Movie Diary 1/2/2014

The 2013 Critics Wrap, held at the Frye Art Museum, is about to debut on the Seattle Channel. This might’ve been the best Critics Wrap we’ve had, so do please give it a look. Thanks to the Frye, to Shannon Gee and everybody at Seattle Channel, and to panelists Kathleen Murphy, Jim Emerson, and Andrew Wright for a great evening.

The local broadcast debuts tonight (Thursday Jan. 2) at 8:30 p.m., and repeats a buncha times for the next 10 days. Here’s the schedule. Seattle Channel is frequently found on channel 21 hereabouts, but you never know about these things.

Or you can just watch it the old-fashioned way, online. Go here and do that.



Her Wolf Secret (Weekly Links)

Joaquin Phoenix, enjoying a day at the beach with Her.

Joaquin Phoenix, enjoying a day at the beach with Her.

Links to reviews I wrote this week for the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

The Wolf of Wall Street. “All this sound and fury falls short.”

Her. “This is a movie of breathtaking design and conventional ideas.”

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. “You can feel the movie straining to be something special.”

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. “The self-imposed tip-toeing required in the Great Man school of moviemaking.”

Grudge Match. “Doesn’t offend, although it rarely comes to life, either.”

Oh, and it’s Ten Best time, isn’t it? Here’s that article, with best and worst included.

2011 Ten Best Movies

Oldman's Smiley: TTSS

And we wrap up 2011 with another list, this one for the Herald. Read the story here.

The actual lists of best (and worst!) are arranged as a slideshow, so you have to do a lot of clicking. I know – ugh. Sorry! I will shortly post the list here in simple-to-read order.

In the interests of un-asked-for completism, and to gather them all in one post for my Year-by-Year Best Movies category tab, here are other Ten Best tangents:

Video of the Critics Wrap at the Frye Art Museum (Kathleen Murphy, Jim Emerson, Andrew Wright and meself talking about the movies of 2011).

A KUOW “Weekday” session with Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy, and yours truly, on the best of ’11. Hosted by Steve Scher.

My ballot for Indiewire’s poll, and their overall results.

No new reviews for the Herald this week, and no new KUOW session either. In other words, a typical last-week-of-December pause in the onslaught.

At What a Feeling!, catch up on Eighties-ness with vintage reviews of Ken (King Frat) Wiederhorn’s Meatballs Part II, and John G. Avildsen’s Happy New Year. The latter allows a tip of the hat to the late Peter Falk, and some sort of sideways chance to ring in the new year. Thanks for reading The Crop Duster, and I’ll see you in 2012.

Best of 2010 (Weekly Links)

Tahar Rahim, A Prophet

As always, a slow week for new openings; but I wrote these for the Herald:

Best movies of 2010. Which also includes the worst.

Made in Dagenham. “Artificially inflated by pop songs and cutesy mannerisms.”

And more best of 2010: On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talk with Steve Scher about the list. Listen to the archived version here; the movie bit kicks in at the 14:00 point.

You can watch the abridged version of the Critics Wrap 2010, in which an esteemed panel sorts the movies of the year. It’s broadcast today on the Seattle Channel (channel 21 in Seattle) at 1 p.m. or 5 p.m., or New Year’s Day at 1 p.m.; or just watch the thing online.

Indiewire did their critics’ poll, with results here; my ballot, too.

Today’s movie at my other website, What a Feeling!: Drugstore Cowboy. Other postings this week at the ever-growing swamp of 1980s movie-ness include the Two Coreys in Dream a Little Dream and Charles Bronson in Messenger of Death.

1946 Ten Best Movies

James Stewart, on the possibility of shaking the dust of this crummy little town off my feet.

I began giving over my Sunday mornings to this project in the first week of 2009, and now we’ve run out the string: ten-best lists for every year going back to 1919, beyond which I will need to do much more movie-watching to assemble something remotely respectable. After taking next Sunday off (the Port Townsend Film Festival looms, although “looms” isn’t quite the right word), I will begin writing Sunday Crop Duster entries on a “movie of the week,” the definition of which has yet to be, ah, defined.

The #1 for 1946 is a well-known picture that was once not well-known. When I began seeing It’s a Wonderful Life on late-night TV it was actually something of a cult movie, not having been re-discovered yet, which made it seem all the more unusual and unexpected and privileged: a cautionary note about the American Dream, despite the happy ending. Frank Capra’s fable is a painstakingly thorough and well-constructed picture (that newel post!) but almost seems out of his control at times. It’s a complicated movie, all about dreams and disappointments and seeing the here and now, and it shifts itself in interesting ways the older you get.

For the best of the rest, Hitchcock and John Ford merely contribute a couple of their finest pictures, and the Powell-Pressburger A Matter of Life and Death stands with the Capra film as a fantasy that uses a supernatural device to deliver a philosophical look at existence. Notorious is one of the most perfectly-realized movies ever made, but this time the riches of Capra and P&P rule the year. The ten best movies of 1946:

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra)

2. A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger)

3. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock)

4. My Darling Clementine (John Ford)

5. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler)

6. The Stranger (Orson Welles)

7. The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks)

8. Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau)

9. Let There Be Light (John Huston)

10. The Murderers Are Among Us (Wolfgang Staude) and Paisa (Roberto Rossellini)

Let There Be Light is the war documentary, shot at a psychiatric hospital for returning WWII vets, that was banned for decades and is still difficult to see now. Shot to convey uplift about the success stories of soldiers getting treatment for psychological wounds, the film nevertheless gives an unflinching and unsettling look at the toll of combat (it is unforgettably narrated by Walter Huston: “Here are men who tremble…”). The Best Years of Our Lives also looks at returning veterans, and is one of those rare big Hollywood films that aims to capture its moment and succeeds.

The #10 slot are “rubble films,” shot in the remnants of real places: Staudte’s film is the fountainhead of East German cinema, Rossellini’s is a collection of war stories. (Apologies to Shoeshine, which I can’t really “place,” not having seen it since an adolescent viewing.) Just missing the cut is David Lean’s Great Expectations, an impeccable Dickens adaptation.

There are some noir films in the next rung of titles, including Robert Siodmak’s The Killers, George Marshall’s The Blue Dahlia, and Roy William Neill’s Black Angel. Not quite as keen on Charles Vidor’s Gilda as everybody else is, but it’s in there. And enjoyable works by a couple of continental sophisticates: Ernst Lubitsch’s Cluny Brown and Douglas Sirk’s A Scandal in Paris.

There must be a place for King Vidor’s (and Selznick’s) Duel in the Sun, as well as a much less heated western, Jacques Tourneur’s Canyon Passage. Mark Robson’s Bedlam holds up the Val Lewton quality horror run, and Kenji Mizoguchi’s Utamaro and His Five Women points the way to subsequent classics from this director. A pair of delicious British mysteries from the team of Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, Green for Danger and I See a Dark Stranger, indicate a rich period for Brit-film.

That’s that. Enough with the list-making for a while. I can hear the bells of St. Mark’s Cathedral from my window, so I suppose an angel just got his wings. Thanks for reading these things – now if I can figure out a way to make them browsable in chronological order….

1920 Ten Best Movies

The #1 this year was not difficult for me; The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is not a musty old film classic but a truly unnerving and gripping experience (especially when seen in a restored print, as has been possible in recent years). A great flowering of German Expressionism, but a very exotic, death-scented blossom, Caligari presents a world in which everything is distorted and intense, and where people are under the sway of hypnosis or madness. A handy description of going to the movies, which makes Caligari one of the great reminders that movies can be mirrors. A funhouse mirror? Maybe, maybe not so much.

The runner-up is one of D.W. Griffith’s big ones, a large canvas that allows Griffith to flex his considerable muscles in the arenas of melodrama and suspense. Some of my other faves are movies from directors who are not necessarily visionaries or great stylists, but who managed to make striking star vehicles (Lon Chaney, in The Penalty) or unusual stand-alone landmarks.

In the latter category is Within Our Gates, an early feature by Oscar Micheaux, the pioneering African-American director. Micheaux would later adopt cheapjack work habits to get his projects made, and the films suffered accordingly, but this one is a remarkable “outsider” movie that takes a scathing look at various aspects of race (there are a couple of Uncle Tom characters who receive just desserts) and has a rich aura of folk art about it.

There may well be ten other titles that belong on a list, but I haven’t seen them yet. 1920 is far back enough to challenge even an avid curiosity about film. So, if not the ten best movies of 1920, then at least here are ten of the best movies of 1920:

1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene)

2. Way Down East (D.W. Griffith)

3. One Week (Buster Keaton)

4. The Golem (Paul Wegener)

5. Within Our Gates (Oscar Micheaux)

6. The Penalty (Wallace Worsley)

7. Why Change Your Wife? (Cecil B. DeMille)

8. The Parson’s Widow (Carl-Th. Dreyer)

9. Anna Boleyn (Ernst Lubitsch)

10. Something New (Nell Shipman, Bert Van Tuyle)

The Shipman picture is a wacky advertisment for a car, but it has a dizzy pleasure to it. And Chaney goes all the way in The Penalty, a truly perverse exercise in sado-masochism. Perhaps an equally definitive actor’s picture is The Mark of Zorro (Fred Niblo), a Douglas Fairbanks vehicle. Lubitsch also did Sumurun, a lavish hothouse Arabian Nights thing in which Lubitsch himself plays an important role.

I have a 1919 list posted too, but that’s about as far back as I can go without making a more devoted survey of Teens cinema – maybe someday. So after beginning these lists at the start of 2009, I can call it a day after next week, the final installment in the “Year by Year Best Movies” haul (although I will officially add the ’09 and ’10 lists and who-knows-how-many-more later). And then I’ll have a different Crop Duster offering on Sundays, just to mix up the format.

2001 Ten Best Movies

Jeanne Balibar, Va Savoir

2001 was the only year I ever went to the Cannes Film Festival, and looking over the year’s most significant movies I can see what an influence the experience had on my list-making – including the top slot. Almost a decade later, Jacques Rivette’s Va Savoir does not seem to have established itself as a towering work in the director’s career, nor did it make a huge impact on Best of the Oughts surveys. But seeing it at Cannes (not at the press screening but at its regular public bow, with Rivette in attendance) it looked like a breathless, suspended, wise masterpiece, made with no strain showing whatsoever.

My 2001 accounting has many examples of the kind of international arthouse director who dominated the big film festivals at that exact moment, including some titles I saw first at Cannes. Ah, who could forget crowding into a small theater lobby (not one of the festival’s official showcases, but just a multiplex used for the many market screenings that happen during Cannes) and throwing shoulders and hips to hold your place in the grim jostle to make sure you got into a screening of…the new Jean-Luc Godard movie? Wow, this thing must have box-office smash written all over it, right? I liked Éloge de l’amour pretty well, as it turned out, and it held up again a year later, when it finally came to open in the U.S.

Godard takes a swipe at Steven Spielberg in that movie, but Spielberg got the best of him this year. I saw A.I. twice in the same week, and it remains a evocative experience, with the ghost of Stanley Kubrick’s original plan for the project still in evidence; the eerie performances by Haley Joel Osment and a phlegmatic teddy bear contribute to the effect. And David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive turned out to be a double-dipper for me as well: when I watched it at a regular press screening early in the year I thought it was not-quite-digestible Lynch; then seeing it again in an empty house on a dark night later in the year, it scared the bejeezus out of me. It’s an open system (in a way Lost Highway, for instance, is closed), a mystery that sends its tentacles out in a thousand directions. Yet somehow it is utterly lucid.

It was a year for complicated, elliptical, ambitious pictures, so let me explain a couple of exceptions to that rule. Lagaan and Ghosts of Mars both transport the viewer into something close to the original building blocks of film language, with glorious results. Lagaan is a near-four-hour Bollywood picture that might have been made by someone who had only recently absorbed the basic storytelling tenets of D.W. Griffith. It is about cricket, a sport that, as an American, I know absolutely nothing about. But watch this movie and you will be stomping your feet in fervor, because during its final hour nothing else in the world will matter to you except the defeat of the rotten British cricketeers by the plucky Indian upstarts. On some level – not an exclusive level, but an important one – movies were made to do this.

Ghosts of Mars is just a John Carpenter B-movie, but I admire it for exactly that – for the getting right of certain fundamentals, executed with grace under budgetary pressure. But what has Carpenter been doing since making it?

On with it. The ten or so best movies of 2001:

1. Va Savoir (Jacques Rivette)

2. A.I. (Steven Spielberg)

3. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch)

4. The Lady and the Duke (Eric Rohmer)

5. Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat)

6. Time Out (Laurent Cantet)

7. Lagaan (Ashutosh Gowariker)

8. Late Marriage (Dover Koshashivili)

9. Ghosts of Mars (John Carpenter)

10. Éloge de l’amour (Jean-Luc Godard), La cienaga (Lucretia Martel), What Time Is It There? (Ming-Liang Tsai)

Obviously the #10 spot stands for that raft of international arthouse titles, but one could also make the case for Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (Isabelle Huppert putting other actors of her generation on notice), Shohei Imamura’s Warm Water Under a Red Bridge, Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day, Nanni Moretti’s The Son’s Room, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse, and Guillermo Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone. Jacques Audiard’s Read My Lips was a beautiful piece that kicked off the excellent decade he had. Also in that category, it was a slightly off year for Hou Hsiao-hsien (Millennium Mambo) and Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Kandahar), though both movies have interest.

My list at the time had The Tailor of Panama, directed by John Boorman from the le Carré novel, which I still think is terrific even if it stumbles in its final reels. A couple of overlooked comedies I liked a lot were Jesse Peretz’s The Chateau (with hilarious turns by future Apatow players Paul Rudd and Romany Malco) and Brian Helgeland’s A Knight’s Tale, which works nicely on its own peculiar terms.

I never quite warmed up to Gosford Park or The Royal Tenenbaums, even though they contain many nice things, and someday I will watch The Man Who Wasn’t There again, a film that missed traction the first time around. There was a lot of love for Y Tu Mama Tambien at the time, another movie I don’t esteem as much as the general consensus.

Credit is due to Jill Sprecher’s Thirteen Conversations About One Thing and Rose Troche’s The Safety of Objects, a pair that rhyme in my memory, and good times were had by Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World, Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, and Nicole Holofcener’s Lovely & Amazing. Crazier outliers include Arliss Howard’s Big Bad Love and Billy Morrisette’s Scotland PA, both cockeyed literary efforts. And the year is not complete (although the year in question was probably 2004, when it was generally reviewed, but IMDb has it as a 2001 minting) without The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, Larry Blamire’s send-up of a certain kind of Fifties monster movie – the kind of thing that people tend to get completely wrong, but this movie gets completely right.


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