Friday, December 28, 2007

Best film performances of 2003

I've seen all the major films from that year except In America, 21 Grams, American Splendor, Thirteen, the one that Patricia Clarkson was nominated for, Monster, Something's Gotta Give, Whale Rider, and Big Fish, so again, this is based on what I've seen. (Also haven't seen LOTR but that had no acting accolades)

Also, I honestly believe Jonny Depp was a supporting role, that's just me:


1. Cold Mountain 2. Last Samurai 3. Seabiscuit 4. Mystic River 5. Master and Commander 6. Finding Nemo 7. X2 8. House of Sand and Fog 9. Pirates of the Carribean 10. Lost in Translation


1. Anthony Minghellia 2. Clint Eastwood 3. Peter Weir 4. Ed Zwick 5. Gore Verbinski

Actor: 1 (tie). Ben Kingsley-House of Sand and Fog & Jude Law-Cold Mountain 3. Sean Penn, Mystic River 4. Tobey MaGuire, Seabiscuit 5. Russell Crowe, Master and Commander

Notes: I love the role Kingsley chose. Most of the parts he plays are gangsters and hitmen and hear he choses an immigrant who works at a gas station trying to keep his dignity, what a great change of pace, and of course, his emotional scene where he goes through his son's death is immensely powerful. Jude Law, I felt was the heart and soul of Cold Mountain's journey, and through his transformation is how the film works. I think MaGuire's performance will always be overlooked in his career, or have people just given up on MaGuire by now?

Supp. Actor: 1. Jeff Bridges, Seabiscuit 2. Jonny Depp, Pirates of the Carribean 3 (tie). Alec Baldwin-The Cooler & Ken Wattanabe-Last Samurai 5. Paul Bettany-Master and Commander

Notes: I think Seabiscuit is basically a Disneyesque story of the underdog that overcomes the odds, and the reason why it resonated so well is that the actors put their heart and soul into it. Jeff Bridges has a certain calmness to him in this part of a man who's been through a lot that I haven't seen from him before. Depp, of course, does everything right with his character. He brings physical comedy, presence, and originality to the role. His character's schemes are so zany and improbable, yet it all seems believable with Depp.

Actress: 1. Scarlett Johannson-Lost in Translation 2. Jennifer Connelly-House of Sand and Fog 3. Nicole Kidman-Dogville 4. Charlotte Rampling-Swimming Pool 5. Brittney Murphy-Uptown Girls

Notes: Johannson is solemn, quiet, and reserved. It's hard to make a May-December romance look believable and she was very relatable. Connelly, of course, had a lot of desperation in her part, there was a lot of inner intensity to her, like someone who was on the edge. Uptown Girls was a small and insignificant film, I know, but Murphy really took the mediocre material and did something with it. Kidman was also good in Cold Mountain and had the added challenge of a Southern accent but Dogville, there was nothing but a soundstage and her acting so she had to win the viewer over with no added frills.

Supp. Actress: 1. Rene Zellweger, Cold Mountain 2. Marcia Gay Harden, Mystic River 3. Kiyoki, Last Samurai 4. Elizabeth Banks, Seabiscuit 5. Patricia Clarkson, Dogville Wasn't that much of a fan of Shoreh Aghdoshloo who was nominated in this category.

Notes: Zellweger was the best, but I think it was a weak year in this category. Dogville had a number of talented female leads, but Clarkson is the one from that film for me because she had the most believable transformation from innocent to evil that the town goes through, and she really nailed the scene where she breaks Nicole Kidman's dolls.

Ensemble: 1. House of Sand and Fog 2. Mystic River 3. Seabiscuit 4. Cold Mountain 5. Dogville

Can't get into Into the Wild

You know what? If this will keep me out of being in the upper echelons of film critics so be it, but I have a nasty habit: I usually won't watch a film just because it's important, or because i should see it or because I'll only be in a position to comment on the Oscar race if i watch it, and it's tempting to watch that film just so i can participate in Oscar discussions and have respectable opinions, if a film doesn't appeal to me, it jsut doesn't appeal to me, and that's 2 hours and 11 dollars wasted in an otherwise busy life. That's why i haven't seen Crash, Million Dollar Baby, Brokeback Mountain, History of Violence, The Hours, Into the Bedroom, The Pianist, The Quiet American, Cinderella Man, or Frida.

Currently, there are a lot of films that I have yet to see and the other night at my hotel I had an opportunity to watch something at the hotel through pay-per-view. I sized up the choices: Into the Wild, Ocean's 13, Mr. Brooks, Waitress, Ratatouille, and 3:10 to Yuma again (because it's so great).

I really felt an obligation to watch Into the Wild: a film about a guy about my age who comes to a revelation that he shouldn't be living a materialistic life so he donates all his money to charity, hitchhikes to Canada, and dies shortly thereafter. I really felt like watching Mr. Brooks or Ocean's 13, but the film critic conscience inside me told me it was wrong to watch these films that had no chance of being nominated and therefore couldn't have possibly entered the national pop culture discussion in the upcoming weeks and therefore I should watch Into the Wild, but i just couldn't bring myself to watch Into the Wild even though it was my duty as someone commenting on the best films of the year to know what I'm talking about.

So for a while, I didn't watch anything because i couldn't bring myself to select either. Ultimately, Dreamgirls came on HBO, one of the few big films from last year I hadn't seen, and I decided I'd watch that instead. It was a great film, and I've now revised my top 10 list of 2006 to:
1. Little Miss Sunshine, Dayton & Harris
2. Flags of Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood
3. Departed, Martin Scorsesee
4. Babel, Alejandro Inarritu Gonzalu
5. Blood Diamond, Ed Zwick
6. Prairie Home Companion, Rob Altman
7. Hollywoodland, Allan Coulter
8. Dreamgirls, Bill Condon
9. Bobby, Emilio Estevez
10. Cars, John Lasseter

I did have one other thought, however:
I think the problem with Into the Wild is that it's marketed as a movie about a guy who goes off and dies. Why don't they just market it as a movie about a guy who goes off and does incredible things and donates his money to charity.
The advantages:
1. It would sound less depressing
2. It wouldn't give away any spoilers
3. The film is made by Sean Penn which makes reason #1 even more relevant when you consider that Penn (despite playing fun-loving surferboy Jeff Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High") is known for his extreme seriousness at all times and lack of humor, so it's not far-fetched to think that his artistic sensibilities have nothing to do with entertainment, and they might draw him to a depressing film about a guy who goes off and dies instead.

The mathematics of Guess Who

Guess Who: 2 ½ (2005): 1 ½ stars (out of 4)

Ashton Kutcher meets his future father-in-law (Bernie Mac) for the first time and laughs arise aplenty from the cultural clashes that occur. This film is a remake of a 1960’s social commentary film, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” but it comes across more as a remake of Meet the Parents with black jokes than it does a message picture. This film is so derivative, in fact, that I can actually be summed up in a mathematical formula:

2/3 (Meet the Parents + Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner -1 – Social Significance – Ben Stiller + My Boss’s Daughter’s Ashton Kutcher) + 1/3 (half-hour sitcom of the UPN) = Guess Who.

So that pretty much sums it up right there. Not only is the picture formulaic, but I can give you this picture in an actual mathematical formula and you could probably predict the plot development at any given point:

And here’s a key to how the plot works:
The movie is supposed to be a loose remake of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a socially conscious picture from the 1960’s about an interracial couple seeking their parents’ approval. The exponent of -1 is because the racial roles in the film are reversed. I also subtract the social significance because in the 1960’s an interracial couple would have have faced threats to their lives as well as discrimination in employment and housing whereas the worst a 2005 interracial couple would have to face would be arguments over whether to watch BET or CBS. There’s also a little bit of My Boss’s Daughter thrown in. In that film, Kutcher also played a young professional trying to impress his love interest’s father, and it was Kutcher’s very last film, so if you’re wondering if anyone’s getting bored of seeing Kutcher in the same role over and over again, well, apparently not Ashton Kutcher.
In the third act of the film, when both Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher have made their respective love interests so angry that they leave them, then the two have to team up to get them black and Ashton Kutcher “blacks it up” by singing some Barry White to his fiancée to serenade her back. This part significantly deviates a little from the message-less social significance remake/Meet the Parents hybrid and turns into one of those shows on the now deceased UPN filled with clichés.
But nevertheless, this doesn’t rule out any and all merit to the film (it rules out most of it, though). I’m not that much of a stickler for originality anyway. I ended up judging the picture more as a genre film now, in that I’m seeing how it handles the conventions of this same plot that I’ve see in A Guy Thing, Meet the Parents, The In-Laws, My Boss’s Daughter, etc. So here are my notes:

-Ashton Kutcher and the leading lady have no chemistry whatsoever, if the film is going to earn the right to be a remake of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, that would’ve been key. This same thing happened in the Score with Angela Bassett and Robert De Niro or “Executive Decision” with Kurt Russell and Halle Berry and I have yet to see a film with an interracial couple with any chemistry, although I think Pierce Brosnam and Halle Berry came close.
-Bernie Mac was surprisingly good. Judging by his work in Ocean’s 11, where he’s the stereotypical threatening black guy in Ocean’s 11, or a vice presidential candidate with the potential to make Dan Quayle look like a member of MENSA, I might have expected Mac to cater to negative African-American stereotypes, but I felt like he tight roped a thin line between being humorous and being a dignified father figure
-Ok, Bernie Mac going to sleep with Ashton Kutcher was kind of funny, I will admit and the fact that he didn’t just sleep in his bed the first night but every night thereafter was also pretty funny.
-The sideplot of Ashton Kutcher losing his buiness was more interesting than the main plot, and since this plot is so derivative, I might have preferred to see that as the film in retrospect
-The climactic conversation is funny, I’ll give it that
-An akward attempt at slight commentary here: stereotypes with sports, the “I had a black girlfriend, I’m not racist"
-The advantage is that Bernie Mac can be more corrosive or scary which could lead to more comedic situations

10th Anniversary of the Titanic: Titanic Review

This is an essay I wrote on the Titanic in a film class that I think might be one of the best things I've ever written on films: Titanic as the collision of two worlds

Titanic was a monumental blockbuster that shattered box office records in 1997 and 1998 and was hailed as a critical success. However, the picture has been forgotten and dismissed as a very lucky yet unremarkable blockbuster, in the wake of the overload of big-budget pictures that have come along in the last few summers and holiday seasons. Titanic, at 3 hours and 14 minutes, is really two pictures rolled into one. For the latter two hours, it is a disaster movie that marvels in special effects, tense situations, and showdowns heroes and villains who are defined by how they chose their fate in one of history’s most famous moments.

For the first hour and a half, however, Titanic is a story about the traditional rags-to-riches myth, as epitomized by the character of Jack Dawson. The rags-to-riches myth, coined by Horatio Alger in essays about Americana, is about the man who can rise to success from humble beginnings to gain wealth and ingenuity. Dawson, dressed in period blue-collar clothes, wins a ticket on board the Titanic in the most capitalist of ways: a combination of wit, luck, skill and a willingness to invest his money into a poker game. He demonstrates ingenuity in his ability to be act under pressure in the scene where he saves Rose’s life. In contrast, his nemesis Cal is unable to react with anything but anger, frustration, and even bouts of violence when he faces an unexpected turn of events. Also, Dawson and his friends in third class are a metaphor for the “melting pot” of America with different cultures converging together. Dawson’s traveling companion, Fabrizio, is a stereotypical Italian and they room with Germans. Another example is from the juxtaposition of scenes between the formal dinner in the stateroom and the party on the lower deck.

On the lower deck, the third class passengers are very active as they create their own eclectic brand of music and dance to it, while the dinner guests on the promenade are passive spectators to a string quartet.

The rags-to-riches myth embodied by Jack Dawson, is contrasted by the antiquated class-stratified society of Europe that the American dream was born out against, symbolized by characters like Rose’s mother and Cal. The film characterizes these people as being obsessed with appearances as well as being lazy and unwilling to work. Rose’s mother is a widow explains to her daughter that all they have are, “bad debts hidden by a good name,” and is desperate to marry her off because she doesn’t want to have to work as a seamstress.

Thus, she and her friends were always concerned with looking proper and maintaining appearances. For instance, Cal disapproves of Rose’s choice of art, maybe because he doesn’t like it but also out of defensiveness. Cal doesn’t want to empower any art or artists outside the accepted conventions, which he would have been doing by buying their work.

In fact, the concern of the rich to keep the poor out is symbolic of the Titanic itself. Besides, the obvious metaphor of the passengers being divided by class, there’s also the fact that Jack would have never been accepted onto the promenade without the help of Molly Brown, an insider, who gave him clothes (again, the theme of appearance resurfaces). The upheavel over Jack’s romance with Rose is because he’s seen as someone who threatens to infiltrate their world.

The Titanic is usually seen as a fascinating trinket in history regarding man’s overconfidence in technology and the power of nature to destroy something which man once thought was invincible. However, director James Cameron portrays Titanic as something more than a story about a shipwreck. To him, Titanic was an inevitable collision between those two worlds. The Titanic’s mistake wasn’t that the watchman didn’t spot the iceberg soon enough or even hitting the iceberg, for that matter, because the Titanic would not have been remembered nearly as well if everyone was evacuated to safety. The Titanic took aboard 3rd-class passengers, to maintain the illusion of a harmonious society but that illusion was exposed by the fact that they didn’t provide enough lifeboats for them and they perished which made bigger headlines than any of the Titanic’s accomplishments in engineering ever did.

This is all the more ironic when you consider that the ship’s designer explains in the film that they didn’t put enough lifeboats on board because he didn’t want to clutter up the deck, a most literal concern with appearances. Once the ship hits the iceberg, the drama plays out through images that echo this theme. One of the most emotionally moving images is of a string quartet playing to their deaths so that the rich will have something pleasant to listen to as they board their lifeboats is great. The primary concern, once again, was to keep life pleasant for the upper classes at the cost of the safety of the lower classes.

The Titanic was a ship bound for America and that is both literal and symbolic: that antiquated era of class lines would end soon, and the bright spot of the movie is that somehow Rose survives into that new era. The line in Celine Dion’s song “I feel you in my heart forever, my heart will go on,” suggests that it was through meeting Jack Dawson and absorbing his vision of what America is today that she was able to chose the right path (not with Cal who would later shoot himself) when she got off the boat.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Syrianna Review

Syrianna is a riveting political thriller about a very hot button issue, the oil crisis, that few people really know much about beyond the numbers that appear on gas station billboards. It was released at the right time of year so that its inevitable Oscar buzz considerations will give the material added weight which might have been what the exec producers (including the politically active George Clooney and producing partner Steven Sodebergh) were going for. Still, it's not an overtly political film.

It doesn't seek to point fingers at an administration although with our overly polarized political culture today, people are bound to dismiss it as left wing propaganda, and that's unfortunate because a work of art like this deserves to be treated as art rather than politics.The main criticism, as far as I can tell, is that the plot is too complex for the average viewer, but that's partially the point: that the oil crisis is a complex matter and that's why an easy solution isn't in the works. I'll concede that this wasn't necessarily a smart move on the filmmakers' behalf to clutter up the start of the film rather than provide an attention-grabbing opening, but the film gets easier to swallow as it goes along. Matt Damon deals with a strained marriage and the tragedy of his 6-year old son's death but sees an opportunity for an unlikely friendship and business pairing with an enlightened Arab prince. George Clooney plays a CIA operative with an estranged son and wife who treats covert operations and killing like any other 9-to-5 job until he gets betrayed by his government. Jeffery Wright plays a cold and methodical lobbyist hired to find and weed out the corrupt link in an oil merger and he's equally at ease playing a game of racquetball with his suspect as he is calling him out before the board on his corruption. And then there are the two Arab youths looking for jobs who befriend a shady man and eventually become suicide bombers. It's the human dimensions of these stories and the way Stephen Gaughan masterfully weaves them together that make the movie so engaging as the movie moves past a cluttered-up start.

Credit director Gaughan. Making his directorial debut after winning an Oscar as the screenwriter for Traffic, Gaughan appears to be a firm disciple of Stephen Sodebegh's school of film-making, as he copies some of Sodebergh's tricks: showing only parts of conversations to make it appear as though we're coming in midway, on-location shooting with an independent feel, bridging different places together illustrated by text, etc.

Monday, December 24, 2007

My 2 favorite films: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade & Touch of Evil

This is what I wrote for the AFI's 100 Years fan opinion survey:

I’d say that it’s a tie between two movies that are sequels to greater films.

I think that Indiana Jones is the classic American hero: he’s intelligent, reluctant to take responsibility but will do it if he has to, and because luck isn’t always on his side, he’s more vulnerable and more likeable than James Bond. I also think that the adventure/action epic is one of the best types of movie-making.

As for why I chose Last Crusade? While Raiders of the Lost Ark was more of a milestone in the genre, Last Crusade I liked more. I liked that the villaness’s allegiance was more ambigous, I found the Sean Connery/Harrison Ford chemistry touching and hillarious and I loved the opening scene which introduced us to Indiana’s childhood. I also found the historical context is richer and the beam of light that Indiana Jones walks on in the end is such a great twist: The scientist making a leap of faith when he absolutely has to.

Touch of Evil isn’t so much a sequel as a sort of swan song to what started as the most promising career of any Hollywood director and Orson Welles. People don’t give enough credit to Orson Welles the actor who is really brilliant here. I think the Henry Mancini score and the setting of the Mexican-American border really makes the story that much more invigorating and every frame of the film is so beautifully shot. The story, which delves into everything from drugs, police corruption, and racist politics, is so well-constructed and some of Marlene Dietrich’s lines are so profound (i.e. “Aren’t you gonna read my future?” “You haven’t got one.”)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Two Altman films: California Split & Buffalo Bill

I've always proclaimed myself an Altman fan before i saw a lot of his films, mainly because the other new wave directors seemed so obsessed with violence and he had a wider range of interest in other subjects. I also really liked the ensemble feel of his films.

I love his work in MASH, McCabe and Mrs Miller, The Player, and Prairie Home Companion. Other than that, I saw Dr T and the Women but didn't like that as much.
Recently, I've seen a couple more in Buffalo Bill and California Split.

Buffalo Bill is interesting but vague. It's an incredibly interesting story and I notice that auteurs with a very strong sense of personal style have a tendency to drown out a good story. The very idea of Buffalo Bill is such a great pitch that a director with no personal style who's just guided by studio deadlines and a script could turn it into a relatively great movie, which is why it's slightly annoying that Altman felt he had to work much magic into it at all, because it distracts from the story: Mainly confuses it. I had to watch the story twice to really understand it, because the main plot points are deeply hidden in indistinct conversations. Some advice to anyone watching an Altman film: Use subtitles to get past the overlapping dialogue. I also expected something akin to Bronco Billy or Greatest Show on Earth where they actually show more of the circus or the show. I saw a little bit of Annie Oakley shooting, but I don't think the movie has a scene of the recreated battles that the characters are all talking about and I would have been excited to see.

I was at the video store recently trying to redeem myself by choosing a bad Altman film by trying to chose a good Altman film. I was trying to decide between California Split and Long Goodbye, and I should've taken Long Goodbye. California Split has some good acting and one of the strengths is that I got to see the guy from Just Shoot Me as a young matinee idol. What a treat! I also felt the high-tension atmosphere of the poker room in the opening scene was engagingly convincing.

California Split has that trademark Altmanesque style, but if you strip away the Altmanisms, it's just a gambling film that I've seen done better (even in recent entries like Lucky You and Rounders). I think the theme of California Split was that Elliot Gould represented George Segal's sense of temptation. You know that gimmick in TV shows and movies where an angel and devil are on each side of the character's head and trying to persuade you to either make the right choice or the sinful one? George Segal would have been the devil in that scenario. Still, the movie kind of rambles on through its plot to a fairly obvious conclusion.

So, I guess Altman's tally for me comes to 4 brilliant films (McCabe, The Player, MASH, Prairie Home Companion), one decent one (California Split), and two that are not worthwhile to watch (Buffalo Bill, Dr T.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Is Fantasy just a British phenomenon

Here's a confession I have: I'm not really into fantasy.

I was physically in a movie theater (more like a college auditorium) while Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring was playing (I don't remember being there for the whole duration of the film though) but I really don't remember anything about the film, except Elijah Wood screamed like a girl a lot and everyone was trying to protect him and help him out (maybe, because they were irritated by the screaming and wanted him to stop, I don't know). I'll admit there was a kind of neat scene where Ian McKellan and some other guys were going up an MC Escher-like staircase and McKellan fell through it, that I also remember.

If someone asked me if I had ever watched Lord of the Rings, I would say no, and because the Academy must be madly in love with Peter Jackson, they elected to not only nominated his film for best picture, but they nominated his two sequels as well. As a result, this renders me unable to render an opinion on who was the rightful winner in not one, but three recent Oscar races. Of course, I'd have to have watched The Hours (tagline: we've packed not just one but three suicidally depressed woman in one film), and The Pianist (no reason, just haven't gotten around to it) to comment on the 2002 race, anyway, but still I also have to endure "You've never watched Lord of the Rings?" queries of fascination from people.

The thing is that fantasy just does not compell me. Surely, I can appreciate the attraction of being drawn into another universe for a couple hours. I love sci-fi, because this showcases the possibilities of what science can do and what actually could happen. Hurtling through space in Star Trek or Star Wars, or seeing a universe governed by robots in I, Robot or an Orwellian society like Brazil are places I'd love to go. I love futuristic visions of society and I think that episodes of the Twilight Zone or a film like I, Robot raise such intriguing questions. They use the farthest possibilities of our universe to enhance their story. It adds a whole new dimensions to where screenwriters can go. Without being our current understanding of science, how can you believably tell a story about man being hunted down by his own creation, or someone who builds his own surrogate son out of machine parts, or a man travelling back in time to change history.

Another genre that transports me to another universe that I love is historical fiction. There was a picture about four years ago which was nominated for an Oscar, Master and Commander: Far Side of the World. I've heard complaints that it was slow and boring. For a story of naval battles, it surely was devoid of actions. To me, it was one of the most realistic portrayals of history I had ever seen on screen. In real life, if you were on a ship chasing Napoleon, it wouldn't be constant action. You'd have spent months waiting at sea. A lot of your time spent would have just been in anticipation waiting for the battle. Even a black and white film from the 1930's that does not portray any historical period but its own, is interesting to me because it's capturing how people were leaving back in those days.

Fantasy, however, is a complex made-up world with a made-up set of laws, characters, and guidelines so I usually don't really care. It's not from an actual historical era that shows me how other people actually existed in some significant period of history, and it doesn't showcase what the future might look like. Instead, it's from a universe that's usually just plain wierd and doesn't make me want to care. I watched the Golden Compass yesterday. Like Lord of the Rings, I lost hold of the plot somewhere pretty early in the film and I stopped caring, pretty soon thereafter.

The story involved a girl in a school who was entrusted with a compass that reveals the truth. A lot of adults appear along her journey and most try to help her. There are also giant elongated polar bears in the film who-WAIT, GIANT ELONGATED TALKING POLAR BEARS? WHAT THE HELL?-Yeah, see, that's where the film lost me, too. These polar bears regularly stood up on two legas and talked in Shakespearean English. I imagine if a bear was going to talk, he would have a growly sound in his voice, but the main bear was played by Ian McKellan, which I might write off as an error in casting but every bear was talking like this. It also seemed like a lot of the plot was being driven by the bears as the girl wanted the Ian McKellan to fight some larger bear for the crown to be king of the bears. There were some other adults in the picture, as far as I could tell: Nicole Kidman was one of the bad guys and Daniel Craig was one of the good guys, but again, I didn't care too much.

Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Eragon, Golden Compass, none of this stuff interests me that much. My friend told me that Golden Compass was an impassioned response to the pro-Christian Chronicles of Narnia and contains anti-Christian themes. I remember a lot of the Christian community was very enthusiastic about Narnia because of it's pro-Christian message but as someone who had to read the entire series in my youth, it never hit me as being pro- or anti-Christian. It also appears that JK Rowling was disgusted with CS Lewis' mysoginistic views and wrote Harry Potter with stronger female parts in response. Again, I never read anything shouvanist into Narnia. On wikipedia, it says that CS Lewis never intended to write any of this stuff.

Than I realized, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling, and Phil Pulliam are all British and maybe this entire genre is fueled by this tiny literary community in Britain, and as an American I don't have to feel ashamed for not liking it. Maybe asking an American to appreciate fantasy is like asking someone from Germany or Turkey to appreciate a Western film. Then I was wondering why the British, of all people, write fantasy? Any ideas?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Review Database

Review database, I will be linking to this:
Scent of a Woman (1992): 4 stars
Music and Lyrics (2007): 2 1/2 stars
War of the Worlds (2005): 3 1/2 stars
Wedding Crashers (2005): 3 stars
Bewitched (2005): 3 stars
Batman Begins (2005): 3 1/2 stars
Manchurian Candidate (2004): 4 stars
Anchorman (2004): 4 stars
Spanglish (2004): 4 stars
Sideways (2004): 4 stars
Ray (2004): 4 stars
Finding Neverland (2004): 4 stars
Aviator (2004): 4 stars
Life Aquatic (2004): 4 stars
Cold Mountain (2003): 4 stars
Last Samurai (2003): 4 stars
Seabiscuit (2003): 4 stars
Mystic River (2003): 4 stars
Master and Commander (2003): 4 stars
Finding Nemo (2003): 4 stars
X2 (2003): 4 stars
House of Sand and Fog (2003): 4 stars
Pirates of the Carribean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003): 3 1/2 stars
Lost in Translation (2003): 3 1/2 stars
Superman Returns (2006): 2 stars
Talladega Nights (2006): 3 stars
Click (2006): 1 stars
You, Me and Dupree (2006): 3 stars
Poseidon (2006): 3 stars
Catch a Fire (2006): 2 stars
Deja Vu (2006): 2 1/2 Stars
Employee of the Month (2006): 2 1/2 stars
The Departed (2006): 4 stars
Accepted (2006): 3 stars
Borat (2006): 3 stars
Black Dahlia (2006): 2 stars
Invincible (2006): 3 stars
1408 (2007): 1 star
Dogville (2003): 3 stars
New World (2005): 4 stars
A View from the Top (2003): 1 1/2 stars
Down with Love (2003): 2 stars
Johnny English (2003): 2 stars
Hot Shots Part Deux (1993): 1 star
25th Hour (2002): 4 stars hour
National Treasure (2004): 3 stars
Lions for Lambs (2007): 3 1/2 stars
Bobby (2006): 3 1/2 Stars
Casino Royale (2006): 3 stars
Ed Wood (1994): 4 stars
Transformers (2007): 3 1/2 stars
Invasion (2007): 3 stars
Sicko (2007): 4 stars
Grand Hotel (1933): 4 stars
Evan Almighty (2007): 3 stars
Fisher King (1991): 3 1/2 stars
All That Jazz (1979): 2 stars
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007): 4 stars
Lucky Number Sliven (2006): 3 stars
Inconvinient Truth (2006): 2 1/2 Stars
Happy Feet (2006): 2 stars
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kidd (1969): 4 stars
Little Miss Sunshine (2006): 4 stars
Mallrats (1995): 3 stars
Blades of Glory (2007): 2 1/2 stars
X3: The Last Stand (2006): 3 1/2 stars (The link below incorrectly labels it)
Man of the Year (2006): 2 stars
Hollywood Homicide (2003): 3 stars
Curse of the Jaded Scorpion (2001): 3 stars
Dodgeball (2004): 3 stars
Bobby (2006): 3 1/2 stars
Hoosiers (1986): 2 stars
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997): 2 1/2 stars
For Your Consideration (2006): 2 1/2 stars
Da Vinci Code (2006): 3 1/2 stars
The Brothers Grimm (2005): 3 stars
Prairie Home Companion (2006): 4 stars
All the King's Men (2006): 2 1/2 stars
Deep Blue Sea (1999): 2 1/2 stars
Breakfast Club (1985): 2 1/2 stars
Batman Forever (1995): 4 stars

National Treasure Review (2004)

National Treasure gives a new meaning to the phrase "living history", and it really is something thoroughly amazing for a work of historical fiction. It is entwined in a gripping mystery which uses as reference points, things you can find in your pocket, like a dollar bill, places you've probably been to like the national archives, the mall in D.C. etc, making for a truly interactive experience.

Complaints about lack of character depth in National Treasure should be made keeping in mind the context in which Bruckenheimer (did i spell that right?) made the film. If you're Jerry Bruckheimer, you went from being a very hot commodity after making a $285 million-grossing film, Pirates of the Caribbean, to making King Arthur, a flop, and you want to preserve your reputation as a commercial success. Therefore, you're #1 goal is to get people into the theater and what's gonna get them there is the plot. The movie is all plot-centered and even though Nicholas Cage might have won an Oscar way back when the truth is that most of his movies "gone in 60 seconds", "snake eyes", "8 mm", etc, are not films you go to expecting character development.

I don't think they were aiming for character depth: No one was going into this film thinking they'd snag an Oscar or golden globe nomination, Not that you shouldn't want to have a challenging part to want to act in, but I was pretty fine with the limit on character development because the plot was cool enough. The one thing I can say was, at the very least the characters were self-conscious, for example, the Abby Chase/Ben Gates hook up we could all see coming from miles away, but evidently so could the screenwriter so he gave Ian the line "well, you got the girl at the end" cause it's so blatantly obvious.

Also, the plot is absurd in itself, stealing the declaration of independence? And it's actually quite a wonder in itself that the movie presented a historically accurate, seemingly plausible and thoroughly engaging plot out of the circumstances that in no way dumbs down to the audience. Making the plot work in itself, deserves credit.

The film played to its strengths well.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Dogville Review (2003)

I just watched Dogville for the first time and it was an interesting experience:

So first order of business:

Dogville stars Nicole Kidman in a compelling story about a woman on the run from a mysterious dangerous man, who seeks refuge in a small mountain town in Colorado. Paul Bettany, the town's self-appointed moral leader, decides that his pet project will be to convince the town to take her in and see to it that she's safe. Things work out for a while but beging a slippery slope downhill as the captors step up their search and the town demands more from their refugee in exchange for her safety.

It's a compelling story, but a couple things distract from the story. The main thing that take away from the story is that due to a possible traumatic falling out with a set designer in his early childhood, Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier seems to have an unhealthy antagonism towards the idea of using sets or props in films. A little backstory: A while ago, Lars von Trier actually coauthored a rediculous and elitest manifesto, called Dogme 95, which insisted most films sucked because, god forbid, they use lighting, sets, props, and soundstages to artificialize film with illusions. While one can argue that Hollywood is going a little CGI-crazy these days, it surprisingly achieves the same effect of visual disinterest in the viewer when you decide to forego sets and props entirely. In essence, what Von Trier has is a stageplay that's been captured on film and it stands out as little more because he's not taking advantage of the medium he's using. There are many ways to use props and stage design to achieve varying degrees of abstract or realistic design and most of those options are better than using none of them at all.

I can see one benefit to this set-up: It enforces a thematic riff that that people are aware of each other's abusive behaviors and don't do anything about it. The passivity of the town in one scene where Nicole Kidman's character is raped has some power to it, although we supposedly believe that there's a stand-in for a closed doorwat in the way. Ultimately, however, what this comes down to is Von Trier's adherence to his own manifesto (which he didn't stick to entirely) is shooting himself in the foot.

The other complication is some of the things Lars von Trier has said in interviews in which he disclosed that his title for this trilogy of his (I'm not sure whether the third part has come out yet, but Bryce Dalls Howard starred in Part II) is the U.S.A. trilogy, which is a very bold statement that can be taken in a lot of negative ways. Some have made references to 9/11 although I'm not in the "everything has to do with 9/11" camp. This is made all the more controversial by the fact that he's never even set foot in the United States, so it ends up being his very misguided judgement of the American people as a group who will abuse, enslave, rape, and dehumanize any visitor that comes to their town.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Roger Ebert answered a question of mine about spoilers

On the December 6th edition of Roger Ebert's answerman column, Ebert answered a question of mine about film spoilers. It was quite an honor:

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Updates on Matt and Ben

I feel that even though I'm happy that Ben Affleck is getting great reviews for directing Gone Baby Gone, I feel there's a negative side to this in that the backlash from Gigli, Jersey Girl and Pearl Harbor have cornered him so that doing an art picture sparingly like Hollywoodland and getting behind the camera are the only options for him. Affleck is a very self-deprecating and eternally affable character, and the public has no real reason to dislike him, but to keep moving forward, Affleck is going to naturally say "Oh, I'm getting tired of starring in action movies, you guys were right and I was wrong. I want to only do meaningful art films and direct" when what he really means is "I've concluded (or rather Hollywood has concluded for him) that being at the helm of a film with any sizable budget is too risky for me careerwise so I'm only going to take small roles in pictures like Hollywoodland and direct. That way if the film bombs, it's a) not my responsibility since I'm not the star and b) probably no big deal because you guys will have never heard of it."

In other words: What Affleck is projecting to us as taking bold risks by taking a supporting role in Hollywoodland and directing, is really playing it safe and cowardly. If Affleck really wanted to be brave, he wouldn't cater to a wishy-washy American public. He'd stand up and say "Yeah, that's right, I made Pearl Harbor, Armegeddon, and Daredevil, they were kickass films, and I'm proud of them," so as not to hurt their DVD marketability. He'd continue to take leading roles as he saw fit and he'd take another superhero role and make it work, American moviegoers be damned!
Being nominated for his second Oscar with Gone Baby Gone is a copout. If Affleck wanted to be brave, he'd take Daredevil 2 into an Oscar winning performance.

Meanwhile, I can't help but notice that Matt Damon is being proclaimed the most popular star by Entertainment Weekly Magazine, the sexiest person on Earth by People Magazine, and the most bankable star by Forbes Magazine in a year where he did VIRTUALLY NOTHING AT ALL.

A short review: Matt Damon did two sequels, one of which he was merely one part of a 14-person ensemble and one one which he carried to a respectable $200 million threshold. Bourne Ultimatum was only the 6th highest grossing film of the summer. His last film that he actually starred in Good Shephard (in 2006, not 2007) got a couple decent reviews but completely wilted at the box office.

Why didn't you reward Matt Damon in the year where he did Syriana or even Good Shephard. Those were films that weren't sequels and actually required some original thought. All Matt Damon had to do in 2007 was pal around with Clooney, Pitt, and Cheadle on screen in one film, and look serious and shoot guns in the other.

I've previously written on Ben in:

I've previously written on Matt in

Monday, December 03, 2007

12 storylines of Movies in 2006

If you look at these posts, you'll see that on top of each of my top 10 lists is a summary of the major trends of the year, and I noticed that I didn't have one for 2006. I also thought this was a unique way of characterizing what happened in films rather than just listing my favorites or whatever. Here are 2003 and 2004, and I might put up 2005 at some point

12 Storylines of 2006:
1. The Year of the African picture
Possibly due to the influence of Bono’s awareness campaign and the G8 conference, the movie industry this year also focused their efforts on telling stories from the African continent. Catch a Fire was set during the apartheid era in South Africa, Blood Diamond told the story of the diamond-funded civil wars in Sierra Leone, and Last King of Scotland focused on Idi Amin’s reign in Uganda. Part of the Oscar-nominated Babel took place in Morocco and even some of the Bond film Casino Royale took place in Madagascar.
2. Scorsesee finally makes an Oscar-winning picture
After two hard-fought attempts this decade, the long-suffering Martin Scorsesee finally got his due with the Boston crime thriller “The Departed.” “The Departed” branched away from Scorsese’s grandiose efforts to court Oscar voters and showed us Scorsesee getting back to what he does best. The film also featured an all-star cast at its best. It made Mark Wahlberg the year’s breakout star, and raised the profiles of Matt Damon and Leo DiCaprio who each had another notable performance in Good Shepherd and Blood Diamond respectively.
3. Clint Eastwood does it again
At a time when we thought there was nothing left to say about World War II, Eastwood gained rave reviews for “Flags of Our Fathers” and then in a truly innovative stroke told the story of the same battle from the other side’s point of view in “Letters of Iwo Jima” to capture the National Board of Review’s picture of the year earning him his 3rd Oscar Nomination in 4 years.
4. Playing franchise musical chairs
Two commercial directors, Bryan Singer and Brett Rattner took over each other’s projects in a surprising switcheroo. Rattner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon) was considered for the Warner Brothers’ new Superman project but Singer was ultimately offered the project. He jumped ship from the already-in production X-Men 3 to take the opportunity to direct Superman. Meanwhile, Rattner knew that the opportunity to direct franchise pictures of this caliber are few and far between, so he lobbied hard for the now-vacated X3 slot and got it.
5. Borat

No film might have become a bigger cultural phenomenon this past year than Borat, the improvisational work of Sacha Baron Cohen who interacted with of unknowing American passers by under the guise as a buffoonish foreign reporter to expose their prejudices. At times, it was lewd and nasty, at times hilarious, but it was always shockingly revealing. Cohen took improvisation and reality TV to a whole new level. Cohen also stretched his comedy chops with the masters of improvisational comedy: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilley and Adam McKay in Talladega Nights, a follow-up to Anchorman.

6. Book Adaptations sputter and soar
The most hyped film of the year was The Da Vinci Code, based on the controversial historical fiction thriller that had been sitting at the top of the New York Best seller column for 2 years. Set up to open the summer season with lofty box office expectations, the Ron Howard’s film had a hard time pleasing audiences and living up to an audience’s expectations that already read the book. The film still hit the benchmark for domestic success by surpassing $200 million but just barely. The adaptation of the chick lit novel Devil Wears Prada, however, was hailed by critics and audiences alike and earned an Oscar nomination for Meryl Streep. Lastly, one of the great cultural tomes of our time, the expose “Fast Food Nation,” was adapted into a fictional narrative (somewhat of a stretch) that earned a few admirers but mostly passed into and out of theaters quietly eclipsed by Oscar season contenders.
7. Documentaries
No documentary really stormed the box office like Fahrenheit 911 or March of the Penguins, but a few had a lasting impact in the pop culture landscape, including Spellbound and Shut up and Sing. One even might have saved the planet and by that I’m referring to Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth which won him an Oscar.
8. Pirates II
Despite being inferior and more confusing than its predecessor, Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest shattered box office records left and right to become the commercial success of the year. It shattered the opening weekend record and became one of only seven films to cross the $400 million mark domestically.
9. Mexican Amigos
Three up-and-coming Mexican directors each had their biggest and most widely released successes to date with Babel (Alejandro Inirratu Gonzalu, previously known for 21 Grams and Amores Perros), Pan’s Labrynth (Guillermo del Toro, previously known for Hellboy), and Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, previously known for Y Tu Mama Tambien and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). The three are close friends and collaborators and their three films were all in contention for Oscars this year in every which category.

10. Altman says goodbye
The legendary director Robert Altman came out with his long-awaited Prairie Home Companion. The lightweight meditative film with allusions to death was considered one of Altman’s better efforts in the last few years and brought back some of his trademarks. Little did audiences know that the allusions to death in the picture was Altman’s way of telling us this was his final swan song. He died of a heart attack later in the year after hiding from the public for over a year and a half his chronic heart condition.

11. Frat pack breaks up
The Frat Pack (consisting of Jack Black, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Steve Carrell, Will Ferrell, and Vince Vaughn) remained conspicuously detached from each other this year as they all engaged in solo projects. Black conspired with Jared Hess for Nacho Libre, Ben Stiller had another Christmas blockbuster in Night at the Museum, Luke starred opposite Uma Thurman in My Super Ex Girlfriend, Owen teamed up with Kate Hudson and Matt Dillon in You, Me and Dupree, Will Ferrell went back to Adam McKay for an Anchorman follow-up in Talladega Nights, Carrell went dramatic in Little Miss Sunshine, and Vaughn went back to Swinger’s costar Jon Favreau for The Breakup.
12. Long enough to go back to 9/11
For years, America felt that it was too soon to approach the subject of 9/11 in movies and film, but this year, America was ready to explore the events of the day in two films: Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” centering around two workers trapped at Ground Zero, and Paul Greengrass’s United 93, which centered on the actions aboard the rogue flight that never reached its destination.

Reflecting on the Elia Kazan controvoursey

Most of my knowledge on the Elia Kazan controversy comes from Brad Damien's "Inside Oscar 2 1996-2000" (Which covers the controversial 1998 Oscar ceremony where Kazan was presented with an honorary Oscar and many in the audience including Ed Harris, Nick Nolte, and Barbara Streissand refused to stand up) and Nick Clooney's "The Movies that Changed Us."

The background is that in the 1950's the most popular and successful director was Elia Kazan. His greatest works were literary adaptations like Streetcar Named Desire, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He also made socially conscious pictures which I personally think went a long way toward exposing issues on anti-semitism and racism such as Pinky and Gentleman's Agreement.

A terrible chapter of our nation's history that I hope people don't take lightly in which Jews, foreigners, radicals and anyone who wasn't in the WASP establishment was persecuted on the grounds of being Communist was the McCarthy witch hunt hearings. If anyone's ever read the Crucible about the Salem Witch trials, they were inspired by the McCarthy hearings. The McCarthy hearings targeted Hollywood and made them testify before the House Unamerican Committee, and many lost their jobs as a result.

A lot of people felt that in the wake of this, Kazan betrayed a lot of colleagues by going to the committee and naming names. To the day of his death, Kazan defended his actions saying that he felt that the communists were a danger to the country. It is widely believed that Kazan had enough grounds to break the blacklist.

A lot of the condemnation was that he did something wrong, and the debate is over whether he was wrong or right. I think the debate should be whether he did what he thought was right vs. whether he didn't care about wrong or right but just sold out to commercial interests. It's well-known that Kazan was the hottest filmmaker at the time of the hearings and that only he could have broken the blacklist and still retained a career because he had that much clout. So I ask if he still would have retained a career, weren't his motives not financial?

Also, does it factor into your judgement of Kazan that even if he did that one rotten thing, he still contributed to society by making message pictures like Gentleman's Agreement and Pinky? From what I know, I have to think that even if he did something dumb, he did what he thought was the right thing (which he vehemently defended against his death and went to the trouble of making a whole movie about it) on the basis of the fact that making GA and Pinky demonstrates that he was a guy with a social conscious.

I asked this on a message board and it got a lot of interesting responses. Many people defended him pointing out that Ronald Reagan named names as well, and he got to be president. Someone said and I agree, that we should point more fingers to the institutions, the Catholic Church, Congress, the movie studios, the press (who waited too long) that was complicit in this dark chapter on the nation's history.

There was also an opinion that the Oscar was unnecessary since Kazan had been awarded enough Oscars during his lifetime while people he ratted out like Dalton Trumbo got none until after his death. I pointed out in response to that, that Trumbo died in the late 1960's, 30 years before Kazan, so it's hard to say if they wouldn't have come to their senses eventually and given it to him while he was alive, and an Oscar posthumously is better than none at all.

I think the important thing is that we all remember what happened and don't forget that dark chapter in our nation's history.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Browsing through Ebert's Answerman Columns

I was browsing through Roger Ebert's answerman columns, in which he answers through questions posed by people going onto his website. They are one of the most entertaining things you can read in the subject of film criticism as he is insanely knowledgable on everything film, has great insights and sometimes has a sense of humor.

I saw Roger Ebert on ET the other night and he is in terrible shape right now and can't exactly talk. He has to talk through a computer like Stephen Hawking, so that's quite tragic. When it comes to seeing his printed word, he's still as sharp as ever.

Anyway, since I don't think I should copy and paste some of the questions I found interesting, i could try to post some links:
This question is about whether actors simulate sex in films.
This question is about the writer's strike and whether Ebert and Reoper receive residuals
Whether Ebert has a preference toward foreign films
Whether people should wait for the end credits to finish rolling or not before leaving. The question was from an annoyed viewer that people got up and left while Michael Clayton was still on the screen on the .
My opinion is that #1) nothing further in the story happens after the end credits kept rolling #2) it's usually up to people if they want to reap the rewards of the end credits or not #3) as a former movie theater usher, we're generally supposed to wait until the end credits finish rolling before we go in and clean but if it's a busy schedule we usually can't resist the temptation to start a little early
The controversy over people saying Al Gore won an Oscar when he didn't. I personally think that even if he didn't win the statue he was a major force behind the film and should receive acknowledgement as the man behind the Oscar-winning film because a) the director didn't really do much but just point the camera at him as he babbled b) you know that someone as media-savvy as Gore knew how to market and promote the film and get behind it and c) there would clearly be no film behind Gore. The analogy that saying Gore is the Oscar winner for Inconvenient Truth being as ludicrous as saying Muhammad Ali won an Oscar for When We Were Kings, is clearly incorrect, because Gore was an active participant in the film.
Damn, the 6th Sense has just been ruined, I think I'll write a seperate post on this. But that was highly insensitive. I think I'll write Roger Ebert a question about this.
Controvoursey over whether Francis Ford Coppolla being quoted in a magazine as saying Nicholson, De Niro and Pacino have been cinematically lazy over the last decade. Nicholson made About Schmidt, As Good as it Gets (which I think was a little overrated), and Departed; Pacino made Insomnia, Angels and America, Merchant of Venice, Two for the Money, and Devil's Advocate and De Niro's most notable effort would debatably be Sleepers. I haven't seen Stardust so I won't judge. I've heard a couple good things. Other than that we have films like Gigli, Mars Attacks, Anger Management, Showtime, Godsend, City by the Sea, The Score, Stardust, Shark Tale, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers (shameless money-grabbing sequel), Simeone, The Recruit, Two for the Money, and Something's Gotta Give, so perhaps Francis Ford Copolla shouldn't feel a need to apologize after all.
When was the first use of a flying saucer in a film. This post also indicates that Ebert is willing to help you with homework projects
Whether that opening clip at Darjeerling Limited had any merit. I admire Anderson for leaving it out of the film and making it a separate movie, but nothing much really happened in the opening clip and I have no idea what the cause for the hatred was between the two people.
This post discusses how films in the Victorian Era greatly fantasize the period. Elizabeth, in real life, would have had no teeth by the age of 30, because evidently British people back in those days had no dental hygiene (a tradition which proudly still stands). I saw Elizabeth and the Golden Age and I think that they went out of their way to make Elizabeth not look glamorous but realistic and even ugly at times. Certainly, the viewer wasn't drawn into Elizabeth's glamour.
If Queen Elizabeth II would watch on her TV at home, when Cate Blanchett wins the Oscar this year for playing QEI (which by the way, most people agree is a long shot for a win though a probable nomination at this point).
His response: "If Blanchett were to win for "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," that would mean she'd receive the award from Forest Whitaker. He won for "The Last King of Scotland." I hope he doesn't hold the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots against her."

Friday, November 30, 2007

Academy pictures by genre

I was curious about the kinds of pictures that get selected by the academy, and started making this list. The top 5 of each year are picture noms, a * means a nom for the director, and a - means writing nom.

Departed-Crime Thriller
Little Miss Sunshine-Family Dramedy
Letters from Iwo Jima-War Film
The Queen-Docudrama/Political
Babel-Ensemble Piece
*United 93: Docudrama
-Children of Men-Sci-fi
-Little Children-Family melodrama
-Notes on a Scandal-Psychological Thriller
-Pan’s Labrynth-Foreign language/Experimental

Good Night and Good Luck-Period Docudrama
Crash-Ensemble Piece
Brokeback Mountain-Queer cinema
Munich-Political Thriller
-Match Point-Dark romance
-Squid and the Whale-Family Melodrama
-Syrianna-Political Ensemble Piece
-History of Violence-Crime Thriller
-Constant Gardener-Political Thriller

Finding Neverland-Biopic
Ray-Musical Biopic
Aviator-Period Piece/Biopic
Sideways-Neorealist comedy
Million Dollar Baby-Sports
*Vera Drake-Biopic
-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-Experimental comedy
-Hotel Rwanda-Docudrama/Biopic
-Motorcycle Diaries-Foreign
-Before Sunset-Romance

Master and Commander-Period epic
Seabiscuit-Sports/Period piece
Lost in Translation-Independent/Romance
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King-Fantasy epic
Mystic River-Tragedy
*City of God-Foreign crime thriller
-In America-Tearjerker/Family melodrama
-Dirty Pretty Things-Independent
-Barbarian Invasions-Dramedy
-Finding Nemo-Animated
-American Splendor-Comedy

The Hours-Period piece/Family melodrama
LOTR-Fantasy Epic
Gangs of New York-Period piece
*Talk to Her-Foreign language
-Far From Heaven-Family melodrama
-My Big Fat Greek Wedding-Comedy
-About a Boy-Comedy
-Y tu Mama Tambien-Foreign language/Coming-of-age

Moulan Rouge-Musical
Godsford Park-Ensemble piece
Beautiful Mind-Biopic
In the Bedroom-Family melodrama
LOTR-Fantasy Epic
*Mullholland Drive-Experimental
*Black Hawk Down-War film
-Amelie-Foreign language/romance
-Royal Tannenbaums-Family Dramedy
-Ghost World-Coming-of-age
-Monster’s Ball-Tragedy

Gladiator-Period epic
Traffic-Ensemble docudrama
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-Foreign epic
Chocolat-Period piece
Erin Brockovitch-Biopic
*Billy Elliot-Biopic
-Almost Famous-Coming-of-age
-You Can Count on Me-Dramedy
-Oh Brother Where Art Thou-Epic
-Cast Away-Survival

Sixth Sense-Horror/Thriller
American Beauty-Family melodrama
Green Mile-Tearjerker
Cider House Rules-Coming-of-age
*Talented Mr Ripley-Psychological Thriller
-Being John Malkovitch-Experimental
-Magnolia-Ensemble Piece
-Topsy Turvy-Musical biopic

Elizabeth-Period piece
Shakespeare in Love-Comedy
A Thin Red Line-War film
Life is Beautiful-Foreign comedy
Saving Private Ryan-War film
*Truman Show-Experimental
-Out of Sight-Thriller
-Simple Plan-Dark Comedy
-Primary Colors-Satire
-Gods and Monsters-Biopic

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Letting artists speak

I was looking at an imdb message board for Lions for Lambs and as expected I've seen people responding with a mix of people saying "this movie's crap...Robert Redford should just shut up" and then I see some people who are posting things like "Clearing Up Misconceptions/Wars on Iraq" where they might say things that i don't agree with, but at least they're laying out clear points and people are arguing it.

I think people in the former category who are thinking that Redford has no right to speak his mind and is guilty of spreading propaganda are not being very American. Propaganda is the dissemination of material presented as fact, when in fact Redford is well-aware that what he's providing is his own opinion. That's what artists do and society is better for allowing artists to do it. Furthermore, I think Redford is a well-educated citizen who has shown he's far smarter than the average American and he's aloud to say whatever he wants. You can not listen to it. You can listen to it, disagree with it, and voice why you disagree with it, but don't say that he has no right saying it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Lions for Lambs review (2007)

Lions for Lambs is a cinematically sparse film, with so little effort toward presenting a polished cinematic package, that the viewer might find it a little jarring. Three parrallel stories occur over a period of one hour.

A journalist (Meryl Streep) conducts a one-on-one interview with Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) over his new initiative in Iraq. Irving, played with all the cockiness that some of us liken to the Tom Cruise persona (and mistakenly Tom Cruise himself) is forceful in trying to get Streep to see a certain point of view and borderline bullies her into accepting his line of thinking that this new strategy is going to work and is worth the human cost. If you replaced Matt Lauer with Meryl Streep, it would practically be a dramatic reenactment of Cruise's famous tirade on The Today Show arguing against prescription medicine. My point here is Cruise is perfectly cast, and I think Redford was very aware of Cruise's recently damaged likeability rating at this point in time.

The second piece of the puzzle is two bright students who volunteered for the army to prove that they were pro-active citizens, against the urging of their professor. These characters are more likeable in the flashback scenes because in the present day military conflict their foolishness (in the name of chivalry) stretches plot credibility a little thin.

The third story arc and the one which I found most compelling was between a college professor (the same college professor who discouraged his two former students in plotline #2 from enetring the war) and his most promising student during a one-hour advising session. The student (Andrew Garfield) was once a catalyst for some of the class's most most interesting discussions and showed great intelligence, but lately he is becoming more interested in fraternity life and girls and doesn't believe politics are worth it because "they're all crooked." The student is the apothyoses of disengaged undergraduates today and credit goes not just to the actor (it would be easy for a young person to portray a stereotypical member of today's college youth) but to the 40 year old Matthew Carnahan for capturing his language reasonably well. Redford has the most presence on screen out of anyone of the film as the professor.

This is a good and bad thing because I can understand people seeing Redfordt's a blatantly transparent method of getting his political message across that Redford casts himself as the professor and provides the most intelligent source of discourse. This is likely to draw hostility from audiences and be seen as arrogant. I remember they responded that way when M. Night Shamylan cast himself as the writer who would later be the savior to humanity in Lady in the Water. One criticism I might agree with is that rather than making this film, Redford could just as easily go around the country making personal appearances and speaking about these issues (although the answer would be: that would be far more time consuming), but for a filmmaker who has something to say, I can't think of many films (except a Michael Moore documentary) that are so that are so effective at saying it. Redford's film speaks so directly to our generation and the current situation.

Cinematically, Lions for Lambs is not the best film out there. It feels less like a serious and concerted effort on Redford's part to make a good narrative film than it should. But at the same
time, I think it says things that haven't been said before, and whether you agree or disagree with his finer points, it's surely an eye-opening experience. It' the larger theme about how this generation deals with the alienation from pointless wars and crooked politics that resonates.

Friday, November 09, 2007

My oscar rankings so far through October

I haven't seen many Oscar websites this year, I'm not even sure what the point of it is. Every week there's been a big picture opening starring a former Oscar winner that gets big acclaim.

My Entertainment Weekly magazine praises American Gangster, Atonement, and Charlie Wilson's War as the three front runners, and the next 5 as Into the Wild, Juno, Kite Runner, No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, and after that a group of 5 that includes Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Hairspray, Sweeny Todd, There Will be Blood, and 3:10 to Yuma. I heard Eastern Promises got great reviews, so this is the first year where I'm just starting to think the Oscar process is kind of overly random.

Films I've seen in loose order from best to worst:

3:10 to Yuma, Darjeerling Limited, Sicko, Michael Clayton, Hairspray, Eastern Promises, Transformers, Lars and the Real Girl, Bourne Ultimatum, Spiderman 3, Across the Universe, Knocked Up, Elizabeth and the Golden Age, Invasion, My Brother, Evan Almighty, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Blades of Glory, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Music and Lyrics, Superbad, Licence to Wed, Music and Lyrics, Shrek 3, Pirates 3, Nancy Drew, 1408

So, these are the best of what I've seen:

Best Picture:

3:10 to Yuma

Darjeerling Limited


Michael Clayton


Best Director:

James Mangold, 3:10 to Yuma-So impressed with him. He's not an auteur in my eyes (no consistent style) but an impressive filmmaker, nonetheless

David Cronenberg, Eastern Promises-His story had such heart-pounding intensity to it (as in my heart was literally beating really hard and fast), even during non-violent sequences, and I just figure you gotta be an incredible director to do that

Michael Moore, Sicko-The master of non-fiction narratives

Wes Anderson, Darjeerling Limited-Even though Darjeerling Limited is ranked 2nd, and Anderson is like my favorite director, I think there were three directors who REALLY surprised me this year, while Anderson just plain delivered his high caliber work as usual.

Tony Gileroy, Michael Clayton-He cornered George Clooney and forced him into a meeting for his film, so I'm pretty impressed with his sheer ambition.

Best Actor:

Ryan Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl-Oscars usually nominate one picture in a light-hearted/character-based/comedic performance and therefore it naturally follows that performances from pictures like Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, Lost in Translation, Junebug and Stranger than Fiction usually get Oscar buzz or actual Oscar nominations. This performance right up there with all of those other ones.

Virgo Mortgensen, Eastern Promises-When your character is stabbing people and fending off death, it usually ups the ante a little and therefore it can tend to get oscar baity, but this is a great and subtle performance. This is a guy who has a job that involves killing people in cold blood and you're wondering how he manages to be civil and clear of conscience while doing it, and it's not that he has kids to have to raise and be answerable to. There's a sense of decency evident in him when it comes to dealing with Naomi Watts and her uncle, and that provides the answer for who his character REALLY is.

Russell Crowe, 3:10 to Yuma-Crowe is always an artiste. As Chris Rock says, he always appears like he's studied the character thoroughly and is deeply immersed in whatever he's playing. I think Crowe is injecting "Crowe the artist" into his role of Western outlaw, and creating a character who's supposed to be the typical villain, yet he's very passive and thoughtful about everything he's done.

Christian Bale, 3:10 to Yuma-If you thought Bale as Batman was a test of his ability to hide his English accent, wait till you see Bale in western Drawl and how well he pulls that off.

John Trovolta, Hairspray-John Trovolta wasn't as mindblowingly convincing as I thought it would be. I might have been willing to move him up a couple slots if he pulled it off, but he didn't. At the same time, though,his character had a lot of tender moments with Nikki Blonsky that I think were done well.

(Runner-Up: Adrien Brody of Darjeeling Limited or rather, was he a supporting actor? It's hard to say)


Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age-Well, it's just hard to trump the supreme effort of this task. It's just one of those performances that's so intricate and nuanced that even if it wasn't 100% what you hoped for, you can appreciate the whole picture

Naiomi Watts, Eastern Promises-This woman can spin yarn into gold on practically anything. She was, in fact, one of the most protested snubs of the decade for her work in 2001's Mullholland Drive.

Evan Rachel Wood, Across the Universe-Wood's surprising second talent as a singer really stood out to me.

Nicole Kidman, Invasion-Well, it's Nicole Kidman for god's sake. Like Meryl Streep or Naiomi Watts, she's good in pretty much everything she does.

Emma Roberts, Nancy Drew-Nancy Drew is right down there with 1408 for the worst film I've seen this year, I took my younger cousins to see it, but a) the pool of female actors is getting low by the time I hit the #5 spot (even with Nikki Blonsky, Kiera Knightly and Katherine Heigel in the running) and b) even if the movie was terrible, I actually thought she was able to make lemons out of lemonade pretty well. Her character came off as spirited and plucky but also a very believable teenager who suffers from being super humanly smart. I think the tone of the film didn't fit her performance. Also, c) I already picked Kiera Knightly last year in my summer '06 awards

(Runner-Up: Kiera Knightly, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: That film put her in the forefront of the story more than the other two. It's kind of close)

Supporting Actor:

Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton-This might very well be the performance of the year, no contest. Wilkinson's characters are usually uninteresting heavies so this is quite a change and a good one. I'm really rooting for him.

Clive Owen, Elizabeth-If the movie could be slow and boring at times, it never was when Owen was on-screen. It wasn't a performance with any really intense moments but there was gravitas and conviction to Owen's performance.

Ben Foster, 3:10 to Yuma-You looked at him and saw a lot of bitterness or something hard to quantify. It was a really interesting performance, for sure

Christopher Walken, Hairspray-There's Walken the crazy guy, Walken as a villain, Walken the parody of himself (that you see on SNL), Walken as the singer and dancer (who knew?), but rarely do you ever get to see a compassionate Walken: one with heart and one that can create touching scenes.

Michael Cera, Superbad-His performance was an interesting combination of Michael Bluth from Arrested Development and a kid with a lot more confidence. He might end up having a fairly long career.

Supporting actress:

Tilda Swenton, Michael Clayton-She personified corporate greed and female ambition to create such a great villainess. She was so evil, yet she seemed so familiar to anyone who's ever read testimonies by or stories about crooked CEOs in the business section of their paper.

Amara Karan, Darjeeling Limited-I think female characters who are sexually open (and could therefore be defined as slut-like) but later found to be richer underneath are particularly interesting. She also took away from a lot of Indian stereotypes.

Emily Mortimer, Lars and the Real Girl-A wonderfully awkward film in so many ways

Joan Allen, Bourne Ultimatum-It seemed like Allen took the material very seriously as if this weren't just an innocent action movie, and the movie's tone changed as a result

Tie: Michelle Pfieffer, Hairspray-A wonderfully devious performance that possibly came from channeling all that frustration of not having been cast in any movies this decade.


Vanessa Williams, My Brother-I saw this film at a film festival, that never got more than a week's circulation at most major movie chains after much pushing. It was made by Oscar-nominated shots director Tony Lovern, and it was a labor of love for him to get it through distribution. The movie similarly also loses a little in production values, but is a very emotionally compelling story. Vanessa Williams' role in this is something that you would not expect to see from a former Miss America contestant, singer, and model. The actress knew that the part was gold and either took a pay cut or did it for free, I can't remember which.

Runner-Up: Abby Cornish, Elizabeth and the Golden Age

Cinematography/Art Direction:

Darjeerling Limited-On the art direction end it ranks higher. Wes Anderson is always my favorite in that department

Elizabeth and the Golden Age-An observation: I don't think that the cinematographer was aiming to show this world in as glamorous of a light as he could have. It was very realistic and abstract at the same time. Certainly the most interesting thing about the film, of course, was the art direction.

3:10 to Yuma-Westerns always give one a healthy opportunity to play with cinematography. These top 3 are all very impressive on my list.

Pirates: At World's End-That shipwreck cove was probably the best visual accomplishment of the film, along with the super army of ships.

Michael Clayton-Rather ordinary places like office buildings, the basement of a restaurant where the title character plays poker, and a New York City street were filmed in such a way as to convey a feeling of claustrophobia. Clever.


1. Hairspray-There was no weak link in this ensemble and that's what made it great

2. Michael Clayton

3. Darjeerling Limited

4. Eastern Promises

5. 3:10 to Yuma

Special Effects:

1. Spiderman 3-Mainly because of Sandman

2. 3:10 to Yuma-A good-old fashioned Western shootout

3. Invasion-To give a loose idea on the bulk of special effects work: People's bodies decompose as alien parasites take them over.

(In this category, I was largely dissapointed with some of the big CGI-based films like transformers)