Movies Of The Year: 1968

Now this is a great year. Four indisputable classics, along with plenty of other pretty good movies. It’s also got the most moves I’ve seen since 1972.

12. Romeo And Juliet – This gauzy adaptation is far inferior to the lively Baz Luhrman film that ranked 11th in 1996. It’s directed by Franco Zeffirelli, who also directed the Mel Gibson version of Hamlet (#8, 1990), which too is much better than this film. Both the leads are very pretty.

11. The Love Bug – The best movie about a sentient car ever made. Director Robert Stevenson did almost all the truly great live-action Disney films: Mary Poppins, Darby O’Gill And The Little People, Old Yeller, The Absent-Minded Professor, The Misadventures Of Merlin Jones, and so on.

10. The Odd Couple – The movie version of the play that turned into a TV series. Neil Simon wrote the screenplay and Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau start the legendary onscreen collaboration that would ultimately lead to the genius of Grumpier Old Men (#75, 1995).

9. Planet Of The Apes – One of the greatest of all camp classics. It lead to a second career peak for star Charlton Heston. The man who played Moses and Ben-Hur soon become the greatest of all crappy SF movie actors in films like this, The Omega Man and Soylent Green. Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter co-star. You remember Hunter as the Stella that Brando was yelling about in A Streetcar Named Desire. She won and Oscar for that, but not for this.

8. Winnie The Pooh And The Blustery Day – The second of three animated Disney Pooh movies. This is the one that introduces Piglet and Tigger. I read the Tao Of Pooh in high school and it’s a great book. I never got around to reading The Te Of Piglet though, so I don’t know what that’s about.

7. Bullitt – The ultra-cool Steve McQueen stars in this otherwise unremarkable cop movie. It’s got one of the all-time great car chases, right up there with The French Connection (#8, 1971) and Ronin (#15, 1998). And it co-stars Jaqueline Bisset, Norman Fell, Robert Vaughn and Robert Duvall.

6. Night Of The Living Dead – A transitional film between the old b-movie horror films of the 50s and 60s and the splatter films of the late 70s and 80s. George Romero’s first Zombie movie is also the best. It’s ultra low-budget, more taught and suspenseful than the latter three films (Dawn Of The Dead, #7, 1978; Day Of Thee Dead, #24, 1985; and Land Of The Dead, #30, 2005) which are more about social satire and action than anything else. First a hysterical woman, then a heroic black men, then a lunatic family hide from the zombies in a farmhouse and are surrounded. The scenes are intercut with the coverage of the zombie attacks on TV, in a kind of homage to 50s sci-fi films. It’s a perfect example of it’s genre, as scary as any horror film ever.

5. Barbarella – The movie that gave Duran Duran their name. Jane Fonda plays a secret agent (in space!) who must track down a missing and evil scientist who wants to destroy the universe, or something. Along the way, she often finds herself in various states of undress, falls in love with a pretty blind angel and must confront the dangers of the evil scientist’s Excessive Machine. The best movie about sex ever made.

4. Rosemary’s Baby – The other side of the sex coin is this film, wherein Mia Farrow becomes impregnated with Satan’s baby. Farrow’s terrific, as is John Cassavetes as her husband. Ruth Gordon won an Oscar for playing the annoying neighbor, but I really just find her annoying. Maybe director Roman Polanski’s best film, though most would claim Chinatown is better. Certainly one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen.

3. Once Upon A Time In The West – Sergio Leone’s masterpiece is this summation of everything the Western genre represents. It’s the story of how civilization came to be imposed upon chaos. All Westerns are about that conflict, some more explicitly than others. In this sense, this film is the purest expression of the genre. Henry Fonda famously plays against type as the villain, in one of the better performances of his career. In his character, the twin evils of murderous outlawry and rampant capitalism are united. Opposed to him are Jason Robards, as the honorable thief type perfected by Eli Wallach in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, and Charles Bronson, also playing somewhat against type as the nameless harmonica-playing, revenge-seeking hero. Claudia Cardinale plays the widow of a visionary man who wanted to build a town in the middle of a desert, which, like I said, is what it’s all about. If Unforgiven (#1, 1992) represents the thematic end of the Western, then this represents its pinnacle.

2. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Speaking of genres, I once wrote a paper about 2001 in which I argued that science-fiction is not a genre, but rather a mode or a setting. It makes sense really: what does films like Star Wars, Alien, Solaris, Blade Runner and 2001 have in common but being set in the future with as yet undeveloped technology? It’d be like calling Gone With The Wind, Ben-Hur, All Quiet On The Western Front, Caligula and The Life Of Brian all part of the same genre simply because they all take place in the past.

Anyway, 2001’s a great movie, on of the few pre-Star Wars films whose special effects still hold up over time. It’s split in thirds: the first section, about the monkeys, is my favorite; the second, about the computer, is the most accessible, it’s often remarked how Hal is the most human character in the movie; the third, about, well, that depends. It’s weird and trippy and it is what you make of it. I think it’s supposed to be about the evolution of humankind into a purer consciousness, unbound by physical limitations (which is why you can’t see the aliens). But it’s not really clear.

1. The Lion In Winter – An idiosyncratic pick for the top spot to be sure. I can’t objectively argue that this is a better film than the previous two, but there’s no doubt which among them is my favorite. Being essentially a filmed play, the movie doesn’t have any of the stylistic elements you look for in a great film, but it does have a plethora of fantastic performances and one of my favorite scripts of all-time. At Christmastime 1183, the royal family of England gathers to figure out who’s going to be the new heir to the throne. King Henry wants troglodyte John to succeed him, Queen Eleanor (of Aquitaine) wants Richard (the Lion-Heart), and nobody likes Geoffrey. Joining the party are Henry’s girlfriend Alys and her brother Philip, the King Of France. Whoever marries Alys gets to be King. The dialogue is a retro-screwball-comedy dialogue, which makes a nice anachronistic contrast with the period-specific grimy sets and props. The actors are uniformly outstanding. Katherine Hepburn won her third Oscar as the Queen, Peter O’Toole was robbed, again, for playing the King. Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton make their film debuts as Richard and Philip and Nigel Terry plays John (he was Arthur in Excalibur (#7, 1981). It was written by James Goldman (William’s brother) and based on his play. One of my all-time favorite films.

Some pretty good Unseen movies this year, most notably the ones by Truffaut, Brooks, and Cassavettes. though I hear the Russian version of War And Peace is really good. It can’t be worse than the Hollywood one with Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda playing Russians.

The Producers
Where Eagles Dare
The Party
Hang ‘Em High
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
The Green Berets
The Thomas Crown Affair
If . . . .
Funny Girl
Ice Station Zebra
Stolen Kisses
The Bride Wore Black
Finian’s Rainbow
War And Peace
Monterey Pop
Rachel, Rachel

Movies Of The Year: 1969

A strange mix of movies this year: foreign art classics and American Westerns. And another year where all of the movies I’ve seen are pretty good.

9. Take The Money And Run – One of my least favorite Woody Allen movies is this uneven film where he tries to be a bank robber. There are some very funny bits, but on the whole, the movie doesn’t really work. The scene where the bank teller he’s robbing can’t read the handwriting on the note he’s given her is a classic.

8. Easy Rider – Overrated by boomer culture, but there’s some great stuff in this movie, mostly in the breakthrough performance by Jack Nicholson. After years on the fringes of Hollywood, this is the movie that finally made him a star. The New Orleans sequence, wherein director Dennis Hopper set the cast loose in Mardi Gras with a bunch of 16mm cameras is just plain annoying.

7. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – This underrated Bond film is the only one that starred George Lazenby. He isn’t particularly great, but the Bond movieness of it is as Bond movieish as any of Connery’s films. Plus it has by far the best ending to any Bond movie, and one of the best action movie endings of all-time. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean, if not. . . . go watch it and find out.

6. True Grit – John Wayne won his lifetime achievement award Oscar for his performance in this film. He’s good, but it’s certainly not a remarkable job he does. Not as good as his work in The Searchers or Rio Bravo or Red River or even The Quiet Man, but it’s still a lot of fun. The movie itself is fun too: it’s a relic and it knows it.

5. Z – Mystery-thriller about the overthrow of the liberal Greek government. It stars Yves Montand (The Wages Of Fear, Le Cercle Rouge), Irene Papas (The Guns Of Navaronne) and Jean-Louis Trintignant (Three Colors: Red). The director, Costa-Gavras, was one of many directors to have a cameo in Spies Like Us (#22, 1985). Set the template for all the political thrillers to come in the 70s, like The Parallax View (#5, 1974) and All The President’s Men (#5, 1976). As far as I can tell, it’s just a coincidence that all three of those movies are #5 in their year.

4. The Wild Bunch – Sam Peckinpaugh’s apocalyptic Western is great, but I’ve seen it at least three times and it’s never been able to stick in my memory. I remember individual parts of it, the brilliant opening sequence especially, but I just can’t recall the whole of the film. The mood is what’s important though, as Peckinpaugh turns the romantic, mythic Western into a chaotic, bloody hell, and that’s always fun. Ernest Borgnine, who I don’t really have an opinion of, and William Holden, who I’ve just never liked, are the unlikely stars, along with Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien, Ben Johnson and Warren Oates.

3. The Sorrow And The Pity – The only movie Woody Allen wants to watch in Annie Hall is this very long documentary about France during the Nazi occupation during World War II. The film is endlessly fascinating. The director, Marcel Ophüls (son of the great director Max Ophüls) interviews regular Frenchmen, collaborators, unrepentant fascists, people who claim to have been in the Resistance and people who actually were in the Resistance. One of the greatest documentaries of all-time.

2. Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid – This almost impossible not to like film, written by the great William Goldman and directed by George Roy Hill stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford as real-life bank robbers who get chased all the out way out of the US and to Bolivia. If you didn’t already know that, then I congratulate you on finally awaking from your coma. For creating the buddy-action-comedy genre, the film world is forever in debt to this film.

1. Andrei Rublev – I just wrote about this earlier this week, you can read those comments here. It’s a beautiful film by trendy movie geek icon Andrei Tarkovsky about a legendary Russian icon painter. It isn’t a traditional biopic by any means, and that’s a good thing. Rublev himself is only in about half the film. The movie seems more a chronicle of the moral chaos of the time: a mass gathering of witches, a Mongol invasion, a hot-air balloon ride, the difficulties of converting Russia to Christianity and how that religion can explain all the horrible things in the world, and how to make a really big bell. It’s a massive and serious film about serious things, but unlike with Solaris, Tarkovsky is able to let the movie, and his characters breathe. By the end, there’s still some hope for redemption for humanity (through art, naturally).

Not much I’m too concerned about having missed from this year. I’ve seen parts of Midnight Cowboy, but slept through most of it. I’ve had it on VHS for a decade and never gotten around to it.

Midnight Cowboy
The Italian Job
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Paint Your Wagon
Hello, Dolly!
The Prime Of Miss Jean brodie
Alice’s Restaurant
The Great Silence
My Night At Maud’s
The Passion Of Anna
Goodbye Mr. Chips
Medium Cool

Movies Of The Year: 1970

Even fewer movies this year, but they’re all definitely worth seeing. That might be the only year so far that I can say that about, though 1982, 1981, 1979 and 1978 come close. The worst film this year is probably better than any of those years though.

9. The Aristocats – One of the strangest animated Disney films is this jazzy story about cats in 1910 Paris trying to save an inheritance or something. It’s the trippy visuals and cool music that make this memorable. Eva Gabor, Sterling Holloway and Scatman Crothers are some of the voices. Director Wolfgang Reitherman also directed the two Winnie The Pooh movies, Robin Hood, The Sword In The Stone, 101 Dalmations and The Jungle Book.

8. Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls – Director Russ Meyer’s story of the rise and fall of a girl band in Hollywood features a screenplay by none other than Roger Ebert. When Ebert mentions it, he cites a review that calls it “simultaneously the best and worst movie ever made.” And that pretty much sums it up.

7. Little Big Man – Revisionist Western starring Dustin Hoffman. This isn’t really fair of me to rank it, because the only time I saw it was just after I had my wisdom teeth removed and was full of painkillers. But, it’s my list and I’m not planning on watching it again anytime soon.

6. Catch-22 – Another perhaps unfair rating, considering that I’ve only seen this Mike Nichols film on TV. A few years ago, it seemed Turner ran this every other night on TNT or TBS, so I’ve seen it a lot, I just don’t think I’ve ever seen it from beginning to end uncut and without commercials. It’s got a cast of thousands: Jon Voight, Art Garfunkel, Bob Newhart, Martin Balsam, Buck Henry, Anthony Perkins, Martin Sheen, Bob Balaban, Norman Fell, Charles Grodin and Orson Welles. Alan Arkin is outstanding in the lead role as Yossarian, the WW2 bombardier that gets caught up in the insanity of war and bureaucracy. I’ve been wanting to read the book for years too, but I’ve yet to get around to buying it.

5. Dodes’ka-den – Akira Kurosawa’s first color film is a collection of stories set in a Tokyo slum. The individual stories aren’t particularly memorable, much like the sentimental parts of Dreams (#3, 1990). This film actually has a lot in common with that one, made 20 years later. While the politics are somewhat simplistic and the stories melodramatic, the visual style and beauty of the images is remarkable. The film isn’t so much shot as it is painted.

4. The Wild Child – From what I’ve seen, period films are a rarity among the french New Wave. This film by Francois Truffaut is the only one I can think of off the top of my head. Based on a true story, Truffaut himself plays a doctor who attempts to socialize a young boy who was found raised in the French countryside in the late 18th Century. The story’s very simple, and Truffaut keeps the stylization to a minimum. There’s some cool old fashioned wipes and irises, but as far as I can remember, that’s about it, all of which helps the period feel of the film. A very nice little movie.

3. Woodstock – I’ve been saying for years that Martin Scorsese won an Oscar for helping to edit this massive concert film, but I was wrong. While it was nominated, this film did not when the Best Editing Oscar. He really hasn’t ever won one for anything. Anyway, while this works great as a concert film: great performances from The Who, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Ritchie Havens, Joe Cocker, Santana, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone and, of course, Jimi Hendrix. But more than that, it’s the record of an era, the Boomer Ideal that they’ve all spent the last 36 years selling out, betraying, and generally making a mockery of.

2. MASH – It’s tough to separate this film from the TV series that was so ubiquitous on TV when I was growing up. I wonder if kids today, or people who’ve just never seen the series have a totally different reaction than I have. It’s a lot better than the TV show, of course, more anarchic, funnier, darker and not nearly as melodramatic. The cast is great: Elliot Gould, Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall, Tom Skerritt, Rene Auberjonois and Sally Kellerman.

1. Patton – A strange film. George C. Scott is brilliant as the famous general, it’s one of the most famous biopic portrayals ever. Karl Malden is great as General Omar Bradley. It’s not an anti-war film, and it’s not really a pro-war film either. It doesn’t seem to take any position on war at all, just as it doesn’t really take any position on Patton himself. He’s shown as both brilliant and crazy, inspiring, authoritarian, scary, funny and nice to dogs. While confining it to only a few years out of Patton’s life, it still manages to create a whole portrait of the man, in a way that’s always compelling, something that few biopics can manage to do. It’s closest analogue has to be another war movie that is ultimately ambivalent on war itself and features a remarkable lead performance: Lawrence Of Arabia.
During the aftermath of the Oscars, I looked up how many Best Picture winners also managed to be my #1 Movie Of The Year. I came up with six: The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Annie Hall, Amadeus, Unforgiven and Schindler’s List. This will make seven.

A few big Unseen movies this year, mostly lesser films by art directors like Melville, Herzog, Bertolucci and Altman. I’ve made it halfway through Five Easy Pieces twice, does that count as watching the whole thing?

Five Easy Pieces
Kelly’s Heroes
Tora! Tora! Tora!
Love Story
The Conformist
Zabriskie Point
Gimme Shelter
Le Cercle Rouge
El Topo
Rio Lobo
The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis
The Honeymoon Killers
Darling Lili
Bed & Board
Claire’s Knee
Even Dwarfs Started Small
Ryan’s Daughter
Brewster McCloud

Movies Of The Year: 1971

Not a particularly good year, either for movies I’ve seen or for ones I haven’t seen, as far as I can tell. A couple good ones at the top of the list, though.

10. Bedknobs And Broomsticks – Generic Disney musical starring Angela Lansbury, far away from her role in the Manchurian Candidate. There’s a Mary Poppins-esque mix of live-action and animation, but nothing especially remarkable.

9. Carnal Knowledge – Disappointing Mike Nichols film that I guess is supposed to be a comedy but really isn’t all that funny. It’s three episodes in the life of Jack Nicholson’s character (college with Art Garfunkel and Candace Bergen, mid 20s with Ann-Margaret and middle age, by himself), tracing his descent into annoying misogyny. Bleh.

8. The French Connection – William Friedkin’s ode to the wonderful world of police brutality and fascism. It has something in common with 24 in that it makes an argument that the police should be allowed to do whatever they want, but 24 is nuanced and thoughtful in a way this isn’t (and 24 ain’t that nuanced or thoughtful). Nice car chase though.

7. Diamonds Are Forever – Speaking of misogyny and violence, this is Sean Connery’s last James Bond movie. I honestly don’t remember anything about this movie, but I’m sure I’ve seen it. Someday, I’m going to take a week and watch all of the Bond movies in order. With martinis, of course.

6. The Last Picture Show – Peter Bogdanovich’s first movie, and the only of his I’ve seen (or want to see). There are some nice performances, and some pretty black and white images, but it’s just not as good as other nostalgic films (American Graffiti) or films about Texas (Hud). I like Bogdanovich better as an actor (he’s great in a recurring role on The Sopranos) and film expert (commentaries on DVDs and such).

5. Harold And Maude – Overrated cult classic that’s a fine film, but not the masterpiece it’s often made out to be. Hal Ashby directed the story of a suicidal young man and an elderly woman who fall in love. It’s fairly funny and romantic, but it’s hard to separate it from all the hype.

4. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory – Much better, on the whole, than Tim Burton’s remake, largely because of Gene Wilder’s performance in the lead role. Johnny Depp’s is way too close to Michael Jackson to be enjoyable, whereas Wilder’s Wonka is funny, magical and not a little mean and nasty. That’s part of the fun of the film, watching the bad kids get their comeuppance by that instrument of divine retribution: Wonka candy. The kid who plays Charlie is really bad though, that’s one thing that was really good about Burton’s film.

3. Bananas – Woody Allen heads off to the jungle to fight the revolution in one of his wackier comedies. It’s more hit and miss than his next few comedies, but there’s good stuff here. A famous performance as an extra on a subway by Sylvester Stallone, and a moderately funny performance by Howard Cosell as a commentator on Allen’s life.

2. McCabe & Mrs. Miller – Robert Altman’s great film isn’t really a western in the way the genre is generally thought of. It is the story of how the West was built, which is the subtext of all westerns, sometimes more explicitly (The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, Once Upon A Time In The West, Deadwood) than others (Unforgiven, Rio Bravo, The Searchers). Warren Beatty and Julie Christie star as the brains behind the creation of a mining town in the Northwest, centered, of course, around the tavern and brothel. Rene Auberjonois, Keith Carradine, Shelly Duvall and William Devane co-star. Oh, and the soundtrack’s all by Leonard Cohen, and it’s great.

1. A Clockwork Orange – Might be Stanley Kubrick’s most misanthropic film, and that’s saying something. It’s a classic, of course, something every movie fan has seen, so there isn’t much to say about it that you don’t already know. What I like most about it, and the reason I can watch it again and again is the sound. Namely the narration by Malcolm McDowell with the famous Anthony Burgess dialect and the music, mostly various incarnations of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Off the top of my head, my favorite Stanley Kubrick films: 1. Dr. Strangelove 2. Paths Of Glory 3. 2001 4. The Shining 5. A Clockwork Orange 6. Spartacus 7. Eyes Wide Shut 8. Full Metal Jacket 9. Lolita 10. Barry Lyndon.

Some fine Unseen movies this year, I’m sure, but nothing too spectacular, as far as I know. And yes, while I’ve seen both Shaft sequels, I’ve never made it all the way through the original film, at least not that I can recall.

Straw Dogs
Get Carter
Johnny Got His Gun
Dirty Harry
Fiddler On The Roof
THX 1138
Play Misty For Me
Vanishing Point
Big Jake
Panic In Needle Park
Two-Lane Blacktop
Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Minnie And Moskowitz

Movie Roundup

Lots of movies to catch up with here.

Andrei Rublev – Long, slow and depressing, but a masterpiece nonetheless. Not as famous as Solaris, but this is a much better Tarkovsky film. Not nearly as solipsistic or pessimistic as that one, there’s actually some hope for humanity and society by the end of this film, though the three hours leading up to that point aren’t exactly fun.

Floating Weeds – I haven’t seen his silent film that this is a remake of, but I plan to eventually. The Criterion version comes with both versions. This is the third Ozu I’ve seen, and all of them are great. Late Spring’s my favorite, and that’s coming out later this year. Tokyo Story’s the most famous, the first I saw and the one I enjoyed the least. I probably should watch it again.

Hiroshima Mon Amour – A pretty perfect little movie. The lead actress, Emmanuelle Riva, played Juliette Binoche’s mom in Three Colors: Blue and gives an outstanding performance here. My first Alain Resnais movie, I really want to see Last Year At Marienbad though.

Band Of Outsiders – Totally charming. It’s easy to forget just how fun Godard can be. Anna Karina was, predictably, adorable and Michel Legrand’s score was terrific. I think it’s now my second favorite Godard, after Pierrot Le Fou.

Fitzcarraldo – My new #1 film from 1982 is this Werner Herzog movie about a crazy guy who wants to move a boat over a mountain so he can bring opera to the jungle. Stars Klaus Kinski (also crazy) and Claudia Cardinale (from Once Upon A Time In The West).

Dave Chappelle’s Block Party – Really just a pretty good concert film. The Fugees reunion at the end of the show was pretty cool, but the highlight was an amazing performance by The Roots with Jill Scott and Erikah Badu. Not a ground-breaking film by any means, but I certainly liked it more than the only other Michel Gondry film I’ve seen, the drastically overrated Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. Now my #22 rated film of 2005.

Week End – Another wacky Godard film, this one is like Pierrot Le Fou, but mixed with cynicism and Maoist politics. There’s so much to love about it, though, that I can overlook the long anti-colonialist speeches (which are nothing but simple-minded justifications of terrorism). Someday, when I have my own movie theatre, I’m going to name it the End Of Cinemas.

Tristram Shandy – Very funny. It’s in a close race with The 40 Year Old Virgin as the Best Comedy of 2005 (I ended up rating it 9th, two spots behind Virgin). Right up there with the best movies about making movies (Living In Oblivion, The Stunt Man, Day for Night, etc.)

Burden Of Dreams – Les Blank’s documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo is alright, but the only really great parts are a pair of rants by Herzog (The birds are not singing, they are screaming in pain!”). The second best movie about crazy people making a movie in a jungle. The #11 film of 1982.

George Washington – Indie film overrated for it’s admittedly very cool visual style (very Ozu influenced, naturally), while overlooking the fundamental silliness of its plot. There are some attempts at poetry, in the narration and the ending that mostly just don’t work. Still, a fine first film for director David Gordon Green. The #7 film of 2000.

The World – A stunningly beautiful film about workers at a Beijing amusement park that recreates the whole world, or at least the famous parts: Manhattan, the Eiffel Tower, London Bridge, the Pyramids. It’s magic realist Ozu, with text messaging. The film revolves around the two of the workers, with a little bit of every type of post-communist social issue thrown in: foreign workers forced into prostitution, country folk moving to the big city to try to make their fortune and failing, organized crime, overworked workers in unsafe conditions, plus your typical romantic issues. Interspersed are chapter breaks (one chapter’s even called “Tokyo Story”) and some clever animated sequences. A great first big-budget film by director Jia Khang-ze. I wish I had grabbed the poster when I had the chance last year, but I forgot. The #4 film of 2004.

Kill! – Adapted from the same source novel as Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro, I have a feeling that this is closer to thee novel than that one, the sequel to Yojimbo. This is a darker, less satirical, more densely plotted film than that one, but it’s still a very fine film. Tatsuya Nakadai’s performance in the lead role, while it can’t match the comic intensity of Toshiro Mifune’s in Sanjuro, is still quite good. The film is very nice looking: crowded frames, at times shockingly graphic violence, and New Wavy editing. Director Kihachi Okamoto also did Sword Of Doom, which stars Mifune and Nakadai and which I’ll be seeing very soon.

Samurai Spy – Another part of Criterion’s Rebel Samurai boxset (along with Kill!, Sword Of The Beast and Samurai Rebellion, which I saw years ago). Directed by Masahiro Shinoda, this is a remarkably beautiful film about, well, samurai spies (they actually seem more like ninjas, but I don’t know if there’s a difference). The plot’s ridiculously complex, but that’s OK because the movie’s just so damn cool. And there’s even a nice supporting role for the guy who played the Master Swordsman in The Seven Samurai.

Oldboy – If Danny Boyle made a Takeshi Miike film, this is what would result. It’s not nearly as original or interesting visually as Boyle’s films, though it does have some nice flourishes. And it’s not nearly as gross or disturbing as Miike’s (the the end comes pretty close), which in my opinion is a good thing. There’s one long fight that’s pretty cool looking, but this film has more in common with Japanese horror than Hong Kong action. Still, a pretty good revenge movie. The #8 film of 2003.


Louis Menand, writing about some guy’s book in The New Yorker a couple months ago:

‘When you have prizes for art, you will always have people complaining that prizes are just politics, or that they reward in-group popularity or commercial success, or that they are pointless and offensive because art is not a competition. English believes that contempt for prizes is not harmful to the prize system; that, on the contrary, contempt for prizes is what the system is all about. ‘The threat of scandal,’ as he puts it, ‘is constitutive of the cultural prize.’ His theory is that when people make these objections to the nature of prizes they are helping to sustain a collective belief that true art has nothing to do with things like politics, money, in-group tastes and beating out the other guy. As long as we want to believe that creative achievement is special, that a work of art is not just one more commodity seeking to aggrandize itself in the marketplace at the expense of other works of art, we need prizes so that we can complain about how stupid they are. In this respect, it is at least as important that the prize go to the wrong person as to the right one, No one thinks that Tolstoy was less than a great writer because he failed to win a Nobel. The failure to win the Nobel has become, in the end, a mark of his greatness.”

And so, my Oscar Picks:

Best Picture

Will Win: Brokeback Mountain
Should Win: Munich

Best Director

Will Win: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Should Win: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino, Sin City

Best Actor

Will: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
Should: Hoffman

Best Actress

Will: Reese Witherspoon, Walk The Line
Should: Q’Orianka Kilcher, The New World

Supporting Actor

Will: George Clooney, Syriana
Should: Mickey Rourke, Sin City

Supporting Actress

Will: Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener
Should: Maria Bello, A History Of Violence

Original Screenplay

Will: Crash
Should: Good Night And Good Luck

Adapted Screeenplay

Will: Brokeback Mountain
Should: Munich

Film Editing

Will: Crash
Should: Sin City


Will: Brokeback Mountain
Should: Sin City

Foreign Language Film

Will: Tsotsi
Should: Caché

Documentary Feature

Will: March Of The Penguins
Should: No Direction Home

Documentary Short

Will: the Rwanda one
Should: NA

Animated Feature

Will: Wallace & Gromit
Should: NA

Animated Short
Will: the long one with “Jasper” in the title
Should: NA

Live Action Short
Will: Six Shooter
Should: NA

Art Direction
Will: Memoirs Of A Geisha
Should: Memoirs Of A Geisha

Will: Chronicles Of Narnia
Should: Sin City

Costume Design
Will: Memoirs Of A Geisha
Should: Memoirs Of A Geisha

Original Score
Will: Brokeback Mountain
Should: Brokeback Mountain

Original Song
Will: Crash
Should: NA

Sound Editing
Will: King Kong
Should: Revenge Of The Sith

Sound Mixing
Will: Walk The Line
Should: Walk The Line

Visual Effects
Will: King Kong
Should: Revenge Of The Sith

Movies Of The Year: 1972

Yet another terrific early 70s movie year, especially for foreign films, with some of the definitive films of world cinema in the decade released this year.

13. Shaft’s Big Score – Another Shaft sequel, not quite as silly as Shaft In Africa, but still not particularly good.

12. Pink Flamingos – I’m shocked this movie is as old as it is. When I saw it years ago, I thought it was an indie movie from the early 80s. Anyway, it’s John Waters’s breakthrough film, a satire about, well, pretty much everything.

11. Snoopy Come Home – Another Peanuts film. Better than the Thanksgiving one, if only because they don’t make kid’s movies this depressing anymore.

10. The Man Of La Mancha – Musical version of Don Quixote starring Peter O’Toole. It’s pretty good. Maybe significant for being one of the very last big Hollywood musicals. O’Toole didn’t do his own singing, but Sophia Loren did. Director Arthur Hiller also did Love Story, Silver Streak and Taking Care Of Business.

9. Cabaret – Bob Fosse’s surprisingly depressing film about a night club in Weimar Germany. It’s kind of like Breakfast At Tiffany’s, with Nazis. Liza Minelli and Joel Grey are excellent, but I don’t recall much about Michael York’s performance.

8. Sleuth – Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine are the only stars of this battle of wits as Olivier tries to get revenge on Caine for having an affair with his wife. It’s the last film by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who wrote and directed All About Eve, Julius Caesar, Guys And Dolls and Cleopatra. The writer, Anthony Shaffer also wrote Frenzy, The Wicker Man, the two big Agatha Christie movies and, uh, Sommersby.

7. Deliverence – Most famous for Dueling Banjos and “Squeal like a pig!”, this is nonethelesss a remarkably effective thriller. John Boorman (Point Blank, Excalibur) directs an outstanding cast, which includes Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty. The story’s pretty simple: a quartet of guys goes on a trip down a river, and humanity (in the loosest sense) and nature conspire to make it the worst vacation ever.

6. Play It Again, Sam – Woody Allen wrote and stars in this comedy about a Woody Allen character who falls in love =with his best friend’s wife. To help him deal with this complex situation, Woody enlists the help of a hallucination of Humphrey Bogart from Casablanca. Diane Keaton and Tony Roberts costar, and Herbert Ross directed. Herbert Ross had quite a career: The Goodbye Girl, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Pennies From Heaven, Footloose, The Secret Of My Success, Steel Magnolias, My Blue Heaven and Boys On The Side.

5. Cries And Whispers – The first Ingmar Bergman film to appear on any of my lists (I’ve only seen a couple others). This might be the most depressing movie I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly in the top 10. It’s a family drama about two sisters gathered together to watch over their dying third sister. There’s a bunch of flashbacks wherein everyone is basically evil to everyone else. Liv Ullman, Harriet Anderson and Ingrid Thulin star. Great use of color.

4. Solaris – I called it an ode to solipsism and I’m sticking with that. It’s still a great film though. I especially like the trick where the camera slowly pans in a circle and the people on screen move around behind it and show up in unexpected places. It surprises me every time he does it.

3. The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie – Luis Buñuel once made a movie about a group of people who are unable to leave the dinner table (The Exterminating Angel). This time, a group of Bourgeois are unable to actually eat a meal as they keep getting together and keep getting interrupted for various increasingly bizarre reasons. It feels like a summation of Buñuel’s career, as he attempts to say everything he’s been trying to say for years all at once. The great thing is that it’s still pretty funny. He doesn’t seem to have become as pessimistic as Kurosawa did with Ran (#1, 1985), so maybe it has more in common with Dreams (#3, 1990).

2. Aguire: The Wrath Of God – I finally got around to watching Fitzcarraldo a couple nights ago and I liked it a lot. In fact, it’s now my #1 movie for 1982. As much as I liked it though, I like Aguirre better. Which is very strange for me. I generally don’t prefer the darker, more depressing movie, and Aguirre is incredibly depressing. But it’s just so damn weird that I don’t get depressed, I just think it’s really cool. Anyway, Klaus Kinski plays Aguirre, a 16th Century conquistador on a quest down a river for El Dorado. Aguirre, of course, is insane, and gradually everyone on the quest with him dies one way or another. Kinski is, as always, terrifying. And I can now say definitively that he absolutely did NOT play the villain in Ghostbusters II.

1. The Godfather – Yeah yeah. What did you expect? I have no fear of the obvious. It’s overrated, in that it’s most definitely not one of the 5 greatest movies ever made. But it’s still ridiculously good. This and it’s first sequel are, along with Marcel Carne’s Children Of Paradise the best novelistic films I’ve ever seen. Massive films that create and immerse you in an entire world. Interesting fact: cabaret won more Oscars for 1972 than The Godfather did. Coppola lost best Director to Bob Fosse, and his film ended up only winning three awards: Best Actor (Brando), Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. Cabaret won 8, including Joel Grey’s Supporting Actor win over three (!) from The Godfather (Pacino, Duvall, and Caan).

Plenty of Unseen movies this year, including some pretty big ones. I started watching Last Tango In Paris once about 10 years ago, but I was really bored and turned it off.

Last Tango In Paris
Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii
The Ruling Class
The Candidate
The Chinese Connection
Jeremiah Johnson
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex, But Were Afraid To Ask
The Poseidon Adventure
Chloe In The Afternoon
Lady Sings The Blues
The King Of Marvin Gardens
The Canterbury Tales
Boxcar Bertha
The Cowboys
Joe Kidd
The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean
Deep Throat
What’s Up Doc?
The Getaway

Movies Of The Year: 1973

Another pretty good year is 1973, but not nearly in the same class as 74. For some reason I’ve seen almost as many movies from this year as from the next two years combined.

16. Shaft In Africa – I think the title pretty much covers it.

15. Save The Tiger – Jack Lemmon won the best actor Oscar for his pretty good performance in this otherwise totally unremarkable film. Businessman has a midlife crises in the 70s, yipee. Dirceted by John Avildson, who did Rocky I and V, The Karate Kid I, II and III, and 8 Seconds, which I haven;t seen, but made one of my friends cry.

14. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving – Another revelatory title.

13. Live And Let Die – Roger Moore’s first is also his best Bond movie, and one of the best in the series. There’s a spooky voodoo vibe as Moore teams up with Jane Seymour’s psychic tarot-reader to defeat Yaphet Kotto’s heroin-dealing Mr. Big. And the title song is by Wings!

12. The Paper Chase – Decent coming-of-age type movie about first year law students at Harvard Law School. John Houseman gives an iconic performance as a professor, a character he would further develop in the classic TV series Silver Spoons.

11. The Exorcist – Ridiculously overrated horror film from self-promoting doofus/fascist William Friedkin. It’s hurt by the mediocre (at best) performance of Jason Miller as Father Damien. Miller would go on to star in a whole bunch of movies you’ve never heard of. But he eventually played the coach in Rudy 20 years later, so that’s nice.

10. The Sting – Newman and Redford, the “Brangelina” of the early 70s reunited for this entertaining period caper film about Depression Era con-men. Not as complex or insightful as the similarly set The Cincinnati Kid from 1965, but then, it certainly isn’t meant to be. Inexplicably won the best picture Oscar for 1973.

9. The Last Detail – Prototypical road trip movie in which Jack Nicholson and Otis Young are Navy guys who decide to show convict Randy Quaid a good time while transporting him to prison. Directed by Hal Ashby, one of the fine directors of the 70s, and written by Robert Towne (Chinatown). One of Nicholson’s defining roles, despite the porn star mustache (it was the 70s, after all.)

8. High Plains Drifter – Clint Eastwood directed and stars in this twisted take on the Red Harvest/Yojimbo/Fistful Of Dollars story in which a Stranger (Eastwood) rolls into town, gets attacked by outlaws, is insulted and the hired by the townspeople, and exacts his fiery revenge on all of them. A terrifically dark film, though not nearly as serious as Eastwood’s Unforgiven (#1, 1992), the darkest (and perhaps best) Western of them all.

7. Day For Night – I can’t really give this a fair rating, since I’ve only seen it in a old, dubbed, VHS version. Regardless, it’s a fine, if somewhat generic, movie about the making of a movie. I can’t say if this was the first of that particular genre, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of any earlier ones.

6. Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid – Director Sam Peckinpah’s version of the Billy The Kid story is the best I’ve seen, and a fine counterpart to Arthur Penn’s 1958 The Left-Handed Gun, which starred Paul Newman. This one stars Kris Kristofferson as Billy, James Coburn as Garret and, quite strangely, Bob Dylan as Alias, a quiet guy who just shows up at verious times throughout the film and doesn’t say anything. Dylan also did the score for the film, you know the song Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door? That’s from this movie. It isn’t nearly as nihilistic as Peckinpah’s earlier The Wild Bunch, but it’s still quite entertaining.

5. Enter The Dragon – Bruce Lee’s greatest film takes a little while to get going, but once the fighting starts, you’ll know what all the hubbub is about. The plot is essentially that of every fighting video game ever made: an evil rich madman holds a fighting competition, and if you lose, you die! Mmwahahaha! Bruce Lee’s good guy is there investigating as a cop or trying to avenege his brother’s death or earn money for his sick grandma or soemthing. The dubbing and cheesy sound effects haven’t aged well at all, but they do have their nostalgia value. What makes the film work, however, is Lee’s performance. There simply has never been an action star with his combination of intensity and believability. Watch quickly to see Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung in very small roles.

4. American Graffiti – If you had only seen George Lucas’s last three movies, you’d be amazed to watch this one and see that not only can he actually make movies about humans, he can even write convincing dialogue for them to speak (he did have help with the screenplay, but that didn’t help in Episodes 2 and 3). It’s a night in the life of high school kids, a familiar genre (though again, I’m not sure how familiar it was at the time), this time it’s set in the early 60s small town California childhood that Lucas experienced. It’s closest analogue is Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, which is essentially the same film set 15 years later, right down to the cast of soon-to-be-famous people and immense soundtrack of period pop hits. The future stars here: Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Suzanne Somers and Harrison Ford.

3. Sleeper – In this, the greatest of Woody Allen’s pure comedies, he gets himself unfrozen at some point in the future, impersonates a robot, woos Diane Keaton and attempts to overthrow the 1984-esque dictatorship. It’s the same as his other early comedies in that the plot is but a series of setups for his one-liners and some minor slapstick. It’s the consistently high quality of those jokes that distinguishes this film from the others.

2. Badlands – Terrance Malick’s first film is, like his others, a typical genre picture that’s made transcendent by his unusual storytelling style: voiceover monologues; long, beautiful shots of nature; and slow, meditative pace. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek are terrific as the Bonnie and Clyde-esque criminal couple on the run (the story is based on the real-life exploits of Charles Starkweather). If the plot seems somewhat familiar, that because Quentin Tarantino used it as the foundation for his original screenplay of Natural Born Killers (before Oliver Stone took it over). You’ll also recognize the theme song from another film Tarantino wrote, True Romance.

1. Mean Streets – Martin Scorsese’s first big film is also my favorite of all his films. And it’s also the only one of his films to rank #1 in any year on my lists, a fact which I can’t quite believe, though I’ve checked a couple of times. It’s also the last film he co-wrote until Goodfellas in 1990, another surprising fact given how consistent Scorsese seems in examing themes of violence, guilt and redemption. Anyway, Harvey Keitel stars here as a small time hood with a crazy cousin, Robert DeNiro. The dynamic is much the same as the Liotta-Pesci and DeNiro/Pesci relationships of Goodfellas and Casino, but for the fact that DeNiro’s 100 times the actor that Joe Pesci is. Screech as he might, Pesci could never capture the laziness, the fun, the attractiveness of psychotic nihilism the way DeNiro did. Larenz Tate’s O-Dogg from Menace II Society (#7, 1993) comes pretty close though. Anyway, my favorite scene in the film, perhaps in all of Scorsese, is the scene in the pool hall. All of Tarantino can be found in that one scene, from the anarchic play of violence to the classic “What’s a mook?” self-consciously ironic dialogue.

Not so many Unseen movies this year, but still there’s some I definitely need to watch.

Scenes From A Marriage
La Maman Et La Putain
The Day Of The Jackal
Paper Moon
The Long Goodbye
The Wicker Man
Don’t Look Now
The Way We Were
Soylent Green
Bang The Drum Slowly
Flesh For Frankenstein
Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars