Monday, January 09, 2006

End of 2005 Wrap-Up

Top Movies of the Year

1. Head-On - I saw this movie Feb. 5 and it was number one when i walked out of the theatre. Nothing displaced it all year. It's brilliant and exciting and chaotic and surprising. It's basically what people should be going to the movies for. To be surprised and to see something that is dangerous. Something that'll scare you just a bit. Not in a horror sense, but in a life sense.

2. Munich - I am harsh on The Beard, but I will always be the first to admit when I see greatness. And this is a truly Great movie. All the tools that he uses to manipulate emotion are put to intelligent use. This is s movie made by the man who directed The Sugarland Express.

3. Cache - It always warms my heard to put a French art film on the list and especially so high up. Any other year this would have been number one. The most intellectual and thought-provoking film of the year.

4. Oldboy - Wow. What a movie.

5. A History of Violence - I don't really feel like rebutting anyone at this time, but you fall for the movie or you don't. If you don't, well, I'm sorry. If you do, welcome to the cool kids' table haha.

6. Syriana/The Constant Gardner - I specifically said this wasn't a top 10 list cause i knew i was gonna double up. How happy am I that twisty, smart, international spy films are back being great again? I am very happy, that's how happy! A big long New Yorker piece?!?!? Yes! I'm in -- that's why I have a subscription and it doesn't even have George Clooney in it every week. Ralph Fiennes wandering around Africa and Bill Nighy being an evil bastard? I'm sold.

7. The 40 Year Old Virgin/The Wedding Crashers - R-rated comedies that you can keep going back to and laughing over and over at. There is no greater gift in cinema than repeated laughter.

8. The Squid and the Whale - beautiful, touching movie with great performances.

9. Match Point - Woody's return to form!! Just kidding. Some people make bad movies, but then they make good movies and then they make bad movies and then they make good movies. It happens in a long career. This happens to be a really enjoyable film. Even if it sucked, i would still be in the theater opening day for his next one.

10. The Beat That My Heart Skipped - Finally someone (of course a Frenchman) came up with the idea of turning James Toback's great film ideas into films that are worth watching.

Last but not least

11. Layer Cake - has there been a more consistently fantastic genre than the British Gangster film over the last 25 years? And usually first or second films by their directors. Matthew Vaughn's first is no exception.


Best Performances

Actor - Jeff Daniels "The Squid and the Whale"
Actress - Sibel Kekilli "Head-On"
Supporting Actor - Oliver Platt "The Ice Harvest"
Supporting Actress - Amy Adams

Director - The Beard
Script - Steven Gaghan
Cinematography - Cesar Charlone "The Constant Gardener"

Friday, October 07, 2005

Thanks to David Edelstein of Slate.com

There is no contesting that it's a self-congratulatory hagiography of Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and that Clooney and his co-screenwriter, Grant Heslov, are highly selective in how they portray Murrow's fight to broadcast a damning assessment of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his overweening anti-Communist crusade on the timorous CBS network. But it's also a passionate and rousing piece of filmmaking—a civics lesson with the punch of a good melodrama.

Although most of Good Night, and Good Luck is set in the CBS studios, it's anything but static. Clooney and his cinematographer, Robert Elswit, use high-contrast black-and-white to evoke both the era in TV and the starkness of the forces in play. The movie never settles into one of those loitering period pictorials. It feels electrified; it has the chain-smoking jitteriness of its protagonist. Cigarettes, by the way, are everywhere, and the way the white smoke curls against the deep blacks is both beautiful and ominous: You don't need to be told that Murrow perished from lung cancer.

Jack is obviously correct that Murrow did not lead the charge against McCarthy. But since when does TV news ever lead charges? With the exception of such programs as Frontline (and, at the opposite extreme, administration mouthpieces like Fox News), the medium generally lags behind print in afflicting the powerful, constricted as it is by the interests of its sponsors (Murrow's principal underwriter, Alcoa, looms large in this movie) and the celebrity status of its anchor people. (They are fat targets, indeed: See "Rather, Dan." A weighty subplot here revolves around the disintegrating psyche of Ray Wise's local anchor Don Hollenbeck, who finds himself regularly pilloried as a pinko by a powerful tabloid columnist.)

More important, the larger battle for Murrow and Friendly in Good Night, and Good Luck is with the network itself. CBS employees have been ordered—on pain of termination—to sign loyalty oaths to the United States; and a gutless midlevel executive (Jeff Daniels, here fatted by complacency) all but begs Murrow to choose another target—preferably, heh-heh, Joe Kennedy. He threatens Murrow with the worst fate imaginable for a journalist with pretensions: more puffy celebrity interviews. (The one shown here, from Murrow's Person to Person, is with a coyly closeted Liberace.) In a big oaken office reeking of power, chairman William Paley (a wittily grave Frank Langella) argues that McCarthy's going to self-destruct anyway and hints that such a broadcast could imperil the network's standing and the careers of its employees. (See "Rather, Dan.")

Not all of Good Night, and Good Luck clicks. I found the moody interludes between acts—smoky jazz numbers, often ironic in context, sung by Diana Reeves—a mite self-conscious. The subplot featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson as secretly married CBS employees (such alliances were against the network's rules) seems shoehorned in. As much as I like Strathairn's crisply understated performance, saints don't do much for me. And I could have done with at least the suggestion that some rational people at the time believed Soviet Communism was a threat and that there might have been spies in the State Department.

But Clooney's (and Murrow's) straightforward message—the movie's raison d'etre—that "we should not confuse dissent with disloyalty" feels especially vital. It wasn't too long ago that Andrew Sullivan was labeling writers who raised questions about the evidence for an invasion of Iraq "fifth columnists" for the enemy. (Although Sullivan has furiously backpedaled on the war, he has not, to my knowledge, recanted that characterization.) Bill O'Reilly declared such critics "Enemies of the State." (The words appeared in bold letters on the screen.) And Ann Coulter topped the best-seller lists with her assertion that most Democrats are guilty of "treason"—which, the last I heard, is punishable by death. (The unhinged Coulter wished actual fiery destruction on staffers at the New York Times—odd timing, given that the faux First Amendment martyr Judith Miller was well into her neocon campaign of disinformation.)

None of those writers or TV personalities has the power to imprison, thank heaven. But, like McCarthy, they are happy to resort to the ultimate smear, the political "smart-bomb." That's why the stand of such a middle-of-the-road figure as Murrow mattered then and, in Good Night, and Good Luck, matters now. ...

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Top 20 Movies for Ben

I listed them in no particular order.

Top 20 Here

Monday, August 22, 2005

For Joshua

From the Paris Review Archived Interviews:

Interviewer
"Well, Faulkner once said that nothing can injure a man's writing if he's a first rate writer."

Norman Mailer
"Faulkner said more asinine things than any other major American writer. I can't remember a single interesting remark Faulkner ever made."

Monday, August 08, 2005

Happy Monday

Friday, August 05, 2005

For Tim

via The Sports Guy:

"The question remains: Why waive a solid player with a ridiculous contract to save a few bucks when you could simply trade that ridiculous contract to the Knicks? "

So true.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Elevator to the Gallows

Pacing problems aside, it is one of the best films about the nature of film I've ever seen.