Seen in 2005 Part I
Submitted by lukeprog on Mon, 01/10/2005 - 12:59
***** one of the best films of all time.
- THX 1138 (1971, George Lucas, USA) ** Like most low-budget sci-fi, THX 1138 is brimming with interesting ideas about technology and society, but doesn't tell a great story or achieve technological constistency and believability.
- Destiny (1921, Fritz Lang, Germany) *** Frequently portends Lang's future greatness, and its artistic execution matches the technical wizardry. Too many titles.
- The Dreamlife of Angels (1998, Erick Zonca, France) ** Throughout the movie, I was trying to decide if this was a quiet triumph of human commonness or a shallow social commentary. The infuriating final minutes revealed it as the latter.
- Gotti (1996, Robert Harmon, USA) [TV] * Insultingly derivative in every scene and line of dialogue.
- In the Name of the Father (1993, Jim Sheridan, Ireland) *** Not quite Bloody Sunday or The Shawshank Redemption, but damn good nonetheless.
- Thesis (1996, Alejandro Amenábar, Spain) * I'm a brutalist, so I should like this acclaimed director's debut about snuff videos, right? Not when it's this sloppily directed, written, and scored.
- Star Wars (1977, George Lucas, USA) [rewatch] ** Hold your pitchforks. Star Wars and King Kong have got to be the two most over-rated movies ever. Neither are well-written or well-directed, feature good dialogue or good acting. Both are significant for their editing and special effects. Pixar's role in making kids' movies watchable isn't that overrated; Star Wars is on-the-nose, relentlessly impractical and inconsistent (within the rules of its own universe), and morally simplistic. It probably seems unfair that I so quickly dismiss the common merits of an entire genre, but I think pornos and chop-socky flicks typically suck, too. At least Star Wars is fast-paced and often fun to watch (when Ford or Jones are speaking, usually). The legacy of Star Wars (besides its importance for the movie industry) is the unmatched, epic scope of its fully-realized universe and, like King Kong, its revelation of the possibilities of cinema to show new creatures and worlds. Okay, I've had my say: bring on the pitchforks.
- Birth (2004, Jonathan Glazer, USA) *** From the opening I shot, you know you've got a great director, a good score, and a high-potential concept. To see the spectacular idea paid off with an unspectacular script is beautiful. In case you missed it, Spoiler: Highlight to viewthe kid is a reincarnation of Sean, who decides to tell Anna he isn't Sean because he doesn't want her to know about him and Clara, and maybe he realizes it just won't work.
- Spanglish (2004, James L. Brooks, USA) [rewatch] *** Yeah, I know it's aggressively cute and blatantly manipulating, but I had so much fun watching this, I can't help myself.
- Drumline (2002, Charles Stone III, USA) * Barely better than You Got Served.
- D.O.A. (1950, Rudolph Maté, USA) * Maybe it was formative for film noir, maybe not. I understand the style of the times, but D.O.A. still feels like an amateur, cliche narrative with horrid dialogue.
- Nobody Needs to Know (2003, Azazel Jacobs, USA) *** The sound mix is sometimes lacking, but I don't care: Nobody Needs to Know is told in an original, reflexive style, with plenty of (quietly or loudly) desperate humanity and effective shot manipulation on display. Feels like a student film in a good way, for once. Download it from the Internet Archive.
- Videohaut (2004, Thorsten Fleisch, Germany) [short] * Stupid.
- Superbitmapping (2000, Thorsten Fleisch, Germany) [short] * A strange and definitely worthless computer experiment.
- Silver Screen (2004, Thorsten Fleisch, Germany) [short] * Flesich's worst.
- Más Fuerte (2004, Thorsten Fleisch, Germany) [short] * Just as annoying in live-action.
- Kosmos (2004, Thorsten Fleisch, Germany) [short] * Frenetic but irritating. I'm beginning to think Fleisch makes films just to piss people off.
- K.I.L.L. (2004, Thorsten Fleisch, Germany) [short] * Pointless.
- Hautnah (2002, Thorsten Fleisch, Germany) [short] * Like Blutrausch, but with skin.
- Gestalt (2003, Thorsten Fleisch, Germany) [short] ** In the same vein as _grau, but more mathematical and less interesting.
- Friendly Fire (2003, Thorsten Fleisch, Germany) [short] ** Don't ask me.
- Blutrausch (1999, Thorsten Fleisch, Germany) [short] * Flesich smeared his own blood on a roll of film and lets it fly by, fast, furious and messy.
- The Boat (1921, Buster Keaton, USA) [short, rewatch] ** I don't want to rate all the silent slapstick shorts, the Disney and Warner Brothers shorts, etc. There's million of them, and they are all roughly the same. There's nothing wrong with The Boat, but it doesn't stand out.
- Since Otar Left (2003, Julie Bertucelli, France) *** I've just been waiting for one of these quiet, foreign-film-fest-favorite dramas to be a bad film, I just haven't seen it yet.
- First Daughter (2004, Forest Whitaker, USA) * Puts Katie Holmes on a level of abhorability I didn't know existed. This is a sub-Paul-Walker level of distaste, folks. It was like eating poop.
- The Machinist (2004, Brad Anderson, Spain) ** Brad Anderson is a name to watch. His direction and Bale's frighteningly frail figure are highly effective mood manipulators, and the movie is propelled by very strong need-to-know-what-happens-next hooks. But: whose first guess at the hangman game after we get "ER" isn't ? And there are a few plot holes, likeSpoiler: Highlight to view"KILLER"Also, the last 30 minutes felt like a waste because by then we'reSpoiler: Highlight to viewafter evading the police, Trevor can go back to get his truck from the front of the police station because they didn't check for his other set of plates and look outside? And how did Trevor not check on his bleeding freezer the first time he saw it?Spoiler: Highlight to viewsure it's all in his head, and we're probably sure he's feeling guilty about killing that kid somehow in real life, which caused his insomnia (especially if we've read the movie's tagline).
- Mystery Men (1999, Kinka Usher, USA) ** An imaginative, underrated movie with a great concept and jokes and characters that are actually funny. It pains me that it still fails with the other half of the jokes that suck. 50/50 is a pretty rare ratio for successful jokes in a movie, but alas, that doesn't mean Mystery Men is a good movie, just that most comedies really suck.
- The Clearing (2004, Pieter Jan Brugge, USA) ** You know, I actually liked this movie for a while for all the wrong reasons. It's cliche, unspectacular, and non-thrilling, with no memorable characters or dialogue. Strangely, enough, that's what I liked about it for a while. It was a simple drama played out semi-often in our country told without contrived action, twists, or intensity. Every character involved is the obvious character who would be involved in the story - as even the characters themselves know. But I guess the filmmakers decided they needed to throw in some predictable Hollywood twists and "intense" scenes for the climax. And in the end, it is possible to make an unassuming, realistic drama not so cliche, and I wish they had.
- Memento (2001, Christopher Nolan, USA) [rewatch] ***** Memento uses a highly innovative and effective reverse-forward-reverse-forward chronology. That Memento succeeds so brilliantly on every other level, too, makes it one of the best films of all time. The opening shot is of a grisly murder-scene Polaroid fading away as it fades in Leonard's memory - but of course the shot is rolling backwards because a Polaroid would fade into focus. We then see shots of the murder play backwards as an introduction to the reverse chronology of the film. From then on, the shots play forward but the scenes play backward, except for those in black and white, which play forward. Memento also works as another step forward for Neo-noir: its characters, especialy Leonard, are not only alienated from their surroundings, but from the story and even from themselves. As a thriller, Memento is fairly standard but effective... considered chronologically. The film, of course, literally turns that on its head and still thrills playing in reverse - how many thrillers could do that? As a narrative, Memento is impeccable - perfect pacing, planting and harvesting of mystery, and character development. The oft-cited problem of must be forgiven because everything else about the film is genius. The ending is one of those rare triumphant finales that is utterly surprising and convincing. It evenSpoiler: Highlight to view"How could he remember his condition?"Spoiler: Highlight to viewturns our sympathetic hero into a twisted, vengeful serial killer who not only keeps killing to find purpose in his life, but one-ups killers without guilt because he can't remember anything to be guilty about.
- The Woodsman (2004, Nicole Kassell, USA) *** I have a real weakness for movies about broken, wounded, messy people because I'm diarrhetic over the portrayl of humanity nearly ubiquitous in all visual media: happy, rich, beautiful people who rollerblade to the corporate "cush" job and must choose to date one of 6 happy, rich, beautiful people at a ski resort. Even (especially) in "reality" television, nobody's keepin' it real. Our one redeeming character may be the sitcom fat father. I find solace in movies like The Woodsman about hurting, hurtful people who console each other (and sometimes not), and most certainly don't just "get better." Naturally, a movie like this strikes deeper when you know many people who have absued and been abused. The Woodsman is a very well-handled, powerful human drama, unlike The Man Without a Face or, say, The United States of Leland. At least four scenes nearly made me cry. Not as daring or good as I Stand Alone.
- The Golem (1920, Carl Boese, Germany) ** I feel much better about my "masterpiece" rating for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari after having seen this failure of German expressionism from the same year. Where Caligari was claustrophobic, psychological, and artistic, The Golem is half overblown Griffith epic and half clownish vaudeville.
- My Left Foot (1989, Jim Sheridan, Ireland) *** The touching, quirky, amazing story of Christy Brown, who was born with cerebral palsy but learned to write and paint with his only controllable limb: his left foot. An utterly fantastic performance by Daniel Day-Lewis.
- Driving Miss Daisy (1989, Bruce Beresford, USA) *** A very simple story is used as a framework to comment on the people and culture of the period. Quite interesting. Oh, and since it's the first thing you'll ask: Is it slow? No.
- East of Eden (1955, Elia Kazan, USA) *** Seems to have lost something from Steinbeck's novel and gained nothing from the medium of film (including James Dean's overrated performance). Still a good story.
- Returner (2002, Takashi Yamazaki, Japan) * Actually much worse than Murder by Numbers.
- Murder by Numbers (2002, Barbet Schroeder, USA) * Every moment is unbearably awful.
- It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963, Stanley Kramer, USA) * So banal and idiotic, I think Rat Race was actually an improvement.
- Patton (1970, Franklin J. Schaffner, USA) [rewatch] **** Not much of a war movie, but a profile of a fascinating character. If ever a mainstream film succeeded over its faults through panache, it was Patton. I shudder to imagine that Rod Steiger, Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum, and Burt Lancaster each could have said "yes" to the fantastic lead role and robbed us of George C. Scott's immortal performance.
- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, Robert Wiene, Germany) [rewatch] **** It's sooo difficult for me to judge primitive film. There's no denying the innovation and importance of something like Dr. Caligari, but even its best moments appear naive and silly by today's sophisticated, cynical standards. The earliest movie I can think of that I could digest with complete seriousness is Murnau's The Last Laugh (1924), and Dr. Caligari came nearly 5 years earlier (in the 20s, film was developing so quickly that 5 years made an enormous difference - compare Nosferatu to Sunrise, for example). Though certainly not perfect, if you compare Dr. Caligari to anything before it, you'll be startled by the stylistic, structural, and atmospheric innovations it made. This is one of the earliest significant feature-length films to so thoroughly attempt film "art" beyond technical wizardry.
- Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese, USA) [rewatch] **** Once you accept that it's a voiceover narrative, Goodfellas is told with so much energy and insight, it's irresistible.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick, UK) [rewatch] ***** Gets better every time I see it. So much has been written and said about A Space Odyssey that I'll try to leave the obvious points alone. 2001 is probably the best film a modern moviegoer is likely to see in his or her lifetime. Kubrick structures his epic painting of man's evolution as a four-act opera, complete with an opening overture and half-point entr'acte (of noisy dark-ambient space music, very cutting edge at the time), a killer opening theme (Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra), and four distinct acts. 2001 is the most important film to recover what was lost in filmic, visual storytelling since the arrival of the talkie. It represents perfection of all the best elements of film: beauty, originality, mystery, visual storytelling, epic scope, profound human commentary, technical innovation, music and sound excellence, and more. 2001's most significant failing is that of every science fiction film ever made: inability to correctly predict the future on all counts. But it does succeed where nearly all other outer-space movies fail: space travel is terribly boring, outer space is silent, etc. Anyway, it's disappointing to watch even another masterpiece directly after experiencing 2001: A Space Odyssey.
- Lost Highway (1997, David Lynch, France) ** Lynch's meaningless escapade melds neo-noir, horror, Persona, That Obscure Object of Desire, Hitchcock, and steamy erotic thriller. At times, it's high art. Other times, it's cheap C-grade filmmaking. At all times, it's confusing and holds no reward for those who try to figure it out. That worked for Un Chien Andalou. Here, it just means all our frustration is for nothing.
- Ulysses' Gaze (1995, Theo Angelopoulos, Greece) N/A Either very bad or totally over my head. I'm really not sure which, so I won't assign a rating.
- Amores Perros (2000, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Mexico) *** A decent Mexican Pulp Fiction without the style or inventiveness of its progenitor.
- Eternity and a Day (1998, Theo Angelopoulos, Greece) *** Touching. An old writer is told by his doctor he will die in a couple days. He runs into an Albrnian refugee boy and decides to take him on a trip as he explores the meaning of life, etc. I think the wedding dance scene is pointless.
- Fantasia/2000 (1999, James Algar and others, USA) *** Obviously less groundbreaking than the original, and sometimes the combination of CGI and hand-drawn animation doesn't work. And it's too bad they chose one of the lesser segments from the original (Sorcerer's Apprentice) to repeat here. Still, Fantasia/2000 is beautiful, imaginative and energetic.
- _grau (2004, Robert Seidel, Germany) [short, rewatch] **** Fantasia for a modern avant-garde composition with computer-assisted, transformative animation. Spellbinding. Powerful. To say more, I'll need to quote Matt Hanson: "[_grau] does not deliberately ape the abstract pioneers of abstract cinema, and it is worlds away from the motion graphic masturbation of many of those enamoured by digital animation. Seidel's work is impressionistic, melding biological and emotional currents." Download it now.
- Fantasia (1940, James Algar and others, USA) [rewatch] **** Disney's animation again leaps forward - into a mixed bag whose incredible strengths smother its weak parts. The first two acts (Bach's Toccata and Fugue and Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite) are brilliant and bursting with creativity. Taken alone, the first two acts would make one of the greatest films of all time. The first is a big-budget, mainstream realization of abstract cinema, and the second could be called the precursor to all worthwhile music videos of today. The third act (Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprentice) is somewhat dopey. The fourth act (Stavinsky's Right of Spring) is mostly mesmerizing. The thankfully brief fifth act is like a media player visualization. The sixth act (Beethoven's 6th Symphony) is boring. The seventh act (Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours is the worst of the film. The finale (Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain and Schubert's Ave Maria) is extremely effective.
- The Replacement Killers (1998, Antoine Fuqua, USA) * Ugh.
- Million Dollar Baby (2004, Clint Eastwood, USA) ** Eastwood is a fine director, especially of his actors, but Haggis' lazy, cliche, ironic script rubbed me the wrong way over every inch. The unnecessary narration, the on-the-nose dialogue, the obvious characters and plot developments... ugh. At least there's no romance forced into the story and no tacked-on happy ending; I'll give it that much. As for the ending being too manipulative: yeah, it's frustrating we never saw an imperfection in Maggie's character, but shitty things happen to perfectly wonderful people all the time. Still a far more interesting movie than 95% of the crap out there.
- Nostalghia (1983, Andrei Tarkovsky, Italy) **** Nostalghia doesn't throw every character trait and plot development in your face like a Hollywood movie (for dummies!). It dwells on the lives of people - the quiet moments, the insipid dialogue, the long walks across a landscape. And the photography is, of course, gorgeous. Its oneiric composition has a quieter Fellini feel. The movie lulls you to sleep, and in this rare case that's not a complaint.
- Team America: World Police (2004, Trey Parker, USA) [rewatch] ** I'm really surprised this didn't play better abroad. It's a grisly criticism of American poop culture and blind patriotism from the people most qualified to launch such an attack: Americans! Trey Parker and Matt Stone offer another gem of hilarious, raunchy, timely social satire with Team America, and escape a bevy of potential one-joke breakdowns you'd expect from television writers. Still, Team America presents the best and worst of Trey & Matt. Their critiques are unflinching and accurate, but they'd rather fling lewd rants at everything they hate than support a better way. They (and I) have great fun mocking Bruckheimer, actors who think they are politicians and philosophers, narrow-minded American zealots, and Michael Moore. But it's lazy to make a movie that's "purposely" bad instead of crafting a good one.
- Distant (2002, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey) *** Feels like late Bresson. Distant is cold, sterile, slow, and, of course, distant. It concerns two men who live together but always find a great distance between themselves. It's intimate and downright... undramatic. It's also very natural - the sets feel lived-in, the acting feels natural and un-movielike, the scenes play out simply; unpoetic and uncompressed. The final shot (okay, 3rd- or 4th-to-last shot) is stunning, but you have to watch the movie and see it in motion to get the full effect.
- Zoolander (2001, Ben Stiller, USA) [rewatch] * Not funny.
- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004, Wes Anderson, USA) *** Funny.
- The Truman Show (1998, Peter Weir, USA) [rewatch] *** A bit predictable, but loads of fun.
- Requiem for a Dream (2000, Darren Aronofsky, USA) [rewatch] **** None of the filmmaking methods here are original, but never before have they been so focused, unflinching, collaborative, and effective. The parable of Requiem for a Dream speaks of a director pushing an old story and old techniques to near perfection through sheer force of will and vision. The only thing keeping this from being one of the greatest films of all time is the ending, which is the weakest part of the movie when it should be the strongest. The treatment of the drug addicts at the hands of medical staff is unbelievable and probably a relic from the 1970's original novel. And, during the finale, which cuts between the four main characters and their suffering, three are in awful circumstances and one (Tyrone) in the comfortable inconvenience of incarceration. The film tries unsuccessfully to put all their suffering on the same level. These problems are easily fixable, and it's a shame Aronofsky didn't rectify them.
- Charade (1963, Stanley Donen, USA) [rewatch] *** My favorite film for several years, Charade is a Hitchockian thriller and Grant/Hepburn charmer that provides nothing new to the genre but succeeds on all counts. If there's a short list of 10 films that I'd be dumfounded to find someone didn't enjoy, this is on it.
- Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino, USA) [rewatch] ***** A delirious fusion of 20's pulp magazines, film noir, New Wave, spagetti western, black comedy, Cassavetes, and Kubrick's The Kiling, Pulp Fiction is simply better than most of its ancestors (and all of its descendents).
- Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004, Quentin Tarantino, USA) ** Different but just as bad and good as Vol. 1, Vol. 2 once again shows Tarantino pushing style over substance and forgetting how he achieved both in his earliest films. This is Quentin amusing himself, not making a good movie.
- Hotel Rwanda (2004, Terry George, UK) *** "We must shame them into sending help." Well, they can try. Maybe this movie is so overrated on IMDB because viewers want to assuage their guilt for ignoring all the atrocities in the world going on right now by rating the movie highly and recommending it to everyone they know (who do nothing but the same). I'll just live with my own guilt. When I finished the film, I said, "My God, that's awful" and put in Kill Bill: Vol. 2.
- Primer (2004, Shane Carruth, USA) [rewatch] ***
- Primer (2004, Shane Carruth, USA) *** This film makes a point about visual narrative that few films since the silent era have made: dialogue rarely matters. Half the time I had no idea what was being said, but I always knew something was happening, and I could read the emotions of the moment in the character's face and body language. I was hooked from beginning to end of this very technical, confusing movie. It's more difficult because the character don't speak like movie characters - one at a time, slow, and carefully enunciated. They speak quickly, taking shortcuts they know their close friends will be able to follow, overlapping each other, using abstruse dialogue. Primer is also the only movie I can think of that's actually about time travel (rather than about so-and-so in a on a quest in a different era). Unfortunately, there are some amateur problems (focus, dubbing) which are occasionally the fault of the miniscule budget, or occasionally of the first-time director. I hope bigger budgets and more experience doesn't diminish Carruth's vision.
- Un Chien Andalou (1929, Luis Buñuel, France) [short, rewatch] ***** "[It] shattered my skull, realigned my synapses, made me nervous, made me laugh... It wasn't just the fusion I'd been waiting for: it was a whole new universe, a completely realized and previously unimaginable landscape..." - Lester Bangs. "If there has been anything in the history of [this medium] which could be described as a work of art in a way that people who are involved in other areas of art would understand, then [this] is probably that work." - John Peel. Lester Bangs and John Peel were talking about Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart's rock album, but their statements work equally well in describing Un Chien Andalou.
- Vanilla Sky (2001, Cameron Crowe, USA) [rewatch] ** This movie holds a special place in my heart for several reasons. First, the soundtrack features "Everything in Its Right Place", "Svefn-G-Englar" and "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space". More importantly, the movie (a remake of Amenábar's Open Your Eyes (1997), which I haven't seen) is very similar to a screenplay I was developing when I first saw it, including the But I stole all these elements from my favorite Batman: The Animated Series episode, "Perchance to Dream" (1992). Go Batman! But while Crowe and probably Amenábar made better movies with the ideas than I could have, Vanilla Sky is too pretentious.Spoiler: Highlight to viewmillionaire main character's "recovery" from a serious injury via virtual reality, his confusion at people being different than he remembered, his eventual realization of the fantasy world, and the escape from that fantasy by jumping off a tall building in the climax.
- The Life of David Gale (2003, Alan Parker, USA) * I don't have to write up all the movies I don't like, do I?
- Carlito's Way (1993, Brian De Palma, USA) ** De Palma has vision but no consistent style. This movie is a thoughtful crime drama, a hokey romance, a melodrama, and a corny action flick (really, Carlito, you take ou drug dealers with a stupid pool shot rather than just grabbing the gun from from one of their belts?), and they don't all work together.
- Confidence (2003, James Foley, USA) *** Nothing new, but the plot twists and characters were good enough to make me happy.
- War of the Worlds (2005, Steven Spielberg, USA) * Nobody blows up shit like Speilberg, but you can drive a tank through Worlds' holes in logic.
- eXistenZ (1999, David Cronenberg, Canada) * As with all Cronenberg, eXistenZ is enjoyably weird. Unfortunately, it's also half-assed in every department: writing, directing, acting, editing, and concepts. I guess I just can't surrender to the silly fantasy.
- The United States of Leland (2003, Matthew Ryan Hoge, USA) ** Ultimately says nothing by saying way too much in voiceover, and by treating an unsafe scenario safely and cutely. Zach Braff plays Ryan Gosling's role better in Garden State.
- 21 Grams (2003, Alejandro González Iñárritu, USA) [rewatch] ***** Is it better to be stone or clay? Dirty Harry always kicks ass, but I think he just hides his emotional problems instead of confronting and (re)solving them. You all know by now I'm Clayface himself, having now radically changed my film ratings scale twice, my attitudes toward evolution and abortion, my view of rock music, and my social comfort zone - each in the blink of an eye, and in the last few months. Change makes things really messy, especially when I'm trying to maintain a database of every film I've seen, but I think all these recent changes are making me better (or at least more arrogant). Anyway, it's time to be honest about my film reviewing: I have a hard time relating to and fully comprehending most foreign films. I'm not exposed enough to the relevant context to gork their beauty. Also, I'm dishonest with some reviews. Pickpocket was boring as hell, and I gave it an 8. Besides, isn't it the same thing Bresson had already done with Diary of a Country Priest and A Man Escaped? Also, I hereby admit I love really fucked-up films about fucked-up people. I will never respond to The Wizard of Oz the way I do to Requiem for a Dream. And that's okay. I really believe Requiem is the better film in any case. Oh, right... about 21 Grams. Nearly all movies' scenes are ordered according to time, whether it be Casablanca, Memento, or even Pulp Fiction. And though 21 Grams would be a perfect film played chronologically, Iñárritu juxtaposes the scenes in a way that maximizes the emotional intensity and scope of the picture with complete disregard for other concerns, except one: the careful and steady revelation of all the shocking pieces of the story, even though the movie isn't ordered chronologically. It's really stunning, if you think about it. Furthermore, this is one of the best acted movies I have ever seen - which isn't quite as impressive as it sounds because all of the best-acted movies of all time have arrived in the past decade (acting, at least, always gets better with each passing era). Still, I was floored by the talent that blossoms here. It's possible that each major actor gave their best career performance in this single film. The only weakness is the pointless (and thankfully brief) epilogue. But with a film this perfect and effective, I cannot complain. This film gave me an epiphany about the way I think and feel about film; it's that good. The second-best film of the decade so far (behind you-know-what).
- Hostage (2005, Florent Emilio Siri, USA) * Preposterous.
- The Village (2004, M. Night Shyamalan, USA) ** Fails not because it isn't scary or because we're all expecting the twist(s), but because it's simply not that good. Like Frailty, The Village is a great idea that just wasn't executed that well. It's sad that Shyamalan's directing has taken precedence over what he was first known for - his screenwriting. Shyamalan has to cheat a great deal to achieve his wasted attempts at suspense, and the mood of the film is achieved solely with shot placement/duration and the score, not the content of the story. Still, it's fun to see Shyamalan wrap it all up so nicely at the end like he always doesSpoiler: Highlight to view(do you really think Noah could make such growling sounds in the suit?), even if he can't escape a few massive leaps of logic. The Village isn't a good movie, but I'll keep watching Shyamalan flicks.Spoiler: Highlight to view(for example, against all logic, it does make sense that Walker sent a blind girl through the forest)
- Cries and Whispers (1972, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden) **** Aptly titled, Cries and Whispers hovers beside the slow agony of several women. What is it with Scandinavian directors and pain, suffering, and despair? Maybe it's the weather. They're obsessed with the stuff, and damn good at it.
- Batman Begins (2005, Christopher Nolan, USA) ** Batman improves on Spidey's soap operas, X-Men's adolescence, and the other live-action superhero movies' fecundity. You've likely heard oodles about Goyer's fleshed-out origin story, Nolan's grounded, plausible take on Batman, Gotham's splendor, Bale's performance, and more, and that shouldn't diminish the impressiveness and rarity of those feats. But there were several problems. Katie Holmes can't act, and her character doesn't justify her existence in the film. The billionaire Wayne family exited the opera into... a slum alley? The filmmakers tried to cram too much into too short of time, and the breathless pace steals any impact the scenes could have. And I wanted to see the Batman beating the shit out of people, but the camera was shaky and cut too quickly. I had this sitting with three stars for a while because it is better than the X-Men and Spider-Man movies, but no: too many problems. The sequels can be better if (1) the studio doesn't look at the weak box office and wrestle more control away from the filmmakers, (2) they dump Katie Holmes, and (3) the editing slows down.
- Hitch (2005, Andy Tennant, USA) ** Color me shocked. (That's white, right? Or is it neon orange?) This is the first competant mainstream/formula romantic comedy I've seen this decade. I was actually beginning to think I would never see another decent Ephronesque movie. And it stars Will Smith, for crying out loud. Shocking. And really, there's nothing that special about Hitch, except that everything else in the genre has been so awful for so long. Still, props to the writer for working the formula and making me laugh and care.
- Kingdom (1994, Lars von Trier, Denmark) [miniseries] ** Pretty damn good... for TV. I'd rather sleep in Michael Jackson's bed than watch 5 hours of E.R., but Kingdom went by briskly. I've heard some say that the medical political drama and especially the supernatural horror are satire, but if they are then you'd think they'd be more exaggerated (or maybe that's just American satire and I've been watching too much South Park). I just took it for what it was and found it engaging but nothing special. I'm pretty dumfounded by the people who call it a "masterpiece". And the device of using the two dishwashers to say spooky things every 30 minutes was pretty annoying pretty quick.
- Alexandria... Why? (1978, Youssef Chahine, Egypt) ** As I've come to expect from "popular" movies of the "2nd" and "3rd" world, every aspect of this film was just a bit lacking: acting, directing, writing, and especially the sound. Quite enjoyable, though.
- Kinsey (2004, Bill Condon, USA) *** Show of hands: for those who read my reviews, who thought I wouldn't love Kinsey? Thought so. Kinsey is a well-crafted biopic that is nevertheless messy, dangerous, surprising, and anti-Hollywood - just the way I like 'em. Just as in something like American Beauty, it's the themes that really appeal to me: especially that Kinsey himself had serious problems (dude, you punctured your what?). The movie even had Kinsey admitting research errors. I do have two small complaints: Laura Linney's performance disappointed me at times, and the conversation scene after Kinsey and Clyde were digging in the garden was awful. The rest of the script was excellent, but that one scene felt like it had been left in its first-draft state. Weird. Loved this movie, though.
- Weekend (1967, Jean-Luc Godard, Italy) ** Godard's self-parody is "laughably" indulgent but not that funny (for the most part). Still pretty exciting and unpredictable, though, and it's Godard, so of course there's some fun for film buffs.
- Amarcord (1973, Federico Fellini, Italy) **** My, what fun! These vignettes of Fellini's childhood are priceless. Touching, hilarious, unpredictable, gorgeous, and oh so... human.
- Himalaya (1999, Eric Valli, France) ** Yet another film I watch mostly for a glimpse at far-foreign culture and am disappointed by how Westernized either it or its filmic portrayl is. As a film or narrative, Himalaya is competant but has little to offer.
- Satyricon (1969, Federico Fellini, Italy) ** Fellini is a virtuoso director, but his decision to so literally adapt the ancient, peurile source material so literally was a poor one. He even cuts off scenes in mid-sentence where part of the source is lost. An interesting experiment, but not a good one.
- Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004, Joe Berlinger, USA) ** Thoroughly honest but thoroughly average.
- Hannibal (2001, Ridley Scott, USA) [rewatch] * Julianne Moore does a mean Jodie Foster, and the film has a few admirable qualities, but this is all a bunch of silliness.
- Maria Full of Grace (2004, Joshua Marston, USA) * Shallow.
- The Harder They Come (1972, Perry Henzell, Jamaica) ** A 100% Jamaican production, The Harder They Come is naive but not intolerably amateurish.
- Once Upon a Time in the West (1968, Sergio Leone, Italy) **** Magical. It's pretty funny that this ultimate portrait of the mythical American Wild West, with its rough mountains & rougher men, long stares and short talk, was made in Italy. And God, what a great score but Morricone. It's hard to say what makes this one of the greatest westerns ever. Everything just adds up perfectly; the actors, the script, the sets, the editing, the direction, the score.
- The Amityville Horror (1979, Stuart Rosenberg, USA) * Basically, lots of creepy stuff happens in a house. There's not much plot or even character development, the house really is the main subject of the movie. Though many parts are effectively creepy, the overwrought ending was one of the least-scary scenes in the movie.
- The Aviator (2004, Martin Scorsese, USA) *** Scorsese used to be a great filmmaker. But that was a long time ago, and somehow I still haven't reconciled with the fact that he's now merely a very good mainstream craftsman in the vein of Peter Jackson and (occasionally) Steven Speilberg. This is definitely a film about Howard Hughes, as every other character is a well-dressed cardboard cutout. Scorcese's shiny direction elevates the formula script, but I couldn't help but be disappointed. One scene in particular just didn't work for me: the XF-11 crash. I saw Scorcese trying to make it look messy and violent, but the whole thing was extremely clean. He shot the thing in too many shots, way too close - just like a fist fight, it'd be more violent if shot from a distance so you can actually see what's going on. Even Hughes' escape from the cockpit when he's bloody and screaming seemed half-assed. I dunno, something really bothered me about that scene. Anyone else?
- The Story of the Weeping Camel (2003, Byambasuren Davaa, Germany) *** Is Hollywood completely incapable of making quiet movies? Or, more fairly, are American audiences incapable of enjoying quiet movies? Even something like Finding Neverland is fast-paced, complex, and loud compared to the simple beauty of Weeping Camel. And after seeing one of the loudest movies ever made, Revenge of the Sith, I was certainly ready for the tranquil pleasures of Weeping Camel. The movie spends nearly as much time on the camels as the humans. There are very few fictional films about animals (unless they are very personified, as in Disney cartoons or Milo & Otis). The best example I can think of is The Bear, and Weeping Camel approaches that kind of intimacy and attention for its titular character. The human story is just as unassuming. The IMDB plot outline is sufficient: "When a Mongolian nomadic family's newest camel colt is rejected by its mother, a musician is needed for a ritual to change her mind." And that's it. And it's beautiful.
- Revenge of the Sith (2005, George Lucas, USA) * Why did I rush out to see a movie I knew would suck? Despite its R-rated content, Revenge of the Sith is a children's movie in all the worst ways. Lucas discards all logic and subtelty in favor of what looks cool and plots & dialogue a monkey could follow. Lucas is his own worst fanboy, emotionally retarded by success. Droids inexplicably elicit the kinds of light emotional irony I hoped would be reserved for a 1980s Ewoks cartoon. Wookies swing into battle with a Tarzan roar. Actors struggle with dialogue so insipid it intensifies the pain they're trying to express for the scene. This movie didn't just have bad moments; every scene was unforgivably flawed in almost every way. Even the score was mailed in. The only people trying futilly to make an omlet of this rotten egg were the special effects people, who bumped it up a notch from Attack of the Clones, and Ewan McGregor, who occasionally triumphed over his ridiculous dialogue to make a few pieces of certain scenes actually work. Thankfully, one of those moments he made work was the climax of his battle with Vader: "You were the chosen one!" And that is why I rushed out to see a movie I knew would suck: the mythic story, the legendary characters, the untoppable stakes, the epic action. In addition, Revenge of the Sith is a rare breed of movie; not only is it an epic space opera with the most fully realized universe ever, but it's the only blockbuster I can think of whose ending is truly tragic. Not bittersweet like Titanic or Gone with the Wind, but tragic. Naturally, Lucas is dumb enough to undermine even the height of tragedy when Vader pulls a Frankenstein lurch and cries, "NOOOOOOO!" I burst out laughing. And now that this Evil Empire under Darth Lucas has supposedly come to an end, I can look back and laugh at all the pain. Now please, show me a Peter Jackson epic.
- Attack of the Clones (2002, George Lucas, USA) [rewatch] * Oh my God. So much worse than I even remembered. This is amateur filmmaking from a billionaire veteran of movies. The scripts for the original trilogy were at least decent, as was the acting, the comedy was funny, and the sci-fi action and environments were jaw-dropping and exciting. Everything in this film is a snooze, and the CGI environments and characters don't stand up well next to the special effects work in Spider-Man and Two Towers of the same year. And man is the dialogue and acting ever horrible. I'd love to see a reel of the takes that didn't make the cut. Lucas' money has made him a child, a madman. More importantly, he's still a mind-control wizard; I'll probably shell out to see Revenge of the Sith in theaters this week.
- Mother and Son (1997, Aleksandr Sokurov, Russia) **** Okay, ranting time: I think film has the loftiest potential of any art form because it can incorporate each of the other forms: music, sculpture, painting, narrative, poetry, acting, and set design, along with its own unique art of moving images. Because of this, I truly believe something like Citizen Kane is every bit the worthy companion of Beethoven's Eroica or Dali's The Persistence of Memory, and that film has the potential to surpass even the greatest works of fine art. It hasn't done so yet (and might never) because film relies on all these art forms and on so many craftsmen (often thousands instead of one), and because it is the most popular art and therefore is burdened most heavily by commercial concerns. I have mixed emotions, then, when a film aspires for an art form that is more capable of purity but has less overall artistic potential (because less artistic elements are involved). For example, I'm disappointed by the filmed stageplays of the 1930s (even the good ones) and Andy Warhol's ridiculous Empire. Mother and Son is about a man who takes care of his dying mother. It's full of very long, static, silent shots. I first thought it would make more sense as a novel than a film. It's a very quiet, intimate, internal film, and I imagine a novel with page after page filled with reflections on life, the world, the characters, and perhaps God. But then I realized that I've read all those words before; they are unnecessary, and anyway, not up to the task. So what we have is a film that tells the 'story' in the best possible way: with wind in the grass, dying embers, trees in bloom, broken sunlight, and most importantly: the human face. I've found many films like this to be boring beyond belief, but somehow I couldn't stop looking at the brilliant photography. With its unadulterated focus, you might expect Mother and Son to 'go deeper' than other films that deal with slow mortality, but the film is not especially profound. And here's a funny bit about film criticism: if I like the movie, I can say "... and that's what's so great about Mother and Son; it aspires to be exactly what it is - a quiet, simple portrait of mortality." And if I don't like the movie, I can say, "...and that's why Mother and Son is a complete waste of time." But I like the movie. And here's where I work the obligatory sex reference into my review. It's been said that if a nude shot is in focus, it's porn, and if it's out of focus, it's art. Because of the heavy lens distortion (which probably speaks to the distorted view of reality impending death causes) applied to Fyodorov's gorgeous photography, it's obvious Sokurov is more interested with the art of his film than with making really pretty pictures for us all to ooh and ahh at.
- Older, inaccurate reviews for 2005 are here
Most recently seen at the top. Rewatches preceded by an asterix. Ratings breakdown:
***** one of the best films of all time.
*** quite good.
* burning needles up my urethra.