Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"No damn trespassing. Beware of mule."

The history of movies is filled with hermits, but few have been as precisely drawn as Felix Bush, the protagonist of Get Low. Played by Robert Duvall, Felix is a cantankerous old coot- the word “old” would seem redundant but for the agreeable rhythm it brings to the phrase- who’s holed up in his cabin for the better part of four decades, with only a mule as company. One thing I appreciated about Get Low is that it doesn’t strive too hard to make Felix seem purer or more genuine than the more sophisticated townsfolk he meets throughout the film, or to turn him into some kind of backwoods philosopher. That’s not to say Felix doesn’t have wisdom of a sort, but it’s the kind of wisdom one gains through fending for oneself for a long period of time. Four decades alone hasn’t brought Felix any closer to figuring out the meaning of life, but they’ve given him plenty of time to perfect his recipe for rabbit stew.

Click here for the complete review.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #1

Well, here we are, folks. This shouldn't be a surprise to any of you, but I'm grateful to all of you who've been reading. Thank you.

So many films have treated the natural segue from youthful idealism to the long-haul pragmatism of adulthood as a tragedy that it’s sort of amazing to see a movie that treats it as a simple fact of life. The marvel of The New World is twofold- that master director Terrence Malick sets this transition in the life of Pocahontas (played wonderfully by Q’Orianka Kilcher) against the backdrop of a land about to make the same leap, and that it does so without ever once insisting upon the point. Yet there’s so much more to love about The New World- the completeness with which its world is imagined (Jack Fisk’s magnificently hewn sets are breathtaking), the breathtaking cinematography (courtesy of Emmanuel Lubezki), and above all, the directorial command that Malick brings to the tale. And to think he’s already got another film on the way!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts- An Addendum

Before I announce my favorite film of the past decade (announcement scheduled for tomorrow), I'd like to share a few miscellaneous thoughts on the list I've made. First off, my list was compiled on the basis of international premiere rather than U.S. theatrical release, which eliminated a number of films that which bowed in the late 1990s but didn't make it here until 2000 or so. Andrew Bemis is currently compiling a poll of favorite films from the 2000s based on domestic release date, and I've submitted a list to him which, along with most of the top 10 I've listed here, also includes Audition and Beau Travail- both great films which didn't meet the requirements for this countdown, but which definitely deserve mention when talking about tbe best films I saw in the last ten years.

Additionally, when I made this list I decided to only include single films rather than franchises, so that eliminated such notable works as the Kill Bill saga and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. These have always been tricky cases as far as list-making is concerned, since both are essentially multi-part films rather than free-standing units. But whatever they are, they are nonetheless some of the seminal films of the last decade.

Finally, there's Dogtooth, a film that I saw well after I firmed up this top 25 list, but which in my eyes definitely deserves to join its ranks. Rather than trying to squeeze it into the list in media res, I've decided to leave it out for the time being, with the plan to add it in at a later date. The reasons for this are twofold. First, I didn't want to cause confusion in readers by making it look like I was juggling positions on this list while I was unveiling it. But more importantly, I honestly think it's the kind of movie that requires multiple viewings to really be appreciated. With one exception, I've watched every film on this list more than once, and each of them benefit from this process, along with a certain amount of time passing to allow the film's contents to turn over in my brain for a while. Once I get the chance to see Dogtooth again, I'm confident that it will assume a prominent position among my favorite films of the 2000s. But I'm willing to wait for this to happen.

Friday, August 20, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #2

There are actually full-length copies of this on YouTube, but Don Hertzfeldt doesn't really like this, so I'll respect his wishes by posting a section of the film he posted himself. If you dig this, you can buy the full DVD on the Bitter Films site.

Since the mid-nineties, Don Hertzfeldt has been the reigning prankster of American animation, hand-crafting little wonders like the Oscar-nominated Rejected. Yet there’s always been a wealth of ideas behind his work, and these ideas came to the fore most prominently in Everything Will Be OK, a meditation on mortality and circumstance that feels like the cartoon cousin to Raymond Carver. That’s not to say Hertzfeldt has lost his sense of humor- far from it- but that it’s become load-bearing, in the service of some surprisingly profound issues about life.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #3

Holy. Holy. Holy.

To its many detractors, Richard Linklater’s Waking Life is little more than a glorified undergraduate bull session, gussied up with some computer animation. But to these eyes, the film is less about the particular (and often conflicting) ideas espoused by its gallery of characters than about capturing the liberating feeling of being able to give voice to such ideas, no matter how facile or misguided. And with the assistance of Bob Sabiston and his team of animators, Linklater has made a film that dances in time with the ideas it expresses.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #4

Play 'em on, Isabelle!

This one is sure to be the most controversial pick on my list, with a handful of devoted fans and more than a few naysayers. But then, such is the nature of Francois Ozon’s hilarious, borderline experimental take on classical Hollywood melodramas. Unlike the acclaimed Far From Heaven, released the same year, 8 Women is a film that delights in doodling in the margins, finding room in its Agatha Christie-esque plot and silky Sirkian style for off-the-cuff musical numbers and intertextual allusions a-plenty. Oh, and that cast- if the names Deneuve, Huppert, Darrieux, Ardant, and Béart mean anything to you, you’re just the audience this film needs.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #5

Ain't there one damn song who can make me... break down and cryyyyyyyyyyyyyy??

At a time when many filmmakers are pushing the boundaries of digital photo-realism, leave it to Lars Von Trier to go in the other direction. Dogville first provocation is to tell its tale on an undressed soundstage with chalk outlines in place of walls, but it’s by no means the last. More than ever, Dogville led its critics to decry its anti-American streak (and not without reason), yet while the characters’ treatment of Grace has distinct parallels in the American immigrant experience, it’s also a pointed parable for humanity’s need to subjugate others throughout history.

Monday, August 16, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #6

But first, this past weekend I took in an odd titles-themed double feature. Consequently, I've got new reviews of Dogtooth and Restrepo.

And now... Draaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaainage!

“Anybody can make a lot of money, if all you want to do is make a lot of money.” Few big-screen characters have exemplified Mr. Bernstein’s philosophy as Daniel Day-Lewis’ Plainview, the very embodiment of venal, soul-sucking greed. Those who’ve taken P.T. Anderson’s masterpiece There Will Be Blood as an allegory for the modern oil industry miss the point that, if it hadn’t been oil that made Plainview a bazillionaire, it’d been some other damn thing. Anderson’s film isn’t always pleasant or cheerful, but it’s uncompromising, and thanks to the director’s visual pyrotechnics and Day-Lewis’ volcanic performance, exciting as hell.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #7

You were waiting for this one to show up? Funny you should say that...

The setting- a New York City still quaking from 9/11- got most of the press, but Spike Lee’s film would be a major work regardless of its time or place. As Monty (Edward Norton) readies himself for his upcoming jail sentence (for dealing drugs), he has to come to grips with the choices he’s made in life, while assessing his relationships with his friends, his girlfriend, and his family. It’s a lot for one film, but Lee has always been a bold filmmaker, and he never steps wrong. Was there a more heartrending sequence this decade than the final reel of 25th Hour, in which Monty’s dad (Brian Cox) lays out an alternate future for his son? Not for me, there wasn’t.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #8

Son... Son... Son... here it comes...

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are often compared to Bresson, but let it not be said that they dwell in his shadow, as they’re currently riding one of the hottest streaks in world cinema. The Son is above all a fascinating character study about a fundamentally decent man who comes face to face with a boy who once did him an unspeakable wrong. There’s quite a bit of plot in The Son, but the Dardennes have the rare gift for making it spring directly from their characters, and with Olivier Gourmet (giving one of the decade’s best performances) in the lead role, they make their greatest film to date.

Friday, August 13, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #9

I'm just a little person...

Like Waking Life, Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut attempts to navigate the immensity of the human mind. But while Linklater’s film portrays the mind as a playground, in Kaufman’s film it’s a labyrinth. The anti-Synecdoche contingent has painted the film as little more than unpleasant navel-gazing, but I’ve seen few films that have such a profound grasp on the paths we take in life- our bodies break down, things start to repeat themselves, and we gradually cede control of our lives to others, but all the while we strive to make a change in the world. Synecdoche is a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s truly mind-enlarging.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #10

As we hit the top ten, we come to what is probably the least-seen movie on this list. Incidentally, the blurbs that I'll be using from here on out were originally submitted by me for James Frazier's "You Aught to Know" poll this past spring. Anyway...

One of my greatest cinematic discoveries this past decade was the world of Peter Watkins, and his epic La Commune (Paris, 1871) is one of his finest works. La Commune tells the story of the Paris Commune, who briefly took over Paris before being overthrown by the government. But instead of making a straightforward period piece, Watkins presents the Commune’s story through the lens of two television networks, one presenting the Communards’ point of view, the other voicing that of the establishment. Paradoxically, this dueling-media device gives the story a greater immediacy than a conventional telling ever would, turning a safe history lesson into a rallying cry for dissent and activism in today’s world.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #11


This is one of two short films on this list, by the way. No prize for guessing the one still to come...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #12

But first, here's a link to my review of The Kids Are All Right.

OK, now mix yourself an Aqua Velva and check it out:

Also, of all the movies on this list, who would have thought that Zodiac would be perhaps the hardest one to find a suitable video for on YouTube?

Monday, August 09, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #13

If not the absolute greatest movie of the last decade, then probably the most indescribable.

Here in the U.S., the phrase "commercial director" conjures up images of high-gloss hacks like Michael Bay and McG foisting their sell! sell! sell! mindsets on unsuspecting multiplex-goers. But Roy Andersson, acclaimed by Ingmar Bergman as the world's greatest commercial director, parlayed his gift for creating vivid scenes and brilliant vignettes into two great films this past decade, Songs From the Second Floor (above) and its lovely follow up, You the Living.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #14

Are you watching closely?

To my eyes, Nolan's best to date, with his innate cleverness used in the service of both heady ideas and poignant emotions. As awesome as Memento, Inception and the Batman films are, this is Nolan's keeper.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #15

Bust a move, Mathieu Amalric!

Okay, so this doesn't really capture the prickly verbosity that's a trademark of Desplechin's work. And the amazing Emmanuelle Devos is nowhere to be found here. But it's certainly less heavy than most of the showstopping bits in Kings and Queen, you must admit.

Friday, August 06, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #16

How awesome is this movie? Wes Anderson even got a great performance out of Luke Wilson, of all people.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #17

Haneke has as good a decade as any filmmaker, beginning with this one, his masterpiece to date.

Sort of a shame that he closed the decade with the disappointing White Ribbon, which had all his usual didacticism but few of his usual interesting ideas. All the same, I would rather it have taken the Foreign Film Oscar than The Secret in Their Eyes.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts: #18

Shut-shut-shut-shut-shut up and watch!

By the way, this is the other filmmaker I've double-dipped. Which is pretty impressive when you consider that ol' PTA only made two movies in the last decade. The Master is gonna be so awesome...

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #19

Due to explicitness, it was pretty much either this or the credits, and YouTube wouldn't let me embed the credits, so there ya go.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Sunday, August 01, 2010

My Top 25 of the Aughts, #21

Nine years later...

Note: Linklater's one of two filmmakers I've included twice here. The other'll show up within the next few days.