December 26, 2005

Notes from the Trenches

Here we go into the last week of the year – no screenings really the week leading up to Christmas (there was one for The Ringer, but I stayed home – will catch up with it in the second runs) and a pretty light schedule leading up to the New Year. Most publications have gone ahead with their Top Tens, but in the interests of completion, there are a few key titles out there that I wanted to screen before feeling comfortable with making a list this year. Two in particular, Werner Herzog’s The White Diamond and Song Il-Gon’s Spider Forest have piqued my curiosity: the former a unanimous choice on Slant Magazine’s year ender, and the latter sounding like just the kind of flick I dig – and both are available on DVD through Netflix. Watched both last night – more on them in a second. I also might have a chance to catch Tropical Malady which has gotten some play both at Slant and the Onion AV Club – and wanted to try to catch that, too.

Zero Hour, in any case, is sometime in the evening of the 31st. Call it anal retentalism if I'm a little late.

A few lists that I’ve read (one, in particular, that Bill pointed me to at a particularly ridiculous film site), are comprised entirely of films that have only gotten play on the festival circuit or, as I like to say, on the side of a camel, projected by the grace of match-light and crank. (The comment on one? “I like your choices, despite the pair of American narratives” – referring to Miranda July’s Me, You, and Everyone We Know and Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale.) It’s the kind of airless stunt that defines “elitism” to me, not as a celebration of and indulgence in good taste, but as a means by which to squeeze all the joy out of going to the movies by making it a pursuit based in large part on classism and intellectual bigotry. You have Ebert on the one side, saying that a piece of shit is at least a great piece of shit, and then you have a certain faction on the other side that says anything made by an American with a story is a piece of shit. It’s the kind of person that fights too long and hard about Stan Brackhage never acknowledging that at the end of the day, avant-garde is, 99% of the time, more interesting as a theory than ever in practice. Talk to me about ninety-minutes of mushroom-prints deposited directly on film and I’m game – show it to me and my eyes roll up into the back of my head as my stomach tries to jump up and throttle my brain in self-defense.

I don’t know if these guys are kidding. But you have to wonder.

The White Diamond is exceptional – the kind of thing that you’d call a return to form for Herzog meaning that it’s good in a way that’s so predictable that it doesn’t feel bracing. That is, if you think that genius can ever be off the cuff. I’m comfortable saying that it’s nigh indispensable viewing, but even so, I felt like the wires were showing too often in this tale of a man obsessed about building a lightweight airship to explore the rainforest canopy in search of herbal remedies and undiscovered species of both flora and fauna. Seems a colleague of his had died ten years previous in a similar experimental flight (something he retells in a haunting passage), lending the quest that air of Herzogian mania – and along the way, our favorite Bavarian madman finds a couple of supporting characters (especially a dude named Marc Antony Yahp who could be the most relaxed man on the planet) that delight with their eccentricity. When the lights go out, though, it’s Herzog eternally as the craziest guy in the film which makes his work at odds with Errol Morris in that one crucial element. Herzog is the inmate, Morris the asylum. I’m glad I saw it – I still like Grizzly Man better.
Spider Forest is an a-linear genre exercise that sort of reminds of Jacob’s Ladder and Memento, but points more to a South Korean tendency to flavor all of their films with a core humanity and genius-level of intuition about what it’s like to be in and out of love. Graphic violence, graphic sex, gorgeous cinematography, and a central conceit so simple that it would seem trite if I told it to you – it all boils down, like Jeong Jun-Hwan’s Save the Green Planet! did except with a lot of children in a montage on a street, to one scene between two children in the titular forest. Spider Forest is a David Lynch picture with the “Freud” turned down a few notches (despite the image of spider’s webs and the unconscious) – an exploration of the captured image, of television tabloid journalism, and of how to make a film out-of-time and space with heart and its share of lawless moments. It also has one of the year’s best single moments in a conversation between two kids, lost in the winter at night, and only one of their breaths is misting. Only this film industry at this time could make a sickle to the nose, business end first, the centerpiece of a heartbreaking tableau morte.

But anyway – eggnog all around, and out with it folks – best of 2005s, and the bottom, too. Overlooked films, underrated ones, too. Also curious to hear your favorite performances. Me - I'll keep mostly mum until next Saturday (or thereabouts, he says cryptically as though anyone gives a shit) but will enjoy reading guesses as to FFC's compilations. Just to keep score, there are 32 films in contention for mine. (Hint: one of them is not The Family Stone.)

I’ve already written the introduction so no fear of contamination when I ask you also to articulate what you see as the trends: macro and micro, in film this year. Also, comments solicited on the usefulness of lists including only films you’ve never heard of before and will never get to see versus films everyone’s heard of and would have to be blind in a dirt hole in Nepal to not see in some form or another in the next year.

With The Captain and Chad-E the first two winners of the FFC caption contest – we embark on version 3.0 this week with this little beauty. Good luck.


Anonymous said...

It's not too late to wish everyone Happy Holidays. So have a good one, Film Freaks.

I didn't see everything this year, something I hope to get a better leg-up on this time 'round (though January 6th is Uwe Boll's BloodRayne -- hoo-rah). So I can't pretend to speak definitively. I did see my share, though, and the top of my own list was probably Broken Flowers. A lot of people pawned it off as the atypical existential road trip, but its unanswered questions -- and refusal to build a complete bridge from the past to the present -- take it a step above the typical fare. It plays on the too-often-neglected aspect of egotistical human nature that while we live our own lives for years upon years, we expect the figures of our past to remain unchanged in our absence. What truly solidified this film in my brain were the final scenes; the confrontation with the anonymous teenager, and that penetrating final shot. As can be expected, Murray grasps a top name on my list of performances, too.

A few of my runners-up entail comic book logic and self-conscious filmmaking: Sin City, of course, and on the underrated side of things, Assault on Precinct 13; it doesn't carry the outright weight of the original (could any remake?), but it works in a hyperkinetic-but-unobnoxious thriller kind of way. Same dynamic as Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead -- but better, even.

My personal bane of 2005 was the Adam Sandler remake of The Longest Yard. Aggressively formulaic, yes, but also an aggressively hateful film that turned me into a disheartened, eyes-agape zombie (something, for all the bad movies I've seen, hadn't happened 'til then) right around the time where the only woman seen in the film (outside of the horrifying Cloris Leachman and the equally horrifying Courtney Cox) is shown from the chest down, during the prep montage before the Big Game. A minor shot, perhaps, but it was the final nail after those they-ain't-so-bad 25-to-lifers, the apparent message that drunk driving is less serious than shaving points, and the har-har-gay-man-Tracy-Morgan. We still disagree on the worth and message of Hostel, Walter, but for me this one came as the most offensive. Hostel raised questions about its premise and characters (and the nudity -- certainly more extreme than the anonymous Longest Yard girl's tight pink sweater -- had a purpose to its exploitation), but this testosterone-and-hate fest went undisguised, unquestioned, and, of course, heralded by all.

Close seconds: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (all of Cuaron's work, shot to shit for an overhyped trailer for Order of the Phoenix) and Doom (same old song and dance, except this one's got The Rock!).

Screencap guess: Probably wrong, but for some reason my gut says John Carpenter's underrated Big Trouble in Little China.

Chad Evan said...

Arrgh--I can never make top ten lists until six months into the new year since the movie theatre here sucks so bad (We didn't get Munich, for God's sake--10 screens and they can't spare one for the Oscar frontrunner by the highest grossing director of all time, Meanwhile, Narnia and Kong have two each and Walk the Line is still out.)

Anyway, of the limited new movies I've been able to catch, Kong reigns supreme, easily. I was mildly dissapointed the first time around, due to a douschebag in front of me who arrived late, threw popcorn at his buddies, and actually answered a cellphone call and proceeded to carry on a conversation before I scared him off by mustering my best go to hell face and telling him to hang up or get out, but the second time, with a good crowd, just slew me. The first act didn't seem as long, as I wasn't as impatient to see the monkey, and moments that I found slightly embarrassing the first time, such as Kong on ice and the sunrise on the Empire State Building, seemed beautifully cheesy rather than just cheesy.

And, alas, I must confess my lingering affection for Revenge of the Sith--mostly because I got to see a fight I've been fantasizing about for literally as long as I can remember--Obi-Wan vs. Vader round 1--but also because Lucas finally seems to have learned how to move a camera. He's still a naked emperor, but not as naked as he seemed after the first two prequels, which, fx not withstanding, were staged and shot with all the imagination of a Kevin Smith film.

"Did I see that?" flicks--the much heralded Jarhead was forgotten not only by me but by seemingly everyone a week after it was released. Mendes' stock is falling faster than a Delorian; American Beauty seems more dated by the day, and his follow-ups have both been hollow and boring.
Also in this category--War of the Worlds, which, far from the extreme reactions it seems to have provoked in others, seems to me the quintessential movie of what Walter dubbed the Year of the Shrug.

Running out of time here, so in brief--on DVD Batman Begins looks like a made-for-TV-movie, $200 million be damned; The Devil's Rejects had as much gusto as anything I've seen in a while and will probably be remembered longer than all but a handful of other American movies this year, and Crash was unforgiveable, being neither enlightening nor entertaining.

Oh yeah, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan kicked all kinds of ass.

Lee said...

Looks like "Jacob's Ladder," but I think that'd be too easy.

James Allen said...

Can't say I've seen as many films in 2005 as I'd like to have seen, but I'd like to chime in for the not so often mentioned Forty Shades of Blue, with Rip Torn giving a tremendous performance. After seeing him in comedic roles recently (like in Dodgeball, where he is hilarious), it's great to be reminded of how damn good he really is.

Anonymous said...

This is unrelated to the current topic, but I just saw a newspaper ad for Rumor Has It, which Bill railed against a couple posts ago. It was a parody of the famous Graduate shot, it has Jennifer Aniston watching as Kevin Costner puts on his socks. And somehow, it's even worse than the bland one, because they clearly just photoshopped Jennifer Aniston's picture from the original poster (scroll down the blog for a reminder), and she's still wearing that stupid expression! It's more than insipid now, it's frankly bizarre.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Lee, I think you're right. The screenshot holds a letterboxing of 1.85:1, which is was what Jacob was shot in. The guy in the background sure looks to be of the same height and his longish hair the same as Tim Robbins' Jacob. The lighting looks similar, too. And correct me if I'm wrong, but the foreground action is of the back of the head of the guy who's one of Jacob's Vietnam buddies who's been kidnapped by the government agents.

The shot looked familiar when I spied it last night, but that secondary level of "I got it!" recognition just never got penetrated. (I did an enhancement of the shot and deducted that the graffiti in the shot was of a foreign language, making it a foreign film. How werong I was!) I'll bet my lunch money Lee nailed this one.

Jack_Sommersby said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jack_Sommersby said...

Oh, wait. Or is the foreground of that head that shakes horribly fast from side to side?

Anonymous said...

Ah. Probably is Jacob's Ladder; the aspect ratio isn't quite Carpenter enough. Myself, I suppose I was too reminded of the desolate alley of Chinatown where the first gang war takes place. But then, I'm just a sucker for Carpenter.

Walter_Chaw said...

Jacob's Ladder it is! And, yep, Jack, it's one of those shaking Demon heads in the extreme foreground. Big Trouble is a great guess, though, and, indeed, sadly underrated although not by those "in the know".

What swallowed up John Carpenter? Did he do one of those Showtime shows - and how was it?

Chad Evan said...

Carpenter's Showtime flick, "Cigarette Burns," was about a **1/2-star affair--notable mainly for being very, very, very bloody.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I loved "Jacob's Ladder". Stygian. Also saw "The Machinist" yesterday, alot like "Jacob's Ladder" but all the loose ends were tied too neatly at the end. College kids must've loved it, patting themselves on the back for being intellectual enough to watch dark "indie" films. It was also a little too precious at times with it's "nightmare" sequences.

Fuck... now I feel like watching "Undertow". Don't ask me why.

Best films of this year... will have to say "King Kong" & "Last Days". Agree with Ian about "Broken Flowers", what are critics amnesiacs ?? They forget whatever doesn't come out in last two months. Watch "broken Flowers" make everyone's "Honorable Mentions" list. Haven't seen "The New World" but I'm sure that will end up being my favorite for the year. It's not often that God goes wrong.

mimo70 said...

I saw plenty of films in this past year, unfortunately, very few of them were new. In that spirit, I hope you can forgive me for listing some of my favourite non-2005 releases that I, nonetheless, saw in 2005.

"Night and the City" (1950)

Richard Widmark is brilliant. Jules Dassin's direction is lively and imaginative. The wrestling subplot is remarkable. A movie about a man who won't rest until he's destroyed himself and all those around him. Tragic and exciting.

"Mondays In The Sun" (2002)

Funny, sad, touching movie about a group of unemployed shipyard workers trying to hold on to their last shreds of dignity. Javier Bardem is terrific. The writing and direction is clever, mature and humanistic. A hymn to sticking together, no matter how bleak things get.

"Nightmare Alley" (1947)

Tyrone Power as an ambitious carny performer who meets his match in a ruthless psychiatrist. Eerie, haunting tale with an almost brilliant ending. See it and you'll understand what I mean.

"Night Moves" (1975)

Gene Hackman plays an ex-football player, now private eye, who takes the case of a missing girl (Melanie Griffith) while at the same time dealing with the news that his wife is cheating on him. He's in over his head - too bad he's the last to know.

"The Blue Angel" (1930)

The great Emil Jannings plays a proud professor at an all boys school who throws it all away for Marlene Dietrich's lusty cabaret singer. Sexual obsession; intelligence being brought to its' knees by the fires of the libido and it all begins when Dietrich sings, "Falling In Love Again" Ouch.

"Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (1941)

Lighter then a bag of snowflakes but funnier than "My Man Godfrey" or "Trouble In Paradise." Hitchcock breezily directs Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery in this charming screwball comedy.
The nightclub scene is hilarious.

"The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp" (1943)

Epic, moving tale of a forty year military man and his relationships with three young women (all played by Deborah Kerr) and a German officer (played by one of my favourite actors Anton Walbrook - "Queen Of Spades" is also terrific.) Beautifully illustrates how a man's life can twist and turn in unexpected ways. Masterful storytelling.

Others I liked...

"Zorba The Greek" (1964)
"The Last Of Sheila" (1973)
"19 Months" (2002)
"California Split" (1974)
"Another Day In Paradise" (1998)
"Boccacio '70" (1962)
"Bunny Lake Is Missing" (1965)
"The Son" (2002)
"I'm Not Scared" (2003)
"My Architect: A Son's Journey" (2003)
"Mikey And Nicky" (1971)

And didn't like...

"Ali: Fear Eats Soul" (1974)

Potenially touching but weakened by wooden acting, writing and directing. I'm 0-2 with Fassbinder - "The Merchant Of Four Seasons" was unbearable.

"Spider Man 2" (2004)

Empty, souless, with Peter Parker and MJ doing the tedious and generic will-they-won't-they-let's bloat the running time dance. Predictable - as all superhero movies are - and making little to no sense. And poor James Franco is left looking like a schmuck as he waits around for Spider-Man #3 to begin. Dreck.

"Thieves Highway" (1949)
"Born To Kill" (1947)

"The Machinist" (2004)

One of those movies that hinges on the last ten minutes - when all of the previous eighty minutes or so of narrative fog is lifted and everything makes absolutely no sense. Bale is a memorable "special effect", though.

"Cobra Verde" (1987)
"Bedlam" (1946)
"Isle Of The Dead" (1945)
"Night Of The Demon" (1957)
"All The King's Men" (1949)

That's all.

Anonymous said...

would say that Carpenter was essentially shoehorned into horror after his brilliant Halloween hit the big time. No doubt that he was particularly talented with horror, and it resulted in a few great ones, particularly his remake of The Thing. But it wasn't something he wanted to encompass his entire career. No doubt he was forced into it; consider that Carpenter essentially admitted (in a none-too-enthusiastic interview for Halloween: H20) that he didn't care when he wrote Halloween II, and even that he ripped off the big shocker from The Empire Strikes Back to beat a deadline and finish the script. Assault on Precinct 13, Escape from New York, and Big Trouble in Little China encompassed the kind of movies he really wanted to make, but not enough people agreed with him. Consider also the significant drop-off from Big Trouble to the "John Carpenter's The Exorcist"-esque Christian horror wannabe Prince of Darkness. It's a vicious cycle with Carpenter; hopefully the box office failure of Escape from L.A. will not be recalled as the final nail in this situation.

But, anyway, back on topic. I'll actually stand up to defend Stan Brakhage himself, as his works, even at their most abstract, tend to make at least some emotional sense (Water Window Baby Moving, which documents the birth of his first child, is a particularly intriguing piece). But otherwise, yes, "avant-garde" has become too broad of a term with the advent of art school, but oftentimes it strikes me less as out-and-out pretension but sheer laziness and a desire to exploit a system that's hard to define. Is that where self-proclaimed "art" is going these days? Can't say. I side with the television parodies of these masturbatory affairs, which are not only strikingly funny but surprisingly accurate. (Family Guy hit it on the mark: Black and white, solemn violins, half-naked woman in a kitchen, clown flipping pancakes.)

So, as can be expected, film criticism tends to lean that same way sometimes, encompassing all of the popular stereotypes of elitism. For the record, festival movies don't count because their primary purpose is to get wide release from major studios and receive this kind of top ten/awards consideration, probably during another year in the future. It may have been difficult for the critics this year because most agree that it was a tough year for movies, so some of the elite decide to avoid the situation altogether with the obscure stuff. But isn't that the point of top ten lists? To cull the best from the rest? Again, it's a matter of laziness and a medium that's difficult to define (which makes the "versus" issue with the "everyone's seen 'em" lists such a tough thing to discuss -- the question being, how much do you have to see to make a legitimate top ten?). For some people, it's easier just to sound pretentious.

And, on a final note: R.I.P. Vincent Schiavelli, who died this morning, hopefully forever to be remembered as the best character actor in the whole damn business.

jonathan said...

2005 was something of a perfect storm for me in terms of moviegoing-- a general lack of interest in a good deal of the available product, the combination of starting law school and a regular music criticism gig taking up the bulk of my time, and the local arthouse theater's devoting ten weeks to Morgan Freeman Never Shuts the Hell Up and another seven to Dreamer: Dakota Fanning Got the Local Best Buy Shut Down for Three Hours So She Could Shop for Hilary Duff Albums. To that theater's credit, though, they canned Elizabethtown after just two weeks.

So I saw maybe a quarter of what I've seen in each of the last three years, and the bulk of that would skew to the * - ** end of a bellcurve. But for The New World, I don't expect much of the awards fodder; I'm more eager to set up my NetFlix queue.

What I did like, then:
- Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. Beautiful and romantic in an Eternal Sunshine way, marred only by the thought that it's provided the template for every goth couple's wedding for the next decade.

- Sin City. The type of fetishized violence that I like, plus Mickey Rourke's exceptional performance and enough material to support legitimately interesting discussion on gendered violence-- sure, it's mostly "style," but there's definitely "substance" to it, too. Rodriguez's pissing contest with Tarantino and Eli Roth troubles, though.

- The Squid and the Whale. It's so obviously excellent that I wish I could say I liked it more, but its dead-on accuracy in portraying pompous intellectuals in decline hit a little too close to part of what I hated about my undergrad experience.

- Grizzly Man and Z Channel. AMPAS' "documentarians" branch is really the only part of the Oscars that I actively loathe.

- Oldboy. I'm not sure what it says about me that, having deliberately avoided the film's reviews before seeing it, I guessed the big twist.

- Kung Fu Hustle. I like most any film that gives reasons to use the word "glee" in describing it. And also most any film that outs Ang Lee as a self-important blowhard.

- King Kong. Great as it is, it does need to go on whatever crash diet Peter Jackson has been using to lose some of the excess fat in its action sequences.

- Red Eye. The annual reminder that there's an art to the escapist genre flick, and the first time it's become apparent that Rachel McAdams might actually be an actress.

Also: the 2005 annual is a bit small in its dimensions to use as a coffeetable book, but that's where I'm keeping it anyway.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Schiavelli forever became ingrained in my movie-lover heart when he said, "I'm a little slow today, I just switched to Sanka, so...have a heart." in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

As for Carpenter, let's not forget the Showtime-produced horror athology Body Bags, which he directed the first two segments of, including "Hair", which offers up some of the most wickedly funny bits of Carpenter's career. (Tobe Hooper's segment, "Eyes", sucks balls and is infinitely inferior to Eric Red's possessed-arm little classic Body Parts.) Also, I've had a change of heart over Ghosts of Mars: I originally gave it a 1-star review but have since deleted it because, upon taking another look at the film, it's quite enjoyable on an undemanding level and comes off as quite knowing in its ludicrous dialogue, structure and characters, and simply wants to afford us a good B-movie time. Christine also looks better upon a second viewing, though it's definitely more successful as a black comedy than horror film, with Keith Gordon and John Stockwell giving really outstanding performances. I've never been a fan of China, generally because I find it overbearing and most of its supporting performances genuinely terrible, but I do give it credit for taking a lot of artistic challenges at the time. Overall, Carpenter was a terrific director in the late '70s and early '80s, but after that most of his films just lacked the passion, the individual stamp of his that transcended the problematic screenplays he tackled (though I'm still not a fan of The Fog, which is glacially paced and too formally controlled to elicit much in the way of primal terror).

(By the way, a friend showed me the preview for the remake of When a Stranger Calls yesterday -- and they give away the damn origin-of-the-telephone/blatant-Black Christmas-crib surprise! Unbelievable. What in the fuck is going through the studio's thick skulls when they do shit like this I do not know.

Bill C said...

A fine list, Jonathan. (Did Dakota Fanning really get a Best Buy shut down to shop in private? HA! I'd like to point out that even Tarantino didn't try anything like that when he came into the poster shop I used to frequent--though he did convince them to stay open an hour later by promising to spend the three-grand that was burning a hole in his pocket.) And R.I.P. Schiavelli, the best thing about Ghost, a fine "Moonlighting" guest star, and a breath of fresh air in Tomorrow Never Dies. Never really got his due, that guy.

Jefferson said...

Aaaah! Schiavelli died? Frederickson? John O'Connor? AAAAAHHH!

Anonymous said...

I think what's hard about obscure best-of lists is when:

A. You haven't heard of the movie.

B. No theater anywhere nearby is going to show it.

C. It's not gonna be on DVD for a couple months.

Walter, you summed it up nicely: It was shown on a camel's ribs, or on the wall of some Romanian church. I think if a critic in sincere about traveling that route, they need to tell their readers: "You wanna see what I loved so much? OK, here's how."

I can see why lesser-known critics do it - they gain little by running down Ebert's top ten (even if Ebert's top ten was, for once, an excellent sampling). But snobbery of that order is useless - and if there is absolutely no reflection on a list for the joy of "going to the movies" - "King Kong" is a wonderful example of that - then the critic is living in a CIA film world. And who gives a shit about them?

All that said, I do think Ebert's a good writer, read him a lot, and I was disappointed in his selection of Crash. As much a fantasy as "Geisha" frankly, selected, as Walter pointed, specifically for its "value.

One trend I'm seeing is a sickening one: These "Wolf Creek," "Saw II" bloodfests that seek to do little more than cater to the ugliest, sickest side of people. These movies serve as our public executions in America; their popularity reveals to me that if we ever did take it to the street, my God would it be an awful thing. It diminishes my opinion of Tarantino and Rodriguez (whose movies I don't like anyway). Even the rotten Amityville Horror did decent business. Why? How? Why?

Second trend: The biopic, one biggie a year, not goin away. I'd say Elvis is a couple years off. But it's coming.

Third trend: The fantasy epic. Already been going for years with Lord of Rings, Potter films, etc. We'll have Narnia for the next decade.

James Allen said...

Just got ahold of the newly released on DVD Grizzly Man...

Holy shit. If this isn't one of the most stunning things I've ever seen. It sure as hell lived up the general hype. If I actually did a ten best list, this would be on it in this or any other year. Just incredible.

Alex Jackson said...

Finally finished and published my Kong-sized review of King Kong. While you're at take a look at my partial pan of Jacob's Ladder.

I saw a lot this year by the way, but still not enough.


Anonymous said...

The fantasy trend goes hand-in-hand with the superhero trend, methinks. First and foremost, Hollywood is all but bankrupt of original ideas. Any and all excuses they get to abdicate themselves from the responsibility of choosing material for their audience to see and they'll use it. Popular, visually-stunning films with premises that are just idiosyncratic enough to seem "fresh" are their elixir. Second of all, we're approaching a time where the sophistication of CGI is finally catching up with the imagination of the storytellers in these superhero/fantasy mediums, which suddenly makes them much more translatable. Third of all, a couple of precedent-setting films -- I guess X-Men or maybe Spider-Man on the one hand, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings on the other, have demonstrated to Tinseltown that there is a considerable audience for that kind of stuff. Voila. I can't predict how far the fantasy genre will go, but I imagine that they'll try to stripmine the more popular franchises, which means maybe Narnia and then His Dark Materials, if they can ever get past that anti-organized religion thing.

Anonymous said...

a friend showed me the preview for the remake of When a Stranger Calls yesterday -- and they give away the damn origin-of-the-telephone/blatant-Black Christmas-crib surprise! Unbelievable.

Definitely stupid. Perhaps the studio figured that audiences were already familiar with the caller-is-in-the-house conceit, and therefore used it as a hook in the trailer rather than a payoff in the film. Either that, or the execs were hit one too many times in the head. They certainly couldn't have been hit too many times in the balls, as they would have realised that they actually had them and not create such a panderous trailer. But even without the reveal, that trailer just sucks.

As for Black Christmas, I believe a remake of it in the works. I think it's being directed by former X-Files writer Glen Morgan. Who knows, we may soon see a trailer that reveals the twist for that film too.

- David H.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Great fucking Kong review, Alex. i like the fact that you take your time with reviews. However, I don't think I buy your claim that the new Kong is completely devoid of subtext. There may not be a race subtext but I thought there was a huge "Beauty & the beast" subtext. In most scenes where Kong and Anne are alone the background is beautiful, the only "ugly" thing was Kong and maybe I'm being too speculative but Peter Jackson might have something personal attached to say about this subtext. Thats why I never felt it was impersonal.


Are you including "3-Iron" as this year's film ? I saw it at TIFF last year so I didn't include it. However, if we are, then it certainly is the best film of 2005. Maybe the best film of last 5 years.

Bill C said...

3-Iron is eligible for this year's FFC 10-best list, yes, since it didn't come out in North American theatres until spring of '05.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Bob Clark; a fellow not unlike Carpenter, insofar in that he sees his new stuff ignored and his old stuff remade. Kind of a vicious irony about that; though apparently he's remaking his own Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things. But how does a guy go from Deathdream to Porky's to A Christmas Story to Baby Geniuses? I mean, there's a big time gap there, and I hear he still makes serious stuff (Now & Forever), but the evolution there is confusing. I assume this Gene Hackman/Dan Aykroyd buddy cop-thing called Loose Cannons has something to do with it.

jonathan said...

Did Dakota Fanning really get a Best Buy shut down to shop in private? HA! I'd like to point out that even Tarantino didn't try anything like that when he came into the poster shop I used to frequent--though he did convince them to stay open an hour later by promising to spend the three-grand that was burning a hole in his pocket.

It would've made a whole lot more sense for her to get the entire store shut down than to do what she actually did, which was to convince the managers to shut down, indefinitely, whatever section of the store she wanted to shop in and to cattle-prod the rest of the customers-- most of whom, rightly, high-tailed it to the Circuit City down the street after this hoo-ha commenced-- into the other parts of the store so that she could shop in private while still giving off the appearance of not wanting to make a spectacle of herself. So, every few minutes, the manager would come over the P/A to announce, "Our guest would like to shop for movies now," and all of the common-folk would be ushered quickly into the appliances department.

My sister, to her credit, picked up a copy of I Am Sam-- to which Walter was far, far too kind in his review-- and, as "Our guest" was pressing the flesh with the few people who didn't abandon ship (which, by that point, I had), she actually got her to autograph it, "To my #1 fan, Jonathan." Which was subsequently lost when her oversized purse was stolen two days later, meaning that there's probably an autographed copy of Go-Tard: The Movie with my name on it for sale on ebay.

And thus concludes my very own "Shania was there to promote her new line of apparel" story.

Chad Evan said...

It's hard for me to get worked up about the killer in the house twist being revealed; it's a very common motif from the urban legend often called, appropriately enough, "the Babysitter and the Man Upstairs." Since it seems to me everyone knows this story through cultural osmosis, spoiling it seems as futile as spoiling a movie about the Hookman by revealing that the hook was stuck in the doorhandle of the car.

Anonymous said...

chad: sure. But at least there would've been a mild surprise in store for people who saw it, if they didn't already suspect there was a twist (which, speaking of cultural osmosis, is highly possible that they would do), so that when the stranger says he's in the house, there's an "Oh, so that's what this is" sort of recognition. It doesn't really matter. Teenagers will basically see any shitty horror movie that comes down the pike if it comes down it at the right time. Not only are horror movies usually clusterbombs of zeitgeist, but they appeal to the most youth sub-demographics at once. That's why Hollywood will make them ad nauseum. If the movie didn't cost that much to make, there's a good chance they can trick enough of the people who go to the movies just to go to a movie into seeing it the first week or so before everyone realizes it sucks. If it sucks.

Which it probably will.

Jack_Sommersby said...

As Walter suggested, here are my standouts of 2005 -- which, mind you, will be quite limited in quantity being that I hardly ever go to the theatre any more:


Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche, In My Country

Joan Allen, The Upside of Anger

Mickey Rourke, Sin City

tmhoover said...

Walter: was a bit disturbed at your point-blank rejection of a) "movies screened on the side of a camel" and b) avant-garde film.

In category a: just because a movie is hard to get a hold of doesn't mean it's not good or great- and I see no reason why a film that's doomed to DVD limbo can't at least scrounge the meagre ad copy assistance that a list mention can afford. Frustrating though it might to be taunted by a movie out of your reach, at least the list made you aware of it- and I'd rather know than not.

As for the avant-garde: I have links with the a-g community in Toronto through a close friend who's a (flat brilliant) video artist. And I've seen quite a bit of stuff sucked in on his momentum. Much of it is fancy airless bull as advertised, but just as much of it answers many of the political and aesthetic prayers made on this site.

In fact, accusing a-g film in toto of being riddled with "classism and intellectual bigotry" seems to me a bizarre stance to take. It's a field that has for some time (in part at least) been concerned with hardcore engagement with the class, race and sexual issues that have had us all tearing our hair out here at FFC- and while there's a often some grating wilful obscurity, making the leap is very often gratifying.

As for the famous stuffiness factor: huh? Really, you haven't had fun until you've watched, and then hung out with avant gardists. Most of them are (like their work) frisky, sexy, and out there- as well as ready for a lively argument at the drop of a hat. Try doing that with the people who study (narrative) film production, who can be as entertaining as a high colonic, or the pseudo-arguments of stuff like "Syriana" et al.- the mistakes of which have been corrected by countless a-g movies and videos.

You could argue that a sizable amount of a-g work is arid and boring- but you could also argue that the same percentage of narrative films are mindless and boring. Like anything else, it's all a matter of rooting through the manure to find the fabled pony. And while wholesale rejection of narrative obviously annoys me (to hell with the comment on that idiot's list), the reverse attutide is just as true- and speaks more to "intellectual bigotry" than anything I've seen in my a-g travels.

Mind you, Brakhage doesn't do it for me either. But you will take my Kenneth Anger from me when you pry my cold dead hands off his leather-clad body. My two cents, anyway.

Adam N said...

I'm with Travis on the a-g thing: my favourite U of T course was Avant Garde Cinema. My biases evaporated in the face of some truly remarkable films and filmmakers -- not only Brakhage, but also Rene Clair and Maya Deren, and Peter Greenaway and Michael Snow, and Heinz Emigholz, or Travis' (deservedly) beloved Mr. Anger. I drop these names so that people reading the blog might google them and stumble upon some lovely, challenging, and eminently worthy films.
It's in the same spirit that I take up Walter's challenge to provide a list for 2005. Be warned, Walter -- plenty of festival flicks here (some will open in 2005) but there were some good "American narratives," too. I just watched Match Point tonight, and that certainly qualifies as decent.

Anyway, onto the list. more than ten films, in no particular order. Escept that The Intruder, The World, Cache and L'Enfant are all -- I think -- frickin' masterpieces.

The World (Jia Zhangke)
The Sun (Alexsandr Sokurov)
The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel)
Cache(Michael Haneke)
Takeshis' (Takeshi Kitano)
Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog)
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black)
The Intruder (Claire Denis)
L'Enfant (J.P. & Luc Dardenne)
Head-On (Fatih Akin)
Vento di Terra (Vincenzo Marra)
Turtles Can Fly (Bahman Ghobadi)
A History of Violence (David Cronenberg)

looking forward to your list... and to contributing to what I hope will be a firestorm of controversy over what I suspect will be your #1 film. See, I'm guessing it's gonna be Last Days. Which I didn't like, but some people on this thread loved.

Walter_Chaw said...

TH, Adam:
What I'll say - and not in defense because I don't think you're really hitting the mark with this - is that the Brakhage library and trust is up the road at the CU-Boulder archive and I've seen what seems like hundreds of his films. (Acknowledging what you've said about the dude's flicks - though it could only be about fifty or so) A-G dudes I've hung with go from small fry to medium frys' pot-and-8mm-screening parties to brief encounters with a few bigwigs at the Naropa institute in the last decade or two from my time at school on the Boulder campus and more professional encounters in recent years - and have noted that the progression of A-G has gone from Water Window Baby Moving to I'm scratching this film with a toenail I cut from a gangrenous foot I call "capitalism" (an actual title, I fear, and literalization). I don't discount off-hand all A-G - what I discount is, like you, the idea that the only pure art is dadaesque or puerile reactionary pop A-G art and that there's no room in an intellectual discussion for mainstream American narrative filmmaking.

Saying all that - one should really check out Brak's Mothlight from 1963. It'll make you cry.

We're not really arguing here is the thing - and actually, looking back at the post body, I call 99% of A-G worthless, self-indulgent garbage, not 100%. A very high percentage, to be sure, but only slightly higher than the percentage for all film. What, 600 films get released in the U.S. annually and around 30 of them are good? What is that? 5%? Truth is, they just make so much more of the student A-G shit - but probably only the same number of good ones annually.

I was a judge on a Contemp Art Jury recently and, dude, the bullets I've taken in the name of the A-G. The best thing was a collection of Dreyer and Cocteau clips - soldered together to the tune of some Kronos Quartet - which, of course, is a film school assignment. All of the selections (about 20, 30?) were astonishingly derivative of Anger, Brakhage, Brehm, Deren, and so on. Starfuckers: aren't we all?

I must say, though, that identifying Syriana as a narrative film, in itself, speaks volumes to a strange disconnect that I'm noting nowadays amongst folks hungry for some kind of sustenance. If you found a narrative in Syriana, you're finding faces in the wallpaper. You are, in other words, paying better attention than I was. What I found was a collection of vaguely connected sermons about how to be a father. In this most liberally-touted of movies, I got a Promise Keepers rally. A great many of our mainstream stinkers are more "A-G" than they know.

What kills me about that list I mention (and that you may have seen) is that the two "American narrative" flicks on it are, one of them (July's, of course) ridiculous anti-cinema of the kind you'd think a dyed-in-the-wool A-G'er would cream over and the other (Baumbach's) is almost a refutation of the smugness inherent in an omniscient narrative. Its ending is one of the more magically ambiguous - and damning - in some time. Seems that the only prerequsite for some that something is bad was that it was made in the United States.

The movies I mention, projected on a camel as it were, usually don't make it to DVD - and that's the horror of it. I've got nothing against them - I'm sure they're great - so what? It's not jealousy - it's the equivalent of me making up titles to prove my worldliness or suggesting that I'd seen the director's cut of The Magnificent Ambersons. "Oh you have? May I?" "No. Never. But it was fucking awesome - best of the year, definitely." Prick.

Right or wrong, I don't know, the suggestion in this thread sounds good to my ears: that if you mention a "tough" flick, you consider whether or not it's available: that it's something that people can see somehow. VHS PAL bootleg from a Korean anything, man. I still like the idea of film as a communal experience: it's why I'm offended when people take it upon themselves to fuck with the experience in the theater, as it were - if I make a list of films that I got to see as a result of being at the only screening of them in a mud hut in the Beirut countryside for all of eternity - well, I'll talk about it, and then I'll piss and moan about its distribution fate. Our Iviews segment is a venue to address that frustration, I think - but if any of our top tens were composed just of films that we got the filmmaker to send us their only copy of - I'd cock an eyebrow at our motives.

Again - a breath to say that I don't know the right or wrong of it - just that it offends my sensibilities.

Y'know - I'm not saying, either, that I don't want to know that they're out there so I can get my antenna primed should they ever fall into my lap somehow - I'm saying that their appearance as the only citizens of a Top Ten list is troubling at best. Almost (in the interests of ever-popular equivocation) as troubling as a list composed entirely of Crash and Munich and Brokeback Mountain. I'd argue that, in a way, a list of total obscurities is as condescending as Ebert's list of "it's good for yous".

Anyway - not suggesting a black-or-white here, just that it's worth a discussion - though not this one, I hope.

Films I haven't seen, but will in 2006: the new Denis, the new Haneke, the new Dardennes, the new Kitano and Hsien, and on and on and on and on - I won't mention them in my list because, y'know, I just can't consider them to be 2005 releases. I can't unless I want to hold my list for another 9 months. Alas. No warning necessary about narratives - I'm all about them. And 90min runtimes 99% of the time.

I'm a cretin.

tmhoover said...

Just one niggling point: Syriana sure seemed like a narrative film to me. There were several narrative threads, to be sure, but they all had the standard thesis statements and arcs, and climaxed in that ludicrous motorcade finale before doling out several inadequate denouements. This, to me, is not "faces in the wallpaper" but looking at the movie- which I thought, from your astute review, that you did. Perhaps the cut-and-paste surface noise was airlifted in from the A-G (or more likely, rumours about the A-G), but it's one baby step avant against a marathon run derriere.

Alex Jackson said...

Really what I'm looking for is momentum; which is defined as weight times velocity. Simplification maybe, but too often Hollywood films are nothing but velocity and non-Hollywood films are nothing but weight.

That's really the Catch-22, if you're lacking in time and money your films can't do much as experential experiences, of that sensation of sitting in the dark, munching Starbursts, and losing yourself into a dream, most independent features can't do that; but if you have time and money you have to dumb yourself down to the lowest common denominator. Charlie's Angels 2 and Val Helsing are pieces of shit, but I mean, as far as the absolute quality of their construction; of the cinematography, editing, sound mixing, et cetera; you can't really achieve that on a tight budget.

I saw 3-Iron and Head-On very recently. I enjoyed them, 3-Iron exhibits the joy of filmmaking more than any other film I have seen this year and there are a number of truly indelible moments in Head-On. But it comes back to this thing that if you want to do something truly alternative you can't really stray too far from making movies about people brushing their teeth, taking baths, and using the toilet.

The great movies of recent years; Dogville, Birth, Capturing the Friedmans, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Elephant, Kill Bill Vol.1, et cetera; they kind of find a mean between the two worlds. High-end art films or escoteric Hollywood pictures; that's my bread and butter there.

Bill C said...

Takeshis' would've made my list, too, Adam, if it had actually received a release. In fact, part of my Top 10 is composed of films I screened at last year's TIFF that finally trickled into theatres this year. I dunno, I just feel there's a certain braggadocio implicit in calling Takeshis' "one of the best films of the year"--I know that some small part of me would just be doing it to say that I've seen it and my colleagues have not, for starters.

Walter_Chaw said...

HA - yeah, true about Syriana - guess I was thinking of a more traditional, arching narrative - which does call up the issue of the difficulty of these terms, too.

The real crux of this conundrum to me is that what if the top ten films I saw this year only played at Denver's barely-attended (and fictional but not impossible) Wheat-Based Product Film Festival? I mean, I know these flicks will never again see the light of day - but do I lie?

I think the solution is making the rule about distribution (the same as Oscar's, I think, alas) and then finding another outlet. Best "Undistributed" flicks like Film Comment does, perhaps.

Love that post, man. Momentum. Not just an Aimee Mann song anymore. I don't mean that glib, I think you're dead on about needing to find that balance - and to expand it. . .

I remember finally just sticking Zhang Yimou's Hero on a Top Ten a couple of years ago, pre-US release, because I'd had the official Chinese release of it for like two years already and was sick of waiting for it. Any idiot (me) with a computer and a credit card could have bought the disc for $15.00 American, two full years before Quentin Tarantino "introduced" it to American audiences, so, no time like the present, I guess. And one of my great regrets of recent years was not putting Ripley's Game on a Top Ten because its release had been so fucked up (direct to vid in the US and mostly under the radar) - that I just, honestly, forgot all about it when time came to draw up a year-ender. What I'm saying in terms of the Jackson "momentum" is that a good Top Ten list to me also fulfills that obligation of e/motion and substance - that if you mention a film like Head On in a list you made last year (the film was completed and available in bootleg in the U.S. as early as 2003, I think) - then you balance that ephemeral promise a title and capsule suggests with the weight of, say, a "real" movie that exists for most of the rest of us at that moment like Eternal Sunshine.

"Elitism" and "populism" are terms we wrestle over a lot as just-smart-enough folks, I think, and while I like to think I'm more on the elitist side than the populist, one way that I'm really populist, I think, is that I want everyone to have a chance to see everything. I don't want a list that just invites approval from a tiny, tiny, miniscule, number of people lucky enough to have seen the films somehow - I want a list that gets people talking, and angry, and pleased and all those things - but most of all I want a list that finds the participants on an equal playing field (in terms of the basics of having put eyeball to flicker) as we begin to begin.

I can wait a few months for people to Netflix Birth - not a problem - and if you don't see Rivers and Tides or Monteith McCollum's Hybrid, then it's because you're making a choice not to and not because it's just not available in any format - I can accept that, too - what I can't accept is the loneliness of hanging the Mona Lisa in my secret basement hideaway.

Thanks man. Two posts and ten thousand rambling words later, and there it is in one lovely analogy.

Bill C said...

HA, if you mean the music critic analogy, I went back and deleted it for fear of having made it in haste. Should I try again?

I'm glad you pre-empted the inevitable Hero comeback. Indeed, it was fair game because you could in fact buy it legally on DVD in the US long before Miramax put their version out, and it had already been nominated for and lost an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

Anonymous said...

Anyone for Kings & Queen? I'm kind of surprised (and dismayed) how little coverage it's getting on top 10 lists (as someone said about Broken Flowers, honorable mentions it doesn't have to worry about), when with all the politically-based (but not actually political) films getting embraced it's one of the more controversial films I've seen in the past couple years; that's only to say that nobody seems to think the same thing about the characters by the end of the film--that's how much liberty Desplechin gives them--and if it's not focused, well, neither are its characters lives (or, screwing "Me & You & Everyone" here, are anyone's I know). It's a big chunk of life in a year with so many of the better movies displaying a peculiar attachment to zombies and dead men (Broken Flowers, Sin City, 2046, Last Days, Munich, possibly History of Violence), and I owe a good amount of my summer to it. I got the chance to see Desplechin give a talk about a month ago, and I'm not sure there's any other director as immersed in the critical implications of every light, word, song, movement, and so forth.

I missed a lot, but I think I saw most of the good stuff; I also loved Grizzly Man and Tropical Malady, which I'm wondering is some sort of response to Songs of Innocence/Experience, or whether that's completely superficial on my part. Doesn't really matter; it's great anyway, hypnotic and unsettling at once.

Hope this doesn't divert from the a-g talk.

Adam N said...


Dude, it's not braggadocio: I realize I'm lucky to get to see a lot of these films early, and my hope is not "these people'll read my list and be envious/impressed/perplexed" so much as "people might read this list and be curious." and maybe if these films open in limited release, or screen at an art gallery, or show up on DVD or whatever, people will remember my reccommendation, or someone else's reccomendation, and try to see them. As to any charges of obscurantism, I don't think anyone who's serious about film (yourself included) would look at my list and do much more then shrug: they're pretty major films by pretty major filmmakers, and it doesn't take much to get behind 'em. I mean, if you check out the Village Voice poll (which I participated in for the first time) I'm just part of the herd.

saying 99% of something sucks sounds a little like offhand dismissal. Yes,the only thing worse than bad student narrative films are bad student art films -- including the one or two that I helped make back in the day (2002, to be precise). But there are literaly hundreds of a-g films, past and present, that are worth seeing, and surely, you must see the pitfall to your approach. You're a smart critic, the people who come to this site respect you, and you're sort of slamming the door on an entire wing of cinema -- even if you've only chosen to shut it 99% of the way, you don't make it seem like a very enticing avenue.

As for the films I mentioned, of course you can't put them on a list if you haven't seen them, and no one could suggest otherwise. Again, I'm just putting them out there. And frankly, I don't see anything troubling about the fact that I saw close to 400 movies this year and liked these ones the best -- I'd be more troubled if I tried to finesse an attempt at a list into something carefully amd catiously well-rounded. Although I did hesitate to include my beloved, derided Stealth...

Adam N said...


I loved your comment re: King and Queen. I didn't see it yet, but I'm assured by many of my friends that it's wonderful. And it has been getting 10 best list play -- check out the Voice and, where you'll find many admiring notices and more than a few end of year votes.

And you reminded me that I forgot Tropical Malady: wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

cory m said...

Are Oldboy and Kontroll fair game for lists this year? Both were hitting the festivals in 2004 and 2005.

Kontroll, by the way, is such a wonderful movie. The Budapest underground might be the most picturesque dank hole in existence.

Walter_Chaw said...

Granted; a bad approach. A lot, perhaps, like me saying that 95% of all movies tend to suck ass, at least a little. Half-empty tactic that, I fear, exposes personal weariness more than anything else. Your list, by the way, doesn't strike me as terribly obscure - just a reminder in one or two instances of the tragedy that Kitano's last two films never saw release in the U.S. - neither Kwan's nor Hou's. Charges of obscurism I tend to reserve for people who rattle off ten films that almost literally no one's ever heard of before - not me, not my colleagues (local and nationally), not my distributers or studio reps, no one.

You and I have both seen around 400 films this year - if we haven't heard of it, what chance does anyone else have?

Kings and Queen is a fantastic film - big fan of Oldboy and Kontroll as well, both of which opened theatrically in Denver in 2005 so they're fair game for this year as far as I'm concerned.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Man I feel like such a dickweed because I don't keep a list of films I see, so I come out here saying "King Kong" was the best film of the year because that's the last really good one I saw.

Revising my list a little I would certainly put "3-iron", "2046" (A film I have already seen 3 times, plus saw "In the mood for love" again lately) and "Last Days" ahead of Kong. Other film that not a lot of people have mentioned is "Brown Bunny". I didn't love it for its content, too selfindulgent, as much as I loved what it was doing with film-making as an artistic medium. "Oldboy" is something not entirely of my taste, but it transcendes its genre to become a real stand-out. See this one thrice too and will see it multiple times so i guess it belongs on the list too.

Talking of momentum, I don't care as much for velocity as I care about mass. Some of my faves from last five years would be (no order): "Eternal...", "Punch-drunk love", "DiG!", "3-Iron", "Spring, summer...", "Undertow", "Ratcatcher" , "All the pretty horses", "In the mood for love" & "2046". Can't seem to think of any others right now but I'm sure i can add a few there. Oh yeah... also Kitano's "Dolls".

Nate said...

There are still a few contenders that haven't opened here yet (The New World, Match Point, etc.) and a couple others I haven't gotten out to see (Munich, Syriana - not that I expect to love either one), but here's my list as of right now.

1. The Squid and the Whale
2. Grizzly Man
3. Cache (Hidden)
4. A History of Violence
5. Batman Begins
6. Sin City
7. Unleashed
8. King Kong
9. Brokeback Mountain
10. Revenge of the Sith

Honorable Mentions: Junebug, Dark Water, Good Night & Good Luck, Me and You and Everyone We Know, Oldboy, Off the Map, The 40 Year Old Virgin

Bottom Five:

1. Last Days
2. Elizabethtown
3. Crash
4. The Ring Two
5. The Constant Gardner

Walter_Chaw said...

Just saw Tropical Malady - it's not so much Blake, is it, as it is Henry James (or Miller)?

Whatever it is, it's grand.

Anonymous said...

Other than fulfilling the lazy holiday mandates of various publications, “Top Ten” lists need only be reflective of the critic—any broad sociopolitical or artistic conclusions should evolve from subsequent discussion. “Elite” is a favourable term when applied to downhill skiers—but, strangely, an epithet when applied to film critics (Elitism is expected in critics of theatre, music, food, wine and Pro Football—as well as their respective audiences) Personally? I demand it. I dig wine too—but, I don’t waste my time reading endless dissertations of Yellow Tail Cab or White Zinfandel. If I want some cheap Plonk—I’ll turn to Ebert or Stephanie Z. or, if I want ten pages on why “Batman Begins” kicks ass—I’ll turn to Aint It Cool (or the lunatic ravings on the Imdb. Boards.) My film knowledge and taste is voluminous and varied—but, I’m not a film critic. (I see most of the good stuff—I’m just not professionally obliged to see “Cheaper By The Dozen 2”) I pay others my time and money to perform that task for me. There’s a bizarre stream of democracy running through film criticism which needs to be sucked dry. When someone is being paid (In dollars or DVD’s) to watch hundreds of films and they’re coming up with stuff like King Kong, Batman Begins or (Gack!) Sin City as the gold standard --I get both angry and bored. And yes Virginia that is a value judgment. I’m sensitive to charges of film snobbery (“You will enjoy it on as many levels as I do!”-Prof. John Frink) and I have my own disturbing memories of film studies courses (I.e. Hollywood=Crap) but, I’ve also seen too much of the good stuff to be satisfied with the laziness that passes for a lot of mainstream film comment. (Go ahead. Call: “Sin City” ‘film noir’ to make my left eye pop out) If a film is plastered with lines like “ON OVER 100 Best LISTS!”—my first question is: Is that a good thing? This weekend, more North Americans will see “Brokeback Mountain” (or “Wolf Creek” or “King Kong”) than will EVER see the new Kitano or the Haneke --so, why not use that thimbleful of critical influence to start a new discussion? I have the benefit of living in Toronto, where the volume of good films is such that one cannot rush to see: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” without a twinge of self-loathing, but, that’s also a big reason why I live here (aside from the balmy winters). As for availability, if you are serious about the flickers—you seek them out—don’t worry so much about seeing them first, just see them. So to you crits out there, I implore you: Be slightly obscure, challenge your audience—and, this is the big one, be proud of knowing more about movies than most people. But, also remember to be an audience as well as an authority. And, if you must make a list, make it without thinking too much about it; you could be watching more movies.

That said: The best film of 2005 is, of course, “Cache” (or “Hidden” for those of you who’ve never downloaded nekkid ladies). Expect It To Be Completely Ignored At Oscar Time!

Alex Jackson said...

So to you crits out there, I implore you: Be slightly obscure, challenge your audience—and, this is the big one, be proud of knowing more about movies than most people. But, also remember to be an audience as well as an authority. And, if you must make a list, make it without thinking too much about it; you could be watching more movies.

I literally use my top ten list as a way of organizing in my head which films I need to acquire for my DVD collection. I'm sure that we could all agree that top ten lists should consist of the films that you actually did like (whether these are Hollywood films or not) and you shouldn't have any alterior motive in creating them aside from sharing which films that you liked.

I guess that I didn't really connect the two earlier, but it's wholly possible to like Batman Begins, King Kong, or Sin City more than any other film you saw this year even if you saw pretty much all of them. I don't really trust cineastes who can't see the attraction of seeing a fifty million dollar film that looks like it cost fifty million dollars. I mean honestly, I did like Revenge of the Sith better than Grizzly Man, 3-Iron, or Head-On (albeit not by a lot) in no small part because ROTS's first shot was more technically impressive than anything I saw in those other three.

cory m said...

As far as trends go, isolation is a shoo-in this year. You can draw a line from Oldboy to Kontroll to Willy Wonka to Mickey Rourke's thug with a mug so ugly he can't buy a woman and Bruce Willis' last good cop in Sin City. It continues through Batman, Timothy Treadwell, Blake's Last Days, The Jacket and 40 Year Old Virgin. Underlined finally and violently by King Kong, a movie where it seems as though every character is defined by the extent to which they're cut off from everyone else: Ann, constantly ripped away from people she loves; Kong, horribly alone (twice the camera lingers over the bones of his mate); Denham, through a camera lens; the natives, (understandably) edgy from isolation on an island where everything seems to want to eat you; the crew on their steamer; Driscoll, unable to articulate his love (and "writer" is practically a synonym for "isolated"). Sometimes it's forced upon them. More often than not, it's by choice.

And I've missed a lot of films this year. There have to be more.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I usually find most hollywood films too tame, but I did think that the blockbuster trilogy of King Kong, Batman Begins & Sin City, were some of the best films I saw all year. At the same time I would also put 3-iron, 2046 & Last Days also on the list. I don't see the point in being esoteric just for the heck of it. I like Armond White's definition of what makes a good critic:

...know the subject, care about the subject, write well about the subject, and be honest.

I find most critics usually are able to master the first three but miss out on the forth. I find that critics here on FFC meet all four conditions, none of them are "Strictly film school" type of critics and nor are they, well... Ebertian (compromised). They have found a good balance here and thats why i like it. More then anything, I just see my taste reflected here. I mean, I don't just like esoteric foreign films, I like watching a yellow bastards' balls get ripped off and a giant monkey fighting a dinosaur. Overall, hell, I just like whatever film gives me most pleasure. "Last days" and "Sin City" entertain completely different parts of my brain and I don't see why "Sin City" has to loose out just because pleasure I derive from it is more visceral than "Last Days" ? Doesn't mean I'm not being challenged, it just means I'm being challenged in adifferent way.

Anonymous said...

I’m using Batman Begins, King Kong and Sin City as specific examples of overrated 2005 films, not as a generalized expression of distaste for all expensive, Hollywood movies. Certainly, I can see the attraction of these films since I saw all of them on my own dime (and looked forward to each of them). Of course it’s possible to see a lot of movies and come up with those types of choices, my role is to be wary of those choices. Alex, if you liked “Revenge of the Sith” better than the three films you mentioned, that’s your prerogative. Subsequently, I’d wonder how an impressive opening shot can trump the abysmal writing, leaden direction and wooden acting in that film and, as a reader, I’d expect you to at least hint at your rationale. Not because I can’t see the innate appeal of special effects and great production values, but because when I read a review (or a “Top Ten List”) I’m looking for a dialogue, not just a seal of approval or an endless list of recommendations. Guys like Ebert and the studios have gotten rich, in part, from the innate distrust of intellectual discourse and cultural curiosity. I don’t think anything on Adam’s list, for instance, is particularly “esoteric”. There is a natural (North American) inclination to view non-English films as innately highbrow or exclusionary. How many times have I heard people say: “I don’t want to read subtitles” or, “I just want something light (read: In English)”? So, when a critic simply adopts a lot of those prejudices rather than challenging them, we get lazy as an audience and so, when I see a “King Kong”, “Crash” or “Batman Begins” (or “American Beauty” or “Minority Report” to use some older examples) pop up on many of these lists, I think the critic needs to do a little more heavy lifting. I know, I know…this perspective so often reads as a snotty judgment against “popcorn” movies—but, that’s not my intention. Egad, these lists are fatally subjective. There’s not really any point in comparing “Grizzly Man” with “3-Iron” or “Sith”, however, there IS a point to connect all of them with their culture--which is why I always look forward to the opening critical essay far more than the list itself.

I also agree with Mr. White’s imperative of “honesty” as a building block for a good critic—just as long as “honesty” isn’t used interchangeably with one’s rationale for enjoying shallow movies. I liked (horrors!) “Charlie’s Angels” but, I liked it ‘cause of the pretty ladies kicking butt---not because it deconstructs traditional models of femininity and...Feh. Honestly.

Walter_Chaw said...

Hurrah! Dave!

Love your enthusiasm and erudition, man. Why, besides the derision and pay, aren't you a critic? We need more of you to balance out all of them.

I felt some horror, I have to say, at the preferral of Sith over a few of the others - but a little envy, too. I wish I liked one of the three prequels enough to keep, you know, just a shred of a goodly corner of my childhood un-raped. Funny how no matter how hard one's nerve gets battered, it retains the ability to recoil.

I think striking a balance in a Top Ten (without sacrificing integrity) is vital.

I do recall that when Crouching Tiger was being shown in the theaters, there were large warning signs posted at local cineplexes telling patrons that the film was, in fact, subtitled. Apparently the complaints were loud, constant, and vociferous. There's a local crix, too, who affirms that he hates to "read" movies and black & white movies, too.

In other words, sending up the bat signal for Dave to pick up pen and put it to paper. Reading his essays here if nowhere else (for now)I find his passion bracing and rejuvenating. Must've left mine around here somewhere.

Justin said...

This is really driving me nuts--can somebody please give away the name of the particularly ridiculous film site? Just a hint? Googling "despite the pair of American narratives" isn't helping.

Bill C said...

Ha, sure thing, Justin -

Bill C said...

Dave actually has his own blog - - I visited regularly until he stopped updating it. Get crackin' there, Gibson.

Gotta agree with the assessment that Sin City is overrated. I dare say I don't even like it all that much. So hermetically sealed, there's no entry point for me. Yet when all's said and done, I don't get too worked up about the across-the-board love for it, since ultimately my problem with it is that it's drably perfect.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the encouraging words and whip crackin'...this blog and the mother site has certainly reawakened my passion for criticism and lively debate--just today I was thinking, well--I'f I'm so down on "Sin City" why don't I have my own review available for others? More to come...promise.

Justin said...

Thanks, Bill.

cory m said...

I won't deny that Sin City is hermetically sealed (in fact, I assumed that was the point), but I think the film's falters because of a few genuinely awful performances. I liked it--and I gladly own it--but I could've loved it.

rachel said...

hollow man:

I guess the question becomes, where the divide lies between simply visceral and mindless pleasure... On one hand, I loved "King Kong" and dug both "Batman" and "Sin City" very much. However, I'm a bit unsettled when this year, seemingly movie after (respected) movie posits a hero whose beastly nature is the effect of his surroundings, an inevitable cesspool of death and destruction. After awhile, these corrupt worlds- and their beasts-as-men and their women in varying states of helplessness and distress (or conversely, SDM wear)-stop looking like critiques of society and start looking awfully like wish fulfillment. At what point does the pleasure become guilty, I guess is what I'm asking.

cory m said...


Well, I would say that Batman, Kong, and Sin City are hardly mindless (though they are also visceral), and that is what sets them apart from the rest of the awful American blockbusters. But it seems to me that your problem with them is the ideas and content, to which I would say that it takes a hell of a lot more to make me feel guilty. I think the truth is that they are neither critiques nor wish fulfillment, but manifestations of a society's psychological undercurrents. Which makes the whole thing extremely interesting, in my view.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Have to agree with, Cory. I can see how some 13-year old could be having a masturabatrory experience off of "Sin City". For him it might be a guilty pleasure, well, if he is smart enough to realize it is a "guilty" pleasure. To me, it is a skewed representation of western socities in their most reductivist form. Under the veil of paternalistic civillity, it is just as animalistic as it was in the stone age. Men who want to kill-n-fuck and classify women as either damsels-in-distress madonnas or ball-bustin'-whores. What I like about "Sin City" is how it creates its own mythology, combining the filtered elements of society's undercurrent with a self-contained style. It is precisely because it is impenetrable that I like it. That is the idea of fantasy, it doesn't have to be imperfect. These kind of films will always be classified as exploitative and to a certain degree its true. But only for those who choose to see it that way. Likewise, there is no denying that it is a mysoginistic perspective, but I choose to look at it objectively rather as an active participant. In some ways, I think so does the author who understands this world but instead of acting like a liberal bleeding-cunt, he acknowledges the animalistic instincts inside him that have been genetically ingrained in him over thousands of generations. It is annoying to me when people don't acknowledge things hoping that they would as a result go away. Conclusively, we have an idiot as the most powerful man in the world who is hell-bent in justifying his animalistic bigotry as a calling from his higher-self, elected by a bunch of similar hypocrites. Thats where Paul Schrader's concept of evil being a result of existential fog comes in. Just because someone might relate to Travis Bickle and shoot his fellow school-mates doesn't mean we should stop making films like "Taxi Driver".

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Now that I think of it, one can really draw a line between "King Kong", "Sin City" & "Taxi Driver". Where both Marv (Mickey Rourke) & Travis Bickle (Cybill Shephered sub-plot) are the insecure beasts in beauty-n-the-beast equation i.e. the King Kongs; Hartigan (Bruce Willis) & Travis Bickle (Jodie Foster sub-plot) are the self-anointed protectors. The two sides of the lone ranger.

p.s. I would love to see somthing of the sort from the female perspective. Tarantino tries and pretends but he has not a fuckin' clue. I totally dig good women film-makers by the way. There is a sensibility to them that not a lot of male film-makers can capture. I think Lynne Ramsay and Claire Denis totally kick ass. Just saw "Beau Travail" by the way, fuckin' loved it.

Anonymous said...

Rodriguez's judgment tends to lean towards the unreasonable more than occasionally (Jeez, Robert, another 3-D movie?), and Sin City is no exception. Obviously he loves Miller's work, and sometimes the word balloons matter so much to him that he can't distinguish a good performance when the words are spot-on. But at the same time, I think it works here and there. Never read the original books, but I'm forced to agree, and the hard-boiled dialogue works where it shouldn't: Brittany Murphy's "I'll cutcha little peckah off" accent, Michael Madsen's horrifically deadpan "you got a bum ticker." Alexis Bledel the obvious acting greenhorn, but for all the cringing that we all do when she launches into her "goddamn whore" speech, I find it an interesting dynamic; the young girl trying to talk like her wizened companions, both in a narrative and acting sense.

Of course, with Alba I'm never convinced. Yeah, she's got the looks, but there's always the feeling that Nancy should be smarter than Alba plays her.

Bill C said...

Here's my favourite review of Sin City by the brilliant Bryant Frazer. It really gets to the heart of my grievance, but when it comes to a movie like Sin City, I think it's either the end-all/be-all or not your cup of tea. Not sure if there's any room for real vitriol against it.

Bill C said...

Oh yeah, and don't get me started on Alba, who basically sabotages the film by refusing to get naked. Where's the tragic irony when Bruce learns that this girl he went through hell for has grown up to be...a good-looking girl twirling a lasso fully-clothed in a bar?

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I think Jessica Alba had the perfect face for the character. Point taken that she takes away from the impact by not goin' naked but she makes up for it simply by having her face. I'm surprised that some of you guys think that performances were not good. I'm usually the one who hates actors for being too precious with their delivery but in this case all flaws are forgiven for actors going over the top because... well, its an over-the-top movie.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I don't know if Brittany Murphy did a particularly good job in Sin City. Very phony, stupid performance.

I'm not here to defend half-assed critics - of which there are as many as there are half-assed newspapers - but there are a number who are paid way more money than way more talented Internet film writers to review the big stuff for mid-market newspapers, many readers of which will about ten movies all year. And one of them won't even be, say, "Brokeback Mountain." Distributors know it, and thus lots of the movies you'll find on the Internet lists aren't within 100 miles of the area lots of Americans live in (and maybe 500 miles if you live in the Dakotas, Montana or Idaho). Those "on 100 top ten lists" ads owe their boasts to folks who, quite honestly, couldn't hold alex jackson's (or even some of the idiots on Ain't It Cool) jockstrap, partially because they get ten inches max for a review. By comparison, Ebert and Hunter really do seem to deserve their Pulitzers.

Many of those critics are local Siskels - fairly smart, "cultured" people who are lucky enough to write about movies, like a good story like anybody else, and probably thought "A Beautiful Mind" and "Titanic" were just the most pristine fucking things they've ever seen. These are folks who inform their readers that "A History of Violence" "might make for difficult viewing."

If an Internet critic sincerely wanted to do some good, they'd stop, just for one year, being a critic, and lay in to every halfwit critic out there about their random, medicore bullshit about studio dung. Film criticism needs an ombudsman. I appreciate the fact that Walter actually calls Ebert out and questions his list. It's a sincere discussion to have, frankly. Ebert does see more films than just about anybody, he can write, and on some occasions he'll put a worthy movie - like "Monster" or "Eve's Bayou" - on his back and help carry. Which makes his list this year (and many years) disappointing.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I abhore Brittany Murphy. What is it that people like about her again ? She looks like a cockroach. She sounds like fingernails on a blackboard (did someone say "deep-throat"?). She acts like... well, Brittany Murphy (can't get any worse then that).

Chad Evan said...

Brilliantly put. These male fantasies--protect the women and children, stand on top of the empire state building and pound on your fucking chest--are very, very potent, and it's no use trying to change it, and I for one feel no reason why I should feel guilty for indulging in them now and then. The really excellent works--from the Iliad on down to Taxi Driver--take a more critical view of this behavior, but still,one can't watch the latter without realizing that Scorsese is as stricken with Betsy as Travis is, and the identification with De Niro is just about total. One could say that most of the great art in Western (and probably non-Western)history springs from just this sort of territorial pissing: Milton reads Shakespeare and writes Paradise Lost to beat his chest a little, Faulkner reads Joyce and thinks Oh Yeah, well get a load of this if you want some technical virtuosity--on down to Kubrick reacting to Welles, The Beatles reacting to Dylan and the Beach Boys, to Polanski's bizarre-but-inevitable competition to a mixture of Bunuel and Hitchcock. And it ain't just males that do this--see Toni Morrison's obsessive desire to outdo Faulkner (she can deny it all she wants, the fact remains.)

Alex Jackson said...

There’s not really any point in comparing “Grizzly Man” with “3-Iron” or “Sith”, however, there IS a point to connect all of them with their culture--which is why I always look forward to the opening critical essay far more than the list itself.

I guess that I've always approached critics more like artists than actual contributors to society, if I can make that distinction. They do their thing, whatever that thing is, and if they're lucky enough to get paid for doing it then they have a profession. If not, then it's a hobby. As such, I consider the whole thing highly subjective and never at all definitive. If you want to drive a film academic batty ask them to give you a concrete, empirically testable definition of a bad movie. It is, or should be, one of the perenial questions that changes from philosopher to philosopher.

My personal definition of a bad movie would include glibness and/or a lack of a compelling emotional core and/or visual engine. I also can't stand a film (like American History X) that is several levels below where I am.

A great movie would tend to be sincere and have a compelling emotional core and/or visual engine. And it would represent where I am or where I have yet to go.

On a superficial level, I measure quality on how much I want to see the movie again. The best meaning I'd want to own it. Have to say that I don't get Cory M's assertion that he gladly owns Sin City but doesn't love it. Seems to me that that kind of concept of "love" hasn't much real utility.

I'm babbling I'm sure, but I guess that the skinny of it is that if you're an honest critic then your list can't help but reflect something personal about your taste in film. And I understand your complaint of it just being a list of everybody's personal tastes and that that's kind of boring, but if it's truly personal it can't help but also be truly divisive.

And on this thing about honesty being used to defend shallow films. Eh, meh, uhyeah. If the viewer truly regards them as shallow films then they won't get a burning desire to see them again and they are not honest about loving them. And while we're at it one should resist the temptation of canonizing films that make for interesting reviews but are boring and/or punishing to watch. If you have to down a pot of coffee, No-Doze, and Ibuprofin before going to work watching a movie than that ain't love junior.

tommy five-tone said...

Quick and somewhat superficial response to anonymous's post about local Siskels because I happen to be one - a 10-year reviewer for a (relatively) small-town paper in Australia.

Despite the presence of two multiplexes we're lucky if one cinema out of 12 will screen something arthouse, alternative or foreign - about the most out-there thing showing here right now is Broken Flowers. When something non-mainstream comes to town, I certainly do my utmost to get it some ink, discuss its pros and cons and - if I think it's warranted - give would-be viewers a nudge in the right direction.

But for the most part, I'm writing for people who get out to the movies on a Saturday night maybe once a fortnight, who want to know if The Constant Gardener won't be too hard to follow or if Cinderella Man is any good despite the presence of that thuggish Russell Crowe. (And yes, I will probably have to point out that A History of Violence will be confronting for some viewers. I'll also point out that it's an intelligent and thought-provoking piece of work...don't ask me exactly [i]how[/i] I'm gonna express that, though. Still working on the review!)

So yeah, for the most part I'm writing about pretty pedestrian stuff, and I've occasionally been guilty of expressing some pretty pedestrian ideas. But if a mainstream blockbuster has some noteworthy aspects, I'll point them out. And if it's banal, cliched, patronising or just plain lame, I'll point that out too.

And every once in a while, there'll be a film that mightn't have the marketing budget or the word-of-mouth push of its contemporaries. Persuading the average moviegoer to take a chance on something like that is the real high point of the gig.

For instance, the end-of-year wrap-up that got published today had to feature my thoughts on all the big-ticket items, naturally, but I was pleased to have the leeway to suggest that viewers looking for something new might give Oldboy, Code 46 or Duma a whirl.

Dunno if there's much of a point to this post, other than saying that not every local or regional film critic is a mouth-breathing quote whore shilling studio blockbusters and shunning subtitles. Some of us are fighting the good fight, so to speak.

Anonymous said...

Alex--artists aren't "contributors to society"?

As Darth Christensen would say: Noooooooo!

Anonymous said...

Quite honestly, I looooved Brittany Murphy's performance in Sin City. I really don't see the point of criticizing any particular part of that movie for being "phony." It's the most artificial movie I've ever seen.

calgary said...

tommy - thanks for your honesty about my post. The problem I'm speaking about, frankly, is more related to American newspapers, but you articulate the problem: You can't be seen by your local readers as so irresponsible as to send them to something "disturbing" without saying "this is disturbing" unless of course we're talking about Wolf Creek, a pure rotten ugly picture abouyt suffering that people get the jones for because it's tabbed a "horror" film. What's more, you don't get the space in a newspaper to completely explain your position. Not suggesting mag writers do either - they usually don't - which is why Internet critics are giving some of the best-informed, best-written stuff out there. The boundaries just don't exist. So when Walter brings up the list discussion, it's crucial to look at the reality of such lists in many publications.

And while Sin City was artificial, Murphy's take on a tough, wounded broad, with that breaking voice and those absurd epileptic facial tics of hers, was completely wrong for the part. She acted like she was back in Don't Say A Word.

Sin City's not my favorite pic anyhow, but her performance was a low point.

Carl Walker said...

For what it's worth, this is my top 5:

1. Kung Fu Hustle
2. Broken Flowers
3. King Kong
4. Corpse Bride
5. 3-Iron

This is, of course, out of what was avilable in Riverside (except 3-Iron which was never available and was instead rented). I don't know if Kung Fu Hustle is full defensible as the best film of the year (even out of the 30 I saw) but I know I loved it that much. I wonder if we're talking about blockbuster versus obscure, where we would put a "foreign blockbuster" like that on the scale? Not regarding how the unwashed masses view it, but how compromised we are for liking something like that (if blockbusters are indeed compromising).

cory m said...


I guess what I'm saying is that while there was plenty of good in Sin City--at least enough to warrant multiple viewings--a few performances kept it from being perfect.

And besides, I'm not sure "love" and "utility" can ever be reconciled in my mind.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

And while we're at it one should resist the temptation of canonizing films that make for interesting reviews but are boring and/or punishing to watch. If you have to down a pot of coffee, No-Doze, and Ibuprofin before going to work watching a movie than that ain't love junior.

Hmmm... interesting point. I don't know if I either completely agree or diagree with it. Infact I have been giving this a lot of thought lately. I mean.... I love Tarkovsky but would rather have a horse tranquillizer instead. Yet, something as simple as 3-iron exudes the love for cinema. It pours out of the screen in all its glory. That is my greatest inhibition with people like Godard, Kubrick & von Trier. They treat cinema as an intellectual medium, infact they are almost like critics trying to make movies. Cinema as an artistic medium is infact too complete with artist being able to express both visually and verbally. Other mediums like music and painting leave a certain room for audience imagination to take over and evolve the material as one pleases. When film-artist start to rely more on their intellect and less on their instinct to create a peice, in my opinion, it comes DOA. Film-makers like Malick, van Sant, Altman, David Gordon Green, Takeshi Kitano, Kim-ki Duk Claire Denis etc. found a way around this through lyrical pacing and to a certain degree, minimalism. By reducing the elements and plot to their most minimalist form, audience are given time to form their ideas, whatever they maybe, of course with artist's guidance. On the other hand, film-makers like Coppola, Scorsese, Won kar-Wai, P.T. Anderson, Michael Mann, Tarantino etc. went the other way by displaying the styllistic joy of cinema with flair and charisma. We love them becuase they love movies and know how to use the medium to instigate visceral reactions. And by having the intellectual content to back it up, they bring on the "momentum" that Alex refers to.

Funny... at first I thought I loved "Wings of Desire" more, but the one I always end up watching repeatedly is "Paris, Texas".

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Herzog is the inmate, Morris the asylum.

Ha Ha... I'm not gonna forget this one, Walt. I don't think Herzog is a madman but he is tightrope-walking the thin red line for sure.

cory m said...

For the record, I should say that while Rosario Dawson, Michael Madsen, Brittany Murphy, and Jaime King made me cringe, I was most dissatisfied with Clive Owen. Stuck in between Rourke and Willis, Owen seemed as plain as vanilla--and his section was, by far, the weakest of the three.

Rich said...

And while we're at it one should resist the temptation of canonizing films that make for interesting reviews but are boring and/or punishing to watch. If you have to down a pot of coffee, No-Doze, and Ibuprofin before going to work watching a movie than that ain't love junior.

Hmmm... interesting point. I don't know if I either completely agree or diagree with it. Infact I have been giving this a lot of thought lately. I mean.... I love Tarkovsky but would rather have a horse tranquillizer instead.

I think love for a movie can happen in any number of ways. The way I was caught up in the world of Sin City was radically different from how I felt during some Tarkovsky flicks. I love Tarkovsky - but I have sometimes found watching his films to be trying. Even during stuff that I've liked, there have been spells where I have questioned whether or not I could stand to continue with the movie - the nuance, subtlety, and slow pacing is often at odds with what I am expecting and with what I am used to given the average (especially North American) film. But even if every moment of the viewing was not 'love', I still came away having enjoyed the experience, and the film stuck with me - providing enjoyment long after its running time.

In movies like these, single moments of catharsis can change my outlook on the scenes before - sort of like climbing a difficult mountain to admire the view. I think sometimes such beauty could not be conveyed and properly felt without the arduous build-up.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

In movies like these, single moments of catharsis can change my outlook on the scenes before - sort of like climbing a difficult mountain to admire the view.

Good analogy and I completely agree. The problem is I just never feel like climbing up again. I'm sure that says more about me than the movie and the only defense I have is that climbing all the way up to have the same view again doesn't seem worth the effort. Juice has gotta be worth the squeeze. Absolutely loved "Solaris" & "Dogville", will probably never see them again.

Sano Cestnik said...

Although I only came to read some interesting stuff by Walter I liked to read your discussion, guys.
Sorry if there are any problems with my english, as I'm not North American and its a foreign language to me.
I read the article by Walter because I'm anxious to see his (and Bill's) Top Ten list for over a week already, although i probably know which films will be on it, as I've probably read all the four star reviews that were given. But what caught my interest was the condescending reference to the "particularly ridiculous film site", as I'm a sucker for obscure Top ten lists because of all the mainstream overload one gets every new year. Sadly there wasn't a link, but when Bill finally provided it, I discovered that it was to acquarello's "Strictly film school" blog/homepage which I frequent from time to time.
I found the whole discussion about how Top ten lists should be comprised a bit ridiculous, as i also see film critics (and any writer for that) more of an artist and an individual who is expressing his/her subjective view on a particular topic - here film. Of course I like to have it explained why somebody liked Sin City or Cache, but it's up to everybody to value them on their own in the end. I totally agreed on anything that Dave Gibson said about this subject (and I also enjoyed his writing-style the most - thanks for the link to his page!). You should write about what you care, and if you have a non-commercial personal homepage - like "Strictly Film School" why should you be critisized for having a "different" taste than "most". I find the list very intriguing, and it's one of my "favorite" Top Tens of the year, because it shows a distinct taste in films which is too often missing from most professionals outings.
Okay, I copied it to make my point clearer:

La Blessure (Nicolas Klotz, 2004)
Three Times (Hou Hsiao Hsien, 2005)
Caché (Michael Haneke, 2005)
The Sun (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2005)
Regular Lovers (Philippe Garrel. 2005)
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, 2005)
Me and You and Everyone We Know (Miranda July, 2005)
L'Intrus (Claire Denis, 2004)
A Tale of Cinema (Hong Sang-soo, 2005)
A Trip to the Louvre (Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 2004)

I admit i haven't heard of "La Blessure" by Nicolas Klotz, but all of the others are bigshots (Hsien, Haneke, Sokurov, Garrel, Denis, hong, Straub/Huillet) or critics favorites (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Me and You and Everyone We Know).
The Sun, Regular Lovers and A Tale of Cinema are all on top of my 2005 to-see list of films that haven't gotten regular distribution, yet (Cache finally has), I always look forward to a new film by Hou hsiao-hsien (though probably no distribution, again...), while L'intrus and A trip to the Louvre are on my "non-existent" 2004 need-to-see listing. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu will probably arrive at cinemas during the next couple of months, so i needn't worry about it. And most of the films can (or will soon) be purchased with a credit card via internet on DVD, no harder than it was to get "Hero" some years ago. And only because Garrel and Straub/Huillet have difficulties finding foreign distributors doesn't mean their films don't have to be talked about outside of their home countries. So much for obscurity and availability issues.
And while I rather read Walter than acquarello, this has more to do with a professional writing style versus an amateurs trials at finding his voice, than the choice of films they tend to review. While the one has to watch a lot of shit because he gets paid for it, the other can decide more freely - though he has to "sacrifice" his free time for it. As an amateur who is himself struggling to write something meaningful about some films he adores, I must say that i rather write about an obscure "masterpiece" too few people have seen (e.g. "Class Relations" by Straub/Huillet), than to trash the latest Hollywood outing (e.g. Blade: Trinity). If some local paper would pay me to write for them about mainstream films, I would do the bashing (if deserved) publicly, but as long as this doesn't happen, I'd rather write about something I actually care.
Don't know if my comment was actually useful, as most has already been said, but hell this is a blog and i wanted to voice my opinion.
In case somebody wondered, I've also a more "obscure" Top Ten, but it's 100% honest, so don't put me in an "elite" group, just because the Blockbusters are missing. I anticipated all, Revenge of the Sith, Batman Begins and Sin City this year (not Kong, as I dislike Peter Jackson as a director), but they didn't make the cut.
RotS was the clear high point of the new star Wars trilogy for me, and I enjoyed it immensly after the two crappy prequels, but as a film it was only mediocre (Walter sums it up perfectly in his review).
Batman Begins was good, I agree with most of the positive comments, but for me it was nowhere the relevation it seemed for some others. I still like Burton's two installments (prefering the second) best.
Sin City was a major disappointment, as I found the film just, I hate to say it... boring! Usually I'm all for it when it comes to senseless style and violence for its own sake - I loved Charlie's Angels 2 - but Rodriguez once again didn't do anything for me. I've read some of Miller's graphic novels, and though he's inconsistent, most of the time he succeeds at creating the atmosphere the movie never does. It just felt like it was censored for kiddies, and all the heart and hope of Miller was flattened out to pointless nihilism. Should have been b&w, and some acting and dialogue are really terrible. Bad film, if you ask me.
But enough complained, here's my Top Ten, cinema releases (listed in brakes) and festival entries/DVD releases mixed.

1. Bu jian "The Missing" (Taiwan / Kang-sheng Lee)
2. (1) Dare mo shiranai "Nobody Knows" (Japan / Hirokazu Koreeda)
3. (2) Te doy mis ojos "Take my Eyes" (Spain / Iciar Bollain)
4. (3) Shi mian mai fu "House of flying daggers" (China, Hong Kong / Yimou Zhang)
5. (4) L’esquive (France / Abdellatif Kechiche)
6. (5) The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (USA / Wes Anderson)
7. (6) Tony Takitani (Japan / Jun Ichikawa)
8. Trilogia I: To Livadi pou dakryzei "Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow" (Greece, Germany, France, Italy / Theo Angelopoulos)
9. (7) Broken Flowers (USA, France / Jim Jarmusch)
10. (8) Uzak (Turkey / Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

Walter_Chaw said...

Thanks for the comment - very nicely articulated. What I disliked about the list more than the list, I think, is the way that it's defended (and the way that "American narrative" films are derided) - of course it should be personal - just not based on some preconception about the base unacceptability of anything coming out of the United States. I find that kind of intellectual ghetto offensive.

That being said - when our lists finally do come out, I think you'll be surprised (or not) to see that there's only one picture on there that might be considered mainstream in the slightest. Just not a great year for Hollywood (he says, managing to say absolutely nothing new).

Sano Cestnik said...

Yeah, i know what you mean. When I get the feeling that somebody is shitting on American films, or french films, or any other for that reason, (narrative against non-narrative) I can also get pissed of. There are really lots of different concepts out there, and everyone of them works just in a different way.
Bad year for Hollywood, I agree, but it's getting more and more of a trend each year. Sometimes I miss the old studio system...

Walter_Chaw said...

I'm with you there, Sano, about the old studio system. I don't know that we're all that far away from a return to it - I mean, you look at Miramax and their "stable" of artists, replicating the same kind of shit into eternity until their eventual collapse. The last few films they dumped, for example, were just like old time studio prestige pics with lots of recognizable faces in formula epics. The more actors gain power, the more they move towards becoming their own studios (like Tom Cruise, for instance, and his really active production company) - and I can't see it being much longer before we have another "United Artists", growing their own contract-bound stable of players.

acquarello said...

For the record, the commenter on my site only mentioned that wasn't "crazy" with the inclusion of the Me and You and Everyone We Know and The Squid and the Whale, both of which happened to be American films, and was not making a broader comment that all American films are crap. His actual comment was "I wasn't so crazy about the two American narratives on your list, especially Miranda July's, but I know you're in good company with both." which is completely different in intent than insinuation of the paraphrasing used on this post and the subsequent comments.

You have a difference audience than I do, there's no need to bash or denigrate my site because you disagree with what I choose to focus my time and energy on. Our sites serve very different purposes.