Saturday, December 05, 2009

Remembering: 2004

A year so great for American screens that my original Top Ten list (remember the old white-on-black aesthetic?) was actually a Top 15. I've since reconfigured it, and still those 14 runners-up you see beneath the updated Top 10 would make for a banner year in filmmaking all by themselves, as would my unusually rich catalogue of first-time DVD rentals, care of my escalating obsession with the Cannes Film Festival. Of course, a top-drawer year in the moviehouse is never only about the good stuff, and never only about the new stuff.

Jan 8, Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle, Washington, DC
Despite finishing high school in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., after seven other homes in six other places earlier in my life, I was never quite close enough to the city to take advantage of its metropolitan arthouses, notoriously small and ill-constructed though many of them were. Broad support-beams right in front of seats, small screens, stuff like that. Especially for a non-driver, D.C. may as well have been as far away as Denver, but I did want badly enough to see the ecstatically reviewed documentary Bus 174 that I finagled a ride to the most far-flung stop in the Metro subway system, about four hours before I needed to be downtown to meet my brother and a family friend. It's strange, or maybe it isn't, how more than a decade after my parents moved us to this region, I finally felt a more intimate relationship with it by attending a hard-to-find film within the municipal limits. It's true the theater wasn't much, and Bus 174, while very powerful, was nonetheless a bit gimmicky and slicked-up for my tastes, not unlike City of God, whose popularity had surely greased the rails for the documentary's release. Still, an auspicious way to start the year, and part of that growing commitment I mentioned last time to see more nonfiction films in theaters.

Jan 17, AMC Empire 25, New York, NY
And in terms of seizing opportunities while visiting major cities, my trips to see Derek in New York City had extremely salutary effects for my moviegoing. I'm still a bit surprised I enticed him to see Monster in Manhattan's biggest and highest-grossing movie hub, the AMC Empire. It wasn't necessarily his kind of project, and it was even less of an obvious favorite to the teenagers a few rows ahead of us, loudly crinkling their street-purchased, foil-wrapped hotdogs and hooting a bit through our early intros to bullish Aileen, fragile Selby, and their ultimately amorous evening at the roller rink. We retreated several rows back, worrying about another Boys Don't Cry experience, but one of many testaments to the film's prodigious power is that, at the first outbreak of physical violence against Aileen, which leads disastrously to her first perpetration of violence, even the rowdiest audience members were stilled. And you could have heard a pin drop through the entire rest of the film, right through "Don't Stop Believin'"—which still, in my mind, belongs to Aileen Wuornos more than it does to Tony Soprano. I've said plenty on previous occasions about my continuing fervor for this film, but since it only ever comes up these days as a rote example of How To Win Best Actress, and since director Patty Jenkins has not yet re-emerged, it bears repeating: this one is muscular, smart, courageous, a corker.

Feb 10, Cornell Cinema (Willard Straight), Ithaca, NY
Laura, a longtime favorite from the American 40s, but never before had I seen it with Joseph LaShelle's morbidly romantic photography laminating the screen, its porcelain art direction all agleam. By the time I attended this showing, Waldo Lydecker and Detective Mark McPherson had become so fascinating over the years that they nearly overshadowed Laura from her own picture. But then, that's part of what Laura's about, isn't it? And it's not as though Laura, and Gene Tierney, don't put up a remarkable, lurid, luxurious fight against oblivion.

Feb 11, Cornell Cinema (Willard Straight), Ithaca, NY
Further signs that 2003 had accommodated a few more top-flight films than one had divined from the releases that traveled to Ithaca. In This World was my first in-cinema Michael Winterbottom film since Welcome to Sarajevo in 1997, and it's such a taut, moving, transfixingly honest film that I've never missed another one. One of those movies I suspect would appear on a lot more Best lists if more people had seen it, but then, I think Winterbottom is one of the eminent directors in the English language. Both his working methods and his objects of focus have a genuine political edge. His production company deserves its moniker, Revolution Films, though I keep hoping more folks will catch on to his stuff (okay, not Genova), so at least some kind of revolution in cinematic tastes and auteur-cults can finally get going. Even the critics don't try all that hard to generate public enthusiasm for Winterbottom. Does he have a mainstream consensus-builder, a 28 Days Later or a Milk or a Pan's Labyrinth, waiting somewhere in his imagination, waiting to spring? It certainly isn't for want of trying. In terms of productivity, he makes Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen look like laggards. Not unusually, I'd see another Winterbottom movie newly in theaters before the year was out (and that one, Code 46, was comparably wonderful).

Feb 19, Cornell Cinema (Willard Straight), Ithaca, NY
Like Monster, demonlover offered a one-shot recuperation of an actress, in this case Connie Nielsen, for whom I'd had no previous use. Her mantis silhouette and unwavering austerity would be enough to nail your gaze to the screen, but demonlover, the very best of post-Y2K cinema's schizophrenic freak-outs against itself, is compelling on every single front. Assayas achieves maximum vitality with a shocking interlude of Japanese tentacle-porn animation, with a driving scene of Connie Nielsen and Chloë Sevigny that's so low lit you can barely see anything, and with everything in between. And there's a lot in between, and around, and beneath, and spilling all over, and sparking out, and seeping back in. It's an even more brazenly post-cinema Mulholland Drive, as if the Lynch film had been electrocuted on a wire bedframe and shot intravenously through the projector.

Feb 26, Hoyts Pyramid Mall 10, Lansing, NY
Well, Mel, I suppose that's one approach. I still think The Passion of the Christ is easily Gibson's best movie, whatever that counts for. And though it's probably more than obvious where my political sensibilities fall, if posed today the emblematic choice of five years ago, I'd be much more curious to take a second look at the half-sane, Francis Bacon extremities of Passion than the momentarily seminal but self-undermining scattershotness of Fahrenheit 9/11. But really, the reason I think back so often to The Passion of the Christ is because the inveterate irreverence and cool-customer joie de vivre of my friend Dwight is so perfectly summarized in his offhanded choice to eat nachos and fake cheez from a plastic clamshell all through the film. A potent tableau in itself, but the aghast reactions of the attending devout were even more to be treasured.

Mar 3, Mar 8, and Mar 15, Cornell Cinema (Willard Straight), Ithaca, NY
So many of the films I'm highlighting in this annual digest did something truly unusual, in some cases genuinely new with film space or montage or mise-en-scène or genre, but none of them made the screen its own vehicle for outré performance art and alien semiotics the way the Cremaster Cycle did, fueled by symptoms and signs somewhere between folk-cultural arcana and intergalactic fantasia. I showed up to the double-bill of parts 1 and 2 on the first night having no idea what I was in for except that it was apparently my New Yorker-bound duty to attend these spectacles. Part 2, as you might know, remains my favorite, but the whole series, which I've now seen twice, continues to hold up as one of the most bracingly weird and relentlessly hypnotic things I've ever seen in a cinema. I know more than I used to about Norman Mailer, the Isle of Man, the Salt Flats of Utah, the city of Budapest, Harry Houdini, and the hydraulic rises and falls of the family jewels, but the real epiphanies concerned how much the screen could still do with costume, color, esoteric reference, plasticity, sculpture, architecture, dilation, and enigmatic, epic-scale, avant-garde Gesamtkunstwerk.

Mar 22, Cinemapolis, Ithaca, NY
As I've reported before, I somehow didn't walk out of my first screening of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind deciding that the film was a masterpiece. Amazingly, I feel like I already knew, well before the movie was over. Not long, frankly, after it had started. So distinctive, sure-footed, and immediately indelible were the characters and the performances, and so confidently audacious were the premise and the exposition, and so unabashed and unpolluted were the humor, the fretfulness, the bitterness, and the romantic mourning, that I actually began my first viewing of Eternal Sunshine already convinced that I was watching a masterpiece. I don't know how else to say it: it's as though the first fifteen minutes of the movie so completely lacked anything resembling a false structural or emotional note that the film's bonafides were never in doubt. I wasn't anaesthetized. I wasn't lulled by the movie; I was laughing too uproariously for that, even though my affect on the walk home would have suggested I'd just seen a tearfest for the ages. I wasn't closed off to the profound force of surprise and innovation in the film. I just experienced them as though half my mind had always known about them. It was like watching The Wizard of Oz for the first time. Not just the movie's reputation (which wouldn't make sense, since I saw Eternal Sunshine on opening day), but the movie itself somehow transmits the instant assurance that it has obviated any debate as to its merits. More than a work of art to be judged, it was, for me, a kind of parthenogenic gift to the world, a form-pushing but still nostalgically, sentimentally satisfying work of brilliant inspiration, immediately wiping away any sense of what the world had been like without it.

Mar 25, Hoyts Pyramid Mall 10, Lansing, NY
The problem with seeing Dawn of the Dead in a mall is that you don't want to walk out of the movie when it's over, because you feel like you're walking right into your grisly end. I'm happy to admit that I prefer Zack Snyder's version to George Romero's, which is of course premised on a wicked irony about lobotomized consumerism, but I just don't think it's such a nuanced or evolving irony that it requires the gray, relentless extension that Romero's long and even longer-seeming original gives it. Snyder's remake works perfectly for our vertiginously accelerated era, preserving Romero's spike in the eye of ideology, but persuasively set aboil with contemporary affects, and it isn't above being more forthrightly scary. Which is to say, harrowingly scary. Which is to say, enduringly terrifying, all the more so after the sinister endgame of the final credits, and no less so after a second theatrical viewing a few months later. That time, I went by myself. The first time, I saw it with a friend, and we got so lost in conversation about the movie's remarkable force, resourceful ensemble of actors, and unexpected formal aptitudes that he forgot to advance when our traffic light turned green, and we got pulled over by a cop who made him walk the line, and took my name and number. I knew the world was going to get us, one way or another, after we filed out of the multiplex, but I suppose this was better than being gnashed to (un)death by sprinting cannibals.

Apr 13, Angelika Film Center, New York, NY
The Angelika is an inviolable epicenter of Manhattan movie culture, and yet somehow everyone seems to hate it. I don't. I get it that the screens are small, and that my profound indebtedness to this venue, where I was able to see movies that would only slowly find their way to Ithaca, makes me unreasonably indulgent of its flaws. The plaint that ticket-buyers love to air most pertains to the dull roar of the subway trains passing beneath the auditoriums, which you can hear or at least feel in your seat every four or five minutes. I have an easy enough time blocking that out, and anyway, Dogville, my first Angelika experience, was one of many that actually seemed to gain something from the unsettling sensory environment. If Lars von Trier could have rigged his Brechtian dissection of vicious groupthink and deceptive, arbitrarily conditional hospitalities so that the theater always rumbled with the force of abjured promises, false consciousness, and imminent doom, I think he'd happily sign up for that. I don't know if I found the "Young Americans" coda so off-putting because it seemed like such a blunter irony than what von Trier had devised up to that point, or because, in a very rare moment of in-cinema bladder panic, I was kind of dying in the back of the theater, moving as close as I could get to the Exit door, and prancing up and down. Maybe my system was just recoiling in its own massively enervated way from a brand-new and horrifying revelation: that the scariest, most aggressive thing that anyone can ever do to you is smash your Hummel figurines, pitilessly, one by one, and dare you not to cry about it.

Apr 21, Fall Creek Pictures, Ithaca, NY
The Return was a stellar, Venice Festival-winning debut for Andrei Zvyagintsev. The compositional control of its images, the implacable narrative and psychological build-up, and the decade's best child performance, from furious little Ivan Dobronravov, all made the film a gobsmacker. But I wouldn't note the movie in this feature had not Cinemapolis and Fall Creek Pictures tapped this film as the maiden voyage for its new initiative of charging high-school students only $3 if they bought a ticket for a non-English movie. I was slated again to lead the post-film chat, and screening the movie early that afternoon, I fretted that its terse formal rigors and cryptic atmosphere wouldn't quite sell themselves to a room of 17-year-olds. Watching how voraciously they passed through the concession stand on the way in, gulleting every Milk Dud and popcorn kernel that wasn't nailed down, I worried even more that they'd want the film to be junk food, too. But they adored it, and had smart, attentive, detailed questions. I had a ball talking with them. And like a lot of us, I'll take any sign I can get that all is not lost with the heirs of our earth.

Apr 23, Cinemapolis, Ithaca, NY
In fact, the high-school series was such a hit that we added The Battle of Algiers in its second week to the slate of films for which students could obtain the discount. Selling this one was even easier; tell a student that a film, any film, was banned, anytime, anywhere, and they immediately want to see why. But when the gorgeous Rialto restoration of Battle of Algiers actually bowed the weekend previous, the theater had assembled another of its scholar-activist panels, evoking the movie's contentious production and inflammatory history, and explaining why the Pentagon, in the build-up and first push of the Iraq War, was screening the film for its generals. Yet again, a movie I had admired on video became one I revered in the cinema, though of course I wished I were watching it under less dismaying global conditions.

Jul 23, Hoyts Pyramid Mall 10, Lansing, NY
Three months pass, with more or less average fare in the multiplexes, and the heart of my Palme d'Or-watching playing out inside my living room. The summer didn't really spark for me until The Bourne Supremacy, which was an especially unpredictable watershed for me since I hadn't even bothered to see The Bourne Identity in theaters, and had only rented it a day or two ahead of this opening-day matinée. I'm not taking the time to re-read all of my old reviews before banging out these retrospectives, so I can only imagine how profligately I'm repeating myself, but not since Aliens had I seen a sequel so definitively raise the game of an already-strong franchise opener, and not since The Fellowship of the Ring had I exercised such a vise-like grip on my armrest. I saw it with the same friend who joined me for The Passion of the Christ, and I noticed he wasn't knocking back any nachos this time. I'm guessing, or just projecting, that his stomach couldn't take it. Meanwhile, 2004's astonishing knack for finding crown jewels in almost every genre continued apace. The Bourne Supremacy was the first and best of the year's honor roll of action blockbusters, unless you count Dawn of the Dead, two films that are also twinned in glowing personal memory because those two reviews prompted my first, unsolicited, invigorating correspondence from a new and fast friend called Tim Robey.

Aug 4, Cinemapolis, Ithaca, NY
A proficient, informative, and sobering documentary about al-Jazeera and other media outlets in their coverage of the Iraq War, Control Room failed to have quite so "sobering" an effect on my viewing partner, my advisor-hero Hortense Spillers. Hortense was neither raised nor personally disposed nor politically conditioned to watch a movie like this in silence, but still, it's not everyone who can let fly with a full-on "Fuck you, motherfuckers!" in the middle of a movie, earning claps and titters. I suspect any monastic requirers of silence, among whose number I would normally count, were either too cowed to say anything or, like me, were too deliciously entertained. Some American wonk on screen lamented the difficulty of keeping reporters, soldiers, and other civilians safe to perform their duties in Baghdad, or anywhere else. "And whose motherfucking fault is that shit, goddam it?!" Priceless, and true enough.

Aug 6, Angelika Film Center, New York, NY
If Dogville took apt if unwitting advantage of the Angelika's subterranean growls, Open Water made that putative liability even more exquisitely effective. So much so that I wonder if I would have even liked the movie if I weren't so frightened by the palpable, audible presence of huge, hulking objects shuddering the floor underneath me: ready-made Shark-o-Vision. I was duly shaken up, and impressed enough at the movie's stripped-down convictions not to mind its ragged construction. (The direct-to-DVD Open Water 2, released theatrically in other countries as Adrift, is the film to watch if you want to see some formal ingenuity imported into a ghastly tale of water-treading.) Subsequently, I sauntered over to the City Cinemas Village East, the strange East Village complex, one level below the sidewalk, where I'd seen You Can Count on Me four years previously, without really knowing where I was. Now I followed the Manhattan listings closely enough to see that the Village East comprised nearly equal parts of top-grossing tentpoles, bad-buzz commercial prospects, and films that had gotten crowded out of the Angelika, even if they'd started their runs there. That's how I managed to see John Greyson's Proteus, an academic experiment in queer historiography and subtitle play across multiple tongues, in a screen that was alternating through the day between showings of this picture and of Halle Berry in Catwoman. If you've ever wanted to see a Canadian-made film with Afrikaans dialogue scenes subtitled in Dutch, and sporting major passages in Nama, an indigenous language of South Africa, Proteus is the film for you. Catwoman probably isn't. I prefer Proteus to Greyson's more popular and written-about Lilies, and while its sometimes stiff conceits and its video aesthetic make it understandably harder to love, I do think it's failed to get its due from queer-studies scholars and translation theorists. Hop to it, dissertators!

Sep 18, Cornell Cinema (Willard Straight), Ithaca, NY
I've already admitted my preference for deep-immersion realist documentaries, but if you're going to opt for talking heads, digital graphics, and potpourris of media clips and stock footage, they ought to be as expansive, as educational, as quotable, as infuriating, and as enabling as The Corporation. "Enabling" because The Corporation not only seems smarter, more thoroughly researched, and more sensitive to global systems than other left-liberal docs of the past decade, it actually supplements its outraging anecdotes and its invaluable historical contexts with some lucid, practicable ideas about what you can do. A personal treasure, a useful textbook, and the rare nonfiction film that seems certain of transcending the immediate atmosphere of the years in which it was produced and released. The DVD, a model of its kind, is so jammed with extras, weblinks, and information that anyone would be lucky to obtain a copy, but the film was a real life-changer for me, so I'm glad that change happened in a cinema.

Sep 23, Cornell Cinema (Willard Straight), Ithaca, NY
Code Unknown, The Piano Teacher, Caché, and Palme winner The White Ribbon would make for a heroic decade of hits for any European auteur. Leaving aside Michael Haneke's English-language remake of his own Funny Games, the film of his that no one ever mentions around me is Time of the Wolf, and you will perhaps not be staggered to learn that it's my favorite of the lot. Exquisite shots with barely any light-source at all, an unforgiving cross-section of various Euro types colliding into each other in a rural train station, and an indelible, oblique evocation of some unspecified world catastrophe that has brought all these refugees, hermits, stowaways, nomads, bandits, and driftless bourgeois into the same characterless depot. Time of the Wolf gets even more under my skin than Children of Men or The Road as a plausible, worrying vision of a world in the wake of massive meltdown, possibly because it's able to do this without the majestic but grandiloquent camerawork and spectacle of those other features.

Oct 22, Cinemapolis, Ithaca, NY
Other viewers will have different nominees for the single funniest movie they saw in the last ten years, but I'm awfully tempted to propose I ♥ Huckabees—never the most self-controlled or visually finessed of movies, and it never seems to matter. I howled through my first glimpse, alongside two other people (the managers of Cinemapolis often snuck a peek at their newest bookings before the official first screenings on Friday nights). I howled again when I returned seven weeks later, with a fuller crowd, though not all of them seemed quite so taken with it, and the merriment stayed just as high on a third go-round with the often impassive devotees of Cinema Village. Huckabees has since become more famous to lots of people as the movie that put Lily Tomlin in a titanically big snit, but even if David O. Russell tortures his actors, is it a crime, is it a crime to laugh at Huckabees?

Oct 30, Hoyts Pyramid Mall 10, Lansing, NY
Soon enough, under any circumstances, I would have wanted to see Birth, and so would my friend Ann, although we were frankly expecting a dog. An ambitious failure, probably, but a failure anyway, less because the reviews had been so stingy and cold than because the underground reports of halted production and endless rewrites around an easy-to-bungle premise had not invited a whole lot of confidence. I was frankly amazed that the mall-owned multiplex in Ithaca even picked it up, but there it was, just down the corridor from Saw, which bowed the same Halloween weekend. And as much as it pains me to admit, I have to fess up: it was Saw that got Ann and I to the cineplex that day. We'd been eager for that one for months. The premise, the poster designs, the hilariously crude title: it all seemed too good to be true, even though, given my lifelong disaffection for The Princess Bride, the return of Cary Elwes was less of a hook for me than for Ann. Birth was an intriguing way to kill the time between teaching our Friday classes and getting our limbs purposefully and gruesomely snared in whatever trap Saw was ready to set. Well, you know how this went. Saw, which seemed destined either to be disreputably ingenious or hilariously incompetent just turned out to be off-puttingly under-imagined, although one shouldn't exclude from the Great Kitsch Hall of Fame the absolutely risible Elwes performance or the infamous "chase scene" made entirely of still shots and, I believe, rear projections. It was Birth, of course, of course, that lingered: that immaculate music, those long and committed close-ups and traveling shots, the unusual watercolor hues, which can look on DVD like the studio just put out an indifferent color transfer, when in fact Birth was always beguilingly wan, opalescent. I cannot get enough of it, and I have incorporated it with stirring results in the course I teach about Henry James. Kidman worshipers are understandably preoccupied with her double-reinvention in 2001, but for me, 2004 will always stand as the peak of her powers, even though Dogville, by the standards of the global cinemascenti, was already a year old by then.

Nov 17, Cornell Cinema (Willard Straight), Ithaca, NY
Primer, a stellar proof that you really can make a no-cost movie (IMDb reports the budget at $7,000) that isn't devised as a gimmicky "trick" à la Blair Witch but actually floats some compelling ideas and dazzling structural gambits that work better because of the film's evident modesty. An intricate sci-fi pretzel that's worth seeing twice inside of a week, so I did. A high water mark for post-2000 clone cinema, along with the previously invoked Code 46, despite being the least fussy film imaginable in that tradition. A movie more people should definitely see. As happened a few years later with Forty Shades of Blue, Primer prompted some onlookers to scratch their heads when it copped the top prize at Sundance and then, commercially speaking, went nowhere. But to me, those two films are two of the very best arguments for the relevance of Sundance to emerge in the last ten years—and as we know, there have been plenty of incentives to revisit that question. I'd love to know what Shane Carruth is up to now.

Nov 23 and Dec 21, Landmark Sunshine Cinema, Angelika Film Center, and the Film Forum, New York, NY
An especially august date, wherein I orchestrated my own personal Triple Crown, under which regime you start the day at the Landmark theater in the East Village, then work your way directly west down Houston St. for an Angelika interlude, then finish the day with a hard-charging third course at the Film Forum, which I had never previously patronized. Some people do pub crawls; I stagger like a blissed-out cinephile from arthouse to arthouse. As Tim Gunn never tires of saying, chacun à son gout, and Almodóvar's elliptically sinister and violently colorful Bad Education, Mike Leigh's chill-blasted Vera Drake, and even Jonathan Caouette's nakedly self-serving and dubiously exploitative Tarnation were tremendously palatable to mon gout, in Caouette's case because however much he preened out his own mother's illness and his highly theatricalized anguish, it's awfully hard to look away from Tarnation, and he was palpably taking the personal essay-film into interesting new directions, just before YouTube cropped up to virtually supplant this type of art-making from the moviehouse. My second Houston crawl was later the same year, with The Sea Inside, Million Dollar Baby, and Born into Brothels on that day's docket. Baby is my easy favorite of all six movies, and I loved sensing its old-timer magic before everyone starting hallooing about its Oscar chances. Still, even aside from the special glow of having been first, the combined wattage of the Almodóvar, the Leigh, and the Caouette TKOs the other line-up without breaking a sweat.

Dec 27, Ritz at the Bourse, Philadelphia, PA
You guessed it: back again at MLA, only this time I was actually interviewing for jobs, and was also as sick as a dog. I think my primary dissertation advisor felt he was being friendly and supportive by taking me out for a movie the night before my first interview. He may have underestimated that under no circumstances would I have been doing anything else, although in many ways, getting swiftly to bed and holding court with some chicken-noodle soup probably would have been the best plan for beating the malady and pulling it altogether for my big morning in the spotlight. But instead: a book party for Lee Edelman's just-published No Future (and I did relish meeting Lee Edelman), then dinner, then House of Flying Daggers, during which my sinuses, apparently stimulated by all the digitally amped-up color, went into total overdrive. The number of soggy Kleenexes under my seat must at least have equaled the number of flying daggers, but for this country mouse to have stayed home from the big-city movies would have broken my system profoundly, whereas drinking one in and sleeping on the memory did wonders. And I liked Flying Daggers. And I liked seeing it with Ellis, even though honestly, I think he was a little freaked out by all the nose-blowing. And I got the job, so thank you, Ellis; thank you, Zhang (Yimou) and Zhang (Ziyi); and get ready, readers, for a lot more screen memories that transpire in Hartford, Connecticut, when we return for 2005!

Key VHS/DVD Encounters from 2004 (Chronological):
Shoot the Moon, I Am Curious (Yellow), Camille, Yeelen (Brightness), Executive Suite (review), Trouble in Paradise, Je tu il elle, Face to Face, Under the Sun of Satan, Black Rain, Paris, Texas, The Eel, The Cranes Are Flying, Viridiana, The Wages of Fear, The Ballad of Narayama, Carnival of Souls (review), Chronicle of the Smoldering Years (review), The Travelling Players (review), Hearts and Minds, Love and Diane, Searching for Debra Winger, Without You I'm Nothing (review), All the President's Men, Dog Star Man, Hyenas (review), These Hands (review), Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (review), Brother to Brother, Oasis, and Fireworks



Anonymous Robert Hamer said...

You know, I had the same anticipation for Saw? I remember being stunned and - to my amazement - intrigued by the grisly plot synopsis on its website, with the now-infamous image of the terrified woman with the crazy contraption on her head.

And, lo and behold, I wasn't alone but in a theater packed with people my age who no doubt had the same level of curiosity that I had. But when the credits rolled to the sound of Leigh Whannell's screams, my first thought was, "That, stupid."

Can't say I had your experience watching Eternal Sunshine, though. I KNEW by the end of that film that I had seen a masterpiece and a destined classic, although I didn't think it would end up topping my personal list of the best films of the decade.

1:03 AM, December 05, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Well, in that respect, then, we did agree, since I left Eternal Sunshine with that same feeling; I'm just trying to account for why that feeling was so instant in this case, even while the film was still unfolding. It'll make a strong run for the top of my list, too. (The perils, by the way, of being so sweet as to read my entries so hot off the press is that I hadn't proof-read this one yet; apologies for all the typos you probably encountered, which I've been fixing for the last half-hour!)

1:11 AM, December 05, 2009  
Anonymous Ian said...

As a former employee of the Houston Angelika...other than the movies the main attraction of the place would have to be the resident security guard. Vigilant to the point of acting as an unofficial manager of EVERYTHING.

And picture this- Julia Roberts sitting in the lobby with Mr. Moder waiting to be seated for a movie (because you know they only start seating 2 min. before the show starts, which means that you have to wait in a coiling line for 30+ min. beforehand in order to secure a seat that's not to the extreme right of the front row). They're all over each other, and so the security guard huffs and puffs his way over to them (just picture Mr. T in formal attire) and barks, "Y'all can't be doin' that here! This is a family establishment!"

1:39 AM, December 05, 2009  
Blogger Dave said...

I've been reading these without commenting, and I feel like I should say something since I find them so immersive and fascinating that they're easily the best thing I've read online in at least a few months.

Maybe I chose 2004, because, in a way that I hope won't make you feel old, it was the year when my cinephilia bloomed. And you can pinpoint it to two films you mentioned and obviously loved too: Enteral Sunshine, which my family saw completely alone in the theatre, and which I fell completely and utterly in love with, although whether I understood all that you did about it is unlikely; and I <3 Huckabees, which was the first film I was so anxious to see I insisted on being dropped off at the cinema and bought my first solo ticket.

Too much about me, there, really, although basically what I'm saying is that from now on I'll be even more intrigued to see any corrolations in our viewing experiences. Absolutely love it, so much so I've stopped feeling so inferior that I've commented, and can't wait for more. This is all a perfect encapsulation of the personal experience of movie-watching and I think it's absolutely brilliant. And now I'll stop gushing.

I'm extremely jealous of all the classics you get to see in the theatre, though. My local arthouse is currently out-of-action but I'll be taking advantage of any they happen to show - which doesn't happen as often as it should.

5:47 AM, December 05, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Ian: I would love if the Moders were doing all that hot making out on their way into Dogville, but that's probably a lot to ask. Making out during Dogville would be even better.

@Dave: Thanks so much for the comment! For me, '90 to '92 were the years in which I started coaxing my parents to take me to movies that they also wanted to stay to see (My Left Foot, Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Last of the Mohicans...), then by '93 I could walk to a strip-mall theater across the street from my high school, but then '94 was the year I asked them to drop me off and pick me up for movies they had no intention of seeing: Bullets over Broadway, Little Women. Those last two weren't quite game-changers for me the way Sunshine and Huckabees sound like they were for you (and understandably!), but I remember the sensation of solo discovery that you're talking about.

10:11 AM, December 05, 2009  
Blogger Joe Reid said...

"right through "Don't Stop Believin'"—which still, in my mind, belongs to Aileen Wuornos more than it does to Tony Soprano. "

YES! People get so cross-eyed when I advance that notion, but it's the damn truth.

I'll also happily co-sign any love for Huckabees and Primer (a movie I popped right back into the DVD and watched again -- I can't imagine having to wait a whole WEEK).

Also, I swear to God, I'm reading through this and thinking "oh, I hope he talks about Tarnation" and immediately there it is. I share your revulsion/fascination with the film's subject(s) but even moreso than the mother's mental illness, it was Caouette's self-display that kept me riveted anyway, so my scales tipped in his favor.

10:57 AM, December 05, 2009  
Blogger Catherine said...

Hey Dave, snap, Huckabees was my first solo ticket too. I'm lucky enough to live in the suburbs of a big (well, big-ish) city served by a handy commuter transport system, so I never had to rely on my parents to drive me to theatres. I still don't drive, but by now I'm a well-seasoned connoisseur of all the buses and light-rail systems Dublin has to offer; mostly for getting to and from the cinemas.

Hmmm. There is "too much about me" there too and I feel like I keep committing this mistake all the way through this series, but I just cannot help it. It's the wonderful generous nature of your writing; it's so intimate and personal and you on one level, but also reaching out and encompassing everyone else who loves movies. I really am in love with this series, Nick, its making my week.

Sidenote: I'm so baffled I haven't grabbed a copy of Without You I'm Nothing on dvd yet . I watched it on television about two summers ago and laughed so hard I nearly gotsick. I need to order it on dvd. Come back to the five-and
-dime, Sandra Bernhard, Sandra Bernhard!

12:39 PM, December 05, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Joe: Yep, those Sopranos folks really don't want to give it up for Aileen. But Joe, don't stop believin'. We know the truth. :)

@Catherine: There is not "too much of you" here, and it's just as much fun for me to read all of your personal responses to these movies and this series as it is for you to read mine, I'm sure.

10:51 AM, December 06, 2009  
Blogger Glenn said...

Aah, 2004. Perhaps my favourite year of the decade. Birth, Dogville (I'm in agreement over Kidman '04 being more - slightly - impressive than Kidman '01), Monster (always glad to see others as infatuated with that movie as I), Collateral, Huckabees, Dawn of the Dead... and so on.

I must say that Time of the Wolf is probably my least favourite Haneke film. Although it runs fairly close to Funny Games in that regard.

Do you mind me asking what you thought of I Am Curious (Yellow). I thought it was horribly immature and just plain boring.

6:50 AM, December 10, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Glenn: A lot of people seem to feel that way about Time of the Wolf. I promise, I really don't go out of my way to swim against the tide. I am not Armond White, and nor am I trying to be! As for I Am Curious (Yellow), I actually thought the film kind of had the number of its characters, and that the immaturity was a huge part of the overall characterization of the main girl. The movie definitely feels less fresh now than it would have in the 60s, but I found it kind of charming and spry... and every once in a while, something like the surging hostility of the boyfriend to the protagonist would inject a productive note of real nastiness and danger.

11:17 PM, December 17, 2009  
Blogger Bryan said...

In my mind, Eternal Sunshine was the best movie of the year. Perhaps it's ironic that looking back on it, the movie with the made-up Lacuna and fantastical memory-erasing stands as one of the most honest and believable depictions of real people and the relationships they have. In almost every way, I believe that that movie and the people in it could really exist, brain-damage procedure and all.

And Winslet's "fucked-up girl" was a revelation; truly one of the best performances of the decade. The fact that the Academy even noticed her enough for a nomination (in this "weird" role, in this "weird" movie) gave me false hope that she would win.

10:02 AM, December 30, 2009  

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