Jeremy Saulnier makes a striking debut that brings to mind Blood Simple and Pulp Fiction.
Nick Schager ponders the new crop of action directors, who bring 'serious film' cred to the genre, but can't seem to show personality where it counts the most.
If we said there was a clear throughline from "Bonnie and Clyde" and Richard Donner's "Superman: The Movie," you'd say we were crazy, right? Get ready to eat your words as we prove once again that showbiz works in mysterious ways.
While Cannes's red-carpet crowd toasts the Coen brothers' tuneful "Inside Llewyn Davis," the parallel programs have also turned a spotlight on America.
Quentin Tarantino has found his actor in Christoph Waltz -- someone who can speak Tarantinian fluently and still make it his own. When Waltz uses a self-consciously ostentatious word like "ascertain" (as in, "I was simply trying to ascertain..." -- the kind of verbiage QT is as likely to put in the mouth of a lowlife crook as a German dentist, or a Francophile plantation slavemaster, for that matter), it sounds right. As someone to whom Tarantino's dialog often sounds cliche-ridden and cutesy, it's a pleasure to hear Waltz saying the words in character rather than simply as a mouthpiece for the writer-director.
Oh, stop. This isn't sounding the way I want it to.
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.
The big loser in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll is... funny. OK, we know there are no losers, only winners! But, still, with the obvious exceptions of "Citizen Kane" and "Rules of the Game," this decade's consensus choices for the Greatest Films of All Time are not a whole lotta laughs, even though they're terrific motion pictures. There's not much in the way of chuckles or joie de vivre to be found in "Vertigo," "Tokyo Story," "Man with a Movie Camera," "The Searchers," "The Passion of Joan of Arc"... At least "Sunrise," "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "8 1/2" have healthy senses of humor, but "Kane" and "Rules of the Game" are the only movies in the top 10 with the propulsive vitality of (screwball) comedy. They are flat-out fun (even if they are regarded as "classics"). And with "Kane" bumped to #2 this time, The List has become, to paraphrase a great comedy from the 1980s, one less funny.
I say this as someone who believes that comedy is everything, and that drama is lifeless (or at least emotionally stunted) without it. Some might argue that comedy without drama is also limited and superficial, but I think comedy is more profound and complex -- and more difficult to pull off successfully. I can name plenty of comedies that capture a mature vision of human existence (if you're into that kind of thing -- like all of Buster Keaton), but a drama that (artificially) excludes humor is feels false and inert to me. [No, I'm not saying the other movies in the Top Ten are humorless or lack cinematic exuberance; just that their energy is not primarily comedic, as i feel Welles' and Renoir's are. To some extent, I'm talking about the overall tendency to value "seriousness" above "humor" in these sorts of exercises.] As for the 2012 Sight & Sound Top Ten, compare it with 1982 ("Singin' in the Rain," "The General"), 1992 ("L'Atlante") and 2002 ("Singin' in the Rain"). The lack of comedy on the new list hearkens back to the Somber Ol' Days of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. As somebody once said: Why so serious?
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.
"Film criticism is exciting just because there is no formula to apply, just because you must use everything you are and everything you know." -- Pauline Kael, "Circles and Squares: Joys and Sarris" (1963)
"She has everything that a great critic needs except judgment. And I don't mean that facetiously. She has great passion, terrific wit, wonderful writing style, huge knowledge of film history, but too often what she chooses to extol or fails to see is very surprising." -- Woody Allen, to Peter Bogdanovich, quoted in the introduction to the book This is Orson Welles (1998)
The imminent publication of two books devoted to Pauline Kael -- "A Life in the Dark," a biography by Brian Kellow, and a collection of reviews and essays called "The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael," both due Oct. 27 -- has provided an excuse to recycle all the old arguments about her. And that's not something I can imagine being said for many of her American contemporaries, mostly because nobody argues about them. Is there another American film critic who has inspired such a biography, published 20 years after her retirement? Does anyone still read, say, Vincent Canby, the powerful, impressively independent but rather lackluster successor to Kael's much-ridiculed Bosley Crowther at the New York Times? (Canby covered the film beat at the Times during the height of that institution's "make-or-break" authority from 1969 to 1993, when he switched to theater, succeeding Frank Rich.)
Some have pointed out that Kael was often wrong. Well, I should bloody well hope so. What critic isn't? By "wrong" these critics evidently mean that she did not agree with them about which movies were good and which weren't, or that her verdicts did not align themselves with the Judgments of History, lo these many years later. Were "Bonnie and Clyde," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Last Tango in Paris," "Shampoo," "Nashville" and "Casualties of War" really as great as she claimed? How could she be so dismissive -- even contemptuous -- of "La Dolce Vita," "Hiroshima, Mon Amour," "Shoah," "L'Eclisse" (and all Antonioni after "L'Avventura"), "2001: A Space Odyssey" (and all Kubrick thereafter) and Cassavetes pretty much across the board? (If you don't find at least a couple things in those lists that raise your hackles, you should be worried about the integrity and independence of your own critical values.)
Marie writes: Allow me to introduce you to Bill and Cheryl. I went to Art school with Bill and met his significant other Cheryl while attending the graduation party; we've been pals ever since. None of which is even remotely interesting until you see where they live and their remarkable and eclectic collection of finds. (click to enlarge images.)
Behold a most wondrous find...."The Shop that time Forgot" Elizabeth and Hugh. Every inch of space is crammed with shelving. Some of the items still in their original wrappers from the 1920s. Many goods are still marked with pre-decimal prices."There's a shop in a small village in rural Scotland which still sells boxes of goods marked with pre-decimal prices which may well have been placed there 80 years ago. This treasure trove of a hardware store sells new products too. But its shelves, exterior haven't changed for years; its contents forgotten, dust-covered and unusual, branded with the names of companies long since out of business. Photographer Chris Frears has immortalized this shop further on film..." - Matilda Battersby. To read the full story, visit the Guardian. And visit here to see more photos of the shop and a stunning shot of Morton Castle on the homepage for Photographer Chris Fears.
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.)
Frank Cottrell Boyce's teleplay "God On Trial" plays on PBS at 8 p.m. CST Sunday, Nov. 9, and will repeat. It's based on the true story of Auschwitz prisoners weighing the case against God. I met Frank online in the 1980s in my old CompuServe forum. He was in his 20s. Now he has become a leading British screenwriter. His credits follow this piece. After reading my blog "Roger's little rule book," he sent this article that appeared in the Guardian on June 30, 2008.
"I get a great laugh from artists who ridicule the critics as parasites and artists manqués -- such a horrible joke. I can't imagine a more perfect art form, a more perfect career than criticism. I can't imagine anything more valuable to do." -- Manny Farber, quoted in Roger Ebert's appreciation of the late, great critic
Painter and critic Manny Farber, whose book "Negative Space" is one of the essential collections of visual-arts criticism, has died at the age of 91. Farber's writing was scrappy, unpretentious and iconoclastic, not unlike the films and filmmakers he favored, from the genre pictures of Sam Fuller, Don Siegel, Sam Peckinpah and John Wayne, to the visionary and experimental work of Werner Herzog, R.W. Fassbinder, Andy Warhol and Chantal Akerman. (See pages from the expanded 1998 edition here.)
Unquestionably his most famous and reverently-quoted essay was 1962's "White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art." Modern art, he wrote, had become "a yawning production of overripe technique shrieking with preciosity, fame, ambition: far inside are tiny pillows holding up the artist's signature, now turned into mannerisms by the padding, lechery, faking required to combine today's esthetics with the components of traditional Great Art."
Farber is as much fun to read as he is to agree -- and argue-- with. I can think of no better tribute than to cite a few excerpts from his "termite art" treatise:
View image Nudge-nudge. (2008)
(My review of "Funny Games" is here. See also Your User's Guide to Movie Violence, a discussion below.)
* * * *
"You Must Admit, You Brought This On Yourself" -- advertising tagline, and line of dialog, from "Funny Games" (2008)
"Funny Games" (the 2008 Hollywood movie-star version of the virtually identical 1997 Euro-version) is a conceptual work, an aestheticized test. It's debatable whether the movie (already a replica) is necessary, except as an object that represents the larger concept -- like, say, an Andy Warhol Brillo box or Jeff Koons' vacuum cleaners in plexiglass cases.
View image Wink-wink. (1997)
You could say something similar about the high-concept "Snakes On a Plane," and you'd be right. The difference is that the marketing campaign behind the packaging of "Snakes On a Plane" was designed to sell exactly the entertainment experience that the title promised. With "Funny Games," there's a deliberate element of bait-and-switch involved. It's being sold as entertainment, but that's not at all what it intends to deliver. The experience of "Funny Games" exists in the tension between the pitch and the delivery -- which will largely determine the relationship between the viewer and the film he/she sees.
So, the promotional materials for "Funny Games" (poster art, trailers, online videos, etc.) are more than the usual extensions or enhancements of the movie. They frame the experience, but they're also essential elements of the movie itself. Why you decide to watch it (or not) is every bit as central to the movie's concerns as anything in the movie itself. That may be true of any movie, but "Funny Games" puts it right there in the foreground where you can't miss it.
View image Promotional art for the 1997 version.
If you go expecting entertainment and are entertained (or, at least, terrified -- held hostage by your own expectations), that will be one thing. If you go expecting a moral lesson about the appeal of violence in movies, and you feel chastened and sullied, that will be another. If you go expecting a thriller or a comedy and find nothing thrilling or funny about it, that will be something else. If you go expecting to be toyed with and, say, enjoy feeling that you're ahead of the movie (maybe because you've already seen the 1997 version), that will provide yet another experience. If you value writer-director Michael Haneke's other work and want to see why he's chosen to remake this one... well, I hope you get the idea.
So, the first part of the experiment involves your decision to participate or not. The movie is the second part.
TORONTO, Ont. -- “The Walker” is another of Paul Schrader’s “man in a room” films, and his best film since “Affliction” (1997). It’s a fascinating character study with as fine a performance as Woody Harrelson has given, and certainly the most unexpected. Schrader defined the films as centering on the image of a man in a room preparing to go out and do something, and then doing it, while remaining focused by his preparation. That would define Schrader’s “American Gigolo” (1980), with Richard Gere in training for his profession as a professional lover of women. And “Light Sleeper” (1992), with Willem Dafoe as a drug dealer who is also a recovering addict.
We here at the website have received so many letters about the editing style of the Bourne movies that we felt obligated to share a sampling.
Why is this stuff coming out now? Coincidence?
Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule has the best coverage anywhere of the whole "I (Heart) Huckabees" on-set "maelstrom" (as proprietor Dennis Cozzalio calls it), including the now-infamous YouTube clips of the battles between Lily Tomlin and writer-director David O. Russell. There's also an excerpt from the Playboy interview with George Clooney discussing various meltdowns during the shooting of "Three Kings," and an appearance by Tomlin and co-star Dustin Hoffman on "Good Morning America," promoting "Huckabees." Plus, there's a fantastic string of comments that you won't find anywhere else.
Dennis wonders: Can working with a volcanic director actually be good for the creative process? If not, why (besides the money) would actors and crew members tolerate such behavior? Is this kind of threatening, off-the-rails, abusive behavior somehow actionable? And if not, why would anyone want to work with Russell again? "Huckabees" may be brilliant, it may be a mess, but one could hardly call it complacent—it’s in there scrapping for slivers of enlightenment and understanding right along with the people who made it and the audiences who choose to see it and run with it, and perhaps some of this striving, searching, reckless clashing of tones and spirits that are vital to the movie can be directly traced to this kind of passion, however misplaced it might seem. These are the questions. I have no answers.Over at The Hot Blog, David Poland cites a few excerpts from Sharon Waxman's 2004 New York Times set-visit piece on the turmoil of "Huckabees" ("The Nudist Buddhist Borderline-Abusive Love-In"). Here's another piece from that story that sets the scene for one of the clips:
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 was sometimes accused of taking it easy during the early years of his career, but James Coburn, who died Monday at 74, had a strong finish.
CANNES, France--We gather silently on a hillside above the sea, with a view of the mountains in the far mist. It is like a hospital waiting room. Farther down the hillside, we can see Lars von Trier sitting in the shade of a cabana, giving an interview. He is famously phobic--worried about elevators, closed spaces, upper floors, crowds. Here at the Hotel du Cap d'Antibes, he is surrounded by light and air.
HAMMOND, Ind. -- The courtroom in Hammond's City Hall looks like your typical courtroom. Or then again, maybe it doesn't. A motto on the wall behind the bench reads:
Steve McQueen is dead at 50. The actor, one of a
TORONTO, CANADA - James Coburn is one of those movie stars who inspire an instinctive reaction in a lot of people. They seem to believe he's getting away with something. Maybe it's that grin, the one that somehow suggests that fate has given Coburn a free lifetime pass. In the 1960s, that decade when the generation under 30 seemed drenched in euphoria, Coburn's grin hinted that he was...well, always stoned. Now it is 1980, and the grin still hints at the same thing. James Coburn is not, however, always stoned. He just looks that way; it's part of his image.
L. Q. Jones is one of these guys who meets you for the first time as if he's carrying on an old friendship.