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.