Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Xmas, and Stop Smiling!

Not as contradictory as it sounds. I do wish you a Merry Christmas, gleefully, sincerely, quickly, and somewhat exhaustedly, after all the baking I did last night and all the essay-writing (seriously!) I'm having to do this morning, in advance of my annual professional party. (At least writing this paper has involved sustained attention to two delicious movies.)

Speaking of delicious movies, and in the spirit of gift-giving, the best cinematic stocking-stuffer of the year is absolutely the elegant and richly outfitted Charles Burnett Collection from Milestone Video, centered around the seminal and at-long-last-available Killer of Sheep. As you probably know, after 30 years in a limbo of non-exhibition, the 30-year-old Killer finally bowed on commercial screens in the late spring. I was wowed by the movie in August, when it arrived to Chicago's Music Box Theatre and have been even more deeply wowed after two further revisits. After some hemming and hawing, I have elected not to include the movie in my upcoming Top Ten List and year-end awards, since I experienced all those #1 spots for Army of Shadows last year to be something of a cop-out. But, still pending There Will Be Blood, Persepolis and eight other (read: less auspicious) theatrical releases, Killer of Sheep does look to me like the movie of the year. My ongoing friendly relations with Stop Smiling Magazine allowed me to publish this online review, which I hope you'll enjoy...on or after today's joyeux noël. More from me before year's end!

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Away from Them

I can't believe I'm away from home and from e-mail when all the critics' awards are pouring in. Y'all do not need me to summarize who won what in New York, Los Angeles, and Boston, or what the National Board of Review had to say; Nathaniel and Gabriel have got that covered. So, taking a hint from my blog buddy Six Things, and acknowledging that I am currently poaching a wireless connection from a nearby business, I'll limit my reactions to the following:

1. Casey Affleck is a lead in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I thought he was good in the movie, if not quite great, but I'm not giving him any love for his NBR or San Fran wins as Best Supporting Actor, because The S**t Is Bananas.

1a. People: any movie can have two leads. Or more: think Closer. Or none: think I'm Not There. Critics: don't think like Oscar publicists, think like actors: if you landed Clive Owen's part in Closer or Casey Affleck's part in Assassination, you'd call home to Ma and say, "I got one of the lead roles!" Not, "I'm in this movie where I support Brad Pitt by being in the movie even more than he is, and having the whole final act to myself!" So, that's just a little bit about where I'm coming from. Anyway.

2. Speaking of Casey Affleck, he's an even less ambiguous lead in Gone Baby Gone, in which Amy Ryan gives a sporadically striking but very loud performance, and often emblematizes the movie's coarse attempts to "get at" a sub-working-class, drug-laced, South Boston world that the filmmakers don't know enough about. (They know Boston, fine, but not this Boston.) How she is turning into the Helen Mirren of 2007 and winning every prize in sight is beyond me.

2a. People: TILDA. SWINTON. Which part of this is confusing? Help us, National Society of Film Critics. You're our only hope.

3. The Broadcast Film Critics Association. This organization and its awards are best handled in the same way you would handle a horsefly: just stand still and ignore it and hopefully, eventually, it goes away. Every awards nut knows that the BFCA has even less merit as a group than any of its members has individually, and that's saying a lot. Why would we even address it? You have never seen, and will never see, any other mention of the BFCA on this site.

4. No End in Sight. So glad to see this turning into 2007's documentary to beat for the Oscar. Later, when I'm back on home turf, we will address the disappointment I feel about Oscar's qualifying shortlist of docs, but No End in Sight is on it. Rent it: not only a solid, well-packaged film, but the handiest two-hour condensation of U.S. "policy" and its grievous, successive errors in Iraq that I have seen, partially because No End spends as much time articulating a sociological picture of Iraq post-2001 as it does making predictable (if fully deserved) wails against key U.S. officials. I admit that I'm glad to see the Boston scribes endorse the deliciously fun Crazy Love (reviewed here), but No End in Sight is a sturdier choice.

5. The Slavophilia of the LAFC. Last year, some smooth-talker in that group had the genius idea of coronating my own Best Actress choice, Luminita Gheorghiu of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, as their Best Supporting Actress. Even though, yes, she is a lead: see 1a. But I was so wowed by their adventurousness and lack of parochialism, I let it slide. This year, the same silver-tongued Cicero of the City of Angels persuaded her or his peers to rally behind the phenomenal and as-yet-unreleased 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days: their Best Foreign-Language Film of the Year and also their choice for Best Supporting Actor, in the form of Vlad Ivanov's dismaying and thuggish abortionist. And Anamaria Marinca was the runner-up to the lovely and deserving Marion Cotillard for Best Actress. I've already been planning to throw release patterns to the wind and include 4 Months in my year-end festivities. I figure that what I see in '07 stays in '07. But it's nice to feel the LAFC has your back in a case like this. Which reminds me...

6. No Country for Old Men. Julie Christie. Javier Bardem. The script for The Savages. Ratatouille. Sidney Lumet and the rest of Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. They're all having great awards runs, and good on 'em. But don't expect to see any of them when the Nick's Flick Picks Honorees drop in early January. I'm not trying to make a point, y'all. I can be down with consensus: just ask Marion Cotillard. But the mix will be different when I'm cooking the batter. Who are your pets and dark horses that you're looking to laurel, even if no one else is going to?

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