Happy New Movie Year 2009!

Wow, I wrote too much last year so I’ll keep this short. How am I doing on my ongoing quest to see every great movie?

– My 2008 goal to watch movies I already had (mainly purchased, never-watched DVDs but also rented/copied DVDs and downloads) was not a complete success, somewhere around a third complete. I’m allowing myself to start buying DVDs again with the condition that I watch at least one off the shelf for each new one I acquire… seems reasonable.

– Filmmaker-oriented goals, to see all the movies by Rivette, Resnais, Marker, Bunuel, were well explored and advanced in 2008, but are on hold now, since I’ve decided to ban all foreign-language films (except theatrically and in certain other cases) until I’m at least halfway through my long-long-delayed French lessons.

– Made my list of movies I definitely have to watch in 2009, but I overdid it as always, so it’s 270 titles long. Still, unrealistic goals are better than no goals at all.

– And of the best-movies-ever lists that I often refer to, I’m up five to 211/250 on the IMDB list (will never hit 100% as long as Crash 2004 is still on there), up fifty to 500/1000 on the They Shoot Pictures list, up forty to 380/1000 on the Rosenbaum list, up a mere five on the 1977 list, and up one percent (242/519 from 205/450) on the Criterion/Eclipse list (the hardest one to keep up with).

There are other new years goals and resolutions and lists and everything, but they ain’t movie-related so they are of no concern here.

Brandon’s Ten Favorite New Movies of 2008

As usual, only counting just-released movies I saw in theaters in 2008.

1. Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant)
More youth poetry from Van Sant – nailed it this time.

2/3.
Wall-E (Andrew Stanton)
There Will Be Blood (P.T. Anderson)
TWBB is better than Wall-E in many ways, but I’m feeling more generous towards the lovestruck robot than the miserable oil-baron right now. They were both the visual and story delights of the year.

4. Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind (John Gianvito)
The only movie I watched three times this year.

5/6/7.
Let The Right One In (Tomas Alfredson)
Don’t Touch The Axe (Jacques Rivette)
The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin)
Three exquisite foreign flicks.

8. Youth Without Youth (Francis Ford Coppola)
FF Coppola’s universally ignored return to cinema. Due for a major critical re-evaluation sometime after his death, I imagine.

9. Milk (Gus Van Sant)
I had my problems with it, but it’s still great, and wins points for being extremely relevant.

10. Ashes of Time Redux (Wong Kar-Wai)
Both of Wong’s least-liked films (see My Blueberry Nights below) opened to empty theaters this year, and I’ve gotta say I enjoyed them both. Even his worst work still has a gorgeous power to it at times.

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Honorable Mentions:

Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog)
Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher)
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu)
Opera Jawa (Garin Nugroho)

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Special Categories:

The Edward Burns Memorial Award, given to the movie I saw this year which I have already mostly forgotten, is mercifully awarded to Namibia: The Struggle For Liberation

The Alien Resurrection Award, given to a movie I liked which nobody else did, goes to My Blueberry Nights

The Kyle Cooper Award, given for greatest achievement in opening or closing credits: Michael Clayton

The Big Ehh Award, given for the least enthusiastic reception of an eagerly-awaited movie: Be Kind Rewind

The Batman Begins Award, given to a movie which everyone else must have been tripping while they watched because I can’t see what’s so great about it, goes to The Dark Knight – and what’s more, given the academy award buzz the movie has garnered, this will hereafter be renamed in its honor The Dark Knight Award!

Brandon’s Twenty Favorite Old Movies of 2008

1. Five by Jacques Rivette:
Love on the Ground (1984)
The Story of Marie and Julien (2003)
Duelle (1976)
Noroit (1976)
La Belle noiseuse (1991)
Rivette movies take me to a unique place – he is closer to the dream world of David Lynch than he gets credit for. These were each excellent in their own way, and taken as a whole, they easily catapult Rivette onto my top-five favorite filmmakers list, if he wasn’t already there from Out 1 and Celine & Julie.

2. The Life of Birds (1998, David Attenborough)
Haven’t even finished this yet, and I never wrote anything about it, but some of my happiest times this year were sitting on the couch watching amazing videos of birds with Katy.

3. The Golden Coach (1953, Jean Renoir)
I mostly loved watching this for Anna Magnani, until that final scene when the whole movie hit me at once. Ooh, that final scene… I scanned back and watched it again… and again…

4. Brand Upon The Brain! (2006, Guy Maddin)
Maddin’s best film yet (or do I say that about all of them?). Will check out My Winnipeg in the new year… I expect it’ll be Maddin’s best film yet.

5. My Terence Davies double-feature of two days ago, Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1992)

6. The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom (2007, Adam Curtis)
I thought this was fascinating, but apparently it’s all in the presentation because whenever I tried to tell people about it they tuned me out. I scanned back to the intro and watched it again… and again…

7. Judex (1963, Georges Franju)
Wasn’t expecting this to make a top-ten… I didn’t even think it was supposed to be very good. Happiest surprise of the list.

8. Ordet (1955, Carl Dreyer)
I don’t know where to put this on a list, because it seems above judgement. My liking it or disliking it is entirely beside the point. Nevertheless I liked it… very much.

9. The Devils (1971, Ken Russell)
Movie on the list which I most need to rewatch, since my video copy was so poor.

10. Faces (1968, John Cassavetes)
So intense, makes me sure that I need to rewatch the Cassavetes movies I did not like, because I was probably wrong about them.

11. The Milky Way (1969, Luis Buñuel)

12. Ruggles of Red Gap (1935, Leo McCarey)
13. The Smiling Lieutenant (1931, Ernst Lubitsch)
Two comedies I watched with Katy and have mentioned every week since, much to her confusion since she thought they were just pretty good.

14. Lovers on the Bridge (1991, Leos Carax)

15. Three by Chris Marker: A.K. (1985) and Chats Perches (2004) and Remembrance of Things to Come (2001)
I watched more than fifteen Marker films this year, and these were the standouts.

16. Tabu (1930, FW Murnau)
A visual poem, one of my favorite Murnaus yet.

17. Stavisky (1974, Alain Resnais)

18. Artists and Models (1955, Frank Tashlin)

19. Tales of Hoffmann (1951, Powell & Pressburger)

20. Redacted (2007, Brian De Palma)


Honorable Mentions:
At Five in the Afternoon (2003, Samira Makhmalbaf)
French Cancan (1953, Jean Renoir)
Guelwaar (1992, Ousmane Sembene)
Harlan County USA (1976, Barbara Kopple)
Holy Mountain (1973, Alejandro Jodorowsky)
Je t’aime, je t’aime (1968, Alain Resnais)
Manufactured Landscapes (2006, Jennifer Baichwal)
Mix-Up (1985, Francoise Romand)
My Night at Maud’s (1969, Eric Rohmer)
The Mystery of Picasso (1956, Henri-Georges Clouzot)
Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2006, Sophie Fiennes)
Stuck (2007, Stuart Gordon)
Woyzeck (1979, Werner Herzog)


Bonus: Ten Favorite Shorts
1. The Wizard of Speed and Time (1979, Mike Jittlov)
2. Outer Space (and the rest of the Cinemascope Trilogy) 1999, Peter Tscherkassky
3. The Film To Come (1997, Raoul Ruiz)
4. Presto (2008, Doug Sweetland)
5. A Valparaiso (1963, Joris Ivens)
6. Le Franc (1994, Djibril Diop Mambety)
7. Mirror of Holland (1950, Bert Haanstra)
8. Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra (1928, Florey & Vorkapich)
9. Ten Thousand Years Older (2002, Werner Herzog)
10. Neighbors (1920, Buster Keaton)


And this year’s Annual WTF Awards, given to movies I think I’m supposed to have liked but couldn’t figure out why, go to horror Them, documentary Derrida, french arthouse thing The Regular Lovers, extreme satire The Ruling Class, avant-garde headache Presents and two shorts by Michael Robinson.

Brandon’s Top Ten Retrospective Screenings of 2008

These were all theatrical (film) screenings of non-current movies.

1. George Kuchar film program at Eyedrum
Mr. Kuchar himself talked about the films, which Andy projected for us on 16mm. I’d never seen any of the Kuchar brothers’ films before… a revelation!

2. Eraserhead (1977, David Lynch) at the plaza
Unbelievable on the big screen… no wonder it was a midnight cult flick.

3. “To Hell with Hitler!” at the plaza
Clay’s collection of WWII cartoon shorts for an appreciative audience.

4. What Is It? (Crispin Glover) at the plaza
More for the full in-person experience than the film itself

5. Phantom of the Opera (1925) at the Rome GA Film Festival
With live music by The Alloy Orchestra

6. Zorns Lemma / Lemon / Scorpio Rising at Emory
Extreme avant-garde flicks for an unappreciative audience… I was mesmerized both by the films and their reception.

7. Canyon Cinema program at Nashville Film Festival
A tamer version of the avant-emory screening, worth the whole drive to Nashville just for the Martin Arnold and Len Lye selections.

8. X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes (1963, Roger Corman) at the plaza
With live music by Pere Ubu

9. Forest of Bliss (1986, Robert Gardner) at Eyedrum
An entrancing feature, courtesy of programmer extraordinaire Andy

10. Four-way tie between my next favorite Emory screenings:
Written on the Wind (1956, Douglas Sirk)
Pather Panchali (1955, Satyajit Ray)
Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1964, Sergei Parajanov)
Story of Floating Weeds (1934, Yasujiro Ozu)

Indiscreet (1958, Stanley Donen)

A lighter picture from the year of Vertigo and Touch of Evil. It’s Ingrid Bergman’s second Hollywood film after returning from her European Exile From Hollywood (where she’d met Jean Renoir, just back from his Hollywood Exile From Europe – she starred in his Elena And Her Men). Cary Grant, right between An Affair to Remember and North by Northwest, was still a household name. Movie about a potentially scandalous love affair starring two lead actors who had publicly scandalous love lives at the time must’ve added up to big box office bucks.

Based on a play, and you can tell since most of the big scenes take place in the same location. Rich actress (Bergman) meets rich NATO diplomat (Grant), they date and fall in love. Only catch is he claims to be married – not true, but an escape clause for someone who never plans to settle down. There’s lots of talk of “making love” (which we all know only meant “kissing passionately” in 1958, since sex-before-marriage wasn’t invented until the mid 60’s) and late-night sneakings-around. Katy points out that Cary seems awfully comfortable lounging in her bed during one visit. There is one time when they’re in bed “together”, actually a clever split-screen effect during a phone conversation.

Cary’s secret finally comes out in a convoluted final scene. He’s leaving town for months, plans to surprise Bergman on her birthday the night after he supposedly left. She finds out about the surprise and about his single status, plans to humiliate him by having Another Man (actually the servant in a robe) lurking in her bedroom at the appointed hour. All cleared up at the end, she forgives his huge lie because he decides he wants to marry her after all. So there’s never any actual scandal except among the six characters in the movie. Good, light movie with some snappy dialogue, mostly worth watching for the star acting.

Director Donen (still alive, sued The Gap this year for their classic-film-thieving marketing) had made three comedies the year before, would put out Charade five years later. Writer Norman Krasna was also behind Let’s Make Love and the stories for Lang’s Fury and Borzage’s Big City.

No big, memorable moments by the supporting cast, which means I probably won’t recognize ‘em next time I see ‘em. Skittish servant David Kossoff, who pretends to be Bergman’s suitor in the final scene, had been in a bunch of British films with interesting names in the 50’s (The Bespoke Overcoat, A Kid For Two Farthings). His pushy wife Megs Jenkins was in Green For Danger, a late 40’s film of The Monkey’s Paw, and something called The Gay Dog. Then there’s Bergman’s ever-present sister (Phyllis Calvert, later in Twisted Nerve) and brother-in-law (Cecil Parker, the colonel in Quartet, also appeared with Bergman in Under Capricorn).

Street Angel (1928, Frank Borzage)

Hooray, my first Borzage movie, and certainly not my last thanks to the giant Box o’ Borzage that Katy gave me.

Camera glides around a giant street set of Naples, while inside her room Janet Gaynor is being told by the doctor that she needs expensive medicine for her dying mother. Janet goes outside to imitate the local prostitute, gives up in about one minute and steals some money, is immediately caught and sent to the workhouse. What crappy luck.

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Escapes just in time to watch her mother die, then evades the cops by hiding in a drum owned by the travelling circus.

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Works at the circus for a while, meets a handsome painter (dark, curly-haired Charles Farrell of City Girl and Seventh Heaven)

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Still thinking about her secret fugitive life, Janet falls when she sees a cop talking to Charles and breaks her leg.

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They return to her home, he gets a huge contract and proposes to her. The night before the wedding she’s caught by the cop.

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Cop incredibly gives her one last hour with her man before getting arrested (this hour feels like an hour, though it’s Janet’s big oscar-winning chance to get emotional).

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Dark days follow… our painter, abandoned, can’t work so gets fired from the mural job, while a painting he sold for very little is manipulated by an art fraud group and sold for a fortune, and of course Janet’s slaving away in prison.

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The day she’s out, Janet wanders the streets ashamed, while upstairs the neighborhood prostitute tells Charles his fiancee is a dirty streetwalker arrested for stealing. Charles finds Janet, chases her around, is about to strangle her when he looks up and sees his painting of her transformed into an angel – he repents, they have happy ending.

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I know when they say Borzage was heavily influenced by Sunrise I’m supposed to look at mood and style, but the whole almost-killing-your-wife thing was similar as well. Good story (I thought), not overburdened with intertitles. Favorite bits were the wild street set, the drum escape, the strangulation rage scene (very dark) and the leg-breaking bit (excellent editing there mounts tension from both the cop questioning Charles and Janet’s balancing on stilts).

The movie likes to show us FEET:
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Katy seemed underwhelmed but probably didn’t want to disparage the mighty Borzage. Not having watched the documentary on his career yet (or knowing a damned thing about him), I expect the thing is that he was creating artistic features at a time when few others were. This fact doesn’t hit me as hard because I didn’t go to the pictures in ’28, watching a steady stream of whatever crappy, gimmicky dramas were in theaters at that time… I’ve been seeking out the artistic ones all along. So films I’ve seen from the year Street Angel came out include great comedy like Speedy, Steamboat Bill Jr. and The Circus, thrillers Spies and West of Zanzibar, early avant-shorts like Überfall and The Life and Death of 9413, and all-time great The Passion of Joan of Arc – not exactly a representative selection.

Our introduction to Janet’s circus life:
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Pan down:
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Janet Gaynor won the first best-actress oscar for this (in conjunction with Seventh Heaven and Sunrise).

Janet with monkey:
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Director of photography Ernest Palmer shot a pile of Borzage pictures, also Michael Powell’s Lazybones (not to be confused with Borzage’s Lazybones), later won an oscar for Blood and Sand.

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According to IMDB, the director of All The President’s Men was born the week this came out – neat.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008, David Fincher)

AV Club: “The script comes from Eric Roth, who would probably by accused of borrowing too liberally from Forrest Gump if he hadn’t written that too.” Wow, dude also wrote that Eric Bana gambler love story I was just mocking yesterday, and my favorite film to hate, The Postman. No wonder writing seemed to be the weakness in this would-be-spectacular movie. Huge issues (hello, racism) were ignored, episodes (hello, Tilda Swinton) weren’t well integrated with the rest of the film, and Button ended up seeming like an unambitious blank who doesn’t do much with his so-called remarkable life.

Katy suggested the unambitious-blank part and some Forrest Gump comparisons, but I wonder if that wasn’t the point, to show a regular guy with parental issues who meets a girl, goes to war, has a kid, rambles around and never quite finds his place in the world, the whole aging-backwards thing being the only remarkable thing about him. That and the movie’s obsession with mortality make it a meaningful story about life and how to live it. Maybe we unrealistically expected Button to be some kinda sci-fi superhero, while the movie was trying to speak to us about life and death, love and loss, or maybe on Christmas day we weren’t in the mood for an extended monologue about mortality, but this came out feeling like a pretty alright movie, a tearjerker to be sure but maybe not the acclaimed masterpiece to which we’d been looking forward.

Pretty nice music by Alexandre Desplat was loud and fuckin’ clear, since 45 minutes before the end of the film our dialogue track almost entirely cut out leaving us with whispered words under a huge score… thanks heaps, Regal. At least we could still hear when we tried hard, since most of the audience was either heavily concentrating or fast asleep by then. Shot NOT by Fincher’s Zodiac guy, and boy am I relieved, cuz in the parking lot I was bemoaning the lack of surprise or interest in the camera setups (figuring the CG effects left no room for surprise), comparing it negatively to the immaculately-shot Milk, which we’d snuck into before our feature started… forgetting that the Zodiac guy actually shot Milk, and some nobody (the D.P. of the last M. McConaughey romance flick) shot The Ben Buttons, thus preserving my aesthetic intuitions.

So right, Ben kills his mom being born in New Orleans on the day WWI ends, is abandoned Penguin-style by his dad, discovered and raised by Queenie and (boyfriend?) Tizzy in an old folks’ home, where unsurprisingly, people die from time to time. Ben meets a girl who is not yet Cate Blanchett but one day will be. Ben, BTW, is incredibly old, confined to a wheelchair, then learns to walk with canes as he grows ever younger. He gets a job on a tugboat, has regular sex with married Tilda Swinton in a hotel, and helps in the WWII effort while Cate becomes a dancer with hip bohemian friends & spontaneous lovers. The time is not right for those two to get together, but one day after Cate’s career-destroying car accident the time is right and they do and are very happy and have a kid. Ben finds out that his real dad is Mr. Buttons, who dies and leaves Ben the button factory he ran. Also dying: war friends, Tizzy then Queenie. Ben is afraid when he grows too young he’ll be a burden (he is) so he leaves Cate and bums around the world instead. Interesting how as his brain becomes less developed and he gets smaller, it’s effectively alzheimer’s disease – he forgets more and reverts to childish behavior living in his childhood home. Cate’s daughter grows up, her “dad” dies, and while caring for her dying mom (still played by Cate, unrecognizably) the day before Hurricane Katrina hits, she learns the whole story in a huge framing device.

Brad Pitt, after a brief spell of manic energy in Burn After Reading, is back to his brooding-as-acting style, which should work just fine in next year’s Terence Malick picture with appropriate wistful voiceover. Cate is wonderful as fucking always – the acting highlight of the movie, she can do no wrong. Brad’s Coen-costar Tilda Swinton is fine with the tiny role she gets.

People I Thought I Should Have Recognized But Actually Shouldn’t Have include TV’s M. Etc. Ali as Tizzy, an otherwise uncredited actor as the African fella who takes young Ben to a brothel, Cap’n Mike: Jared Harris (Lady in the Water), and adoptive mom Taraji Henson (Talk To Me). People I Recognized But Didn’t Know From Where include Guy Ritchie action star Jason Flemyng as Mr. Button. People I Did Not Recognize At All include framing-story secret Button daughter Julia Ormond (Inland Empire), and People I Should Have Recognized But Somehow Missed include Elias Koteas as the blind clockmaker who kicks off the story.

Scrooged (1988, Richard Donner)

First we watch a Christmas movie from the writer of the Lethal Weapon series, now here’s one from the director of the Lethal Weapon series. Next year we’ll have to simply watch Lethal Weapon, which the internet tells me begins with the song Jingle Bell Rock.

Funny how I can convince myself that something I loved when I was twelve is still worth renting. Sorry, Katy and Jimmy! This was lame, overlong, cheap-looking and not all that funny anymore. Eventually I’m gonna rewatch other beloved 80’s comedies like Big, Three Amigos, Midnight Run, The Money Pit, Innerspace, Real Men, Moon Over Parador, and Max Max Beyond Thunderdome, and I hope at least some of them hold up.

Bill Murray, in between Ghostbusters flicks, is just fine as the soulless corporate TV exec who gets schooled by various ghosts of christmas. Some funny bits involving a live TV special he is producing featuring Mary Lou Retton, Buddy Hackett and John Houseman (this is one of six movies Houseman did the year he died at age 86). As ghosts we’ve got New York Doll David “Poindexter” Johansen (just breaking into movies this year) and Carol Kane of Annie Hall and Transylvania 6-5000. These two are the life of the film, not Murray, love interest Karen Allen (some years after Raiders), or the future ghost played by a robed dude with muppets in his guts.

Robert Mitchum (almost 40 years after Holiday Affair!) had been biding his time for a decade on remakes, miniseries and horror flicks before appearing in this. John Glover as a hot young exec moving in on Murray’s job played the same sort of corporate go-getter role as the building owner in Gremlins 2. And Alfre Woodard has the Kermit The Frog role as Murray’s assistant.

Nothing says Christmas Spirit like Bobcat Goldthwait with a shotgun.
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Cameo by Anne Ramsey, the Oscar nominated (she was beaten by stupid Olympia Dukakis) title character from Throw Momma From The Train.
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Frozen homeless man, about whom Bill Murray somehow gives a shit. I think this is Logan Ramsey, Anne’s husband, who was in the Monkees movie Head 20 years earlier. (nope, CORRECTED in the comments)
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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005, Shane Black)

Found this on Videodrome’s Christmas shelf and couldn’t resist. Completely fun movie with Robert Downey Jr. as a thief playing actor playing detective and Val Kilmer as a gay detective playing acting coach. It’s an action-comedy with snappy dialogue, but since those were way out of fashion in 2005, it’s a meta-action-comedy with snappy dialogue, featuring pauses and rewinds and lots of narration and self-conscious movie-cliche jokes. Somehow this all works and doesn’t annoy the shit out of me, which is what I’d imagine it would do if I were reading this instead of watching the movie.

Anyway, Downey gets the girl (Michelle Monaghan of Mission Impossible III) and they collectively take out the bad rich guy (Corbin Bernsen!) and his henchmen (incl. Dash “Doll in Thin Red Line” Mihok and Shannyn “One Missed Call Remake” Sossamon). Katy liked it but didn’t think Val Kilmer was a very convincing gay detective.