Thursday, January 18, 2007

2006 in Review Part 2: Havana Nights

To follow up my list of favorite films of the year, here is more pointless drivel.

Runners-Up, or Movies I Liked a Lot but Did Not Love and the Reasons Why I Did Not Love Them
The New World (Terrence Malick) Malick's fourth feature in 35 years was beautiful, intelligent, and full of enough mystery to withstand repeat viewings, but I really, really hate Colin Farrell. Even looking at him causes me great pain. I can give even my least favorite actors the benefit of the doubt, but I am honestly repulsed by Farrell. This is not fair to Malick's film, and I know that, but he was the only reason I don't rate "The New World" higher.
Lonesome Jim (Steve Buscemi) I love Buscemi's direction and I love the cast, but I'm tired of generic indie scripts about vibrant, interesting women who feel the need to save childish, self-pitying sadsacks (though I was one of these guys in college, and sometimes still am). This one is better than most, however, and Buscemi finds likable actors who play these parts just right, and thank god for the film's sense of humor.
The Puffy Chair (Jay Duplass) Another goddamn twentysomething apathetic infantile hipster relationship movie with an invasive "indie-rock hits" score (Spoon, etc.) combined with a flat and uninteresting visual presentation. On the plus side, it's very funny and Kathryn Aselton is my new favorite actress.
The Proposition (John Hillcoat) If I was picking my favorites today, I would probably swap this one for "A Prairie Home Companion." I'm not really sure why I didn't rate it higher, except that the theater had projection trouble when I saw it, causing the image to shake wildly about once every five minutes for the first 30 minutes of the movie. That, and I'm not sure how much a film about excessively violent revenge helps anybody, even though I tend to respond favorably to that kind of thing.
The Bridesmaid (Claude Chabrol) To be honest, Chabrol's confidence as a filmmaker, his mastery of tone and structure, and his direction of actors probably beat the pants off any movie on my best list, but this is a minor work for him compared to the truly great movies he's made over the past 50 years. If you'll forgive the lapse into Harry "I've met no buffet I haven't conquered" Knowles-isms for a second, Chabrol's a badass.

My favorite film society, revival, and re-release screenings of the year
Love Streams (John Cassavetes)

and the rest
Wheel of Time (Werner Herzog)
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (Jeff Margolis)
In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray)
Sans Soleil (Chris Marker)
Park Row (Samuel Fuller)
The Trouble with Harry, Shadow of a Doubt, and North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock)
Songs from the Second Floor (Roy Andersson)
Baby Doll and A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan)
Guys and Dolls (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
Hail the Conquering Hero and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (Preston Sturges)
The Shop Around the Corner and Heaven Can Wait (Ernst Lubitsch)
The Party (Blake Edwards)
Adam's Rib (George Cukor)
The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky)
Quai des Orfevres (Henri-Georges Clouzot)
These Are the Damned and The Romantic Englishwoman (Joseph Losey)
Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville)

A much richer list than my 2006 choices, but that doesn't worry me too much.

Unfettered vision of the year
Terry Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm" was loud, oppressive, and dull, and it made me happy to read that Gilliam walked off the set mid-film in protestation of the Weinstein brothers' meddling in the production. He left to make his own film, exactly the way he wanted to make it. Tideland is the result, and I have no idea what to make of it. The film is dark, depressing, funny, disgusting, stupid, ugly, beautiful, annoying, tiresome, and thrilling, depending on which scene you're watching, and is not easy to sit through. Jeff Bridges spends most of the running time as a decomposing corpse, overacting is in abundance, a retarded character would make Forrest Gump blush, and the last few minutes are pure visual poetry. After leaving the theater, I had no idea whether I loved or hated the movie, and I still don't know. But I'm glad I saw it, and I'm glad Gilliam got to make it.

The most underrated movie of the year
Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes'
Art School Confidential was pretty much universally hated, especially by fans of Zwigoff and Clowes. While I agree that it is the worst thing either of these men have done, and is a complete mess besides, I have a strong affection for this three-legged toothless dog. Until it devolves into complete misanthropy, obvious jokes, and plot-heavy murder mystery in its final third, the first two-thirds, though riddled with structural and tonal blunders and an unsure approach, are a daring combination of broad '80s-style teen comedy, slasher film, and pointed, intelligent satire. The points this movie makes about the teaching, presentation, sale, and consumption of art are important ones. John Malkovich, Jack Ong, Anjelica Huston, and Jim Broadbent are very strong in it. And I like how a movie about what's wrong with art is so goddamn artless in its approach. There's something almost perfect about that.

The most overrated movie of the year
A lot of people seem to have their Martin Scorsese rubber stamps out, hailing The Departed as a return to form, a modern classic. At last, Scorsese has made another gangster film. All hail King Marty, our finest filmmaker. I'm baffled by the overwhelmingly positive response to this movie. Obviously, I have no special insight into the mind of Scorsese, so what I'm about to say could be complete bullshit, but this seems to me like Scorsese's least personal film, an unintentional Three Stooges-style gangster parody. "Ahh, wiseguy, eh?" Nicholson says as some knucklehead gets blood all over him. "Why, I oughta." Zoink! Broken hand! Bonk! Eat a cockroach! Zango! Throw a pile of coke all over a hooker! Wave a dildo in a movie theater! "Fuck you, you chowderhead," Mark Walhberg says to Matt Damon, or Dicaprio, or somebody else. Boom! Shot in the head! Bang! Another shot in the head! The only thing missing is a pie fight. This movie is mildly entertaining, Alec Baldwin is fantastic in it, and Scorsese still has a knack for using classic-rock chestnuts in surprisingly fresh ways, but I couldn't help feeling a big So What. This movie would look great the last night of finals week 1997 on a small screen in an easy chair with a bowl of weed and a plate of chips and queso on your lap, but this is the least successful movie he's ever made.
On a related note, why is Scorsese being praised for returning to the gangster film, as if this genre made up the bulk of his career? Excluding "The Departed," Scorsese's only made two overt gangster films, "Goodfellas" and "Casino," and a third that is only peripherally a gangster film, "Mean Streets." A handful of his other movies have crime as a part of the plot, but he's not given enough credit for his richly varied career, one that encompasses black comedy ("The King of Comedy," "After Hours") documentaries, period films, "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," "Kundun," etc.

Worst Film of the Year
Neil Labute made "In the Company of Men," a film I rate very highly. He also made The Wicker Man, one of the worst films not just of 2006, but of the entire history of moving images. Still, it is worth seeing. Skip through the drearily dull first half, and you will discover a rich tapestry of unintentional hilarity. See Nicolas Cage in a bear costume, punching women in the face while yelling "You bitches!" and "Ow! My leg!" See him karate kick Leelee Sobieski into a wall. Hear this memorable quote: "Killing me won't bring back your goddamn honey!" God bless this wretched piece of shit.


conorj said...

or you can just skip the movie and go straight for you tube....

conorj said...

I think you hit the nail on the head with Zwigoff's insights in Art School--packaging this subject matter in a sort of radical style void of artfulness was a really brilliant and unexpected stroke, despite some of the questionable things in the film. And by the way, I'm not so sure about The Departed as the most overrated movie of the year. I think your pinning to much of the movie on the director himself. Don't get me wrong, the continuing saga of the aggrandizing and coinciding depersonalization of Scorsese's work is not strayed from here, but self-throned king Marty's reputation and name brand directed this film alone. The screenplay is extra sharp, the actors more focused, the concept imported from across the world, and all in the service of some mythical greatness when the man himself lost the ability towards good judgement ten years ago. If there's any directorial signature in Marty's later work, it's that everyone else is putting in the leg work for him, many of whom are very talented people trying make an impression upon Scorsese's legend. His films don't feel remotely handmade anymore, and I doubt they ever will again. This is simply what he has become--he doesn't do anything for himself in his older age. It's perturbing that this method has led to such indulgent, over-budgeted, and miscasted works that are shrouded in pretension and cans of intellectual-lite for those "who really care about the art of the moving image," and that he's getting more mainstream acclaim than ever, but this is how the industry works. It was refreshing to see The Departed, which basically directed itself, and had really strong acting and writing behind it, and refreshingly subdued camera work and editing. It was sold to me as popcorn and candy, and it tasted just the same. As long as I don't let "Masturbation Season" in Hollywood get in the way of my opinion, this movie did better than 95 percent of the other movies do in providing a compelling movie-going experience. Or maybe my cinematic faith is more damaged right now than I thought it was.

casual ninja said...

i have to say i hated art school confidential so much. SO MUCH. i think it struck too close to home. art school really is full of horrible people. i hated everyone in this movie. i was conflicted, i couldn't tell if i was supposed despise every part and person or if there was supposed to be any character of redeeming value. if the point of the movie was to upset me and to make me hate everyone, i guess it worked.

also, i like clowes a lot. i thought ghost world was a nice adaptation of a full length graphic novel. i remember hearing about this project and wondering how they were going to build a screenplay from a 6 page one liner. i don't think they did. it seemed like they started filming before they fininshed writing.

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