Tuesday, October 12, 2010

No Country for Old Men (2007) - Joel and Ethan Coen - Revisit

Continuing on my Cormac McCarthy kick. I am revisiting the masterwork, No Country for Old Men, the Coen Brothers's 2007 Best Picture winning adaptation. I am not going to bother writing a full fledge review on this picture. Every last one of you know how I feel about this film. But the fact is that nearly three years after it came out I am still completely enthralled in the story and the relentless tension of this film. The scene between Chigurh and the gas station attendant is a perfectly crafted scene and is a beautiful example of what this film is all about. Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones are perfect as the three principles and so is the film as a whole. That is all.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Road (2009) by John Hillcoat

-Suppose you were the last man on Earth.
-How would you know that. That you were the last man on Earth?
-I suppose it wouldn't be something you knew. It'd just be something you did.

These words never come to fruition in either Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning novel or John Hillcoat's fantastic adaptation. But, for one reason or another in this brief scene between The Man (Viggo Mortenson) and Eli (Robert Duvall) we understand what is really at stake in the lives of these dying people getting by on this dying planet. When surviving is to be the last man on Earth, a title that only God would know, what good is survival? What good is a trip to the coast? We don't really know what the point is, all we know is that its all that matters.

John Hillcoat's film is nearly flawless as a film, and looks stunning. The only real complaint to be made against the film is that it lacks some of the poetic punch McCarthy's novel contains. This, however, is not anything against the film just a difference in the mediums of film and literature. The fact that he was willing to take on (what most consider to be) the greatest novel in the canon of one of, if not the greatest American author working today is a feat in itself. But, the fact is, that the novel doesn't offer a lot to film for a mainstream audience which causes the film to feel disjointed at times because there are not the long passages of the man describing the journey on the road, it just shows them traveling briefly before moving onto the next important scene with action or dialogue in it.

I highly recommend seeing this picture. However, I would suggest seeing it before reading the novel if you plan on doing both. If you have already read The Road just keep in mind that you cannot do the same things on film that you can do in a novel and you will appreciate Hillcoat's vision of McCarthy's masterpiece novel.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Desired but not needed Adaptations: Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie

Somewhere on the seam that lies on the border between April and May a friend of mine was about to graduate from the same university from which I graduated in December. As we sat and allowed the light from 2008's Iron Man to glow on our faces, we discussed some of the classes he had taken in the semester that I missed. The one that we kept coming back to was American Novel.

At one point he said, "Aaron, I don't usually like contemporary literature, but I couldn't put this book down. I think you'll love it." I asked him what it was and he ran upstairs and brought down a copy of Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie. A book that I took a while to get to, but when I did, I devoured. It is a novel about a rock band called Coyote Springs, made of five American Indians. Three Spokane Indians (from Washington) and two Flathead Indians (from Montana) It is hard to describe some of the happenings in the novel, it is an enjoyable though not always...kosher...read.

Its about stories. Its about desire. Its about sex. Its about friendship. Its a powerful book with the kind of dialogue that would make any cinephile salivate. The film could be visually stunning, though it wouldn't have to be. It could be an intimate portrayal of these young people's lives and the way that their lives were able to rise and fall with the times and circumstances. This is a film that I would like to see made. But if it never comes to fruition: worse things have happened.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Beautiful Mind by Ron Howard

Ron Howard is 56 years old. He played Oppie in The Andy Griffith Show and Richie Cunningham in Happy Days, he also happens to be a very capable director. With several Oscar Nominations under his belt and one win he has proven that just because more people know you as "Oppie" or "Richie" than your real name means nothing.

His 2001 film, A Beautiful Mind, is his Oscar darling, it may not go down as his masterpiece, but its the one that got him the hardware. It follows the life and hardships of Nobel Prize Winning economist and mathematician, John Nash. Played by Australian hot-head Russell Crowe, in one of the finer moments of a very solid career. The film is not perfect, as so few films are, but it has a heart, and her name is Jennifer Connelly. At the center of all of Nash's problems is the fact that he can't just be a menace to himself, because he has a wife that loves him more than she can figure out the reason for.

The chemistry between Crowe and Connelly with the direction of Howard and the graceful writing of Akiva Goldsman create a very good film. It is not, however, the cinematic achievement that I want to talk about. At the true center of this film is a nugget of fearful truth. The film faces mental illness in a way that few films do, and love in the face of illness. The quality of a woman who loves her man in the face of adversity and stays by his side through one of the hardest situations that a person can be put through. So, while there is some legitimate criticism about this film, manipulation of the audience, etc from a cinematic perspective. Its true. It is a flawed film. That being said, most films are flawed, there is a rare gem of perfection. But its what this film shows us about love and family and illness that makes it a picture worth watching and remembering.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Greenberg by Noah Baumbach

    You like me more than you think you do.
    Hurt people, hurt people.

These are the two enduring quotes from Wes Anderson pal, Noah Baumbach's fourth film Greenberg. The film is a departure, of sorts from his previous two films, The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding in that the film isn't about children. On the surface. Roger Greenberg, played masterfully by Ben Stiller, is a 41 year man child. And his part-time lover, Florence, a 25 year old college grad who has now spent as much of her life since college as she spent in college, seems very well put together on the surface, but, she has some growing up to do herself.

While the film is named after Roger, one could argue that Florence is the centerpiece of the film. In Florence the audience is able to see themselves; and, in Roger we're allowed to see what Florence is in danger of becoming if she isn't able to save herself--and possibly Roger--from the ruts of their lives. Roger is a bitter man who always has a deep seeded guilt that he was the one who killed his band's chances of making it 15 years before.

Roger takes this anguish out on everyone he loves. Florence. Ivan. His brother. He wasn't willing to show up for his mother's funeral out of fear that he would have to face his former friends and bandmates. He also has a tendency of exploding on people as he gets truly close to him.

Greenberg is a film that is an incredibly awkward film. It has some truly hysterical moments and some touching and poignant scenes. Ultimately, I believe that the film has a message that says that we all have to grow up at some point. It won't be fun. But, the longer that a person puts off this inevitable moment the more difficult it becomes to do it without suffering major consequences. I believe that the film is loved by the people that admit to liking it; but I believe that when the film says "you like me more than you know," is a little wink to those in the audience that didn't enjoy the movie. Because, Noah Baumbach knows, as well as I do, that the movie caught the hearts and minds of the audience, whether they "liked" it or not.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Bad Lieutenant - Port of Call: New Orleans by Werner Herzog

Since the 1970s Werner Herzog has been one of the jewels of world cinema. With classics such as Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Stroszek and the remake of F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu. Herzog has blessed audiences around the world with unforgettable cinematic experiences for decades. His Psycho-Realist style is fairly unique to him, though other filmmakers have made films within Herzog's style it seems that he has stuck to it as if it were a genre and not just a style within the broader scope of cinema. In 2005, Werner Herzog expanded his horizon's making his first, truly, American film--while I concede that Stroszek is close, it is much more of a German film--the documentary Grizzly Man, since then his last four features two documentaries and two narrative's have all been truly American films.

On the flip side of this film is the outstanding Nicolas Cage. Throughout his career, Cage has made some very (very x's you choose) bad decisions. However, when Cage is at his best is when everything around him is going wrong. In his classic roles from Moonstruck, Leaving Los Vegas, Bringing Out the DeadAdaptation and The Weather Man Cage sneaks his way through a life that could be better, though for some reason he can't make it so. In Herzog's newest film. Bad Lieutenant - Port of Call: New Orleans Nicolas Cage is allowed to be just that. He is a lieutenant in the New Orleans police department in the aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Katrina. He and his partners have gotten used to the "cowboy" style that was afforded to them by the near martial law status of the city during the days after the devastation. And, a back injury causes him to get into worse habits than he had already had.

Equipped with every non-alcoholic vice that I have ever heard of, Cage sleazes his way through the seedy underworld of New Orleans. As the film unfolds we are allowed to see the this man and everyone around him both at their best and worst. We are able to see corruption and redemption over and over again. In many way Herzog's film plays like a comedy of errors as we are left in disbelief with what we see, and the consequences for the actions taken. The Psycho-realism and Cage's man-on-the-edge persona are a match made in cinematic heaven.

This is a film of vice and should be watched as such. That being said, it is also a vastly entertaining crime film that will keep you guessing and shaking your head from start to finish.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Needed Adaptations. Anything by Charles Dickens.

This adaptation is quite different from the last few that I have done. In that, I am avoiding making a statement about which piece of literature should be adapted. Charles Dickens, is perhaps, the greatest British novelist of all-time. He is, also, perhaps, the greatest Non-Russian novelist. Though many may argue Jane Austin or George Eliot for British novelists, and many may argue James Joyce as greatest non-Russian novelist. I don't care. I will cross that bridge and have that discussion when it comes.

In any case. It makes no difference. The fact is that Charles Dickens wrote classic after classic and one of them must be adapted; but in a very specific way. Some of my readers may be aware of my...misunderstanding...(?) of the American filmmaker Tim Burton; however, this is a project that I think must be tackled by the quirky goth kid who brought us Beetle Juice, Sleepy Hollow, Sweeny Todd and his greatest film, Big Fish. But, to do Dickens's characters justice, this must be done in Burton's signature, stop-motion style animation.

What Tim Burton did as producer with the cult-classic, Nightmare Before Christmas and director in The Corpse Bride truly add a different dimension to the stories being unfolded on the screen. Think about the jagged edges, the gothic characteristics, the allegorical looks of Dickens' characters. This could be done with makeup, but its not the same. I would like to see Tim Burton's animation team take on Charles Dickens and the novels that I keep coming back to are Oliver Twist, though it has been adapted several times, successfully, already and Tale of Two Cities which has a bright and boring BBC adaptation made about it.

Once again, leave your feedback, recommendations and arguments in the comments section. I am really looking forward to hearing any ideas that are not mine.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Needed Adaptations. Nick Adams by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, in my opinion, to the shock and awe of many of my friends, is the greatest of the American Modernists. He has many praiseworthy pieces of literature, and I believe that there may be another one of his works on this list later on. However, There is no denying the greatness of Hemingway's short stories; and the best of his short stories are those surrounding the character Nick Adams.

Stories including the thrilling "The Killers," and the heart breaking "The End of Something." Hemingway breathes life into Adams that is a rare kind of life for characters within short stories.

The film, in all likely hood would end up being episodic in nature, as are Hemingway's stories and novels anyway; but I don't believe that is a bad thing in the least. An author like Hemingway is a rare talent and American literature has seen few people who can replicate his ability to weave a story. His terse sentence structure and frank dialogue driven stories are among the best ever told, let alone by an American author--perhaps Poe is his only rival within American literature in the short story.

Hemingway is an American treasure and the brightest of his gems have yet to be touched by the world of cinema. It is time for that to change.

*Once again, I ask for any suggestions and recommendations that you will be willing to offer.*

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Needed Adaptations. St. John's Eve by Nikolai Gogol

I will say that I love Nikolai Gogol's master novel, Dead Souls, as much or more than the next guy. Believe me when I say that it is one of my favorite novels. I have called Gogol the Russian Dickens, which seems fitting since they were breaking conventions of the novel and story-telling in general at the same time in their respective nations. As much as I love Dead Souls, however, I also admit the near impossibility to adapt a novel that was supposed to have three sections and ends abruptly 3/4 of the way through the second part after missing significant portions of text in the second part to begin with. To adapt the novel a filmmaker would have to be brazen enough to write portions of missing text and create an ending...or just give their audience an ending as or more open-ended as the Coen's No Country for Old Men.

Nikolai Gogol, however, wrote more than just the one master novel. He wrote several plays and a lot of wonderful short stories. The one that sticks out to most literati-types is "The Overcoat," as it may be a truly pivotal point in the history of Russian Literature; however, I think that it would make for an interesting short story, but a lackluster feature. I think that, as his shorts go, that "St. John's Eve" would be a very adaptable piece that would be very entertaining and, if done right, quite horrifying.

"St. John's Eve" tells the tale of a man who makes a deal with the Devil for fame and all that ensues. The plot is simple and maybe doesn't sound like a lot in synopsis form. But believe me when I say that its the work of a master and if it was ever made into a film, if it was done right it would be a great film. Gogol has other stories that could make great movies, but I'll leave it there for now.

*Please share insights or suggestions in the comments section. I will be glad to consider them or discuss them with anyone who shares. Book suggestions? Have I missed a film? Please share.*

Friday, May 7, 2010

Needed Adaptations. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky is, possibly, the greatest novelist of all-time. Of course, is contemporary and compatriot, Leo Tolstoy, would give him a good run for his money. And, The Brother's Karamazov, is probably his greatest novel, though The Idiot, Crime and Punishment and The Possessed (oft-called Devils) are also great in their own right. The fact, however, is that there hasn't been a Russian-language adaptation made of the novel, that is readily available here in the United States.

It is a shame that one of the greatest novels of all-time, named the fifth greatest novel of all time, doesn't have an adequate film adaptation that was made in its native language that can be accessed world-wide and that holds up to the cinematic standards that the novel has held up to.

In 1967 the Soviet filmmaker, Sergei Bondarchuk, made a six hour epic based on Tolstoy's War and Peace that has held up as one of the crowning achievements of the Soviet film industry as well as one of the most faithful adaptations ever put on celluloid, because that's what films were put on back then.

*The above post is the first in a series that is still in development. I don't know how many novels will be named, and I don't know how it will go. I would appreciate input from anyone who is willing to offer it on novels they would like to see, films I may've missed based on these novels and whether you even agree with what I'm putting on the list. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Here it is.

I have been trudging my way through James Joyce's Ulysses for, about, the last two weeks. So, with that beast of a novel and the beginning of baseball season it has been hard for me to get to any quality movie time. I finished ripping the Bergman pictures yesterday before returning to Indiana for graduation of my Alma Mater. I should be back to giving real posts in the near future instead of life updates and excuses for not giving any meat.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Someone's gotta do it...

Moving your stuff from one computer to another is always a daunting task; however, when you move things from a PC to a Mac things become increasingly difficult...especially when external hard-drives are involved. A couple of summers ago I went out and got myself a nice Terabyte hard-drive to put all of my movies on. For the record that was painstaking enough. However, when I switched computers files and folders were lost along the way, and at some point I deleted my entire Martin Scorsese catalogue.

This may not seem like much of a big deal; however, that is over 20 films, most of which come in over 2 hours, and several come close to 3 hours to rip onto the new computer to place back onto the hard-drive. But then, I discover that the program I use to rip my movies onto my Mac results in a much higher quality digital copy than did the old program. So, now I am currently re-ripping everything, or nearly everything I own. I suppose that's what happens when A) Better Quality B) Cinephilia and C) Lots of time combine to create a perfect storm.

So, after several days off the "Favorite Films" series, I have decided that I do not know enough about 1930s cinema to continue the series as it was being run. So, as for now I don't know what to tell you to expect over the next few weeks, maybe I'll start posting some reviews here again (that's a novel idea). So, maybe we can start getting some quality reviews up again instead of little 150-300 word blurbs that one can find on imdb.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Favorite Films: The 1940's

Casablanca (1942) Michael Curtiz - Let the record show that choosing a "number one" film for the 1940s was the hardest of the decades yet because there were two films that easily could have been chosen. But, when all was said and done, how could I go against Humphrey and Ingrid? Is there really any doubt that this film about two war-torn lovers who meet in Paris and meet again in Casablanca is the most romantic film ever. At least the most romantic ever made about World War II. The film was adapted from a little-known stage play and was originally supposed to be another cheaply made mass produced picture by Warner Bros. Studio and star future president Ronald Reagan. As luck would have it, however, Bogart ended up taking the lead role in the film sharing the headline with Swedish beauty, Ingrid Bergman. The film would go on to win three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay, and in 2006 the Writers Guild of America named it the greatest screenplay ever written, and the American Film Institute has it currently ranked as the 3rd greatest American film ever made. I have my doubts its because the scenario is truly relatable for a large majority of people, but I also have my suspicions that most people have experienced love-lost or had a "We'll always have Paris"-type moment in their personal story. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman would both star in several of the pictures to be listed below, but in 1942, they captured the hearts of thousands when they starred together for the only time in both of their outstanding careers.

The Rest:

Citizen Kane (1941) Orson Welles
Detour (1945) Edgar G. Ulmer
Double Indemnity (1944) Billy Wilder
Its a Wonderful Life (1946) Frank Capra
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
The Maltese Falcon (1941) John Huston
Notorious (1946) Alfred Hitchcock
Spellbound (1945) Alfred Hitchcock
The Thief of Bagdad (1940) Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
The Third Man (1949) Carol Reed

Honorable Mentions: The Best Years of Our Lives, The Grapes of Wrath, The Red Shoes, Treasure of Sierra Madre.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Favorite Films: The 1950's

Rear Window (1954) Alfred Hitchcock - Jimmy Stewart may be the most lovable leading man in the history of Hollywood. Alfred Hitchcock may be the greatest suspense director in the history of cinema. The two teamed up several times and made several great films. But 1954's Rear Window is the mother of them all. The film takes place, almost exclusively, in one room and from one vantage point. This can be maddening, and I have a nagging suspicion that that is the point. Why should we as the audience get any better view than the leading man? After all, it is his story, and it is his camera lens that we're seeing the picture through. Hitchcock once said that it is the director's job to "play the audience like a piano," and there is not a better example of his doing so than in Rear Window. Many say that Vertigo is the master's opus and some may add Psycho, It seems to me, however, that this gem is his most overlooked, with the possible exception of one a little further down the list.

The Rest:

12 Angry Men (1957) Sidney Lumet
400 Blows (1959) Fran├žois Truffaut
Beat the Devil (1953) John Huston
Dial M for Murder (1954) Alfred Hitchcock
Rashomon (1950) Akira Kurosawa
Seven Samurai (1954) Akira Kurosawa
Seventh Seal (1957) Ingmar Bergman
Strangers on a Train (1951) Alfred Hitchcock
Sunset Blvd. (1950) Billy Wilder
Wild Strawberries (1957) Ingmar Bergman

Honorable Mention: Bob Le Flambeau, Elevator to the Gallows, I Confess, Ikiru, North by Northwest, On the Waterfront, Rebel Without a Cause, The River, Smiles of a Summer Night, Vertigo

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Favorite Films: The 1960's

Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) Stanley Kubrick - Let it be known that Stanley Kubrick is one of the greatest filmmakers ever. Period. Even those who do not enjoy his pictures can recognize the skill and care of the craft. Kubrick was nothing if he weren't a technical master. That said, this is his masterpiece. Dr. Strangelove, is quite possibly the funniest film ever made. If it is not, I'd be hard pressed to think of any better. But This film is more than hysterical, it is also incredibly smart and nearly perfectly crafted. The film is a satire of the Nuclear threat that was on constant red alert in the United States and in the Soviet Union. At the center of this "hot line suspense comedy" is a triad of performances by the vastly under appreciated, Peter Sellers. His portrayal of the US President was so funny and irreverent that the film was due to come out in November 1963, but after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Kubrick decided that it wouldn't be appropriate for release and personally held it back until February 1964. Which is the kind of man and filmmaker Kubrick was, as we was quoted as saying, "One man writes a novel. One man composes a symphony. It is necessary for one man to make a film."

The Rest:

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Stanley Kubrick
Bonnie and Clyde (1967) Arthur Penn
The Faith Trilogy (1961-63) Ingmar Bergman
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) Sergio Leone
The Graduate (1967) Mike Nichols
A Hard Days Night (1964) Richard Lesster
Persona (1966) Ingmar Bergman
Psycho (1960) Alfred Hitchcock
The Virgin Spring (1960) Ingmar Bergman
Who's That Knocking At My Door (1968) Martin Scorsese

*Apologies to 8 1/2, Battle of Algiers, Breathless, Jules and Jim, Band of Outsiders, La Dolce Vita and Ivan's Childhood for forgetting you on this list. Probably only 2 of you had a real chance of getting on anyway. Consider this an Honorable Mention for the French New Wave and Italian Neo-Realists.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Favorite Films: The 1970's

The Godfather pts I & II (1972/1974) Francis Ford Coppola - This may seem like, and may be a cop out. But I don't care. The fact of the matter is that these two films are one story, follow one arc, are perfect and belong to the greatest decade in the history of cinema, and as it is the greatest decade in the history of cinema it deserves to have double the pictures (totaling nearly 6 1/2 hours) than the other decades have had. As I have already stated, these two films are completely perfect. There is little that I can say that can add to the endless literature on these two pictures, the arc of a man's life from young idealist that wants nothing to do with the "family business" to running it. Al Pacino delivers two of the great performances of his career, if not of all time as Michael Corleone and Marlon Brando and Robert de Niro both give knock out performances as Michael's father, Vito 'Don' Corleone. The constant tragedy that envelopes this family are incredible, the way that they're able to wade through it and get passed it...or become it. However, despite both of these films being as great as they are, there is one scene that goes beyond the point of perfection at the end of the first film wherein Coppola shows the baptism of a child and the end of a bloody gang war, and the juxtaposition of the scene may be the greatest scene I have ever seen on celluloid.

The Rest:

3 Women (1977) Robert Altman
Cries and Whispers (1973) Ingmar Bergman
Jaws (1975) Steven Spielberg
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) Robert Altman
Nashville (1975) Robert Altman
Network (1976) Sidney Lumet
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) Milos Foreman
Scenes From a Marriage (1974) Ingmar Bergman
Stroszek (1978) Werner Herzog
Taxi Driver (1976) Martin Scorsese

And here's where my self-imposed cutoff is killing me. But I will resist naming any other films from the 1970s.

Honorable Mentions: Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Agguire: The Wrath of God, Annie Hall, Autumn Sonata, Chinatown, Dog Day Afternoon, Five Easy Pieces, Manhattan, M*A*S*H, Mean Streets

Monday, April 12, 2010

Favorite Films: The 1980's

1. Fanny and Alexander (1982) Ingmar Bergman - Ingmar Bergman is one of my favorite filmmakers to ever take a breathe of air. His films are stark, spiritual, searching, existential, human. From the 1950s through Fanny and Alexander, his last film, until his real last film, Saraband, in 2003, Bergman represented all that was beautiful and difficult in world cinema. It was Bergman in The Seventh Seal that gave us the iconic image of death playing a game of chess for a young knight's life after the crusades, during the plague years in Europe. It is, however, this film, Fanny and Alexander, that is his magnum opus. The film combines the best attributes of his humanist pictures of the 70s and his spiritual/existential pictures of the 50s and 60s. It is a gigantic film that clocks in at either 3 hours or 5 hours, depending on the version of the film you watch; the three hour version plays very fast for a film that length, the five hour version fills in the blanks and takes a little more time (obviously) but if one has the allotted time, it is a beautiful film, and was Bergman's preferred version. Ingmar Bergman died in July, 2006, and left behind him an extensive, prolific, but masterful catalogue of films that have been loved and devoured by cinephiles throughout the world for decades, and will continue to be among the names at the top of the auteurs list forever.

The Rest:

After Hours (1985) Martin Scorsese
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) Woody Allen
Do the Right Thing (1989) Spike Lee
Fitzcarraldo (1982) Werner Herzog
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) Woody Allen
Raging Bull (1980) Martin Scorsese
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1982) Steven Spielberg
Ran (1985) Akira Kurosawa
Secret Honor (1984) Robert Altman
Wings of Desire (1988) Wim Wenders

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Favorite Films: The 1990's

This following group of posts will not be as extensive in categories, or analysis as the Decade in Review post was for 2000-2009; it will however give a breakdown of some of my favorite films of the decade between 1990-1999. Contrary to the previous post, I will limit these posts to 10 films per decade, I will not try to limit it to the five or six I had previously said. I will, however, try to give one favorite film with some analysis followed by nine to ten other films in alphabetical order.

1. Shawshank Redemption (1994) Frank Darabont - In 1994 a young filmmaker took two of the great American actors to an out-of-commision prison in Mansfield, Ohio with a script based off of an uncharacteristic novella by the king of horror, Stephen King. The novella was "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption." The story follows a man convicted with the murder of his wife and how he stays positive through the crucible and brings life back to the institutionalized men. The film condenses some of the novella's characters, specifically, the warden, who remains the same man throughout the film and is three men in the novella. The protagonist is played by an inspired Tim Robbins fresh off of two brilliant collaborations with American master, Robert Altman, and a successful political satire of his own, Bob Roberts. Robbins is perfect through the film, but the heart of the film comes from Morgan Freeman, the man Pauline Kael said was the greatest working American actor: after his first picture. The films tells a story of unlikely friendship through trying circumstances and 20 years of rejections, new friends, and old friends dying off. Darabont's film is a beautiful film that captures the best of friendship in the worst of circumstances.

The Rest:

Being John Malkavich (1999) Spike Jonze
Bringing Out the Dead (1999) Martin Scorsese
Fargo (1996) Joel Coen
Goodfellas (1990) Martin Scorsese
L. A. Confidential (1997) Curtis Hanson
Magnolia (1999) Paul Thomas Anderson
The Player (1992) Robert Altman
Pulp Fiction (1994) Quentin Tarantino
Saving Private Ryan (1998) Steven Spielberg
Three Colors Trilogy (1993-94) Krzysztof Kieslowski

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Decade in Review

I did make a Best of the Decade list which I will post here. I will also be unveiling a new style list that I was just introduced to where I will give a favorite film of each decade, and then I will give a few (up to five) honorable mentions (in alphabetical order) for that decade. This is in order to forego a traditional top whatever movie list which forces me to say "this is my 3rd favorite movie of all time." That will be posted within the next few days, but here are the Top 10 of 2000-2009 in a semi-organized fashion.

10. Up in the Air (2009) by Jason Reitman - Reitman made three films in the latter half of the last decade that were all great films in one way or another, Thank You for Smoking made a contemptible man into a lovable protagonist, Juno showed the hardships of being a 16 year, especially one who becomes unexpectedly pregnant, but his latest film was the one that was completely relevant, and pulled out the tough stops to say something important. Up in the Air is a romantic comedy that refuses to play by any preset standards, shows the American dream at its worst, is driven by a great screenplay with powerhouse performances by its three principles, including the best performance of George Clooney's already stellar resume.

9. There Will be Blood (2007) Paul Thomas Anderson - Along with Reitman, Anderson is a young auteur that will be making powerful and relevant films for years to come. His fifth feature breaks down the standard dichotomy that has faced America since its inception: Faith versus Greed. How much is too much? How far is too far? Daniel Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview in this throw back to a 1970s style Western and is the supernatural force behind this powerhouse film that toes the fine line between melodrama and hysteria, but toes it with dignity and class and never misses a step.

8. The Departed (2006) Martin Scorsese - The last decade was a good one for my favorite director. While he didn't have an all-time great, such as Goodfellas, Raging Bull or Taxi Driver he had three films that were very good, and capped it in 2006 with this great film that, perhaps, just missed the pantheon, but did finally win him his long overdue Oscar. The film's plot is Shakespearean and takes its viewers on a twisting turning ride through Boston's Irish underworld. With a great ensemble cast, Scorsese makes his return to the streets a big one in this Crime Thriller that is bound to be a classic.

7. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) Andrew Dominik - 2007 brought back the Western in a big way. A genre that I thought was officially dead when Clint Eastwood made the beautiful Unforgiven 15 years earlier in 1992. But not everything is officially dead after their soliloquy is written, and if one doesn't count a film I have further up the list as a Western, The Assassination of Jesse James is the best Western made since '92. Photographed by the oft-underappreciated Roger Deakins, the film is beautiful to look at from start to finish, and as some critics pointed out the title allows us to not worry about the ending of the film and just see how it all unfolds. Maybe this soliloquy is the true swan song, but something tells me the Western will never actually die in American cinema, its too important to our nation's mythos.

6. Adaptation (2002) Spike Jonze - In 1999 the world was introduced to a young screenwriter and a young director and the world of cinema would never be the same. The film, Being John Malkavich, the screenwriter: Charlie Kaufman, the director: Spike Jonze. In 2002 the two men joined forces once again to create another gem, Adaptation. The film follows Charlie and his fictional twin Donald as they try to adapt The Orchid Thief into a screenplay. The twins are played by Nicolas Cage, in his best performance since Leaving Los Vegas in an implosive performance that rivals Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood and Sean Penn in Mystic River.

5. Munich (2005) Steven Spielberg - Some films are important because of artistry, some because of message, some just are, and some have all three. In 1972 the Israeli Olympic team suffered a terrorist attack by a group of Palestinian nationalists called Black September, Mossad retaliated by sending a secret team of intelligence experts out to dispatch of these men. Spielberg's 2005 masterpiece follows the retaliation in a thriller for the ages, but when he leaves us with the last shot of the picture, we get it. This is one of those films that is important for its artistry, its message and for various inexplicable but noticeable reasons.

4. Synecdoche, New York (2008) Charlie Kaufman - Here's that name again. Charlie Kaufman made the list for his directorial debut by being the king of a fairly weak year. As I stated in a post just a few days ago, this may be the most profound film that I have ever seen, as a screenplay its perfect, the Magnum Opus of Hollywood's best writer. As an acting piece it is top notch, from a spiritual and philosophical level it is near the peak. Philip Seymour Hoffman is pathetic as Caden and we cannot help but see ourselves at our worst in him. He just wants to be remembered. Well, he will be, and so will this film.

3. Mystic River (2003) Clint Eastwood - If someone were to tell Dirty Harry that he was going to have a second career even better than his first, but it wouldn't be for being rough and tumbled but a true artist, they should be found and put on a mantle. By 2003, Clint Eastwood had already won two Oscars for Unforgiven, but then it turned out, it was no fluke and 2003's Mystic River marked the beginning of what has to be an unparalleled string of pearls for a director in his 70s making seven films in seven years all of which have been lauded in most film circles. Sean Penn gives one of the best performances of the decade and is flanked by one of the best ensembles of the decade.

2. No Country for Old Men (2007) Joel and Ethan Coen - These brothers have made a career of making films that eat at their audience from start to finish. This is their masterpiece. This is the best film of the best year of the decade. A cat-and-mouse thriller that pits an everyman against a man that could be the Grim Reaper himself, though I doubt it. Maybe Death's first general though. Playing the best villain since Hannibal Lector, Javier Bardem steals the show as Anton Chigurh a sadistic and mysterious man that seems to have no stakes in his business other than the love of seeing other people loose his game.

1. Pan's Labyrinth (2006) Guillermo del Toro - Once ever 15 - 20 years an explosion of talent enters Hollywood from a foreign language market. In the 50s and 60s it was a massive European explosion with the French New Wave, the Italian Neo-realists and Ingmar Bergman from Sweden. This is probably the longest stretch of American love for foreign cinema ever as it stretched into the 70s and early 80s as Bergman pumped out masterpiece after masterpiece. In the early parts of the last decades there was some smoke coming out of Mexico, but in 2006 the fires erupted as the top three directors from Mexico (lovingly dubbed the Three Amigos as they are friends and business partners) as del Toro, Cuaron and Inarritu all pumped out critically acclaimed films. Pan's Labyrinth was the best of them, also the only one made strictly in Spanish. The story has been called a Fairy Tale for adults and must be seen to be appreciated, as a plot description would not suffice.

Honorable Mentions - Lost in Translation (2003) Sofia Coppla, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Michel Gondry, Juno (2007) Jason Reitman, Million Dollar Baby (2004) Clint Eastwood, Lord of the Rings (2001-03) Peter Jackson, Iwo Jima Saga (2006) Clint Eastwood

Best Year - 2007
Screenwriter of the Decade - Charlie Kaufman
Director of the Decade - Clint Eastwood
New Artist - Jason Reitman
Actor (not performance) - Sean Penn
Actress - Kate Winslet
Lead Male Performance - Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will be Blood) Sean Penn (Mystic River) tie
Lead Female Performance - Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
Supporting Performances - Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) Naomi Watts (21 Grams)
Original Screenplay - Synecdoche, New York - Charlie Kaufman; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Charlie Kaufman; Pan's Labyrinth - Guillermo del Toro
Adapted Screenplay - No Country for Old Men - Joel and Ethan Coen; Adaptation - Charlie Kaufman; Up in the Air - Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Mulholland Drive (2001) by David Lynch

David Lynch's dark, experimental film noir, Mulholland Drive, is a mind screw of the highest quality. The film has several explanations, the question, however, is whether trying to explain this film is even necessary. I, for one, don't believe it is.

Mulholland Drive is a dark, sexy and thrilling film that keeps you wondering what the mystery is from start to finish and leaves you wondering if there is even an explanation to be had once it is over. Watch it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Synecdoche, New York (2008) by Charlie Kaufman

In 2008 screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, perhaps the most creative and original screenwriter currently working, made his directorial debut and, what a debut it was. Synecdoche, New York is, perhaps, the most profound film that I have ever seen exploring the nature of love, lust, life, death, art and the meaning of all of it, whether art imitates life, or life is art, or any other combination of "art" and "life" that I can put together on the fly. On the surface the film follows Caden Cotard (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) through his life from 40 - 80 (or 90 depending on whether you believe Hoffman's interview or the makeup artists) as he receives a McArthur grant and tries to make a piece of art that will define his life at the same time that it captures everyone's story.

The surface, however, is rarely what we're concerned with. The story gets at many deep ironies and intricacies of life. Whether its Sammy, the man who lives his life following Caden, knowing him more than Caden knows himself, or that Caden loves Hazel through the whole story, but spends his whole life desiring the woman or women that he's not with in at the moment, whether it be Adele (Catherine Keener), Claire (Michelle Williams) or even Hazel. Hazel's desire for Caden takes on more dangerous imagery, she lives in a house that is always on fire, a slow smoldering that never goes out and never consumes; it just slowly burns forever until she finally gets what she wants and the turn that it takes.

The film, which Roger Ebert named the best film of the last decade, is hard to describe properly without spoiling it for anyone who has not seen the film, or without having a proper dialogue, so I'll cut the review off here, but know that it is a labyrinth of emotions and ideas. Charlie Kaufman (writer of the wonderful Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) writes another gem, and gets to put a very personal stamp on it as his first film at the helm. Watch this film more than once, the more you watch it, the more you'll be able to get out of it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Alexander Nevsky (1938) by Sergei Eisenstein

1938 was a rough year for Europe. In represents the peak of the pre-war Nazi scare. A time between the Soviet-Zazi non-aggression pact and the Nazi invasion of Poland. Soviet Premiere, Josef Stalin, did not truly trust the Nazi's and he wanted the people of the Soviet Union to beware that there was a chance that the uneasy peace could be broken at anytime. Stalin turned toward his go-to filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein, perhaps best known for his silent, Pro-Communist propaganda piece, Battleship Potemkin. This time Eisenstein takes on a less contemporary subject.

Alexander Nevsky was a grand prince in Medeval Rus, and has become a folk hero to the Russian people as a uniter of the Russian people as he helped them stand against the Swedes, Mongols and, in the case of April 5, 1592--The Germans. Which is the battle that is at the center of this picture. Eisenstein's film captures the highs and lows of warfare, and does a great job of propagandizing the historical scenarios to make them both fairly accurate and relevant to the situation at hand in the Soviet Union in 1938.

In 2008, Russia held a reality television program called I Say Russia... which allowed the Russian people to vote on the top Russians of all time. In this contest the Soviet premiere who ordered this film, Josef Stalin, came in 3rd; and, the film's subject, Alexander Nevsky, was named the number one Russian of all time. Eisenstein is one of, in not the most, important filmmaker of the Soviet Union (a strong argument could also be made for Andrei Tarkovsky) and this film shows why it is that he is a true master of the craft.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) by Woody Allen

Hannah and Her Sisters may well be the best of all of Woody Allen's films. If it isn't, it is right up there with his other masterpieces, Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Crimes and Misdemeanors. The film concerns itself with Hannah (Mia Farrow), Her ex-husband (Woody Allen), her current husband (Michael Caine) and her two sisters (Barbara Hershey and Dianne Wiest). Woody Allen's character is a neurotic, hypochondriac, middle-aged, New York TV Exec who is trying to live his life while being crippled by fear and anxiety that his life is so momentary yet will be meaningless as soon as its over.

In many ways, Allen's character is the character through whom we experience the film. He is our link into this New York lifestyle that many of us are probably unfamiliar with. The film is told in a series of vignettes that can be watched as separate short films but come together to make a coherent whole. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert mentions that this approach makes for an ironic statement at the end of the film that we try so hard to organize our lives into these neat little categories that we think make sense in our lives, and to an extent we can pull them out and make a neat little story out of them; but we, in the end, have to show that neat little story in the context of two full years or even a life completed in order to fully understand the gravity or the mundane nature of a given event.

Woody Allen was inspired to write this film after re-reading Tolstoy's beautiful Anna Karenina, and in many ways viewers who have read the novel will see similarities in character traits and plot events; however, it is not more than an influence. When first released the film had supporters lobbying to make it the first Screenplay nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for drama, an honor still never bestowed upon a screenplay, though, in the end there was not a Pulitzer given out for drama in 1986.

In the end, Woody Allen has been one of the prolific of all American auteurs and has been, at times, truly great. This is one of his finest achievements.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I'm Back...

I graduated from college in December and had little capacity for cognizant thought after I finished, I read a couple of books but did not do a lot of movie watching. The little I did do was catching up on the big films from the current year (ie. Up in the Air, Precious, The Hurt Locker, etc. (two Latin abbreviations in one sentence...nice)). In any case, after a couple of months on the dismal job market I am still a free agent, and, as I had a few films in my collection, and HBO that I'd neglected to see to this point, I decided to pop them in. Over the past week I've done my duty as a cinephile that I had neglected for quite some time. I am ashamed of the little film watching I did for a period of time, but I am back.

So far, in the last week I've been able to watch World's Greatest Dad starring the oft-brilliant Robin Williams in a dark as night comedy that brings some awfully big laughs. Forgetting Sarah Marshall a Best-way-to-forget-her-is-to-turn-her-into-literature Comedy that runs toward the middle of the pack in the vast array of Judd "King of Comedy" Apatow's collection of involvement. Ivan the Terrible pt. II, the second part of the would be trilogy that capped Soviet master, Sergei Eisenstein's brilliant career about the parallels of the Russian Empire's first Tsar and the Red Tsar of the Soviet Union Josef Stalin. Sunshine and 28 Days Later... the Sci-fi and Horror masterpieces made by British director, Danny Boyle before his let down of a Best Picture winner. Vampyr, Carl Theodore Dreyer's horror classic follow-up to his silent masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc; the film is a visual masterpiece, with some visual effects that I was impressed with watching from my couch. O Brother, Where Art Thou, one of the very few films by the Coen brothers that I had missed seeing, this depression-era Bluegrass-musical-epic-Odyssey-Comedy about a couple of busted loose prisoners is one of the brother's finest comic moments. Hoop Dreams, this was the documentary that Roger Ebert named the best film of the 1990's, about two poor young black men in inner-city Chicago and their dreams of going to the NBA and being like Michael Jordan and Isaiah Thomas.

I still have a few more movies to get through on my list of catch-up, I may or may not write on all or any of these films, time will tell. Mainly I wanted anyone who may still be out there caring about my opinion on anything involving motion picture, that I am still alive and while I was on hiatus, I am back in the movie-watching game.

If anyone has a request for any specific reviews or any views I have on a particular movie listed above or in general, leave me a comment and I will try to get it up here in a timely manner if I've seen it and a little less timely manner if I still need to watch it.

Movies still to watch over the next few days: Alexander Nevsky, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Hunted and Glengarry GlenRoss.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Top 10 of 2010

I know its been awhile, I have been surprisingly busy, its not that I've not been watching movies, I've just not really had time to sit down to really put my opinions into words that would suite a proper film review for a once-respectable movie blog. So, I apologize for my long absence, and without further adieu, I present my top 10 films of 2009. With a note that there are several films that have been called great that I have yet to see, including Best Picture frontrunner: The Hurt Locker

10. Watchmen by Zack Snyder
9. District 9 by Neil Blomkamp
8. Up by Pete Doctor
7. Fantastic Mr. Fox by Wes Anderson
6. Where the Wild Things Are by Spike Jonze
5. Away We Go by Sam Mendes
4. A Serious Man by Joel and Ethan Coen
3. Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino
2. (500) Days of Summer by Marc Webb
1. Up in the Air by Jason Reitman