Thursday, February 19, 2009

7 Reasons why 2008 was better than 2007 in movies

The Oscars come this Saturday which means that's the close of 2008 in film. I know that we're 7 weeks into the new year, but we're still in 2008 mode. Most of the films in theaters worth watching are 2008 vintage and as the year comes to a close I'm seeing a lot of negativity with respect to this year.

I've been reading comments everywhere from, to the film experience that proclaim 2008 to not be nearly as good as 2007.

I completely disagree. If you look at the history of my blog posts, I barely was blogging towards the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008. This is because 2007 was so bad that it turned me off movies and the only reason that my blog posts have increased as of late is because I've seen the quality of moviemaking go up this year to the point where I have more to write about.

It's hard to compare one year to another, but let me try to construct a well-detailed argument as to why the cinematic output of 2007 was an abomination of man and should be purged from history and why 2008's output was godlike. Here are my reasons:
1. 2007 was the year that sequels lost their artistic credibility:
Just look to May of 2007, the 3 most profitable sequels of all time, Shrek 2 (#3 film all time at the time of its release), Spiderman 2 (#8 film all time), and Pirates of the Carribean 2 (#6 film all time) made way to the three largely incoherent and dissapointing films that screamed out to the audience: "The reason we were created was for easy money" and easy money those films did make. The most memorable sequel of 2008 "Dark Knight" raised the bar for "The Dark Knight"
2. In 2007, Judd Apatow was declared the smartest man in film business by Entertainment Weekly:
Whether Judd Apatow is smart or not, he certainly made America DUMBER (or those who chose to watch his films). Apatow has only been doing what box office analysts have noted for years and what filmmakers hoping to pursue art over commerce have been trying to avoid: that the box office is controlled by adolescent boys and therefore the ideal comedy should have a lot of perverse sexual humor, four-letter words and references to drugs and laziness. Is this really that revolutionary? Apatow caters to the 13-16 year old crowd and somehow adults have latched onto it. Knocked Up was pretty funny, I will admit, but Superbad was rediculously sophomoric and had no innovation whatsoever to it. You could attach a camera to any two underachieving college students at a party school on a Friday night, and get the same level of entertainment as Superbad. In 2008, the force of Apatow was greatly subdued with
Forgetting Sarah Marshall in the Spring and Pineapple Express in the late summer.
3. There were a lot of quality films other than Judd Apatow
Comedies outside of Judd Apatow fell completely by the wayside. Juno was a big word-of-mouth buzzer, I'll admit, and there was Lars and the Real Girl, but a tremendous amount of summer comedies fell flat including Evan Allmighty, Shrek 3, Mr. Woodock, Rush Hour 3, Liscence to Wed, and later Dan in Real Life.
In 2008, we had a number of diverse successes which were all innovative and had something to offer: Tropic Thunder generated buzz through some incredibly creative casting, Pineapple Express dared to cross two opposite genres in the pot film and the action film, popular HBO host took a shot at being Borat (I haven't seen the film, to be fair), Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly teamed up again (which I can't help but love), the Coen Brothers produced their best screwball comedy in Burn After Reading, and Jack Black, Mos Def and Michael Gondry teamed up for a metacinematical wonder in Be Kind Rewind. In addition, two comedies made their way to the best original screenplay final five, In Bruges and Happy-Go-Lucky, not be filling in the quirky dramedy slot, but by being originals. In short, something to love for everyone on the comedy front.
4. Wall-E transcends the animated film genre
Did Pixar's Ratatouille top critics' lists far and wide as the #1 film of the year by critics ranging from Time Magainze to the AV Club to Entertainment Weekly to the LA and Chicago Film Critics Association and it was on many more lists as well. Ratatouille did not transcend the animated film genre like Wall-E did.
5.2007 was an overflow of war films that didn't resonate. 2008 approached current events in a more fitting way
Rendition, Lions for Lambs (which I personally liked), The Kingdom, Redacted, and Charlie Wilson's War (which I liked somewhat) all fizzled out. These films might have been relevant in 2003 when we made the ill-fitted decision to go to war or a couple years down the road when the situation was turning worse. By 2007, it was old news. 2008's big films were surprisingly relevant. Milk came out right after the controvoursey over Proposition 8. I now that was unanticipated, but could you have asked for better luck? How about Slumdog Millionaire and the Obama's rise to power? The Reader and Dick Cheney's attempts to defend his cohorts from war crimes? Frost/Nixon and the growing awareness with each upcoming election cycle that how candidates far in debates affects everything? And all these 4 were nominated for best picutre.
6.Many of the good films were forgotten anyway in 2007
In the Valley of Ellah, Great Debaters, Away from Her, Persopolis, Gone Baby Gone, Once, Atonement, Zodiac, Eastern Promises and especially Assassination of Jess James were all underpromoted, underbuzzed, and not seen by very many people. I'm not sure if there were fewer masterpieces in 2008 but the films that received high levels of buzz all got their due among audiences. Smaller dialogue-heavy films like Happy Go Lucky, In Bruges, Vicky Christina Barcelona, and Burn After Reading all got their recognition in the independent screenplay category or the Golden Globe comedy category and other than the 5 nominees, Wall-E, Iron Man and Dark Knight got tremendous buzz and won many film critics awards. Revolutionary Road become sufficiently high-profile, Doubt got 4 acting noms, and the Wrestler had a very ample fan base.
7. 2007's main awards seasons successes were unusually dark and depressing.
The year's feel good story "Into the Wild" was about a guy who went off to Alaska and died at age 21. Just the read the title of There Will be Blood. Michael Clayton is supposed to be a run-of-the-mill legal thriller but it injects Hitchkock-like murder plots. Sweeny Todd is basically a darkly perverted version of the American musical. Eastern Promises is darker than films of its genre. The Assassination of Jesse James also lets you know how that story is going to end up. And the best picture Oscar, No Country for Old Men, is basically a story that goes nowhere that works more as a study of death.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

I have a new writing job!

Thanks to my blogging efforts, I have a new job, I will be the DC Film Industry Analyst for The Examiner. Here is my inagural entry, right here.

Please click on that, if nothing else, because I get revenue through clicks.

Here are some other links, I found that I've starred through google reader. There is nothing I was triyng to promote, I just found them all to be interesting articles:

Too often the Oscars are about films that make it to the big stage and discard the ones that don't. Here is a list of underappreciated films:

The question is who would you chose to have breakfast with after the Oscars. I think I'd probably go with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon because they seemed so freaking excited. On the flipside, we could go with Alexander Payne (writer), or actors George C Scott or Alan Arkin who claim that winning an award means virtually nothing to them, to see how lackadaisical they are about it. Perhaps, Robin Williams because he'd always be fun to be around, or Robert De Niro because he's fascinatingly quiet and awkward in real life:

This critic found Doubt funny:

This was an interesting article about how every best picture Oscar campaign is seeking to dig up dirt on the other contenders:

Someone attempts to defend M. Night Shamylan. Good for him. I've watched 2 M. Night Shamylan films. I saw Lady in the Water and liked it. I didn't have a basis for comparison so the "not as good as his other films" argument held no water for me. I felt Lady in the Water was extremely imaginative even if it was filled with lots of plot holes. You had to simply watch it differently. The Happening, on the other hand, was disastrously awful:

Non-movie related: This is a weekly column by Fidel Castro that shows off his philosophical and scholarly side. I was unaware he had these:

A good summary on the best picture nominees:

Tropic Thunder: Tom Cruise is still brilliant

I hadn't seen Tropic Thunder until yesterday afternoon and again this morning, so I heard the buzz about the film before actually experiencing it firsthand. A brief summary of things I've heard and you must have heard too: it's a pretty good movies, there are these fake trailers before the film, Robert Downey Junior gives an Oscar-worthy performance as an Australian actor posing as a black actor and never breaking character, and Tom Cruise has a hilarious cameo.

With regard to the last two points, I found Robert Downey Jr. to be a pretty interesting character, but Tom Cruise practically owns the movie. Can we take a moment to acknowledge that whether you love or hate him as an actor, Tom Cruise lasted as a star not because he's a great actor (good but not great, in my opinion) but because he's always made smart picks as to which movies to be in. That's in fact, why he's been a successful producer in addition to being a movie star.

Even with his career derailed by a blotched interview with Matt Lauer and 30 seconds on a couch with Oprah, Cruise is incredibly smart at choosing which roles to take at the right time. And this is no easy thing to do when the entire nation has suddenly gone from adoring you for 25 years to practically losing all faith in you, and you're depending on them for ticket dollars. Two of the first three films Cruise did post-Oprah Gate were incredibly safe choices. Mission Impossible III was a sequel: Even if you don't like the Tom Cruise of today, you used to like Tom Cruise and you can't deny liking Mission Impossible, so that would get the newly converted Cruise haters to the theater and it pretty much did so: Scoring $47 million opening weekend (word of mouth might have killed its overall gross, but opening weekend gross is based on how successful the marketing is, so i'll cite that figure). In Valkyrie, Tom Cruise is basically pleading with audiences to come with this logic: "Yes, America, I know you think I'm nuts, but I'm trying to kill Hitler in this film. You have to root for me to kill Hitler, right?"

While the general movie going public is still deciding whether Tom Cruise is crazy or not, Cruise dives headfirst into a role that covers the same territory as some of these perceptions and that's so potentially dangerous. It would be like if Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe did a passionate romantic film together after he broke up her marriage to Dennis Quaid by seducing her on the set of Proof of Life. Nonetheless, Cruise's producer character is an excellent, spot-on, and unique comic creation. It also is inaccurate to say it's just a cameo. He was in quite a bit of the film. I was baffled by Hollywood Foreign Press' decision to give Tom Cruise a best supporting actor nomination, but I might just have to agree that if we're (by we, I mean, the Oscars, Golden Globes, Broadcast Film Critics Assosiation, etc.) going to put Rob Downey Jr. in the best supporting actor category, then Tom Cruise as equally as deserving of a supporting actor nomination this year.

What's more, Tropic Thunder also features Matthew McConaughey and Nick Nolte in the best roles I've ever seen them in (although I don't think I've seen Nick Nolte in a lot of roles, come to think of it). McConaughey plays an agent who is willing to fight tooth-and-nail to get his client Tivo while Nolte is the movie-within-a-movie's screenwriter (or rather the novelist that the film is based off of or whatever you call it) of the film, who originally claims to have wrote the book off his war experiences. One of the film's big reveals is that his character WAS in the military, but not so much a combatant but a sanitation engineer for the Coast Guard.

If I were in charge of the SAG best ensemble nominations, I might be tempted to include Tropic Thunder in that category.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

An open letter to Hillary Duff

"Los Angeles (E! Online) – Making fun of Faye Dunaway's looks wasn't enough for Hilary Duff—she's still peeved at the aging actress.

Quick feud recap (because there are too many to keep track of anymore): Hilary is starring in a Bonnie and Clyde remake. This caused Dunaway to allegedly cackle, ''Couldn't they at least cast a real actress?" which got the Duffster in such a huff, she lashed out to E!'s Daily 10, "I might be mad if I looked like that now, too."

Seems pretty straightforward and done with, but Hilary's still got more to say about the matter on today's Bonnie Hunt Show.

See, Duff says Dunaway can't judge her, because the Lizzie McGuire star is still growing. "She started acting way later than I did, so I think I have time to grow—and grow with each project. I am learning and work hard at my craft," Hilary explains to Bonnie. Being the kind hostess, Bonnie offers up some comfort: "I think even Faye went through a time, if you look historically, where some people might have said that about her. She has great beauty, but she proved herself."

Then Hilary admits her D10 comments were kind of mean, but whatevs: "It's not OK for people to take stabs at you and to say mean things for no reason." And now we wait to see if this thing is really and truly over...or if another Faye Dunaway zinger is on its way."

Actually, no, Hillary, you don't get a pass to act like a bitch while you're working on your craft. You basically dismissed someone who's starred in three films that are universally considered among the best ever made: Chinatown, Bonnie and Clyde, and Network. You've made zero films that have been memorable over your whole career (I'll admit to liking Cheaper by the Dozen but most people including myself felt you were a distraction and error in casting in that film). The only reason you're in movies is because you're a product of the Disney corporation and they are putting you on the big screen as a means of cross-promotion for you on the little screen. If you ever make it to the big screen on a rare occasion when Disney isn't fighting tooth and nail for you, it would be through pure chance and no one's rooting for a commercialized Disney creation like you to get there. Also, you being a bitch doesn't make me want to root for your career any more.

Here is your list of unforgivable sins:

1. You made fun of Faye Dunaway's looks because she's old. Haven't you lashed out at the media for holding women to an idealized vision of beauty and haven't you publicly expressed displeasure off at US Magazine for devoting entire articles to your weight gain? Well, no more will I take your side for that.

2. You act as though Dunaway's career is irrelevant to you because she doesn't fit into your MTV-ized view that culture is only relevant if it's occurring in the here-and-now. Whether you chose to watch films released more than ten years ago or not, Dunaway is a part of film history and you are not. If starring in movies isn't just an excuse to promote generic pop tunes and whatever it is you do or did for the Disney channel, and you are in fact serious about your craft, you don't show it very well by not being aware of these things. Besides, considering that by 2019, you'll probably be completely forgotten to the next class of teeny boppers starring in movies, you might want to promote an appreciation of films older than 10 years old, so you can still latch onto whatever fame you have now

3. You're apology is only a half-apology. You accuse Dunaway of being mean to you which you don't approve of.

Breaking down the humor of viral youtube clip "Anne Hathaway Freaks Out on the Set of Rachel Getting Married"

This latest viral clip, "Anne Hathaway Getting Married" is by comedienne Sara Benincasa who's slowly eclipsing LisaNova as the funniest girl on youtube. Anyway, I started thinking about this and deciding to do a full-on analysis about why this is funny and how this is particularly genius. The youtube clip is an audio parody of Christian Bale's explosive outburt at the director of photography (or DP for short)on the set of Terminator Salvation last week. In this fictitous clip, Anne Hathaway has a similar tirade at the Director of Photography for Rachel Getting Married.
Let's really break down the humor until it's no longer funny:

1. It's well-researched:
Sara Benincasa has either seen this film and knows more about its plot than I do (I also watched this film but found some of the plot to be confusing). Considering that one could easily make fun of Rachel Getting Married by watching the trailer or seeing a review, you have to admire a comedian for being so thorough as to actually watch a 2-hour art film just so they can make jokes about it. The actual names of the Director of Photography, Declan Quinn, her costars and their filmographies are all accurate (she could have looked that up on imdb). But her references to a sex scene in which she has her clothes on, the interracial dynamic of the new family (something touched upon in actual reviews of the film), the filmographies and context of various castmembers in the film.
She alludes to Rosemarie DeWitt's increased profile and the possible ego boost it might give her now that her show Mad Men has won the SAGs, Emmys, and Golden Globes.
Why is this funny?
Humor grounded not just in truth, but in exact details, makes for better parody. Think how Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein is funnier because it recreates the original film shot-for-shot. Another example is when Tina Fey delivered an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards when she singled out actual screen names of internet users who trashed her.

2. The fact that Anne Hathaway thinks that these people are compared to the amutuers who made Bride Wars:
Again, a fairly intelligent piece of context of the situation flipped upside down on its head.
So let's look at the context: Many respected actors and actresses today have not always had a history of being respected because they were previously known as comic talents (i.e. Bill Murray, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell), singer/rappers (Queen Latifah, Mark Wahlberg, Will Smith, Beyonce, etc), or hot women (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Charlize Theron). All of these actors and actresses owe their success to one single film that broke them out of that role (see appendix). Anne Hathaway is like that but in a different category. She's very cute and girly and makes a good leading lady for a romantic comedy or some cute Disneyesque film like The Princess Diaries. 90% of Anne Hathaway's work (except Brokeback Mountain) is her giggling and acting all cute and girly, but since she is now nominated for an Oscar and acted very non-cute in Rachel Getting Married, she owes any future work she gets to that film.
The irony here is that Anne Hathaway is criticizing the people on this set for not being as great as the cast of Bride Wars when the upcoming film, Bride Wars is as derivative and generic as all her previous work.

2b. The further incongruities of Anne Hathaway's state of mixed-up logic:
Anne Hathaway is being presented as someone who wants to take control of her career and image (why else would she be throwing a tirade on the set) but she wants a director who can allow her to do more full-frontal nudity. Again, a small bit of irony, but she seems to be disrupting the set and complaining because she wants to take her career backwards.

3. Mastering the tag and escalate
Tagging is what Conan O'Brien refers to as hitting the audience with a joke, and then when the audience is laughing at that joke, tagging something onto the back of the joke within the same context. You can do this a few times in a row and it will drive it to absurdity. The monologue does a wonderful job of tagging on a few occasions: In the "you aren't the f-ing cast of Bride Wars" part, she says "that movie was a feminist tour de force" (when, ironically, she's starring in the most feminist movie to come along ever), we're laughing at that, and she hits us with a rephrasing of the same statement, in an even more absurd statement "I felt like I was reading the feminine mystique meets the belljar." It's escalation. The best example of this is the part about how she "raped" her costar. Let's review this:
"Heather Matarazzo, I'm in a bad mood and she'd be like ok"......tag......escalate "I'm gonna f-ing rape you at 3:00 weiner dog and she'd be like 'fine'.....tag....(if you don't think that's funny enough, here comes an escalation).......escalate "and then i'd actually rape her and it was fun and everyone would let me"..tag.....escalate..."and we're still friends today"...tag....escalate...."and those are some of the best sexual experiences she or I have ever head today." See the idea here about how this gets more and more absurd? I particularly like the part (towards the end) about everyone "letting her rape Heather" as if consent for sex is given by a third-party or a consensus of third parties (did everyone on set meet and take a vote over whether they'd allow Anne Hathaway to rape her?).

4. It's risky, but not overly offensive
Now, if you're going to be offended that they're making fun of rape, consider that this is not by definition rape since Heather said "fine" to the rape (which sounds like a deliciously uncharacteristic answer to whether you want to have sex or not). The idea of the entire set consenting to Anne Hathaway having sex with Heather makes it sound even MORE consentual than sex, in fact. Consider how much less funny and how much more disturbing this would have been if the line about Heather Matarazzo (I still haven't even looked up who that is, btw) consenting wasn't used. Also, there are three targets of Anne's wrath in fact, but none are for valid reasons: Rosemarie DeWitt stars on a TV show, the director of photography Declan is being made fun of because it's a parody of Christian Bale's tirade, and Julie Andrews is a much-loved icon whose status as America's favorite nanny makes her pretty much bullet-proof, so none of these tirades come across as being mean-spirited. If she started making fun of some intermediate figure like director Johnothan Demme, who for all we know, could be a humongous jerk, that might come across as worse. If she bashed Rosemarie DeWitt for logical reasons, then we might also find it vindictive or tasteless, but she sticks to the absurd. It reminds me of when Jack Black and Will Ferrell threatened to beat Peter O'Toole over the head with a Nickelodeon award because he's legendary: because the threat has no basis in truth, it has no negative connotations and we can enjoy it.

Appendix: Examples of actors and actresses who owe one single movie for remaking their career:
-Rappers or Singers include Mark Wahlberg for The Departed, Queen Latifah for Chicago, Mos Def for Hitchhiker's Guide, Will Smith for Six Degrees of Seperation.
-Comic talents: Bill Murray for Lost in Translation or Will Ferrell for Stranger than Fiction, Adam Sandler for Punch Drunk Love
-Hot ladies: Charlize Theron in Monster, Catherine Zeta-Jones in Traffic or Chicago, Cameron Diaz in Gangs of New York

Monday, February 09, 2009

A delayed (almost) top 10

A month and nine days after the year originally ended, I still haven't really been able to compile ten films (I've now seen 30) I enthusiastically recommend without any reservations, but i'm pretty close. Here it goes, and watch out because I'll be using a lot of fancy words:

1. Frost/Nixon, directed by Ron Howard, starring Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon: Frost/Nixon is an excellent political thriller. It's kinetic, fast-paced, energetic, and more importantly, it is profoundly relevant to our times: Power is determined by who can make themselves look best in front of a camera. I also admire the film for creating a battle of wits with an indistinguishable line between who's the protagonist and the villain, yet taking time to humanize the "villain" at the film's end. Frank Langella has an incredibly difficult role to play as a former president and he doesn't even bother going to the original source to pull off his interpretation. I found Langella's Nixon (an the whole movie, for that matter) to be reminiscent of Citizen Kane in that Citizen Kane was powerful and wealthy beyond anyone's wildest dreams, but he never felt truly loved by the people and that was the film's big reveal.

2. Gran Torino, directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Hor-The story about a grumpy and somewhat bigoted veteran of the Korean War who copes with the changing makeup of his decaying town and his faith as he enters old age sounds more like a film one would see in Sundance due to its character-centered plot. If it hadn't been for an A-list star like Cliint Eastwood the film might not have ever reached a wide release which is a shame because this is among the most profound and moving pictures in years. Gran Torino is a sweeping exploration at shell-scock, culture clash, urban decay and especially ageism. In this film, Eastwood clearly looks like a shadow of his former self, but he plays a hero with the resolve, grit, and firepower of Dirty Harry or the "Man with No Name." When he befriends his neighbors and takes on the gang that threatens their safety, you've never seen an 80-year old hero on screen like this before and that's a tribute to Eastwood as an actor.

3. Slumdog Millionaire, directed by Danny Boyle, starring Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal: Although it's set in India and directed by a Brit, Slumdog Millionaire is the most American of stories. It's the classic rags-to-riches dream of a boy working his way to riches and it's set in the country whose notoriously rigid class system makes it harder than anywhere else to get out of poverty. In this setting, uneducated slum boy Jamal Malek uses his life experience to try to win a fortune on the Indian rip-off of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Shot on location, the film is such an engrossing visual experience that you can almost taste, smell and touch the Bombay slums. What's more, the film is also an amazing love story between Jamal and the love of his life who he'd give anything to get out of harm's way.

4. Wall-E, directed by Andrew Staunton: Some might call the first 30 minutes a Chaplainesque comedy and classify the film accordingly while I see Wall-E as a Dystopian fantasy of two star-crossed robots who inadvertently save a disenfranchised human race. Whether you see it as a comedy, science-fiction, an unconventional romance, or a moral parable, it's a winner either way. To even suggest making an animated film about two robots who can't talk is bold enough, but to make us care about these two inanimate objects is a feat for the ages. It's also safe to say from all the critical reception that Wall-E is far more than a cartoon, and has transcended the complement of "a good animated film." The Pixar studio has been fawned over for it's innovation so it must feel good for those folks to have one of their films be praised so highly on an adult level, for the first time.

5. Doubt, directed by John Patrick Shanley, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis: I haven't seen this film, but what the heck, I only feel enthusiastic about 9 of the films I've seen so far, and of all the films I haven't seen, this seems like it has potential to be great. I've started to get more and more fascinated by it after watching interviews with the cast and seeing all four of it's stars get nominated for Oscars. Other contenders for films that look great are Australia, Religulous, and Frozen River. Why haven't I seen it? Last time I went to the movie theater, we were 15 minutes too late and saw Rachel Getting Married instead and now I can't afford to see a movie again, unless you donate to the site or buy DVDs from my site. (see "Reasons Why You Should Donate Money to Me #41")

6. Burn After Reading, dir. by the Coen Brothers, starring John Malkovitch, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, JK Simmons, Richard Jenkins, Frances McDormand: I personally find the work of Joel and Ethan Coen to be uneven but I couldn't resist the brilliance of the storyline and the brothers' ability to manipulate its various threads. The film resembles a British comedy of errors where characters exist in varying degrees of being in the dark as to what's going on, except it's taken to extremes. The characters are all hilariously inept and the comedy builds to an explosive climax as the circumstances become more and more outrageous. The Coen brothers usually have a strong sense of place in their films and as a Washingtonian, I got a special thrill out of saying the the Coen Brothers so cleverly lampoon the inefficient and bloated bureaucracy that plagues every corner of life in this city. It's truly an unforgettable film.

7. Be Kind Rewind, dir. by Michael Gondry, starring Jack Black, Muriel Hemmingway, Mos Def, Danny Glover-When the videotapes are accidentally erased of their content in an ailing video store, two friends try to save the store from foreclosure by creating their own homemade versions of the store's films. The film also stars Danny Glover as the store owner. The fun of watching Mos Def and Jack Black attempt to recreate low budget versions of Driving Miss Daisy, Rush Hour 2, King Kong and Ghostbusters is worth the price of admission alone but the film also has deeper themes about the way we consume and create art and the joy of the process.

8. Encounters at the End of the World, dir. by Warner Herzog-How about adding a documentary to the list? I don't normally spring for docs but I saw three this year and I felt this was a really great film in the mold of escapism. If a film's job is to take you out of the mundane and into a brand new world, where else can you go but the metaphorical world's end? A filmmaker goes to Antarctica and not only shows you how otherworldly the flora and fauna are, but how quirky the land's inhabitants are as well. If I had to make a complaint, Warner Herzog could have used a narrator other than himself, considering his accent is a little distracting.

9. In Bruges, dir. by Martin McDonaugh, starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleason, Ralph Feinnes-It's kind of funny because I spoke so highly of this film to my parents and they went to watch it and hated it because it has so many bad words, but if you look a little past that, you'll see some very interesting dialogue and very interesting characters. The film just won best screenplay at the British version of the Oscars (the BAFTAs) and it is nominated for best screenplay at this month's Oscars, so I can't be the only one to think that the film is doing something right. The film isn't just a slightly dark comedy. It plunges all the way into the dark side. At one point, a guy is risking life and limb to save someone who insists on wanting to commit suicide anyways.

10. Quantum of Solace, dir. by Marc Forrester, starring Daniel Craig, Matthieu Almaric, Gemma Arterton, Judi Dench, Jeffery Wright, Olga Krulyenko-I felt the series' reboot was justified not by Casino Royale, but by its follow-up, Quantum of Solacae. The action scenes and visuals were amazing, Craig is even more comfortable in his groove, but more importantly, Bond finally seems human. Yes, the trend started in Casino Royale, but this was the first time that a Bond film actually surprised me. Bond not shooting a villain or bedding a girl just because those are filmic conventions is something truly novel.

Buy some of these films:

To recap, during my last two years as a columnist for D.C. Scene, I submitted two top ten lists to them. Here they are:
1. 3:10 to Yuma, James Mangold
2. There Will be Blood, PT Anderson
3. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Sidney Lumet
4. Michael Clayton, Tony Gileroy
5. Charlie Wilson's War, Mike Nicholls
6. Sicko, Michael Moore
7. Great Debaters, Denzel Washington
8. Juno, Jason Reitman
9. Lions for Lambs, Robert Redford
10. Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson

1. Flags of Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood
2. Little Miss Sunshine, A pair of unknown directors whose names I can't remember
3. Departed, Martin Scorsese
4. Babel, Alejandro Inarritu Gonzalu
5. Blood Diamond, Ed Zwick
6. Prairie Home Companion, Rob Altman
7. Dreamgirls, Bill Condon
8. Bobby, Emilio Estevez
9. Hollywoodland, Allan Coulter
10. Cars, John Lassiter

Buy these films on

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Game: Name the cast part III

I give you an ensemble and you tell me the cast of the film. To make this moderately difficult I will omit no more than one key member of the cast and name every key player. I will also throw in cast members in bit parts as well, as I see fit. Looking on imdb or other comments is cheating. To see editions I and II, go to name that cast:
1. Geoffery Rush, Paul Ruebens, William H. Macy, Janeane Girafolo, Claire Forlani, Hank Azaria, Greg Kinnear
2. Amy Ryan, Albert Finney, Michael Shannon, Marissa Thomei, Rosemary Harris, Phillip Seymour Hoffman
3. Peter Falk, Teri Garr, Whoopi Goldberg, Rene Auberjoinis, Peter Gallagher, Greta Sacchi
4. Tom Hanks, Jennifer Garner, Martin Sheen, Ellen Pompeo, Amy Adams, Christopher Walken
5. Scarlett Johannson, David Cross, Steve Buscemi, Brad Renfro, Bob Balaban
6. Ed Harris, Harvey Keitel, Helen Mirren, Justin Bartha, Dianne Kruger, John Voight
7. Christian Slater, Gary Oldman, William Petersen, Jeff Bridges
8. Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinese, Kathleen Quinlam, Ed Harris, Bill Paxton
9. Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Oliver Platt, Nora Dunn, Christine Barinski, Joshua Molina
10. Anna Paquin, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rosario Dawson, Barry Pepper, Brian Cox
11. Collin Farrell, Joe Pantolillio, Michael Clarke Duncan, Ellen Pompeo, Jennifer Garner, Jon Favreau
12. Morgan Freeman, Rene Zellweger, Allison Janey, Crispin Glover, Greg Kinnear
13. Billy Bob Thornton, Emma Thompson, Maura Tierny, Tony Shaloub, Mykelti Williamson, Adrian Lester
14. Julie Christie, Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman, MacKenzie Crook, Radha Mitchell
15. Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Brannagh, Bill Nighy, Terrence Stamp

Tuesday, February 03, 2009 widget installed!/Let's please save the media

Good news subscribers: I have completed my widget that I have been working on, in which I recommend some of the best films I have seen, many of which coincide with films that have been nominated for and won Oscars or films named by FilmFour Magazine, the British Film Institute, or American Film Institute as the 100 greatest films of all time. They're films that I think will be enjoyable to watch, insightful and hopefully will push you out of your comfort zone. I've also included brief synopses as well. Now you can directly buy films without the hassle.

I will divide these lists into current and older films. Don't be shy about trying out an older film (because that's all I have up at the moment). It would give you a great opportunity for conversation with an old person! My dad and I for example, have bonded over the fact that I've watched so many of his childhood favorites. Spend, spend, spend! Obama (and McCain) say circulate the dollar!

Since, I'm using up a post here, I'll write about a topic. Everywhere around me, I see signs that the newspaper and magazine industry is falling down and that's a shame because I was hoping to eventually be a part of it. I state elsewhere, why print media is so great (it's made by professionals, it contains just the right amount of space, it's mobile, it supports the craft, it directs you to knowledge you might not have known existed, etc).

Perhaps, we need philanthropy at this point. About two years ago, my favorite movie-related magazine, Premiere, folded. If I had known that the magazine was in danger of folding, I would have bought every issue out of a need to see it be kept alive. If I was a little wealthier, I might have even just flat-out donated them money. As it stood, I bought the monthly magazine Premeire about 5 times a year. I also saw Mad was being reduced to a 3 times a year magazine and having layoffs. That's tragic, wow. I discovered Mad Magazine when I was about 21, and have bought way too many issues, although my buying declined in the last year or two. I would have gladly bought more issues, however in the last year, if I knew they were in danger of closing.

They recently tripled their stock, having a kid's magazine version and a classics version. Their content is pretty well-guarded so it's hard to obtain the older issues. I love the movie parodies best, the year-end issue, and the political parodies and I don't know how they could keep the same quantity of movies that need to be spoofed if it was reduced to four times a year. At least make it a bimonthly publication.

On a side note, if I could plug something here, Andrew Keen's book "Cult of the Amateur" warns of the various consequences of new media, and it's all so so so very true.

Monday, February 02, 2009

20 Best actor/director pairings of all time

While this is not the case with every actor and director, one can say that for every great actor, there's often a great director who mentored him to a successful film career, and for many great directors, there's that one reliable actor they go to again and again to get their material across.

1. Elia Kazan/Marlon Brando-All of the actors of today look up to DeNiro, Hoffman, Hackman, Duvall and Pacino and those actors all idolized Brando. Brando learned his craft at the actor's studio which was co-founded by Kazan and it was Kazan who discovered Brando on stage and fought for him to be cast into Streetcar Named Desire, which along with On the Waterfront became two of the best performances ever captured onscreen. With so many aspiring actors cutting their teeth on screenplays from the Kazan/Brando collaborations, it's hard to argue any other way.

2. John Ford/John Wayne-It's not just remarkable how much Ford and Wayne contributed to the Western, but how much they grew with the Western and evolved with the genre. Normally, with a genre, you have one director who accomplishes something big, and then the genre moves in a different direction as another filmmaker comes. Ford and Wayne didn't just create the preeminent Westerns of their day, but they evolved along with the genre. There's significant difference in John Wayne's stock character between Stagecoach and The Searcher with a lot of variation in between. They also ventured outside the Western for the Irish period piece, Quiet Man, which one John Ford an Oscar. Of their 22 films together, other highlights include She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, How the West Was Won, Rio Grande and Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

3. Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart-Frank Capra was the 1930's version of Spielberg and Scorsesee roled into one. He was the most respected, revered and commercially successful director of his time. His visions of homespun Americana gave hope to millions during the Great Depression. His two primary collaborators were Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart, and while I appreciate the Cooper/Capra pairings, I don't think anyone epitomized Capra's vision nearly as well as the wide-eyed Midwestern, Jimmy Stewart. Two of Capra's three entries onto AFI's 100 Greatest Films list, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It's a Wonderful Life, featured Stewart front and center. In addition, James Stewart starred in You Can't Take it With You which won Capra his second best picture Oscar.

4. Martin Scorsese/Robert DeNiro-Under Scorsese DeNiro hasn played a musician (New York, New York), a sexual predator (Cape Fear), a depressed taxi driver (Taxi Driver), a boxer (Raging Bull) and more. Scorsese used De Niro at every possible opportunity. The only major films Scorsese left DeNiro out of the lead part in the 20th century were Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (a family melodrama centered around a female lead), The Color of Money (which couldn't have called itself a sequel if it didn't use Paul Newman, and Last Temptation of Christ (which used Willem Dafoe instead).

5. John Huston/Humphrey Bogart-The stories behind the films alone, of the two going drinking off in the primitive jungles of Africa, are worth hearing about. Huston's three most prominent films, Maltese Falcon, African Queen, and Treasure of Sierra Madre all feature Bogart in addition to the parody Beat the Devil. Huston also won Bogie his only Oscar in The African Queen.

6. Billy Wilder/Jack Lemmon-Wilder worked for 20 years before finding the perfect comic muse in Lemmon. Lemmon embraced cross-dressing in Some Like it Hot, the plight of the working class in The Apartment, and had five other memorable collaborations with Wilder. It was through Wilder, that Lemmon also got introduced to his other half (comedically speaking): Walter Matthau. Lemmon and Wilder tended to veer for the comic, but in Avanti! and Apartment, they approached dramatic elements as well.

7. Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio-Leo DiCaprio has grown so much in the three Scorsese collaborations from Gangs of New York to The Aviator to The Departed, it's amazing. In Gangs of New York he was just a capable actor with movie star looks, by Departed he was the preeminent actor of his generation.

8. Vincente Minelli/Judy Garland-Judy Garland was MGM's preeminent child star and most valuable commodity, but as she aged, the studio needed a movie made that would move her out of her teenage roles. Vincente Minelli, originally an art director, came along and had his biggest film to date, Meet me in St. Louis, that also introduced Judy Garland, as a full-fledged adult. They also got married (a union that didn't end particularly well due to her addiction to painkillers) and produced (for better or worse) future musical star Liza Minelli. They did make four other films together including "The Pirate."

9. George Lucas/Harrison Ford-If you don't count sequels, Lucas has had a sum total of 4 creative ventures which he has unleashed on the world and Harrison Ford was a part of three of them. Lucas discovered Ford in his 2nd film, and Ford returned the favor by turning his two main creative ventures, the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies into massive successes.

10. David Lean/Alec Guiness-Erase the filmographies of David Lean and Alec Guiness and there's very little reason at all to celebrate British cinema as a seperate genre. The two worked together on six films and while Guiness wasn't the star in all of them, he played a part in all of Lean's greatest successes (with the exception of Brief Encounter). The highlight, of course, was the Oscar-winning film Bridge on the River Kwai, which brought Oscars to both Lean and Guiness.

11. Stanley Donen/Gene Kelly-Kelly was also the co-director but they took over as MGM's most prominent team and worked their way up the ranks at MGM as a directing team. At first they took over Busby Berkley's troubled production of Take Me Out to the Ballgame before scoring a homerun in On the Town. In 1952, they followed that up with the most memorable film of the MGM musical era with Singing in the Rain. Donen then had a sole directing credit with Kelly as the star for It's Always Fair Weather, and after that Donen went on to become a prominent director in his own right.

12. Sidney Lumet/Sean Connery-Connery's best films outside of Bond were with Lumet and that's the director where he learned to be a serious actor from. Their most memorable collaborations were The Hill and Murder on the Orient Express.

13. Howard Hawks/Cary Grant-Grant was the early prototype of an action star. He was known as a suave matinee idol who could be molded to play the lead in any romantic film. For his own part, Grant saw himself as a funnyman who enjoyed playing around with good dialogue and Hawks supplied that in abundance. Grant has his most memorable performances when he's able to show off his flair for good comic timing and Bringing Up Baby, Only Angels have Wings, and His Girl Friday showcase his finest moments.

14. Tim Burton/Jonny Depp-Jonny Depp had been in five movies including the Oscar-winner Platoon before breaking out in Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands. Although he only spoke 169 words of dialogue, Depp found his niche in off-beat behavior and Burton found a star that embraced his dark Gothic visions. The two have since worked together in Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeny Todd and have two more collaborations slated for 2010 and 2011, according to imdb.

15. Billy Wilder/Marilyn Monroe-Without him, she was barely capable of memorizing her lines in order, and it wasn't lost on Billy Wilder that his Aunt Mitzy could act better than Marilyn Monroe. "Then again," reasoned Wilder, "No one wants to pay to see my Aunt Mitzy." So Wilder learned to work with Monroe's weaknesses and the end result were two of his finest films in Some Like it Hot and Seven Year Itch. Marilyn Monroe was beautiful for sure, but Wilder made her look witty, alluring, and by all measures, a movie star.

16. Stanley Kramer/Spencer Tracy-Tracy provided "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" with a necessary counterweight. Amid all the comics running around, Stanley's character (a disheveled cop who flirts with the possibility of abandoning his post to chase after buried loot), was the one character with pathos. In three other films with Kramer, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Judgment at Nuremberg, and Inherit the Wind, Spencer Tracy turned out his best work.

17. Ethan Coen & Joel Coen/Frances McDormand-The Coen brothers have elevated the careers of bit players like John Turturro, John Goodman, William H. Macy, and Steve Buscemi. They have also provided memorable turns for leading men such as Nicholas Cage, Jeff Bridges, Tom Hanks, Billy Bob Thorton and George Clooney. Let's not forget, however, that they let women join in the fun as well. In particular, Frances McDormand has been able to shine in one of the meatiest comic roles of the decade in Fargo. In addition, she's featured prominently in Burn After Reading, Man Who Wasn't There and had a small cameo in Barton Fink.

18. Stephen Soderbergh/George Clooney-Soderbergh gave Clooney his big break in Out of Sight and even after that bombed, the two kept working together in Ocean's 11 and pretty much everything else. The two have experimented together with the HBO's "K Street", Solaris, and The Good German and are often producing partners. Soderbergh's influence on Clooney is pretty well-documented and when Clooeny's not starring directly for Soderbergh, he could be starring alongside Soderbergh staples like Brad Pitt or with Stephen Gaughan who wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for Soderbergh's Traffic. A few negative points go to Soderbergh for all the alleged fooling around on the set of Ocean's 12 that Soderbergh and crew distracted themselves with.

19. Sydney Pollack/Robert Redford-Pollack and Redford were good friends and collaborators who shared socially-conscious attitudes towards filmmaking. Without Redford, one might reconsider just how far into the political realm Pollack might have gone in the first place. Redford and Pollack's collaboration in Out of Africa led to an Oscar for the film. As Pollack's recent funeral was an indicator, Redford considered Pollack one of his greatest friends and mentors.

20. Orson Welles/Joseph Cotten-Cotten was Welles' old chum at the Mercury Theater and put him in Magnificent Ambersons, Citizen Kane, and Touch of Evil. Wells and Cotten's best performances were in the British thriller The Third Man co-starring alongside each other, but it must be noted, it was directed by a third party.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Nick Lazo adds Never Back Down to his top ten list

James Baradinelli of Reel Press says of Never Back Down: "This movie isn't bad just because it follows a formula slavishly but because it does so without verve or passion."

On the other hand,

Armond White of New York Press says of Never Back Down: "Maybe it’s just a genre picture, but scene after scene in Never Back Down displays vitality and wit. This is the year’s first good-looking and fully enjoyable American movie."

So who to believe? How about Nick Lazo, resident film industry insider, who recently submitted a top 10 list. Nick Lazo was the assistant to the director (which is nowhere near as prestigious as assistant director, mind you) for the film "Never Backs Down.":


After submitting my “Top 10 Movies of 2008” piece (which was, yes, three films light), I realized that I left an 8th film off the list: The 2008 MTV Movie Award winner for Best Fight, Never Back Down. Orrin has suggested that I recount a few of my experiences with you here, and in an effort to redeem myself for leaving my very first Hollywood job off my top 10 list, I shall comply.
In the summer of 2007, just after I finished my four-year stint at James Madison University, I had the privilege of working in the camera department of the film Get Some (NBD’s original, working title) in Orlando, Florida. It was hot, it was tiring, and it was AWESOME.
I was in charge of “digital video,” which meant researching consumer video cameras, hiring high school look-a-like videographers, and shooting the fights from strategic places in the crowd. (Some of that footage ended up in the final cut—see if you can spot it!) I acted as a liaison between the Property, Editorial and Camera departments, making sure that all the cameras actors were holding/operating were setup correctly and functioned property, getting tape stock to the camera assistants and the processing facility in Miami, and that the editors were receiving all of the DV footage along with their film dailies. It was quite the challenge, and needless to say, I learned a lot.

At the end of principle photography I was offered a job assisting the director of the film, Jeff Wadlow, in LA. Fast forward one week and I’m living in Los Angeles, working through post-production of a major motion picture. To say I was lucky would be an incredible understatement.

The post-production team quickly became my family, and for 10-14 hours a day my small (though private) office was my home. Those eight months are some of the fondest in my memory, and the number of stories, inside jokes, $400 lunches and last minute preview fiascos are too numerous to recount here. What I will say is that Never Back Down was the experience of a lifetime. Watching the movie, after nearly 20 screenings, still makes for a fun evening with friends, and I’d suggest it to anyone looking for an entertaining way to spend the night.

Never Back Down has kick ass fights, hot ladies, and one hell of a supporting actor in Djimon Hounsou. What more can a movie lover ask for?
Never Back Down