Saturday, November 26, 2011

Filmspotting Top 50 Directors submission

Sorry for a long list post, but here is the list I submitted for the polling (along with films of theirs I've seen or want to see). I should probably point out I'm trying to balance the list from a historical/importance perspective as well as a personal one. With that being said, I still really like all of these directors. Time to nerd out.

50. Bong Joon-ho
-Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000)
-Memories of Murder (2003)
-The Host (2006)
-Mother (2009)

49. Sofia Coppola
-The Virign Suicides (1999)
-Lost in Translation (2003)
-Marie Antoinette (2006)
-Somewhere (2010)

48. Paul Greengrass
-Bloody Sunday (2002)
-The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
-United 93 (2006)
-The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
-Green Zone (2010)

47. Darren Aronofsky
-Pi (1998)
-Requiem for a Dream (2000)
-The Fountain (2006)
-The Wrestler (2008)
-Black Swan (2010)

46. Paul Thomas Anderson
-Hard Eight (1996)
-Boogie Nights (1997)
-Magnolia (1999)
-Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
-There Will Be Blood (2007)

45. Charlie Chaplin
-The Kid (1921)
-The Gold Rush (1925)
-City Lights (1931)
-Modern Times (1936)
-The Great Dictator (1940)

44. Federico Fellini
-La Strada (1954)
-Nights of Cabiria (1957)
-La Dolce Vita (1960)
-8 1/2 (1963)
-Amarcord (1973)

43. Sergio Leone
-A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
-For a Few Dollars More (1965)
-The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)
-Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
-Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

42. Terrence Malick
-Badlands (1973)
-Days of Heaven (1978)
-The Thin Red Line (1998)
-The New World (2005)
-The Tree of Life (2011)

41. Wes Anderson
-Bottle Rocket (1996)
-Rushmore (1998)
-The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
-The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
-The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
-Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

40. Lars Von Trier
-Breaking the Waves (1996)
-Dancer in the Dark (2000)
-Dogville (2003)
-Manderlay (2005)
-Antichrist (2009)
-Melancholia (2011)

39. Park Chan-wook
-Joint Security Area (2000)
-Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
-Oldboy (2003)
-Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005)
-I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK (2006)
-Thirst (2009)

38. Mike Leigh
-Naked (1993)
-Secrets and Lies (1996)
-Topsy-Turvy (1999)
-Vera Drake (2004)
-Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
-Another Year (2010)

37. John Cassavetes
-Shadows (1959)
-Faces (1968)
-Husbands (1970)
-A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
-The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)
-Gloria (1980)

36. Danny Boyle
-Shallow Grave (1994)
-Trainspotting (1996)
-28 Days Later (2002)
-Millions (2004)
-Sunshine (2007)
-Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
-127 Hours (2010)

35. Christopher Nolan
-Following (1998)
-Memento (2000)
-Insomnia (2002)
-Batman Begins (2005)
-The Prestige (2006)
-The Dark Knight (2008)
-Inception (2010)

34. David Fincher
-Se7en (1995)
-The Game (1997)
-Fight Club (1999)
-Panic Room (2002)
-Zodiac (2007)
-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
-The Social Network (2010)
-The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

33. Quentin Tarantino
-Reservoir Dogs (1992)
-Pulp Fiction (1994)
-Jackie Brown (1997)
-Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)
-Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004)
-Death Proof (2007)
-Inglourious Basterds (2009)

32. Pedro Almodovar
-Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
-All About My Mother (1999)
-Talk to Her (2002)
-Bad Education (2004)
-Volver (2006)
-Broken Embraces (2009)
-The Skin I Live In (2011)

31. Michael Haneke
-Benny's Video (1992)
-Funny Games (1997)
-Code Unknown (2000)
-The Piano Teacher (2002)
-Hidden (2005)
-Funny Games (2008)
-The White Ribbon (2009)

30. Errol Morris
-Gates of Heaven (1978)
-Vernon, Florida (1981)
-The Thin Blue Line (1988)
-Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control (1997)
-The Fog of War (2003)
-Standard Operating Procedure (2008)
-Tabloid (2010)

29. Abbas Kiarostami
-Where is the Friend's Home (1987)
-Close-Up (1990)
-Through the Olive Trees (1994)
-Taste of Cherry (1997)
-The Wind Will Carry Us (1999)
-Certified Copy (2010)

28. Ingmar Bergman
-The Seventh Seal (1957)
-Wild Strawberries (1957)
-Persona (1966)
-Cries and Whispers (1972)
-Scenes from a Marriage (1973)
-Face to Face (1976)
-Autumn Sonata (1978)
-Fanny and Alexander (1982)

27. Roman Polanski
-Repulsion (1965)
-Cul-de-sac (1966)
-Rosemary's Baby (1968)
-Macbeth (1971)
-Chinatown (1974)
-The Tenant (1976)
-Tess (1979)
-Frantic (1988)
-Death and the Maiden (1994)
-The Pianist (2002)
-Oliver Twist (2005)
-The Ghost Writer (2010)
-Carnage (2011)

26. Francois Truffaut
-The 400 Blows (1959)
-Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
-Jules and Jim (1962)
-Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
-Day for Night (1973)
-The Story of Adele H. (1975)
-The Last Metro (1980)

25. David Lynch
-Eraserhead (1977)
-The Elephant Man (1980)
-Blue Velvet (1986)
-Wild at Heart (1990)
-Lost Highway (1997)
-The Straight Story (1999)
-Mulholland Drive (2001)
-Inland Empire (2006)

24. Wong Kar-wai
-As Tears Go By (1988)
-Days of Being Wild (1990)
-Chungking Express (1994)
-Fallen Angels (1995)
-Happy Together (1997)
-In the Mood for Love (2000)
-2046 (2004)

23. Krzysztof Kieslowski
-Camera Buff (1979)
-The Decalogue (1988)
-A Short Film About Killing (1988)
-A Short Film About Love (1988)
-The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
-Three Colors: Blue (1993)
-Three Colors: White (1994)
-Three Colors: Red (1994)

22. Jean Renoir
-Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932)
-The Lower Depths (1936)
-Grand Illusion (1937)
-The Human Beast (1938)
-The Rules of the Game (1939)
-The River (1951)
-French Cancan (1955)

21. Hayao Miyazaki
-Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
-Castle in the Sky (1986)
-My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
-Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
-Proco Rosso (1992)
-Princess Mononoke (1997)
-Spirited Away (2001)
-Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
-Ponyo (2008)

20. Jean-Luc Godard
-Breathless (1959)
-A Woman is a Woman (1961)
-Contempt (1963)
-Band of Outsiders (1964)
-Alphaville (1965)
-Crazy Pete (1965)
-Masculine Feminine (1966)
-Made in USA (1966)
-2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1966)

19. Michael Mann
-Thief (1981)
-The Keep (1983)
-Manhunter (1986)
-The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
-Heat (1995)
-The Insider (1999)
-Ali (2001)
-Collateral (2004)
-Miami Vice (2006)
-Public Enemies (2009)

18. Elia Kazan
-A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)
-Gentlemen's Agreement (1947)
-A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
-Viva Zapata (1952)
-On the Waterfront (1954)
-East of Eden (1955)
-Baby Doll (1956)
-A Face in the Crowd (1957)
-Splendor in the Grass (1961)
-The Last Tycoon (1976)

17. David Lean
-In Which We Serve (1942)
-Brief Encounter (1945)
-Great Expectations (1946)
-Oliver Twist (1948)
-Hobson's Choice (1954)
-The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
-Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
-Doctor Zhivago (1965)
-Ryan's Daughter (1970)
-A Passage to India (1984)

16. Francis Ford Coppola
-The Godfather (1972)
-The Conversation (1974)
-The Godfather Part II (1974)
-Apocalypse Now (1979)
-One from the Heart (1982)
-The Outsiders (1983)
-Rumble Fish (1983)
-The Cotton Club (1984)
-Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
-Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)
-The Rainmaker (1997)

15. Orson Welles
-Citizen Kane (1941)
-The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
-The Stranger (1946)
-The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
-Macbeth (1948)
-Othello (1952)
-Mr. Arkadin (1955)
-Touch of Evil (1958)
-The Trial (1962)
-Chimes at Midnight (1965)
-F for Fake (1974)

14. Gus Van Sant
-Mala Noche (1985)
-Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
-My Own Private Idaho (1991)
-Even Cowgirls Get the Blue (1993)
-To Die For (1995)
-Good Will Hunting (1997)
-Finding Forrester (2000)
-Gerry (2002)
-Elephant (2003)
-Last Days (2005)
-Paranoid Park (2007)
-Milk (2008)
-Restless (2011)

13. Stanley Kubrick
-Killer's Kiss (1955)
-The Killing (1956)
-Paths of Glory (1957)
-Spartacus (1960)
-Lolita (1962)
-Dr. Strangelove (1964)
-2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
-A Clockwork Orange (1971)
-Barry Lyndon (1975)
-The Shining (1980)
-Full Metal Jacket (1987)
-Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

12. Steven Spielberg
-The Sugarland Express (1974)
-Jaws (1975)
-Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
-Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
-E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
-Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
-The Color Purple (1985)
-Empire of the Sun (1987)
-Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
-Jurassic Park (1993)
-Schindler's List (1993)
-Amistad (1997)
-Saving Private Ryan (1998)
-A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
-Minority Report (2002)
-Catch Me If You Can (2002)
-War of the Worlds (2005)
-Munich (2005)
-Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
-The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
-War Horse (2011)

11. Billy Wilder
-Double Indemnity (1944)
-The Lost Weekend (1945)
-Sunset Boulevard (1950)
-Ace in the Hole (1951)
-Stalag 17 (1953)
-Sabrina (1954)
-The Seven Year Itch (1955)
-The Spirit of St. Louis (1957)
-Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
-Some Like It Hot (1959)
-The Apartment (1960)
-The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

10. Steven Soderbergh
-Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)
-Out of Sight (1998)
-The Limey (1999)
-Erin Brockovich (2000)
-Traffic (2000)
-Ocean's Eleven (2001)
-Solaris (2002)
-Ocean's Twelve (2004)
-The Good German (2006)
-Ocean's Thirteen (2007)
-Che (2008)
-The Girlfriend Experience (2009)
-The Informant (2009)
-Contagion (2011)

9. Howard Hawks
-Scarface (1932)
-Bringing Up Baby (1938)
-Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
-His Girl Friday (1940)
-Sergeant York (1941)
-Air Force (1943)
-To Have and Have Not (1944)
-The Big Sleep (1946)
-Red River (1948)
-The Thing from Another World (1951)
-Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
-Rio Bravo (1959)

8. Woody Allen
-What's Up Tiger Lily? (1966)
-Take the Money and Run (1969)
-Bananas (1971)
-Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (1972)
-Sleeper (1973)
-Love and Death (1975)
-Annie Hall (1977)
-Interiors (1978)
-Manhattan (1979)
-Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
-The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
-Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
-Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
-Alice (1990)
-Husbands and Wives (1992)
-Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
-Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
-Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
-Deconstructing Harry (1997)
-Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
-Match Point (2005)
-Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
-Midnight in Paris (2011)

7. Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
-Blood Simple (1984)
-Raising Arizona (1987)
-Miller's Crossing (1990)
-Barton Fink (1991)
-The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
-Fargo (1996)
-The Big Lebowski (1998)
-O' Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)
-The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
-Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
-The Ladykillers (2004)
-No Country for Old Men (2007)
-Burn After Reading (2008)
-A Serious Man (2009)
-True Grit (2010)

6. Akira Kurosawa
-Drunken Angel (1948)
-Stray Dog (1949)
-Rashomon (1950)
-The Idiot (1951)
-Ikiru (1952)
-Seven Samurai (1954)
-Throne of Blood (1957)
-The Lower Depths (1957)
-The Hidden Fortress (1958)
-Yojimbo (1961)
-Sanjuro (1962)
-High and Low (1963)
-Red Beard (1965)
-Kagemusha (1980)
-Ran (1985)
-Dreams (1990)

5. Robert Altman
-MASH (1970)
-Brewster McCloud (1970)
-McCabe and Mrs. Millers (1971)
-Images (1972)
-The Long Goodbye (1973)
-Thieves Like Us (1974)
-California Split (1974)
-Nashville (1975)
-Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976)
-3 Women (1977)
-A Wedding (1978)
-Vincent and Theo (1990)
-The Player (1992)
-Short Cuts (1993)
-Pret-a-Porter (1994)
-Kansas City (1996)
-Cookie's Fortune (1999)
-Gosford Park (2001)
-A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

4. Werner Herzog
-Aguirre Wrath of God (1972)
-The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974)
-Heart of Glass (1976)
-Stroszek (1977)
-Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
-Woyzeck (1979)
-Fitzcarraldo (1982)
-Cobra Verde (1987)
-Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)
-My Best Friend (1999)
-The White Diamond (2004)
-Grizzly Man (2005)
-Rescue Dawn (2007)
-Encounters at the End of the World (2007)
-Bad Lieutenant (2009)
-My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? (2009)
-Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)
-Into the Abyss (2011)

3. Martin Scorsese
-Mean Streets (1973)
-Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)
-Taxi Driver (1976)
-Raging Bull (1980)
-The King of Comedy (1983)
-After Hours (1985)
-The Color of Money (1986)
-The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
-Goodfellas (1990)
-Cape Fear (1991)
-The Age of Innocence (1993)
-Casino (1995)
-Kundun (1997)
-Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
-Gangs of New York (2002)
-The Aviator (2004)
-The Departed (2006)
-Shutter Island (2010)
-Hugo (2011)

2. Sidney Lumet
-12 Angry Men (1957)
-The Fugitive Kind (1959)
-A View from the Bridges (1961)
-Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962)
-The Pawnbroker (1964)
-Fail-Safe (1964)
-The Offence (1972)
-Serpico (1973)
-Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
-Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
-Network (1976)
-Equus (1977)
-Prince of the City (1981)
-The Verdict (1982)
-Running on Empty (1988)
-Q&A (1991)
-Night Falls on Manhattan (1997)
-Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)

1. Alfred Hitchcock
-The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
-The 39 Steps (1935)
-The Lady Vanishes (1938)
-Rebecca (1940)
-Suspicion (1941)
-Saboteur (1942)
-Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
-Lifeboat (1944)
-Spellbound (1945)
-Notorious (1946)
-Rope (1948)
-Strangers on a Train (1951)
-Dial M for Murder (1954)
-Rear Window (1954)
-To Catch a Thief (1955)
-The Trouble with Harry (1955)
-The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
-Vertigo (1958)
-North by Northwest (1959)
-Psycho (1960)
-The Birds (1963)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick films feel like poetry. A visual poetry that encompasses a certain sense of spirituality. He takes a managable story and then pulls out its themes and somehow gives the audience a worldview, a perspective that makes the narrative we've been witnessing not just a possibility, but a universal experience. For example, take his third film, The Thin Red Line. To me, it is both a story about the WWII battle of Guadalcanal and it also deals with the inherent good and evil that can be found in just about anybody. The Tree of Life is just as poetic. It takes the story of a family in a small Texas town in the 1950s and sets that against the creation of the universe. This might be Malick's most ambitious film to date because of how the movie manages to tackle the existence of us all in the lives of just a few.

The main narrative follows Jack O'Brien (played as a child by Hunter McCracken, as an adult by Sean Penn). His parents both wish the best for him and they love each other, but they seem to have almost antithetical approaches to parenting. Mrs. O'Brien (Jessica Chastain, who has appeared in seven films this year) represents nuture. She is forgiving, ethereal, and believes the world should be presented to her children as a place of wonder. Mr. O'Brien (Brad Pitt in his most commanding of performances) represents nature. He is still loving, but is tough and believes the world can be harsh and exploitive place. We are briefly introduced to these characters before the narrative leaps billions of years backward to when the Earth was first formed in the big bang. That is where the origin of not just this story, but of humanity, begins.

Later in his life, Jack seems to be trying to reconcile his loss of innocence. He struggles to find a peace and understanding to it all, even at such a later age. Malick, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, composer Alexandre Desplat, special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull, production designer Jack Fisk, and an army of editors have created what is probably the meditative and spiritual film I've ever seen. I walk away from this film perhaps feeling like my life is a small blip on the the map of grand schemes, but that one's thoughts and feelings are no less important.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Pressed for time, another couple of short reviews to be posted...

Melancholia begins with the end. We see the world coming to its conclusion as two planets, one presumably being Earth, collide to a piece of music from Tristan & Isolde. The prologue plays like a dream, with imagery showing the impossible becoming possible (humans emitting electricity, the ground sinking so deep as branches come out to grab you). Some of this imagery repeats, mostly in a thematic sense as the film flashes back to months ago. The first half of the movie is about Justine (Kirsten Dunst) marrying Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) at the estate of Justine's sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The second half of the movie is about Claire, along with her husband and son (Kiefer Sutherland and Cameron Spurr), observing a new planet about to make a fly-by across the Earth's path.

In the beginning of the movie, Justine is depressed as Claire tries to make her realize how happy she should be. In the second half of the movie, Claire is worried that the dreamscape we witnessed in the prologue will come true as Justine is ready to accept death. The sisters are polar opposites and in powerful feat of filmmaking, writer-director Lars Von Trier delivers one of his most impressive films to be a part of his devastating and inquisitive ouvre. Von Trier's film is visually simplistic, but features some of the best cinematography of the year. Everything about this film feels like it comes from a purely energetic and creative standpoint of trying to come to terms with the essential question of "why are we here?" As if our personal concerns have any relevance in the grand scheme of things.

Aside from the impressive cast (also starring Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Jesper Christensen, Stellan Skarsgard, Brady Corbet, and Udo Kier), with particular notice to the intense performances of Dunst, Gainsbourg, and Sutherland, Von Trier's grasp on creating intrigue out of the most unique situations (from dinner toasts to advertising taglines) cements him as one of the great living cinematic minds that is active in the industry today.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Updated Oscar Picks

This year has been a bitch to figure this out. Aside from the new 5-10 Best Picture nominees rule, several notable films have yet to come and even before that the field is already crowded. So instead of sticking to a finite number of slots and an alternate as I did last year, I'll mention all the films I think can possibly be nominated.

BEST PICTURE (5-10 slots, 13 picks)
-The Artist
-The Descendants
-Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
-The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
-The Help
-The Ides of March
-J. Edgar
-Midnight in Paris
-Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
-The Tree of Life
-War Horse
-Young Adult

DIRECTOR (5 slots, 10 picks)
-Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
-George Clooney (The Ides of March)
-Stephen Daldry (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
-Clint Eastwood (J. Edgar)
-David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
-Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
-Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)
-Alexander Payne (The Descendants)
-Jason Reitman (Young Adult)
-Steven Spielberg (War Horse)

ACTOR (5 slots, 9 picks)
-Demian Bechir (A Better Life)
-George Clooney (The Descendants)
-Matt Damon (We Bought a Zoo)
-Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar)
-Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
-Michael Fassbender (Shame)
-Gary Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
-Brad Pitt (Moneyball)
-Michael Shannon (Take Shelter)

ACTRESS (5 slots, 9 picks)
-Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)
-Viola Davis (The Help)
-Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia)
-Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
-Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene)
-Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
-Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin)
-Charlize Theron (Young Adult)
-Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)

SUPPORTING ACTOR (5 slots, 7 picks)
-Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)
-Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady)
-Armie Hammer (J. Edgar)
-Nick Nolte (Warrior)
-Patton Oswalt (Young Adult)
-Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
-Max Von Sydow (Extremly Loud and Incredibly Close)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS (5 slots, 7 picks)
-Berenice Bejo (The Artist)
-Sandra Bullock (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
-Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs)
-Carey Mulligan (Shame)
-Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus)
-Octavia Spencer (The Help)
-Shailene Woodley (The Descendants)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

J. Edgar

The founder of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), is depicted in this biopic as being tough, proper, paranoid, a control freak, and a fashionisto. Director Clint Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black (Milk) have a lot to play around with because of how complex an individual Hoover is. He ran both an investigative agency and a publicity machine. He was rumored to be gay, but he gathered evidence on anyone who was socially "promiscous" whether it was supplying communist propaganda or campaigning for civil rights. After all, the man served under six presidents, so there is a lot to showcase and that might be the film's chief problem. John Dillinger, the Lindbergh baby, Martin Luther King Jr... that is a lot of ground to cover.

The film cuts back and forth a lot, from the 20s on and then to the 60s. I don't feel like there is much of an even ratio of time spent in certain decades than the other. This isn't a problem, I just don't think this style of storytelling benefits a director like Clint Eastwood. Eastwood has tackled a wide variety of material in the past ten years, but his films love to boil and build until they explode towards the end. The kind of characters he seems attracted to are very thoughtful and meditative until they are forced to act. The lead roles (some of which he has played such as in Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, and Gran Torino) often feature characters who are trying to stick to an ideal of what they should represent versus how they personally feel.

Hoover is a character who is trying to maintain a public image. He has a great deal of shame because of what he is personally hiding compared to how he represents himself in public. This can make Hoover hard to identify with, but the character is very interesting because of the lengthy life he lived. Black's script has some great parts and others that are severly lacking because they seem to be included to be sure we have an accurate depiction of what Hoover accomplished in his life. Despite how fascinating the characters are, the inclusion of such lengthy expository moments makes the film emotionally distant. Most of the emotive moments seem to generate from the relationship between Hoover and his male assistant, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).

DiCaprio is very subtle and yet persuasive in his role and Hammer plays off of all of that so very well. The film also stars Naomi Watts as Hoover's secretary and Judi Dench as his mother. They feel slightly underused, especially Watts after her "first date" scene and Dench seems there only to play the stern mother. Still, the acting is absolutely phenomenal. Each performance is nuanced and feels naturalistic as time goes on. The production value of the film is fantastic in how it captures each decade and the makeup is also superb (although the actors seem to keep using their regular voices, thus making it weird to see a sixty year old have Hammer, Watts, and DiCaprio's youthful vocals).

I can't stress how big of a gap there is between these fantastic performances and the film's script. Then again, the script isn't that bad. Black seems to have good intentions because he is really trying to paint the picture of a truly interesting individual. If anything, Black exceeds his wishes into the point of making the film feel about a half hour too long. It'll be interesting to see what reception this film gets this awards season. Will it be admired for its production and acting or be ignored because of how tired it feels to experience? I feel that audiences are going to be asking themselves the same question.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tower Heist

Note: I'm not going to have much blogging time coming up, so the reviews for Red State, A Better Life, and Tower Heist are a little rushed and not as well thought out, coherent, or in depth as I'd have wished.

Directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon, X-Men: The Last Stand) and written by Ted Griffin (Ocean's Eleven) and Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can), Tower Heist is an okay heist movie, but is unfortunately a really unfunny comedy. The film deals with a hotel staff being ripped off after having invested in the penthouse tenant, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), who is arrested for fraud by an FBI agent (Tea Leoni) and her team. Some of the staff (Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck, Michael Pena, Gabourey Sidibe), a bankrupt wall street banker (Matthew Broderick), and a convicted thief (Eddie Murphy) all decide to break into the equisite penthouse and find where Shaw is keeping some of his extra money.

It was refreshing to see Murphy play a street-smart character similar to his roles from 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop. Everyone else is also very well casted, but the script is just not witty or logical and it feels like the typical PG-13 action/comedy of the week I used to see when I was in middle school. This should be viewed during an afternoon of sitting on a couch watching the TBS movie of the day. The heist and absurdity is briefly fun to watch, but that charade vanishes quickly and with such an ensemble, that is a real shame.

Movies watched in October

*- Indicates a re-watch.

American Graffiti (1973, George Lucas)
A Better Life (2011, Chris Weitz)
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009, Wes Anderson)*
The Ides of March (2011, George Clooney)
The Last Picture Show (1971, Peter Bogdanovich)*
Like Crazy (2011, Drake Doremus)
Margin Call (2011, J.C. Chandor)
Nashville (1975, Robert Altman)
Pi (1998, Darren Aronofsky)*
Red State (2011, Kevin Smith)
The Rum Diary (2011, Bruce Robinson)
The Thing (2011, Mattheis Van Heijningen Jr.)
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971, Monte Hellman)
The Wild Bunch (1969, Sam Peckinpah)*

A Better Life

Note: I'm not going to have much blogging time coming up, so the reviews for Red State, A Better Life, and Tower Heist are a little rushed and not as well thought out, coherent, or in depth as I'd have wished.

Directed by Chris Weitz (About a Boy) and written by Eric Eason and Roger L. Simon, A Better Life follows an undocumented Mexican immigrant father named Carlos played by Demian Bichir. Carlos lives in Los Angeles and is a gardener whose wife left him alone to raise his now fifteen year old son, Luis. Luis is drawn to the street life of gangbangers and thugs, thus distancing himself from his hardworking father. Carlos gets the opportunity to buy a truck, but it is quickly stolen by a fellow worker. Carlos ends up getting drunk and when he comes home, he explains to Luis how he just wanted to give his son what he didn't have (hint: look at the title of the movie). So the next morning, Luis offers to help his father locate the truck in a Bicycle Thieves-esque plot that draws the pair closer.

The film is beautifully shot, edited, etc., but the real reason I'd heavily reccomend seeing this is the both unbelievably desperate and coureagous character of Carlos as played by Bichir. This will probably be the best performance of the year that may not get any recognition from industry awards ceremonies. The last scene between Carlos and Luis is a beautiful monologue that sums up the spirit and themes of this film better than I could hope to. I really don't have much else to say about the film, other than to look into it, see if any reviews written about it make it sound even more appealing to you, and then set aside a quiet night to watch a father-son story so heartfelt, that I wish Weitz could keep making films like these and move away from the more commercial fare he has been involved with as of late.

Red State

Note: I'm not going to have much blogging time coming up, so the reviews for Red State, A Better Life, and Tower Heist are a little rushed and not as well thought out, coherent, or in depth as I'd have wished.

Prolific writer-director Kevin Smith has made a film that I can't help but feel comes from a personal place of his sometimes-funny, sometimes-disturbed psyche. He hinted at his feelings on religion in Dogma, but I'd argue he hasn't made something that showcases his unique voice since Chasing Amy, and before that Clerks. Red State feels like Silent Bob is raging against many things, but primarily religious radicals and government lackeys who are despicable when it comes to their jobs.

The film follows three small-town teens (Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun, and Kyle Gallner) who go out one night looking for sex, only to be abducted by the Five Points Church and its pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks, who I'm quite sure has to be channeling Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church). When a police officer is shot while investigating the church compound, an ATF agent (John Goodman) is called in to surround the area.

I pretty much walked away from this movie feeling unchanged and conflicted. There are a few things I both admire and dislike about the film, both having to do with how unique this return to an independent production has led Smith to make some off-the-beaten-path choices about how to tell this story.

Michael Parks is the real draw. His sermons are lively, demented, and poetic all at once. The cast is also full of known and lesser-known actors who I recognized immediately (also starring Melissa Leo, Stephen Root, Kevin Pollak, and Kevin Alejandro). They are all talented and convincing, although much of the emotional weight of the film lies in the viewpoints and monologues of the characters played by Parks and Goodman (the ensemble has no lead characters with everyone acting in a supporting role to each other). The film's greatest achievement is perhaps its stark cinematography by Smith's regular D.P., Dave Klein.

On the other hand, nothing of importance or consequence ever seems to happen. We witness these extreme events, but for what purpose? We can form our own interpretations, and for that I'm thankful, but the structure of this story never seems to support other choices Smith makes primarily in terms of the pacing. There are occassionally some editing choices (when Root's character is in his office) and a random placement of title cards that only appear maybe once or twice that just feel off (I feel that title cards that just simply say the time and day should probably be removed as they just feel dated and corny if they aren't pertinent to our understanding of the material).

Smith wants us to feel something, I'll be damned if this was made for entertainment purposes, but I don't feel anything from any of the development or even lack of development both in plot and character. Look at Alejandro's character. What spurred his change of heart? Are we not supposed to know?

Smith has always been a much better writer. Horror is however a medium where one's directing instincts seem to be more useful (perhaps that is why this feels more like a thriller and less like a horror film than the marketing and press releases made it out to be). I appreciate Smith's voice and as a viewer who is always looking forward to what he does next, I can't help but acknowledge his wish to flex his proverbial muscles of versatility. This film just doesn't leave any lasting impressions on me. Perhaps it is because I saw in the fall when you have new films from Nicolas Winding Refn, George Clooney, Bennett Miller, Jonathan Levine, Steven Soderbergh, and Gavin O'Connor that were much more thoughtful and emotional than Smith's tale of religion-gone-awry.