Archive for January, 2010

Running down the last couple weeks…

January 31, 2010

This includes a lot of tips from my friends’ lists—I’m grateful for the leads.

The muy bueno:

Two Lovers has a great subject—how we fall for the flake we can’t have instead of the safe, solid thing that will love us back—and it evokes the bizarre feeling of danger that falling in love can bring like no other movie I know. A crying shame if this really is Joaquin Phoenix’s goodbye, though I’ll bet good money it’s not. The director, James Gray, also writes great vernacular dialogue that’s easy on the ear, as when Paltrow tells Phoenix to meet her downstairs “in, like, thirty minutes.” The difference between that and “in a half hour” sounds trivial, I know, but in Paltrow’s mouth it’s a line that both sings and sounds totally natural.

Manufactured Landscapes – “Ms. Sensory Delight? I’d like you to meet Mr. Intellectual Horror…”

Memories of Murder – Joon-ho Bong’s epic about the hunt for a serial killer, focusing on the conflict between the provincial cops and the big-city expert who comes to help. (Shades of One False Move, while, considering the tonal and thematic overlap, Fincher must have seen this pre-Zodiac.) Some terrific direction here, especially during an overworked cop’s beautifully staged freak-out in a cafe. It also has a great, haunting ending.

The Triplets of Belleville

Caché – Haneke’s masterpiece about a man tormented by something he did at the age of six.

The Enemy Below – Dryly intelligent U-boat chase done as a cat-and-mouse game between Robert Mitchum (above the water) and Curt Jurgens (below it). Dick Powell directed, and he handled the action scenes as Busby Berkeley might have, with wide aerial shots of the depth-charges going off in symmetric but syncopated patterns.

Desert Fury – Burt Lancaster, Lizabeth Scott, Mary Astor, and John Hodiak have at it in Lewis Allen’s cactus noir. With its swirling score, lurid Technicolor, and full-armed face-slappings, it can put you in mind of Duel in the Sun or Johnny Guitar, yet at heart it’s just a story about some all-too-human shlemiels. As the Nevada saloon-owner “Fritzi” Astor has one of her great woman-of-the-world roles, and Wendell Corey, as Hodiak’s henchman who has a crush on his boss, keeps tipping his hand so often and so completely you’re surprised when the other characters don’t step back from him and say, “Dude, have you not ever heard of a subtext?”

I Walk Alone – In his next assignment, Lancaster played a Prohibition-era gangster who gets out of stir in the late ’40s only to find that his rackets have all been turned into Big Business. It doesn’t make any difference to him, though, because, like Lee Marvin in Point Blank, he wants his money! Which, translated, means, “Watch your ass, Kirk Douglas…”

Worth the ride:

I’m Not There – A very mixed bag, but that “Goin’ to Acapulco” sequence hit me where I live.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Ulzana’s Raid – A satisfying Robert Aldrich Western with some hardcore Apache roastings and one brilliant little sequence: two Indians track each other down opposite sides of a rocky spine that creases a mountainside.

Run Silent, Run Deep – Another good submarine movie, this time with Gable and Lancaster. Lots of well-done tension, which is, as advertised, silent. Features Jack Warden and Don Rickles, from when they still had hair.

The Black Cat – Ulmer’s 1934 adaptation of Poe has nothing to do with Poe or any other discernable source. What it does have are some great (if cheap) Expressionist visuals plus a pair of fine giggly camp performances by Karloff and Lugosi.

The Meh:

Duma – Carroll Ballard’s apathy towards storytelling logic—shaky enough in 1996’s Fly Away Home, which Duma copies right down to the dead parent—makes this one register like an exquisitely-shot Disney picture. When there’s no follow-through to anything, and you can even let your pet cheetah run loose in a primary school without consequences, it’s impossible to form a stake in the proceedings. Shenanigans like that may be fine for preteens (even there I’m torn), but Ballard is treated as a serious filmmaker, and in some places with reverence. It’s getting to be a joke.

Edge of the City – Martin Ritt’s 1957 debut, with Cassavetes and Poitier playing friends and freightworkers in the NYC rail yards, treads pretty heavily on On the Waterfront‘s corns. Cassavetes is fine and Ruby Dee is on absolute fire, and the film makes a conscientious effort to show regular people leading regular lives, but it’s overwritten, Poitier overdoes it as a young man who’s excited by life’s possibilities, and its climax is the silliest fight with baling hooks you’re ever gonna see.

Funny Games (the ’97 original) and Code Unknown

A Plague on Your Ocular Nerve:

The Girl in Black Stockings – A bore despite having Marie Windsor, Anne Bancroft, and Mamie Van Doren all stuffed into one movie. The Miami Story is some gangster tripe with Barry Sullivan. Jennifer is an update of The Turn of the Screw with Ida Lupino and her then-hubby Howard Duff, doomed by a lack of imagination and endless padding.

Two Smart People was Jules Dassin’s last picture before embarking on his otherworldly run of Brute Force, The Naked City, Thieves’ Highway, Night and the City and Rififi. The leap was prodigious. Two Smart People follows a pack of grifters and cops who are all chasing the same bag of negotiable securities across country. Things come to head at Mardi Gras, where Elijah Cook, Jr., dressed in fool’s motley, is killed, and an unwitting crowd carries him away, tossing his rag-doll corpse in the air with a blanket as they dance down the street. Nothing else in the movie comes close to that wild image; nor does it help that the leads—John Hodiak and Lucille Ball—are almost awesomely bad. When she tries to be sexual, Ball is, in fact, repellent.

Listing to Port

January 25, 2010

February is almost here, and I’ll thank whatever gods may be if it brings a respite from the torrent of Best-of/Worst-of lists that’s been pissing down on us the last two months. There used to be only one list in my life, Esquire‘s “Dubious Achievements Awards,” and then Texas Monthly brazenly stole the idea for its Tex-centric “Bum Steer Awards,” and I think that Spy magazine had something similar—but who knows, for the magazine itself read like a 100-page “Dubious Achievements” list. Nowadays everyone and his cat has a list about something, and Tom Blog, especially considering its dearth of original content, finds itself in no position to resist. And so we’ve come to this…

First up, we have the Top 50(+) Films of the Aughties, as determined by a pack of far-flung cinephiliac friends and low-lifes that I share a forum with, and as tallied by the redoubtable George Wu (creator of the immortal, a/k/a the “Deathmatch Coliseum,” as the concept was known when George brought it into the world):

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2. Mulholland Dr.
3. The Lord of the Rings
4. There Will Be Blood
5. No Country for Old Men
6. Spirited Away
7. The New World
8. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
9. Los Angeles Plays Itself
10. Y Tu Mamá También
11. 24 Hour Party People
12. Sideways
13. Ghost World
14. Yi Yi
15. Children of Men
15. Pan’s Labyrinth
17. In the Mood for Love
18. Gosford Park
19. Before Sunset
20. The Squid and the Whale
21. Lost in Translation
22. Waking Life
23. Zodiac
24. Adaptation
25. Synecdoche, New York
26. I’m Not There
27. The Royal Tenenbaums
27. A Serious Man
29. Dogville
30. The Saddest Music in the World
31. Memento
32. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
33. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
34. Amores Perros
35. Elephant
35. Memories of Murder
37. The Son
38. Kings and Queen
39. The Best of Youth
39. Morvern Callar
41. Head-On
42. Bad Santa
43. Tropical Malady
44. Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
45. Rachel Getting Married
46. Grizzly Man
46. United 93
48. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
49. AI: Artificial Intelligence
49. A Christmas Tale
49. Joe Strummer: the Future Is Unwritten
49. Margot at the Wedding
49. Punch-Drunk Love

That’s the weighted end-result of perhaps 20 of us, each submitting lists of 25 films. This list comes from some very smart people, people who are very dear to me, but they’re also only human, several of them are Southerners, two of them were stepped on by horses when they were children, and one of them is a film instructor. This information is only meant to explain The Lord of the Rings’ high ranking or how the bogus rehab dramedy Rachel Getting Married made the list at all.

FTR, here’s the 25 I submitted, unranked:

1. Mulholland Dr.
2. My Voyage to Italy
3. There Will Be Blood
4. The Squid and the Whale
5. You Can Count On Me
6. Sideways
7. L’Enfant
8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
9. The New World
10. United 93
11. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
12. Michael Clayton
13. Werckmeister Harmonies
14. No Country for Old Men
15. Ghost World
16. 24 Hour Party People
17. Gosford Park
18. The Company
19. Lost in Translation
20. Los Angeles Plays Itself
21. The Weather Underground
22. Bad Santa
23. The Saddest Music in the World
24. Margot at the Wedding
25. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

All I can say is, while I love and/or admire all of these films, the number of them that stirs in me the kind of rocked-back awe I feel before His Girl Friday or The Godfather Part II is, well, slim, especially coming from a 10-year period. For better or worse the movies that rattle most around my head are ones I saw fairly recently but which tend to be older—in many cases, much older. In some instances, such as Fury or The Lineup, it’s only for a sequence or two; others, such as Marked Woman and The Night of the Hunter, have the same effect on me as Tilda Swinton, making me wonder how such perfection can exist side by side in a world with The Rock and that walking bowel movement Joe Lieberman. Although I’d seen several of these films at some previous point of my lifetime, they hadn’t stuck, doubtless because I was too young, too dense, or too rushed to absorb them. This time around, though, for whatever reason, they got me, and got me good. Here, then, are the movies I’ve viewed in the last 18 months or so—a period in which, all told, I saw some 900 films—that really had an effect on me, with little starry things beside the ones that wrecked my ass completely:

  1. Applause (Mamoulian ’29)*
  2. People on Sunday (Siodmak ’29)
  3. Au Bonheur des Dames (Duvivier ’30)*
  4. The Public Enemy (Wellman ’31)*
  5. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Mamoulian ’31)
  6. Million Dollar Legs (Cline ’32)
  7. Three on a Match (LeRoy’32)
  8. Heroes for Sale (Wellman’33)
  9. Wild Boys of the Road (Wellman’33)
  10. 42nd Street (Bacon/Berkeley ’33)
  11. Gold Diggers of 1933 (LeRoy/Berkeley ’33)*
  12. Baby Face (Green ’33)
  13. The Bitter Tea of General Yen (Capra ’33)
  14. Wonder Bar (Bacon/Berkeley ’34)
  15. Fury (Lang ’36)
  16. Dead End (Wyler ’37)
  17. Marked Woman (Bacon ’37)*
  18. The Roaring Twenties (Walsh ’39)*
  19. The Maltese Falcon (Huston ’41)
  20. High Sierra (Walsh ’41)
  21. Kings Row (Wood ’42)
  22. Roxie Hart (Wellman ’42)
  23. Cat People (Tourneur ’42)
  24. I Walked with a Zombie (Tourneur ’43)
  25. The Curse of the Cat People (von Fritsch/Wise ’44)*
  26. The Lodger (Brahm ’44)
  27. Scarlet Street (Lang ’45)*
  28. Nobody Lives Forever (Negulesco ’46)
  29. The Man I Love (Walsh ’47)
  30. Pursued (Walsh ’47)
  31. Daisy Kenyon (Preminger ’47)
  32. They Live By Night (Ray ’48)*
  33. Cry of the City (Siodmak ’48)
  34. Yellow Sky (Wellman ’48)
  35. White Heat (Walsh ’49)*
  36. The Heiress (Wyler ’49)
  37. Colorado Territory (Walsh ’49)
  38. Criss Cross (Siodmak ’49)*
  39. The Furies (Mann ’50)
  40. Stromboli (Rossellini ’50)*
  41. In a Lonely Place (Ray ’50)*
  42. Bellissima (Visconti ’51)*
  43. The Lusty Men (Ray ’52)*
  44. Clash by Night (Lang ’52)
  45. Carrie (Wyler ’52)
  46. Scandal Sheet (Karlson ’52)
  47. Pickup on South Street (Fuller ’53)*
  48. The Earrings of Madame de… (Ophuls ’53)*
  49. The Big Heat (Lang ’53)*
  50. Little Fugitive (Engel ’53)*
  51. The Band Wagon (Minnelli ’53)
  52. The Night of the Hunter (Laughton’54)*
  53. Johnny Guitar (Ray ’54)
  54. Senso (Visconti ’54)
  55. Voyage to Italy (Rossellini ’54)*
  56. Love Me or Leave Me (C. Vidor ’55)*
  57. The Phenix City Story (Karlson ’55)
  58. The Harder They Fall (Robson ’56)
  59. Lovers and Lollipops (Engel ’56)*
  60. God’s Little Acre (Mann ’58)
  61. Gunman’s Walk (Karlson ’58)*
  62. The Lineup (Siegel ’58)
  63. Some Came Running (Minnelli ’58)
  64. Wild River (Kazan ’60)*
  65. Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Avakian/Stern ’60)
  66. Vivre sa vie (Godard ’62)
  67. Contempt (Godard ’63)*
  68. The Fall of the Roman Empire (Mann ’64)
  69. Seduced and Abandoned (Germi ’64)*
  70. The Anderson Platoon (Schoendoerffer ’65)
  71. Point Blank (Boorman ’67)
  72. David Holzman’s Diary (McBride ’67)*
  73. Goin’ Down the Road (Shebib ’70)*
  74. …No Lies (Block ’74) (no relation)*
  75. Hearts of the West (Zieff ’75)
  76. The Whole Shootin’ Match (Pennell ’78)*
  77. The Battle of Chile (Guzmán ’78)*
  78. Cutter’s Way (Passer ’81)
  79. Last Night at the Alamo (Pennell ’83)*
  80. Los Angeles Plays Itself (Andersen ’03)
  81. L’Enfant (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne (’05)*
  82. Caché (Haneke ’05)

It's okay with me

January 21, 2010

Neurotic but interesting interview with Elliot Gould on The Long Goodbye.

%d bloggers like this: