Saturday, January 29, 2005

"You know, I was just gonna torture the song, and now you're murdering it."

Well, that line alone, as delivered by Samantha Morton, is enough to bump Code 46 from my "Wish I'd seen it" list to "Honorable Mention" for 2004. Plus there was that Mick Jones cameo. Please don't ask which Mick Jones. Ok, thanks. Who knew there were two good films in which a man and a woman fall in love, only to find that her memory of him has been erased? I'm telling you, amnesia is the new black(out?).

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

I was thinking about my overuse of the word "lugubrious," which pops up in about half of the reviews I linked to in my top ten post. I wrote those reviews at different times over the course of about two years, sometimes under tremendous um, deadline pressure, and I guess I never realized how much I dig the slow pacing until I saw them all gathered together in that post. At least please admit that it's a fucking great word. For now, it's going into the "do not use" pile. But you will not take "verisimilitude" or "at its core, the movie is..." until you pry my cold dead fingers from the keyboard.

Speaking of lameass film criticism, one of the better online film critics is Vern. And if you are not familiar with his work, you should click on that link immediately. He is just the funniest guy writing about movies, and definitely has his head on straight in terms of a worldview, as well. His review of Collateral not only acknowledges Michael Mann's extreme overratedness, but it contains a hilarious parody of a certain type of film reviewing that is thankfully one I do not indulge in often, though lord knows I have my own indulgences, like a sickening penchant for alliteration. (I swear, it happens by accident every time, and I only leave it in because it occurs naturally, like homosexuality in nature, so it would be almost homophobic, in a way, to edit it out.)

Anyway, I just wanted to comment briefly on the Oscars. I'd rather write about the other big film thingy that's going on out in Ohio or wherever right now with all the celebrities and gift bags, but no one sent me to cover that.

So Paul Giamatti got robbed bad, didn't he? Does anyone not recognize that Sideways is no big deal with any other actor in that role? So when was the last time someone who had never been nominated before was nominated for Best Actor for playing a schlub. Maybe, you could make a case for Steven Rea in The Crying Game (1992), but I think Fergus was too charming, good-looking and manly to qualify. Robin Williams was schlubby enough in The Fisher King (1991), but he had already been nominated for non-schlubby roles in Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society. So I'm going to have to go with Bob Hoskins in Mona Lisa (1986!), but he had the added advantage of being British (there have to be at least three or four British acting nominees every year). So I'm discounting him. Seeking a North American actor who had not established himself as an awards contender, Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl is the next possibility, same year (1977) that Woody Allen was nominated for Annie Hall, so obviously it was a banner year for schlubs and an anomaly.

I forgot what the point is, but obviously Giamatti is out in the cold because he is not one of "the beautiful people." I don't understand why Leo gets a nod when there are at least a dozen young successful actors who would have been more interesting in that role. I know it's the Oscars, and we don't expect the nominations to reflect any real measure of quality, but here the Academy fails even by its own lax standards.

Ray, meanwhile, was nominated for Best Picture over Eternal Sunshine, which of course is wrong. Ray isn't a bad film, and Jamie Foxx certainly did a superb job, as did most of the cast, but at its core, the movie is a very routine biopic. I have a unique theory about why the Academy's response to the film is so out of proportion to its merits. Kevin Spacey and Lions Gate promoted the hell out of Beyond the Sea, going all out to earn it nominations, and after seeing and hearing THAT, Academy members were probably putty in Ray's and Foxx's perfectly capable hands.

Here's a little P.S. after reading Vern's reflections on the Oscar nominations. I, too, was incensed that Story of the Weeping Camel, a film I really enjoyed, was nominated for Best Documentary, despite the fact that it is mostly staged and fictitious. But I was thinking I was the only one who felt that way, and was ready to concede that I did not understand what a documentary is, until I read Vern and my sanity was fleetingly restored. So thanks again, Vern.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

"I was born out of time."

Okay, so here goes nuttin’. I am unprepared to do this, as always. So I’ll include a list of films that I haven’t yet seen that I most likely would have considered, based on what I’ve heard from reputable sources. Other viewing suggestions are welcome. I see an awful lot, but I am limiting my selection to 2004 theatrical releases. Otherwise, I would have included 1) the brilliantly cynical Korean serial killer film Memories of Murder, which I saw at the excellent NY Korean Film Festival this year 2) the gruesomely funny, sad, weird Save the Green Planet! which I saw at the same festival, and which Film Forum is showing soon 3) Jia Zhang Ke’s gorgeous best film to date, The World, which I saw at the New York Film Festival, and which I’m sure will make its way to theaters at some point (if not one near you), and 4) Johnny To’s goofy and spooky Running on Karma, which mostly just continually surprised and entertained me. I’m not posting a bottom ten, but The Passion, Beyond the Sea, and Van Helsing would have made the cut. On a purely aesthetic level, putting aside (for one moment and with no small difficulty) its ugly offensive content, The Passion is cheesy and overblown, from the apparent werewolf and the demon children that attack Judas, to the scene where Satan gets his/her wig blown off. But on that level Beyond the Sea is an even worse film. Spacey should have called it Beyond My Talents (rimshot!) as neither his Bobby Darin nor his Orson Welles impression is at all convincing. Nominate him for all the Golden Globes you want, but smart people recognize this for what it is, and I think even fewer good scripts are going to be finding their way to him. (Forget American Beauty and The Usual Suspects; dude was in The Ref, Glengarry Glen Ross, and L.A. Confidential before he lost control of his ego. Right now, I’m more interested in what Robin Williams is going to do next. Oof!) Fans of me, and there aren’t any, will wonder at the omission of Before Sunset from my list, because if they existed, they would know how much I liked Before Sunrise. I’ve grown and changed a lot since then, and before I could be enchanted by Jesse and Celine’s wistful, happy reunion, I needed to see some evidence that they had, too. I tried watching it a couple more times. The thrill is gone. Anyway, here’s my top ten, etc:

1) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
This was by far the best film of the year, and as I read other top ten lists, and found myself getting extremely disappointed and even annoyed that other critics, some good ones, were listing it at 3 or 6, or even giving it an honorable mention, for crying out loud, I began to realize that it is one of my favorite films ever. I am a great equivocator, but in this case, the film hits me in such a unique and deeply personal way that it strains my ability to communicate how I feel about it with mere words (see my AMG review). By the time Joel tells Clementine he’s going to Rockville Centre (my hometown), I’m already completely sold on the movie’s deeply gloomy, wounded, gloriously washed out, achingly romantic (without a hint of sentimentality), and intrinsically cinematic spell. And don’t think that in 2004, a movie about the dangers of willful amnesia doesn’t have a trenchant political subtext. I know what this is. This is what we talk about when we talk about love.

2) Blissfully Yours
Sweet, gentle, understated, but very connected to the real world and its woes. Weerasethakul structures his narrative inventively, but he doesn’t go off the deep end and completely lose me, as he disappointingly did with his follow-up, Tropical Malady.

3) Crimson Gold

4) I Heart Huckabees
I go back and forth about how much I like this movie, but at this point, I’m thinking it’s funny and clever enough to make up for the fact that it may not be as smart as it thinks it is. Mark Wahlberg is a damn good actor, if you hadn’t learned that by now.

5) Time of the Wolf
After Funny Games and The Piano Teacher, I never thought I would like a Michael Haneke film, so I’m glad I gave this a chance. It bears repeating: “You really don’t know what’s going on? Or are you just stupid?”
The order of the last five (and my honorable mentions, for that matter) changes daily. But for now, this is it:

6) Springtime in a Small Town

7) Million Dollar Baby
Corny, old-fashioned tearjerker, and well done all around. Beautiful performances from Eastwood, Freeman, and especially Hilary Swank. A thoughtful, entertaining script that condensed a bunch of anecdotes into a flowing narrative. Tom Stern’s daringly dark palette makes this Eastwood’s most visually interesting film yet. Despite its cardboard villains, I think it’s easily his best work since Unforgiven. Er, make that A Perfect World.

8) The Clay Bird
This is a film about the Muslim world that Westerners need to see.

9) The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Don’t really understand what all the grousing about. This is funny, genuinely quirky, and sad in every way a Wes Anderson film should be. I guess it would have gotten better reviews if it took place at a prep school or on the Upper West Side, but I think he should be allowed to expand his horizons a little.

10) Fahrenheit 9/11
Sure, it cost the Democrats the election in the minds of gloating conservative columnists and DLC nitwits. In real life, there was enough truth telling, righteous indignation, and wit on display to compensate for Michael Moore’s usual flaws. I vacillated between this and The Corporation for the last spot on my list, so I guess this is just frontlash, or whatever you call backlash against the backlash.

Honorable: The Corporation, The Manchurian Candidate, Distant, Blind Shaft, Maria Full of Grace, Sideways, Primer, Infernal Affairs, Raja, A Tale of Two Sisters, Main Hoon Na, Red Lights, and Kinsey. I almost forgot that one, but I thought it was great. It may be a conventional (if well executed) biopic, but this year, its subject matter hit home with tremendous power.

Sorry I Missed: The Return, Zatoichi, Secret Things, The Dreamers, Osama, Broken Wings, Lost Boys of Sudan, Noi Albino, The Agronomist, The Saddest Music in the World, The Brown Bunny, We Don’t Live Here Anymore^, Mr. 3000^, Tae Guk Gi, Birth, Tarnation, A Fond Kiss, Born Into Brothels, Deserted Station, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Code 46*, Ghost in the Shell 2

^=finally seen and downgraded
*=finally seen and upgraded

Thursday, January 13, 2005

"I wanna see you squirm, just a little, and when you smart me, it roons it."

I've changed the settings on this here blarg so that even people who are not "registered users" can post their comments. I'm all for the free exchange of ideas and all that crap.

I won't be able to come up with a clever and/or thematically appropriate quote for each post, so don't get your hopes up. As if, right?

I have decided to call this a "blarg" both because it is pirate-y sounding, and because onomatopoeically speaking, it evokes a cartoon character vomiting. So that seems appropriate. Top ten list, any day now. Turns out I will never see every film released in 2004. Better luck in 2005, I suppose.

Friday, January 07, 2005

"Right now, I really like that you're nice."

Hello strangers,

I am not a superhero. I am an oh so mild-mannered struggling writer, a perversely dedicated part-time video store manager and ex-boyfriend. I've been writing about movies professionally for over ten years now, and I am still trying to understand what it takes to be a successful film critic who contributes to our culture. Reading this ( doesn't really help. I have always liked Edelstein, but I really don't know what is going on here with Stephanie Zacharek, Charles Taylor, or Armond White. None of the films they slag so viciously (along with, by extension, the critics and viewers who enjoy them) is worthy of their contempt. Certainly not Million Dollar Baby and Sideways, with their sharp scripts and pitch perfect performances, and not even Dogville. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a bit of a mess in many ways (both The Corporation and Hijacking Catastrophe were better political documentaries), but it gathers together enough pertinent information and displays enough righteous anger to move me. But maybe I am too soft-hearted to make it in this business. A filmmaker really has to go out of his way (Hello, Andrew Repasky McElhinney! What up, Mel Gibson! Hiya, Tony Scott!) to offend me. I mean, even Beyond the Sea didn't offend me, but then I'm not much of a Bobby Darin fan. I just can't summon righteous indignation at imperfect filmmaking. Obviously, it's hard to conceive a cinematic masterpiece. Charlie Kaufman is a damn genius, and it took him several tries.

This is my blarg. I plan to write here about the films of the cinema, and other things that I know little to nothing about. I hope you enjoy reading it far more than I enjoy writing it. At least so far...

What makes my blarg different from all the other film blogs out there. I'm not sure. We both know that I am emphatically and empirically not you. But what I know, and you may not know, is that I am also not that other guy.

Soon, I will post my list of the best films I saw in 2004. This is an Arizona Jim! exclusive, and so it's very exciting and eventful for me and for all of my readers, even the ones that only read me because they love to hate me. You know who you are (Me!).