29 January 2008

top ten for 2007

the more i go along, the more i think about these lists in terms of what will last. for better or for worse, i want to rank what will remain and stand the test of time -- which movies people will remember and quote and use as inspiration, and, maybe most importantly, excitedly recommend to a friend.

that said, this was an unusually good year for movies, so there are many movies that i liked but didn't feel i could include because, as much as they were well-done, i don't think they will be remembered like the above. some that come to mind include: "atonement" (which i have very mixed feelings about, "before the devil knows you're dead", "lars and the real girl", "michael clayton", and "gone baby gone".

and now, my list, unordered:

"no country for old men" - a really good book, and now a really fantastic movie. i like most everything the coen brothers do and admire the way they work, and i'm glad to see them strike gold again. too much to say here, just see it and be awed.

"there will be blood" - anyone who knows me knows that i am a complete and utter nut for paul thomas anderson. he managed to merge his love of classic hollywood cinema with his desire to expand the filmmaker's palette. he got another (perhaps the best ever?) incredible performance from daniel day lewis, and was able to marry his idiosycrasies with a story about America in a way that truly resonates. again, too much to say here, just go see this fucking thing and watch in wonder as a born filmmaker does his thing.

"sweeney todd" - johnny depp never gives a bad performance, even when he's singing. helena bonham carter has a hell of a lot of fun. tim burton continues to design the fuck out of his films, but always in service of the characters and the story. goth kids get a new film to watch repeatedly. sondheim breaths a sigh of relief.

"ratatouille" - probably the best pixar movie ever, and that's saying something. it is about the nature of being an artist, and it does it in a sneaky way without resorting to the cliches of making the artist out to be an asshole. plus, it is a love letter to paris for people who might normally turn their nose up.

"once" - beautiful songs, beautiful love story, beautiful dublin scenery, beautiful use of digital cameras, beautiful avoidance of cliches, beautiful.

"knocked up" - how great is it that we are once again getting comedies that are both funny and edgy and don't make us feel stupid and bad about ourselves for laughing? some great observational moments as well, particularly in regards to paul rudd and leslie mann's characters.

"zodiac" - film craftsmanship at its finest. fincher does the story with style and with restraint, focusing on the details and the unsexy detective work that makes men obsessed. this film is being overlooked.

"sicko" - the focus of this film is the corrupt american health care system, and it is brilliant in that it focuses not on those who don't have coverage, but on those that do have coverage and still get fucked. michael moore is much maligned, but still so relevant.

"away from her" - so many suprising moments in a movie that could have easily turned into a hallmark hall of fame flick: julie christie putting the dishes in the freezer, the nurse correcting the husband's assumptions, a goth girl's simple statement: "i should be so lucky." a love letter to marriage, a great debut.

"hannah takes the stairs" - i know joe swanberg, and i like what he's up to. this movie is strong in its focus on one character and her personal summer of love and heartbreak. i know a lot of girl's like this, and greta gerwig gets it right. this is cinema at its most-realistic, warts (or blue boobs) and all.

bonus list! top 3 movie experiences this year:

"killer of sheep" at the music box - if you don't know anything about this movie, let me brief you: it was started in the early 70's as a student film by charles burnett, finished in 1977, and taken off the market due to music rights problems, even though it was put in the national film registry. the music rights must have cleared, because we finally got a release and it was fucking worth it. this is a portrait of lower-class ghetto life infused with an aching humanity and a startling sense of humor. and to see it this summer at chicago's finest theatre with a cool girl was more than i could ask for.

"spartacus" at the cineramadome at the arclight - this is once of those crazy events that you remember for a long time. afi put together a series of films in september, right when i happened to be in los angeles. aj and i saw "spartacus", with kirk douglas introducing the film and explaining how it almost single-handledly broke the blacklist due to his insistence on including dalton trumbo. the movie is fantastic, the theatre is remarkable, and i got to meet one of the best working filmmakers, david gordon green, in the popcorn line.

"eastern college" - i wrote and directed a feature-length film this year, and it was fucking incredible. this is what i want to do forever and ever and ever.

22 January 2008

77. adaptation

it is brilliant because it has it both ways. it is a simultaneous embrace and satire of the standard elements of hollywood moviemaking. this is in terms of the craft of screenwriting, such as mckee's decree "god help you if you use voiceover narration", as well as the culture of hollywood, such as the stereotype of the solitary and tortured writer's life, the town as one big meat market ("catherine keener is at my house?!"), agents as crass commercialists, and more.

but the movie also has it both ways in that it is both a movie about charlie kaufman wants out of "the orchid thief" -- an art film about a struggling artist with no real drama and the beauty of flowers and a struggle with no real resolution ("just like life") -- as well as a Hollywood product based on or Inspired By "the orchid thief", with all the requisite Hollywood trappings, including (but not limited to): drugs, murders, car chases, epiphanies, romance, intrigue.

this is the rare movie that is both an art film and a hollywood product. and it wears that fact on its sleeve.

on top of that, it is a serious act of courage by kaufman and the rest of the filmmakers. kaufman does not show himself in a flattering light, for one. beyond that, though, he was able to invent a fake twin brother that the academy actually recognized! when you add the manufactured Hollywood elements that show orlean in such a distorted light, it is a wonder that the movie got made at all due to libel and slander lawsuits. or maybe everyone involved thought it would be a fun lark.

one more thing: the performances are quite great. nicholas cage can be a fantastic actor when he lets himself be, and he has fun with the ultimate odd couple of charlie and donald -- he ALSO has it both ways, playing fun and mopey in the same scene. and how often do we get to see Serious Thespian meryl streep let loose, have a blast, and even be sexy?

and don't even get me started on chris cooper...

other stuff

* heath ledger dead at 28. nothing to say other than it's sad to see talent of any kind go to waste. rest in peace.

* oscar nominations announced today were as follows:

1. Best Picture: "Atonement," "Juno," "Michael Clayton," "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood."

2. Actor: George Clooney, "Michael Clayton"; Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood"; Johnny Depp, "Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street"; Tommy Lee Jones, "In the Valley of Elah"; Viggo Mortensen, "Eastern Promises."

3. Actress: Cate Blanchett, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"; Julie Christie, "Away From Her"; Marion Cotillard, "La Vie en Rose"; Laura Linney, "The Savages"; Ellen Page, "Juno."

4. Supporting Actor: Casey Affleck, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"; Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men"; Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"; Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Charlie Wilson's War"; Tom Wilkinson, "Michael Clayton."

5. Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett, "I'm Not There"; Ruby Dee, "American Gangster"; Saoirse Ronan, "Atonement"; Amy Ryan, "Gone Baby Gone"; Tilda Swinton, "Michael Clayton."

6. Director: Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"; Jason Reitman, "Juno"; Tony Gilroy, "Michael Clayton"; Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men"; Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood."

7. Foreign Film: "Beaufort," Israel; "The Counterfeiters," Austria; "Katyn," Poland; "Mongol," Kazakhstan; "12," Russia.

8. Adapted Screenplay: Christopher Hampton, "Atonement"; Sarah Polley, "Away from Her"; Ronald Harwood, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"; Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men"; Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood."

9. Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody, "Juno"; Nancy Oliver, "Lars and the Real Girl"; Tony Gilroy, "Michael Clayton"; Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava and Jim Capobianco, "Ratatouille"; Tamara Jenkins, "The Savages."

10. Animated Feature Film: "Persepolis"; "Ratatouille"; "Surf's Up."

11. Art Direction: "American Gangster," "Atonement," "The Golden Compass," "Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street," "There Will Be Blood."

12. Cinematography: "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," "Atonement," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood."

13. Sound Mixing: "The Bourne Ultimatum," "No Country for Old Men," "Ratatouille," "3:10 to Yuma," "Transformers."

14. Sound Editing: "The Bourne Ultimatum," "No Country for Old Men," "Ratatouille," "There Will Be Blood," "Transformers."

15. Original Score: "Atonement," Dario Marianelli; "The Kite Runner," Alberto Iglesias; "Michael Clayton," James Newton Howard; "Ratatouille," Michael Giacchino; "3:10 to Yuma," Marco Beltrami.

16. Original Song: "Falling Slowly" from "Once," Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova; "Happy Working Song" from "Enchanted," Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz; "Raise It Up" from "August Rush," Nominees to be determined; "So Close" from "Enchanted," Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz; "That's How You Know" from "Enchanted," Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz.

17. Costume: "Across the Universe," "Atonement," "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," "La Vie en Rose," "Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

18. Documentary Feature: "No End in Sight," "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience," "Sicko," "Taxi to the Dark Side," "War/Dance."

19. Documentary (short subject): "Freeheld," "La Corona (The Crown)," "Salim Baba," "Sari's Mother."

20. Film Editing: "The Bourne Ultimatum," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," "Into the Wild," "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood."

21. Makeup: "La Vie en Rose," "Norbit," "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."

22. Animated Short Film: "I Met the Walrus," "Madame Tutli-Putli," "Meme Les Pigeons Vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven)," "My Love (Moya Lyubov)," "Peter & the Wolf."

23. Live Action Short Film: "At Night," "Il Supplente (The Substitute)," "Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)," "Tanghi Argentini," "The Tonto Woman."

24. Visual Effects: "The Golden Compass," "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," "Transformers."

i'll have comments on them when the winners are announced.

* my picks for top ten (and a bonus list) coming next week. there are still a few movies i have to see before i can decide.

05 January 2008

there will be blood

it is pretty magnificent, and you should go see it.

01 January 2008

78. rocky

it is hard to see this one with fresh eyes, since it has been so stained by sequels and stallone's action hero career. the years have not been kind, have sullied our memory of what this movie was at this time in history. but the movie is really good, and it can stand on its own if you let it.

crazy as it is to think now, since "rambo", since "cobra", since "stop or my mom will shoot!", but back then, some 30 years ago, a lot of people though stallone could be the next brando. and you can see why: it is an intensely physical performance, with remarkable shots of stallone training for boxing (a particular highlight is him waking up and drinking a glass of eggs) and actually boxing, as well. beyond that, he is imposing in his scenes the way brando was in "a streetcar named desire" -- he stalks around town in his black outfit and fedora, bouncing a racquetball, smoking cigarettes; he lumbers around his apartment, seeming to fill the whole damn room up.

as physical a role as it is, he makes remarkable use of his own patterns of speech, talking nervously constantly to adrian late-night in the pet shop, the rhythms of a street thug who doesn't know how to have a conversation and ends every sentence with a rhetorical question. the script has everyone speak like the blue-collar folks they are, and it never feels wrong.

so stallone wrote this thing, too, and the writing is also really good. like "taxi driver", made in the same year, the movie is about a loner, a loser, someone who feels the full extent of urban isolation that only a big city can provide. and like "star wars", one year later, the movie taps into big universal myths. in the case of "star wars", we are talking about the hero myth, the joseph campbell archetypes. in this case, though, stallon tapped into the myth of america. make no mistake: this is a movie about america. that is why it was made on our bicentennial. that is why apollo creed wears flag-covered trunks and comes out to the ring dressed like george washington. america still thinks of itself as an underdog, a scrappy little figure that had to fight for everything it got. this is why we love horatio algiers, because it plays into how we think of ourselves as a nation, and stallone knew that and used it and it works. and when you use that, weaving a love story that actual is tender and beautiful, that's how you get a smash hit.

one final note: the use of steadicam in the movie is revelatory. this was one of the first -- maybe the very first -- movie to use steadicam, and you can see the filmmakers trying their hardest to use it in ways that would wow other filmmakers. things like the ice skating scene, where the camera seems to glide over the ice without a dolly track, must have drove other technicians mad trying to figure out how they did it. there are numerous long takes throughout the movie that are technically quite good, but also are thematically appropriate in that they allow the actors to inhabit this decaying urban environment and isolate the lonliness -- when you see a shot that's over one minute long and there's no one else on the street, subconsciously you understand emptiness.

contrast that to the legendary shot of rocky running up the steps in triumph, and you see how they used steadicam again both to show off, but to also show a man who has taken that isolation and used it to his advantage, and has now "conquered" the city and will triumph, whether or not he wins his fight.