Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stephen Daldry Must Be Stopped

Today is January 24th and that means the Academy Award nominees were officially announced courtesy of the lovely Jennifer Lawrence and the troll who is president of the Academy.

I nearly forgot until about 2 minutes after I woke up. So I went online to check the nominees and was ready to go through the usual motions of congratulating the Academy for recognizing something worthwhile and then shake my fist in anger at a piece of crap getting multiple nominations. This is an annual tradition and this year was no different, I really need to stop caring.

Years from now Oscar historians like myself will note 2011 as the first and possibly only year that 9 films were nominated for best picture. Since the Academy decided on expanding the choices beyond 5, there was no specification that it had to be ten nominees. This rule I even forgot about so it wasn’t until a few hours later that I had to double check and see that only 9 films were nominated, which makes it the first time ever that this has happened, history in the making folks.

Now the good of the bunch

For some mind boggling reason Tree of Life was given a best picture nomination. It doesn’t matter that it was the best reviewed film of the year by a mile, I’m still surprised that something this avant-garde got nominated for the top prize. We can look at this as the Academy’s yearly reminder that they might not be as out of touch as we’ve come to think they are. After all my expectations of them to honor tripe is so high that I was indeed surprised that an actual great film this odd was recognized. Now does it have a chance of winning, probably not but hey here’s hoping.

The Artist got I believe 9 nominations and many people think it is a frontrunner for best picture. I’m not so sure, but if it won it would be the first foreign film to ever win the top prize. Now this would be ironic because it isn’t a traditional foreign film, and isn’t a foreign “language” film so it’s hard to say if this film wins would it end 8+ decades of prejudice to subtitles. I wouldn’t object at all to the film winning, it would also be the first silent film to win the award since Wings, which certainly would make things interesting (and don’t bother pointing out whether this is a “true” silent film).

The Descendants, Moneyball, and Midnight in Paris are all worthy films that didn’t shock me too much. It’s been a damn long time since a Woody Allen film was nominated for best picture so congrats to him even though I know he could probably care less. I liked the Payne film a lot and enjoyed Moneyball so not going to get too bent out of shape with them. Scorsese’s Hugo was fairly well received and well it leads all nominations so not shocked but personally I could care less about the film.

Now for the bad, and it gets bad

War Horse was directed by Steven Spielberg. It doesn’t matter if virtually no critics put it in their top ten, or whether it got overly positive reviews, it is a historical epic directed by the lord and master of Hollywood. He can take a dump on celluloid and as long as it’s a period piece it’ll probably at least get a best picture nomination, especially now that you can nominated more than 5 films. I’ve seen it and yeah bit of a disappointment. There are some painfully “Spielbergian” moments that will make you cringe but ultimately I can’t say the film was bad, just wasn’t any good.

Next up is The Help, oh man yeah . This film came out a little earlier than most of the nominees and seemed like it could get some attention. Since The Golden Globes are well known for their complete and baffling lack of taste it didn’t surprise me that this was nominated for a whole bunch of stuff. So I made a point of watching it now that the DVD/Blu-Ray is out. For those of you who don’t know already, I HAVE to see every film nominated for best picture, it’s an obsession. The only films ever nominated I haven’t seen are The Patriot (which is no longer in existence) as well as East Lynn and The White Parade, and if you’ve seen those films let me know where I can find them. So I watched this and was offended. Not for any of it’s specific politics but because this film was just bad. This is controversial in the same way Driving Miss Daisy was and this is honestly just garbage. Of course in some circles if you just mention the words Civil Rights in a movie it doesn’t matter what it is about chances are someone will think it deserves an Oscar. I wonder why that new aviation movie about black fighter pilots in WWII wasn’t nominated, oh that’s right because the main character wasn’t white. Take a look at the history of these historical civil rights films from Mississippi Burning to Ghost to Driving Miss Daisy and you’ll see that all of them have someone whose white as the main character. Doesn’t matter if that character is forgettable. Hell even A Time to Kill and Amistad were starring vehicles for Mathew MacConaughey. So my point is yet again is offensive white take on a black issue that seems better suited for a Lifetime made for TV movie or better yet an article in Good Housekeeping. Wonder what this film could have been like in Spike Lee’s hands.

Now for the worst of the worst, and I mean that quite literally, Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Now on Rotten Tomatoes the film has a 48% rating including 62 Rotten ratings. This would make it not only the worst reviewed film of this years best picture nominees, but the worst reviewed film nominated for best picture in the past decade (I haven’t gone further back than Chocolat). Even audiences gave it a 67% rating, so clearly I wonder who the hell was voting for this film? Seeing how bad the film was reviewed, including both major Chicago newspapers I had no desire to see it. Since it was directed by manipulative shit master extraordinaire Stephen Daldry I had even less desire to go see it, but there it was reeking like a steaming hot pile of fresh dog crap on your newly shampooed carpet for me to find in the morning. Knowing my obsession I had to see it, and I wasn’t happy about it.

So I looked up showtimes, and figured let’s check it out. Since a DVD-screener hasn’t been leaked yet (yes I would have much, much, rather preferred to steal this film than give it my money) I figured a close-by matinee would be the next best thing. I kinda wish that matinee was cheaper than $8 but I had a free popcorn and soda coupon so I figured that’d make up for it. As always when you catch a matinee in the middle of the week the only people who go to see it with you are the elderly, probably in the same boat as me seeing the nominees and figuring if Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, and Max Von Sydow are in it, then it can’t be that bad right?

Before the film there is the usual commercials which they call “First Look”. Afterwards came previews, no less than 6 of them, I’m not joking 6 fucking previews for a movie. Now maybe it’s a sign of the apocalypse, I know that the first quarter brings out the worst of the studios films, but good god the movies I saw trailers for looked painful. Madonna directing a movie about the King of England abdicating the throne for his mistress (which could have been worthwhile if they kept Guy Pearce in the role he played in King’s Speech). There was also that awful looking movie about whales stuck in the Arctic, a musical about hair metal (which surprisingly looked good by comparison), and at least three movies based on Nicholas Sparks novels.

Well maybe this sullied my mood a bit, but what do you expect, they release crap in droves this time of year, so it’s forgivable, besides free popcorn and soda can go a long way to perk up my spirits. Then came the film itself. I expected nothing less than pretentious manipulative “PLEASE GIVE ME AN OSCAR” posturing as Daldry’s filmography would indicate. I should probably point out now that Billy Elliot was halfway decent but certainly didn’t deserve the best director nomination it inexplicably got. The Hours was overly depressive garbage that tried to be profound in some way but failed 2/3 of the time. The Reader was again trying to manipulate people about their feelings of the Holocaust and was a sad attempt to guilt trip viewers into giving it an Oscar otherwise they would be heartless Nazi sympathizers.

Alright Daldry was at a disadvantage here, I’ll admit it. Nevertheless I tried to keep an open mind. After all there had to be some reason the film was nominated. I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised sometimes by films I had no desire to see. In 2008 when Frost/Nixon was nominated I begrudgingly dragged myself to a similar matinee like this and found the film pretty damn enjoyable, not best picture material but a very pleasant surprise. So we start the film by showing Tom Hanks as dad of the year and all these crazy “expeditions” ok it’s cute this kid is clearly far more advanced than any child we’re likely to see and Hanks is clearly god in the flesh. Not going to get too bent out of shape. Then comes the tragedy, or as Oskar Schell calls it “The worst day”. We get messages on an answering machine played that get revealed later and later and at some point in time who cares? We’re already being manipulated, from the trailer we know the dad died, this is just a way of letting us all reflect on “where we were then” as little Thomas recalls his own early exit from school.

I’ll spare you a scene by scene breakdown but there are a few more extreme flaws I have with the film. For starters Max Von Sydow shows up far too late. I was curious to see him, and frankly a little amazed he’s still alive, but I said the same thing ten years ago when he showed up in Minority Report. Now I believe this was based on a book, but why the hell is he a mute? I mean come on who comes up with this crap, next thing you’re going to tell me is Rachel McAdams was in a car accident and forgot the last five years of her life and doesn’t realize that Channig Tatum is really her husband that she’s in love with (oh wait that was preview I saw for a movie, yep that’s actually being released in theaters, enjoy). Ok so Hollywood is retarded sometimes, the fact that he was in Germany in WWII and in the Dresden bombing is manipulative tripe yet again.

I figure this is how the filmmakers are thinking:
Producer/executive 1: “You know what was tragic, 9/11”
Producer/executive 2: “Yeah so was the Holocaust”
1: Didn’t we make a Holocaust movie already?
2: Yeah The Reader, we got nominated but lost to that Indian movie about Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
1: Damn, what if we combined the two?
2: Well people might not want both tragedies at once.
1: Maybe, well surely there’s more bad stuff that happened in Europe right?
2: Well WWII happened, people make movies about that.
1: Yeah but something specific.
2: Oh wait, I know I remember reading this book in my English class about this Slaughterhouse, anyways there was a big bombing at Dresden and killed like the whole damn village.
1: Damn Nazis have no shame.
2: Actually I think it was the Allies that did the bombing.
1: Hmm but you say it was tragic?
2: Yeah pretty much.
1: Cool how about if the old man can’t talk because he was traumatized by it?
2: I like the way you think, let’s do it.
1: Great, now let’s get back to making that film where Adam Sandler plays his sister.

Now forgive me if this didn’t happen the way I imagined it, but that’s how I view the situation. Von Sydow got a best supporting actor nomination, which they should rename the “Guess whose not dead nomination?” The same thing happened to Peter O’Toole a few years ago for Venus. I love Von Sydow, but he really didn’t do much here, but whatever I hope he beats that fat douche Jonah Hill who really, really didn’t deserve his nomination, but that’s another topic.

The other scene I wanted to mention and the point at which I officially said this film can go to hell was when little Oskar wakes up his mother to tell her not to bury him underground. He then goes on a tirade yelling and screaming like an annoying brat and ultimately tells her something we’ve all expected since the beginning of the film, “I wish it was you”. Yep he said it, he prefers his legendary and Christ like father to his boring mother. Hell I’d prefer hanging out with Tom Hanks over Sandra Bullock too, but you can see this scene coming a mile away and when it arrives you just cringe, not because of it’s emotional intensity but because it’s fucking stupid and manipulative. At this point I started wondering whether this was the worst film I’ve seen in a movie theater.

By the end of the film I couldn’t get out enough. Oskar is scared of everything, he whines and cries like a little kid, and even the great mystery of the key turns out to be a letdown. Oh so “The Renter” as Von Sydow’s character is named is really his grandfather, oh wow didn’t see that one coming, please. I’ll have you know that Halloween 2 is still the worst film I’ve ever seen in a movie theater, that’s a dishonor that will take years to surpass, but at least that film has nudity. This film is just crap and insulting crap at that. I know some of you will see it because you’re like me and need to see every film nominated, but if you don’t have that horrible obsession don’t ever see this movie it’s absolutely awful.

Oh and why the hell wasn't Michael Fassbender nominated for Shame? I'll bitch about the rest of the nominees later, that's all for now.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Very Definition of Overrated

Good evening people, there’s a subject I’ve been wanting to get into. As you may have gathered from the title of this blog, that it is the definition of the phrase overrated.

I’m one of those people who believe that like too many words and phrases in the English language this has several definitions, or rather variations derived from one principle concept. For example we can define overrated in terms of film as a film that is not as good as others think it is. However what exactly does that statement mean? I’ll try and answer that question in notoriously long winded fashion, so read on. I’m not going to bother defining overrated in terms that don’t apply to film, so we’ll save some space on that front.

The very term overrated is faulty because it implies a matter of imperfection. Namely it relies on a human factor, what one thinks of a particular film. Rather in this case what at least two people think of a particular film. Simply put the concept of overrated is like a game of Stratego, it won’t work with just one player, unless you suffer from schizophrenia, which is separate problem altogether, I digress. Simply put all you need is one person to say something is great an another to say it isn’t to get an opinion of overrated from one of them.

So I’d say let’s take a look at a few separate examples of what’s overrated via some hypothetical scenarios, substitute your own films for those mentioned:

Scenario 1

My friend told me this Donnie Darko movie is awesome, I watched it and was very under whelmed, seems a tad bit overrated to me.

Ok in this scenario you’re saying a particular friend’s opinion let you down. You followed one friend’s film recommendation, didn’t think as highly of it and therefore you’re of the opinion Donnie Darko is overrated. Now it doesn’t matter if other people agree with you that the film isn’t worth a damn, or that it didn’t win any major awards, or if any critics gave it high praise, it’s still overrated based on an opinion you trusted. Now as you can infer the larger the group of people recommending a film the greater the degree of disappointment could be.

The plus side from this is the fact that you can attribute this to someone acting alone. In other words when just one person gives you the recommendation and it disappoints the problem is with their taste not yours.

Scenario 2

The King’s Speech? How the hell did that win a best picture Oscar?

Now we’re taking out the individual. Sure you might have a friend or family member who saw the latest Oscar winner and thinks the world of it, but you’re not going to say your brother, friend, or aunt are crazy for thinking a film that wins a best picture Oscar is great. This is again one of degree to some extent. After all a contemporary film getting some award season buzz is different from a classic “masterpiece”, but that’s another scenario. In other words your puzzlement at a film winning a best picture Oscar usually involves an immediate substitute. For example, The Social Network should have won over The King’s Speech, or Saving Private Ryan over Shakespeare in Love, etc. You might not necessarily think The King’s Speech is best picture material, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s utter shit.

Scenario 3

So yeah, Tokyo Story . . . Boring

(Forgive me this is hypothetical I love this movie) We’ve all had this happen. While sitting in film school, or tackling some recommendation (possibly from me even) and you’ve come to the conclusion that everybody is high. That’s your first instinct, the second one is that maybe there’s something wrong with your taste. I call it the Captain Beefheart effect. Perhaps you even watch the film a second or third time thinking that you will eventually get it. How it fits the bill of overrated is again multi-faceted. In the example above the masterpiece in question was boring. Perhaps it is brilliant, but 30 minutes in you’re in a deep slumber. In another example you may just find a film not all it’s cracked up to be.

Ok so I’ve thrown a few examples all of which may illustrate how something could be overrated. Some dope on IMBD might say a film is great and it sucks. A film like The Help might get nominated for awards but it’s clearly shit. Your buddy might think The Boondock Saints is the best film ever and you wonder if he’s high or if he’s seen any “real movies”. Now there’s another area I’d like to get in, the preposterous notion that a film could be overrated and still be good.

I mentioned before the thought of a film being good but not “that good”. It’s certainly possible for even some of the greatest films to be overrated by many of us. After all no matter how often Rules of the Game or Battleship Potemkin might show up on lists of the ten greatest films of all time I’d still rather watch Predator. Now I’d give both Rules and Potemkin 5 star ratings, but I don’t think they’re anywhere near top 10 of all time material. Hell I don’t even think they’re the best films from their respective directors. Doesn’t mean they’re bad, just overrated.

Now there are some films that I think are crap that are praised. At the risk of alienating many of you I’ll refrain from the films that I don’t “get”. Again this is the “Captain Beefheart effect”, in case you’re wondering what that means listen to Trout Mask Replica and let me know if you think it’s a masterpiece, yeah thought so. Ok to hell with that Pedro Costa’s films are just awful to me, there I said it, sorry if you like his work, but good god it’s just terrible to me.

Which leads me to the next point, what about a director/actor/actress/writer being overrated? This can be a harder thing to define. I say Pedro Costa’s films are torture because I’ve seen In Vanda’s Room and Colossal Youth and they were excruciatingly awful to me. I’ve since seen more of his work and I stand by my opinion. Perhaps however it’s easier to play devil’s advocate with a better known filmmaker, so why not the best known Alfred Hitchcock.

So you think Alfred Hitchcock is overrated. He meets the criteria of being highly rated in the first place. He’s easily one of the three directors that immediately come to mind when someone mentions a film director and I hope everyone who reads this has at least some familiarity with his work. Now the distinction that he might be the greatest of all directors puts him in a particular hot seat. In other words if you think anyone is better than Hitchcock his status as the greatest might make him seem overrated. If you recognize the fact that he’s one of the greatest, then perhaps you won’t object to someone giving him that distinction. In other words you might not think Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever made, but if its in your personal top 20 you can’t really call it overrated, or at the very least barely overrated.

Now my question if you think Hitchcock is overrated, say he isn’t in your top 10, 20, or well you think of him the way I think of Pedro Costa, how familiar are you. Should I watch every single Costa film including his early shorts before passing my final verdict? Sure that would be the most fair thing to do, but if you don’t like what you’ve seen, why torture yourself watching more? In other words first impressions are key because they may determine whether there’s a second impression to be made. We’ve all had a bad first date that didn’t lead to a second date even if you’re sure it couldn’t possibly be any worse, same can be said for a filmmaker.

So what Hitchcock have you seen. Did you watch Vertigo and say “It’s overrated, therefore Hitchcock is overrated”? Or worse yet did you see a bunch of second rate Hitchcock films. Maybe you saw some of those old public domain Hitchcock films and after watching Champagne, Rich and Strange, The Manxman, and The Farmer’s Daughter you’re wondering what the big deal is? I’d say you aren’t watching the right films, but this could in fact happen. Now if you’ve seen Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho and are still of the opinion that Sir. Alfred is overrated, then you are entitled to your opinion, but personally I think you’re crazy.

Directors hide behind a film. Some impart their own unique style, that whole “auteur” thing that I won’t bother getting into here. However an actor is present and their capability to be overrated is completely different. For starters can an actor or actress really be overrated? Very few thespians earn universal praise, it’s quite a shortlist; Meryl Streep, Daniel Day Lewis, Marlon Brando, and Laurence Olivier. There are a few others, but if you’ll notice I can only think of two living actors who seem to be incapable of choosing a bad role. Sure some of us saw 9 and laughed at Daniel Day Lewis singing like Jason Segal in his Dracula musical in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but the man is ok for a dud here and there. He acts his ass off routinely so I won’t say he’s overrated. Now if you’ve seen My Left Foot and There Will Be Blood and think he didn’t deserve either best actor Oscar then maybe you do think he’s overrated.

So for the mortal actor we would have to assume that their ability to be overrated should be relegated to a performance. Does anyone really think Halle Berry is a great actress? I offer Catwoman and the X-Men movies as examples for starters. However she was pretty damn good in Monster’s Ball where she won her Oscar. I won’t go anywhere near saying she’s a great actress, but clearly she is capable of at least one great performance. Some of you might think Monster’s Ball was overrated and she didn’t deserve the Oscar, so be it, it’s her performance that’s overrated not her specifically.

Now if you think someone like Meryl Streep is shit it brings up a whole separate problem. Whenever you get a dozen Oscar nominations it’s pretty well established you’re pretty damn good as an actress. This is a human problem however, sometimes we just don’t like people. Have you ever seen a preview for a film with a particular actor and decided immediately you weren’t going to see it? I’m dealing with this problem now as I try to tell people that Moneyball is in fact a pretty good movie, but the fact that Jonah Hill is in it makes several people I know not want to even sit through it. Now comparing Jonah Hill to Meryl Streep is something that until now I believe has never been done before but my point is your problem may be with the person rather than their ability. Have you ever met a complete and utter stranger perhaps while standing in line somewhere and just decided for no reason at all that you hate them? Well imagine that person you randomly hate for no reason happens to be an actor, starting to see what I mean?

Writers are a whole separate problem, so I’ll leave that for someone with a literary background to divulge. Since the large majority of people don’t know or care who writes movies this point isn’t too relevant here. To quote Sunset Boulevard “They think the actors just make it up as they go along”. Most of the best known screenwriters to the general public happen to also direct it makes their situation more relevant to the director.

So anyone think this post is overrated yet? Perhaps one day my list happy ass will return with my own list of films I think are overrated, trust me there's quite a few.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ugh here I go again

Well as some of you may or may not know, I have some free time on my hands. When I’m not busy trying to start a new (and hopefully much better paying) career or working out I’m watching movies. I have a whole lot of time to do this so what should I spend my time watching? Well I’ll get into that in a minute.

January 24th is when the official Academy Award nominations are set to be announced. I’ve seen quite a few films from this year already (in fact already more than 2010) so I imagine I’ll be in good shape when the nominees are announced. Until then I can either watch a few more 2011 releases or tackle another project, hmm well that project might be a bit all consuming.

For starters I have a few too many movies in my possession. Whether it’s recent DVDs/Blu-Rays I’ve gotten, films on my DVR, or films from plenty of other sources there’s more movies to watch than I can sit through in several months. So thus begins a process of filtering out just what films to watch and hopefully watching them in some semblance of order.

Enter Jonathan Rosenbaum, whose Essential Cinema book contains an appendix with his personal 1000 film cannon. Since getting this book I’ve made several half assed attempts at chopping the list down. I’ve kept my eyes peeled for specific films whenever they come around. When I first got the book I attempted to tackle them in order and didn’t get far out of the silent era before tossing up my hands at the rather hard to find films contained.

In fact the list is FULL of hard to find titles. Films that have never been on VHS/DVD/Blu-Ray and possibly never even distributed theatrically. There’s a word for this elitist film criticism, and well there’s a good and bad to it. On the one hand it makes tackling this book a really hard time. These movies aren’t easy to find and I wonder if I’ll ever see them all. On the other hand this isn’t the same stodgy old film cannon. Some rather obvious films are left off and in it’s place are heretofore unknown titles like Hangin’ with the Homeboys, Love and Death on Long Island, Child of the Big City and several hundred others that I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of either.

So I have Mr. Rosenbaum to thank on a few occasions. For starters some of these unknown titles are proving to be gems. I have immensely enjoyed some of the films I’ve recently watched from his list like Blonde Crazy, Matinee, and Deep Cover. I also somewhat relish the challenge of tackling all of the list. After all I’ve tackled other lists, some as long, but none quite so esoteric. Perhaps if I take on this entire list and complete somewhere in the imaginary film nerd hall of fame they’ll build a statue of me as the ultimate list fetishist. That’s neither here nor there, in my quest to know it all about film, well I have to stretch out of my comfort zone a bit.

On the other hand I often think he can go to hell for his weirdo picks that he made just to be difficult, as if to intentionally thwart any attempts at achieving his supreme level of film snobbery. After all NO ONE could possibly have seen all of these films except for Rosenbaum so he shall have the final word as the nerd among all film nerds. Not to mention, where the hell is Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, or The Godfather? Are we to believe that The Cat’s Meow, I’ll do Anything, That’s Entertainment III are better than these films? Well hell it’s his personal list so I won’t knock the guy for his personal favorites. Hell, no matter how stupid I knew the film was I couldn’t help but enjoy the film I Love Melvin reuniting Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor a year after Singin’ in the Rain. Not to mention I have plenty of my own “sacred cows” that I’d probably leave off my own personal list. Never does he intend this list to be a definitive 1000 best or greatest, simply his personal cannon, so whatever.

Well how to tackle the list is a good question that I’ll attempt to answer as I whittle my way through it. I have not taken the time to write out every single film I need to see from the cannon. I’ve avoided this seemingly crucial first step for two reasons. First of all, there’s too damn many films I haven’t seen. This would mean not only would it take a damn long time to write them all out, but the massive amount of ignorance that will be unveiled as I try and number how many of these films I haven’t watched would not only be a huge deterrent to ever accomplishing this goal but it would make me feel somewhat less of a man. In other words, let me watch some more before I start writing them all out.

I did however get a head start on this and that brings me to where I’m at now. While researching my top 50 of the 90s, posted here last year, I figured I needed to see some more films, particularly foreign ones from that decade. In the process I wrote out all the films on his list from 1990 to 2003 (where the list ends). Now I’m not going to lie to you and say I watched a ton of these films, in fact I hardly watched any of them, but at least I did have those films already written out.

So why not start there? After all if there’s anything a list fetishist loves its crossing a film off a list. Since I don’t feel like marking my book with a highlighter or pen, putting them in text form and crossing them off is a joy that’s hard to explain to people who don’t give a shit about these things. We’re the same people who love it when our CD’s from a similar artist have the same labels on the binding, or when certain DVD sets are in numbered order (like Criterion or Fox Film Noir). So let’s begin with the 90s.

First step is to go through the films I’ve picked up that are on the list and watch them. Fairly simple enough. Once these are done it’s time to start looking. Whether that’s from Netflix, my local library(s), or other means I won’t publish here, I’m trying to get as many films from this period as I can. Since the list is fairly difficult, some of these won’t be easy. One of the good or bad things about his list depending on your perspective is the fact that he includes short films. Well as you can imagine very few of these short films are available on their own. If they get released on DVD they’re most likely part of a set of films, or maybe even a special feature on another DVD.

Luckily you’d be amazed how many of these films are available on the internet. Backtracking a bit, Rosenbaum is a fan of Laurel and Hardy. Their films Leave ‘em Laughing, The Two Tars, and The Music Box are all available online on Hulu. So if you don’t mind the occasional ad (which I’ve now figured out how to block thank you very much) you can watch them on your computer. Since they’re 20 minute films made a good 80 years ago it’s not terribly important to see them in ultra high definition on your super sweet TV, I’m sure they’ll look just fine.

As I indicated in a previous blog entry (which I know you read), I’m planning on posting my film journal at the end of the month. In that case you can see just how damn many of the films from this list I’ve seen. Not only that but you can see when I diverted myself from the list, and hopefully when I find gainful employment and don’t watch nearly as many films.

Once I make the most of the 90s and the first few years of the 2000s, I’ll probably take one of two approaches. The first is to resume my list from the beginning. In other words try and find the silent films, the thirties films, and continue on up until I finish the 80s. The other approach is to keep working backwards. Since there are more films from the last several decades that I need to see these would be harder to tackle theoretically and therefore I should work on them first. Or perhaps I simply say to hell with it and go in any damn order I please, after all is there some secret police that are going to arrest me for watching films from this list out of order?

So the haphazard approach I’ll take is as follows. Once I make mince meat out of the 90s I’ll take a similar approach to the rest of the decades. After all certain films may be on TCM, shown at a special screening, or what have you to make things interesting. I’ll watch the films I own or have copies of from the other decades before I start actively looking for more. Now chances are I’ll get bored and start accumulating far more than I can watch. When the Oscar nominations are announced I’ll make a slight detour to see all the films that get major nominations.

If you’ve read this far I’ll give you a cliff notes version and tell you some of the better films I’ve watched since starting this thing.

Blonde Crazy (1931)
The Birth of Love (1993)
Matinee (1993)
I Love Melvin (1953)
Deep Cover (1992)
Oriental Elegy (1996)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

They Shoot Pictures Don't They and Peter Watkins

Welcome 2012. There are several annual traditions related to film that I associate with winter. In this way it almost makes winter seem like something to look forward to rather than a dreaded period of freezing temperatures, short days, and snow. Ok, I still hate winter but whatever at least film can cheer me up a bit.

December is when all the best of the year lists come out. I particularly look forward to Film Comment’s list considering they poll a number of film critics so it’s more a consensus opinion than one man’s looney tune tastes. Then comes award season, where studios unveil their Oscar hopefuls and countless statues are handed out that most people don’t give a shit about, leading up to that big overblown and instantly debated Academy ceremony, which I’ll certainly have my own annual tradition of predicting the winners then complaining about the winners in that order.

Another tradition that I mentioned here last year is They Shoot Pictures Don’t They and their top 1000 film list. Other than a December update and a few random and sporadic ones earlier, they’ve pretty much unveiled a new list every January. Seeing how this was the year with the fewest new lists discovered, there was also the smallest number of new entries on the list.

Perhaps the biggest reason for this is the fact that a monumental change in the film cannon is set to take place in 2012. The once a decade Sight and Sound poll of the greatest films of all time is going to be updated this year. This top ten list has been pretty much the definitive source as to the greatest films of all time pretty much since it’s first incarnation in 1952. I’m very curious to see what changes if any are made to the list and will be blogging about it in the future. Since TSPDT bases a large portion of their list on the individual Sight and Sound polls, I expect the top 1000 to look quite different come 2013.

As was the case last year however there were two films I needed to add to the top of my to watch pile after the most recent update. Once again Stan Brakhage’s The Art of Vision continued it’s downward trajectory falling down to 871 (819 the year before, 800 the year before that). The shortened version, which is far better known is Dog Star Man which was near the bottom of this list. The 248 minute version has remained elusive and was not included in two separate Brakhage retrospectives at Doc Films or on either Criterion Collection DVD set. In other words, fuck that movie it’s impossible to find.

I still cross my fingers that it’ll drop off the list entirely so I can stop worrying about it, but on to the new additions that I had to see. First up was Ken Jacobs Star Spangled to Death. Like the Brakhage film this is damn hard/impossible to find and is exceptionally long. I first heard of it in the Village Voice Film Guide a few years ago and have been looking for it ever since. Asking my more offbeat sources about it, keeping my eyes and ears peeled for special screenings, or just praying for a DVD release has led to nothing since. I was able to find the first three parts of it on Google Videos, but part three was missing the sound for the second half so well as of now I’d say I can’t quite cross this off my list. You could make the argument I got the basic gist of the epic down, but that’s like saying I’ve seen Art of Vision because I’ve seen Dog Star Man, it’s just not the same.

The other film added to the list was also well over the three hour mark, but at least it’s available and it reminds me of one of the films I had to watch last year, Peter Watkin’s film Edvard Munch. That’s right that great director who never gets mentioned had yet another new entry this year. After discovering him (through the same VV film guide as the Jacobs film) I decided to proceed through his filmography slowly. This meant well I hadn’t seen Munch or last year’s new entry La Commune (Paris 1871) before being included on the list. Keep in mind that when this list gets updated I pretty much drop everything and make it my top priority to see everything I can. So I guess one Peter Watkins film a year is a slow enough pace to watch his films, or is it?

Edvard Munch was a painter in case you didn’t know, and he painted The Scream, you’ve all seen it you would recognize it instantly and that’s the biggest thing you need to know about him. It falls into one of two categories of Watkins films. On the one hand are documentaries that are more like re-enactments. He doesn’t make biopics in any traditional sense, but shoots them like a first person cinema verite documentary, but using actors and something of a structured script. He’s known for allowing his mostly non-professional actors to improvise a great deal of their dialogue to keep the documentary feel and this fits very well into that. The Battle of Culloden and La Commune also fit into this category of re-enacted docudrama.

His second category is fictionalized docudrama. This might sound similar and it is because stylistically you can’t tell the difference. Where the two styles differ is that half of his films are telling of a historical event or person, whereas the other half are completely made up stories filmed like a documentary. War Game was his earliest and possibly best known of these, although Punishment Park (the first film of his I saw) fits into this category very well. After watching Edvard Munch I decided I might as well watch another Watkins film that I had lying around, which was his follow up, 1977’s Evening Land. It’s fitting because this fits into the second category making today’s Watkins sampling an even split.

Like some of his films a good deal of time, and sometimes even some research on your own part are required to find out just whether or not the film is a work of pure fiction. I was damn near convinced Punishment Park was a real documentary the first time I watched it, after all how as I to know that was Watkins signature trademark? Evening Land is like all of his films I’ve seen damn good. Is it as good as some of his others, perhaps not but you’re comparing great films to masterpieces here. The more of his work I see the more I’m convinced he’s one of the greatest directors of all time, and consequently the most ignored historically.

I’m going to attempt to explain why someone so damn amazing can be so little discussed. Peter Watkins films suffer from two standpoints. One, they are hard to categorize. Due to the documentary nature of his films he is often lumped into the same category as documentary filmmakers (the unwanted nerdy step children of fiction filmmakers). Even the greatest documentary filmmakers have a hard time being mentioned in the same sentence as directors like Ford, Hitchcock, Hawks, Kazan, or Welles. Sometimes they only get mentioned if that particular great director made some documentaries, like Resnais, Godard, Herzog, or Scorsese, but even then those documentaries are largely left out of the discussion of their major work.

On the flip side documentary filmmakers exclude Watkins because he isn’t a real documentary director. Sure he employs the technique, but he clearly stages works of fiction, and who has the audacity to film a documentary about a Norwegian painter hiring actors and staging it with first person interviews representing people who died decades ago? You can imagine the outrage for people who complain that Michael Moore fabricates things in his films.

So you have Watkins neglected by the regular directors and shunned by the documentarians, ok so what the public should still recognize his hard to categorize body of work. Well that’s the thing, the public was unable to see his films for quite a substantial amount of time. The War Game was banned for years, and Edvard Munch’s distribution was suppressed for many years. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 2000’s that his films finally were released on DVD, restored, with bonus features and in many cases available for the first time in any format. What followed was something of a wave of recognition for Watkins, coupled with the US release of La Commune in 2003.

In other words people are still figuring out what an amazing filmmaker Peter Watkins is. There are still a few of his films I haven’t watched yet, and some are definitely on the epic side of things. Resen (The Journey) is 873 minutes and The Freethinker is 276 minutes, so needless to say those will take some time to get through. The good news is however is that Culloden, The War Game, Privilege, Punishment Park, Edvard Munch, La Commune (Paris 1871) are all available on DVD and are exceptionally good films. So for you Netflix users out there, give some consideration to Watkins.

Also for those interested in seeing the TSPDT full list, you can view it here

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Looking ahead 2012

Now that it's 2012 (I'm still not used to typing this) I decided to keep better track of things. From 2007-2009 I wrote down every film I watched on the day I watched it. For some reason I slacked off 2010, and last year. Since it's January 4th it wasn't overly difficult to remember the films I've watched the previous three days. This means that yes, I will be keeping a film journal for the year 2012.

Why do this you might ask? Well seems silly to justify this but well I watch a LOT of movies. Sad as it might be to say, sometimes I don't even remember what I watch (I've blogged about this earlier I believe, then again I might not even remember that). With a film journal I can say "Yes I did watch The General on New Years Day. The goal is to keep track of my viewings, these include features as well as shorts. Films I'm seeing for the first time, and films I'm watching a dozen times. Movies seen on DVD, Blu-Ray, my computer, TV, or at a movie theater. I generally don't indicate the source on my film journal, simply the movie, date seen, and year. I have on occasion contributed ratings to these films, which I don't always like doing immediately after watching, considering sometimes certain films need a little reflection. I do however think I will rate these films at the end of the month to the best of my recollection.

Each month I will be posting a list of the films I viewed the previous month. Perhaps a general overview of what was watched, perhaps more detailed descriptions of the really good, or really bad films. Maybe certain films seen may justify some explanation as to why the hell I watched it in the first place, and if deemed necessary I'll enlighten you. This journal is mainly for me, but well if you want to be exactly like me then I'll let you know every film I watch.

Since I've completed my top ten list the pressure to see every film from 2011 has waned considerably. When Oscar nominations are announced I'll renew my vigor and try to see all the nominees before the show. I still do intend to catch a couple films in theaters soon, and look forward to the films I missed making their way to the home video circuit. So for the next month or so I'm clearing up some space by watching the movies I've accumulated that were put aside as I researched 2011. So the order might seem very random, maybe a Raoul Walsh film followed by Peter Watkins, Maurice Pialat, Marco Bellocchio, etc. If I do decide to dedicate some time to a specific research project (i.e. resuming my Jack Ellis Film History book, or perhaps tackling Jonathan Rosenbaum's top 1000) you can clearly see how much of my viewing is dedicated to it.

Later this month They Shoot Pictures Don't They? is going to update their top1000 as they do every year. Not a single year since they've done this have I seen all 1000 films. I'm up to 999 now (damn you Stan Brakhage's Art of Vision), but each year there are usually a small handful of films I need to see to keep pace. Last year it was a whopping three I believe so who knows what this year will bring. Maybe at long last the Brakhage film will fall off the list and I'll be perfect, or maybe that film will screen somewhere, one can hope. Since this is one of my obsessions I'll be blogging about it when relevant.

In the meantime I will slowly continue my quest to know everything there is to know about cinema, wish me luck and enjoy the commentary.