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Remembering Ruby Dee; "The Fault in Our Stars" succeeds and fails; Amazon vs. Warner Bros.; The case against "Edge of Tomorrow"; Trials of a documentarian.


1. Ten 2. Best 3. Lists

There is none so blind as he who will not see. It's true. Ray Stevens sang it in the hit single "Everything is Beautiful (In Its Own Way)." I have no idea why I just mentioned that.

MSN Movies has published its main movie contributors' lists of the year's best films (and, yeah, we cheated freely -- our lists don't all contain ten titles). Here you'll find lists from me and (in alphabetical order) some other names you may recognize: Sean Axmaker, Gregory Ellwood, David Fear, Richard T. Jameson, MSN Movies chieftan Dave McCoy, Kim Morgan and Kathleen Murphy. As is my custom, I don't make what I see as artificial and qualitatively meaningless distinctions between categories (documentary, "foreign language") because, the way I see it, a feature film is a feature film, and a doc or a movie from somewhere else in the world is every bit as much a product of conscious and unconscious artistic decision-making, skill, planning, determination and luck as any other kind of picture with a running time of around an hour or more. (That, arguably, is a meaningless distinction, too. Heck, "Simon of the Desert" and "Wavelength" are only 45 minutes long, "Sherlock, Jr." is 44, " and "Un Chien Andalou" is only sweet 16!)

I'm cooking up a different sort of list I want to do for Scanners and, but if you want to see my faves (as of my deadline last week -- and nothing I've seen since then would change my rankings), use the link above and/or check after the jump. Please see my post about listmaking in general, below... and please, as always, feel free to post your own lists and responses in the comments section!


All about your parents

The Blocks on the block. Such a nice Jewish family.

One of the highlights of my moviegoing experience at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival is about to become one of the best theatrical releases of 2006: Doug Block's "51 Birch Street" opens Wednesday in New York, Friday in Los Angeles and then slowly around the rest of the country from there. Check out the release schedule here. If this movie doesn't get an Oscar nomination, we'll know that there's something seriously wrong with the Academy's docu-- oh, wait, we already know that, don't we?

Although my post below is safe, I urge you NOT to read too much about the movie before you've seen it. But after you have, check out Doug's web site at and this article that appeared in the New York Times and this one from The London Times.

Here's my original post, from September 15, 2005: TORONTO -- How much do you know about your parents' marriage? How much do you want to know? How much should you know? Those are the dilemmas faced by filmmaker Doug Block in his quietly shattering, and eventually healing, documentary, "51 Birch Street." Block's film, as engrossing as any murder mystery but without melodrama or histrionics, could be this year's "Capturing the Friedmans" -- and yet the lives it investigates are more or less ordinary ones. No, there are no accusations of child pornography or molestation as in "Friedmans," but the film is no less compelling for being about a seemingly unexceptional, unremarkable, but relatively stable and successful marriage -- indeed, one that lasted more than 50 years.

As Block has said: "I never intended to make this film. But looking back on it, I guess it was the film I was born to make." Certainly it is a film only he could have made, because it is about his own family. It's a mystery he kind of stumbled into, interviewing his parents for a "family history" video he was thinking of making, and using the camera (a la Ross McElwee ["Sherman's March"], who is thanked in the credits) as a tool for getting closer -- to his father, in particular. He didn't expect to find what he found -- like 30 years of his mother's daily journals, beginning in 1968, which were mostly about her psychotherapy and her unhappiness with his father.

"51 Birch Street" is, in some ways, an antidote to the sugarcoated myths and lies the movies have taught us about love and marriage. I wish it could be shown as a second feature to every one of those "happily ever after" movies that culminate with the wedding ceremony -- as if that was an ending rather than a beginning. (It's like they say about the difference between comedy and tragedy being dependent entirely on where you choose to stop telling the story.)

The movies teach us romantic cliches that, once we become aware of them, are leached of their potency in real life. How romantic can a moonlight walk on the beach really be when, in the back of your mind, you're thinking: "Wow, this is just like a movie! How romantic!" Or: "Wow, a Moonlight Walk on the Beach. I'm inhabiting a cliche out of a movie. Can't we come up with something more original than this?" Maybe the very idea of "romance" belongs to the movies and art and pop culture and "silly love songs" (see John Turturro's deconstructionist musical love story, "Romance & Cigarettes"). What we live is something else.

Same goes for marriage. "51 Birch Street" is an account of the disappointments, resentments, accommodations and hard-fought compromises (with oneself and one's partner) that a marriage entails. There are no heroes or villains or homewreckers or philanderers. There's just husband and wife, Mom and Dad. I can't wait to read your comments and questions after you see it -- and maybe some of your own stories, as well...