- “I just get this sense from people . . . I don’t think I’m a good person.”
- Genre: Arty, media-obsessed youthsploitation.
- Viewed: 4.18.9 at the Nashville Film Festival
- You know what I'm a sucker for? Dark high school movies. The more angst-ridden, the better. I haven't seen this movie since it showed at the Nashville Film Festival last April, but I wrote about it when it was fresh in my mind.
- “He pulled a long face . . . and Mother didn’t like it.”
- Genre: Dark, druggy children's tale.
- Viewed: 2.12.10 at Green Hills 16
- I am also a sucker for dark kids' movies. The creepier and more subversive the better. The story doesn't have a lot of bite. It's not much more than Alice in Wonderland told straight. But the real treasure of this movie is the visuals. Stop motion animation that's every bit as smooth and evocative as anything Pixar has done with computers. It's amazing to look at (and one of the few 3D movies that really makes the medium pop). It's nice to see a children's movie that arms its villain with love and good advice - which themselves can be terrifying. These are insidious weapons. (“Even the proudest spirits can be broken with love.”) There are some nice horror images - like sewing a smile into a kid's face, but ultimately, the whole movie is about learning to appreciate what you have and your parents aren't really all that bad and blah, blah, blah. In the end, there's a big party and everyone gets along and there might as well be a fucking karaoke song. But it was fun while it lasted.
- “They find me . . . whisper things . . .”
- Genre: Dark, druggy serialized children's tale.
- Viewed: 7.15 (the Midnight Show) at Green Hills 16
- Another thing I’m a sucker for: expansive, serialized storytelling that builds and builds and grows more and more dour. Combine this with teen angst, a magnanimous agenda, zombies and a werewolf or two . . . How can anyone not like a movie with all these things? Like the books, the Harry Potter movies have evolved into something more than children’s stories. And to my excitement, they’re evolving into something that may even be more than the average summer popcorn blockbuster. It’s telling that a lot of people complain that nothing happens. I love each entry more than the last. I’m not someone who demands literal film adaptations of his favorite books, so I don’t get too caught up on what’s different or missing. I knew the final battle was gone before I even saw the movie, and frankly I can understand why. There’s no need for every Harry Potter to end with a climactic battle for Hogwarts. But I am a bit saddened by the exclusion of Kreacher. His loophole contribution to the end of the book seemed integral to the series’ ongoing criticism of overlooking those who are different or seen as weaker. Regardless, by that point in the movie I was completely won over by the movie’s creepiness and menace. Yeah, by this age, the kids should probably getting it on a bit more. Holding hands and stealing kisses was last year. It’s time for hand jobs and lies. But thankfully, the Potter books never dwelled that long on the affairs of the heart. It’s more about social consciousness and fending off darkness – both inside and out.
- “The older you get, the fewer things you love.”
- Genre: Unflinching, episodic war movie.
- Viewed: 7.24.9 at Green Hills 16
- I first heard about this movie when it was nominated for Best Actor at the Independent Spirit Awards LAST year. Liking Jeremy Renner, I was anxious to see it. I’m not a big fan of war movies – although I’m not opposed to seeing them. But I rarely get excited about them. But I love how this movie portrays Renner’s character. The quote at the opening sets the tone (“War is a drug”). Renner’s character is all about the thrill. He’s also got a dark sense of humor (threatening to chop off a kid’s head if a DVD is blurry) that I can relate to. In keeping with a lot of movies I liked this year, I also appreciate the scene in which Renner lays out mementos of things that nearly killed him – including his wedding ring. The movie mostly plays out as a parade of tense bomb disarming scenes. Like Inglourious Basterds, which I also like, this movie is very episodic and sprinkled with cameos by big name stars. What I appreciate most about the movie is how it focuses more on the psyche of one character rather than providing a polemic against the war. Renner is just a guy who needs warfare to work out his issues. He’d rather be in the shit than grocery shopping or fixing dinner with his wife. The man chooses near certain death over marriage. How can you not get behind a movie like that?
- “You will only get older.”
- Genre: Animated rumination on life and death.
- Viewed: 4.18 at the Nashville Film Festival, 6.12.9 at Bonnaroo, and 12.12.9 at the Belcourt
- I was initially attracted to Don Hertzfeldt's movies because of his dark humor. I stayed because of his evolving sense of melancholy and pathos. This is the second in his planned trilogy of "Bill" movies. Unlike the first, this short movie focuses on Bill's past. Introspective, self-deprecating, content but not satisfied. Hertzfeldt is making some of the best stuff around. Like all the best middle movies of trilogies, it ends with something of a cliffhanger. In the end, Hertzfeldt will have something that's nearly feature length.
- “This is a sacred place. You may not believe that, and I may not believe that, but by God, it is a useful hypocrisy.”
- Genre: British double-speak ensemble cluster-fuck.
- Viewed: 8.14.9 at the Belcourt
- A biting British comedy about how ineffectual and disorganized liberalism can be, and how desperate and childlike politics are in general. Whenever I catch an early season episode of The West Wing, it gets me excited about politics again. That show depicts the process as being about standing up for your ideological beliefs and helping as many people as possible. But this movie feels more honest to reality. It’s cynical and vicious and happening too fast for anyone to wrap their heads around it. Politics is a world where any random sentence can become a weaponized sound bite. People travel across oceans just to be room meet/meat. And you must compromise and never take a stand just to keep your job. Policies are discussed in esoteric acronyms. Backroom discussions devolve into childish threats and name-calling. And the only way to get legislation through is to lie through your teeth. I had to see it more than once to really get a good feel on it. The British slang and machine fire pace disoriented me at times. But it is well worth more viewings (as most great comedies are). "At the end of a war, you need some soldiers left really - or else it looks like you've lost."
- “I’m going to give you a little something you can’t take off.”
- Genre: Unflinching, episodic war movie with a dose of revisionist history.
- Viewed: 8.21.9 (the Midnight Show) at Green Hills 16
- I'm not a fan of WWII movies. To make a big, sweeping generality, they have a tendency to make war look awesome and just and manly. Inglourious Basterds embraces that so passionately, it rewrites history. And there’s something freeing and fun about that (Watchmen and District 9 did the same thing this year). Quentin Tarantino has yet to make a movie I haven’t enjoyed. He writes fun dialogue. It’s usually pop-savvy q&a's or cat-and-mouse confrontations, but he does them so well. Despite being a period movie, he still manages to throw in pop culture trivia – including a Nazi who points out the similarities between King Kong and the story of the African-American slave. He is also an excellent visual director. He knows how to use a camera. Some of my favorite imagery here is the projection of Laurent’s character onto the smoke during the insane climax. He knows how to transition from one scene to another – and it’s usually through abrupt cuts and jarring musical cues. Like most of Tarantino’s movies lately, Basterds feels more like a series of tense sequences strung together than a whole movie. It’s like burning through episodes of a TV show until the concluding episode of the season. I dig the humor (especially the clashing accents and languages) and the ominous tension. Tarantino’s movies have a gleeful artificiality that makes each one feel like a party – and I’m thrilled to see him apply that to the usually stuffy genre of the WWII action movie. Someone needed to wrestle away the austerity from Spielberg and Eastwood.
- "You cannot run from this- it will follow you. It may lay dormant for years. Something may trigger it to become more active and it may over time reach out to communicate with you."
- Genre: Boo!
- Viewed: 10.19.9 (the Midnight Show) at Hollywood 27
- I'm one of the few people to love Blair Witch Project when it came out. Paranormal Activity hit all the same buttons for me. A big part of whether or not you'll like this movie depends on how well you can accept someone pointing a camera at all the right places during tense goings-ons. I don't have a problem with it. I also loved [Rec] and Cloverfield. It's easy for me to imagine myself in these scenarios. The characters don't always react the same way I would (in fact they almost never do), but it's fun to second guess what the characters on screen are doing. It's like watching a video game where you never lose. You just watch others lose. There's something infinitely more creepy about things going thud in the middle of the night, mysterious wails, and hoof prints on the bedroom floor than scenes of torture and excessive CGI. Fucking hoof prints! The characters are barely tolerable, so I'm fully prepared to see them succumb to whatever punishment the evil in their house has in store for them. I don't believe in ghosts (or any monsters for that matter), but I still get a chill down my spine when something unseen and unexplained starts slamming doors and watching people while they sleep. It's certainly not as visceral as Drag Me to Hell or as stylish as House of the Devil, but it lingers with me longer than either of those two - particularly because of the nature of the demon, which is tied to one of the characters. Something that has been with her for her entire life and is only now becoming more dangerous. Like a lot of the movies I liked this year, it's easy to read an anti-relationship message here. The style has to be admired for its mumblecore economy. It is as bare bones as it gets. From its stock characters (who are all motivation) to its video camera aesthetics to its no fringe plot. There's nothing here to savor. Certainly not the acting. But seeing this movie at a midnight showing in a room full of people completely caught up in it was one of the funnest movie-going experiences of the year.
A Serious Man
- “Accept the mystery.”
- Genre: Mensh takes a lotta shit.
- Viewed: 10.23.9 at Green Hills 16
- The Coen Brothers are always solid filmmakers. They have a cartoonish lunacy to their comedies and a noirish darkness to their crime films. Without the Coen Brothers’ unique tone, A Serious Man would just be a run-of-the-mill family soap – with Jewish accents. Its plot points aren’t exactly radical. Divorce, arrests, bat mitzvahs, getting in trouble at school, gambling problems, an affair with the neighbor, etc. But I love how playful and sarcastic and ominous these things can be in the hands of the Coens. (One of my favorite typical jokes involves the main character’s wife dressed as a widow at someone else’s funeral.) They have an atypical approach to plotting - giving weight to plot threads that never pan out, sudden twists, and open endings. I love cliffhanger endings, and A Serious Man has its own kind of brilliant cliffhanger. The entire movie feels like an accumulation of problems (ringing phones, doorbells, kids with questions, sirens, storms, record clubs), and in the end, the shit never stops coming. Nothing ever settles down. (The awesome trailer seized on this idea and ran with it.) There is no end in sight – and I love that. The main character is isolated from everyone else in the movie in his search for life’s big answers. (“We can’t know everything.” “It sounds like you don’t know anything.”) Serious Man is similar to Basterds in its alternating dark and light tone, off-hand attention to pop culture, the unconventional ending, and in its parade of sequences separated by title cards. There’s a stubborn reluctance to provide typical movie tropes like closure or answers or redemption. You never know what to expect from the Coens – except a good time.
- “Some people come here with the intent to commit a dramatic suicide.”
- Genre: Anti-romance.
- Viewed: Sometime in December in my apartment.
- I enjoy Park Chan-wook’s cartoonish violence. It’s gory and violent and unrelenting, but it’s mostly funny. In this movie, he ups it to supernatural levels. Reaching into torsos, leaping up tall buildings, flinging heavy objects into the horizon, and sucking blood from a corpse like a beer bong. And all the characters take such contagious glee from each act of violence. Each kiss has the potential to become a gruesome bite. Priest tries to do good. Becomes a vampire. Sucks blood. Commits adultery. Kills. Sires chick. Well, it goes downhill from there . . . Anyone who’s been in a relationship where it just feels like both sides are sucking each other dry, this is your movie. There is no respite in this movie. Everything sucks (sorry). Sick people, family, spouses, relationships in general. And while the movie seems to paint all relationships as parasitic and destructive, it seems to come down decidedly against killing your entire family. But it’s still pro taking care of your dame. Sometimes you gotta put the bitch down (sorry, ladies). This is the anti-Twilight. And part of what makes it great is Ok-Vin Kim’s performance. She’s initially repelled by the vampirism, but quickly becomes wide-eyed and excited. Of course the movie is steeped in Catholic guilt – turning it into a perverse and hilarious visual gag. In the end, it’s hard to tell what is the priest’s biggest sin: killing, rejecting religion, committing adultery, or getting into a relationship at all!
- “I don’t even know what it’s like to be myself right now.”
- Genre: Anti-romance.
- Viewed: 3.1.9 at the Belcourt
- A movie about a guy who's emotionally stunted, longing after the fun but flaky girl who strings him along (protesting she’s not) but settles for the sweet caring Jewish girl his family likes. Nope, can't relate at all. Awkward darting, martyred rebukes, and rooftop confessions. Joaquin Phoenix has a sweet awkwardness to him that I've always liked. Here he plays a character so introverted, socially uncomfortable and racked by parent-imposed guilt that he still lives with his folks well into his thirties and feels obliged to sneak out when he leaves at night. (And it’s not unjustified paranoia; his mother peeks under his bedroom door whenever she worries about him). When he's not contemplating suicide, he's longing after the drama-heavy blond girl who goes out dancing and is not “one of those readers.” Meanwhile, he dutifully makes dates with the girl his family has conspired to set him up with, but of course he’s not interested in her. I would imagine he probably first lost interest when she disclosed that The Sound of Music is her favorite movie. Any reasonable person can see that the blond girl is a train wreck, but he’s completely taken with her. She’s probably the kind of girl he’s always wanted since high school and can’t bring himself to embrace something less (though I may be projecting here). The movie is probably too yuppie emo for its own good. It could have been another David and Lisa with two fucked up folks finding each other, but the movie goes one step further and suggests something a little more sinister and damning about the very nature of relationships (or at least that’s how I interpret it).
- "I like the stillness here. I am tired of Earth. These people. I am tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives."
- Genre: Noirish super hero with a dose of revisionist history.
- Viewed: 3.6.9 (the Midnight Show) at Green Hills 16
- I was not a fan of Snyder's 300. I could care less about how it looked when I found the characters and story so repulsive. When I saw 300 in theaters, the audience cheered when the character advocating peace got stabbed to death (If I remember correctly, the movie portrayed the peacenik as a rapist.). And I got tired of the excessive slow motion scenes real fast. Most of those problems are still on display in Watchmen. But the story is so much more complex than 300's. From the characters to the plot to the world the movie takes place in. There's clearly a lot to hate about this movie. Some of the acting is awful. The fights are amped up and slickly choreographed. The cheesy slow motion inserts rear their head every few shots. The music cues are blunt (which frankly didn't bother me that much). And the sex scene is laughably romanticized. So what is there to like, you ask? I read the book beforehand, but as I mentioned earlier, I'm rarely someone who demands a literal interpretation from book to film. But this is about as literal as you're going to see. It's definitely dumbed down, but it's not sugared up. The movie is all dark and seedy and noir-ish. The characters are brooding and self-destructive and misanthropic. For me, it plays in much the same way that Sin City did years ago. It's about misfits with complicated histories and psyches lashing out to make their mark. The sheer density of the story and characters wins me over. The violence is cartoonish, but graphic. The fate of the world is in the balance. I loved how each character's backstory was revealed with a slightly different style. I love the gruff growling performance of Jackie Earl Haley and the calm stoic performance by Billy Crudup. The movie revels in violence and nudity and self-loathing and comes out on the other end with the most pessimistic of endings. This is the kind of movie designed to give children nightmares. Lure them in with the vibrant colors and friendly costumes . . . then burrow into their mind with the angst and gore and giant blue penises.
Where the Wild Things Are
- "I have a sadness-shield that keeps out all the sadness, and it's big enough for all of us."
- Genre: Dark, druggy children's tale.
- Viewed: 10.16.9 at Green Hills 16
- I absolutely love how Spike Jonze films the most absurd and fantastic situations with an objective straight-faced realism. His brand of lyrical madness is perfect for Where the Wild Things Are, which could have quickly descended into over-plotted hokum. When I was a kid, many of my favorite movies were bittersweet stories about longing and sadness and loneliness. And I always felt a little let down at the end when the main character returned to his original space and learned to appreciate what he already had. Well, not much has changed. While the lessons of Where the Wild Things Are could be seen as coming too easily, they could come even more easily. This movie is a lot like Coraline, but where the alternate universe of Corlaine seemed perfect initially only to reveal its menacing nature in layers, this movie does the opposite. The other world is scary at first, but soon Max grows into the world and becomes fast friends with its denizens. This isn't about love at first sight. It's about friendship at first sight, which is a thousand times more useful. The characters speak in kid talk with a child's logic. All exposed emotions and knee-jerk reactions. They take everything personally. This movie is exactly the kind of thing I would have consumed over and over again as a kid. Longing to escape into a place where I'm more important, where I connect with others, where friends want to sleep in a big pile.
The White Ribbon
- "Please forgive us, Father."
- Genre: Dark, druggy children's tale. But not at all.
- Viewed: 2.18.10 at the Belcourt.
- Haneke goes costume drama. And there is something sinister in the water. The cinematography is gorgeous (I especially love the shots of torches in barely fending off the black of night). This movie does not reinforce the family unit the way Coraline does. And it doesn't just subvert family values. It decimates the very concept. These kids exist solely in the "other world" of Coraline. There is no escape. So many times during the course of the movie, I wanted to step in and stand up for some of the kids and women constantly being mistreated by tradition and scripture and morality. The movie recalls Dolly Parton's awesome song "Evening Shade". But Haneke takes it a few steps further and adds some dire, dire consequences. The movie ends with Haneke's usual elliptical ambiguity - unless you're at a question and answer session with him apparently. Upon hearing how he interprets his own ending, I initially disagreed - cause that's how I roll. But after some reflection, I think he may be right. I would like to go back and rewatch this to find some elusive answers, but I suspect I would get caught up in the stark cinematography and acting. The movie would also make an excellent entry in my atheist film viewing project - as clean religious living and bad parenting does not lead to Heaven as much as it breeds unflinching evil. I can't help but fantasize what would happen if these children were to exist in the same world as that brat from The Blind Side.
The Assassination of a High School President
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Yes, I'm ashamed to finding it funny. I didn't go in expecting to laugh so much. SORRY!
Drag Me to Hell
Fantastic Mr. Fox
I considered Gomorrah for my list of absolute favorites for the year, but realized I would rather watch City of God at any given time, so it got bumped.
House of the Devil
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
Up in the Air
I'm still not sure how I take the ending. But I like how it deliberately undermines certain conventions of the romantic comedy. And it may be my age, but I'm becoming increasingly fascinated with movies about how age changes what you expect from life. Also, I love the following exchange with Clooney's character: "So, you're good?" "I'm good."
- Addams Family Values
- The Human Condition Trilogy
- Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial
- Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
- Torchwood: Children of the Earth