Song Of The Day

I’m officially naming this my Number One Favorite Song Ever:

It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) by Bob Dylan

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying.

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece
The hollow horn plays wasted words
Proves to warn
That he not busy being born
Is busy dying.

Temptation’s page flies out the door
You follow, find yourself at war
Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
You discover
That you’d just be
One more person crying.

So don’t fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing.

As some warn victory, some downfall
Private reasons great or small
Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
To make all that should be killed to crawl
While others say don’t hate nothing at all
Except hatred.

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Made everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much
Is really sacred.

While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have
To stand naked.

An’ though the rules of the road have been lodged
It’s only people’s games that you got to dodge
And it’s alright, Ma, I can make it.

Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you.

You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks
They really found you.

A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit to satisfy
Insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not fergit
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to.

Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to.

For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Cultivate their flowers to be
Nothing more than something
They invest in.

While some on principles baptized
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him.

While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in.

But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him.

Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony.

While them that defend what they cannot see
With a killer’s pride, security
It blows the minds most bitterly
For them that think death’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes
Must get lonely.

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards
False gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough
What else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.

Movie Roundup: Quick Catch-Up Edition

I’ve managed to build up a massive backlog of recently seen movies, so I’m going to try to blow through them as quick as I can.

Flowers Of Shanghai – Another Hou Hsiao-hsien masterpiece, this one set in the brothels of 1880s Shanghai. The story follows four or of of the prostitutes and their interactions with each other and their clients, wealthy young men who spend their time at meals, playing drinking games and exploiting women, much like a certain subset of college students. The flower girls alternately fight amongst them selves for power and prestige and try to get the young men to marry them. The whole film is shot in Hou’s trademark tableaux style, with the camera floating up down and side to side along a fixed plane. The whole frame is in focus and highly detailed, with multiple actions occurring simultaneously. Thus despite the length of the shots and often apparent lack of action in them, new details continually emerge (as when a vague immobile shape you think is furniture or something suddenly comes to life as a serving girl). Stars Tony Leung, Jack Kao (Millenium Mambo, Goodbye South, Goodbye), Carina Lau (Days Of Being Wild, 2046), and Michelle Reis (Fong Sai-yuk, Swordsman II, Fallen Angels). The #4 of 1998.

The Tall Target – Anthony Mann film noir set on a train as a detective tries to foil an assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln, who’s on his way to his inauguration in 1861. Apparently based on a real event, it stars Adolphe Menjou and Dick Powell (who’s a much more successful noir hero here than in Murder, My Sweet). Tight plotting and Mann’s mastery of the expressive noir blacks and whites make this an above average genre film.

Shall We Dance – Totally generic Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film. The plot is ridiculously complex, there’s too much screen time for the supporting Eric Blore and Edward Everett Horton and not enough dancing. It doesn’t have the sublime sequences of the best Astaire-Rogers films, which leaves it closer to lame than great.

The Blue Gardenia – Anne Baxter gets dumped by her long-distance boyfriend on her birthday, she decides to go out with Raymond Burr’s slutty photographer. She gets good a drunk, goes back to his apartment, fights him off as he tries to date rape her and passes out on the floor. When she wakes up, he’s dead. A great film noir setup from director Fritz Lang, it starts to flag in the last two thirds, but is still pretty good. Also stars Ann Southern, Richard Conte, George Reeves and Nat King Cole.

Guys And Dolls – Joseph Mankiewicz’s big film of the Broadway musical about gambling hoodlums stars Frank Sinatra, Marlo Brando and Jean Simmons. I’m generally not a Broadway musical fan, and this is no exception, the songs are mediocre at best, the characters are caricatures and the whole thing is way too silly for me. And it’s two and a half hours long. Bleh,

Stage Door – Classic chick flick with Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers in a battle of wills as they share a rooming house with a bunch of aspiring young actresses. Some excellent performances from the leads (and some of the supporting cast as well: Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, Adolphe Menjou, and Eve Arden), flashes of brilliant screwball dialogue and Gregory La Cava’s efficient if uninspired direction make for a solid film. Based on a play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman.

Baby Face – Barbara Stanwyck is incendiary in this pre-Code melodrama about a low-born woman viciously sleeping her way from the mailroom to the top of a big corporation. The first two-thirds of the film are terrific, as Stanwyck escapes from her fathers abuse (she works as a barmaid in his bar and apparently pimps her out on occasion) but the momentum slows towards the end as Stanwyck’s swath becomes more and more destructive.

Angel Face – A mediocre Otto Preminger film noir with Robert Mitchum as an ambulance driver who gets himself ensnared in the evil wiles of Jean Simmons. She wants him to help her commit murder (sound familiar?) but he doesn’t want to go along with it (not so familiar). This, of course, only makes her devilishness more complicated, and Mitchum’s doomed no matter what he does. An intricate noir, with great performances from the leads (Mitchum’s understated resignation is perfect for the role), but the best part is the ending.

You Can’t Take It With You – One of the Frank Capra Best Picture winners, overlong, but pleasant enough. james Stewart plays the son of rich snobs who falls in love with and wants to marry Jean Arthur, the daughter of a bunch of wacky proto-hippy eccentrics. Essentially, it’s Dharma & Greg with better actors, writing and direction. Also stars Lionel Barrymore, Edward Arnold, Ann Miller and Mischa Auer.

Judge Priest – The earliest John Ford movie I’ve seen, and one of the three he made with Will Rogers. Rogers plays the eponymous judge in a small Kentucky town. He dispenses common sense in the face of his blowhard enemies, helps hook his nephew up with the hot girl next door and hangs around with Stepin Fetchit and Hattie McDaniel, exploiting and more or less subtly critiquing the racist stereotypes those actors were famous for. It’s a fine little movie, and Rogers is as good as I’d hoped he’d be, but Ford would deal with the same kind of thing to much greater effect later in his career: the film’s an obvious precursor to Young Mr. Lincoln, right down to the folksy conversation with the dead wife. A must-see for Ford fans.

The Nutty Professor – Sometimes you can wait too long to see a movie. This is the first Jerry Lewis film I’ve seen (I’m not counting Scorsese’s The King Of Comedy), but it’s inescapable in pop culture. I’ve read and heard so much about it and him that there’s not much room for surprise when watching the film for the first time, there can only be disappointment. Especially with a performer as controversial, and as parodied as Lewis. Anyway, this adaptation of the Jeckyll and Hyde has Lewis as a nerdy scientist (Professor Kelp) who invents a potion to make himself cooler, in order to woo one of his students. He transforms into a vicious parody of Lewis’s former comedy partner, Dean Martin who goes by the name Buddy Love. Love’s a massive jerk, which of course makes him incredibly popular. An extremely dark film, dense with potential meaning, I can see why thew New Wave era critics liked it and Lewis so much, but I can also understand the common complaint that the biggest problem with Lewis’s comedies is that they simply aren’t funny. Maybe you had to be there. The #8 film of 1963.

Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia – Sam Peckinpaugh at his most nihilistic. A Mexican gangsters daughter is knocked up by the owner of the eponymous cranium. He puts a sizable bounty on his head and Warren Oates (a local piano player) is hired to track him down and kill him. Oates does it for the money, so he and his hooker girlfriend can retire to a life of peace and quiet. Of course, things don’t turn out for the best. Very dark, and occasionally funny, featuring a weird appearance by Kris Kristofferson in a small role and a terrific performance by Oates (Though he’s better in the superior Two-Lane Blacktop). The #6 film of 1974.

Sword Of The Beast – The last in the films of the Criterion Rebel Samurai boxset is also the least. As part of a plot to reform his clan, a samurai kills one of the corrupt leaders, only to discover he’s been setup and has to flee a whole army of samurai out to kill him. He escapes to a mountain where he encounters another swordsman panning for gold as a pawn in another villainous scheme. The two join forces to fight their corrupt leaders. Directed by Hideo Gosha and starring Mikijiro Hira and Go Kato, it lacks the star power and great directing of the other films in the set, though Tatsuya Nakadai and Masaki Kobayashi are a high standard to hold anyone to. A fine and entertaining film, but it really can’t compare to the likes of Samurai Rebellion or Kill! (not to mention Sword Of Doom, Harakiri or Yojimbo). The #9 film of 1965.

It’s Always Fair Weather – Unusually dark and pessimistic musical by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, featuring some terrific songs from Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Three soldiers return from WW2 and agree to meet up again ten years later. Turns out none of their lives have turned out the way they had hoped, and that not only do they not have much in common, they don’t really like each other either. But Cyd Charisse wants them to appear on her TV show, and one simply can’t say ‘no’ to Cyd Charisse. A fine film that entertains while also working as an examination of mid-50s disillusionment. It’s no Singin’ In The Rain, but then, few films are.

Movies Of The Year: 1955

In 1955, McDonalds, Disneyland and 70 mm feature films were born, Albert Einstein, James Dean, Emmett Till, Cy Young and Honus Wagner died, and Rosa Parks was arrested. I’ve seen a surprising number of films from 1955, and I don’t really know why that should be. It isn’t until 1981 that we find another year in which I’ve seen as many as the 21 from this year, though there are 20 from 1967.

21. Bride Of The Monster
20. Lady And The Tramp
19. Guys And Dolls
18. Davy Crockett, King Of The Wild Frontier
17. It’s Always Fair Weather
16. Record Of A Living Being

15. The Blackboard Jungle – Glenn Ford stars as the prototypical do-gooder teacher with Vic Morrow and Sidney Poitier as the leaders of his group of prototypically delinquent students in this prototype of the inner-city teacher movie. The film is distinguished historically by its score: it made Bill Haley and The Comets’ “Rock Around The Clock a big hit, which is generally considered the start of the rock n’ roll era. The three main actors all give very fine performances, the the movie was directed by Richard Brooks, the man responsible for Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Looking For Mr. Goodbar and one of cinema’s all-time greatest crimes against literature, the version of The Brothers Karamazov starring William Shatner.

14. To Catch A Thief – Rather disappointing Hitchcock lark starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly and some fabulous mid-century European ostentation. Grant plays a retired cat burglar recruited by the police to capture a copycat thief, who just happens to be targeting Kelly’s rich mother. The tone is light and comic, with nary the suspense or twisted perversion of the best Hitchcock’s. I haven’t seen his remake of his own The Man Who Knew Too Much, but I imagine it’s similar to this in it’s lighter comic tone (Doris Day??) and Technicolor European locales.

13. The Seven-Year Itch – Tom Ewell stars in this Billy Wilder film as a man left alone in his New York apartment for the summer while his wife and kid are away. He’s content, if not bored, by his life, but just happens to have Marilyn Monroe living one floor up. He contrives various ways to see her, and maybe seduce her, while pondering the morality of his actions. Monroe’s great: ditzy and hot as ever, but Ewell’s truly terrible. Everything in the film is much too big: overacted, overwritten and overdirected.

12. Mr. Roberts – Adaptation of a Joshua Logan play (yes, The Joshua Logan who directed Paint Your Wagon, Sayonara and South Pacific) that had been a big hit on Broadway. John Ford began as the director, but Mervyn LeRoy finished after Ford left for some reason (the rumor is a fight with star Henry Fonda). Set on a cargo ship during World War 2, it’s an entertaining film with a great cast (Fonda, James Cagney, Jack Lemmon, William Powell,

11. Samurai II: Duel At Ichioji Temple – Part two of Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy, in which Toshiro Mifune plays legendary swordsman Musashi Miyamoto. Like the first, the film is bright and colorful and very traditional in it’s depiction of samurai life and philosophy, with none of the reexamination or critique to be found in the period films of Akira Kurosawa or the great 60s samurai films of Masaki Kobayashi (Samurai Rebellion, Kwaidan) and Kihachi Okamoto (Sword Of Doom, Kill!). As such, aside from the pretty images, the typical great Mifune performance and some very good action scenes, the film seems a little empty.

10. East Of Eden – Elia Kazan’s adaptation of a reportedly very good John Steinbeck novel (I haven’t read it) stars James Dean as the younger, unappreciated son of a Salinas Valley, California family. His father (Raymond Massey) is quite strict and moral and likes his older son (Richard Davalos) a lot better than Dean. It doesn’t help that dean’s also in love with his brother’s girl (Julie Harris). It’s one of Dean’s three great performances, even if the family melodrama is rather typical and even boring at times.

9. Moonfleet – A Fritz Lang boys adventure film about a kid who gets caught up with smugglers, pirates, and buried treasure on the Dorset coast in the 1700s. John Whitely (in a child actor performance that rivals Jake Lloyd’s in The Phantom Menace) plays the kid who gets sent to live with his mom’s ex-boyfriend, famous buccaneer Jeremy Fox (played by Stewart Granger). Fox doesn’t want the kid around mucking up his various schemes (like going off pirating with George Sanders (All About Eve, Rebecca) and his slutty wife) but can’t seem to get rid of him. Especially not after the kid learns the location of a buried diamond. The film’s a lot of fun, and Lang shoots it in a brilliantly colored, non-realistic style. I’ve seen a lot of Lang films lately, but I don’t really know what to think of him as an auteur. He’s generally considered one of the greatest, but I don’t think he’d make my pantheon. He’s really hard to ignore though. More research is needed.

8. Smiles Of A Summer Night – Ingmar Bergman’s attempt at a Rules Of The Game style picture isn’t entirely successful, though it does have some very fine moments, especially towards the end. Not funny enough to be truly called a comedy (as it is often labeled) it’s a part of the upper class partner switching light comedy genre. My capsule review of it can be found here.

7. The Ladykillers – One of the better in the famous series of Ealing Studios comedies starring Alec Guiness. A gang of crooks rents out the basement of an old lady’s London apartment as a base of operations for their latest crime. When they find out she knows too much, they decide to kill her, which turns out to be much more difficult than it should have been. Directed by Alexander Mackendrick (The Sweet Smell Of Success) and also starring Peter Sellers. The Coen Brothers remade this a few years ago with Tom Hanks. I have absolutely no interest in seeing it.

6. Rebel Without A Cause – The most famous of James Dean’s three starring roles is in this the defining teen angst movie. Directed by the great Nicholas Ray (They Live By Night, Flying Leathernecks, Johnny Guitar, King Of Kings), the plot concerns Dean’s sensitive teenager, some incompetent parents and other adults, his little friend (Sal Mineo) that everyone else picks on and the object of his desire (natalie Wood), who happens to be the girlfriend of the local gang leader. A beautiful film, full of iconographic images and sequences (the planetarium, the fatal drag race, the final tragedy), but it’s difficult to separate it from its influence as the definitive statement of a genre.

5. Killer’s Kiss – I wrote about this, Stanley Kubrick’s first film about a month ago, which you can read here. Despite it’s generic B-noir story and actors and budget, I found the sheer energy and flamboyance with which it was directed to be a whole lot of fun, unlike so many of Kubrick’s later, perfectionist almost to the point of airlessness films.

4. Ordet – My capsule review of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s classic theological meditation can be found here. A family in rural Denmark, a father and three sons, each of which has their own complex relationship with Christianity. The father follows a different strain than the other village people, and they’ve been feuding over it for years, to the point that when his youngest son wants to marry the neighbor girl, her father won’t allow it. The second son, an atheist, is married to a wonderful girl who apparently does all the work around the house, despite being rather pregnant. The third son is crazy and thinks he’s Jesus, wandering in and out of scenes spouting aphorisms in a creepy voice. It’s one of those movies that makes you want to roll your eyes when people talk about (“it’s a religious experience!”), they take it so seriously that it almost demands an ironic response. The seriousness and solemnity with which Dreyer directs makes the film difficult in a cynical age.

3. Night Of The Hunter – The great actor Charles Laughton’s only film as a director was a flop at the time but is now universally regarded as one of the greatest dark films ever made. It’s a fairy tale of a film noir, about a couple of kids on the run from a psychotic conman who poses as a preacher to marry their mother and steal her deceased husband’s secret stash of money, unfortunately, only the two kids know where the money is hidden. Robert Mitchum gives one of his greatest performances as the iconic killer (this is the film where he’s got “love” and “hate” tatooed on his fists, which has popped up in everything from Scorsese’s Cape Fear, to The Simpsons to Do the Right Thing). The children escape and find refuge with Lillian Gish, who then has to protect them when Mitchum turns up. The film has some of the greatest black and white images ever filmed, dramatic lighting and sharp shadows, everything you think of as the noir style, only instead of an urban crime drama, it’s used to powerful effect to create a nightmare of a fairy tale.

2. Mr. Arkadin – One of Orson Welles’s lost classics that was magnificently restored in a Criterion box last year. I saw this film at the Brattle Theatre almost a decade ago, but I don’t recall which version it was I saw. The Criterion has three versions, apparently there are about a half dozen in existence, depending on how you count. The story is not unusual for Welles’s career: underfunded and underequipped, he someone managed to complete filming of a complex noir tale combining elements of many of his previous films, most notably Citizen Kane, The Third Man and the Lady From Shanghai. Then the film was taken away from him and recut for various releases in various parts of the world, under various titles. At this point it’s impossible to reconstruct exactly how he would have assembled the footage, but Criterion did an admirable job with their attempt (which includes a commentary by two of my favorite critics (James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum). Anyway, the film itself is fascinating. A mysterious arms dealer and black marketeer (Welles, in a beautifully fake beard and mustache) hires lowlife Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden, the weak link) to help him track down his past, which he seems to have forgotten. Van Stratten falls for Arkadin’s daughter (Paola Mori, Welles girlfriend at the time, if I remember correctly), and travels all over the world meeting shady characters played by Welles’s friends giving the weirdest performances they can (Akim Tamiroff, Michael Redgrave, Mischa Auer, and so on.) Think Marlene Dietrich in Touch Of Evil dialed up to 11. It may be Welles’s most chaotic film, which can only be partially explained by the film’s complicate production history. the most famous sequence is Welles telling one of his favorite stories, that of the Scorpion and the Frog,

1. Kiss Me Deadly – Among my favorite of all film noirs, and perhaps the darkest of them is this Robert Aldrich film of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novel. Spillane’s generally considered a violent, fascistic brute more interested in misogyny and violence for its own sake the higher-aspiring hard-boiled writers like Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, or even Ed McBain. And Aldrich’s Hammer is a lout of a private eye, specializing in divorce cases in which he pimps out his secretary to entrap stupid husbands. Out for a drive one night he picks up a hitchhiking girl (the only reason he stops is she runs his car off the road) on the run from some very bad guys. The villains catch up with them, drug and beat up Hammer and kill the girl. He takes on the case only for revenge. Turns out the bad guys are looking for a box, one of the most famous McGuffins in film history (Hammer even calls it the “Great Whatsit”) that has something to do with the H-Bomb. Playing up the griminess of noir, Aldrich takes the genre to its extreme of cynical, nihilistic sadism, turning the whole thing upside down. Even the opening credits run backwards.

Lots of good Unseen movies this year, including films by Resnais, Sirk, Ray, Hitchcock, Dassin and Fuller.

Night And Fog
Pather Panchali
All That Heaven Allows
Empress Yang Kwei-fei
Lola Montez
Bob Le Flambeur
The Trouble With Harry
House Of Bamboo
Floating Clouds
The Man With The Golden Arm
The Big Combo
Richard III
The Big Knife
New Tales Of The Taira Clan
Artists And Models
Bad Day At Black Rock
The Tall Men
The Court Marshall Of Billy Mitchell
The Long Gray Line
Land Of The Pharaohs
The Cobweb

The Real Best

As an addendum to the end of the year list-making hysteria, an interesting thread popped up recently on the DVD Beaver mailing list about the best movies you saw for the first time in 2006 that are older than a year or two old. 2006 was a fun year for me as I rediscovered my cinephilia after five years of post-college wandering in the wilderness. I spent it catching up with as much of what I’ve missed as I could, and discovering countless films and filmmakers I’d never even heard of before. As all regular readers of The End Of Cinema are aware, I watched a whole lot of films for the first time last year (183, to be exact), each of which has at least a capsule review somewhere on the site. Here’s the top 25% or so, presented in alphabetical order:

A Woman Is A Woman (Godard)
Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky)
April Story (Iwai)
Archangel (Maddin)
Au Hasard Balthazar (Bresson)
Band Of Outsiders (Godard)
Beauty And The Beast (Cocteau)
Blow Up (Antonioni)
Cafe Lumiere (Hou)
Centre Stage (Kwan)
Day Of Wrath (Dreyer)
Days Of Being Wild (Wong)
F For Fake (Welles)
Floating Weeds (Ozu)
Flowers Of Shanghai (Hou)
Gun Crazy (Lewis)
Heaven’s Gate (Cimino)
Hiroshima, Mon Amour (Resnais)
I Married A Witch (Clair)
I Walked With A Zombie (Tourneur)
Irma Vep (Assayas)
Ivan The Terrible Parts 1 & 2 (Eisenstein)
La Strada (Fellini)
Last Life In The Universe (Ratanaruang)
Millenium Mambo (Hou)
Nights Of Cabiria (Fellini)
Ninotchka (Lubitsch)
Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks)
Pickpocket (Bresson)
Satantango (Tarr)
Seven Men From Now (Boetticher)
Seven Women (Ford)
Solaris (Tarkovsky)
Stromboli (Rossellini)
Sword Of Doom (Okamoto)
The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (Dreyer)
The River (Renoir)
The Set-Up (Wise)
The Shanghai Gesture (Von Sternberg)
The Young Girls Of Rochefort (Demy)
Two-Lane Blacktop (Hellman)
Week End (Godard)
What Time Is It There? (Tsai)
Winchester ’73 (Mann)
Written On The Wind (Sirk)
Yi Yi (Yang)
Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford)

Movie Roundup: The End Of Cinema Edition

Catching up with some recently seen movies while breaking in the new name. I’ve managed to fix all the links on the sidebar (as far as I can tell), but the links in the individual posts referring to other posts on the site won’t work. I’m to lazy to fix them all, but I imagine we’ll survive. If you find you can’t follow the link, just replace “sdedalus” with “theendofcinema” in the address and you’ll be taken where you want to go.

The Fountainhead – Gary Cooper stars in King Vidor’s adaptation of Ayn Rand’s screenplay of her novel about an unyielding architect who blows up a building when a bunch of jerks change his design without his permission. Cooper’s elmlike acting style is perfectly suited to the passionate rigidity of the architect. Patricia Neal plays the woman who loves him, though she’s married to newspaper magnate Raymond Massey. It’s hard to tell how much of the film’s humor is intentional, from the hilarity of Neal first spotting Cooper as he wields a giant drill boring holes in a rock, the the over the top seriousness with which Cooper recites Objectivist dogma’s doctrine of pure selfishness. Neal brings a real intensity to her S & M relationship with Cooper, and Massey’s as good as ever playing a man who wishes he had ideals. A weird movie, either terribly offensive or a lot of fun, depending on how you look at it.

The Iron Giant – A very fine animated film from director Brad Bird (The Simpsons, The Incredibles) adapted from a story by the poet Ted Hughes (Sylvia Plath’s Ted Hughes). A young boy with a single working mother finds a giant robot in the woods, becomes its friend and defends it from the military, which either wants to destroy it or capture it and use it as a weapon. Evocative in both plot and animation style of 50s sci-fi (The Day The Earth Stood Still especially), with vibrant oranges, greens and browns and a sweet, if not entirely original story. The anti-violence message isn’t as sharply satiric as Joe dante’s Small Soldiers, but it works well enough. The voice acting is solid, with Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr, John Mahoney and Vin Deisel. I’m too old for it to replace the animated films I loved as a kid (The Secret Of NIMH, Fantasia, Sleeping Beauty) and its not as brilliant as some of Bird’s other work, but ti’s a fine film that was marketed terribly and never managed to find an audience, though it has a decent cult following. The #17 film of 1999.

Detour – Classic ultra-low budget film noir directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, who did assistant art direction and set design on a number of the classics of German Expressionism: Metropolis, Die Niebelungen, Sunrise, M, and Spies. Tom Neal plays a piano player hitch-hiking his way across the country. He gets picked up by a guy who promptly falls out of the car and dies a few hundred miles later. Sure the police will think he killed him, Neal adopts his identity and continues on his way to California. Unfortunately for him, he picks up a girl hitch-hiker, a girl who just happened to have ridden several hundred miles with the dead man a few days earlier. This quite evil young woman (played by the appropriately-named Ann Savage) blackmails him into continuing the deception long enough to inherit a bunch of money from the dead guy’s father. Barely over an hour long, the film is a clinic in noir plotting, as every decision the protagonist makes only gets him further and further into trouble, while his woman, the symbol of purity, redemption and escape in so many other films, only screws him over again and again. Made with style despite the low-budget and mediocre (at best) acting, there’s a famous shot at the beginning of the film of a giant coffee mug. Essential viewing for any noir fan.

Movies Of The Year: 2006

This is very premature for me, as the size of my Unseen Movies list will indicate, but it’s New Year’s Eve and everyone else has written their Top Ten list, usually without bothering to note what they have and haven’t seen anyway (there’s even a section of the blogosphere that seems to have just discovered that Unseen movies should be an essential part of every movie list). So, I figure I might as well throw mine onto the pile. For the purposes of this post only, I’m including films from non-2006 years as listed by imdb, which assigns a film a year based on the first time the movie actually planned. For everything else, I use imdb because I don’t believe a film only begins to exist when it plays at the theatre in the US, or even for provincially, when it happens to play in the city I live in. But since the whole reason is to get a list in when all the other lists come out, so some sort of comparison can be made, I figure I should include all the same films every other critic in America uses. Such films will be denoted by an *, and will not be included in 2006 on The Big List.

1. Three Times*
2. Miami Vice
3. The Departed
4. Borat
5. Curse Of The Golden Flower
6. My Dad Is 100 Years Old*
7. Princess Raccoon*
8. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party*
9. Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
10. Tristram Shandy*
11. United 93
12. The Fountain
13. The Break-Up
14. Inside Man
15. Fearless
16. Brick*
17. Cars
18. Marie Antoinette
19. The Protector*
20. Clerks II
21. Snakes On A Plane
22. V For Vendetta*
23. Talladega Nights
24. The Prestige
25. Mission: Impossible III
26. Thank You For Smoking*
27. Nacho Libre
28. Friends With Money
29. X-Men: The Last Stand
30. The Black Dahlia
31. The DaVinci Code

And the Useen Movies:

Still Life
The Banquet
Invisible Waves
Children Of Men
The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu
A Praire Home Companion
The Science Of Sleep
The Queen
Flags Of Our Fathers
Pan’s Labyrinth
Letters From Iwo Jima
Inland Empire
The Last King Of Scotland
Black Book
Little Children

The Proposition*
An Inconvenient Truth
A Scanner Darkly
Superman Returns
Casino Royale
Little Miss Sunshine
Lady In The Water
The Devil Wears Prada
The Lake House
Rocky Balboa
World Trade Center
The Illusionist
Find Me Guilty
Deja Vu