Archive for July 2009

Top Five Films of 2004


This was a very good year for the film business.



The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci)


melinda_and_melinda_2004_1Melinda and Melinda (Woody Allen)


anchomraAnchorman:  The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Adam McKay)


aviator_wideweb__430x305The Aviator (Martin Scorcese)


eternalEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry)

Honorable Mentions:

jamie_foxx4Collateral (Michael Mann)

napoleondynamite01Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess)

photo_04_hiresDawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder)

W. (Oliver Stone, 2008)



[not much of a spoiler]

W., one of the most underrated films of Oliver Stone, is a collection of set pieces documenting the life and times of former President George W. Bush.  The film has surprising nuance, poignancy, acting (top-notch), editing, directing, writing, technical achievement and it doesn’t seek to hit you over the head with content as per Stone’s 1995 biopic Nixon – other than that, the film stinks!

The opening scene has a group of Bush men (and woman) determining what to call the “evil” triumvirate of Iran, Iraq and North Korea and talking, ala 12 Angry Men, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton – who is wonderful) gazing suspiciously at Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield (Scott Glenn) whilst he scribbles on a cartoon, is the best set piece herein.  Dr. Strangelove inferences are rather objective at times.  Bravo as well to George Tenant (Bruce McGill) for his pure honesty, Dick Cheney (a perfectly cast Richard Dreyfuss) for his depiction as a vulture awaiting its prey and Paul Wolfowitz played by, well….a Paul Wolfowitz dead ringer in Dennis Boutsikaris.

Then comes a set piece without nuance that is not a surprise for Mr. Stone but is not endemic of the film at large.  Bush marches his cronies around his ranch in Crawford, Texas while putting the finishing touches on the forthcoming Iraqi invasion, all the while the group getting lost on the trails along the way.  Very subtle.

Notable set pieces include the hazing sequence at Bush’s Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Yale, a jail sequence with solid physical acting by Josh Brolin (who is amazing throughout, for the most part) and the most memorable choking scene I’ve ever seen.

The second act, which covers Bush’s transition from campaign manager for Bush, Sr. to the owner of the Texas Rangers and then to Governor of Texas, is a tad slow and out of sequence with the fairly kinetic first and last acts.  However, then comes one of my favorite screen transitions ever!  A younger W. is speaking with wife Laura (the beautiful and classy Elizabeth Banks) lamenting that he will never get the recognition he deserves from his father…(transition to – which is basically a flicker of a light bulb)…to the 2002 President Bush planning the Iraq War with his cabinet.  This particular planning session set piece also happens to be one of the most truth-challenged in the film.

Oliver Stone had six weeks to film this very difficult to get financed picture, and I think he did a very surprising job of capturing the man in a fairly non-partisan way.  I left the film [controversial comment coming up perhaps you might click out] feeling better about the man, ala Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ.

Best line in the film – “look, if I need to read the whole damn Constitution, I’ll learn it!”

**** / *****

My Top 100 Films



List created as of June, 2009

1 Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
2 Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
3 Citizen Kane (1941)
4 Twin Peaks (Pilot) (1990)
5 It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
6 Lolita (1962)
7 The Truman Show (1998)
8 Mulholland Dr. (2001)
9 The Shining (1980)
10 Rear Window (1954)
11 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
12 Psycho (1960)
13 Paris, Texas (1984)
14 Taxi Driver (1976)
15 Blue Velvet (1986)
16 Barry Lyndon (1975)
17 A Clockwork Orange (1971)
18 Fargo (1996)
19 After Hours (1985)
20 Casino (1995)
21 The Exorcist (1973)
22 The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
23 Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
24 Dead Ringers (1988)
25 Exotica (1994)
26 The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
27 Ghost World (2001)
28 Flirting with Disaster (1996)
29 A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
30 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
31 All the President’s Men (1976)
32 Crash (1996)
33 Pulp Fiction (1994)
34 Rope (1948)
35 Heathers (1989)
36 Fearless (1993)
37 Fly Away Home (1996)
38 Husbands and Wives (1992)
39 Another Woman (1988)
40 Wings of Desire (1987)
41 Short Cuts (1993)
42 Happiness (1998)
43 Mystic River (2003)
44 The French Connection (1971)
45 The Aviator (2004)
46 Safe (1995)
47 Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
48 Ararat (2002)
49 Until the End of the World (1991)
50 Breaking the Waves (1996)
51 Heat (1995)
52 In the Company of Men (1997)
53 Requiem for a Dream (2000)
54 Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
55 Carlito’s Way (1993)
56 The Player (1992)
57 Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
58 Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)
59 Elephant (2003)
60 No Country For Old Men (2007)
61 Blade Runner (1982)
62 Collateral (2004)
63 Jackie Brown (1997)
64 Memento (2000)
65 Insomnia (2002)
66 Bottle Rocket (1996)
67 A History of Violence (2005)
68 Inland Empire (2006)
69 Wonder Boys (2000)
70 Paranoid Park (2007)
71 Chinatown (1974)
72 The Lives of Others (2006)
73 The Grifters (1990)
74 Badlands (1973)
75 Heavenly Creatures (1994)
76 The Graduate (1967)
77 Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
78 The Conversation (1974)
79 My Left Foot (1989)
80 Lost in Translation (2003)
81 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
82 In the Bedroom (2001)
83 Miami Blues (1990)
84 Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
85 The Last Picture Show (1971)
86 Trading Places (1983)
87 Animal House (1978)
88 Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
89 Dr. T and the Women (2000)
90 Wild at Heart (1990)
91 To Catch a Thief (1955)
92 Wall Street (1987)
93 Klute (1971)
94 The Fisher King (1991)
95 Cape Fear (1991)
96 There Will Be Blood (2007)
97 Elephant Man (1980)
98 Where the Truth Lies (2005)
99 Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)
100 One Hour Photo (2002)

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order): Minority Report (2002), Dancer in the Dark (2000), Melinda and Melinda (2004), Children of Men (2006), Flags of our Fathers (2006), Man on Wire (2008), House of Sand and Fog (2003), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Shivers (1975), Ringu (1998), Amadeus (1984), The Fog of War (2003), Little Children (2006), Internal Affairs (1990), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), Trainspotting (1996), Nashville (1975), The Loss of Sexual Innocence (1999), 28 Days Later (2002), Sideways (2004), Death and the Maiden (1994), The Godfather (1972), M.A.S.H. (1970), Hideous Kinky (1998), The Secret Lives of Dentists (2002), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Trois couleurs: Rouge (1994), Waking the Dead (2000)

Michael Jackson



New York Rep. Peter King called Michael Jackson a “pervert” and questioned the extensive media coverage of the pop star’s death. “This guy was a pervert,” the New York legislator said in the video, shot Sunday by a staff member outside an American Legion hall and posted to You Tube. “He was a child molester. He was a pedophile. And to be giving this much coverage to him, day in and day out, what does it say about us as a country?”  King, an admittedly minor political player, is now being attacked for his statements.

But the guy’s gotta point.  We are quick to revel in the genius of various Hollywood types, professional athletes, journalists, artists and writers, etc.  Nabokov “got off” easy with Lolita, a tale of lurid pedophilia, Andres Serrano, the painter of Piss Christ was eventually given a pass, labeled a master and given a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts, Dustin Hoffman starred in Straw Dogs, a film that romanticizes rape, and Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers is a tattoo riddled former Meth junkie. And now Steve “Air” McNair, married and father of four, has been killed by his 20 year old girlfriend in an apparent murder-suicide.  We love them all!

The average consumer of today’s media has a very high tolerance for smut – but this doesn’t mean that our network television should spend ample time covering one smut story over another.  Michael Jackson’s postscript should be covered but so many other pressing issues remain oblivious to the average American media consumer whom according to statistics and in large numbers cannot name the name of the Vice President of the United States (bad example but you see what I mean).  Until that time where we can as a populace name Biden as that dude we’ll be surprised when the next bomb goes off.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (Bob Rafelson, 1981)


The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)f1ae1

[spoiler alert]

Pulp crime picture reuniting Jack Nicholson and director Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens) yet again.  A surprising mix of sex and violence pairs up two losers, Frank Chambers (Nicholson) and Cora Papadakis (Jessica Lange) who plot to and eventually kill Cora’s husband Nick (John Colicos).  They initially get off through a tenuous, at best, courtroom drama segment involving corrupt lawyers and insurance executives.

The early rape scenes are quite a shock and the sexual violence continues throughout the film.  It’s a tough watch not only for the aforementioned scenes but also for the general corrupt nature of both the leads and most of the supporting characters in the film – there is not much goodness to be found here.  Gorgeous Lange turns in a notable performance but its implausible that she could have married this Nick, a short, balding, drunken goon.  The film is full of tragedy and all in all it’s a big downer.  The costume design is impressive but the set design looks like made for television.  David Mamet adapted the screenplay from the novel by James N. Cain.  I felt the heat but I longed for cool air.

** / *****

Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970)



Jack Nicholson plays Robert Eroica (named after Beethoven’s beloved 3rd Symphony) Dupea, a gifted pianist from a family of gifted musicians.  After originally dedicating his 3rd symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte, Beethoven later changed the title to Sinfonia eroica, composta per festeggiare il sovvenire d’un grand’uomo (“heroic symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man”).  The great man in this film is Dupea’s father who has suffered through two recent strokes.  This forces Dupea to go home to the family spread in Puget Sound to face an upper class world he has since rejected.

He struggles with his talent and keeping any kind of consistency in his life.  In the opening act we see Dupea working an oil rig and spending a good deal of his time with Rayette (Karen Black), a pretty, insecure and clingy diner waitress.  Dupea also hangs out with friends who are not, as the filmmakers want us to think, on the same intellectual or cultural playing field as Dupea.  This conceit allows one of the primary plot elements to move forward – Five Easy Pieces is a film about class structure.

The middle act of the film is a little road movie that follows Robert and Rayette across the Northwest towards Puget Sound.  As they make their journey they pick up two female hitchhikers, Palm and Terry.  For about 15 minutes, Palm rambles on and on from the backseat of the car in the sort of elocution one would hear in Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner in London.  Palm’s elocution is how “the man” is out to screw us all.  To me, this is quiet denunciation of Dupea’s obvious misogyny.

The last act reunites the family in Puget Sound.  Dupea’s father (William Challee) has indeed declined to a demented state and his brother (Ralph Waite – John Walton of the treasured 1970’s CBS television series) and sister (played wonderfully by a luminous Lois Smith) have continued their life in music.  Dupea, in an act of pathetic cruelty, doesn’t allow Rayette to visit the home initially and has her put up in a motel.  Dupea makes a move on his brother’s girlfriend (another pathetic act) that is consummated and generally acts like an ass in front of his family.  What emerges is Dupea as a manic-depressive, prone to both quiet reflection and explosions of violence.  Rayette, bored out of her mind, eventually makes her own way to the Dupea estate unannounced but not for long as Robert decides that a one-week visit with his family is long enough.

Five Easy Pieces is a very complicated film about some of the downsides of being an artist in that it is difficult to integrate supreme talent in a rational world.  Dupea’s talent, class struggle, misogyny and apparent mental illness paint a rich character for Jack Nicholson to play.  I never have seen such a complex performance from the man.  Its also a richly rewarding film.

**** 1/2 / *****

Black Book (Paul Verhoeven, 2006)



On the heels of Starship Troopers I ventured through this and it took me three nights to do so because of various distractions.  My feelings are that this is certainly Verhoeven’s premier film, his 6th feature after RoboCop (filmed in my home town of Dallas).  It is interesting to see (and perhaps poll?) directors’ finest efforts six to seven films in.  Watch the “making of.”  Verhoeven has an irresistable love of the medium and the energy of a first time director.

The female leads in the film are outstanding.  Carice van Houten and Halina Reign brilliantly capture the desperate attempt to stay alive using sexuality and male manipulation.  In this sense, Verhoeven gives Camille Paglia a run for her money and solidifies himself as a Dutch feminist.

The production value of the second act is weak and is the only hint at the relatively small budget that Verhoeven had on the picture – it does play like a weak Sunday night television thriller at times.

This stands among the best of Holocaust films.  It is on par with and better than Schindler’s List.  Its a thiller that stands above all Verhoeven’s previous work.  I think it’s the film that he was meant to make.  Again, watch the “making of.”  His lead stars agree with me.

**** / *****