Thursday, December 31, 2009


Last year, I decided to write about every movie I saw on the big screen. It took four months. This year, I say fuck that. Pronouncements about what this year in film meant culturally? Not interested. I really liked almost everything I saw this year on the big screen and pretty much liked everything, but I don't think I saw any flat-out masterpieces (not counting the old stuff I saw at film society and revival screenings). That doesn't mean anything. I'm not paid to do this, so I avoid anything I think I will hate and see almost everything I think I will like. Here's what I saw this year, broken down into three categories: Top Shelf, Almost Top Shelf, and Decent, followed by my favorite film society and revival screenings of the year.

Top Shelf (in no particular order - this applies to the other three lists, too)

Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt)

The Class
(Laurent Cantet)
This is the only accurate movie I've seen about teaching high school, which means nothing in terms of its success as a piece of filmed art. It's pretty good on those terms, too.

Goodbye Solo (Ramin Bahrani)

The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)

Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
The critics who called this movie misguided revisionist history and unintentional anti-Semitism were curiously silent when Schindler's List came out and culturally replaced the actual Holocaust, as well as its strongest film record, Claude Lanzmann's documentary Shoah. Besides that, they failed to recognize the exploitation, drive-in tradition Tarantino marries to classic, mainstream cinema. This movie-mad revisionist WWII fantasy is about the Nazi as classic movie villain and about other WWII movies, as well as spaghetti westerns and men-on-a-mission films. Tarantino's visual imagination continues to expand, and I love that he created an American box-office hit out of a movie that is mostly in subtitled German and French, contains 10 or 11 long scenes instead of a headache-inducing barrage of quick cutting, and references several German and American films from the silent era to the 1940s. And a David Bowie musical montage.

Lorna's Silence (Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne)

Beeswax (Andrew Bujalski)
I might be overrating this one a little because I was an extra in it, and I got to see my name in the credits on a big screen in one of my favorite theaters, but I was actually cut out of the frame and didn't end up in the final product. Unlike the other practitioners of the media-created "mumblecore" gang, Bujalski shoots on film and has a sophisticated approach to structure and visual space lacking in his peers' work (Duplass Brothers, the almost completely worthless Joe Swanberg, et al.). This time, his characters are stronger, richer, and more likable, and the mystery of how he creates such watchable films out of such mundane, ultra-realist material continues to deepen.

A Serious Man (Joel & Ethan Coen)
These guys are on a roll again.

Antichrist (Lars Von Trier)
When will people stop seeing him as a misanthropic carnival barker charlatan and start seeing him as one of the most innovative formalists of the last thirty years? The critics hated Led Zeppelin when they were a going concern, too.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog)
Takes the prize for both the most fun I had in a theater this year and the most unwieldy title since Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. For only the second time in a forty-year career, Herzog is working from someone else's script. He creates a weird combination of reliable genre action/thriller and crazy fucking Herzog movie. Nicholas Cage is fun again. It all somehow flows. I thought it was going to be an interesting trainwreck, but it's way better than that.

Almost Top Shelf

The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky)
I hated Aronofsky's first two movies and didn't see his third, but the actors and subject matter made me take a chance. I'm glad I did. The cliched premise doesn't even play like a cliche.

Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood)

Tokyo! (Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, & Bong Joon-Ho)
The Carax segment by itself is Top Shelf.

The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch)
I'm guessing that most people I know will be bored out of their minds by this movie. I'm sorry about that, because it's not boring.

Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi)

Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze)
This was probably the best-looking movie I saw this year. Those sunsets. That fur. Those mouths and noses. That tree house.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)

Me and Orson Welles (Richard Linklater)


Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme)
The moment when TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe sings Neil Young's "Unknown Legend" a capella is Top Shelf.

Chelsea on the Rocks (Abel Ferrara)
His last two movies haven't been released in the U.S., but this minor documentary got a limited release. Boo for the Sid & Nancy and Janis Joplin dramatic recreations and for any part where that smug idiot Ethan Hawke talks and/or plays his "music." Yay for everything else.

The Road (John Hillcoat)
Viggo Mortensen is awesome. (I think I have a heterosexual man-crush on him. I don't know what you do with those. Befriend him somehow? The man has charisma.) The rest is a competent cross between Mad Max and a Hallmark card. The book is essential reading. The movie is a fine way to kill an afternoon.

Favorite revival and film society screenings
(Watching these will cure all your ills.)

Phantom of the Paradise (Brian De Palma)

It Happened One Night (Frank Capra)

The Gay Divorcee (Mark Sandrich)

Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin)

The Landlord (Hal Ashby)

The Black Cat (Edgar G. Ulmer)

Forbidden Planet (Fred McLeod Wilcox)

Day of Wrath (Carl Theodor Dreyer)

The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey)

Avanti! (Billy Wilder)

Dan O'Bannon RIP

Screenwriter, special effects man, and occasional director Dan O'Bannon died of Crohn's disease shortly before Christmas. He brought a sharp intelligence and sense of humor to many excellent horror and science fiction films. He didn't always work regularly, but the projects he was involved in are pretty impressive. Here's a selected filmography with some notes:

A college buddy of John Carpenter's, O'Bannon collaborated with Carpenter on the screenplay of Carpenter's first film as director, Dark Star. O'Bannon also did the special effects, edited the movie, created the production design, and played the role of Sgt. Pinback.
He created the computer animation and worked in the miniature effects unit on Star Wars. He wrote the screenplays for Alien, Dead & Buried, Lifeforce, Invaders from Mars, and Total Recall.
He wrote and directed Return of the Living Dead.
I will be writing about two other O'Bannon films on my horror movie blog, Decapitated Zombie Vampire Bloodbath, in the coming months.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My moviegoing: 2003

from Peter Hall's The Homecoming (1973), screenplay by Harold Pinter based on his own play
Paramount Theatre special screening of American Film Theatre productions

Val Avery, 1924-2009

Recommended roles
The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges, 1960)
Too Late Blues (John Cassavetes, 1961)
Requiem for a Heavyweight (Ralph Nelson, 1962) (sentimental junk, but he's good)
Love with the Proper Stranger (Robert Mulligan, 1963)
Faces (John Cassavetes, 1968)
Minnie and Moskowitz (John Cassavetes, 1971)
Black Caesar (Larry Cohen, 1973)
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, 1976)
Up in Smoke (Lou Adler, 1978)
The Amityville Horror (Stuart Rosenberg, 1979) (total crap, but he's good)
Gloria (John Cassavetes, 1980)
Donnie Brasco (Mike Newell, 1997)

First movie/last movie: Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack

Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life (1925)
This Is Cinerama (1952)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

American movies, 1970-1979

from Robert Altman's California Split (1974)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

My moviegoing: 2003

from David Gordon Green's All the Real Girls (2003)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

American movies, 1970-1979

from Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets (1973)

Monday, December 07, 2009

First movie/last movie: Jean Cocteau

The Blood of a Poet (1930)
The Testament of Orpheus (1960)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

My moviegoing: 2003

from Fritz Lang's Fury (1936)
Austin Film Society's European Directors in Hollywood series
This was a two-part series focusing on the films of mostly Austrian and German emigres who got the hell out of Hitlerville while the getting war gut (here all week, people) and either became or continued to be badass directors.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

American movies, 1970-1979

from Jerry Schatzberg's Scarecrow (1973)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Musicians on film

Musicians on film #23: Neil Young, Devo, and Booji Boy in Neil Young & Dean Stockwell's Human Highway (1982)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

First movie/last movie: Rene Clement

The Battle of the Rails (1946)
Wanted: Babysitter (1975)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

American movies, 1970-1979

from George A. Romero's The Crazies (1973)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My moviegoing: 2003

from Gus Van Sant's Gerry (2002)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

First movie/last movie: Bob Clark

She-Man (1967)
Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (2004)
Shit happens.

Monday, November 09, 2009

American movies, 1970-1979

from Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973)
American movie? Roeg is British, the movie was mostly filmed in Italy, the cast is predominantly Italian or British. However, Donald Sutherland is the male lead. He's from Canada. Canada is in North America. Suck on that.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

My moviegoing: 2003

from Fernando Meirelles & Katia Lund's City of God (2002)
I remember enjoying this movie, but I also remember that it was nothing more than rehashed Scorsese and Tarantino setpieces mixed into the Tiger Beat version of Pixote.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

First movie/last movie: Charlie Chaplin

The Kid (1921)
A Countess from Hong Kong (1967)
I'm only including features here, so I'm unfairly leaving out the 50+ short films he made before The Kid, many of them fantastic. By the way, the little kid in The Kid, Jackie Coogan, later went on to grow up and play Uncle Fester on "The Addams Family."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

American movies, 1970-1979

from Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

My moviegoing: 2003

from Lynne Ramsay's Morvern Callar (2002)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

American movies, 1970-1979

from Paul Mazursky's Blume in Love (1973)
They couldn't all be winners, pt. 2

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My moviegoing: 2003

from Tian Zhuangzhuang's The Horse Thief (1986)
Austin Film Society's Chinese Films of the Past Two Decades series

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

First movie/last movie: Frank Capra

The Strong Man (1926)
Pocketful of Miracles (1961)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

American movies, 1970-1979

from Terrence Malick's Badlands (1973)

Friday, October 09, 2009

My moviegoing: 2003

from Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)
James Coburn retrospective: Alamo Drafthouse

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

First movie/last movie: Luis Bunuel

L'age d'or (1930)
That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Friday, October 02, 2009

My moviegoing: 2003

from Spike Jonze's Adaptation (2002)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

American movies, 1970-1979

from James William Guercio's Electra Glide in Blue (1973)
This is the only film directed by musician/entrepreneur Guercio, who, at the time of filming, managed Chicago (the band, not the city) in its "25 or 6 to 4" heyday. A tribute to John Ford's Monument Valley westerns and an ironic reverse-Easy Rider biker cops vs. sleazoid counterculture creeps black comedy, the film contains a great Robert Blake performance and Conrad Hall's gorgeous cinematography. It is eye-poppingly bizarre and compelling in its fine first half before turning into a plot-heavy cliched thriller in its second half, though it manages to get nice and weird again in its final ten minutes. I saw part of it in a hotel in Alabama before the TV broke. When I tried to fix it, I found several empty airplane-sized liquor bottles behind the set. That is to say, the bottles were the size found on airplanes, not the size of airplanes. My god, imagine an alcoholic hotel maid trying to hide a Lufthansa Airbus-sized bottle of Jim Beam. What a sight. I caught up with the whole thing on DVD a few years later.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

My moviegoing: 2003

from George Clooney's Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

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