Monday, January 28, 2008

There Will Be Blood

About two hours into Paul Thomas Anderson's new film, There Will Be Blood, I realized I was watching the work of a master. Right out of the gate I will admit my biases towards Anderson's films, only in his late 20's, the man has made two of the best films of the 90's and turned Adam Sandler into a good actor. I think his Magnolia is easily one of the ten best films of the 90's and is a director not at all unlike Martin Scorsese - not just because his style is reminiscent of the great American director - but because he draws inspiration from so many different filmmakers. Martin Scorsese advises young filmmakers that they should not shy away from seeing as many films as they can, rather, they should enrich their pallet, study the masters and improve upon your own ideas by emulating the best.

You can see this through a lot of Scorsese's films, heavily influenced by 1950's Hollywood genre pictures and French New Wave. With Anderson, his influences seem obvious in his previous films - with their sweeping camera movements, large ensemble casts, and over the top, operatic acting - he is emulating Scorsese and most notably the late Robert Altman (he helped finish his last final film, A Prairie Home Companion). He's also a gambler, a filmmaker who never makes an uninteresting film. He may fail (many think this film was a huge failure as well as my favorite film of his, Magnolia) but has the balls to throw it all out there on the screen and never apologizes for how uncomfortable a scene may be or how unconventional an idea may come across, he wants to push the viewer in the world of the operatic, and he succeeds.

With There Will Be Blood he leaves the ensemble, the sweeping camera movements, and the dozens of other influences of Scorsese and Altman for the more subdued stylings of Kubrick, Ford, and Mallick. This is a concentrated story excelling in its hypnotic portrayal of Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, and resulting in Anderson's most formalistic and tame production to date. The thing most operatic about this film (aside from the performances) is the music conducted by Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood, an ear drum rattling, headache inducing score that drives you almost as mad as Daniel Plainview.

The film opens with the man, Plainview, alone, mining for silver. When he falls and breaks his leg, it sets up one of the films central themes. Plainview grimaces, and goes about pulling himself up out of the cave with one arm and crawls to civilization to show that he has struck more than just silver. This begins the journey of Plainview and he becomes an "oil man" as he travels to different towns that seem to be good communities he can rob of their oil. He has a son, H.W., left to him by a fellow oil man who died on the job. Right away we get the sense that Plainview doesn't want anything to do with the child, yet he is necessary to his ultimate cause of convincing the towns that in addition to him being an oil man, he is also a family man.

Plainview finds out about a major oil town (where the oil seeps through the dirt, combing the two major themes of the film: Greed and religion, more on that later) via a young drifter named Paul Sunday, who tells him that his father will sell their ranch, which would allow Plainview to build a pipeline to the ocean. Paul's brother Eli, a Jonathan Edwards type, fire and brimstone preacher, he welcomes Plainview, dismissing his greed as an opportunity to get a new church built as well as elevate his status even higher within the small community. We soon come to find that Plainview despises Eli (like everyone else) and in a crucial scene, tells Eli he may bless the Oil station before they break ground, but come time for the ceremony, he undermines Eli's male supremacy by naming the machine after Eli's abused sister and having her bless the site. After this, H.W. becomes injured in an accident and loses his hearing, thus forcing Plainview to become not only tolerant of his son, but compassionate towards him as well, and that just won't do as Plainview sends him away so that he can continue becoming the most wealthy oil man alive.

What follows is one of the most horrific scenes in the film as Plainview takes out all of his frustrations for the injury to H.W. on Eli, claiming that his healing powers are nothing more than mere theatrics, and he his just as much of a con artist as Plainview is.

This is the set up for the major themes of Anderson's most interesting, even if not his best, film to date. Anderson's view of Religion and greed are not that much unlike Eric Von Stroheim's silent classic Greed. He is a director who has tackled themes of similar, however more fanciful, religious weight in Magnolia. Both of those films required actors to go over the top and become very operatic in their delivery of emotions that were real, even though they were surrounded by absurdity (frogs falling from the sky, or as in There Will Be Blood, the slaptastic baptism scene). Some have complained that the acting is too over the top for their liking and doesn't border on comical, rather Anderson gladly lets his characters become caricatures in spite of his heavily themed story of greed and Evangelical Christianity.

The focal point of this critical attack is usually Paul Dano's portrayal of Eli, as there are complaints that his nasally, pubescent voice cracks and shrills and distracts the viewer from actually caring about this character. Well, you are not supposed to like Eli anymore than Danilel, that is the obvious point of the films stance on Religion. Eli has a flare for the theatrics and in a brutally hilarious, awkward, and downright scary scene, Eli slaps Daniel in an exorcism/baptism, the sole purpose of this event is to humiliate Daniel and nothing more. Like Daniel, Eli hates the new competition in town for male supremacy.

Daniel slowly becomes a Charles Foster Kane type character as he states in the films most telling scene, he is sitting talking to a man claiming to be his brother, they are discussing regrets and the possibility of envy when Daniel explains:

"I have a competition in me; I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people. There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I've built up my hatreds over the years little by little. I see the worst in people. I don't need to look past seeing them to get all I need. I want to earn enough money I can get away from everyone. I can't keep doing this on my own, with these... people."

It is this competition that brings forth the inevitability of the films title. The utter distaste of those "people" is the driving force for the films final scene. A scene that reminded me so much in its abruptness, its sudden burst of bloody violence, its minimalistic final line, "I'm finished." It is Anderson's take on what Kubrick made famous.

The film, as you might expect is beautifully shot, Robert Elswit, who also shot Michael Clayton (a good year for him), evokes the best moments of films like Days of Heaven, How Green Was My Valley, and Barry Lyndon. It was one of the reasons the film is so captivating.

However, the main reason is Day-Lewis' performance. It is a masterful, commanding, brilliantly odd performance. Channeling his inner John Huston, he makes Daniel Plainview one of the most interesting characters in film history, and he certainly trumps his other memorable performance of Bill the Butcher. That's no small feat.

So did I like the film? I don't know, I just gave a lot of exposition about the film, but didn't really comment on how it made me feel. The film definitely has to be experienced, and then talked about. It's an exhilarating film experience for the aesthetics alone. The film also left me feeling a little lost. Much like another Kubrick-esque film this year, Atonement, the film does somewhat feel forced at the end, like Anderson felt that he had to bring this maddening and epic film to its bloody conclusion. However, the allusions to Citizen Kane are so strong at the end of the film (Plainview wanders through the giant mansion, lost in his self made paradise) that we cannot help but try to feel some kind of compassion for a man who has nothing but money. However, there is no Rosebud for Plainview, and a few of his actions and decisions at the end of the film truly make him a character that likes things at an arms length (much like the quote above suggests, he just wants to exist, away from people).

The issue I take with the film is that it seems the determination by Anderson to bring this story to a somewhat tidy (although bloody) ending doesn't keep the hypnotic charm of the rest of the film. It turns from a beautiful epic story of greed and Religion, and the audacity and bravado one must have to be at the top of both of those businesses (yes, it's safe to call Evangelical Christianity a business), yet he trades that gusto and that sheer madness the film had, steamrolling its way to an unnoticeable three hours, and trades it in for an unnecessary sardonic ending. The ending is almost a retread of the oil "baptism" of Eli in the field and the mocking "baptism" of Daniel in the church, it just seemed familiar, which is a shame, because so much of the film was alive and fresh. A film that for 2 hours and 30 minutes, was one of the best film experiences I have ever had. I just wish I could have bought that ending.

One thing is for certain: Paul Thomas Anderson hasn't (and will most likely never) make an uninteresting film that challenges the way we look at the medium, and shows the audience a director who isn't afraid to go all in on the very first hand.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Rambo Week!!! Review #3: Rambo III

Rambo III

Directed by Peter MacDonald

Written by Sylvester Stallone

Tagline: God would have mercy, John Rambo won't!

So last time we left John J. Rambo he was raging against the machine and left wondering why his country doesn't respect him. Well luckily for us he must have heard about how much success Jean Claude Van Damme was having fighting in Thailand in underground betting rings on shipping docks. Rambo has turned from a killing machine into a stick fighting machine! Woo Hoo.

This movie is so bad. So incredibly bad. Horrible at every moment. I originally thought the film was about Rambo taking on Afghanistan (it has been years since I have seen the film) but when I watched it this afternoon I realized that he is actually taking on Russia and helping out the Afghanistan rebels.

The plot is fairly simple. Rambo's superior officer and only friend, Trautman (played by Richard Crenna) asks him to go one more mission, to help with the aide of an Afghanistan village who is being slaughtered by Russian's. Rambo declines, even after a brief conversation with the head of the US embassy in Thailand played by Kurtwood Smith!!! Better known to action junkies everywhere as Boddinger from RoboCop (and known to other junkies everywhere as the dad from That 70's Show). Crenna tries to hard sell him on the idea that this mission will do some good, but Rambo isn't buying it as he tells Trautman: "My war is over."

Uh Oh. You know what happens now. Trautman is captured by the Russian's and Rambo must go over to Afghanistan and rescue him, in the process he grows to love the Afghanistan family he stays with and even gives a little boy the good luck necklace from his slain lover from the last movie (continuity!). Rambo then proceeds to fight two wars and learns that the Afghani people are not so bad. He helps them blow up Russian's, stab them, and shoot them all for their freedom. I mean after all, the film is dedicated to "The gallant people of Afghanistan." The film should be shown in as a means of diplomacy.

So the movie isn't serious at all. It marks the time when Stallone officially lost it. He turned Rambo, a pseudo-serious figure scarred by the Vietnam war and the war at home, into a one-liner toting, grimacing, 80's action star. The film, made in 1988, is also obviously influenced by the success of Lethal Weapon and the buddy cop genre. For the last 30 minutes of the film, Crenna and Stallone shoot people, blow things up, and spout horrible one-liners and jokey dialogue in the process. Ugh. Everything Stallone did to try and make this character deep and serious and someone who dealt with the issues of post war syndrome, he blows it all up (literally) with this film.

There are scenes where Rambo (as usual) is running from, into, and through fire. Once again there is fire all around Rambo in this film. As he runs through the flames and dives into a cave, Trautman is waiting for him, this is their exchange:

Trautman: How do you feel?

Rambo: Well done.

Yeah, it's lines like that as well as cheesy 80's action lines like when Rambo appears to be doomed and has a gun pointed at him, but Trautman shoots the guy from behind:

Rambo: Nice timing.

Trautman: What are friends for.

Damn you Stallone! I hate that producers gave you the green light on this movie and I hate even more that you think you are a good writer because the idiots at the Oscars decided to give you the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture for Rocky.

So he turned the film into a full blooded 80's action movie with all of the cliches. See, even the first two films of the series weren't this cheesy and this blatantly formulaic. The sole purpose of this film was the suck the Rambo well dry for the last time. They had a decent budget (it seems like it at least) but nothing much happens. The last hour of the film, most of the action involves Stallone on horseback out riding missiles from a big helicopter. And about that helicopter, you could tell they spent a lot of money on it because it has a bigger role than Stallone does. At the end of the film, the credit list for helicopter operators is longer than the entire cast.

Well...Stallone did dedicate this film to "the gallant people of Afghanistan" and even has a weird soul version of He Aint Heavy He's My Brother play over the credits...God bless you Stallone. But that doesn't mean he is done yet...because released, just this weekend...Rambo (aka Rambo IV) which grossed just 18 million, getting beat out by (yikes) Meet the Spartans.

I was hoping to write more on the movie, but there is really nothing else to write about Rambo III. It's just like any other generic 80's action movie, it doesn't even have moments that are so bad they are funny (with the exception of the horrible delivery of Stallone's one-liners). I was also hoping to see Rambo this weekend, but instead opted to see There Will Be Blood with Troy. So I will do a write up of Rambo next weekend when I see it.

Rambo week will continue through next week with a review of the new Rambo.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Rambo Week!!! Review #2: Rambo: First Blood II

Rambo: First Blood II

Directed by George P. Cosmatos

Written by Sly Stallone and James Cameron

Tagline: What most people call home, he calls hell.

Well, John J. Rambo is back as the film opens with what seems like a Cool Hand Luke deleted scene. Rambo is hammering rock when Crenna comes back to him with a proposition. Rambo takes the deal and is pardoned from prison in order to save some POW's that were left behind during the war. And we're off and running in one of the worst (yet most popular, more on that later) action films of the 80's.

Of course we come to find out that the bureaucrats that have assigned Rambo to the mission are in it for something else and everyone is expendable. But Rambo has other plans and this time he wants to know if they "get to win." But of course he does...but Richard Crenna reminds him that "it's up to him." Oh good...all we need is an unstable vigilante fighting our international battles.

Yes, Rambo: First Blood II takes all of the good will the first film built (it really did try to be legit) and flushes it right down the pooper. It's amazing how awful this movie really is, how ugly and violent, and hilariously awful it is. I loved every minute.

It's a little slower than I remember (my roommates and I used to watch this every week in college) and the crazy violence doesn't really kick in until about an hour into the film. However, it's all preceded by some wonderful low key (seriously he is trying so hard to look like he is not not acting...sad) moments where we get to know the man, Rambo, not just as a killing machine, but where he grew up. Ooooh great character development. Maybe if James Cameron wasn't spending so much time writing Aliens (his good movie) than Stallone wouldn't have had to pick up the slack.

Oh sorry...the plot (I got distracted): Rambo must save POW's left behind in Eastern Asia, and with the help of his plucky Taiwanese sidekick (that of course he falls in love with in a hilarious scene shot in soft focus...get it, his soft side, so soft focus...yeah) and big ass gatling gun. Which reminds me, when I looked up the film on the key words were: Torture, Python, Shot in the Head, Gatling Gun, Shot in the Back. Sadly, his new found love is the one that gets shot in the back. So much for the softer, more gentle Rambo --- he proceeds to grieve for about two seconds and then grabs her necklace (her good luck charm), puts it on, and becomes an unstoppable killing machine. And then we get this scene:

Awesome huh. Well...things don't work out so well for Rambo as he has another meltdown much like in the first film. And we get our obligatory lesson about people STILL don't respect veterans. Okay, that's enough about the plot.

Rambo: First Blood II is astonishing in its badness, yet the film is loved by many. In a recent Entertainment Weekly poll of the greatest action movies ever made, it ranked in the top 40! Yikes. It had a budget of 44 million and grossed over 300 million worldwide. There was even a Sega Genesis game to boot!

The movie is nothing more than an excuse to blow stuff up real good. And it's funny how no matter where Rambo is in the movie, fire is always around him. He plays chicken with a helicopter, takes on not one, but two armies (East Asia and Russia or South Africa, I couldn't tell the accents were that bad), and has to fight the suit and tie bureaucrats who push pencils and take orders rather than kill people. After all as Charles Nappier (the main bad guy ---he wears a tie, that's how you know) says "it's your war, not mine." Not the right way to kick things off with John J Rambo.

By the end Rambo takes his aggression out on the machine by dropping of the wounded POW's and then walking into a hangar filled with machinery and files and begins to shoot them with his big gatling gun. Screaming at the top of his lungs...this shot consists of him shooting the computers, shooting the files, cut to his bicep, cut to shells hitting the floor, cut to him screaming, cut to his pecs, cut to his biceps, cut back to his screaming. Yup, we get the metaphor...Stallone ever the minimalist eh?

The director is the hack-tastic George P. Cosmatos, who made Cobra with Stallone after this, Leviathan, Shadow Conspiracy with Charlie Sheen and Linda Hamilton (a rip off of No Way Out), and somehow got lucky and made Tombstone (although now that I think about it, that film was horribly directed, it just had great performances). He's a horrible director who believes every shot should either be a low angle, birds eye, or be seen through an obstructed POV. It's maddening watching the shots in this movie.

The speech at the end of the film definitely trumps the ending of First Blood. Here, Rambo gives a speech ala Steven Segal's infamous "oil speech" in On Deadly Ground, as he stares into the camera after Crenna has reminded him that "I know the war was wrong, but don't blame it on your country." HUH??? Yes, let's blame it on...the enemy? Certainly with Rambo taking out a whole fortress of East Asians (which is funny, if the war is over, why so heavily guarded? Oh, so things could blow up and catch on fire...gotcha.) they must be to blame. Or is it the stiffs who sit behind a desk and play war from their offices, using people like Rambo as pawns in their game? Yeah...too deep for a movie like this, although once again (like the first film) the film strives to be something bigger and deeper than it really is or is capable of being.

When is asked what he wants, he replies: "I want our country to love us."


Didn't we just go through this Rambo?

Oh well...because at the end of the film we get the Frank Stallone masterpiece "Peace in Our Life" which I went ahead and found for you on youtube.

Watch all the way through as they show that final scene with Stallone's awful delivery and clips of the film (and oddly the first film...David Caruso though!) which completely contrast with the song. It's a soft piece of crap pop song that pleads for the listener to understand the struggles of our Vietnam vets...yet all of the clips are of Rambo kicking the crap out of people and blowing them up...hmmmm. God Bless America!

Up next, Rambo takes on Afghanistan. Yeah, it's too good to be true.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Rambo Week!!! Review #1: Rambo: First Blood

Rambo: First Blood

Directed by Ted Kotcheff

Written by Sylvester Stallone

(based on the novel First Blood by David Morrell)

Tagline: One War Against One Man.

Well, Rambo week kicks off with what can best be summed up by one user's comments on IMDB: "The only good Rambo movie."

Yup. I agree.

The movie is as flawed as any 1980's action film, but it is actually pretty decent in setting up the story about drifter and Vietnam vet John Rambo. Brian Dennehy plays the slimy small town sheriff who doesn't seem to care that Rambo risked his life in a war he most likely didn't want to fight in. This current runs through the entire film and fuels much of the frustration felt by Rambo as he escapes from the town jail, flees to the woods, and then blows up a gas station (which then leads to the greatest monologue of all time..."I can't feel my legs!" the movie shouldn't be taken too seriously, I mean after all it was directed by the guy that went on to give us Weekend at Bernie's, but it is worth noting that Stallone wasn't COMPLETELY useless back then. I mean the movie was entertaining, he tried to get a valuable message across, that I am sure was very prominent at the time. But come's a violent, post Vietnam War action movie and nothing more. It's hard to extract too many filmmaking elements from this film.

It's also interesting to note that is the last time until CopLand where Stallone tries to do some real acting, rather than just ooze machismo on the screen. Also, the great character actor Richard Crenna makes an appearance as John's superior officer from Nam. This leads to many preachy moments where we as the audience learn that we should respect our vets.

So...what's best about this version of Rambo is that never shows signs that it will lead to what the series has become. When you want to rent a bad action movie, First Blood usually doesn't make the list...because well, there really isn't that much to make fun of. I had some buddies in college who owned all three of them and oddly enough, we found ourselves only laughing at a couple of scenes from the film. The series gets so absurd and so exploitative and so perverse in its violence and portrayal of Vietnam vets that the serious tone of the first film is often forgotten.

There are some hilarious moments though. David Caruso(!!!)...yes THE David Caruso (look how serious he is in that picture...nothing changes), star of Jade and one of the CSI shows, plays a young idealistic patrol officer who is opposed from the beginning of the way they treat the new prisoner and subsequently how Dennehy goes about the man hunt, himself becoming more and more like a soldier at war (see the film REALLY tries to push serious themes on your plate and force you to swallow them). The fact that Dennehy would be so heard hearted as a sheriff is a joke. And the breakout scene from the town jail is hilarious as Stallone sweep kicks his way out of custody leading to a hilarious chase with Stallone on a motorcycle needing the help of a clearly visible ramp, to catch some air.

It's all build up (with very little violence, no one could have guessed the series would turn so violent) to the final scene where John Rambo takes over the police station and goes one one with Dennehy. It's all rather absurd, with the obvious metaphor that the cities, towns, and houses that the veterans of the war have to come back to, are just as much the war zone that Vietnam was.

Like I said, all well and good, and the intentions are good too, the filmmaking isn't horrible, it's an alright action movie (remade later as The Hunted a waaaaay more violent and hilarious film by William Friedkin) until Stallone gives his big speech about why it's so hard for veterans to find work and be respected. Look, I give Stallone credit, he is trying to make a serious point here, and he is trying his hardest to sound sincere...but his acting his soooo awful. Especially with his classic line about he can't even hold down a job "WASHING CARS!"

The film seems to have missed the party on this genre of seems a lot like Christian Rock music (always behind the trends and missing out on the immediacy of what they are trying to cash in on). First Blood is about four years behind more innovative (The Deer Hunter already made this point in the late 70's) and better films about the affects of the post Vietnam era.

Held up to the films that would follow, First Blood doesn't seem all that bad of a film. It certainly isn't without its flaws, but the source material has good enough intentions at making a valid point about Vietnam veterans. Too bad Stallone had to go and milk the cash cow.'s INSANE how popular Rambo: First Blood II is. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Random thoughts on random films

28 Weeks Later

One of the better films of last year and a genuinely scary horror film. It's also a sad meditation (when it actually slows down for you to meditate on things) on the secrets a father keeps and the feeling of loss and isolation. The scene in the subway is one of the scariest I have seen. Great horror film.

The Lookout

Scott Frank is one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood (Out of Sight, Minority Report) and with his first time directing, The Lookout is one of the better thrillers of recent memory. Interested more in the psyche of its characters rather than on bank heists, shootouts, and car chases, it was one of the biggest surprises of last year. It reminded me just how talented he is, as it ranks among his best film and is an intelligent thriller with a tremendous eye and feel for pacing and a great ear for dialogue (just like Out of Sight and Minority Report.) Check it out.

Talk to Me
and The Hoax

I love biopics. Especially ones about people I didn't know much about. These two films are flawed, but have great performances surrounding them and offered insight into two lives of people I knew nothing about. Petey Green and Clifford Irving are extraordinary characters who talk fast and have to think fast. In Kasi Lemmons' Talk to Me Petey is one of the first FM morning DJ's and it is apparent that he paved the way for such shock jocks as Howard Stern and the countless morning shows now found on the FM dial. Also, the scene where the radio station learns of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination is both touching and a pitch perfect delivery by Don Cheadle in one of his best performances. The Hoax is a flawed film, but Richard Gere is so good and the material so intriguing that you forgive its shortcomings. Clifford Irving lied to everyone (even himself) in order to convince people that he was the main man behind the definitive Howard Hughes biography. The ending veers off into A Beautiful Mind territory, and that's too bad, because the film is at its best when it Irving is thinking on his feet and just barely being able to convince his publishers and himself that he is a successful writer, writing the book of the century.

The Simpson's Movie

My favorite show and the greatest show of all time hits the big screen in what is essentially an hour and twenty minute episode. Although the technique and the jokes play much bigger. Beautiful animation by the entire crew (most likely headed up by David Silverman and Jim Reardon) as they are able to do things they just don't have time for on television: Long shots, tracking shots, longer reveals leading to better pay offs for the jokes, etc. Is it worth 15 years plus of waiting? I don't know, sure. It's not as if it's as disappointing as say X-Files: The Movie. I mean I am not that big of a nerd right, I have only watched it three times (with commentary.) Now maybe Al Jean can get back to making the show consistently funny.

---- Movies I still haven't seen that I need to in the next couple of weeks: There Will Be Blood, Breach, and yes...Pathfinder (see post below.) Also, I want to check out the new Director's Cut of Zodiac (my pick for the best film of the year, again, see posts below.)

Friday, January 11, 2008

10 Best Films of 2007: #1 - Zodiac

The best film of the year is not at all unlike No Country For Old Men (my number two choice, but really these rankings are arbitrary) in that Zodiac is a dark and nihilistic film that offers no simple resolution, answers, or reason for death. It excels on a frustrating and ambiguous narrative idea: not knowing who the Zodiac killer is, and never being able to find out. Or rather the broader, more overarching, theme that death is not only prevalent, but also constant, nonnegotiable, and impervious to our desire to understand it (or in the case of Zodiac decoding it.)

It is one of the most frustrating unsolved mysteries of all time, the Zodiac killer who went on a killing spree in San Francisco was never caught, and the film does a great job of capturing a city who wants to believe he has been so they can go on living their lives (the scene in the lobby of the movie theater is a perfect example). It is a film that doesn’t rely on the clichés of the thriller genre, jolting you with false scares and convenient clues, rather it invites the audience to join the process of the investigation through every excruciating detail and bits of minutiae, the audience is also invited to share in the frustrations of a city, and like them, knowing that we’ll never know who the killer is.

It is a film about journalism, isolation, and a police procedural that is unmatched by any other film of its kind since JFK. The film is mostly about the search for the Zodiac killer, and the film grasps at straws, and so do we as we try to figure out the mystery ourselves. The amazing thing about the film (aside from the detail in every single shot) is that nothing much happens, but it is easily the most fascinating film of the year. It steers clear of becoming any kind of conventional thriller, avoiding the potholes of cheap scares and chase scenes.

The manhunt spans a decade – giving cinematographer Harris Savides the opportunity to paint the landscape in multiple shades of gray against changing backgrounds only adding to the theme of uncertainty and ambiguity as always spanning time and always present in our lives (even though things change, death does not) – it is an uncertainty that not only haunts the city, but those determined (Jake Gyllanhal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Edwards) to solve the mystery of the Zodiac's cryptic letters, which taunted the newspapermen and police officers. The film’s dark, dreary look and plodding storyline are perfect for the type of story director David Fincher is trying to tell. The case could not have been exciting and even though Mark Ruffalo, who plays inspector David Toschi, was the inspiration for the Clint Eastwood film, Dirty Harry and Steve McQueen's character in Bullitt, at this point in his career he just looks tired; tired of all the death and the ambiguity of the case.

Gyllenhal’s character, the newspapers comic strip writer Robert Graysmith, does come with a solution to the crime, and it appears that the authorities have the killer in mind, they just cannot pin that one piece of crucial evidence. Even Toschi by the end of the film, as he listens to Graysmith's findings, is too cynical and jaded to know that, even though Graysmith is probably right, there is nothing he can do about it now, too much time has passed. By the end of the film, there is a final confrontation that is spoken through silence, and tells the audience all we need to know. The San Francisco police department and David Toschi had their Zodiac killer, they knew who he was, and they just couldn’t pin anything on him.

And that’s what Fincher, in his most (thankfully) subdued film gets across: the frustration. Not only our own anxiety and frustration watching the film, but also that of the entire Bay Area at the time. This is not an action packed fast paced thriller, but it is a slow procedural that is authentic in its sets, costumes, even the photography seems to be something out of a 1970’s crime drama. It is this excruciating attention to detail that turned some off to the film, but I was thankful that Fincher went this route. With a case that spans almost two decades, with a killer who has never been caught, you cannot speed up the process. The film had to be slow, methodical, and accurate in its portrayal of the facts and the real life characters that poured their lives into this case, but that doesn’t mean Zodiac isn't boring or unengaging.

And it is that seemingly eternal frustration that haunts every frame of the film. Things had to be absolute and exact with the case, and they just weren't. Just when there seems to be some silver lining and just as death and evil is within the grasp of the “good guys”, it slips away on a formality. Death is everywhere and it plods along without a care in the world; as evasive as ever. This is what Antone Chigurh was in No Country For Old Men, and this is the feeling of every passing minute of David Fincher’s masterpiece.

Zodiac is a procedural unmatched by many. I mentioned JFK earlier which I think is still the best film of its kind, but Zodiac deserves a place right next to it (like 1a) and among other great procedurals like All the President’s Men and The Insider. That’s pretty good company.

Any of my top three films on this list could be interchangeable. They all share a common theme and they all refuse to give in to the Hollywood machine and try offer up easy answers and solutions to these films. We go to bed every night and there is always something happening away from our lives, some kind of evil, and even though we may be good people amidst that evil (Nikolai in Eastern Promises, Ed Tom Bell in No Country and Graysmith in Zodiac), it will always exist. But even as I tried to put No Country and Eastern Promises in this spot, no film left more of an impression on me than Zodiac.

10 Best Films of 2007: #2 - No Country For Old Men

The Coen Brothers are truly two of the greatest filmmakers of my generation. Virtually every film is a masterpiece and although they have their shortcomings with the narrative arc of some of their films, they are never boring. They understand film language (which is to say, visual literacy) and when they are at their best, they are reinventing the genre they are working in. Like Blood Simple and Fargo, and now perhaps their greatest achievement, No Country For Old Men, the reinvent the genre again and raise the bar to new heights.

The film still has the classic Coen dialogue that makes you laugh in inappropriate places, but it may also be their most serious film since the grossly underrated, Miller’s Crossing (which still contains absurdist elements). Javier Bardem plays Antone Chigurh (like sugar) who is the epitome of the death. He has no pity, no remorse; he works on fate and fate alone. His character epitomizes the the fear we have as humans: uncertainty. The fear of not knowing what is to come or worse, not knowing when it will be coming. How can we predict what is unpredictable? How can we attempt to understand or rationalize what is irrational? There are character developments for Chigurh, no setting up of scenes, we enter the film in medias res, and are left wondering why? But isn’t that the natural response to death? To someone who embodies those characteristics and acts on fate alone? Chigurh is the thing we hate most because he lacks any answers. Any insight into his psyche. There are no answers you can give for Chigurh’s nature or what motivates him (it doesn’t ever appear to be the money or drugs) only questions as to why.

The Coen’s have made an ideal existential film based on the Cormac McCarthy novel, and the once scene that embodies this theme is the now famous “coin flip” scene. Much has been made of the “coin flip” scene so I will only add this, it is one of the most frightening and hilarious scenes I have ever seen – appropriate for this film that those two emotions go hand in hand, what else can one do when we don’t understand something besides laugh – I was on the edge of my seat awaiting the outcome hanging on every word spoken and trying to anticipate every action. The Coen’s walk a tightrope with this scene and they make it safely across with ease.

Silence and anticipation are prevalent (and key) throughout the film as there are many scenes that unfold without the aide of cheesy suspense music or an explanation of what’s happening from one of the characters. The characters know when the other is nearby, and the execution of these scenes are worthy of Hitchcock. A perfect example of this is the scene in the motel room where Moss (Josh Brolin) sits and waits for Chigurh to come to him room. The lack of cutaway, the silence, and the anticipation is masterfully done, and when Moss calls downstairs to the front desk for help, no cutaway is needed; we just hear the phone ring and ring and ring.

Chigurh is one of the great creations of modern cinema. He is the embodiment of death and as we all know death does not stop for anything. I think that that is the message of the film. As nihilistic as it is the film is a great entertainment, it just doesn’t have the tidiness of the Coen’s Fargo. At the end of that film Margie gives a beautiful monologue as the killer sits in the back of her trooper, she accosts him for killing over money where she says, “all for what? A little bit of money? I don’t get it, and yet here it is, and it’s a beautiful day”.

The final moments of No Country are quite different as retired sheriff Ed Tom Bell (great name), played by Tommy Lee Jones, remembers a dream he had the night before. The dream is crucial to understanding the film, but just like the “coin flip” scene, the end of the film has been much discussed. What most struck me about it was looking Jones’ face. Here is an actor who as he has gotten older, has made many great choices (okay not Man of the House, but we all have to get paid) and is one of those actors that can say so much with his face. Knowing this, I just watched his facial expressions as he was telling his dream, and his face made me think that Jones was saying that if Ed Tom Bell were younger, and not such an “old timer” (as explained in the opening voice over narration) he may have been able to go all the way in the Chigurh manhunt, but here he is at his kitchen table with nothing to do, and the payoff to the dream (and the end of the film) is about as perfect as it gets.

It’s a dark and nihilistic film, not offering a central character like Margie to point out that “it’s a beautiful day” but rather a character who sits around wondering “what if” and whether or not Chigurh is still out there, and if he will ever stop. Yes it’s dark, but it also contrasts that darkness with beautiful cinematography by the always great Roger Deakins and it’s simply a joy to watch all of these masters of their craft at work.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

10 Best Films of 2007: #3 - Eastern Promises

David Cronenberg re-teams with Viggo Mortensen to create one of the darkest, most bleak, and yes, interesting movies about the criminal underwold, I will not say organized crime, because these Russian mobsters don't seem all that organized. Family members kill important people without consulting their father (the head of the family) and alliances are made behind peoples back. Booze is not stolen, but purchased cheap, but possibly it could have been purchased even cheaper, and when they get the booze, they don't sell it for profit, they drink it. These quirks and undercutting of the traditional mobster film make this one of the better films on the subject to come along since Miller's Crossing.

The critics have been louder than the supporters for the film, claiming that Cronenberg is too interested in which bloody set piece he can set up next and not invested enough in the characters. I couldn’t disagree more. The film is meant to be cold. The film doesn't contain the family oriented scenes of the Corleone family of The Godfather. It doesn’t have the appealing mobsters from a film like Goodfellas. But what Cronenberg and Mortensen give us is a glimpse into a cold and methodical underworld where money or business, personal vendettas, and family, are not as important as looking out for yourself and maintaining the status quo in order to assure yourself you will be alive for the next meeting with the heads of the Russian mob.

I appreciated the coldness of the film, and yes even though the Naomi Watts character serves only one purpose, I didn’t seem to care. I was so enthralled by the vision of the Russian underworld and how cruel and matter-of-fact it is. And Mortensen’s performance as the driver Nikolai, is something that should be recognized with an Oscar nomination (if those awards meant anything anymore) as he creates a character that has no where to go and nothing to strive for, except wherever his bosses tell him to go and whatever they tell him to do. He is nameless and has no past (as well as no future), until he gets his one chance for a promotion within the family, and what follows is a scene that is so cold and calculated (and pretty awesome) that is might be one of the best things Cronenberg has ever filmed.

The typical themes are here for a Cronenberg film: the body as belonging to someone else, the decaying body, sex, violence, sex and violence together and many other of the classic Cronenberg touches that make this one of the best films of the year. It shares a common theme with the final two films on this list: the idea that life goes on beyond what we as audience members can see. An idea that brings no closure (and frustration for many) to the lives of these characters that we have invested in. By the end Nikolai is still immersed in the evil he has chosen.

(Spoiler alert!) As an undercover cop who has now gone all the way to become the head of the family, can he ever really go back? It reminded me a little of Donnie Brasco one of the more underrated mobster films. But Eastern Promises doesn’t offer up the tidy (although sad) ending of Donnie Brasco and we are not quite sure what the future holds for Nikolai, or if that’s even his real name. I liked that ambiguity and I liked the not knowing, I liked the coldness and the fact that the film makes you question the characters and tries to understand why as humans we make the choices we do (a theme prevalent in their previous film together A History of Violence) and then there is the not knowing, a theme especially shared by the final two films on this list.

Does Nikolai have to become just as evil in order to become head of the family, or do his actions by the end of the film show that he will still retain some of his conscience? The cold look on his face as the film cuts to black suggests otherwise, this is a man where going back is not an option. It’s a great film.

10 Best Films of 2007: The Runner's Up

Before I unveil my top three, here is a small list of films that I have seen previews for, but either haven’t been to Portland or Salem yet or I haven’t had the chance to get out there and see them. Also a small list of films that almost made the cut and were still some of my favorite films this year. Plus, I just wanted an excuse to put that creepy picture from The Orphanage (which looks like a really cool homage to Argento and other Italian horror films) on here. As fot the films that almost made the cut: I would gladly swap out any of those for any other five on my list.

At one point The Lookout was sitting pretty at number 5. But then a ton of good movies came out that frankly were fresher on my mind or held more weight that The Lookout. But like Michael Clayton, The Lookout is a near perfect genre film that decides to get into the psyche of the characters rather than rely on shoot 'em up action scenes. It's Scott Frank's first film directing (he also wrote) but he is an established screenwriter (Minority Report, Out of Sight) and wisely moves away from the cliches of the heist film and paints the genre in a new (but still gloomy noirish) light.

I'm Not There was one of the more bizarre and risky films this year, with great performances by Heath Ledger and Cate Blanchett. Superbad was brilliant as was Ratatouille proving that we should all thank the Simpson's for giving us Brad Bird. 3:10 to Yuma was a great western (a genre I have much admiration for) and No End in Sight was one of the more engaging film experiences this year. So enjoy these alternatives, they are good enough to be in the top 10, I guess it all depends on my mood.

Films that were oh so close: The Lookout, I’m Not There, No End in Sight, Ratatouille, Superbad, 3:10 to Yuma

Films I have yet to see that are supposed rule: There Will Be Blood, Into the Wild, The Orphanage, a slew of foreign films, The Bucket List (okay that ones a joke), but I am sure there a tons more

10 Best Films of 2007: #4 - Michael Clayton

Classic in its execution, few films are as enjoyable and flawless in their exercise of the genre as Michael Clayton. George Clooney plays the title character that looks like he has been doing his job (a “janitor” for a big time company) for a little too long. Clooney looks dogged and tired and like he wants out of the business. He owes money for a failed restraint/bar experiment and you get the feeling that is the only reason why he is sticking around: the money. His ever-growing conscious and suspicions about his job are the only sings of moral responsibility in this corrupt and cold (suggested by the beautiful cinematography) business world. Also, Tilda Swinton is so good at being so loathsome.

For the character of Michael Clayton, his monetary obligations cause him to remain committed to his employers in doing one last job that is the catalyst for how the film plays out. A silky smooth thriller which pays homage to the great 1970 films that trusted their audience to have patience and try to figure things out for themselves. There are no double turns or last second revelations, there are no hidden clues that will reveal one character is actually a mole or some crap like that. The director Tony Gilroy (he wrote the Bourne movies, but wisely stays away from the shaky cam) is obviously influenced by 3 Days of the Condor and The Conversation, smart adult thrillers that understood how to tell a story simply and let the actors do their thing.

He and cinematographer Robert Elswit (Syriana, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood) create an icy blue corporate world, a landscape where Clooney and his superb costars Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson can show off their acting chops.

I think what I liked best about Michael Clayton was that it wasn’t trying to be some political thriller or a message movie. It is simply a genre picture that excels on every level. And that last shot is maybe one of the best shots of the year, where the viewer is invited to look just a little bit longer at the title character. There isn’t much else I can say about the film other than how technically masterful it is. I guess the word I am looking for is efficient. Every cog in its machine is in place and runs smoothly. Or simply, everyone who worked on this film hits a home run.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

10 Best Films of 2007: #5 - Juno

I had bad thoughts during the opening moments of Juno. I labeled it as throwaway hipster dialogue that served no purpose other than to congratulate itself on how smart it was. A self aware film that proved nothing other than another entry into the already crowded genre of the modern independent comedy, ala Napoleon Dynamite and Rushmore. I mean I GET it, the character of Juno (Ellen Page) is hip, she’s cool, she’s post modern and self aware, she drinks Sunny D straight from the carton and walks (half animated, half live action) through her town to the tunes of some indie songstress. Oh and she lives in a room, that to call kitschy is an understatement…plus she has a hamburger telephone. We then get the scene where she calls someone and tells them to hold on because the sound is cutting out on her hamburger phone. We get it! We can see the phone right there. You don’t have to draw attention to it.

But this sounds like I hate the movie. I don’t. I love it. It was a bright spot among many dark (but great) films this year. The movie (once you get past those rough first fifteen minutes) is a delight to watch and the characters are perfectly human, people we feel like we interact with everyday. The difference between Juno and Rushmore or Napoleon Dynamite is that the central character, Juno, is not a caricature like Max Fischer or Napoleon, but is based in reality. Giving weight (no pun intended) to the performance is Ellen Page, who is sly and steely but also warm and real. You feel like you have come across a girl like that before.

There are moments of true insight into what it’s like as a teenager trying to be more adult, or what we may think of Jennifer Gardner (until a crucial and touching scene in a mall, where we realize along with Juno, that Gardner’s character is not as icy as originally thought) and her husband played Jason Bateman.

There are some moments that touch deeply upon the hard decisions people have to make; especially teenagers who are thrust into adulthood when they think they're ready, but find they are not. It’s a great experience that by the end of the film you realize, hey, the parents of Juno (JK Simons and Alison Janney) acted like normal parents, not like teen sex comedy caricatures, and the moment when she drops off a letter for Jennifer Garner after a crucial moment in the end of the film…a moment that in 90% of movies like this would have been horribly conventional and groan inducing, seems just about perfect and surprisingly not contrived. It’s amazing that a film could convert me so quickly. After 15 minutes (which aren't so bad that I couldn't place it on here) I was ready to hate it, and then I became one of its biggest cheerleaders.

10 Best Films of 2007: #6 - Into Great Silence

For 2 hours and 43 minutes, Into Great Silence offers images of an existence that is appropriate for the subject matter. You are speechless watching the film. You sit in silence (at one point, you can hear the snow fall) and simply observe these monks in the French Alps as they live their daily lives with their morning recesses and recitals, their daily walks where conversation is allowed, but few take part in. Throughout the film all I could think of was one of the great writers and radicals of our time Thomas Merton. I have read almost all of his books and have respect for someone who can remove themselves entirely from the world and live a totally devoted life to God.

Philip Gröning wrote the monks (secluded deep within the French Alps) in 1984 to see if he could make a documentary about them. It took sixteen years for them to get back to him. It only seems appropriate that they would take their time.

The film is a different religious experience than say an Ingmar Bergman film (silence meant God was not there, here it is a way of communing with the divine) but it is an experience that transcends film and will leave its mark long after you have endured the 2 hours and 43 minutes. There is no artificial lighting, no interviews, Gröning wisely removes himself and any form of voice over (there is no need for narration or explanation) from the project even though he lived with the monks for six months. The film embodies the monastery rather than simply observing it. It touches the deep spirit and the deeply spiritual and all of the credit goes to the director.

Into Great Silence is like an eloquent and elaborate piece of music --- your attention may drift in and out at times, but you seem to always be aware that you are in the presence of beauty and something that is capable of altering the way you see the world.

Monday, January 7, 2008

10 Best Films of 2007: #7 - Atonement

If there was one film I was most looking forward to seeing this year it was definitely Atonement. Was this going to be a great film like I thought it could be? Or was this destined to be a butchered version of the Ian McEwan novel I have so much admiration for. I admit that my immediate reaction to the film was: yeah, that’s good. And I think I was disappointed in my own response to the film; I wanted to love it, and I didn’t. I was weary of the film, yes, but I was also counting down the days until I could see it for myself, and after all of that build up (mostly by me, and now by the Focus Films ad wizards pining for Awards) I feel like it’s not the film of the year I was hoping for, but it’s still an affective and beautiful looking picture.

Many people called this one of the most unfilmmable books, and I have to say I was weary of the film, wondering how in the hell they were going to translate that ending to film. But the film is impressive, in a David Lean sort of way. Which, I am not slighting the film, it is classical British filmmaking. Every shot seems to have been excruciatingly storyboarded and meticulously shot, and I found myself moved by the film (yet somewhat at an arms length) and I think part of that is McEwan. I just had finished the novel for the second time in preparation for the film and I think it was McEwan, not Joe Wright that was in my brain as I sat in the movie theater. And that's a problem when reviewing a film based on such a tremendous novel. It is not the novel I am reviewing, but the film and that is where Mr. Wright falls just a little short with his adaptation of McEwan. There are impressive shots for sure, especially one where a tired, wounded, and drunk Robbie is backlit by a scene from Brief Encounter in a movie house (there is also a scene that is straight taken from that film earlier on). Another shot that found my jaw agape was the five minute tracking shot on the shore of the beach – something that impressed me more than the shot in Children of Men – this shot takes you out of the film (much like I have always felt the details of the war does for the book) but it is impressive, no doubt.

But it left me with an almost cold admiration for it. The closest thing I can compare it to is the admiration I have for some of Kubrick's films. I am not a Kubrick fan, but I admire 2001, Paths of Glory, and most of all (his masterpiece) Barry Lyndon - which oddly enough, reminds me of Atonement. That's high praise and for its set pieces and cinematography alone, Atonement is one of the best films of the year.

10 Best Films of 2007: #8 - Inland Empire

I fear that I have too much to write about Inland Empire and its insane (maybe inane?) labyrinthine narrative. So, I will do something Lynch didn’t do and keep this short. The film is about…well…it’s about exactly what it says on the cover of the film: a woman in trouble. And it’s good, really good, effing brilliant…but what the hell does it mean? How do I go about writing a normal synopsis of the film and then my feelings about the film? There were times I wanted to turn it off, times where I looked at the time code and said to myself, “huh, only 1:34:00 into it?” Check out the teaser trailer below, it only last one minute, but I defy anyone to claim that it doesn't at least look interesting.

So, I will just leave it to you to see for yourself. Trust me, it’s a film experience worth experiencing, and that is why it’s on my list. If Lynch can be this bold and have the balls to make this film, well then, I respect him for that. That is why you find this film at number eight, with little to no explanation as to why it’s here…in fact I am still trying to figure out those weird jack rabbit people in that room with the laugh track and the phone that just rings…yeah…onto the next film!

My Ten Favorite Albums of 2007

I will admit that I do not think about music in the same way as film or literature. I can appreciate artistic music, music that really makes you think and can make you feel really smart and like you are apart of a smaller subculture, patting yourself on the back for being the only people who know about a certain artist. I know that feeling. I remember feeling that way about Radiohead, Bright Eyes, Cursive, and others. But something has changed for me recently; my music experiences have become more organic. Basically, I like what makes me feel good. This list of my favorite albums in no way represents what may be the “best” albums of the year. I don’t know what those are, music is so subjective. People who like one genre but not another fail to see the little things that make that genre so good. And vice versa. I can never understand the appeal of Hip Hop or Rap, because I don’t like it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t good Hip Hop musicians out there, I just don’t like it enough to care and take the time to notice the subtle differences.

You will notice there is no Feist, Rilo Kiley, Radiohead, Spoon, Interpol, Arcade Fire, or any other beacon of the Indie scene, because even though I liked those albums, you are going to see those on every music magazine top ten list. Some of those albums I really like, others were huge disappointments, but this list is to provide a diverse and hopefully unheard of group of albums so that you will become aware and seek them out, and perhaps give a listen. Enjoy.

10. Every Time I Die – The Big Dirty

A great metal album that sounds good with the stereo up and even better with the windows down (I was hoping that would sound like some cheesy infomercial).

9. Sigur Ros – Hvarf-Heim

The Icelandic postmodern power pop band do it again. The film that this score accompanies is amazing. There is a scene where they are playing one of their songs in a cave. Magical music.

8. Rocky Votolato – The Brag and Cuss

The best folk musician alive today. This isn’t his best album, but it has more of that bluesy bar room sound to it that is great chill music.

7. Circa Survive – On Letting Go

The post hardcore champions do it again. Oddly enough this album is not as good as their first, but the improvements lead it down some unfamiliar and semi-brilliant paths. It doesn’t always work and sometimes the songs seem too long, but it’s a great addition to any list.

6. Look Mexico – This is Animal Music

One of my favorite moments of 2007 was discovering this little gem. The band from Florida create some of the most laid back music, easy to get lost to, or if you prefer, it’s good for other things too. The epitome of chill music.

5. Portugal. The Man – Church Mouth

The ex Portlander’s are at it again with their best album to date. Imagine a group of Northwesterner’s who move to Alaska to make some of the craziest jazz/punk/funk albums to date. Also, imagine said group were to create an indie version of blues music from the 20’s. It’s a trippy and worthwhile experience.

4. Bright Eyes – Cassadaga

This was just a few songs short of being the best album of the year. But unfortunately there are two real stinkers on here. Other than that, it’s Bright Eyes at their best with Conor Oberst giving the cautionary lyrics a rest and focusing more on the storytelling aspect of folk music. I know the Dylan comparisons are said ad nauseam, but this really does remind of the “electric” Dylan. Great stuff…just skip track 4.

3. Minus the Bear – Planet of Ice

I admit that I have a bias towards Seattle bands. In fact, for the last three years my favorite albums have been by The Blood Brothers (2004), Minus the Bear (2005), and The Blood Brothers (2006). This isn’t the easiest listening (like their previous albums about beer, weed, boating, and women) with its complicated beats and guitar solos, but it is a lot of fun and is reminiscent of Wish You Were Here and Animals, two of the best Pink Floyd records. Not too shabby.

2. The Dear Hunter – Act II: The Meaning of, and All Things Regarding Ms. Leading

With a title like this you know a band has aspirations to be something besides the typical post hardcore rock band. The second part to a dizzying story ( the first part, a five song EP, was 30 minutes long) clocks in at a little under 1 hour and 20 minutes, but it is possibly the best 80 minutes you will ever spend listening to music. Using every instrument he can think of, front man and brain child of The Dear Hunter, Casey Crescenzo creates a cinematic feeling while listening to the story, complete with one of the catchiest piano tunes and a somber (but fitting) end to the album where it is nothing but noises from a pier. It’s a prog rock fans wet dream.

1. The Snake The Cross The Crown – Cotton Teeth

Well, no other album made me as happy or feel as good as The Snake The Cross The Crown’s newest album Cotton Teeth. Despite what their name may suggest, the band doesn’t dip into themes of religion or what it means to be alive, but rather they play simple southern rock in the vein of The Band. And that’s a big compliment. Simple is not to say easy, in fact rock music this good and this simple is one of the hardest things to do. There is never a hint of grandstanding and there isn’t a pretentious thing about it. Simply put, it’s the best rock album of the last five years. It’s a shame this band remains so unknown, but part of me thinks they like it that way.

Almost made the cut:

Band of Horse – Cease to Begin
Saves the Day – Under the Boards
Feist – The Reminder
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Two Gallants – s/t
Thrice – The Alchemy Index: Volumes 1 & 2

Really disappointing albums:

Emery – I’m Only a Man
Rilo Kiley – Under the Blacklight
Interpol – Our Love to Admire
The Good Life – Help Wanted Nights
Ben Lee – Ripe