December 31, 2003

GreenCine's Best of 2003

By Craig Phillips, GreenCine Associate Editor


A disproportionate number of directors from Down Under dominate my list of best movies from this past year - Peters Jackson and Weir, and Niki Caro. Not sure what that means, just thought I'd point it out. Going back over the films released in 2003, I started thinking that this was a fairly weak year, and yet had little trouble finding a group of films to be excited about. They all pass my essential criteria: Do I want to see them again? Did I think about them afterwards? Were they special in some way? Also, one confession: although these are in ranked order, the rankings themselves are fairly arbitrary; but because people usually like things to be ranked, they each have a number next to them. Also, this list (with apologies to Spinal Tap) goes up to 11. With that in mind, here we go:

gollum-announce.jpg


  1. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King: Full of jaw-dropping sequences, that come one after the other like Orcs, this epic manages to do the damn near impossible, top the first two films in terms of sheer awe. Satisfying in the way that few (if any) third films have ever been, with very few missteps (okay, I could have done without yet another slow-mo "Oh Frodo you're alive!" hugging-Frodo-in-bed scene, but I forgave). Nice to see Miranda Otto kick some ass, too, since women are mostly decorative in Tolkien-land. It's epic-scale entertainment of the best variety, and if you think Peter Jackson's role as director was merely digital puppetry, you're sadly mistaken, preeecious.
  2. Capturing the Friedmans: And from the huge to the small-scale. I found Andrew Jarecki's incredible documentary equal parts distressing and compulsively fascinating; in fact, of all the movies I saw this year, this is the one that stayed with me the longest. It's more fair-minded than anyone could have expected, with as many twists and turns as a good suspense novel. Makes you pine for the functionality of R. Crumb's family. An in-your-face to any TV series calling itself a "reality show."
  3. Master and Commander: Far Side of the World: Another long-titled, epic adventure that benefited greatly from director Peter Weir's interest in things other than action (though that is not to say it isn't often rousing and exciting) - in nature, in ethics. He's not afraid to embrace the quiet moments. Paul Bettany shines as the biologist/doctor (every ship should have one!) Some fans of Patrick O'Brien's books have carped about Russell Crowe's casting, but, you know what? Shut up. Whatever you think about Crowe off-screen, he is undeniably one of our most charismatic actors. A rousing adventure, great to see Weir back at the top of his game.

  4. American Splendor: One of the year's most creative films, it was also one of the more memorable and pitch-perfect. Underrated character actor Paul Giamatti shines as Harvey Pekar. Weaving documentary with the fictionalized feature requires a magic balancing act to pull off, but it does. Hysterically funny, but also gentle and moving.
  5. Lost in Translation: Sofia Coppola's film makes up for what it lacks in plot with atmosphere, intelligence, and performance - particularly Bill Murray's sad-faced actor in an existential crisis. He seems to have found a new calling, less the wild man of his youth, and more Monsieur Hulot-with-an-edge. Beautiful to look at and often hilariously funny, my only caveat with Translation was the uneasy feeling that it may have been looking at a foreign culture with an American's slightly patronizing eyes. Still, who can't relate to the feeling of being homesick and sick of home at the same time?
  6. Dirty Pretty Things: Stephen Frears' film looks effortless, so easy does it unfold, but in lesser hands the unseemly subject matter (immigrants struggling in the UK, the organ trade) and juggling of genres (mystery, suspense, romance) could very well never have meshed so well. Audrey Tatou is lovely as always but it's Chiwetel Ejiofor who really steals the show in an incredibly assured performance as the struggling African immigrant. The film is as entertaining as it is dark.
  7. Whale Rider: The one movie that made me blubber (sorry) more than any other, particularly so in a chokingly emotional scene towards the end, delivered with great poise and realism by young actress Keisha Castle-Hughes. She just may have given the best performance of the year. Director Niki Caro takes what could have been a simple-minded fable and grounds it in an real and vividly imagined coming of age story, drives what could have been predictable in unexpected directions. A crowd-pleaser, yes, but a great film, too.
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  9. Raising Victor Vargas: Peter Sollett's film, an expansion of the story he explored in the indie short Five Feet High and Rising, is a beautifully rendered slice of New York life. Authentic, gritty but sweet, the detailed way Sollett captures these kids' lives really elevates the film. Tim Orr, who also did the cinematography for David Gordon Green's films, did a nice job catching both the beauty and the harshness of the urban landscape, and the delicate nature of these relationships. Raising Victor Vargas is a nuanced and ultimately uplifting little film that is everything Larry Clark's Kids was not.
  10. The Station Agent: Like a little building situated between bloated Hollywood skyscrapers, Tom McCarthy's understated gem is a gentle reminder that a good screenplay towers over all. Wonderful performances throughout; it's particularly nice for once to see a dwarf (Peter Dinklage, perfect) depicted as a three-dimensional person.
  11. Mystic River: Seems like a lot of fuss has been made about this one already, critics slobbering all over it, awards being lined up left and right. Well, you know what? Add me to the list of slobberers (albeit less slobbering now that I've had a second helping -- viewing -- of it). An overpowering, noirish drama, Mystic River does show Eastwood firmly in command of his craft -- particularly in his work with actors. It's no Bird, but rewarding, still.
  12. Cold Mountain: Old fashioned love story set amidst the tragic sweep of war, using flashbacks, multiple characters intertwined, adapted from a highly regarded book, directed by Anthony Minghella... wait, this isn't The English Patient? No, and if you can manage to set aside, as I did, the cynicism our generation is famous for, you might find yourself swept into this story's beauty and passion. Undeniably gorgeous-looking and surprisingly suspenseful, even moving. I even forgave its occasional geographic missteps (sorry, but Romania's snow-capped peaks just don't wash as a Carolina stand-in).

Honorable Mention:

  • Thirteen: Like Victor Vargas, what could have been an exercise in kiddie exploitation a la Kids turned out so much better, thanks to the spot on performances and the dead-on accurate portrayal of early teenage confusion and alienation.
  • 21 Grams: If anything, Innaritu's follow-up to his brilliant Amores Perros was a very slight step back, and the fractured narrative-in-lieu-of-a-great-script thing seems oh-so-'01, but the incredible acting and undeniably striking filmmaking hold attention throughout.
  • Finding Nemo: Pixar films may seem to have a bit of a formula by now, but let's face it, it works -- solid storytelling, great set pieces, irresistable humor, the best voice talent, and few if any cloying songs. Another winner.
  • 28 Days Later: If it weren't for a bit of a letdown Act 3, this would easily make my top list. As it stands, Danny Boyle's zombie apocalypse film is undeniably unnerving, even more so by the immediacy of digital video.
  • School of Rock: Give me some of whatever Jack Black is on please. Pure delight from start to finish. Rock on!

  • The Man Without a Past: And on the other end of the energy spectrum...Ah Aki Kurisimaki, my favorite Finn, no one does deadpan like Aki.

  • Man on the Train

  • Secret Life of Dentists

  • Millennium Actress


Guilty Pleasures
Pirates of the Caribbean: I enjoyed this more than the ride (it's certainly less musty.) What a pleasant surprise.
Also: Bad Santa; Elf; Bubba Ho Tep; The Hebrew Hammer on Comedy Central

Might Make the List if I'd Actually Seen Them:


  • Bus 174

  • Elephant

  • House of Sand and Fog

  • Fog of War (put those two together and make an even more interesting film!)

  • City of God

  • My Architect

  • Triplets of Belleville

Posted by cphillips at 5:15 PM | Comments (3)

Lists and shorts, 12/31.

Life-of Oharu If we were ranking the year-end lists, this whole lot of them from Masters of Cinema with contributors such as Jonathan Rosenbaum, Ray Carney, Martin Koerber and Robin Wood and a sharp accompanying piece by Nick Wrigley, would certainly be right up there: "In late 2003 we asked a number of our favourite film critics, restorers, authors, curators and scholars for their lists of 'most wanted films on DVD'. The idea here, six years into the format's life, is to catch a glimpse of what the next six years could hold if these dreams were realised." As for the four editors of the site themselves, they've collected their own votes and discovered that the most wanted list is topped by "everything by Kenji Mizoguchi."

As for what is available, DVD Talk picks the top DVDs of 2003 - several times over. Scroll to the bottom of the motherlist to find 15 more lists: Genres (anime, docs, etc.); columnists' faves (Cinema Gotham, DVD Savant) and the quirky ones like "Top Ten DVDs You Won't Find On Any Other Top Ten List in 2003."

How was it for you? asks indieWIRE of 25 independent and Indiewood distribution companies. Overall, Wellspring's Al Cattabiani seems to have summed up their responses: "The core economics of the business are getting progressively tougher. Theatrically, it's harder than ever to break through the clutter and find a niche." The juice is in the details of the individual responses.

"Indian Cinema... known for its over the counter melodrama, loved for its talented celebrities, but remembered for its cultured yet cordial music." For Planet Bollywood, Aakash Gandhi selects "the top 15 music releases of the year 2003, with the music director and specific highlights for each."

David Poland's "Ten Movies That You Didn't See... But Should Have - 2003."

In the Telegraph: Tim Robey looks back at a year of mainstream cinema in the UK; Sukhdev Sandhu covers the others.

"If one could resurrect actor-filmmaker Orson Welles for an afternoon and put him on a festival panel with B-movie mogul Roger Corman, one might be amazed at how much they had to talk about." Matt Zoller Seitz reviews Peter Conrad's Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life and Beverly Gray's Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Life in the New York Press.

Brandon Judell rounds up a more eclectic selection of film books in indieWIRE.

"Even as this country of 127 million has lost its status as a global economic superpower and the national confidence has been sapped by a 13-year economic slump, Japan is reinventing itself - this time as the coolest nation on Earth." Not news, of course, but Anthony Faiola's Washington Post round-up of why and how this is so is a fine little primer on "Japan's Empire of Cool."

In the New York Times:

  • Elvis Mitchell: "[I]t is unfortunately necessary to point out that 2003 was a strong year for women as directors."
  • "When he died on Saturday, the question remained: what was an Alan Bates role?" asks Mel Gussow.
  • Luisita Lopez Torregrosa talks to Benicio Del Toro.
  • Ken Belson on the next generation of DVDs and the "multibillion-dollar fight over whose technology will become an industry standard."
  • From the Media and Technology in 2004 package: flat-screen TVs, music DVDs and personal video recorders.
  • Sarah Lyall meets Mike Newell: "I hate doing the same thing twice."
  • Now this is a surprise. John Schwartz reports that movie studios have actually been paying attention to how the music industry has completely botched its battle against online piracy. What's more, Hollywood's less harsh approach actually seems to be working.
  • "What's the difference between all the cinematic groups that dole out end-of-year awards, and which ones are best at prefiguring the Oscars?" Slate's "explainer," Brendan I. Koerner sorts 'em. Meanwhile, Ben Williams gathers "the biggest stories, best writing, nastiest insults, most hyperbolic raves, and oddest theories of the year in cultural criticism."

    "Who would have thought a 47-year-old gay socialist from New York and a 72-year-old German immigrant would be the ones to bring television back down to earth, and knit up HBO viewers from both the red and blue states into the serious business of American viewership?" Tom McGeveran announcing that Mike Nichols and Tony Kushner are the New York Observer "Media Mensches of the Year."

    Posted by dwhudson at 11:06 AM | Comments (2)

    December 29, 2003

    Alan Bates, 1934 - 2003.

    Alan Bates Eoliano posts:

    I think the first time I saw Alan Bates (so very many years ago) was in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker, now only a faint memory. However, I'll always fondly remember him as Basil in Zorba the Greek, as well as in Butley, Georgy Girl and The Go-between. He certainly gave the finest performance in An Unmarried Woman. And more recently as King Claudius in Hamlet, and unforgettably, with not nearly enough screen time, as Mr. Jennings in Gosford Park.

    Zorba: Why do the young die? Why does anybody die?

    Basil: I don't know.

    Zorba: What's the use of all your damn books if they can't answer that?

    Basil: They tell me about the agony of men who can't answer questions like yours.

    Zorba: I spit on this agony!

    If you read only one obituary: Alan Strachan in the Independent.

    Tributes are just pouring in at the BBC site.

    The Alan Bates Archive.

    While we're on the subject of obituaries, our Craig Phillips notes that Hong Kong actress/singer Anita Mui has passed away at the very, very young age of 40. (Thanks Ian Whitney for the tip) Really loved her in Rouge.

    Posted by dwhudson at 10:08 AM | Comments (1)

    December 28, 2003

    Lists and shorts, 12/28.

    New York Times I don't know anyone who can afford this luxury, and I certainly can't myself, but the ideal Sunday this week would be spent by the fire with a pot or kettle of something warm and delicious, maybe the smell of chestnuts roasting, too, just because it'd be a hoot, and today's issues of the two best English-language papers from either side of the Atlantic, the New York Times and The Observer. The arts sections of both papers are chock full of year-end lists and round-ups and explanations and disclaimers, and praise be, it's not all movies. The pages are full of painters and musicians and architects, and damn, it's just all so civilized.

    "The number of good motion pictures released this year is less impressive - and harder to agree on - than their diversity," writes AO Scott in his intro to the contribution to the NYT parade from the movies department. True enough, but less stilted and far more entertaining is the chat he and his colleagues have about whatever films happen to pop to mind while the tape's rolling.

    And then there are the lists, and while they are meant to be seen more for their ingenuity as a well-planted forest than for the peculiarity of any one tree, what counts most, of course, is who put what at #1. Stephen Holden's choice is a mild surprise of the admirable kind, Angels in America. The other two are genuine surprises. AO Scott on Master and Commander: "The best war movie in a year of war movies, and one of the best ever." Elvis Mitchell isn't particularly quotable when it comes to a justification for putting Pirates of the Caribbean at the top, but still, wow.

    It's left to Dave Kehr to write what's emerging as the real story of 2003 from a long distance perspective: "Documentaries commanded an extraordinary amount of attention this year..." The sentence goes on, but that's it, right there. It is amazing in an era of wall-to-wall news streaming live from reporters embedded around the world and the rest of television programming dominated by reality programming that there is nonetheless a clear desire for quality nonfiction film ("as it is now fashionable to call it" - Kehr).

    The Observer Via the Net, the Observer and its sister paper, the Guardian, have become enormously popular outside the UK for the sort of reporting and commentary no American daily would dare to print. So it's always a little odd that their coverage of film seems quaintly out-of-step simply because studios still stagger their releases around the world (though conventional wisdom holds that this won't last much longer). Philip French's year-end round-up and list, then, necessarily includes a few 2002 titles and I for one certainly have no argument with his decision to put Adaptation in that top slot.

    Also in today's Observer, by the way, is Polly Vernon's profile of Scarlett Johansson on the occasion of the release in the UK of, first, Lost in Translation on January 9 (which is why it's on no UK top tens this year; look for it next year), and second, Girl with a Pearl Earring a week later, accompanied here by a piece from Tracy Chevalier, who wrote the novel.

    One other UK event definitely worth mention is the Nicholas Ray season at the National Film Theatre in London, ushered in with two backgrounders on Ray by David Thomson in the Guardian and Geoffrey MacNab in the Independent.

    Posted by dwhudson at 6:50 AM

    December 27, 2003

    Lists and shorts, 12/27.

    Salon Blogs and the post-boom bust have blunted Salon's edge over all these years, but the pioneer online pub is still worth checking into regularly for its coverage of presidential politics (every year is election year at Salon) and its book and movie reviews. This weekend, its three die-hard critics chime in with their top tens. Lost in Translation heads up both Stephanie Zacharek's and Charles Taylor's lists; Andrew O'Hehir's is by far the most surprising simply because he's usually the most populist of the trio. And, with the exception of the wild-card inclusion of Old School, his is a decidedly non-populist list. As for all three, these are among the best blurbed lists so far this year.

    Short shorts:

    In PopMatters: Todd R. Ramlow on Angels in America and Lynne d Johnson on Nichelle Nichols, who's played Star Trek's Communications Officer Lieutenant Uhura, and "Bearing the Black Female Body as Witness in Sci-Fi."

    Book reviews in the New York Times: Gary Giddins on Wil Haygood's In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr. and Gary Fishgall's Gonna Do Great Things: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr.; two reviews of Elisabeth Robinson's The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters: Emily Nussbaum and Janet Maslin.

    Among the year's departed remembered in the NYT Magazine: Horst Buchholz, "touted as the German James Dean," and Katharine Hepburn.

    Martin Wainwright reports in the Guardian on the international study that's set out to discover what makes Tolkien so doggone popular.

    Posted by dwhudson at 5:57 AM | Comments (2)

    December 25, 2003

    The lists. 2003. 12/25.

    LA Weekly "No wonder the studios didn't want to send us screeners," writes Ella Taylor, introducing her top ten "[i]n no particular order" but with honorable mentions for the best performances of 2003 and "a big thank-you to all the dedicated artists whose naked butts made our season merrier." For Taylor, it was "a so-so year"; for Scott Foundas, her fellow LA Weekly critic, though, it was "a damn fine year for the movies."

    The pub's 3rd annual lists issue also features the most insane utterances overheard in Hollywood, collected and annotated by Nikki Finke, "Five Really Really Really Bad Sci-Fi Movies," selected by Doug Harvey, 17 first-time directors we'll hopefully hear from again, as named by Ron Stringer, and then, six critics blurb their favorite scenes of the year.

    On a completely unrelated note, Louis Black in the Austin Chroncle: "Derided, neglected, dismissed, One From the Heart is an exploding neon valentine to the very heart of America."

    Posted by dwhudson at 7:11 AM

    December 24, 2003

    Merry, merry.

    The Voice It's here, one of the best year-end polls, the 5th annual Voice critics' poll. Lost in Translation is the clear winner, Elephant's a solid second, and everything else follows well behind.

    Introducing the extravaganza and sorting through the meticulously laid out numbers is, of course, host and MC J. Hoberman, who notes "America must be coming back," comments on the three stars of the list, Bill Murray, Gus Van Sant and the doc, and measures this and that on the Passiondex© where appropriate.

    The cinephile's browse for the holidays will be the collected comments from the poll's contributors (which really ought to be quite enough until David Edelstein finally calls Slate's "Movie Club" to order, but we do have the New York Times lists to go, too). The other fun feature, entitled "Lone Gunmen," has critics defending choices so unpopular no single other critic voted for them.

    Then there are the Voice's choices, the pub's house critics and their moments at the mic: Hoberman (Spider tops his list), Michael Atkinson (Lars von Trier's Medea) and Dennis Lim (a tie: Platform and Unknown Pleasures). Wrapping up the year, then, is Ed Halter on the year in experimental film and video.

    But why stop there? Right next door in so many ways, Michael Musto is handing out his Felix Awards for the great media moments of 2003.

    Then, as promised, indieWIRE followed up its own selections with lists jotted down by actual filmmakers, including John Cameron Mitchell, Christine Vachon and, as they say, many more.

    List-wise, we'll leave it at that for now. If you've developed a hungry habit, though, keep an eye on Movie City News and Fimoculous.

    Short shorts:

    Ed Champion has been trying to either verify or shoot down a rumor that Dave Eggers is adapting Where the Wild Things Are for Spike Jonze.

    Fred Kaplan pierces The Fog of War: "So, yes, Johnson was responsible for Vietnam. But, more than McNamara is willing to admit - and more than this film suggests - so was McNamara. Knowing these bits of historical background [Kaplan outlines] doesn't undermine the film's power." Also in Slate: Dana Stevens on the second season of The Office.

    In the Guardian:

  • Bollywood producers and distributors are opting for Kazaa.
  • 2003 quiz.
  • Blake Morrison on Christmas movies.
  • Alfred Hickling reviews Christopher Lee: Lord of Misrule, Niv: The Authorised Biography of David Niven and Alec Guinness: The Authorised Biography.
  • Mark Lawson on what happens with great stage actors like Ian McKellen and Judi Dench become movie stars.
  • Rick DeMott in Animation World Magazine on what the Best Animated Feature Oscar has done for/to the industry.

    Speaking of Oscars: Andrew Gumbel on what Harvey Weinstein's done for/to them in the Independent. Also: Now the UK's feeling the business end of the Sofia blitz.

    In the New York Times:

  • Emily Nussbaum: "Fan's-eye DVD's are a logical offshoot of the newly pushy online fan culture." This could get big. Potentially very big.
  • Sharon Waxman on the future of global premieres and on the ill feelings revived among the Seinfeld cast when it came time to making the DVD.
  • Bill Carter: Angels in America is a critical but not necessarily a popular hit.
  • Randy Kennedy: "In early reviews of the Cold Mountain soundtrack - which also includes performances by Alison Krauss and the White Stripes' Jack White - several music writers have called the Sacred Harp singers a revelation."
  • Anne Thompson on Richard D. Zanuck's "father-son thing."
  • Nancy Ramsey drops in on Errol Morris.
  • Ian Austen on the unexpected popularity of rear-projection TVs.
  • Scott Billups in DV.com on high-definition production.

    Where the Wild Things Are "More than 2,000 fake DVDs of the latest Lord of the Rings film have been seized at Heathrow airport."

    Ashis K. Biswas in Outlook India on Shadows in Time (Schatten der Zeit), the movie German filmmaker Florian Gallenberger is shooting in Bengal.

    Tony Kushner in the Times Literary Supplement on Eugene O'Neill (the link won't last forever, unfortunately).

    Will Cohu in the Telegraph on Anthony Lane. Via Bookslut.

    Patrick Crowley reports in Salon on how George Clooney is helping his dad run for Congress. Also: Stephanie Zacharek quite rightly takes the NYT's Caryn James to task for her "blue is for boys, pink is for girls" LOTR piece and Baz Dreisinger on The Hebrew Hammer and the "'Jewsploitation" craze."

    Another take: Armond White at Alternet: "[Director Jonathan] Hesselman knows that imitating black style isn't simply about being cool (which finally puts him ahead of Tarantino)."

    From all of us to all of you, a very merry.

    Peace.

    Posted by dwhudson at 8:14 AM

    December 22, 2003

    The lists. 2003. 12/22.

    indieWIRE / Film Threat Just up are two batches of lists of particular interest because they come from two very different publications with a somewhat similar mission which we happen to sympathize with, namely, getting word out about films much of the mainstream press ignores.

    Editors, contributors and staffers at indieWIRE have each submitted lists, and it all makes for a pretty rich page to scoll up and down a few dozen times. Just a few first-glance highlights: Editor Eugene Hernandez setting aside a special paragraph for Angels in America; Anthony Kaufman's inclusion of a specific scene, and on a somewhat similar note, Wendy Mitchell's honorable mentions of certain films for just one or two particular qualities; the many references to what a great year it was for documentaries. And then, the cherry on top: "In tomorrow's edition, directors, actors, and industry execs will share some of their favorites."

    Phil Hall introduces Film Threat's "10 Best and Worst Unseen Films of 2003":

    The top ten films on this list are remarkable on a wide variety of levels (where else do you find gay marriage and a felonious red octopus mentioned in the same breath?). With luck and the right connections, these titles will find the audiences they truly deserve in the very near future. The bottom ten films on the list, of course, represent another story entirely.

    For must of us, of course, nearly every single title on both lists is a surprise, and in some cases, the surprise may depend on our actually having seen one or two and finding it on the wrong list. Case in point: Sans Soleil. But fine. Inherent in FT's mission, too, is stirring it up now and then.

    Posted by dwhudson at 4:17 PM

    December 21, 2003

    The lists. 2003. 12/21.

    Time Time runs not one but two movie lists in its Best + Worst 2003 section. Richard Corliss explains topping his with Return of the King: "This is as much a life achievement award - and an expression of gratitude for Peter Jackson's seven-year act of exemplary devotion to his quest - as a declaration that no one made a better movie this year." All in all, a fine list with a few mild surprises - Pirates, All the Real Girls - and the biggest: Divine Intervention.

    Richard Schickel goes for Mystic River; his surprise entries: The Human Stain and Gloomy Sunday.

    James Poniewozik, who needs to be given much, much more space to stretch his wit than Time usually allows, places The Office at the top of his TV list.

    Meanwhile, AO Scott turns in a prologue of sorts to next Sunday's New York Times best-of's: "Think of this column, a partial roster of such work, not only as yet another end-of-the-year movie retrospective, but as an exercise in divination, a hopeful prophecy of the 10-best lists and Oscar tip-sheets of the future, and of reasons to keep going to the movies in years to come." Scott's looking forward to work from Fernando Meirelles and Peter Sollett, among other directors; Scarlett Johansson, Keira Knightley and Shia LaBeouf; and reserves special praise for Shohreh Aghdashloo. Scott's also been answering NYT readers' questions, and while we're at it, also in the paper:

  • Caryn James. "The final entry in the Lord of the Rings trilogy reveals once more that what the chick flick is to men, this trilogy is to women - or at least to a large secret society of us for whom the series is no more than a geek-fest, a technologically impressive but soulless endurance contest." That'd probably come as a surprise to Philippa Boyens.
  • Charles McGrath on how Cold Mountain helps reverse the "sepiafication" of the Civil War years promulgated by the likes of Ken Burns.
  • Katha Pollitt on Wellesley and Mona Lisa Smile: "The movie's depiction of the college is unfortunately on the mark."
  • Anna Kisselgoff: "Ballet has changed and so have movies that present an inside look at ballet companies." The occasion, of course, is Robert Altman's The Company.
  • The Company

    Speaking of which. Nina Metz talks to Neve Campbell for the Chicago Tribune: "'[T]he thing with a broken rib is you can't breathe, because it's touching your lung. And you can't move and you can't sleep. So I was dancing eight hours a day, and then not sleeping, and then taking a lot of pain pills, and not breathing properly while I was dancing. So,' she says with considerable understatement, 'it was a challenge.'" And Michael Wilmington profiles Altman at 78.

    But to get back to this business of lists, Joshua Klein selects the year's ten best DVDs: "The best DVD supplements cast a film in an entirely new light, and an illuminating and intelligent commentary track can be more effective than several discs of making-of footage." Say amen, somebody.

    Posted by dwhudson at 6:24 AM

    December 19, 2003

    Shorts, 12/19.

    At first glance, KA Dilday's piece over at openDemocracy is going to seem like warmed over servings of yesterdecade's political correctness, but even for someone like myself, who's admired and enjoyed Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy so far, they're served up well enough to give healthy pause. One more time:

    LOTR3

    We are living in times when the public rhetoric is medieval. Politicians and pundits invoke the words good and evil casually, as if the age of reason never happened.... Can one judge a film with the morals of politics? Is Lord of the Rings seen differently in the United States than it is in Europe where the majority of people were against the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq? A fable is "a narration intended to enforce a useful truth." When I look at the Lord of the Rings as the fable its author, JRR Tolkien, intended it to be, I see a world clearly divided into races and regions of leader and followers, I see Calvinist pre-determinism and I see the vindication and veneration of empire unfolding in frame after frame. And I feel the quick burn of shame that I always feel when realising that as a child I was taken in by a "useful truth" that now seems odious.

    Meanwhile, the Guardian rounds up reviews; the paper's own Peter Bradshaw writes, "No flabber has been left ungasted by Mr Jackson's mighty battle sequences, nor no gob unsmacked."

    And Ed Champion is back, not only with another pointer - Rob Salkowitz: LOTR3 is either "the best rotten movie ever made, or the worst great movie ever made" - but also blogging again. Among his thoughts on all the hoopla:

    "It's okay to announce your love for Lords around the water cooler, and to tell everybody that you're going to see the first show at the stroke of midnight. This wasn't the case with Star Wars or even the Matrices. With Lords, the fanboy has suddenly acquired a mainstream legitimacy. The marketing has been so good, so eerily transcendental and cross-demographic, that I almost expect a war room somewhere on the New Line lot containing a wall-sized blackboard, a space to project Powerpoint presentations on demand, and envelopes marked TOP SECRET revealing every known opinion on the film.

    And not even GreenCine is safe. We posted our interview with Ian McKellen today, and yes, there will be more. One suspects Chuck Wilson wouldn't mind:

    ...I sank down in my seat, pulled my jacket up under my chin and let myself be 12 years old again. Blessedly, I wasn't there as a movie critic.... Tonight, I was just a guy who sat down in the fifth row with one of his best pals (I'm lucky to have more than one) at his side, stared hopefully up at the screen and was granted the one thing he needed most in the world - a sense of wonder. And right after that, wonder's adjunct - joy. Tears too, for balance, and because Frodo and Sam broke my heart...

    That's part of the LA Weekly's huge Winter Film cover package this week, where Scott Foundas turns in the formal review, and which also includes:

    LA Weekly Winter Film
  • Dave Shulman's very fun talk with Tim Burton: "'Okay. Pee-wee's Big Adventure was the beginning of the best date - and one of the best days - of my life.' 'Really?' Burton feigns interest. I feign humility. 'You betcha. First love and everything.'"
  • Ella Taylor on Monster; Judith Lewis interviews the film's director, Patty Jenkins.
  • Foundas again, on What Alice Found.
  • John Patterson on Peter Pan: PJ Hogan (My Best Friend’s Wedding) has finally done justice to the story’s every unsettling nuance, with nary a false note or a misstep."
  • Marc Cooper: "[Errol] Morris is a more talented filmmaker than he is an interviewer." Foundas interviews the filmmaker.
  • "Bringing inner lives to the screen is tricky enough for the most seasoned filmmaker, and director Vadim Perelman is just starting out." Ella Taylor on The House of Sand and Fog.
  • Oh, look, it's Scott Foundas again. Mona Lisa Smile and Calendar Girls.
  • Shorts: The Hebrew Hammer, Love Don't Cost a Thing and Werner Herzog's Wheel of Time.
  • Kodwo Eshun in Frieze on the re-release of Sun Ra's Space is the Place: "What gives the film its uneven, disconcerting pace is director John Coney's decision to fuse at least three distinct production aesthetics: Catwomen of Outer Space-style cheesy sci-fi, Black Caesar-style blaxploitation and the carefree porn of contemporaneous flicks such as Behind the Green Door."

    Landmark Theatres has scored the exclusive rights to sell the DVD version of Denys Arcand's 1986 The Decline of the American Empire, which they'll be doing at theaters showing The Barbarian Invasions.

    There's an alternative cinema boom going on in Los Angeles, writes Steven Rosen in indieWIRE.

    Jake Brooks crowns producer Ted Hope as "The Man Who Beat Valenti" in the New York Observer.

    In the Guardian:

    Friday Review
  • Paul Laverty has one helluva story to tell about helping to bring a film festival to a refugee camp in the Western Sahara: "Many attendees had never seen a film on the big screen in their lives."
  • Christopher Frayling on the poster - yes, the poster - for Fritz Lang's Frau im Mond.
  • Fiachra Gibbons has a nice title for her piece: "If I went there I'd be found hanging from a bridge." That's Peter Mullan on Hollywood.
  • Kate Stables hosts "Cyber cinema's festive fandango."
  • And then a rather moving commentary from Jonathan Freedland on why, at least as of Wednesday, he was "still stuck on the pictures.... Taken together - the bearded Saddam and his underground living grave - they are almost mythic, redolent of legends and fables that are hard-wired into the human mind. With this twist, the Saddam story has become a blend of Bible parable, folk tale, Greek and Shakespearean tragedy - and it is unexpectedly powerful."
  • Kate Drake profiles Eric Tsang, "actor, director, producer and scriptwriter, the Hong Kong native [who] has left a permanent imprint on the territory's films," for Time Asia. Also: Bryan Walsh reviews Infernal Affairs III.

    In the New York Press:

  • Armond White explains why - in his opinion, of course - Bad Santa "can't touch [the] superior bad taste" of Stuck on You.
  • Fun quick piece from Mickey Z. on two bathroom books, 50 Things You're Not Supposed to Know and The Official Movie Plot Generator.
  • Adam Bulger reviews Blacklisted: The Film Lover’s Guide to the Hollywood Blacklist.
  • DVD reviews.
  • More DVD choices: The Village Voice hand-picks the year's "most essential, best, all-time super-duper boxed DVD sets" and Josh Goldfein prices the year's best single discs. Also: Ed Halter on Joseph Cornell.

    In the Independent:

  • Geoffrey Macnab interviews William Friedkin on the occasion of a retrospective in Turin.
  • Fiona Morrow meets Colin Firth.
  • And John Walsh on Peter Pan: "One could blame all this shameless eroticising on the writer-director PJ Hogan, were it not that Peter Pan was always a pretty rum creation and the titular figure a nasty piece of work."
  • David Thomson on the young Jack Nicholson.
  • Cyndi Greening is doing some serious prepping for Sundance. Via Persistence of Vision (don't stay away too long).

    After a month of near-silence, two new pieces at metaphilm, both of them readings of Fight Club. For Chris Landis, the film is a retelling of the tale of Oedipus, while Nathan Elmore takes The Cider House Rules and 13 Conversations About One Thing into consideration as well: "The intersection where Mr. Rose, Troy, and Jack meet is indeed an unthinkable place: all have symbolically and physically decided that salvation must be something you ceremonially inflict upon yourself."

    Prisoner of Paradise

    "The story of Kurt Gerron has haunted me for years." Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic on Prisoner of Paradise: "When we pick up any German or Austrian artwork that was made in the decade before Hitler's rule, we almost always pick up at least one tragedy with it. The Blue Angel has more than one, but Gerron's strikes hardest."

    The National Film Registry is now 25 films richer.

    Adaptation vinyl figurines. Via Tagline.

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:41 PM

    The lists. 2003. 12/19.

    1001 Movies So, is Harvey Weinstein's "walk along the movie season's high wire" (Sharon Waxman in the New York Times) already heading towards a happy ending? Happy for him, that is? As you've probably heard, Cold Mountain, with its eight Golden Globe nominations, will be bugging us from now through Oscar Night. Should have seen it coming, this quintessential Miramax confection, what with all those depressingly safe choices - the book to adapt this year, the cast and director, the Ikea color palette. I suspect Ella Taylor nails the film when she writes in the LA Weekly that it "chugs along placidly until it finally fizzles out with a warm and fuzzy picnic on a lovely summer day. I swear I heard Julie Andrews, yodeling in the background." The Academy's gonna love it.

    As for the Globes themselves, well, this really is the season to be checking Movie City News a couple of times a day. Besides post-nom analysis from David Poland and Gary Dretzka, there's the terrific spectacle of award-watcher Tom O'Neil's bizarre rant claiming to expose Trio's "dirty little secret" - that's the network running The Golden Globes: Hollywood's Dirty Little Secret, you may remember - and Poland's answer.

    For real fun with numbers, take a look at MCN's Awards Scoreboard. The big surprise there is also the #1, that is, just how far ahead of the pack Lost in Translation is in terms of total awards and nominations.

    Cinecultist has selected her top ten. #1? Why, it's Translation! Surprise entry: I Capture the Castle at #4.

    Greg Allen, the very vortex where the worlds of film and art are subsumed in glorious abandon, posts his art top ten to Modern Art Notes. (A warm Berlin-to-NYC holiday hello back at you, Greg.)

    Among a zillion other things, Scott Green reports on the 2004 Prix d'Angoulême, French awards handed out to Japanese manga.

    Meanwhile, Fimoculus is tracking the lists in about two dozen categories. Definitely a list hound's smorgasbord. And if you're looking for a gift for that list hound in your life, Bob Carroll reviews a candidate in kamera.co.uk, Stephen Jay Schneider's 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. As a sidenote, the review points to what kamera calls "The mother of all film lists."

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:24 PM

    December 17, 2003

    LOTR 3.

    Monday's announcement by the New York Film Critics Circle that "the nation's leading critics organization" (indieWIRE) was naming The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King best picture of the year shook things up as far as the one race everyone always has on their mind goes (and let's not pretend the Oscars don't matter). As Peter Jackson says in the interview we posted today, "There is a stigma in Hollywood against fantasy films, so it's always going to be a bit hard to overcome that." (He, too, of course, is pretending not to get too worked up about the Oscars, but the word "overcome" is a dead giveaway.)

    Gandalf

    What the NYFCC has done, inadvertantly or not, is send a signal to Academy members: It's ok to vote for this one. Granted for a while there, everyone was talking as if Rings were a shoe-in for Best Picture. But then the lists and awards started coming in and Rings wasn't coming out on top anywhere. One wonders if there was a sense of alarm at all, and if so, what color the alert was over at New Line when, early on, the National Board of Review not only passed Rings over for Best Film but didn't even include it in its top ten. Had they given conventional wisdom a nudge that would snowball into serious momentum away from Rings?

    But here comes the NYFCC, a capital-S serious body from the serious side of the country that has not elected an action hero to public office, and they go with the fantasy flick. In my mind, this makes the race interesting again. From here until the nominations shake things up again, it seems to boil down to Rings or Something Else. And Something Else is going to be split four ways.

    But what do I know. For more in-the-know analysis, follow Movie City News, where they're tracking the awards and lists more closely than we are (though we'll continue to highlight the ones that really grab our attention) and where David Poland picks apart the argument that Rings does not stand a chance.

    In the meantime, the movie itself. Ed Champion has sent along what may be, oddly, the most notable review, David Elliott's in the San Diego Union-Tribune. Notable because it's one of the few dissenting opinions out there, a pan, but not a thoughtless one: "It was my awareness of what Coppola, Lean, Gance, Kobayashi and other creators of epics have done that helped prompt questions in my head, as the latest film rolled along. Call them snarky, but they may be pertinent..." And he lists those questions, and yes, they are a little on the snarky side, and yes, I personally disagree with his overall assessment, at least with regard to the first two films, which I have seen, but I'm also glad to be prodded. (He then lists and blurbs other film trilogies for comparison.)

    Of course, dumping on Rings at this point is sort of like dumping on Christmas. There may be - alright, there are - plenty of things to despise about Christmas, even if you think it's overall a good thing to do once a year. But then, when you've got that one Christmas that comes along when the whole family and all your friends can finally make it to one place all at once, you want to say to the Scrooge in your midst, "Hey, buddy, there's a time and a place." And then you want to slap yourself for being such a softy and stomp off to go find your lost rebel spirit.

    I'm not there yet, though. My daughter and half a dozen friends camped out at our place last night, having come in at nearly 4 am after "Die lange Nacht der Herr der Ringe," and the mood was good. Very good. So until I get to catch it myself in the next few days, I'm basking in the gooey holiday glow, dammit:

  • David Edelstein in Slate: "The threads are awesome, but it's the weave - of the epic and the intimate, the airy and the visceral, the lofty and the blood-curdling - that's spellbinding."
  • Elvis Mitchell in the New York Times: "It's an epic about the price of triumph, a subversive victory itself in a large-scale pop action film."
  • Andrew O'Hehir in Salon: "A prodigiously exciting film entertainment, a redemption of the spirit of popular spectacle that has seemed so cheapened, corrupted and bastardized in recent years."
  • J. Hoberman in the Voice: "In short, this Krakatoa is at once exhausting and riveting. It's a technological marvel, and for those not with the program, a bit of a bore." Fair enough, coming from "a deprogrammed, once-upon-a-time Tolkien cultist." It's like an ex-smoker admitting that, while cigarettes'll kill you, you do look great holding one.
  • Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Press: "It ends well."
  • Posted by dwhudson at 2:20 PM | Comments (9)

    The lists. 2003. 12/17.

    indieWIRE Anthony Kaufman introduces indieWIRE's second annual foreign film survey:

    In 2002, indieWIRE inaugurated its first foreign film poll, the only cinema survey dedicated exclusively to films made in a language other than English. If end-of-the-year accolades are meant to raise the profile of worthy films, it is foreign-lingo fare that would appear to need the most help. US ticket sales for overseas movies are down, despite a host of undervalued gems with searing performances and dazzling technical achievements that would put Oscar's bloated contenders to shame.

    26 critics, honoring best pictures, directors, actors, actresses, supporters, first films and technical achievements from anywhere but here. #1: Aki Kaurismaki's The Man Without a Past. The biggest surprise: I'd say the overall downbeat mood (Boston Phoenix critic Gerald Peary is quoted as saying, "I don't ever remember a year with such putrid pickings"); not because it wasn't indeed a tough year to release a foreign-language film theatrically but rather because I can't help but feel - and this may well be a case of myopia talking, given my job - that the continued proliferation of DVD players is translating into an awareness of alternatives to multiplex fare. Outside the cities and college towns and into all those out-of-the-way, hard-to-reach places.

    A big theme of the year has been the changing role of the theatrical release in the first place; as a mere prelude to the release of the DVD for Hollywood product and as a step that might be skipped altogether for truly indie product. Surely we can hope that alternative means of distribution - the DVD now and all the various forms of VOD on down the line - will ultimately open up inroads to the US market for foreign films as well.

    Posted by dwhudson at 10:42 AM | Comments (1)

    December 15, 2003

    Shorts, 12/15.

    Battle of Algiers Opening in a handful of cities on January 9 and then in San Francisco in February, The Battle of Algiers is once again noted for its relevance to the current quagmire in Iraq, Saddam or no Saddam. This time the comparisons are lined up by Philip Gourevitch in the New Yorker: "The movie... is surely the most harrowing, and realistic, political epic ever filmed.... The ugly truth that [Gillo] Pontecorvo lays vividly bare, as his camera tacks back and forth between the Algerian guerrillas and the French paratroopers, is that terrorism works." Found out, too, via filmjourney.org, that you can watch the trailer and click on to more related articles at the Film Forum site. Also in the New Yorker:

  • Jeffrey Toobin on the Winnie the Pooh lawsuit: "Now, twelve years into the litigation, the case is said to be the oldest one on file in Los Angeles Superior Court, and it has recently earned another dubious distinction, as a kind of postscript to the OJ Simpson case." More troubles for Disney, by the way: Laura M. Holson reports in the New York Times that Roy E. Disney has launched an online grass-roots campaign to oust Michael Eisner, SaveDisney.com.
  • Alex Ross: "JRR Tolkien's fans have long maintained a certain conspiracy of silence concerning Wagner, but there is no point in denying his influence, not when characters deliver lines like 'Ride to ruin and the world's ending!' - Brünnhilde condensed to seven words."
  • David Denby reviews Cold Mountain, Something's Gotta Give and Mona Lisa Smile.
  • Never one to withhold a harsh word, Dale Peck explains in Slate what he doesn't like about Mike Nichols's direction of Angels in America.

    Newsweek's new site looks better; too bad it doesn't work. Despite Microsoft's best efforts, though, you can actually find an article here and there, such as Brian Braiker's interview with David Byrne, Robert Hilferty's article on composer Olga Neuwirth's "stunning musical theater piece" based on David Lynch's Lost Highway and Sean Smith's lively talk with House of Sand and Fog director Vadim Perelman: "So I go to [Harvey Weinstein's] suite at the Peninsula [hotel], and he's sitting there like Jabba the f--king Hutt with his Diet Cokes and his Marlboro Reds..." An "Iranian perspective" on the film, by the way, via Movie City News. And Laura M. Holson - again - explains why DreamWorks needs the film to be a hit.

    Chris Gore will be hosting the Independent Film Channel's contest show, Ultimate Film Fanatic.

    IndieWIRE has festival lineup news: Rotterdam, Sundance, Miami and Slamdance.

    Infernal Affairs swept the Golden Horse Awards this weekend.

    Over at Ain't It Cool News, two reviews of If Not Now, Richard Linklater's sequel, nine years on, to Before Sunrise. The second one's labeled spoilerific, so I didn't read it myself, but from the first: "Where School of Rock was the perfect commercial comedy, this is the perfect art house drama.... Kudos to Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy for being able to fall right back into those roles."

    Recent interviews at Moviehole: Uma Thurman, John Woo, Jennifer Connelly (briefly) and Steve Martin makes the best of a situation he so recently parodied.

    Mindjack's founder and editor, Donald Melanson dreams up ways to link up Your Movie Database (recently a "victim of its own success"), DVD Profiler and communities like DVD Talk's. More thoughts on "taste tribes" from me last year and Jim Griffin in 2000.

    In the Guardian and Observer:

  • John Carlin files a disturbing story on Leidy Tabares, the lead in the 1998 film The Rose Seller, "about a young girl who lives in glue-sniffing squalor in the savage streets of Medellín, the murder capital of the world." Now, Tabares is fighting off a 26-year jail sentence.
  • Zoe Williams interviews Renée Zellweger.
  • Jonathan Franklin reports from Santiago: "A retired military intelligence officer has been arrested in Chile for his role in the execution of the American film-maker Charles Horman, whose death during the 1973 military coup became the focus of the film Missing."
  • Matt Wolf talks with Jude Law.
  • Andrew Anthony meets Ricky Gervais: "No one ever seriously thought John Cleese was actually Basil Fawlty or Arthur Lowe Captain Mainwaring, but Gervais's depiction of Brent, the deluded middle manager in BBC2's sitcom-cum-spoof-docusoap The Office was so unvarnished and so realistic in style that people continue to wonder whether the two men are not in fact one and the same."
  • John Patterson on Jamie Lee Curtis, briefly.
  • Janeane Garofalo responds to Damien Cave's piece in Salon on the Tell Us The Truth Tour. Also: Amy Reiter interviews Michael Caine.

    The Fog of War In the New York Times:

  • Fred Kaplan, whose "War Stories" at Slate are damn well worth reading, is also, turns out, a film critic for The Perfect Vision. For the NYT, he explains why there remain huge gaps in the global DVD library and chases down a few studio execs to find out when, if ever, they might be filled. Over at Universal, for example, they're claiming to be hard at work on Duck Soup which, Lord knows, we could sure use now.
  • Samantha Power, author of A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, has interviewed Robert S. McNamara herself; now, she takes a good, long look at The Fog of War.
  • Frank Rich picks up a theme David Ansen riffed on last week, the sheer volume of the battle cries on movie screens this holiday season. But really, has Master and Commander done half the business of Elf "because of an American audience's changing view of war"?
  • Jesse McKinley asks Peter Jackson whatever happened to Tom Bombadil.
  • Nancy Griffin takes on the paper's Diane Keaton piece.
  • Michael Agger on a remake of Can't Buy Me Love. You read that right: a remake of Can't Buy Me Love.
  • Dave Kehr: "Daffy, who had been Bugs's predecessor as a force of mad, blind destructiveness, had by 1950 become the most moving of Jones's eternally frustrated second-bananas, a 'we-try-harder' No. 2 star whose attempts to supplant the reigning bunny rabbit... met with certain humiliation."
  • AO Scott on blurring reality and fantasy as "a kind of homeopathic antidote to the contagion of celebrity."
  • Adam Sternbergh notices that studio execs and stars are leaping to admit it when they've got a flop on their hands.
  • And oh, look, it's low culture's Matt Haber, and what a subject he's tackling: that huge 8-disc package from the "Godfathers of Mondo," Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi.
  • Posted by dwhudson at 8:53 AM

    The lists. 2003. 12/15.

    aif-awards-03.jpg Via Movie City News again, a whole new batch. They're actually awards, not lists, but what the hell. The American Film Institute has unveiled its top ten, but if you want to probe the "jury rationales" for the choices, you have to download a PDF file. Odd. Oh, and: No surprises.

    Lost in Translation sweeps the NYFCO awards. NYFCO, you ask? That's the New York Film Critics Online, "23 top critics, most exclusively online" - and in New York, too, evidently. There are some fine names here, actually, David Edelstein, Amy Taubin and more, and if you need any of their email addresses, there they are.

    The Boston Film Critics have split their awards nice and evenly between Translation and Mystic River, naming the latter as Best Picture and Ensemble, but going with the first for Director, Actor and Actress.

    Meantime, the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw looks back over the year in film, from Michael Moore at the Oscars to French shockers, from Cannes to Michael Winterbottom's win in Berlin. Because he's in the UK, of course, he gets to claim last year's Far From Heaven as the best non-British film of this year, a luxury others might wish for as well. Bradshaw wraps by listing "10 films to see in 2004."

    IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez and Wendy Mitchell list and annotate the "Breakthroughs of the Year; The Films, People, and Trends That Defined 2003." Topical, in alphabetical order, with the biggest surprise probably being "The Turkish Invasion."

    And finally for now, kamera.co.uk "is inviting its readers to nominate their best (and worst) films of 2003." Deadline? You won't believe this. They're actually waiting until the end of the year, December 31.

    Posted by dwhudson at 8:45 AM | Comments (4)

    December 14, 2003

    The lists. 2003. 12/14.

    MCN 100 Mystic River leads the MCN 100 race for Best Picture, but just barely. With 17 votes, Lost in Translation is hanging right onto the tail of River's 19. These are the two movies battling it out in other categories as well: Clint Eastwood leads Sofia Coppola in the Best Director category, but Coppola's screenplay edges out Brian Helgeland's by one vote.

    But in none of the races have either chalked up anywhere near Return of the King's lead in another one: "Key Movies I Have Not Seen That I Should Have Before Voting." Will the list shake up all over again come Wednesday? Stay tuned - and note, too, the inclusion of our very own Craig Phillips among the voters. Excellent. Cue the diabolic laughter: Our plan is working...

    Ah, the other categories: A very tight race for Best Foreign Language Film, but it looks like Capturing the Friedmans has got the doc race all sewn up. Actors and Actresses: If Sean Penn had only appeared in River this year, would he fall behind Bill Murray? Hard to say if votes for his performance in 21 Grams might have gone to him anyway or not. At any rate, there's Translation at #2 again, with Scarlett Johansson tied there with Cate Blanchett while Naomi Watts leads.

    Also at Movie City News: Gary Dretzka interviews Wayne Kramer and quite a column from Ray Pride who defends both Stuck on You and Something's Gotta Give, recalls a chat with Amanda Peet, launches a feature called "Remainders" - fun photos, the first two of which are entitled "Jack Nicholson's Coffee Cup" and "Water Glass Amanda Peet Trickled Fingerprints Over For Half An Hour" - sings the praises of Melvin Goes to Dinner, gets to the bottom of the mystery behind the varying versions of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue DVD and then begins an overview of the year's best DVD releases by categories such as "How German is it?" (there's a man who knows his Abish) and "Polish sauciness." Whew.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:25 AM

    December 12, 2003

    Shorts, 12/12.

    Just in time, the November/December issue of Reverse Shot is up. Besides reviews, most of them of films shown at the New York Film Festival, and Matthew Plouffe's notes on the Ozu retrospective, the centerpiece is an 8-piece symposium on musicals introduced by Michael Koresky: "Often the question is asked, 'But is it really a musical?' Is it parody, pastiche, or homage?... Most interestingly, is it possible any longer to make a musical without the text making reference to itself as such?"

    Pennies From Heaven

    Very fun choices here as to which films to consider, ranging from Pennies From Heaven (and that's Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters right there) to The Hole to music videos.

    The new issue of Sight & Sound is also out, represented online by a piece from Tony Rayns on Infernal Affairs and the way it's exceptionally "sophisticated in its writing, editing and performances" reveals the overall sad state of current cinema in Hong Kong; and by this from Linda Ruth Williams: "The present sexual cover-up is symptomatic of a more general closing down of cinematic possibilities in America, which has caused Verhoeven, De Palma and Friedkin to reflect on their careers in sometimes melancholic ways."

    To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the LA Weekly is running selected highlights of a quarter century's worth of great alternative publishing, and for the film section, they've selected very well indeed: Manohla Dargis's survey, written five years ago, of the varying directions film crit took in the Weekly's early years.

    Todd Lillethun in In These Times: "Refugees are the focus of four films released this year: In This World from the United Kingdom, Spare Parts from Slovenia, Distant Lights from Germany, and Beyond Borders from the United States... By the end of each of these movies, a feeling of isolation sets in for the audience, making 'home' seem like an island of safety amidst a vast, ominous planet."

    In the New York Times, Tina Rosenberg warns of the ill effects of Mexican President Vicente Fox's efforts to shut down Imcine, the Mexican Film Institute.

    Doug Cummings on Sergei Parajanov.

    Nate Denver talks to Eric Idle for the San Francisco Bay Guardian about his Greedy Bastard Tour.

    Microcinema International is launching a DVD label.

    Plasticians discuss an analysis by Terry Hayes and George Miller at Transparency Now of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Seriously.

    Peter Jackson That's a fine photo of Peter Jackson on the cover of the Guardian's Friday Review, accompanying a piece by Xan Brooks on why the triumph of LOTR: Return of the King is, among other things, proof of the final and complete triumph of the nerds. But for an even better photo, click on to Marc Savlov's report on Harry Knowles's fifth annual Butt-Numb-A-Thon, kicked off with a screening of LOTR3 with the "Kiwi (and New Line) folk hero" himself in attendance. Also in the Austin Chronicle:

  • Savlov talks to George Wendt about Stuart Gordon's King of the Ants.
  • Raoul Hernandez reviews Jeffrey Vance's Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema.
  • Margaret Moser on Dragonslayer.
  • More LOTR3: John Hiscock interviews Jackson for the Telegraph, James Rampton talks to Ian McKellen for the Independent, and of course, there are a zillion reviews at Ain't It Cool News.

    Back to the Guardian for a moment:

  • John Patterson: "If I named every movie I hated this year I could fill the Friday Review twice over and still need space for my vitriol and scorn, so let me limit myself to a single outburst."
  • Jessica Winter on Kal Ho Naa Ho: "Showing in just a few dozen theatres, Bollywood's latest export - three tempestuous hours of laughter, tears, strops, and spontaneous song-and-dance - boasts easily the highest per-screen average of any movie currently playing in the UK."
  • Anthony Minghella preps for Cold Mountain's release with Andrew Pulver.
  • More interviews in the Independent: Jamie Lee Curtis, Chen Kaige, and once again, Anthony Minghella.

    tATu Paragate Via Movie City News:

  • William Keck briefly profiles Ken Watanabe for USA Today.
  • Blake Edwards is to receive an honorary Oscar.
  • Fresh additions to the lineup for Sundance 2004, including... hm, The Clearing, starring Robert Redford.
  • And: "Miramax Hates You!"
  • On that note, the Couch Pundit treds bravely into the briar patch: the prickly business of Drudge, Disney and Song of the South.

    And now, a moment of pop cult bliss: Julia Olegovna Volkova and Elena Sergeevna Katina, the young ladies from Russia who may or may not be pretending to be in love in order to sell their act, t.A.T.u. (and, as we all know, it's working), are to star in an anime feature set to open in Japan in November 2004. The site: t.A.T.u. Paragate. Also via Anime News Network: The English-language site for Satoshi Kon's Tokyo Godfathers.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:54 AM

    December 11, 2003

    The lists. 2003. 12/11.

    slant-logo.jpg 2003 is already over at Slant, too. But then, Film Editor Ed Gonzalez, who introduces the Best and Worst of 2003 list, really does seem to have already seen 'em all and his choices are anything but bland; hardly a surprise, considering his all-time top 20 is such a mighty conversation piece itself.

    Slant's #1 then is Robert Altman's The Company, which, Gonzalez writes, "reveres dance in the same way Chicago uses it as a bludgeoning device." Biggest surprise? Just about every choice is at least mildly surprising, if only in terms of placement, but for me, it's #3, Balseros, if for no other reason than I honestly hadn't heard of it before.

    For more list-making goodness from another sharp Ed, scroll to the comments following this entry.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:59 AM | Comments (2)

    December 10, 2003

    "Home drama pushed to the heights of art."

    Richie: Ozu Friday, December 12, will mark the 100th anniversary of Yasujiro Ozu's birth, and we've seen centennial celebrations hit a few US cities over the past months, and now, Midnight Eye is devoting a very special issue indeed to "the most Japanese of filmmakers." Michael Arnold, Jaspar Sharp and Tom Mes provide an overview of how Ozu's reputation has evolved over the past few decades as well as several of his films.

    There's also a fresh review by Nicholas Rucka of Good Morning (1959), but the highlight is definitely Jaspar Sharp's long interview with Donald Richie. Anyone in the west who's had any sort of introduction to Japanese culture - a college course, a guide book, a self-motivated tour through a library - will recognize the name. Richie's been living in Japan since 1947, though he puts it this way: "I consider myself living in Tokyo, not in Japan." And he knew Mishima, studied with Zen scholar Daisetz Suzuki and he's written books on Kurosawa and Ozu, knows the third in the trinity for westerners is Mizoguchi, but offers: "For my money, the almost equally great director is Mikio Naruse. At least Naruse, when he's great, is great." All in all, a fascinating conversation.

    But back to Ozu. Richie:

    The way he made a film, for example, was that he and his fellow writer Kogo Noda would write the dialogue first, without even knowing who was going to say it.... Usually most films are written backwards: they get the settings and then they put the people in them and then they decide what's going to be said. Ozu's films are made completely backwards from that, so consequently there's a rightness, there's a logic, there's an inevitability, there's a reality about the character.

    As a comment on a recent entry on Ozu, hamano offered a list a pointers. A few:

  • ozuyasujiro.com, featuring an "essential article there about Ozu's very distinct camera style."
  • "An interesting article comparing Ozu's use of space to the work of "Beat" Takeshi Kitano."
  • "A Cinespot article discusses Ozu's stylistic use of ellipsis."
  • To that, we'll just add a reminder of Richard Combs's centenary piece in Film Comment a few months ago and get on with a few short shorts:

  • Ben Greenman interviews Tony Kushner in Mother Jones.
  • In the Guardian, Julian Borger reports on David Lynch's efforts to help Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (yes, the very same the Beatles were taken with for a while) raise a billion dollars, and Ed Vulliamy catches Ingmar Bergman's Saraband, along with "nearly the entire population of Sweden," and John Sutherland explains why he thinks Bad Santa is good for America.
  • Alan Riding in the New York Times on Girl With a Pearl Earring: "For many artists the very act of painting a woman is a form of making love."
  • In the Village Voice, Ed Halter interviews Errol Morris, Elliott Stein considers Josef von Sternberg, and then, a fascinating little blurb right in the middle of the weekly's choice of the best books of the year: From the Atelier Tovar, by Guy Maddin.
  • And finally, mention of a new piece up at our main site, a guide to books on Asian Cinema by David Chute.
  • Posted by dwhudson at 8:04 AM

    December 8, 2003

    Shorts, 12/8.

    parker-angels.jpg "By all rights, Reaganites should be more enraged by Angels in America [than The Reagans because it] not only suggests that the Gipper turned a blind eye to the AIDS crisis, but also secretly delivered stashes of the then unavailable anti-AIDS drug AZT to Cohn, who was dying of the disease," notes Bruce Kruger at Alternet.

    "Well, crap," writes Darren Hughes. "I'm thrilled so far with Angels. Mary-Louise Parker is stealing the show as Harper, and Justin Kirk is fantastic as Prior." In Movie City News, Andrea Gronvall writes that Angels "reminds us what it is to be fully human," and Salon's Laura Miller is thrilled, too, but would disagree with Darren regarding to Ms Parker.

    Also in Salon:

  • Damien Cave on Bush-bashing celebs: "Millions of dollars, big egos and an election are wrapped up in large-scale liberal entertainment tours aimed mainly at bringing the 18- to 30-year-old voter to polls next November. In addition to Tell Us the Truth, events are being planned by Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit rallies, the now veteran Rock the Vote, Punkvoter.com and Norman Lear's multimillion-dollar Declare Yourself - not to mention invariable celebrity testimonials for specific candidates."

  • And Tim Grieve on how Matt Drudge "turned what should have been a small meet-and-greet session for two pro-Democratic political organizations into a star-studded spectacle of publicity and support for the groups."
  • And then there's Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War. "[T]he most singular thing about this hourlong documentary is how, in almost real time, it got from the filmmakers to you," writes Joshua Tanzer in Offoffoff.com.

    "What's a writer to do: accept the devil's bargain and immediately cash the check, or protect his or her literary children against certain disfigurement and critical degradation?" Gary Dretzka gathers some great stories of how various authors have met the challenge of the Hollywood adaptation for the San Francisco Chronicle.

    Dretzka's also in TV Barn, reviewing The Golden Globes: Hollywood's Dirty Little Secret: "Any journalist unwilling to play this circle-jerk is invited by the studios to kindly drop dead... or sell their opinions to Cahiers du Cinema." More from Jeffrey Wells: "What [Vikram] Jayanti accomplishes in the final analysis is make us think not just about the corruption represented by the entrenchment and the celebration of the Golden Globes, but the increasing idiot-wind effect upon the culture at large."

    But of course, the European Film Awards are pure as the driven snow. In indieWIRE, Eugene Hernandez ticks off the winners. The big one: Good Bye, Lenin! Also: "The screener ban, viewed as a major miscalculation on the part on the MPAA and its member studio chiefs, created animosity towards the studios from within the independent and specialty film communities and the victory in court last week has indies demanding a seat at the table when major decisions are made in the future."

    mona-lisa-smile.jpg Matt Haber hasn't actually seen Mona Lisa Smile, but that's not stopping him from conducting a very fun exercise: "As a Wellesley alum myself, I felt the need to point out some similarities between the film's stars and some of the school's most famous former students."

    Shroom poses a thought-provoking question at Milk Plus: "How has the Internet affected your own personal sense and practice of Cinephilia?" Also fresh over there: The Unofficial Milk Plus Canon: 1990-1994.

    Brad Wieners was filing "Dispatches From Middle-earth" over at Slate last week. Also: August Kleinzahler celebrates the release of The Looney Tunes Golden Collection, particularly because we once again get to hear an authentic American genius, an original; if you were to hear even a few bars of any of his musical compositions you would recognize the source immediately. His name is Carl Stalling."

    In the New York Times:

  • Christopher Benfey: "People talk about the Japanese influence on America; you might call this the 'particle theory' of cultural exchange. But what we see in the 150 years of Japanese-American interaction is something more complicated and harder to name. Maybe we need a 'wave theory' of cultural exchange, to explain the constant oscillation between East and West."

  • On a similar note, Ken Belson: "[W]hile the samurai are gone, many of their values are still part of the fabric of Japanese society."

  • David Kelly reviews The Pythons.

  • Jesse Green profiles the Farrellys: "Pete is slouchy and ursine... Bobby is more compact and wary, with a tendency to let his brother talk." More in the Guardian.

  • Tommy Lee Jones in The Missing and Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai? "Warriors with hearts of mush," writes Caryn James.

  • Cillian Murphy is "on the cusp of stardom but still live[s] in the same old walk-up," notes Sarah Lyall.

  • Elvis Mitchell on "the child-in-danger movie."

  • Not exactly a review, but another piece on Bruce Wagner's novel Still Holding, this time by Bernard Weinraub

  • Richard Schickel: Rouben Mamoulian's "capacity to wow us remains giddily, gloriously undiminished."

  • Linda Lee watches Whale Rider's Keisha Castle-Hughes get spiffed up.

  • "Curators of the Museum of Modern Art's "The Hidden God: Film and Faith" series, writes Alex Kuczynski, "polling some 35 critics in the literary, religious and film worlds to suggest films with religious interpretations, found that Groundhog Day came up so many times that there was actually a squabble over who would write about it in the retrospective's catalog."

  • In the Guardian and Observer:

  • "Initially released in 1960, never issued on video in the UK and unavailable on DVD anywhere, MGM's Village of the Damned has achieved its deserved cult status, ironically, via repeated television screenings throughout the 1960s and 1970s." And now, reports Mark Burman, the Cuckoos are back in Letchmore Heath.

  • Where are the Ladies of the Ring? asks Stephanie Merritt: "A website such as Feminist Science Fiction provides a comprehensive list of the many women writers and critics now working in this area, and although some contributors to its discussion boards hold Tolkien responsible for creating and perpetuating the male bias, most agree that The Lord of the Rings has to be understood as a product of its time."

  • For his profile of Harmony Korine, Sean O'Hagan quotes David Blaine: "Harmony doesn't fit because he is the only person I know who actually puts on the screen in a pure and faithful way what he actually sees. He has a vision and he never sells it short."

  • Some choice music DVDs of 2003, selected and blurbed by John Robinson.

  • Molly Haskell: "Whether it's the rough seas of Peter Weir's Master and Commander or the jittery camera-work and abrupt cuts of Alejandro González Iñárritu's 21 Grams, you'd better take Dramamine if you go to the movies in the US this holiday season. Better yet, throw an antidepressant and maybe an inhaler into your movie survival kit."

  • "One would have to have a heart of stone," argues Barbara Ellen, "not to feel touched by the sight of Hollywood star Gwyneth Paltrow and her musician fiancé, Chris Martin from Coldplay, emerging flushed and happy from the offices of her Manhattan doctor clutching the scan picture of their first child last week."
  • Wonder how it's playing... The Weather Underground is in Havana.

    Trailer alert: Errol Morris's The Fog of War.

    We're not salesfolk around here, but darned if this doesn't look like a spot on holiday gift idea for that cinephile you know and love: Jewelboxing.

    Posted by dwhudson at 10:28 AM | Comments (3)

    December 7, 2003

    The lists. 2003. 12/7.

    newsweek.jpg American Splendor tops Newsweek's top ten list. Brief annotations. Numbers 9 and 10 are the mild but pleasant surprises: Stephen Frears's Dirty Pretty Things and Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions. Another pleasant surprise: a second list, "Top 5 Docs," topped by Bus 174.

    While we're poking around in Newsweek, we might as well note:

  • David Ansen writes on Cold Mountain, The Last Samurai, The Return of the King and the defining image of the holiday season at the movies, "the grave, grandiose spectacle of troops rushing into battle... What the makers of these three martially minded holiday epics couldn't have foreseen was that their images of war and destruction would be fraught with a daily-headline resonance."
  • Ansen also reviews In America, and briefly, Big Fish.
  • Cathleen McGuigan, almost as briefly, profiles Albert Finney.
  • And it's Ansen again, this time on Something's Gotta Give.
  • Speaking of which, while we're on a roll here, Jack Nicholson got the newsweekly profile treatment in Time last week by Lev Grossman while Richard Schickel took a look at the recent spate of movies revealing "old movie pals nakedly enjoying elder sex. The theory is swell, even inviting to those of us not yet confined to our chimney corners. But alas, the films in question are smirky and joyless."

    Posted by dwhudson at 11:08 AM | Comments (1)

    December 6, 2003

    The lists. 2003. 12/6.

    artforum-03-cover.jpg They're going to be coming in fast and hard over the next several weeks, so let's separate them out from the other entries and get started. We're off to an intriguing start, too, with a batch from Artforum, five top tens, all briefly annotated:

  • John Waters. His #1: Irreversible. His most surprising inclusion: Anything Else: "The critics are full of it! Woody is still smart and funny, and nobody does a medium master shot better."
  • Amy Taubin. Her #1: K Street. And that is, of course, her most surprising inclusion. One assumes she'd disagree entirely with Lee Siegel's answer to the question, "What Was K Street?," in The New Republic.
  • Geoffrey O'Brien. His #1: Mystic River. Most surprising inclusion: Claude Chabrol's The Flower of Evil at number two?
  • James Quandt. #1: Blissfully Yours. Most surprising exclusion: Any film, with the possible exception of The Man Without a Past, that any true cinephile who has the misfortune not to be intimately plugged into the festival circuit might have seen.
  • Stephanie Zacherek. #1: Lost in Translation. Most surprising inclusion: Masked and Anonymous.
  • And then there's Rolling Stone's blurb hound, Peter Travers. No surprises, a supremely safe, excruciatingly calculated list.

    Posted by dwhudson at 4:07 PM | Comments (5)

    December 5, 2003

    Look up.

    The Advocate First things first. Via SXSW's News Reel, word that Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze have officially split. Not a surprise, maybe, but a jolt nonetheless. Though I don't know which jolt is greater: the split itself or finding out about it at least a full day after everyone else.

    Segue: Lost in Translation, you'll know by now, has been nominated for four Independent Spirit Awards and Sofia Coppola's name is on three of them (best feature, director and screenplay; Bill Murray's male lead nom is the fourth). All these nominations are handily sorted in a variety of ways over at indieWIRE, which also has an interesting item on a possible NYC-centric initiative to get genuine indies "under the radar."

    Segue: Looking for a list of the National Board of Review's Early Bird Awards in order to get that link out of the way, I was scanning Google's returns when this one caught my eye: "Christine Vachon honored by National Board of Review." That has to be the one, I thought, since Ms Vachon is a true American hero and is long overdue for her commemorative USPS stamp. Turns out, she, Gale Anne Hurd and Kathleen Kennedy are all on the receiving end of the NBR's 2004 Producer's Award. Well! Good for the NBR. Time to stop snickering at them for selecting the year's best with umpteen Oscar contenders still waiting in the wings. Here's that list.

    Segue: It's in the Advocate, which has, besides Mark Rucker's fun "top 10 list of films that influenced Die Mommie Die!," quite a cover package on Angels in America. By "quite," I mean more broad than deep, but still. There's Justin Kirk on the cover (both links at the bottom lead to meatier talks); and then, a longish page with light and brief chats with Emma Thompson, Ben Shenkman, Tony Kushner, Meryl Streep and Patrick Wilson.

    Segue: Naturally, this got me wondering if Darren Hughes has been gathering Angels news. He has.

    Full circle and wrap: If I were to draw up a list favorite directors, Spike Jonze would certainly be there somewhere; for all the attention, I actually think he's underrated, or rather, mis-rated, but that's a different entry. And yes, Sofia Coppola; maybe not on the list, but high marks as well. And yet: I'm glad neither one of them, not that anyone would have thought to give it to them, wound up directing Angels. Odd.

    Shorts on the weekend.

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:16 PM

    Smells like... victory?

    At first glance, it looks like the end of the screener ban and a big win for indie filmmakers. US District Judge Michael Mukasey has come down on their side: "Plaintiffs have shown they are at risk of loss of revenues as a result of the screener ban." Losses which, it should be emphasized, have already been incurred. And, according to Gail Appleson's Reuters report, it's clear that at least one indie producer, Ted Hope smells victory, "[saying] he had run out during the hearing and notified distributors they could send out advance movie copies."

    Not so fast, warns David Poland at Movie City News. Granted, he's never warmed up to the to-the-barricades rhetoric of those aiming to stop Jack Valenti's crusade, but he has a few sobering points. Emphasizing that this is a Temporary Restraining Order, he cuts to the chase: "The chances that studio dependents will send out a single tape is minimal... if they care about remaining under their studio's umbrellas."

    Probably true. Kind of scary, isn't it. Certainly emphasizes the need for truly independent producers and distributors.

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:39 PM | Comments (2)

    December 4, 2003

    David Hemmings, 1941 - 2003.

    David Hemmings "It always seems that actors who are under-rated while they're alive only get true critical acclaim after they've died. Let's hope that David Hemmings gets the same treatment - here was someone who was a true multi-talented artist, a magnificent actor, an icon of the Swinging Sixties, and as such leaves a great legacy of work behind him. Farewell David, and thank you for all your great performances."

    Few could say it better than Rob Loveday, one of the readers adding notes of tribute to David Hemmings onto the BBC's obituary.

    Posted by dwhudson at 11:14 AM | Comments (2)

    December 3, 2003

    Senses 29, plus shorts. Long shorts.

    Chaos as Usual As if you didn't have enough reading to do, what with the new issue of Bright Lights out and all, along comes Issue 29 of Senses of Cinema, dated Nov-Dec 2003, which means it's not exactly late, though we were worried for a while there. And sure enough, there is a donations drive on, so if you've got the means and appreciate Senses as much as we bet you do, remember, 'tis the season.

    As for the issue itself, it's another strong one. Three articles on Abbas Kiarostami, two on Australian cinema, an unusual and oddly fascinating "blow-by-blow account" of Hong Kong horror in the 90s, two interviews that definitely caught my eye, one with Jacques Rivette, the other with Juliane Lorenz. Now, I've read a few with Lorenz in German papers, but those tend to focus on the relationship she had with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, what his last days were like and so on; this one's actually about the films, Fassbinder's early years and his ongoing influence, so kudos to Maximilian Le Cain and Chris Neill.

    Then, of course, it just goes on and on, more features, book reviews and so on, including ten new directors added to the "Great Directors" database, several new top tens, including one from Doug Cummings, (by the way, you will want to check out that Paris Diary Doug's running) and links galore.

    Segueing into the shorts. It's always easy at the beginning of each week to slip into a New York state of mind, but this week, it seems easier than usual. If you're looking at the city through the eyes of the Web, you're looking at two slicks on any given Monday, the alternative weeklies on Tuesday, the New York Observer on Wednesday and, as it happens, this week there's also a new issue of the New York Review of Books. Which happens to include not just some tangentially film-related piece this time around, but two full-blown considerations of two American filmmakers on the occasion of their recent works:

  • Daniel Mendelsohn sums up the hand-wringing that's gone on so far over the violence that seems so essential to Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1 and then blows it all off. That's not really the point, he argues. Consider instead "what it is, precisely, that his movies' endless reflections on, and references to, the culture of popular entertainment give you - apart from an appreciation for Tarantino's inexhaustible ability to quote from and allude to the thousands of movies that he has seen and seen again. The answer to that question is more troubling by far than the sight of a few heads lying on the floor."

  • Geoffrey O'Brien's long, admiring gaze at Clint Eastwood's Mystic River makes for a fascinating (accidental?) juxtaposition. The film, he writes, "elaborates a world where people find it impossible to change the channel on their reality, or navigate a way out of the streets and houses that bind them to one another in ways that come to seem dictated by fatality. To convey an impression of real bodies moving through real spaces, of lives impinging on one another within a clearly defined geography and system of kinship, doesn't seem like such a tall order for a filmmaker, but as movies, in the age of unlimited morphing and digitally created images, aspire more and more toward the condition of animated films, the effect becomes increasingly exotic."
  • In the New Yorker:

  • Steve Martin takes such a simple and obvious idea I'd wager more than half the people who've read the piece are pissed they didn't think of it first and - and this is the true beauty of its execution - keeps it simple and obvious: "Picasso Promoting 'Lady With a Fan'."
  • "Yeah, well, I wanted to be a screenwriter, and guess what. I am one. That's the other tragedy in life." Charles D'Ambrosio's short story is entitled "Screenwriter," but that's not really what it's about. Worth pointing to anyway.
  • "There is wide agreement, and no compelling counterargument, that Tony Kushner's Angels in America is the most important play of the last decade." That's how Nancy Franklin's review of Mike Nichols's version begins. It's not giving away anything to let on how it ends: "To get the most out of the film, watch it with friends; Angels in America calls for celebration."

    The Last Samurai

  • And then David Denby reviews The Last Samurai (more from J. Hoberman and Matt Zoller Seitz) and The Missing (more from Michael Atkinson and Armond White).
  • In New York:

  • A double-barrelled package on the current state of our cheesy celebrity culture, another one of those pesky trivialities that was supposed to have gone away and left us alone after 9/11 but only ducked for a moment instead. Simon Dumenco: "We keep them on as temp workers - watching their TV shows and movies or not, buying their albums or not, depending on our whims." And of course, we also pay them handsomely.
  • Daphne Merkin on Michael Jackson's nosedive. (Sorry.)
  • Anne Thompson surveys the field of Academy Award contenders, sorts the "sure shots" from the "long shots" and wonders out loud, "Could this be the year that the studios take back the Oscars?"
  • In the Village Voice:

  • While we're slumming, Paris Hilton. Not once, but twice. Cynthia Cotts tracks press coverage. Back to Merkin for a moment. Here's her moment of justification for writing about Michael Jackson in the first place: "The cultural Zeitgeist of personal omnipotence - epitomized by Arnold Schwarzenegger's trajectory from a humble Austrian background to the governorship of California - makes it easy to forget that the delicate construction we call a 'self' is not an infinitely malleable object." Dash of philosophy, hint of political relevance. And here's Cotts: "For what is Paris Hilton if not a social construct?" Hm.
  • Ed Halter takes the historiographic approach: "The Hilton tape is only the latest example in a long-flourishing underground trade in celebrity pornography, whose scope has increased dramatically with each innovation in motion picture technology." (Halter's Bollywood notes, by the way.)
  • Dennis Lim reviews Alberto Fuguet's The Movies of My Life and the shorts compilations from Michel Gondry, Chris Cunningham and Spike Jonze.
  • David Ng on Argentine director Pablo Trapero.
  • Jorge Morales previews the Spanish Cinema Now program at the Walter Reade.
  • In the New York Observer:

  • It's an odd moment for a Kevin Smith profile, what with Jersey Girl months away, but Jake Brooks files one.
  • John Heilpern urges you to watch Angels.
  • Now then. We leave New York but not entirely. The Long March to Park City has begun, and naturally, for indieWIRE, this is a very big deal. Much of the program for the Sundance Film Festival 2004 has been announced and Eugene Hernandez sifts through it, beginning with the opener, Stacy Peralta's surfing doc, Riding Giants, through the Toronto vets to the world premieres, and it's about here that Anthony Kaufman takes over to zoom in on the foreign selections. They are so excited over there. They've even set up their special Sundance section already.

    Sundance 2004

    In Variety, Todd McCarthy notes that 13 of the 16 films in the dramatic competition are debut features; and then quotes festival director Geoff Gilmore:

    This is the first year when I feel we have films from a real post-9/11 world. Just as we did after the 1950s, we've lost a degree of insularity and comfort that we had in the 1990s. The films are not broad or about the big picture, but about the disruption of everyday life, with a search for knowledge and meaning about what's going on in a specific world, often in an alternate reality.

    On that political note, "The California primary is three months off, but the race for the hearts and minds and money of Hollywood is well underway." Tim Grieve in Salon (where you'll also find the intriguing notion from Steven Hart that if CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien hadn't argued one night, "It's possible that Tolkien's Middle-earth would have remained entirely a private obsession, and quite likely that Lewis would never have found the gateway to Narnia.")

    Dave Tianen talks to historians and film critics about the image of the presidency in the movies for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

    In the Guardian, Polly Toynbee has a movie recommendation for Tony Blair. It's Love Actually, actually, or at least one scene in it: "In front of the press and the president, prime minister Grant makes a fine speech about standing up to the over-mighty, a small country still holding on to pride and principle. A roar went up from the audience and apparently every audience cheers as loudly at our PM telling the Americans to bog off."

    It may be early to start sorting the top films of 2003, but The MCN 100, comprised of, yes, "100 film journalists from across the globe," admit as much right off with their first list, "Key Movies I Have Not Seen That I Should Have Before Voting." The evolution of these lists is going to be fun to watch.

    In a special issue of Outlook India on the branding of the country, Sandipan Deb tackles the, well, the Bollywood angle: "Can we stop defining ourselves by an LA suburb? Can we stop calling our film industry Bollywood?"

    And finally, one for those who can read French. Unfortunately, I cannot, so I'll be heading over to Google in a moment: For Le Nouvel Observateur, Pascal Mérigeau interviews Alain Resnais.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:23 AM

    December 1, 2003

    Welcome to Wellywood.

    Welcome to Wellywood Estimates for the crowd that turned out for the premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King are ranging between 100,000 and 125,000. Which, for Wellington, a city of 250,000, is one helluva big parade. By far the most jubilant, and therefore, the most fun coverage of the event can be found in the The New Zealand Herald with its multi-story package and string of links to photos running alongside snippets from the speeches, Andy Serkis launching into his schizo schtick, Sean Astin going all Samwise Gamgee, Peter Jackson emphasizing the essential, collaborative role his wife, Fran Walsh, has played throughout, and the paper itself noting that "the shy and retiring director proved he would be up to the task should the Academy Awards give him an even bigger audience in late February."

    Spoiler Alerts: Movie City News has been collecting "anonymous" reviews from the privileged who've caught press screenings of the final edition of the trilogy. Ostensibly, reviews aren't to appear until December 8, but these are hardly a surprise: Now there are no fewer than four (1, 2, 3, 4) at Ain't It Cool News, plus "The Filmiliar Cineaste," another at TheOneRing.net, and a monster thread at Tolkien Online, currently weighing in at 42 pages and counting.

    Peter Jackson Peter Jackson is also profiled by David Smith in this week's Observer, which leads us to our short shorts:

    In the Guardian:

  • On the cover of the Friday Review is Don DeLillo's New Yorker piece, "That Day in Rome." I won't spoil the ending, but he's trying to place an actress. Wonderful stuff.
  • Chris Payne on the surprisingly large and lavish international film and television school in Havana.
  • Geoffrey Macnab on microcinema in and around London.
  • Skye Sherwin visits the set of A Way of Life, "a British teen movie exploring youth subcultures and childhood friendship. But the subject matter is chiefly race hate, with teenage pregnancy, abuse and the failings of social services in the mix. 'A heartwarming British comedy,' someone jokes, grimly." But director Amma Asante seems to know what she's about.
  • Angelique Chrisafis: "Ireland's arts-friendly reputation comes under the spotlight this week when the economic pressures of the ailing celtic tiger may force the government to destroy its most dynamic creative industry: film."
  • Aida Edemarian meets Samuel L Jackson.
  • "Is the British sensibility, I wonder, more suited to the production of film noir?" asks David Mamet.
  • In the newsweeklies:

  • For Newsweek, Sean Smith gets Diane Keaton to talk about going full-frontal in Something's Gotta Give.
  • For Time Asia, Ilya Garger profiles Satoshi Kon, whose "growing virtuosity inevitably raises his second least favorite question: Can he become the next Hayao Miyazaki, whose Spirited Away was a global hit last year and which picked up an Oscar for Best Animated Film?"
  • In the New York Times:

  • Alex Abramovich on Tony Kushner: HBO, "which is also producing an adaptation of Mr. Kushner's play Homebody/Kabul, is betting heavily that the playwright - who is a socialist, gay and so very Jewish (according to his friend Maurice Sendak) that 'it hurts your eyes' - is ready for prime time."
  • DVDs are slipping into CD box sets; not news, but a few nice little reviews.
  • A Haunted Mansion tie-in: Anita Gates on the "illustrious line of movie homes and hostels that come equipped with scary creatures or phenomena (or at least seem to)."
  • Sarah Lyall on the "old-fashioned, courtly charisma" of Omar Sharif.
  • TV: Felicia R Lee on the number of women and their influence in the industry; Alessandra Stanley on The Reagans: "[R]easonably accurate, at times engrossing, at other times silly and sometimes even dull"; as Al Sharpton prepares to host Saturday Night Live, Emily Nussbaum gathers advice from politicians who've taken the plunge.
  • AO Scott: It's "a big year for the 19th century" at the movies.
  • Mim Udovitch chats with Terry Zwigoff about Bad Santa.
  • Vicki Goldberg on Wim Wenders's exhibition at the James Cohan Gallery.
  • In the Independent:

  • Neil LaBute lists and annotates his "ten best black comedies."
  • Alex Cox has some advice for the aspiring screenwriter: Ignore most advice.
  • Sheila Johnston meets Michael Caine as he works on his latest role, a former French collaborator.
  • And finally, for Transitions Online, Gulnara Abikeyeva interviews Tajik directors Mairam Yusupova and Bakhtiyar Khudoinazarov and assesses the situation in Tajikistan:

    Every director of documentary or feature films creates this thin ephemeral substance called "nation." Every film, like a piece in a mosaic, contributes to forming one complete view of a country and its people. Very few films were shot in Tajikistan during the 1990s, but every one of them has its special place.

    Posted by dwhudson at 7:02 AM