An interview with film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum about his new two-volume book collection, Cinematic Encounters.
The latest on streaming and Blu-ray, including Support the Girls, Mission: Impossible - Fallout, Galveston, and The Magnificent Ambersons.
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.
A young black boy deemed suspicious for wearing a hoodie. A black head of state depicted as a primate. Extremist political parties masking bigotry behind nationalism. Google the word "racism" and you'll find a vast array of news items showing that this most basic form of bigotry is alive and well.
There have been many films big and small which have addressed the subject. But only one comes to mind with racism as an actual character: the controversial drama "White Dog," directed by Samuel Fuller, based on the novel by Romain Gary.
He had these smiling eyes. And a self-deprecating manner which seemed to belie his very good looks ("He's so cute," my 19-year-old assistant exclaimed), about which he was fairly oblivious. Most of all, he was simply a very good guy.
Gary Winick, a many-hats-wearing filmmaker and digital pioneer, died of complications following a 2 year battle with brain cancer on February 27th, the day of the Academy Awards --- an especially sad irony for a vital man, weeks shy of 50, whose passion for film and storytelling had filled the decades of his adult life.
The private memorial service was held at the Time-Warner Center in Winick's beloved New York. Overlooking Central Park as the sun set, an invited group of 400 (some going back to childhood, some famous, many with whom he'd worked, even some he'd made sure got a decent meal when they were struggling) assembled to watch film clips, to hear and tell stories - to cry, yes, but also to laugh at so many experiences they certainly cherish now.
A few days ago, I was one of many critics who panned the film SUCKER PUNCH. Though I hadn't written my own, I advocated several reviews that I felt reflected my sentiments.
Though I agreed in their disapproval, two words kept on reappearing with each negative review I read: "video game." To say that the film draws greatly upon video game aspects is accurate. But with each citation, my fellow critics continue to beat the dead horse of an argument that video games are a meaningless form of mindless entertainment.
I grew up on movies and on video games, and love and respect what they bring to the table. Though I enjoy them on different levels, they both have given me moments of wonder and serious reflection. As an avid gamer and film lover, I find it a shame to see how one medium has gained artistic acceptance while the other continues to be derided by the mainstream. There are many reasons why they are looked down upon, but if you give them a shot, you just might conclude that video games should be considered art.
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...
"When I'm making a movie, the world goes away and I'm on Mt. Everest. Obama is President? Who cares? I'm making my movie." -- Quentin Tarantino, Village Voice interview (2009)
A wily WWII Looney Tunes propaganda movie that conjures up 1945's "Herr Meets Hare," (in which Bugs Bunny goes a-hunting with Hermann Goering in the Black Forest; full cartoon below) and the towering legends of Sergio Leone's widescreen Westerns -- and about a gazillion other movies and bits of movie history from Leni Riefenstahl to Anthony Mann to Brian De Palma -- Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" is a gorgeous and goofy revenge cartoon, a conceptual genre picture about the mythmaking power of cinema. Re-writing history? That's missing the point by several kilometers. This is pure celluloid fantasy -- an invigorating wallow in the vicarious pleasures of movie-watching by someone who would rather watch movies than do anything else in the world. Except maybe talk about them.
I spent the last week preparing for "Inglourious Basterds" by watching the two Tarantinos I'd missed: both volumes of "Kill Bill" and "Death Proof." (I came to think of it as the Foot-Fetish Film Festival.) So, with that in mind, I thought I'd begin by taking a general look at how I think Tarantino's movies work -- what they do, and what they don't do -- because, although I haven't read more than a few brief passages from other "Basterds" reviews yet, people seem to think there's been a lot of misrepresentation and/or misinterpretation going around (starting with Newsweek and The Atlantic). Some clearly wanted or expected the movie to be something else. A morality lesson, perhaps. But those other movies would not be ones Quentin Tarantino has ever shown any interest in making. "Inglourious Basterds," love it or hate it (and I think it puts most contemporary American filmmaking to shame), it is what it is because it's exactly the way Tarantino wants it to be. Let's consider...
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 Number 74.
I was not familiar with TotalFilm.com, until I spotted a link over at Movie City News.
Thanks a lot, guys.
The link was to a pair of articles listing Total Film's choices for "The Greatest Directors Ever" Part 1 (100 - 49) and Part 2 (50 - 1).
Will I return to this site? I think probably not. Why am I linking to it now? Because it's my shameless attempt to stimulate discussion, which I hope will be on a more informed level than this list. Or maybe it's just to have a laugh. Or a moment of sadness. What do I think of the list itself? Well, let's see:
Baz Luhrmann is #97.
Tony Scott is #74, just edging out Milos Forman, Kenji Mizoguchi, Satyajit Ray, Carl Theodor Dreyer, and Buster Keaton, who comes in at #88.
Bryan Singer is #65, two slots below Robert Bresson, who immediately follows Sam Raimi.
Rob Reiner is #35.
Michael Mann (#28) is on the list, but Anthony Mann is not.
Bernardo Bertolucci is... not on the list.
Otto Preminger is... not on the list.
Richard Lester is... not on the list.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder is... not on the list.
Max Ophuls is... not on the list.
George Cukor is... not on the list, but George Lucas (#95) is.
Andrei Tarkovsky is... not on the list.
Eric Rohmer is... not on the list.
Claude Chabrol is... not on the list.
Luchino Visconti is... not on the list.
Vittorio De Sica is... not on the list.
Michelangelo Antonioni is... not on the list. Not even the top 100.
What's worse are the little names they have for each director. Sophia Coppola (#99) is "The dreamer" ("Dreamy, brave and cool, this Coppola is doing it for herself"). Singer is "The new Spielberg." Robert Altman (#26) is "The outsider" -- oops, but so is Hal Ashby (#58). Somebody ran out of labels. Well, at least they are not outside all alone; they are outside together. Sam Fuller (#50) is "The hack." Mike Leigh (#49) is "The grouch." Quentin Tarantino (#12) is "The motormouth."
OK, that's enough. Have at it if you feel like it. If you don't feel like it, you'll probably live.
ADDENDUM: A reader, spleendonkey, describes TotalFilm as a British magazine aimed at teens and pre-teens, designed to broaden their film horizons. For the record, here's the mag's description of itself on its subscription page:In 2007, Total Film celebrates its tenth year of being the only film magazine that nails a monthly widescreen shot of the whole movie landscape. It’s the essential guide for anyone who’s passionate about movies - whether they’re into Cruise or Cusack, Hollywood or Bollywood, multiplex or arthouse, popcorn or - er - sweetcorn. Each issue is pumped full of reviews, news, features and celebrity interviews on all the latest cinema releases. The all-new home entertainment section, Lounge, is the ultimate one-stop-shop for everything you should care about in the churning world of DVDs, books, videogames and, occasionally, film-related novelty furniture. The mag regularly features highly desirable, Ebay-friendly FREE stuff - exclusive film cells, posters, postcards, DVDs… We’re currently in discussions with Health & Safety operatives about sticking a magical compass to the cover when "His Dark Materials" comes out. Subscribe to Total Film now, or forever be belittled by precocious children in discussions about what’s best and worst in movieland.Doesn't sound all that different from Entertainment Weekly to me, but there you go...
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.
From the revolutionary visual strategies of his first film, "Breathless" (1960), to his recent experiments with video, the French director Jean-Luc Godard has been on the cutting edge of cinema. The Music Box revival of a restored version of his "Contempt" (1963) is an occasion to review some of the landmarks in his career.
[A reconstructed version of Samuel Fuller's "The Big Red One" is going into release around the country, and will soon be on DVD. Roger Ebert talked to the legendary director at Cannes 1980.]
Cannes, France – The dramatic return of the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa has provided most of the drama during the first week of this year’s Cannes Film festival. Kurosawa, who at age 70 had not made a film in five years or a Japanese film in 10, arrived here Wednesday with “Kagemusha,” a three-hour samurai epic that is clearly a labor of love. It was greeted with ovations at its press screenings, and is the early favorite to win this year’s Grand Prix.
Cannes, France – The television crew has appropriated the garden of the Majestic Hotel and is setting up a shot that will symbolize the atmosphere here on the day before the official opening of the 33rd annual Cannes International Film Festival. The shot shows film critic Rex Reed sitting alone at a table in the deserted garden in the rain, sipping from a glass of champagne. Behind him, the great swimming pool is empty. The deck chairs are stacked like firewood. The sky is gray and the waves are pounding sullenly against the beach.