Monday, December 29, 2008

shuffling off our mortal coil

On Sunday my grandmother passed on. She was suffering from Alzheimer's disease and finally took her last breath in the early morning. I wasn't saddened by the news, she was suffering so I thought of it as a mixed blessing. My mom has been carrying her family on her shoulders lately and now she can finally rest easy knowing that her mother is at peace somewhere out there. We went to my grandfather's house to spend time together, I had a fair share of butterflies regarding the situation feeling as though it was going to be a huge downer. As Tara, Justin, and myself entered the house we found ourselves in an entirely unexpected atmosphere. After being greeted with enthusiastic hellos, we gave our hugs and condolences and got ourselves some pizza for lunch. Each family member seemed to deal with her absence in a different way, but none of them sought out pity or attempted any serious self deprecation. Sure, the beer was drank in copious expanses and people stuffed their faces as though filling a overwhelming emptiness, but we laughed and anytime she was brought up, it was as though she was still with us. Making her into a ghost, even if hypothetically, was a great way to remind us of who she was. We needed to forget what that awful disease had done to her, the things it took from her.
The funeral is on Saturday. My brothers (Collin, Justin, John, Darius, and Nate) will be joining me as pallbearers. After the ceremony Justin and I will be heading to Woodstock to record Summer People's first full length album. I'm at peace with her death. She seemed to have left the world at peace with "what comes next." The only thing that makes me sad is to see my mother, grandfather, and uncles sad. To think about my grandfather alone in the house that they built and shared for over forty years is heartbreaking. That beautiful old place is full of reminders, haunted with the memory of my grandmother. But thinking of her as an entity should help.

Friday, December 26, 2008

the best films of 2006 and by the way Merry Christmas

I hope you guys all had a great Christmas. It was my first holiday season as a married man. The in-laws spent the night and it was cool to open presents together. Lou seemed to adopt a newfound yuletide cheer. It was fun until we went to visit my grandmother, which was sobering.

The Proposition directed by John Hillcoat
Nick Cave wrote and scored this Australian western that is supposedly based loosely on Cormac McCarthy's brutal novel The Blood Meridian. There is an honest precision in the visual consistency, the dust and grime seem to come out of the screen and enter your skin. The characters are caked with dried mud and blood, their skin seems to represent their souls. Australia is portrayed as a wide open prison, a land that rejects its inhabitants, and inhabitants that reject each other. The violence in this film is certainly an anti-violence. Heads explode, whips tear through flesh, and boots cave-in human skulls. Beneath its faux misanthropic exterior there is a touching story about three siblings who can't understand each other. I stake an honest claim that this film ushered in what we've come to know as the nihilist films of 2007, a fad that was epic and burnt out brightly. Not as much of a revisionist work as a merger of genres, The Proposition is unforgettable.

Old Joy directed by Kelly Reichardt
Old Joy patiently tells a story of two friends journeying into an existential forest as well as a natural one. The two men spend most of their time recollecting lost time, rambling about politics, and hoping to return to something resembling a friendship. My anticipation for Wendy and Lucy is based solely on my affection for this film. Reichardt finds a way to keep her film from becoming too chatty, while not leaning too hard on the safety blanket of silence. There is something being said underneath the northeastern bird calls and the Air America broadcasts. Something deeper is spoken in the facial expressions. Scored by the great Yo La Tengo, Old Joy reminds us that sorrow is just a worn out joy that needs to be awakened once again.

Pan's Labyrinth directed by Guillermo Del Torro
Reactionary responses to universally acclaimed films are always misleading in one way or another. Andrew Sarris once correctly stated that we can't assess a film's status in the present, time and space are the ultimate judge of artistic merit. Of course there won't ever be a film that garners such a decisive YES that we all throw up a white flag and declare it untouchable. However, there can't be a more depressing lifestyle than that of the reactionary contrarian. The prudes cum at the opportunity to burst an excitable audiences bubble. Armond White, God bless his heart, is the contrarian's pope and had nothing good to say about this film. I feel bad for the guy, he can't seem to watch a single film without scanning the web for critical reaction. I am lucky enough to not be plagued with such a negative disposition. Undertaking the task of creating your own fairy tale is commendable. Pulling off is just plain mind boggling. Pan's Labyrinth is up to the task of taking reactionary prudes down a notch.

The Departed directed by Martin Scorsese
Since 2002, Martin Scorsese has become a more accessible filmmaker, it's undeniable. This probably has something to do with age and a personal sense of accomplishment. After all, he spent a generous amount of time making angry films for the art crowd. His films were denouncements, confessions of his feelings of guilt and alienation. At the turn of the century he has focused more on embracing his obvious affection for genre pictures, films that he has a textbook knowledge of. The Departed finds him paying old fashion homage to the Warner Bros. gangster pictures of the 30s and 40s. Perhaps the casting of Jack Nicholson wasn't the smartest idea, he just can't help himself from becoming that worn out persona, but the truth shall set us free and that truth happens to be that Scorsese has a way with actors that can't be understated. Working with a cat and rat plot, he finds new ways of building tension such as cell phones and social security numbers. Each and every action sequence is proof on celluloid that Scorsese hasn't lost his stride.

A Prairie Home Companion directed by Robert Altman
Robert Altman's swan-song is a rapturous affair made with both simple folks and deep thinkers in mind. There is essentially two films in harmony with one another stored deep within A Prairie Home Companion's hospitable shell. Altman's legendary report with actors is crucial to the success of this ensemble farewell. Garrison Keillor's nostalgic ode to the glory days of radio transfer's to screen with flowing efficiency. Altman's fluency in the language of cinema has been evident in his masterpieces (McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Short Cuts) and here he adds another shiny trophy to his mantel.

Dave Chapelle's Block Party directed by Michel Gondry
What do you get when you mix Dead Prez, The Roots, The Fugees, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Michel Gondry, Brooklyn, and the mighty Dave Chapelle? The funniest and most convincing love letter ever written to a post 911 America. Chapelle has been known mostly for his irreverent television show and stand up routines and has garnered an eclectic following. Here he is kind, patient, and passionate which has disappointed those college kids who have come to associate him with little more than "I'm Rick James BITCH!" The decision to hire Gondry is further evidence of why Chapelle remains such a hard celebrity to pigeonhole. The show itself isn't upstaged by the nooks and crannies that Gondry discovers, assuring us that there is no headliner. Sure, watching the reunited Fugees is exhilarating, but the real treasure here is to steal Chapelle away from sketch comedy or stand-up routines and allow the man a moment of relief. To see him chat about Thelonious Monk or to hear the excitement of the marching band chosen to open Kanye's set is why Block Party transcends Chapelle's persona.

Children of Men directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Emmanuel Lubezki's breathtaking cinematography in The New World made him one of a few cameramen who have earned the title aueter. His use of natural light and slow long takes are instantly identifiable in Children of Men, Alfonso Cuaron's epic apocalyptic fable where women are mysteriously stricken barren. The story could have easily fallen into the wrong hands, especially as things in Iraq had gotten worse and worse. The sense of anarchy and the abuse of governmental power inspired a rush of films directly or indirectly dealing with our befuddled occupation. Lubezki and Cuaron are at similar points in their careers. The film world is buzzing about their previous work, they have established their own voice despite comparisons, they were beginning to find work with greater ease. Based on novel by P.D. James, it creates a deliberately non-futuristic world where over population and unspoken tragedies have the world flocking to England. What becomes of this catastrophe is an astonishing work of focused sustainability, an action movie with a brain. Though the canvas may be a bleak vision of our undiscovered future, there is an undeniable spark of hope in the power of birth.

Half Nelson directed by Ryan Fleck
Shareeka Epps was snubbed by the Academy in favor of a tired cliche of nominated performances. Half Nelson could have easily disappeared into the tired cliche where the white teacher saves his black students. This time around the roles are reversed and nothing ends up being what it seems. In the end it's about a friendship between teacher and student. The friendship is only possible when the two characters share responsibility. It also reminds us that we are being watched constantly by youngsters who desperately want to grow up too fast.

Borat directed by Larry Charles
If Block Party is a love letter, Borat is a folded up napkin that reads "You suck." Sometimes we need to be reminded that we should be ashamed of ourselves, especially when we're told incessantly to be patriotic. There is an undeniably mean spirit in Sascha Baron Cohen's pranks, but nearly each one reveals itself to be an unpleasant gaze into the worst of us all. As frat boys joke about forcing women to engage in sexual activity as though it was just part of being in your early twenties, I found myself silent along with the audience. Laughs were replaced by gasps, and even Cohen couldn't help but break from character to look amazed and appalled. The rest of the movie is dedicated to making us laugh at the issues that have plagued us ala Blazing Saddles. Every once in a while we are reminded that these issues are still hiding somewhere out there. Instead of Crash's "I hate you, you hate me" vision, Borat simply claims that we could all use a little change.

The Descent directed by Neil Marshal
Horror, cinema's dirty mistress, never gets full credit for its services. You rarely ever hear someone say "that movie was great" in reference to a scary movie. It's usually followed with the eerie suffix "for a horror movie." Well let me be the first to divorce myself from drama, I'm a film bachelor and I'm looking for a one night stand. Horror, like punk rock, is taken less seriously because of its lack of pretense and its open embrace of the instinctual pleasures we derive from experiencing something traumatic from a safe distance. The Descent is a visceral film that prides itself in efficiency and delivery. Along with 28 Days Later and Let the Right One In, The Descent is on a shortlist of horror films that matter. I would be a fool to deny that comedy and horror are in a slump and always have been. But when something like this comes along and people still have the nerve to say "that was great.... for a horror film" it becomes evident that we are in desperate need for a paradigm shift.

Neil Young: Heart of Gold directed by Jonathan Demme
For those who couldn't get behind Rachel Getting Married, I recommend you check out Demme's Heart of Gold. Some may claim that Demme doesn't deserve the credit for Young's beautiful performance documentary, but who else was getting in line to direct? Yes I'm saying it, Demme is a great director because he has the instincts that guides him to the right place and the right time. It can't be too hard to sniff out a Neil Young show, but to find him at this point of his career, after surviving a brain aneurysm. The show is more of confessional than anything else, with Young and friends singing about life, empty nest syndrome, and war. When we went to the theater to see this movie I wasn't sure how much longer Young would be with us. Watching this performance was like watching someone at peace with passing on, and Demme, a true humanist, is there to capture it.

Volver directed by Pedro Almodovar
Almodovar has a genuine love for women. His career is mostly an appreciation for the women who raised him in Spain. Volver is his best film since Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. It's a return to his screwball melodrama days, where you could have a laugh and a cry all in ninety minutes. The torch here is passed from Pedro's former muse Carmen Maura to his new beauty Penelope Cruz. The two women are strong and empowered, the men have no control over them. The story revolves around a murder, one that I would actually condone. I would condone it because the victim is not quite a victim, and the killer is more of a defender. Volver has a lot in common with Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind but it has more in common with Arsenic and Old Lace. I'm not sure how I've come to devote so much time and energy dwelling on the murder when most of the film is about motherhood. Instead of changing direction midstream I'll just let you watch this and decide for yourself.

Casino Royale directed Martin Campbell
You probably don't know who Martin Campbell is, but I recommend that you remember his name. He isn't young, groundbreaking, or talked about but has managed to kick start two separate struggling franchises. The Mask of Zorro had all of the trademark elements to become another forgettable summer blockbuster, but Campbell's skillful execution of both the action and the swashbuckling made the one of the unsung mainstream films of the 90s. By bringing Zorro back to his rumbustious glory days he redefined an adventure genre that insisted on its world weary protagonists to be be steeped in moral dilemma. Casino Royale does just about the opposite and accomplishes just as much. Some characters scream out for refurbishment, 007 is certainly one of them. Now the moral ambiguity that Campbell once side-stepped so successfully was being utilized to the film's advantage. James Bond finally had real stakes to compete with, and real stakes lead to real ambition. Casino Royale adds up to more than its title character and his loyal fan base, it offers an unabashed action film in an era where the genre has been undeniably reduced to nil.

Brick directed by Rian Johnson
When the entire artifice for a film is simply taking noir vernacular and implementing it into a modern high school setting, things can easily get gimmicky. Brick's contrivance has caused some to ignore the performance by Joseph Gordon Levitt. Brick is an arduous spellbinder in love with The Big Sleep and Sunset Boulevard. Levitt summons his inner Bogart and Holden with elegance and Brick transcends its own gimmick.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

best films of 2005

It's Christmas Eve. I had to work today and it wasn't that bad. My boss gave me grief about leaving 6 minutes before 3. She needs to be visited by a trio of ghosts that will make her better appreciate her fellow citizens. Bud has a tiny penis.
Good Night and Good Luck directed by George Clooney
The parallels that existed at the time this film came out were astonishing. Conservative pundits rejected it as propaganda and began to argue that Clooney belonged to a secret society of Hollywood liberals who wanted to sway the public conscience towards a socialist agenda. They might as well have signed their own confession. It was proof that whales like Rush and Hannity were not only kindred spirits with McCarthy, they were opposed to history. The film itself is an accurate and moving procedural that placed its director at the top of the heap both as an actor and director. The film is shot in glorious black and white and features a well deserved Oscar nominated David Strathairn.

2046 directed by Wong Kar Wai
I watched this film in a friend's basement at three in the morning. The movie is best viewed in that state, sleepy and full of surrender.
Brokeback Mountain directed by Ang Lee
The hype and controversy surrounding this film made it impossible for anyone to give it a fair viewing and analysis. My experience was full of chuckles and chit chat, gasps and sniffles, championing and damnation. It wasn't the best environment to soak it all in. Luckily the film was engaging enough to warrant a second viewing, this time in a less crowded atmosphere. What I saw was a film that studied our relationship to the trees and streams around us. It was about two humans who shared that land and would do anything to return to that state of mind and spirit. It featured another Oscar nominated performance by the wonderful Heath Ledger. I don't care much what others think about it.
Broken Flowers directed by Jim Jarmusch
Jim Jarmusch's films are often vignettes and poems stocked with a hip soundtrack and an eclectic cast. This time around he continues his formula and adds a linear story to the mix. Bill Murray and Jeffery Wright are titans who gladly share the screen. It's a sobering farewell to the glory days of an aging Casanova.
Capote directed by Bennett Miller
I'm not a fan of the biopic. It stacks the deck too high and delivers too little. But by focusing your sights on something specific, an area of a person's life that spans a week, a month, or a year (or two) gives the director room to breath. It's this open space of time and setting that makes Capote an exciting exception to my rule.
The Corporation
This is a good, straight focused, angry documentary that simply exposes the evils of corporate agenda. The results are appalling and invigorating.
Grizzly Man directed by Werner Herzog
I've heard a lot of dissenting viewpoints on this one. Herzogians complain that it's not looney enough, too mainstream...... blah blah blah. This director is plagued with the most bullheaded fans on planet earth. This is one of his masterpieces.

A History of Violence directed by David Cronenberg
Another master director with a legion of disgruntled fans who only appreciate his gore drenched tendencies. Any sight of nuance and sophistication and they cry like babies. This is another masterpiece that found its way into the hearts and minds of his less entitled followers.
Junebug directed by Phil Morrison
Junebug made a crucial decision in asking Yo La Tengo to score its soundtrack. There is a scene in a hospital room that moved me to tears. This is the type of independent film that doesn't get the attention that it deserves.
King Kong directed by Peter Jackson
I understand and agree with the folks who find this film too bulky. The beginning is too drawn out. However, once the title character drops in, the movie doesn't lack a thing. It's nostalgia in the best sense of the word worthy of Merrian C. Cooper's incredible 1933 original.

Kiss Kiss Bang Band directed by Lance Black
Robert Downey Jr. is reason enough to see anything. 2005 marked his return.

Millions directed by Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle isn't known for family friendly fare. Millions makes you wonder why not. I can't wait to watch this with my children.

Munich directed by Steven Spielberg
Until the ending, Munich sustains an incredible and exciting look inside the battle for Israel. It's intense subject matter, and it's handled with a lot of sensitivity. Each death comes with a certain amount of baggage.

Mysterious Skin directed by Greg Araki

Sin City directed by Robert Rodriguez
Rodriguez is content with being naughty and juvenile. This is why he succeeds.

The New World directed by Terrance Malick
The first hour and change are, hands down, the best of all time.

merry christmas eve,

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

yom kippur some sugar on me or the best films of 2004

Jesse the Big Bear Martin.
The Aviator directed by Martin Scorsese
Born Into Brothels
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind directed by Michel Gondry
Hero directed by Yimou Zhang
House of Flying Daggers directed Yimou Zhang
The Incredibles directed by Brad Bird
Kill Bill directed by Quentin Tarantino
Million Dollar Baby directed Clint Eastwood
The End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones
The Motorcycle Diaries directed by Walter Sayles
Shaun of the Dead directed by Edgar Wright
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou directed by Wes Anderson
Hotel Rwanda directed by Terry George
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Honorable Mentions:
Spiderman 2
I Heart Huckabees
Maria Full of Grace


Monday, December 22, 2008

the best films of 2003

we had a group of elders folks play at my job today and i couldn't help but feel as though that was me in the future. luckily those geezers certainly brought the house down. the consumers were singing, dancing, doing sign language (extremely inaccurate sign language), and touching the instruments without permission. i guess my future could be worse. here are my favorite films that i am aware of that came out in the year 2003. ps, John, I read your review of A Christmas Tale and you somehow managed to make fun of both Rachel Getting Married and Royal Tenenbaums. oooooo rich people are soooooooo uninteresting, i like french movies, Tarkovsky is my boyfriend. Eat that Owen.
Raising Victor Vargas
28 Days Later
21 Grams
City of God
Dirty Pretty Things
Lost in Translation
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Finding Nemo
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Mystic River
The Station Agent
Winged Migration

Honorable Mentions:
Kill Bill Vol. 1
In America
School of Rock

Cool beans,