The Treachery Of IMDB

Speaking of IMDB not listing all the relevant movies, Orlando came out in 1992, but I couldn’t find it when making the list. It’s a great movie, an adaptation of a Virginia Woolf story of an Elizabethan-era boy who refuses to grow old and turns into a woman after 250 years or so. Tilda Swinton is brilliant in the lead role. I’d rank it at #9 in 1992, right between Singles and Wayne’s World.

And while I’m at it, I’d rate Sixteen Candles at #19 in 1984, in between Gremlins and Top Secret.

These changes are all added to The Big List the link to which can always be found on the sidebar.

There are also a number of Hong Kong movies I need to rank: City On Fire, The Legend Of Fong Sai-yuk, Tai Chi Master, Kung Fu Cult Master, etc.

Movies Of The Year: 1992

A new high this year, as I’ve seen 60 movies from 1992. For the record, I’m using IMDB’s list of the top 100 movies of the year by total votes to come up with the titles, no way would I remember all of these. This presents two difficulties. First, there are undoubtedly movies outside the top 100 vote getters that I have seen and/or are very good. Browsing around in other sections of 1992, for example, I found Simple Men and Indochine, one of which I’ve seen and is very good, the other I haven’t but have heard good things about it. Since I’m not going to carefully comb the 6000+ movie lists looking for each and every movie released that year, these lists are going to only be approximate. So, when I say I’ve seen 60 movies from 1992, really I’ve seen at least 60 movies from 1992.

The second problem is that I’m going by the years that IMDB assigns to various films. For example, IMDB says Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf is a 1991 film, even though it wasn’t released theatrically until 1999. Or Zhang Yimou’s Hero, which was released in the US in 2004, counts as a 2002 film on IMDB. This means that my lists won’t be directly comparable to the various awards for those years, or many critics end of the year Best Of lists, all of which use their own criteria for determining when a film came out. Frankly, it’s just easier to use IMDB as the definitive authority on this matter. So, on to the list:

60. The Distinguished Gentlemen
59. Freejack
58. Death Becomes Her
57. Hero
56. Shining Through
55. Kuffs
54. Unlawful Entry
53. Passenger 57
52. The Hand That Rocks The Cradle
51. Toys
50. Housesitter
49. Single White Female
48. Patriot Games
47. Of Mice And Men
46. Jennifer 8
45. Boomerang
44. Honeymoon In Vegas
43. Candyman
42. Lethal Weapon 3
41. The Cutting Edge
40. Scent Of A Woman
39. Mr. Saturday Night
38. Shadows And Fog
37. Noises Off
36. Peter’s Friends
35. My Cousin Vinny
34. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
33. Bad Lieutenant
32. Basic Instinct
31. Encino Man
30. Buffy The Vampire Slayer
29. A League Of Their Own
28. Supercop
27. Chaplin
26. A Midnight Clear
25. Aladdin
24. Alien 3
23. Batman Returns
22. Far And Away
21. Howards End
20. White Men Can’t Jump
19. Simple Men
18. Husbands And Wives
17. The Crying Game
16. El Mariachi

15. Malcolm X – Mostly remembered nowadays for Denzel Washington’s outstanding performance in the lead role, this deserves to be ranked with the best biopics of the last couple decades. Unfairly labeled, along with Spike Lee’s earlier film Do The Right Thing (and Lee and Malcolm X himself) as being anti-white, those who do so have clearly failed to watch the film or read the source material, Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The compelling thing about Malcolm X is not the fire and brimstone “chickens come home to roost: angry guy speeches, it’s the fact that he rejected all of that after realizing how corrupt and fake it really was. And then got killed for it.

14. Bram Stoker’s Dracula – A big, colorful, overthetop, bloody, messy masterpiece of over-indulgence. One of the all-time worst Keanu Reeves performances (“It tis the man himself!”). Fantastic scenery-chewing from Tom Waits, Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Richard E. Grant and Cary Elwes. You can even see Monica Bellucci as one of the devil-women that tortures poor Keanu.

13. Strictly Ballroom – OK, I know that as a straight man, I’m supposed to hate this movie about a renegade ballroom dancer who refuses to play by ‘their’ rules. But I can’t help it, I love it and the other two Baz Luhrmann movies (Romeo and Juliet and Mulin Rouge). I like movies that, in Francois Truffaut’s phrase, express “the joy of making cinema”. That’s the only thing Luhrmann is interested in doing. One of the sweatiest movies of all-time?

12. Sneakers – Often mentioned as an overlooked movie, which raises the question of whether a movie can be overlooked if everyone thinks it’s overlooked. The problem is that while it’s extremely well made and fun to watch, nothing really blows you away about it. It’s just a perfect little movie, which is different from being a perfect movie. The great cast includes Robert Redford, Ben Kingsley, Sidney Poitier, River Phoenix, Dan Ackroyd, Mary McDonnell, David Strathairn, Donal Logue, Stephen Tobolowsky, and James Earl Jones. Written and directed by Phil Alden Robinson, who also wrote and directed Field of Dreams.

11. Red Rock West – Quentin Tarantino meets Luis Buñuel as Nicholas Cage plays a guy who just can’t get out of town. he shows up in a small Wyoming town looking for a job, gets mistaken by the sherriff for a hitman he had hired to kill his wife and soon the sherriff, the wife and the real hitman are all out to get him. Dennis Hopper, Lara Flynn Boyle and JT Walsh co-star. Ripped off by Oliver Stone for U-Turn, a much inferior film.

10. Bob Roberts – The first of two Tim Robbins films in this year’s top ten is also his directorial debut. Robbins plays a folk-singing fascist running for senator against Gore Vidal in this horrifying prescient pseudo-documentary. Giancarlo Esposito plays the liberal media reporter trying to bring him down. The large cast includes Alan Rickman, Susan Sarandon, James Spader, David Strathairn, Helen Hunt, Peter Galagher, Fred Ward, Jack Black, Fisher Stevens, Bob Balaban, Jeremy Piven and John Cusak. Much of the film is modeled after the great Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back, especially Jack Black’s scene.

9. Wayne’s World – I’ll admit I haven’t seen this in years, so I don’t really know how well it aged, but I don’t imagine there’d be any problems. Might be my generation’s Animal House. I saw my first Wayne’s World skit when I first saw Saturday Night Live in a hotel room in Seattle in 1989. Fine Young Cannibals was the musical guest and I believe Wayne Gretzky was the host. Earlier that day, I’d seen my first Mariners game, featuring rookie outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr. Director Penelope Spheeris went on to direct The Beverly Hillbillies, The Little Rascals and Black Sheep.

8. Singles – Speaking of Gen X classics. . . . I actually watched this again just a couple months ago and can confirm that it’s lost nothing over time. I recently called it the best Cameron Crowe movie ever and I stand by that. While it doesn’t have any scene as great as certain scenes in Almost Famous, Say Anything or Vanilla Sky, it’s the only one without a serious flaw or two. Plus, it taught me to always say ‘Gesundheit” when someone sneezes so that Bridget Fonda will fall in love with me.

7. The Player – Might be my favorite Robert Altman movie. Tim Robbins plays a movie producer who kills a writer (Vincent D’Onofrio) he thinks is stalking him, Whoopi Goldberg and Lyle Lovitt are the cops trying to hunt him down, Peter Gallagher’s trying to steal his job, he’s trying to sign the Coen Brothers to a long-term contract while rewriting Richard E. Grant’s script into a movie for Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts and he’s fallen in love with the dead guy’s Icelandic girlfriend (Greta Scacchi). Famous for the number of cameos as apparently everyone in Hollywood shows up at one time or another.

6. A Few Good Men – I’m a huge Aaron Sorkin fan. I think that what ABC did to Sports Night is a crime. I’ve seen every episode of The West Wing (well, except for this season’s premiere). I even liked Malice. This is a great movie, extremely well-written. But every time some says they’re going to “make an argument” my skin crawls. And they do say it. A lot. So, Mr. Sorkin, some friendly advice: people argue, they don’t make arguments. The passive voice sucks.

5. Hard-Boiled – The best pure action movie of all-time. At least for the last hour or so. Chow Yun-fat and Tony Leung star as two cops trying to take down a gang of gun dealers. Chow’s the cop on the outside, Leung’s undercover, though Chow doesn’t figure that out til halfway through the movie. Both actors, two of my favorites, are outstanding. the final 45 minutes of the film is famously a single action sequence as the cops and bad guys shoot up a hospital. This is John Woo’s most effective film, both visually and in terms of the limited thematic interests Woo has (namely the similarities between good guys and bad, which he also explores in The Killer and Face/Off). IMDB says the Chinese title literally translates as “Hot-Handed God Of Cops”.

4. Glengarry Glen Ross – Perhaps the most quotable movie of all-time. Vicious dark comedy and back-biting among real estate salesmen. Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Jonathon Pryce and Alec Baldwin are pretty much the entire cast. James Foley directs David Mamet’s script. Foley had previously directed Who’s That Girl? and the video for “Papa Don’t Preach”. Favorite lines: “You see this watch? This watch cost more than your car.” “Coffee is for closers.” “Fuck you. That’s my name. You know why, mister? ‘Cause you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight, I drove an eighty thousand dollar BMW. That’s my name.” “Who ever told you that you could work with men?. . . . You company man.”

3. Last Of The Mohicans – An unjustly forgotten classic. MIchael Mann took James Fenimore Cooper’s by all accounts extremely boring novel and turned it into a beautiful romantic action drama. If the movie came out now instead of in 1992, it’d get a lot more critical praise than it has, now that Mann’s distinguished himself with Heat and The Insider and is no longer known only as the guy who created Miami Vice. Daniel Day-Lewis is great as Nathaniel, the many-named hero of Cooper’s novels. Russell Means, Madeline Stowe and especially Wes Studi are outstanding as well. One of the best looking movies of all-time. The score’s really good as well. Apparently the only available DVD release is also the Director’s Cut, which I haven’t seen. But soon, I will.

2. Reservoir Dogs – Quentin Tarantino’s debut film is justly praised as a step-forward in the pulp movie genre. It’s most direct ancestor is probably Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, at least in dialogue and attitude. It, of course, borrows plot elements from a whole host of films, from John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle to Ringo Lam’s City On Fire. But it’s Tarantino’s unique combination of those influences that makes this film great. Tarantino is far from the most original director out there, his genius is for synthesis instead. And dialogue. Not just the famous pop culture discussions, but every line in the film has a unique rhythm that fits just perfectly. He’s the only contemporary writer I can think of in Mamet’s class as far as that kind of words for the sake of words dialogue.

1. Unforgiven – The western to end all westerns. Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece strips the western genre down to it’s essence and examines the brutal and senseless nature of the violence at its core. It’s been argued that there is nowhere else for the genre to go after Unforgiven. We had classical westerns (Stagecoach, Red River, Silverado) and there are revisionist Westerns (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Dances With Wolves) and we had classical westerns told in a revisionist style (the spaghetti westerns). Unforgiven is the deconstruction of the western. Its a dead end. Much like Touch Of Evil signaled the end of film noir. All that we can have now are neo-classical or neo-revisionist westerns. There is no new terrain to explore, all the genre has to say has been said. I don’t know how much I buy that argument, in particular I wonder how the HBO series Deadwood fits into the sceme. It seems to accept the brutal senselessness of Unforgiven yet still demonstrates the community building necessity that permeates both classical and revisionist westerns. Regardless of it’s genre implications, it’s a great movie. One of the most depressing films that I actually like.

Despite seeing so many movies this year, there are still some with great reputations that I’ve managed to miss. And a lot of really bad ones too. The Unseen:

The Mambo Kings
Lorenzo’s Oil
Romper Stomper
Dead Alive
Shakes The Clown
Porco Rosso
Man Bites Dog
Belle Epoque
Poison Ivy
Radio Flyer
Leap Of Faith
Captain Ron
Memoirs Of An Invisible Man

Honey, I Blew Up The Kid
School Ties
Like Water For Chocolate
Cool World
Medicine Man
The Mighty Ducks
Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot
The Lawnmower Man
Universal Soldier
Forever Young
A River Runs Through It
Under Siege
Sister Act
The Bodyguard
Home Alone 2: Lost In New York
Un Coeur En Hiver
Enchanted April

Movies Of The Year: 1991

A sizable 58 movies this year, including some of the very worst films I’ve ever seen. The top of the list is cluttered with some personal favorites; there’s not a lot of consensus great films this year, though there are quite a few good movies.

58. Highlander II: The Quickening
57. Switch
56. Life Stinks
55. Hudson Hawk
54. Toy Soldiers
53. Necessary Roughness
52. King Ralph
51. Sleeping With The Enemy
50. Dutch
49. My Girl
48. The Hard Way
47. Until The End Of The World
46. Madonna: Truth Or Dare
45. Ricochet
44. He Said, She Said
43. Backdraft
42. Oscar
41. Doc Hollywood
40. Kafka
39. Other People’s Money
38. Point Break
37. The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell Of Fear
36. The Last Boy Scout
35. Father Of The Bride
34. Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves
33. Beauty And The Beast
32. Thelma & Louise
31. Delicatessen
30. City Slickers
29. The Doors
28. New Jack City
27. The Addams Family
26. Hook
25. Cape Fear
24. Soapdish
23. Boyz N The Hood
22. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
21. Little Man Tate
20. Defending Your Life
19. Dead Again
18. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
17. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
16. Hot Shots!

15. Flirting – Largely unknown, this Australian film is mostly noted for starring Nicole Kidman, Thandie Newton and Noah Taylor (and Naomi Watts has a small part). It’s a smart, well-made little film set in about an interracial romance at a boarding school. I was surprised to learn that Nicole Kidman was in this after Days of Thunder and Dead Calm, in which she plays adults. I wonder if this was filmed first and just released later or what.

14. What About Bob? – It’s become overrated as time as passed, but the story of the worst doctor/patient relationship ever is still pretty good. Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss give acceptably over-the-top performances. Julie Hagerty from Airplane! and Charlie Korsmo from Hook, Dick Tracy and the Republican Party co-star. Directed by Yoda.

13. Once Upon A Time In China – The first Jet Li film to appear on any list is also one of his best. Wong Fei-hung has been the main character in a lot of Hong Kong movies (notably Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master II), but Li’s portrayal in the Once Upon movies seems closest to what I know of the actual Wong. . .with wire stunts. Directed by Tsui Hark, whose name I will never be able to pronounce correctly, despite years of trying.

12. Night On Earth – How can you not love a Jim Jarmusch movie starring Winona Ryder? That’s right, you can’t. It’s really a series of short films, set in taxi cabs in five different cities around the world. We get Ryder and Gena Rowlands in LA, Giancarlo Esposito, Rosie Perez and Armin Mueller-Stahl in New York, Roberto Benigni in Rome and unknowns (to me at least) in Paris and Helsinki. Benigni’s is the funniest, the one in Helsinki is the most touching, but each sequence is very good. A great blend of comedy and melancholy.

11. My Own Private Idaho – Shakespeare’s Henry IV, set among male prostitutes in Portland with Keanu Reeves in the Prince Hal role and River Phoenix as the narcoleptic who’s in love with him. It’s actually stranger than it sounds. Stranger still, it all works. One of the best performances of Phoenix’s career, and probably the best Gus Van Sant movie (it might be Drugstore Cowboy instead. Definitely not Good Will Hunting.)

10. The Fisher King – A combination of talk radio and Monty Python And The Holy Grail? A Terry Gilliam film which seems to be overlooked nowadays, though it was quite popular among critics at the time. Robin Williams gives a great performance as the Professor turned crazy homeless guy who gets Jeff Bridges broken-down shock jock to help him quest for the Holy Grail. I avoided watching it for a long time thinking there’d be a bunch of preaching about homelessness. There isn’t at all. It is a Terry Gilliam movie, after all.

9. The Double Life Of Veronique – It’s kind of a warm-up to his Three Colors Trilogy, but this Krzysztof Kieslowski film is as good as any of them. Irene Jacob (Red, Othello) stars in the dual role as a Parisian and a Pole who may or may not be the same person, or are two halves of one person, or just happen to look a lot alike. Like the other Kieslowski films, it’s beautiful and mysterious and worth watching again and again. It’s not nearly as difficult as my plot description makes it seem. It doesn’t appear to be on DVD; a travesty.

8. Barton Fink – The Coen Brothers first really big critical acclaim came for this very dark comedy which won the top prize at Cannes. Fitting in that the film is a satire of the kind of people who vote to give awards at Cannes. John Turturro’s fantastic as the snobby playwright who thinks very highly of himself despite a severe case of writer’s block when he moves to Hollywood. John Goodman plays the Common Man that Turturro thinks he’s dong so much to help with his socially conscious plays. John Mahoney, Judy Davis, Michael Lerner, Steve Buscemi, Jon Polito and Tony Shaloub costar. For the second straight movie in a row, the Coens made an atmospheric, picture-perfect 1930s-era film.

7. Slacker – Richard Linklater’s first film is an experiment that actually works as the film is a series of short scenes over a 24 hour period in Austin. The trick is that the camera follows one scene for awhile, then trails off to follow a passerby for awhile, then wanders off through a nearby door and so on, connecting all of the characters and, by extension, the whole town. Some of the stories are better than others, of course, but none are really bad. My favorites are the very old anarchist who catches someone robbing his house and gives him a lecture on political science, the women hanging out on their driveway who give passersby cards with clever sayings like “To withdraw in disgust is not the same as apathy” (quoted by Michael Stipe in “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”), the first scene in which Linklater himself describes a weird dream he had to a wholly uninterested cab driver, and a JFK-conspiracy nut trying to impress a girl in a bookstore. One of my favorite films in high school.

6. Bugsy – The best Barry Levinson movie ever, probably. Great performances by Warren Beatty and Annette Benning in the lead roles. Good supporting performances from Ben Kingsley, Harvey Keitel and Elliot Gould. The very pretty images and period detail overcomes any problems one might have with the story (I’ve never quite understood why she stole all that money, or why they killed him instead of her. I know what they think the explanation is, I just don’t buy it.)

5. Silence Of The Lambs – A very good thriller, though Anthony Hopkins performance is very overrated. He’s good, but not all-time great good. Jodie Foster is really outstanding though. As is Scott Glenn. Problem is that Lecter is the really interesting villain. The actual bad guy, Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill is too over-the-top to be taken as seriously. This makes the end kind of anti-climactic. Still, it’s about ten thousand times better than it’s sequels.

4. JFK – Yeah, a lot of it is fiction. But, if you pretend it isn’t, then this is a really great movie. Even if you ignore the subject matter entirely and just watch it for the performances and the images, it’s tremendous. This was the peak of Oliver Stone’s Oliver Stone-style. Lots of cuts, shifts from color to black and white, a cast of thousands, shifts back and forth in time, it’s all here and it all works. It’s not too much as in Natural Born Killers or out of place as in Nixon. A key film for the Kevin Bacon Game, it stars: Kevin Bacon, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Joe Pesci, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, Laurie Metcalf, Wayne Knight, Michael Rooker, Brian Doyle-Murray, Bob Hoskins, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ed Asner, Dale Dye, Frank Whaley, John Larroquette, Ron Rifkin and John Candy.

3. Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse – If it is possible for a making-of documentary about a great movie to actually be better than that great movie, then this is it. Francis Ford Coppola’s wife filmed the insanity around the shooting of Apocalypse Now: the drugs, the typhoons, the heart attacks, casting changes, overweight millionaire actors who don;t bother to learn their lines, the inability of the director to come up with an ending. It’s amazing that a movie came out of this at all, let alone one of the great movies of all-time. The documentary is always fascinating. My favorite parts are when Coppola gets Martin Sheen drunk and makes him talk about his mom (who killed herself) then films his nervous breakdown, imaging Harvey Keitel in the lead role (he was originally cast in the Martin Sheen part), and Coppola’s famous quote about the film at the Cannes Film Festival, “My movie is not about Vietnam… my movie is Vietnam. There were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money, and little by little we went insane.”

2. Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf – Probably the most obscure high-ranking film on any list so far. Stars Juliette Binoche as a woman who’s going blind who hangs out with a fire-eating homeless guy (Denis Levant) on a famous bridge in Paris. The film starts with harshly realistic portrayals of homelessness and gradually becomes more and more lyrical and beautiful and romantic. I guarantee it’s not like any movie you’ve seen before. The director, Leos Carax, is a bit of a nut, as far as i know, he’s only made four movies, and I’ve only seen two of them. This wasn’t released in the US until it got Miramaxed in 1999 (under the idiotic title “Lovers On The Bridge”), we played it at the theatre I was working at at the time, which was how I saw it.

1. LA Story – Speaking of romantic movies, this is one of my all-time favorite romantic comedies, and easily the best Steve Martin movie ever. Martin plays a wacky weather man who falls in love with a tuba-playing British reporter (while dating Sarah Jessica Parker and is saved by Shakespeare and a sentient freeway traffic sign. Victoria Tennant, Martin’s wife at the time, plays the tuba player. Richard E. Grant is terrific as her ex-husband. Marilu Henner, Patrick Stewart, Rick Moranis, Woody Harrelson, Kevin Pollack, Iman, George Plimpton also appear. Steve Martin’s spent his entire career showing that you can be really smart and really silly at the same time. In LA Story, he gets it exactly right.

I’ve owned a VHS of Raise The Red Lantern for almost a decade now, I even watched parts of it once while writing a paper. It looks like a great movie, but for some reason, it remains one of The Unseen:

Raise The Red Lantern
Days Of Being Wild
Naked Lunch
The Commitments
The Rocketeer
Regarding Henry
Jungle Fever
Fried Green Tomatoes
Guilty By Suspicion
Prospero’s Books
Truly, Madly, Deeply
Curly Sue
Out For Justice
Dying Young
Harley Davidson And The Marlboro Man
Billy Bathgate
The Prince Of Tides
Drop Dead Fred
Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead
Nothing But Trouble
Frankie & Johnny
Grand Canyon

Ohio Sucks

John Kerry’s posted parts of a speech he’s making tomorrow on his website. He still hasn’t learned to communicate to actual humans, but contrast his plan to the sound bites we get from the present administration. Sigh.

Here it is:

Excerpts of remarks as prepared for delivery

The Kerry Plan: The Path Forward

This difficult road traveled demands the unvarnished truth about the road ahead.

To those who suggest we should withdraw all troops immediately – I say No. A precipitous withdrawal would invite civil and regional chaos and endanger our own security. But to those who rely on the overly simplistic phrase “we will stay as long as it takes,” who pretend this is primarily a war against Al Qaeda, and who offer halting, sporadic, diplomatic engagement, I also say – No, that will only lead us into a quagmire.

The way forward in Iraq is not to pull out precipitously or merely promise to stay “as long as it takes.” To undermine the insurgency, we must instead simultaneously pursue both a political settlement and the withdrawal of American combat forces linked to specific, responsible benchmarks. At the first benchmark, the completion of the December elections, we can start the process of reducing our forces by withdrawing 20,000 troops over the course of the holidays.

The Administration must immediately give Congress and the American people a detailed plan for the transfer of military and police responsibilities on a sector by sector basis to Iraqis so the majority of our combat forces can be withdrawn. No more shell games, no more false reports of progress, but specific and measurable goals.

It is true that our soldiers increasingly fight side by side with Iraqis willing to put their lives on the line for a better future. But history shows that guns alone do not end an insurgency. The real struggle in Iraq – Sunni versus Shiia – will only be settled by a political solution, and no political solution can be achieved when the antagonists can rely on the indefinite large scale presence of occupying American combat troops.

In fact, because we failed to take advantage of the momentum of our military victory, because we failed to deliver services and let Iraqis choose their leaders early on, our military presence in vast and visible numbers has become part of the problem, not the solution.

The Military Agrees:

And our generals understand this. General George Casey, our top military commander in Iraq, recently told Congress that our large military presence “feeds the notion of occupation” and “extends the amount of time that it will take for Iraqi security forces to become self-reliant.” And Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, breaking a thirty year silence, writes, ”Our presence is what feeds the insurgency, and our gradual withdrawal would feed the confidence and the ability of average Iraqis to stand up to the insurgency.” No wonder the Sovereignty Committee of the Iraqi Parliament is already asking for a timetable for withdrawal of our troops; without this, Iraqis believe Iraq will never be its own country.

We must move aggressively to reduce popular support for the insurgency fed by the perception of American occupation. An open-ended declaration to stay ‘as long as it takes’ lets Iraqi factions maneuver for their own political advantage by making us stay as long as they want, and it becomes an excuse for billions of American tax dollars to be sent to Iraq and siphoned off into the coffers of cronyism and corruption.

It will be hard for this Administration, but it is essential to acknowledge that the insurgency will not be defeated unless our troop levels are drawn down, starting immediately after successful elections in December. The draw down of troops should be tied not to an arbitrary timetable, but to a specific timetable for transfer of political and security responsibility to Iraqis and realignment of our troop deployment. That timetable must be real and strict. The goal should be to withdraw the bulk of American combat forces by the end of next year. If the Administration does its work correctly, that is achievable.

We Need A Political Solution:

Our strategy must achieve a political solution that deprives the Sunni-dominated insurgency of support by giving the Sunnis a stake in the future of their country. The Constitution, opposed by more than two thirds of Sunnis, has postponed and even exacerbated the fundamental crisis of Iraq. The Sunnis want a strong secular national government that fairly distributes oil revenues. Shiites want to control their own region and resources in a loosely united Islamic state. And Kurds simply want to be left alone. Until sufficient compromise is hammered out, a Sunni base can not be created that isolates the hard core Baathists and jihaadists and defuses the insurgency.

We Need a Regional Security Agreement:

The Administration must bring to the table the full weight of all of Iraq’s Sunni neighbors. They also have a large stake in a stable Iraq. Instead of just telling us that Iraq is falling apart, as the Saudi foreign minister did recently, they must do their part to put it back together. We’ve proven ourselves to be a strong ally to many nations in the region. Now it’s their turn to do their part.

The administration must immediately call a conference of Iraq’s neighbors, Britain, Turkey and other key NATO allies, and Russia. All of these countries have influence and ties to various parties in Iraq. Together, we must implement a collective strategy to bring the parties in Iraq to a sustainable political compromise. This must include obtaining mutual security guarantees among Iraqis themselves. Shiite and Kurdish leaders need to make a commitment not to perpetrate a bloodbath against Sunnis in the post-election period. In turn, Sunni leaders must end support for the insurgents, including those who are targeting Shiites. And the Kurds must explicitly commit themselves not to declare independence.

To enlist the support of Iraq’s Sunni neighbors, we should commit to a new regional security structure that strengthens the security of the countries in the region and the wider community of nations. This requires a phased process including improved security assistance programs, joint exercises, and participation by countries both outside and within the Middle East.

Improve Training:

Simultaneously, the President needs to put the training of Iraqi security forces on a six month wartime footing and ensure that the Iraqi government has the budget to deploy them. The Administration must stop using the requirement that troops be trained in-country as an excuse for refusing offers made by Egypt, Jordan, France and Germany to do more.

Win the Real War on Terror:

We will never be as safe as we should be if Iraq continues to distract us from the most important war we must win – the war on Osama Bin Laden, Al Queda, and the terrorists that are resurfacing even in Afghanistan. These are the make or break months for Iraq. The President must take a new course, and hold Iraqis accountable. If the President still refuses, Congress must insist on a change in policy. If we do take these steps, there is no reason this difficult process can not be completed in 12-15 months. There is no reason Iraq cannot be sufficiently stable, no reason the majority of our combat troops can’t soon be on their way home, and no reason we can’t take on a new role in Iraq, as an ally not an occupier, training Iraqis to defend themselves. Only then will we have provided leadership equal to our soldiers’ sacrifice – and that is what they deserve.”

The Kids Are Alright

Some random thoughts while watching the World Series:

Saw Sixteen Candles finally last weekend. It was good, better than Pretty In Pink, worse than The Breakfast Club. I was happy to see that there were no references to socio-economic class. Anthony Michael Hall was great, possibly his best performance. Molly Ringwold, though, not only was her acting poor, she didn’t even look particularly attractive. Nice to see was that, as the wife noted, all the kids actually look like high school kids. Just as they don’t in, say, Pretty In Pink.

I was going to post the Tom DeLay mugshot on here, but it’s just way too creepy.

Still waiting to get my prize for winning Baseball Prospectus’s HACKING MASS contest. I’ve been assured that I should be hearing something next week though, which is nice. As for the playoffs, I haven’t been following all that closely, I don’t especially like any of the teams that made it. I’ve watched much of the Series though (except the Tivo cut off an hour or two before the end of last night’s game.) I’d tell you I picked the White Sox to win it all, but you wouldn’t believe me. Oh, and if you were wondering why the White Sox aren’t the White Socks, Slate has the answer.

I’ve been trying to catch up with contemporary music after pretty much ignoring it since 1997 or so. Lately I’ve picked up some Modest Mouse, Death Cab For Cutie, Flaming Lips, The Shins, Matt Pond PA (worst band name ever?) and the Garden State and Elizabethtown soundtracks. I like a lot of it, and of those I’d say the Matt Pond PA album is the best (it’s their latest one), and the best song is The Shins’ “New Slang”, from the Garden State Soundtrack. I have to say, though, that I’m disappointed in Modest Mouse. I don’t really see what all the hubub is about. Kids today. . . .

Save The Brattle!

The Brattle Theatre in Boston may be going out of business. It’s the oldest continually running art theatre in the country, it started running repertory films in 1953. Almost a decade ago, I saw The Seven Samurai there along with Mr. Arkadin, an almost impossible to find Orson Welles film. They’re being run out of business by the increasing cost of repertory prints, decreasing attendance and competition from Landmark’s nearby Kendall Square Cinema. Though it doesn’t really show rep films anymore, Landmark draws the same audience that would go to see old movies. The Brattle’s run by the non-profit Brattle Film Foundation and has been soliciting donations for the last month or so. Here is the story in the Boston Globe about it. And here is the Brattle’s website where you can make a donation.

Dyslexic Heart

Saw Elizabethtown the other day. Basically, if you’re a Cameron Crowe fan, then you’ll like the movie. It’s got some big flaws, but I managed to totally ignore them. It’s sappy and cheesy but there’s something about Crowe: the cheese never bothers me because he seems so honest about it. There’s never a hint that you’re being manipulated in a Cameron Crowe movie. He just makes pleasant romantic movies that make you want to ignore their flaws and watch them over and over again. In fact, I bought the Almost Famous DVD yesterday and watched it twice.

Elizabethtown has basically the same plot as all his other movies (except Say Anything): a guy who’s a failure in business is redeemed by a cute, quirky woman. Orlando Bloom is mediocre in the lead role, he certainly is no John Cusak or Tom Cruise or even Campbell Scott, but he is an improvement on Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous, who really annoys me at times. Kirsten Dunst isn’t quite as cute as Penelope Cruz in Vanilla Sky, but she’s not bad at all.

Cameron Crowe Films:

6. Vanilla Sky
5. Jerry Maguire
4. Elizabethtown
3. Say Anything. . .
2. Almost Famous
1. Singles

Movies Of The Year: 1990

The 90s start off with arguably the two best movies of the decade surrounded by a lot of mediocre. A whole army of sequels, most of them awful. If not for those two top movies, this would be a truly terrible year.

57. Nuns On The Run
56. Look Who’s Talking Too
55. Bird On A Wire
54. 3 Men And A Little Lady
53. Men At Work
52. Quigley Down Under
51. Air America
50. Kindergarten Cop
49. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
48. Internal Affairs
47. Another 48 Hrs
46. RoboCop 2
45. Days Of Thunder
44. Arachnophobia
43. Flatliners
42. Lord Of The Flies
41. My Blue Heaven
40. Die Hard 2: Die Harder
39. Gremlins 2: The New Batch
38. Green Card
37. Narrow Margin
36. Ghost
35. Home Alone
34. Back To The Future Part III
33. Young Guns II
32. Darkman
31. Tremors
30. Predator 2
29. Henry & June
28. The Russia House
27. Cry-Baby
26. Pretty Woman
25. Misery
24. The Grifters
23. Alice
22. The Freshman
21. La Femme Nikita
20. Awakenings
19. Europa Europa
18. Postcards From The Edge
17. I Love You To Death
16. Quick Change

15. Pump Up The Volume – I imagine it really isn’t very good, but I’ve gotta admit I loved this movie in junior high. Christian Slater plays the pirate radio DJ sticking it to the man who wants to shut him down for corrupting the youth. Samantha Mathis plays the girl who wants to corrupt him. Great fun.

14. Presumed Innocent – Very good, if basic, courtroom murder mystery film. Doesn’t really do anything interesting with the genre, it’s notable mostly for it’s excellent execution and the great cast. Harrison Ford stars along with Brian Denehy, Greta Scacchi, Bonnie Bedelia, and Paul Winfield. Raul Julia steals the movie though, I’m not sure why, I thik it’s his voice. Apparently both John Spencer and Bradley Whitfield appear, but I don’t remember them. Jeffery Wright either. Directed by Alan j. Pakula, weho did Klute, All the President’s Men, Sophie’s Choice, he Parallax View and, ugh, the Pelican Brief.

13. Dick Tracy – A lot of people don’t like this movie, apparently. But I’ve always loved the look of it above everything else. The characters don’t really interest me that much, though Al Pacino is pretty good as the villain. It’s the bright yellows reds and blues and stylish camera work that I dig about it. A weird cast too: Warren Beatty, Madonna, Pacino, Glenne Headly, Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Dick Van Dyke, Mandy Patinkin, Paul Sorvino, Seymour Cassel, Charles Fleischer, Colm Meany, Charles Durning and Catherine O’Hara. Charlie Korsmo, whoi plays The Kid, also starred in Whgat About Bob?, Hook and Can’t Hardly Wait and according to IMDB, is currently “Deputy Domestic Policy Analyst for the House Republican Policy Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.” Creepy.

12. Joe Versus The Volcano – Speaking of movies a lot of people hate. . . . I’ve no idea why so many people find it so hard to like a bizarre existentialist dark comedy where Tom Hanks isn’t funny, Meg Ryan plays three roles and the hero tries to kill himself by jumping into a volcano. What’s not to love? Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, who also write Moonstruck and Alive. This is the only movie he’s directed. Also stars Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Abe Vigoda, Ossie Davis, Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer and Carol Kane.

11. Reversal Of Fortune – The West Wing theme continues as Ron Silver plays celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz in this legal procedural about how Klaus Von Bulow got his conviction for attempted murder overturned. The mystery is interesting, so is the law, but the movie gets a little overblown and melodramatic at parts (especially the subplot about Dershowitz fighting to keep two poor guys from getting executed. See! he doesn’t just help rich people!) Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close are as good as you’d expect playing the Von Bulows, a truly happy couple. Watch for Felicity Huffman as one of Dershowitz’s students.

10. Total Recall – definitely in the running for the dubious honor of being The Best Arnold Schwarzenegger Movie. Could have been a really great movie, if only they’d cast a competent lead actor. As is, the combination of 80s style action movie with Phillip K. Dick style screwing with your head is largely effective. It’s not as interesting politically as RoboCop or Starship Troopers, but that’s OK. Who wants political insight from Schwarzenegger and the guy who directed Showgirls?

9. Dances With Wolves – Marked down for self-righteousness and what you might call ‘Mississippi Burning Syndrome’, in that finally making a western about the genocide committed against American Indians, they still manage to have a white guy be the hero. In the same way that the FBI are the heros of a story about the violence committed against civil rights workers. Still, it is a very good looking movie. And Kevin Costner isn’t all bad, though he’s dangerously close to turning into the Costner we all hate.

8. The Hunt For Red October – Avery near perfect little action thriller. It’s not particularly smart, but it certainly isn’t dumb. It’s got a great cast, good effects and almost nothing that doesn’t further the plot. The great cast: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Sam Neill, James Earl Jones, Joss Acklund, Tim Curry, Jeffery Jones, Stellan Skarsgard, Richard Jordan and future Senator Fred Thompson. The book is very good as well.

7. Hamlet – No one ever talks about it, but I’ve always loved this version of Hamlet. Probably it’s just because it’s the first version I saw, and I kept going back to the theatre to try to figure it out (I think it was 4 times I saw it in the theatre). Mel Gibson isn’t a great actor, but he’s been good on occasion and he’s perfectly fine here. The supporting cast carries the movie though: Glenn Close, Ian Holm, Helena Bonham Carter, Paul Scofield and Alan Bates. I greatly prefer it to the Kenneth Branagh version, mostly because I like the medieval castle setting better (this is a very good looking film) than Branagh’s Victorian-era mansion. I also found Branagh’s beard distracting.

6. Edward Scissorhands – One of Tim Burton’s most effective fairy tales, I still think it’s a little overrated. Johnny Depp is great in the title role, Kathy Baker, Dianne Weist, Alan Arkin, Vincent Price and Anthony Michael Hall are all also very good. Winona Ryder isn’t in it nearly enough. May be Burton’s best looking film.

5. The Godfather Part III – Also needs more Winona Ryder. The story is that she was all set to star in it, but called in sick at the last minute. Coppola, having to scramble to find someone, decided to cast his daughter, Sofia, in the key role in the film. She’s really not very good and it sinks the whole film as a result. Which is sad, because the movie really is great, aside from her. Its a good looking film, with an interesting performance by Al Pacino and a great one from Andy Garcia. Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, George Hamilton and Bridget Fonda also star.

4. Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead – 1990 was a good year for Shakespeare, I guess. Tom Roth and Gary Oldman star as the two guys Hamlet kills for no reason. The film alternates really interesting insights with absurdist comedy and playing around with words, much like Shakespeare does in Hamlet. Written and directed by Tom Stoppard, it’s vastly superior to Shakespeare In Love, which Stoppard won an Oscar for co-writing.

3. Dreams – The last of Akira Kurosawa’s movies that I’ve seen. It’s a collection of short films that roughly approximate the director’s life and the development of his thinking. Some of the most beautiful images of his career are found here, along with some of the most simplistic thinking. It’s mainly two sequences that are flawed: the anti-nuclear one and the finally pro-environment one. They both suffer from the kind of political explicitness that Kurosawa generally avoided. Still, this is possibly the best looking movie of his career. My favorite scenes: The soldier talking to his former unit, who’re all dead, and the child witnessing the Fox’s wedding in the forest. A beautiful film from one of my all-time favorite directors.

2. Goodfellas – I may be nuts for ranking what many would say is the best film of the decade only #2 in it’s year, but it’s my list and I think Miller’s Crossing is better. Both are great movies, but I prefer the Coens. That’s not to say Goodfellas isn’t great. It may very well be Scorsese’s best movie. I’m not a Ray Liotta fan generally speaking, but he’s very good here. Joe Pesci is great in the role that forever typecast him, and Robert DeNiro is Robert DeNiro. Lorrainne Bracco, despite the fact that I think she’s great on The Sopranos, I really don’t like here. That’s about the worst thing I can say about it: I think one of the actresses is a little annoying.

1. Miller’s Crossing – Why is Miller’s Crossing better than Goodfellas? 1. It’s better looking. While Goodfellas is well-directed, the scenery really isn’t that interesting. Miller’s Crossing however is a beautiful recreation of the Prohibition Era. 2. The writing is better. Goodfellas has a fine, if unoriginal structure. Basically an episodic account of henry Hill’s rise and fall. Miller’s Crossing is as close to a pulp novel as you can get without actually being a pulp novel. The story is reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest (a much-filmed story) but the high stylization of the pulps in combination with the Coens’s own unique dialogue style fit perfectly together and make for a truly brilliant script. When they’ve tried the same thing with screwball comedies, it hasn’t really worked, but this time it did. 3. It’s more interesting. Goodfellas doesnt tell us anything we don’t already know. it’s the chronicle of an interesting life, but we don’t really gain any insight into ciminals or ourselves. Miller’s Crossing is opaque. I’ve spent a long time pondering the importance of hats to Miller’s Crossing, I’ve yet to come up with or encounter a satisfactory explanation. Gabriel Byrne’s character is simply more complicated and more unique than Henry Hill. 4. Better cast. While Miller’s Crossing doesn’t have anyone with the abilities of DeNiro, DeNiro doesn’t really do much in Goodfellas. I’d take Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, John Tuturro, Marcia Gay Harden, Jon Polito, Steve Buscemi and J. E. Freeman over Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci and Lorraine Bracco any day.

Not too bad on the Unseen this year:

Jacob’s Ladder
King Of New York
The Sheltering Sky
Wild At Heart
Cyrano De Bergerac
Memphis Belle
The Adventures Of Ford Fairlane
The Bonfire Of The Vanities
The Two Jakes
Bullet In The Head
Wild Orchid
Mo’ Better Blues
Ju Dou

Weekend Round-Up

Watched almost 30 episodes of The West Wing this week (Season 6 marathon), and still found time to watch a couple movies.

Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – I’m glad that people who’ve never read the books liked it. I did not. For all the usual fan reasons: I hated the inexplicable changes they made, it didn’t look right, it just wasn’t funny, they made it dumb. Read the books.

40 Year Old Virgin – About what I’d expected after hearing so much about it earlier this year. Very funny, oddly sweet and crude at the same time. The best combination of those two since American Pie or There’s Something About Mary.

Going to watch Elizabethtown tomorrow night. I have my doubts about it.