Saturday, March 13, 2010
The Fifty Best Living Directors
1. Martin Scorsese | Raging Bull
2. Jean-Luc Godard | Breathless
3. Steven Spielberg | Schindler's List
4. Joel & Ethan Coen | Fargo (probably right, but I'd pick Blood Simple)
5. Steven Soderbergh | Traffic
6. Paul Thomas Anderson | Magnolia
7. Woody Allen | Annie Hall (bizarrely, I'd pick Take The Money and Run)
8. Quentin Tarantino | Pulp Fiction
9. David Lynch | Mulholland Dr.
10. Wong Kar-Wai | In The Mood For Love
11. Wes Anderson | Rushmore (Fantastic Mr. Fox)
12. Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne | L'Enfant (The Son)
13. Werner Herzog | Grizzly Man (Aguirre, The Wrath Of God)
14. Francis Ford Coppola | The Godfather
15. Lars von Trier | Breaking The Waves (Dogville)
16. Hou Hsiao-Hsien | Hao nan hao nu [Good Men, Good Women]
17. David Fincher | Fight Club
18. Abbas Kiarostami | Taste Of Cherry (Close-Up)
19. Clint Eastwood | Mystic River (Unforgiven)
20. Hayao Miyazaki | Princess Mononoke
21. Apichatpong Weerasethakul | Syndromes and a Century
22. Agnes Varda | Vagabond
23. David Cronenberg | A History of Violence
24. Tim Burton | Edward Scissorhands
25. Wim Wenders | Wings Of Desire
26. Jim Jarmusch | Ghost Dog (good call!!)
27. Terry Gilliam | Brazil
28. Claire Denis | Chocolat
29. Christopher Nolan | The Dark Knight (Memento)
30. Danny Boyle | Slumdog Millionaire (Trainspotting)
31. Chris Marker | Sans Soleil
32. Michael Haneke | Cache (White Ribbon)
33. Alain Resnais | Hiroshima Mon Amour
34. Gus Van Sant | Good Will Hunting
35. Ridley Scott | Blade Runner (probably, but my peculiar fave: Matchstick Men)
36. Richard Linklater | Before Sunset (near miss: Before Sunrise)
37. Pedro Almodovar | Talk To Her
38. Spike Lee | Do The Right Thing
39. Jacques Rivette | La belle Noiseuse
40. Guillermo Del Toro | Pan's Labyrinth
41. James Cameron | Avatar
42. Jane Campion | The Piano
43. Terrence Malick | Days Of Heaven
44. Cameron Crowe | Almost Famous (Say Anything)
45. Sofia Coppola | Lost In Translation
46. John Sayles | Lone Star (near miss: should be Men With Guns)
47. Jim Sheridan | My Left Foot
48. Errol Morris | The Fog Of War (Thin Blue Line)
49. Charles Burnett | Killer Of Sheep
50. Mel Brooks | Blazing Saddles
And these are the most significant imissions pointed out by readers, along with my pick of their Crowning Achievement . . .
Todd Haynes | Far From Heaven
Roman Polanski | Chinatown
Peter Jackson | The Lord Of The Rings
Alexander Payne | About Schmidt
And I'd add . . .
John Lassetter | Up
(boldface = my top picks, brackets = my preferred films)
Friday, March 12, 2010
“I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating. I don’t care if it’s a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theater, a piece of music. Anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us. I think the world would be unlivable without art.”
Thursday, March 11, 2010
While Hollywood was busy showcasing lengthy acceptance speeches and well-dressed actors at its annual Oscars, the Videomaticademy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was equally occupied chasing foxes and celebrating prawns at the conclusion of its Canada-wide Alternative Oscars Contest.
Hosted by Videomatica.ca, the Canadian destination for independent and alternative films, the 11th edition of the Alternative OscarsÒ Contest boasted an 11-category ballot of 2009's most overlooked and underappreciated films and performers, and invited Canadian movie fans to choose for their favourites.
- In the battle for Best Picture, the stop-motion animation of Fantastic Mr. Fox trumped science fiction, political satire, musical documentaries, and real-life romance. Fantastic filmmaker Wes Anderson didn't win the award for Best Director, which went to Neill lomkamp, who won for being the architect of the space alien "prawns" in District 9.
- One of the aforementioned prawns, Christopher the "Prawn" from District 9, won the coveted Best Non-Human Actor Award. In a field that also included creatures ranging from tigers and iguanas to robots and animated dobermans, Christopher made short work of them all and struck a chord with the voting members of the Videomatica.ca Alternative OscarsÒ who crave emotional depth and honest character development from their non-human performers. Where human actors were concerned, Matt Damon (The Informant) and Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) topped the votes in the Best Actor Maleand Best Actor Female categories, respectively.
- Like Melanie Laurent, this year's most resounding winner was also a "basterd". Christoph Waltz waltzed away with the Best Villain award for his chilling turn as Col. Hans Landra Best Villain, collecting a hefty 45% of the vote on his way to victory. One of Waltz's fellow nominees was Lorna Raver, the crazed gypsy in Drag Me to Hell, a film nominated in this year's newest Alternative OscarsÒ category, Scariest Picture. In the end, the unseen forces ofParanormal Activity proved to be scary enough for voters to emerge victorious.
- So what was the closest race in the Alternative Oscars this year? The infamous Worst Picture showdown, which saw Steve Martin's bumbling remake sequel, Pink Panther 2 overtake the poorly-conceived shenanigans of Robin Williams and John Travolta in Old Dogs by a single vote. One vote wouldn't have made a difference in the Best Canadian Picture category, where the Joshua Jackson-led drama, One Week, tugged at the necessary heartstrings to shine through as a true winner.
THE COMPLETE LIST OF WINNERS AND NOMINEES
Fantastic Mr. Fox (winner)
In the Loop
Michael Jackson's This Is It
Wes Anderson – Fantastic Mr. Fox
Neill Blomkamp - District 9 (winner)
Tom Ford - A Single Man
Terry Gilliam - The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Duncan Jones - Moon
BEST ACTOR (MALE)
Nicolas Cage – Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Matt Damon - The Informant (winner)
Paul Giamatti - Cold Souls
Christian McKay - Me and Orson Welles
Sam Rockwell - Moon
BEST ACTOR (FEMALE)
Abbie Cornish - Bright Star
Sasha Grey - The Girlfriend Experience
Melanie Laurent - Inglourious Basterds (winner)
Tilda Swinton - Julia
Robin Wright Penn - The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (MALE)
Robert Duvall - The Road (winner)
Ken Jeong - The Hangover
Bill Murray - Zombieland
Liev Schreiber - Taking Woodstock
Kevin Spacey - The Men Who Stare At Goats
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (FEMALE)
Mariah Carey - Precious
Claire Danes - Me and Orson Welles
Maggie Gyllenhaal - Away We Go
Helen Mirren - State of Play
Julianne Moore - A Single Man (winner)
BEST NON-HUMAN ACTOR
Alpha the Doberman – Up
Christopher the Prawn – District 9 (winner)
GERTY the Robot - Moon
The Iguanas - Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Mike Tyson's Tiger - The Hangover
Michael Gambon as Franklin Bean – Fantastic Mr. Fox
Mo'Nique as Mary – Precious
Lorna Raver as Sylvia Ganush – Drag Me to Hell
Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landra – Inglourious Basterds (winner)
Greedy Corporations – Capitalism: A Love Story
BEST CANADIAN PICTURE
Anvil: The Story of Anvil
The Necessities of Life
One Week (winner)
Drag Me to Hell
The Haunting in Connecticut
Paranormal Activity (winner)
Angels & Demons
The Pink Panther 2 (winner)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Saturday, March 06, 2010
New Yorker's Richard Brody is rare among film critics in finding things to praise about GENTLEMEN BRONCOS, the third film from Mormon film maker Jared Hess (NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, NACHO LIBRE).
One of the most audacious American movies of 2009, Jared Hess’s “Gentlemen Broncos” (on DVD from Fox) — a loopy comedy that blends frumpy down-market vulgarity with excremental humor and cartoonish, yet astonishingly simple and clever, action sequences — is hardly the type to attract Oscar consideration. Yet it’s a work of visionary inspiration that, like many outrageous Hollywood comedies of the classic era (such as those of Frank Tashlin), tackles remarkably serious matters.
The story of the home-schooled teen-ager Benjamin Purvis (Michael Angarano), the only child of a poor widow (Jennifer Coolidge) in a pious Christian community in Saltair, Utah, is rife with religious overtones. An aspiring science-fiction writer, Benjamin goes to a teen-writers’ conference, where he meets his idol, the fantasy novelist Dr. Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement), to whom he shows a manuscript, which Chevalier soon appropriates, transforms, and passes off as his own. Meanwhile, two other kids in the program, Lonnie (Héctor Jiménez) and Tabitha (Halley Feiffer), buy the story from Benjamin under false pretenses and turn it into a smarmy home video; the young writer—with the help of his so-called guardian angel, Dusty (Mike White)—fights to reclaim and restore his novel.
Hess, a Brigham Young graduate who has worked in the Mormon film industry, daringly sets Benjamin’s naïve yet heroic visions in three sets of images—the gaudy, lubricious ones that Chevalier imagines; Lonnie’s travesty; and, most astonishingly, the fierce yet devout ones that Benjamin sees in his mind’s eye. Set in a future outer-space post-apocalyptic desert, his tale, “Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years,” blends whiz-bang weaponry with Rocky Mountain fauna and an adolescent obsession with reproductive organs and bodily fluids. Its hero resembles Benjamin’s late father, as well as the poster-size portrait of the long-haired, bearded Jesus that hangs in the family’s living room. The struggle against a diabolical intergalactic warlord involves physical degradation, projectile vomiting, and other grotesque bodily functions. In his jejune yet highly moral inspiration, Benjamin is the prophet of a pop-infused Gospel, an updated Book of Mormon, that speaks to a new generation of young people whose coarsened sensibility is paradoxically attuned to Biblical explicitness and ferocity. Hess’s vision is both childish and childlike, yet from the mouths of babes oft comes wisdom—as well as things that need to be wiped up.
Brody noted the spiritual concerns of BRONCOS last fall, at The New Yorker's film blog The Front Row
"Point by point, Manohla Dargis’s review of Jared Hess’s Gentlemen Broncos (2009) misses what’s going on. She and I were among the few writers who praised Hess’s previous film, Nacho Libre (2006). . . . She saw the film almost exclusively in terms of gender politics, praising its 'liberating vision of identity as a performance space, an existential wrestling ring, if you will, in which each of us, if only given the opportunity, can cavort freely in the mask and colored tights of our choosing.' Fine, but not a word about religion. . . ."
Where Dargas sees only "a gross-out comedy," Brody calls Gentlemen Broncos "a strange and personal religious vision," its central character "the author of a new gospel," and director Hess’s filming of his visions "wondrously ingenuous, . . . both as sublime and as crudely carnal as scripture itself."
He goes on to connect the writer-director of Napoleon Dynamite (2004) with another auteur whose work finds the sacred in the profane. "The grotesque bodily functions, human, animal, and alien, that the movie depicts unflinchingly—as well as the “unpleasant, unattractive characters” Dargis says the film is filled with—are the point. It’s easy to present the beautiful people and the scrubbed world as divine creations; Hess’s vision sacralizes what other filmmakers don’t. The director he’s closest to in this regard is Pier Paolo Pasolini (and Pasolini, too, had an extraordinary sense of the naïve, the repellent, and the ridiculous)."
It strikes me that a less lofty point of comparison might be Kevin Smith (CLERKS, whose sensibility similarly pairs an eternally adolescent preoccupation with crudity and a not-so-crude preoccupation with eternity - Smith a Catholic, Hess a Latter Day Saint.
In case Brody sets Soul Food expectations too high, here's the prevailing critical opinion, represented by EW's Lisa Schwartzbaum: "As they did in Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, the Hesses claim to celebrate the amusing qualities of misshapen people and their misshapen dreams, insisting that amateurism and bad taste (both in filmmaking and in life) are intentional artistic choices. The audience may have bought the act in Napoleon Dynamite. But this time, the act bombs.The one saving grace of such a relentlessly unappealing movie may be that the emperor's-new-clothes moment has arrived: Bad taste is sometimes just a vice, and amateurism in filmmaking is no virtue."
All three Hess films available at Videomatica
Thursday, March 04, 2010
In LORNA'S SILENCE (Sony), the Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, shooting on location in Liège, use symbolic and theatrical elements to transcend practical naturalism. Arta Dobroshi stars as an Albanian immigrant for whom gangsters have arranged a paid marriage with Claudy (Jérémie Renier), a drug addict, in order to make her a Belgian citizen. They plan to kill him off so that she can, in turn, marry a Russian immigrant—and her silence costs Claudy his life. With recurring shots of locks and keys, the Dardennes suggest the fear and exclusion that suffuse the prosperous West and Lorna herself, and the story builds to a terrifying episode of Shakespearean madness that, with its implications of the supernatural, dramatizes, against the coldhearted demands of reason, the resistance of moral conscience.
The New Yorker, February 15 & 22, 2010
Available at Videomatica
Monday, March 01, 2010
In 2004, 2005 and 2006 the Arts & Faith conversation board created a list of 100 "spiritually significant" films. Last year the site joined forces with IMAGE Journal, which is to my mind the finest publication available on, well, arts and faith. Jointly, A&F and IMAGE today published the fourth iteration of the list, and it's well worth exploring.
This year the "spiritually significant" descriptor was removed from the list, and as a result there's been an increase in films which might not at first glance seem to be of particular "soul food" interest - a drift toward just-plain-great movies, the "Sight & Sound" effect. But for every PLAYTIME or KILLER OF SHEEP added to the list, you'll find any number of exciting new additions that still fit with the list's original intent - A SERIOUS MAN, INTO GREAT SILENCE, L'ENFANT and LORNA'S SILENCE, THE ISLAND (OSTROV), SILENT LIGHT, THE NEW WORLD, USHPIZIN and (an extreme personal favourite) SON OF MAN.
More to follow, whenever your faithful correspondent can spring some time to dig a little deeper, but for the meantime check out the list itself at A&F, Jeffrey Overstreets initial thoughts posted at the IMAGE Journal blog, "Good Letters," and ongoing commentary at Filmwell. And here's a rundown of all the films previously included on the list, from 2004 to 2006.