Cinema Psycho

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Archive for February, 2008

Oscars 2008; Invasion of the Foreigners (Lou Dobbs Must Be Pissed)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on February 9, 2008

Well, another Oscar show has come and gone. Now that a few days have passed and the world has begun to recover from its earth-shattering impact (I’m being facetious here obviously), it’s time to take a look at the wreckage and see what’s left over.

I have to say, overall, I thought it was pretty good.

But then again, it’s the Oscars. I don’t know what people are expecting. Every year is going to be pretty much the same. It’s going to run long, the musical numbers are mostly going to suck, and the montages are going to be endless and pointless. And we’re all going to over-analyze it later. That’s part of the fun. At least it’s my idea of fun – apparently I’m in the minority on that one. There’s just something about an annual televised train wreck that fascinates me.

As far as the awards themselves go, I thought they all went to pretty deserving people and films this year. I predicted No Country for Old Men would take Picture and Director, that Daniel Day-Lewis would drink everyone else’s milkshakes and that Javier Bardem would take an air hose to the other nominees. Rightly so in each case. But then, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to guess those winners. It was the Coens’ year, and anyone who didn’t see Day-Lewis and Bardem walking away with those prizes needs a brain scan. It was the Actresses that threw me this year – I honestly did not see Marion Cotillard and Tilda Swinton actually winning their categories. Then again, I haven’t seen either of their films, but I thought Amy Ryan was a shoo-in for Supporting Actress (she single-handedly elevated Gone Baby Gone from a decent flick to a really good one). I was thinking, you know, Marisa Tomei, Mira Sorvino, etc. The Academy loves to honor a scene-stealing newcomer in that category. And I called Julie Christie for Actress. I don’t know exactly what I was thinking at the time, except that Christie would obviously have the prestigious old-fogey vote. Seems like a bad call now, but I honestly didn’t see them giving it to the French chick. Little did I know.

I pretty much nailed the screenplay categories as well, guessing that the Academy would give Juno the consolation prize (come on, how can you not vote for an ex-stripper?), and that the Coens would easily take Adapted. Too bad those Actresses knocked me out of the pool, right? I absolutely love the idea of The Golden Compass winning an Oscar – take that, Christian right! Love that Sweeney Todd and The Bourne Ultimatum picked up some trophies as well. For once, the Best Song actually was exactly that. There’s a pun somewhere in that sentence, but it wasn’t intentional, I assure you.

So I really can’t complain too much about the awards. I can’t think of one winner that I thought was an absolute travesty, which is pretty rare. There were a few surprises, sure, but nothing that provoked me to jump out of my chair and yell, “how the fuck did that douchebag/piece of shit win?” Which means either one of two things: 1) the Academy’s taste is getting better; or 2) my personal taste is getting better. Either one is good news. At least they didn’t give anything to fucking 300. That would have pissed me off.

In regards to the show itself, I actually thought it could have been a lot worse. Jon Stewart was once again a funny and relevant host. I think the writers let him down at times (out of practice, are we?) but he handled himself well. Bringing Marketa Inglova back on the stage to deliver her speech after she’d been unceremoniously played off was a smart and classy move. You have to give him respect for that alone. That’s one of the Academy’s most odious practices – let the winners talk, for crying out loud! – and it was very cool to see the show’s host say, “you know what, that was bullshit. I’m going to correct that”. Who knows, pulling that stunt might cost him next year’s gig, but it was worth it. Good job, Jon!

Of course there were the ridiculous montages, the dull “here’s how we count the votes” segment, the interminable honoring of an old geezer (albeit a deserving one), all of which suck up time a vacuum cleaner. I think we could do without most of these. Does anybody really care how the votes are counted? We’re watching to see the results of this process. That’s what we care about. No one gives a damn about the accounting firm of Price-Waterhouse. The montages are mainly time fillers for a show that really doesn’t need to waste time. Cut them. Better yet, don’t put them in in the first place! Of course industry veterans should be honored – but it might help if you let the audience in on who these guys are. I guarantee you that most film fans, even the hardest of the hardcore, have no idea who Robert Boyle is or what films he worked on. It wasn’t until he mentioned working with Hitchcock that I even had any recognition of who he was and what he’d done. “Oh yeah, that guy” Fill us in, would you please?

The show only ran 18 minutes long this year, which isn’t that bad. But why not cut some of the extraneous bullshit? I was really glad they cut the redundant Best Picture segments, in which some famous actor or actress “introduces” us to a film that most people who are watching this show already know about. You know, “Atonement is a film about personal responsibility, blah blah blah…” We know! Not only did I not miss these segments, I didn’t even realize they were gone until someone mentioned it the next day. That’s how important they were to the overall flow of the show every year. Seriously, this is supposed to be an awards show, not an old vaudeville variety revue. Trim the fat.

Of course, I maintain that fewer people would care so much about the length of the show if they would start at 8:00. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – why do we need that lousy, lame-ass half-hour fashion show? What purpose does it serve? If anyone’s tuning in to see what the celebrities are wearing, they’re going to switch channels at 8:30. Let ‘em watch the rest of the show and get their fashion tips elsewhere. Save that nonsense for the E! channel. I sort of understand the Baba Wawa special being there for tradition’s sake (though I can’t imagine why it became a tradition in the first place), but there really is no reason for this red-carpet gawkery. Although it was entertaining seeing Regis Philbin mispronounce Javier Bardem’s name as “Xavier” (how cute – he thinks Bardem’s in the X-Men), that kind of misstep isn’t enough to justify stalling the show that much longer. Here’s the thing; people have to get up and go to work in the morning. If you schedule the show from 8 to 11 pm, if the show runs long, it might end at 11:15, maybe 11:30. That’s not so horrible. But you schedule it from 8:30 to 11:30, and it runs long, then you’re talking 11:45, 12 midnight, sometimes 12:15 or even 12:30 on a really bad year. Naturally, that’s going to piss people off. They want to go to bed, but they have to sit through all this extraneous crap just to find out what won Best Picture. That’s why you can do pretty much any show you want, as long as you start at 8. Get the ball rolling, give away some awards right off the bat. Get rid of all the monkey business, then you have time to let the winners give their speeches (it’s their night, after all) and still make room for the other important stuff.

I don’t really know why we need a performance of each of the 5 Best Song nominees anyway. Since the nominees are generally crap anyway, the only purpose it serves is to annoy people and make them even more impatient to get to the awards. Wouldn’t a short clip of each song do just as well? We only see clips of the films and performances, they’re not showing us the entire films before each category. After one verse, maybe one chorus, we get the idea. Although Amy Adams was awfully adorable (as always), some backup dancers on stage (or something, anything) might have helped her out. And whoever dressed Kristin Chenoweth did her a serious wrong by making it look like she has no cleavage whatsoever. Anyone’s who seen her on Pushing Daisies knows that ain’t the case. Did they put her in a corset? Were they afraid of offending people, or just that her boobs might fly out during the performance? At least that might have livened the show up a bit.

The worst piece of the night was, as always, the “death list”. Said it before, saying it again: require the audience to hold their applause until the end. Letting an annual obituary line-up turn into a popularity contest is sick and repulsive, and it effectively obliterates the accomplishments of a lot of talented people who are seen as “less important” because they weren’t famous movie stars. That’s fucked up. And where was the great Roy Scheider? Apparently he wasn’t included because he died after the Jan. 31 cutoff date. And why the fucking hell is there a cutoff date in the first place? They couldn’t have cut in a couple of shots of the guy at the end? Give me a break. And they apparently left out Brad Renfro due to “time considerations” with the excuse that “we can’t include everybody”. Well gee, what exactly is the point then? Not to mention all the screenwriters and even directors who weren’t on the list, because frankly they’re too numerous to list here. Christ, I’m so glad I don’t work in Hollywood.

You know, every year the ratings for the Oscars go down a little bit more, and every year I read articles and comments from people on how to rectify that situation. The honest truth is, I don’t think they can. And I’m not sure they should. The consensus seems to be that the Academy should nominate more “popular” films as a way of bringing in the mainstreamers who typically ignore the Oscars. I really can’t disagree with that statement more vehemently. The whole point of the show is to honor and celebrate the best films and film work of the year. If mainstream moviegoers ignore the best films… quite honestly, fuck them. Their loss. Let’s be honest here: the kind of people for whom Transformers was the greatest achievement in film this year are never going to care about the Oscars. Never have, never will. Sadly, most people don’t really care about the best; they only care about the most popular. Therefore a show honoring the best of film, or of anything, will never interest them. If you don’t care, you don’t care. No amount of pandering to them will make them care. And you can’t explain to them why they should care, because they will never get it. If quality is not important to you on any level, then any award honoring quality and achievement and craft will never garner your interest. That is why they don’t watch. It’s not because the awards show itself is not entertaining or appealing enough; it’s not because of a liberal Hollywood host; and it’s not because of length or lack of popular films. It’s because they really, truly, in their heart of hearts, just deep down don’t fucking give a shit.

You know when people used to give a shit? Back when there were only three channels to choose from and the Academy Awards was the only thing on that night. That’s when it was a big deal. Now they have their DVDs and their Nintendo Wiis and 150 channels, at least half of which are running Steven Seagal movies during the awards. They have other options. You see, this is yet another case where certain people have selective memories, where everything mattered more in the past and the current state of things are a clear sign of the apocalypse. In truth, there have always been people who cared about the Oscars, and there have always been people who haven’t. A lot of people are under the impression that the Oscars are the Gay Awards (no, that’s the Tonys) and that no one else watches. Still others believe that Hollywood is the modern day Gomorrah and that anyone who watches the Oscars will burn in the fiery pits of Hell. These are the extremes of course, but they’re worth noting because, well, that’s the way some people actually think. I happen to know a few people who work in Hollywood, and they’re not participating in any more orgies and coke binges than I am, so whatever.

It’s the idea that “people used to care, and now they don’t” that kinda sticks in my craw. In truth, the large majority of people have never really cared about the Oscars. It means nothing to them, just like the Super Bowl means nothing to me. They have their little party, and I’ve got mine. But it’s selective memory to think that there was once a time when It All Mattered So Much. The years in which “popular films” like Titanic and Return of the King dominated were aberrations. And by popular, I don’t just mean movies made by Mainstream Hollywood; I mean movies Seen by Regular People Across the Nation. I honestly can’t remember a time when the majority of nominees were blockbuster hits. If there was such a time, it was obviously before I was born. I don’t recall films like Gandhi, Chariots of Fire, A Passage to India, A Room With a View or Frances lighting small-town audiences on fire when I was a kid. Certainly not the way Jaws, Star Wars, E. T. and even Porky’s did. None of my friends or relatives or even passing strangers were running right out to see Out of Africa or The Color Purple. Regular people didn’t give a shit about those movies then, just like they don’t care about No Country, There Will Be Blood or Atonement now. And I know plenty of people who still haven’t seen them, nor have they seen Oscar winners and nominees since like The Crying Game, The Remains of the Day, Fargo, Midnight Cowboy, The Conversation, Raging Bull, Annie Hall, Blue Velvet… Needless to say, the list goes on and on. Hell, I know people who have never seen The Godfather, as much as that blows my mind. They probably will never, ever see any of those films in their lifetimes. And they seem perfectly content and happy to live without them. They’re happy with their Adam Sandler and Martin Lawrence movies, and they apparently don’t need anything more substantial. Are they wrong? Well… yeah. Obviously.

But what are you gonna do? Refashion the Oscars for them? Hey, it would be great if the best films of any given year came straight from Mainstream Hollywood and were all released in 3,000 theaters nationwide and were seen by everyone. But generally, that’s really not the way it works. The studios have traded the awards to their “indie divisions” – Paramount Vantage, Sony Classics, Fox Searchlight, Warner Independent, etc. They’re the ones concentrating on making Great Films, for the most part. The majors are only interested in making films that make money, and if they happen to be watchable too, that’s a bonus. The indie divisions don’t have the kind of marketing money that their big siblings do, and generally the only way to get their films into theaters nationwide and have people actually go see them is… you guessed it, Oscar buzz. The more buzz, the better the chances of seeing it at a theater near you. This occasionally results in a runaway hit, such as Juno. But more often, these films top out at about $30-40 million, and that’s doing really well. During Oscar season, when the race is on. And so it goes that the best films are often the least seen. That’s just the way the system works. Now, the indie films that don’t get any Oscar buzz or nominations, well… generally fewer people go see them, which leads to them not getting wider releases, which of course leads to fewer people ever seeing them in theaters. Hell, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly got a Best Director nom, and there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of it playing on a screen anywhere near where I live. See you on DVD.

I would have loved to see the Academy give some props to Zodiac or American Gangster (beyond Ruby Dee), both major-studio films that made my Top 10. But I wonder, did their respective studios even bother to campaign much for them? I doubt it. Both films had already come and gone at the boxoffice by the time Oscar season started, so there’s really no percentage for them if they did get some major noms. Might sell a few more DVDs, but probably not that many. The Oscars are really beneficial to the smaller films, the ones that the mainstreamers don’t want to see and probably would never have heard of otherwise. They get the diehard film fans all riled up to see them (of course, we all want to see the new Coen Bros. and Paul Thomas Anderson films anyway), and they pique the curiosity of people for whom Oscar is the “stamp of approval”, meaning something they probably would never see otherwise is worth taking a chance on. Movies like Zodiac and Gangster have already had their chance to make an impact, the diehards have most likely seen them already (and are planning on buy them on disc) and the mainstreamers have mostly already passed on them once. A re-release wouldn’t garner that much more coin. Hence no point in pushing for nominations. It’s sad but true. It makes more sense for Paramount to invest in pushing their smaller Vantage movies (Country and Blood) than Zodiac, and for Universal to push its Focus film (Atonement) than try to scrape a few more dollars for Gangster. It’s simple economics.

This, in a nutshell, is the main reason why the smaller films generally get the most nominations every year. It’s more beneficial economically for the studios to single out certain films as their “Oscar films” for the year, release them during “Oscar season”, build up buzz and word of mouth steadily, and get as much revenue as they can out of films that were relatively inexpensive to make. If they win some awards, great. If not, they still got the most out of them that they possibly could. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, like this year’s Michael Clayton, which Warner Bros. opened in October to a whimper. Again, there’s not much to lose by pushing it for awards, because a lot of people didn’t see it the first time around (myself included) and giving it a re-release after the nominations can only help its bottom line. The nominations are the main advertising, and the main draw. It’s kind of rare that a major studio can pull off this kind of “second life” for a film that was initially considered a flop (albeit an undeserved one), but it does happen. There was a sense that it didn’t get a fair shake the first time around, so bringing it back makes sense. I kinda wish they’d done the same for The Assassination of Jesse James, because they really screwed that one over. But you can’t have everything.

I guess my point is that the Oscars are probably not going to change any time soon, at least as far as what films get nominated, and I really wouldn’t want them to. I’d rather see them used for good, to draw attention to deserving films that wouldn’t otherwise get much attention, than to hype the typical Hollywood product. If people complain that the films aren’t populist enough, well, so be it. Screw ‘em. If the ratings go down a little more every year, too fucking bad. It affects ABC, but who else? It’s not like they’re going to stop airing the show. Maybe it’s time for the audience to catch up to what’s being nominated, rather than the nominations trying to appease the audience. Otherwise, we’re going to wind up with Transformers 2 as a Best Picture nominee in a couple of years. And no one in their right mind wants that.

That’s all for now. Talk to you soon!

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My Top 10 of 2007; The Year Hollywood Finally Grew Up?

Posted by CinemaPsycho on February 8, 2008

So here it is, my annual late Top 10 list. As I’ve explained before, I always wait until early February to post my list because, well, like most Americans I live in a part of the country that doesn’t get films unless they’re in wide release. Because of this, I don’t get to see some of the best films during their limited theatrical releases, and the ones I do get to see sometimes take weeks – even months – to be projected on a screen out here. This is the main reason I love award season so much – between the Golden Globes and the Oscars, the films that are most likely to be nominated actually get released to theaters nationwide, allowing discerning film fans the opportunity to sample some quality work rather than, say, the latest Uwe Boll disaster. So many films are released during the Xmas season for Oscar consideration, then go wide during January and even early February, that I feel the need to hold off on making my list until I’ve actually seen everything I possibly can that could conceivably make the list. If I were to put it out there on Dec. 31, 2007, there would be even more glaring omissions than necessary. Also, I typically spend the month of January catching up on films I missed during the year on DVD via Netflix, enabling me to get an informed perspective of that particular 365 days of cinema.

Looking back on 2007 and my list of favorites, it occurs to me that perhaps this was the year that Hollywood – or at least parts of it – finally grew up a bit. Now, when I say that, obviously I’m not talking about the typical summer blockbuster stuff like Transformers. That stuff never changes, and most likely never will. And I’m not referring to “growing up” in the superficial sense of sublimating one’s personality to please others (like Seth Rogen did in the hugely overrated Knocked Up). What I mean is that, looking at the 10 films on my list (and a few that didn’t quite make it), it appears that the absolute best films this past year were the ones that acknowledged certain truths that are mostly ignored by escapist Hollywood movies. These are films in which the stories are not just complex but complicated; not merely dark but genuinely anguished; not just intelligent but challenging and uncompromising. These are works that shake up the viewer, rouse us from our candy-coated Hollywood stupor and force us to confront some uncomfortable realities. In these films, a happy ending is not a given; the “good guys” don’t always win and the “bad guys” don’t always lose; relationships are not always easily maintained; and important questions are sometimes not answered at all. In other words, the movies are inching somewhat closer to real life as the thinking person experiences it.

Naturally, this upsets some people. Several of my favorite films of the year have provoked reactions from audiences ranging from puzzled to seriously angry. “That was stupid”. “What was the point to all that?” “Who would want to make a movie like that?” I’ve witnessed this myself walking out of quite a few of these films, and each time it made me wonder what the hell these people expected. Is every film that gets made supposed to be a big crowd-pleasing “rollercoaster ride”? If you want nothing but generic storytelling and stereotypical, one-dimensional characters, there are plenty of options out there. As a frequent moviegoer, I tend to appreciate it when someone gives me something more than that. That’s not to say that pure escapism can’t be fun, of course, because it most definitely can. But if you only watch movies to “have fun”, frankly you might as well stay home and watch Cartoon Network. Because that’s the intellectual level you’re operating on. When I watch a film, I want to be shaken up a bit, to have an experience I didn’t quite expect to have. I want to get something out of it that I couldn’t get from watching the trailer. And if that doesn’t happen, I’m usually disappointed. That doesn’t mean one can’t enjoy a film simply for being entertaining; but a truly great film is always much more than that. That’s the difference between a three-star movie and a four-star film. There’s “a good time” and then there’s “a great experience”. Hollywood used to know how to do both at the same time, but it’s been awhile since they’ve done so on a consistent basis.

So is this a total fluke, or is it the beginnings of something important? I don’t know. It could be a reaction to the times we live in, or it could be a complete coincidence that a lot of filmmakers had the same kind of thematic concepts at the same time. It may take some time and perspective to sort that out. What’s ironic is that it’s not an influx of new talent that’s causing this sudden progressive shift; if anything, for me 2007 was the year of the old-school veterans coming back strong. Sure, there were a few impressive novices as always, but in general this was the year that the Big Guns kicked a lot of serious ass. This includes directors who consistently make great films, and a couple who have barely existed on the fringes for decades. It’s these guys who prove that there’s always a chance to hit a home run – that greatness always has the potential to resurface. This is why diehard film fans follow their favorite directors through thick and thin over the years, even when they seem past their prime and out of the game. Because, every now and then, they come roaring back and deliver a masterpiece. So kudos to the veterans for proving that a great filmmaker should never be counted out.

But it’s not simply a matter of me preferring my old favorites either, because sometimes those guys can let you down as well. One of my biggest disappointments this year was Eastern Promises. David Cronenberg is one of my all-time favorite directors, and as such I was really looking forward to his latest (as always). But this time, I just walked out going, “eh, it’s OK”. I didn’t hate the film, but it just didn’t do much for me. I understand that it has its supporters, and certainly there are worse films to champion. But most of the positive reviews I’ve seen seem to be based on the pedigree, not what’s on the screen. It’s as if it must be a great film because it’s Cronenberg, and frankly it doesn’t work that way. When I put a film on this list, it’s not because of what the director has done in the past; it’s because the film they made knocked me out. No one hits it out of the park 100% of the time, no matter how talented they are. DC isn’t capable of making a bad film in my book, and I’ll absolutely see whatever he does next. But this one…just OK, in my opinion.

Another film you won’t see on my list, just so you know in advance, is Jason Reitman’s Juno, which I liked but didn’t quite love. I’m glad people are enjoying and responding to it – I’m always glad when a “little film” finds a big audience. If it causes people to be just a little more adventurous in their choices, I’m all for it. But the movie itself, while very funny at times, fell short of greatness for me. I think it’s a decent quirky comedy, and on that level I enjoyed it. But there were so many things in it that I just didn’t buy, and for that I mostly blame first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody (who I do think is talented, don’t get me wrong). For example, I didn’t buy that: 1) a girl as smart and self-possessed as Juno would engage in a planned sexual encounter without using any form of protection; 2) that her parents wouldn’t absolutely hit the roof when they found out about her pregnancy (as any parents would); 3) that a 16-year-old girl listens to Iggy and the Stooges; 4) that this same girl somehow has never heard of Sonic Youth before; 5) that said girl watches the films of Dario Argento but has never heard of Herschell Gordon Lewis (I’m sorry, but generally people are either all-or-nothing when it comes to their music and movie knowledge. If they’ve heard of one, they would have heard of the other); 6) that a well-off couple would stoop to putting an adoption ad in the penny saver; 7) that they were apparently no social or educational consequences to Juno being pregnant whatsoever. That last one is the biggie for me – she doesn’t seem to suffer at all in the outside world, and I really don’t believe that for a second. Not that the movie had to get all Afterschool Special, but come on… she doesn’t at least get suspended? No high school kids harass her about it? Give me a break. I also didn’t care for the way Jason Bateman’s character wound up demonized for deciding he couldn’t be a parent – if a person doesn’t believe they can go through with it, they damn well shouldn’t, for the sake of the child at least. Would it have been better for him to bail after the kid was already attached to him? Come on. It was the best thing for all involved, despite what Cody apparently wants you to think. As I said, I enjoyed the movie, and I think Ellen Page is a superstar in the making, no question. But a great film? Just don’t see it. I liked visiting Juno’s world, but I didn’t actually believe a minute of it. Honest to blog.

I liked Atonement too, but again it didn’t make the list. No one should feel bad about it though, because several movies I really loved (and even gave 4 stars to) didn’t make it either. That’s the sign of a very good year, when you have to debate which films should make it and which shouldn’t, instead of struggling to think of 10 films you liked enough. But I don’t do a “runners-up” list like some critics do – for me that defeats the whole purpose of making a Top 10 list in the first place. I feel that the films on the list should be the ten films that make up the absolute best in the year of cinema for you. To extend that list to 15 or 20 or even 50 (as some do) negates the entire point. These are, quite simply, the films I loved the most, that kicked my ass the most. For the record, there were many films that I didn’t see this year because they either didn’t play anywhere near me, or I was lazy and stupid and missed my opportunity to see them. These include:

Michael Clayton, Into the Wild, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Once, I’m Not There, Control, Sunshine, Ratatouille, Grace is Gone, Youth Without Youth, Rendition, The Darjeeling Limited, Away From Her and La vie en Rose. So if you’re wondering why any of these films are absent…that’s why. Sue me.

And now, without further ado, here’s my personal Top 10 of 2007, in descending order:

10) Grindhouse – the best “pure fun” movie of the year, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s ode to the sleazy ‘70’s B-movies they grew up on and the decayed atmosphere in which they were presented might have been the biggest financial disaster of the year. Fuck it. If you’re a true film geek, this was the must-see experience of 2007, an absolutely rollicking piece of unabashed trash that reminded us how much fun movies used to be before CGI and political correctness ruined everything. Complete with the excellent faux trailers and bogus placeholders (“brought to you by your friends at the Weinstein Company” made me laugh more than anything), this was just a blast for cinema lovers of all stripes. Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward, and hopefully more B-movie makers will emulate this instead of churning out formula crap like they mostly do now. Love them or hate them, these films had an energy, a sense of style, a spirit that’s absent from filmmaking in general these days, and that’s a sad state of affairs. Both of the Grindhouse films have their flaws (some of them intentional, I’m sure) and I still take serious issue with the kid dying by his own hand in Planet Terror. But overall, put together they made for one hell of an unbeatable, loony as hell double feature. I sincerely wish the Weinsteins would release the theatrical cut on DVD, complete with the trailers and ads (while keeping the Director’s Cuts available as well) so those of us who took the ride can experience it again at home, and those who didn’t can see what they missed out on. Three hours of pure bliss.

9) Sicko – people who take issue with Michael Moore, please go away and just stop seeing his films already. Your blind hatred is not relevant. Seriously, if you couldn’t see the necessity in Moore’s attack on the American health-care system, I guess you’ve never been sick. Letting people die when they could be saved should always be a crime. If you can’t agree with that… I don’t want to know you. Fuck the insurance companies, fuck the HMOs, and fuck anyone who commits murder for profit. That’s what this amounts to, and it’s completely insane and must be stopped. Now. Moore’s best and perhaps his most vital film yet.

8) The Orphanage – if you like old-fashioned ghost stories (and who doesn’t), Spanish first-time feature director Juan Antonio Bayona has a movie for you! Just pure excellence from first frame to last, and the best film of its kind since The Others. I guess Picturehouse was hoping for another Pan’s Labyrinth phenomenon here, and while that didn’t happen, it doesn’t make the film any less worthy. Bayona has joined my ever-growing list of directors whose films are now must-sees. Kudos to him, and to Guillermo del Toro for “presenting” this excellent piece of work.

7) Bug – 72-year-old William Friedkin has made his best film in years here, a hugely misunderstood look into the abyss of paranoia and mental illness that’s also an intense mind-blower. Ashley Judd is simply phenomenal (when’s the last time anyone ever said that?), giving the kind of performance that should make people re-evaluate her as an actress. No more generic thrillers, OK Ash? You’re clearly better than that. Michael Shannon is every bit as good, and frankly in a better world these two would be looking at Oscar nominations. Friedkin has made the kind of spare but gripping film you’d expect from a hungry first-timer. Incredibly underappreciated upon its release, this will become a cult film, mark my words.

6) American Gangster – Ridley Scott pits Denzel Washington against Russell Crowe and lets them fight it out all over the screen. The result is glorious filmmaking, a slice of ‘70’s style Sidney Lumet down-and-dirty realism with a touch of De Palma theatricality. If Scott is stealing here, at least he’s stealing from the best. Oscar nominee Ruby Dee is just one of a hundred great reasons to see this film, not the least of which are two great actors ripping it up ferociously. They spend most of the film apart, but when they finally meet, it’s pure electricity. Riveting and fierce, and absolutely relevant to the world we live in.

5) Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead – and here’s the real thing, 83-year-old Sidney Lumet making his best film in decades, a stunning account of one New York family slowly circling the drain after two brothers (Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke, both excellent) botch a robbery of their parents’ jewelry store. It gets more complicated and perverse from there, and Lumet draws us into Kelly Masterson’s fantastic story with the precision of a master. Yet it feels like a young man’s film, like the work of someone completely energized by the possibilities of cinema. Hoffman proves once again that he’s one of the absolute best actors working today, and the great Albert Finney kicks an enormous amount of ass. The scene stealer is the often naked (and looking damn good) Marisa Tomei, justifying that Oscar once and for all. If he can pull this off at his age, here’s hoping Lumet never retires. And lives to be 200.

4) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – Tim Burton makes a masterpiece out of a Stephen Sondheim musical. Wonders will never cease. Beautifully grimy and misanthropic, only Burton could make it look so damn good. Johnny Depp plays a damaged barber who turns people into meat pies with the help of the wicked Helena Bonham Carter. It’s the feel-good movie of the year! It’s amazing this actually got made at all, much less unleashed on an unsuspecting public. Even better, it’s fuckin’ great cinema. Whether you can stomach it or not is your concern.

3) There Will Be Blood – possibly the only film and lead character more misanthropic than Sweeney Todd, Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant sucker-punch is a complete departure for him in style and content. It deals with what I consider the prevalent issue of our lifetime – the conflict between capitalism and organized religion, between naked greed and false spirituality, and how the clash basically fucks up society as a whole. Not to get too deep or anything. Daniel Day-Lewis has the Oscar locked with his performance as Daniel Plainview, the bastard of all bastards, the kind of guy who’d steal a ring from his own grandmother’s corpse. Is he wrong to fleece a bunch of stupid bumpkins who don’t know any better out of their oil-rich land? Maybe. But he does it simply because he can. Because they let him. And so the country as we know it was born. His conflict with young preacher Eli Sunday (the excellent Paul Dano), who he correctly recognizes as another snake-oil salesman infringing on his time and territory, is the backbone of this meditation on the corrosive effects of moral corruption. It’s brutal, fascinating stuff, and combined with Jonny Greenwood’s jarring, dissonant score, it’s the kind of film that, like Plainview, makes you admire it almost against your will. It will drink your milkshake.

2) No Country for Old Men – what can be said that hasn’t already been? The Coen Brothers prove their brilliance once again (I sometimes wish they would stick to noir-ish films and give up on the comedy already). You don’t like the ending? Well, tough shit. Neither does the sheriff, and that’s what the film’s about. Bad things happen to good people, and other good people are left bewildered in their wake. Deal with it. Great cast, with Javier Bardem as the scariest motherfucker of the year. It’s going to clean up at the Oscars, and deserves every single award handed to it. Gripping, profoundly sad, and absolutely wonderful.

1) Zodiac – yes, the film I loved the most this year was David Fincher’s sprawling epic about the hunt for the Zodiac Killer. Much more than “just another serial killer movie”, Zodiac is a haunting meditation on the nature of obsession and how it sends people down the rabbit hole, some never to return. Every bit as deep and dark as its subject matter warrants, this is a film that wounds not with shocking imagery but with the regret of blind alleys, missed opportunities and the lack of solid answers. The point is that it leads us on a wild goose chase that never gets resolved, for that’s what this story is all about. To provide a simple resolution would be false and phony, and simply untrue. What makes it so brilliant is how it compels us to follow its characters into the abyss, to examine the evidence and get caught up in the madness for ourselves. I definitely know who I think was the Zodiac Killer… and that leaves me with nothing but frustration, just like all the real investigators. In the end, we’ll probably never know, and that is the scariest proposition of all.

Anyway… as far as the Worst of the year goes, I generally don’t make out such a list, because I usually don’t see that many films that I absolutely hate that much. I try to avoid the obvious shit, the Norbit and Epic Movie type films as much as possible. There are 3 films at which I had an absolutely miserable time though, and they are as follows: 300, Zack Snyder’s CGI-ridden ode to homoerotic war-mongers and the celebration of insane, nonsensical bloodletting; Ghost Rider, the nadir of crappy comic-book movies, with Nicolas Cage doing his tired Elvis impersonation for the umpteenth time; and Alien vs. Predator – Requiem, which managed to take two once-cool concepts and recycle them into a piece of derivative, unappetizing shit. I only saw an hour of it due to technical difficulties, and I don’t really feel the need to ever see the rest. You can pick any one of those as my personal Worst Film of the Year. I consider it a three-way tie.

So that covers it for now. I liked Cloverfield and Rambo (speaking of insane bloodletting), but don’t feel the need to review them. Haven’t seen any other ’08 films, as I’ve spent most of the year so far catching up on ’07. After the Oscars in a couple of weeks, it’ll be time to leave that year behind and concentrate on this one. I look forward to all the surprises and delights that await us in the next 10 months or so. Later!

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