|DAN'S 2003 MOVIE THOUGHTS|
by Dan R.
Can it be possible that Iíve grown tired of lists? Well, it is true. The unthinkable has indeed happened. Iím not tired of recapping my thoughts at the end of the year. However, I am sick of trying to differentiate between whether or not a film should be number 3 or number 8, let alone whether or not a film should be number 32 or number 49.
How did I end up ditching the tried and true list format? A format that I have been a huge fan of ever since I could figure out how to find Casey Kasem on the radio? Three factors: 1. Iím an old man and I donít deal in such tried and true certainties anymore. Iíve been gradually changing some of my habits in the past year or so. Last yearís music write-up was not a list, but, rather a serious of disjointed "awards" and random musings. Also, my 2002 baseball writing was more of a diary type exercise than a straight up list that I had written in years past. 2. Jimís 2002 movie writing was so damn good. And he didnít have to resort to organizing his ideas into a list. 3. Matt Zoller Seitzís excellent recent column on the nature of lists and his opinion about film criticism in general. http://www.nypress.com/17/1/film/film.cfm
Thus, I present to you my 2003 movie writing. Not a straight up list, but still organized into categories. Because who really cared about anything other than general placement of a movie on my silly lists anyway? However, I still do have very strong feelings about my favorite and least favorite films of the year. Which is nice because in 2002, there was no film I absolutely detested with all my being like I have in past years. Plus, my number one in 2002 could have been any number of films. Not so in 2003.
The count- 86 films in the theaters. That is twenty less than last year which is obviously a step in the right direction for me. Send your lists to marc (at) balgavy.com. For a list of films released in 2003, check out this handy website. http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/index2003.html
My Least Favorite Film of the Year
This movie insulted my intelligence. This movie is the kind of movie that "literate" folks like to pat themselves on the back for "getting." What the hell? This movie sucks so hard. Is the state of mainstream film so low that any drama that is aimed at people over the age of 20 is considered a masterpiece? Are critics still drunk on their love of "Unforgiven" to give Clint a free ride on this stinkfest?
This movie is overwrought, overdone, underwritten, and lazy. Maybe the book does a better job at filling in the dots, but the film is a big mess. Weíre supposed to believe that at the exact same time that Sean Pennís daughter is being killed that Tim Robbins is pummeling to death a pedophile across town? Weíre supposed to understand why the hell Kevin Baconís wife keeps calling him at inopportune times? This is, of course, filmed so incredibly obnoxiously with tight close-ups on her bright red lips that it defies reason. Weíre given no context for these calls and no reason to care. I suppose we are supposed to deduce that the event that happened to the three main characters has affected their adult lives 25 years later. This is an interesting idea, but so poorly executed in the movie. Weíre supposed to believe that Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, and Kevin Bacon are all only 36 years old?
The last fifteen or so minutes cemented how awful this film is. Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney exchange "Actorís Studio" looks in the midst of the parade. Kevin Bacon pretends to shoot Sean Penn with his finger. Was this whole scene shot in slow motion or was that my imagination?
And the direction was terrible too! How many times do we need to see overhead shots of the river? The Mystic River that is. Where Clint is foreshadowing the shit that will go down there later. How awful was that scene where Sean Penn is trying to burst through the cops to find his daughter? Ugh. Ugh. And more Ugh!
As I was watching this, my mind wandered to many things:
Will I go see the third installment?
The Italian Job
Havenít seen the original but I do know this is better than "Heist" but nearly not as good as the remake of "Oceans Eleven." Some fun action, some incredibly bad dialogue. Overall, kind of blah.
Step Into Liquid
Amazing surfing footage, lousy narration. I wanted more on the interesting bits (Vietnam vet returns 30 years later with his son looking for good surfing) and the bizarre (Texas surfers surf in the wake of giant tankers). In the hands of another filmmaker rather than the son of the "Endless Summer" filmmaker trying to impress his dad, this film could have been something much much better.
Lilya 4 Ever
Lukas Moodysohnís third film is quite a dud. After the stellar films "Show Me Love" and "Together" (both top 5 films for me in their respective years), this film greatly disappointed. Blah, blah, blah. Life is hard. Dumb 16 year old Russian girl stuck in a run down life has her mom leave her to go to America, makes friends with an 11 year old boy, is forced to turn tricks to make ends meet, meets a nice good looking boy who convinces her to go to Sweden with him, gets tricked into going to Sweden by herself, is forced into prostitution, contemplates suicide. Nothing much interesting about this movie and Iíve seen a number of films ("Last Resort") dealing with somewhat similar themes that are worlds better.
I thought this dark comedy about Israelis and Palestinians would be more like "No Manís Land" or at least as good as "Beautiful People", but it wasnít. Straddling the line between fantasy and reality, this film didnít really work. The quieter moments of old men watching the everyday craziness and anger from lawn chairs overlooking a street were great. But when the Israeli sharpshooters are taking target practice and are destroyed by a flying ninja Palestinian woman, this movie lost me.
Liked the music stuff a lot, thought the relationship stuff was useless. I did like Lou Barlow in his brief role.
The Good Thief
I used to hate Nick Nolte. Now I donít. Neil Jordan is an odd filmmaker. I feel like his jagged editing made him feel like he was on the cutting edge, but it seemed more like a bad made for cable movie to me. Still, the scenery was nice, the Russian actress was excruciatingly beautiful, and it kept my attention.
Taxicab Confessions Tehran edition. Kiarostami usually is more interesting to me than this one. Digital video can really really look like crap.
Not Great, But Still Kind of Worth Seeing
There is a fine line between subtlety and boring and this film straddles the line. I havenít seen the Dardenne Brothers other films (La Promesse, Rosetta), but this movie doesnít make me want to run out and see them. This one is about a father who ends up employing his sonís murderer as a carpentry intern. The murderer is only 16 years old and had strangled the carpenterís son when he was 11. He is just out of prison and in need of vocation. Somehow, deceasedís father ends up as the employer. Some good tense moments and some interesting shots (most of the film was shot over the shoulder of the dad like the proverbial monkey on oneís back) donít make a great film.
Some very funny moments, but in general this movie made me feel very very very uneasy.
Lost in La Mancha
I was a little bored by much of this documentary about the failed making of "Don Quixote" by Terry Gilliam. However, seeing equipment washed away by a flood and seeing the three big Spanish guys playing giants were fun to watch.
Yossi and Jagger
A squad of Israeli soldiers on patrol. Two of the men are having a secret affair. Things, of course, are complicated by the enemy and women soldiers who have crushes. Interesting but I could have used more than the 71 minutes I got to fully flesh out some of the plot and character development.
Documentary that follows a number of Cuban refugees over a number of years from Cuba to the various U.S. cities in which they settle.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Fun sound effects and fun shooting but come on, where is the narrative that I can care about? Where was the context? Where were the Frenchies? I kept waiting for the damn boat to hit the iceberg. Still, the thunderous fight scenes left me overall somewhat satisfied.
British film told from three different charactersí perspectives. Each segment was better than the previous one. Iíve seen other films that play with this kind of storytelling structure, but this one seemed fairly original anyway because each segment ended up going a little bit longer time wise past the previous segmentís ending point. Thus, by the end the entire story had become complete. However, I canít really remember too much about this movie at yearís end.
Gus Van Santís take on Columbine. Looked great, storytelling structure was interesting, the acting was stupendous, but something was missing. The first half is so much better than the second half and I think it is because the killers play a more prominent role in second half. I would like to see Van Sant make a film just about high school kids without adding the added drama of a massacre.
Massively influenced by the Coen Brothersí Americana, this 3rd film from the Polish Brothers was interesting but flawed. The film focuses on two stories. One story is amazing, one is quite silly. The story that focuses mainly on the forced relocation of residents of the town of Northfork, Montana in the 1950ís before a flooding of the valley is stupendous. The story focusing on an angel boy adopted by spirits played by among others Anthony Edwards (looking like a reject from "Time Bandits") is not so hot.
Korean drama. Man has an affair with married woman when he shouldnít. Steamy sex, great cinematography.
Man in his 50ís hires a woman in her young 20ís to be his maid. Sparks ensue. The cinematography was stupendous. I saw this movie with Alex Bowles and his prediction that like all French films it would take place during the summer and have some sort of strange sexual element to it came true.
Korean film about a painter in the 19th century, part fact, part legend, all beautiful to look at. This yearís "Frida" but with much less cleavage.
Now Weíre Getting Somewhere
Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator
Old skateboarding footage never gets old. That one Spicoli-like dude needs his own movie.
I didnít love this movie as much as everyone else does, but it was well done. Charlize Theron was really great and should win Best Actress for her portrayal of a misunderstood serial killer. Christina Ricci has a huge forehead.
House of Sand and Fog
The best real estate drama since "Pacific Heights." However, I wish the story could have been told without having to have the saintly die for our sins. Does every story have to have sweeping nods to Greek tragedy? Every single story? Can a movie be taken seriously these days without a death to seal the deal that this is indeed a serious work of art? Is there any ethnicity that Ben Kingsley has not played yet?
Irish immigrants in New York City. The acting was stupendous, some of the best child acting Iíve seen in many a year. But, the movie had way too many melodramatic moments for my tastes.
Warrior of Light
Documentary about a woman working to make the lives of kids living in the slums of Brazil a little more bearable. Nice companion piece with "City of God."
A fictionalized videolog of two Columbine type high school students plotting a murder spree at their high school. The acting is incredibly natural and believable. In fact, the parents of each kid are played by their real parents. The ending shown on grainy black and white is quite unsettling. I did enjoy it, but it seemed like the filmmaker was so hesitant to offer any opinion on what would cause teens to kill that he made their lives seem way too normal, easy, and a-ok to fathom these kids committing these atrocities.
Love and Diane
Documentary about a mother (Diane) and her 18 year old daughter (Love) in New York City over the course of three years. The daughter has just had a baby and the mother is still trying to get her life back together after being addicted to crack for a number of years. There are many setbacks but also many triumphs for the family as the documentary progresses. The policies of the city seem to be doing more harm than good at times when Love loses her son to foster care. Yet it is clear why the city would not want to give Love her son back. For the next 18 months, drama ensues as Love tries to get her son back and Diane tries to find meaningful employment. A film that my mom would absolutely love.
Documentary from Steve James (Hoop Dreams). James was a big brother to Stevie back in the early 80ís but then he lost touch. In 1995, he reconnected with Stevie and his family to make this film about them. Stevie has had a hard life and has made some bad decisions. But, heís not all bad and can be quite likable. Heís accused of molesting a niece during the filming and most of the documentary revolves around his possible prison sentence for the crime. I did feel uneasy at times thinking how James is profiting from Stevieís miseries. James comments on that fact a few times, but Iím not sure that merely having the filmmaker comment on it makes it okay, but then again isnít that the crux of many documentaries? Good intentions + exploitation = good documentary?
From the director of "Amoros Perros" but not nearly as good. Dude is hit by a truck driven by Benicio del Toro. Dude dies. His heart is transplanted into Sean Penn. He tracks down Dudeís widow (Naomi Watts). They fall in love and decide to kill del Toro. I could have sworn that that David Duchovny/ Minnie Driver movie "Return to Me" had a very similar plot, but I guess that movie didnít have murder on its menu. The mixed up jumble of a way that the movie was edited is jarring at first, but it makes for an overall interesting storytelling structure. And without the jumbled editing, this movie would seem awfully shallow.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Case of the Sodapop Surprise
Iíve been a big fan of movies based on rides since "Coupon: The Movie: The Ride" and this one didnít disappoint. Johnny Depp wins the award for most over the top award of 2003 which will forever be christened the "Daniel Day-Lewis Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence."
Amandla! A Revolution In Four-Part Harmony
Documentary about the anti-apartheid movement and the music that it inspired. Fairly straightforward doc, but the music is damn good. The toyi toyi is super bad. The former riot police interviews are interesting. I didnít realize what a badass Mandela was back in the 60ís.
I have to agree with Marc on this one. He said that if he was 38 or 39 and had taken his family to see it on a Saturday night, he would be "pleased as punch." However, I didnít then come home and spend time researching Allison Lohman on the internet. I liked Nicholas Cage and Sam Rockwell a lot more than I usually do. The cons kept getting more and more fun as the movie went on.
A Mighty Wind
Iíd like to see a movie made about aging Second City actors reuniting for a big show and how ridiculous they are. This movie was quite enjoyable, but I wonder if Christopher Guest is just going to keep making the same format of a film over and over and over again. Fred Willardís character might be the funniest character Iíve seen on film in years. I want a whole movie about him. Eugene Levyís sadness was heartbreaking.
I do love me some Pixar but this film was no "Monsterís Inc." or "Toy Story 2." Were my expectations too high for this film? Perhaps. Did I enjoy it despite my unreal expectations? Definitely. The animation was really amazing, but the script was a little lacking compared to the other Pixar gems. As Sujan pointed out, "The best Pixar films are the ones with toys or monsters." File this one a notch above "Bugs Life."
If the Eric Rohmer of 1960 was transported to 2003 and told to make a "Real World" type fiction film with the fun of "Amelie" mixed in, it might look a whole lot like this film.
This movie made me long to be 14 years old again and there are very few films that make me feel that way. Who the hell wants to be 14 again? But, this movie is fun from beginning to end and quite clever to boot. Plus, references to Hives bootlegs and the White Stripes Ė"I mean come on, just get a bassist" add to the charm of this silly little film. I could have done without the ancient Chinese secret aspect but what are you going to do?
X2: X Men United
Some of this was captivating and I am looking forward to seeing the next film. I want more of the X Men who only had small parts in this movie. Like the guy who can turn into metal should have a bigger role. This movie didnít have any surprises, but it was fun throughout.
I read this book as a read aloud to my class in the fall of 2002. So when it came out as a movie, I knew my missionÖ field trip. A bunch of kids, a mob scene of frantically getting enough booster seats (third graders need booster seats- who knew?) and a fun movie equal a good time had by all. This is a fun family movie. Entertaining, campy, clever, and interesting. The many flashbacks would have blown my mind as an eight year old. The film also deals with issues of class and race in a pretty sophisticated manner for a kidís movie. My class this year knows that I took my class last year to a movie. They have been asking if I am going to take them to a movie. I told them only if a movie comes out this year that we have read during the year. Just my luck that the book Iím currently reading to them "Ella Enchanted" is coming out as a movie in April. But, oh man, I just saw a preview for it and there is no way in hell, Iím going to go see that crap.
Ozon goes back to his most "Hitchcockian" since his early feature "See the Sea." I was captivated by most of this, but it made me feel empty and confused by the end. Looked great for many reasons.
Bend It Like Beckham
Sometimes I can be quite a movie snob. Iíll go see a movie like "Freaky Friday", but refuse to see films like "Billy Elliott", "The Full Monty", "Shakespeare in Love", and "Big Fat Greek Wedding." I would rather go see a movie that I know what it is (silly entertainment) than a pseudo "art" film that makes everyone feel so cultured. I know, I know- what a jerk I am. And there was something about this film that made me lump it into the aforementioned quartet. But a funny thing happened- I changed my mind and decided to give the film a chance. And I was pleasantly entertained. I wasnít surprised by anything in it- it was exactly what I expected it to be, but it was good. Charming and fun- and it made interesting comments on culture in todayís society. Hell, maybe Iíll rent "Billy Elliott" soon.
Ichi the Killer
From Takashi Miike ("Audition" and "The Happiness of the Katakuris") this gangster film is full of inspired lunacy. I never knew what might happen in the next scene. Incredibly inventive. But, to be honest, two hours of organs spilling, people slipping on floors covered in blood, arms being ripped off, tongues being cut out, nipples being sliced off, fingers being severed by teeth, etc. etc. gets a little tiring. Oh yeah, did I mention the guy being hung from his back by meathooks that was tortured by his face being punctured and having hot grease poured all over him?
Good flying birds. I still canít get that scene of that poor bird with the broken wing getting surrounded and devoured by those mean mean crabs.
Reminded me a bit of "Dead Man" in the examination of lawlessness of 1800ís America. And you can get a whole lot of mileage from the proven greatness of "The Odyssey", canít you? Looked great, sounded great, felt great, so why is this movie not truly great? It just felt too much straining to be "Oscar" bound to me. And why does every American made drama these days have to end with the main character dying in the next to last scene followed by one more scene wrapping the whole thing up in an optimistic manner? It is so predictable. Plus, I would take "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" any day if I want to see a 1800ís climactic shootout in the snowy mountains. Still, this is easily the best American Civil War film ever made filmed in Romania starring an Australian and a Brit.
Man on the Train
Quirky French buddy picture from the director of "The Widow of St. Pierre" Jean Rochefort is an amazing actor and the "French Elvis" Johnny Halladay is great. Sweet and fun to watch even if I didnít fully understand the ending.
The first hour of this was heelarious, the last fifteen minutes was an absolute trainwreck. But damn that first hour was funny.
Solid, Very, Very, Very, Solid
The part Crispin Glover was born to play. From the creators of Final Destination, this remake is hilarious. Take the elder McFly from "Back to the Future", change Biff from the asshole next door to a mean boss, add some of the creepy house from "Psycho", the overbearing mom from "Pet Semetary", sprinkle with hundreds of rats, and voila youíve got yourself a fun movie. Gloverís hysterics are always wonderful. His high pitched yelling scenes are worth ten bucks by themselves.
Young Jewish boy heads to Jerusalem to sow some wild oats, falls in love with a Russian prostitute, befriends oddball characters, and has his heart broken. Makes interesting political points while remaining basically just a story of a nice Jewish boy.
In This World
Michael Winterbottom ("24 Hour Party People", "Wonderland", "Welcome to Sarajevo") directs yet another interesting film. This one is shot cinema verite style. This film takes on the subject of two Afghan refugees trying to get from a Pakistani refugee camp to London. The two main characters are played by two actual refugees as they retrace their steps for the movie. A crazy road movie terrifying at times, uplifting at others.
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
With all my being, I wish I could be in with the in crowd and crown this movie my one and only number one for now and all of eternity. If the last two years are any indication of this yearís lists, balgavy.com is going to have many a list with this epic at the top. I just canít do it. Some of this blew me away. I fully applaud the way these films were made and Peter Jacksonís vision. The battle of Minas Tirith (trust me, it only took a a few minutes googling to find the name of the city) was stupendous. I would rank it as one of my all time favorite battle scenes (up there with the Hoth battle in "The Empire Strikes Back" and the D-Day invasion in "Saving Private Ryan").
But, did anyone else find the music overwrought? Every note seemed to scream out "You are watching the end of an epic!" I enjoyed this movie, honest I did, but I was worn down by all the "epic closing" close-ups of the entire cast for the last fifteen minutes! I just felt weary by the end. I canít wait until the 2004 movie lists when once again everyone will have to watch movies throughout the year before crowning their number one, 12 months before the movie even comes out! Bring it on, Lawrence!
Lost In Translation
Bill Murray was great as usual. He is so expressive without being showy. The film looked great and had some truly splendid moments. It almost felt like a dream. However, for this to be higher on the list, I needed to have a little more character development of the Scarlett Johansson character.
Interesting documentary about the revolutionary group "The Weathermen". I didnít know much about them and I now want to know more about them and others such as Fred Hampton. The film has a lot of great footage from the time and is framed by recent interviews with the members of the group. It is fascinating to see their different takes on their actions years later. Some donít regret anything and others seem a little shamed about their past actions.
Another strange Cronenberg film. The tale of a schizophrenic man (Ralph Fiennes) either losing his mind as an adult and reminiscing about his childhood and/ or the tale of a schizophrenic man reminiscing about how he lost his mind as a child. Sort of a crazy manís version of "Itís A Wonderful Life".
Documentary about a Brazilian street kid who takes hostages on a bus. All of it was filmed by local T.V. The police donít come off looking too good in this movie.
Secret Lives of Dentists
Campbell Scott is the best actor alive. This film is an interesting portrayal of a marriage coming apart at the seams. Not nearly as painful as "Husbands and Wives" or "Scenes From a Marriage" but it nails the everyday ennui and boredom of Scottís and Hope Davisí characters. This movie would have ranked higher without the many scenes of Scott asking his imaginary buddy Denis Leary for advice.
The Station Agent
A quiet tale of a dwarf train lover who moves to a small Jersey town after being given a train depot in his friendís will. At first, I thought it was too damn quirky for itís own good in a condescending "arthouse" kind of way. But, the movie got sweeter and sweeter as it went and I was pulled right in.
I canít wait to have kids so I can tell them to put on their earmuffs. This movie was damn funny. One of the funniest straight up comedy Iíve seen in a good long time. Unless you count "Final Destination 2."
Looked great, but what the fuck? Come on Tarantino, find an editor and put this movie out as one damnmovie. Still, I canít complain too much about the action, the soundtrack, the stupendous sound effects, and the cinematography. All of that stuff was A+ material. A few months later and I still canít get the fun moments from this film out of my head.
The end of WWII. A Russian soldier, a Finn forced to fight for the Germans, and a horny peasant woman all try to converse in different languages. This film had great cinematography and an amusing mix of seriousness and silliness.
Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis are unbelievable as usual. A lot sentimental but I suppose you have to have that to balance out all the grumpiness. I really liked the scenes with the real people portrayed in the film. I wouldnít mind seeing more of this kind of thing in movies based on real people. Iranian films have been doing that kind of things for years, but it is nice to see it being done in the good Ďol USA. The "Revenge of the Nerds" scene or pretty much any scene with Toby are some of the most entertaining in any film this year.
Spy Kids 3: Game Over
Much better than Part 2. "Tron" for a new generation. There is so much fun stuff to look at in this movie. Completely inventive and absolutely insane. I will never forget the image of Ricardo Montalban as a huge superhero.
Nice small film about a mechanic who rents his spare room to a couple. He and the woman really get along well, but it is strictly platonic. Things get complicated when the mechanic starts dating a new woman and jealousies ensue. It is hard to describe how well this film works. It is understated, character driven, and fun to watch.
Marooned In Iraq
The Kurds were screwed over after the failed uprising after the first Gulf War. The U.S. promised to help them and then we didnít. This film is about a Kurdish man and his two friends scouring the countryside looking for his wife and her new husband amongst the craziness and destruction of Iraq. What starts as the Three Stooges meets the Road Warrior inevitably turns into a tragedy.
Dirty Pretty Things
A nice blend of drama and social message. Illegal immigrants in London just try to survive day to day working in sweatshops, driving cabs, and selling their internal organs. A happy ending made me pump my fist. Unfortunately, in real life not so many folks are so lucky.
All the Real Girls
David Gordon Greenís "George Washington" was my favorite movie of 2000 so I was pretty damn excited to see his follow-up. While, I didnít like it nearly as much as his first film, "All the Real Girls" is still damn fine. It has the same look and a similar feel to "George Washington" but not quite as much magic and it felt a little too long. Still, on its own merits, this film has some great elements. Green has a knack for capturing wonderful moments on film. In this film, there are dozens of small brilliant moments. The tuba scene, the two bowling scenes, the dancing clowns in the childrenís ward at the hospital are just a few. Like "George Washington" any scene with a child in it is amazing.
So Damn Fine
28 Days Later
Zombies never moved so quickly in the George Romero "Dead" trilogy. These infected humans are even scarier. This film isnít as jump out at you scary as a traditional horror film, but it is damn creepy anyway. The digital video enhances the dreariness of the film. The shots of an empty London, a burning Manchester, a beautiful countryside with rotting sick folks all serve to make this film a memorable one. Plus, the message of sticking it to the British is a funny one.
Documentary about a man searching to discover what his father (the architect Louis Kahn) was like. Kahn had three children with three different women. None of the kids knew each other until the making of this film. The narrator, Nathaniel Kahn, went all over the world interviewing people who knew his father and visited all of his completed buildings. A pretty damn interesting character study as well as a lament for the amazing buildings that could exist today if more city planners had more imagination.
Hollywood stars lost in the desert make for the best lost in the desert scenes since Chevy Chase in the first "Vacation." There are some stunning moments in this film and despite its glacial pace was always captivating. The stuck on the rock scene provided some comic relief. The two lost kids never really got too depressed about their situation until the situation became hopeless. Two scenes of them walking were downright poetic: the one of the super tight closeups and the one near the end of them trudging along with the eerie blips and bleeps of the soundtrack, like they were walking on the moon. Van Santís return to form.
A documentary about five New Yorkers obsessed with going to see movies. Sound like someone you know? Believe me, Iím not as bad as these five although I have seen a couple of them at movies that Iíve attended. They each go to two or three movies every day. They donít go to weddings or funerals because of a possible missed chance to see a movie. They call the projectionists around the city to inquire about the quality of prints. Four of the five people seemed absolutely insane. Only one of the five seemed to have any sense of reality, but admitted that he went to so many movies to escape reality. The brilliant ending includes showing the cineastes a rough-cut of the film and then letting them critique it.
I did see some of myself in these folks as far as the obsessive compulsive part of their personalities. It made me realize that if I want to remain sane in the long run- it might be a good idea for me to move out of New York City because there are just too many damn movies that play here. I think most of the other people in the theater (including John Waters) went to the movie for the same reason I did- to make sure that we werenít as far gone as these five.
Dracula: Pages From a Virginís Diary
I can honestly say that I have never seen another film like this before. Only 75 minutes, this adaptation of Dracula was riveting and strange. The director Guy Maddin used the Royal Winnipeg Ballet as his actors. But, the film had no speaking dialogue- it was a silent film with a haunting score. The dialogue was placed in the film on cards like in old silent films and as text in bright colors on the screen. The overall look of the film was sepia toned with some dazzling uses of color along the way. Many, many cuts were used, but it never got hectic and annoying like a lot of movies with tons of cuts. How can I describe this film? "Voyage to the Moon" meets "Zentropa" with a little Godard. Nah, thatís terrible. I donít know.
The Man Without A Past
This film from Finland was pretty damn offbeat. A man gets beaten up, has amnesia, finds new friends, a place to live in an abandoned shack, a cool jukebox with 50ís jams, a new girlfriends, and all is good- until his ex-wife recognizes his picture in the paper and her new beau threatens to fight him over her. Luckily, all works out in the end. Deadpan throughout.
Final Destination 2
Not as good as the first, but maybe itís hard to fully impress me the second time around. However, the deaths are even more creative and fun than the ones in the first. Iíve never had such a good time cheering for people to die than in these movies. If one of those movies came out every month, Iíd go see every last one of them. Does anything beat death by barbwire fence? HmmmÖ. maybe being decapitated by an elevator. Or perhaps, being impaled by a spike and an airbag? What, that doesnít suit you? How about an explosion at the grill or perhaps death by fire escape ladder?
The Cream of the Crop
School of Rock
Jack Black in the role he was meant to play. Iíd been getting a little sick of Blackís persona, but in this movie, I couldnít get enough. A "Bad News Bears" for rock. I had a smile on my face the whole time. The music was perfect, the comic timing was sublime, everything was superb. I wonder how much shit Chris Larry got at Bank Street after this movie came out.
To Be and to Have
Charming documentary about a school in a small French town. The teacher (Mr. Lopez) has been teaching for 35 years and is a pleasure to watch. The school ranges in age from preschool- 5th grade or so. The kids are amazingly cute and fun to watch. The drama of a sick parent of a 5th grader coincides quite nicely with a 4 year old upset that another kid took one of her erasers. The love Mr. Lopez feels for the children is apparent and it is clear he takes great pride in his job. When I left this film, I felt extremely happy with my career choice.
A great documentary about the 1999 National Spelling Bee. I never would have thought the spelling bee could be so damn nerve wracking. I guess it never occurred to me that kids would spend so much time preparing for it. The eight children that were picked are all interesting in their own way. I wonder how good this film would have been if they had picked eight completely different kids. Did all of the 400+ contestants all have such fascinating stories? The American dream as scene through the eyes of immigrants is a major theme of the film. Every minute of this film is engrossing, but it wouldnít rank as high on this list without Harry the facial contortionist weirdo prodigy.
The Fog of War
Errol Morrisí new documentary about Robert McNamara is utterly fascinating. McNamara is partially responsible for the firebombing of Japanese cites during World War II and was the Secretary of Defense during part of the Vietnam War. This movie was culled from over twenty hours of interviews that Morris conducted with McNamara. He is a compelling person to listen to. I learned a lot from this film and I think it will be used in History classes for years to come. McNamara seems to be trying to make peace with himself without offering an apology. He repeatedly states how much he disdains war, but understands it is a necessity sometimes. He states that if the Allies had lost the war, he would have been tried for war crimes and brings up the interesting question, "Why is something moral if your side wins, but immoral if your side loses?"
Blue Gate Crossing
I wonder how old Iíll get before a good teen "first love" doesnít get me all sentimental and teary eyed. This Taiwanese film is 90 minutes full of subtle realistic little moments. A girl has a crush on a boy and enlists her friend to help her get the boy. The boy likes the friend. But the problem is that the friend really likes the girl. This film would have made Marc all giggly and happy if he had been willing to leave the apartment.
I really liked this film. I didnít quite know what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised. The first good Tim Burton film in years after a few stinkers. This is a rare film that makes me want to search out the book and read it. Usually, I figure, hell Iíve already seen the movie, why waste my time reading something that I know how it is going to end? But, it seems to me that this must have been difficult to adapt to film and Iím interested to see how the book is.
The movie is about a dying man played by Albert Finney who likes to tell quite a few tall tales. His son has had it with his tales and tries to reconcile with the old man before it is too late. Ewan Mcgregor plays the father as a young man. He reminded me that he can be a great actor when not delivering lines written by George Lucas. This is one of three movies this year that really made me tear up ("Blue Gate Crossing" is one), but Iím way too embarrassed to tell you the other one.
Capturing the Friedmans
Iím glad that Iím not from Great Neck. Wow, this documentary is disturbing for so many reasons- the one upping each other atmosphere of affluent suburbs, the decaying marriage, the angst-ridden clown, the pedophiliaÖ the Jewish grandmother. Obviously something bad happened, but many of the charges leveled at Arnold and Jesse Friedman seem so ridiculous that they almost definitely did not happen. Every family member is so incredibly odd and I still canít get over that so much of this footage even exists. Who wants to take home movies of their family completely falling apart? If Sujan and I were to cast actors to play these people in a film based on the family, this would be our cast:
Arnold Friedman: Wallace Shawn
Triplets of Belleville
Take your Disney, add a touch of Edward Gorey, maybe a sprinkle of Tim Burton. How about some Shel Silverstein while weíre at it? Some Betty Boop perhaps? This animated film is this yearís "Spirited Away." So inventive, so crazy, so interesting from beginning to end.
Raising Victor Vargas
An "Afterschool Special" if it were directed by David Gordon Green. This film was shot by Greenís cinematographer and was cast with mostly non-professional actors like "George Washington" was. Set in the antithesis of Woody Allenís New York, (The Lower East Side) it reminded me a little of Jim McKayís "Our Song" but it was much better acted and developed than that film. The movie is about three siblings living with their grandmother in an apartment. The grandmother might be the best character of any film this year. All the characters are well developed and well worth caring about. Equal parts funny, sweet, and touching.
A gorgeous Italian film set in a small fishing town on the coast. The colors and cinematography are luminous. The film centers on one family with two boys. The father is a fisherman and the mother suffers from some sort of schizophrenic type problem. Think elements of "George Washington", "Wide Blue Road and "Amarcord" and you begin to get the idea of how wonderful this film is. The last underwater shot looking up at dozens of townsfolk treading water is stunning might be one of the most memorable scenes Iíve ever seen.
My Favorite Film of the Year
City of God
This film was great from beginning to end. Set in the 60ís and 70ís, in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, this film tells the tale of a bunch of friends and gangsters and how difficult it is to escape the stifling poverty. This movie does not pull any punches. It plays with the storytelling structure in a fun way. The colors are great, the acting is stupendous. It is incredibly entertaining, but it also makes its point politically without beating the viewer over the head. The filmmakers borrow from Scorsese, Tarantino, etc. without being derivative. Knockout Ned, Lil Ze, Rocket, Benny, Carrot, the RuntsÖ these are some of the best characters Iíve seen in a film ever. These are characters that should go down in film lore. An amazing film.