Friday, March 03, 2006


Louis Menand, writing about some guy's book in The New Yorker a couple months ago:

'When you have prizes for art, you will always have people complaining that prizes are just politics, or that they reward in-group popularity or commercial success, or that they are pointless and offensive because art is not a competition. English believes that contempt for prizes is not harmful to the prize system; that, on the contrary, contempt for prizes is what the system is all about. 'The threat of scandal,' as he puts it, 'is constitutive of the cultural prize.' His theory is that when people make these objections to the nature of prizes they are helping to sustain a collective belief that true art has nothing to do with things like politics, money, in-group tastes and beating out the other guy. As long as we want to believe that creative achievement is special, that a work of art is not just one more commodity seeking to aggrandize itself in the marketplace at the expense of other works of art, we need prizes so that we can complain about how stupid they are. In this respect, it is at least as important that the prize go to the wrong person as to the right one, No one thinks that Tolstoy was less than a great writer because he failed to win a Nobel. The failure to win the Nobel has become, in the end, a mark of his greatness."

And so, my Oscar Picks:

Best Picture

Will Win: Brokeback Mountain
Should Win: Munich

Best Director

Will Win: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Should Win: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino, Sin City

Best Actor

Will: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
Should: Hoffman

Best Actress

Will: Reese Witherspoon, Walk The Line
Should: Q'Orianka Kilcher, The New World

Supporting Actor

Will: George Clooney, Syriana
Should: Mickey Rourke, Sin City

Supporting Actress

Will: Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener
Should: Maria Bello, A History Of Violence

Original Screenplay

Will: Crash
Should: Good Night And Good Luck

Adapted Screeenplay

Will: Brokeback Mountain
Should: Munich

Film Editing

Will: Crash
Should: Sin City


Will: Brokeback Mountain
Should: Sin City

Foreign Language Film

Will: Tsotsi
Should: Caché

Documentary Feature

Will: March Of The Penguins
Should: No Direction Home

Documentary Short

Will: the Rwanda one
Should: NA

Animated Feature

Will: Wallace & Gromit
Should: NA

Animated Short
Will: the long one with "Jasper" in the title
Should: NA

Live Action Short
Will: Six Shooter
Should: NA

Art Direction
Will: Memoirs Of A Geisha
Should: Memoirs Of A Geisha

Will: Chronicles Of Narnia
Should: Sin City

Costume Design
Will: Memoirs Of A Geisha
Should: Memoirs Of A Geisha

Original Score
Will: Brokeback Mountain
Should: Brokeback Mountain

Original Song
Will: Crash
Should: NA

Sound Editing
Will: King Kong
Should: Revenge Of The Sith

Sound Mixing
Will: Walk The Line
Should: Walk The Line

Visual Effects
Will: King Kong
Should: Revenge Of The Sith

Movies Of The Year: 1972

Yet another terrific early 70s movie year, especially for foreign films, with some of the definitive films of world cinema in the decade released this year.

13. Shaft's Big Score - Another Shaft sequel, not quite as silly as Shaft In Africa, but still not particularly good.

12. Pink Flamingos - I'm shocked this movie is as old as it is. When I saw it years ago, I thought it was an indie movie from the early 80s. Anyway, it's John Waters's breakthrough film, a satire about, well, pretty much everything.

11. Snoopy Come Home - Another Peanuts film. Better than the Thanksgiving one, if only because they don't make kid's movies this depressing anymore.

10. The Man Of La Mancha - Musical version of Don Quixote starring Peter O'Toole. It's pretty good. Maybe significant for being one of the very last big Hollywood musicals. O'Toole didn't do his own singing, but Sophia Loren did. Director Arthur Hiller also did Love Story, Silver Streak and Taking Care Of Business.

9. Cabaret - Bob Fosse's surprisingly depressing film about a night club in Weimar Germany. It's kind of like Breakfast At Tiffany's, with Nazis. Liza Minelli and Joel Grey are excellent, but I don't recall much about Michael York's performance.

8. Sleuth - Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine are the only stars of this battle of wits as Olivier tries to get revenge on Caine for having an affair with his wife. It's the last film by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who wrote and directed All About Eve, Julius Caesar, Guys And Dolls and Cleopatra. The writer, Anthony Shaffer also wrote Frenzy, The Wicker Man, the two big Agatha Christie movies and, uh, Sommersby.

7. Deliverence - Most famous for Dueling Banjos and "Squeal like a pig!", this is nonethelesss a remarkably effective thriller. John Boorman (Point Blank, Excalibur) directs an outstanding cast, which includes Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty. The story's pretty simple: a quartet of guys goes on a trip down a river, and humanity (in the loosest sense) and nature conspire to make it the worst vacation ever.

6. Play It Again, Sam - Woody Allen wrote and stars in this comedy about a Woody Allen character who falls in love =with his best friend's wife. To help him deal with this complex situation, Woody enlists the help of a hallucination of Humphrey Bogart from Casablanca. Diane Keaton and Tony Roberts costar, and Herbert Ross directed. Herbert Ross had quite a career: The Goodbye Girl, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Pennies From Heaven, Footloose, The Secret Of My Success, Steel Magnolias, My Blue Heaven and Boys On The Side.

5. Cries And Whispers - The first Ingmar Bergman film to appear on any of my lists (I've only seen a couple others). This might be the most depressing movie I've ever seen. It's certainly in the top 10. It's a family drama about two sisters gathered together to watch over their dying third sister. There's a bunch of flashbacks wherein everyone is basically evil to everyone else. Liv Ullman, Harriet Anderson and Ingrid Thulin star. Great use of color.

4. Solaris - I called it an ode to solipsism and I'm sticking with that. It's still a great film though. I especially like the trick where the camera slowly pans in a circle and the people on screen move around behind it and show up in unexpected places. It surprises me every time he does it.

3. The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie - Luis Buñuel once made a movie about a group of people who are unable to leave the dinner table (The Exterminating Angel). This time, a group of Bourgeois are unable to actually eat a meal as they keep getting together and keep getting interrupted for various increasingly bizarre reasons. It feels like a summation of Buñuel's career, as he attempts to say everything he's been trying to say for years all at once. The great thing is that it's still pretty funny. He doesn't seem to have become as pessimistic as Kurosawa did with Ran (#1, 1985), so maybe it has more in common with Dreams (#3, 1990).

2. Aguire: The Wrath Of God - I finally got around to watching Fitzcarraldo a couple nights ago and I liked it a lot. In fact, it's now my #1 movie for 1982. As much as I liked it though, I like Aguirre better. Which is very strange for me. I generally don't prefer the darker, more depressing movie, and Aguirre is incredibly depressing. But it's just so damn weird that I don't get depressed, I just think it's really cool. Anyway, Klaus Kinski plays Aguirre, a 16th Century conquistador on a quest down a river for El Dorado. Aguirre, of course, is insane, and gradually everyone on the quest with him dies one way or another. Kinski is, as always, terrifying. And I can now say definitively that he absolutely did NOT play the villain in Ghostbusters II.

1. The Godfather - Yeah yeah. What did you expect? I have no fear of the obvious. It's overrated, in that it's most definitely not one of the 5 greatest movies ever made. But it's still ridiculously good. This and it's first sequel are, along with Marcel Carne's Children Of Paradise the best novelistic films I've ever seen. Massive films that create and immerse you in an entire world. Interesting fact: cabaret won more Oscars for 1972 than The Godfather did. Coppola lost best Director to Bob Fosse, and his film ended up only winning three awards: Best Actor (Brando), Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. Cabaret won 8, including Joel Grey's Supporting Actor win over three (!) from The Godfather (Pacino, Duvall, and Caan).

Plenty of Unseen movies this year, including some pretty big ones. I started watching Last Tango In Paris once about 10 years ago, but I was really bored and turned it off.

Last Tango In Paris
Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii
The Ruling Class
The Candidate
The Chinese Connection
Jeremiah Johnson
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex, But Were Afraid To Ask
The Poseidon Adventure
Chloe In The Afternoon
Lady Sings The Blues
The King Of Marvin Gardens
The Canterbury Tales
Boxcar Bertha
The Cowboys
Joe Kidd
The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean
Deep Throat
What's Up Doc?
The Getaway

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Movies Of The Year: 1973

Another pretty good year is 1973, but not nearly in the same class as 74. For some reason I've seen almost as many movies from this year as from the next two years combined.

16. Shaft In Africa - I think the title pretty much covers it.

15. Save The Tiger - Jack Lemmon won the best actor Oscar for his pretty good performance in this otherwise totally unremarkable film. Businessman has a midlife crises in the 70s, yipee. Dirceted by John Avildson, who did Rocky I and V, The Karate Kid I, II and III, and 8 Seconds, which I haven;t seen, but made one of my friends cry.

14. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving - Another revelatory title.

13. Live And Let Die - Roger Moore's first is also his best Bond movie, and one of the best in the series. There's a spooky voodoo vibe as Moore teams up with Jane Seymour's psychic tarot-reader to defeat Yaphet Kotto's heroin-dealing Mr. Big. And the title song is by Wings!

12. The Paper Chase - Decent coming-of-age type movie about first year law students at Harvard Law School. John Houseman gives an iconic performance as a professor, a character he would further develop in the classic TV series Silver Spoons.

11. The Exorcist - Ridiculously overrated horror film from self-promoting doofus/fascist William Friedkin. It's hurt by the mediocre (at best) performance of Jason Miller as Father Damien. Miller would go on to star in a whole bunch of movies you've never heard of. But he eventually played the coach in Rudy 20 years later, so that's nice.

10. The Sting - Newman and Redford, the "Brangelina" of the early 70s reunited for this entertaining period caper film about Depression Era con-men. Not as complex or insightful as the similarly set The Cincinnati Kid from 1965, but then, it certainly isn't meant to be. Inexplicably won the best picture Oscar for 1973.

9. The Last Detail - Prototypical road trip movie in which Jack Nicholson and Otis Young are Navy guys who decide to show convict Randy Quaid a good time while transporting him to prison. Directed by Hal Ashby, one of the fine directors of the 70s, and written by Robert Towne (Chinatown). One of Nicholson's defining roles, despite the porn star mustache (it was the 70s, after all.)

8. High Plains Drifter - Clint Eastwood directed and stars in this twisted take on the Red Harvest/Yojimbo/Fistful Of Dollars story in which a Stranger (Eastwood) rolls into town, gets attacked by outlaws, is insulted and the hired by the townspeople, and exacts his fiery revenge on all of them. A terrifically dark film, though not nearly as serious as Eastwood's Unforgiven (#1, 1992), the darkest (and perhaps best) Western of them all.

7. Day For Night - I can't really give this a fair rating, since I've only seen it in a old, dubbed, VHS version. Regardless, it's a fine, if somewhat generic, movie about the making of a movie. I can't say if this was the first of that particular genre, but off the top of my head, I can't think of any earlier ones.

6. Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid - Director Sam Peckinpah's version of the Billy The Kid story is the best I've seen, and a fine counterpart to Arthur Penn's 1958 The Left-Handed Gun, which starred Paul Newman. This one stars Kris Kristofferson as Billy, James Coburn as Garret and, quite strangely, Bob Dylan as Alias, a quiet guy who just shows up at verious times throughout the film and doesn't say anything. Dylan also did the score for the film, you know the song Knockin' On Heaven's Door? That's from this movie. It isn't nearly as nihilistic as Peckinpah's earlier The Wild Bunch, but it's still quite entertaining.

5. Enter The Dragon - Bruce Lee's greatest film takes a little while to get going, but once the fighting starts, you'll know what all the hubbub is about. The plot is essentially that of every fighting video game ever made: an evil rich madman holds a fighting competition, and if you lose, you die! Mmwahahaha! Bruce Lee's good guy is there investigating as a cop or trying to avenege his brother's death or earn money for his sick grandma or soemthing. The dubbing and cheesy sound effects haven't aged well at all, but they do have their nostalgia value. What makes the film work, however, is Lee's performance. There simply has never been an action star with his combination of intensity and believability. Watch quickly to see Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung in very small roles.

4. American Graffiti - If you had only seen George Lucas's last three movies, you'd be amazed to watch this one and see that not only can he actually make movies about humans, he can even write convincing dialogue for them to speak (he did have help with the screenplay, but that didn't help in Episodes 2 and 3). It's a night in the life of high school kids, a familiar genre (though again, I'm not sure how familiar it was at the time), this time it's set in the early 60s small town California childhood that Lucas experienced. It's closest analogue is Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused, which is essentially the same film set 15 years later, right down to the cast of soon-to-be-famous people and immense soundtrack of period pop hits. The future stars here: Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Suzanne Somers and Harrison Ford.

3. Sleeper - In this, the greatest of Woody Allen's pure comedies, he gets himself unfrozen at some point in the future, impersonates a robot, woos Diane Keaton and attempts to overthrow the 1984-esque dictatorship. It's the same as his other early comedies in that the plot is but a series of setups for his one-liners and some minor slapstick. It's the consistently high quality of those jokes that distinguishes this film from the others.

2. Badlands - Terrance Malick's first film is, like his others, a typical genre picture that's made transcendent by his unusual storytelling style: voiceover monologues; long, beautiful shots of nature; and slow, meditative pace. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek are terrific as the Bonnie and Clyde-esque criminal couple on the run (the story is based on the real-life exploits of Charles Starkweather). If the plot seems somewhat familiar, that because Quentin Tarantino used it as the foundation for his original screenplay of Natural Born Killers (before Oliver Stone took it over). You'll also recognize the theme song from another film Tarantino wrote, True Romance.

1. Mean Streets - Martin Scorsese's first big film is also my favorite of all his films. And it's also the only one of his films to rank #1 in any year on my lists, a fact which I can't quite believe, though I've checked a couple of times. It's also the last film he co-wrote until Goodfellas in 1990, another surprising fact given how consistent Scorsese seems in examing themes of violence, guilt and redemption. Anyway, Harvey Keitel stars here as a small time hood with a crazy cousin, Robert DeNiro. The dynamic is much the same as the Liotta-Pesci and DeNiro/Pesci relationships of Goodfellas and Casino, but for the fact that DeNiro's 100 times the actor that Joe Pesci is. Screech as he might, Pesci could never capture the laziness, the fun, the attractiveness of psychotic nihilism the way DeNiro did. Larenz Tate's O-Dogg from Menace II Society (#7, 1993) comes pretty close though. Anyway, my favorite scene in the film, perhaps in all of Scorsese, is the scene in the pool hall. All of Tarantino can be found in that one scene, from the anarchic play of violence to the classic "What's a mook?" self-consciously ironic dialogue.

Not so many Unseen movies this year, but still there's some I definitely need to watch.

Scenes From A Marriage
La Maman Et La Putain
The Day Of The Jackal
Paper Moon
The Long Goodbye
The Wicker Man
Don't Look Now
The Way We Were
Soylent Green
Bang The Drum Slowly
Flesh For Frankenstein
Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars