31 December 2006

Thanks again, Hollywood

Hollywood sure knocked 'em dead this year. I just wanted to post a collage of some of their real gems to refresh your memory. Be sure to enlarge it and check out all your favorites from this past year. And, hey, 2007 already sounds great: we're getting another spoof from the creators of Date Movie! Hostel 2! The Hills Have Eyes 2! Another Hannibal flick! A movie with Eddie Murphy dressed up as a fat black girl! Ghost Rider! Another Tyler Perry film! A movie with Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence and John Travolta called Wild Hogs! Sandra Bullock defying the logic of time again! A CGI Ninja Turles movie! And, if we're lucky, maybe another thirteen films with Scarlett Johansson! Though I can't say I'm excited about another Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez film, how can you resist the poster below, with Rose McGowan and a machine-gun leg?

Questions and thoughts for the closing of a year

Is Godard's Histoire(s) du cinema his masterpiece? And will it ever become available in the United States?

If you are one of those people who voted for Miami Vice as one of the worst films of the year on the Internet Movie Database, you're a moron.

With Marie Antoinette and The Fountain, Sofia Coppola and Darren Aronofsky, despite their solid fan bases, have joined the ranks of Todd Solondz in "Third time is not a charm for American indie darling "auteur."'

The theme song for My Super Ex-Girlfriend, which contains the lyrics "the only super power here is love," is easily the worst song created for a film since... well, didn't Phil Collins do the soundtrack to the Tarzan sequel?

Little Miss Sunshine should have been the forgettable "indie" sleeper of the year that we'll forget about next year (à la My Big Fat Greek Wedding), but there's something that's a bit more meaningful about the film to casually dismiss it like this.

Macy Gray should be in every film... ever.

Will Richard Kelly's supposedly disastrous Southland Tales actually come out in April of next year as planned or will it sit around until 2008, the year the film is set?

The absurdity of a film like Big Momma's House 2 making $30 million at the box office on opening weekend must end.

Shut the fuck up about Snakes on a Plane.

When will another artful black auteur emerge to wipe clean the bad taste in my mouth of Tyler Perry?

Even though I wasn't wild about the film, Brokeback Mountain lost the best picture Oscar because Hollywood still hates fags when they're not dying of AIDS or being void of sexuality. And Crash will go down in history as the worst Best Picture winner of all-time.

Daniel Craig and Eva Green are sexy.

Bryan Singer made the biggest mistake of his career letting Brett Ratner direct X-Men 3 and moving onto Superman Returns.

We will feel the death of Wellspring for a long time to come.

Paul Greengrass is one of the finest directors to come around this century.

Even though I haven't seen it, there is no way that The Departed is better than Infernal Affairs.

And finally, I'm in love with Penélope Cruz.

On the eve of the new year...

Traditionally, one would post their best of the year list about this time, as there are only a few short hours until 2007. However, I'm not satisfied with my list as of yet. There's still a handful of films that have yet to come to Saint Louis (Pan's Labyrinth and Children of Men being the most notable), and I still haven't gone out to see The Queen or The Departed. So, I will allow myself an extra two weeks before posting the annual list. In the meantime, good tidings on the coming of a new year.

24 December 2006

Suburban Existentialism

Little Children - dir. Todd Field - 2006 - USA

Why are the suburbs such an important setting in contemporary film? They’ve existed in some form for over fifty years, yet the voices of cinema never have enough to say about this locale. Is it because the suburbs are the ultimate fear and hell of the young intellectual? Is it the unholy marriage between family and domestication that makes this place full of such disparaging sentiments? In films like American Beauty, the suburbs became the subject of obvious, if forceful, satire (the same can be said for Desperate Housewives, though television functions on a separate level than cinema). In Todd Field’s follow-up to In the Bedroom, he’s not quite sure what the ‘burbs are to his lamenting characters, which is both a good and bad thing. On one level, the ambiguity, unfamiliarity, and ennui of this setting provides challenging food for thought. On the other level, Field isn’t quite sure whether this is the setting for a human drama or yet another two-dimensional satire.

Little Children opens in a playground where Sarah (Kate Winslet) sits with a trio of other mothers on a park bench, obnoxiously discussing their sex lives and the presence of a convicted sex offender in their “perfect” neighborhood. Sarah watches, as the narrator lets us know, like an anthropologist. If you couldn’t tell by Winslet’s face or attire, the narrator quickly points out her displacement. Sarah holds a master’s degree in English, which appears to be in direct conflict with her desire to be an active part of her three-year-old daughter’s life. The sole male in the park is Brad (Patrick Wilson), a stay-at-home father who’s studying for his third try at the bar exam. His wife Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) humbly makes documentary films. Sarah and Brad become instantly drawn to one another because of this displacement. Neither one of them seem to be the other’s type. One would picture Sarah partnered with a modestly handsome professor and Brad drawn to someone much more like his wife: beautiful and thoroughly feminine. Little Children plays like an open-air chamber drama, in which characters who likely wouldn’t be attracted to one another become such due to spatial and situational limitations.

The film also follows the story of Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley), the convicted sex offender, and his mother (Phyllis Somerville), two humans rendered invalids due to public outcry. They spend most of their time within the walls of their home with a guise of sanctuary that never proves to be as such. Unlike Peter Paige’s Say Uncle, a film that deals solely with the suburban outcry over a single gay man with an affinity for children, Field isn’t so much interested in the psychology of mass hysteria, especially when regarding children. Instead, Ronnie and his mother become separate facets of this world of shifting balances in authority. The title works so well because it assumes the semblance of literal interpretation, when in fact it runs deeper than that. Little Children exposes the complexity of parental bonds and independence. Instead of referring directly to Sarah and Brad’s children, the title accurately describes all of the film’s characters. In their first encounter, Brad states, “go ahead and ask what the person who wears the pants in the family does for a living,” to Sarah. In this particular instance, Kathy, Brad’s wife, holds the power of authority as the family’s only source of income. Yet, further along in the film, Kathy must resort to her own mother for both her financial and marital woes. Ronnie, a man of around fifty, still lives with his mother post-conviction. In one scene, his mother asks, “what will you do when I’m not around? Who will cook and do the dishes?” Ronnie, physically an adult, cannot function as one, made especially clear when it’s revealed that his arrest charges weren’t made due to deviousness, but instead childlike perversion. Even still, Ronnie assumes the superior figure in the life of Larry (Noah Emmerich), an ex-cop whose wife and children have left him. For Larry, the dealings of Ronnie, the sex offender, become his only drive in life, keeping him from reflecting on the heaps of shit that have fallen upon his life. Field handles the duality of power and relationships beautifully, like an eloquently and carefully observing this teeter-totter effect.

That a film of such palpable seriousness still has a sense of humor should be admirable if Field’s confusing blend of drama and satire didn’t feel so unmatched. He, along with co-writer Tom Perrotta who also wrote the novel, take a few low punches aimed directly at the sheep-like, brainless tendencies of the typical “soccer mom.” Granted, most of these women are still in the incubation stages of becoming what we know as “soccer moms,” as their children tend to be too young to partake in sporting events. Their attacks at these women aren’t cruel or necessarily invalid, but they prove to be both uninteresting and ineffective. Even in unnecessary scenes where mass frenzy ensues after Ronnie makes an appearance at a public swimming pool, Field handles this with an astute grace. Even when he’s making mistakes, he’s still relatively wise and unquestionably sophisticated in his approach.

At times, Little Children feels a bit too literary. Based on the novel of the same name, Field and Perrotta insert a narrator, usually a deathly decision. The insertion actually works for the most part, as the film plays out like a more-intelligent-than-usual novel-to-film translation. We, the audience, can spot foreshadowing in some of the film’s more interior and reflective moments, like Brad’s fascination with watching the local teenage boys skateboard in a parking lot, but we’re never slapped in the face with these notions. When the skateboarders become a significant character arc for Brad, it’s not an unsatisfactory moment because Field handles these small moments so well. With a uniformly excellent cast (particularly Winslet and Haley), Field has ambitiously followed up his critical darling, In the Bedroom, which also featured a career-best performance from Marisa Tomei as well as the finest late-career Sissy Spacek performance. Field, a busy actor during the 1990s with films like Ruby in Paradise, Twister, and Eyes Wide Shut, uses his acting history to its fullest degree, equally marking him a wonderful mood and actor’s director. There’s an unshakable haunting quality to Little Children that one doesn’t feel very often; it’s a lingering feeling of thought and quiet provocation, all within a film that’s surprisingly void of expected cynicism and shock.

23 December 2006

Quote of the Day

"What does it say about our world that you can lose American Idol and win an Academy Award for doing basically the same thing? - Matt Singer

Smart People Do Not Actually Like Love Actually

Love Actually - dir. Richard Curtis - 2003 - USA/UK

As it's the Christmas season, and as I work at a shitty video store, the drive for customers to rent the likes of Christmas in Connecticut, Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, and It's a Wonderful Life is high. Sure, the lesser of individuals find themselves renting Jingle All the Way, Christmas with the Kranks, and Home Alone 3, but this year, I've been surprised to find that another Christmas "classic" has emerged: Love Actually. Released three Christmas seasons ago, I had completely forgotten that the film even took place during the holiday season, but thanks to a nauseatingly high demand, I've been unfortunately reminded. A co-worker of mine asked if we had it available for rent because his girlfriend was a big fan. To this, I scoffed, but he then told me that he read an article in a popular magazine that described the violent frenzy that divided the entire editorial staff of the 'zine when the film came out. I forgot what magazine it was, but my co-worker made it sound a lot like the Civil War, and to this I was intrigued. Upon watching the film a couple years back, I couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that people actually liked this film. Sure, it has all the makings of a crappy crowd-pleaser, but were people really this stupid? The answer has become a resounding "yes."

Love Actually isn't so much a film as it is eight different ones wrapped into one messy holiday packaging (what the fuck does that title mean, anyway?). The film runs well over two hours, but this isn't an indication of the effectiveness of these eight movies. Instead, Love Actually is the romantic dramedy equivalent of the Boogymen: Killer Compilation and Ultimate Fights DVDs, trash discs that edit together the goriest or most violent clips from famous films into out-of-context pornography. Love Actually is romantic comedy pornography. It solely exists for emotional titillation. In place of Freddy Krueger, Jet Li, Jason, and Jackie Chan are Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, and Laura Linney, the high courtship of shitty, digestible romantic drivel (Meg Ryan was the only thing missing, but she had already tarnished her romantic image with Jane Campion's disaster, In the Cut). It's an American production, all dolled up like the "best" of the British cross-over successes like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill to better fool its audience. The eight plot lines that somewhat (but not really) intersect throughout Love Actually rid the audience of contextual back-story, character development, and dramatic progression. It assumes (correctly, obviously) that its audience knows these characters already as recognized by their actors and has no need to flesh any of them out past their easily relatable situations. The characters are all faint pencil-drawings of human beings: the romantically-lonely Prime Minister of England, a widower whose ugly, obnoxious young son has a schoolboy crush, a man who falls in love with a maid who doesn't understand English, and a woman who has a huge crush on her coworker.

Love Actually, predictably, finds all of its romantic characters in (where else?) an airport on Christmas Eve, where all of their totally uninteresting storylines come to a nauseatingly happy ending. Everything becomes wrapped in its gaudy Christmas bow, filling the hearts of all the morons who've put up with the film to this point. Even a brief cameo from delicious trash queens like Denise Richards and Shannon Elizabeth can't evoke a smile from this cynic. When reflecting back on my initial thoughts that no intelligent person could buy something like this, I really shouldn't have been so firm with that statement. Love Actually is everything a moron would want. It doesn't feel the need to set up its situations as much as it does to include heart-melting moments like the one pictured at the top, where a man holds up a sign to his best friend's neglected girlfriend, stating "To Me You're Perfect." For those lovelorn for the holidays, it even has crying scenes with Emma Thompson, just in case you thought the film was too light and breezy, but don't worry, everything works out for her in the end. It's even got a dash of nudity here and there to please the husbands of the women who're making them watch it -- it is a faux British production after all, and they're more sexually open than us Americans. The ages of our love chess pieces range from around ten to over fifty, making it certainly the ultimate of romance films. Leave no idiot unmoved! There's only maybe ten films that exist in this world that make me violently enraged, and Love Actually has the rare opportunity to not only become a shitty holiday classic, but sit near the top of that list of mine.

22 December 2006

indieWIRE and Film Comment's Critics Poll

indieWIRE, despite their stupid name (I hate anything that references the completely banal term "indie"), is actually one of the leading sources for a continuing appreciation for artful cinema. This year, they took a poll of 107 North American film critics and came out with their own awards for the year. Film Comment, another haut cinema magazine, also named their best released and unreleased films of the year. The winners are as follows:

Best Film (indieWIRE):

1. The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu [Moartea domunlui Lăzărescu] - dir. Cristi Puiu
2. L'enfant
3. The Departed
4. Inland Empire
5. Army of Shadows [L'armée des ombres]
6. Three Times
7. Old Joy
8. United 93
9. Children of Men
10. Half Nelson
11. The Queen
12. Climates [Iklimler]
13. A Scanner Darkly
14. Pan's Labyrinth [El laberinto del Fauno]
15. Borat: Cultural Learnings of American for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
16. A Prairie Home Companion
17. Volver
18. Battle in Heaven [Battala en el cielo]
19. Letters from Iwo Jima
20. Mutual Appreciation

Best Performance:

1. Helen Mirren (The Queen)
2. Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson)
3. Laura Dern (Inland Empire)
4. Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat: Cultural Learnings of American for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan)
5. Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)
6. Will Oldham (Old Joy)
7. Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada)
8. Ion Fiscuteanu (The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu)
9. Penélope Cruz (Volver)
10. Sandra Huller (Requiem)
11. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed)
12. Maggie Cheung (Clean)
13. Jérémie Renier (L'enfant)
14. Kate Winslet (Little Children)
15. Isabelle Huppert (Gabrielle)
15. Peter O'Toole (Venus)
17. Gael García Bernal (The Science of Sleep)
18. Pascal Greggory (Gabrielle)
18. Gretchen Mol (The Notorious Bettie Page)
20. Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal)

Best Performance in Support:

1. Mark Wahlberg (The Departed)
2. Shareeka Epps (Half Nelson)
3. Robert Downey Jr. (A Scanner Darkly)
4. Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children)
5. Nick Nolte (Clean)
6. Luminiţa Gheorghiu (The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu)
7. Sergi López (Pan's Labyrinth)
8. Meryl Streep (A Prairie Home Companion)
9. Michael Sheen (The Queen)
10. Rinko Kikuchi (Babel)
11. Catherine O'Hara (For Your Consideration)
12. Rob Brydon (Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story)
13. Jack Nicholson (The Departed)
14. Anthony Mackie (Half Nelson)
14. Alec Baldwin (The Departed)
15. Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
17. Danny Huston (The Proposition)
17. Ben Affleck (Hollywoodland)
19. Ken Davitian (Borat: Cultural Learnings of American for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan)
20. Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada)

Best Director:

1. Martin Scorsese (The Departed)
2. David Lynch (Inland Empire)
3. Cristi Puiu (The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu)
4. Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men)
4. Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne (L'enfant)
6. Hou Hsiao-hsien (Three Times)
6. Jean-Pierre Melville (Army of Shadows)
6. Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Climates)
9. Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy)
9. Carlos Reygadas (Battle in Heaven)
9. Paul Greengrass (United 93)
12. Pedro Almodóvar (Volver)
12. Julián Hernández (Broken Sky)
12. Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth)
12. Michael Mann (Miami Vice)
12. Claire Denis (The Intruder)
18. Olivier Assayas (Clean)
18. Brian de Palma (The Black Dahlia)
18. Mel Gibson (Apocalypto)

[NOTE: Jean-Pierre Melville was mentioned twice, possibly an error, which is why the numbers are off.]

Best Screenplay:

1. Peter Morgan (The Queen)
2. William Monahan (The Departed)
3. Richard Linklater (A Scanner Darkly)
3. Frank Cottrell Boyce (Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story)
5. Rian Johnson (Brick)
6. Patrice Chéreau, Anne-Louise Trividic (Gabrielle)
6. Nick Cave (The Proposition)
6. Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan (The Prestige)
6. Eric Schlosser, Richard Linklater (Fast Food Nation)
6. Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy)
6. Andrew Bujalski (Mutual Appreciation)
6. Alan Bennett (The History Boys)
13. Eric Roth (The Good Shepard)
13. Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking)
13. Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne (L'enfant)
13. Cristi Puiu, Răzvan Rădulescu (The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu)
13. Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson)
18. Carlos Reygadas (Battle in Heaven)
18. Craig Chester (Adam & Steve)
18. Chu Tien-wen, Hou Hsiao-hsien (Three Times)

Best First Film:

1. Brick - dir. Rian Johnson
2. 4
3. Little Miss Sunshine
4. The Puffy Chair
4. Man Push Cart
6. Sweet Land
6. 13 (Tzameti)
6. Thank You for Smoking
6. Duck Season [Temporado de patos]
10. Slither
10. The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros [Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros]
10. A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
13. Fateless [Sorstalanság]
13. The Forsaken Land [Sulanga Enu Pinisa]
13. Cavite
13. Hamilton
13. The Ister
13. Street Fight
19. Hollywoodland
19. Deliver Us from Evil

Best Documentary:

1. Iraq in Fragments - dir. James Longley
2. The Devil and Daniel Johnson
2. Our Daily Bread [Unser täglich Brot]
4. Deliver Us from Evil
5. The Case of the Grinning Cat [Chats perchés]
6. An Inconvenient Truth
6. Shut Up & Sing
8. 49 Up
8. The Road to Guantanamo
8. Dave Chappelle's Block Party
8. Borat: Cultural Learnings of American for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
8. A Lion in the House
13. Sir! No Sir!
13. Jackass Number Two
13. Neil Young: Heart of Gold
13. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
13. The Ground Truth
13. The War Tapes
19. Awesome! I Fuckin' Shot That
19. Why We Fight

Best Cinematography:

1. Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men)
2. Guillermo Navarro (Pan's Labyrinth)
2. Mark Lee Ping-bin (Three Times)
4. Dion Beebe (Miami Vice)
5. Gokhan Tiryaki (Climates)
6. David Lynch, et al. (Inland Empire)
6. James Longley (Iraq in Fragments)
6. Eric Gautier (Clean)
6. Michael Ballhaus (The Departed)
10. Rodrigo Prieto (Babel)
10. Alain Marcoen (L'enfant)
10. Alejandro Cantu (Broken Sky)
10. Cao Yu (Mountain Patrol: Kekexili)
10. Benoît Delhomme (The Proposition)
10. Tom Stern (Letters from Iwo Jima)
10. Peter Sillen (Old Joy)
10. Dean Semler (Apocalypto)
10. David Trumblety (Sweet Land)
19. Henry Kaiser, Tanja Koop, Klaus Scheurich (Wild Blue Yonder)
19. Diego Martínez Vignatti (Battle in Heaven)

Best Undistributed Film:

1. Woman on the Beach - dir. Hong Sang-soo - South Korea
2. Still Life - dir. Jia Zhang-ke - China/Hong Kong
3. Colossal Youth [Juventude Em Marcha] - dir. Pedro Costa - Portugal/France/Switzerland
4. In Between Days - dir. Kim So Yong - USA/Canada/South Korea
5. Private Fears in Public Places [Coeurs] - dir. Alain Resnais - France/Italy
6. Day Night Day Night - dir. Julia Loktev - USA
6. Dong - dir. Jia Zhang-ke - China/Hong Kong
6. Honor de cavalleria - dir. Albert Serra - Spain
9. Gardens in Autumn [Jardins en automne] - dir. Otar Iosseliani - France
10. The Journals of Knud Rasmussen - dir. Norman Cohn, Zacharias Kunuk - Canada/Denmark
10. Opera Jawa - dir. Garin Nugroho - Indonesia/Austria
10. Interkosmos - dir. Jim Finn - USA
10. Funky Forest: The First Contact - dir. Katsuhito Ishii, Hajime Ishimine, Shunichiro Miki - Japan
14. Half Moon - dir. Bahman Ghobadi - Iraq/Iran/France/Austria
14. The Sun - dir. Aleksandr Sokurov - Russia/France/Italy/Switzerland
14. John and Jane Toll-Free - dir. Ashim Ahluwalia - India
14. The Pervert's Guide to Cinema - dir. Sophie Fiennes - UK/Austria/Netherlands
14. The Wayward Cloud - dir. Tsai Ming-liang - Taiwan/France
14. Brand Upon the Brain! - dir. Guy Maddin - Canada/USA
20. The Go-Master - dir. Tian Zhuangzhuang - China/Japan

Best Film (Film Comment):

1. The Departed - dir. Martin Scorsese
2. The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu [Moartea domunlui Lăzărescu]
3. Army of Shadows [L'armée des ombres]
4. L'enfant
5. The Queen
6. Borat: Cultural Learnings of American for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
7. Half Nelson
8. United 93
9. Volver
10. Inland Empire
11. Three Times
12. A Scanner Darkly
13. Old Joy
13. Flags of Our Fathers
14. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
15. Pan's Labyrinth [El laberinto del Fauno]
16. Letters from Iwo Jima
17. Mutual Appreciation
18. A Prairie Home Companion
19. Children of Men
20. Casino Royale

Best Unreleased Films:

1. Syndromes and a Century - dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul - Thailand/France/Austria
2. The Host - dir. Bong Joon-ho - South Korea/Japan
3. Colossal Youth [Juventude Em Marcha] - dir. Pedro Costa - Portugal/France/Switzerland
4. I Don't Want to Sleep Alone - dir. Tsai Ming-liang - Taiwan/France/Austria
5. Black Book [Zwartboek] - dir. Paul Verhoeven - Netherlands/U.K./Germany/Belgium
6. Still Life - dir. Jia Zhang-ke - China/Hong-Kong
7. Private Fears in Public Places [Coeurs] - dir. Alain Resnais - France/Italy
8. Belle toujours - dir. Manoel de Oliveira - Portugal/France
9. Offside - dir. Jafar Panahi - Iran
10. The Wind That Shakes the Barley - dir. Ken Loach - Ireland/U.K./Germany/Italy/Spain
11. Brand Upon the Brain! - dir. Guy Maddin - Canada/U.K.
12. Bamako - dir. Abderrahmane Sissako - Mali/France
13. Triad Election - dir. Johnny To - Hong Kong
14. Southland Tales - dir. Richard Kelly - USA
15. In Between Days - dir. Kim So Yong - USA/Canada/South Korea
16. Into Great Silence [Die Große Stille] - dir. Philip Gröning - Germany/France/Switzerland
17. When the Levees Broke - dir. Spike Lee - USA
18. Day Night Day Night - dir. Julia Loktev - USA
19. The Go Master - dir. Tian Zhuangzhuang - China/Japan
20. Red Road - dir. Andrea Arnold - U.K./Denmark


It should come as no surprise that the snobbier of the film critics have shut out some of the big Oscar hopefuls (Dreamgirls, Babel, Little Children, and Little Miss Sunshine) in the best film category (and, trust me, I'm more than thankful about Babel not placing), not to mention low showings for Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers. It looks like The Queen and The Departed are the only films the snobs and press can agree upon. The lists had some nice surprises in the acting categories (Will Oldham, Laura Dern, Nick Nolte & Maggie Cheung, Isabelle Huppert, Danny Huston) as well as the technical ones (Nick Cave, Claire Denis). But Brian de Palma for The Black Dahlia and Mel Gibson for Apocalypto? I don't know what went wrong there. And, it appears that more than a few people on indieWIRE have boners for David Lynch and Richard Linklater, even though both films have been received with mixed reviewes. Nor do I know why Bruno Dumont's Flandres wasn't mentioned in the unreleased category and Richard Kelly's Southland Tales was. I guess this is the final sign that I need to bump The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu up on my Netflix queue.

Short Cuts 22 december 2006

The Third Generation (Die Dritte Generation) - dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder - 1979 - West Germany

Like Bruce LaBruce’s uproarious The Raspberry Reich, Fassbinder’s The Third Generation brilliantly satirizes the dealings of social terrorism. In The Raspberry Reich, our heroine, Gudrun (Susanne Sachsse) proudly proclaims, “I don’t care about what’s going on in Guatemala, Chechnya, or Cambodia; all I care about is my orgasm!” The Third Generation doesn’t exploit the chic draw to terrorism, but, like Reich, the incompetence of the folks involved. Petra (Margit Carstensen) is far more concerned with making up stories about her husband beating her to cover up for her lesbian tendencies than any real political cause. In fact, I don’t think we ever understand why our band of terrorists are even attempting to kidnap a political leader in the first place. Social terrorism is, then, reduced to the boredom of the middle-class, the desire to take phony action to justify one’s self. Though he’s rounded up a wonderful cast (Carstensen, Hanna Schygulla, Harry Baer, Bulle Ogier, Udo Kier, Eddie Constantine), I find it difficult to call The Third Generation one of Fassbinder’s finer works. It’s effectively banal (like Beware of a Holy Whore), but it’s extremely quiet for both a Fassbinder film and a film of this subject.

Jackass Number Two - dir. Jeff Tremaine - 2006 - USA

Jackass Number Two has the astounding feat of being the only film I’ve seen all year to fully, successfully accomplish exactly what it wanted. Of course, it’s ambition doesn’t exactly mirror that of The Queen or Shortbus, but it’s all a matter of relativity. The film is a reunion of sorts for the punkish daredevils (Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Bam Margera, etc.), set to lower the bar of bad taste and shock value (jerking off a horse, creating a rectal beer-bong, among many other perversities). These jokes and stunts would simply qualify as fatalistic debauchery if there weren’t such a joyous camaraderie involved. Seeing a bunch of grown men shaving off their pubic hair and gluing them onto a friend’s face would likely offend most people, but there’s something genuine and pure about these boys’ childlike, homoerotic gross-out vignettes. The film includes a cameo from the maestro of bad taste, John Waters (whom Knoxville befriended working on the lousy A Dirty Shame), truly putting into perspective the actions in the film. Jackass is the wet dream of a man like Waters, a bunch of goofy, scantily-clad men running around offending people and partaking in dubious life-threatening stunts, but all in the name of entertainment and friendship. There are moments of brilliance, like when Pontius turns to the camera, straight-faced, after drinking horse semen and states, “I’m really ashamed of myself right now.” That the director chose to include some notable blunders and moments like the one above exposes the surprising humanity of the film. And what’s not to love about a film that ends in a glorious musical numbers with nods to both Busby Berkley and Buster Keaton?

Heading South (Vers le sud) - dir. Laurent Cantet - 2005 - France/Canada

Laurent Canet’s fourth feature, Vers le sud, manages to be his most fascinating and complex picture, after Time Out (L‘Emploi de temps), Human Resources (Ressources humaines), and Les Sanguinaires. Starring the transcendent Charlotte Rampling as a stone-cold regular of a Haitian beach resort, the film carefully addresses tough issues: racism, classism, political upheaval, and the sexual desires related to them. The resort, headed by Albert (Lys Ambroise), serves as a hideaway for middle-aged, affluent white women to engage in their heated sexual desires for the black island boys. New to the resort is Brenda (Karen Young), a recently divorced southern woman hoping to rekindle the steaming love affair with the young Legba (Ménothy Cesar). Vers le sud is troubling in many senses, both good and bad. On a critical level, there are subplots that simply don’t work, such as a jealous rivalry between Rampling and Young, or, more specifically, don’t penetrate or provoke nearly as much as the rest of the film. Yet within the film, the counter between the intellectual, sophisticated ideas of race for these women and their searing sexual passion for these wild savage men pierces the flesh deeply. There’s no candy-coating of politically correct final revelation among any of these women, as they all seem fully conscious of the way they’re supposed to be feeling. There’s a frightening truth to all of what happens in the film’s final act as one of the locals very coldly reassures Rampling, “tourists never die here.” The women in the film never follow the logically path that an astute viewer would intellectually devise for them, as they all seem fixed in their inaccurate self-images. Vers le sud is both a flawed picture and a richly difficult one, far more potent and shrewd about its issues than most films dealing with similar subjects.

A Scanner Darkly - dir. Richard Linklater - 2006 - USA

There’s always a tug-of-war of authority when it comes to films like A Scanner Darkly, where a filmmaker with a well-recognized style and thematic approach adapts a piece of writing by someone with just as much recognizable character and method. Imagine Fellini adapting a D.H. Lawrence novel if you will. Phillip K. Dick, of course, isn’t as important of a writer as Lawrence, but you can understand the comparison. His writing style is certainly recognizable, just like Linklater’s directing. Using the painted animation that he did with Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly follows undercover cop Bob (Keanu Reeves) and his growing addiction to a drug called Substance D (think Rush, if you will). The film is set in a not-so-distant future, where a vast majority of the United States has become addicted to this dangerous drug. Linklater never overuses his animation, only occasionally imagining drug sequences where Robert Downey Jr. turns into a bug. The tug-of-war of authority never manages to hinder A Scanner Darkly, though it feels as though Dick may have won the struggle. The film feels like Linklater wearing a mask similar to that which Keanu Reeves wears inside the police offices. A Scanner Darkly occasionally addresses questions of existence, but much softer than he does in any of his other, better films. The film is more concerned with government conspiracy and double-crossings than it is of typical Linklater themes. Granted, government conspiracy may be the topic of conversation in several of his characters; it is never the focus of any of his films. A Scanner Darkly may ring up lesser-than-usual Linklater (if you aren’t counting, say, The Bad News Bears or The Newton Boys), but it never manages to become throwaway or gimmicky, which is all to the credit of the director.

21 December 2006

New from Criterion!

I was browsing some archives of the Criterion Forum and found these user-made Criterion covers. Some of them were lame (Ghostbusters, Fight Club, etc.), but I thought these choice few were pretty inspired and in wonderful bad taste (especially the one for Irreversible). Thanks to those who made these.

Oh, the horror!!!!