Saturday, October 29, 2005

Movies Of The Year: 1991

A sizable 58 movies this year, including some of the very worst films I've ever seen. The top of the list is cluttered with some personal favorites; there's not a lot of consensus great films this year, though there are quite a few good movies.

58. Highlander II: The Quickening
57. Switch
56. Life Stinks
55. Hudson Hawk
54. Toy Soldiers
53. Necessary Roughness
52. King Ralph
51. Sleeping With The Enemy
50. Dutch
49. My Girl
48. The Hard Way
47. Until The End Of The World
46. Madonna: Truth Or Dare
45. Ricochet
44. He Said, She Said
43. Backdraft
42. Oscar
41. Doc Hollywood
40. Kafka
39. Other People's Money
38. Point Break
37. The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell Of Fear
36. The Last Boy Scout
35. Father Of The Bride
34. Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves
33. Beauty And The Beast
32. Thelma & Louise
31. Delicatessen
30. City Slickers
29. The Doors
28. New Jack City
27. The Addams Family
26. Hook
25. Cape Fear
24. Soapdish
23. Boyz N The Hood
22. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
21. Little Man Tate
20. Defending Your Life
19. Dead Again
18. Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
17. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
16. Hot Shots!

15. Flirting - Largely unknown, this Australian film is mostly noted for starring Nicole Kidman, Thandie Newton and Noah Taylor (and Naomi Watts has a small part). It's a smart, well-made little film set in about an interracial romance at a boarding school. I was surprised to learn that Nicole Kidman was in this after Days of Thunder and Dead Calm, in which she plays adults. I wonder if this was filmed first and just released later or what.

14. What About Bob? - It's become overrated as time as passed, but the story of the worst doctor/patient relationship ever is still pretty good. Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss give acceptably over-the-top performances. Julie Hagerty from Airplane! and Charlie Korsmo from Hook, Dick Tracy and the Republican Party co-star. Directed by Yoda.

13. Once Upon A Time In China - The first Jet Li film to appear on any list is also one of his best. Wong Fei-hung has been the main character in a lot of Hong Kong movies (notably Jackie Chan's Drunken Master II), but Li's portrayal in the Once Upon movies seems closest to what I know of the actual Wong. . .with wire stunts. Directed by Tsui Hark, whose name I will never be able to pronounce correctly, despite years of trying.

12. Night On Earth - How can you not love a Jim Jarmusch movie starring Winona Ryder? That's right, you can't. It's really a series of short films, set in taxi cabs in five different cities around the world. We get Ryder and Gena Rowlands in LA, Giancarlo Esposito, Rosie Perez and Armin Mueller-Stahl in New York, Roberto Benigni in Rome and unknowns (to me at least) in Paris and Helsinki. Benigni's is the funniest, the one in Helsinki is the most touching, but each sequence is very good. A great blend of comedy and melancholy.

11. My Own Private Idaho - Shakespeare's Henry IV, set among male prostitutes in Portland with Keanu Reeves in the Prince Hal role and River Phoenix as the narcoleptic who's in love with him. It's actually stranger than it sounds. Stranger still, it all works. One of the best performances of Phoenix's career, and probably the best Gus Van Sant movie (it might be Drugstore Cowboy instead. Definitely not Good Will Hunting.)

10. The Fisher King - A combination of talk radio and Monty Python And The Holy Grail? A Terry Gilliam film which seems to be overlooked nowadays, though it was quite popular among critics at the time. Robin Williams gives a great performance as the Professor turned crazy homeless guy who gets Jeff Bridges broken-down shock jock to help him quest for the Holy Grail. I avoided watching it for a long time thinking there'd be a bunch of preaching about homelessness. There isn't at all. It is a Terry Gilliam movie, after all.

9. The Double Life Of Veronique - It's kind of a warm-up to his Three Colors Trilogy, but this Krzysztof Kieslowski film is as good as any of them. Irene Jacob (Red, Othello) stars in the dual role as a Parisian and a Pole who may or may not be the same person, or are two halves of one person, or just happen to look a lot alike. Like the other Kieslowski films, it's beautiful and mysterious and worth watching again and again. It's not nearly as difficult as my plot description makes it seem. It doesn't appear to be on DVD; a travesty.

8. Barton Fink - The Coen Brothers first really big critical acclaim came for this very dark comedy which won the top prize at Cannes. Fitting in that the film is a satire of the kind of people who vote to give awards at Cannes. John Turturro's fantastic as the snobby playwright who thinks very highly of himself despite a severe case of writer's block when he moves to Hollywood. John Goodman plays the Common Man that Turturro thinks he's dong so much to help with his socially conscious plays. John Mahoney, Judy Davis, Michael Lerner, Steve Buscemi, Jon Polito and Tony Shaloub costar. For the second straight movie in a row, the Coens made an atmospheric, picture-perfect 1930s-era film.

7. Slacker - Richard Linklater's first film is an experiment that actually works as the film is a series of short scenes over a 24 hour period in Austin. The trick is that the camera follows one scene for awhile, then trails off to follow a passerby for awhile, then wanders off through a nearby door and so on, connecting all of the characters and, by extension, the whole town. Some of the stories are better than others, of course, but none are really bad. My favorites are the very old anarchist who catches someone robbing his house and gives him a lecture on political science, the women hanging out on their driveway who give passersby cards with clever sayings like "To withdraw in disgust is not the same as apathy" (quoted by Michael Stipe in "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?"), the first scene in which Linklater himself describes a weird dream he had to a wholly uninterested cab driver, and a JFK-conspiracy nut trying to impress a girl in a bookstore. One of my favorite films in high school.

6. Bugsy - The best Barry Levinson movie ever, probably. Great performances by Warren Beatty and Annette Benning in the lead roles. Good supporting performances from Ben Kingsley, Harvey Keitel and Elliot Gould. The very pretty images and period detail overcomes any problems one might have with the story (I've never quite understood why she stole all that money, or why they killed him instead of her. I know what they think the explanation is, I just don't buy it.)

5. Silence Of The Lambs - A very good thriller, though Anthony Hopkins performance is very overrated. He's good, but not all-time great good. Jodie Foster is really outstanding though. As is Scott Glenn. Problem is that Lecter is the really interesting villain. The actual bad guy, Ted Levine's Buffalo Bill is too over-the-top to be taken as seriously. This makes the end kind of anti-climactic. Still, it's about ten thousand times better than it's sequels.

4. JFK - Yeah, a lot of it is fiction. But, if you pretend it isn't, then this is a really great movie. Even if you ignore the subject matter entirely and just watch it for the performances and the images, it's tremendous. This was the peak of Oliver Stone's Oliver Stone-style. Lots of cuts, shifts from color to black and white, a cast of thousands, shifts back and forth in time, it's all here and it all works. It's not too much as in Natural Born Killers or out of place as in Nixon. A key film for the Kevin Bacon Game, it stars: Kevin Bacon, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Joe Pesci, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, Laurie Metcalf, Wayne Knight, Michael Rooker, Brian Doyle-Murray, Bob Hoskins, Vincent D'Onofrio, Ed Asner, Dale Dye, Frank Whaley, John Larroquette, Ron Rifkin and John Candy.

3. Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse - If it is possible for a making-of documentary about a great movie to actually be better than that great movie, then this is it. Francis Ford Coppola's wife filmed the insanity around the shooting of Apocalypse Now: the drugs, the typhoons, the heart attacks, casting changes, overweight millionaire actors who don;t bother to learn their lines, the inability of the director to come up with an ending. It's amazing that a movie came out of this at all, let alone one of the great movies of all-time. The documentary is always fascinating. My favorite parts are when Coppola gets Martin Sheen drunk and makes him talk about his mom (who killed herself) then films his nervous breakdown, imaging Harvey Keitel in the lead role (he was originally cast in the Martin Sheen part), and Coppola's famous quote about the film at the Cannes Film Festival, "My movie is not about Vietnam... my movie is Vietnam. There were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money, and little by little we went insane."

2. Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf - Probably the most obscure high-ranking film on any list so far. Stars Juliette Binoche as a woman who's going blind who hangs out with a fire-eating homeless guy (Denis Levant) on a famous bridge in Paris. The film starts with harshly realistic portrayals of homelessness and gradually becomes more and more lyrical and beautiful and romantic. I guarantee it's not like any movie you've seen before. The director, Leos Carax, is a bit of a nut, as far as i know, he's only made four movies, and I've only seen two of them. This wasn't released in the US until it got Miramaxed in 1999 (under the idiotic title "Lovers On The Bridge"), we played it at the theatre I was working at at the time, which was how I saw it.

1. LA Story - Speaking of romantic movies, this is one of my all-time favorite romantic comedies, and easily the best Steve Martin movie ever. Martin plays a wacky weather man who falls in love with a tuba-playing British reporter (while dating Sarah Jessica Parker and is saved by Shakespeare and a sentient freeway traffic sign. Victoria Tennant, Martin's wife at the time, plays the tuba player. Richard E. Grant is terrific as her ex-husband. Marilu Henner, Patrick Stewart, Rick Moranis, Woody Harrelson, Kevin Pollack, Iman, George Plimpton also appear. Steve Martin's spent his entire career showing that you can be really smart and really silly at the same time. In LA Story, he gets it exactly right.

I've owned a VHS of Raise The Red Lantern for almost a decade now, I even watched parts of it once while writing a paper. It looks like a great movie, but for some reason, it remains one of The Unseen:

Raise The Red Lantern
Days Of Being Wild
Naked Lunch
The Commitments
The Rocketeer
Regarding Henry
Jungle Fever
Fried Green Tomatoes
Guilty By Suspicion
Prospero's Books
Truly, Madly, Deeply
Curly Sue
Out For Justice
Dying Young
Harley Davidson And The Marlboro Man
Billy Bathgate
The Prince Of Tides
Drop Dead Fred
Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead
Nothing But Trouble
Frankie & Johnny
Grand Canyon

Friday, October 28, 2005

First Swoopes, Then Sulu

Yesterday the great women's basketball player Sheryl Swoopes outed herself. Today, actor George Takei does in this article. He's an interesting guy, he seems to be equating being closeted with his growing up in an internment camp during World War II and with racial segregation.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ohio Sucks

John Kerry's posted parts of a speech he's making tomorrow on his website. He still hasn't learned to communicate to actual humans, but contrast his plan to the sound bites we get from the present administration. Sigh.

Here it is:

Excerpts of remarks as prepared for delivery

The Kerry Plan: The Path Forward

This difficult road traveled demands the unvarnished truth about the road ahead.

To those who suggest we should withdraw all troops immediately – I say No. A precipitous withdrawal would invite civil and regional chaos and endanger our own security. But to those who rely on the overly simplistic phrase “we will stay as long as it takes,” who pretend this is primarily a war against Al Qaeda, and who offer halting, sporadic, diplomatic engagement, I also say – No, that will only lead us into a quagmire.

The way forward in Iraq is not to pull out precipitously or merely promise to stay “as long as it takes.” To undermine the insurgency, we must instead simultaneously pursue both a political settlement and the withdrawal of American combat forces linked to specific, responsible benchmarks. At the first benchmark, the completion of the December elections, we can start the process of reducing our forces by withdrawing 20,000 troops over the course of the holidays.

The Administration must immediately give Congress and the American people a detailed plan for the transfer of military and police responsibilities on a sector by sector basis to Iraqis so the majority of our combat forces can be withdrawn. No more shell games, no more false reports of progress, but specific and measurable goals.

It is true that our soldiers increasingly fight side by side with Iraqis willing to put their lives on the line for a better future. But history shows that guns alone do not end an insurgency. The real struggle in Iraq – Sunni versus Shiia – will only be settled by a political solution, and no political solution can be achieved when the antagonists can rely on the indefinite large scale presence of occupying American combat troops.

In fact, because we failed to take advantage of the momentum of our military victory, because we failed to deliver services and let Iraqis choose their leaders early on, our military presence in vast and visible numbers has become part of the problem, not the solution.

The Military Agrees:

And our generals understand this. General George Casey, our top military commander in Iraq, recently told Congress that our large military presence “feeds the notion of occupation” and “extends the amount of time that it will take for Iraqi security forces to become self-reliant.” And Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, breaking a thirty year silence, writes, ''Our presence is what feeds the insurgency, and our gradual withdrawal would feed the confidence and the ability of average Iraqis to stand up to the insurgency." No wonder the Sovereignty Committee of the Iraqi Parliament is already asking for a timetable for withdrawal of our troops; without this, Iraqis believe Iraq will never be its own country.

We must move aggressively to reduce popular support for the insurgency fed by the perception of American occupation. An open-ended declaration to stay ‘as long as it takes’ lets Iraqi factions maneuver for their own political advantage by making us stay as long as they want, and it becomes an excuse for billions of American tax dollars to be sent to Iraq and siphoned off into the coffers of cronyism and corruption.

It will be hard for this Administration, but it is essential to acknowledge that the insurgency will not be defeated unless our troop levels are drawn down, starting immediately after successful elections in December. The draw down of troops should be tied not to an arbitrary timetable, but to a specific timetable for transfer of political and security responsibility to Iraqis and realignment of our troop deployment. That timetable must be real and strict. The goal should be to withdraw the bulk of American combat forces by the end of next year. If the Administration does its work correctly, that is achievable.

We Need A Political Solution:

Our strategy must achieve a political solution that deprives the Sunni-dominated insurgency of support by giving the Sunnis a stake in the future of their country. The Constitution, opposed by more than two thirds of Sunnis, has postponed and even exacerbated the fundamental crisis of Iraq. The Sunnis want a strong secular national government that fairly distributes oil revenues. Shiites want to control their own region and resources in a loosely united Islamic state. And Kurds simply want to be left alone. Until sufficient compromise is hammered out, a Sunni base can not be created that isolates the hard core Baathists and jihaadists and defuses the insurgency.

We Need a Regional Security Agreement:

The Administration must bring to the table the full weight of all of Iraq’s Sunni neighbors. They also have a large stake in a stable Iraq. Instead of just telling us that Iraq is falling apart, as the Saudi foreign minister did recently, they must do their part to put it back together. We’ve proven ourselves to be a strong ally to many nations in the region. Now it’s their turn to do their part.

The administration must immediately call a conference of Iraq’s neighbors, Britain, Turkey and other key NATO allies, and Russia. All of these countries have influence and ties to various parties in Iraq. Together, we must implement a collective strategy to bring the parties in Iraq to a sustainable political compromise. This must include obtaining mutual security guarantees among Iraqis themselves. Shiite and Kurdish leaders need to make a commitment not to perpetrate a bloodbath against Sunnis in the post-election period. In turn, Sunni leaders must end support for the insurgents, including those who are targeting Shiites. And the Kurds must explicitly commit themselves not to declare independence.

To enlist the support of Iraq’s Sunni neighbors, we should commit to a new regional security structure that strengthens the security of the countries in the region and the wider community of nations. This requires a phased process including improved security assistance programs, joint exercises, and participation by countries both outside and within the Middle East.

Improve Training:

Simultaneously, the President needs to put the training of Iraqi security forces on a six month wartime footing and ensure that the Iraqi government has the budget to deploy them. The Administration must stop using the requirement that troops be trained in-country as an excuse for refusing offers made by Egypt, Jordan, France and Germany to do more.

Win the Real War on Terror:

We will never be as safe as we should be if Iraq continues to distract us from the most important war we must win – the war on Osama Bin Laden, Al Queda, and the terrorists that are resurfacing even in Afghanistan. These are the make or break months for Iraq. The President must take a new course, and hold Iraqis accountable. If the President still refuses, Congress must insist on a change in policy. If we do take these steps, there is no reason this difficult process can not be completed in 12-15 months. There is no reason Iraq cannot be sufficiently stable, no reason the majority of our combat troops can’t soon be on their way home, and no reason we can’t take on a new role in Iraq, as an ally not an occupier, training Iraqis to defend themselves. Only then will we have provided leadership equal to our soldiers’ sacrifice – and that is what they deserve."

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Kids Are Alright

Some random thoughts while watching the World Series:

Saw Sixteen Candles finally last weekend. It was good, better than Pretty In Pink, worse than The Breakfast Club. I was happy to see that there were no references to socio-economic class. Anthony Michael Hall was great, possibly his best performance. Molly Ringwold, though, not only was her acting poor, she didn't even look particularly attractive. Nice to see was that, as the wife noted, all the kids actually look like high school kids. Just as they don't in, say, Pretty In Pink.

I was going to post the Tom DeLay mugshot on here, but it's just way too creepy.

Still waiting to get my prize for winning Baseball Prospectus's HACKING MASS contest. I've been assured that I should be hearing something next week though, which is nice. As for the playoffs, I haven't been following all that closely, I don't especially like any of the teams that made it. I've watched much of the Series though (except the Tivo cut off an hour or two before the end of last night's game.) I'd tell you I picked the White Sox to win it all, but you wouldn't believe me. Oh, and if you were wondering why the White Sox aren't the White Socks, Slate has the answer.

I've been trying to catch up with contemporary music after pretty much ignoring it since 1997 or so. Lately I've picked up some Modest Mouse, Death Cab For Cutie, Flaming Lips, The Shins, Matt Pond PA (worst band name ever?) and the Garden State and Elizabethtown soundtracks. I like a lot of it, and of those I'd say the Matt Pond PA album is the best (it's their latest one), and the best song is The Shins' "New Slang", from the Garden State Soundtrack. I have to say, though, that I'm disappointed in Modest Mouse. I don't really see what all the hubub is about. Kids today. . . .