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As Above, So Below

It's that rare found-footage film with a strong premise, a memorably eccentric style, and plenty of energy to burn. It's also poorly conceived, and hard…

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The Last of Robin Hood

A title as good as "The Last of Robin Hood" deserves a better movie. In fact, it deserves a good movie.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

#207 February 19, 2014

Sheila writes: Sports fans and ice dance enthusiasts are all focused on Sochi right now for the Winter Olympics. The Olympics always comes with some strain of controversy, and Sochi has been more intense than most. I came across a post about Sochi's well-known history as the "Florida of Russia", where Stalin himself would summer. His vacation home still stands. Messy Nessy Chic has a post with a lot of great images of that vacation home as well as vintage photographs of the holiday resort in its heyday: Postcards from Sochi: Summering with Stalin.

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A career view on Bill Murray; Personally connecting to Her; An editor from The New Yorker waxes poetic on aging, intimacy and death; Long takes on television; and a Hollywood desert land.

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#201 January 8, 2014

Sheila writes: Pardis Parker's “The Dance” is a 10-minute short film that just won the Best Comedy from the National Screen Institute of Canada. Parker is the lead actor as well as the director and writer here, and the entire thing is done silent movie style. I love the detail he has written on his own calendar: "She loves matching outfits", which then explains his get-ups. It is a touching and funny short film, and I am so happy to pass it on!

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The great movies (almost) nobody voted for

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OK, this is where it really gets interesting. Forget the consensus Top 50 Greatest Movies of All Time; let's get personal. Sight & Sound has now published the top 250 titles in its 2012 international critics poll, the full list of more than 2,000 movies mentioned, and all the individual lists of the 845 participating critics, academics, archivists and programmers, along with any accompanying remarks they submitted. I find this to be the most captivating aspect of the survey, because it reminds us of so many terrific movies we may have forgotten about, or never even heard of. If you want to seek out surprising, rewarding movies, this is a terrific place to start looking. For the past few days I've been taking various slices at the "data" trying to find statistical patterns, and to glean from the wealth of titles some treasures I'd like to heartily recommend -- and either re-watch or catch up with myself.

I know we're supposed to consider the S&S poll a feature film "canon" -- a historically influential decennial event since 1952, but just one of many. I don't disagree with Greg Ferrara at TCM's Movie Morlocks ("Ranking the Greats: Please Make it Stop") when he says that limiting ballots to ten all-time "best" (or "favorite," "significant," "influential" titles is incredibly limiting. That's why I think perusing at the critics' personal lists, the Top 250 (cited by seven critics or more) and the full list of 2,045 films mentioned is more enjoyable pastime.

It's wise to remember that, although the top of the poll may at first glance look relatively conservative or traditional, there's a tremendous diversity in the individual lists. Even the top vote-getter, "Vertigo," was chosen by less than one quarter of the participants.

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Andrew Sarris, auteurism, and his take on his own legacy

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"All of us will always owe him everything." -- Glenn Kenny on Andrew Sarris, quoting Jean-Luc Godard on Orson Welles

Andrew Sarris, "who loved movies" (as Roger Ebert described him), was long considered the "dean of American film critics." Reading the accounts and appreciations of him today, I was surprised to see how many people perpetuated the myth that Sarris and Pauline Kael were like the print era's Siskel & Ebert who, instead of facing off with each other over new movies on TV week after week, carried on a robust public debate about auteurism and film theory for decades. That didn't happen. And that mischaracterization does a disservice to Sarris, to Kael and to Siskel & Ebert, all of whom were taking their own distinctive and original approaches to movie reviewing and criticism. I think what's most important on the occasion of Sarris's passing is to acknowledge that his substantial critical legacy cannot be defined in terms of anything Pauline Kael wrote about him and the politique des auteurs in 1963 -- and certainly not in the way his and the Cahiers du Cinema critics' views were misrepresented in Kael's famous snipe, "Circles and Squares: Joys and Sarris."

Let's get this straight: Sarris, who had spent some time in France and acquainted himself with the Cahiers du Cinema critics (Andre Bazin, Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette, Rohmer, et al.), published an essay in Film Culture called "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962" (download .pdf here). In it he set out to explain the French notion of what he called "auteurism" for an American audience.*

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My First 2011 "Ten Best" List

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(Picture the headline above in Comic Sans.) MSN Movies contributors have selected our Top 10 Movies of 2011. What does that mean? Whatever you want it to mean. Are these movies "the best"? Are they our favorites? Are they "movies we got to see before the deadline"? In my case, it's some combination of all three -- but I'm really quite happy with the aggregate results. As for my own contribution, as usual I hadn't seen everything I wanted to by the deadline ("A Separation," "Hugo," "The Artist," "Mysteries of Lisbon," "Midnight in Paris" among them), and still haven't, but them's the breaks. My lists will evolve in coming days (Village Voice/LA Weekly poll, indieWIRE Critics Poll, and so on), but I do want to say that I went all-in with my emotions. I picked these movies 'cause I love 'em, not because I merely admire them or appreciate them.

The Big List starts here; the individual lists start here.

Of course, as much as we love lists, the best thing about the MSN feature is that we have short appreciations of the top 10 movies, written by some very perceptive and eloquent people. And me, too. You will find the Group List, with excerpts and links to the full mini-essays, below -- and my personal ballot at the bottom. Let me know what you think -- and be sure to read the previous post ("Idiocracy and the ten-best trolls") for a good laugh:

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From zombies to Pasolini: Movies as schoolyard dares

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"The Last 15 Minutes... Will Mess You Up For Life." -- tagline for "Paranormal Activity 3" (2011)

"Anyone who leaves the cinema doesn't need the film, and anybody who stays does." 
-- Michael Haneke on his first version of "Funny Games"

In 1982, I took my 21-year-old sister to see "Poltergeist." When it was over, she turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, "You have ruined my life." It was traumatic for her. I showed John Carpenter's "Halloween" in college and the experience so deeply shook a good friend of mine that she spent several sessions in therapy talking to "The Shape" (as he was billed).

So, we don't always know what we can handle. The question sometimes arises: Do you have an obligation to yourself, your friends and family, your fellow cinephiles/cinephiliacs, readers or viewers to expose yourself to films that challenge you, that push you out of your comfort zone? Sure you do. Everybody needs to test their limits, if only to find out what they are. Does that include shock cinema, so-called "torture porn," or movies that otherwise present themselves as a schoolyard dare ("Bet you can't watch this without puking!") -- the feature film equivalents of "2 Girls 1 Cup"? I think not.

This entered my mind while watching the second-season premiere of AMC's "The Walking Dead" last Sunday night (the zombies are metaphors for zombies) -- the monotonously gruesome series that featured a squishy backwoods autopsy scene in which two humans decide to cut open the stomach of a head-shot "walker" to find out if he'd recently eaten the little girl they're looking for. The obvious analogue is to the shark-belly autopsy from "Jaws," but this one was just an excuse to make the audience squirm on the way to a dumb punch line (How much woodchuck could a zombie chew up before it makes you upchuck, Chuck?).

Part of the thrill of watching a horror movie is the sense of triumph and relief you have at the end: "See? I made it through that -- and I survived!" Some movies are conceived and sold that way. It isn't so far from the William Castle-like gimmicks of having ambulances outside the theater or nurses in the lobby or barf bags at the concessions stand, to the hysteria of "The Exorcist" in 1973 (considered a rite-of-passage test of courage for teens and college students everywhere) to more recent phenomena like the "Saw" and "Hostel" movies.

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The Best Movies Since Last Tuesday (So Far)

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Google "best movies of 2011 so far" (without the quotation marks) and you'll get approximately 19-and-a-half million results, which is just about what this whole obsessive-compulsive list-making thing feels like to me. "Ten-best" (and "ten-worst") mania used to be an annual phenomenon among movie fans and critics; now it happens every few months. Perhaps it's a symptom of what Simon Reynolds calls "Retromania," reflecting the brevity of pop-culture nostalgia cycles (is the first decade of the 21st century now officially "retro"? Oooh, remember those cool circle touchpads on old-skool iPods?) and the "museumification" and "curation " of virtually everything that can be collected, commodified, categorized, chronologized, hierarchically ranked or otherwise pigeonholed. (I sometimes enjoy lists, too, but while I occasionally make artisanal ones -- even bespoke ones -- I do not curate them.)

Seems I've been running across those headlines since May, at least: "Best Movies of 2011 (So Far)," and "Worst Movies of 2011 (So Far)." Here's a sampling of critics and outlets that have published such lists: Metacritic, Moviefone, Roger Ebert (best and worst), IndieWIRE's The Playlist, JoBlo.com, somebody at the Huffington Post, Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at "Ebert Presents: At the Movies (both best and worst), Dennis Cozallio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, Paste magazine, Awards Daily (the name of which says exactly where I fear we're headed), CinemaBlend.com, Glenn Kenny at MSN Movies and FilmFan, Peter Travers at Rolling Stone, RopeofSilicon.com, IFC.com, beliefnet's Movie Mom, Fandango... STOP already!

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