Wednesday, December 26, 2007

My answers to Prof. Bertram Potts' Hella Homework for the Holidays Christmas Break Quiz

1) Your favorite opening shot

We open on a college dorm full of nubile young lovelies. The camera stalks the outside of the building, spying on the girls. OK, so it's the killer's point of view. We then follow the killer inside the dorm as he sneaks around, seemingly unnoticed. We hear him breathing- how is it no one sees him? No matter. He slinks in and out of rooms, searching for his next victim. Suddenly, there she is, in the shower of course. He approaches, we see his hand pull back the shower curtain, she snaps her head around, opens her mouth and she screams... and the sound is like a small animal dying. Hilarious and perfect- Brian DePalma's Blow Out.

2) Tuesday Weld or Mia Farrow?

Mia. Not even the fallout from the Soon-Yi scandal could dissuade me.

3) Name a comedy you’re embarrassed to admit made you laugh

I sort of hate to admit it, but Tommy Boy makes me laugh every time. It's sort of glorious in its stupidity, and if nothing else Farley gives it his all. I think a lot of my affection for the movie was that when I was in the Ohio State Men's Glee Club we would watch it on every long bus trip. So half my laughter for the movie is remembering the funny incidental stuff we'd do along with it.

4) Best Movie of 1947

"Numbers sanctify, my boy!" Monsieur Verdoux, easily my favorite Chaplin movie, as well as his darkest.

5) Burt Reynolds was the Bandit. Jerry Reed was the Snowman. Paul LeMat was Spider. Candy Clark was Electra. What’s your movie handle?

The Ghost. I avoid the sun, so I'm white as a sheet, and nobody seems to notice me when I'm around.

6) Robert Vaughn or David McCallum?

Nothing against McCallum, but only one of these guys is staring at my sternly from the back of my telephone book, and it ain't him. Bonus points to Vaughn for facing off against Pootie Tang.

7) Most exotic/unusual place/location in which you've seen a movie

Wish I had a cooler response for this, but the best I can do is the outdoor screenings that the Wexner Center for the Arts holds every summer in Columbus. It's a whole different experience watching movies like The Big Heat or The General under the stars.

8) Favorite Errol Morris movie

Gates of Heaven. Much as I love Morris, it's all been downhill from there. This maybe the most unexpected of masterpieces, a portrait of economic struggle and a philosophical treatise on mortality, all couched in a movie about pet cemetaries. Plus it inspired (see #17).

9) Best Movie of 1967

Belle de Jour, my all-time favorite. But it must be said that 1967 was a particularly special year for movies, filled to the brim with masterpieces that would have taken the top spot in many a lesser year. Belle de Jour, Play Time, Weekend, Two for the Road, Point Blank, Privilege, Mouchette, Le Samourai, The Young Girls of Rochefort, Branded to Kill... I could keep this up all day. Man, what a year.

10) Describe a profoundly (or not-so-profoundly) disturbing moment you’ve had courtesy of the movies

Hard to top the guy getting his head bashed in with a fire extinguishes in Irreversible.

11) Anne Francis or Julie Newmar?

Anne Francis was gracious enough to conduct an interview for the Columbus Sci-Fi Marathon a few years back, so I'll give her the edge. Also, LOVE Forbidden Planet, plus she gets a shout-out in Rocky Horror.

12) Describe your favorite one sheet (include a link if possible)

Why tell when you can show? For me, it's a tie: the glorious sick joke of the Fargo poster and the gorgeous Polish one-sheet for The Phantom of Liberty. Fargo's is a pricess juxtaposition of the folksy and the violent that suits the film perfectly, and the Bunuel poster is just a jaw-dropping work of art, and pre-computer animation no less.

13) Best Movie of 1987

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, still the best thing Todd Haynes has ever done. Forget what I said about Gates of Heaven- Superstar is the most unlikely masterpiece ever made. I know what you're thinking- a movie about a pop star with an eating disorder, acted out entirely by Barbie dolls, and it's good? No, it's AMAZING. Just because it's kitschy doesn't mean it's not also profoundly moving. Every movie lover should see this at least once. It's illegal, but don't let that stop you.

14) Favorite movie about obsession

Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes, a beautiful, tragic tale about a dancer so consumed by her art that it leads to her death. And in glorious Technicolor, no less.

15) Your ideal Christmas movie triple feature

My family watches The Muppet Christmas Carol every year, so that's as good a place as any to start. Then two personal Christmas favorites, Gremlins and the best one of all, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek.

16) Montgomery Clift or James Dean?

Personally, I find Dean to be overrated as an actor. I believe much of his legend rests on the "live fast, die young" mythology that surrounds his life. Clift had a life that was just as tragic, but in a way that was much less sexy. But what counts is acting, and frankly I think Clift blows Dean out of the water in the acting department. His later performances are particularly moving- his performance in Judgment at Nuremberg is the acting equivalent of an open wound.

17) Favorite Les Blank Movie

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. Herzog is a great filmmaker, but an even greater character, and this incident looms large in his legend.

18) This past summer food critic Anton Ego made the following statement: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” Your thoughts?

I mostly agree with what Ego has to say. For me, as a semi-pro critic, I take his thoughts less as a universal truth than as a challenge never to succumb to easy putdowns and lazy hyperbole. The opinions of a critic- positive or negative- are only vaild if (a) they're backed up by ideas, and (b) the critic comes by them honestly. It's the difference between Rex Reed and Armond White. Whereas Rex is less a critic than a putdown artist, I sincerely believe that White's reviews, wonky though they often are, flow directly from his honest opinions as a moviegoer. Where White fails, I think, is his overly heavy reliance on his preconceived notions of the filmmaker in question. For example, I have a hard time taking seriously his thoughts on any Spielberg movie, as he seems predisposed to loving anything bearing the Spielberg name. This is where Ego's final idea comes into play- if we are to give a movie the fair shake it deserves, we must exercise every possible effort to take it on its own terms. A great film can come in any form, and even the artists we cherish most are capable of doing subpar work.

19) The last movie you watched on DVD? In a theater?

Last on DVD: 28 Weeks Later, which scared me more the second time once I stopped trying to compare it to the original. In the theatre: Charlie Wilson's War, a middling piece of toothless Oscar-bait, and a surprisingly one-sided view of American interventionism, told through the prism of the most cut-and-dried example of it in modern American history.

20) Best Movie of 2007

As far as features as concerned, it's a pretty close race between Zodiac and No Country for Old Men. But no new film of 2007 has hit me as hard as Don Hertzfeldt's new animated short Everything Will Be OK. In little more than fifteen minutes, Hertzfeldt tells the story of a man who is doomed to die. His doctors give up on him, his mother moves in to help, and the man himself goes off the deep end. And then, without warning, he suddenly gets better, much to everyone's annoyance. Everything Will Be OK has the feel of a Raymond Carver story, both in its sense of irony and its reliance on small but significant detail. But the twisted sense of humor and unique animation style is all Hertzfeldt.

21) Worst Movie of 2007

Much as I'd like to pick on a terrible blockbuster like Transformers, I should be honest here (See #18) and say that the 2007 release that made me the most miserable was Luc Besson's Angel-A, a bargain-basement cinema du look take on It's a Wonderful Life. It's not that I'm opposed to It's a Wonderful Life clones, but if the story is going to work then its hero needs to at least show some sign of being worth the heavenly intervention. Instead, it's saddled with a loser of a protagonist whose worthless life somehow warrants the services of super-foxy angel Rie Rasmussen, who helps rid him of his debts and learn to love himself again. What a waste of perfectly good black-and-white 'Scope cinematography. Besson, wha' happened?

22) Describe the stages of your cinephilia

Age 5-13/ watching movies for the sake of watching movies/ Disney, kids' movies, Spielberg, whatever my parents brought home from the video store

Age 14-16/ going to the movies with friends on the weekends, catching up with American classics on video/ Scorsese, Coppola, all the new releases

Age 17-22/ first viewing of Pulp Fiction leads to first experience with foreign-language films, attempt at highbrow snobbery in guise of cultivating good taste/ Bunuel, 60s-era Godard, Bergman

Age 22-25/ catching up with the canon, learning once again to trust own opinions/ Malick, Bresson, Kurosawa

Age 26-present/ embracing genre films and lowbrow stuff, preference for art in execution over Art in name/ Leone, Sturges, DePalma, Romero

23) What is the one film you’ve had more difficulty than any other in convincing people to see or appreciate?

Only one? Yeesh... it's gotten to where I've stopped trying. I suppose it's kind of my fault, in retrospect. After all, if you recommend semi-obscure foreign-language films to your parents and non-cinephile friends then you've got nobody to blame but yourself when they stop listening to you.

24) Gene Tierney or Rita Hayworth?

Rita was a doll, but Gene's one of my absolute favorites. Sexy as all get-out (that overbite!) and almost certainly a better actress too. Rita never gave a performance half as affecting as Gene's in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

25) The Japanese word wabi denotes simplicity and quietude, but it can also mean an accidental or happenstance element (or perhaps even a small flaw) which gives elegance and uniqueness to the whole. What film or moment from a film best represents wabi to you?

Way to make your mark, Prof. Potts. After all, I can't see Shoop asking a question like this. Anyway... I love that moment in Nashville when Bill, Mary and Tom are singing "Since You've Gone" and Mary clears her throat. Most musical numbers are so polished and obviously pre-recorded that it's delightful to realize that they're actually up there singing the song for the camera and the crowd. I love that Altman keeps that in the movie, and it's so emblematic of his style, which embraced imperfections and chaos that most directors feared.

26) Favorite Documentary

See #8.

27) Favorite opening credit sequence

I love Godard's credits from back in the 60s, which were almost always unique and fun. He was always experimenting, even with the credits, and it's hard to pick one. But forced to choose, I'd go with the alphabet-soup credits of Pierrot le Fou, with a shout out to the ragtime montage of Band of Outsiders and the presence of Bardot's ass in Contempt.

28) Is there a film that has influenced your lifestyle in a significant or notable way? If so, what was it and how did it do so?

As much as I love movies, I don't think that any particular movie has influenced me deeply. Whenever a movie does influence me, it's in small ways, like trying a certain drink or buying a new hat. I guess I'm just comfortable with my own style, whatever that is.

29) Glenn Ford or Dana Andrews?

Oh, I see what you're doing here. It's Gilda vs. Laura, isn't it? Well, of these two guys I gotta go with Ford, who was so good at playing the noble good guy that some of his best work comes in movies where that image got muddied up. The Big Heat wouldn't work half so well if we didn't believe he was clean at the beginning, all the better to get his hands dirty later on.

30) Make a single prediction, cynical or hopeful, regarding the upcoming Academy Awards

Without the writers working behind the scenes to write canned banter for the presenters, it should be much shorter than usual. At least, I hope so.

31) Best Actor of 2007

A great performance in a movie almost nobody saw- Sam Rockwell in Joshua. There are many things one expects from a evil-kid thriller, but a complex portrayal of the child's father is not one of them. But Rockwell's- and the movie's- triumph is that the story is just as much about the father as it is about the son. Rockwell is magnificent in the part, playing a man who isn't exactly prime father material, and who might have done all right with a son who shared his interests, but is completely out of his depth with conniving little Joshua. Rockwell isn't a bad parent, but he's sort of clueless, and once his son has set his plan in motion- assisted by the knowledge that the child invariably gets the benefit of the doubt- it's heartbreaking to see how Rockwell gets taken in by it. Seek this one out on DVD, folks.

32) Best Actress of 2007

Carice Van Houten in Black Book. She came seemingly out of nowhere to tackle perhaps the most challenging female role this year, and did it without breaking a sweat. Also, super hot. Also deserving of mention: Nicole Kidman in Margot at the Wedding, a blistering comedic performance from an star who was long overdue for a chance to really cut loose.

33) Best Director of 2007

David Fincher, Zodiac. It was tricky enough for him to make all of the story's facts and details and dozens of characters comprehensible and cinematic. The marvel is that he makes it spellbinding, while almost never relying on the trickery that has dominated his earlier films.

34) Best Screenplay of 2007

This is always a tricky question, since I haven't actually read any. But there have been a number of well-written films this past year, notably Zodiac, No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, Ratatouille, and most overlooked of all, Richard Shepherd's The Hunting Party, a dark comedy set during the war in the Balkans, which has the gonzo sensibility of Hunter Thompson infused with a surprising emotional heft.

35) Favorite single movie moment of 2007

Jeez, only one? I had a hard enough time narrowing it down to five for this week's column. But if we're talking re-watchability, the winner would have to be the dick-drawing flashback in Superbad, a drop-dead hilarious scene that's so fraught with emotion and full of detail that it had to be inspired by real life.

36) What’s your wish/hope for the movies in 2008?

That they continue to surprise me every once in a while.

Intrigued? Got a few hours to spare? Take the quiz yourself at Dennis Cozzalio's Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.

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