfather of psychological horror films, producer Val Lewton. The first and most obvious one is the way the movie centers on the turmoil churning within it's protagonist and how it uses these typical horror film elements to accentuate certain internal conflicts within the young girl. The other is the wonderful atmosphere of the picture. Accompanying and driving its sense of fear and tension is a score that is nearly as nerve wrecking as that from Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). It's a wonderfully frightening picture on many levels, both internally and atmospherically, and stakes its claim as one of the very best horror films of the decade.

10 Films of 2003:

Again, A Tale of Two Sisters is another film that just barely misses my list of favorite films from 2003. I think it's plain to see that this is one of my favorite years of the decade for movies.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Detours on the Road Leading Towards the End of Days.

91. Time of the Wolf (Michael Haneke, 2003)

Time of the Wolf is a dystopian post-apocalyptic film from controversial director Michael Haneke and is the first of a handful of his films that are to appear on this list. The movie follows a family during a world shattering crisis and gives vague details about the state of the planet. We discover much of the water found is now contaminated by an unknown agent and that the death of livestock needs to be disposed of by burning the remains. It's a bleak existence as the family attempts to find shelter and food, as they try and find a way to continue their very survival. They ultimately end up in a small collective society living out of a train station building and Haneke's often critical eye on humanity is displayed with the interpretation of how order, subjugation, and villainy play a roll in mankind's social and power hierarchy.

Haneke, to put it lightly, is not the most accessible filmmaker today. His movies are often times distressing and even at times intentionally combative. He is a filmmaker that always has a point to address and is not ashamed to hide what he has to say, neither is he willing to deliver his pitches underhand. Films from such a director are sure to create conflicting camps. Some who applaud his views or at least his strength and dedication in presenting them (of which I'm in the latter) and those who derive no pleasure in his work at all. Though I am a reasonable fan of his films, though admirer would be a better term, I don't think I would call any of his movies enjoyable, not at least in the sense that people generally view entertainment. His movies do not seem to be produced to give what people would call enjoyment but they do make one think, and I find a lot of value in that in particular.

In Haneke's apocalyptic setting the only monsters man must face are the ones that reside in his own heart. Pettiness, greed, selfishness, and hatred are the horrors that man must overcome for their own survival, not mutated monsters or radioactive beasts. A far fiercer foe given how embedded these are into the very being of human history. Demons that could take millenniums to exorcise, ones that could perhaps never be fully destroyed. Like much of Haneke's work Time of the Wolf delves into the inner workings of the heart of humanity, and much like most of his work he's interested in the darker half of this heart. Though ironically enough Time of the Wolf, in the person of the young boy of the family in the film, displays a more hopeful glimmer from Haneke's often times cynical cinematic eye. That is if the few good men are able to cast off fear and embrace their own selflessness and sacrifice for the good of others.

10 Films of 2003:

Though it appears on my list of 100 films of the 2000s, Time of the Wolf does not however make it onto my list of ten favorite films from 2003 so look for more from that year in the posts to come.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Know Thyself.

92. Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant, 2008)

Though I enjoy many of Gus Van Sant's films I've become aware that I find his smaller budget pictures far more intriguing than his larger ones. Within the span of a year Van Sant released two films, the three million dollar budgeted Paranoid Park and the Oscar Nominated hit Milk (2008) starring Sean Penn. As good as Milk is, I find Paranoid Park, like Van Sant's other lower budget pictures Elephant (2003) and Last Days (2005), more impactful. If I made a list expanding to another hundred pictures Milk would surely be included. Paranoid Park is a film about a teenage skate boarder, Alex, who becomes a suspect in the manslaughter killing of a train station security guard. Like Van Sant's Elephant, Paranoid Park uses a collection of unknown teenage actors. I find it odd how one of the main complaints I've heard with both Elephant and Paranoid Park is the portrayal of teenagers in each film, but Van Sant has his amateur actors contribute on their own for authenticity and there are moments in both films that feel to be some of the most honest portrayals of teenagers on film that come to mind.

There are two primary aspects of the film I find extraordinary. One is the photography by the film's director of photography Christopher Doyle. Most notable working on some of the films from Wong Kar Wai like 2046 (2004) and In the Mood for Love (2000) Doyle may be the most visually talented man to stand behind a camera working today. With Paranoid Park he captures some of his best work to date. The skate boarding sequences are especially breathtaking. He uses his cameras to capture images of weightlessness and relaxation in a way that uses the hobby as a release from the struggles and stress plaguing the trouble youths. Rather than just a way to kill time, it shows the sport as a form of therapy.

The film's other primary strength lies with how it explores it's protagonist. Rather than spend time exploring the mystery behind the crime in question the picture focuses on Alex's suspected guilt and reaction to the haunting occurrence. Examining the distinct effect the responsibility of another person's death could have on someone's very soul. Paranoid Park gradually digs deeper into Alex's psyche and moral sensibilities as it investigates what it's like to not only to be a confused teenager not sure of their place, but one with a secret, a dark secret. One that would not only be difficult to reveal to others, but one that even takes fortitude in the first place to approach on your very own.

10 Films of 2008:

9. Paranoid Park
(Gus Van Sant)
10. Redbelt (David Mamet)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

That Wicked Bewitching Beauty, Scent.

93. Perfume: The Story of A Murderer (Tom Tykwer, 2006)

Tom Tykwer's adaptation of Perfume is a difficult film to classify into any specific genre. Parts of the final act play out like a horror film, and as a typical drama it lacks the kind of protagonist of which an audience could relate . It's the story of one Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, born in a fish market, his mother attempts to discard her child, is discovered, and severely punished. I must first point out Grenouille's peculiar gift. The boy was born with such an acute sense of smell that he can not only identify individual and unique scents that regular people wouldn't even know existed, he can differentiate them from conflicting odors on a grand scale. Born into poverty and abandonment Grenouille is carted between owners, his only value equal to the money which could be made from his labor. It isn't until he has the chance to come into contact with a perfumer past their prime that he's able to explore and begin discovering the techniques to art of capturing and mastering the odors and aromas that have captivated him all his life, the very smells that bring him beauty in the world.

The film is a reasonably close adaptation of the novel by Patrick Süskind. The only large section missing from the movie is one where Grenouille plays guinea pig to an eccentric "scientist" who has strange ideas about the superior health rejuvenating attributes of air and objects from higher altitudes. Though this part of the novel is fairly entertaining and rewarding in its own way, it isn't difficult to see why it was cut for the film and I don't miss its presence all that much. It would have conflicted with the tone of the film and would have most likely derailed its progression and pacing.

Another important thing to explain about Grenouille is his general disregard for other people and life in general. His only passion, or rather obsession, is the wonder he is able to explore with his olfactory senses. What results is the absence of any emotion or guilt as he systematically stalks and murders several young women in the attempt to capture their scent, and to create a perfect perfume. Grenouille is surely a monster, though an intriguing one at that. His obsessions can't respectfully be classified as simple greed, it's a compulsion, a driving force he seemingly has no control over. This isn't a film about heroes or villains, though Grenouille could certainly be better described as the latter rather than the former. It is a film about the power of beauty, how it is both alluring and potentially threatening. It is also a type of beauty that I find so rarely explored in films, that of the beauty of scent.

Top films of 2006:

Perfume is actually the eighth film on my list of ten from 2006 so here is a quick section dedicated to the ninth and tenth.

9. A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater)

Another Richard Linklater film that barely misses my larger list. This time Linklater creates a fairly faithful adaptation of Phillip K. Dick's novel of the same name. Like much of Dick's work it is contemplative of hypothetical tyrannical control and altogether thoroughly distressing. His choice for the movie's animation design adds to the feel of surrealism and at times nightmarish disembodiment presented in the picture. An overlooked science fiction film and one of the better adaptations of Dick's work to date.

10. The Host (Joon-Ho Bong)

From Korean director Joon-Ho Bong comes one of the most exciting and rewarding monster films in decades. Bong's film is like an adventurous monster picture and could rest quite easily with the best from the likes of Guillermo del Toro, Steven Spielberg, or Peter Jackson in that regard. What is essentially most important about the film is the way the characters are held as a priority over the story concept of the film and this proves to enhance the drama and tension considerably. Rather than being primarily effects driven or concept driven, something like 2008's Cloverfield which does indeed boast an inviting film technique, even if it is at times a bit of a novelty utilized far better in The Blair Witch Project (1999), Cloverfield is lacking in a connection with the characters in the film, which is shallow and mediocre at best. The Host's strength lies in how it presents the story around its characters and the value gained by becoming emotionally involved with them, which is something to be admired and encouraged.

10 Films of 2006:

8. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
(Tom Tykwer)
9. A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater)

10. The Host (
Joon-Ho Bong)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Floyd the Barber, This is Not.

94. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton, 2007)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is Tim Burton's film feature based on the popular stage musical. The film is a tragedy turned devilish story of vengeance as long time Burton collaborator Johnny Depp cuts through the picture as Sweeney Todd along with Burton's wife, and regular actress, Helena Bonham Carter as Todd's accomplice, Mrs. Lovett. Benjamin Barker, a talented barber, is unjustly sentenced to work in Australia by a deceitful and corrupt judge who does so to have his way with the barber's wife. The film opens with Barker's return to London a changed man, Benjamin Barker is no longer with us, he is now Sweeney Todd a demon desiring vengeance.

Sweeney Todd is Tim Burton's Liveliest film in years. It features a talented cast with the likes of Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, and a surprise turn by Sacha Baron Cohen joining Depp and Carter. The musical's story coincides nicely with Tim Burton's delight in stylistic thematic macabre and feels like the most fun Burton has had with one of his films since Sleepy Hollow (1999), and Burton's liking to Gothic design fits perfectly with the story's setting. One of my main problems with Burton's previous picture, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), was the way it felt mechanical. Scenes played out like a procedure. The group would go to a room, a child would be injured, they'd pack them off to some arbitrary location, and then they'd continue to the next room and repeat. Sweeney Todd however moves more natural and feels more organic. Perhaps the people are driven by simple themes and motivations but they are nonetheless genuine.

The music and design of the picture really drive it as well. London is a dark, dank, decrepit hole and Todd has no desire to restrain himself in his description of the city throughout the film. He uses his barber's chair to rid the city of the vermin he sees as its citizens. The splattering of blood with each killing is like a release for the character. His anger and rage, his tormented past pours out from each strike with his straight blade razor. Though some will be upset with the way the music from the stage was edited, it still drives the story considerably well. Rather than a musical to showcase its numbers, it's a film and story propelled by them. Above all, the movie is a devious good time. It highlights the passionate immediate release in the vengeance of its titled character though its theatrics allow us to simultaneously feel enjoyment and revulsion as we watch him exact his revenge.

10 Films of 2007:

9. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton)
10. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Ultimate Measure of a Man.

95. Redbelt (David Mamet, 2008)

Redbelt is David Mamet's morality tale about the unquestionable value of honor in comparison with the petty emptiness of excess and greed. Chiwetel Ejifor stars as Mike Terry, a Jiu-Jitsu instructor, who through a series of events is faced with tall obstacles and hard times. Mamet's script is a precise exercise in the use of accepted pure character traits such as honesty, integrity, and loyalty in conflict with their general counterparts: deceit, corruption, and betrayal. Terry's views are put to a test as the film knocks the wind out of its protagonist as if the picture itself is trying to find the man's breaking point. However, his true strength is not measured by his battles in the ring but by his own convictions, and by the end of the film we find that Mr. Terry, in that regard, has no breaking point.

Redbelt has two distinct stars, its deftly constructed script and its lesser known leading man, Chiwetel Ejifor. Ejifor must be one of the most under appreciated actors working today. Primarily recognizable in supporting roles in such films as Children of Men (2006), Talk to Me (2007), and Inside Man (2006) he's a versatile actor who appears to be able to do a rare thing in the film industry, leave his ego aside. In Redbelt he has the chance to show his worth as a leading man and he delivers a performance that makes him not only one of the more inspiring figures in the last ten years, his portrayal of Mike Terry turns the characters into a quintessential modern day hero in the tradition of the great Takashi Shimura in Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954).

A comparison to earlier samurai films is distinctly appropriate, especially with that of Seven Samurai, a film in which seven men defend a persecuted village for no more than a few meals each day. Mike Terry's competition does not reside in marketed bouts to earn money but rather he is in constant competition with himself. A desire to not only better himself in body, but in mind as well. It's a film about knowing one's self and one's own strengths and using that strength to uphold one's own integrity. Such is the importance of the words of the late Martin Luther King Jr., "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

10 Films of 2008:

10. Redbelt (David Mamet)

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Rules of the Game.

96. Gosford Park (Robert Altman, 2001)

Gosford Park is perhaps the late Robert Altman's last bona fide masterpiece. Like many of Altman's films it features an ensemble cast with subplots intertwined and overlapping dialogue. It's a complex and detailed period piece set in the early 1930s. On the surface the film is a rousing murder mystery wrapped in the pasts of the variety of individuals in the film. This murder mystery is used as a device to present the class structure of Great Britain in the early 1900s. The subplots of each individual and how these people are connected shows the broad gap between the wealthy and their servants.

Altman is in top form working his intricate plot off without a hitch. Not only is the film able to sustain it itself, it thrives. Reminiscent of Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game (1939), of which can be seen to have a significant impact on Altman's career as a whole, Gosford Park is able to build its own microcosmic world within that large estate house. With the final breath of social hierarchy drawing near Altman develops his film into it's own organism, like a living cell, with characters and dialogue, plots and themes traversing through and around each other.

In Gosfard Park authenticity is key. Though the murder mystery elements are there to draw the audience into the picture the precise production is there to keep them involved. With such pinpoint representation Altman is able to recreate the time period in complete faithfulness. Displaying not only some of its hypocrisy and superficiality but also it's allure, charm, grace, and glamor. It's a time in which it's easy to loss yourself and for two hours and twenty minutes Robert Altman's film makes that possible.

Top ten of 2001:

Robert Altman's Gosford Park comes in at number 9 on my list of 10 films from 2001 so I'll just post a few words about the tenth film.

10. Waking Life (Richard Linklater)

My number ten film is Richard Linklater's surrealist philosophically jumbled animation piece Waking Life. The movie is a lot to take in on one sitting and even if you can't prescribe to each of the musings within every section it's a movie that not only requests you to think, it requires you to do so. With each encounter phasing into another we see our main character travel through what looks like a dream, discussing the nature of how and why we dream and essentially how we live and derive meaning from our lives, the world, and those around us.

10 Films of 2001:

9. Gosford Park
(Robert Altman)
10. Waking Life (Richard Linklater)

Sometimes When Things Are Closed, You Just Open Them Up.

97. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2007)

Like Chan-Wook Park, David Cronenberg is another filmmaker that often uses violence in his films as in A History of Violence (2005) and Videodrome (1983). Cronenberg does this in an attempt to understand the nature of human being's acts of violence as well as their enjoyment of it. Though Eastern Promises isn't as contemplative as something like Videodrome, it is still a far more interesting thriller than most and its production shows maturity and polish. If it was as strong as Croneberg's classics in thought it would be one hell of a thriller to best.

Like I said in one of my earlier posts collecting these hundred films, Eastern Promises follows Naomi Watts as Anna, a midwife, who discovers a journal that may uncover rape and abuse perpetrated by the Russian mob when a young girl dies while giving birth. Against advice she pursues translating the journal endangering herself in the process. Nikolai, played by Viggo Mortensen, at first begins intimidating Anna, seemingly trying to deter her from stumbling upon the mob's dark secrets, though partially through the film it becomes apparent that there is more to Nikolai than originally perceived.

One of the best things about the film is the way Nikolai and his motivations are portrayed. Even when his motives become apparent we're never completely sure and Mortensen, in his second collaboration with Cronenberg, displays the mystery behind the man strikingly well. This accompanies one of my favorite aspects about David Cronenberg's films. He never seems to give the audience complete closure at the end of his pictures. There is always something left to ponder, to keep this story and the characters within open to a great number of possibilities awaiting them, and Eastern Promises is no different. I am wary of the recent news I've heard for a sequel to the film for fear of that the mystery will be destroyed. I find Cronenberg's films most interesting with their doors left open.

10 Films of 2007:

10. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Where Vengeance Will Get No Sympathy.

98. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Chan-Wook Park, 2002)

In 2002 Korean director Chan-Wook Park kicked off his critically acclaimed Vengeance Trilogy with the first installment, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the first of three films to get him international recognition. Though this may be my least favorite of the trilogy I want to establish that it's still a hell of a film. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance begins with a young man, a mute young man, who's sister is in need of an organ transplant. After being swindled and drugged during a failed black market deal to get his sister a transplant illegally he attempts to raise money through a kidnapping which also ends in complications. Two stories of anger, revenge, and torment later conflict in one of the most intense thrillers of the last decade.

One of the most fascinating things about Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is the way the audience can react to the two main men in the film. Both of them are going through severely tragic losses and commit terrible acts in retaliation, fueled by rage and their own pain. It's a great example of how Park views violence, wants to examine it, and utilize it in his films as well as how fear, pain, and violence connect the perpetrators with their victims. His films don't glorify violence, but they do show that wanting to commit acts of violence, the desire for revenge from pain or anger due to loss is a very human trait, however the line is crossed when these desires are acted upon because his films display just all too harshly the hurt caused by such acts even if they may elicit momentary alleviation, in the end it can only lead to more destruction and suffering.

Park is one of my favorite emerging directors of the last decade. His films are as bold and full of enough raw emotion and energy to remind me of Martin Scorsese in his early days from the 1970s and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a film from a man showing great promise for things to come, which I would claim is fulfilled with the increasing quality of the second and third films in the Vengeance Trilogy. Another remarkable thing is Park is always able to keep his movies not only fresh with unexpected resolutions, especially when dealing with well known themes, he's able to keep them provocative rather than just shocking. Perhaps this is because he's against passivity in films. This mindset could very well be the reason he's able to go into such territory with his dramas that many filmmakers would be too timid to venture on their own or even dare follow.

10 Films of 2002:

8. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
(Chan-Wook Park)
9. Chicago (Rob Marshall)
10. Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Where Do You Go To (My Lovely).

99. The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, 2007)

For his fifth feature Wes Anderson sets his film about grief, personal understanding, and reconnection abroad in India. Adrien Brody joins Anderson film returning actors Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson as three estranged brothers who haven't spoken since their father's funeral. The reoccurring theme of desired acceptance appears throughout Anderson's body of work and it's no surprise that it's prevalent in this film as well. Also he returns to his examination of grief after the loss of a loved one which was evident in his films Rushmore (1998) and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). And much like The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) Anderson has a selection of characters with deeply explored faults and insecurities, these are damaged individuals and part of the beauty of the film is how these imperfections are portrayed and dealt with if not always indefinitely cured.

I find Wes Anderson to be the closest filmmaker I can think of to be the successor to Hal Ashby. Much like Ashby's Being There (1979) and Harold and Maude (1971) there are touches of whimsy beneath the painful realities endured through life. Perhaps Anderson's films are a little more surreal than Ashby's at times with his identifiable visual style which includes his signature slow motion photography and striking colors but the scars are still there, overcome by laughter in the face of the hurt and longing of the characters involved. No matter how fantastic Anderson's films are visually, the heart of the film, his characters are still as complex and realistic as the many people walking the streets today.

With the look of The Darjeeling Limited, it's not surprising that Anderson's meticulous control seems to be evident in every small aspect of the film. From costumes to the smallest detail on the train on which the brothers ride across the country. The only draw back I can think of is that the train itself feels somewhat constricting to the camera work especially in comparison to his three previous films. Anderson overcame this problem on The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou with his ingenious stage like design of Zissou's ship. Here it isn't a large drawback but it still doesn't allow the film to breath as much as the other sections, a few that take place on the open landscape. Though this is perhaps intentional, that while the brothers are having a difficult time reconnecting with each other and growing into the men they should be, dealing with their imperfections, it's only fitting that the film itself feels more closed, more suffocating. It isn't until they experience the foreign funeral and relieve themselves of their emotional baggage, which takes physical shape in the luggage of their late father, that they are able to open up and grow along with the film itself. This aligns the nature of the film with the nature of each brother within the picture, becoming an organic thing itself that grows and opens and gives the movie more of a life of its own.

Top 10 of 2007:

Unfortunately (or fortunately, however you want to look at it) The Darjeeling Limited just misses my list of ten films from 2007. Unfortunate because it's a fine movie but fortunate because I found 2007 to be such a great year that it was difficult to pick my top fifteen or twenty films let alone just ten.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

All That Jazz.

2After over a month I've returned here and I have some rearranging to do. Originally I wanted to put together a top ten list for each year of the 2000s as well as the top 100 list (which I was partially through). But since the decade list was taking so long it seemed I would never get back to the top ten lists so I've decided to restart the entire collection of 100 films in ascending order to combine both lists. While some movies won't make the top ten lists of each year it'll let me post both at the same time. It will also allow me to hopefully make more detailed posts about each individual film on the list rather than small blurbs in each post (though films that appear in a top ten list that do not appear on the 100 will have a short blurb about them much like the one at the end of this post). Some of the films off my favorite 100 films of 2000s have changed around a little so there are even a few new additions. Also, I hope to get around to doing large collections of posts on the feature films of animation director Hayao Miyazaki as well as a collection of posts on 40s low budget horror film producer Val Lewton.

100. Chicago (Rob Marshall, 2002)

The 2002 Oscar winner is perhaps the most important Hollywood musical since the early 70s Cabaret (1972). Renée Zellweger is Roxie Hart, married to a dim but agreeable husband, she fools around on the side with a man who claims to have connections to get her into the glitz of showbiz. When things become apparent that he's only using her she turns a gun on him and ends up in a death row cell block in the Cook County Jail and that's when the real razzle dazzle begins. In the process she meets the film's array of scoundrels as the criminal justice world meets show business and the film takes a look at the susceptibility the media coverage has over the common man as murderesses become mini celebrities.

Adapted from the knockout stage musical of the same name the film is able to keep some of the stage familiarity of the musical numbers but parallel it with a more thematic telling of the story events and it all works. I don't think I appreciated the film as much as I did before I was lucky enough to catch Chicago on the stage. One thing I've never been too positive on was the cast outside of Zellweger and John C. Reilly but Catherine Zeta Jones and Richard Gere still give solid performances in their respective roles and Queen Latifah hits "When You're Good to Momma" just right.

And the musical numbers, let me tell you about the musical numbers. Not only is this a smart and brazen musical about crime, corruption, murder, sex, and scandal, it's a hell of a lot fun. With some top numbers like the seductive and blisteringly tense "Cell Block Tango" to the Gleeful and shameless "Press Conference Rag" Chicago is a real visual and musical treat, not only does this film have brains, it's got looks and the notes to match.





Favorite films of 2002.

While Chicago is the last spot on my list of 100 films of the 2000s it falls in at number 9 on my list of films from 2002. So since it didn't make the list of 100 films of the decade I want to mention the movie that rounds out the number ten spot on my list from movies from 2002.

10. Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay)

Samantha Morton stars as the title character of this understated and introspective film in perhaps her finest performance to date. After her boyfriend commits suicide Morvern finds his unpublished novel and sends it off as her own. This sparks an interesting and uncommon journey both geographical and emotional. With it's presentation of Callar's passions, grief, mourning, and guilt clashing with her newly blossoming sense of individuality and personal understanding and experiencing parts of life and the world she may not have been wholly familiar with Morvern Callar is a rare diversion from the hectic high concept films from big studios. It's a little seen oddity and a unique and rewarding film for those in the right mind who happen to be looking for something new and unique themselves.

10 Films of 2002:

9. Chicago (Rob Marshall)
10. Morvern Callar
(Lynne Ramsay)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Through the Looking-Glass.

It's become apparent that I will not finish this before tonight. Though that isn't a problem. I've just been busy for the last few days with work, other small tasks, and I went into the city on Friday. I will have to just soldier on and post the last few later this week even though the Oscars will have already aired. So I should try and post one or two things today anyway and moving along I give you my seventh favorite movie from 2009:

7. Coraline (2009)

Coraline is adapted from the Neil Gaiman book of the same name and comes from the creative mind of the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) (no, that isn't Tim Burton) Henry Selick who has been a leading figure in stop animation for several years.

Coraline is the story of a girl trapped in the bored isolation of a recent move and the loneliness of workaholic parents and distance from old friends. She wants attention and adventure but what she gets is an empty old house and a number of strange neighbors. All this changes when she finds a doorway to another world not entirely unlike her own. In this world her parents are far more attentive and every character is a magical caricature of their real world counterpart. The paradise is soon revealed to be more sinister than she first perceived as the fantasy turns into a nightmare with Coraline and her family in dire danger.

The first thing I have to mention with Coraline is the art design and animation. Having spent years in production this is most likely the best looking stop-animation film I've ever seen. Its design comes in part from the work of illustrator Tadahiro Uesugi. His concept art for the film is unique and breathtaking. Though credit must be given to the many animators and designers on the movie. I feel that it must have taken a lot of time to come up with a way to turn Uesugi's designs, which are quite flat, into a rounded set design while still retaining their original style. The result is a gorgeous and immersive fantasy adventure and one of the best visual treats of the year.

Another thing I've noticed is that a handful of my favorite films from last year involve the expression of adolescent rebellion and the world seen through their eyes (Which is explored much more thoroughly in another film on this list, though I'm sure saying that gives away which film that will be). An interesting perspective the movie gives is just how finite and frightening the world of a child can be. The rewards and consequences feel immediate and conclusive until the picture allows Coraline to grow up and accept responsibility over indulgence and lasting care over immediate attention.

Unlike a lot of movies geared towards children it isn't a condescending pop culture reference filled mind numbing experience. Few things film related bother me more than movies that do nothing but dull the senses and exist purely to waste time and thoughts. Thankfully Coraline is expressive and emotional. It's a film that can be enjoyed by someone of any age and for the older folks can give a retrospective glimpse of that lost childhood imagination once exercised many years ago on a cold rainy day.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How Much Does Your Life Weigh?

I decided on some last minute shuffling and the previous movie I intended to post as number eight moved up two spots so here is my former seventh favorite film from 2009 now dropping a spot to number eight:

8. Up in the Air (2009)

Along with Public Enemies, I found Up in the Air to be one of the most surprising films from last year (Everything else on this list I was anticipating and at times even impatient to see). The film comes from director Jason Reitman the director of Thank You for Smoking (2005) and the Oscar nominated Juno (2007). Also, if you were wondering and didn't already know, he is indeed the son of Ivan Reitman, the director of Ghost Busters (1984) and Stripes (1981). A few months ago I would have even guessed that Up in the Air had a big chance to take best picture this Oscar season. It had a number of magazine article campaigns, had great reviews, and it's principle cast were hitting their mark promoting the film but sadly the buzz has died down considerably. Plus the campaign for The Hurt Locker looks to be unstoppable.

The movie follows George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a career hatchetman hired out from a company to handle the dirty work of firing employees from businesses that are unwilling to do the job personally. Bingham is a man of finely tuned people skills, his success is driven by how well he understands the way in which people tick. His job is thrown on its head when an up-and-coming employee, Natalie Keener (Played by Anna Kendrick), proposes a new more efficient and economically sound way of laying people off, by computer interface. What follows is Natalie accompanying Bingham on a few of his rounds to fully get a grasp on the way he works and to compare and contrast the two techniques.

The film is mainly a commentary on the impersonal impression of the global information age. Luckily this focus is able to deter the movie from feeling like a dated piece on the current economic state of the country. Bingham himself is a product of the era in which he lives, always surrounded by people yet never truly connecting with them. They're his colleagues, business associates, fellow passengers, or service attendants but never his close personal loved ones. He has no connections grounding him, not even a place he can really call home, except for the sky. His business is also a product of the times. Like I mentioned before, the workers he lays off are from other businesses, ones that have to hire someone outside to do the uncomfortable job for them, starting the film's level of disconnection. The integration of Natalie's new business proposal is likely to further this divide. The difference between Bingham and his company is that Bingham is at heart a good guy, he just isn't able, or perhaps meant to connect with other human beings. It's just not in his nature.

Clooney is in top form. I remember reading an article I believe from roughly two years ago about the actor that stated he was one of the few actors today comparable to the likes of Cary Grant, Clark Gable, and so forth and Clooney holds up to the claim exceptionally well in Up in the Air. It's an admirable accomplishment to take a character responsible for delivering terrible news to other individuals on a daily basis and make the man extremely likable and few actors could pull that task off as well as he does.

Now while the movie is essentially a drama that doesn't mean it's an outright downer. Reitman's dramas have been pocketed with many great comedic moments and Up in the Air is no different. In fact I would claim this to be his best movie yet. While Thank You for Smoking is indeed very clever, it's a bit of a caricature, especially in comparison to the more realistically grounded (Intentional, forgive me) Up in the Air and while Juno has a lot of emotional weight behind it I find that somewhat deflated by its characters and dialogue which occasionally ring false. However, Up in the Air's shortcoming's are minor in comparison and is not something to be missed. It's powerful and effective in a way that isn't overbearing and it's able to put a silver lining of optimism in even the darkest of clouds.