24 April 2011

Intro to Fassbinder post, originally posted to Facebook

Instead of writing my applied sociolinguistics paper, I'm obsessing over Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who still manages to be my all-time favorite filmmaker. Many people around me remain unfamiliar with his work despite my obsession, which is really unfortunate because most of them are pretty much his target audience.

07 February 2011

Best Films I Saw of 2010

It could be because I didn't go to the Chicago International Film Festival in 2010 but I had a lot more excitement about the movies I saw the previous year. There were 2009 movies I saw that didn't even make my top 13 list that I liked better than some of the movies on this list. Where has the good stuff been hiding? Is culture winding down? Maybe I just haven't seen enough Romanian or South Korean films this year. Though I have seen several. I guess last year the English language was represented by Julia and Avatar. This year Another Year is all by herself apart from the two political documentaries.

1. Lourdes (France)
2. A Prophet (France)
3. The Illusionist (France)
4. Another Year
5. Dogtooth (Greece)
6. I Am Love (Italy)
7. Ajami (Israel/Palestine)
8. Cell 211 (Spain)
9. Soul at Peace (Slovokia)
10. Inside Job and/or Casino Jack and the United States of Money

Honorable mentions: Black Swan, Blue Valentine, Brotherhood (Denmark), A Call Girl (Slovenia), Catfish, A Farewell to Hemingway (Bulgaria), Gordos (Spain), Harlan: In the Shadow of Jud Suss (Germany), Jack Goes Boating, Mary and Max, Milk of Sorrow (Peru), The Other Irene (Romania), Prima Primavera (Hungary), Please Give, Rabbit Hole, Winter's Bone

And movies I quite liked that came out in 2010 but which I saw in 2009 but which didn't make my 2009 list: Fish Tank, Mother

And for being fun cinematic experiences: Inception, Tron: Legacy

What this list wants you to know is that you should be sad if you don't live in a city that has the Gene Siskel Film Center or the Music Box. (Unless you happen to live in New York or San Francisco or something in which case consider yourself a victim of my evil eye of envy.)

5 Worst Movies I Saw of 2010

Last night I finally saw an English language movie from 2010 that I thought could be worthy of the title "Best English Language Film of 2010" so I decided to reverse my previous decision of not making a top ten list this year. It's a month late but it shall follow. As a prelude, here are the five movies I hated the most this year:

1. The Secret in Their Eyes

I hope I will be able to say that this is the worst movie to be awarded Best Foreign Film in my lifetime. It's cheap. It's predictable. It insults your intelligence at every turn.

2. Casino Jack

Why is Kevin Spacey allowed to make movies?

3. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Why is Michael Douglas allowed to make movies?

4. Slaves in Their Bonds

I feel like the running theme here is: It's cheap and predictable and insults your intelligence at every turn.

5. Get Him to the Greek

Why is Jonah Hill allowed to make movies? All of these dumb comedies in recent years are such a putrid blend of poor taste and cheap sentiment.

Runner up:
Sex and the City 2,

06 February 2011

Burlesque (Steve Antin, 2010)

All Cher's whores and all Cher's mens could not put this turkey together again. Cher was pretty fun to watch in this movie but the rest of the movie was pretty much a waste of time. The songs ran the gamut from bad to mediocre, generally. There wasn't really anything inspired about the movie except for the casting of Cher and Christina Aguilera. Christina Aguilera is magnetic but she acts at a level that is appropriate for a music video. I'd probably like her to make more movies but only if she studies acting hardcore before doing so. The guy who plays her boyfriend is unnaturally pretty and has a lovely form from head to toe but he's not that interesting. In fact, none of the characters are any more interesting than the story. I got the feeling the script was salvaged from some bin of unproduced screenplays from 1988. Financially strapped nightclub threatened by an unscrupulous real estate developer? Add a couple of hired goons and this becomes a flashback to USA UP ALL NIGHT. Rhonda Shear is on the line, Mr. Antin. D

happythankyoumoreplease (2011) / The Illusionist (2010)

happythankyoumoreplease reminded me of those indie comedies from the 90s that dealt with various creative New York people and their romantic goings on. It's about a short story writer who wants to be a novelist but who lacks the maturity for that and he finds a lost boy on the train who doesn't want to go back to foster care and ends up keeping him for a while. He also picks up this bartender named Mississippi and they amble towards couplehood while his best friend and his cousin (stepsister?) work through their own emotional hangups. It's not groundbreaking and its pretty slight and periodically very cheesy but it was generally entertaining. C

I found The Illusionist to be a film of real grace and a beauty that was at once complex and simple. An elderly French magician in what I assumed to be the late 50s travels around the UK working thankless jobs for an audience that has moved on from his old-fashioned amusements. A young girl attaches herself to him and she seems to believe he's a real magician who can supply her with all the things she desires. They live together. He tries to please her. Life goes on. There was this intense authenticity running through every scene and watching it was an experience of aching beauty and wonder. It's really amazing how affecting all the little details and background characters are. It's definitely the best animated film I've seen in the last year. Maybe in the last ten years. One of the best I've ever seen, I think. It's a little sad that Toy Story 3 is going to win this year just like whatever bogus nonsense beat The Secret of Kells last year. A

15 January 2011

How to Train Your Dragon (Chris Sanders & Dean DuBlois, 2010)

Another overpraised mainstream movie I didn't get, I suppose. I thought it was a big boring mess. The animation feels as wooden and lifeless as the inconsequential plot. It occurs to me that the one curious thing about the movie is there weren't any adult female characters. I didn't believe the relationship between the kid and the dragon so much. And I guess I didn't really care about any of it. C-

13 January 2011

Red (Robert Schwentke, 2010)

It's poorly written and ridiculous. It's morally inconsistent and places too low a value on human life. Nonetheless, it manages to be engaging throughout. C-

Cell 211 / Celda 211 (Daniel Monzón, 2009, Spain)

Gosh, on the one hand it's a genre film. It's a movie about a prison riot and it features many of the expected tropes. Unlike A Prophet though, its production values are probably more in line with those of a made for television movie. Still, it really won me over. Beautiful Juan has left his pregnant wife at home so he can go in for a sort of orientation at this prison where he'll be working. He finds himself in the middle of a prison riot and poses as a prisoner. The prisoners are using a guard and three Basque prisoners as hostages. There are all sorts of moral and political considerations at play.
I sit here after watching the movie feeling really moved, pretty close to tears. It's interesting the way the film sets up the guards as civilized and the inmates as animals throughout most of the first twenty minutes. I mean, I was prepared for the inevitable reversal but I really found it to be done suavely. I appreciated the moral complexity, as most American mainstream films are about as morally complex as a tater tot. A-

12 January 2011

The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (Jodie Markell, 2009)

The reviews weren't great for this but it was more interesting than most mainstream American movies I saw this year, in the way uneven indie dramas tend to be. The piece is very Tennessee Williams. It's lurid and sentimental yet possesses a compelling sensitivity in moments. There's the diva at the center and the play between wealthy and working class. There's madness and decadence. I'm not sure how well it was carried off though. It seems intriguingly anachronistic, with certain elements seeming too contemporary and of course I couldn't stop trying to imagine how it would have been handled had it been produced in 1957 when it was written. It's a pretty film though. The lead actress is particularly lovely, though I did remark that she looked like someone had put Debbie Harry's makeup on a much younger face. This certainly isn't one of Tennessee's best and I doubt much will linger with me but I liked it in the way I enjoy his lesser short stories. By the way, if you happen to read this and you haven't read any of Tennessee Williams's short stories I'd highly recommend that you seek them out because they're really lovely, many of them. C

11 January 2011

2010 in Review at a Glance

I didn't do a great job of keeping up with this journal over the last year but here's my little summary of 2010.

There is, for various reasons, a bit of overlap between this year's and last year's lists. I have to say, the year doesn't seem so impressive to me. It seems like people's standards are going down. Que penses tu?

Loved it
Another Year
Dogtooth (Greece)
The Illusionist (France)
Lourdes (France)
A Prophet (France)

Really liked it
Ajami (Israel/Palestine)
Animal Kingdom
Black Swan
Blue Valentine
Brotherhood (Denmark)
A Call Girl (aka, A Slovenian Girl) (Slovenia)
Casino Jack and the United States of Money
Cell 211 (Spain)
The Chaser (South Korea)
A Farewell to Hemingway (Bulgaria)
Fish Tank
Gordos (Spain)
Guidance (Sweden)
Harlan: In the Shadow of Jud Suss (Germany)
I Am Love (Italy)
Inside Job
Jack Goes Boating
Mary and Max
Milk of Sorrow (Peru)
Mother (South Korea)
The Other Irene (Romania)
Prima Primavera (Hungary)
Please Give
Rabbit Hole
Soul at Peace (Slovakia)
Tron: Legacy 3D
Winter’s Bone

Liked it
The American
Easy A
Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl (Portugal)
Everyone Else (Germany)
The Girl Who Played with Fire (Sweden)
Harry Brown
The Kids Are All Right
The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond
Love and Other Drugs
Micmacs (France)
Red Riding: 1974
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
The Secret of Kells
The Social Network
Storm (Germany)
Shutter Island
Vision: The Life of Hildegard von Bingen (Germany)
Wild Grass (France)
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

It was okay
127 Hours
Bluebeard (France)
Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Collectress (Lithuania)
December Heat (Estonia)
Despicable Me
Eyes Wide Open (Israel)
The Fighter
The Ghost Writer
Hadewijch (France)
How to Train Your Dragon
I Love You Phillip Morris
I’m Still Here
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Knight & Day
The Tourist
Zero (Poland)

Chameleon (Hungary)
Date Night
Disengagement (France/Israel)
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Green Zone
House of Boys (Luxembourg)
The Killer Inside Me
The King’s Speech
The Last Station
The Misfortunates (Belgium)
Never Let Me Go
Soul Kitchen (Germany)
The Town
True Grit
Whiskey with Vodka (Germany)
The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner (Bulgaria)

Didn’t like it
Alice in Wonderland
Around a Small Mountain (France)
The Bounty Hunter
Enter the Void
Get Him to the Greek (or did I HATE it?)
Leaves of Grass
Let Me In
Sex and the City 2
Toy Story 3

Hated it
Casino Jack (and the united states of kevin spacey)
The Secret in Their Eyes (Argentina/Hell)
Slaves in Their Bonds (Greece/Hades)
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Wall Street/Hollywood)