Movie Roundup

Lotsa movie-watching, not much blogging, not that anyone reads it anyway.

Good Night And Good Luck – A very good little film that has a very specific point to make about the state of today’s media and very little else. It’s directed with a very neat, elegant style by George Clooney. It’s going in at #8 on my 2005 Movies Of The Year list.

Why We Fight – On the other hand is the lefty polemic documentary that doesn’t so much inform as it argues, ineffectively at that. It’s better than the other recent lefty docs, excluding Michael Moore’s films, including director Jarecki’s own The Trials Of Henry Kissinger, but it’s still an exercise in preaching to the choir.

Au Hasard Balthasar – A great movie that somehow manages to convey the whole of human experience through a very simple story about a girl and her donkey. It sounds absurd, but it totally works. The second film in my Robert Bresson series, I like it a lot better than the other two I’ve seen so far.

Diary Of A Country Priest – The third Bresson in my series is my least favorite. It’s not as profound as Balthasar and lacks both the virtuoso style and sense of whimsy of Pickpocket. It’s an episodic story about how a young priest’s faith is tested by his community, which seems to hate him. There are some beautiful scenes, but the film doesn’t come together as well as those others. Next up in the Bresson series: A Man Escaped.

Solaris – Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s famously slow sci-fi film both did and did not fail to live up to the hype. The slowness of the film tends to make it seem more profound than it really is. The film’s an ode to solipsism, it proposes that human beings aren’t interesting in exploring other worlds, but only interested in recreating their own world. And concurrently, are most happy living out their own pasts in their own minds because actually connecting with other people is impossible. A ridiculously depressing theory.

The Passion Of Joan Of Arc – Still depressing but not nearly as pessimistic as Solaris is this silent film by Carl Theodor Dreyer. The story’s largely based on the transcripts of Joan’s trial, but it’s told almost entirely in stylized close-ups and totally without musical accompaniment. The performance of Maria Falconetti as Joan is remarkable, and justly famous. One of the very best silent films I’ve ever seen.

Movies Of The Year: 1974

This might be the best year yet, at least the top 4 movies I’ve seen is as good as any year so far, and there’s a whole lot of movies I haven’t seen that are supposed to be really good as well.

11. The Man With The Golden Gun – Totally forgettable James Bond film from the Roger Moore years.

10. Herbie Rides Again – Mediocre sequel to The Love Bug, another movie I don’t remember much about.

9. Lenny – Dustin Hoffman gives a very good performance in this otherwise dull biopic about the influential comedian Lenny Bruce. Like most biopics, I guess, the lead performance is much better than the actual film.

8. Murder On The Orient Express – Like the other all-star Agatha Christie adaptation of the 70s (Death On The Nile, #12, 1978) this is a fine adaptation of a very good book. But it’s not really anything more than that. Once you know whodunnit, all there’s left to enjoy is trying to name all the famous people in the film since they’re significantly older than they were when they were first famous. Anyway, Sidney Lumet directs Albert Finney. Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Martin Basalm, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark and Michael York.

7. That’s Entertainment! – Remember when sitcoms used to fill time in a season by running a show full of clips from previous episodes? Well, this is like one of those, only for MGM musicals. It’s not an especially insightful documentary., but there’s a whole lot of great sequences.

6. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore – Martin Scorsese’s follow-up to Mean Streets is a women’s melodrama that spawned a TV Series. The movie’s actually pretty good, with Ellen Burstyn playing a single mom trying to survive. Kris Kristofferson also stars, along with Diane Ladd, Harvey Keitel and Jodie Foster.

5. The Parallax View – One of the more successful paranoid political thrillers. Warren Beatty stars as a journalist trying to figure out why reporters who were present during an assassination are also dying. A weird, creepy little film.

4. The Conversation – Even more paranoid is this Francis Ford Coppola film about an audio technician that can’t communicate with real people. He becomes obsessed with a conversation he was hired to record, and whether or not it’s evidence that a crime is going to be committed. Also stars John Cazale, Teri Garr, Harrison Ford, and Cindy Williams. Most Coppola films are bombastic and oversized, this, however, is small and claustrophobic.

3. Celine And Julie Go Boating – A late classic of the French New Wave is this bizarre Jacques Rivette film about two women who become mixed up in a haunted house. The go in the house and become characters in a kind of 19th Century melodrama (this story within the story has a great title: Phantom Ladies Over Paris).I think it’s not available on DVD here, which is a crime.

2. Chinatown – Roman Polanski’s noir classic about how Los Angeles was turned into a major city is a little overrated, probably, but is nonetheless a great film. Jack Nicholson plays the bottom of the barrel private detective that gets mixed up in a case involving murder, missing water, Faye Dunaway, John Huston and a whole lot more. The metaphor of the title is ridiculously perfect.

1. The Godfather Part II – I’ve always preferred it to the first one, though both are great, of course, for a couple of reasons. First is the whole Robert DeNiro storyline. Not only his he great in the role, but I love the look and period detail of the Lower East Side scenes. Second is Lee Strasberg, the famous acting teacher, who plays Hyman Roth (what a name!), the Meyer Lansky based character in the other half of the film. There is, of course, so much else to love in the film: Fredo getting the kiss of death and John Cazale’s great performance, Diane Keaton being as mean as she can to her husband, and Al Pacino’s gradual transformation into truly heartless malevolence.

Like I said, there’s a lot of reportedly great movies I haven’t seen from this year:

Hearts And Minds
The Mystery Of Kaspar Hauser
Ali: Fear Eats The Soul
Young Frankenstein
Lacombe, Lucien
The Phantom Of Liberty
A Woman Under The Influence
Blazing Saddles
General Idi Amin Dada
Swept Away
Lancelot Du Lac
F For Fake
Foxy Brown
Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia
The Longest Yard
The Great Gatsby
The Towering Inferno
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Movies Of The Year: 1975

Now that we’ve reached the present, it’s time to go back to the past and countdown the Movies Of The Year for all the years before I was born. These lists should, of course, be much smaller and easier to make. We’ll start with 1975 and work all the way back to 1895 or whatever.

9. The Rocky Horror Picture Show – I despise this movie and all of its annoying fans. One of the great joys of my career was the two years I got to spend harassing those freaks on a weekly basis.

8. Barry Lyndon – A great, fantastic looking film, as Kubrick relied only on natural and candlelight for every shot to light some very beautiful scenes. The problem is that the story’s dreadfully dull. And while the cinematography’s really cool looking, Kubrick repeats the same long zoom shots over and over again, long after we’ve gotten the point. Easily my least favorite Kubrick movie.

7. Shampoo – Warren Beatty plays a hairdresser that Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn and Lee Grant are all after as he’s trying to raise money to open his own shop on election night. It’s a fun little movie on it’s own terms, but probably pretty dated nowadays. Directed by Hal Askby (Bound For Glory, #7, 1976; Coming Home, #13, 1978; Being There, #8, 1979), and written by Beatty and Robert Towne, the guy who wrote Chinatown, Days Of Thunder (#49, 1990) and Mission: Impossible (#13, 1996).

6. Love And Death – Perhaps the most underrated of Woody Allen’s comedies is this pastiche of Russian novels and films. Allen plays, well, the Woody Allen character, this time as a Russian peasant who unwillingly “fights” in the war, tries to win the love of his cousin Sonia (Diane Keaton), and eventually tries to assassinate Napoleon. Along the way, Allen and Keaton digress into pseudodeep philosophical speculations and fascinating discussions of wheat. It was his last true comedy, unless you count his lame efforts in the late 90s, which I don’t.

5. Nashville – Another one of those movies that I need to see again. It’s a Robert Altman cast of thousands film about a political rally/concert. Some of the cast: Henry Gibson, Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Karen Black, Jeff Goldblum, Scott Glenn, Shelly Duvall, and Lily Tomlin. Screenwriter Joan tewkesbury hasn;t done much else, though she did direct two episodes of “Felicity”.

4. Dog Day Afternoon – My favorite Al Pacino performance is in this based on a true story film about a totally inept bank robbery that turns into a hostage crises/farce. The great John Cazale costars, along with Chris Sarandon, Lance Henriskson, Carol Kane and Charles Durning. Directed by Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, The Verdict (#1, 1982) and Night Falls On Manhattan (#33, 1997).

3. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Milos Forman’s classic adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel about life in a mental institution as a metaphor for, well, something or other. Jack Nicholson, at his peak, stars as the guy who fakes craziness to avoid a real jail, Louise Fltecher plays the evil bureaucrat Nurse Ratched. Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito and Scatman Crothers also star. One of only three films to win Oscars for Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay, it’s always seemed a little overrated to me.

2. Monty Python And The Holy Grail – I like The Life Of Brian (#3, 1979) better, but this is probably the funniest of the Monty Python movies. If you haven’t seen it, what the hell is wrong with you?

1. Jaws – Steven Spielberg’s adventure film is often credited with inventing the blockbuster and killing the last golden age of American art movies. Of course, neither of those things are true. It’s been so influential, it’s easy to forget how great it really is. A perfect action movie.

Some interesting Unseen movies from this year, but nothing I’m in too big a hurry to see.

Dersu Uzala
The Man Who Would Be King
Grey Gardens
Picnic At Hanging Rock
The Passenger
Cooley High
Switchblade Sisters
Master Of The Flying Guillotine
Farewell, My Lovely
The Day Of The Locust
The Story Of Adele H.
The Great Waldo Pepper
The Wind And The Lion
The Stepford Wives
Three Days Of The Condor
Death Race 2000

Movies Of The Year: 2005

Well, we’ve made it up to the present. Here’s my list for 2005, presented without comment because, well, I’ve already written about most of these movies elsewhere on the blog. As far as I can tell, it’s a complete coincidence that the top 3 movies are all about the same thing, though they each deal with their subject very differently.

38. The Legend Of Zorro
37. Fantastic Four
36. The Chronicles Of Narnia
35. Fever Pitch
34. Aeon Flux
33. The Dukes Of Hazzard
32. Cry Wolf
31. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory
30. Brothers Grimm
29. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
28. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
27. Kingdom Of Heaven
26. Land Of The Dead
25. Unleashed
24. Syriana
23. Memoirs Of A Geisha
22. War Of The Worlds
21. Mr. And Mrs. Smith
20. Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
19. Capote
18. Batman Begins
17. The Aristocrats
16. Match Point
15. Walk The Line
14. Elizabethtown
13. Shopgirl
12. Cache
11. Broken Flowers
10. Brokeback Mountain
9. Revenge Of The Sith
8. Serenity
7. The 40 Year Old Virgin
6. No Direction Home
5. Me & You & Everyone We Know
4. The New World
3. Sin City
2. A History Of Violence
1. Munich

Still in the process of watching 2005 movies, of course. But here’s the Unseen ones as of now:

King Kong
Constant Gardener
Wedding Crashers
The Island
Cinderella Man
Corpse Bride
Red Eye
Lord Of War
Curse Of The Were-Rabbitt
Four Brothers
The Exorcism Of Emily Rose
March Of The Penguins
Pride & Prejudice
Good Night, And Good Luck
Dark Water
The Upside Of Anger
Sky High
The Family Stone
Grizzly Man
The Squid & The Whale
Hustle & Flow
Coach Carter
Nine Lives
Jesus Is Magic
The Beat That My Heart Skipped
The Interpreter
The Longest Yard
The Bad News Bears
The Baxter
Breakfast On Pluto
In Her Shoes
The Ice Harvest
North Country
The World’s Fastest Indian
V For Vendetta

Movies Of The Year: 2004

Well, this is definitely an improvement over 2003, though it’s helped a lot by the addition of a few films that didn’t get released in the US until 2005. But, since I’ve decided to use IMDB’s year designations for these lists, we’ll have to consider them 2004 films.

36. Jersey Girl
35. Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train
34. Outfoxed
33. Bush’s Brain
32. The Hunting Of The President
31. Crash
30. Melinda And Melinda
29. Ray
28. Win A Date With Tad Hamilton
27. Before Sunset
26. Starsky & Hutch
25. Spartan
24. Primer
23. Closer
22. Million Dollar Baby
21. Spider-Man 2
20. Garden State
19. Fahrenheit 9/11
18. The Aviator
17. In Good Company
16. I Heart Huckabees

15. Shaun Of The Dead – Very funny, and good, parody of zombie horror movies that seems to have become ridiculously overrated. I’m not exactly sure how or why that happened. Maybe it was just built up too much before I finally got around to seeing it. Maybe it also hurt that this was the first zombie movie I ever saw. It was only later I watched the four george Romero movies. That’s probably not it though; zombie movies cliches aren’t exactly obscure.

14. Napoleon Dynamite – Another very good movie that seems a little overrated, possibly because I only got around to watching it after all the hype. A lot of the seemingly disproportionate hype around this and Shaun Of The Dead probably also has a lot to do with them being such independent films: they needed the buzz to get the audience they deserved. That’s fine. I was actually pretty bored with this for long stretches, napoleon’s just such a seemingly unlikable character. But the end really makes up for everything. One of the best movie endings of the last decade, for sure.

13. Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow – A fascinating experiment that almost, but not quite, works. It’s a highly stylized homage to classic film serials that unfortunately lacks the quality of writing that allows a movie like Raiders Of the Lost Ark (#1, 1981) to transcend that limited genre. Like Sin City, the film is entirely composed of live actors acting in front of a blue screen. The first half hour or so is terrific, with giant robots attacking the big city and all, but it’s all downhill from there. Jude Law and Gwynneth Paltrow are good, but Angelina Jolie is unfortunately underused.

12. Anchorman – I think Old School (#18, 2003) was really overrated, as is Will Farrell generally. He was good on SNL, but his greatness was relative to the poor quality of the rest of the cast for most of the time he was on the show. I really liked this movie though. It’s not the best of the recent Farrell-Rudd-Vaughn-Wilson-Stiller-Carrell group of comedies, but it is very funny. I think the supporting cast is funnier though, especially Steve Carrell. The massive fight scene between the many San Diego news teams might be the best scene in any comedy of the last 10 years.

11. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind – Yet another movie I watched after everyone else and can’t figure out why is so overrated. I mean, I often see this listed around the internet as a person’s favorite movie and I just don’t see it at all. I though Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet were totally lacking in chemistry. While the film looks really good, and is possibly Charlie Kaufman’s best, most hum at least, screenplay, I really had trouble believing in the romance of it. Maybe I need to see it again.

10. Collateral – Jamie Foxx’s best performance of the year is in this Michael Mann thriller about a cab driver who’s forced to drive a hitman around LA all night. The story, especially the end, is absurd, and Tom Cruise is merely mediocre as a the killer, but Foxx’s solid performance and Mann’s stylish directing make the film worthwhile.

9. Dodgeball – This is the best of the recent Farrell-Rudd-Vaughn-Wilson-Stiller-Carrell group of comedies. Well, this or The 40 Year Old Virgin. The DVD has the real ending, which is much better than the theatrical one. The all-B-list cast includes Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Rip Torn, Stephen Root, Jason Bateman, Gary Cole, Hank Azaria, William Shatner, Lance Armstrong, Chuck Norris and David Hasselhoff.

8. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban – Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, #24, 2001), this is the darkest Harry Potter movie thus far, at least visually speaking. It’s also the best adaptation of the books into a film. While Chris Columbus’s Sorcerer’s Stone (#3, 2001) was a charming translation of a kid’s book into a kid’s movie, Cuarón’s adaptation turns a kid’s book into a grownup movie about kids. It’s the most serious film in the series.

7. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou – I’ve decided that, with the exception of Rushmore, I probably need to see Wes Anderson’s movies more than once before I make up my mind about them. I’ve only seen this once, so I can’t be sure of this rating, though I did enjoy this movie. Anderson’s great at charming, innocent fun in the face of depression and tragedy, and this movie’s got that in spades. It’s essentially a whole bunch of screwed up people who chose to ignore reality and play instead of and as a means of dealing with, their problems. Like every one of Anderson’s films, I guess. It seemed a little too long though. Seo Jorge, one of the stars of City Of God (#2, 2002) contributes the best part of the film: acoustic, Portugese folk covers of several David Bowie songs.

6. Kill Bill Vol. 2 – There are a lot of great things about this movie, but it just doesn’t have the kinetic energy of the first one. As such it feels both too slow and too long, especially at the end and during the wedding flashback, with David Carradine’s interminable speech-making dragging the film to a dull halt. Still, there’s a whole lot to love here: every scene with Gordon Liu’s kung fu master; the great fight scene between Darryl Hannah and Uma Thurman; Michael Madsen talking to his boss at the bar he’s reduced to working; and the five-point-palm-exploding-heart technique.

5. A Very Long Engagement – Director Jean-Pierrre Jeunet and star Audrey Tautou’s follow-up to Amélie is less cute but just as good. Tautou plays a girl who relentlessly searches for her reportedly deceased fiancée after World War I. Seems he, along with four other Frenchmen were accused of cowardice and forced into the no-man’s land between trenches to be killed by the British. But, apparently, they survived. It’s a predictably beautiful film and an engrossing and thoroughly entertaining mystery. It also stars Denis Levant and Jodie Foster.

4. The Incredibles – Very stylish Pixar movie that might be a little overrated, in that I liked it a lot, but I didn’t think it was one of the best movies of the last decade or anything. Another victim of watching a movie after a yearful of hype, as I basically knew the entire story before ever watching it. Usually, I like films like that better the second time, but alas, I’ve only watched this once. The animation is really cool, though the story isn’t as clever or original as I’d heard.

3. Kung Fu Hustle – Finally musicals and Looney Tunes cartoons are fused with kung fu movies into one film in director/writer/star Stephen Chow’s follow-up to Shaolin Soccer (#9, 2001). These genres have always had a lot in common, what with Hong Kong’s love of the spectacle of human bodies in motion on the one hand and the humor of cartoonish violence on the other. The action’s directed by the great Yeun Woo-Ping, with the help of Sammo hung on a couple of scenes. Pretty much a perfect action comedy.

2. 2046 – Wong Kar-wai’s follow-up to In the Mood For Love (#4, 2000) is not really a sequel, but more of a rumination on what happens after a tragic love story ends. Tony Leung reprises his role as a writer in 1960s Hong Kong, though he’s been reduced to writing cheesy romance novels. He lives in a hotel and has become a bit of a ladies man since being rejected by Maggie Cheung at the end of the first film. He’s also a little obsessed with his successive neighbors in room 2046, a series of women he may or may not also love, a little. They’re played by Zhang Ziyi, who I believe I’ve mentioned her before, and, in her first film since lighting up Wong’s Chungking Express (#2, 1994), the singer Faye Wong. Gong Li plays another version of Maggie Cheung’s character from the first movie, and so does Maggie Cheung. And Chang Chen (from Crouching Tiger (#1, 2000) and Happy Together (#4, 1997) shows up somewhere in there as well. Intercut throughout the film are scenes from a story Leung’s character is writing, set in the year 2046, beautifully shot about a train and some androids that supposedly help people relive or get over memories that they can’t resolve. It’s a strange a beautiful film, complicated but it makes sense even if I can’t describe it intelligibly. Another movie I need to see again.

1. House Of Flying Daggers – Zhang Yimou’s follow-up to Hero (#1, 2002) is a very beautiful film, though not as formalized as that previous film. Instead of imposing a unique color scheme for each scene, the beauty comes more organically out of the setting. This makes the film look more organic, though no less pretty. The film stars Zhang Ziyi as an agent for the title rebel organization and Takeshi Kaneshiro (Chungking Express, Fallen Angels) and Andy Lau (a Cantonese pop star who appeared in Infernal Affairs and Drunken Master 2 (#12, 1994) as a couple of police out to capture the leader of her organization. Of course, none of them are quite what they seem and as the story unfolds there’s a complex sequence of double crosses, fallings in love, and doublings and mirrorings of various scenes and actions. Much like the visual style, the plot lacks the formal play of Hero, but the more traditional genre story is more satisfying in that it manages to not be an apology for totalitarianism. It was a very close call between this and 2046 for #1 movie of the year. But I’ve seen this twice, the second time just a few days ago, whereas I only saw 2046 once several months ago. It’s possible I’ll change my mind at some point in the future. Regardless, they’re both great movies. This is the third Zhang Ziyi film of the 2000s to be ranked #1 on my lists. Yeah, I’m a fan.

A fair number of Unseen movies this year. Some I really want to see, some not so much.

The World
Incident At Loch Ness
The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers
Passion Of The Christ
Shrek 2
The Village
The Butterfly Effect
I, Robot
Finding Neverland
The Bourne Supremacy
Ocean’s Twelve
The Terminal
Team America: World Police
Man On Fire
Hotel Rwanda
King Arthur
The Downfall
The Notebook
Mean Girls
The Motorcycle Diaries
The Manchurian Candidate
The Machinist
Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
SuperSize Me
The Polar Express
Layer Cake
Friday Night Lights
Control Room
Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence
Maria Full Of Grace
What The Bleep Do We Know?
Van Helsing
Stage Beauty
The Day After Tomorrow
The Chronicles Of Riddick
The Stepford Wives
In The Realms Of The Unreal
She Hate Me
Alien Vs. Predator