Movie Diary 12/31/2008

The Italian Job (Peter Collinson, 1969). Wow, this is really the English cult film par excellence? Idle curiosity and so-so memories of the remake made me seek it out. The ending is admittedly great, and I like Michael Caine in this era, but this is a dopey movie. Put the various elements together — lad humor, Italy locations, Noel Coward, Benny Hill, music by Quincy Jones — and the brain melts down.

Croupier (Mike Hodges, 1998). My wife, Mrs. Robert Horton, gets to choose DVDs to watch too. Happy New Year.

Best of 2008 Call-in Show

This morning on KUOW-FM, I talked with host Steve Scher (and many callers) about the best movies of 2008. It was a lively hour, with callers making good cases for Burn After Reading, Tell No One, and Happy-Go-Lucky, plus one guy who really likes Jason Statham. Listen here. Alas, we ran short of time just as I was counting down my own top ten, so the Seattle Channel’s broadcast of the “Critics Wrap” will have to fill in the gaps.

Movie Diary 12/29/2008

Railroaded! (Anthony Mann, 1947). Not as good as Mann’s T-Men or Raw Deal, but this is definitely a worthwhile noir (and demonstrates that Mann had a great eye for noir even without John Alton as cinematographer). The slightly weirdo cast includes John Ireland, a couple of refugees from Val Lewton pictures (Hugh Beaumont, Jane Randolph), and the peculiar Sheila Ryan, who was married in real life to Pat Buttram.

Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008). I missed it when it opened, and coming late to this charming fable in the wake of great accolades is perhaps a little unfair — it’s not the best movie of the  year, but it is a spirited piece of storytelling and an amazing technical blend of animation with a live-action way of seeing.

Movie Diary 12/28/2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, 2008). When I miss a press screening, it usually means the movie slips by completely. But I wanted to see this one for possible ten-best accountings, so a nearly-empty Sunday matinee was just the ticket. As rumored, it is the director’s best in a while; the slack moments of latterday Allen are gone, and the tone is winningly droll rather than comic. It seems lazily convenient to shrug Scarlett Johansson’s character offscreen in the final twenty minutes or so, but the cast is engaging and the outsider’s fresh view of a city — Woody as Henry James, peering into the lives of the Europeans and their American visitors — is a profitable vein for the director.

Movie Diary 12/27/2008


Agar-riffic: Tarantula

Catching up on a few days of movies watched. It’s a coincidence that Tarantula and Black Widow are in proximity.

Destiny (Fritz Lang, 1921). A decent print of this, from Image — the last time I saw it, on VHS years ago, you could pretty much not see anything through the fog of countless dupes. (“The Fog of Countless Dupes” — an old Moody Blues song?) The opening scenes are still one of cinema’s best approximations of old-school fairy tales.

Black Widow (Nunnally Johnson, 1954). Half-interesting CinemaScope color noir, with Ginger Rogers, Van Heflin, Gene Tierney and George Raft all starting to look puffy and slow.

I Don’t Want to be a Man (Ernst Lubitsch, 1918). Spritzy comedy about cross-dressing, with an exuberant cast led by Ossi Oswalda.

Different from the Others (Richard Oswald, 1919). Fragmentary (but reconstructed) early look at homosexuality in Germany after WWI, amazingly bold in its argument against anti-gay laws. Conrad Veidt looks even more cadaverous than in Caligari.

Tarantula (Jack Arnold, 1955). What kind of movie do you throw on when it’s Christmas night and you’re playing Scrabble?

Critics Wrap 2008 (More Links)

An edited, one-hour version of the 2008 “Critics Wrap” at the Frye Art Museum is now available to watch online: sit back and check it out here. On Dec. 5 I talked with Kathleen Murphy, Jim Emerson, and Andrew Wright about the best movies of the year (an earlier post describes the event: here), and the Seattle Channel’s Shannon Gee and Tom Speer were there to immortalize the night.  It will also repeat for a few days on the Seattle Channel (that’s channel 21 on most Seattle cable systems), beginning Dec. 26 at 10 p.m., Dec. 27 at 9 p.m., and Jan. 1 at 11 p.m.

One more new review from the Herald for today: Late Bloomer.

Torino, Valkyrie, Nixon & Me (Weekly Links)

Here are links to my Herald reviews of the Christmas crop. A typical year-end group: prestige pictures that require the seasonal shine, movies with downbeat endings (Hitler lives, the dog dies), multiplex fodder needing the overflow business (that would be a superhero movie starring…Gabriel Macht?), and a relaxed Clint Eastwood entertainment that turns out to be the best of the lot.

grantorinoGran Torino.


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.


The Reader.

The Spirit.

Marley & Me.


Indiewire poll addendum


Yesilcay & Ziolkowska: The Edge of Heaven

The Indiwire poll is out, and my ballot is a truly lame offering. My explanation has to do with snowfall on deadline day (Seattle is paralyzed by the lightest dusting, and this was more than that), the bus system, and an early screening of Che, all 24 hours of it, or whatever it is. In the event, I found myself in the back office of the Seven Gables theater, trying to log on to the Indiewire website and remember my list from memory as the movie was about to begin. This is why the ballot published at has only nine titles in its top ten, and only one performer out of a possible ten. My bad.

The link to the published ballot is here, but the full-length, uncounted version follows.

Ten best:

  1. The Edge of Heaven
  2. The Duchess of Langeais
  3. The Romance of Astrea and Celadon
  4. The Dark Knight
  5. Wendy and Lucy
  6. Married Life
  7. Priceless
  8. In Bruges
  9. Forever
  10. Let the Right One In

Best Lead Performance

  1. Pierce Brosnan, Married Life
  2. Brendan Gleeson, In Bruges
  3. Dore Mann, Frownland
  4. Melisso Leo, Frozen River
  5. Mick Jagger, Shine a Light

Best Supporting Performance

  1. Nugul Yesilcay, The Edge of Heaven
  2. Patrycia Ziolkowska, The Edge of Heaven
  3. Peter Macdissi, Towelhead
  4. Tea Leoni, Ghost Town
  5. James Franco, Pineapple Express

Director is Fatih Akin, Screenplay is Eric Rohmer, and Documentary is Forever, Heddy Honigmann’s beautiful study of Pere Lachaise cemetery and the people around it.

That’s the Indiewire ballot. Now I might tinker with the ordering and possibly see a couple of movies on DVD before doing a list for the Herald, so that’s not the final word from me just yet.

Movie Diary 12/22/2008

smallbackroomThe Small Back Room (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1949). It is completely random that I have watched two bomb-defusing movies in a row; last night, Juggernaut, now this. The two films even share a similar bit of bomb-design trickery and Cyril Cusack in small roles. That said, this Powell-Pressburger gem (seen via Criterion’s recent DVD — not a great print, but good enough) is notable for its many carefully-layered behavioral moments and its paucity of actual plot.

Movie Diary 12/21/2008

Juggernaut (Richard Lester, 1974). A disaster movie on a small scale, despite the use of an ocean liner and, well, an ocean. This is the Lester movie that reminds me most of a Kubrick picture, especially compositionally, and it is refreshingly without nonsense (especially when compared to other disaster movies of the era). Lester should’ve made a dozen more like this — non-Earth-shakers, but top-notch — in his foreshortened career.