Friday, December 31, 2010

The rest of the Best of the Decade. (Remember when this was happening?)

About a million years ago, give or take a coupla days, I started counting down what I think to be the best movies created between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2009.

In the interest of wrapping this sucker up before 2010 officially ends, I've decided to go ahead and lump the Top 5 together here in one post. Pretty silly for me to throw the Top 5 together in one ugly entry when I've already gone to the trouble of making separate entries for the "Bottom 5", isn't it? Yeah, I know. But it would be a whole lot sillier to not finish this thing at all, I think. But then silliness is relative. Anyway...

Starting from the bottom!

#5. Children of Men (2006) ...Dir. Alfonso Cuarón
Alfonso Cuarón is one of my favorite filmmakers working today, and I believe this to be his best film. Clive Owen is quietly terrific. Michael Caine is better still. By far the best dystopian future movie made in a decade, and miles better than the novel upon which it is based (a claim which can only rarely be made with any confidence). And let's not forget those unthinkably long follow shots; massive props to DP Emmanuel Lubezki for his contributions.
#4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) ...Dir. Michel Gondry
I was a highly lost freshman in college when Eternal Sunshine was released. I vividly remember receiving a voicemail from my dad who called immediately after seeing it to enthusiastically recommend I do the same. Eventually I did, with my future (and now former) girlfriend. And really, I think it affected me more immediately than any movie has done. When a powerful piece of art enters your life at a particularly critical moment, one which might push you one way or another or another, that experience sticks with you. For my money, Charlie Kaufman is the most important filmmaker since 1999--especially impressive considering he's only had directorial control of one of his films. (Admittedly, Kaufman hasn't been a total hit factory [e.g., Human Nature, which I like but realize is far from great] but he's hit far more adventurous concepts way out of the park than any other filmmaker I can think of over the past decade-plus. Anyway, I think he's a/the champ.)
#3. No Country for Old Men (2007) ...Dir. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Hands down, the best made film of the past decade. In fact, No Country is likely the most flawlessly constructed film I've ever seen, period. It is a perfect adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy novel remarkable for its sparse efficiency, the story of which could easily have been stripped of all meaning and still made for a thrilling film. The Coens are better than that, though--so in command of their craft, they exploit cinema's potential completely and without any apparent effort; it's dumbfounding. I watched this movie twice in a row (that is, one screening followed immediately by the next when it was in theatres). If not for social importance(#2) and personal favoritism(#1), No Country would be the best film of the past decade by a long, long shot.
#2. 9/11 (2002) ...Dir. Jules Naudet, Gedeon Naudet, and James Hanlon
I never know what to say about this movie. In September 2001, the Naudet brothers were in NYC shooting a documentary about Manhattan fire fighters. On the 11th, two passenger jets were flown into the Twin Towers. We all know how this ends, yet it becomes easier with each passing year to put it out of our minds. This film--the best I've seen regarding 9/11--is not just a reminder of what happened but also a window into what it was like to be on the ground that day in Lower Manhattan. It's almost purely observational; what good will commentary/voiceover/interviews be once you're in the thick of a surreal living nightmare? I hope you'll forgive my preaching, but I sincerely believe that 9/11 ought to be required viewing for every American. Yes, we all know the story and don't particularly want to live it again... but what this film comprises is unfathomable until you've seen it for yourself.
#1. Synecdoche, New York (2008) ...Dir. Charlie Kaufman
When I made my Best of 2008 list two years ago, this film topped it, and the write-up I conjured then can be found here. Synecdoche is still neck-and-neck with Kieslowski's Blue in the race for the best film I've ever seen, and for good reason. Blue is perhaps the most beautiful piece of art I've ever experienced, but Synecdoche remains the richest, most complete depiction of one human being's attempt to comprehend and cope with his life. Fortunately, I don't have to consider Blue as a part of this particular countdown, so I can say with zero hesitation that Synecdoche, New York is the best film of the past decade. And then some. Watch it three times... it will change you.

Again: I apologize for the low-rent nature of this second half of the countdown. Thank you for checking in. With any luck and due diligence, I will be a decidedly more attentive movie-blogger in 2011. Stay tuned to find out!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I interrupt the regularly scheduled Most-Painfully-Drawn-Out-Movie-Countdown-of-All-Time to bring you... Oscar picks! I'm admittedly doing some of these at the last minute, so regrettable decisions may be made. But time's a-wasting--The Academy waits for no man.

(Quick disclaimer: Just because I include "A better choice" with most categories doesn't necessarily mean that I think my predicted winner is undeserving. For instance, Jeff Bridges' performance is terrific. Of the nominated actors, he's the cream. But his wasn't the year's best performance. That's all.)

[Winners highlighted in red.]

  • And the winner will be: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
  • A better choice: Sam Rockwell, Moon

  • And the winner will be: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side (...Don't get me started.)
  • A better choice: Gabourey Sidibe, Precious

  • And the winner will be: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
  • A better choice: Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker (...That Mackie wasn't even nominated is criminal.)

  • And the winner will be: Mo'Nique, Precious
  • A better choice: Not possible.

  • And the winner will be: Up
  • A better choice: Fantastic Mr. Fox (...Let's face facts: they're both great movies.)

  • And the winner will be: Avatar

  • And the winner will be: The White Ribbon

  • And the winner will be: The Young Victoria
  • A better choice: Guess who doesn't give a shit about costume design. This guy.

  • And the winner will be: The Cove
  • A better choice: Anvil! The Story of Anvil

  • And the winner will be: China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province

  • And the winner will be: The Hurt Locker
  • A better choice: Precious

  • And the winner will be: The White Ribbon
  • A better choice: Hunger Sin Nombre (I'm a dummy...Hunger is in English. But it is the best movie I saw last year.)

  • And the winner will be: Star Trek
  • A better choice: The bedsore makeup in Hunger was pretty damn convincing.

  • And the winner will be: Michael Giacchino, Up
  • A better choice: Clint Mansell, Moon (...Probably my favorite film score not composed by Jon Brion since Air did the Virgin Suicides score more than ten years ago.)

  • And the winner will be: "The Weary Kind", Crazy Heart

  • And the winner will be: A Matter of Loaf and Death
  • A better choice: Logorama (...Probably a bit too "adult" for the Academy's taste, but most definitely the best of the bunch.)

  • And the winner will be: Kavi (...Speaking of shots in the dark.)

  • And the winner will be: Avatar

  • And the winner will be: The Hurt Locker
  • A better choice: Revanche (...Best sound design in recent memory. I'm not positive that great sound design equals great sound mixing, but whatever.)

  • And the winner will be: Avatar (...Duh.)

  • And the winner will be: Up in the Air
  • A better choice: Gommorah (...Having read the book after seeing the movie, I feel completely confident in this one.)

  • And the winner will be: Inglourious Basterds
  • A better choice: Moon (...A great, story-driven sci-fi movie with nary a monster or fancy, high-tech special effect in sight?! That's good writing, homey.)

  • And the winner will be: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
  • A better choice: Hard to argue with Bigelow. She deserves it. But suffice it to say that there a number of directors to whom I would give this award before I'd give it to her. Too many to list, even. Ya feel me? I thought so.

  • And the winner will be: The Hurt Locker
  • A better choice: See #'s 1-8.

So the Oscars have this crazy new voting system for Best Picture. Per
"In the past, once the nominees were announced, Academy members voted only for the one film they thought should win the award, and the film with the most votes won. But with so many nominees next year, it’s feasible that a movie could have won Best Picture with only 11 percent of the vote, which seems crazy. So now, once the 10 nominees are named, voters will rank the films from 1 to 10. All the No. 1 votes will be counted, and if no film has more than 50 percent of the vote (which will certainly be the case), the last-place film will be eliminated and the voters who voted for that film will have their No. 2 votes counted instead. That process will continue until one film has a majority of the votes. As Pond points out, there is a chance that the film that ends up winning won’t actually have the most No. 1 votes, but will instead emerge the victor in the second, third, or fourth rounds."

This could wind up being a total clustercuss, of course. But I think it sounds kind of fun. So much fun that I'm doing my own fake vote! So, from 1 to 10, here is how I would vote for the Best Picture nominees:
  1. Precious
  2. The Hurt Locker
  3. Inglourious Basterds
  4. An Education
  5. A Serious Man
  6. Up
  7. District 9
  8. Avatar
  9. Up in the Air
  10. The Blind Side (The only one of the ten I haven't seen. I seriously doubt that it would be any higher on this list were I to give it a shot.)

Monday, February 15, 2010


(2006) ...Dir. David Lynch

I do not envy David Lynch. Yes, he is an absolute genius. Yes, he has made some of the most incredible films of all time. And yes, he is a transcendental meditation aficionado. (That last bit isn't just for bonus points. Lynch insists that TM has become an indispensable part of his creative process.) But the stuff that comes out of his head has a tendency to be both frightening and bewildering (at first blush, anyway). Yet Lynch is somehow able to make it all comprehensible.

Bizarre and terrifying thoughts and ideas, I can handle. I expect all of us experience moments of shock/fright/fascination at the strange thoughts which occasionally pop into our heads. But while most people shake off such notions, dismissing them as flukes of the human mind, David Lynch goes the other way. He explores the apparent quirks of the mind, derives their origins and meanings, then makes sense of them!

It is remarkable to think that one could dive so deeply into his own consciousness--scouring its deepest and darkest cavities--and not lose his mind entirely. Not only does Lynch retain his sanity, he goes one better. Molding practically inconceivable concepts into story and sound and image, he creates beautiful, often unsettling pieces of art capable of sincerely communicating the incommunicable.

Again, I do not envy Lynch. His filmmaking prowess is awe-inspiring, of course, but I have no interest in even imagining how a mind like his must work. I doubt I'd come out alive.

Which brings me to INLAND EMPIRE (FINALLY, I know!) I've seen the film exactly one time, at the Neptune Theatre, with my dad and Megaen Paladin. I remember very vividly watching the film, despite not remembering the details of the film itself quite so well. The fact that I remember the actual watching of a particular film would be a lot less noteworthy if the film in question wasn't partly about film-watching (good luck sorting out this sentence, by the way). INLAND EMPIRE is also about film-making, Hollywood, technology, reality, time, getting lost, being a woman, and many, many other things. In true David Lynch fashion, the vast majority of the film is highly surreal. Out of context, almost every scene seems unrelated to the scene which precedes it and the scene which follows it. (I expect some would claim that it's all nonsense in context, too.) Characters regularly walk through doors or down hallways only to emerge into an apparently different reality from the one they previously occupied. If you're familiar at all with David Lynch, you already know there's no way to explain any of what happens in the movie and expect it to make any sort of sense.

This is where I tell you that INLAND EMPIRE makes a whole lot of sense to me. For all the surreality and mind-boggling content, I understand this movie. This is where you think me a crazy person, or a liar, or a pretentious asshole (or maybe a bit of each). Movies like this don't work for everyone. In fact, they probably don't work for a lot of people. And when a movie like INLAND EMPIRE misses a person completely, that person is going to have a very difficult time believing anyone who claims to "get it". I've been that person on numerous occasions, for films far simpler than this one--I speak from experience here. But when I tell you that INLAND EMPIRE works for me, I'm not making it up. I can't explain how or why it works, it just does.

The fact that I can spend nearly three hours staring at a screen in a darkened room without so much as a clue about the relationship between one scene and the next, then leave the theatre with a clear idea of what the film is about blows my mind. When I called David Lynch an "absolute genius" in the opening paragraph, I sincerely meant it. Normal people can't do this kind of thing.

If I wasn't playing favorites with this whole countdown, INLAND EMPIRE would almost certainly crack the Top 3. Having seen it just one time, more than three years ago, though, it sits at #6. But it's quite a movie, folks. It refreshingly assumes at least a modicum of open-minded effort on the viewer's part, too, so if you're not into giving a bit of yourself to a movie, you may as well just skip it.

[I'm going to try to keep this short, in the interest of making it to bed by 6am, but I must at least mention INLAND EMPIRE's relationship to Lynch's 2001 film Mulholland Drive. In many ways, they're almost the same film. INLAND EMPIRE's tagline--"A Woman in Trouble"--could be slapped onto Mulholland Drive and fit like a glove. But Lynch is the sort of filmmaker who could make the "same movie" for the rest of his life and each subsequent version would be as fresh as the first.

The interplay between INLAND EMPIRE and Mulholland Drive is of particular interest to film nerds like myself, however, as Mulholland Drive was shot on film and INLAND EMPIRE was shot digitally. Considered together, the two films serve as a fascinating examination and reflection of the continuing evolution of filmmaking as digital technology further encroaches upon the cinematic tradition that is film stock. As the only two films Lynch made during the past decade, Mulholland Drive and INLAND EMPIRE sort of bookend (metaphorically, not chronologically) a decade which brought digital filmmaking to industry-altering heights.

Anyway, a lot of people, when making their Decade Lists, made the decision to consider Mulholland Drive and INLAND EMPIRE together. I had to separate them, as INLAND EMPIRE was far more accessible to me than Mulholland Drive was. I owe it to myself to re-watch both. So many movies, so little time, though.]

In 2000, Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg made this incredible short film called Camera. I include it here because it, too, engages the Digital vs. Film discussion. In less than seven minutes, it says a great deal. Consider it a taste of the sort of dialogue embarked upon by Mulholland Drive and INLAND EMPIRE. Consider it also an amazing film in its own right.

Missed my 6am target bedtime. Sheeooot.

Friday, January 29, 2010

#7. The Royal Tenenbaums

(2001) ...Dir. Wes Anderson

I know, I know. Being a Royal Tenenbaums fan is way played-out. Everybody and their brother and their brother's dog loves this movie, right? Well there's a reason for that. Reason: it's a great movie.

I could take this opportunity to redundantly list the merits and achievements of this film, but that'd be lame. Instead, I'd like to solicit answers to the following questions:
  1. Is The Royal Tenenbaums the best film Wes Anderson has made? If not, what is?
  2. While it would be a big stretch to call Anderson one of my favorite directors, I do feel like I can count on him to consistently make very good films. Even his "worst" films are still pretty darn good. Which begs the question: is Wes Anderson the best filmmaker of his generation?
I've got my own answers to both of these questions, but I'd be interested to know what everybody else thinks first. So hit up that comment thread. Aint No Snob's going interactive. Yeah.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

#8. Sexy Beast

(2001) ...Dir. Jonathan Glazer

"Oh yeah. Bloody hell. I'm sweating here. Roasting. Boiling. Baking. Sweltering. It's like a sauna. Furnace. You can fry an egg on my stomach. Ohh. Who wouldn't lap this up? It's ridiculous. Tremendous. Fantastic. Fan-dabby-dozy-tastic."

Sexy Beast opens with what may be my favorite first scene in film history. When I started making this list, I was a little bit shocked to learn that the movie is only nine years old. I sincerely feel like it has been a part of my cinematic consciousness forever (granted, I haven't been alive and conscious of movies long enough for nine years to be so negligible).

I'll forever love Ray Winstone for his turn as retired English gangster Gal Dove (as if Winstone's track record isn't pretty damn solid, as is). All supporting performances more than measure up to the impeccably written dialogue, but Ben Kingsley is most impressive as Don Logan, one of the nastiest motherfuckers you'll ever see on screen. Just you wait.

My disclosure of this Decade List has proven incredibly fitful. Two weeks ago I posted my Honorable Mentions and I've only just made it to #8, publishing each subsequent post with no regularity whatsoever. As a preface to that list of Honorable Mentions, I mentioned that some movies on this list have taken on a sort of legendary quality in my mind, have become so near to my heart and embedded in my memory that I can no longer be trusted to fairly assess or discuss them. A less neurotic person might call them Favorites.

Sexy Beast is doubtlessly one of my Favorites. So instead of blathering on and on, I'll just shut up and let you watch it for yourself. You're welcome.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

#9. United 93

(2006) ...Dir. Paul Greengrass

Some people are able to watch films and detach themselves completely from the subject matter. They just observe the images and sounds, see how they're put together, and decide if the movie works or doesn't work. Me? I'm not very good at that.

So when United 93 opened in April 2006, I made a conscious decision to avoid it. Not because I was disinterested, but because I felt that dramatizing a 9/11 storyline would be a serious mistake. The most likely result of recreating a horrific scenario--the inflicted wound still fresh, no less--would be a cheapening of the lives lost. And, oh yeah, 9/11 was totally fucked. I had absolutely no intention of revisiting that day, only to risk seeing the whole gut-wrenching (yet somehow sacred) event disgraced by an ill-made film. Such was my line of thinking. So I skipped it.

The film eventually left theatres, of course, but I kept hearing about it. Kept hearing that instead of feeling cheap, the film possessed an almost unbelievable realness; a disarming authenticity. As more and more overheard feedback continued to erode my rational reason for ignoring the film (i.e., that it was inevitably doomed to fail), I began to realize that I was just being a coward. I, like many Americans, simply wanted to push the story of United 93 from my mind. I wanted to pretend that it had nothing to do with me and just leave it to history.

Not being one to casually accept behaving like a complete pussy, I checked United 93 out from the library, invited over my homey Jason Ryan, and we sat in silence for the next 111 minutes as a perfect film played on the television. United 93 had to be perfect. It had to feel real. And Paul Greengrass (an Englishman, interestingly) nailed it. He gave the United States the single best narrative film about the single most horrifyingly jarring event in our country's history.

I'd be willing to bet that the vast majority of the American public still hasn't seen this film. And I think that's due primarily to the fact that the vast majority of Americans can't bear to face 9/11 again. I can appreciate that. I avoided seeing this film for the very same reason. But I was wrong.

United 93 is required viewing. I don't mean required for film fans, I mean required for EVERYONE. See it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

#10. In the Mood for Love

(2001) ...Dir. Wong Kar-Wai

The first time I tried to watch In the Mood for Love, I fell asleep (such is the price of staying up to watch movies while the rest of the world has already gone to bed). Fortunately, I had the good sense to try again.

The second-most beautiful film of the decade (to Flight of the Red Balloon), the second-best love story of the decade (to my as-yet unnamed but perhaps obvious #4 film), and my second-favorite Wong Kar-Wai film (to Chungking Express, unoriginally), In the Mood for Love has the undesirable distinction of being the first runner-up in a number of categories. And so it occupies the #10 spot on my list, despite likely deserving better. Just wait: I'll watch it again in next month and be back here writing some desperate apology for ranking it so low.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


11. The American Astronaut (2001) ...Dir. Cory McAbee--Criminally underseen. Make your world a better place; watch it tonight.
12. Caché (2005) ...Dir. Michael Haneke
13. Amélie (2001) ...Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet
14. Lake of Fire (2007) ...Dir. Tony Kaye--Ever seen a documentary which caused you to seriously reexamine a belief you had previously considered unassailable? I have. It's called Lake of Fire.
15. Flight of the Red Balloon (2008) ...Dir. Hou Hsiao Hsien--Absolutely, without a doubt, the most beautiful film of the decade.
16. El Aura (2006) ...Dir. Fabián Bielinsky--Bielinsky died not long after making this, his second feature film. We're all lucky he made two great movies while he could.
17. Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai (2000) ...Dir. Jim Jarmusch
18. Hunger (2008) ...Dir. Steve McQueen--Yes, it tops my Best of 2009 list, but was apparently released in the US in 2008. Can't follow my own rules all the time, can I?
19. City of God (2003) ...Dir. Fernando Meirelles
20. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) ...Dir. Julian Schnabel
21. WALL-E (2008) ...Dir. Andrew Stanton
22. Shotgun Stories (2007) ...Dir. Jeff Nichols--Being a man in America can be a lot more difficult than you might imagine. [Michael Shannon is an incredible actor, by the way.]
23. Downfall (2005) ...Dir. Oliver Hirschbiegel--Hitler was a human being. And that's a rather terrifying thing to face.
24. Why We Fight (2006) ...Dir. Eugene Jarecki--Find out why the US will never stop fighting wars.
25. Wet Hot American Summer (2001) ...Dir. David Wain--"I want you inside me."

Top Ten coming soon. Promise.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

BEST OF THE DECADE: a 37-way tie for 26th place (a.k.a., the Honorable Mentions)

The problem with making a decade-spanning "Best of" list of any kind is that, after enough time has passed, memory begins to corrupt reality. Guess that applies to everything, really. Life's weird, huh? Anyway, once I began consciously considering which movies do and do not merit inclusion on my Best Films of the Decade list, I found myself struggling mightily to separate actual films from my mind's idea of them.

For example, I might not have even considered including Amélie if I hadn't had the opportunity to re-watch it recently. As it turned out, Amélie managed to find its way into my Top 15 (and, as such, shall not be found listed below)! It works both ways, of course. There are almost certainly some movies that dug themselves so deeply and warmly into my brain/heart that despite their being perhaps less-deserving than other films, they still made the cut. In any event, as much as I would love to revisit each and every film on my "short" list, I just don't have that kind of time. Maybe in 2020...

[For the record: the year listed next to the film's title does not necessarily reflect the film's year of production. Rather, the year listed indicates either the year of a film's official US release, or--in the rare case that I am able to see a film prior to its US release--the year in which I first viewed the film. It's the way I've always done it; I don't intend to stop now.]

The 37 great films which all just barely missed the Top 25 and are thus insultingly relegated to a lowly, alphabetically-organized "Honorable Mentions" list are:

  • Amores Perros (2001) ...Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
  • Bowling for Columbine (2002) ...Dir. Michael Moore
  • The Bridge (2006) ...Dir. Eric Steel
  • Casino Royale (2006) ...Dir. Martin Campbell
  • The Corporation (2004) ...Dir. Mark Achbar & Jennifer Abbott
  • The Departed (2006) ...Dir. Martin Scorsese
  • Donnie Darko (2001) ...Dir. Richard Kelly
  • Gerry (2003) ...Dir. Gus Van Sant
  • Grizzly Man (2005) ...Dir. Werner Herzog
  • Half Nelson (2006) ...Dir. Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) ...Dir. Mike Newell
  • i ♥ huckabees (2004) ...Dir. David O. Russell
  • Idiocracy (2006) ...Dir. Mike Judge
  • Iraq in Fragments (2007) ...Dir. James Longley
  • I Served the King of England (2008) ...Dir. Jiří Menzel--This one surprises even me. Came out of nowhere.
  • Jonestown: the Life and Death of Peoples’ Temple (2006) ...Dir. Stanley Nelson
  • Junebug (2005) ....Dir. Phil Morrison
  • Knocked Up (2007) ...Dir. Judd Apatow
  • Kurt Cobain: About a Son (2007) ...Dir. AJ Schnack
  • Life in Loops: a Megacities RMX (2007) ...Dir. Timo Novotny
  • Memento (2001) ...Dir. Christopher Nolan
  • Mulholland Drive (2001) ...Dir. David Lynch
  • Nobody Knows (2005) ...Dir. Kore-eda Hirokazu
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) ...Dir. Joel [& Ethan] Coen
  • Paprika (2007) ...Dir. Satoshi Kon
  • Paradise Now (2005) ...Dir. Hany Abu-Assad
  • Paris, Je t’aime (2007) ...Multiple directors
  • The Proposition (2006) ...Dir. John Hillcoat
  • Punch-Drunk Love (2002) ...Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson--Magnolia would have been, at worst, #3 on my Decade list if it hadn't missed the 2000s by less than one week.
  • Sin City (2005) ...Dir. Frank Miller & Robert Rodriguez
  • Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (2004) ...Dir. Kim Ki-duk
  • Super Troopers (2002) ...Dir. Jay Chandrasekhar
  • Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2006) ...Dir. Park Chan-wook
  • Talk to Her (2002) ...Dir. Pedro Almodóvar
  • Traffic (2000) ...Dir. Steven Soderbergh
  • Zodiac (2007) ...Dir. David Fincher
Stay tuned for the big reveal of my Top 25 Films of the Decade! Coming...SOON.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Girlfriend Experience | Fantastic Mr. Fox | Broken Embraces

A nice little three-movie day. Titles above, in the order I watched them.

The Girlfriend Experience is terrific. My homey Jason Ryan (I linked to his old short story blog, so you all can enjoy some real good reading--you're welcome) mentioned earlier this year in 2009 that he really liked it, that it might be one of the best he's seen this year saw in 2009. Admittedly, I had my doubts. But I watched it this afternoon and it's really pretty special. It's Steven Soderbergh's other 2009 film (The Informant! being what I consider his primary release this year), and it only solidifies his status in my mind as the most prolific talent currently working. He made his big splash way back in '89 with sex, lies, and videotape, and since then he has made at least twenty films, the vast majority of which are good movies. And that's really saying something. Most directors put out films at no better than half the pace of Soderbergh, with half the creativity and vision (at best), and most of them are less than half as watchable.

Anyway, I don't think I'm going to tell you anything about The Girlfriend Experience, other than that you should watch it as soon as you're able. If you have Netflix, there's really no excuse, as it's available to "Watch Instantly". So get to it. Time's a-wasting.

Fantastic Mr. Fox, Round 2 was lovely. I liked it very much the first time I saw it, and I liked it very much this second time, as well. My repeat viewing didn't convince me that it's a great film (as opposed to a very good and very enjoyable one), but I did notice more, different bits that I hadn't before. I hereby submit that Fantastic Mr. Fox is Wes Anderson's third-best movie to date, by the way. (Feel free to guess the first two. It shouldn't be hard.)

Broken Embraces. Not a lot to say about this one. It's good. It's not great. It's definitely worth seeing. But it's also definitely rentable, if you prefer the DVD route. I have yet to see a Pedro Almodovar film that is boring, and this is no exception. All of his films seem to have interesting, slightly bizarre stories told in a way that always feels fresh and unique. And for that, I love him. But Broken Embraces--despite being interesting and slightly bizarre, and feeling (somewhat) fresh and unique--ultimately left me unenthused. I'm glad I went to see it, but a week from now, I'll probably have forgotten all about it. And I'm fine with that.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Invictus | Pierrepoint

Watched two movies today. One of them was good.

Invictus wasn't the good one. Invictus isn't a bad movie, either, but it is a little dull, and clumsily constructed.

I initially thought it odd that Matt Damon was cast as former South Africa Rugby captain Francois Pienaar. It seemed to me that a capable South African actor must be available to play the part. Anyway, my concerns were unfounded; Damon gives a fine performance.

And I'd be lying if I said I'm not at all concerned about Clint Eastwood's newly lackadaisical directing. It seems that the older Eastwood gets, the less concerned he is with keeping production value high. Watching Gran Torino last year (a film I liked, by the way), there were a few moments during which it became painfully obvious that I was sitting in a theatre watching a movie. Invictus contains even more of those illusion-killing instances. I don't think Eastwood's age is catching up with him, necessarily, but I do think that he has more or less stopped caring about those minor details which keep audiences engaged. He's made enough films by now to be done sweating the small stuff, apparently. So be it. All I know is that I sure miss the days when his movies were seamless and compelling throughout (i.e., just three years ago).

But about that good movie...

Way back in 2006, a movie called Pierrepoint played at the Seattle International Film Festival. I clearly remember wanting to see the movie but, ultimately, I missed it (there are only so many hours in the day, and dollars in my pocket, after all). It took me three and a half years, and considerable prodding on the part of my dad, but I've finally seen it. And it is terrific.

The story of Albert Pierrepoint, a famed English hangman, it is a remarkably affecting film. From his first hanging to his last, the film somehow conveys exactly how devastating capital punishment is, not only for its "victims" and their survivors, but also for the practitioner. The film is at once an examination of capital punishment through executioner's eyes, and a character study of the executioner himself. At only 90 minutes, it is absolutely astounding that so much emotional weight and character development is packed into Pierrepoint.

Much of the credit has to go to Timothy Spall, a wildly underrated actor (in the US, anyway) who most film-goers probably know better as Wormtail of Harry Potter infamy. But it's the lower-profile films in which he really shines, and Pierrepoint is undoubtedly his best. (He's also great in Mike Leigh's All or Nothing and, if you like soccer at all, The Damned United, as well.) The rest of the cast is rock-solid, too--Eddie Marsan's face is incredible.

There's far more to Pierrepoint than great acting, of course. The photography is gorgeous and effective. Music is on point, and put to great use in particular scenes. And I honestly cannot recall more eloquent writing; each word, in each line, is there for a reason.

Maybe it's hypocritical of me to say so, considering how long it took me to see the film, but Pierrepoint is criminally underwatched. See it soon.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Best of 2009! (So far!)

First off, I hope anyone who actually reads my blogs can forgive me for being such a garbage blogger. I'm tempted to make some sort of empty promise about "getting better about that," but, as I like to tell the truth whenever possible, I'll settle for a sincere apology: I'm sorry, Readers. I love you dearly.

Secondly, the title of this post probably deserves some explanation. It should be obvious, I think, that a list of the best movies I saw in the past year will be available below. Generally, I wait until shortly before the Oscars to compile a "Best of the Year" list. But, even though it's only three days into the new year, practically everyone else I know who makes this sort of list (critics and casual fans alike) have already done so. And goddammit, I don't want to miss this boat again. I'm notoriously late for everything (ask anyone); this list will be the exception to that rule (my priorities are obviously fucked).
Which brings me to the "(So far!)" part of my title. If anything is more typically 'me' than chronic tardiness, it is my limitless fear of commitment (just trust me on this one). The "(So far!)" is my disclaimer. Should I see a 2009 film in the next month or two that I can't bear to leave off this list, I reserve the right to amend it accordingly.

Just for fun--or maybe as a light appetizer?--here's a sampling of some of the 2009 films I intend to see as soon as possible, which I think stand a good chance of cracking my Best of 2009 list:
  • The White Ribbon (01.19: I have no idea how I feel about it yet, which probably means it's good. I'll see it again in a couple weeks when it gets its official release.)
  • Police, Adjective (01.30: As with White Ribbon, I'll need to see Police, Adjective at least once more before I'll know whether or not it's worth of The List.)
  • Summer Hours
  • Goodbye Solo (01.18)
  • The Limits of Control (02.11: It's fascinating. Not to mention gorgeously photographed. Oh, and the music is terrific, too. Come to think of it, I like it more and more and more with each passing moment.)
  • Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Best doc of the year. 50-year-old Canadian dudes still chasing the dream. Inspiring.)
  • Liverpool
  • The Girlfriend Experience (01.05: Moving it to the Honorable Mention list.)
The White Ribbon and Police, Adjective haven't even opened in Seattle yet! How can I possibly make a complete, final, unconditional Best of 2009 list when such strong prospects open in my city nearly a full month after the year has ended?! Movie-watching sure is tough.

Anyway, without further ado, the ten finest films of 2009, according to me, are:
  1. Hunger
  2. Moon
  3. Sin Nombre
  4. Revanche
  5. Gomorrah
  6. Still Walking
  7. 35 Shots of Rum
  8. Precious
  9. The Hurt Locker
  10. Inglourious Basterds
In the interest of brevity and my sanity, I have no intention of providing any explanation for my decisions (yet, anyway). One thing I would like to point out: only two three American productions made this list, and they waited until the 8th and 9th (and 10th) spots to do so. Way to suck, USA. (Note: As of 01.12, one more American film has snuck onto the list. Crazy Heart, tied for at #10. See it.)

Some quick honorable mentions:
  • Adventureland (Jesse Eisenberg: the thinking-person's Michael Cera.)
  • An Education (Demoted from Top Ten on 01.20...but through no fault of its own.)
  • Avatar
  • Crazy Heart (Bumped from Top Ten by The Hurt Locker.)
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox (Because I, too, am a wild animal. HOT BOX!)
  • The Girlfriend Experience (See below comment.)
  • The Informant! (Two decades on, and Steven Soderbergh continues to make terrific movies with remarkable frequency and consistency.)
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Star Trek
  • Zombieland (You're killing it, Jesse Eisenberg.)

Okay, that's all for now. But stay tuned for a forthcoming "Best of the Decade" list--the Top 9 of which have already been decided (assuming an as-yet unseen 2009 film doesn't complicate matters by completely blowing me away). Also, Oscartime will undoubtedly bring some nonsense about who should be nominated, followed by some disgust with who was nominated, and culminating in a bitter post-show rant about how all the winners are undeserving scum. Maybe I'll even pretend to swear off the Oscars for good! Should be a blast!

Byefornow, Readers.