Saturday, February 26, 2011
2010's TOP HATS: WAVING GOODBYE TO THE VERY BEST OF A VERY GOOD MOVIE YEAR
The late Gwen Welles, an actress I love who I got to know again this past year, waves good-bye to what has to be termed a very good year for movies.
Take a look at a lot of the year-end summations that we all read which try to bring a little focus to the overall picture of the previous 12 months in movies, and oftentimes what you’ll see is a lot of verbiage dedicated to how this year somehow fell short of the banner year that was 19XX or 20YY. Personally, I never feel that I have the capacity to be so sweeping in my assessments as to be able to recall with any accuracy how last year measured up to, say, 1997, or 2003, without digging through a stack of notes and weighing the properties of each 12-month period like a mad chemist. Going into the last couple of months of 2010 I know I certainly felt as though this wasn’t going to be a year full of too much excitement as it all got summed up and the last of the year’s films, big and small, came trickling into theaters.
The thing I didn’t take into account, which I seem never to take into account, that is most certainly true, especially since I’ve been doing these late-arriving grand summations myself, is that so much of what constitutes the year I won’t even get a shot at seeing until December gets under way. Forget about the big awards-bait releases and family-oriented blockbusters; many of the films that I would naturally find fascinating I just flat-out missed during their inevitably brief runs in theaters six or so months earlier (if they even had such releases). The playing field has most certainly been leveled by the advent of Netflix, Vudu and all the different options one has for seeing movies on phones and other portable devices —suddenly everyone can see Sweetgrass or Dogtooth or I Am Love or any number of lower-profile films at their convenience, whether or not they are lucky enough to live in a city where there is a revival or second-run art screen devoted to playing such titles.`
Of course the big screen is always the best option—squinting out a viewing of Vincere or Top Hat or Once Upon a Time in the West on an iPod screen might be an acceptable last resort if you’re on an airplane, but it’s not the best way to access anything close to a movie’s full emotional effect. And yet critics as well as viewers have had to become a whole lot less choosy about when and where they see the films that matter most in a given year-- our viewing habits as a whole have undergone and continue to undergo radical shifts each year, it seems, as the movies which we’ve always had to make a concerted effort to seek out are suddenly coming to us, and right alongside the big dogs like Inception and Toy Story 3.which are practically impossible to avoid. So certainly, if we go off the beaten path and seek out some of these titles that may not pop up at the top of the “Most Watched” search engines on whatever service we happen to be using, our chances of broadening our experience during a given movie year brighten considerably, as do the chances that what might have seemed a mediocre movie year at first glance can morph into one in which there were more happy surprises than dull disappointments.
As I look over my own list I can observe that I managed to see, as of this writing, just about 100 movies that were released in the year 2010. (I will now pause for a brief moment to allow the full improbability of this achievement to sink in.) Of those 100, roughly 55 of them I saw in a darkened movie theater on a big screen. Just over half! That’s kind of a marvelous, weird and unsettling little statistic. But what’s more heartening is that only about 30% of that 100 are titles for which I have anything like serious reservations. To put it completely inelegantly, that means that I “liked” seven out of every 10 movies I saw that came out in the year 2010. I’ll leave that up to you, Dear Reader, to decide whether or not that makes me an easily appeased, popcorn-munching tool of corporate Hollywood and worldwide filmmaking conglomerates, or simply a very lucky moviegoer. (Something else that might also factor into your conclusion is that there are approximately 70 other movies released this past year that I haven’t yet seen, many of which could definitely be germane in any discussion of the year’s best.) Personally, while I don’t entirely discount the possibility that I’ve been happily duped on occasion-- I will talk somewhere in this post about a couple of movies I “liked” that most discerning, thoughtful people I know “didn’t like”-- I prefer to think that the results of my own attempts to be a little more choosy, not just about what I saw in theaters but what I saw, period, have simply borne unusually tasty fruit this year. And when I think about the close to 100 other movies I saw theatrically this year that were products of a time before January 2010, my enthusiasm for the year in movies really starts to spike.
So then this version of my annual year-end summation will be, perhaps more than the others, my attempt to try and express what the movie year meant to me, not only framed in terms of which of the year’s releases burrowed deepest into my heart and my brain, but also by my experiences talking about movies, seeing movies with friends, in particular places, where special things happened and unforgettable connections were made. What it will not be is some kind of all-inclusive overview of the year from the most complete and objective perspective, one which is simply not available to any critic, professional or otherwise—no matter your level of geekdom or erudite intent, no matter whether you have a life outside a darkened theater or whether movies are close to all you know, no one can see ‘em all.
A lot of very good things happened to me and to this blog in 2010, and as the year closed up I spent perhaps an inordinate amount of time concerned about the way the blog has changed since I started it in 2004; how it has been affected by Facebook and other social networking outlets; how its focus has been altered by the amount of time I’ve been able to devote to it; and whether or not I’ll have the kind of focus in the coming year to keep the creativity and the inspiration flowing in the way I’ve come to demand of myself. In a way, these are the kinds of questions I seem to start every year with. But for some reason I look out at the horizon past which the coming year awaits and I feel as much foreboding as heady anticipation. Maybe for the first time I’m looking toward this time next year without a clear idea of where this blog or its writer will be when the calendar comes back around again. That can be a frightening thing to contemplate—my mind turns to thoughts about basic survival and the constant process of evaluation that I put myself through regarding my worth and effectiveness as a father, husband and source of happiness and well-being for my family.
I think of the words a wise man, one of the first friends I ever made as a result of writing this blog, once recently told me, that it’s better to do what you can do, do it well and try to leave the worry about things you can’t control by the side of the road. That’s not quite the same thing as a kind of go-with-the-flow sentiment where we can just give up all responsibility and just let the waves sweep up onto whatever shore they choose. It’s an acknowledgment that the world is bigger than we are, but within our own sphere of influence what we do is important, even the stuff that can’t be catalogued in any obvious, practical way. It’s what makes me realize that it does matter if I start the day with a laugh or a joke because that affects the way my daughters and my wife see at least the start of their own 24-hour journeys. It’s what makes me realize that the work I do might seem like an uphill boulder-pushing contest at times, but it is work in which I can still take pride, that facilitates some of the smaller joys in my life and the chance to pursue bigger ones. And it’s what makes me realize that, even if I’m not knocking out seven posts a week, like I tended to do in the beginning, if what I write for this blog comes from the right place, then there’s the chance that it might mean something to someone else too, regardless of hit counts or length of comment threads or anything of those ancillary goodies. These are the things I can control, and if nothing else I hope that 2011, both the movies and the life contained therein, will give me ample opportunities to exercise good judgment and thought and enthusiasm that will somehow make the days richer for myself, my family, and for everyone this humble enterprise manages to touch.
As I have expressed, the year was a far richer one than a simple top 10 list, at least as far as my own limited capacity for such things goes, could ever express. It truly has been an exceptional year in terms of the movies released this year that I managed to see, and so I’ve had to rejigger my approach somewhat. Time (mine) and patience (yours) simply won’t accommodate 300-400 words on every 2010 movie I felt strongly about, but the desire remains to talk about the ones that would necessarily land outside the top 10 in some form or fashion, as a way of recommending further investigation (mine and yours) in the future. So I’ve decided to give lengthier attention to only the movies that managed to squeak into my top 10—these are movies, especially the bottom five, that, were it any other day, could just as easily be replaced by any of the 30 movies that will follow the top 10 discussion. These are movies for which the term “honorable mention” is simply inadequate—they too are among the best of the year, and had I been self-indulgent enough to go for it this list could and would be composed of my favorite 40 films of 2010. But in looking at the 30 films outside the Hallowed 10, I noticed, either through desperation or sheer coincidence, that they could be grouped thematically in ways that weren’t immediately apparent to me before, ways which might make discussion simpler and at the same time accentuate elements of each of the films that I felt were important. So the 30 films following the Hallowed 10 find themselves placed in one of six convenient categories that bring some unintentional unity to the year and give me a way of celebrating them as marvelous and challenging achievements in their own right.
On we go then to my 10 favorite films of 2010 as decided upon this day, February 26, 2011, the day before the Academy Awards are announced. Tomorrow those favorite 10 could be slightly or considerably different choices, or the same choices reassembled in a different order. This list, like most lists of this type, is a snapshot of a fixed moment in an ever-shifting perspective. At some point the little boy has to sit still and let the picture be taken. So here I go, sitting up straight, looking at the camera. Snap! Flash! Go!
10) UNSTOPPABLE (Tony Scott) One of the movies’ most reliably impatient filmmakers, Tony Scott finally finds the perfect subject for his motion-centric, hyper-caffeinated aesthetic—a runaway train— and rides it straight up the spinal columns of his audience like a spastic punk who without warning suddenly reveals himself to be a master entertainer. This 200-ton devil (identified with some wit as number 777) is set in motion by a simple blunder at the switching station, but other than a bit of derision at the expense of the bored fella whose inattention sets the beast loose Unstoppable is rooted in respect for its blue-collar milieu, particularly the two unlikely heroes (Denzel Washington, Chris Pine) who find themselves in what would seem a futile, perhaps fatal pursuit of the train. But that respect extends even to the dark green shadows of the Pennsylvania countryside, compressed by long lenses but never artificially smudged up or intended to represent the dingy landscape of the dead, never less than eerily beautiful yet still recognizably working-class, through which the monster threads its way at 77 miles per hour. Scott even gives the train itself a frightening personality that extends beyond its uncontrolled speed, imbuing it with some of the same mysterious existential rage that animated the truck in Duel. Unstoppable pinpoints its central appeal—relentless forward motion—as both a grim joke and a worthy pursuit in itself, but it isn’t exhausting or paradoxically listless in its hyperactivity, like Scott’s films have been in the past. This is the rare action movie that connects with its audience as much through a fluttering in the gut or the recognition of real life at its edges as it does through the sparked collision of muscular imagery, the relentless, animalistic howl of a raging engine or the shriek of screeching wheels on hot rail.
9) EASY A (Will Gluck) Almost any random minute of Easy A would qualify the movie for inclusion on this list for me, because almost every minute features Emma Stone as Olive Penderghast, North Ojai High's heiress apparent to the spirit, if not the legacy or fate of Hester Prynne. Olive, through a set of convoluted circumstances the likes of which will not be unfamiliar to connoisseurs of teen-oriented comedies, finds herself the object of salacious rumors, perpetrated in part by herself, which result in her becoming the go-to girl for unconsummated, wholly fictitious trysts meant to prop up the reputations of her supposed partners. When Olive, unable to stop the ball she herself has set in motion from rolling further downhill, embraces her nouveau-slutty persona, the results are predictably complicated but also rather unpredictably hilarious. Olive has a loving, supporting family (Stanley Tucci, Patrick Clarkson, and an adopted African-American brother played by Bryce Clyde Jenkins), one of those kitchen-centric, sitcom-derived units whose members never do anything but hang around the house and act as an unflappable sounding board for Olive’s increasingly complicated concerns. As such, they function as a refreshing rejoinder to the depiction of adults and family in the John Hughes universe, from which Easy A derives its primary template and context, as clueless and ineffectual or simply corrupt. In a very real way, Easy A is the best John Hughes movie ever made, better than any he ever made himself, even if it ultimately owes more in tone to the snap-happy universe of Glee than to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or even Amy Hecklering’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Easy A bests the Hughes model through its nimble, smart-aleck screenplay (by Bert Royal) and its invincible wild card, the exceedingly sharp, always endearing Stone. Here is an heiress apparent not to Prynne but to the madcap heroines of the golden age of screwball comedy. Were there a time machine to take her there I believe Stone could be dropped, as is, straight into 1930s Hollywood and competition against the high-speed royalty of the genre for all the best and brightest roles, with little doubt she could hold her own. She has the stuff real stars are made of. No flavor-of-the-moment sweetie pie, she’s a tart meringue who emerges from this unexpectedly rich teen comedy fully ready to take on all comers for now and the foreseeable future.
"I got a pocket, got a pocket full of sunshine..."
"What?! Who told you that?!"
8) THE GHOST WRITER (Roman Polanski) Edited and finished while its director languished under house arrest in Zurich, fighting extradition for well-documented child molestation crimes committed here in America, The Ghost Writer is a remarkable movie in the Polanski canon not least for its urgency, expressed not by a restless camera or multiple planes of thematic distraction but instead by its seemingly implacable, fatalistic pull, an acknowledgment that even the puppet master may be dangling on strings of his own devising. The movie’s surface betrays barely a ripple; the thunder and anguish and slowly mounting dread, that very Polanski-esque sensation of sinister forces that may be lying in wait just around a corner, within a friendly distance, are expressed almost exclusively by what the characters swirling around the titular figure are most hesitant to reveal. That titular figure, known only as the Ghost Writer, is played with an appealing sheen of seen-it-all cynicism by Ewan McGregor, hired to ghost-write the memoir of an exiled Tony Blair-esque politician (Pierce Brosnan, never better) while the politician awaits word on whether he is to be indicted for war crimes committed while carrying out duties as a dupe of U.S. imperialist imperatives in the Middle East. The previous ghost writer has gone missing and his closer-than-usual ties with the politician’s family and staff, including the P.M.’s brittle and angry wife (Olivia Williams), powerful and slyly insinuating press secretary (Kim Cattrall) are only the tip of the iceberg McGregor finds himself in the process of slowly, inexorably revealing. His process mirrors Polanski’s own methods—both suspense and revelation are conjured and released through glances, atmosphere, set design, casual observations—and the result is a classically modulated, unnervingly funny, demonstrably sick joke in which the director, perhaps confronting intimations of his own legal and artistic fate, sets his own head back for the last, cruel laugh.
7) CARLOS (Olivier Assayas) This five-and-a-half hour historical epic (it’s not a biopic in any sense of the word with which we’ve become familiar) about the exploits of the mercenary assassin Carlos, the Jackal, gains its power through its unusually cogent amassing of both historical and dramatic detail and an outrageous sense of its own form. Carlos (brilliantly, arrogantly embodied by the Venezulean actor Edgar Ramirez, who first impressed me in Tony Scott’s diabolically unhinged Domino) embarks on his tour of international terrorism by fancying himself as a third-world revolutionary of the first order—he takes Che Guevara as his role model. But the fascinating portrayal which director Assayas has crafted, with the expansive canvas allowed him, ironically, by French television (for which the film was originally produced), is that of a man in thrall to image, whose own intellectual pretensions cannot carry the weight of his own impulsive tendencies, his own porous grasp of ideology and finally, his mounting and obsessive paranoia. Carlos is a movie of aesthetic and narrative extremes that seems naturally inclined, and may in fact be designed, to thwart attempts by both neo-con pundits who would condemn it for the simple fact of its existence (as if the undertaking of an explosively political subject such as this is tantamount to endorsement of its characters’ most foul and reckless actions) and those sympathetic to the philosophy of terrorism who will be dissatisfied with the movie’s refusal to ignore Carlos’ shortcomings, both as a terrorist and as a man, or play into the self-created mythology Carlos himself and his supporters so relentlessly promoted. Assayas’ attitude is weighty and grand here, but also surprisingly playful, especially with the film form itself, indulging in a jagged, piquant editing strategy and use of music in and out of the period for its emotional tenor that encourages the full five and a half hours to pass with minimum discomfort and maximum engagement. And the movie’s central set piece, Carlos’ misjudged and ill-fated taking of hostages at a conference of OPEC oil ministers in Vienna, is a virtuoso sequence that is riveting in its sustained dread, gallows humor and human horror, providing ample evidence, as the film does on the whole, that Assayas may be international cinema’s most adept practitioner of the epic cross-wired with the intimate. (For more on Carlos, please read Glenn Kenny’s outstanding, insightful interview with Olivier Assayas originally published by MUBI.)
Taking hostages at an OPEC summit; Edgar Ramirez in Carlos
6) THE KILLER INSIDE ME (Michael Winterbottom) Film noir has become an increasingly popular genre, especially for cinephiles but also for the broader audience of classic film aficionados. But as deep and dark as film noir has often gone-- Out of the Past, The Phenix City Story to cite but two examples-- The Killer Inside Me, adapted from Jim Thompson’s novel, may be one of the nastiest, darkest, most disturbing noir works ever produced, one to challenge the commitment of those only casually engaged with the form. Winterbottom’s brilliantly modulated filmmaking takes us to a place where there is literally no escape, a place where desire and rage coexist in their most irrational state. For the entirety of the film we’re deep inside the perspective of Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), a man with a badge and an outwardly genial psychopath whose murderous inclinations are the stuff of classic noir—an inability to not follow through on one’s most troubling impulses, the bad luck that often gets mixed in with those impulses-- but whose submersion in the consequences of those inclinations approach Shakespearean levels of horror. The key to Thompson’s vision (and Winterbottom’s adaptation) is fealty to seeing the world through this man’s eyes, and what he sees (and what we see through him) is not pretty. A film about “the killer inside me,” it was roundly criticized for following through on the most grisly implications of that first-person identification. But the film holds the line on Thompson’s notions of how easily the boundaries of mutual consent in matters of sexual desire can topple into brutality, and it offers none of the handy explanation of Ford’s psychosis to make the violence he perpetrates more palatable. Ford, as realized by Affleck and Winterbottom, may be one of the most terrifying figures in all of cinema, made all the more so by the emptiness we find inside him and the calm, implacable surface he presents to the arid, amoral world outside. The blows Ford delivers, with a kiss and whispered sentiments of sweet departure, hurt like hell, and they should, in a way that violence in the movies almost never does. (For more insight into The Killer Inside Me, I refer you to Jim Emerson who wrote most brilliantly and invaluably about it back in June.)
5) ANOTHER YEAR (Mike Leigh) The opening shot of Mike Leigh’s new film submerges us into the weary visage of a woman (Imelda Staunton) for whom life has yielded naught but sorrow and disappointment and is likely to soon stop yielding even that. Staunton gives up her face to the camera in a way that few actors do, or would be asked to do, in a series of close-ups that emphasize the degree to which this woman has been beaten down and brutalized by a life of no specified detail. Leigh’s unforgiving camera provides a probing metaphor for the medical exam the woman is enduring, and for the psychological therapy which will be recommended to her. And as we get to know Lesley Manville’s Mary, a depressed, clinging and desperate woman who remains tantalizingly outside the warmer confines of support and family exemplified by her friends Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), Staunton’s look of defeated pall lingers. Perhaps Leigh intends this woman to be a signifier, a glimpse of a possible future for Mary, herself bruised but not yet unwilling to at least try to bounce back from the disappointments, many of them self-generated, life continues to offer her. Or perhaps the director just loves the ashen contours of Staunton’s sorrowful face, its own kind of tattered beauty. (Staunton’s image and resignation here reminds me of a picture I once took of my own grandmother a year or so before she died; she was a woman creased and exhausted by the daily grind of her life and I swear I could see her in Staunton’s dimmed eyes.) The actress, a Leigh veteran Oscar-nominated in 2005 for the director’s Vera Drake, is seen in the film’s opening five minutes and never again, but her weary eyes and clenched jaw, hardly masking the crushing fatigue of her soul, are unforgettable. She frames the whole of Leigh’s serenely piercing, nonjudgmental and empathetic portrait of the contentment, power and limitations of friendship and family with the awful poetry found in the visible remnants of this woman’s wrung-out life.
Mary (Lesley Manville) meet's Joe's girlfriend, from Another Year.
4) MOTHER (Bong Joon-ho) The weirdly primal dance performed at the beginning of this exceptionally unsettling thriller by Korean actress Hye-Ja Kim, the film’s titular matriarch, is strangely beautiful, ethereally unhinged. There’s a communication with nature going on here, but the undercurrent of undefined emotion, perhaps buried too deep to be ever understood, ripple serious dread on the surface of the splendidly ghostly wide-screen images of this woman moving alone, laughing, glancing backward through a quiet rural landscape at (as we will find out) a most desperate expression of familial love. The movie itself consciously parries with the heavily Hitchcock-influenced history of overly protective figures of motherhood while never giving in to overt homage. The creature at the center of this film, created collaboratively by actress and director, is far too richly imagined to turn into a one-note joke. Kim’s singular horror at the thought of her slightly retarded son being put away for a crime she knows—as only a mother knows—he couldn’t have committed sends her on the trail of the real killer when the local constabulary, sympathetic to her fears, chooses to accept the circumstantial evidence and try the boy for the brutal rape-murder of a local girl. Bong’s visual sense is languid and thick, his compositions disorientingly seductive, drawing us in to the film’s mystery with a surety matched only by Kim’s increasingly desperate impulses. When she finally comes face to face with the truth, it’s not only the mystery that has become unraveled—the movie’s startling shift in perspective is like being carried down a placid river, aware of the roiling beneath, and straight over an unexpected waterfall. Kate Bush once wrote that “Mother stands for comfort;” listening to the song, it’s easy to suppose as to whom she was probably thinking. Bong Joon-ho understands the deepest extensions of the comfort Bush had in mind; his brilliant thriller brings into sharp relief, amplified by dizzying madness, just how far a woman can go toward expressing the shrieking, hysterical conviction of a mother’s love. Somewhere in a run-down house, along a deserted highway, a dehydrated corpse in a fruit cellar is spinning and rocking with envy.
An interview with Mother director Bong Joon-ho
3) TOY STORY 3 (Lee Unkrich) Despite, or perhaps because of, its utter mastery of the marketplace and the unalloyed joys of the first two Toy Story pictures, was there any more unlikely development in the movies of 2010 than the emergence of yet a third chapter in the ongoing (but apparently now completed) adventures of Woody, Buzz and the rest of the playtime denizens of Andy’s bedroom? The only cynicism that holds water in regard to this profoundly emotional movie, as eloquent an examination of how we represent our childhood to ourselves and what the past can mean to us even as we have to let it go, can be located in its use of 3D. Like the 3D conversions of the first two films proved, Toy Story 3 belongs to a series of animated films that already feel like they’re in 3D without the help of the latest technology or those unwieldy and expensive goggles. A movie this assured, this funny, this true to its characters which can still find room to bring on two more brilliantly realized portrayals into the fold (the hilariously metrosexual Ken, the ostensibly warm and jocular Lots O’ Huggin’ Bear whose sinister stuffed heart is revealed to be anything but inviting) is in no need of visual gimmickry; it already has far more dimensions than just three. In classic Pixar fashion the movie’s concerns are framed by an unusual spirit of playful detail—the machinations that get our toys boxed up and sent away are the stuff of perfectly pitched physical farce, and the realization of the day care facility in which they find themselves imprisoned is as rich a field of visual comedy as one could hope for, all of it leading toward a hilarious nod to The Great Escape. One of the differences between the Pixar approach to such material and, say, Dreamworks, is that for the latter the pop culture references (which date as fast as a gallon of milk) are the pot of gold. But in Toy Story 3 the escape leads to some heart-wrenching and serious moments which force the heroes to consider what they really mean to each other, while we in the audience do the same. Their final betrayal at the fluffy paws of the spectacularly unredeemed Lots o’ Huggin’ Bear, which results in the orange-lit clasping of hands over a fiery furnace that promises sure extermination, is the entire series’ masterful and respectful peak of storytelling. The fact that we know they will survive doesn’t matter—it’s entirely enough that they think they’re goners. It’s a mark of just how sure is Unkrich and company’s touch that such powerful emotion could override our own subliminal certitude that, nah, Woody and Buzz and company could never come to such a brutal end. The absolute glory of Toy Story 3 then arrives when we discover that, after our friends’ narrow escape, the truest tears have still yet to be shed.
The return of old friends...
2) LET ME IN (Matt Reeves) Critic Matt Zoller Seitz, writing for the Slate Movie Club last month, admitted that this version of Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 film Let the Right One In, itself an adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel, had caused him to reevaluate what is practically a standard critical credo regarding remakes as irrefutable evidence of the greed of studios and the bankruptcy of pop culture. “The batting average of remakes is no better or worse than the batting average of originals,” wrote Seitz. “Musicians cover great pop songs without being condemned in advance. Filmmakers deserve the same privilege.” No film in recent memory has provided a firmer foundation on which to stand with such a conviction than Let Me In, the first production from the newly-revived Hammer Films. Some of the details have been altered slightly—the new film unfolds in the snow-encrusted courtyard of a Santa Fe housing project during the Reagan era rather than the previous film’s Swedish locale, and an aborted attack on a victim which rouses the fury of some heretofore placid housecats and ends in a horrific hospital conflagration benefits from Reeves' rather more sober-faced tone. But in essence, this story of the uneasy friendship between a bullied schoolboy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and the vampire who moves in next door (she looks like a 12-year-old Chloe Moretz on the outside, but inside she’s far older) retains the potency and ambiguity of the original film, equaling and at times besting the film’s examination of the chilled longing and undeniably wrenching implications of the relationship at its heart. Reeves, the director of the far more jittery (yet also surprising) Cloverfield, works masterfully in close-ups with his young cast, narrowing the depth of field to a sliver of clarity over their faces that hints at long-buried anguish, and he brings a welcome hush and stillness to the frosted nocturnal landscapes of urban New Mexico, which only heightens the jagged, exhilarating, sickening rush when the movie gets up and moves. (The clip below highlights one of the movie’s most disarmingly bravura sequences, an instant classic of disorienting quiet smashed up against disorienting motion which outdoes anything in the original or even the rest of the remake.) The unsettling implications about the boy that rise even before the arrival of his undead friend, and the agony surrounding the girl’s ill-fated assistant (here movingly, frighteningly realized by Richard Jenkins), both of which suffused the original film, survive here and perhaps resonate even more deeply. But it’s still the ambiguous reciprocal need of the relationship between the boy and the girl that propels this new classic, one which will reveal itself long after the film is over as a profoundly one-way street. The getaway ride that ends this film still leads to hell.
I got sick of listening to it automatically start up every time this page opened up, so I have replaced the embedded player with this link to a terrific interview with director Matt Reeves.
One of the best scenes of the year, from Let Me In
1) PLEASE GIVE (Nicole Holofcener) No stranger to biting, intelligently observed roundelays of character and cross-wired purposes, writer-director Nicole Holofcener delivered an honest and precious gem this year, a superb, apparently endlessly resonant comedy about good intentions, selfish intentions and the derailed results that come from each. Please Give is set amongst a group of characters who alternate between sweet empathy and sour lack of regard for the people populating their peripheral vision, all of whom revolve around each other in a Manhattan so keenly, vividly realized as to seem almost alien (unless, if enthusiastic testimony can be believed, you live there). Holofcener muse Catherine Keener is a vintage furniture dealer whose business, which she operates with husband Oliver Platt, is built on scavenging the estates of the newly deceased and who patiently waits for her elderly, and from all encounters ghastly neighbor (Ann Guilbert, radiating caustic genius) to kick the bucket so they can expand their apartment into hers. Rebecca Hall plays a radiologist’s assistant, obviously beautiful but insecure, particularly with her own relatively gangly body. She’s the granddaughter of the elderly neighbor, who strikes up an unlikely camaraderie with Keener’s insecure teenage daughter (Sarah Steele) because she can’t relate to the sneering, casual cruelty of her own sister (Amanda Peet). Desperate for a connection to this pimply, sarcastic teenager who finds her slightly ridiculous, Keener plies compliant or at least subdued behavior from the girl by praising her personality but inadvertently shoring up her insecurities as well while her husband, despite his obvious love for and connection with his wife, decides to follow his impulsive attraction to Peet wherever it leads.
The movie, which traverses the ambiguous field of meaning that subtly informs Keener’s desire to contribute something to her fellow man, makes plenty of room for challenging and examining the motivations of its characters. Is Keener’s sense of social responsibility sincere, or is it borne of guilt or, in the case of her relationship with her daughter, a need for surface placidity to replace the encroaching upheaval within her own apartment’s walls? Holofcener offers up behavioral patterns in parenting and general social relations that are often uncomfortable, sometimes enraging, almost always curdled from the point of conception, but in context completely believable, and with a stunning lack of judgment. Holofcener’s surprisingly even-tempered and dare I say grown-up approach to Platt’s infidelity is handled with such grace and lack of moral bile that it proves a corrective to the on-the-nose outrage over a similar situation in the more widely seen and praised The Kids Are All Right.
Please Give refuses to snap into relief and instruct you what to think when the last shot gives way to the end credits, when the debate over the motivations and behavior of these wittily, realistically realized characters can truly begin. Nicole Holofcener means to send you out of the theater ready to call her characters on the carpet, especially when it seems they’ve finally figured things out, but at the same time she does not preclude the possibility that what looks like indulgence to one pair of eyes may be a redemptive solution to another. This was exemplified by my own rather nonplussed reaction to what I perceived as Keener’s appeasement of her daughter through the purchase of a pair of $300 jeans. It took the well-articulated observations of another viewer who loved the film as much as I did to make me consider that what Holofcener fashions with this act of “appeasement” may in fact be a perfectly valid iteration of the old saw “charity begins at home.” (I refer to you the comments thread of this SLIFR Tree House post to read the entirety of Marc Edward Heuck’s thoughtful response to my initial less-than-generous observation.) A film that lives as rich and vivid life in the memory as it does when it engages you in real time with its sublime images, probing screenplay and the multitude of gifts, incidental and central, which its wonderful cast offers to the viewer one after the other, Please Give is an unassuming masterpiece, easily the best movie of 2010.
Anne Thompson talks to Nicole Holofcener, part 1...
...and part 2.
The trailer for Please Give
The rest of the year was so rich that a simple accounting of “the bottom 10” or sewing up of matters under the banner of “Honorable Mention” just wouldn’t do. But as I looked over the films that I liked best this year which didn’t quite make the rarified air of the Top 10, I realized that were I to give 300 words to each of the rest of these movies I could very well be working on this piece in April with no real hope of ever saying everything that needs to be said. But I could reduce the possibility of overstaying my welcome and yet still manage to say a (very) little about each film by recognizing the way in which the movies could be grouped. And so I’ve decided that’s the tack to take in recognizing the best of the rest, movies that moved me in their own ways which also did so working within established genres, approaching familiar themes in fascinating ways, and sometimes both. It all adds up to just more evidence that 2010 was a pretty damn good year at the movies.
This year the Academy Awards managed to fill their three-slot Best Animated Film category with three reputable selections. Toy Story 3 seems to be the obvious choice, but in a year that also included a wide range of studios, styles and even countries represented by Despicable Me, The Illusionist, Tangled and How to Train Your Dragon, those persistent claims of a new renaissance in animation start to seem justifiable after all.
I saw six documentaries in 2010 that, while entirely disparate in approach, dealt with the function of art and the sometimes slippery, sometimes subversive, sometimes haunting, sometimes therapeutic ways it informs our lives. A conventional rock documentary in style and substance, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage nevertheless generated much cheer for longtime fans of the band through its legitimately inquisitive tactics, emphasis on the humor and humanity of Mssrs. Lee, Lifeson and Peart, and enthusiastic marshaling of musical and intellectual credibility for the band’s prog rock credentials with a parade of unlikely endorsements from the likes of Billy Corgan, Kirk Hammett, Les Claypool and Tim Commerford. The movie’s most unlikely achievement: making it seem almost cool to be a lifelong Rush fan. Another merry band, Johnny Knoxville and those impish body-horror performance art familiars of his, were at it again in 2010 with Jackass 3D, which brought their hilarious brand of grotesque prankery and elaborate self-abuse into the third dimension in glorious style. In this movie, when the shit hits the fan, duck. Marwencol compellingly demonstrated Mark Hogencamp’s attempt to rebound from a brain-damaging attack by creating an entire imaginary World War II-based universe created from found objects and stumbling upon some acclaim in modern art circles as a result. It’s hard not to respect the brutal self-appraisal at the heart of Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, a film that makes us appreciate the laughs by illustrating the self-destruction and neurotic drive for success from which they spring as we compare the robust woman who broke through on the Tonight Show in the ‘60s with the plasticized 2010 model. Banksy’s impish reality-blurring Exit Through the Gift Shop connects up with Hogencamp and Rivers in its assessment of the constructed persona of the artist and its harshly funny examination of the world of art exhibition and criticism. Finally, the way art—in this case, evil propaganda-- can haunt the memory, of generations and of whole peoples, is the subject of Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Suss. Felix Moeller’s documentary tells the story of notorious German filmmaker Veit Harlan and his most notorious work Jew Suss, a viciously anti-Semitic drama with whose vile legacy Harlan’s descendants wrestle on camera, attempting to reconcile the film’s hateful subject, and its deadly influence, with what they know, or believe they know, of their ancestor’s life.
The divergent elements and multiple meanings of family responsibility found permutations in several of 2010’s most acclaimed releases. Rodrigo Garcia’s Mother and Child mapped out and redefined connections between three women; the movie sustained a lovely, unforced humanity without ever becoming overly diagrammed and sealed off from experience in the manner of its narrative model, Paul Haggis’ Crash. Joel and Ethan Coen retold Charles Portis novel True Grit through their exquisitely singular eyes, with a serious assist from cinematographer Roger Deakins, Portis’ wonderfully florid, expressively arcane language, and brilliant performers in the personage of Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld who managed to make the language (and the roles once previously occupied) their own. Steinfeld’s Maddie Ross is on the trail of her father’s killer aided by Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn, father to no man or woman and hardly an acceptable replacement in the girl’s eyes anyway, and their pursuit resulted in the year’s most sophisticated family-friendly epic. David O. Russell’s The Fighter and Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone discovered wrinkles both pugnacious and maddening (the former) and fearsomely insinuating (the latter) in their respective examinations of navigating the troubled waters and (in Russell’s case) the indirectly expressed support of the extended family. In tracing the origins of our young century’s most galvanizing technological development, social media, The Social Network also made it clear how Facebook has not only changed the way we communicate with those we know, but also how we can redefine social connections with family, and maybe even what constitutes a family, with a click of a mouse. And of course no movie in 2010 charted the familial dissatisfactions, minor emotional explosions which ripple with a pointed lack of melodrama into serious concerns, and the desperate flailing that marks the end of love, better than Blue Valentine. Thanks are due for the fearless performances of Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling and the direction of Derek Cianfrance whose probing camera was no respecter, to our benefit, of personal space.
The Grindhouse of Your Dreams might be slightly different than the one of mine, but 2010 saw some excellent candidates revealed for a future program of features meant to demonstrate how in touch with the grindhouse in our souls some of the movies of 2010 actually were. First, Robert Rodriguez’s Machete, a goofball extension of his knock-off trailer that opened 2007’s Grindhouse feature, morphed from one-joke desperado revenge parody into something like the kind of desperado revenge pictures from the ‘70s (see Rolling Thunder) that made room for a patina of social consciousness. It would be a mistake to think that was all (or primarily) what’s driving Rodriguez’s machine, because he displays an unusual control (also seen in Planet Terror) of his real B-movie enthusiasms here. But that core of ethnic pride and thematic relevancy is fascinating nonetheless. A friend of mine on the way home compared it to, of all things, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, and it’s an apt left-field comparison. Both movies are energetic laff riots and couldn’t be more different on the surface, but they’re both powered by good-natured ethnic solidarity that doesn’t let minor things like political reality or complexity get in the way of their simple messages of unity through heritage.
Splice is the best smarty-pants God-complex thriller since maybe Demon Seed. It has an eerie, chilly beauty, and its good-for-the-grindhouse sexual horror really spices things up for the peanut gallery. That audience is also especially well-served by Breck Eisner’s super-solid updating of George A. Romero’s none-too-classic The Crazies, a crafty, recognizable template of inexplicable horror ratcheted up by Eisner’s sharp compositional eye and sense of timing, and also the casting of Timothy Olyphant, whose presence is reassuring even when the movie most decidedly is not. Finally, Harry Brown presents, in a way far beyond the reach of Michael Winner, the most emotionally compelling case for lawless vigilantism in recent memory, helped along immeasurably by the cold comfort and sad implacability in Michael Caine’s face. The movie is perhaps the least fun of any movie released in 2010 that I saw, and I’m sure I could never see it again, but it’s a stunningly effective vehicle for getting one’s blood up, which, depending on your circumstances, may or may not be the best ticket for an evening either at the grindhouse or your own house.
My vote for most astonishing kaleidoscopic visual treats of the year resulted in a three-way tie between Joe Dante’s The Hole, Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Sngmoo Lee’s The Warrior’s Way.
Finally, four fascinating takes on mythology: Valhalla Rising and Centurion render the past with astonishing clarity and upended purpose; Kick-Ass reflects with brutal humor on a modern, technologically self-created mythology and its practical (sort of) reality; and the year’s most poignant reflection on a way of life passing away before our very eyes came from the superlative documentary tone poem Sweetgrass.
And a special shout-out to a brilliant documentary I saw at the AFI Fest this year, Precious Life, which may or may not be theatrically released this coming year. Wherever it ends up, see it.
Favorite Lead Performances by a Male Actor
EDGAR RAMIREZ, Carlos, Casey Affleck, The Killer Inside Me, Jeff Bridges, True Grit, Michael Caine, Harry Brown, Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Favorite Lead Performance by a Female Actor
EMMA STONE, Easy A, Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine, Hye-Ja Kim, Mother, Annette Bening, Mother and Child, Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Favorite Supporting Performance by a Male Actor
JIM BROADBENT, Another Year, Richard Jenkins, Let Me In, Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech, Jeremy Renner, The Town, Christian Bale, The Fighter
Favorite Supporting Performance by a Female Actor
LESLEY MANVILLE, Another Year, Olivia Williams, The Ghost Writer, Amy Adams, The Fighter, Jessica Alba, The Killer Inside Me, Kerry Washington, Mother and Child
NICOLE HOLOFCENER, Please Give, Matt Reeves, Let Me In, Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 3, Bong Joon-ho, Mother, Mike Leigh, Another Year
Screenplay (Original or Adapted)
Nicole Holofcener, PLEASE GIVE, Mike Leigh, Another Year, Oliver Assayas, Dan Francke and Daniel Leconte, Carlos, John Curran, The Killer Inside Me, Rodrigo Garcia, Mother and Child
Grieg Fraser, LET ME IN, Kyung-Pyo Hong, Mother, Roger Deakins, True Grit, Morten Soborg, Valhalla Rising, Bill Pope, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Stan Salfas, LET ME IN, Ken Schretzman, Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 3, Luc Barnier, Marion Monnier, Carlos, Robert Duffy, Chris Lebenzon, Unstoppable, Joe Walker, Harry Brown
THOM McGREGOR’S PICKS (The Missus)
THE GHOST WRITER, Exit Through the Gift Shop, The Fighter, Toy Story 3, The Social Network
EMMA PICKS (11-year-old Division)
THE HOLE,Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, True Grit, Tangled, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Toy Story 3, Despicable Me
NONIE PICKS (8-year-old Division)
TRON: LEGACY, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Despicable Me, Tangled, Toy Story 3
I WISH I HADN’T MISSED…
Most of these titles are either sitting on my desk in DVD boxes or are easily available through Netflix or VUDU streaming services. My only excuse is that I just didn’t have time to get to them before the writing of this piece. If I had, it surely would have been different in many ways. They will remain at the top of my must-see list, of course, but for many reasons, I wish I hadn’t missed Rabbit Hole, Somewhere, Inside Job, Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer, Wild Grass, Dogtooth, White Material, Monsters, Vincere, The Tillman Story, Restrepo, Life During Wartime, Smash His Camera, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, OSS 117: Lost in Rio, Agora, The Tempest, How Do You Know, Solitary Man, Oceans, Fish Tank, Frozen, Made in Dagenham, The Extra Man, Winnebago Man, City Island, Middle Men, Dinner for Schmucks, Girl on the Train, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, REC 2, Nowhere Boy, Tamara Drewe, Fair Game, For Colored Girls, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, Love and Other Drugs, A Film Unfinished, Never Let Me Go, You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger, Buried, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Biutiful and Secretariat.
I DON’T MUCH CARE IF I EVER CATCH UP WITH…
Frankie and Alice, Micmacs, Green Zone, The Runaways, Date Night, From Paris with Love, Get Low, Conviction, Paranormal Activity 2, Megamind, Resident Evil: Afterlife or Jack Goes Boating
MOVIE I’M MOST ANXIOUS TO TALK ABOUT THAT SHOWED IN FESTIVALS IN 2010 BUT WON’T BE RELEASED UNTIL APRIL 2011:
Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff
ACADEMY OF THE UNDERRATED
Let Me In, The Killer Inside Me, Mother and Child, Kick-Ass, I Love You, Philip Morris, The Crazies, The Yellow Handkerchief, The Other Guys, The Wolfman, Letters To Juliet, The Tourist, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Jonah Hex
ACADEMY OF THE OVERRATED
Curiously, this year’s class in the AOTO, usually a corner in which to exile inexplicably favored duds, is comprised of a much better rank of movie overall, including two films I thought were pretty terrific-- Winter’s Bone and A Prophet-- four films I liked well enough-- I Am Love, The King’s Speech, The American and The Kids Are All Right-- three critical favorites that I thought were seriously flawed-- Enter the Void, The Town and Salt-- and only one movie I flat-out hated which has become a huge hit and an awards favorite-- Black Swan. Yet another sign that 2010 was a better year for movies than is generally accepted?
YOU REALLY SHOULDN’T HAVE LET THEM TALK YOU OUT OF SEEING…
Clash of the Titans I saw it sans the distraction of the reportedly terrible 3D and appreciated Louis Leterrier’s bold and beautiful action template. Sporting the latest CGI innovations, it’s true to the spirit of the Ray Harryhausen classics, and it certainly bests Harryhausen’s own horribly clunky version of the same material. But, sadly, Sam Worthington remains a chunk of nicely sanded driftwood with or without glasses.
Furry Vengeance The ne plus ultra of Brendan Fraser movies in which he takes incessant shots to the balls administered by super-intelligent (but inarticulate, thank God!) woodland creatures; after this, maybe it’d be a good idea for this good-natured actor to go off into the desert with Gus van Sant for a spell… More agreeable than anyone had a right to expect.
Jonah Hex 2010’s number-one whipping boy is actually, despite its murky production history, a rousing, wobbly hodgepodge of a western/thriller/action movie that commits the cardinal sin of would-be summer blockbusters—it leaves you wanting more.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time One last log on the bonfire of underappreciated attempts at Saturday matinee thrills on a budget equivalent to the GNP of a small third-world nation. Mike Newell’s gorgeous epic (Jake Gyllenhaal for the girls and boys, Gemma Arterton for the boys and girls) has enough costumes, grand set pieces, tongue-in-cheek dialogue and dastardly doings (Ben Kingsley polishing up his best Snidley Whiplash) to satisfy adventure mavens of all ages willing to disregard the conventional wisdom of Hollywood opening weekend buzz.
Standing Ovation The single weirdest kids movie of the year and far more fun than any sane person could possibly ever predict; it has the refreshing air that accompanies a total lack of concern for conventional wisdom (and sometimes conventional film craft) in its unrepentant desire to get a bunch of unknown kids together and put on a show. Obnoxious and somehow kinda wonderful.
The Tourist This slyly enjoyable caper, paced a notch slower than the usual amped-up Hollywood product, is a lark, and there’s not a damn thing wrong with that. Johnny Depp looks visibly relieved to not be speaking a weird accent in elaborate makeup, while Angelina Jolie lets her weirdly regal movie-star vibe do the talking. It’s not a patch on Charade, one of its obvious inspirations, and it didn’t deserve a bunch of Golden Globe nominations, but neither is it a cultural crime. It’s what they used to call an audience picture, and the audience I saw it with didn’t take that as insult. Neither did I.
The Wolfman Again, apart from Anthony Hopkins’ somnambulant carriage and the difficulty of swallowing Benicio del Toro as a renowned Shakesperean actor, it’s hard to understand the complaints about this well-mounted, creepily atmospheric nod to the backlot Universal horror classics. Del Toro’s sympathetic plight as the ill-fated Larry Talbot does ring true, there’s the reliably wonderful Emily Blunt, the sure hand of director Joe Johnston and Rick Baker’s often stunning updating of his own groundbreaking creature effects. The movie itself breaks no ground, but are we so spoiled that we can’t have fun with a movie that has as pleasantly spooky a hum as this one does?
Black Swan, Tron: Legacy
Red, Easy A, The Killer Inside Me, Greenberg, Tangled, Mother and Child, Machete, The Warrior’s Way, Piranha 3D, Daybreakers, Jonah Hex and…
The Moment I Knew I Was Going to Love True Grit: Near the beginning of the film, Maddie (Hallie Steinfeld) persists in badgering the crotchety Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) while he sits in an outhouse. In a simple shot of the girl barking at a door that remains unopened for the duration of the scene, she insists that he’s had enough time to complete whatever endeavor he’s involved in, and Rooster shouts back at her, “There ain’t no clock on my business!” As befits the Coen Brothers’ humor, Rooster’s first “appearance” in the movie occurs completely off-screen from inside the shitter.
The floating lanterns that adorn the irresistibly romantic interlude at the center of Tangled, perhaps the year’s single most gasp-inducing 3-D moment.
Or not. What the hell is that strange, painted-green mound, and why is it trembling so? Ohhhhhh, shiiiiiiiiiiitttttt… Among many candidates, it’s gotta be the Poo Volcano from Jackass 3-D.
Or not. A man’s tallywhacker gets gobbled up by an especially cranky prehistoric pescado who then urps it back up so it can float straight into your lap. Two not-unattractive, surgically enhanced starlets rid themselves of their bikinis for a very special Sapphic symphony of underwater choreography. Lots of annoying spring break types being separated from their scalps and their digestive tracts. Screw Avatar. This is the 3-D movie of the year-- Piranha 3-D.
The Best 3-D Movie You Never Got a Chance to See Theatrically in 2010 (unless you’re a lucky Brit): Joe Dante’s The Hole
The Year’s Best Sport: Ellen Wong in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Most Romantic Moment: Vanessa Redgrave reunited with Franco Nero in Letters to Juliet
Shakicamicus in extremis ad absurdum: Cyrus
Most Gracious Subject of an Actor Playing Royalty Who is Every Bit His Master’s Thespic Equal: Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech
Best Interrogation of the Dead: Jonah Hex
Most Emotionally Convincing Argument for Vigilantism: Harry Brown
Most Shattering Look (Human Division): Rooney Mara, eyes brimming with tearful rage and disbelief, listening as Jesse Eisenberg’s bilious blog post concerning her in the aftermath of their breakup is read aloud near the beginning of The Social Network.
Most Shattering Look (Animal Division): That sheep is staring at you! Sweetgrass
Most Devastating Realization: Kerry Washington discovering just how different life has become when her dream comes true in Mother and Child.
All the light in the room dimming around Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton) as she bathes in the quite literal glow of ecstasy brought on by her first taste of food prepared by the young man, her son’s best friend, who will become her lover, in I Am Love.
Silliest Revelation: Oh, my God, dude! She’s turning into a black swan!
Loudest Silent Scream: Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone.
My weirdo best supporting actress wild card, little Joei DeCarlo, who is charming as all get out, comporting herself like an elementary school cross between Wendie Jo Sperber and Ernest Borgnine in the genuinely crackers, hey-kids-let’s-all-try-out-for-a-show musical comedy Standing Ovation. DeCarlo stands out amongst a cast of heretofore unknown, starry-eyed tweeny-boppers in this oddball mix of Fame, American Idol and The Warriors-- just kidding, sort of—directed by no man’s idea of a stylist, Stewart (Mannequin II: On The Move) Raffill. I cannot rationally account for my enjoyment of this movie, but I’m pretty sure the streetwise (or at least crosswalk-wise) DeCarlo has a lot to do with it. Crown her now the princess of all she surveys!
Kourtney Kardashian’s #1 Movie of the Year: Sex and the City 2 (It’s in People magazine, I swear! I couldn’t make this shit up!)
Worst Movie of the Year: See Below. (David Edelstein and Manohla Dargis stole my thunder!)
BEST MOVIE EXPERIENCES OF THE YEAR
Any time I spent with my daughter Emma (and sometimes Nonie) at the New Beverly Cinema counts as one of the best movie experiences of the year, and we saw a lot of stuff together this year. We started the year off with a great film noir double feature, Double Indemnity (1944) followed by Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake and William Bendix in George Marshall’s underrated The Blue Dahlia (1946). Emma remembered Lake from Sullivan’s Travels and got visibly excited when she came on screen, which I took as some sort of personal victory. Next up was Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday (1950), which she loved—Judy hooked her from that first “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!” More noir was next in the form of a down and dirty Phil Karlson double feature: Kansas City Confidential (1952), which inspired a great Jack Elam impersonation that she won’t do for me any more (!), and 99 River Street (1953). As a follow-up, it was time to take a break from noir and revisit the glory days of screwball comedy (and, as she subsequently learned, the Great Depression) with Mitchell Leisen’s Easy Living (1937) (script by Emma fave Preston Sturges) and Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey (1936)—she thought Carole Lombard, Eugene Pallette and particularly Mischa Auer were all hilarious.
Then things got rough again—on a whim I took her to see Billy Wilder’s caustic Ace in the Hole (1951), which really surprised her as a youngster untrained in the vast possibilities of storytelling. She was genuinely shocked at the cynical avenue the story took and was very vocal in her genuine disbelief that a movie would end in such a way, but she was also riveted and, I think, kind of thrilled that I would share something with her that seemed more adult than what she was used to. When we next returned to the New Beverly, it was with the entire family, Emma’s best friend and her entire family, to see Fantastic Mr. Fox (2010) and A Town Called Panic(2010), which certainly settled the waters stirred up by Mssrs. Wilder and Douglas. The night that Twilight: Eclipse opened, Emma, Nonie and I were at a much cooler vampire screening: the 2nd Annual Vampire Con screening of Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) and Dracula has Risen from the Grave (1968). They got a lot of attention, as they were by far the youngest and most innocent-looking attendees, and I got a great picture out of the deal too.
We returned with the whole family a couple of weeks later for Fiddler on the Roof, which was a ton of fun to see again with them—they liked my Topol impersonation as we spilled out onto the street afterward too. It was scares next as Emma and I returned for a double feature of The Uninvited (1944) and The Haunting (1963), which she survived quite nicely, thank you, and much to her relief. Preston Sturges is emerging as one of Emma’s film history heroes. Thanks to the New Beverly she has seen most of his movies and she thoroughly loved the next two she got to experience, Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) and Christmas in July (1940). It was probably another month before we came back, but the lure was irresistible. We saw Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry, Wrong Number (1947), with its labyrinthine flashbacks-within-flashbacks, and Stanwyck again trying to convince police she’s a Witness to Murder (1954). Later this same month, Phil Blankenship and the New Beverly made it possible for Emma to attend her first midnight movie when they screened Standing Ovation (2010), a movie already talked about here a couple of times. It couldn’t have been more unlikely that the movie would play so well so late, and Emma had a great time meeting the filmmakers and snagging some cool SO swag in the process. Moving on, we brought the whole family back again for a grand W.C. Fields double bill, Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935) and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), two movies that we all found riotously funny surrounded by the appreciative New Beverly crowd. And with Halloween approaching we made sure to catch the Bob Hope-Paulette Goddard double, The Cat and the Canary (1939) and The Ghost Breakers (1940), again with the whole family in tow. And just for good measure, the girls and I topped off our costumed trick-or-treating by dragging the rest of the family out to see The Invisible Man (1933) on Halloween night, Emma Nonie and I in full costume.
And we finished off our year at the New Beverly together with a pair of great comedies, both featuring Marilyn Monroe-- Some Like It Hot (1959) and the thrillingly funny Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), which was shown in a gorgeous new Technicolor print that made the movie seem more alive than ever. Emma loved it.
She and I had other great movie experiences together this past year: I took her to see Marion Davies in Show People (1928) at the Egyptian Theater; we also saw Emperor of the North (1973) there (I got some looks for that one!); Microcosmos (1996) at the Billy Wilder Theater; Breaking Away (1979) at the Aero; and let’s not forget F.W. Murnau’s City Girl (1930) at home on DVD—that was thrilling for me that she would find the movie so captivating, even with all the distractions of home at hand.
Also seen together this year: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Alice in Wonderland, Sabata, Dragonslayer, 2012, Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters 2, How to Train Your Dragon, Shrek Forever After, The Karate Kid, Toy Story 3, Hidalgo, Beetlejuice, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, And Now For Something Completely Different, Despicable Me, The Shakiest Gun in the West, Ramona and Beezus, Tron: Legacy, True Grit, Tangled, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and her favorite movie experience of the year, being invited by Joe Dante to see a screening of his new 3-D thriller The Hole. Thanks again, Joe! And thank you, Emma, for being the best movie-going partner a dad could ever hope for. Tonight: The African Queen and The Desperate Hours.
Believe it or not, that’s just the tip of the iceberg of memorable and wonderful movie-going experiences I had this year. Here are some others:
The Ghost Writer with Patty, in a theater, a treat repeated only a couple of other times all year, with Exit Through the Gift Shop and The Fighter. More movies together in 2011, please…
My friend Don and I see a lot of movies together over the course of a year, but for some reason I remember catching Greenberg together, just before a trip to Oregon that I thought was going to include a teaching job interview (it ended up not), as one of the most enjoyable movie-going nights of 2010, maybe because we actually had time to relax and have some dinner beforehand. There’s another pair of great movie nights we had together, however, that I’ll talk about in a moment…
Then there was this movie about film critics that I went to see….
Seeing 99 44/100% Dead at a New Beverly midnight movie was great fun and a rare opportunity, but also proof that they don’t all hold up as classics when you see ‘em again years later… (That's the New Bev's midnight movie genius Phil Blankenship standing proudly by the movie's keen Lichtenstein-inspired pop art one-sheet.)
I met my friend Matthew Kiernan for the first time when he was in town earlier in the year for his 40th birthday. He invited me up to the AFI for a screening of John Frankenheimer’s 52 Pickup with a whole passel of his friends, who apparently do this kind of thing all the time. I wish I could have joined them for hot dogs and beer afterward, but the lingering memory of John Glover’s creepy characterization in the movie, and the happiness generated by meeting yet another pal from the blogosphere, was enough to make the night a keeper…
After having our midnight movie plans unexpectedly derailed— the sprockets on the print of Jan Svankmajer’s Alice at the Downtown Independent were shredded, rendering the film unprojectable—my friend Michelle Brien and I hightailed it over to the New Beverly, which just happened to be showing Nobuhiku Obayashi’s Hausu (1977), which was not only an acceptable substitute but a tremendous jolt of fun, probably more so than seeing Alice would have been…
Anytime my best friend Bruce and I get to see a movie together these days is a notable and memorable event. This time, during a visit up to Oregon, we spun a lot of DVDs, but we made it out to a mall theatre in Springfield during a weekday and managed a private screening of The Ghost Writer, as we were the only paying customers…
Oh, yes, in April I went to the first annual TCM Classic Film Festival…
I will never, ever forget seeing Tommy in Quintophonic Sound, with Patty and our great friend Paul Reilly, in the presence of Ken Russell himself who was, shall we say, a bit of a corker… (The recording referred to in the linked piece has been redacted at the request of AMPAS.)
Forgive my trembling. Waiting in line to speak to Pam Grier at a screening of Foxy Brown and Jackie Brown at the Egyptian Theater, my nerves were settled somewhat by seeing how easy and friendly she was with everyone in line who stopped to get their copy of Foxy: My Life in Three Acts signed by the movie star. When my turn finally came, I stumbled around a bit, trying to express to her how I followed her movies ever since I was a teenager, that I’ve always loved her and that I never thought the day would come when I’d get to meet her. She looked me right in the eye, sighed “Oh, honey!” and grabbed my hand! Pam Grier grabbed my hand! Luckily, someone was standing nearby and ready to snap a picture for me commemorating the moment, lest I cease someday to believe that it actually happened. At age 61, sans any kind of obvious makeup, the woman was stunningly beautiful from two feet away. Another Hollywood dream has come true…
Making my way rather casually up to the Mann’s Chinese 6 for a one-night only screening of the documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage I told myself not to worry about being late for seating. Who’s gonna come see this movie anyway? I reasoned. The assurance that reason brought crumbled quickly, however, when I entered the lobby and all I saw was a sea of black T-shirts with one “Rush” logo after another printed on them. So I scurried off to the bathroom and immediately bumped into a tall gentleman on his way out who turned out to be Billy Corgan. Corgan then followed me (I’m sure that’s how it was) and ended up sitting with his entourage in the row ahead of me, where I could see his large head nodding with approval whenever he’d come on screen to offer commentary about the band. The phrase goes something like, “Only in L.A.,” right?...
Seeing The Fearless Vampire Killers and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave with my daughters at the new Beverly, at one point before the movie started we were approached by a woman who looked to be in her ‘50s. I braced myself for a lecture about bringing impressionable children to see inappropriate films. Instead the woman, who was a member of the Vampire-Con organization sponsoring the screening, broke out into a grin and said to my youngest, “You two are the coolest kids in L.A. for being here instead of that Twilight premiere!”…
Staking out a spot in line with Don and new friends Sarah and Nick, talking to the few other folks arriving about a half hour early for the Speed Racer midnight movie at the Nuart last July. The theater ended up being about half to 2/3 full! The theater’s projectionist and resident movie guru Marc Edward Heuck told me he would have been very surprised had I not shown up…
Again in the presence of Ken Russell, who took a little less piss out of the interviewer this time, at the Egyptian for a screening of the spiffed-up Tommy, this time on a double feature with the much-maligned and terribly enjoyable Lisztomania. And while standing around waiting for the second feature to begin, a man introduced himself to me as Jim Gibson, son of the late Henry Gibson, whom it was my great pleasure to meet…
Don and I squealing and yelling and laughing through Piranha 3D…
On August 18, the New Beverly played a double feature requested by myself as a birthday present. I invited along 20 or so friends and they all joined me, Patty, my daughters and the packed house for a grand Cold War program of my favorite James Bond film, You Only Live Twice, along with Ken Russell’s terrific entry in the Len Deighton/Harry Palmer series, Billion Dollar Brain. I’ve never had a birthday present I’ve enjoyed more. What a way to turn 50…
The year’s best drive-in excursion came courtesy of the Labor Day weekend release of Machete. We gathered up the posse to line up lawn chairs and watch this new Grindhouse classic under the stars, the way it and its myriad schlocky predecessors should be seen. Among the faithful were Andy and his son Will, Sharon and her friend Carol, Sarah and Nick, Don, Bob, Paul and Kelly, Haruka, Terry and perhaps even others who I will remember long after this is posted…
Director Paul Verhoeven hosted a signing of his new book Jesus of Nazareth in conjunction with a screening of Starship Troopers at the Aero, which he talked about on stage with screenwriter Ed Neumeier. I was able to get my copy of the book signed, as well as my Showgirls Blu-ray, which I told Verhoeven I thought was perhaps his best movie. He looked at me, smiled and said, “You know what? I think so too!”…
Taking Emma to see The Hole, closing night selection of the 2010 Los Angeles 3-D Film Festival, at the invitation of the movie’s director Joe Dante. Joe, she absolutely loved the movie and is very proud of being the only person at her school who has seen it, though I sincerely hope that status changes, and soon…
Thrilling to Unstoppable on opening night with Haruka, the Barefoot Executive, whose uncanny instincts about this one were right on the money…
Watching Emma become completely absorbed in True Grit the day before Christmas…
Sitting up late one night with Patty and being totally surprised when she said “yes” to my suggestion that we rent The Food of the Gods on Netflix Instant. What happened to the other chickens? “They got et by the bigger ones!” Ida, don’t worry. I blame Marjoe…
There was hardly a better way to end the year than with The Godfather and The Godfather Part II back to back at the New Beverly Cinema. Never has seven hours passed so quickly…
Speaking of the New Beverly Cinema, I know I seem like a tireless mouthpiece about this place sometimes, but I feel like I really cannot overstate how much this place, run with such care and passion by Michael Torgan, carrying on his father’s legacy, means to me. Michael, aided so essentially and with such deep movie love by Julia Marchese, Phil Blankenship, Jackie Greed, Brian Quinn, Eric Caidin, Marion Kerr, Matt, Adam, Brandon and all the rest, has created an environment that I am loathe to consider having to do without. Here’s a list (not so brief) of the movies I saw in 2010 at the New Beverly:
Double Indemnity (1944)
The Blue Dahlia (1946)
The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three (1973)
The Hindenburg (1975)
Born Yesterday (1950)
Kansas City Confidential (1952)
99 River Street (1953)
Elevator to the Gallows (1957)
Le Cercle Rouge (1970)
My Man Godfrey (1936)
Easy Living (1937)
Mississippi Mermaid (1969)
There’s Always Tomorrow (1954)
Ace in the Hole (1951)
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2010)
A Town Called Panic (2010)
The Narrow Margin (1952)
The Killer is Loose (1956)
99 & 44/100% Dead (1974)
Blow Out (1981)
Femme Fatale (2002)
Point Blank (1967)
The Outfit (1973)
The Fearless Vampire Killers… (1967)
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)
Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
The Uninvited (1944)
The Haunting (1963)
Top Hat (1935)
Swing Time (1936)
Christmas In July (1940)
Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)
The Untouchables (1987)
Hi, Mom! (1970)
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Billion Dollar Brain (1967)
Deep Red (1975)
Sorry, Wrong Number (1947)
Witness to Murder (1954)
Best Worst Movie (2010)
Troll 2 (1989)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935)
Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1940)
Seed of Chucky (2004)
The Ghost Breakers (1941)
The Cat and the Canary (1939)
The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969)
The Invisible Man (1933)
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Car Wash (1976)
Used Cars (1990)
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Mesrine: Killer Instinct (2010)
Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 (2010)
The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather Part II (1974)
These people, Michael in particular, facilitated five of the most meaningful experiences I’ve ever had in a movie theater over the past year—that birthday screening and the Godfather double feature are two of them. And they’ve already made for two unforgettable nights for me in the young year of 2011. But the other three from last year are all moments that I’ve never, in 50 years of pretty intense movie-going, come close to equaling.
The first two are the nights we spent the week or so before Halloween showcasing Orphan and Seed of Chucky. These movies, so deserving of recognition, were given two nights of glory at the New Beverly that were so much fun to help coordinate and host, not to mention the fact that I was able to meet so many people involved with both movies for whom I have so much admiration and respect. And I know that the people who were on stage talking about their work are as grateful as I am to Michael for allowing us to screen those movies and talk about them as something other than critically dismissed offenses to good taste.
But I reserve my most sincere thanks and gratitude for the unparalleled generosity Michael and all the New Beverly staff showed to me, my family, and especially my oldest daughter Emma, who celebrated her 10th birthday at the New Beverly Cinema. I can barely even attempt to conjure what the day meant to me personally and, of course, to Emma without getting terminally choked up. Michael was unfailingly generous and supportive throughout the whole day—he surprised us all with a birthday greeting from the marquee, he donated his time and his auditorium, even the popcorn and soda. The man even helped me lug pizzas from the Dominos next door when it came time for eats. Every moment we spent there was a delight; it’s a party Emma and her friends are still talking about. What more can I say? I don’t think I care for any place in Los Angeles more than I do the New Beverly Cinema, and it’s not just because of the great movies that are constantly made available to us there. It’s because of the movie love generated there that reaches out into the world outside the auditorium, and that movie love definitely feels like the real thing.
MOVIES I SAW FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 2010 THAT MADE MY LIFE BETTER (in alphabetical order)
ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950; Richard Fleischer)
THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946; George Marshall)
COMPULSION (1959; Richard Fleischer)
ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (1958; Louis Malle)
THE EXILES (1961; Kent Mackenzie)
HAUSU (1977; Nobuhki Obayashi)
HELL BENT FOR LEATHER (1960; George Sherman)
JOE DAKOTA (1957; Richard Bartlett)
JUNIOR BONNER (1972; Sam Peckinpah)
KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952; Phil Karlson)
LA BETE HUMAINE (1938; Jean Renoir)
LA FIN DU JOUR (1939; Julien Duvivier)
THE LATE SHOW (1978; Robert Benton)
LE CERCLE ROUGE (1970; Jean-Pierre Melville)
LE CORBEAU (1943; Henri-Georges Clouzot)
THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN (1960; Basil Dearden)
LOUIE BLUIE (1985; Terry Zwigoff)
THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE (1935; Clyde Bruckman)
MURDER HE SAYS (1942; George Marshall)
THE NARROW MARGIN (1952; Richard Fleischer)
NEPTUNE’S DAUGHTER (1949; Edward Buzzell)
99 RIVER STREET (1953; Phil Karlson)
OPERA (1987; Dario Argento)
PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950; Elia Kazan)
THE PHENIX CITY STORY (1955; Phil Karlson)
PRIVATE HELL 36 (1954; Don Siegel)
THE RACKET (1954; John Cromwell)
SADDLE TRAMP (1950; Hugo Fregonese)
SHOW PEOPLE (1928; King Vidor)
THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005; Noah Baumbach)
THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE (1933; Stephen Roberts)
SUNNY SIDE UP (1929; David Butler)
SWING TIME (1936; George Stevens)
THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1956; Douglas Sirk)
VICTIM (1961; Basil Dearden)
WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (1976; Narciso Ibanez Serrador)
WILD RIVER (1960; Elia Kazan)
WITNESS TO MURDER (1954; Roy Rowland)
WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956; Douglas Sirk)
FAVORITE FILM BOOKS I READ IN 2010
Saul Austerlitz, Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy
Pam Grier, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts
Jeffrey S. Miller, The Horror Spoofs of Abbott and Costello
Paul Verhoeven, Jesus of Nazareth
Robin Wood, Sexual Politics and Narrative Film
Paul Talbot, Mondo Mandingo: The Falconhurst Books and Films
Special Guest Writer DON MANCINI on INCEPTION
One morning while at breakfast Don began relating to me what he loved about Inception, a movie I'm not nearly so fond of as he is. While he was relating his enthusiasm, I realized that I was enjoying his descriptions and his excitement about the movie more than I actually did the movie itself. So I asked him if he'd write down what he was so vividly recounting to me, and he very kindly did:
It seems that many people -- even fans of the film -- are critical of Inception’s numerous expository dialogue scenes, during which the film's increasingly complicated rules are introduced, discussed, debated, and elaborated. But those were some of my favorite scenes.
Despite the film's shortcomings, writer-director Christopher Nolan displays a huge talent for creating a foreboding atmosphere, thick with a magnificent portent of the uncanny. It is this portent, this implication of the supernatural -- rather than the thing itself -- which is so powerful, and which I believe audiences treasure in Inception. (Steven Spielberg displayed this gift in films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where the simple sight of a toy suddenly springing to life, or an air traffic control board flashing the words "Proximity Warning," or a keyhole suffused with a glowing light from the other side, send shivers up the spine.) In Inception, I love the many, many scenes in which Leonardo Di Caprio leans conspiratorially toward a co-star, whispering urgently to them, his brow furrowed, as he expertly and methodically and almost playfully tries to convince them that they are, in fact, in a dream: "I specialize in a very specific type of security -- subconscious security"... "Ask yourself, Ariadne -- How did you get HERE?"... "Pay attention to the shifts in gravity, the strangeness of the weather... None of this is happening... Accept the fact that you're in a dream...." And then the walls start rumbling, and the glasses and mugs start rattling, their contents start roiling (just like in Jurassic Park, come to think of it). This stuff never fails to thrill me.
Remember that brilliant scene in Total Recall in which Roy Brocksmith comes to Arnold Schwarzenegger's hotel room on Mars, and tries to convince him that it's all a dream-- calmly at first, but with increasing desperation? It's almost as if Nolan saw that scene, distilled its essence, and made a whole movie out of it.
THE WORST OF 2010
10) MacGRUBER (Jorma Taccone) When the only decent laughs come from homosexual panic, it’s a pretty good sign your movie is in trouble. This relentlessly unfunny pile is the most desperate SNL sketch movie yet. But don’t we say that every time a new one comes out?
9) BEDEVILLED (Jang Cheol-soo) A woman visits an island off the Korean coast where an old childhood friend has been enslaved under a strange and monstrous matriarchy, itself under the thumb of the island's brutish and animalistic males. The obvious social commentary intended by Jang is left for dead under an avalanche of unbearable abuse, mind-numbing gore and the increasing sense that the writer-director has no control over the tone of his material.
8) CHLOE (Atom Egoyan) A good director’s bafflingly pretentious foray into meter-peaking levels of narrative embarrassment. Julianne Moore is a gynecologist who sics comely Amanda Seyfried on husband Liam Neeson to test his faithfulness. Moore’s dewy-eyed seeker probably still thinks the Harrad Experiment was a good idea too.
7) CYRUS (Jay and Mark Duplass) Finally a movie with a visual design so annoying and pointlessly random that it all but neuters the movie’s queasy subject—a man in competition for his girlfriend’s attentions (romantic and otherwise) with the woman’s creepily hostile son. John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei and Jonah Hill, fine actors all, are left dangling by The Duplass’ smarmy indifference and distracting camerawork.
6) TOOTH FAIRY (Michael Lembeck) The nadir of a year chockfull of Rock-bottom entertainment for kids. Dwayne Johnson is a smart-ass hockey player exiled to Tooth Fairy-dom as punishment for his bad behavior, but this flat fantasy hasn’t got the basic internal logic to match its wacky premise. There’s nothing more sobering than an auditorium full of eight-year-olds who are too smart, or too numbed, to laugh at the kinds of crap antics on display here. It’s tutu terrible.
5) THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE: FIRST SEQUENCE (Tom Six)
Once you’ve heard the premise, your own imaginings will likely far surpass the tepid shock fest cooked up by self-appointed body horror provocateur Tom Six. The movie is as cynical a play for notoriety, sans any noticeable talent or motivating interest in the horror genre, as I’ve ever been witness to. If you dig it, Six promises more ass-to-mouth antics coming soon. But this ostensibly transgressive movie’s cheerful acceptance into the mainstream—you can buy the DVD at Target—raises the question: Who’s eating shit here?
4) GROWN-UPS (Dennis Dugan) The latest Adam Sandler smirk-o-rama barely qualifies as a comedy. Is it really funny if the only people laughing are on camera? Director Dugan sends his overgrown cast of wannabe adolescents on vacation together after the death of a beloved coach, but every setup revolves around Sandler and buddies sitting around ritually humiliating or otherwise cracking each other up over endlessly limp jokes built on ageism, sexism, breast-feeding, breasts (Salma Hayek’s), grueling physical pain and Kevin James’ big fat ass. Almost the unfunniest movie of the year. Almost.
3) MY SOUL TO TAKE (Wes Craven) A once-interesting director desperately fishes for a new franchise, using the thinnest, most shopworn material of his career as bait. The movie hasn’t a clue as to how to stir even the slightest shiver of dread over its premise—seven young punks born on the same day that a local murderer dies face the possibility that one of them may be the murderer reincarnated and ready to slice again. Craven, in taking recycling as his theme, at least owns up to his shell game. But there’s no soul to take here, just a cynical, bitter pill glossed up for an audience presupposed not to care.
2) SEX IN THE CITY 2 (Michael Patrick King) Here is the crass materialism and conspicuous consumption of the HBO show, the appeal of which almost entirely escapes me, writ extremely large and offered up at the worst possible moment in time. The movie mixes ghastly caricatures (straight, gay, ethnic, you name it) with a stupefying sense of entitlement that might be sideways amusing if the movie only had even a shred of recognition of its own crass, pedantic, outdated perspective. Some of the reaction to this movie has itself been borderline misogynistic—what’s good for The Hangover’s geese is apparently not so good for these ganders. But honestly, it starts low—a ridiculously ostentatious gay marriage presided over by Liza Minnelli, who seems more like an Liza impersonator than the real thing—and plummets from there. What we have here is a 2½-hour pageant of bad taste and worse writing. The danger of catching flies from one’s mouth hanging open for that length of time is a genuine concern.
1) LITTLE FOCKERS (Paul Weitz) This unmitigated disaster of a comedy exists only for the almighty opening weekend (which was stretched into about $150 million domestic box office) and the paychecks it generated for its cast and crew. Fittingly, no one on-screen looks as though they are the least bit proud of what they’ve done. A cast of good actors is offered up and then abandoned to their individual greed and a bullet-point script of bad ideas whose only rationale is to keep the conflict between son-in-law Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) and his totalitarian-minded father-in-law (Robert De Niro) alive at all costs. That cost ends up including a complete divorce from any recognizable human behavior, but acknowledgment of this fact would presuppose a level of sensitivity on the part of the screenwriters and director for which there is displayed absolutely no evidence on screen. Little Fockers is far and away the laziest, phoniest, most despicably avaricious movie of 2010, brimming with contempt for the very audience who seems to be eager to line up for more. To the suits who are undoubtedly scrambling to green-light a fourth episode (which the movie clumsily makes way for in its final moments) I say, please forget it, and, oh, fock you too.
RANDOM LINKS OF BRILLIANCE
In addition to the blogs you hopefully know about already if you read this one with any regularity—like the ones operated by Sheila O’Malley, Farran Smith Nehme, Jim Emerson, Jason Bellamy, Marilyn Ferdinand, Bill Ryan and Greg Ferrara, as well as the multitude of other cited in the final section below-- there are a few other blogs that need to be pointed out and added to your favorites page as soon as possible. In gathering these addresses I realized just how badly my own blogroll is in need of updating, so much so that some of these folks who I’ve been reading for years now are not present there at all, whereas some sites that have been inactive or flat-out dead still remain. No doubt some weeding and some replanting on my blogroll is required, and soon. Here are some excellent blogs that deserve my closer attention and the attention of us all:
The brilliant Chris Stangl has just passed the five-year mark on his exceptionally well written pop culture project called The Exploding Kinetoscope. His writing is bright, accessible, extremely smart and dense with allusions and well-observed evidence—he’s among the writers that almost always prompt an “I wish I’d written that!” or, better yet, “I wish I could write that!” from me. Happy anniversary, Chris!
Is there a better writer on horror than the mysterious proprietor of Arbogast On Film? Even when I disagree with him (say, on Let Me In), I tend to think not.
Based up Salem, Oregon way, Kevin Olson and Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies has quietly established itself as one of my daily fixes. Kevin’s friendly, unpretentious voice comports an intelligence about film that is rare and welcoming in the extreme. His place is one where the fire is always lit and the conversation is as smart and friendly as the writer himself.
John McElwee, proprietor of that superb window onto Hollywood’s illustrious, sometimes seedy, always entertaining past known as Greenbriar Picture Shows is celebrating his fifth anniversary in the blogosphere as well. A mighty blog is John’s, full of insight, remembrance and historical detail that few, if any other blog has been able to approach. Salud, Mr. McElwee!
The new blog written by film editor Michael R. Miller (Miller’s Crossing, Ghost World, Happythankyoumoreplease), Filmmaker’s Diary, has quickly gained ground as a smart, take-no-prisoners examination of the issues surrounding modern filmmaking techniques, the pitfalls of storytelling and even some of the ins and outs of Hollywood’s often perversely self-serving sense of morality. It’s only been around a couple of months, but it’s got the right stuff to be a real keeper in the film blog world, the beneficiary of Michael’s exceptional intelligence as a craftsman and a writer.
Brian Saur’s Rupert Pupkin Speaks is happily gathering a rep for being the B.M.O.C. of list-oriented film blogs, and as evidenced by Brian’s list of the 50 favorite films he saw for the first time in 2010, there’s damn good reason for that rep.
I have to confess lots of movie love for Ariel Schudson right up front. One of the New Beverly faithful, she’s part of the crowd that makes experiencing classic film so much fun at that theater, our theater. And her blog Sinematic Salve-ation, in which no subject is too sacred, profane or middle of the road, is really making Ariel’s presence as a premier writer known. Her pieces are routinely cutting and wise, taking angles on movies like The Godfather Part III that are relevant and in need of expression, and she did great work recently during the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon. If you’re unfamiliar with her stuff, hesitate no longer.
For those who could spend hours, days thumbing through collections of old movie advertising, Charlie Largent’s new site The Friends of Marty Melville is going to scratch an itch like you’ve never felt before. Largent does the excellent artwork and graphic design for the wildly popular Trailers from Hell site, and this new project, which features advertising grouped by a weekly focus on directors, actors, genres, what have you, is produced with contributions from John McElwee and John Charles (Video Watchdog) for extra street cred and sheer fun with movie ad graphics. Dive in, but let somebody know where you’re going, because when you start digging into The Friends of Marty Melville, you’re likely not to be heard from for a good long while.
The soulful and funny Ed Howard may claim it’s Only the Cinema, but his superb writing routinely plumbs the surface and gets at the subterranean appeal of popular and esoteric cinema while maintaining his singularly expressive writing voice. Every so often he and Jason Bellamy partner up at The House Next Door too, but Ed’s straight shots here are plenty of reason to visit; they’re among the best online film writing the Internet has to offer.
Finally, of all the blogs I follow with religious fervor, TCM’s Movie Morlocks is the one that, with its eclectic focus on films from all over the genre and classic spectrum, I routinely look at and grumble with a healthy mix of respect and good old jealousy, “This is what my blog could be.” The site features superb contributions from Richard Harland Smith, Kimberly Lindbergs, R. Emmett Sweeney and a host of other excellent writers, and they are kind enough to host our occasional Horror Dads Roundtables too. Simply one of the best movie blogs of any stripe you can click on.
YEAR-END LISTS OF INTEREST
The Arts Desk
J. Hoberman and the Village Voice Year in Film
Ryland Walker Knight
The Los Angeles Times Year in Review
A roundup of links at MUBI
The Online Film Critics Awards
Matt Zoller Seitz
Time Out New York
The HORROR DADS Link Collection
Introductions and a General Discussion Part 1
Introductions and a General Discussion Part 2
Who Can Kill a Child?
The Curse of the Cat People
OTHER INTERESTING READING AND VIEWING
Moments Out of Time (Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy)
Eric Childress’s peerless collection of the Quote Whores of the Year
R. Emmett Sweeny and the Genre Films of the Year
True Grit, Narrative and the Grace of God
Matt Zoller Seitz’s Greatest Scenes of All Time slide show
The Onion A.V. Club’s
Greatest Nude Scenes of All Time
Laurent Bouzerau’s new Hitchcock book
Critical Dustups of 2010
”Four Days at the TCM Classic Film Festival”
Vadim Rizov’s thoughts on the TCM Festival and the audience for Repertory Cinema in 2010
And, of course, your link to daily updates of the best in online film reading is always straight to MUBI.com.
SLIFR’s SUMMERTIME BRUSH WITH GREATNESS
It all started with Christopher Nolan, David Edelstein and the Los Angeles Times’ Patrick Goldstein:
“SUCKER-PUNCHED: Is It Not Okay to Not Like Inception?”...
Then an acknowledgment from David Edelstein...
The New York Times’ A. O. Scott checks in...
The New Yorker’s Richard Brody offers kind praise for the conversation between me and Farran Smith Nehme...
Some Came Running’s Glenn Kenny does the same...
Last, but hardly least, Paul Brunick, Violet Lucca and Film Comment put the crowning touch on the best summer this blog has ever seen.
And now it’s time to say goodbye, and I’ll do so with three special gifts sent along to me by long-time Internet pal Larry Aydlette, who does know how to bring a smile to my face after all these years: First, two lovely portraits of Claudia Cardinale, for which there need be no reason other than the appreciation of beauty...
…and this one, a Russ Meyer collection set to ZZTop, just because it’s my happening and, far from freaking me out, it’s making me unreasonably happy. The clip is a busty reminder of just the sort of cracked, crackling, pneumatically enhanced imagery Meyer excelled at, pureed into one giant frothy milkshake from which I’d like to invite us all to slurp and officially call an end to 2010.
The Oscars are tomorrow. The Muriels wrap up this week. It’s over. Gimme all your lovin’, all your hugs and kisses too. Good night, Irene!
(Much gratitude goes out to my wife Patty for proofing and editing this beast, and to Jim Emerson for providing me with a couple of essential screen grabs that really tied the whole room together.)
at 5:18 AM