MY LEAST FAVORITE FILM OF THE YEAR
I don’t like Don Roos. His films are so fucking “clever” and overreaching. I knew what I was into when Lisa Kudrow gets hit by a car at the very beginning of the film. A message from the filmmakers appears on the screen to let us know that she is okay “because this movie is a comedy, well sort of.” Ugh. If this were on Showtime, I’d give it one and a half epidoes before quitting. In fact, this felt like a TV show the whole time but shows like Weeds kick its sorry ass. Maggie Gyllenhaal is the only thing worth watching in this film and she is sure worth watching. Oh yeah, did I mention that there is a fake documentary being made during the movie that they decide to call Happy Endings? So meta, so fucking trite, so dumb.
Kicking and Screaming
I saw this film with a bunch of third graders. They were more impressed than me. A standard issue life lesson kind of kids’ flick. Will Ferrell was funny at times but this movie isn’t really worth seeing. The pacing was really off as well. It seemed very choppy and off.
Save the Green Planet
Imagine if Miike directed Silence of the Lambs as a bad Twilight Zone episode and then imagine it ten times worse than you just imagined.
It is hard to be a teenager, blah blah blah.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
It was jokey and silly. We've gone from great lines like "Would someone get this giant walking carpet out of my way?" to slapstick routines of Yoda knocking over guards. Come to think of it, that was pretty funny.
It looked flat and dull and too crowded all at the same time.
Yoda's sentences were way too long for the convoluted way that he speaks. Ridiculous.
There were shots in it (the white corridor of the ship to look like the beginning of Star Wars --I refuse to call it "A New Hope", and Luke's uncle on Tattoine looking out onto the horizon) that were supposed to make us reminisce about good movies.
George Lucas continues to prove that he doesn't know what he's doing. There is no suspense at all in this movie. Everything seems to be in a rush to do nothing.
The scenes of Darth Vader becoming Darth Vader were supposed to remind us of Frankenstein, but instead reminded me of Young Frankenstein.
We are supposed to believe that Anakin goes from "Oh no, what have I done?" to "I will do whatever you tell me master" within three seconds.
How amazing was the birth scene when Natalie Portman is handed her babies and immediately names them? And then promptly dies because she has lost the will to live? Tom Stoppard is a genius!
I loved the scene when Darth Vader starts screaming out "NOOOOOO" when he finds out his wife is dead.
Youthlarge cried when the Wookies' were killed. I couldn't quite believe that anyone could find any real emotion in this film.
At one point, Youthlarge asked me to clarify a certain plot point. I responded, "I kind of stopped fully understanding all of this stuff in 1983."
I did truly like some of Natalie Portman's costumes -- from the Princess Leah look to the Buck Rodgers thing she had going on. Lovely.
I didn't really mind the silly little ways to tie this film into the next episode -- "We must wipe out the droids' memory" or Yoda, "I will go into exile until the time is right." However, I was struck by how little I gave a shit about characters that I once cared about -- Chewbacca, R2D2, etc.
All in all, I wasn't really disappointed by this film. It was what I thought it would be after sitting through the first two episodes. The whole endeavor seems like a wasted opportunity. Lucas clearly is a good idea guy and as Chris Larry pointed out, a great special effects person as well. Star Wars was not perfect but it was fun, inspired, and it had a human pulse. The Empire Strikes Back is a great film -- good screenwriting and great direction from a Irvin Kershner - a director who was used to directing small character driven films. He got the most out of his actors than any of the other six films. Return of the Jedi is pretty bad but at least it had Harrison Ford.
These last three films are so drab. The first three films all felt like new worlds and creatures were being introduced to us. The last three all feel too computer generated and blue screened out for my tastes. I still can't believe how Lucas has gone back and screwed with the first three films. I wonder if his next project is to digitally add souped up T-Birds to American Graffiti.
I wish that Lucas had franchised these three films out to different directors. The Alien films are not all great, but all four have their own look and feel to them because each one had a talented young director in charge. Even the Harry Potter franchise is mixing it up. I haven't seen the last three films, but from what I understand, the third and fourth installments are better than the first two Chris Columbus crapfests. A good director can make such a big difference.
Obviously, Lucas thinks that he can do these films better than anyone else. He has made his millions on them. but does anyone really truly love these films in the way that a generation ago loved the franchise? Maybe, but in my opinion, they are kidding themselves if they think these films are good.
However, if Lucas changes his mind and decided to bring back Ford, Hamill, and Fisher for a seventh episode, I'll be as excited as anyone else -- at least until I see how boring it all turns out to be.
Todd Solondz needs to be put out to pasture.
What is Gus Van Sant up to? With Psycho, he tried to recreate a classic as an art experiment. With Gerry, Elephant, and now Last Days, he is determined to rework true stories into a fictional tableau. One of the things that worked for me about Gerrywas thatI didn’t know anything about the story. Elephant was fairly interesting because Van Sant could create characters to fit the Columbine killers and I was none the wiser since I don’t know what those two clowns were like. But Van Sant stumbles badly here in his attempt to ape Kurt Cobain. Yes, the situations are made up and the other characters are as well. But what is the point here? I wanted to pummel the shit out of the mumbling Michael Pitt during the entire film. Much like Titantic where I was praying for the ship to hit the iceberg already, I couldn’t wait for the shotgun explosion so I could be put out of my misery.
On the Outs
A sort of Scared Straight for the hip-hop generation. The filmmakers spent time with 25-30 girls in a New Jersey detention center in order to put together a composite story of three girls growing up in the ghetto in Jersey City. What the filmmakers lack in technique, they make up for in their earnestness.
Bad News Bears
This did not need to be remade. The original movie is just too damn good. It has spawned countless retreads on the same ragtag team makes good story. So not only was this film fighting the ghosts of the original but also it found itself trying to compete with all of the other films of the past thirty years that ripped off the original. Richard Linklater did what he could.
The look of the film is fantastic -- all washed out like it was made in 1976 and the colors had faded. The baseball scenes are pretty damn good and I appreciated that we were allowed to watch much of the action unfold in front of us in one long take with the camera placed behind home plate.
However, I just don't get the point of this film. Near the beginning, I thought the film might try to make interesting societal comments like the first one did. There is a part when Billy Bob Thornton first meets his team and assumes that the black kid wearing #25 idolizes any number of black players who have worn that number. When it turns out that the kid's favorite player is Mark McGwire, Thornton can't quite believe it. It is a funny moment in a movie that otherwise just piles on the cursing to seem as edgy as the original. Sometimes it felt like a really bad ripoff of Bad Santa on the baseball diamond. Billy Bob Thornton is no Walter Matthau.
Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
I remembered loving this book when I was a kid but obviously I didn’t love it so much that I wanted to read any of the other books in the series. This is a pretty straightforward adaptation and it was what you would expect. Under the age of ten and this movie probably would kick your ass. It has all the violence without any actual blood that you could possibly ever hope for. It does have that wondrous feel of stepping into the closet and then being transported into another world.
But it also has some terrible special effects (I guess all the money went to Aslan), some ears clearly borrowed from the set of the original Star Trek series, too many Renaissance Festival touches, tons of sooooooooaring music, and some real underlying creepiness to it. I do have to admit though that Aslan was a much more convincing Jesus than Jim Caviezel. Any movie with four screenwriters in the credits can never be a good thing, right?
5 X 2
I have really enjoyed following Francois Ozon’s career. He has put out almost a movie a year since I moved to New York. His career started right as I moved here and I’ve grown up as he has! I haven’t loved all of his films but they all have been interesting. From See the Sea through Swimming Pool, all of his films have been worthwhile. However, I was pretty bored by this film about a marriage that ends in divorce. The decision to have the first scene be the two of them signing the divorce papers and the last scene of them falling in love makes things a little interesting but not enough to save the film.
Turtles Can Fly
The first film shot in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein revolves around children who find themselves in an impossible situation. I liked director Ghobadi’s previous films (A Time for Drunken Horses, Marooned in Iraq) much more than this one.
Not terrible but not good. This movie had its heart in the right place I guess but a movie that is trying to make a big point doesn’t have to be so damn boring, does it? I just didn’t care. Other movies this year have had big ideas but weren’t quite as ambitous as this sprawling epic. I did like parts of it though and I can’t fault the filmmakers for trying something as big as this. Guaranteed to win an Oscar for best editing.
Claire Denis is an interesting filmmaker. I loved Beau Travail, was intrigued by Trouble Every Day, and the buzz around Friday Night was interesting if nothing else. This movie looked amazing. Denis always has so many amazingly tight close-ups of her cast. Even when her movies aren’t great, they are really interesting to look at. And this one needed that help because I had no friggin’ clue what was going on. Oblique in the worst kind of way.
The Syrian Bride
Family drama set in the Golan Heights that, of course, finds its structure in the political. Decent but I wanted it to be better.
I’m not sure why this got so much press. It was okay but I was kind of bored. It kind of reminded me of a duller, happier version of The Butcher Boy.
A Tout de Suite
Benoit Jacquot makes his French New Wave film. It looked good but it went nowhere. I didn’t care about the characters or what was going on. However, it was much better than 2004’s The Dreamers which also attempted to pay homage to films of the past. However, Bertolucci’s characters were painfully recreating these film moments themselves whereas these characters were unawares to the films that Jacquot had them paying homage to.
There are some really good elements to this film. The set design is great. Michael Caine is great. The back story is interesting. But Chris Nolan couldn’t handle directing such a big movie. The action scenes suffer from Gladiator and The Bourne Identity syndrome - too much cutting, too many closeups making it impossible to tell what is going on. I found the Scarecrow laughably stupid and the last hour dragged beyond belief. Christian Bale was good as Bruce Wayne but crappy as Batman. I never would have thought that I would miss Michael Keaton in the role but merely uttering the classic line “I’m Batman,” proves to be too much for Bale. Using, the Spider-Man, and the X-Men films as a basis of comparison, this film is sorely lacking.
As I read over all the comments from a blog entry on this film, I found myself shocked that two days after seeing the film, I couldn't even remember many of the details that people were referring to. I'm not quite sure why more of it didn't stick with me considering that for the most part, I enjoyed watching this film.
I expected to hate the dialogue, but I actually think it worked for the film. I liked the narration, film noir style. But this wasn't really noir in the classic sense of the word. It had more of a pulp feel to it. Rather than femme fatales and snappy dialogue, it had tons of hookers and gore. Recent films with classic noir elements (The Man Who Wasn't There and Mulholland Drive among others) had characters that I found myself interested in. This film did not. That is okay though. This film is based on a comic that is influenced by noir and pulp. As each layer is added, more classic elements are lost and new elements are added.
I expected to not like the story, but I did like it. A whole bizarre world is created in this film. I'd imagine that if I had read the comics, I would have been super excited about this movie. More than any other film based on a comic, this film really felt like it had literally been ripped from the page. I loved the crazy Frodo shit. Some of the stuff was so incredibly and twisted and I dug it.
But overall the film seemed off to me. I'm not disputing that the film looked interesting overall, but everything seemed very flat to me. I did like the reds and the yellows that looked great next to the black and white. Maybe the print wasn't great, but the black and white looked dull to me. I suppose gray best emulates the look of the comics but I'm not sure since I haven't read them.
The actors never seemed to be in the same room when talking to each other. Everything seemed very stiff. The dialogue sounded like it had been recorded in a vacuum. It kind of sounded like the crappy dubbing on parts of 20 Midgets. If nothing else, I was expecting a thrill ride, but I didn't quite get that. I got a lot of fucked up murders and freaky scenes, but I didn't get a jump out of my seat, heart pumping, transcendent movie experience like Tarantino's best moments deliver. If Tarantino had directed more of it rather than Rodriguez, this film would have been much better.
This film has its heart in the right place but after a rousing start, the filmmakers lost steam. A recently married Chicago Outsider Art gallery owner visits rural North Carolina with her husband to visit his family for the first time and to woo an artist for a show at her gallery. In this increasingly polarized country, this film set itself up for an interesting study of our society. It doesn’t quite pull it off.
Wheel of Time
Warner Herzog’s documentary about the trek Buddhists take to Bodh Gaya, India where Buddha found enlightenment. This film begged to be shot on film because the digital video aspect of it is terrible. Still, I could listen to Herzog all day long talk about any topic.
Walk the Line
A by the book biopic but it still kept my attention. Nevertheless, this format is so bone tired. However, Joaquin Phoenix held his own muscially and Reese Witherspoon was amazing. I don’t think I’ve seen her in a movie since Election and I might just have to go rent a bunch of DVD’s to catch up. Sweet Home Alabama anyone?
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
The first hour of this is great, the second hour drags. I’ve been reading a lot about Chan-wook Park and this is the third of his films released this year so I felt like I should finally get around to seeing what his films were about. This film leaves me wanting to see more but not completey satisfied with what I got.
Recommended With Reservations
The Constant Gardner
This film was directed by Fernando Meirelles who also directed City of God. It has a similar feel at times, especially during the scenes in the Kenyan slums. This film has a lot on its mind and wants to make its points, damnit! Would make a good double feature with 2003’s Dirty Pretty Things as both attempt to blend a thriller with social commentary. However, that movie was a lot better.
Mad Hot Ballroom
I enjoyed this documentary about NYC public school kids competing in dance competions. However, there was something off about this movie that was holding it back from being truly great. The subject matter was so incredibly rich that the filmmakers could just sit back and film. Maybe the fault lies in the editing process but I wanted to see more of certain kids’ stories. Maybe this movie was too ambitious and should have just focused on a few of the kids. Regardless, there are some adorable parts to this movie that even a cynic like me can’t fully disregard.
March of the Penguins
Penguins are cute but this would have been much better if Burgress Meredith, rather than Morgan Freeman, was the narrator.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston
I learned a lot about Daniel J from this documentary. I had always heard about his mental problems but I had no idea. Very informative and entertaining and it was a treat to see a documentary that didn’t look like shit, but if I have to listen to one more person compare him to Bob Dylan, I was going to fight someone.
Interesting film about a soldier who is forced to kill a fellow soldier with a shovel by his Afghan captors. He is rescured shortly thereafter and the film deals with his troubled reunion with his family as he grapples with his secret.
Hustle and Flow
I loved the Memphis feel to this film. It evokes the dirty dirty South so well. It has a lovable underdog feel and some of the scenes as the music is created is exhilirating. Terrence Howard is incredible. And its got DJ Qualls! I love that freaky dude. Still, the film drags a little and there really isn’t all that much to it.
A rabbi, his wife, and two escaped convicts walks into a succah. Hijinks enuse.
Good Night and Good Luck
Enjoyed the Citizen Kane look of this film. The acting was solid, the message was equal parts inspiring and equal parts preachy. Quiz Show was a much more entertaining, more effective look into 50’s television, politics, and corporate life.
The Holy Girl
This Argentinian film got so much good press. I was expecting a transcendent movie experience. Instead I got a film that was good, but not great. A teenage girl decides her mission in life is to save the soul of a priest with wandering hands or to be specific, he likes to brush up against young women in crowds. However, he’s not interested in her help. A lot of ambiguities ensue.
The Beat My Heart Skipped
A remake of a 1978 James Toback film, Fingers, this film is about a street tough who wants to explore his artistic side with the piano. Some great scenes and all around interesting feel to the whole endeavor.
The timing of Vaughn and Wilson is impeccable. Fun stuff.
Jeremy would be a great krumper.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
The world needs more Seth Rogen!
John Pierson has done some interesting things. As a producer, he was a key figure in the rise of independent cinema. His book Spike, Mike, Slackers, and Dykes was pretty good and his IFC show Split Screen was beloved by millions - or at least one Balgavy.
I was very excited to see this film about how Pierson took his family to Fiji to play free movies for the natives for a year. Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Stevie) documented the last month of the experience. Parts of this film were incredible. It was great to watch movies bring so much joy to the people on the island and to see their reactions to different movies. But Pierson is pretty obnoxious. And there was so much annoying family drama with their 16-year-old daughter that it became quite grating. However, his 13-year-old son was a highlight of the film, he was hilarious as he sparred with his dad about how well certain films would be attended. He is definitely more pragmatic and realistic than his dad.
And the opening sequence of the Piersons getting married at Film Forum definitely captured my imagination. They had their names on the billboard of the theater and they had to be out by 1 pm for the first showing of the day. They also had Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances playing at the wedding. At the end of the film, Pierson shows Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr. to the crowd. It is a magical movie moment watching the crowd react to such an amazing cinematic achievement. I guess I wanted more of this kind of movie transcendence. As one of the missionaries on the island questioned, “Is he here for the people or is he here for John Pierson?” The whole thing felt like a stunt at times just to add to the Pierson myth but it made for an interesting movie.
Land of the Dead
I don’t think George Romero has any idea how to make a movie that doesn’t feel like it was made in 1978. This film felt like it was from that era. This was a good thing. I liked a lot of the aspects to this film -- that the zombies weren’t all super bad, some of them had personalities, and they learned things as they went. It was fun in a zombie kind of way. It was interesting to see zombies move so slowly again after the lightning quick ones from the past few zombie flicks.
Other than the fact that the digital video aspect of this looked terrible and the filmmaker’s narration was pretty annoying, this movie is well worth seeing. It is sad to me that a good documentary like this will not be seen by as many people as it should be. Network television doesn’t have the courage to broadcast this kind of film. Hell, they even get in trouble for trying to show Saving Private Ryan.
For the most part, the soldiers are not partisan in their beliefs. They are there to survive and to try to make sense of what they are doing. They are young, naive, courageous, smart. They are fascinating to listen to as they expound on why they joined the military, joke about the crappy protective armor they are given (“The shrapnel will stay inside of you instead of going through you”), and showing off their rapping skills.
Chop 45 minutes out of the Skull Island section and this movie would be great. Man, those two hours dragged. And I don’t care what anyone says, the dinosaur special effects looked really really bad when humans were in the same screen. But the last thirty minutes, or once Kong arrives in New York, are amazingly exhilirating. The simulated New York of the 30’s was incredible. Give me thirty more minutes of that and I would have been very happy. Hell, I could have watched Kong on top of the Empire State Building for three hours. As it stands, the New York part feels merely like the coda rather than the centerpiece of the movie that it should be. Still, the New York scenes coupled with the tender moments between Kong and Ann Darrow save the film and almost make me forget the ridiculous length.
I left the theater thinking how kick ass it would be if Spielberg were to direct the next movie in the Bourne series. This was good but as Alex J. pointed out, I expected to leave this movie drained from all the moral implications of the whole thing. Instead, I just felt like I got a cool action movie. At times, it felt like The Conversation and that is clearly not a bad thing.
War of the Worlds
Once again, Steven Spielberg has come close to making a great movie. Instead, he delivers another decent one. While much better than The Terminal, War of the Worlds still qualifies as a disappointment. Frank Rich points out some interesting things about the political agenda of the film. Some of the parallels to 9/11 and Bush's war on terror are interesting and well done. And as Jim pointed out, the feeling of utter terror that you can't do anything to protect yourself and whether you survive or not is pure luck captured the craziness of 9/11 quite well. The pacing of the first hour or so was amazing. I was honestly scared a few times -- when the ground starting collapsing from the imminent rising of the sleeper cells, the pulverizing chaos wrought by the terrifying killing machines, and the passing train on fire. The action scenes were stupendous. It is such a treat to watch a filmmaker who knows how to shoot a great action scene especially after sitting through the jarring Batman Begins.
With all of these great things going for this film, it is sad that once again, Spielberg shoots himself in the foot. The Tom Cruise trying to prove himself a good father was painful to watch, the Tim Robbins character was insufferable (although his line about occupations always fail was a great one), and the ending was silly and abrupt.
Separated from the hype, this is still a good movie. Heath Ledger was the heart of this film while Jake Gyllenhaal provided a lot of nice posing. The audience has to fill in the dots about what these guys really mean to each other because it isn’t realy fleshed out in the film. Ang Lee is more interested in the effect their relationship has on these men’s lives outside of their occasional time spent on Brokeback Mountain. Well done subtle touches are occasionally offset by showy shots (fireworks anyone?) but nonetheless the film is still worth seeing.
A return to form for Woody Allen or merely a Crimes and Misdemeanors ripoff? How about somewhere in between? There is so much to like about this movie. It looks great. It doesn’t feel like a Woody Allen movie for most of it (no jazz, no whiny Jews, no Upper East Side) and even the plot device ripping off Crimes and Misdemeanors is forgivable. Whereas that film uses its main plot point as a device for a discussion on religion, ethics, and morality, this film uses it to trigger the fun and to hammer us (again and again) with the role of luck or lack thereof in one’s life.
The first hour is crisp and entertaining. The next half hour (or the Scarlett Johansson whines segment) is bad, bad, bad. Allen clearly didn’t know how to move his movie from Plot Point A to Plot Point C gracefully and this middle section is poorly written and not believable. But the last half hour is amazing! Fun, interesting, and more clever than Allen has been in years.
I read a review that likened this film to Love and Death, not perfect but very good. That film marked Allen’s shift from silly films to his better period of films starting with Annie Hall. Maybe this film signals a shift from the Melinda and Melinda type bullshit to the next good phase of his long career. Mitch said that Allen is already shooting his next film in London, also with Johansson. Maybe the old codger just had to get out of New York to find his voice again. This is the first Woody Allen film I’ve seen since 2001. Up to that point, I’d seen every one of his films except for one. I’m excited to get excited about his movies again. I’m looking forward to his next film for the first time in years. It was great seeing this at a packed theater in Manhattan - to feel the buzz of the crowd desperately wanting to welcome Woody back to the world of relevancy. Sometimes people have to leave home to be able to return triumphantly to the fold. Hopefully, this is Allen’s return home.
The first 3/4 of the movie were fantastic. Cillian Murphy is so incredibly creepy. But then the ending became formulaic and completely implausible. Still, the first 3/4 were so good that I can forgive the last bit.
Memories of Murder
Eerie Korean police drama. It is nice to know that every society has crappy looking police stations.
This was a box office sensation in Germany. It is an interesting film about destructive personalities and culture clashes. Lots of drugs, lots of Turkish music, lots of violence. Good stuff.
Japanese kids stuck in an apartment with no parents and their everyday pursuit of survival. I was interested in this but it makes me very curious about how much of this is based on truth and how much of it isn’t.
Kings and Queen
The latest film from the director Arnaud Desplechin who directed one of my favorite films of the past ten years (My Sex Life (Or How I Got Into An Argument) and it is a good one. He has directed a number of films over the past few years and somehow I have missed them all even though some of them like Esther Khan are supposed to be good. This film reunites two of the main actors from My Sex Life. They play ex-lovers but we don’t find that out at first. Instead, we see their two characters leading completely separate lives. As the film develops, we find out more and more details to fill in the gaps. It starts off strong and continues to gain steam. An intricate, low-key, good film
A State of Mind
North Korea may be an incredibly sad and hard place to live but for us foreigners who get to observe the madness, it is quite fascinating. This documentary focuses on two girls as they prepare for the 2003 Mass Games. These are the crazy spectacles that involved thousands and thousands of gymnasts and children with placards that together tell the story of the Dear Leader. If you have never seen footage of these demonstrations, this film should be a must see. It is amazing how indoctrinated every single person seems to be. Obviously, they would be afraid to tell what they really think on camera, but it seems that these people have been so completely brainwashed that they believe what they are spoonfed.
Pride and Prejudice
I can’t believe that 1. I saw this movie and 2. I liked it a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t plan on going off the Jane Austen deep end but this was a good movie. Too many of these films seem to be more about the costumes and evoking another era instead of letting the setting help tell the characters’ stories. This film did not make that mistake.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
This film is so much fun. Tim Burton doesn’t try to recreate the Gene Wilder film. Instead, he chose to be more faithful to the book. The Oompa-Loompas are great, the colors are perfect, and Johnny Depp manages to capture the essence of the character from the book instead of trying to recreate Wilder's portrayal. It has been years since I've read the book, but there were times during the movie that I felt like I was eight years-old tucked into bed and reading it. The glass elevator stuff was always my favorite stuff from the book and the movie captures the wonder, magic, and bizarreness of it all.
I wasn’t a huge fan of director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s most acclaimed film (Mysterious Object at Noon) but I decided to give his latest a shot anyway. This one is split into two parts -- the first part is a burgeoning friendship between two men. One has a huge crush on the other but the object of the affection is merely a cocktease. The second part is a mostly dialogue free segment based on a Thai folk legend about a shaman who can transform himself into different beings including but not merely relegated to a tiger. The two actors from the first segment play the hunter and the hunted again, but this time literally and with changing roles. Tropical Malady is sometimes very very slow in the second half, but it is still quite a thought provoking film about human desire.
The filmmakers wisely limited themselves to a short period of time in Capote’s life. This is definitely a good companion piece to In Cold Blood. Philip Seymour Hoffman was amazing. A few months after seeing it, I still can’t get his performance out of my mind.
I have not seen a film that captures loneliness in such a vivid manner as this. No crying, no long speeches, no histrionics - just pure day to day melancholy. This Japanese film is loveliness incarnate. A man finally finds a woman to marry but her obsession with buying new clothes proves the marriage’s undoing but in an uexpected way.
I have been a fan of Michael Haneke’s films since I saw the sadistic Funny Games right after I moved to New York. He has an amazing talent for keeping his films incredibly tense from beginning to end. This aspect drove Jim crazy. He wanted some sort of release which he felt like he never got. I love that as a viewer, I’m never given a real chance to catch my breath. Others were pissed that the ending never really gave any answers. I felt like I was given just enough that I wanted to read more about it and talk to people about it.
I don’t think this movie is as good as Mulholland Drive, but much like that film, I left the theater completely perplexed. I had to read many critiques of that film and talk to many people about it before seeing it for a second time before I felt like I could truly appreciate it. I look forward to seeing this movie again to see if some of the theories I’ve read about since seeing it work or not.
The New World
A lot of people I know are going to blow this movie off (or say that they are) because Colin Farrell is in it. That would be a mistake. This is a very good film. Yes, some of the narration can be a little much at times. And yes, the Christian Bale segments aren’t as good as the earlier segments. And yes, the film is a tiny bit too long. But there is so much to like about this film that I can overlook those elements and rate it this high.
This and The Thin Red Line are very similar in tone and storytelling structure. Both are heavily concerned with the indifference of nature to the pettiness of man. Both are told from the point of view of many narrators. However, where The Thin Red Line has many fight scenes, seemingly a never ending amount of shots of nature, and seemingly dozens of narrators, this film only has one real fight scene, fewer gratuitous shots of nature, and only three narrators.
This movie isn’t for everyone but much like films such as Morvern Callar and Kippur, this film put me in a trance. Malick really captured some amazing moments in his portrayal of the founding of Jamestown in 1607. Having not seen The Thin Red Line since it came out, my initial take on this film is that it is a more coherent, more successful movie on very similar themes using a different historical time and place as the template.
I haven’t seen any of Gregg Araki’s other films so maybe I should at least give The Living End a chance after seeing this movie. At times, this film was predictable but for the most part, I didn’t really know where it was heading. The cinematography was great as was the pacing of the film. Every actor was incredible and believable from the fag hag to the confused teen to the gay best friend to the sweaty fat Johns. This film was pretty damn disturbing so make sure you have a strong stomach for subject matter about child molestation if you venture into this.
Supposedly this is Ingmar Bergman’s last film. It is a sequel to his gutwrenching Scenes From a Marriage from the early 70’s. After having not seen each other in thirty years, Liv Ullmann decides to visit her ex-husband and ends up staying with him for awhile. She finds herself embroiled in a family drama that involves her ex-husband’s son from a previous marriage and his granddaughter. Of course, this being Bergman, it is fascinating. A treatise on growing old, mortality, and what it means to be alive, flaws and all, this is a really good film. I hadn't seen Scenes From a Marriage in ten years and barely remember but that didn't really impact my enjoyment of this film.
A History of Violence
No car crash sex, sideloading VCR people, man-flies, or drugged out twin gynecologists in this flick. No schizophenia either. Instead, David Cronenberg delivers an entertaining as hell genre piece. Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, and William Hurt are all incredible. It almost makes me hope Cronenberg doesn’t return to his crazy ass stuff and simply made more flicks like this one. Almost. This film is sure to garner a number of Oscar nominations and it should. While some of this reminded me of Scorsese’s Cape Fear this film has a lot more on its plate than that.
Creepy creepy creepy Japanese flick. Half the time, I had no idea what was going on but I was scared anyway. Ghosts apparently have run out of space in the spirit world and now they are coming for our sorry asses through our computers and other technology like cell phones. A fascinating film about how new technology that should be helping us find new ways to reach out to each other is really just making us incredibly isolated and lonely.
Howl's Moving Castle
It is hard to do a follow up to one of the best films of the past few years, Spirited Away, but Hayao Miyazaki comes close. It has all the magical and crazy elements you could want. It reminded me of parts of Spirited Away, Triplets of Belleville, The Wizard of Oz, and Dr. Seuss. All in all, even Billy Crystal couldn’t ruin the fun.
Just Missed the Vaunted Top 11
While this is indeed Jim Jarmusch’s most conventional film to date (flashbacks?) it is still pretty damn great. Every little moment is perfectly paced and acted. Bill Murray continues to play the same character he’s been playing for a few years now but it works much better in this film than in that last Wes Anderson film. Instead of being precious, he’s much more tender and raw in this film.
Each vignette from his travels is its own little encapsulated funny story. Jarmusch’s first three films (Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, and Mystery Train were seeped in a big city Lower East Side hipster bohmeian kind of vibe even when the films were set elsewhere. This one has a much different feel to it than his earlier work. He’s exploring more of a suburban existence.
Who is this man that needs to explore the country, to get out of his bubble, to find out who his son is, to find out who he is? Murray is a man who doesn’t know what he wants - hell he made his fortune from computers but doesn’t even own one. Parts of this film also reminded me of last year’s much reviled Brown Bunny - a lot of driving around on interstates as the protagonist searches for something within himself.
Ki-Duk Kim’s followup to my favorite from last year - Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring Again. There is very little dialogue but it does not matter. Like Spring, Summer ..., this film doesn’t need the spoken word to tell its story eloquently.
This film is about a couple (the man rescues the woman early on from a terrible relationship after breaking into her house) who break into people’s apartments when they are sure no one is home. The male protoganist delivers menus in the morning and then comes back in the evening to see who hasn’t picked up their menu - Jamie better be careful to pick up all of his delivery menus in the future.
They go in, they fix something, they cook a meal, they hang out. Each person who lives in these apartments and houses are lonely people who find it impossible to really communicate with each other. This mostly silent couple are completely in love with each other and completely put all of the other foolish souls to shame. It is hard to fully describe how romantic this film is. In lesser hands, this film would be a ridiculous exercise in New Age baloney, but not here. Well worth seeing.
In the first annual “Marilyn Raphael Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film," this plucky Argentinian road movie is a bittersweet slice of life film. There are three different people from the same dusty town all heading to a bigger city a long drive away. Each is seeking redemption in some manner. There is a shy, young mom who wants adventure and some adulation and a chance to win a prize for her town. There is a traveling salesman who is in love with a client in the other town but he hasn’t mustered enough courage to tell her. Instead, he goes to great lengths to show up with a great birthday cake for her child who he has never met. And then there is the old man seeking to make amends with his dog who he had treated poorly and who had run away years before. An incredibly charming film.
My Summer of Love
Pawel Pawlikowski’s last film Last Resort was one of my favorite films of 2001. He has an amazing ability to film everyday type scenes with an amazing composition. This movie is about a burgeoning friendship/love affair between a bored teenage girl in a dead-end British small town and a rich bad girl home for the summer after being expelled. The townie’s older brother has turned to Jesus which pisses the girl offl to no end. She looks for an escape and the rich girl lacking in parental guidance provides it. There are sublime moments of pure cinematic brilliance, amazing moments of empathy, cruel moments of selfishness, and exhilirating moments of declaring independence in this film.
The concept of this film is unbelievable. How do you make a 90 minute film about one joke? After five minutes, I was already feeling weary. But then I gave into its charms and it ended up blowing me away. A tribute to old time comedians, to the adaptability of comedy, to timing, to shared experiences, hell - even to human perserverance, this film is great. Any movie that makes me love mimes and Gilbert Gottfried is a damn work of art.
Kung Fu Hustle
Easily the most fun movie all year. This put a smile on my face the entire time. Stephen Chow’s last film Shaolin Soccer was also a lot of fun but this new one is much better. Manic, fantastic, funny, and amazing. Incredible fights and special effects. This film puts all of the big Hollywood epics to shame with their disorienting action scenes. This film's over the top craziness still has me smiling months later when I reminisce about it. Why this movie wasn’t the hit of the year across this great land of ours is beyond me.
Once again, Wong Kar-Wai delivers. Everything he does is incredibly interesting to me. Ostenibly a sequel to In the Mood For Love, this film shares a similar pacing and feel to its predecessor. Just like In the Mood, 2046 uses Nat King Cole songs as the emotional fulcrum of many scenes. And just when you think that the movie couldn’t get any better, Wong Kar-Wai teases us by giving us footage from the aborted sci-fi film that 2046 was originally going to be. In it, we are given a world where Mariko Mori remakes Blade Runner for the Gil Gerard generation in the novel that Tony Leung’s character is writing. Like all Wong Kar-Wai films, one viewing is not nearly enough to fully comprehend all of the intricacies. I look forward to seeing it again.
Werner Herzog’s documentary about Tim Treadwell is enlightening, sad, engrossing, infuriating, and stupendous. Treadwell dedicated his life to bringing awareness of the grizzlies that lived in the wilds of Alaska. He spent thirteen summers living amongst them, studying them, filming them and himself while sharing his thoughts on film, and bonding with them.
Eventually, this lifestyle caught up to him and he was killed by a grizzly in 2003. The audio of his and his girlfriend’s deaths were recorded but Herzog wisely decided not to play it. Instead, he films the coroner who describes what was on the tape and that is enough. I've heard that that footage doesn't really exist and that whole scene is fake but I don't care.
Treadwell was a man living on the edge, a man more comfortable with bears than with people, a man who clearly had some issues to deal with. He died doing what he loved but he was so damn stupid at the same time. The film consists of Herzog’s narration as he tries to make sense of Treadwell, interviews with people who knew him, and a lot of footage that Treadwell had shot himself. The days leading up to his death, Treadwell seemed to have a premonition of his death as he pontificated on the nastiness of one bear and how he planned on living amongst the bears until the day he died. Herzog continues to astound me with his choices in subject matter.
Me and You and Everyone We Know
Yes, this film might be just a wee bit precious, but I was sucked in from the beginning. Miranda July is amazing! She has such a fascinating face and persona. She could have been a huge silent film star because her face is so incredibly expressive. At times, she reminded me of Buster Keaton. Near the beginning of the film, I thought that this is the kind of movie that Hal Hartley could have made in the late 80’s if he wasn’t so hipsterfied and obsessed with being so damn deadpan.
July does a great job of capturing the everyday loneliness and desire to connect with another person whether you are six- years-old, a teenager, or an adult. The sexual confusion and experimentation of the teenagers is incredibly funny, but also very real. This film captures so many little, fascinating moments of life (the goldfish on the roof of the car to name one). July incorporates so many universal themes in this film in a new, very unique way. This film got the big arthouse push over the summer and I was worried that I would be saddled with another cloying Napoleon Dynamite fiasco that strained too damn hard to be quirky. Instead, I was pleased to find this heartfelt, tender, charming film. And as far as I know, there aren't any Me and You and Everyone We Know lunchboxes as of yet.
This film had me thinking for days. The story of two potential Palestinian suicide bombers is fascinating. Filmed on location, the filmmakers faced incredible danger and one crew member was even kidnapped at one point and needed the intervention of Arafat to secure release. The film is not preachy but it does clearly state that these kinds of tactics might not be the best way to achieve goals. It does an incredible job of showing the frustration and humilation of the occupied as well as showing how the two potential bombers are merely pawns in a larger game.
This movie is amazing. I have not read much about the last few days of the European theater of World War II so I’m not entirely sure how factual this film really is. However, it was based on two credible sources so even if it isn’t completely accurate, I’m sure that it captures the essence of what the last few days in Hitler’s bunker were like -- the paranoia, the suicides, the undying allegiance to the Fuhrur. Bruno Ganz is amazing as a defeated Hitler. As some subordinates begin to disobey him, he begins to realize that the only thing he he can even remotely control anymore is what goes on in his bunker.
Ulrich Matthes as Goebbels is the most chilling portrayal I've seen all year. He is truly frightening. The scene where his wife poisons their children rather than surrender to the Russians is incredible yet quite logical based on the mindset of the leaders in the bunker. As the Russians draw closer to the bunker, the end draws near and there is chaos on the streets and mass suicides under ground. This film, the D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan, The Pianist, and Come and See all are excellent places to start in the World War II genre. I felt completely drained by the end of this movie.
A devastating documentary about the impact of colonization and economic victimization of Tanzania. Everyone is getting rich off of the fish from Lake Victoria except, of course, the Tanzanians. I was equally fascinated and horribly depressed by the machinations in place to keep the system the way it is. Tanzanians are left to forage in the streets and dumping grounds and are lucky if they are able to get their hands on the rotting carcasses of the fish that are left behind. Some people even hope for a war because soldiers get paid well. The images in this film are unforgettable. This is a must see film.
A Close Second
The Squid and the Whale
Before seeing this film, I had only seen one of Noah Baumbach’s other films (Kicking and Screaming) and I wasn’t that impressed with it. And he co-wrote my least favorite of the Wes Anderson films (The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou). So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this one. But my doubts were quelled during the very first moments of this bitterly funny film about divorce. The numerous tennis and ping pong scenes underscored the underlying tensions of the film to brilliant effect. Jeff Daniels made me wonder where he’s been all these years. It seems like just yesterday he was tearing shit up in Something Wild before disappearing from my radar. Welcome back Jeff.
William Baldwin’s character echoes in my mind many months later. The scene where Jeff Daniels asks to get back together and Laura Linney busts out laughing is easily one of the best moments of any film this year. The Kafka discussions still crack me up. The "I am a philistine" scene is incredible. Every moment of this movie is wonderful.
The arrogance, the pettiness, the selfishness, the insecurity, the confusion of this family are all on display here. It is a testament to the acting, the directing, and the fine script that the audience is drawn to care at all about these pretty unlikeable people.
The only complaint I can even think of about this film is how short it feels. I wanted more damnit!
My Favorite Film of the Year
The White Diamond
This film is unlike any I’ve ever seen before. Werner Herzog’s documentary (or so he says) left me speechless. Some of this seems too perfect to be caught merely by chance. The credits list Herzog as the writer of the film lending even more doubt to whether or not this is all a true story. I’d love to believe that it is all true but like any documentary, the mere fact that a person is filming it, shapes the experiences of the people being filmed so I suppose it doesn’t really matter.
The film tells the story of Dr. Graham Dorrington who embarks on a trip to the giant Kaieteur Falls in Guyana to fly his helium-filled flying craft above the unexplored tree tops. The guy is manic and good for a few laughs. Herzog wisely chooses not to make him the ultimate subject of the film. Instead, Herzog focuses on whatever event happens to grab his attention as a filmmaker.
Herzog spends a lot of time interviewing one of Dorrington’s crew, a Guyanese man named Mark Anthony who ruminates on technology, nature, life, poetry, and his longing to fly the craft to Spain to visit his family who he hasn’t seen in thirty years.
Dorrington also explains how his friend died twelve years earlier in a similar expedition. He is clearly haunted by his friend’s death and harbors guilt for it. This is one of those times that I can’t believe that all of the things in this movie are real. At one point, when talking about his late friend, Dorrington explains that his friend had once been swarmed by elephants while his camera was rolling. Sure enough, Herzog included footage of elephants stomping by overhead.
There is just something about this film that put me in a trance. Whether it is villagers talking about the legend of the great falls nearby, a miner moonwalking next to the falls at sunset, beautiful shots of thousands of swifts flying into the mist of the great falls to the cave behind it, or Herzog’s melodic narration, I was absoutely transfixed by this film.