"Transcendence" is a serious science fiction movie filled with big ideas and powerful images, but it never quite coheres, and the end is a copout.
* 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.
Alice Munro wins Nobel Prize in literature; film critic Stanley Kauffmann dies at 97; SF Film Society director Ted Hope steps down; documentary oversaturation; Will Self on the changing role of the critic.
As the 66th Cannes International Film Festival gets underway, blogger and filmmaker Scout Tafoya looks back at some especially notable years at the festival with a series of video essays.
UPDATED (08/01/12): Scroll to the bottom of this entry to see my first impressions of the newly announced critics' and directors' poll results.
Vittorio De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves" (1948) topped the first Sight & Sound critics' poll in 1952, only four years after it was first released, dropped to #7 in 1962, and then disappeared from the top ten never to be seen again. (In 2002 only five of the 145 participating critics voted for it.) Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) flopped in its initial release but was rediscovered in the 1950s after RKO licensed its films to television in 1956. From 1962 to 2002 "Kane" has remained at the top of the poll (46 critics voted for it last time). This year, a whopping 846 top-ten ballots (mentioning 2,045 different titles) were counted, solicited from international "critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles" -- including bloggers and other online-only writers. Sight & Sound has announced it will live-tweet the 2012 "Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time" (@SightSoundmag #sightsoundpoll) August 1, and as I write this the night before, I of course don't know the results. But, for now at least, I'm more interested in the process.
Given the much wider and younger selection of voters in 2012, ist-watchers have been speculating: Will another movie (leading candidate: Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," number 2 in 2002) supplant "Kane" at the top of the list? Will there be any silent films in the top 10? (Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" and Murnau's "Sunrise" tied for #7 on the 2002 list, but the latter was released in 1927 with a Fox Movietone sound-on-film musical score and sound effects.)
Though there's been no rule about how much time should pass between a film's initial release and its eligibility (the Library of Congress's National Film Registry requires that selections be at least ten years old), most of the selections ten to have stood the test of time for at least a decade or two. The newest film on the 2002 list was the combination of "The Godfather" (1972) and "The Godfather, Part II" (1974) -- but they won't be allowed to count as one title for 2012.
Marie writes: It's official. I have died and gone to heaven. For here below, as part of an ongoing series exploring Britain's architectural wonders, the Observer's architecture critic Rowan Moore, introduces a spectacular interactive 360-degree panoramic photograph of "The grand staircase in the St Pancras Renaissance hotel" - which I regard as one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture I have ever seen. I adore this building and always will; it's the stuff of dreams. (Click photo to enlarge.)
Go here to explore a 360 panoramic view of the grand staircase!
• "The Rack" (1956) • "Until They Sail" (1957) • "The Prize" (1963) • "Tales of Tomorrow: Ice From Space" (1953)"The Rack," "Until They Sail" and "The Prize" are now available on made-to-order DVD from the Warner Archive Collection for $19.95 each. "Tales of Tomorrow" can be viewed on Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.
by Jeff Shannon You would think that every film Paul Newman ever appeared in would be readily available on home video, right? Guess again. One of the best films from Newman's early career has managed to slip through the cracks of home-video distribution for decades, and unless you're old enough to have seen it in theaters or on TV over the years, it's possible you've never even heard of it. So when I heard that "The Rack" (1956) was available on home video for the very first time, I couldn't wait to break the news to Stewart Stern.
For anyone who's wondering "Stewart who?" there's a convenient shortcut you can use when discussing the impressive life and career of Stewart Stern. All you have to say is, "He wrote 'Rebel Without a Cause.'" Uh-huh, that one. With a credit like that, any screenwriter could legitimately claim a slice of movie immortality, like James Dean did as the now-iconic star of Nicholas Ray's 1955 teen-angst classic. But to say that Stern only wrote "Rebel" is a bit like saying Frank Lloyd Wright designed a house. In the course of his distinguished, decades-spanning career, Stern wrote rich, psychologically perceptive scripts that were magnets for great actors and great acting: His script for "The Ugly American" (1963) gave Brando plenty to chew on; his Oscar-nominated script for "Rachel, Rachel" (1968) gave Joanne Woodward what is arguably the best role of her career (under the direction of her husband, Paul Newman; they also earned Oscar nods); and Stern's Emmy and Peabody-winning teleplay for "Sybil" (1976) transformed cute TV actress Sally Field into an Emmy winner with a pair of Oscars in her future. A few years later, Stern left Hollywood, weary of the rat race and struggling with writer's block, the delayed effect of post-traumatic stress from service in World War II. In the mid-'80s, Stern relocated to Seattle and never looked back. And while Stern may have been a nephew of Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor, with additional family ties to MGM moguls Arthur Loew Sr. and Jr., his closest Hollywood connection was more personal and more warmly indicative of the man's soul and spirit: For 55 years, Stewart Stern was one of Paul Newman's very best friends.
Nicholas Ray's directorial debut, "They Live By Night" (1949), begins like a trailer and then slams us right into the opening titles of the feature. An attractive young couple (Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell) are nestling in close-up by the flickering light of a fireplace. They smile, they kiss, and then something off-screen (and unheard on the soundtrack, though signaled by an jarring shift in the musical score) causes them to react with fear and alarm.
"They Live By Night" is a prototypical young-couple-on-the-run movie ("You Only Live Once," "Gun Crazy," "Bonnie and Clyde," "Badlands"), and this tabloid-style opening sets it up breathlessly. The shot seems to exist out of time -- perhaps an idealized moment they once shared, or would never have. The man who would later direct "Rebel Without a Cause" establishes them as innocents and outsiders, star-crossed lovers who "were never properly introduced to the world we live in..." Dissolve to an aerial shot of a truck barreling through a dusty wasteland.
We soon discover that, at the point the title appears, the boy and the girl have yet to meet. So, the whole film could be seen as a flashback -- a noir convention that emphasizes the forces of fate, since the ending of "their story" (even if we don't know what it is) has already been determined from the opening shot. Or perhaps it's a flash-forward to a memory they'll cling to for the rest of their lives. Or an imprint of their fugitive state of mind...
The opening shot of Wim Wenders' moody color noir "The American Friend" (1977), based on Patricia Highsmith's 1974 novel "Ripley's Game," isn't anything fancy or complicated -- no intricate tracking or crane movement -- but, wow, does it announce the movie. First we hear the sirens and the traffic noise behind a black screen, over which the title is immediately emblazoned in electric red-orange block letters: "DER AMERIKANISCHE FREUND."
Bam! We're there, at street level on the lower West Side of Manhattan. We get a look at a few cars and a truck heading uptown, and the ghostly outlines of the World Trade Center towers that stand in the distant haze -- modern New York looming over this less imposing block of old New York. (They also provide a Roman numeral II to mark this sequel to the Scanners Opening Shot Project, which is why I chose this shot for last week's announcement of Part 2).
It's a wrap for the 2010 Muriel Awards, but although the winners have been announced, there's still plenty of great stuff to read about the many winners and runners-up. ('Cause, as we all know, there's so much more to life than "winning.") I was pleased to be asked to write the mini-essay about "The Social Network" because, no, I'm not done with it. (Coming soon: a piece about the Winkelvii at the Henley Gregatta section -- which came in 11th among Muriel voters for the year's Best Cinematic Moment.)
You might recall that last summer I compared the editorial, directorial and storytelling challenges of a modest character-based comedy ("The Kids Are All Right") to a large-scale science-fiction spectacular based on the concept of shifting between various levels of reality/unreality -- whether in actual time and space or in consciousness and imagination. (The latter came in at No. 13 in the Muriels balloting; the former in a tie for No. 22.) My point was that, as far as narrative filmmaking is concerned, there isn't much difference. To illustrate a similar comparison this time, I've used a one-minute segment out of "The Social Network" (Multiple levels of storytelling in The Social Network). You might like one picture better than the other for any number of reasons, but I find their similarities more illuminating than their differences:
Fifty years ago, the Palme d'Or winner at Cannes was Fellini's "La Dolce Vita." More every year I realize that it was the film of my lifetime. But indulge me while I list some more titles.
The other entries in the official competition included "Ballad of a Soldier," by Grigori Chukhrai; "Lady with a Dog," by Iosif Kheifits; "Home from the Hill," by Vincente Minnelli; "The Virgin Spring," by Ingmar Bergman;" "Kagi," by Kon Ichikawa; "L'Avventura," by Michelangelo Antonioni; "Le Trou," by Jacques Becker; "Never on Sunday," by Jules Dassin; "Sons and Lovers," by Jack Cardiff; "The Savage Innocents," by Nicholas Ray, and "The Young One," by Luis Bunuel.
And many more. But I am not here at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival to mourn the present and praise the past.
If all the year-end and decade-end lists (even though we realize the decade isn't actually over until 2011) have left you dizzied and depleted, take heart! Perhaps you've missed out on some of the more invigorating, far-sighted list-based ventures. Over at Some Came Running, for example, Glenn Kenny conducted an ingenious and fascinating project, going back and taking a look at the late Manny Farber's Best Films of 1951. Meanwhile, at The Crop Duster, Robert Horton is engaged in surveying the year's best -- in non-chronological order -- from, oh, about 1919 or so, to the present, posting a new list every Sunday. What fantastic delights are to be found in these itemized accounts...
Click above to REALLY enlarge...
UPDATED 01/28/10: 2:25 p.m. PST -- COMPLETED!: Thanks for all the detective work -- and special thanks to Christopher Stangl and Srikanth Srinivasan himself for their comprehensive efforts at filling the last few holes! Now I have to go read about who some of these experimental filmmakers are. I did find some Craig Baldwin movies on Netflix, actually...
Srikanth Srinivasan of Bangalore writes one of the most impressive movie blogs on the web: The Seventh Art. I don't remember how I happened upon it last week, but wow am I glad I did. Dig into his exploration of connections between Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and Jean-Luc Godard's "History of Cinema." Or check out his piece on James Benning's 1986 "Landscape Suicide." There's a lot to look through, divided into sections for Hollywood and World Cinema.
In the section called "The Cinemaniac... I found the above collage (mosaic?) of mostly-famous faces belonging to film directors, which Srikanth says he assembled from thumbnails at Senses of Cinema. Many of them looked quite familiar to me, and if I'm not mistaken they were among the biographical portraits we used in the multimedia CD-ROM movie encyclopedia Microsoft Cinemania, which I edited from 1994 to 1998, first on disc, then also on the web. (Anybody with a copy of Cinemania able to confirm that? My Mac copy of Cinemania97 won't run on Snow Leopard.)
Nonsensical polemicist Armond White, dis-inspiration for "Contrarian Week" here at Scanners back in early 2007, got a lot of folks riled with his review of "District 9" -- mostly on fan forums at RottenTomatoes. OK, so once again, White's aim is not so much to examine the movie (that's always secondary, or tertiary) but to assert that he alone knows what's going on and his colleagues are all idiots or corrupt or both.
But his baseless verdicts are not what put him in league with the Dining Room Table Lady. At Some Came Running, Glenn Kenny gets to the heart of why White embodies a commonplace form of flaccid, anti-critical thinking:
Here's a challenge. Tell me what this sentence, from White's review of the new version of "The Taking of Pelham 123," means: "Audiences who enjoyed the original 1974 'Pelham 123' took its grungy dangerousness as a realistic confirmation of their own citizens' distrust." Now here's the rub: I don't want to know what you think it means, what you infer it means when you put it through your own personal White decoder ring, no; I want to know what the words in the sentence as they are actually written actually mean. As, you know, an actual copy editor would understand them. Because an actual copy editor would tell you that the sentence is gibberish....
View image You see it or you don't.
Toronto's is an international film festival, and naturally the films are shot in locations all over the world. But one thing so many of the best films in this year's fest have in common (a thing all great films have in common) is not the places in which they're shot, or set, but the places they create, and pull you into. These aren't travelogues. The films are the places, whether the geographical locations exist independently of the pictures or not.
There's Texas and there's Mexico and there's "No Country for Old Men."
Tommy Lee Jones' character, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell begins Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country for Old Men" with an elegiac monologue about missing the "old times." His words are spoken over a montage of western landscapes in blazing oranges and reds (the incomparable Roger Deakins is the DP). By the end of this reverie, we're no longer in the past but in the harsh daylight of the present, and the color has drained from the images. The way Ed Tom sees it, he's outmatched in the modern world where violence is random, unmotivated, and unpredictable.
Within moments we see a shocking example of what he's talking about, as Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) strangles a man on the linoleum floor of an office, his dead yellow eyes fixed on the ceiling. That's a terrifying touch: Chigurth doesn't even look at his victim, even while he's garroting the guy. And then, one of those Coen touches: a shot of the floor, covered with a mess of black heel marks from the killer and his prey.
"No Country for Old Men" is one of those movies I think provides a critical litmus test. You can quibble about it all you like, but if you don't get the artistry at work then, I submit, you don't get what movies are. Critics can disapprove of the unsettling shifts in tone in the Coens' work, or their presumed attitude toward the characters, or their use of violence and humor -- but those complaints are petty and irrelevant in the context of the movies themselves: the way, for example, an ominous black shadow creeps across a field toward the observer ("No Country" has a credit for "Weather Wrangler"); or a phone call from a hotel room that you can hear ringing in the earpiece and at the front desk, where you're pretty sure something bad has happened but you don't need to see it; or the offhand reveal of one major character's fate from the POV of another just entering the scene; or... I could go on and on. To ignore such things in order to focus on something else says more about the critic's values than it does about the movies. It's like complaining that Bresson's actors don't emote enough, or that Ozu keeps his camera too low.
A moment here to celebrate the genius of one of the greatest talents in motion pictures, supervising sound editor Skip Lievsay, who has worked with the Coens (and Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese and others) since way back before the mosquito buzzing and peeling wallpaper of "Barton Fink." Since the bug zapper in "Blood Simple," in fact. Also, composer Carter Burwell ("Psycho III"!) has been associated with the Coens for just as long. He's credited with the music in "No Country," too, but it's to his merit that I don't even recall any music in the picture -- except for one memorably Coen-esque appearance by a mariachi band.
When I read Cormac McCarthy's novel, it struck me as a Coen screenplay just waiting to become a Coen film. Indeed, by that time it already was. And it could serve as a model of prose-to-film adaptation, choosing exactly the right moments and movements for the picture, and leaving alone others that are better suited to literature. (This is especially true of some very savvy omissions in the latter part of the movie.)
"No Country for Old Men" makes me want to echo Jean-Luc Godard's famous celebration of Nicholas Ray: "Le cinéma est les Coens!"
View image Frances Bean Dog.
I'm back from break but hopelessly preoccupied because my eldest dog Frances had a couple lumps on her back foot and I had to take her in early this morning for a surgery/biopsy. This talk of "spindle cells" worries me tremendously, but Frances herself has shown no signs of feeling ill. Because I'm a terrible fretter, this has left a big cloud over the end of my year, and made me even more reluctant than usual to keep in touch with the people I care about. Because, basically, I get paralyzed with worry and just want to get into the fetal position until the uncertainty and apprehension is over. I know it's idiotic. I went through the same thing worrying about Roger Ebert's recovery last summer, and am so happy that he's come through and working his way back (even doing occasional reviews when he can).
Plunging ahead into 2007...
Best News of the Year So Far: I was thrilled to see the byline of Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times this morning as I was blearily trying to wake up before taking Frances to the vet. (It's DARK at 6 a.m. in January in Seattle. Who knew?) Matt is the founder and editor of one of my favorite movie/TV blogs, The House Next Door. I do not miss the Links for the Day. And Matt himself is a terrific writer. His review of "Children of Men" is the best thing I've read about that film, conveying the excitement of watching it as well as the disappointment that it had nowhere to go. (Some thought the ending was brave and open-ended. To me it felt like a mushy sentimental cop-out -- although there was that flashing red buoy light, perhaps [I hope] to remind us, as in the ending of Nicholas Ray's "Bigger Than Life," that this superficial resolution isn't necessarily what it seems to be. I know, I know: How can this ending be considered overly tidy, pat or a form of commercial condescension when so much of the fate of Humankind itself is left at sea? Well, the movie is about particular characters, not the apocalyptic sci-fi world they live in; it's a matter of foreground vs. background...)
EXCERPT FROM INTRO: This isn't like Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" series. It's not my idea of The Best Movies Ever Made (that would be a different list, though there's some overlap here), or limited to my personal favorites or my estimation of the most important or influential films. These are the movies I just kind of figure everybody ought to have seen in order to have any sort of informed discussion about movies. They're the common cultural currency of our time, the basic cinematic texts that everyone should know, at minimum, to be somewhat "movie-literate." I hope these movies are experiences we can all assume we share.
He always wanted to work with Bill Murray, Jim Jarmusch said. "He's got a big-brush style where he's a comic genius. But he can also paint with a one-haired brush." That was the Murray that Jarmusch wanted, the one he had seen in "The Razor's Edge," "Mad Dog and Glory," "Ed Wood," "Rushmore" and "Lost in Translation." So it should have been simple. Jarmusch worked on a screenplay for four or five months, went to Cannes in 2002 to raise the money for it, and came home with most of the financing in place.
HOLLYWOOD -- "Make a reservation at Le Bistro," Groucho Marx said over the telephone. "And make sure you make the reservation. I went there once with some schnook from Life who thought you could walk right in. And for God's sake make sure it's even open on Sunday. If it isn't, make a reservation at the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel. To me it's just a device to get a free lunch. If I mention 'Minnie's Boys,' it will be strictly by accident. And for God's sake don't bring along any gadgets, any of that electronic gear...."