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Category Archives: Random Thoughts About Flicks

From now on unless a film truly warrents some pouring over, reviews will be short and sweet.  I don’t want to spend time writing about something marginal, menial, average, run of the mill, unimpressive, tedious, humdrum, undistinguished, fair to middling, standard, by the numbers, unexceptional, commonplace, dime a dozen or just plain dull.  If it was a bore to sit through, writing prolonged passages about the boredom it caused just extends the experience.

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I keep dithering about this endlessly.  Why?  I hate list.  I’ve decided to quit dicking around post the thing.

#1 – Pixar (Incredibles/Wall-E/Finding Nemo/Up/Ratatouille) – This was easy.  No studio has ever specialized in near perfection like Pixar.  Their films are routinely better than best picture winners and are habitually overlooked for no reason beyond their animated condition.

#2 – Pan’s Labyrinth – Guillermo del Toro’s melding of fantasy and reality is the best stand alone film of the decade.  The masterpiece that del Toro had been hinting at with other films for the better part of a decade finally solidified in his heartbreaking tale of a little girl trying to survive the harsh realities of World War II and the harsher realities of the fantasy world around her.

#3 – Master & Commander – Peter Weir made one of the only historically oriented adventure films for adults, and it was great.  The adventure genre has been hijacked by high fantasy and massive amounts of CGI, which can be fine, but fewer and fewer filmmakers seem to have any respect for the great texture of a grand adventure story grounded in reality and historical accuracy.

#4 – The Bourne Trilogy – No action series blew the doors off filmmaking like the Paul Greengrass helmed Bourne movies.  The first Bourne film is a decent achievement, but Greengrass took the sequels into the stratosphere.  He created unrelenting tension but didn’t forget to inject just enough character and craft to make us care about the whole thing.

#5 – Darren Aronofsky – Aronofsky began the decade with the beautiful but horrifying “Requiem for a Dream”, followed that up with a loving, unique sci-fi romance, “The Fountain” and finished the decade with “The Wrestler”, a story of wasted life and squandered potential.  His is a trifecta of solid work with three movies that all felt divergent from one another in theme and style.

#6 – Multi Part Movies – While Hollywood has never backed away from serialized stories, it’s their bred and butter, making multi part films was always a sketchy proposition.  Thanks to “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” the idea of making huge, ambitious series of films is now a tangible reality.  While the results aren’t always great, “Pirates”/”Matrix” sequels, the fact that studios will gamble on such large projects is a good thing.  Getting “Kill Bill” out of the deal was a bonus.

#7 – Ridley Scott and Clint Eastwood: Busy Old Farts – Scott is 73 years old and he made 8 movies in the last decade.  Clint Eastwood in almost 80 and he made 9.  They make the sporadic output from accomplished and talented directors like Fincher, Anderson and Jonze all the more annoying.  Eastwood and Scott just keep making them and making them well, almost effortlessly.  Between them both they accomplished “Gladiator”, “Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut”, “Body of Lies”, “Million Dollar Baby”, “Letters From Iwo Jima”, “Changeling”, “Mystic River”, etc.

#8 – Batman – Christopher Nolan decided it was time for the comic book movie to grow the Hell up.  And what better character to take the genre into adulthood than eternal brooder Bruce Wayne and his story of slaughtered parents followed by masked vigilantism.

#9 – The Reboot – In addition to Batman being a revitalized franchise, the reboot idea took hold elsewhere and helped make James Bond and Star Trek relevant again.  “Casino Royale” and “Star Trek” are films which proved that old ideas don’t have to simply be remade or scrapped.  It all depends on whose driving the series and what they want out of it.

#10 – Moulin Rouge – Speaking of reimaging, Baz Lurhmann took the tired conventions of the movie musical, threw them in a blender, went at the mess with fearless enthusiasm, and in turn made the best musical ever.  EVER!

#11 – Children of Men/Alfonso Cauron – “Children of Men” is science fiction of the highest order.  Director Alfonso Cauron forsakes typical sci-fi trappings, uber-cities and flying cars, and gives us a place that feels eerily and frighteningly possible.  For sci-fi fans it’s a new kind of benchmark.  One not based on how cool shit looks, but how enveloping and well executed a story can be.  Kudos to Cauron for also breathing genuine life into “Harry Potter” films with “Prison of Azkaban” and for the lusty Mexico set road picture “Y Tu Mama Tambien.”

#12 – The Mist – Yes, “The Mist.”  I can think of so few films which I would constitute as being evil, but “The Mist” is an evil, evil movie.  Essentially a doomsday, genre lark, Frank Darabont’s monster movie culminates with one of the most shocking endings imaginable.  It leaves jaws agape.

#13 – Gays! – Homosexuals really got their due at the multiplex this decade.  There was the crushing heartache of “Brokeback Mountain.”  The very straight Sean Penn excelled as the very gay Harvey Milk.  “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” would’ve been the best musical of the decade if not for “Moulin Rouge.”  “Capote” was an amazing performance piece for Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Val Kilmer played gay as badass in “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.”  Watch out straight people.

#14 – The New World – Terrence Malick continues to infuriate average movie goers with his methodical tome pomes on film.  He refuses to setup scenes of typical exposition and execution.  You either get engrossed and discover for yourself what’s happening by paying attention, or you get left out in the cold, stuck with a movie that refuses to play by the traditional rules of narrative filmmaking.  It’s a gorgeous movie.

#15 – Zodiac – David Fincher may have taken some years off, but when he returned he returned with this monumental effort.  His methodical trip through of the labyrinth of San Francisco’s Zodiac killer case is a procedural film of the highest order.  It’s a film that takes a mountain of details and information, breaks as much of it down as it possibly can, devises a convincing conclusion, and manages to be engrossing at all times.

#16 – Visual Splendors, Epic Failures: The Fall and Speed Racer – Tarsem’s “The Fall” and the Wachowski’s “Speed Racer” are both remarkable failures in very similar ways.  Both were ambitious, expensive, critically derided movies which aimed to create singular experiences for the viewer.  Very rarely have movies looked this otherworldly and hypnotic.  “Fall” keeps one foot in reality in between its exceedingly elevated moments.  “Speed Racer” never turns off the candy coated reality it creates.   Both narratives may be clunky, but the emotions running through the films are genuine.  Something that wasn’t noticed by many.

#17 – Russell Crowe – I’d almost say that Crowe is here for the films he doesn’t makes.   His resume is mercifully free of calculated programmers, cheap cameos and cartoon voicing gigs.  Not every film Crowe was in was a worthy adventure, but the man never phones it in and he never stoops for paycheck gigs.   “Gladiator” and “Master and Commander” are triumphs.  His uniform excellence in only decent, or even wobbly, movies like “3:10 to Yuma”, “American Gangsters” or “A Beautiful Mind” shows that he is never less than dedicated to the fullest extent.   The kind of adherence to quality he follows is rare.

#18 – In Bruges – Very rarely do I get floored by a movie like I was by “In Bruges.”  Sold as a ‘quirky’ hit man movie, “Grosse Point Blank” with accents, “In Bruges” is so much more than just a fun lark with hip attitudes and guns and ammo.  It’s a surprisingly dark and sad piece of storytelling, one which roots itself in the oft unexplored feelings of remorse and regret.

#19 – Michael Clayton – “Clayton” is the finest legal thriller of this decade, and maybe the last as well.  George Clooney won his Oscar for the fairly forgettable and self-important “Syriana”, he’s infinitely better here.  Tom Wilkinson mesmerizes, Sydney Pollack is awesome, Tilda Swinton won an Oscar.  First time director Tony Gilroy has the sensibilities and style of a well tested pro who has already directed a dozen features.  Though it was only marginally successful with audiences, “Michael Clayton” has all the ear marks of a film that will be remembered in the long run.

#20 – Ambiguous, Down, and/or Strange Endings – So often movies get a great big heaping dose of false uplift.  We can suppose that that’s what people want.  People want to feel encouraged.  They want to feel better about things.  They want the hero to win and fall in love and all that jazz.  But more often than not it’s really damn boring when that happens.  Life isn’t much like that so I never quite like it when a movie tries to tell me as much.  This decade saw a lot of movies end in weird places.  Actor and character names have been removed so as not to spoil anything.  I present the following endings:

  • He beats a priest to death with a bowling pin
  • He sits at the dinner table, talking about a dream about his father
  • He dies in the back of a bus
  • He shoots the corrupt cop in the face
  • He stands in the ocean wake, considering the temptation of corruption as his friend’s body burns away in the sea
  • Santa gets shot 6 times, but lives!
  • A jet engine falls through his roof and kills him
  • He gets shot and we see his point of view as he’s on the verge of death
  • He kills everyone in the car only to get rescued two minutes later
  • He reads a letter from a kid in Africa and begins to weep
  • The family sits around the kitchen table looking at Dad with extreme reservation
  • She dances to Nina Simone as he doesn’t quite leave for his plane
  • He kills his sons murderer, his wife knows he did it and wanted him to
  • He forgets everything that just happened.  Again.
  • He goes back to Iraq for more
  • He goes back to her apartment to see if she’s there. He knocks on the door.  The movie ends.

Honorable Mentions – If I had more space I would talk more about: Inglorious Basterds, There Will Be Blood, Spartan, Stop Motion Animation, No Country for Old Men, Before the Devil Knows Your Dead, Best in Show, In Camera Effects, Into the Wild, Lord of the Rings, Oldboy, Slumdog Millionaire, Doubt, Black Snake Moan, The Orphanage, The Departed, United 93, American Splendor, Hero, Adaptation, In the Bedroom, High Fidelity, American Psycho, A Mighty Wind, Unbreakable, About Schmidt, Mulholland Drive, Donnie Darko, Hero, Memento, A.I., Changing Lanes, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Where the Wild Things Are, etc, etc.

What I Took Away From This: Greatness is fleeting and temperamental.  Unlike the worst of cinema which seems to perpetuate itself with great ease, the best of it can rarely be duplicated.  So many actors and directors didn’t get a solo spot here because of various quibbles and minor issues.  Great performances are often followed up with amazing failures or marginal material.  Paul Giamatti has “American Splendor” and “Sideways” under his belt, as well as “Fred Claus” and “Lady in the Water.”  P.T. Anderson, Alexander Payne and Spike Jonze?  Each made two great movies, but they only made two movies for the whole decade.

20 Movies and/or Trends of the Decade in no Particular Order That Sucked a Ton:

#1 – Lousy comic book movies – For every one that helped legitimize the form, two more came along and showed how stupid it is.  Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Fantastic Four 1 & 2, Electra, Spider Man 3, X3, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, Constantine, 2 Punisher movies (though they were hilarious), Wolverine, The Spirit, Blade: Trinity, Catwoman and a special mention for “Wanted.”  Never has such an amazingly rancid movie been so built up.  I’m throwing in “Hancock” as well.  It’s not based on a comic book but it might as well be.

#2 – Boring ass CGI kids movies –  “Toy Story” is the modern age equivalent of “Star Wars.”  It’s a wonderful film that helped spawn such a horrific industry in its wake that one would seriously consider uninventing the film as a pre-emptive strike against the industry that exist now.  Pixar continues to dazzle.  All others continue to suck.

#3 – Kingdom of Heaven (Theatrical Cut) – Ridley Scott’s crusade opus was gutted upon its release and many thought that the brilliant filmmaker had finally lost his chops.  Turns out his chops got thrown out on the editing room floor.  KOH was restored and its worthy nature was revealed.  Its theatrical cut stands as a shining example of how knee-jerk, studio mandated edits can hopelessly fuck up a movie.

#4 – Stephen Sommers Movies – Mr. Sommers could’ve avoided this list but he managed to get paroled out of director jail at the last second to helm “G.I. Joe” for Paramount, thus completing his trilogy of CGI lathered monkey shit.  An awful “Mummy” sequel, the “Van Helsing” thing which felt a whole lot like the awful “Mummy” sequel, and then “G.I. Joe.”  With any luck he’s been put back in director jail.

#5 – Awful Best Picture Winners and Nominees – There are plenty of dull Best Picture nominees and winners on the books for all to fall asleep to.  But this decade managed some stunningly stupid films which were passed off as prestige.  “Chicago” was a song and dance number which flaunted the dumbness of the people who watched it right in their face.  “Crash” said everyone was a racist but if we try real hard we could all get along.  “A Beautiful Mind” was as mediocre as a film can manage and it beat “Moulin Rouge.”  For shame!  Boring and derivative pretense was frequently nominated: Chocolate, The Hours, Seabiscuit, Finding Neverland, Ray, Munich, Good Night & Good Luck, Atonement, Frost/Nixon, and the king of misguided shit, “The Reader.”

#6 – The Reader – A woman would rather go to prison for decades for killing Jews than admit she can’t read.  One of the most unintentionally hilarious Oscar bait films ever.  The Oscar clip where the Pineapple Express guys got stoned and laughed at it forever sealed its fate as a joke of a movie.

#7 – Video Game Movies/the Uwe Boll category – The list of crap is big and getting bigger.  Tomb Raider movies, Resident Evil movies, another Street Fighter film, Final Fantasy, Doom, Dead or Alive, Silent Hill, Max Payne and the true harbinger of destruction, Uwe Boll films.  On his own he’s responsible for House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, Bloodrayne, Bloodrayne II and Postal.  He can beat up all the critics he wants to.  Won’t change a thing.

#8 – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – After nearly 2 decades of trying to get Indy back to the big screen Lucas/Spielberg/Ford signed off on this retarded adventure movie which made everyone look……well, retarded.  Full of script contrivances, poorly thought out nonsense and Indiana surviving a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator, “Skull” made most people wish that the man with the hat had stayed retired.

#9 – M. Night Shyamalan – We’re so quick to label genius in our society.  M. Night astonished everyone.  Then he poked everyone in the eye with his dick and laughed about doing it.  “Lady in the Water” and “The Happening” are not just bad movies, they are prolonged jokes on the viewer.  M. Night deserves whatever fate has in store for him.  Not many directors have inexplicably pissed so much good will away. It’s going to take more than a kids movie based on an anime property to fix things.

#10 – Southland Tales – Failure so complete and total is rare.  One should experience it to know how to avoid it.

#11 – Revolutionary Road – A singularly unpleasant thing to experience.  The lovers from “Titanic” come together and argue.  And then argue some more.  And then more.  And then she has a bathroom abortion and dies.  Sam Mendes?  Drop dead.

#12 – Movies about Mars – Red Planet, Mission to Mars, Ghosts of Mars, Doom.  It seems any and all films set on Mars have to be garbage.  Poor planet.  What did it do to deserve this fate?

#13 – Alien vs. Predator films – Two worthy franchises get put through the money ringer and every last bit of integrity either had left is squashed out.  AVP:R in particular stands out as a rank and offensive thing.

#14 – Michael Bay – I was going to leave him out of this. Too easy.  Sure, “Pearl Harbor” was bad but not in any kind of transcendent way.  “The Island” was more a forgettable hodgepodge than truly terrible experience.  I wouldn’t watch “Bad Boys II”.  I can’t explain why “Transformers” works but it does.  But “Transformers 2” was a serious slap in the face.  It really made me think that Michael Bay either hates me or thinks I’m mentally deficient.  Either way he thinks very little of me and so I will return the gesture.

#15 – John Travolta movies – Hate to kick a man when he’s down but Travolta was horrible this decade.  Lucky Numbers, Battlefield Earth, Domestic Disturbance, Swordfish, Basic, The Punisher, Be Cool, Wild Hogs, Old Dogs.  Who gets this many strikes and is allowed to keep going?

#16 – Martin Lawrence movies – Not going to bother listing these.  Everything he was in sucked.

#17 – Eddie Murphy movies – I will bother listing these: Imagine That, Meet Dave, Norbit, The Haunted Mansion, Daddy Day Care, I Spy, Pluto Nash, Showtime, Doctor Dolitte 2, Nutty Professor II.  He makes Travolta look like Lawrence fucking Olivier.

#18 – Chick flicks – A once tolerable genre has slowly become a series of repetitive, soul crushing movies that wallow in, and extol the virtues of, superficiality and artifice.  Ladies, seriously think about what these movies say about you.  It’s not pretty.  The pleasant banality of Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan has warped into the painful exploits of Katherine Heigl, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kate Hudson.  With Matthew McCaughney as their boy toy of choice.  I’d write out a list but we’d be here all day.

#19 – Observe and Report – A uniquely awful movie.  One that attempts to squeeze laughs out of rampantly stupid and unlikable characters and the mental illnesses that afflict them.  For his next film director Jody Hill should make a movie mocking the homeless and mentally handicapped.  He could ridicule people with Parkinson’s disease and ask people in wheel chairs to go for a walk.  It would be about as much fun as this was.

#20 – Movies in General – Dishing out this hate list was so easy and that’s the problem.  I could go on and on and on about so much more.  The Saw Franchise, horror remakes, lame parodies of lame movies, etc.  While the last decade has done much to shine, the more telling aspect of this century’s first decade of cinema is its successful attempt to make garbage acceptable.  Being completely terrible has not only become a passable norm, it’s routinely rewarded with financial windfalls.  There’s no longer a stench attached to being awful.  No matter how rancid, second-rate or unoriginal something looks, there’s an audience out there eagerly awaiting it with open arms.  The amount of crap being produced is alarming, but the willingness of so many people to watch it and think it fine is more so.  And that is a scary thing indeed.

COMING SOON!!   THE DECADES BEST!!  LESS CYNICISM GUARANTEED!!

I hate movie previews.  I hate everything about them.  What used to be one of the best parts of going to the movies has become so insufferable I will often wait outside the theater for them to end before I go find a seat.  My recent trip to see “Avatar” contained not 2 or 3 loud and bombastic clips from future films, but 6, each one louder and more oversold than the next.  “Prince of Persia?”  Looked excrusiating.  “Book of Eli?”  Run of the mill, stoic badass bullshit.  “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief?”  Shameless Harry Potter clone.  “Another Damn Shrek Movie?”  You’d have to staple my eyes open and bolt me to a theater chair.  There were more but what they were has been lost.  Mercy was shown as “Sherlock Holmes” was not played.  The experience was so bombastic and tired that I eventually just tucked my head in my jacket and waited for things to stop going boom. 

This has become the pre-movie experience.  The techniques that developed over the course of the 90’s have fossilized into a granite slab that will have to be blown to bits if it’s ever to change.  Creativity and originality are gone from the equation and in their place are the same edited beats that give each preview after the other the sensation of being the exact same film.  Faux wonder, dramatic pauses, baratone narration, editing chaos that simulates actual action.  Blech to all of it.  Don ‘In Another World’ LaFontaine may be dead but his legacy will live on.