Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Sacred and the Profane (Sight and Sound Poll 2002)

It’s 2012. I know you’ve heard me say that before and I don’t just say it here to help remind us all to remember this change when writing down the date, it’s mid-February I hope you got that much figured out. Instead I’m looking at this year in terms of one perspective. The Sight and Sound Poll.

Every ten years starting in 1952 the BFI run Sight and Sound magazine has taken a poll of the world’s leading film critics and scholars to determine the ten greatest films of all time. In 1992 they included a separate poll for directors to vote, but the critics list has remained the standard by which all canons are based. Now you can make the argument that no film canons or lists are worth a damn, but if any of them were, this would be it.

Times have changed a lot since 1952, and I’ll spare you the history lesson and just nod your head in agreement. Even since 2002 things have changed, considering the extreme proliferation of lists upon lists upon lists. In other words it’s quite possible to have been burnt out on all greatest film lists. The AFI even re-did their original 100 greatest American film list in this time period. Critics and individuals have published 1000 greatest film lists. Nearly every magazine offered some sort of centennial salute to film and even the good people at They Shoot Pictures Don’t They have attempted to corral all of these separate rankings together to form one super definitive top 1000.

So you may be asking who the hell cares about this list however prestigious it might be? The answer may be just me and whoever happens to be asked to vote on it. I’m not going to lie I had delusions of sorts in 2002 that by the time the next poll came around I’d be considered a valuable enough source of information to offer my own personal ballot. Alas no such invitation came my way, but I digress.

The greatest thing about this list, which actually started as a top 20, is that it is easy to digest. After all 10 films can be viewed in a weekend if you’re bored enough. Back in 2002 Sunrise was included on this list and was not yet available on DVD, and had never actually been released on VHS. Since then separate releases have allowed the film to see the light of day in a superb Fox DVD that wasn’t made nearly as readily available as it should have been. The rest of the films were fairly easy to find, although as one expect especially from the older entries quality varied greatly.

In 1996 Vertigo was given a full color restoration and re-released in theaters. This is the edition that has since appeared on DVD courtesy of Universal. It has since been re-released perhaps more than once and you’ll have to check about Blu-Ray availability. Criterion has released Tokyo Story, Rules of the Game, and 8 ½ on DVD and subsequently Blu-Ray. The Godfather trilogy has made the rounds on both formats, and newer editions and restorations of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Singin’ in the Rain, and Battleship Potemkin have all been released. Citizen Kane never was and hopefully never will be that hard to find on home video. So if you’re curious to do some last minute research before the newest installment comes out, all of the films are pretty readily available.

Either for my own research into each decade with my best of lists last year or through more recent re-visiting, I’ve sat through all of these films again fairly recently. So I will attempt to go from 10 down to 1 and offer my takes on the films, what’s great about them, why they’re on the list, and whether or not I think they deserve to be there. My own look at the sacred and profane.

9. (tie) Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Half of the last Sight and Sound poll was spot on. Looking at the critics who voted only one had 8 films on the list. What this means is not a single critic completely agreed with this list. So in other words no one is completely satisfied with the outcome. Such things happen when there is a consensus of opinion. By comparison I think I’m very agreeable with the list. As of my last ranking of greatest films 5 of the 10 films here were in my own top ten. So as much as I might complain about the remaining 5, I would say that this list boasts a pretty impressive average for me. In case this is the first blog of mine you’ve ever read, I’ll come right out and say that this is one of those 5 films I agree with completely.

When I first saw this list I was pleased to see this film on it for a few reasons. First and foremost I think it’s one of the ten best films ever made. Besides that however it is the only film on the list that can actually be called humorous, although there certainly is some comedy to Rules of the Game and certainly the only one that’s a musical. When it comes to lists of this kind a common assumption is that only works of supreme melodrama and pretentious art house faire has a chance of ranking among the all time greats. Rank elitism and film snobbery rules the day, so bravo that people put a film that’s actually enjoyable and doesn’t require a masters in film studies to appreciate.

In fact Singin’ in the Rain is one of those films I’d recommend to damn near anyone. Sure some manly men won’t be caught dead watching a musical, well their loss. However if I meet someone who has never seen it I instantly recommend it, or watch it with them. Even if you’re only knowledge of classic film is watching The Wizard of Oz as a kid you can still appreciate this. Of course the beauty of the film is that the more you know about film and film history, particularly that troublesome transition to sound, the better you can appreciate the film. That isn’t to say that without prior knowledge it’ll go over your head or leave you feeling like an imbecile, just that the more you watch it the more you get out of it.

For this reason and many others this is arguably the most compulsively re-watchable film on the list. Hard not to be cheered up after sitting through this. The three leads in this film are so infectious that they have to win you over at some point, even if Donald O’Connor might seem to be a little bit too infectious during his “Make ‘em Laugh” number. By the time the trio sing “Good Morning” you’re completely on board. It’s also worth noting that this is the only film on the list with two credited directors.

9. (tie) 8 ½ (1963)

The list certainly gets started on the right foot. For many years 8 ½ has stood atop my list of the greatest foreign films ever made. Now Sight and Sound might not give it that distinction, it’s inclusion in the top ten offers me a little vindication. Long considered a director’s film, it wouldn’t surprise many to note that it came in at #3 on the director poll.

Fellini has been a problematic figure for many critics for decades. For starters there’s a camp of people who feel that Fellini somehow betrayed himself making La Dolce Vita and 8 ½ then following in an infinitely more bizarre and surreal career trajectory. Some never forgave him for abandoning the more humanistic touches of La Strada and Nights of Cabiria. For others he was too damn popular. This is what happens when certain filmmakers find themselves well liked. It still happens today, although I would freely point out that there is no foreign auteur today that carries the same type of media buzz as Fellini, Bergman, Godard, or Kurosawa did in their hey-day, although Lars Von Trier is certainly trying. As with anyone who is popular as well as critically praised people are going to hate him for no good reason, face it we all do it. Perhaps its more common in music, we’ve all heard someone say “I liked them before they were famous”.

8 ½ is a film that I would play for anyone entering film school or even displaying a serious interest in film as an art form. Casual viewers might still look at it as a very strange film. After all countless people still need perfectly logical coherence in their films. Fellini’s film disregards a lot of that. The film shifts from fantasy to reality so often that it seems for a time impossible to tell which is which, and by the end of the film it doesn’t really matter. The simple audacity of making a film about a director who had no idea what to make his next film about is brilliance.

I’m not necessarily making the argument that 8 ½ is elitist by nature, nearly all of Fellini’s films are enjoyable if nothing else from a purely visual standpoint. Perhaps it’s lofty place as my favorite foreign film may one day change; Persona is certainly making a run at it. That said I have never sat through the film and not enjoyed myself immensely, from it’s wordless intro to the final bizarre carnival sequence at the end it never ceases to amaze me. Fellini was known to cast actors and actresses solely by their head shots so it’s not surprising that he often over emphasizes the “look” of a film which makes many think substance is sacrificed in the name of style. This has certainly plagued many of his later films like City of Women for starters.

The reason 8 ½ remains his best regarded film by not just me is because it is a supreme marriage of both. This combines the wonderful surrealistic nature of his subsequent films while still grounding it in the sort of existential turmoil that permeated his earlier films. Nowhere near as humanistic as his 50s triumphs this film is far from just a lot of pomp and pageantry. I certainly hope to see it included on the 2012 edition as well.

7. (tie) Sunrise (1927)

Back in 2000 I ordered a VHS bootleg of Sunrise off of eBay. It was recorded off of the laserdisc of the film and to my recollection the only way to see the film. Well a few years later it was restored, and released as part of a best picture collection from Fox. This was perplexing because not only was the film not sold separately but it also didn’t technically win best picture, considering that original distinction was always reserved for Wings. Since I found this set on sale for $20 I realized this was about the same price I paid for the VHS and cheaper than if it were a Criterion release, so I bought four films to get one. Since it was so damn hard to get the film originally my expectations were insanely high. It’s not that it’s status on this list or any other made me so excited to see it, but just that any film incredibly hard to find can only build up impossible to reach expectations before you finally get a chance to see it.

For this reason I was a little let down when I watched that VHS way back when. In fact I found myself disappointed by a few of Murnau’s films, finding a few near masterpieces that just missed the mark. Well once I got the film on DVD I gave it another go. Since then I’ve watched the film twice more and well what was initially a let down has become one of my very favorite films ever made. It is fitting that this film tied with the only other silent film on the list which makes an official case for this as the greatest silent film ever made.

The film itself wasn’t exactly a silent picture. It sure wasn’t a “talkie” but it had it’s own score and synchronized sound affects. Many critics and historians often lamented the early transition to talking pictures because of Sunrise. This was the height of motion picture art, along with Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, and for many people the cinema sacrificed quite a lot in terms of quality to be able to speak. Murnau came to Fox after the success of his German films The Last Laugh and Faust. He was given complete control over his first project and this film represents the best of his German films with the financing and resources of a major Hollywood studio. Despite being instantly regarded as one of the greatest triumphs of cinema, the film didn’t draw much box office and the rest of Murnau’s shortened career was one of film’s greatest what if stories.

I watched the film again last month and was amazed yet again. It’s amazing the transformation particularly of George O’Brien who goes from duped husband and potential murderer to hero. In fact his mere contemplation of murdering his wife is startling. The fact that she would let him to get anywhere near him after their near fatal boat ride might seem like a sign of incredibly gullibility on her part. Murnau’s great innovation in storytelling is taking what is at heart an incredibly simplistic and melodramatic plot and making it rank among the greatest works of art. Innovative though it might be I think the film’s greatest strength remains its emotional resonance. Perhaps it is the freedom with which he had, or maybe just one of those cosmic lightning-in-a-bottle moments in time but Murnau and scarcely anyone else ever made a greater film.

7. (tie) Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Here’s where the list starts to get problematic. Potemkin is one of two films that have appeared on every incarnation of the list. For this reason it seems more divine providence that it should be given an automatic bid every 10 years. For reasons that are hard to describe people love streaks so why wouldn’t someone root for this film to be ranked for the sixth straight decade? Well as you can surmise this film has been regarded as one of the greatest of all time since it was originally released and it’s downright sacrilegious to say it’s anything but a masterpiece.

Well allow me to blaspheme but I think it’s time for this film to leave these hallowed halls. Few films have been so overanalyzed in film history that it’s hard to look at them with a fresh pair of eyes. The controversy surrounding Griffith’s Birth of a Nation and Welles Citizen Kane are another two examples of films dissected to infinity. Potemkin was a triumph upon it’s release and perhaps the only film of Eisenstein’s that didn’t receive some sort of official condemnation. Over the years the film has existed in many different forms, part of the problem with international distribution issues. More recently the film can be seen in what is presumably it’s original form.

This brings up one troubling theory of the film. How many people were perhaps regarding this as a classic in it’s incomplete form? Perhaps relying on the old Magnificent Ambersons/Greed theory that if what survives is great perhaps it’s complete version would be even greater? Similar problems coincidentally enough can be found with Renoir’s Rules of the Game. However unlike Greed and Ambersons Potemkin isn’t the story of a severely butchered film. It isn’t like there was a mysterious 3 hour cut of the film that got lopped down to 72 minutes or so. The current Blu-Ray of the film is as complete as we’re likely to see and is most likely the same version seen in the 90s and before the last ranking, if not quite as clear.

All this considered I haven’t really gotten into why I think the film needs replacing here. I don’t think it’s a bad film by any criteria. Sure I personally think Eisenstein’s The General Line is a better film, but that’s beside the point. I’ve seen Potemkin four times and have fallen asleep at some point in time every time I’ve seen it. For that very admission you might suggest that I have no business discussing the film at all, but I’ll take just the opposite stand. Considering the film isn’t even an hour and a half and it’s over-evaluated montage has given it the false reputation of being a fast paced and exciting film it seems odd that it can put someone to sleep so often. Sure one of those viewings might have been late, another might have been just one of those days, but every viewing? I can compare it to Man With a Movie Camera which I saw for the first time right after Potemkin which has never put me to sleep and has impressed me infinitely more each time I’ve seen it.

Vertov’s film might not be the best film to measure Potemkin’s status against, but it is simple an example of another highly regarded film from the same era and the same school that has held up much better over the decades. Perhaps if it supplants Potemkin on the 2012 edition I’ll feel vindicated but I can easily see another decade of this somewhat stale film being propped up as one of the ten greatest. One of the problems with this film, and some of the others on this list is that its reputation precedes it. When watching it you may be looking to reasons why it is included in such illustrious company. Sure the original mutiny with the maggots crawling on the meat, the rebellion on the ship, and the beyond legendary Odessa steps sequence which is easily the most famous and dissected part of any film ever made, all give you plenty to admire. However I always feel like I have to point to these scenes to tell myself it is great. Surely any film with this high a reputation has to be great, and if I don’t agree then clearly the fault lies with me, right? Well I’m saying is to hell with that, if I’m not feeling it then I won’t drink the same kool-aid as everyone else.

p.s. I’d still rate the film 5 stars and think it’s great, but we’re talking all time top ten here allow me to be a little critical.

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Alright I have to give a bit of warning here, I’m incredibly biased in favor of this film. Rather I might point out that I’m extremely biased when it comes to Mr. Kubrick in general. That being said I’m siding with the critics on this one considering the director’s poll had Dr. Strangelove on their list as opposed to this film. In fact way back when in the days when I was first discovering the world of classic cinema I was starting to notice that Stanley Kubrick was making quite an impression on me. I was always a fan of A Clockwork Orange and The Shining and had recently seen Full Metal Jacket. All signs pointed to 2001 as his ultimate film except a few people I knew warned me against it. Some people said it was too weird, or boring at parts, overrated, etc. I decided I’d go into the film with appropriate expectations but wouldn’t concern myself too much with trying to “figure it out”.

Well I may have said this before but after I watched this film for the first time I was literally speechless. I couldn’t say a word or even move from my seat until long after the credits had rolled. I knew instantly that I had seen one of the greatest films of all time. After another viewing or two the film became firmly entrenched in my personal top ten where it would remain. The ending which left me so spellbound the first time around began to make a little more sense and even the earlier moments which seemed quietly ominous but stale at parts began to stand out more. After seeing every one of Stanley Kubrick’s films, most of which multiple times, I was comfortable in saying that this was his greatest film.

Time has not diminished my opinion of the film. Like all of the truly great films it reveals a little something new each time you see it. I’ve written more extensively about the film in an expanded review some time last year so you can consult that for my thoughts about the particulars about it. For some people you may read my comments about Potemkin and think how much they could apply to 2001. After all this film is far slower paced than Eisenstein’s film and when discussing emotional reaction you may wonder how a film so deliberately devoid of emotion can illicit any emotional response. Well that’s part of the wonder of cinema in general. This film can leave me speechless and stick in my brain for months, even years after the fact, whereas Potemkin might leave me with the feeling that it’s reputation is not entirely justified.

Well for starters I’ll make the obvious statement that comparing these two films is silly on nearly every level. Potemkin and Vertov’s film at least shared a similar era, style, and nationality, whereas neither of those films have anything to do with 2001 except for the fact that they’re all movies. So trying to say how one film is great and well deserving of its status as a top 10 film while another is relying almost entirely upon reputation is one more of how the film’s themselves affect me personally. I’ll make a point of saying that the individual critics who voted for Potemkin are largely unknown to me, with the exception of Kenneth Turan who actually voted for 6 of the ten films that ultimately made the Sight and Sound Poll. It’s childish to say that name recognition for 2001 helps justify my opinion of it, I’m just saying it as a matter of coincidental value.

Perhaps the best way to describe what we like is to just say we like it because we do. Why do our taste buds recognize bacon as the wonderfully delectable treat it is and the majority of vegetables as wet grass? There are surely plenty of critics and fellow cinephiles who would look at 2001 as the ultimate in overrated art film. In fact there are probably members of my close family who would share that opinion, perhaps the difference is that at least in terms of the family members they have no idea what the hell Battleship Potemkin is. The fact that more critics voted for Kubrick’s film can help to weigh the scales in my favor, but until 2001 is on 6 straight lists it’s status won’t be quite as solidified.

Maybe it is the resentment that Kubrick’s film is made by Hollywood money and the idea that any film made overseas is infinitely more worthy of placement here. Our lack of culture here in the states means that a film produced in the USSR under Stalin’s nose, or a French film made just before the Nazi’s invaded Poland in 1939 has more significance due to the conditions in which they were made. A UK/US co-production with a high budget might seem at a disadvantage based on it’s somewhat privileged status. I’m possibly grabbing at straws here, but lets face it the very nature of elitism intrinsically condemns domestic product especially if it has a high budget and/or star power. Sure there is no star power here, other than perhaps it’s director but with the exception of this past year’s Tree of Life how many blatantly experimental major Hollywood films can you think of with A-list production values.

5. Tokyo Story (1953)

I have a confession to make. Last night I watched Tokyo Story, it was the only film amongst this top ten that I hadn’t seen in the past year (or so). I was sharpening my axe to chop this film down, well determined to blaspheme this great film and earn the ire of all my readers. Well something peculiar happened when I watched it, I was very damn impressed. Ok I’ve seen the film three times, but I’ve never considered it close to being one of the ten greatest films of all time. After the most recent viewing I wouldn’t necessarily pencil it in as a top ten film, or even the best of all Japanese cinema, but I don’t have nearly as much of a problem with it as I once did.

This needs some clarification. Like Sunrise I had Tokyo Story on my list of films to see for awhile. When I finally watched it I was bound to be a little let down. Not knowing anything of Ozu’s work this is the place most people would suggest starting, but it can be problematic. Ozu is a very, very singular filmmaker and it may take a few films before you really get an idea of what he’s all about. Despite being extremely popular in his native Japan during his lifetime, Ozu’s films aren’t exactly readily accessible. That doesn’t mean they’re difficult but they certainly don’t jump up and grab you the way Kurosawa’s films do.

Before you misinterpret me by suggesting that I think Ozu an inferior filmmaker keep in mind I’m pointing out the difference in their style. Nagisa Oshima is a far more provocative filmmaker, hell so is Takashi Miike but is anyone claiming them to be superior to Ozu or Mizoguchi? For this reason it’s not hard to watch Tokyo Story and think it’s status here is a bit unjustified. The second time I saw the film I watched it with a younger friend of mine who proceeded to fall asleep to it which led me to believe it isn’t exactly the best foreign film to show someone not entirely familiar. So I was faced with a double conundrum. Surely this film is great, if not how the hell did it get on this list? On the flip side if a film takes so much work, and requires you to see more films and return to it several times to fully sink in then why should it be included? A great film should stand alone.

True the best films reveal more each time you view them but I also believe that a great film should be great from the get go. So here’s my essential problem with Ozu’s film. Yes it is a masterpiece and one of the greatest films ever made, but does it’s inclusion here have the mark of film snobbery? It’s not like just anyone voted for this list, thankfully there is no readers poll for this list otherwise The Shawshank Redemption would probably top the list, uggghh. The critics who voted here are well aware of Ozu, you can make the argument that there aren’t enough Asian critics voting on this list which means it’s yet again a rather Westernized view of Japanese cinema, but the people voted do know a whole hell of a lot about movies.

Does that mean that films like Tokyo Story should be left off because they require a little extra knowledge, maybe, maybe not. One can afford to be extremely critical when it comes to this list because after all these are the ten greatest films of all time. Would I be happier if say Seven Samurai or Ugetsu took the place of Ozu’s film, maybe, maybe not. I’ll avoid standing on the fence any longer and say a few conclusive things about the film. It’s a fantastic film, it really, really is. I have perhaps an unfair advantage (something that I complained certain critics might have) because over the last 10 days or so I’ve watched 5 other Ozu films then this. So I not only got to experience more of the director’s work, getting a firmer grasp on his style and refining his principle themes and narrative techniques, but I also have a greater understanding of Tokyo Story’s place amongst his filmography.

Now the problems with the film on this list. For starters the film itself is pretty much a remake of Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow. The fact that this film has only very recently been getting it’s due is one of the first examples I can think of where reverse cultural bias is employed. On an unrelated note this is also one of Ozu’s longest films and well I’m not entirely sure it needs to be. The director made very similar films for the majority of his career, or at least towards the end of his career so this film might not seem to stand out as much. Perhaps it is just standing in for other extremely deserving films like Late Spring or Early Summer.

To put it plainly I don’t think this is a top ten film. That doesn’t mean I object to it being on this list, despite what I might have said. There is an incredible emotional honesty about this film. It’s hard to make a film of this kind. Essentially it’s about an elderly couple who find that their kids are not terribly successful and don’t seem to have any time for them. Not exactly the story we’re all dying to see. The uniqueness of McCarey’s film is that an elderly couple were the stars of a film, and not in some cutesy Ron Howard sort of way. I can’t imagine anyone not having an emotional reaction to this film. Perhaps as the year’s progress and I watch it again the film could one day sneak into my personal top ten whose to say?

4. The Godfather/The Godfather Part 2 (1972/1974)

You might think I’m an asshole to have a problem with this film’s placement on the list. After all The Godfather is pretty damn close to my favorite film ever made and it makes perfect sense grouping the two together right? Well here’s what I have issue with. For the first time, Sight and Sound decided to count any votes for these films together. They have never previously grouped films together as one, notably the Apu trilogy which would have made sense. For this pretty much any vote for The Godfather or The Godfather Part 2 were considered a vote for both films, which served to somewhat double the votes for this film. Now I agree with this film’s placement and at #4 it’s pretty close to where I would rank ‘em I just feel that somehow these films were given an unfair advantage. Maybe once the 2012 list comes around everyone will be aware of this fact and it will be corrected accordingly.

Although in previous lists fairly recent films were selected, it seems downright bizarre to note that these are the most contemporary films on the list at thirty years old during the time of the poll. Has the quality of cinema plummeted so greatly that nothing in the last three decades deserves to be included in this ranking? Or is just the old classics being reaffirmed over and over again that they are the works that truly matter? Now I can’t off the top of my head say which films from the past thirty years would deserve inclusion. I can’t expect a group of elitist film critics to include Star Wars, and far too many people would object to say Pulp Fiction, but I’ll stop trying to suggest suitable replacements. After all it isn’t hard to think of films that deserve to be on the list, the trouble is when it comes to a top ten for every film included something has to come off, and although I can think of a few films I’d like removed from this list, I’m not sure anyone would completely agree with me.

Well face it this is as up to date as the list gets, and it may serve as the greatest illustration as to how stodgy and mildew filled this list is. You’re not going to hear me say anything ignorant about old films, but that doesn’t mean someone else won’t. I’d like to think that a certain period of time needs to elapse before it can stand on this list, but how much time, a decade? Surely no one is asking for three decades to go by. Coppola’s film(s) however is one of the most indisputable masterpieces of his generation or any for that matter. One of those cosmic occurrences where Hollywood blockbuster and art film could peacefully co-exist. The sequel is in even more esteemed company by being the most critically acclaimed follow up film ever made, which is evident by it’s inclusion on this list. The fact that often sequels are churned out with little to no regard for the original and are terrible as a rule rather than an exception many people could argue that Part 2 actually surpassed the first in terms of quality, it certainly was in terms of cope and ambition, but Coppola has never been short on ambition.

The Godfather is an example of a film that was great the first time I watched it but got considerably better with subsequent viewings. For starters it is nearly impossible to keep everything straight the first time you watch it. There are simply too many names, too many characters, too many families etc. A second viewing will clear some of this up, but it’s probably more like a third, fourth, or fifth viewing to really get things straight. Judging by how much people like the film I’d say that it isn’t all on the strength of seeing it half a dozen times. The particular details might be a little confusing first time around but it isn’t difficult to identify with the Corleone family and Marlon Brando’s performance is rightfully the stuff of legend.

I will point out that the last time I watched the film I wavered a little in my esteem for it. Not to say I suddenly dislike the film, that would be impossible, but sometimes certain films just don’t hit you the same way they once did. I should point out that the screen I watched it on wasn’t adjusted quite right so Gordon Willis’ typically dark photography left the film almost completely black throughout. There are touches in the film that seem astutely “Hollywood”, and what was once my favorite sequence in the film, Sonny’s legendary beat down of Carlo seemed a bit ridiculous now. I mean how many movies do we see fights where no one has even the slightest instinct to block anything? It’s a small thing sure, but well with a film that has such attention to detail including a discussion about how thinly to slice garlic for a pasta sauce this seems like a bit of an oversight. I suppose as long as the third is left out of the discussion no one should object too greatly to it’s place here.

3. Rules of the Game (1939)

For starters let me say I’m not one of those pretentious people whose going to pronounce this film by it’s French title, if you are then pat yourself on the back and allow me to use the title of it’s American DVD release. Ok well we’re in esteemed company here, if you haven’t noticed by now, this is the other film to make every one of these lists since time began, or since 1952. For that reason it might seem interesting that after all these decades it seems to be doing even better than it has in the past. Although Rules never topped the list, it did make it all the way to number 2 back in 1962. Unlike Potemkin which is hanging on towards the back end, Rules appears destined to make yet another poll when things are unveiled this year.

So you might wonder just what accounts for this films durability? Although somewhat maligned when it was released and buried a bit amidst the whole WWII thing, the film was considered a masterpiece pretty early on. Like many other great films this has also survived in bits and pieces for a long period of time. What is largely considered the standard bearer for the film was assembled in the early 60s and although restored a few times this is pretty much the same version we see today. This film is actually where I first heard of the Sight and Sound poll. After finding it on another film list I ordered the VHS (yes it was awhile ago) and on the box it mentioned it being named the second best film by Sight and Sound in 1962. Well when something like that is on a video box the expectations are about to go through the roof.

Well that fateful VHS was one of those deplorable transfers where everything seemed whitewashed and the subtitles were faint and impossible to read on white background. So much of the film was lost on me and although I found some of it funny, I was largely left scratching my head wondering what the hell the big deal was? A second viewing of I believe the same tape left me with a similar feeling and by this point I had seen Renoir’s Grand Illusion, that film was instantly a masterpiece so I was wondering just why all the fuss over what appeared to me the inferior feature.

Fast forward to a new Criterion DVD which I had pre-ordered and watched either the day it arrived or thereafter. While listening to the running commentary track and seeing the film in a much, much, much improved transfer with subtitles that I could actually read the film suddenly seemed to hit me just right. Ok I conceded it’s a masterpiece, a five star film I give in, third times the charm, but well that doesn’t make things much easier. Over the coming months/years I watched every Jean Renoir film I could find which wound up being quite a lot mind you and I came to the conclusion that Rules might be the third or fourth best film of his, certainly not third greatest of all time status.

Now about two months ago I decided to watch it yet again, with a fresh perspective. A few years had passed and I was extremely well acquainted with all of Renoir’s work so I feel my insight would be a little more attuned. The problem that I have to say about this, and a few other films on this list is that when you watch the film demanding it to be a masterpiece you’re at a disadvantage. The films on this list that I’d put in my own top ten didn’t have such a mark. Sure I watched them thinking they would be good, or hoping they’d be good, but I didn’t watch them demanding that they impress me or justify their lofty status, they simply amazed me on their own merits. I didn’t have to watch Singin’ in the Rain, 2001, 8 ½, Citizen Kane, or The Godfather 3-4 times for them to finally seem good even though multiple viewings certainly improved them. So my question is why do I give such an extra effort to films like Rules, Vertigo, Tokyo Story, or Potemkin? Well perhaps it’s because when these many people think something’s great I tend to think I’m in the wrong if I don’t see it.

Ok so vague ideas about this not being my favorite Renoir film shouldn’t really matter. As I mentioned earlier plenty of people don’t think 8 ½ is Fellini’s best or 2001 Kubrick’s best, hell plenty of people prefer The Conversation or Apocalypse Now to the Godfather, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Why it isn’t my favorite Renoir film might help to shed some light on my gripe with it’s acceptance as one of the all time super greats. For starters I don’t speak French. I know that sounds incredibly stupid by my part. After all I watch tons and tons and tons of foreign films. One and a half years of French in junior high can let me catch the vague gist of whatever someone is saying but certainly not enough to catch everything. Rules of the Game has a TON of dialogue, I mean it never stops, especially early on. During some of those daylight scenes, after the wreck, when Octave is pleading to get his friend invited for the weekend, etc the original VHS obscured most of these scenes. Daylight made the subtitles hard, and although Criterion has largely gotten rid of this problem it doesn’t help that there is still a ton of reading. So much so that I find myself reading the bottom of the screen for the entire film and missing most of what’s happening in the other 2/3 of the frame. As the film becomes a bit more focused on action later on I feel that things pick up quite a bit.

So this is a problem, it’s what I imagine a foreign viewer might think of the Marx Brothers or a Howard Hawks film with it’s trademark overlapping dialogue. Cultural problems abide I’m still not about to watch the film dubbed, but since Renoir was known for his complicated staging in depth (pre-dating Welles’ Kane) I feel that it’s a great handicap that I’m missing so much of this film. Now I never really noticed this problem with other Renoir films, so maybe Rules is heavy on dialogue or maybe there are other reasons why this film is somewhat lost on me.

This was made on the eve of the occupation, a social commentary on the idle rich whose way of life was soon to be extinct. I get it, but sometimes a film needs more than to be timely to be truly extraordinary. Sure films that are typically great successes reflect the mood and feel of their times, when no one wants to confront that mood and those feelings the film is often relegated to obscurity, think Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience. This could explain why so many people, particularly the rich were so outraged at this film in 1939, and what made it subsequently seem extra special, because who doesn’t hate rich people? In a lot of ways Renoir’s film directly recalls George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House which was set on the eve of WWI and features a similar cast of clueless rich people who all seem to be sleeping with each other. Now I’m not going to say that the film is just the beneficiary of excellent timing, but I am saying that perhaps this particular bit of good fortune may be over valued a tad.

I seem to be alone on this, in fact I can’t really say that there’s anything distinctly wrong with the film except that on an emotional level I don’t think it’s as good as everyone else seems to think. Maybe I’m alone here and the film is truly the third greatest movie ever made. After all it was the final culmination of a tremendous period not just for Renoir but all of French cinema, yet many people thought the same of Marcel Carne’s Daybreak, which has since been reduced in stature. I could be crazy or nitpicking, or maybe a few years or decades from now people might say “Rules of the Game was a tad bit overrated”. We’ll see if we live long enough.

2. Vertigo (1958)

And so we come here to the first runner-up. Making it’s highest entry and by many people’s accounts legitimately threatening to take over Kane some day as the greatest of them all. Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo has found it’s stock rise tremendously over the last two decades, thanks in no small part to a comprehensive restoration done in 1996. My question is when did this become Hithcock’s clear best film? In the seventies Robin Wood made the claim that it was his masterpiece and prefaced by saying that no one would agree with him. Was his argument that good? Considering the sheer number of great films Hitchcock made it’s strange to think that any one would stand out on a poll like this, and if any I’d have thought it was Psycho which I’ve always assumed everyone thought was his best.

Alright some of you know this and some of you don’t, but I think this is easily the most overrated film of all time. Not necessarily because it isn’t great, but the second greatest film of all time, you gotta be fucking kidding me. That may sound harsh but there is something strange in the water and I’m convinced the emperor is naked even if everyone else seems to adore his new clothes. I’ve seen the film 4 times and even went about dissecting it for 16 pages which is a review I’ve since lost much to my dismay. In that dissection which was near a dissertation I broke down damn near every aspect of the film. Some people thought I was looking too closely, if you examine any film with such scrutiny you’d find faults. Maybe I was watching the film looking for faults. Hell no one watches a film four times because they love to hate it, I’m stuck convincing myself over and over and over again that I missed something. I’ve even recruited some help and two of the times I watched were with other people, and well I’m NOT alone god damn it.

No Hitchcock film is perfect, I get it. In fact when it comes to endings this was arguably his weakest point. As if he has all the fun in the world setting things up and building up to a climax that was surely to disappoint. Perhaps he’s all foreplay and no finish. Psycho is my favorite Hitchcock film and I also revisited this recently, but good god that long winded psychological explanation with that unnecessarily smarmy psychiatrist is painful and insulting. We get it, Jesus does it have to spelled out so that there is no doubt in anyone’s mind. Perhaps he was retaliating for people who were confused as hell at the ending of Vertigo like I was the first four times I’ve seen it. Now you may wonder if I hate the ending of Vertigo why can’t I look past it the same way I was able to look past that part of Psycho to still enjoy it? Well because there’s more wrong with Vertigo than that awful, insulting, disappointing, and infuriating ending.

For starters the plot is ridiculous in nearly all its forms. It starts with a bang, quite literally as the police guns are so abnormally loud it sounds like a grenade going off, but I’m not going to nitpick THAT much. I love the opening, it shows everything we need to know. Scotty is trying to get his man, he slips, gets dizzy, and a police officer dies trying to save him. I love the fact that it’s kept ambiguous here because we never see the hand pull him up, or how he gets off that ledge. The opening credits, done again by Saul Bass are exceptional as well, but well things go awry shortly thereafter.

I mean the basic premise is idiotic, even Scotty says so. However when we first see Kim Novak dressed as Madeline we get the feeling that idiotic or not it’s not hard to see someone following her around. So yeah he stalks her for a bit, wants to bang her I get it. She jumps in the river he saves her, now they interact and she falls in love with him? Wait what, oh hell now this got silly, the man is 60 and James Stewart, but whatever. For reasons we don’t quite get, she runs off and then bam jumps off the top of the tower. Ok here’s where my logic hat comes on in full force. Really they just hung out on top of the bell tower until everything died down? The cops didn’t bother to investigate the fucking scene of the crime? No autopsy performed, they couldn’t do that fancy crap to determine she was killed before she jumped? Sure he had Vertigo, but they were so damn sure he wouldn’t bother to come up a few more steps? A gamble and one of if not the most benign murder plots ever.

I’ve had mixed feelings and theories about how this all ties together and ultimately I wonder why I bother. How ripe for emotional abuse is Judy that she’ll just let this same creepy dude back in her life and will let him remold her in the image of the dead woman? Ok so Judy’s got daddy issues hence why she likes WAY older men, and she also is a glutton for punishment hence why she’ll let him do whatever to her image. God I can imagine this film being laughed off the screen today not to mention deafening cries of sexism coming from all corners. She goes along with it because she “loves him?” Oh hell, whatever. No matter how much I justify what is a very thin and ultimately ridiculous plot I can’t ever accept the ending. A nun comes out of nowhere and says “I thought I heard voices” and then what she falls, she slips, she jumps, he pushes her? What the hell was that, all that build up, all that nonsense, over two hours of our lives wasted for her to just fall over like that? Christ might as well speed the credits up and play us out vaudeville style like the whole film just got yanked off screen by a giant cane. Is this production code nonsense where since she was technically guilty she couldn’t get away with murder? Well why the hell did Gavin get away with it then? Ok I give up, someone explain this nonsense to me, I’ve watched it four times and I’ve literally lost sleep seething with anger at it.

Ok maybe you’re one of those people who can forget it, and just say hey it was a good movie anyways. After all stylistically Hitchcock was in rare form. He clearly loved photographing San Francisco and even though her preferred the artifice of the studio at all costs he doest have an uncharacteristic amount of location photography here. The weird dream sequence is great, the opening is good, and I dig all the spiral symbolism that keeps popping up. Perhaps if the whole film were silent, or made in 1926 it would deserve it’s praise but there’s just too many things I can’t look away from. I’ll take ten Hitchcock films over this any day, even though I’ve probably seen this more than all of his films, so don’t bother telling me I haven’t given it a try. I even waited a few years until I was older thinking that maybe time would shed a light on this new perspective, that I could understand obsession, or rather how a beautiful woman could be so unbelievably stupid, but it still doesn’t help me digest the film. I felt I made a breakthrough last time and could explain away the majority of my problems with it, but another viewing revealed that yep this is the most overrated film of all time, and I’m tired of trying to like it. Maybe in another 5 years I’ll sit through it again and probably reach the same conclusion but who knows?

1. Citizen Kane (1941)

Ok had to take a minute to cool down after that last review. Few things get my blood boiling like Vertigo, perhaps you’ll say the truly great films make us think and illicit powerful reactions good or bad, but well this movie pissed me off almost the same way I Know Who Killed Me did, so take that under advisement.

We move on to greater pastures, Citizen Kane, after all the bible says “On the seventh day god did nothing so Orson Welles made Citizen Kane”, it’s in Genesis somewhere so check it out. As much as you might think I’m some petty hate monger whose just been shitting all over the classics after the last couple of reviews I’ll say one thing, calling Citizen Kane the greatest film of all time doesn’t do it justice. It’s like calling Lou Malnati’s the best pizza on earth, yes it’s technically true but Lou’s is so above all other pizza it doesn’t seem fair to compare the two. That is how I think of Kane, it is so far and away better than every other film ever made that it almost seems like it’s own separate and unique art form.

Sometimes when I watch a favorite comedy or a classic episode of The Simpsons I will point out to whoever is present a funny scene coming up, chuckling to myself before it even happens. I get a giddy feeling and my eyes light up because I know that what follows is greatness, hence one reason why I recommend not watching The Big Lebowski with me unless you’ve seen it a half dozen times on your own. Kane is like that in a lot of ways, not in terms of me laughing at jokes before they arise but getting excited and feeling like a kid at Christmas as each sequence begins and I marvel at just how unbelievably good it is.

I first saw Kane when I was 16. I loved it right away, I was one of the few people who didn’t know what Rosebud was and that may have helped. I watched it again and well over the next two years I came to the realization that yes this was the greatest film of all time. I was 18 at this point and I thought, big deal Orson Welles was only 25 when he made this, I’m only 18 who knows what I’ll accomplish by that point. Turns out absolutely nothing, now that I’m 28 I realize that perhaps not a big enough deal was made about Orson Welles age. When it comes to cinema the term genius is thrown around far too loosely as it is in society in general. However when it comes to Welles I’m not sure there was ever a anyone more deserving of the title. Perhaps it was his background in radio that made him such an expert on how best to use sound cinematically, perhaps it was his background in theater that gave him such innovative ideas on how to stage action and the particulars of set design and mise-en-scene, and maybe he just was lucky enough to hook up with Gregg Toland as a cinematographer. All the cosmic stars were aligned and well for whatever reason he was the perfect man for the task. Films before this looked nothing like it and well nothing after really has. Sure deep focus became the rage in Hollywood for a bit, yeah a few films started showing ceilings in their shots after this, sure a couple of stories played around with non-chronological narratives, but well none quite like Kane.

Welles was primarily an adapter. Kane is the only film of his not based on previously published material. For this reason I’m inclined to believe Pauline Kael’s theory that Herman Mankiewicz actually did the majority of the writing. Welles worked best when he had some source material. Mankiewicz loved to talk and many of his screenplays are ultra-heavy on dialogue. Perhaps the early scene after the newsreel is his, after all the man was a journalist for a time. However, so much of the movie is sparse on dialogue. In one of the films only real shot/reverse shot sequences Welles responds to a comment of Susan Alexander by just saying “Yes” and nodding rather than offer a long winded retort, yet the camera still lingers on him.

Hell as much as I felt I had to justify bashing the previous films it might seem like I have to justify this film’s place, after all it’s only fair right? Some people are just under the impression that this film is overrated because you hear from everyone it’s the greatest thing ever, you watch it don’t immediately agree and then grow to hate it. Perhaps it’s like being exposed to the Beatles when you’re 25 and trying to understand what the big deal was about. I liked it right away and I advise people who watch it to think of it as a really good movie, but don’t go into it expecting the greatest thing of all time, because even Kane might have a hard time living up to those expectations. After some reflection, some more films, and a revisit or two you may start to agree, or you might at least see why it’s status is so profound, so just allow yourself to enjoy the ride.

The film is brilliant and damn near perfect on every front. It’s score is so unique for it’s time period, Bernard Hermann coincidentally enough did the music for the second greatest film of all time according this poll. I even love that spontaneously loud bird squawking before the last 20 minutes of the film, which Welles admittedly said he inserted just to make sure the audience was still awake, or that they’d stay up for the remainder. This was the first Hollywood feature to put the credits entirely at the end of the film, which caused a lot of the unions to gripe at the time. Hell you probably know more of the innovations than I do. My point is everywhere you look in this film it’s brilliant. Take for example the scene where Kane is about to publish his first copy of the Enquirer; in the background there is a blazing gas light centered in the frame and in focus. It’s a detail that you might not pick up on but your eyes see it, even if it’s useless. After a minute or so of dialogue, Kane says “I want this paper to be as important to the people of New York as the gas in this light.” The visual clue is amazing and he proceeds to turn the light off as the sun is rising in the background. People speak naturally in this film for a change, they talk over each other, and interrupt what the other is saying, it never has that forced Hollywood style of banter.

Hell I’ll stop there, considering the critics who voted in 2002 got half the selections perfect it makes me happy to say that they certainly didn’t drop the ball when it came to the most important ranking of all. No matter how many times I see this film, and no matter how much another film might impress me in the interim within about 5 minutes I’m reminded that this truly is the greatest film of all time, and I don’t think it’ll ever be surpassed.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

...And the Aftermath

Considering the 84th Annual Academy Awards just ended 1 minute ago, and of course a dozen or so minutes over schedule, I have a rather fresh and not quite thought out approach on how to tackle the ceremony this year.

For starters as I indicated in my last blog, read it below if you haven't already, I didn't care too much about this year's crop. A host of who gives a crap won awards and a few of the winners that I didn't object to at least kept me from getting infuriated like many of the past ceremonies have.

So I said earlier that I could see The Artist winning damn near everything. OK Hugo won a couple awards earlier which made me wonder if an upset was in the works, but this sort of thing happens a lot. I was completely bewildered as to how The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo won anything, and judging by the acceptance speech for best film editing, apparently neither did the winners.

I figure since I started with the who cares awards earlier I'll do the same here.

So Brett McKenzie won an Oscar, who saw that one coming? Not me because I didn't even connect the dots regarding his nomination for best original song. Those unfamiliar with Flight of the Concords should do themselves a solid and check that show out. I didn't see Rio or the newest Muppet movie and find it incredibly pointless and slightly insulting that they bothered to nominate a whopping two songs in this category. Hey whatever at least he can always throw "Academy Award Winner" before his name on the new season, or any future project, just like Cuba Gooding Jr.

A Separation won best foreign film, justice done. Rango won best animated feature, who gives a shit? I didn't know anyone even liked the film, I think it was a case of people just voting for a picture they heard of, or maybe the 60+ year old Academy members asking their grandkids which of the nominees sucked the least. Bravo, I'm sure a Pixar film will take that award right back next year.

Justice was served one other time, anyone but me notice the deafening silence when Extremely Loud and Incredibly Terrible was announced for best picture? Even War Horse got a bigger round of applause. If only you could take back nominations.

"Hey look a black woman won an Oscar, oh wait it's supporting, that's ok, we're still supposed to give her a standing ovation right even if we never heard of her?" Please don't misinterpret that but it feels like the Academy is begging for acceptance in the black community lately by giving out awards as if it were affirmative action. Not saying the award wasn't justified, but it probably would have been a bigger gesture if it was Viola Davis who won.

Which brings me to Meryl Streep, good for you after losing 15 times or whatever you finally win. Now Academy members can you please stop nominating her for every damn thing she does? I mean Julie and Julia? The Devil Wears Prada? come on why don't you just film her next trip to the dentist and give her a nomination? She picked a good year to get her 17th nomination because her competition was appallingly weak (sorry Ms Davis) so hey get it out of the way because the next dozen nominations might come against more deserving foes. She was funny and gracious as you would expect, so kudos to her she did her best at not rubbing it in or turning into a big blubbering mess.

However I've said this before and I thought they were done with it, stop with the 10 minute segment of individually kissing each nominee's ass. Seriously the damn show goes on for like four hours and people need to work in the morning, just get the damn thing over with, why should an actor and actress award take so much precedence over every other category? I get it best picture is the big award, the last one handed out, but come on no one needs to hear that crap.

Way to go Christopher Plummer, I don't object to the win, as I mentioned in the previous post, and at 82 I'd say he was due. I love Max Von Sydow but good god damn that film was so terrible, I think it ultimately cost him. Nick Nolte looked rather red, glad to see he's still alive, not sure he quite appreciated Billy Crystal's jokes, and don't think anyone appreciated his excruciating annual musical medley.

Also Woody Allen you proved once again why you're the man. You were up for best director and best original screenplay and you said to hell with it. You won an award and didn't bother to show up, I salute you for not wasting our time with another pointless speech, the man is clearly beyond that. Midnight in Paris happens to be the best script he's written in well over a decade, possibly two so glad to see it wasn't a token award.

Rose Byrne, eat a cheeseburger for Christ's sake you're gorgeous but you looked like you gave up eating food of any kind as a New Years Resolution, we all saw what happened to Lara Flynn Boyle, so please have a slice of pizza and make sure there aren't vegetables on it.

I should also point out that Terrence Mallick who directed the best film of the decade decided to sit this one out as well. I was surprised and pleased that he was nominated for Tree of Life, but knowing full well he didn't have a chance in hell of winning he figured it probably wasn't worth the trip. Michel (I still can't spell your last name without looking it up) you did a damn fine job with The Artist and although Tree of Life is that once a generation groundbreaking earth shattering super colossal masterpiece that will be debated and contested for the end of time, I won't begrudge you your Oscar. The Artist was great, so won't slight the film for it's best score, actor, director, or picture Oscars. The Academy has a long list of blunders, including a miscalculation last year with The King's Speech, but I'll score this as one more on the side of good.

*btw I realize that this was a Weinstein film, the same people that made The King's Speech and all those other undeserving best picture winners like The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, and Chicago. That said I they also helped produce Pulp Fiction so they aren't always bad.

**She was damn good in Precious but can we please stop saying she's beautiful? Sorry, I'm not blind

***James Earl Jones is the man and at least half of Morgan Freeman's work should be his.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

. . . And the Oscar goes to who cares?

Ok I'll apologize for not writing more, but I've been working on a prototypical long winded blog that's sure to infuriate some. However being bed ridden with the stomach flu the last couple of days has made everything painful (even sitting in a chair). Now that I'm relatively better I felt I better make my annual before-Oscar post.

From early on I made cinema my bitch in 2011. By the end of the year I had seen more films than in any other year, and as the Oscars approach I'm in outstanding shape, at least in terms of the major categories. So you'd figure I'd have a great deal to say about this year's ceremony. After all I've seen so many films I ought to have a horse in every race, you'd think that wouldn't you? Truth is maybe it's just been a weak year, maybe the nominees are extra bad this year, or maybe I just don't care but nearly across the board I find myself not giving a damn what wins anything. So before I go too much further I will say that yes I will watch the ceremony as I do every year, Billy Crystal is known for doing a decent job, and hell anyone would be better than James Franco and Anne Hathaway last year.

So let's start at the middle of the road shall we. For the first time since I believe they started the category I have seen none of the best animated feature nominees. Now perhaps this is because there was no significant Pixar release (Cars 2 doesn't count), and Miyazaki appears to be sticking to that whole retirement thing for now. Looking at the nominees I can't help but be underwhelmed, Rango?, Kung-Fu Panda 2?, Puss in Boots? Ok so there are two foreign sounding nominees that may prove to be decent but with a day until the big ceremony I'd rather spend the next several hours watching Louis Feuillade's Fantomas, bonus points if you know what I'm talking about. So yes call me willfully ignorant, maybe I'll check out the features here later, but right now I'm unconcerned.

No category ever upsets me more on a yearly basis than the best foreign language film award. Complicated and unnecessary Academy bi-laws perpetually exclude the best foreign film every year, not to mention the complicated nature of co-productions give many countries a disadvantage as to how they are to be submitted. I've petitioned for years for the process to be completely done away with and allow for voters to simply vote for their 5 favorite foreign language films, even if say all five are from the same country. After all the best is the best and just because say Spain doesn't like the new Almodovar film doesn't mean it should be nominated, but well who knows if and when this will ever change. As a result unless you have access to a ton of film festivals most people are lucky to see 2 or 3 films nominated in this category before the awards are handed out. Often times after the Oscar's a film or two might get some distribution, especially if it wins, but looking at past year's best foreign language film nominees it is frequently a tale of one or two films you've heard of and three films that never saw the light of day, or weren't worth remembering in the first place. True to form I've seen two from this year, one was the Belgium submission Bullhead which I found appalling and terrible (although some people think its a masterpiece for some strange reason) and the other is A Separation which most of you should have heard about by now. This is one of the best Iranian films I've seen in awhile, and the fact that it has appeared on numerous top ten lists of the year makes me feel like for once a worthy film will probably win the award. I can't vouch for the other three nominees, but I certainly wouldn't object to Farhadi's film winning (although Uncle Boonmee was my personal favorite foreign film last year, but good luck seeing that get a nomination).

Documentaries have gotten better in recent years. After all even Errol Morris won one in the past decade. Considering a number of well regarded documentaries came out this year it seems odd that I've only heard of two of these films and only saw one of them, Wim Wenders Pina. The Wenders film is slightly overrated, I didn't dislike it by any means but I can't necessarily say it deserves an Oscar, especially considering Wenders has made several noteworthy documentaries throughout his career. I'm particularly surprised Steven James The Interrupters wasn't nominated, but I believe that may have been made for the BBC and perhaps there's a strange rule regarding that, or maybe they just don't like James. I'm not planning on losing sleep over it, so whatever wins will make no difference to me.

Now it's on to another category that I usually don't care about, best music (original score). It's not that I usually concern myself with this category, but there's something odd about this year's nominees, John Williams is nominated twice. I mean I get it the man did the music for many of our most beloved blockbusters, but really War Horse, The Adventures of Tintin? I mean how much can one man's reputation be exploited to get undeserved nominations. He is today's musical equivalent of Edith Head, if you don't know who she is, look up how many Oscar nominations she got in her time. Ludovic Bource will probably win for the Artist considering so much of that film depends on the music, and well I got a sneaking suspicion that film will win a whole lot of awards.

Not that I'm dedicated to film sound as others are, but I do think that Super 8 clearly deserved a nomination in this category. Even watching it on my computer I was absolutely blown away by the sonic detail in the film and considering Transformers and War Horse got a nomination they could have at least honored a decent film in this category. Again it's not my forte but using my ears as judge, I happen to think Super 8 at least deserved a nod. I'm still not entirely sure what the difference in the two sound categories are, but that's another blog.

Oh and two nominees for best song? Really that's all you got Academy? In an entire year of film only two songs nominated? Oh and I don't care about either one, so it would be nice if they just did away with this entire category for a year or ten.

Now for the acting, supporting please:

Ok I didn't see Warrior, I heard it was good, but damn it the film looked so much like the Fighter I just took a pass, the Academy used to love nominating Nick Nolte, looks like they missed him, and who doesn't love a comeback? If he wins I wouldn't be too upset because after all he has one of the greatest mugshots in movie history. The main reason I'd root for him is because I don't want anyone else to win. Jonah Hill is garbage and perhaps he impressed people by not playing a smart assed douche in a movie for once, but well I don't get how it's Oscar worthy. Max Von Sydow is another one coasting on reputation in what was by far the worst film I saw from 2011 so on principle I don't want that film to win an award. Kenneith Branagh playing Laurence Olivier, never saw that one coming. Ok Branagh is good but the man has spent half his career being Olivier in some capacity so I can't say this is better or worse, plus I was not a fan of the film itself, more on that later. Christopher Plummer was damn good in The Beginners which was a bit of a mess as a film but certainly had enough redeemable qualities and Plummer was arguably the best part of it. If the Academy is hell bent on giving out a senior citizen trophy in this category my vote is for Plummer.

Best supporting actress, oh boy. Ok Albert Nobbs is not a good film. Sure people are in complete agreement with me, but most would add a little asterisk and say that Glenn Close and Janet McTeer deliver fine performances. Still McTeer didn't really impress me much and the film is one of those pictures that's too bland to really deserve an award. Speaking of which, fuck The Help, there I said it that film was awful so I'll just go straight out and say I hope neither nominee wins in this department. Bridesmaids was probably the funniest film of the year and Melissa McCarthy was one of the reasons for this. As far as acting her performance was funny and fearless but I definitely felt that Rose Byrne had a far more challenging and certainly less likeable role, but who doesn't love the eccentric? Berenice Bejo again has everything going for her, her role was substantial, she was great, and well The Artist might win a whole lot of awards, so she's my pick.

Now in the best actor race I will voice my particular displeasure. Michael Fassbender should win this damn award, but alas he isn't even nominated. Not to detract from his excellent work in X-Men: First Class or A Dangerous Method but his performance in Shame was one of the best I've seen in a long while. Considering this was his breakthrough year it would have made sense that he would perhaps get a nomination, after all Demian Bichir was nominated for A Better Life, yeah never heard of the film before either. I've since watched the film and although I think he was quite good in the role, it seems like one of those obligatory nominations that is to show that the Academy doesn't just nominated A-list movie stars, even though he has no chance in hell of winning. It seems inexplicable that this is the first nomination for Gary Oldman who has done quality work for 25 years or so. I'm not as keen on Tinker Tailor as everyone else so I'm happy for Oldman but not necessarily rooting for this film. George Clooney has never been better than in The Descendants and the only thing I think standing in his way is the fact that he's already won an Oscar. Brad Pitt might win just because he's Hollywood royalty but as much as I liked Moneyball I'm not sure it's strength was in it's performances. Jean Dujardin could win for the same reason I've mentioned elsewhere. Doesn't hurt his cause that this film is the best one nominated.

Despite what I may have said about the best animated feature category there is no category I care less about than best actress. Now don't think this is some sexist remark, but take it as such none of the nominees I care about. For starters I already mentioned how much I detested The Help, so yeah Viola Davis might be great but I don't really care. Meryl Streep has been nominated a hundred and fifty times and there is strong evidence that she will win this time for her first Oscar since 1982. The reason she would win is because the other nominees are incredibly weak. Last year it was a foregone conclusion that Natalie Portman would win, and she did, this year it's a see of mediocrity mixed with forgettable and occasionally regrettable nominees. Noomi Rapace was memorable and incredible in the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy yet she didn't get an Oscar nomination so sorry if I don't think Rooney Mara should have been nominated for a film that shouldn't have been made. Had the original and better performance been given a nod this wouldn't have surprised me too much but it seems classic cultural bias. Michelle Williams has earned a reputation as perhaps the greatest actress to ever star on the WB but her Marilyn Monroe is one of the least memorable screen adaptations I've seen. I preferred Theresa Russell in Insignificance, but that's hardly the point. Considering how lame the film itself was and how she seems like a supporting player in the film I'm curious that she got a nomination. If she didn't win for a much better turn in Blue Valentine, I don't see her getting the gold for this. Oh yeah and Glenn Close, whatever.

Then there's the best picture category. I went on at length when the nominees were announced, see my blog Stephen Daldry Must Be Stopped. I would love to see Tree of Life win, but since it probably (definitely) won't I wouldn't object to The Artist getting everything.

So there you have it, my picks or in some cases my thoughts on why I don't give a damn about this year's ceremony. We'll see if I'm right, and if I'm wrong well then I don't really care.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Film Journal 2012 - January

Well we are 1/12 of the way through with 2012. As I promised earlier I'd be posting month by month listings of all the films I've watched. Now as mentioned earlier I was unemployed this past month. Add this to the fact that baseball season is still a few months away and you have a whole lot of free time for movies. Since I've been counting short films as well, that has bumped up the number a bit.

Now in previous blog entries I've already mentioned the worst damn film I've seen this month/year, just look one previous blog entry down to see. However I haven't really got into what the best of the bunch is. Since I posted my top ten list at the end of last year, I haven't really mentioned what great films I've been watching this year so far. Well I've taken the liberty of rating every film on a scale of 1-10, 10 obviously being the highest. Typically I rate films on a 5 star scale and well I thought this would be easier. To make it even easier still I've put the best films in bold. Now that doesn't mean that a few of the 9/10 films aren't worth checking out.

As you can see a lot of the 10/10 films will seem fairly well known to you. This is because I've revisited quite a few films this year. In fact the first film I've watched this year was a revisited classic on Blu-Ray. So don't assume "Oh my god you're just now watching that?" when it's probably more like my 3rd, 4th, or 5th time seeing it, in some cases far more than that.

Two films I've neglected to rate for different reasons. Star Spangled to Death I watched only the first 3 out of 6 parts. Since the last half of part three had no sound and since the entire picture is still incomplete it doesn't seem entirely fair to assign a rating to it. As soon as I can find the other half of this film I'll get right on watching the rest of it, but well it's not too easy to find. The other film was a making of documentary on Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water which although fine doesn't exactly merit the same type of criticism that even a documentary like Go Further or The Same River Twice would.

You may also take a quick count as to how many damn films I've watched from Jonathan Rosenbaum's top 1000. This list is a pain in my ass and it will continue to be until I conquer it or give up in frustration (temporarily of course). I've found a few great films from this bunch (Blonde Crazy, Matinee, Deep Cover, Unknown Chaplin), and a few films that made me think the man is a bit insane. I'll have you know the first four films I've watched in February are also from this list, so stay tuned for more of that jazz.

Mixing with this, notice January 24th the same day as the Academy Award nominees were announced, are a whole lot of nominated films from this year's Academy hopefuls. As of this blog I still need to see two of the best actress nominees; Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady and Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn. To show things coming full circle it's interesting that I watched another film with an actress playing "Marilyn", Nicholas Roeg's interesting if not flawed Insignificance featuring what could have been an Oscar nominated performance from Theresa Russell, but Alternate Oscars is another blog and another book altogether.

Each film is listed by date viewed and next to the film is the year it was released and my rating. I haven't listed directors of the films, so just look up the film and the year if that'll make life easier for you. At the bottom are my little awards for the best and worst of the month.

Although I'll admit I'm obsessive as hell and might need treatment, I'm far from a film snob. You'll see some films bordering on downright trash amongst that bunch, including not one but two Jesus Franco films, gotta shake it up every now and then.

The General (1927) 10/10

December 7th (1943) 6/10
Van Gogh (1948) 6/10
Comfort and Joy (1984) 7/10
Sunrise (1927) 10/10

Fixed Bayonets (1951) 7/10
Background to Danger (1943) 5/10
Brighton Rock (1947) 8/10
L’Ombere Familier/The Familiar Shadow (1958) 4/10
All the World’s Memory (1956) 8/10

Pastoral - To Die in the Country (1974) 6/10
That Lady in Ermine (1948) 5/10
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) 10/10

The Public Enemy (1931) 10/10

A Dangerous Method (2011) 10/10
Kanchanjanga (1962) 6/10
Dancing Girl (1951) 8/10
The Styrene Song (1958) 5/10

Weekend (2011) 8/10
Star Spangled to Death (1957-2004) n/a

Annie Hall (1977) 10/10
Edvard Munch (1974) 9/10
Evening Land (1977) 9/10

Uwasa no onno/A Woman of Rumor/The Crucified Lady (1954) 8/10
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) 7/10
War Horse (2011) 3/10
Dishonored (1931) 7/10
Blonde Crazy (1931) 10/10
Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (1998) 6/10

The Apple (1998) 7/10
Whispering Pages (1994) 6/10
The Birth of Love (1993) 9/10
Barres (1984) 6/10
Breathless (1959) 10/10

I’ll Do Anything (1994) 4/10
Oriental Elegy (1996) 9/10
Espoir (1945) 8/10
Coeur De Fidele (1923) 7/10
Child of the Big City (1914) 5/10
I Love Melvin (1953) 9/10

Love and Death on Long Island (1997) 8/10
Leave ‘em Laughing (1928) 6/10
Two Tars (1928) 8/10

I Stand Alone (1999) 5/10

The Tracker (2002) 8/10
Matinee (1992) 10/10

Carnage (2011) 8/10
Deep Cover (1992)
6ixtynin9 (1999) 5/10
Deep Cover (1992) 10/10
Hangin’ With the Homeboys (1991) 8/10
The Help (2011) 2/10
Lovers of the Arctic Circle (1998) 9/10
Safe Journey (1993) 4/10
The Same River Twice (2003) 9/10

Rashomon (1950) 10/10
Wise Blood (1979) 8/10
Insignificance (1985) 7/10
Down with Love (2003) 9/10

George Washington (2000) 5/10
Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control (1997) 7/10
The Second Civil War (1997) 8/10
Go Further (2003) 9/10
Robocop (1987) 10/10
Terminator (1984) 10/10
Nuit et Jour (1991) 8/10

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) 5/10
Deserter (1933) 8/10
Grapes of Wrath (1940) 10/10

The Son of Gascogne (1995) 4/10

Party Girl (1958) 8/10
The Man Who Envied Women (1985) 5/10
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001) 8/10
The Harmony Game: The Making of Bridge Over Troubled Water (2011) n/a

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) 5/10
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011) 0/10
These are the Days of Our Lives (2011) 9/10

Zulu (1964) 8/10
Lord Love a Duck (1966) 6/10
Land of the Pharaohs (1955) 5/10

The Unknown Chaplin (1983) 10/10
A Better Life (2011) 8/10
Apocalypse Now (1979) 10/10
99 Women (1969) 4/10
The Marquis de Sade and Justine (1969) 4/10

Bridesmaids (2011) 8/10

White Hunter, Black Heart (1990) 9/10
Eraserhead (1977) 10/10

Take Shelter (2011) 6/10
Rundskop (2011) 3/10
Pina (2011) 6/10
Beginners (2010) 8/10

Reconstruction (1970) 5/10
The Man I Love (1946) 5/10

Best Film of the Month - Apocalypse Now
Worst Film of the Month - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Best New Discovery of the Month - Blonde Crazy

See you in February folks