Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tender Mercies vs. Crazy Heart

I watched the acclaimed 2009 film Crazy Heart a couple of weeks ago and as it unfolded I couldn't help but think to myself that this sure seems a lot like the 1983 film Tender Mercies. I got Tender Mercies from Netflix a few days later and re-watched it and the films are so similar in story that Crazy Heart could be considered as kind of a loose remake, or reinterpretation, of all the same themes and story points in Tender Mercies. Let's look at a few.
  1. Jeff Bridges delivers a terrific performance as a boozy, one time country music star Bad Blake in Crazy Heart; Robert Duvall wins an Oscar for best actor in 1983 for his performance as Mac Sledge, a boozy, one time country music star in Tender Mercies.
  2. The male leads in both films meet solid, stable women who are characters trying to redeem them, to offer them a second (or fifth, or more) chance at love. 
  3. The women in both films have sons, close to the same age, and they bond with the new men in their mother's live.
  4. Both Bad Blake and Mac have estranged children they have no real relationship with. 
  5. Did I mention they are washed up country singers who have a problem with the drink?
  6. Robert Duvall is not only in both films, he produced both films as well.
  7. Being interviewed by a journalist features prominently in both films. In Crazy Heart, it's how Bad Blake meets the woman he falls for; in Tender Mercies, it's how Mac Sledge gets back in touch with ex-wife and daughter.
  8. Both singers are forced to play concerts with younger musicians as the back-up band. These scenes feature prominently in both films.
  9. Country songs are featured in both films--often entire songs are sung from the stage.
  10. Both Bad Blake and Mac Sledge are shown writing songs alone and then letting other people have the songs to record in an attempt to get money into their thin bank accounts.
Are ten things enough to prove the connection? Maybe I'm missing something but I've rarely even seen any mention of Tender Mercies when people are talking about Crazy Heart. It is as clear as day that the latter is at the very least, extremely influenced by Tender Mercies

I think Tender Mercies is the better of the two films. It's less of a show-off in its lead role and has a simple, direct, honest quality to it that has drawn me back to watch it four times. Crazy Heart is flawed after the first hour and the ending is flat out awful. Tender Mercies vs. Crazy Heart? I'll take Tender Mercies over its inferior copycat. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

UTW column on Tulsa Festival de Films

Go here if you want to read the column I wrote this week for Urban Tulsa. It's about a French film festival at Circle Cinema. I talk a little about cinema clubs, Small Change and A Town Called Panic in the piece

I am giving a short introduction to the 7pm screening of Small Change Friday night if you are in Tulsa and thinking of seeing the 1976 film from director Francois Truffaut.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

David Nofire's tops in 2009

This is the last of the guest lists of favorite films in 2009. I've enjoyed looking at the lists and want to thank everyone for taking the time to not only compile lists but write about why the films made their tops in 2009. I hope we'll do something similar for the best of 2010, so start keeping track of the good ones!

David Nofire (aka Vern Snackwell) lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  He currently favors low budget films from the 1970s and 1980s and makes no arguments as to the relative quality of the films on this list as they are his personal favorites.  

1. Drag Me to Hell – In an attempt to earn a coveted assistant manager position, bank loan officer Christine Brown denies an elderly woman a third extension on her mortgage and is cursed as a result. Yes, the plot is derivative of Jacques Tourneur’s 1957 film Night of the Demon and a 1953 issue of the comic book Vault of Fear.  Yes, the ending is predictable.  But for me the primary pleasures of this film were in Sam Raimi’s direction, Alison Lohman’s performance as Christine, and in the shared audience experience of witnessing the PG-13 over-the-top gross-out extravaganza that ensues.  In Drag Me to Hell Sam took me back to the much-loved tone of his films Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, especially in the editing, cinematography, dialogue, and voice work found in the film’s séance sequence.  It’s a movie I’ve enjoyed again and again since first seeing its last showing of the day on May 29th, 2009 and then again for the first showing the next morning.

2. Inglourious Basterds – The many things I love about Quentin Tarantino’s long gestating WWII ensemble revenge film include sharp dialogue, confident pacing, a dazzling performance by Christolph Waltz as the Nazi detective Col. Hans Landa, and a film-as-weapon storyline which endears itself to me as well as to many other lovers of cinema. 

3. Love Exposure – To commit sins worthy of confessing to his detached Catholic priest father, teenager Yu Tsunoda becomes involved in a group of perverted artful dodgers who acrobatically take upskirt photographs of unsuspecting girls.  That’s just the beginning of Sion Sono’s audacious, genre-bending film which involves religion, guilt, cults, love, and perversion across its four hour running time.

4. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Husband, father, newspaperman, and former smooth criminal Mr. Fox decides to pull one last series of heists on wealthy farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, who later plot to kill him.  Humor and the usual Wes Anderson obsessions made this by far my favorite of the two 2009 talking-fox movies I saw.

5. (500) Days of Summer – Tom Hansen non-chronologically recalls his failed relationship with the desirable but mismatched and misunderstood Summer Finn.  After seeing it for the first time I wondered if it was coasting its way into my heart on the charming cast, their gorgeous clothes, and on its references to The Smiths.  I found myself greatly endeared to the film with subsequent viewings because I can relate to it personally, because of the casting of the leads, and because of moments like the much talked-about split-screen sequence showing Tom’s expectations and reality.

6. Star Trek – My favorite part of this movie is Karl Urban’s embodiment of the boozy Dr. McCoy.

7. Up – This is another outstanding film from Pixar with endearing characters and a heart-warming story. 

8. District 9 – I’m glad I steered clear of advance reviews and synopses for this one, as I was unfamiliar with any of the actors and did not know where the story would initially take me.

9. The Bad Lieutenant Port of Call: New Orleans – Here Nicolas Cage re-enters Vampire’s Kiss territory to deliver my favorite performance of the year after Christolph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds.

10. Orphan –Indie darlings Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard find themselves in B-movie heaven when they adopt a murderous but seemingly quiet and well-behaved girl named Esther, who wears old fashioned dresses with velvet ribbons on her wrists and neck.  I call her look Little House on the Scary.

11. Anvil! The Story of Anvil
12. The Hurt Locker
13. Moon
14. The Road
15. In the Loop
16. Adventureland
17. Coraline
18. Watchmen
19. The Cove
20. Black Dynamite

Almost making the top 20: Up in the Air and the Man Trilogy (A Single Man, A Serious Man, and I Love You, Man).  2009 films not yet seen include Crazy Heart, The White Ribbon, Sin Nombre, Sugar, A Town Called Panic, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

UTW review of Percy Jackson... & Oscar shorts/new poll question

Go here if you want read a couple of things I wrote for this week's Urban Tulsa on the Oscar shorts and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.

Also, new poll question on the home page. Which actor made the best James Bond? Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig.

Sorry all you Timothy Dalton fans!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The French Connection car chase

To celebrate The French Connection winning the poll with two last day votes, here's nearly three minutes of the chase from the 1971 film. This is how it is done!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

We need a tie breaking vote

We can't have this poll end in a tie--if you haven't voted pick one of the two in the lead so we can settle this debate once and for all!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cameron McCasland's tops in 2009

Cameron McCasland is a Texan who lives in Nashville, TN. He is an Emmy nominated film maker, who has also won several film festival awards and received commendations from the governors of both Texas and Tennessee. Currently he is developing his first feature length film after a series of shorts and music videos.   You can read his musings on film and life at and

12. House Of The Devil - I like this movie the more I think about it. After leaving the theater i felt a bit disjointed about the ending of Ti Wests low budget horror film, but came to realize that its absurdity played well to what it was--a riff on the satanic 80’s horror movies. It plays well as a period piece on a budget, though I still think the old dark house aspect was what I liked most about it. This movie might also stand as the last indie stand of Greta Gerwig, who follows this up with a Ben Stiller movie in 2010.

11. Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day - In college someone slid a VHS copy of The Boondock Saints under my door with a note that said “Watch this RIGHT NOW”. What I found was one of the better post-Pulp Fiction crime movies of the nineties. I watched it twice back to back, and wasn’t surprised when it became a cult classic a few years later on DVD.  Most people by now have heard the stories of Troy Duffy through online rumblings or the documentary Overnight. What everyone should take into consideration amongst all the hoopla is that he was able to pull the entire principle cast back in over ten years later, and he did it on his own terms. This is a solid sequel, that captures the humor and action of the first film. Duffy might not be a nice guy, but he did what good film makers do, which is to get their films made, even it did take ten years.

10. Zombieland - I have to admit, I’ve been pretty disgusted with most of the zombie fare that has been coming out in the past few years.  Everything seems to be a copy of a copy of a copy. And like a xerox of a xerox each generation is worse and worse.  Zombieland took the approach of building a comedy around the nuances of the classic zombie flicks. Woody Harrelson was a mustache away from being a Burt Reynolds double as he cracks zombie skulls on a hunt for product placement that rivals Marlboro and Coca-Cola in Superman: The Movie.

9. Fantastic Mr. Fox -  This wasn’t a book I read as a child, so their was no nostalgia factor for me.  I do consider myself a Wes Anderson fan and I think this is equal to any of his previous efforts, in dialogue and pacing. The movie is funny and heartfelt. While another animated feature got a better listing in my year end picks, I’ll be pulling for the Fox come Oscar season.

8. Paranormal Activity - If you didn’t see this movie last year during its mammoth October run then I feel bad for you. I don’t think it will have the same impact in a home theater setting, as something about a row of screaming high school girls behind you helps this movie along.  Of course the Blair Witch Project comes up in every conversation and debate on this film, but to its merit this movie had the giant obstacle of the internet to face. While the Blair Witch Project used the early days of the web to market the film, Paranormal  Activity had every blog in America giving up its secrets. Hopefully if you did miss it, you’ll get a chance to see a revival screening as the years progress, I have no doubt it will achieve the cult status that merits that type of viewing.

7. Fanboys - If you don’t love George Lucas Epic Star Wars then you won’t get eighty percent of the jokes in this movie. But lets face it, who doesn’t love Star Wars? Here's a movie that started off as a fan film in Austin around the time of Episode I. They started shooting it on a home video camera when someone read the script and said “wait a second, someone should really make this”.  Of course it was plagued by recuts and delays due to the financial woes of the Brothers Weinstein, but after some fierce backlash from supporters of the movie, a cut of director Kyle Newman's vision was delivered on screen. It's sugar coated, and possibly even a few years late to screens but still a great view for people who still make lightsaber noises with broomsticks when they are alone.

6. Tetro - Coppola writes again. While by no means is this his best work, the complexity of the story never feels forced, and Vincent Gallo really delivers the dialogue.  This was probably the most beautifully shot film of the year. Mihai Malaimare Jr. really should be moving into the upper echelon of cinematographers after this outing.  Coppola also delivered the best car crash scene I have ever witnessed, taking us inside the automobile as well as inside the hearts of the passengers. If this movie confuses you, then watch it again, and again, and again...

5. Up - Pixar, can you do no wrong? After last years Wall-E which used hardly any dialogue to tell a story, I thought the next entry into the Pixar lore would pale in comparison. Twenty minutes into the film, my five year old daughter was out of the movie asking me, “Daddy, why are you crying?” to which the answer is simply “because I love your mother”. Oddly enough the only part of the film that had me scratching my head was the dogs flying airplanes. The talking dogs didn’t bother me, the house flying across thousands of miles with nothing but helium balloons didn’t bother me. But you put a dog in a bi-plane and I tossed my hands up. Even with that little snafu, I loved it. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the opening short Partly Cloudy which in its own right is wonderful. I believe it is also the first of Pixar's shorts not to be nominated for the Oscar.

4. Drag Me To Hell - Do you like having fun at the movies? Do you buy the big popcorn, knowing full well that half of it will be on the floor when your knee jerks when Sam Raimi delivers the scares? Then you need to be watching this movie right now.  Raimi shook the proverbial cobwebs off and delivered a horror movie that was equally as camp as his early directing efforts. If you don’t believe me, then ask the talking goat.

3. Star Trek - For every complaint I lodge about remakes, and reboots, I will swallow my pride and say Star Trek delivered the goods. I was worried we were going to get Smallville, but instead I witnessed the best action film of the year . They even worked in the Beastie Boys! If you never liked Trek, give this a shot. If you do boldly go where you have never gone before, I have a feeling you’ll be in your seat for Star Trek 2 come summer 2011.

2. Inglorious Basterds - Quentin Tarantino tricked middle America into watching a foreign language film on the merits of Nazi retribution, and Brad Pitts monologue. The opening sequence alone is worth the price of admission, as one of the most suspenseful pieces of film ever made.  Love him or hate him, Tarantino is an American Treasure and I think this movie solidifies that he always will be.

1. Moon - Duncan Jones has truly wowed me with this movie. I love good Science Fiction, and those movies are few and far between these days.  Sam Rockwell delivered the greatest performance of the year, and probably his career playing against himself motivated only by time that encompasses his journey on the Moon. For every nod to Kubrick, or Alien, the film has something fresh to say about modern man and corporations view of the bottom line, as well as loneliness being inherent in anyone who has loved someone. I didn’t see a better film this year.

0. Some Notes - I saw all of these movies in 2009. Black Dynamite would have definitely made the list, but i didn’t actually catch it until a few weeks ago when it finally got around to the Belcourt here in Nashville. The same goes for the Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. While not making the list above, my best theatrical experience was seeing Watchmen opening weekend at the Alamo Drafthouse. Those guys know how to put on a movie, with decor and special screening before the film that really built the moment. Its also worth saying that my least favorite theatrical experience this year was Antichrist.  It looked wonderful, but the subject matter was beyond tedious for my own tastes. The rest of the year was scattered with some good but not great movies. I also to date have still not viewed Avatar or the Hurt Locker, while I expect I will enjoy them both. I have a laundry lists of others i missed in 2009 that will get a DVD spin in the not to distant future.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

UTW review of Dear John

Go here if you want to read my review of Dear John in this week's Urban Tulsa. It features one of the worst young actors in Hollywood in Channing Tatum. Check out the comment by "Volleyball Starter #20" that calls me "stupid" and claims I'm jealous of Tatum, hence the negative review. I love it! I might have to respond or at least I hope someone responds (hint, hint).

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Big Fan, Tokyo Drifter, The Baader Meinhof Complex

Here's some short reviews of films I've recently watched. Going to try to do more of these short capsule reviews to go along with the longer reviews of new films I've been doing for Urban Tulsa.

Big Fan. This 2009 film from writer/director Robert Siegel (who scripted 2008's The Wrestler) takes a darkly comic turn into the world of the obsessive sports fan. Patton Oswalt plays Paul, a New York Giants fan with a dead end job in a parking garage and a passion for calling sports talk radio. He lives with his mom, he hangs out with an equally obsessed friend (Kevin Corrigan) and posters of the Giants are all over his bedroom walls. When he actually comes in contact with his favorite Giant--bad things happen to Paul and his safe, going nowhere life begins to unravel.

Big Fan has a lot of cringe moments as you watch it. I imagine there are a lot of people like Paul, who lead sort of empty lives supplemented by their devotion and attachment to sports teams. I happen to be a huge follower of University of Oklahoma football (pretty much since the day I was born) and we've got our rabid, maniacal fan base. I have lots of other interests though--unlike people like Paul. All he has is the Giants and calling a radio show anonymously. It's pretty sad. Big Fan is full of the same kind of sadness and obsessiveness and is an interesting little film.

Tokyo Drifter. Seijun Suzuki's film is about style over substance--although not sure he meant it to be that way. The story is a convoluted mess that has a gangster named Tetsu sort of going about Tokyo or other cities while being pursued by rival gangs. You know, drifting. There wasn't much separation between the various gangs--he's being chased and people want him dead. That's really not enough but that's the story.

Tokyo Drifter is indeed stylish with lots of vibrant, colorful sets in various locales in a Tokyo that is in swingin' 1960s mode. The film is rather dated unfortunately and has not held up well in the forty plus years since its release in 1966. Yes, it looks really good at times but there's nothing below the surface for the bulk of the film. I didn't care about Tetsu or any of the other gangsters shown in the film. Style alone is not enough when it comes to Tokyo Drifter.

The Baader Meinhof Complex. Uli Edel's 2008 film tells the story of the Red Army Faction (RAF) in West Germany in the 1970s as they become increasingly more violent as the decade unfolds. At first, they are just leftist radicals angry with American influence in Germany and capitalism in general but soon they begin to load up on weapons, rob banks, blow stuff up and assassinate various people. If what is in this is accurate--these people make American groups operating at the same time (such as the Weathermen) seem like a bunch of middle schoolers.

The film is like most movies that attempt to address radicals from this era--lots of simplified political sound bites and communiques, lots of people hiding out in rooms, lots of scenes of the government attempting to capture them. The Baader Meinhof Complex is entertaining as it adds a lot of shootouts to its doses of its style and violence but you'd probably be best served to read the book that this was based on to learn more about them.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Jeff Martin's tops in 2009

Jeff Martin lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is the author of two books which are available for purchase online or at your local bookstore of choice: The Dog Ate My Nobel Prize and The Customer Is Always Wrong. He prefers to sit close to the screen and in the middle when watching a film in a theatre. He loves oatmeal and studying the architecture of bridges, such as the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan.

1. The Hurt Locker--usa--In the post-9/11 world there have been a number of decent films about the issues we are facing today.  But there was always something missing.  The message was usually strong, we knew what the filmmakers were trying to “say”.  But we weren’t having any fun.  And I don’t mean fun in the traditional sense.  Just fun in a cinematic sense, the kind of fun that makes time disappear.  Then along comes this film that manages to not only say more than any of its predecessors in this sub-genre, but it’s entertaining as hell. I saw this months ago and it’s still with me.  That says a lot.
2. Two Lovers--usa--I keep trying to spread the gospel of James Gray, but I don’t feel that the message is getting across.  This writer/director, responsible for what I consider four great films over the past 15+ years (Little Odessa, The Yards, We Own the Night, Two Lovers), just seems to be getting better and better.  At a mere 40 years of age, I am excited about what is to come.  His next is an adaptation of one of my favorite books of 2009, The Lost City of Z. This film, filled with quietly brilliant performances, wasn’t around for long in theaters. But do yourself a favor and rent it.  If you are a fan of the 1970’s golden age of American cinema, James Gray is one of the few carrying that torch. 

3. Fantastic Mr. Fox--usa--I get sucked in frequently by great trailers.  They get me excited and raise my expectations to what might be unrealistic levels.  I end up disappointed fairly often.  This was the case with Where the Wild Things Are.  I had a small bout of depression following that misfire.  The reason I get excited is because I crave a joyful experience that takes me somewhere for a couple of hours and leaves a smile on my face or a thought in my head.  No film did this better than Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009.  Pure joy.

4. The Tiger in the Snow--italy--This is the only film on my list not released in 2009 and arguably the biggest wtf pick on my list.  Not for me, but you’ve probably never heard of it, saw and hated it, or wouldn’t watch it in the first place.  The reason?  Roberto Begnini.  That crazy Italian of Life is Beautiful fame wrote, directed and stars in this little gem.  I didn’t plan to see this.  But one night, while flipping around, I caught the start of the film with the great Tom Waits singing his great tune “You Can Never Hold Back Spring”.  I was instantly intrigued.  The film just got better from there and touched me in a way I still can‘t explain. 

5. A Single Man--usa--I’ve heard the praise (Colin Firth is amazing) and the criticism (too flashy, over stylized). And both are correct.  Where Brokeback Mountain told a story of two men never able to break through the chains of society and be together, this film tells the tale from a new perspective.  And in the pain and loss displayed through Firth’s performance, enhanced by the best score of the year, this film is my pick for the best love story of 2009.  The grief felt real.  What more can you ask from such a film?

6. The Cove--usa--There’s no real way of explaining why this is such an important film.  If it doesn’t win the Oscar for best documentary, I won’t be shocked.  The Academy has a long and embarrassing history of overlooking the best in this category.  Crumb? Four Little Girls? Roger & Me? No, I won’t be surprised.  But few documentaries in recent years have deserved it as much.

7. Inglorious Basterds--usa--Personally, Quentin Tarantino annoys the hell out of me. He comes off a bit prick-ish and I get a little sick of the constant never-ending homage to something.  But I’ll be damned if he doesn’t write some of the best dialogue and interesting characters out there.  I like it in spite of myself.  Plus that opening scene on the farm, wow. 
8. A Serious Man--usa--The kind of film you can only make if it’s the follow-up project to a masterpiece like No Country for Old Men.  Blatantly un-commercial.  One character drains his neck throughout the film for goodness sake.  Thank God (the old testament one) for the Coens. 

9.  Moon--usa--The always-great Sam Rockwell + Silent Running/2001-style sci-fi = GOOD

10. Zombieland--usa--You can keep your Shaun of the Dead, I’ll keep Woody, Bill Murray and the eternal search for Twinkies.

Friday, February 05, 2010

UTW review of Police, Adjective

Go here if you want to read my review of the Romanian film Police, Adjective in Urban Tulsa. I'd long looked forward to seeing this film and it did not disappoint as it may have made my top ten for 2009 if I'd seen it before I'd published my list recently.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Stephanie Huettner's tops in 2009

Stephanie Huettner (AKA Rumblefish on CineRobot) is from Tulsa, Okla. but has lived in Austin, tx since 2002. She has produced a number of independent shorts, including I Am Nick Robinson, The Peacemaker, Harvest Home (which played at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner), and Mighty Mutant Mollusks. She is currently learning how to be a projectionist (at the Alamo Drafthouse) just so that she can have a specialized skill.

Career highlights relating to film include: Being cast in a speaking role in the Duplass Brothers' Baghead only to have her lines cut before its Sundance premiere; driving Keith Carradine to set in Lockhart, tx (we talked about how Tulsa is a better city than OKC); being a double/stand-in for Blake Lively one day while her regular stand-in was ill (I'm 1/4 inch shorter than Gossip Girl); hosting a sold-out presentation of a Lifetime movie at the legendary Alamo Drafthouse Downtown; attending the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and being in the same theater as Martin Scorsese, Tilda Swinton and Harvey Weinstein (so intimidating in person, even from 20 feet away) to watch the first-ever screening of the restored print of The Red Shoes.

She is very excited to be a guest blogger for CineRobot. Thanks to Joshua Peck and Vern Snackwell.

12. Moon - This may be all the way at position 12 because I just watched it. I hunted around Austin to find it (3 of our fine independent video stores were fresh out of copies) and enjoyed it about as much as I predicted. It hasn't had much time to sink in, but the visuals alone are enough to earn it a spot here. Sam Rockwell, as many have said before me, is incredible. It would give away a plot point to say much about his performance, but it's the best I've seen him since...the last time I saw him (anyone else pissed off that he wasn't nominated for Best Supporting Actor for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford?) The film explores loneliness, longing and the moral consequences of technological advancements. Again, to write too much would give away too much. Comparisons with 2001: A Space Odyssey were inevitable upon its release. However, this film does not share much with Kubrick's masterpiece other than the setting. On a side note, Sam Rockwell attended the SXSW screening of Moon and a woman in the audience asked him if he thought that he was best in movies about space. She clarified this by saying the only other movie of his she'd seen was Galaxy Quest. That is a prime example of why generalizations (and Q and As) are so pointless. A person can sit through a movie like this, with stunning visuals, an amazing performance, and thought-provoking questions and come up with "I see, it was about space." In this film, the setting serves the story. It is more about the internal world of humanity than the external world of space oddities.

11. Where the Wild Things Are - This movie is not only one of my favorites of the year, but Vern Snackwell and I both agree that it had by far the best trailer of the year. The flawless mix of suit actors, CGI and lively voice performances gave all of the creatures an immediately realistic and empathetic quality. Throw in the boundless imagination of Spike Jonze and an unaffected, not-cute-for-a-second performance by the wonderful Max Records (also great this year in The Brothers Bloom) and you've got some magic, baby.

10. Up - I wish that I could say that I saw this movie premier at Cannes this year. However, due to a mix-up with a power converter and no wireless, I could not order my ticket and missed out. I later saw a preview screening at a fairly crappy multiplex in Austin with a baby flicking water on me for 20 minutes. So, about on par with the experience I would've had in the Theatre Lumiere. Like everyone else with a heart and tear ducts, I wept throughout the first 15 minutes of this film. We are introduced to Carl and Ellie, and immediately fall in love with both of them. We are rushed through their life together and dropped on Carl's lonely doorstep as he spends his remaining years alone, waiting for the mail and being crotchety to the construction workers tearing up his neighborhood. For the next hour or so, we love pretty much every character on screen. A chubby wilderness explorer named Russell, a talking dog named Dug and a chocolate-loving bird named Kevin. I think I liked everything about this movie that everyone else did, so just pick out your favorite parts and those are what I liked, too.

9. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs - I didn't expect this movie to be here, either. Then, I had the pleasure of seeing it at Movies 8 with a five-year-old on my lap. While she giggled throughout the film and was fully engaged by it (on her second viewing), I'm pretty sure that I was having a better time. The plot centers around a small island town called Swallow Falls, which is facing economic hardship due to the fact that its one and only industry was a sardine factory. As our protagonist, Flint Lockwood (voiced by Tulsan Bill Hader), explains, this was bad "because sardines are totally gross." Everyone in the isolated town is thus forced to live off of a diet of the nasty little fish during these hard times. Flint has been an oddball inventor in this small town for his entire life and thinks that he has come up with a way to solve this pescatarian problem: a machine which turns water in to food. Let me stop with the plot description and just list a few reasons why I like Meatballs so much. 1) This film is beautiful. Even the crappy, dollar theater print which I saw looked great. 2) The voice acting is expressive and hilarious in a way that feels honest. I feel like they would all give the same vocal performance in a live action film, which is a refreshing thing. 3) It has Mr. T. Perhaps some of you knew this, but I did not and thus was pleasantly surprised when he popped up as the local cop. He's the same Mr. T we all know and love, strange vocal inflections and all. 4) There's a scene in which a man does the Charleston in the middle of the street as pizza rains down around him. If that last reason isn't enough for you then I don't think we need to meet.

8. Star Trek - Sadly, I saw this film only once in theaters. I was very sick and thus could not laugh at all of the funny parts (it hurt to laugh). However, I remember thinking "That's funny!" or "How creative!" a number of different times in my altered state of illness. I'm a fan of Alias seasons 1, 2, 3, 5 and of J.J. Abrams in general. The casting was spot-on for all the roles (even little Jacob Kogan as "Young Spock"), the pace was fast but not rushed, Leonard Nimoy was used in a touching, non-gimmicky way...To tell you the truth, I can't remember disliking anything about this movie, so I'll just leave it there.

7. District 9 - I agree with pretty much all the hype you've heard about this film. It's immediately engaging, wildly creative and has some of the most impressive CG you've seen in a long time. It also has the added bonus of having a heart. Yes, I know this would baffle Michael Bay, but it is possible to have explosions and emotion in the same film, even in the same scene! Sharlto Copley gives one of the very best performances of 2009 as Wikus van der Merwe, who is one of the most intriguing characters on screen this year. The mental, physical and emotional arc which we witness in this man is something rarely seen in the best-reviewed, awards-laden films. It's all the more impressive to watch knowing that Copley had never acted professionally before and improvised every line of dialogue. We have a new great director and a brand-new movie star all in one badass sci-fi film.

6. The Hurt Locker -- This film is by far the most critically-acclaimed of the year. While it's not my favorite (thus the position at numero seis) there is a lot to love. As others have noted, it's the first film about our country's most recent war which drops all attempts at the hard sell of any agenda and simply tells a story. The Hurt Locker follows an EOD unit stationed in Iraq. Jeremy Renner plays SFC William James, a loose cannon who also happens to be brilliant at dismantling explosives of all kinds. He is assigned to a unit who has just lost a man, and he does not quite clique with the group. That's the bare bones of the plot and pretty much all you need to know. The rest of the film is about moments and characters. Kathryn Bigelow has been directing action-packed films for quite some time now (Point Break, Near Dark) and manages to find just the right balance of explosions and humanity to keep the audience totally enthralled. A particular gem is a long segment involving a sniper shootout in a remote location. It is one of the most well-directed, intense pieces of any film this year. Renner and Anthony Mackie play incredibly well off one another in this scene (and in the film as a whole). Their characters do not see eye to eye on much, and screenwriter Mark Boal thankfully spares us the learn-to-love-one-another storyline. There have been some who have come out against the film with accusations of embellishment. Questions of realism should, in my opinion, be left at the door on this one. There will always be naysayers when a film about a war still in progress comes out. What is not realistic in Locker is included for a reason. The film does not contain one single extraneous scene. Every frame brings the characters (and the audience) not to a resolute end, but to one that is true to the story and does not presume to have all the answers.

5. Sin Nombre - This is one of those films that seems like it has roughly 0% chance of being made. A first-time filmmaker (Cary Fukunaga) directing a movie in a language he has just recently learned with a cast of young, first-time actors and a tiny budget. Oh, and most of the action takes place on top of a moving train. This film was gorgeously shot. Not letting the small budget and an unforgiving environment be an excuse for crappy-looking, shaky digital is wonderful to see. It is a gritty, violent, moving story and I can't wait to see what Fukunaga does next (apparently an adaptation of Jane Eyre with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender).

4. Fantastic Mr. Fox - Basically, I love all of Wes Anderson's movies. Bottle Rocket is subtly funny, creative and full of heart. The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore are so clearly masterpieces that I don't need to discuss them. Up to this point, I think I have a lot of company. His next few films are where some people fall off the wagon. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou flat-out confused some people who were expecting the wild humor of the first three films. I found it to be a serious film full of strange characters and some moments of oddball humor. I found The Darjeeling Limited to have the same brand of Anderson humor and charm, with some intense emotion thrown in. So, with Fantastic Mr. Fox, I was not surprised to find an animated film which felt so much at home at that place in my heart where all of Anderson's films live. It's beautiful, full of fun characters and impeccable visuals, has an impromptu jam session led by Jarvis Cocker and, (another signature Anderson move), creative use of music. Only he would use "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones in a Roald Dahl adaptation. Anyone up for a game of whackbat?

3. The Road - A bleak adaptation of an unceasingly bleak Pulitzer Prize-winning novel had 1200 people on the edge of their seats all at once at this year's Austin Film Festival. The film, as with the novel, puts the reader/viewer in a constant state of suspense, only to release them in the final paragraph/frame. Perhaps I'm partial to this film because they've cast a slew of my favorite actors in supporting roles (Garrett Dillahunt, Robert Duvall and Michael K. Williams) and have not compromised the content of the novel to make it more appealing to a wide audience. Director John Hillcoat has shown that he isn't afraid to throw intense and disturbing images at an audience (The Proposition) and he does not hold back in this outing. Viggo Mortensen and the amazing Kodi Smit-Mcphee are heart-wrenching as a devoted father and a child unspeakably damaged by growing up after the apocalypse. The exceptional visuals tell a story of their own. One could easily watch this film on mute and still understand the heart of the story. I'm smitten.

2. Inglourious Basterds - We all know that Christoph Waltz is going to win that Oscar. We all love Eli Roth beating Nazis to death with a baseball bat. We all smiled wryly at Brad Pitt's retarded yet brilliant southern accent. I want to talk about my other favorite things in Basterds. Well, the casting was genius. Two of my favorite German actors, August Diehl and Daniel Bruhl are both wickedly good; Melanie Laurent gives a breathtaking, kickass performance as Shoshanna; and pretty much every extra was intriguing to me. The setting was used to maximum effect. Parisian cafes, isolated country cottages, and old film palaces all serve their purposes brilliantly. Tarantino's dialogue-heavy writing is back in top form and is used as a tool of supsense rather than simply an outlet for his endless knowledge of film. Also, like every film-lover out there, the choice to use film as a literal weapon made me smile from ear to ear. Basterds pulled me along for a ride like no other this year.

1. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans - Two words: Gator cam. To quote my friend, Melissa, after our first viewing of this masterpiece: "Bad Lieutenant, port of call my heart!" Nicolas Cage finds the perfect vessel for his edge-of-madness tendencies and is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast (Shea Wigham gives an Oscar-worthy performance in two scenes). This is a film that grabs you by the neck, pulls you in, spins you around for more than an hour and then gently places you back where it found you, bewildered and mystified by what you have experienced. Please, just go see it.

Note: I still haven't seen A Single Man. There are probably some others that I haven't seen. Like Joshua, I keep track of these things. I saw 303 feature films this year and 128 short films. Still, I'm sure I missed some good stuff.

Monday, February 01, 2010

New poll question

Thanks to Vern Snackwell for the latest poll question. I am going to have to ponder this question as there are some really good car chases to choose from.

Which movie had the best car chase of all time?

Death Proof
The French Connection
Vanishing Point

Go to the home page to vote.

January movies

Twenty three films kicking off 2010 with style although, as I posted earlier in January, the year got off to a rough start in terms of quality films. The whole month actually is an assortment of scores in the 2 1/2 stars or below range. Nine of them. That's a lot for one month. I did watch North By Northwest for the umpteenth time thanks to a bluray disc loan from Vern. I love that movie so much. And I saw 400 Blows for at least the fifth time. That's another one I love. Two classics back to back.

The Blind Side--2009--usa   **
The Open Road--2009--usa  *1/2
Hell Ride--2008--usa  *1/2
He's Just Not That Into You--2009--usa  **
High and Dizzy--1920--usa  ****
Dogtown and Z Boys--2003--usa  ****
Leap Year--2009--usa  *1/2
Fantastic Mr. Fox--2009--usa  ****
Mad Detective--2007--hong kong   ***
Lady Terminator--1988--indonesia   **1/2
A Single Man--2009--usa   ****
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee--2009--usa  **1/2
Burn After Reading--2008--usa  ***1/2
The House Bunny--2008--usa  **
Big Fan--2009--usa  ***
Tokyo Drifter--1966--japan  **1/2
The Baader Meinhof Complex--2008--germany  ***1/2
Youth In Revolt--2009--usa  ***
Sherman's March--1986--usa  ****
The Band's Visit--2007--israel  ***
North By Northwest--1959--usa  *****!
400 Blows--1959--france  *****!
Police, Adjective--2009--romania  ****