January 02, 2011

Top Ten Talkback

Here's your chance. What'd we miss? What'd we get right? What were we smokin'? And what was the deal with all that cunnilingus? (Full lists with intro here.)

Ian's list:
10. Iron Man 2
9. Somewhere
8. Marwencol
7. Mother
6. The Other Guys
5. Valhalla Rising
4. I'm Still Here
3. Greenberg
2. Black Swan
1. True Grit

Bill's list:
10. The American
9. Black Swan
8. Blue Valentine
7. Exit Through the Gift Shop
6. Somewhere
5. Dogtooth
4. Greenberg
3. Marwencol
2. Life During Wartime
1. True Grit

Walter's list:
10. The American
9. Marwencol
8. Dogtooth
7. Greenberg
6. Mother
5. Animal Kingdom
4. Black Swan
3. Somewhere
2. True Grit
1. Valhalla Rising

I'll start: I'm completely unwilling to acknowledge that Iron Man 2 is anything but a turbid, often-unwatchable mess that may lend itself by its very vapidity to some read or another, but doesn't present much beyond just the fact of itself. So be it - I don't know that I've been immune to that instinct in the past (like Blue Crush, for instance) - he without sin, and all that. I lament not having seen Todd Solondz's latest as I really, and for truly, love Todd Solondz's stuff (well, except for Storytelling) - and wish I'd seen Soderbergh's latest on Spalding Gray because, as Bill has eloquently put it about things in the past, I feel like I've dreamed it already.

I want to echo Bill's Twittered pride about not any of the three of us sticking Social Network in the top ten though, yeah, I think we all liked it. It's just, you know, so blandly intelligent and well-crafted... sort of like The Ghost Writer though I fear that I don't see any connection to it and Chinatown. The Ghost Writer doesn't end with resignation... ah well. I do wonder about the venom, though, of my colleagues against Scott Pilgrim which, though it didn't touch my heart in any discernible way, I was sort of impressed by in a technical way. It was my Tron 2, I guess, and I was sort of excited by Wright's joking dedication to making a sequel to Krull in the Twitter-verse. Maybe I'm just a sap.

And what is it with all the cunnilingus?

I think it's interesting that I was the only of these three male critics to rank Somewhere above Greenberg... though when it came time to do the top flick, well, it couldn't be more masculine.

I noticed, too, that there were a lot of people jumping off things in movies this year; that Resnais' Wild Grass is actually sort of a twee piece of shit; and that even though I still don't think that Shutter Island is great, I'm coming around to the idea that it's not as elderly as first suspected. Here's the thing, it's been a long time since a year in pictures has boasted as many beautiful-looking films, independent of their ultimate value. Stuff like Ondine, for instance, by the always-reliable Neil Jordan, which is mostly cross-eyed badger spit and missed opportunities, but in moments flabbergastingly lovely. Like Inception, which sucks, but is a wonder to look at - even the documentaries - even the foreign flicks... I'm excited to catch up with what I missed this year; I'm thinking 2010 was a deep well.

71 comments:

Patrick said...

So, was this a bad year for films or what? The only films I really am excited about are Black Swan and True Grit, and I haven't even seen either.

from the other films in your list that I haven't seen, many of them, reading their plots, don't even interest me.

What I'm missing in your list, i.e. what I would have expected: the Town (haven't seen it), Toy Story 3.

I liked this year: How to train your dragon and Easy A. I also thought Mother was boring.

Anonymous said...

Did you see Exit Through the Gift Shop, Walter? What'd you think of that?

DaveA said...

Actually, The Town is #14, Toy Story 3 is #17. The complete list is linked on the mother page:

http://filmfreakcentral.net/toptens/top102010.htm

I can't really comment much on the lists, since this year I've seen a laughable amount of films. The town was well crafted but very predictable. I applaud Affleck for not introducing some arbitrary stupid twist, but at least the extended cut had some pacing issues.

I guess the real suprise is Greenberg at the consensus #2 and Social Network being ranked so low. Regarding the latter, I have the nagging feeling that there's some spite involved. I'm just saying. As for the for the former, it either went completely under my radar or I just discarded it because of Stiller. I got this Punch Drunk Love vibe from the trailer, a movie I dearly hate to this day.

Also, why's there no list from Alex?

Kyle Puetz said...

1. And Everything Is Going Fine is, indeed, fantastic. In a banner year for documentary (October Country, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Last Train Home, The Oath, Sweetgrass, Marwencol, 45365, etc.), it's among the best.

2. I now feel validated for kind of hating Wild Grass.

3. With Marwencol having made all three of your lists, I'm even more pissed that the screening I tried to attend last month was canceled on account of a broken projector.

Patrick said...

DaveA: thanks for the link. Didn't even look, thought this blog post was *it*.

I also never heard about Marwencol before these lists.

As for The Social Network, I must say that it is an extremely well-crafted film, but it also depicted the internet like my old neighbor would, or maybe like my mom would talk about the internet. Which, to me, really harms the story, the fact that when the chips are down, Sorkin sees this social network thing as being ridiculous. Personally, I was also put off by the mysoginy, but that's something I would not necessarily count against the film itself; but treating the secondary subject matter so badly does count against it.

It *is* eminently watchable, though.

Alex Jackson said...

Also, why's there no list from Alex?

Well, the same reason that I don't review theatrical releases. I'm not a member of the OFCS like Ian, Walter, and Bill.

The amount of films I've seen this year are indeed pretty laughable, though I've seen pretty much all the big ones. (Four out of the six(!) on the consensus top five. That ain't too shabby!) I might have seen more, but I'm really enjoying my Christmas DVDs right now.

I really want to see Dogtooth and Blue Valentine. But my biggest blind spot right now is Somewhere. They apparently all got screeners for Somewhere and it's kind of pointless for me to even think of writing a top ten without seeing Somewhere since Sofia Coppola is one of my Gods. Missing the newest Sofia Coppola movie is very much like missing the newest Tarantino or Paul Thomas Anderson in my book. (Do boys actually like her more than girls I wonder).

Somewhere still isn't anywhere near coming to my town.

Don't start campaigning to get me on the OFSC list though, been pretty bummed and a little worried even at how little I produced last year.

On cunnilingus:

1. Believe it or not, I think the MPAA has made an effort to revise their rating system when it comes to sex in light of This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated. They're cracking down on sexual violence and rape, reportedly that was the problem with Blue Valentine and I know that this was the reason for the NC-17 rating for Descent and Chaos, and opening up a little bit to the depiction of "non-traditional" sexual positions in mainstream fare. Yeah, I honestly think that Strange Days would get an NC-17 if it was rated today.

2. Well, I haven't seen The American and so that might invalidate this theory, but I think cunnilingus is generally treated in these films as patently absurd and comical and is typically a joke at the expense of men. Yes, even/especially in Black Swan; it's at least partially an absurdist comedy and she can't climax with men because men are brutal and/or unworthy of her and it's an affront to men.

And essentially, we are all particularly vulnerable to seeing the cult of masculinity being taken down and of seeing films with a kind of absurdist (nihilistic?) viewpoint. That's the kind of stuff that we like to see in movies.

Rick said...

"I lament not having seen Todd Solondz's latest as I really, and for truly, love Todd Solondz's stuff (well, except for Storytelling)"

Life During Wartime seemed as defensive as Storytelling was, Solondz's most restrained and subtle film, possibly a reaction to criticism of the shocking aspects of his previous work. The film did have the funniest moments of 2010, when Joy's scenes with Andy start off sweet, but end with guilt-induced venom spewing, in what should be sentimental daydreams.

Rick said...

I love Storytelling by the way, one of the most original ideas I've ever seen executed in a film is when the creative writing class is criticizing what has already happened in the first act, which is a beat-you-to-the-punch overly sensitive reaction to Solondz's own critics, but the whole scene is still amazingly clever.

Also, I am really in tune with Ian's top 10 lists, and I appreciate all of the lists, though I still need my brain rewired for Valhalla Rising.

dougla_1 said...

Yeah Walter, I found myself appreciating the precision attention for getting "the" shots in the films I saw in 2010. I agree completely, Inception is mess, but a beautiful mess. Two pitch perfect films where shots, elevated to poetry, mattered much are True Grit and The American. Shame on me for not having seen Somewhere as yet. I trust your judgement, and Ms Coppola is in her singular zone. I love one "has to read" her films, her shots approval being only the initial cracks into the content.

If I read the zeitgeist correctly, there is a little glimmer of hope that females, wide hipped and full breasted "birthers" of our generations, are achieving some sense of empowerment. Cunnilingus IS good! One of my top female characters of 2010 is of course "you'll be fine baby doll" Hit Girl of Kick-Ass. Just to keep it real, I do realize that females have a long way to go for true parity in our still hugely patriarchal world.

Rick said...

Cunnilingus IS good!

Not in Greenberg.

Rick said...

Or in Somewhere.

Hey did anyone consider The Killer Inside Me? Haven't heard much about it around these parts.

corym said...

Everyone is focusing on cunnilingus, but Walter's list seems to be saying that 2010 can be boiled down to two things: cunnilingus and razor violence.

Jesus, that's a thought I hesitate to dive into too deeply. Speaking of razor violence, there's a trailer floating around for Brighton Rock that got me really excited.

Anyway, Marwencol just shot to the top of my must see list. How the hell is this the first time I've heard about it?

Jake said...

Lots of great documentaries this year. Be sure to check out Prodigal Sons, The Oath, and October Country if you haven't already.

Also, anyone read Reverse Shot around here? Their 11 Offenses of 2010 List beats the snot out of some favorites around here, and mine as well.

Regarding the results here, I'm surprised by the uniform adoration of True Grit, which seems to have been received as agreeable by the majority.

AD said...

I'm a little surprised by all the love thrown at Somewhere. I loved Lost in Translation but felt that Somewhere was pure self indulgence. There is a point at which endlessly sustained shots of Dorff watching dancers stop being 'contemplative' and start becoming 'pointless'. I'm not averse to deliberately paced films at all (though around these parts, saying that might be akin to starting a racist diatribe with 'I have many black friends'). Somewhere just seemed tediously drawn out to me. Not to mention the fact that I didn't quite sympathize with the existential angst/ennui of a millionaire riding around in a sports car and living his life in luxury hotels. The characters in Lost in Translation were wealthy too but I bought their misery. This guy? Not so much. The lone high point of the movie for me was the pitch perfect performance of Elle fanning.

Ditto Valhalla Rising. Massively overrated simply for being different. I found it borderline unwatchable after the initial interest-grabbing of the animalistic opening sequences. It felt to me like a real waste of a great star and premise. I was hoping for an artfully constructed translation of Vertigo's comic book series Northlanders and got - instead - inert movie-as-trip silliness.

The Social Network (less open to overthinking than those two movies. Or maybe not) was superior, IMO. I felt that it was better than The American and Animal Kingdom too. I enjoyed Animal Kingdom (mainly for its performances) but wonder sometimes if it didn't get all that love simply because it wasn't an American film. Those seem to get (occasionally) disproportionate amounts of love from American critics.

Mainly though - no love for Toy Story 3?!?!?! This is, quite frankly, unforgiveable. It's the main reason why I feel you guys have drifted too far into the realm of the academic with your lists this year.

All for the True Grit and Black Swan love though.

Bill C said...

One thing I couldn't find room for on my own list was a dig at WINTER'S BONE, this year's hysterically-overpraised cinematic sweet-nothing. (Last year's was SUMMER HOURS.) Alex Jackson (Twitter handle: @Wokelstein) saw through it at Sundance and kudos to him for being one of the few.

@AD: I like TOY STORY 3 plenty; didn't Walter have it at #17 or something?

Alex Jackson said...

Ditto Valhalla Rising. Massively overrated simply for being different. I found it borderline unwatchable after the initial interest-grabbing of the animalistic opening sequences. It felt to me like a real waste of a great star and premise. I was hoping for an artfully constructed translation of Vertigo's comic book series Northlanders and got - instead - inert movie-as-trip silliness.

Sigh.


Yeah, it's a head movie. Don't see it if you want a strong narrative, well-defined characters, or even a little dialogue. At something like 90 minutes though, I thought it was kind of perfect. It's a brilliant, sensual, stretch of sinny and I don't think that I have ever seen violence depicted so bluntly and naturalistically on-screen.

Comments like that always sting a little bit because you know you don't really have a pithy comeback. A lot like Malick actually, you just have to drink the Kool-Aid and dive in. This isn't a stupid film, but it's not really a cerebral one either. You're really exposing yourself in saying that you like it.

I'm honestly not trying to infer that anybody that dislikes Valhalla Rising is a detached hipster douchebag, but I honestly see the film as the antidote to Scott Pilgrim Versus the World.

Speaking of which, on Armond White. Armond calls Scott Pilgrim the best film of the year and Smash His Camera the best documentary of the year. This is a little bit like passing over a steak dinner for a piece of birthday cake and ice cream. It's not just that it's juvenile, it's that you're going to end up malnourished if you hold up those two films as the pinnacle of the artform this year.

And yeah, his rant on Greenberg was quite puerile. But while I really like Greenberg and I really liked Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding as well, I like how White compares him unfavorably to Wes Anderson. Anderson certainly does more with the film medium, has a broader and deeper range of influences, and is truly humanistic where Baumbach often borders on crassness and self-pity. Still, there is something very brilliant going on with Greenberg that I don't want to minimize. I love how the Greenberg and Florence characters are so completely wrong for one another and yet I (and presumably Baumbach) identified completely with both.

Alex Jackson said...

Hey did anyone consider The Killer Inside Me? Haven't heard much about it around these parts.

It's a very interesting failure actually. It's a dress-up movie. Movie stars dressing up in film noir clothes and reciting film noir dialogue. I never lost myself into it, never suspended my disbelief. It was just an exercise in style.

Strangely, black and white might have helped. I should have felt like that about The Man Who Wasn't There but I didn't. I certainly should have felt like that about Sin City, but I didn't there either.

Also, the premise of the film is novel but it just works to further distance us from the material. You see it's about a Texas sherrif who kills somebody and then has to kill lots of other people in order to cover up the first murder. Except that he's a sociopath. And a laid back small-town Texan. His whole deal is like, "I don't see why I should be fussing around with something like guilt or remorse". And it's strange, but without that guilt without him really sweating the whole thing out, the juice just drains out of the movie.

A good antidote to this movie: Sam Raimi's pretty-damn-straight-forward A Simple Plan.

Jessica Alba looks great in it though.

Ian Pugh said...

Just for the record, I'm not actually a member of the OFCS (not right now, anyway)--but Boston is filled with countless movie theaters and friendly PR agencies.

Anyway, Iron Man 2. I knew I would catch hell for that one, but I admire Favreau's take on the franchise for how its fantasies are always self-consciously superficial: Tony does what he wants; he saves his own ass and makes it look like he saves the world; he fucks someone over and sets the stage for the next villain. (The sequel states its intentions up front by presenting the triumphant final moments of its predecessor on a shitty slum television, several thousand miles away.) Iron Man 2 interests me specifically for how complacent everyone has become to the process, accepting a charismatic and unstoppable superhero while dismissing people exactly like him (Hammer and Vanko) as the villains--and that's why I love Hammer's bitter exit from the picture. Chances are the Avengers flick won't be a spiritual remake of Magnum Force, and that's going to be to its detriment.

I'm honestly not trying to infer that anybody that dislikes Valhalla Rising is a detached hipster douchebag, but I honestly see the film as the antidote to Scott Pilgrim Versus the World.

Funny--I actually thought that Greenberg filled that role. The idea that Scott Pilgrim is somehow anti-hipster reminds me of how Ivan and Roger "call each other 'man,' but it's a joke."

DaveA said...

Don't know if you've seen this, but over at Salon Matt Zoller Seitz shows his favorite scenes - how in hell did he get the permissions from all the distributors? Anyway, I already said I've almost seen nothing this year, but his #7 from Shutter Island would be my choice also. I'm actually pretty surprised how much that movie stuck with me. I first dismissed it, mainly because of the ending with Kingsley explaining the movie with a pointing stick. But still, those dream sequences are absolutely stunning, especially the short CGI shots, like her half-burned back at 3:14.

O'JohnLandis said...

I'll see True Grit soon enough and sadly missed Social Network, but for now, these are the four best movies I saw in theaters in 2010:

1. Scott Pilgrim
2. Harry Potter 7a
3. Easy A
4. Black Swan

1. Certainly not for everyone, Scott Pilgrim was nonetheless put on this earth for me to love. (I know nothing of its source.) It has a very simple central idea--take a guy who's insecure and in his own head all the time, and dramatize or visualize every single thought as he tries to figure out his love life.

Scott likes a girl, but she has a number of exes who are more interesting, more attractive, more worldly, so those insecurities become a video game in which the guy has to overcome the particular way he doesn't measure up. If you like a girl, and you find that she has an ex who's more X than you, you tend to think of the other guy as having no other strengths. He is simply X, a boss who has to be destroyed because of his Xness, maybe even destroyed by his own Xness. But you start to realize that for all of Scott's supposed weakness and charm, he's a manipulative prick. The fantasy turns ethical and I bought every second of it.

It's funny and poignant, but if you're not the sort of person who can relate to the above description, the movie might seem like vacuous retro chic. Far from being about geeks or video games or effects, though, it's about a very specific stream of consciousness--how you come to realize you're not even the hero of your own story. But the performances are so good, and it's crafted with skill that's so beyond the above average, you might be able to love it even if it wasn't made for you.

2. Harry Potter 7a is just a miracle of tone and menace, with a small perfect scene that transcends the whole fucking genre. This film was able to do in a few minutes what Peter Jackson tried and failed to do in ten hours of his LotR trilogy--capture the feeling of humanity's tenderness and courage when faced with the ultimate evil.

3. Easy A is just pure pleasure up to its ending. It also boasts the lead actress performance of the year, by a lot.

4. Black Swan is close to something great. If I had to describe it, I'd say that it's the audition scene in Mulholland Dr, stretched to feature length but set in the world of ballet. And that's the problem. Much of the story is dedicated to Portman's character finding passion, but it's really hard to be sexy in Swan Lake.

Classical ballet, and especially such a famous classical ballet, is too alien and formal for lust. To compensate, Portman drains every bit of life from her character and then slowly allows the personality faucet to begin to trickle, but that's sort of cheating. You never get the moment where you see a realistic, caged sexual being explode out of the screen, as you do in Mulholland Dr. Perhaps Swan Lake is partly to blame for that, but you have to take the pros with the cons and Tchaikovsky is clearly the star of Black Swan. Portman, on the other hand, presumably at the peak of her powers, is just good enough to make the film interesting, but not good enough to keep you from thinking that there are probably a dozen people who would be better.

KayKay said...

There's all this erudite discussion on the best movies of the year, and here I am tracking muddy footprints across this forum with a random, unrelated post (Bill C, can you please create a separate discussion forum for the occasional ramble like this?).

Just wanted to say how absolutely fucking delightful it was reading Walter's vitriolic take on Eat, Pray, Love.

Proof positive that when Chaw's chewing bite-sized chunks out of a movie's ass, he's a rock star!

A female colleague lambasted my own bile-spewing at this flick, stating that had the lead's gender been reversed, you know, if a dorky nerd in a vacant relationship and dead end job discovered his life purpose as an assassin with a chance to fuck Angelina Jolie, (male) critics would have been a little less vicious. By way of response, I fished out Walter's equally scathing review of the vacuous Wanted and showed her.

I don't always agree with you man, but it's nice to know you don't apply a different set of rules for a different set of genitalia. And for that, much respect!

Patrick said...

KayKay: though you misnamed the film. After Kermode's review, the correct title is »Eat Pray Love Vomit«

KayKay said...

Patrick, Ah! Peter Bradshaw's entire review in the Guardian was a riff on the movie's title:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/sep/23/eat-pray-love-review

Alex Jackson said...

I'll see True Grit soon enough and sadly missed Social Network, but for now, these are the four best movies I saw in theaters in 2010:

1. Scott Pilgrim
2. Harry Potter 7a
3. Easy A
4. Black Swan


WTF, dude! If you're going to be so snobbish as to qualify your list "best movies I saw in theaters in 2010" (and as thus disqualify both True Grit and Social Network) you should probably be attending the movie theater a lot more than you have been.

On Scott Pilgrim: Far from being about geeks or video games or effects, though, it's about a very specific stream of consciousness--how you come to realize you're not even the hero of your own story.

Okay kids, for the record, this is what John thought of Synecdoche, New York:

I mean, sure, it could have used a real director, but Clooney's the only real director Kaufman's ever had and somehow the movies still survive--but what it's missing is a second point of view that feels real. It needs, in other words, the Kirsten Dunst material from Eternal Sunshine--something that provides perspective and distance and enriches the world. Maybe you sacrifice some of that breathless claustrophobia of being stuck with Caden, but when the allegory is this diffuse--when you're always only a step away from being either the existential film of the generation or an interesting Lynch-lite failure--you have to make hard choices. And if you're going to have a character living in a burning house, it had better be funny, shot in an evocative way, or say something a grownup would find perceptive. Because if you're telling me that we all enter this world as a person living in a burning house, aside from being a lame first-level metaphor, then every character needs to be living in a burning house. And if you're telling me that she is a person living in a burning house, there had better be a damn good reason to justify such a silly, goodwill-obliterating metaphor.

So he's implicitly saying that Scott Pilgrim grabbing a "one-up" and saying that he's "getting a life" is a less silly, less "goodwill-obliterating" metaphor than the burning house in Synecdoche.

He's saying that the allegory of Scott Pilgrim is somehow less diffuse.

And even more incredibly, that Scott Pilgrim has a second point of view that feels real. (I maintain that the Mary Elizabeth Winestead character, just like virtually all the characters in film save perhaps The Gay Best Friend, has no perceptable life of her own independent of Scott Pilgrim). That it says something that a grownup would find perceptive. That the film could actually ever hope to be Lynch-lite, much less the existential film of the generation which I believe he is claiming it to be in awarding it the top spot on his list.

It's literally Armond White-crazy.

Lynch mob, commence!

Stephen Reese said...

Watching my way through the boys' lists, and enjoying the process. MARWENCOL's still my #1.

Patrick said...

Alex: Well, O'John also thought Harry Potter 7a a miracle of tone and menace, so...

But yeah, Pilgrim is empty shit. It doesn't even acknowledge that by "growing up", Scott would leave Ramona behind, her being the vacuous shell he projected his desires on.

Rick said...

Ignoring the contradictions Alex pointed out, Lynch should be considered Kaufman-lite. Kaufman's approach to existential film has a less flashy and more human touch, he exposes his own vulnerability and self-doubt for everyone to see, which makes his films much more endearing and personal. Just a preference, I like people who aren't aware of their own genius, as opposed to people who are sure of it. And the burning house was kind of funny, wasn't it meant to be too obvious?

And I loved Easy A, despite the film being written in the style of Diablo Cody, with a general lack of consequences and every character being clever and witty.

Rick said...

And man, after watching 6 episodes of Mr. Show on IFC this past weekend, I don't think I will ever watch Tim and Eric, Family Guy, whatever shit is on these days ever again. Every line in Mr. Show is a homerun, either extremely layered or purposely simple, it is always on point, and just on a whole other level. The one-joke Tim and Eric Chrimbus special's illogical sense of time is taken directly from Mr. Show, as are many other bits. I miss that show, hasn't been the same since the peak in the 90s. (and not just because I was twelve then!)

O'JohnLandis said...

Guess I'm going two pages on this one...

I chose movies I've seen in theaters to keep the post smaller, that's all. As it happens, I haven't seen anything on disc yet that would displace my top two. My post was a response to Walter's question of rights and wrongs and I felt it best to organize that into a list. I am not a critic, either by profession or intent, and see nowhere near enough films in theaters or on disc to publish a comprehensive list of my own, especially this year. But as it happens, some films I had seen were better than some of the films mentioned in high placements, and not having thought those exclusions to be accidental, I decided to comment.

But first, Synecdoche. Look, I'm always going to think that considering Synechoche a great film of this or any other era is a failure of taste or judgment. Synecdoche is a film I enjoyed as you would enjoy a high school writing assignment from a writer you would come to respect in adulthood. It's a concentrated essence of everything that's him, unencumbered by perspective or editorial taste. I enjoyed it despite issues of reach and grasp. Despite it being mostly a failure.

It is a film in which no character has an identity, developed or not, as characters change desires and actors throughout. Which is kinda the point, yes--it's a film designed to progressively escalate emotional thoughts of creation and death, of self-absorption and existence, pulling the rug out from under you just to reach higher a minute later. And the film is close to being great, in the manner of a high school assignment by someone smart. But quite frankly, my description of the film's aim accomplishes those goals as well as the film itself. By constantly changing the world in a puzzle that can never be solved, you are kept at a distance from that series of progressive emotional crisis and catharsis that you needn't have been if the damn thing had been better crafted.

You have to make choices and one of those choices might have been a director who could keep every scene from sitting there dead on the screen. Kaufman usually has charlatan directors, though, and at some point, that's probably his fault. This isn't the studio system--if you're Charlie Kaufman, you only get stuck with Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry or Charlie Kaufman if you want to be. Clooney isn't great, but at least he's a professional. I know Walter and a fuckton of people love Synecdoche, but I think they like it because it allows them to project their own interesting thoughts onto it without possibly being proven wrong. Say it's about whatever you want, because it's about fucking everything. Maybe that's impressive, but if it doesn't work, I call it bad art.

O'JohnLandis said...

Scott Pilgrim is less ambitious, but much more focused, and I'd even say it's more emotionally interesting. I mean, comparing Scott Pilgrim and Synecdoche is silly, but of course I think Scott Pilgrim is better. I don't, however, think it's one of the top ten films of the decade. It hasn't been a great year, and I'm eagerly anticipating True Grit and Social Network, no matter how I have to see them. Might it be top twenty, though? Absolutely. It's hilarious and shows a commitment to its allegory that transcends the self-absorption of its early coming-of-age story to become about subtle methods of being a better person.

Do you know what diffuse means? Scott's thoughts and crises are consistently and comprehensively dramatized/visualized in the way that the character, Scott, would think of them. So yes, there are little asides that are shown in the context of video games, as Scott would see them, and some of them are a stretch--mostly because no one would have time to let their mind wander into allegory that often. But in Synecdoche, the burning house is seen a ton and one of the main characters fucking dies in it. Can that really be compared to a throwaway gag that is perfectly consistent with the rest of the film? As it happens, I sometimes think of mundane thoughts in the form of allegory and don't mind the 1-Up. If I had to pick a video game reference to do without, it would be the coins, which become a drag on the conceit. But the world is alive and electric--it doesn't just sparkle, it sizzles.

There are lots of ways to have more than one point of view, and one of those is simply not to exclude other points of view. No film is ever going to properly develop, in the manner of a main character, every supporting character. In Scott Pilgrim, not everyone is breathtakingly interesting on their own, but they ALL fit into Scott's story in interesting ways AND you're capable of taking a step back and seeing the world of the film from their perspective. And Ramona is far from a cipher--there's a real life there, only part of which is performance. Strong and smart but full of regret and shame, I've known people like her. Knives is wonderful too--she's the destruction of hope and innocence, naivety as a weapon against the worldly coward, but she makes it out relatively unscathed. You know her. But you can't know anyone like a Synecdoche character, and you're not supposed to. You're stuck watching the end of the world--at the very least, the end of your world--and the characters are just tools with which to stab yourself in the abdomen while watching. In Synecdoche, if you step back, all you see is a mirror--reflecting whatever you bring to the film. It's obvious, but if you want an example of a film that has some of the same aims as Synecdoche and yet manages to succeed, it's 2001.

If for you, goodwill can be obliterated by any five seconds of film that you find uncool or unsophisticated, by all means hate Scott Pilgrim and love Synecdoche. You can explain why Scott Pilgrim fails in a sentence or a paragraph. I would probably have to write 50 pages to fully explain why Synecdoche fails--it's so scattered, and so terrified of taking a chance that can be singled out or solved, that it's practically immune from concise (positive or negative) criticism. But I swear to you all, it's harder to write and put on film something like Scott Pilgrim, something that has to work from beginning to end and is willing to take risks that the snarky will be sure to disembowel.

Synecdoche is just so disgustingly easy and safe, like asking a creative friend to write a series of random sentences when he's drunk. They might be interesting; they might even be brilliant in a certain abstract way. But one thing they're not is a screenplay.

Patrick said...

O'John: I am actually flabbergasted. At first I thought you just connected to Scott Pilgrim when I didn't, and oftentimes that's what makes the difference: you connect and accept the conceits, or you don't and think it's all artificial.

But really, now I wonder where you're getting all of this. Where do you get Ramona's character from? I never even got any inkling about her, whether she's ashamed or whether she has any wants and needs, nothing. The two sole flickers of life, to me, are Scott's gay roommate (forgot the name) and Knives, and they are mishandled by the script.

Honestly, the central metaphor of all the baggage people bring into a relationship, that doesn't get addressed at all. So Scott fights people, and then what? Does it really help that he gave Ramona's lesbian ex an orgasm? What about Scott's baggage? And why does Scott like or even love Ramona? for having colorful hair? I mean, what else? She has no other identifiable characteristic. So I don't root for those two, I don't even know whether Ramona want's to be with Scott. I also don't root for Scott alone because he's a prick and a douchebag. And I don't root for the vegan police because I don't get that at all.

Synecdoche broke my fucking heart. Scott Pilgrim was flashy.

But honestly, I'm glad somebody loves Scott Pilgrim. It seems like a movie that desperately wants to be loved, and at least it's a film where the filmatists tried to do something and had ambition, as opposed to the dreck of the likes of Michael Bay. And so it deserves some love.

Patrick said...

Reading that again, I think it sounds too aggressive towards you, O'John. Sorry for that, it's just I don't see at all the same film you seem to have seen. With Synecdoche, I sort of see where you're coming from (though it makes me want to see it again and see whether you're right). But SP just hit me from left field here.

Alex Jackson said...

Part One of Two

It's obvious, but if you want an example of a film that has some of the same aims as Synecdoche and yet manages to succeed, it's 2001.

No, man. I think you have a grasp on Synecdoche, but the only thing it really has in common with 2001 is that they are both "really really ambitious". I'm a huge fan of 2001 obviously, but I have no illusions that it was made with God-like detachment whereas Synecdoche was made right there in the thick of it.

What made me bring up Synecdoche was this:

Far from being about geeks or video games or effects, though, it's about a very specific stream of consciousness--how you come to realize you're not even the hero of your own story

Yes, Synecdoche is rambling and constantly shifting and you can never really connect directly with it. And yes the film is probably even a "failure". But if you are really taking that central idea of "how you come to realize that you're not even the hero of your own story" seriously. If you truly understand exactly what that implies, what exactly that really means, then you can't help but make a film just like Synecdoche. Doesn't the very existence of a fixed perspective, coherent narrative, characters you can comprehend et cetera necessarily assume that you are the hero of your own story?

In the sense that if you aren't the hero of your own story, then you don't know yourself, and if you don't know yourself your perspective of your life story cannot necessarily be an accurate one. And if you don't know yourself and cannot tell your own story then you very well can't know anybody else much less tell their life story.

I know that you kind of know all of this and I share a sort of emotional ambivalence toward the film also. I'm not sure that I would call it a cerebral exercise exactly as it is a very humanistic film and it's centered around important philosophical questions as opposed to frivilous one's like Inception's is-this-reality-or-a-dream. (You could ask that of Synecdoche though I don't see why you would bother). But as I've said, I'm not sure this is a movie I would cry at. Maybe when I get older.

But I don't think it's a movie as you are accustomed to seeing and understanding movies. I actually think it may resist scrutiny under your usual diagnostic tools. The film is more a Socratic dialogue with the viewer. It keeps on pushing and never yields. What you see as cowardice by Kaufman for not really making any choices is really him never compromising that core problem of "You're not really the hero of your own story".

Alex Jackson said...

Part Two of Two

Yes, Scott Pilgrim is less ambitious. And in a sense that rings of "go easy on the picture it's not supposed to be the end all of end alls". The notion that comparing Scott Pilgrim to Synecdoche is "silly" is offensive on its face. Edgar Wright and Charlie Kaufman both had the oppportunity to make a film. Edgar Wright made Scott Pilgrim. Charlie Kaufman made Synecdoche.

What kind of film would Edgar Wright make if he was really as "ambitious" as Kaufman? If he really gave that much of a shit? Why didn't Kaufman choose to make a film more like Scott Pilgrim than Synecdoche? Are you really going to stand by the notion that it's because Wright is a brave filmmaker and Kaufman is a cowardly one?

And of course, as has been established, they are considering the same philosphical problem in differnt ways (and I would say to different degrees).

Yeah, I don't sense the "real life" that's in Ramona. The fact that I know people like her doesn't make her any more human just that she reflects an identifiable personality type. As Patrick pointed out, I can't identify any real agenda from her. I don't know what she wants from Scott or what she gets from him.

I can generously offer that she might be putting up a preventive front, but it never really comes down and we never really see her as vulnerable or as this as compensating for her vulnerbility. (I'm not sure she ever really seemed to have a real adult relationship either). She's no Clementine in other words.

Eternal Sunshine, man. I know you grant that one "best of decade" status. Scott Pilgrim doesn't deserve to lick the dog shit off Eternal Sunshine's boots.

Particularly when comparing the bemused Eastern oriented attitude Eternal Sunshine has toward the relationship problem (where erasing our memory causes us to make all the same mistakes) with the "love is a video game" ruminations of Scott Pilgrim. He sees the exes as bosses to destroy and Ramona as a trophy to win. Jejune and self-defeating, I would agree. But he changes for the better right?

What's offensive about the "get a life" gag is not only that it is a gag and Wright isn't try to bring it above the level of a gag and it's not only its literalness. It's that this key moment is still rendered in video game veracular suggesting that Scott Pilgrim has still yet to grow up.

Scott Pilgrim is a prick and it's not only through his actions that we can call him a prick. It's because, as you have implied, only a prick would view romantic relationships through a video game veracular. That "get a life" gag seems to indicate that the film isn't just about pricks, it's a celebration of prickdom.

I don't know. Synecdoche and Scott Pilgrim are both divisive love it/hate it kind of films. And when I think of all the reasons to love and to hate Synecdoche and all the reasons to love and to hate Scott Pilgrim, Synecdoche just rises that much further in my estimation.

O'JohnLandis said...

Point by point:

1. I don't think Ramona has to want Scott as much as Scott wants Ramona in order for them to enter into a relationship. These matters are never so even. Scott loves her mystery, how aloof and worldly she is; she finds him charming and sincere. This isn't the story of the rest of their lives--they're young, and it's the story of what Scott's thinking during this time. To know too much about Ramona would take the story out of Scott's head, and this is a story in Scott's head.

2. You're out in public and worried about your appearance. Someone says your hair is shaggy. The camera cuts back to you with a hat on. Your insecurity damn near moves quickly enough to preempt your flaws.

If the video games bother you, that hat joke is the exact same kind of allegory as the video game material. A rival appears who has exactly one thing about him that makes you feel inferior. Your confrontation becomes a boss fight fixated on that one trait. You're insecure, but you're a well-rounded person and the boss only has one skill. You defeat him. Later, you realize that despite being well-rounded, you're a manipulative coward. In order to beat the final boss, you have to solve that problem.

3. I don't think Scott's a prick for seeing his life as a video game, and I wouldn't say he ever thinks of romantic relationships in video game terms. Feel free to sculpt your inner monologue as you see fit. It's not the story of someone obsessed with video games, it's the story of an inner monologue filtered through the structure of video games. I think Scott's a prick because while his inner monologue is forming a story, he ignores all his flaws. He's a cowardly storyteller, not a banal storyteller.

When I said that Scott realizes he's not the hero of his own story, I could have worded that better. What I meant was that he's not the good guy among supporting characters and villains. He could be one of Knives' evil exes. He has to change in order to earn his heroism. He becomes the hero of his own story retroactively.

4. To be ambitious is not to give a shit. Logically and practically, every film can't be maximally ambitious. Every film can't be about the totality of the human experience, plus everything else. If every film tried to be maximally ambitious, it would be clearer still how much of a mirage ambition can be. A person might be talentless and hide behind ambition that is destined to fail. The goal is to meet your level of ambition, and to meet the correct level of ambition for your project.

Scott Pilgrim is almost perfectly ambitious. 2001 is almost perfectly ambitious. 2001 is more ambitious than Scott Pilgrim, and as they're both almost perfectly ambitious, it can be concluded that 2001 is superior in terms of ambition. But Synecdoche's ambition fails--the allegory doesn't hold up to close scrutiny. Edgar Wright couldn't possibly have piled more ambition in Scott Pilgrim and kept it Scott Pilgrim. Scott Pilgrim is by necessity NOT the story of the entirety of human existence. By virture of their relative levels of success, Edgar Wright gave much more of a shit than Charlie Kaufman.

O'JohnLandis said...

5. It's easy to say that 2001 is detached and Synecdoche isn't--people have been calling 2001 detached for 40 years, even before the strained naturalism of the 70s really took hold. But as Dave is truly alone in his trip beyond Jupiter, you're both concerned about what will happen to him (he's overcome so much) AND you feel like you're in a spaceship on the verge of certain death or a miracle of discovery. It's intimate, specific, and universal, and somehow it was accomplished without knowing what Stanley Kubrick thinks about as he jerks off.

I can't imagine caring about Caden, or even thinking you know him. And at some point, don't you just have to give up on Caden as a character and let the movie wash over you, like the stoners let 2001 wash over them?

Detachment can be a tool of universality, and honestly, I think the trend of calling 2001 overly detached was a shorthand method of disqualifying it during a period of time (that hasn't really ended) in which its ambition and supposed lack of naturalism was considered jejune.

Regardless, 2001 and Synecdoche have similar structural goals. 2001 is a story of creation that becomes a story of one man that becomes a story of creation. Synecdoche is the story of a man that becomes a story of creation that becomes a story of all men. It doesn't exactly stop there. Your mind will probably wander to some of the same places while watching them.

O'JohnLandis said...

6. I shouldn't have said that comparing Scott Pilgrim and Synecdoche is silly. There are some similarities, despite the wildly different focus. Scott Pilgrim is the story of one guy's inner monologue during a short period of time. The monologue becomes allegorical, but the purpose is to show how we use stories we know (in this case, mostly video games) to contextualize our thoughts.

Synecdoche is a story about the process of exhaustive story creation as an allegory for the ways we contextualize all aspects of our lives. It's a massive topic and it can't be specific OR universal. We are not all obsessive playwrights, and the ONLY entrance point for the two main levels of the allegory--the setup and the first abstraction--is the nature of casting roles and mimicking realism in theater. The ability to reduce the allegory in Scott Pilgrim to inner monologue is vital. There are aspects of the Synecdoche allegory that work as a narrative contextualization in Caden's head AND as an abstraction of creating a play. Someone you know changing while you stay the same is like an actor improvising. Wanting someone you know to change is like an actor being recast. But the movie is afraid to commit to this read. It wants to transcend its allegory; it wants to avoid an easy analysis; and it goes way too far.

For every allegorical idea that works as Caden's inner monolgue AND play creation metaphor, the film takes two steps in other directions. The burning house is a good example. It is not a way to contextualize anything in narrative terms. Neither are the changes to Caden's wife or daughter. And the obsessive, "infinite reflection in a mirror" quality to the painstaking recreation of every detail of reality in the play is...well, not anything that fits with any other read. Being a director in a play? Well, is Caden a director or an actor? Is there a play? In order to contextualize our lives as a narrative, we needn't imagine accurate projections of projections. So fine, there's a play and he's the director. Well, there's an actor playing him. So I guess that's Caden's desire to project a different self. Except that the actor works on his own, and mostly tries to copy reality. He's a journalist. So we splinter our psyches to be our own journalists. And then our journalist dies before we do because...shit. Oh, because we never really knew ourselves. So we splinter our psyches to become our own homosexuals, except that we're pretty sure we're not a homosexual because we only really cared about this whole pscyhe-splintering play in the first place in order to get chicks. So we splinter our psyches to be our own lesbians, but only right before death. At which point we, um, die. As should the play, except that it doesn't. Unless the play is reality. Which it really, absolutely, fucking isn't.

Patrick said...

I really don't remember Synecdoche well enough to comment on details there, but for Pilgrim:

1. I agree Ramona doesn't have to want Scott equally as much – but does she even want him? How do you know she finds him charming? All I remember is her saying, "okay, we can go out, but you have to fight." She doesn't even resist the final guy's mind mojo.

2. Scott is not a well-rounded person. He is a slacker who plays badly in a band, who mistreats his younger girlfriend and owns nothing. Unless you mean to say he is equally unskilled in every part of his life, how is he well-rounded? His one strength, if you want to call it that, is his self-absorption because that enables him not to notice how flawed he is otherwise. And that's also why 3. he is a prick.

I find it illuminating how you describe the reasons for the fights. It's not really baggage of earlier relationships that Ramona has, it's that Scott feels threatened by these exes. It's not about getting over past experiences, but it's about coming to terms with the fact that your girlfriend had other boyfriends (and a girlfriend) before. However, the way Scott does that is by fighting them and proving himself superior (more or less) – a distinctly juvenile way of doing this. And I find that even more aggravating because he has had girlfriends, as well, but they pose no problem (possible because Ramona doesn't care at all about Scott and just sticks to him cause he wants her).

And that's why I 4. don't see any ambition in the characters or the plot of SP. It's probably really as ambitious as it could be and still tell the tale of a total slacker prick, i.e. not ambitious at all (just like Scott has not a lot of ambition) other than for the (wonderful) visuals.

Rick said...

Alex, you would have loved the Halloween party I went to this year, they had Trash Humpers playing off a projector onto a wall. Though you probably wouldn't have loved having to see me dressed as Lt. Dangle.

Anonymous said...

Yea good review on Trash Humpers Alex, no one rationalizes their sincere love of utter crap like you (err- that sounded different in my head)

....4 stars!?

Walter_Chaw said...

Fan mail - sort of - for Alex in my inbox:

"...Lily, a perfect fit at last for Kunis's sexy gamine"
>
> -From the Black Swan review
>
> Let's not forget this a performer you referred to as an "actress" in
> quotes.
>
> "Shatner plays opposite the gapingly untalented Kunis...first mistake, I
> suspect, is casting Shatner as a legendary professor and Kunis as a
> brilliant
> college student--where's Pauly Shore as the rocket scientist?
>
> While we're at it, regarding Jesse Eisenberg:
>
> "It's the right choice, casting thepoor man's Michael Cera, Jesse
> Eisenberg,"
>
> -From Zombieland review
>
>
> That's probably why David Fincher cast him in the movie you described as a
> version of Fight Club that avoids "pandering to some notion of a romantic
> solution capable of soothing eons of atavistic penis crises... Fight Club
> without Marla."
>
> Can FFC put up some Alex Jackson reviews instead? He actually seems to
> like
> movies.

"Aaron Campos"

Anonymous said...

Jesse Eisenberg is a better actor than Michael Cera, but he's not a better Michael Cera than Michael Cera. That was part of my problem with Zombieland.

--Kim

Anonymous said...

Interesting that the hate mail writer cites two four-star reviews to show how you don't like movies, Walter.

jer fairall said...

Looks like our Armond is at it again.

Bill C said...

Regarding Armond, I say "stop feeding the troll." Motorcycle Shirt thrives on attention, and these stunned reactions to the NYFCC dinner currently making the blog rounds are just inflating his ego. Honestly, I think it's time to stop humouring Armond and get the fuck on with our lives.

emmitt said...

I know it's Armond and all and I'm supposed to fly into a fit of rage at the mere mention of his name but I'm finding it very hard to care about him ruining the evening for a bunch of rich white people at their annual circle jerk.

Alex Jackson said...

Armond White's positive review on The Green Hornet is actually very good. The conventional wisdom could very well swing to either side, so we'll have to see what happens.

Alex Jackson said...

Ah, one star from Roger Ebert and zero from Walter. Guess this is gonna be another one of Armond's crusades against rhyme and reason.

John B. said...

Amen to that, Bill. Personally, I've reached a feeling of total indifference regarding White, who, if he really wants to grab attention and "disrupt a bunch of rich white people at their annual circle jerk," should just be truly ambitious with his agenda and start gunning for a slot at the Oscars. The contrarian routine will get fresh again and the element of surprise can be restored. Just picture him, if you can, striking out at Noah Baumbach and praising the whimsy of "Grown Ups" through song.

Patrick said...

O'John: You may have already seen this, but this comparison of Scott Pilgrim's to Inception's composition made me reconsider my opinion of SP a little; it may have been even better told than I thought. It's well worth the read, as are the other posts about Inception, and I suspect I will delve into that site a little more.

Paul S. said...

Green Hornet, you just got Chawed!

I know it's no fun to sit through shit movies, but eviscerating them through such reviews must provide some sort of catharsis, right?

Rick said...

Alex, have you seen A Serbian Film? Has anyone? It has to be the most vile, repulsive (but surprisingly well-made) film of all time, and no one has seen the damn thing.

renfield said...

I thought A Serbian Film was a repugnant joke. Violent pornography as an analogy for the Serbian national identity? Give me a fucking break!

For those that don't know, the film is about a retired male porn actor who is hired by a mysterious production company to produce a string of reality-oriented films that will deal with extremely risque subject matter. The famous sequence is one in which a man helps deliver a baby and then rapes the infant.

I would love to hear explained what about this film you found to be well made or worthwhile or otherwise redeeming. I've heard apologists (critics and the filmmakers themselves) say that "you really have to have gone through what we Serbians went through to understand the point of this film." Is it simply that the movie strives to include as much awful content as it can to mirror how awful it was to live through the Serbian conflicts? Couldn't they simply have screened any given volume of Guinea Pig with the title "A Serbian Film" and accomplished the same thing?

The movie was garnered a few chuckles due to its ill-advised attempts to be provocative, but that's as far as I can recommend it.

jer fairall said...

I realize I'm placing myself on very shaky ground by critiquing a movie I haven't seen, will never see and had not, in fact, ever heard of until an hour ago, but I was ready to call "bullshit" on A Serbian Film just from reading it's Wikipedia entry. I'm sorry, but you can't make a movie in which a newborn is raped and claim it as an allegory for the Serbian political situation because it is entirely impossible for a scene of a newborn being raped to be about anything else than a newborn being raped. The very idea is too disgusting and horrible (I got queasy just reading about the scene, I admit) for us to process it as anything other than a disgusting and horrible image. There are those who will find that outrage "valuable" in and of itself, but that's exactly the point. Claiming it as anything else takes idiotic pretension to a whole other level.

Am I making any sense?

Anonymous said...

Well, yes, and you're right. To try to read the film as anything but a compelling and effective (not to mention nasty) exploitation film is ridiculous. That said, it really is compelling and effective, not just the infamous newborn scene, but everything in its slow, twisted build up to the startlingly grotesque, nauseating ending. It's unrelenting. It's hilarious. It's disgusting. I think it's a good film - not a great one, but a good one. It's right up Alex's alley, methinks, and he'd break it down well.

renfield said...

I apologize if, by communicating that detail of the film without any warning of its nature as either a spoiler for the film or because its quite upsetting, I put anybody off. I realize that simply because I do not take a film or its content seriously doesn't mean I should expect everybody to feel the same way.

----

To explore the issue further though, I don't think it impossible that the film does carry some metaphorical weight. Aside from the aforementioned scene, there are other sections that more sophisticatedly illustrate a connection between celebrating youth and violating/corrupting it. There could have been something of use here, but so much is working against it. The film is clearly meant to be a harrowing experience for the viewer, so why add these smirking moments of levity?

Outlaw Vern said of Human Centipede, "It's not as far as I can tell one of those pretentious ones that thinks it’s showing the world some tough love by rubbing their nose in the ugliness." For the most part, Serbian Film is one of the tough love entries, so why does the guy get to boom "Newborn porn!" multiple times for comedic effect? Why do the build-ups to the shock centerpieces play out like build-ups to late night cable soft core sex scenes? For that matter why are there late night cable soft core sex scenes in this film?

I'm not buyin it!

renfield said...

"That said, it really is compelling and effective, not just the infamous newborn scene, but everything in its slow, twisted build up to the startlingly grotesque, nauseating ending."

Put side by side with things like I Stand Alone or Visitor Q I can't imagine describing this film as compelling or effective. Visitor Q was no masterpiece, for example, but to me this is an issue of real heavy metal versus Limp Bizkit. Maybe it sounds intense if all you've heard is The Beatles, I dunno.

jer fairall said...

Taking a break from all the newborn rape to join a half-year-old conversation, I finally saw Inception and am now doing my usual post-movie review reading ritual (typically: FFC, Ebert, Armond, Slant--say what you will about some of those critics, it generally makes for an intriguing contrast) and I gotta say that I've rarely agreed with the details of a review more than I do with Chaw's take on this one. (All except the part about No Country For Old Men and The Dark Knight being equals, that is.)

"For a film about dreams, it's distinctly light on possibility." That sums it right up for me.

Rick said...

Sorry, bringing it back to newborn rape, that scene is the most straightforward metaphor of all-time, when you are born in Serbia, you are pretty much fucked. The film is really that stupid, but the simplified, borderline sarcastic title "A Serbian Film", and the over-the-top screaming of "Newborn Porn!" and the absurdity of actually having intercourse with a newborn baby, makes me believe that it was never meant to be that deep, or serious.

A Serbian Film is empty, revolting, and at times, inappropriately funny. And even though it is shocking for shock's sake, the end scene is genuinely shocking, it's a doozy, and somewhat earned because they do at least put in a little effort into character development, for what it is.

When I stated that A Serbian Film was well-made, I was referring to the cinematography, not anything else really. But essentially the only thing I truly like about the film is the boundary-smashing. Yea, shit like this gets old, but man, despite desperately trying too hard, this one is still extremely effective. I felt soul-sick for a while after it ended, and feeling something is better than feeling nothing I suppose. Props for the filmmakers for doing the opposite of playing it safe.

The subtext isn't very substantial, more missed opportunities than anything. I wish it had more to say about Serbian Politics, and the filmmakers have a potentially brilliant scene inter-cutting adult fellatio with forced imagery of underage lollipop licking, but it ends there. They do have balls for even going there for a short while though, but it could have been a full-out media attack if they weren't so damn lazy. Either way, the movie is idiotic but fun, in the way that "they did not go there!" is fun. That's about it. I would love to hear Alex chime in though, if he ever gets around to see it.

jer fairall said...

the filmmakers have a potentially brilliant scene inter-cutting adult fellatio with forced imagery of underage lollipop licking

See, even that sounds like crap to me. So, adult (the word "consensual" is implied by that, though in the case of this film I know that may very well not be the case) fellatio is the same thing as the sexually suggestive exploitation as children? I am reminded of the not-at-all underrated John Malkovich film Trucker with its equation of his character's affair with one of his university students with a literal rape perpetuated onto another female character in the film. It all sounds like powerful, upsetting imagery being used by people either not smart enough to understand it, or looking to dress up their provocation in redemptive "meaning".

jer fairall said...

Meant to write "sexually suggestive exploitation *of* children" in that last grammatical clusterfuck of a post.

And since I've been doing nothing but kvetching here lately, I will say on a positive note that the Coens' True Grit has been positively haunting me ever since I saw it nearly two weeks ago now. No wonder everything else that I've been seeing or reading about lately seems frivolous by contrast.

jer fairall said...

I'm just full of errors today. The Malkovich film I refer to above is in fact Disgrace, not Trucker. Trucker is a different pseudo-serious indie drama that only Ebert liked.

Rick said...

It all sounds like powerful, upsetting imagery being used by people either not smart enough to understand it, or looking to dress up their provocation in redemptive "meaning".

That's basically it in a nutshell. But the only other detail would be that after loosely tying in some obvious metaphor, they finish off scenes with a tongue-in-cheek tone. This abandoning of deeper examination is basically an admission of their own shallow perspectives. And Laziness. It's the Family Guy of horror movies in that sense.

A Serbian Film would be a great double-bill with Antichrist. Both are beautifully shot, powerful, illogical relating to realistic character actions, and both are not as smart as they think they are.

renfield said...

"when you are born in Serbia, you are pretty much fucked. The film is really that stupid"

I'm with you this far, but if what makes the movie worthwhile despite being stupid is that it is well executed, I can only shrug. I thought the film was purposefully shot to resemble the bored, desensitized voyeurism of actual pornography. Whatever, I think the differences in our reactions to the film boil down to: you found it aesthetically more effective than I do, and I'm more than willing to accept that and move on.

And yes, I too wonder what Mr. Jackson's opinion would be.

Rick said...

Jer, when I brought up the inter-cutting fellatio/young girl scene, my main point was I thought it could be a criticism on general media sexualized imagery associated with or overlapping images which are not sexual, in effect, sexualizing all aspects which are involved. I mean, the filmmakers within the film are brainwashing Miloš with this kind of imagery, and towards the end he has to hurl himself out a window to resist the young girl, but once again, this scene is ended in a sickly comedic manner, and no societal issues are truly examined. But they brought it up, they should get credit for that I suppose, though they could have handled such issues with more subtlety and thought.

Yea, can't wait see hear Alex's input if he sees it, regarding this type of film, he seems to see things from more angles than the average person.

Alex Jackson said...

Yeah, when I get a chance to see it I promise to give everyone a full review.

St said...

Bill, you might enjoy this economics-based critique of Ferris Bueller:

http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2011/01/20/totaling-the-ferrari-ferris-bueller-revisited/

JF said...

This is old, but I found this rather irritating:

"Lynch should be considered Kaufman-lite."

Or how about Lynch be considered Lynch and Kaufman be considered Kaufman, because beyond being reality-warping their sensibilities have very little in common? Kaufman is intellectual and primarily a writer and Lynch isn't especially intellectual and is primarily a director. The former is Woody Allen plus Borges and the latter is Norman Rockwell plus Francis Bacon.

I've seen Scott PIlgrim twice and have come to the conclusion that it's simultaneously self-amused (without being particularly hilarious) and insubstantial-seeming in a way Wright's other movies are not, and so well-crafted and alive that I would happily sit through it two more times. There's definitely something to the contention that it's more nuanced than it seems at first, even if those nuances don't totally resonate yet for me.

And I'm taking it Walter didn't pick up on the ambiguous menace lurking beneath the perceived tweeness of Wild Grass, which I found to be a thoroughly enjoyable fuck you to pretty much any expectation one might bring to a film, beyond that it look fucking amazing, have Matthew Amalric in it, and provide absurdist giggles.

DaveA said...

@Alex: Did you see Lucky McKee's The Woman at Sundance? That one seems to have made quite a stir in the audience...

KayKay said...

RIP John Barry

Time to pop in my Dances With Wolves CD again and swig from the luxurious springs of The John Dunbar, Wolf and Love themes….

Paula said...

Okay, well, I thought Scott Pilgrim was a better generation-defining movie than The Social Network. But I'm a geek and FWIW, Scott Pilgrim is speaking in the very specific language of geek-dom that isn't really concerned with an objective [read:"adult"] perspective.

It's not even that I'm a gamer. It's just that Wright was seeking to translate a certain way of viewing and responding to the world that's based on entirely on random pop culture references, but his palette skews younger and junkier than, say, Tarantino's. (In contrast, the original graphic novels are a lot more introspective and manage to present things from the female characters' POV).

Nothing this year (or the past 2 years, really) that matched Scott Pilgrim for balls-out joy in maximizing the screen.

Wright doesn't really care about teaching anything, so I don't really care whether or not anyone learns anything about real life or relationships from this movie. That being said, the "love story" is pretty much a red herring. SP is a self-hating slacker douchebag who needs to kick his own ass before he can begin to think about being in a functional relationship, and that's what most of the movie seems to be about (see also: High Fidelity).