Wednesday, January 27, 2010

2009 in Film (and Some Thoughts on Two Years of Blogging)

We'll get to the best films of 2009 in a moment, but first some thoughts as I think about the second anniversary of this blog…

Well this week marks the anniversary of this blog, and I have to say I'm surprised I've kept with it for this long. There were times when I felt like throwing in the towel, but I kept coming back to why I started this thing in the first place. When I started this blog two years ago it was just an excuse to throw my amateur musings on film into the already crowded blogosphere…it also gave me an excuse to talk about things that interested me like books, sports, religion, and Italian horror movies. I remember thinking that it would be fun to do cross-posts with my brother about bad movies, and this year, two years after the initial thought, Troy and I finally started our "bad movie" blog. I think what's most amazing though about my two years on this blog is that people actually read what I have to say. I know it seems passé to say that, but it's true, and there isn't a hint of cynicism behind those words: I truly am amazed. When I stayed I never thought I would have 86 followers…now I know not all 86 of those people read the blog, and really the "Follow" option is admittedly an ego boost when I don't feel like my blog is worth a damn, but I'm more than thrilled that people feel compelled to click that little button on the left side of my screen. More thoughts and my list for the best movies of the year after the jump...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sharing the Road We Walk: Wes Anderson and His Music

Watching The Darjeeling Limited the other day I was completely energized by a moment in the film that I had forgotten altogether. The moment is the funeral scene where our three wanderers, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman – three brothers on a quest to find familial unity in India – happen across three boys struggling to carry some cargo across a raging river. As their load crumbles, so do the boys, and they are sent into the water at the mercy of the current. As the brothers try to save the kids from drowning we find that the kid Brody's character tried to save "didn't make it." What follows is a beautiful moment where the brothers walk – in slow motion of course – through the village as "Strangers" by the Kinks (the second time Anderson has used a Kinks song set to slo-mo effectively, the first being the fantastic scene in Rushmore where Bill Murray jumps off a diving board into his pool) plays in the background. It's a heartbreaking detour for a film – essentially a road movie with a pretty standard plot where our protagonists try to "find themselves" – that I was initially uneven on when I first saw it in the theater three years ago. However, this recent viewing has not only de-soured me on the film, but it got me thinking about a Wes Anderson trope that I always look forward to in his films: his "music videos".

You know what I'm talking about if you've seen an Anderson movie. These are the moments that are almost always in slow motion and accompanied by great music that shows us a filmmaker who is willing to share with us his headphones and listen in on the soundtrack of his life. The funeral scene in Darjeeling is something that could have taken the viewer out of the movie – a "look at me" moment – but instead it feels as if we're walking along with the three brothers, sharing in the poignant experience with them, maybe thinking about our own brothers or sisters in the process. This one scene reminds me that these feelings and moods are evoked in every post-Bottle Rocket Wes Anderson movie. He's a masterful storyteller and one of his greatest assets is the way he can intertwine his music (which seems very much him) with his narrative without being too showy or distracting.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

2009 Capsule Reviews, Part 3: The Limits of Control, The Hurt Locker, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and A Serious Man

Well, I've tried to watch as many 2009 films as possible in the past two weeks, but a co-worker got sick and I had to sub all week -- so I was teaching from 8am - 7:30pm -- thus squelching all of my movie-watching possibilities during the day (I normally teach from 3 - 7:30).  There are more than a few movies I had planned to watch that I just didn't get the opportunity to, but I'll list those in a later post.  I'm hoping to get my year-end review/2nd Anniversary post up sometime tomorrow or Tuesday, so for now enjoy these hastily written last reviews for the films of 2009.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rethinking Spielberg's War of the Worlds

I'm sitting here at work watching War of the Worlds with the students while they work on projects, and I forgot how good this movie is.  It got me thinking...have I missed something about what Spielberg accomplished in the 2000's?  I mean he made to sure-fire masterpieces Minority Report and Munich, a big-budget (and dare I say arty) summer blockbuster in War of the Worlds, and not to mention a movie I still haven't seen that many consider his greatest achievement of the decade, A.I.  So...this got me thinking: should I do a retrospective on Spielberg's 2000-2009 output?  There are still some films I need to see (the obvious one being A.I.), and I think that I could benefit from revisiting his films -- most notably War of the Worlds since I'm half watching it now (and am damn impressed with it) while the kids do their projects -- like The Terminal (didn't think much of it when I first saw it) and Catch Me If You Can.  I'm considering starting in 2001 with A.I. and rethinking his oeuvre the past decade and giving the man the due he deserves for a decade of quality work. I alone on thinking that War of the Worlds is a near-great action movie?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

No...not the bees!

It's no surprise if you aren't aware that my brother Troy and I have a blog entitled It's Garbage Day -- where we discuss the merits of bad movies -- because we haven't posted any new material in about four months.  But the long awaited Wicker Man post is finally up.  Head on over to the Garbage Day blog and see what we have to say about a really weird Nicolas Cage performance...and not weird in the good, Bad Lieutanant kind of way.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

My Favorite Albums of 2009

I usually don't talk music on here, but I figured since I'm working on my year-end review (to be posted at the ever-relevant time of January 25th) I would toss up 20 of my favorite albums I've heard this year.  My tastes aren't for everyone, but there's some good stuff in here, and I hope some of you will ask about them in the comments...I'll be more than willing to let you know which songs to sample. 

My choices after the jump...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Symbolism has never looked so tasty...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2009 Capsule Reviews, Part 2: The Girlfriend Experience, Where the Wild Things Are, Bad Lieutenant, In the Loop, Extract

Here are more capsule reviews for the year 2009.  I still have a handful of films to get to.  On the 25th I'll post my year-end wrap up, which will also mark my two year anniversary with the blog.  Until then here are some snapshot reviews of some pretty good movies I watched in the last couple of weeks...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Question of the Day: What do you think of Phillips and Scott’s version of “At the Movies”?

Just a quick question today: I was watching their “Worst of the Year” special last night and I have to say it was nice to have critics on TV who weren’t afraid to after films like Departures, Watchmen, Transformers, and others…calling all of them some of the worst movie experiences of the year. Now I liked some of the movies they ripped on, but that’s what always made the Siskel & Ebert show so great, they weren’t afraid to rip on movies that people – including a lot of popular critics – loved. So it got me thinking: are we in store for another incarnation of Siskel & Ebert? It seems to me that after watching every episode of Phillips and Scott that they are starting to get more and more comfortable in their roles, and they’re also getting a little more prickly with each other (I loved when they were revealing their Top 10 of the Decade lists on a weekly basis and they both were ripping into each other’s choices), which is a good thing. I know nothing will ever be as good as Siskel & Ebert, but I do think that this new incarnation of the show is better than Ebert & Roeper, and of course it’s definitely better than the two Ben’s…which I would rather not think about. So I’m just curious if any of you have been watching, and if you have what are your thoughts on the duo?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

My 20 Favorite Things of the Decade

Instead of doing a traditional countdown of the best films of the decade (for that you can see the Question of the Day feature that was posted in the last week or so) I thought I would change it up and just list some of the things that made me extremely happy the past 10 years. I think people may be a bit "listed" out right now, and I like doing something more personal than just listing movies I loved…which is an exercise I take pleasure in, but for that just look at my top 10 lists for the past 10 years (check the labels on the left side of the blog). So here are my 20 favorite things (movies, sports moments, music, books, etc.) of the past 10 years…

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mosey on Over to Decisions at Sundown...

Yup...that's the western blog I've mentioned in the past. It hasn't been updated by me in a long while, but thankfully the incredibly smart people I share blog duties with over there have picked up the slack. The most recent entry being Ed Howard -- of the deeply rich and resplendent movie blog Only the Cinema -- and his take on the classic Hawkes helmed El Dorado. Check it out. Also, check out Jon Lanthier's (the creator of Decisions at Sundown) essay on one of my very favorite films of the year, The Limits of Control. Ed's take on this fine Jarmusch film can be found at his site, here. I'll be chiming in with some western reviews soon enough...but first I need to take care of my daunting must-see list of 2009 films. Until then acquaint yourself with these fine pieces.

My Favorite Books of the Decade

I hate choosing favorites. Especially when it comes to books…which is why I am just going to list these things alphabetically. I hope you'll ask about some of these choices in the comments section; I also hope that you will pick some of these titles up if you haven't read them. There are some great authors here, but before I reveal the list there is one caveat: my tastes unabashedly lean towards the British writers. Sorry Chuck Palahniuk and Don DeLillo fans (although I do love White Noise and Mao II…I just didn't think DeLillo did anything great in the 2000's). There are a few American authors on here – my favorite being Rick Bass, the best naturalistic writer since Thoreau, and his brilliant collection of short stories The Hermit's Story – but you'll mostly find British authors who either write classically (McEwan, Coetzee and Waters) or sardonically (Barker, Amis, and Rushdie). Because my tastes lean towards the British you could say my tastes are a bit aesthete. I don't mind sounding pretentious here. I get a lot of enjoyment out of postmodern takes on classical tropes likes a WWII story (Atonement), the detective novel (The Light of Day), or just a good old fashion love story (The Powerbook).

If I had a gun to my head I guess I could name a favorite amongst these twenty selections…that would have to be Ian McEwan's Saturday…probably the finest novel about September 11th to be written. It was also interesting to see Martin Amis go to a more classical style of storytelling with House of Meetings after his failed attempts at a September 11th novel, Yellow Dog. Meetings is like Dostoevsky lite…which is a compliment. It's a tightly packed novel with a lot of wonderful Amisisms in it. Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown is brilliant novel, too. Rushdie floods his story with usual pop culture allusions and at the end succeeds at flipping the end of The Silence of the Lambs and making the male the hunted. It's his most impressive and his most garish novel since Midnight's Children. Finally I want to give a shout-out to Nicola Barker's fascinatingly absurd novel Darkmans. It's audacious (800+ pages) and sardonic (it reminded me of Will Self and Martin Amis), and it's not all together a success; however, it's ambition gets you through the rough patches, and by the end of the novel – a hilariously dark and irreverent flip on Bergman's moment of Death playing chess (for Barker Death is more of a jokester, and instead of chess he flips a coin) – I found myself to have laughed more than I did groan throughout the novel. It's really one of the standout works of the last ten years.

Onto the list…

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2009 Capsule Reviews, Part 1: Avatar, Invictus, The Hangover, The Brothers Bloom, and Moon

So many movies from this year to get to (and I'm still catching up), so I'm going to do what I did last year when I was watching multiple movies a day: capsule reviews. It's just a lot easier on me that way. I'll elaborate more on the really good movies in my year-end wrap-up. Movie reviews are after the jump…

Monday, January 4, 2010

Question of the Day: Your Favorite Films of 2007?

Today's question is about what many consider to be the best/deepest slate of films released this decade, and arguably the best/deepest since 1999.  Discuss and list your favorites in the comments.  Here's my list:

20.) 28 Weeks Later
19.) The Simpson's Movie
18.) Knocked Up
17.) Black Snake Moan
16.) The Lookout
15.) Grindhouse
14.) Juno
13.) Atonement
12.) The Darjeeling Limited
11.) Inland Empire

10.) Bug
9.) The Orphanage
8.) Gone Baby Gone
7.) Breach
6.) Into Great Silence
5.) Michael Clayton
4.) Eastern Promises
3.) There Will Be Blood
2.) No Country for Old Men
1.) Zodiac

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year

This picture makes me happy as two of my favorite things, Keira Knightley and Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go, join forces in making sure I'll have at least one amazing filmgoing experience in 2010.  I'll be interested to see how this adaptation turns out, but I remember reading the novel a few years ago and thinking that Keira would be perfect as the opinionated Ruth.  Anyway...I'll have more to post on Monday, but you know, I can never get enough of Keira there ya go.  Happy New Year, everyone!