Monday, June 28, 2010

Another Small Programming Note...

I can't seem to track down a copy of Mike Leigh's Life is Sweet (what a sad world we live in...). I may have to VHS it. But in the meantime, I'll be watching Naked in its stead. I'm also adding Leaving Las Vegas to the miscellaneous list. That's all.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Big Pretentious Movie Summer (21-25)

Manhattan dir. Woody Allen (1979)
All of the elements for my enjoying Woody Allen's love letter to Manhattan are seemingly present. Woody Allen? I'm finding that I love him more often than not, and even when groupthink deems something of his to be lower tier, there's at least something interesting to be discovered. Great cast? Check. I've extolled Meryl Streep's praises time and again, so I won't be redundant. I'm learning that I actually do enjoy Diane Keaton, whose thesping I've frankly found to be a tad pedestrian on more than one occasion, her Oscar-winning performance in Annie Hall--one of the best of all time for the category--notwithstanding (I've still yet to see Reds). And Mariel Hemingway? No complaints. Who can forget that TBS original movie she was in where she plays the secret service agent tracking the President's kidnapped daughter (played my "Dawson's Creek alum Monica Keena) aptly titled First Daughter (and yes, there are two films featuring former Creek'ers called First Daughter). I really really REALLY digress. My second crack at Manhattan, I found that my feelings still fell just short of love. I know I shall be revisiting it soon. Manhattan feels draggier the second time out. It's ideas feel extremely protracted, beyond the requirements of the narrative and beyond what's even to be expected from a Woody Allen film. I also found myself wondering about performance. In a Woody Allen film, especially, it would seem that casting is key. He is a director who famously writes every idea, nuance and cadence into a performance and therefore needs an actor who's in step with that. Meryl Streep describes the schizophrenic experience of filming Kramer vs. Kramer and Manhattan simultaneously. Where Robert Benton and screen partner Dustin Hoffman really let her find her character and her scenes, Woody Allen would famously stop her if she missed half a beat. Watching Manhattan it's clear that sometimes, performances suffer under his guidance because of this. Even in superior Woody Allen films, such as the recently lauded Interiors, performers like Mary Beth Hurt stumble through line readings that could have been made better with some leeway for improvisations. The film is a love letter to New York and an oft beautiful and lyric one at that. But it wants to be sweeping and engrossing, where it is often specific to the point of being exclusive (which is more my problem than it is the film's). Allen's treatment of lesbianism in his films is a topic of interest, particularly here. Lesbianism, as told by Allen, is framed as either an inconvenience/oddity in relation to men (seen here with Streep who plays Allen's lesbian ex-wife) or as objects to titillate and perform (as in Vicky Cristina Barcelona). Jill (Streep) and her new partner seem so desperately and myopically the creation of male gaze, which, granted, is unavoidable given the circumstances. The relationship is so narratively constructed to be irksome for Isaac (Allen) that one wonders if Jill and her partner retreat to separate bedrooms once he is gone, no longer needing to keep up the ruse. It's a small, but very telling schema, and one embedded in much of Allen's work. I guess it's almost refreshingly innocent on some level that someone with Allen's level of intellect can hold such seemingly antiquated views. And it's not as though that thread runs throughout his treatment of women, full-stop. Woody Allen has always been adept at portraying successful, independent women (particularly Diane Keaton in this film) in ways that miraculously seem unforced and unencumbered by the sandbags of male guilt. It's infinitely preferable to Tyler Perry's Independent Black Successful Woman™, who still can't make it through one of his films without being saved by glistening, rippling, pectoral muscles. For that, I'll always be thankful for Allen, even when I'm underwhelmed.
Grade: B

Hannah and Her Sisters dir. Woody Allen (1986)

How I would have loved to live through the golden age of the Woody years, in which Hannah and Her Sisters can be found, smack in the middle. Some would argue he's going through a current renaissance of sorts. Even at my most generous (I love me some Match Point, am a staunch Vicky Cristina Barcelona apologist and am clearly the only person on the planet who enjoyed Whatever Works, even a little bit) I have to admit these films pale in comparison to his best work (among which is Hannah and Her Sisters). Hannah and Her Sisters is beautifully constructed, almost scene by scene. This is an honest portrayal of a year in the life of three sisters, Hannah (Mia Farrow), Lee (Barbara Hershey) and Holly (Dianne Wiest). What's almost miraculous about this film is that many formal "Allen" elements that often work against his films, even his best (ponderous narration, dry, upper-middle class intellectualism, verbosity and cut-aways within cut-aways) seem to be working in perfect symbiosis here. All of the performers hit exactly the right notes, particularly the eponymous sisters themselves. Barbara Hershey's turn is studied and more understated than her character's histrionics suggest, particularly during her breakdown in the semi-famous restaurant scene. She reigns herself in at all the right moments and knows how much of the scene hinges on not only what she doesn't say, but how she avoids saying it. Dianne Wiest radiates her character's flightiness with her frazzled, stochastic mannerisms, but she also layers it very interestingly. Wiest's Holly toes so many lines, whether she's being selfishly indignant, willfully inconsiderate or merely oblivious. It could have been so easily mishandled in the wrong hands, and (Oscar or no Oscar) I don't think that Wiest gets due credit for how much control she has over this character. Look how Wiest communicates Holly's surprise at the new role she's assumed in having to patronize her more successful sister Hannah, after she writes a hurtful (albeit, very good) screenplay mirroring her life. It's not something she's used to. The temerity in voice and action shows her grappling, both with her guilt and her relishing of finally having her sister emotionally hog-tied. Like Interiors it is a snapshot of three adult sisters and like Interiors it is one of the most mature, honest and beautiful films of Allen's filmography. I immediately wanted to start it over and watch it again. I loved this movie.
Grade: A-

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown dir. Pedro
Almodóvar (1988)
Very entertaining. I have always admired Almodóvar's aesthetic, even if I am only now (shamefully) becoming more acquainted with his earlier work. If pressed, I have to admit a certain lack of...enthusiasm for this film, even a week after its initial viewing. I will say that, despite its failings to really burn bright in my mind as a rarefied work of cinematic genius, I appreciate how much Almodóvar really loves the women in his films. He gifts the craziness with aching humanity, as evidenced by Carmen Maura's justifiably lauded, more than the sum-of-its-part performance. Maura's Pepa is a teasingly specific, peculiar creature, anchored to the narrative by the actress's earnestness. However, very few singular elements come to mind in a very specific way (the spiked gazpacho being the exception--forgive my language, but what a fucking great plot device). I know a lot of people rank this as high-art, but I saw a very entertaining (as previously stated), very simple and frankly, rather slight (especially when held up against Almodóvar's filmography) portrayal of female hysteria.
Grade: B

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! dir.
Pedro Almodóvar (1990)
Breathtaking and daring and one of Almodóvar's best (though I understand I'm clearly in the minority for thinking so). It evokes many conflicting emotions about the nature of sexual need, romantic love and how the two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive (a subject that our culture is rather reticent about, so hell bent we are on subverting the knowledge that people have sex and enjoy it, lest our children find out and cause the end of the world). So my write-up doesn't turn into a total love-in (I really loved this movie almost to the point of wanting to marry it), I'm going to address one qualm I had--if it's even a qualm. Ricky (Antonio Banderas) is the recently released patient from a mental institution who kidnaps and ties up the beautiful actress Marina (Victoria Abril). He plays the role charismatically and skillfully, never forgetting to layer the hysteria in an interesting way. My concern is not at all with Banderas's performance. But...doesn't it seem like a cop out to for Almodóvar to address this issue of Stockholm Syndrome gone awry using someone who looks like Antonio Banderas, circa 1990? I wonder if the film would have worked just as well (maybe better?) with a lead actor at the helm who (even if he's not your thing) doesn't exude virility and charm the way Banderas does. Far be it for me to rewrite Almodóvar's film for him, recasting it with some Spanish Steve Buscemi. But, when pushing the envelope, I really want films to earn the way they tap into their audience's most base, uncomfortable desires.
Grade: A-

All About My Mother dir. Pedro Almodóvar (1999)
It's strange that two of the films for which Almodóvar arguably garnered the most acclaim (Women on the Verge... and now All About My Mother) evoked comparatively tepid response from me when held up against films like Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and Bad Education. I loved the two latter, though critical consensus and being told so by the many tell me that I apparently have bad taste for holding them in greater regard than the two former (Talk to Her and Volver are actually where I align with the critics regarding Almodóvar). I enjoyed All About My Mother, certainly. What I respect and appreciate so deeply about him is that even when my reaction lacks rabid intense passion (which, sadly is the case this time out) there are always formal elements and aesthetics to admire and marvel at that are more interesting and compelling than your average movie-going experience. Like Woody Allen's Manhattan, I spent a fair amount of time trying to convince myself that I loved a movie which I merely liked a whole lot. I love Cecilia Roth and Penelope Cruz's very different performances here. Cecilia Roth's fierce, intense leading work here drives the film and she often saves certain scenes from utter melodramatic milquetoast. If she were more notable, an Oscar nomination surely would have followed (it's not like Oscar ignored--the film won Best Foreign Language Film). Cruz is radiant as the young naive nun who knows more that she even ultimately indicates. The film ultimately feels overlong and gives a little bit more revolution than I would have liked to see/the film needs. But an enjoyable movie-watching experience nonetheless.
Grade: B

25 Films Down 130 to Go

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Big Pretentious Movie Summer (16-20)

Easy Rider dir. Dennis Hopper (1969)
Is it cinematic blasphemy to admit that I did not love Easy Rider? Am I immediately segmented into the larger repressive state apparatus for not fawning over such a counter-cultural phenomenon? Whenever I encounter films, literature, etc. that portray white males as disaffected, deified figures, my defenses immediately go up. Catcher in the Rye, On the thanks. A combination of institutional brainwashing/survival tactics for getting by in a world that rests so much stock in racially and culturally biased canonization of art has begrudgingly forced me to recognize the merit. That Wyatt and Billy can hop on motorcycles and travel across the country is a notion those two characters have every right to have in this country, and who's to fault them? It's their birthright. But just as these white men, throwing off the shackles of the button-down, work-a-day world feel it prudent to rebel against ideals that run counter to their beliefs, I feel a certain quiet rebellion to their rebellion. It's not right or wrong. It simply isn't my experience. I don't share their enthusiasm, nor will I ever, nor can I ignore that within this movement of white male raging against the dominant culture (replete homophobia, racism, sexism, and any other isms you can think of) are semaphores for less overt, yet more insidious and quite possibly more entrenched variants of these repressive ideals. The handling of women in Easy Rider as ciphers for/extensions of greater male ideas sticks out at very odd angles. This is not my way of sticking it to Easy Rider, a film I certainly enjoyed more than the aforementioned riot act would indicate. I tried, as best as possible, to evaluate it on its own terms. Seemingly meandering (sometimes annoyingly purposefully so), Dennis Hopper created something very evocative. Its images are so full of feeling that one almost forgives the film's many flaws. Henry Fonda and Dennis Hopper alternately suffer from and are benefited by the material. They somehow each manage to eke out semi-realized characterizations, where the script and Hopper's own direction seems to want them to play composite ideas of counterculture. Jack Nicholson does give in to the material's insistence that he play an idea rather than a character, but he does so memorably. The sad fate of sweet drunkard George Hanson is still felt in the end, as are the fates of our main characters. I just wish we could have seen less of an abstraction and more of the concrete. I feel like Hopper gave us the thesis statement. Now I want the rest of the dissertation.
Grade: C+

Midnight Cowboy dir. John Schlessinger (1969)
While I did not love this film, I liked it a hell of a lot and it certainly swept me up. Midnight Cowboy is lively acted throughout, particularly by Dustin Hoffman. For this type of uncorked, unrestrained and (frankly) attention-seeking performance, my reaction usually ranges from indifference (Joe Pesci) to white hot "dear-God-why-is-this-performer-still-employed?" levels of rage (Renee Zellweger and sometimes Geoffrey Rush...but mostly Renee). I digress. Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo sidesteps all of these hurdles, because he manages to imbue the character with emotion, layering and shading. I like how Hoffman never forgets to make sure that we catch Rizzo contemplating his next move and his next spiel. The moments of silence are the most telling, though I gather I have bad taste for liking this performance. Jon Voight is alo accomplished, playing Joe Buck as alternately doe-eyed and ferociously intense. Regarding the film itself, it's refreshingly loose and undisciplined. It does follow traditional story beats, certainly, but it isn't as chained to them as you would expect from an Oscar best picture from the 1960s. I'm not sure if the Academy was high that year. And granted, when the chief competition is Anne of the Thousand Days and Hello Dolly! anything will look good by comparison. Even if I don't love the film it's at least heartwarming to know that the Academy once made such a refreshing, frisky and adventurous choice for best picture, the likes of which wouldn't be repeated until Annie Hall over Star Wars seven years later and then The Hurt Locker over Avatar decades later. It's easy to see why Midnight Cowboy is so acclaimed, even if my enthusiasm for it is just a notch below the rabble. Of everything acclaimed about this film, I guess the only thing I don't "get" is Sylvia Miles performance, which I found a little wanting. Perhaps I'm being unfair. Perhaps I went in expecting greatness from Ms. Miles because of the famous diva bitchfit she pulled when she lost the supporting actress Oscar to Goldie Hawn that year. But...besides some very good Judi Dench, Ruby Dee, blink-and-you'll-miss-it theatrics, am I missing something here?
Grade: B+

Toy Story
dir. John Lasseter (1995)
Am I so hopeless for having waited this long to watch Toy Story? I had a good childhood. I really did. With the (at the time of the viewing) impending third installment and mounting excitement surrounding it, I felt a little behind the conversation, having not seen any(!) of the Toy Story franchise. Despite the name of this blog, I am a curious creature who does often want to know what all the fuss is about. That being said, I felt somewhat...deflated. Not by Pixar's first big film out of the gate, which impressed more than I thought it would. Toy Story is a phenomenal film, but I'm going somewhere with this. I'm deflated by why I didn't see this film when I was a child. I was nine when it came out. Why didn't I see it? My parents certainly would have taken me. Had I already outgrown my state of childlike wonder at nine-years-old? But I was still playing with toys at nine. And I did see Pocahontas, which came out the same year. I'm sorry. This is a deep therapy moment for me and I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out exactly what happened. Even if you're made of stone, there are real flashes of brilliance in this film and a heck of a lot to love, certainly. Of all the sights and sounds to behold in this film (and they are beautiful, rest assured), Sid is the best creation of the movie. The sadistic little "toy-torturer" is written with such acute understanding of the oft inexplicable nature of a child's cruelty. The voice work here is superb. But the question still remains...why did I miss this as a tot? Curiouser and curiouser...
Grade: A-

Husbands and Wives dir. Woody Allen (1992)
This film is often overshadowed by the less than savory aspects of Woody Allen's personal life that arose upon its initial release. It's kind of a shame, really because this is really top drawer Woody Allen. While very funny, Husbands and Wives is also a very real meditation on the relativity of happiness, especially as it pertains to relationships. Gabe (Allen) and Judy (Mia Farrow) are happy, it would seem. But when their married best friends Jack (Sydney Pollack) and Sally (a fabulous Judy Davis) announce their separation, things go awry. I found myself deeply engaged and sucked in by this film. Particularly by how there are no easy answers. For instance, the film remains ambiguous as to whether the erosion of Gabe and Judy's marriage is a result of their own failings in light of their friends's separation, or if it's self-fulfilling prophecy. Judy Davis gives an amazing performance as Sally, who is caustic, juvenile, needy and giving, often all in a single scene. While on a date with a suitor (Neeson) following her separation, Sally is kissed, maybe just a little too aggressively. Watch the aplomb with which Judy Davis recoils and utters such neurotic lines like "Can we not move so fast? Metabolically, it's not my rhythm" (this may be one of my favorite lines ever uttered in cinema, by the way). Mia Farrow is very good as well, though I wish some attention had been given to Juliette Lewis, who plays the fawning student to Woody Allen's overblown professor perfectly. Not everything in this film works. It's shot in a faux-documentary, handheld style. This serves to heighten and enhance the emotional resonance of certain scenes (the opening scene, for instance, which is one long take and works beautifully). For other scenes, it has the exact opposite effect, undercutting the feelings and taking the wind out of the sails (the scene where Sally sees Jack and his new twenty-something girlfriend in the street, for instance). The film also contains cutaway interviews with the four essential characters and other outliers, but one wonders if the documentary conceit is even necessary, or (better question) if more proper consistency would make it seem necessary. Ultimately, the film is flawed, but deeply intelligent and authentic, much like what I imagine a good marriage to be.
Grade: B+

Interiors dir. Woody Allen (1978)
I understand where this movie frustrates people, especially those who are more acquainted with Allen's more comedic fare. Not to be reductive and imply that the criticisms for Interiors came only from those longing for the days of Annie Hall and Love and Death. They were varied and often founded. It's too intellectual, it's too verbose, etc. It's cold and stiff where it should be moving and involved. It's overstates its ideas where it should say little or nothing. I read all of these criticisms. However, I found Interiors to be deeply moving and real in its portrayal of how three very different adult sisters deal with the separation of their parents. Geraldine Page is amazing as the family's matriarch, Eve, an accomplished interior decorator with a penchant for emotional abuse. Page knows that one need not raise her voice when speaking to cut deep. Maureen Stapleton gives an incredible performance that's more than it seems as Pearl, the uncouthed "vulgarian" whom the family patriarch Arthur (E.G. Marshall) takes up with and subsequently remarries following the dissolution of the marriage. For as much as things are often overstated (which I contend is just their way--Allen has crafted a haunting and affecting tale of how the over-educated upper middle class handle crisis) there is so much in this film that is handled masterfully. The rule is always to "show don't tell." Woody Allen can't not tell, it would seem. It's simply not who he is. But he always makes sure to show, which is what makes this film so rich. There's a scene where the daughters Renata and Jo (Diane Keaton, Mary Beth Hurt) and their respective partners (Richard Jordan and Sam Waterston) share a meal with Arthur and Pearl, presumably after an evening at the theater. While discussing the play, Renata argues about abstractions versus reality. Insert Pearl's analysis, unfiltered by the family's usual need to one-up each other in terms of intelligence and wit. She says what she thinks, as reductive as it may seem. Is she wrong? Not exactly. But everything about the scene--the way Stapleton's hand gestures suggest that this conversation need not be as important as they are making it, the way Keaton sucks down her cigarette, trying to mask her contempt--it all tells us everything we need to know. This is a film that understands it's characters from the ground up, from the inside out. It's truthful, it's painful and it's ending can seem unsatisfying. It's also mature, well-observed and one of Woody Allen's best, quite possibly one of the best. I also remember reading somewhere that Mary Beth Hurt (in general, but particularly in this movie) was the basis for Miss Hoover on "The Simpsons."
Grade: A

20 films down...135 to go

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Small Programming Note

"What? This moulinyan is taking a break from Scorsese? Oh! Oh! Oh!"

Regarding the Big Pretentious Movie Summer (which is still going strong and off to a great start), logistical factors have caused me to divert from Scorsese. Nothing against the man himself (I've enjoyed his films immensely, for the most part). However, it appears the AFI library's copy of Casino has gone AWOL, so I'll have to Netflix it. Rather than skipping over to 2004's The Aviator, I'm taking a break from Scorsese for now and will return next weekend. I'm also jumping all over the place. I've moved on to Woody Allen, as that's what's calling out to me right now. And I'm feeling oddly unmotivated to watch His Girl Friday (should I get on that?) from the misc. list and skipped to Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy and Jaws this week. Everything will get watched in its time.

Peace, Love and Pretension

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Big Pretentious Movie Summer (11-15)

12 Angry Men dir. Sidney Lumet (1957)
An interesting exercise in cinematic structure. It examines 12 jurors (all men, you guessed it) who are presiding over a murder trial that involves a slum kid allegedly stabbing his father to death. The facts seem irrefutable and the group is all but ready to submit a "guilty" verdict, if not for one relentless juror (Henry Fonda) who insists that there's reasonable doubt. As the "evidence" is observed, piece by piece, it all starts to crumble under a microscope. Knowing the story of this classic film going in, I found myself expecting facile examinations of racism and prejudice and how they play a roll in the justice system. Even by today's standards, it's much more nuanced and shaded than most films that deal in any way with the subject of racial disparity. Henry Fonda is halo gets a little too shiny, as he plays up the role of the good liberal with great verve. Lee J. Cobb can practically be seen twiddling his mustache as he plays the angry "lock them all up and throw away the key" juror who is ardently the last one to change his vote to "innocent." And he does so with a display of angry tears that's a But two winning performances, nonetheless and a winning ensemble. A very impressive debut by veteran Sidney Lumet.
Grade: B+

Monsters Inc. dir. Pete Docter (2001)
An remarkably inventive concept (half the battle) executed well, with very few missteps. It's also very nicely observed and realized in terms of the Monstropolis universe the filmmakers have created and the rules carried therein. I've always greatly appreciated that Pixar has never fallen prey to the "precocious kids are funny" trap. Boo is believable, fully formed, and (gasp!) very funny. Her relationship with Sulley (perfectly voiced by John Goodman) is sweet without being saccharine. In fact, all of the emotional beats in this film feel hard earned and contextually valid, which is not always the case with animated films (or films in general). I can take or leave Billy Crystal--yes that is a blanket statement--and I usually choose the latter, but his voice actually Mike's character. And many extra points for Jennifer Tilly.
Grade: A-

dir. Martin Scorsese (1990)
I really and truly wish that Ridley Scott would take a few notes from Martin Scorsese (be with me for a moment). It can be argued that both directors, in their own way, continue to make the same film. They explore the same tropes of hardened, sometimes nonsensical masculinity, peripherality of women (with a few exceptions from both directors) and a subsequent release of intensely repressed sexual energy in ways that are often anything but. Why should Scott then take notes from Scorsese? Because Ridley Scott has fallen into a sort of stupor of late, head resting all-too comfortably between the legs of Russell Crowe, fawning over the Aussie's dour smolder while they feed each other's worst artistic impulses. At least Scorsese (from Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull all the way up to The Departed) continues to make it interesting and watchable. I took note of this while watching Goodfellas, which falls just short of the brilliance of Raging Bull, but is still understandably and justifiably a fantastically accomplished and iconic film in its own right. Ray Liotta is too old for the part, yet his performance never makes you doubt that he is perfectly cast as gangster Henry Hill. Scorsese takes what could have been standard mob fare and (once again) makes it intensely personal and intimate. As his wife, Karen, Lorraine Bracco joins Cathy Moriarty in the pantheon of great supporting performances directed by Scorsese. In fact, I think I enjoyed Bracco just a hair more. Her character is richer, more vibrant and is given more gradient. I love that she shares the narration with Liotta, offering insight into the women Karen must associate with after marrying Henry. Her observations are spot-on, and what's even more spot-on is how gradually (though maybe not so) Karen becomes what she herself once reviled. I also enjoyed seeing a woman in a Scorsese movie who's in on the grift. The rest of the cast is serviceable too, even if they aren't given much to do. I mentioned in my write-up of Raging Bull that there is a disconnect where myself and Joe Pesci are concerned. He's fine here, often funny and plucky in an "Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series" kind of way. But I just don't see any variation between this, Raging Bull, even Home Alone, hell...even when he presented Mercedes Ruehl with her Oscar. He's always, very much...Joe. Even Robert De Niro, who is often accused (wrongly so) of being similarly one-note and admittedly serves a mild window-dressing purpose here is doing something more interesting than Pesci. But, I am biased towards De Niro (both here and in general). I'm watching Casino this week, so maybe I'll be surprised by Pesci, but viewing the trailer and listening to secondhand reports from film gourmands whom I trust are telling me not to hold my breath. At any rate, I enjoyed this film immensely. It's shaking me to my core that so many of these canonized Scorsese films are living up to, if not exceeding the reputation that precedes them. Breathtaking.
Grade: A-

The Age of Innocence dir. Martin Scorsese (1993)
A conversation I had with a friend regarding this film went a little something like this:

Me: I'm watching The Age of Innocence tonight.
Friend: Oh. James Ivory directed that, right?
Me: No, Martin Scorsese.
Friend: Really? I could have sworn it was James Ivory.
Me: That's understandable, really. But it was Scorsese.
Friend: What year did The Remains of the Day come out?
Me: 1993. I think.
Friend: Age of Innocence was...
Me: Also 1993.
Friend: So, James Ivory directed both of them in the same year? Wow.
Me: No. SCORSESE directed The Age of Innocence.
Friend: Really? Seems strange...

Yes. Peculiar that at what is arguably the height of the Merchant-Ivory years, that The Age of Innocence, an adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel of the same name and a project tailor-made for Ivory was directed by Martin Scorsese. I had never considered James Ivory until this conversation. Mostly because, despite its failings (The Age of Innocence is far from a perfect film), I'm not at all convinced that Scorsese was the wrong man for the job. On the surface, it's a departure for him--a somewhat stuffy period piece about forbidden lovers who want to desperately consummate their love, then (after nearly 140 minutes) guess what? They don't. I found myself engaged by The Age of Innocence, nonetheless. I like it, fully aware of its flaws (Joanne Woodward's ponderous narration stands out as tall as some of May Welland's hats). In many ways, it can be said that this film examines many themes that Scorsese has examined in his other work. Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), while far from the typical Scorsese protagonist is unable to view women other in anything but very polarizing terms. There's the problem: his simple wife, May (Winona Ryder) and the solution: the perfect, modern, cosmopolitan and recently scandalized Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer). Isn't this a problem that many Scorsese heroes and antiheroes often face? Don't they often see their women as either whores on one end, or Madonnas on the other, with little room for shading in between? The difference here being, of course that Newland is excited by the "whore" and bored to tears by the "Madonna." A rather interesting reversal, if you ask me and one that had me very intrigued. And, for as cold and unfeeling as the movie is often accused of being, that scene in the carriage between Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer was anything but. I will talk last of Winona Ryder. Her Oscar-nominated performance in this film is either brilliant or dreadful, depending on who you talk to. As I watched the film, I was leaning towards the latter until her very last scene in which I realized that Winona Ryder understood May Welland to the core. It's a brilliant reversal in which we are shown how expertly, how calculatedly May has protected her own interests. She earns her laurels here. The film does suffer from somewhat of a molasses pace, particularly in its shaggy final act, but it's an impressive film worth reconsidering from those who may have written it off years ago.
Grade: B

Eraserhead dir. David Lynch (1977)
Commence overbloated explanation for why I loved this surrealist I say this because, while I found David Lynch's startling and disturbing debut to be absolutely brilliant, it's not a film that I will necessarily defend (hear me out). I gathered my own connotations. Someone may watch this film and its collection of images, non-diegetic (and disturbing) soundtrack and its barely there narrative and see nothingness and far be it for me to look down my nose at someone for this. Let me talk about this film in terms of Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom, discussed in an earlier entry. That film derives its taboo nature by showing transgressions involving sexual sadism, feces and murder (things we, as a society, already know to be taboo and transgressive). Eraserhead attacks something inevitable and seemingly simple--childbirth. It dares, in its own subversive way, to actually mine the thoughts and emotions entailed in the question "What if you conceived and had offspring which you subsequently did not want?" In my mind, the horrific result in this film only serves as a very extrapolated worst-case scenario of a situation that many people (be they new parents, old parents, or childless) consider, but never talk about. There may be nothing more taboo in our culture than to not want your child. In addition to being deeply chilling, Eraserhead is incredibly heartbreaking and achingly telling. Particularly its conclusion, which shows us how plainly, how unfairly and how stupidly there are no easy answers.
Grade: A-

15 films down. 140 to go.

The Big Pretentious Movie Summer (6-10)

Mean Streets dir. Martin Scorsese (1973)
Interesting to watch, in terms of how it serves as a bench mark for the rest of Scorsese's career. I found it very well-acted (Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel both give characteristically searing, intense performances) and compelling. It is also wildly unfocused and I can't for the life of me figure out if that's a bad thing or not. The film seems to race along from plot point to plot point at a break-neck pace, leaving little time for cohesion and semblance of structure. Ultimately, what it lacks in real plot, it makes up for in very studied, meticulous characterization, which helps to make the ending all the more shocking and emotionally resonant. A fine film and it's easy to see why it has such a following even if I tread hesitantly a few steps behind.
Grade: B

Taxi Driver dir. Martin Scorsese (1976)
It's strange how this film has a reputation for being so gruff, male and violent. I suppose it is all of these things, but it's also incredibly and surprisingly heartfelt, touching and poignant. Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle is one of the most specific, layered and fascinating cinematic antiheroes. Those that are most interesting to watch are the ones who try and often fail to do the right thing, despite their surroundings and all of their worst, basest impulses. Consider, for just a moment, the scene where Travis walks into the offices where political campaign employee Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) works. He is out of place and he knows it. Betsy knows it too. But everything about his approach--the eyes, so expressive, his sheepish, but knowing grin, not only the words he says, but the way he says them with a low, quiet, unpretentious smolder--is just right. I'm sure most of us know what happens next, but ignoring said knowledge, THAT is how you approach someone. Jodie Foster is impressive in her limited role, as is Harvey Keitel whose getup and swagger are pitch-perfect. A great film, one of the best of the 1970s, certainly and an amazing leap forward in Scorsese's maturation as a filmmaker.
Grade: A-

Gone with the Wind dir. Victor Fleming (1939)
For the longest time, I had to tell people that I had seen neither Gone with the Wind nor Casablanca, which are arguably considered the two most quintessentially classic and canonized films (give or take The Godfather). Now I can no longer say that. I've seen both films and I'm glad I did, if only to learn how the former was completely sweeping, immersive and epic, whereas the latter is (at least from where I'm standing) well-made, if hollow and dated (we'll get to Casablanca in a minute). I was enthralled with Gone with the Wind from the first frame to last, which is saying a lot considering how frigid my expectations of the film were. I went into it, defenses up, completely ready to hate it. First of all, a Civil War epic from the 1930s? Yes, racism abounds in this film, but not in any way that precludes one from appreciating it (as horrible as that sounds) for what it is. Nearly four hours? Yes, Gone with the Wind is very long. Very, very, very, very long. But, while I don't think I ever need to watch it again any time soon, I think it actually sustains its seemingly cumbersome length. Vivien Leigh is amazing as Scarlett O'Hara, perfectly tracking her transition from winsome lamb to gruff, hardened survivor and finally to jaded opportunist. However, me extolling her praises, now having finally deigned to watch the film for the first time seems equal parts myopic and self-absorbed.
Grade: A-

Raging Bull
dir. Martin Scorsese (1980)
One of the most engaging, visceral movie-watching experiences in recent memory and the first "A+" that I've EVER awarded to a film on this blog. It truly employs all the senses. Robert De Niro plays Jake LaMotta so intelligently, every aspect thought out so specifically. He's raw and physical, but he knows that the external is only half of the performance. Every aspect of De Niro here, the voice, the mannerisms, even the way he lovingly touches his wife Vickie (played wonderfully by Cathy Moriarty) is twinged with certain aggression and verve. Even Joe Pesci, an actor who I have so say, with mild resignation that I just don't "get," doesn't serve to spoil this film in any way for me. Extrinsic to Raging Bull itself, I love how Paul Thomas Anderson appropriated so many parts of Scorsese's filmography (Raging Bull and then Goodfellas) when making Boogie Nights. Good appropriation is the hallmark of a good filmmaker (but that's another story, entirely). The fight scenes are unrelentingly violent and gruesome, but never in excess and never are they more horrifying than the scene where Jake watches Vickie say hello to some male friends at a club, in plain sight. You feel his rage, his jealousy and the bile building. Is any of it founded? Perhaps. So perfectly and consistently (with a few exceptions) is our gaze fixed Jake's point of view that we're right there with him. This film's treatment of women (particularly LaMotta's two wives) had me pondering about Scorsese's treatment of women in general. Cathy Moriarty (in a debut performance) plays Vickie with a sly, lithe quietness, never really revealing her hand, even in the end. She's Madonna-fied by Jake (to the ultimate detriment of their relationship), but how much of it is projected on her and how much of it is she projecting? I leaned forward, I rewatched several of her scenes and I'm still bewitched, possibly in the same way that Jake was. She's so communicative and expressive. Take, for instance, the scenes of Jake and Vickie's courtship. She does nearly EVERYTHING he tells her. "Move over." "Sit closer." "Sit on my lap." She does it all and with little or no protest. But she's not compliant, at least not in the way Jake wants. Vickie doesn't do anything she doesn't want to do. This is one of the best films I've ever seen and I couldn't even pick just one image to go along with this write-up, so I chose three.
Grade: A+

dir. Michael Curtiz (1942)
I appreciated several aspects of this film, and find it to be solid and serviceable. It's screenplay? Perfect, in terms of hitting the right story beats at the right times. I can even understand, on the most basic level why people love this film and why it's a classic. But there's a real disconnect between myself and the laudatory praise this movie has gotten since its release some 68 years ago. The love story, which is really meant to be the emotional core of the film, left me cold and unfeeling. Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart are uncharacteristically stiff and stilted, beyond what the film is asking of them. Not that I needed it to be white hot passionate. I understand that an understated, seemingly impersonal love affair acts in service of a story like this. In The English Patient, for instance. However, I found it very difficult getting invested in this story and I actually found it to be quite average.
Grade: B-

10 films down, 145 to go.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Big Pretentious Movie Summer (1-5)

I'm going to do a write up of the films I've watched in groups of 5. Off to a bit of a slow start this week (only 6 films watched), but there's going to be some heavy lifting this weekend.

Days of Heaven dir. Terrence Malick (1978)
Purely visual, resplendent storytelling at its finest. The story is so simple (the best ones often are). A man during the Great Depression (Richard Gere) flees with his lover and his younger sister after he murders his boss. To keep cover, he pretends that his lover is his sister and a rich prospector falls in love with her. As you can guess, this creates a problem after his lover marries the prospector, who notices that her relationship with her "brother" is anything but ordinary. And really, that's scarcely what the film is about (if it is indeed "about" one thing or the other). The film is narrated, hauntingly and effectively by Linda Manz whose almost androgynous voice contribute greatly to the film's greatly lyrical atmosphere. I can't recall Richard Gere being as potent (before or since). There's more to say about this film, certainly. Long, verbose discourse, be it academic, theoretical or critical, can be/has been written about Malick at length and surely with more acumen and shrewdness than I can muster. All I know is that Malick's debut Badlands intrigued, fascinated and delighted me. Days of Heaven haunted me for days after I saw it, the images never letting go, the way the land feels and smells like a firsthand experience and the horrifying sight of locusts and fire burning bright in my memory.
Grade: A-

Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom dir. Pier Paolo Passolini (1975)
I watched this film per an acquaintance's recommendation (insistence, actually). He called it brilliant, transgressive and "one of the best films [he has] ever seen." This is an acquaintance whose opinion I trust and value. Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom is certainly transgressive, no matter what personal definition one assigns to the word. I can guarantee that whatever taboos make your skin crawl (sexual, violent, scatological), there's something for everyone. But to call it brilliant...I'm sorry. I'm just not there. The film centers around a group of fascists in Mussolini's Italy in the 1940s who kidnap 18 Italian youths (9 boys and 9 girls) and subject them to 120 days of sexual, mental and unimaginable physical torture. I don't want to write off this film entirely. Specific scenes and ideas presented here are certainly not without merit. For instance, the final scene in which the teenagers are executed (some by scalping, others by having their tongues cut out, do I really need to go on?) is viewed through the binoculars of the fascist spectators. This is (presumably) to put us in their gaze, the implication being that there's a little sadist in all of us, even if we commit our sins from a safe distance. Fine. Not the most groundbreaking of hypothesis, and the long shots at the end are a tad on the nose for my taste, but it's interesting nonetheless. However, nothing that proceeds this (the banquet in which they are served large trays of feces, the scene in which a girl is forced to eat polenta embedded with nails) consistently speaks to this juxtaposition of fascism and sadism in any way that isn't painfully, almost desperately obvious. I can see the intellectual lure of the film. It was banned for the longest time in several countries, including the US and is still banned in many places. Michael Haneke (who is a great filmmaker in his own right) has often cited this as one of his favorites. And isn't transgression always a bit seductive, especially when it comes in the form of an Italian film from the 1970s made by a semi-obscure director who met his demise at the strangling hands of a male prostitute (stay with me)? I was captivated during many stretches of this film, certainly, but I would have to say that it falls short of brilliance and by a significant measure. Not to say that obtuse transgression isn't, in its own way, a valuable part of culture. There will always be those who need their cinematic controversy spoon fed to them. If one must indulge, it is a far more stimulating experience to spend time with Pasolini than to keep Eli Roth knee deep in hookers and coke by watching Hostel II. The only reason this film is a B- and not a C+ is because it legitimately provoked visceral reactions out of me. And I actually screamed quite loudly when I read the chapter title "Circle of Shit."
Grade: B-(downgraded to a C+ in retrospect.)

Breakfast at Tiffany's dir. Blake Edwards (1961)
I am not really well-versed in the world of Audrey Hepburn. I haven't had a lot of forays. Having now seen Breakfast at Tiffany's, I can say that I honestly understand the comparisons that were made between Audrey Hepburn and Carey Mulligan when An Education was released last year. In both cases, you have have beautiful actresses giving charming, winning performances in films that are as light and airy as a prawn cracker, with about half the nutritional value. The film is so winsome, it feels almost disposable outside of Hepburn's accomplished, if highly overpraised performance. And like the slapped together, all-too convenient third act of An Education, the ending of Breakfast at Tiffany's left a bad taste in my mouth. I feel like where this film ends, Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie begins. Girlfriend sang the hell out of "Moon River," though. I will give her that. But what the hell was up with Mickey Rooney's pidgeon speaking Asian-faced neighbor? I understand that it was a different time, and certain presentations of racism were more acceptable. But this character was completely and totally apropos to nothing in the film. Puzzling.
Grade: C+

The Thin Red Line dir. Terrence Malick (1998)
When discussing the 1998 Oscar race, people generally talk about two things: 1. Shakespeare in Love winning best picture and 2. The fact that Saving Private Ryan should have won best picture. And of course there are those few defenders who think that Shakespeare's win was justified. These are generally the schools of thought, unless you were way more into Elizabeth or Life is Beautiful than I was, which is, in both cases, totally beyond my realm of understanding. Well, both camps are wrong actually and by a pretty wide margin. The Thin Red Line actually comes out head and shoulders above both of them. Malick has made four films, including this one. Each one is superbly constructed, economically told and visually spectacular. This is his masterpiece. His sprawling narrative that tells the story of the Guadalcanal Campaign is, like most Terrence Malick movies, not only about what it seems to be about. The film is without a protagonist and moves fluidly and seamlessly from one point of view to the other, all the while employing two(!) semi-omniscient narrators. Attempting to effectively break this many narrative conventions can lead to cinematic disaster, even when guided by the steadiest hand. Malick makes it work brilliantly, creating yet another lyric poem with war as a jarring, necessary backdrop. I can't even be bitter that it didn't win best picture. Even nominating The Thin Red Line was one of the shrewdest moves on the part of the Academy and is probably (and sadly) as good as they get.
Grade: A

The New World dir. Terrence Malick (2005)
Can we just go out on a limb and make this post a Terrence Malick love-in? The New World faced an uphill battle where I was concerned. Firstly, I wondered how the subject of the first meeting between First Nations people and the British in the 1600s would be handled. There were only so many ways to go. Most obvious was the NPR, textbook liberal agenda approach, which, while adorably well-intentioned, would have bored the shit out of me. I'm sure it bored Terrence Malick too, because he took it in another direction entirely and decides to treat the people on both sides of the divide like (wait for it) human beings, with shading, imperfections and personalities (take note, Paul Haggis, who's too busy explaining minorities to themselves and patting himself on the back for it to get a clue). The issue of the racial divide is an obvious entrenched one, and one that Malick doesn't ignore. It is conveyed visually, through Emmanuel Lubezki's smart, expert cinematography. On a side note, can you believe Lubezki lost the Oscar to Memoirs of a Geisha--a film that looked like it borrowed the soundstage from Madonna's "Nothing Really Matters" video, yet only had half the budget to dress it? Q'orianka Kilcher gives a beautiful and bewitching debut performance as the unnamed woman (though we know her name) who saves John Smith (Colin Farrell). Kilcher was 14 at the time of filming. Farrell was 29. What a daring choice for Malick to not play it safe and fudge history by making Pocahontas older. His work with actors is unparalleled as the relationship between Smith and Pocahontas never feels unsavory or inappropriate, at least not in the context of this world. A beautiful film. Sweet, poetic, heartfelt and one of the best of the 2000s.
Grade: A-

5 films down. 150 films to go...

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Big Pretentious Movie Summer (Part Deux)

Here is the rest of the list.

1. Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom - Pier Paolo Pasolini (1975)
2. Gone with the Wind - Victor Fleming (1939)
3. Casablanca - Michael Curtiz (1942)
4. His Girl Friday - Howard Hawks (1940)
5. The Maltese Falcon - John Huston (1941)
6. City of God - Fernando Meirelles (2003)
7. It's a Wonderful Life - Frank Capra (1946)
8. Apocalypse Now - Francis Ford Coppola (1979)*
9. Toy Story - John Lasseter (1995) and Toy Story 2 - John Lasseter (1999 - Pending my feelings about the first one)
10. Monsters Inc. - Pete Docter (2001)*
11. Finding Nemo - Andrew Stanton (2003)
12. The Incredibles - Brad Bird (2004)
13. Ratatouille - Brad Bird (2007)
14. LA Confidential - Curtis Hanson (1997)*
15. The Sting - George Roy Hill (1973)
16. Heat - Michael Mann (1995)*
17. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - Mike Nichols (1966)
18. In Bruges - Martin McDonagh (2008)
19. Marty - Delbert Mann (1955)
20. Harvey - Henry Koster (1951)
21. The Way We Were - Sydney Pollack (1973)
22. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - George Roy Hill (1969)
23. Breakfast at Tiffany's - Blake Edwards (1961)
24. The Last Picture Show - Peter Bogdanovich (1971)
25. The Godfather: Part II - Francis Ford Coppola (1974)
26. The Mission - Roland Joffé (1986)
27. Saving Private Ryan - Steven Spielberg (1998)*
28. Traffic - Steven Soderbergh (2000)*
29. Being John Malkovich - Spike Jonze (1999)
30. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice - Paul Mazursky (1969)
31. Harold & Maude - Hal Ashby (1971)
32. The Last Detail - Hal Ashby (1973)
32. Easy Rider - Dennis Hopper (1969)
33. Five Easy Pieces - Bob Rafelson (1970)
34. The Conversation - Francis Ford Coppola (1974)
35. American Graffiti - George Lucas (1973)
36. Jaws - Steven Spielberg (1975)*
37. Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Steven Spielberg (1977)
38. The Front - Walter Bernstein (1976)
39. Sex, Lies and Videotape - Steven Soderbergh (1989)
40. Blue - Kryzstof Kieślowski (1993)
41. White - Kryzstof Kieślowski (1994)
42. Red - Kryzstof Kieślowski (1994)
43. Last Tango in Paris - Bernardo Bertolucci (1972)
44. Delicatessen - Jean-Pierre Jeunet (1991)
45. City of Lost Children - Jean-Pierre Jeunet (1995)
46. Hedwig and the Angry Inch - John Cameron Mitchell (2001)*
47. Shortbus - John Cameron Mitchell (2006)
48. Out of Sight - Steven Soderbergh (1998)
49. Cool Hand Luke - Stuart Rosenberg (1967)
50. Wonder Boys - Curtis Hanson (2000)
51. American Splendor - Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (2003)
52. Munich - Steven Spielberg (2005)*
53. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Julian Schnabel (2007)
54. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days - Cristian Mungiu (2007)
55. The Lives of Others - Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck (2006)
56. Run Lola Run - Tom Tykwer (1998)
57. Pan's Labyrinth - Guillermo del Toro (2006)
58. Bridge on the River Kwai - David Lean (1957)
59. Lawrence of Arabia - David Lean (1962)
60. Midnight Cowboy - John Schlessinger (1969)
61. Rocky - John G. Avildsen (1976)
62. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Miloš Forman (1975)
63. Gods and Monsters - Bill Condon (1998)
64. Dangerous Liaisons - Stephen Frears (1988)
65. A Woman Under the Influence - John Cassevetes (1974)
66. A Streetcar Named Desire - Elia Kazan (1951)*

It's going to be a very good summer.

Peace, Love and Pretension

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Big Pretentious Movie Summer

So, a little change of pace. There will still be other blogging interspersed here and there and I shall eventually publish the rest of my "best of the aughts" series, concluding with my top 25 favorite films of the past ten years (I know...only 25).

I'm embarking on a new challenge this summer. I plan to watch movies (novel, I know). But this is a specific, structured movie-watching regimen. I'm going to acquaint myself with directors I've only had a taste of, some I've never experienced at all (can you believe I've never done Kurosawa? Like...ever?) I'm giving myself until September 21st (the official Gregorian end of summer) to watch the films on this list. And I will be tracking it all here. Some of the films on this list I've seen before, a long time ago, in pieces. They are being revisited. Others are new ventures, and you may be ashamed of what I haven't seen. There are two lists, one is categorized by director, and the other is a random sampling of titles I need to experience. Happy viewing to me. I've already kick started this event by watching Terrence's Malick's lovely sophomore effort Days of Heaven (1978) last night. The images are still lingering. Oh, yes. It's going to be a wonderfully productive, pretentious summer.

*=Films I'm revisiting

Terrence Malick
1. Days of Heaven (1978) (watched on 6-2-2010)
2. The Thin Red Line (1998)*
3. The New World (2005)
(I have already seen Badlands)

Martin Scorsese
4. Mean Streets (1973)
5. Taxi Driver (1976)
6. Raging Bull (1980)
7. Goodfellas (1990)
8. The Age of Innocence (1993)*
9. Casino (1995)
101. The Aviator (2004)*

Mike Leigh
11. Life is Sweet (1990)
12. Secrets and Lies (1996)*
13. Topsy-Turvy (1999)

Wong Kar-Wai
14. Days of Being Wild (1991)
15. 2046 (2004)

Michael Haneke
16. Funny Games (1997)
17. The Piano Teacher (2001)
18. Caché (2005)

Spike Lee
19. She's Gotta Have It (1986)
20. Malcolm X (1992)
21. 25th Hour (2002)

Robert Altman
22. MASH (1970)
23. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
24. Nashville (1975)
25. The Player (1992)

Ang Lee
26. The Wedding Banquet (1993)
27. Sense and Sensibility (1995)*
28. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)*
29. Lust, Caution (2007)

Woody Allen
30. Interiors (1978)
31. Manhattan (1979)
32. Hannah and Her Sisters (1985)
33. Husbands and Wives (1992)
34. Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Ingmar Bergman
35. Wild Strawberries (1957)*
36. Persona (1966)*
37. Cries and Whispers (1973)
38. Scenes from a Marriage (1973)
39. Fanny and Alexander (1984)

Alfred Hitchcock
40. Strangers on a Train (1951)
41. Vertigo (1958)* '
42. North by Northwest (1959)*

Akira Kurosawa
43. Rashoman (1950)
44. Seven Samurai (1954)
45. Ran (1985)
(I'm just getting my feet wet to start)

Hayao Miyazaki
46. Spirited Away (2001)
47. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
48. Ponyo (2008)

Stanley Kubrick
49. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
50. Barry Lyndon (1975)
51. Full Metal Jacket (1987)*

The Coen Brothers
52. Blood Simple (1984)
53. Miller's Crossing (1990)
54. Barton Fink (1991)
55. The Big Lebowski (1998)
56. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
57. The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
(Can't believe how many I've missed)

Roman Polanski
58. Repulsion (1965)
59. Rosemary's Baby (1968)*
60. Tess (1979)

David Lynch
61. Eraserhead (1977)*
62. Wild at Heart (1990)
63. The Straight Story (1999)*
64. Mulholland Drive (2001)*
65. Inland Empire (2006)
(Why, oh WHY have I not seen Inland Empire? I cannot wait.)

Oliver Stone
66. Platoon (1986)
67. Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
68. JFK (1991)
69. Natural Born Killers (1994)
(I have to say, I'm less excited about Stone than any other director on this list. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised, but I haven't been largely impressed by him)

James Ivory
70. A Room with a View (1985)
71. Howards End (1992)*
(God, I want to do both of these films on the same Brit-infused day. Cannot. Wait.)

Michaelangelo Antonioni
72. L'avventura (1960)
73. L'eclisse (1962)*

Pedro Almodóvar
74. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
75. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)
76. All About My Mother (1999)*
77. Talk to Her (2002)*

Todd Haynes
78. Safe (1995)
79. Velvet Goldmine (1998)

Sidney Lumet
80. 12 Angry Men (1957)
81. Long Day's Journey into night (1962)
82. Serpico (1973)
83. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)*
84. Before the Devil Knows Your Dead (2007)*

Gus Van Sant
85. Drugstore Cowboy (1989)*
86. My Own Private Idaho (1991)*
87. To Die For (1995)*
88. Good Will Hunting (1997)
89. Paranoid Park (2007)

Phew. 89 Films. And that's just part 1 of the list. Will Post 2 in a Separate Post to give the eyes some rest.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Best of the Aughts Continued -- 2002

My top ten from 2002 looked a little something like this...

1. Far from Heaven (Todd Haynes)
2. Adaptation (Spike Jonze)
3. The Pianist (Roman Polanski)
4. 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle)
5. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Peter Jackson)
6. Y Tu Mama Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron)
7. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodovar)
8. About Schmidt (Alexander Payne)
9. Secretary (Steven Shainberg)
10. The Hours (Stephen Daldry)

Wow...I ranked The Hours lower than Secretary? All things considered, a mostly respectable list. I'd still put Todd Haynes's singular work of brilliance, Far From Heaven at the top of my list, though my feelings about Adaptation have cooled considerably since then (save Streep's performance). The Pianist is pretty high up there, but should probably be one notch higher as it is one of the best films of the past ten years, bar none. And the aforementioned womanly masterpiece that is The Hours has been revisted more than any film on the list and would rank much much higher, at least in the top three.

Films I Missed: 25th Hour (so ashamed about this one), 8 Women, About a Boy, Morvern Callar, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Salton Sea.