Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest: #680 Thru #699

Here is a look at the latest batch of twenty films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

#680 - Written on the Wind (1956) - (#222 on TSPDT)   The Sirkian melodrama, or weepie if you will (a friend calls them tear-jerking drivel, but who the hell listens to him!), may be an acquired tastes to many, but I must admit to instantly falling in love with the work of Sirk the very moment I saw my first one.  That first one came just under a year ago, so I am what one would call a newcomer to the world of the Sirkian melodrama.  After seeing several of these 1950's beasts lo this past year, Written on the Wind has taken its place atop my list of Sirk films.  Starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone, and full of gorgeous cinematography in glorious Technicolor, and  Sirk's bravura camera (Tarantino and Scorsese are his most similar modern equivalents), Written on the Wind simply oozes with the melodramatic flair that makes Sirkian cinema so damn tasty.

#681 - Partie de campagne (1936) - (#165 on TSPDT)  Based on a short story by Guy de Maupassant, and just thirty-six minutes in length, this Jean Renoir picture is one of the most striking works of cinema that this critic has ever seen.  Seeming to play as both a slight tale of French provincial life and as a much deeper, almost unbearably tragic story of loss and regret.  Renoir will always be remembered as a master filmmaker and that mastery shows no less clearly, no less fervently and no less vibrantly in such a short work like here as it does in his many feature length masterpieces.

#682 - American Gigolo (1980) - (#919 on TSPDT)   With Blondie's Call Me slinkily oozing from the soundtrack, this Paul Schrader written and directed film is a coolly crafted voyeuristic look into the world of the male paid escort - or more succinctly, one of these same said male escort's downfall from prized stallion to gelded ex-show pony.  Actually, in essence it is a pseudo-remake of Bresson's brilliantly tragic Pickpocket, and when one watches the final shot, it is a modern retake of Bresson's famed final shot.  Though a very stylistic film - sort of noir meets modern chic - it is Schrader's screenplay, bordering on the perverse just as the writer/director is best at, that makes the film stand up and get noticed.

#683 - Gregory's Girl (1981) - (#648 on TSPDT)  I was quite surprised at my reaction to this film.  Having not much knowledge of the cinema of Bill Forsythe (I have only seen, and have mostly forgotten, his 1987 film Housekeeping) I really had no clue as to what to expect, and must admit to not expecting much.  Boy was I wrong.  This Scottish coming-of-age film is a pure delight, not to sound too cheesy.  A funny, and quite sly film, I am now, with great anticipation, looking forward to seeing the other Forsythe on the list, Local Hero.

#684 - The Phantom Carriage (1921) - (#763 on TSPDT)  Victor Sjöström, considered to be the leading artistic talent of Swedish silent cinema (a consideration I must concur with), hands in a film whose beauty and haunting presence forces me to find a spot in my top 100 somewhere.  The Phantom Carriage is one of those films where one can use terms such as haunting and not seem at all cliché.  Easily one of the greatest silent films ever made - and I don't want to hear any arguments.

#685 - Un chant d'amour (1950) - (#573 on TSPDT)  If you are looking for hard-core gay porn with a blunt pseudo-artistic style, then Jean Genet's 1950 experimental bon mot is the film for you.  I have never been much of a fan of experimental cinema in the first place, but this (and let's put it as bluntly as the film puts itself forth) big piece of artistic-wannabe crap, a film that makes the cinema of Kenneth Anger look tasteful in comparison, is certainly not about to change my mind.  Now I am far from a prude, but sexuality in cinema should be natural and artistic, not ugly and foul - at least not when you are going for something beautiful, which I believe Genet was.

#686 - Tobacco Road (1941) - (#956 on TSPDT)  I am sure it wasn't John Ford's fault that this is such a tame version of a much more intricate and hard-hitting novel - he did have the Fox to contend with (a thing that may have made his Grapes of Wrath suffer as well) - but whatever the case may be, this is definitely Ford light.  Ford is one my my favourite directors but I much prefer his westerns to his other works, and this is no exception.  Not a bad movie mind you (and we get to see a barefoot, wild child Gene Tierney hooping and hollerin' around) but just not as great as what I am used to from the great John Ford.

#687 - The 39 Steps (1935) - (#336 on TSPDT)  Hitchcock at the height of his British success (five years before coming to the States), this film, full of all those MacGuffin-loving things that made Hitch so fun to watch, is one of his better British works.  Perhaps not as well-rounded as his later Hollywood work of the 1950's, but with its savvy sophisticated wit and ability to combine action, comedy and romance into intertwining moments, it is fun indeed.

#688 - Poison (1991) - (#973 on TSPDT)  This Todd Haynes feature debut may have a few interesting moments throughout, but overall it is a film a sadly admit to disliking.  I love the director's more recent work (Far From Heaven and I'm Not There are pretty damn close to masterpieces) but this one, though showing signs of the filmmaker to come, just did not do it for me.

#689 - Performance (1970) - (#191 on TSPDT)  What a damn fine motion picture.  Cool and suave as fuck, this very mod take on stardom from Nicholas Roeg (his first film!) and Donald Cammell, and starring James Fox and Mick Jagger, is a fun and groovy film indeed.  Playing on the idea of split personality and mirror image, the film is a twisted, turning dance of po-mo cinema.  Even though Richard Schickel said of the film, "the most completely worthless film I have seen since I began reviewing," it has been a great influence on everyone from Paul Schrader to Guy Ritchie to Quentin Tarantino.  The film doesn't necessarily breech my top 100, but it does certainly make my second hundred.

#690 - Grave of the Fireflies (1988) - (#798 on TSPDT)  Tragedy done as anime.  The story of a Japanese village during WWII and the death and destruction that happens.  Somewhere, I honestly forget where now, this film was voted the saddest movie ever made.  I don't know if I would go quite that far but there certainly is a deep sadness to this animated picture.

#691 - Pursued (1947) - (#770 on TSPDT)  Mitchum and Walsh - together.  Sounds pretty manly huh?  Well it is.  Actually Mitchum is just trying to do right as an orphaned boy all grown up, but circumstances keep saying otherwise.  Not Mitchum's best role (nor Walsh's best film) but still a decent enough action movie.

#692 - Imitation of Life (1959) - (#233 on TSPDT)  Damn!  Do I ever love  Douglas Sirk!  Just to think, a year ago today and I had not seen even a single film by the German ex-pat (yeah, yeah, I was late getting to the party!), and now I would consider him one of my favourite of directors.  Having just seen Written on the Wind a few weeks before this (see the first entry in this post), I seem to have hit the motherload of the Sirkian melodrama.  I am having one hell of a time deciding which of these two are my favourite.  I think the emotional firebomb that is the final act of Imitation of Life (a final act that a friend, mentioned above, calls drivel - how dare he!?) seals the book on this, the film that would become his final feature film, as being my favourite Sirk - but just by a hair.

#693 - The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936) - (#257 on TSPDT)   Ah, Renoir.  With films like Grand Illusion, La Bête Humaine and The Rules of the Game (one of my twenty favourite films) - not to mention the gorgeous short film Partie de campagne (mentioned above) - I expected to like this film, made during the same time period, much more than I did.  Now do not get me wrong, I did quite like the film but I just did not love it as much as I had expected.  Yes, the camerawork is pitch perfect (it is Renoir after all), and there are moments of pure bliss (gotta love those melodic tracking shots), but still, overall, it lacked something that the other aforementioned films from the master had in spades.  Still, even lesser Renoir is better than many a director's best work.

#694 - White Heat (1949) - (#314 on TSPDT)  Top of the World Ma!  This Raoul Walsh directed Jimmy Cagney gangster vehicle may not be my favourite Cagney gangster vehicle (that would be The Public Enemy and/or Angels With Dirty Faces) but it still is great fun to watch the little guy go tough.  Plus you get that great iconic fireball ending.

#695 - The Conformist (1970) - (#62 on TSPDT)  Talk about a visually stunning motion picture!  Bertolucci's political thriller - a case study in the evils of fascism if you will - is breathtaking to behold.  The way the director and his DP Vittorio Storaro use light and colour and shadow and subjectivity is downright stunning.  One scene in particular, a rather brutal yet beautiful chase through the woods is done to sheer cinematic perfection.  The Conformist is very probably the best work Bertolucci has ever produced - and that is saying quite a lot.  Sadly I watched the film on my TV (via DVD), but I will remedy that later this year (once I am done with My Quest) and watch it on the big screen.

#696 - And the Ship Sails On (1983) - (#949 on TSPDT)  I have a friend, who incidentally happens to be on the same quest as I, who claims this as his favourite Fellini.  This may sound a bit silly, especially considering that this friend has indeed seen La Strada, La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2, but nonetheless, there you have it.  As for me, I may not go to the extreme of my friend and fellow quester, but I was quite enthralled by this latter day Fellini.  The story of a ship of fools, with typical Felliniesque surrealism and political satire, the film may not be my favourite Fellini, but it sure is much higher up in my esteem than I ever expected it to be.

#697 - Under the Bridges (1946) - (#950 on TSPDT)  With inevitable comparisons to Vigo's L'Atalante, this German film from Helmut Käutner, is a nearly constantly moving cinematic feast.  Full of beautiful imagery and romantic classicism (some perhaps a bit on the homoerotic side), this film was a great surprise.

#698 - Design For Living (1932) - (#691 on TSPDT)  Ernst Lubitsch doing what Ernst Lubitsch did best - a sophisticated comedy of manners wrapped inside a quite open, Pre-Code mindset of sexually evocative moviemaking.  The story of two men and one woman (played wonderfully on all sides by Gary Cooper, Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins) who strike up a ménage-à-trois, is based on the play by Noël Coward - a film version of which Coward was heavily critical of (Coward said, "I'm told that there are three of my original lines left in the film - such original ones as 'Pass the mustard'").  Released the same year as Lubitsch's Pre-Code masterpiece Trouble in Paradise, Design For Living may not sustain the same level of cinematic bravura that the former does (what film can say they do though?), but I would still call this one of Lubitsch's finest works of cinema - hands down.

#699 - Peter Ibbetson (1935) - (#815 on TSPDT)  This film, directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Gary Cooper as a man lost in life who finds his long ago childhood love, only to end up in prison for accidentally killing her husband, is a film that was pretty much completely unknown to yours truly until finding it squirreled away on the list.  With magical qualities that inevitably remind one of William Dieterle's Portrait of Jennie (also on this list but slightly lower down), this little film that evaded my gaze all these years is quite enjoyable indeed (though I would still put the aforementioned Dieterle film a bit higher up).

Friday, December 30, 2011

Film Review: Young Adult

With Thank You For Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air, Jason Reitman, son of Ivan of Ghostbusters fame, has yet to make a movie that has truly impressed me.  On the other hand, with the aforementioned trio of films, fils Reitman has yet to make a movie that has truly disappointed me.  In other words, the director is very good at crafting inoffensive, mediocre pictures that really have no high point nor low point (okay, perhaps Juno had some high points, but they were more due to the acting not the direction or screenwriting) and are only spotlighted by occasional moments of cinematic artistry.  In other other words, Reitman's still quite young oeuvre is, for better or for worse (you take your pick), about as middle-of-the-road as one can get.  

Now along comes the director's fourth feature, Young Adult.  The film stars Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary, a disgruntled thirtysomething writer of teen literature who returns to her small hometown to relive her glory days and attempt to reclaim her now happily married high school sweetheart from the perceived horrors of marriage and parenthood.  With this release, my opinion has not been altered in the slightest.  But do not take that as an absolute kicker, for the film does have some things going for it - even if a sense of cinematic wonder is not among these so-called things.  Yes, Theron hands in a rather intriguing performance as the lonely and spiteful former prom queen (if one cares about such accolades, an Oscar nom may be on the horizon), and Patton Oswalt delivers a quite remarkable performance himself as an equally lonely and spiteful, action-figure playing, garage whiskey-making, comic book collecting nerd and former high school nobody who befriends our intrepid heroine (again, Oscar nod could be in the actor/comic/professional nerd's near future), but overall, the film ends up as rather flat and quite predictable.

The film, written by Diablo Cody, whose annoying hyper-speak antics in her Oscar winning screenplay for Juno have been toned down to a more realistic tone here, never takes flight as it should, but again, it never crash lands like it could either.  Simply put, Young Adult is just sort of there.  Never putting forth enough effort to either stumble or shine, it just meanders on to its inevitable, but rightful final act.  The fact that Theron and Oswalt make their characters, neither of which is particularly likable outside of their oft-times brutal honesty (the only characters willing to be honest in the film), is a testament to their individual acting abilities - especially against the backdrop that is Reitman's uninspired direction.  The rest of the cast do not fare as well though, running the gamut from lack of interest (a rather dead-eyed, though possibly purposely so, Patrick Wilson as Theron's long lost, soulless high school sweetheart) to lack of screen time (Mary Beth Hurt and Jill Eikenberry as typically concerned mothers).  In the end though, we may not get the so-desired high points of the Reitman boilerplate standard, but we do get at the very least an interesting look at the perceived notions of adulthood and how they play out as false in almost every level - and no lessons need be learned.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Film Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Considering the history of such things, it may sound a bit weird to hear the statement, the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen is a damn fine actress, but nevertheless, there it is.  Elizabeth Olsen, making her feature debut (the actress has several other finished films on the horizon), is actually quite spectacular in Martha Marcy May Marlene.  Of course while her elder twin siblings were busy partying and becoming tabloid fodder, Lizzie was at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, exploring her craft.  Whether acting school is a help or a hindrance (there are arguments in both directions), the fact that the younger Miss Olsen (twenty-one while filming) gives such a stunning and harrowing performance, and gives it with the unique subtlety of a seasoned thespian, makes one toss the idea of hereditary talent right out the proverbial window.  But enough of this sibling rivalry (even as one-sided as it may very well be), for it is the film itself we are here to talk about today.

And as far as that film goes, the mysteriously and alliteratively titled Martha Marcy May Marlene, the directorial debut of Sean Durkin (winner of the Best Director prize at Sundance for his efforts) is just as subtlely harrowing as the aforementioned performance of Miss Olsen.  Taking a look at a young woman, freshly escaped from a Manson-esque cult in the Catskills of New York, trying to attempt submersion back into the so-called real world.  We first meet Martha (or Marcy May as she is rechristened by cult leader Patrick) in mid-escape, shortly before calling her estranged sister for help, and we, along with Martha, will spend the rest of the film in a state of trepidation and worried confusion.  As Durkin leaps back and forth between Martha's uncomfortable homecoming and Marcy May's bewildering life inside the cult, many viewers may become a bit disoriented (at least those not familiar with such non-linear storytelling), but this is just what the filmmaker wants from his audience - a sense of bewilderment, just as Olsen's multi-named, multi-minded title character has.

Making allusions to Martha's sense of reality (at some points one even begins to wonder if it isn't all in her mind) and how manipulated her mind may very well be (at least some of her memories are true, but just how many are to be trusted), Durkin creates a nearly constant sense of looming dread around his star pupil, just as Olsen shows how deep such fear and confusion go.  And the young actress does all of this by merely using the most important tool an actor has - her most expressive face.  Olsen shows such feeling, such deep emotion, without ever resorting to cheap theatrics, that such a gift puts her in a class with more renowned actors such as Kate Winslet, Michelle Williams, Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman.  We see on Olsen's face, the atrocities gone through, the anger and hurt and desperation in such a short life.  Even when the film tends to sag a bit as it inevitably does at times, it is this young up-and-comer that hefts it back up onto her surprisingly powerful shoulders and keeps the harrowing journey going on and on until the final cut.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas To All

"You know what I'm going to get you next Christmas, Mom? A big wooden cross, so that every time you feel unappreciated for your sacrifices, you can climb on up and nail yourself to it."
-Lloyd, as played by Kevin Spacey in the acerbic and quite cutthroat holiday 'classic' The Ref

Here's hoping your holidays go a little better than his.  

Merry Christmas to all, from The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.....

Friday, December 23, 2011

Film Review: The Adventures of Tintin

Even after seeing the rather rousing Steven Spielberg-directed mo-cap The Adventures of Tintin, I still cannot say I am a big fan of motion capture animation, those cherub cheeked half human hybrids lost somewhere in that uncanny valley one hears speak of, but as far as cinematic adventures go, the director, playing once again at his popcorn-fueled breakneck Indiana Jones/Jurassic Park pace, has created a rollicking, unpretentious, nearly non-stop swashbuckling hell of a fun ride.

First coming into contact with the Belgian comic book adventures of intrepid manchild Tintin back in 1981, after reading comparisons to Raiders of the Lost Ark, and as legend would have it, immediately falling in love with writer/artist Hergé's sleek and simple designs, Spielberg befriended the comic book creator (whose real name was George Remi) and would eventually acquire the rights to film his own version of the adventures of this beloved (but admittedly little-known outside of Europe) comic character.  Cut to 2011, and years of artistic purgatory, and finally the director of E.T. and Hook has put character to screen to create what he himself has rather arrogantly, but innocently enough, called "Indiana Jones for kids."  The end result may feel a little funny at times (I still cannot get past the mo-cap style, though to give the director his due, this is the closest I have yet come to doing so) and the payoff of the finale may not quite live up to the promise of its earlier set pieces, but all-in-all, it is indeed a balls-out parade of action and adventure and good old fashioned storytelling that Spielberg is always capable, of but rarely able to pull off in such a consistently effective manner.

Featuring Jamie "Billy Elliot" Bell in the titular role of journalist-cum-detective Tintin and mo-cap poster child Andy "Gollum" Serkis as his salty, besotted sea cap'n compatriot Haddock (not to mention nerd patrol bro-couple Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the bumbling roles of inept policemen Thomson and Thompson - two characters that give the film its occasional screwball bent), The Adventures of Tintin is a story of intrigue and skulduggery, full of the MacGuffins of Spielberg's beloved Hitchcock, as well as high seas pirate adventures, Indiana Jones-esque sky hijinx and a Moroccan-set car chase involving man, dog and hawk that will knock your proverbial socks off.  In other words, this is Spielberg, not wearing his morose serious face (which, even though overblown at times, does have its place in the director's oeuvre), but doing what he has always done best - telling a story full of bravura and classical cinematic kismet, while never thinking itself to be too high-minded to laugh at itself and its own tricks and tropes.

This is the kind of classical filmmaking, though ironically here, using some of the most advanced technological tools available, that first made Spielberg a star among the young turk Hollywood of the 1970's, and would inspire J.J. Abrams to make Super 8 earlier this year, his own homage to the director.  I personally have always been much more of a fan of the fun-loving, rather than the serious-minded Spielberg (the director's serious-minded companion piece War Horse is due out any day now and I suspect it will have much the same cloying effect that well-received but fault-laden films like Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan had), and this animated adventure tale certainly falls into that category.  It also doesn't hurt to have a screenplay written by Edgar "Shaun of the Dead & Hot Fuzz" Wright, Joe "Attack the Block" Cornish and Steven "Doctor Who" Moffat.  These writers, also in a fun-loving mood, bring the characters of Hergé to bold and brilliant life - even if they are in mo-cap (the process, though at its best here, still has its bugs).

Now here, as in the comic, the character of Tintin is played as nothing more than a pragmatic and idealistic centerpiece for the much more layered supporting cast to rally around (or against as the case may be), so the character seems a bit flat at times, but the playfulness of the comics is given full share of these aforementioned adventures (the opening credits let us know right away that this will indeed be the case) and even the motion capture style has, as they say, come a long way baby.  Playing out as some sort of blend of Indiana Jones (think the original Raiders or even Last Crusade) and The Pirates of the Caribbean (the actual Disney World ride, not the eponymous and increasingly annoying movie franchise) this first in its own inevitable animated franchise (Peter Jackson, who acts as producer here will supposedly take the director reigns of the next one) may not make the best use of 3D and CGI this holiday season (that would be Scorsese's succulent and homage-filled Hugo) but still, The Adventures of Tintin (subtitled The Secret of the Unicorn in some circles), despite its flaws, is one of the most rollicking, unpretentious, nearly non-stop swashbuckling hell of a good times to be had in cinema today.   Granted, it may not be a great film (though solidly good throughout with moments of sheer cinematic giddiness), but it sure is fun fun fun - and that is what this Spielberg is all about.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Film Review: Sleeping Beauty

If for nothing else than bitter audience reactions, Julia Leigh's debut feature film, Sleeping Beauty (no, not that Sleeping Beauty), can be nominally compared to Terrence Malick's bold masterpiece The Tree of Life. The comparisons to The Tree of Life go no further than audience reactions, as the two films are really nothing alike.  While Malick's film is about the deconstruction of memory and the loss and regaining of faith, Ms. Leigh's film is essentially about the attempt of a young woman, who is dead on the inside, to find, for the most part unsuccessfully, an emotional outlet in any form she can find it.  Where The Tree of Life is emotionally provocative and immensely draining, Sleeping Beauty is a void of insular excess, even while showing the most shocking of moments.  In a way though, I suppose one could make a case for a connection, however soft it may be, between these two seemingly dissimilar films.  Both films surely take on issues of repressed memory and the need for an emotional outlet of some sort.  Granted, Malick's film is a masterpiece (and I do not use such a term lightly) and Leigh's, though with its share of cinematic bravura, most certainly is not.

Actually, if Leigh's film need be compared to anything or anyone (even T.S. Elliot said, "No artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone") then it would be to the cinema of Catherine Breillat.  Leigh, in her directorial debut (she is a well-known novelist in Australia), imbues her film with a methodical, determined cadence and an almost deadening emotional effect that is allowed an explosive catharsis only in its final moments.  This is the type of cinema that evokes the measured yet slyly rapturous oeuvre of the aforementioned Mme. Breillat.  Of course the comparisons do not stop there.  Other than Breillat being a novelist of some artistic renown in her own native France, she too released a film called Sleeping Beauty earlier this year.  Entirely different stories - Breillat's is more Gothic fucked-up fairy-tale while Leigh's is more modern fucked-up malaise - but intriguing nonetheless.

But enough of these comparisons (we can say Breillat and Leigh have both been inspired by the likes of Bresson and Bergman and move on) for Leigh's film, whether it resembles the cinema of Breillat or not, does stand on its own merits.  Leigh's Sleeping Beauty is the story of a young, somewhat promiscuous wayward woman trying to make ends meet by taking odd jobs such as waitress, medical experiment guinea pig and a job that seems to amount to scantily clad hostess of a fetish party (perhaps I am just a bit naive, but you have got to see it to believe it).  Eventually she lands a job as the titular beauty.  This job entails drinking a magical tea that puts her to sleep for several hours, in which time various wealthy older men have their way with her.  Hey, at least the money's good - and you have no memory of what has been done to you.  How many jobs offer that?

Emily Browning, last seen in the ridiculously inane Sucker Punch (so her calling card did not bode well for this critic), actually does a rather nice job with this deceptively daring role - just like a heroine from a Breillat film (but we are not doing that comparison anymore, so I digress).   Now, I can understand how many can be lost in a film such as this.  Between the deliberate pacing and the sexual frankness, one can see why certain audiences would feel either bored and/or uncomfortable - even those audiences who say they like art films (you know the kind, they watch Amelie and claim to be a foreign film connoisseur).  Too daring for many, and in a way not daring enough for this critic (the artistic bent in the film could lead some to think it much better than it truly is), Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty is nonetheless, a sometimes powerful look at the so-called breaking point of a person's already fragile psyche. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Film Review: The Descendants

It has been seven long years since Sideways, Alexander Payne's beautifully fraught paean to the middle age man, but the wait for a new film, just the director's fifth in fifteen years, is finally over. The Descendants, stars George Clooney as Matt King, a Hawaiian land baron who must deal with the stress of his wife being in a seemingly irreversible coma, finding out that she was having an affair and was going to leave him, having to care for his two daughters, one ten the other seventeen, by himself for the first time in his life, and brokering a deal for selling off the family land as all his money-hungry cousins breathe down his neck about it and his father-in-law blames him for the coma. In other words, it is the worst of times and it was the worser of times.

Essentially taking on the struggles of the middle age man once again, or perhaps slightly over middle age man (sorry George), Payne gives us a look into the life of one particular man who should be falling apart were he not as strong as he is - strong even when it looks as if he were not. And it is Clooney who makes this happen. In fact the entire film is George Clooney really. Payne gets a pair of stunningly subtle performances out of both Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller as Clooney's daughters, as well as from Nick Krause as a doofus friend of his eldest daughter (Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer and Robert Forster also have small but productive roles), but when push comes to shove, The Descendants is Clooney's film to fly with or crash and burn with.

Now even though the film, or more accurately, the film's script, does border on the ordinary (though there is some pretty great stuff here, and it does have more maturity than his past works, this is surely Payne's least dynamic film), Clooney does manage to get the film to soar more often than not. With the actor's expressive eyes and unique body language (Clooney, often thought of as more of a movie star rather than as a bona fide actor, really is underrated in many circles) he gives his character both a sense of inherent grief and hopeful optimism, and he blends these two polar opposites into a surprisingly complex characterization of loss and rebirth. It is truly a testament to Clooney's acting ability, his prowess if you will, that a film that would have otherwise gone the way of most typical mainstream movies of this ilk, was made as dynamic as it was.

This bravura performance by Clooney (a work of remarkable subtlety actually) may not put The Descendants in a league with the aforementioned Sideways (this new film may be Payne's weakest work, but is still a film full of emotional depth, and as I stated earlier, surprising maturity), but it does put the character of Matt King in a league with Payne's other great men of ultimate sorrow, like the comic/tragic loneliness of About Schmidt's Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson's most absorbing performance since the seventies), the self-centered insecurities of Paul Giamatti's Miles in Sideways (no fucking merlot!) or the manic desperation of Jim McCallister in Election (Matthew Broderick playing the antithesis of his Ferris Bueller). It may not make Payne's film the great work I wish it had been, but it does raise it to a level it otherwise would not have reached. All-in-all, not a bad deal.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A New Look and a New Outlook.....

It would seem that the new year is coming a few weeks early here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.  To ring in this early new year, I have updated the look of the site - as I am sure those who have been here before have already taken notice of.  But wait, there is more!  As some of you may already know, I have a sister site (an older sister, born in 2004) called The Cinematheque.  This is where I have been writing and posting film reviews for the last (almost) eight years.  Well from here on in, I will be posting these reviews right here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.  

As for the fate of The Cinematheque - that site will still exist, and you will still be able to access those (almost) eight years worth of reviews over there, but otherwise, it is getting streamlined as an archive only kinda place.  Most of the things I wish to save will eventually make their way over here.  From now on, everything (new reviews, lists, classic film critiques, more lists and everything else) will be right here in one convenient place.  Even all those aforementioned archived reviews will be linked to from here (the film reviews tab above will be up and running very soon).

As for the future of The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World - I have been rather inactive lately and will probably not be back up to full swing until the middle of January sometime.  Meantime I will begin posting new reviews here, as promised, beginning with The Descendants sometime in the next twenty-four hours or so (unless of course you are reading this particular post later, and therefore are well behind the times, and then the new reviews have already begun appearing).  The middle of January will also bring my much delayed Best of 2011 article, but more on that when the time arrives.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Something in the Slightly Inactive Department.....

In case you haven't noticed (and who the hell knows how many of you out there even bother to pay attention to these cinematic ramblings), I have not exactly been overly active with my postings (aka, those parenthetically aforementioned cinematic ramblings) as of late.  There is a reason for this.  No, it is not laziness, nor is it procrastination, though I do suffer from both of these ailments on occasion. The reason is that I have just been doing other things.  Between organizing our Tenth Anniversary events at Midtown Cinema and general pre-Christmas hoopla, not to mention some of that laziness and/or procrastination you heard speak of, chances to write new pieces for The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World, or at least a mind to, have not come up all too often.  

Of course none of this means I have stopped watching movies.  I am still as obsessive as ever on that end of things - I should hit 550 films watched by the end of the year (at least 120 of these being new releases).  I am still regularly writing reviews over at The Cinematheque, with links to said reviews appearing here as usual - the next one of which will be for Alexander Payne's The Descendants.  I am also continuing my regular gig over at Anomalous Material, writing up my 10 Best lists, with links to such lists posted here as well, as usual - the latest of which will be the 10 Best Animated Feature Films.  I will also be updating the reviews in My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films, as well as participating in a few blogathons later this month.

Actually, it would seem I will be just as busy as I always have been, so I suppose this little side note as it were, is not really all that necessary.  But seriously, when it comes to fresh material for the fodder (except for links to my reviews, which should still be quite regularly appearing), it will be at least a bit slower, a bit more hit and miss around here until after the new year.  Reviews for such films as Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sleeping Beauty, Sherlock Holmes, We Bought A Zoo, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, War Horse, Tintin, Young Adult, Shame, The Skin I Live In, The Artist, and several others will still appear over at The Cinematheque (again, linked to from here), but other than a few odds and ends sprinkled about, that will be about it until I announce my choices for the Best of 2011 sometime in the middle of January, followed closely by my final Oscar nomination predictions, and then a sort of reboot back into the more prolific writing and posting schedule everyone has become accustomed to lo this past year or so.

So, there is no need to panic Earthlings and true believers, if you are indeed out there listening, for I will be seeing you all again, right here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.  Actually, the alarmist that I inherently seem to be, I will not be leaving at all.  Perhaps out in the netherworld more often than here in the perfect reality of cyberspace (he said tongue firmly in cheek) but still here somewhere.  So just bear with the rather low production rate for the next month or so, and all will be right in your world once again.  Now please enjoy this completely random publicity still of a very young Joan Crawford (+ friend?) and stop your worrying.

And don't forget to vote in my poll over in the sidebar, which will still be going strong all through the holiday season.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Cinematheque Reviews: The Muppets

And now let's get things started.  Why don't you get things started.  It's time to get things started.  On the most sensational inspirational celebrational Muppetational.  This is what we call the Muppet Show!   Not since little Carol Anne Freeling spoke the infamous words back in 1986, has the phrase "They're Baaaaack" aroused so much giddy curiosity in those of the X Generation.   Thirty-five years after their TV show made its debut and twelve years after their last foray into the wilds of theatrical release, Kermit, Fozzy, Animal, Beaker, Rowlf, Gonzo and Miss Piggy are indeed baaaack.  Though it may lack a certain something that the original TV show and first movie had, I am still personally pleased as punch.  My review of said new Muppet movie is now up and running over at The Cinematheque.

The Cinematheque Reviews: My Week With Marilyn

Yeah yeah, stop your yammerin'.  So she doesn't look all that much like Marilyn Monroe.  Get over it.  She does a relatively good job in an almost impossible role.  Unfortunately the film as a whole, her performance notwithstanding, is just your typical middle-of-the-road biopic, so even if she were to blow us away with her portrayal (sadly she does well, but not that well) it would not amount to much of anything.  But I should stop my yammerin' as well, since I am merely repeating ideas I breach in my review of My Week With Marilyn.  In other words, you should stop reading this and head over to The Cinematheque where said review is now up and running.

Read my review of My Week With Marilyn at The Cinematheque.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest: #670 Thru #679

Considering I am just a couple of films away from #700, I am a bit behind on writing about the films I am seeing.  So in a frantic bid to catch-up, here is a look at the (almost) latest ten films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  These ten films were seen between Oct. 19 and Nov. 11.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.  To keep the catching-up going, the next batch of ten will be coming soon.

#670 - They Died With Their Boots On (1941)
(#926 on TSPDT)  The great Tasmanian Devil swashbuckler Errol Flynn and the drop dead gorgeous damsel-not-so-in-distress Olivia de Havilland made eight films together - all of them under the Warner Brothers banner.  The first seven were directed by Michael Curtiz.  This one, the duo's final film together, was directed by Raoul Walsh.  A rabidly inaccurate story of General George Armstrong Custer, played by the dashing Flynn of course, They Died With Their Boots On is still a solid typical adventure story of the times.  The chemistry between Flynn and de Havilland is as good here as it is in any of the better films they did together (Captain Blood, Dodge City, The Adventures of Robin Hood) and it is fun to see them together onscreen - even if they never really got along off screen.  Walsh was always a fun, though somewhat uneven director (the curse of working in the studio system), and this may not be him at his best (that would be his gangster films with Bogie in the 1930's) but it is indeed quite fun.

#671 - Lolita (1962)
(#530 on TSPDT) I am finally coming close to being a Kubrick completist (just Spartacus and his debut Fear and Desire are left on the unseen pile) and I am beginning to think that the man never made a bad movie, not even a mediocre or average one.  Lolita, based on Nabokov of course, is no exception to that rule.  Pure Kubrick, with its sharpened image, glaring medium shots, blatant audacity and bravura performances, Lolita is nothing shy of a masterpiece of subversive moviemaking.  Granted, the subject matter - a sexually proactive twelve year old (Sue Lyon) and the older man she seduces (James Mason) - had to be cooled down for Hollywood (the book itself was quite controversial at the time considering how Lo is shown not as a victim, at least not wholly, but as an aggressive pursuer of Humbert Humbert) and Lyon, fifteen at the time, portrayed the character as a high schooler.  But even with these artistic limitations, Kubrick hands us a masterstroke of sexual innuendo.  All this and Peter Sellers, as the tenacious diddler Claire Quilty, handing in the most daring and unique performance of his already daring and unique career.

#672 - Halloween (1978)
(#291 on TSPDT)  There was a time, back in the late 1970's and early 1980's, when John Carpenter was a master genre filmmaker.  The director has lost much of that in more recent days (though his latest, The Ward, is edging toward a return to form) but once upon a time, this fervent cinephile was on top of his game - and Halloween was the top of that top.  Many today would probably look at Carpenter's horror classic (I can call a film just 33 years old a classic, right?) and think it to be full of cliche's and slasher film typicalities - but they would be wrong, dead wrong.  Seriously though, this surprisingly low key, rather bloodless horror movie (as opposed to the bloodletting of Rob Zombie's ugly remake), was the one that started the whole damned genre in the first place.  Sure, perhaps Black Christmas and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came first, but it was Halloween that gave the genre all its tricks and tropes.  It of course helps that Carpenter brought such a vast love and knowledge of cinema and its history to his film.  To read more of my thoughts on the film, (or ramblings - you decide) please read "Some Good Old-Fashioned Halloween Fun w/ Michael Myers, John Carpenter and the Scream  Queen Jamie Lee Curtis."

#673 - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
(#220 on TSPDT)  Gotta admit it - not a fan of this movie.  How it is so high on this list I do not know.  It is even above its much superior genre-mate Halloween.  A travesty if you ask me.  Now the film is not horrible (there are several films on this list that are worse - see the final entry in this post for one example) but it certainly, to speak in the movie's redneck vernacular, ain't no winner either.  Now I can forgive the bad acting, for the low budget almost necessitates such a thing, but really, this film is nothing more than 68 minutes of idiot kids riding around in a van and 14 minutes of a guy wearing a skin mask chasing down and killing these same said idiot kids.  Perhaps my timetable is a bit off (but not by much) but seriously, this film has no heart, no soul, no anything.  It is purely just a sick and twisted precursor to the torture porn of today.  I will give it one thing though - the opening sequence and the climactic chase are both great.  Sadly nothing in between ever matches the intensity of either.

#674 - The Innocents (1961)
(#428 on TSPDT)  Since it was the end of October, I thought I would catch up on all those as-of-yet-unseen horror movies on the list.  The two previous entries can attest to thus (as can a few of those on the last collection of ten) and this one, watched on Halloween night, is yet another.  A psychological thriller playing out like a classic ghost story, Jack Clayton's modern retelling of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw is a moody, restless horror movie.  Starring the fabulous Deborah Kerr as the new governess to a pair of young children at a stately and downright scary country estate, The Innocents has a creeping dread that builds and builds and builds until the final climactic powerhouse of an ending.  Martin Scorsese calls this film one of the eleven scariest movies ever.

#675 - A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958)
(#985 on TSPDT)  I came to Douglas Sirk rather late in life.  I actually just saw my first Sirk earlier this year.  This is now my fourth (my fifth and sixth to come within the next few weeks, he said with insider knowledge as he writes these words a bit on the late side).  It may not be one of Sirk's more famous works of melodrama, but it still beautifully reeks of that Sirkian flair that gives his fifties work such style and panache.  Some say that the work of Sirk is nothing more than tear-jerker drivel, and I suppose to a point, that may be true, but this kind of criticism itself is nothing more than a naive look at a very complicated, and quite subversive filmmaker.  To read more on this film, check out my piece (elsewhere on this very site), entitled, "The Tragedy or War Meets the Tragedy of Love in Douglas Sirk's Melodramatic War Film, A Time to Love and a Time to Die."

#676 - New York, New York (1977)
(#884 on TSPDT)  Scorsese.  De Niro.  Liza.  The music of Kander and Ebb.  In the midst of a string of gritty, urban monster movies (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, King of Comedy), Martin Scorsese handed us this classically styled musical.  Meant to show the great director's love of classic Hollywood cinema, Marty's film (I can call you Marty, right?) is a tribute both to the tradition of the musical genre and to the director's beloved New York itself.  Lavish and bold, with sets designed to have an artificial look to them (another way of sending tribute to old Hollywood), Scorsese's foray away from the ultra-realism of Taxi Driver, was a box office failure.  Certainly not your typical Scorsese picture (the same can be said of the auteur's latest Hugo), the blatant undying love of Hollywood and cinema itself (again, like Hugo), a nostalgic look back at the films that influenced Scorsese as a child growing up in  makes this one of the director's most personal projects.  As for me - I quite enjoyed the whole thing.  I would place this much higher on the list - perhaps in the top 300 or 350 even.  A fun and quite gorgeous piece of moviemaking.  My fifth favourite Scorsese.

#677 - Shoeshine (1946)
(#782 on TSPDT) Though I tend to gravitate toward the more colourful facets of cinema (Powell/Pressburger, Scorsese, the Sirkian melodramas of the 1950's, later Visconti, Kubrick) I will always have a soft spot for the Italian Neorealists.  This particular one, by Vittorio De Sica, (his Bicycle Thieves graces my own personal top twenty) has moments of pure cinematic joy. - both in beauty and in sorrow.  Based around the tragic lives of children (a strong and popular neorealist theme), Shoeshine is a powerful tale of juvenile prison life in the ugly world that was post WWII Italy.   I would personally put this film quite a bit higher than the list does.  Perhaps even in the top 200.  A beautifully hungry looking film, with haunting (sorry for such a cliche'd term, but it is quite accurate) and unforgettable images.  That is what movies are supposed to be, right?

#678 - Heaven Can Wait (1943)
(# on TSPDT)  No, not the 1978 Warren Beatty film.  That film is actually a remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which in turn was an adaptation of the play Heaven Can Wait - also not related to this film, which is based on a play called Birthday. Anyway, I digress.  I have been on a bit of a Gene Tierney kick recently, so I figured I should take the opportunity to watch this Ernst Lubitsch directed work - one of five Tierney's on the list (Tobacco Road still to come).  Considering the typical (well, typical for Lubitsch) kind of films the director made in the pre-code era - sexually charged, sophisticated comedies that showed a gleeful disdain for the staid real world around them; films like Trouble in Paradise, One Hour With You and Design for Living - Lubitsch's later works seem quite staid themselves.  Still showing some of that famed "Lubitsch Touch" that helped make him the toast of the pre-code town in later films like Ninotchka and To Be Or Not To Be, one cannot help but think how much better a film like Heaven Can Wait would have been with the ribald sophistication of the pre-code mentality.

#679 - The Gleaners & I (2000)
(#829 on TSPDT)  Ugh!  God I hated this movie.  It is nothing more than a bunch of people picking wheat and stealing potatoes and digging through garbage, with occasional shots of director Agnes Varda doing something ridiculous and/or pretentious.   "Here I am holding a bundle of wheat.  Here I am holding my camera.  Here I am being a pretentious buffoon."  That last statement may be made-up, but sadly enough the first two are actual quotes from Varda.  Seriously, how ridiculous and boring can a film be?  Especially considering how much I enjoyed some of the director's earlier works.  Again, ugh!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Cinematheque Reviews: Martin Scorsese's Hugo

Best.  3D.  Movie.  Ever.  Is this pure fanboy hyperbole or the real thing?  Obviously I am going to say the latter, though the former does exist inside me at all times, ever ready to pounce.  Seriously though, Martin Scorsese's Hugo is a damn fine motion picture.  In some ways very un-Scorsese (PG rated feel-good family film) but in others (a paean to film preservation) the film is pure Marty indeed.  Just to see Georges Méliès' A Trip to the Moon in 3D (or at least parts of it) is worth the price of admission - even if it is an inflated 3D price.  So yes, Scorsese (and film history) fanboy or not, this is the best 3D movie ever made.  Granted, I am not a big fan of 3D in the first place, so becoming my choice for best 3D is pretty easy really, but still, it is - so there.  I would also boldly proclaim it one of the finest films of 2011.  Whatever the case, you know the drill by now, as my review of said best 3D movie ever is currently up and running over at the review wing of this conglomerate, The Cinematheque.  Go on over and check it out, as all the kids are saying.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Anomalous Material Weekly Feature: 10 Best Classic Hollywood Tough Guys

Here we are again true believers, with what is my eighteenth weekly 10 best feature for the fine folks over at Anomalous Material.  For those of you not in the know, those same said fine folks have given me a (possibly foolish on their behalf) regular weekly gig as feature writer.  It is a series of top ten lists on various cinematic subjects (and anyone who knows me can attest to how perfectly suited I am to such an endeavor - yes I am a  list nerd).  This week's feature takes us back to those halcyon days of classic Hollywood.  A time when men were men and women wanted them.  It was a time of tough guys and fast talkin' dames.  With this list, we are going to focus on those tough guys.  The fast talkin' dames will come in a future list - though there may be one of those fast talkin' dames sneaking their way onto this list.  Check it out, as they say.

Read my feature article, "10 Best Classic Hollywood Tough Guys" at Anomalous Material.

Here is one of the most infamous shots of one of those aforementioned classic Hollywood tough guys.  One story tells of how Mae Clark's ex-husband would go to show after show of The Public Enemy, and laugh hysterically every time Cagney shoves the grapefruit in Clark's kisser.  The story may be somewhat apocryphal, but it is still a fun story anyway.

Criterion Critiques w/ Alex DeLarge

What follows is part of a regular series of reviews on the always wonderful, and quite indispensable Criterion Collection, written by our special guest reviewer Alex DeLarge of the Korova Theatre.

12 ANGRY MEN (Sidney Lumet, 1957)
Released on Criterion Blu-ray 11/22/2011; Spine #591

Sidney Lumet makes a stunning directorial debut with this gritty, sweaty, emotionally charged drama about 12 jurors deciding the fate of an eighteen year old defendant charged with 1st degree murder. They carry the legal burden of deciding guilt or innocence but also understand a conviction would surely lead to the death sentence.

An exceptional cast of now legendary actors fall into character (we never even know their names, only juror number) and don’t miss a beat of dialogue or a camera cue…this film is nearly perfect in its direction. Most of the film takes place in the cramped juror’s quarters, 12 men held prisoner by their own passions and corrupt moralities. Lumet is able to focus his camera into these tight spaces to create immediacy and intimacy, to feel their intellectual and emotional turmoil as they debate the facts and presentation of the trial. This important duty is influenced by their deep-rooted prejudices and convictions, while Henry Fonda advocates for Justice and Reason and for all to consider not only evidence presented at trial…but their own set of facts!

I work in the local District Attorney’s Office and have experience in many trials including homicide cases so consider this: a jury is only supposed to consider evidence (both circumstantial and direct) and veracity of testimony presented at trial, not their own research and sympathies. Essentially, this group of disparate and desperate men voted for a jury nullification. Did they violate the Rule of Law and let a guilty man walk? Think about it.

Final Grade: (A+)


About Alex: "To state things plainly is the function of journalism; Alex writes fugitive reviews, allusive, symbolic, full of imagery and allegory, and by leaving things out, he allows the reader the privilege of creating along with him." Alex can be found hidden deep within the dark confines of his home theatre watching films, organizing his blu-ray and dvd collection and updating his blogs. Please visit the Korova Theatre and Hammer & Thongs to see what’s on his mind.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Woody & Me: Through the Years

The following is my contribution to The LAMBs in the Director's Chair #22: Woody Allen.

The first Woody Allen film I remember seeing was 1973's Sleeper.  It would have been around 1978 or 79 that I saw it on TV.  I would have been just eleven or twelve at the time, so needless to say I did not get many of the sexual or political jokes.  The Orgasmatron went right over my head (kids were more naive in those days) but I do remember liking the giant chicken.  I have of course gone back and rewatched the film, on several occasions, and now consider it to be one of Woody's best and funniest films.  

My real attraction to the films of Allen Stewart Konigsberg (the name with which he was born back in 1935 Brooklyn) came around 1984 with the purchase of my very first VCR. (remember those?)  I was seventeen and this VCR was the first major purchase I ever made with my own hard-earned money.  I also got myself a membership at a local video store called Movie Merchants and began renting movies as if I were a young man with a great obsession.  Of course this was very true, as this was the time I began to evolve into the obsessive cinephile I am today.  This was to be the birth of my lifelong desire for everything cinema.  The beginning of my obsession.  But I digress.

Among the multitudes of titles (on video cassette long before the advent of DVD and Bluray!) that I rented those first few months of membership, were several Woody Allen films.   The first among these, which should come as no surprise, was Annie Hall.  Considered the director's finest work (it makes my top twenty favourite films of all-time), and a departure from his earlier slapstick comedies, Annie Hall is what a romantic comedy should be.  Both edgy and wry, the film stars Woody as Alvy Singer, a typically neurotic writer, and Diane Keaton as his love interest, the titled gal herself, Annie Hall.  The couple had been a couple offscreen as well (they had split up several years before Annie Hall was made, and remain friends to this day) and the character is actually named after Keaton, who had been born Diane "Annie" Hall.

The greatness behind the film, other than the adorable-as-hell performance from Ms. Keaton, is the direction of Mr. Allen himself.  Influenced by Ingmar Bergman as much as Groucho Marx and Charlie Chaplin, Allen made his film as both comedy and drama.  Tossing in multiple styles, including inner monologue subtitles, breaking the fourth wall, introducing insane asides, flashbacks, split-screens and even an animated segment, Allen's Annie Hall, winner of the Best Picture Oscar in 1977 (and Best Director, Screenplay and Actress for Keaton), is what one could and should call a true masterpiece of cinema.  This was also the time period where I first saw Love and Death (influenced by Russian literature), A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (Shakesperean comedy as Bergman remake), Zelig (an early mockumentary), Broadway Danny Rose (showing Allen's comedic upbringing) and Bananas (an early Chaplinesque slapstick).

The three Woody Allen films I saw in this initial flurry of filmwatching that most thrilled me though (aside from the aforementioned Annie Hall) were his ode to Bergman, the serious-minded drama Interiors, his take on Fellini's 8 1/2, Stardust Memories (a film that often gets forgotten when talking of Allen's quite prolific oeuvre) and the Woodman's homage to the city he loves so much, Manhattan.  Using the music of Gershwin (how can you not love a Woody Allen soundtrack!?) and the most stunning of black and white cinematography by Gordon Willis, Allen's Manhattan makes the city itself the main character of his movie.  A city that would play the most important part in many a Woody Allen motion picture, becomes the most important aspect of Manhattan.  The following year I would rent and watch 1985's Purple Rose of Cairo.  One of Allen's most enjoyable films, and one that has grown on me more and more with each successive viewing. 

It was 1986 that Woody and I took our cinematic relationship to a whole other level.  Up until then, I had only seen Woody on the small screen, but that year, my first year out of high school, we went big.  Big screen that is.  Hannah and Her Sisters (my third favourite Woody) would be my first Allen film seen in an actual cinema.  Seen with my mom, aunt and uncle, at an AMC theater in town, the film was a blast, as they say.  The rest of the fam wasn't all that thrilled by it (they never have been big fans of the Woodman), but I quite enjoyed my first theatrical Woody Allen experience.  My cherry popping if you want to keep going with the cine-sexual relationship angle.

The following year would bring my second theatrical rendezvous with the Woodman (how's that for innuendo?).  It would be Radio Days, and unlike the majority of Allen's films, the director would not appear on camera in this one, instead acting as narrator.   Probably the most nostalgic of Allen's films, Radio Days is an ode to that romantic era of the director's childhood.   A pair of dramatic works, September in 1987 and Another Woman in 1988, would follow Radio Days.  These too would be sans Woody the actor.  These would also be two films I would not see till much later (September in the late 1990's and Another Woman for the first time just earlier this year).  Cut now to early 1989.  It has been three years since Woody starred in one of his films.  But this would soon end - in spades. 

First would come the omnibus film New York Stories.  A three part venture directed by Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Allen.  Scorsese's section, starring Nick Nolte as a crazed artist, is my favourite part of the film, and Coppola's part is a sentimental look at childhood in the limelight (obviously based on his daughter Sofia), but Woody's is of course the funniest.  An absurdist look at the Oedipal complex, sprightly called Oedipus Wrecks, it is the story of a man with an overbearing mother.  One day, during a magic act (Woody does love his magic), the mother vanishes, and Woody's smothered son feels free at last.  Alas, the mother comes back as a giant floating head who continues to lovingly torment her son.  Great Woody, but still just a short film.  Later that same year would bring his real (semi)comeback.

Crimes and Misdemeanors is an intriguing blend of the dramatic and the comedic.  Loosely based  on  Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, Allen takes the idea of morality in murder and puts it into a very Allenesque realm.  The director would come back to these themes fifteen years later in Match Point.  After making the mostly forgotten Alice in 1990 (one of the few Allen films I have not seen), playing actor only opposite Bette Midler in Paul Mazursky's Scenes From a Mall, and directing the German Expressionist homage, Shadows and Fog (a film I would not catch on video until a few years later), the shit sort of hit the fan.  Not to play into the whole tabloid aspect of the Woody/Mia/Soon Yi relationship, it was in 1992 that the story hit the newsstands, and would taint Allen's career to this day.  I personally do not think Allen did anything illegal (immoral is a different story, but since Woody and Soon-Yi are still together today, nineteen years later...) but whether he did or not, the scandal still hangs heavy, though to a lesser degree now than then.

The film that came out in the midst of all this he said/she said nonsense was Husbands and Wives.  It would be Mia Farrow's final film with her long time lover.  It would also be Woody Allen's last truly great film for nearly two decades.  After Husbands and Wives Allen would make Manhattan Murder Mystery.  The film would star his former paramour Diane Keaton.   After this would come a succession of enjoyable but not great films.  Bullets Over Broadway in 1994, Mighty Aphrodite in 1995, Everyone Says I Love You (a musical!) in 1996, Deconstructing Harry in 1997, Celebrity in 1998 and Sweet and Lowdown in 1999.  Granted, these may not be Allen's golden age films, but they are still all quite good.  At the turn of the millennium, this would no longer be true.

In 2000 came Small Time Crooks.  A somewhat fun comedy but definitely lesser Woody Allen.  But still, the worst was yet to come.  The following year would bring the world The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.  This is possibly the director's creative low point.  Though, with followups such as Hollywood Ending, Anything Else and Melinda and Melinda, perhaps it is not.  Still though, this five year period is not an era that will be remembered fondly in future studies of the filmmaker's career.  I personally would place Anything Else at the bottom of any Woody Allen list.   But this lull would not last forever.  In 2005, Woody would change in his usual New York skyline for one of Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus.  Setting his new film in London, Match Point played as not only a departure for the Manhattan-loving auteur, but also a comeback of sorts.  Critically acclaimed for the first time this millennium, Allen's new film was a welcome return to form for the director - even if it was a strange new form.  It was also the film that garnered Woody his sixteenth Screenplay Oscar nomination, untying him with Billy Wilder and giving him the record for the most nominations in the category.

Sadly though, this comeback would hit a glitch the following year when the rather horrendous Scoop was released.  Giving Anything Else a run for its money as the worst Woody Allen, Scoop was Allen's second film with his young new muse, Scarlett Johansson.  At least now the 71 year old old would be  playing the father figure instead of the romantic lead.  But luckily this glitch was as short-lived as the comeback before it, for, after the almost completely forgotten Cassandra's Dream (the other Woody I have never seen), 2008 would bring Allen's best film in over a decade, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  Again starring the vapid Ms. Johansson, VCM would now take the traveling Allen from France to Spain.  The film would win Penelope Cruz a Best Supporting Actress Oscar - a thing that has happened to several of Allen's ladies-in-waiting.  

Next would bring another departure for Allen.  Filming a screenplay that he had written back in 1976, and originally slated to star Zero Mostel, Whatever Works, now starring Larry David, was perhaps a failure in many people's eyes, but I am one of those select few who rather enjoyed this toss-off throwback to Woody's earlier days.   Next came You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, but it is rather a mediocre work and I really have nothing much to say about it, for better or for worse.  But Woody's next film would not be so mediocre.  2011 has brought us the director's finest work since the 1990's - Midnight in Paris.  Back to the City of Lights, this is easily one of the best films of the year - it could even give Woody his second Best Director Oscar.  2012 will bring us a new film, tentatively titled Nero Fiddled, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Penelope Cruz, Ellen Page, Alec Baldwin, Greta Gerwig, Roberto Begnini and Allen himself.  But that is another story for another day.

So here ends the story of my life and love affair with Woody Allen.  Well, at least here it ends until the aforementioned Nero Fiddled hits theaters next year.  I hope you had a good time reminiscing about my torrid cinematic affair with the Woodman.    

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My 100 Favourite Films (Today)

The fine folks over at Anomalous Material, a place where I have a regular gig coming up with various 10 Best lists, have asked their stable of film writers to come up with their choices for the best and/or their favourite films.  The results, including a master list as well as everyone's individual lists, will be out sometime in early 2012.  We were told that it could be  top 10, a top 25, a top 50, a top 100 or whatever.  I of course, went with the top 100 - choosing to name my favourites, as opposed to what are supposed to be the best (the latter being an unwinnable argument maker, the former being more personal and therefore less arguable).  I am not sure how set this list is (except for the top 14 or so), and therefore it could change tomorrow or the next day or the day after that (I am not easily satisfied).  I also plan on making another top 100 after I finish My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films, which again will probably bring some as-of-yet-unseen films into the fold and knock some of these out, but right here and right now, these are my picks for the top 100.  So, without further ado, here are my 100 Favourite Films.

1. The Red Shoes (Powell/Pressburger, 48)
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 68)
3. The Good the Bad and the Ugly (Leone, 66)
4. Psycho (Hitchcock, 60)
5. Citizen Kane (Welles, 41)
6. Sunrise (Murnau, 27)
7. The Night of the Hunter (Laughton, 55)
8. Singin' in the Rain (Kelly/Donan, 52)
9. Bonnie and Clyde (Penn, 67)
10. Breathless (Godard, 60)
11. Touch of Evil (Welles, 58)
12. The Rules of the Game (Renoir, 39)
13. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 48)
14. The Searchers (Ford, 56)
15. Casablanca (Curtiz, 42)
16. City Lights (Chaplin, 31)
17. Annie Hall (Allen, 77)
18. Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 76)
19. Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 54)
20. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 58)
21. The Wizard of Oz (Fleming, 39)
22. King Kong (Cooper/Schoedsack, 33)
23. Star Wars (Lucas, 77)
24. Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 94)
25. M. Hulot's Holiday (Tati, 53)
26. The Seventh Seal (Bergman, 57)
27. Goodfellas (Scorsese, 90)
28. Johnny Guitar (Ray, 54)
29. Chinatown (Polanski, 74)
30. High Noon (Zinnemann, 52)
31. The General (Keaton/Bruckman, 26)
32. Brazil (Gilliam, 85)
33. Freaks (Browning, 32)
34. The Third Man (Reed, 49)
35. Meet Me in St. Louis (Minnelli, 44)
36. Blade Runner (Scott, 82)
37. Some Like It Hot (Wilder, 59)
38. The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp (Powell/Pressburger, 43)
39. Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich, 55)
40. 400 Blows (Truffaut, 59)
41. Rio Bravo (Hawks, 59)
42. House (Obayashi, 77)
43. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 20)
44. His Girl Friday (Hawks, 40)
45. The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 25)
46. Double Indemnity (Wilder, 44)
47. The Blue Angel (Von Sternberg, 30)
48. A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, 71)
49. Make Way For Tomorrow (McCarey, 37)
50. Sunset Blvd. (Wilder, 50)
51. Rear Window (Hitchcock, 54)
52. Throne of Blood (Kurosawa, 57)
53. The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pasolini, 64)
54. The Last Laugh (Murnau, 24)
55. The Godfather Pts I & II (Coppola, 72/74)
56. The Kid (Chaplin, 21)
57. The Wild Bunch (Peckinpah, 69)
58. A Canterbury Tale (Powell/Pressburger, 44)
59. La Dolce Vita (Fellini, 60)
60. Viridiana (Bunuel, 61)
61. Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, 09)
62. Written on the Wind (Sirk, 56)
63. Cairo Station (Chahine, 58)
64. L'Avventura (Antonioni, 60)
65. On The Waterfront (Kazan, 54)
66. Mulholland Dr. (Lynch, 01)
67. Pather Panchali (Ray, 55)
68. Pickup on South Street (Fuller, 53)
69. Rififi (Dassin, 55)
70. Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 68)
71. Rebel Without A Cause (Ray, 55)
72. The Big Sleep (Hawks, 46)
73. Voyage in Italy (Rossellini, 54)
74. Black Narcissus (Powell/Pressburger, 47)
75. Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 57)
76. The River Fuefuki (Kinoshita, 60)
77. Au hasard Balthazar (Bresson, 66)
78. Manhattan (Allen, 79)
79. Beauty and the Beast (Cocteau, 46)
80. Raging Bull (Scorsese, 80)
81. Sweet Smell of Success (Mackendrick, 57)
82. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Demy, 64)
83. Duck Soup (McCarey, 33)
84. The Wages of Fear (Clouzot, 53)
85. M (Lang, 31)
86. 8 1/2 (Fellini, 63)
87. In the Mood For Love (Wong, 00)
88. La Strada (Fellini, 54)
89. Nashville (Altman, 75)
90. Grand Illusion (Renoir, 37)
91. Week-End (Godard, 67)
92. Pickpocket (Bresson, 59)
93. Celine and Julie Go Boating (Rivette, 74)
94. Dazed and Confused (Linklater, 93)
95. Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, 25)
96. Senso (Visconti, 54)
97. Metropolis (Lang, 27)
98. The Phantom Carriage (Sjostrom, 21)
99. The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Fassbinder, 72)
100. Vanishing Point (Sarafian, 71)