February 26, 2005

My Favorite Movies of 2004

Here are the answers to my previous blog: (10) 13 Going On 30, (9) The Aviator, (8) Million Dollar Baby, (7) Closer, (6) Spider Man 2, (5) Garden State, (4) Before Sunset, (3) Mean Creek, (2) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, (1) Kill Bill.

But this list no longer accurately reflects the order of my favorite films for last year. The reason is that I hadn’t yet seen The Aviator when I made it. Why’d I put it on the list, then? Because I knew I’d love it. I mean, come on—it’s Scorsese! Well tonight, I went and saw The Aviator and was not let down. In fact, I loved it so much that I had to move it to my #1 spot.

10. 13 Going On 30. Cheesy and formulaic. But who said those are always bad things? Jennifer Garner is energetic and funny. And her chemistry with Mark Ruffalo sets the stage for a number of heart-warming moments. If you’re looking for a sweet, feel-good movie, it’s hard to beat this one.

9. The Passion. This film honestly and beautifully captures one of the most significant events in human history. A number of complaints have been made of it—e.g., it’s anti-Semitic and too violent. I myself have a couple of hang-ups with the film, but still find it both morally inspiring and artistically masterful.

8. Million Dollar Baby.
Although the acting in the film is great, the unsung hero of this movie is its script. MDB never wastes a word of dialogue. But more importantly, it takes on a life of its own and unfolds into a suspenseful, unpredictable, and refreshingly honest story.

7. Closer. This movie is sometimes a bit longwinded, but its high points more than make up for this. The dialogue is fantastic. And I love how the film has four or five climaxes scattered throughout and then a master climax at the end. And, despite what many believe, this film is redemptive, shedding valuable insights into relationships and the darker side of human nature.

6. Spider Man 2. The first super hero movie I’ve loved as an adult. Along with a great plot, the movie contains depth and genuine character development. I also love the moral dilemma Peter Parker finds himself in. And I haven’t even mentioned my favorite part of the movie—the love story between Peter and MJ.

5. Garden State. This movie keeps growing on me. The first time I watched it, I felt it had some weaknesses and only deserved three stars. The second time, I thought it was absolutely perfect. Funny, beautiful, and deserving of many re-viewings.

4. Before Sunset. Richard Linklater just loves taking chances and making bold experiments. This movie could have easily flopped—after all, filming an eighty-minute conversation between two people that takes place in real time could have easily turned into a snorefest. But, as usual, Linklater pulled it off. This film is like a poem. No car chases. No cheap laughs. No formulas. Just a poignant and beautiful exploration into the nature of the human psyche and life in general. I can’t wait for part three.

3. Mean Creek. Except for The Passion, no movie last year was more life-changing for me. The movie opened my eyes to my own prejudice and mean-spiritedness and challenged me to be a better man. Along with this, the movie is visually beautiful and brilliantly acted by a group of mostly unknown teenagers.

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This is one of the most original stories of recent years and it’s told with such flare. I love the bizarre sequences in Joel’s head, as well as the reverse chronological order much of the movie follows. And top this all off with great performances by Jim Carey and Kate Winslet, not to mention Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, and Elijah Wood. I need to own the DVD!

1. The Aviator (tie). This film is perfect on so many levels. It tells a great story, one that is never dull and that keeps unfolding and surprising us. It flawlessly penetrates the psyche of its protagonist—and, in so doing, both fills us with awe for his vision and determination, as well as sympathy for his struggle with mental illness. It’s brilliantly acted by DiCaprio, as well as such supporting members as Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, and Alan Alda. On top of these achievements, Scorsese masterfully manipulates every available resource to fill the film with life and heart—from costume and set designs to lighting and color schemes to special effects. This is my pick for Best Film. And I hope that Scorsese finally gets a nod for Best Director.

1. Kill Bill (tie). This is what movie-watching is all about—being introduced to a universe of characters so intriguing, so fascinating that you become part of the story and completely forget about yourself. Not only is this film suspenseful and funny, but, even with all its shed blood and lopped off limbs, it contains a great deal of warmth and heart.

February 23, 2005

My Favorite Movies of 2004

See if you can figure out which movies these quotes are from. Later in the week, I’ll reveal the answers and explain why I liked each of these films so much.

#10
Person A: Can you get in the car?
Person B: I can't get in the car, I don't get in the car with strangers.
Person A: Please get in the car, we're gonna be late.
Person B: I can't get in the car, I don't know you.
Person A: Just get in the car.
Person B: I don't get in the car with strangers!
Person A: You're being a little paranoid.

#9
Person A: You want me to bribe senators?
Person B: I don't want them bribed, Jack. I want this done legal. I want them BOUGHT.

#8
Person A: You got big holes in your socks.
Person B: Oh, they're not that big.
Person A: Didn't I give you money for some new ones?
Person B: These are my sleeping socks. My feet like a little air at night.
Person A: How come you're wearing them in the daytime, then?
Person B: ’Cause my daytime socks got too many holes in them.

#7
Person A: Didn't fancy my sandwiches?
Person B: Don't eat fish.
Person A: Why not?
Person B: Fish piss in the sea.
Person A: So do children.
Person B: Don't eat children either.

#6
I know you think we can't be together, but can't you respect me enough to let me make my own decision? I know there'll be risks but I want to face them with you. It's wrong that we should be only half alive... half of ourselves. I love you. So here I am—standing in your doorway. I have always been standing in your doorway. Isn't it about time somebody saved your life?… Well, say something.

#5
Sometimes I hear myself say something and then I think, “Wow, that wasn’t even remotely true.”

#4
Let me sing you a waltz / Out of nowhere, out of my thoughts / Let me sing you a waltz / About this one night stand / You were, for me, that night / Everything I always dreamt of in life / But now you're gone / You are far gone / All the way to your island of rain / It was for you just a one night thing / But you were much more to me, just so you know / I don't care what they say / I know what you meant for me that day / I just want another try, I just want another night / Even if it doesn't seem quite right / You meant for me much more than anyone I've met before / One single night with you, little ------, is worth a thousand with anybody / I have no bitterness, my sweet / I'll never forget this one night thing / Even tomorrow in other arms, my heart will stay yours until I die / Let me sing you a waltz / Out of nowhere, out of my blues / Let me sing you a waltz / About this lovely one night stand.

#3
Person A: What are the paddles for?
Person B: We're going cow-spanking.
Person A: What the fuck is cow-spanking?
Person B: Well, it's like cow-tipping, except we spank.

#2
Telephone conversation.
Person A: What took you so long?
Person B: I just walked in.
Person A: Do you miss me?
Person B: Oddly enough, I do!
Person A: You said “I do”—I guess that means we're married!
Person B: I guess so!

#1
White women call this the silent treatment... and we let ’em think we don't like it.

February 6, 2005

Oscar Snubs

I guess I’ll watch some of the Oscars this year. But not really with too much interest. I don’t care too much what the Academy decides for the simple reason that they so often snub the most deserving artists and movies. Aside from overlooking Citizen Kane and never once noticing Alfred Hitchcock, I think the biggest blunder in Oscar history occurred in 1976. And they’ve been getting things wrong ever since.

1976. It still baffles me that the Academy snubbed both Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro for their work in Taxi Driver. Scorsese deserved the award for taking a chance on this risky story that has become a modern classic. Instead of giving him the nod for his bold experiment, they honored John G. Avildsen for his good yet conventional Rocky. And DeNiro’s acting in Taxi Driver is one of the finest performances of all-time. He is able to make us both fear and sympathize with the lonely and deranged Travis Bickle, a job which very few other actors, if any, could have pulled off. By contrast, many actors could have successfully played the crazy Howard Beale in Network (nothing against Peter Finch).

1979. Apocalypse Now is one of the greatest films ever made. Intense performances. Stunning images. A profound story. Yet it lost Best Picture to Kramer vs. Kramer. The only thing I can figure is that the Academy was too PC and too chicken to give Best Picture to an anti-war film two years in a row, having given the honor to The Deer Hunter the year before.

1980s. I was too busy watching John Hughes films to have seen many of the movies nominated for Oscars in the Eighties. So instead of complaining about movies I haven’t seen, I’ll move onto to films I’m more familiar with.

1990. GoodFellas is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Not only is it technically perfect, but its themes are timeless and universal, revealing the human lust for power and the many evils and disastrous consequences of crime. Yet the Academy felt that the best movie of the year was Dances with Wolves. Dances with Wolves? Fifteen years later, people are still watching and discussing GoodFellas. But when was the last time someone asked if you wanted to come over and watch Dances with Wolves?

1991. I love The Silence of the Lambs, but Jonathan Demme deserved to lose to Oliver Stone. Stone took great risks in JFK and the results were nothing short of astounding, as he made a mesmerizing film out of a story that would have been boring in anyone else’s hands.

1994. Quentin Tarantino Is Snubbed, Part One. At least Pulp lost to the lovable Forrest Gump.

1995. Susan Sarandon received a pity vote when the Academy gave her, and not Elisabeth Shue, the Best Actress award. Sarandon was very good in Dead Man Walking¸ but she didn’t come close to matching Shue’s brilliant portrayal of Sera, a hurting, vulnerable, and scared prostitute in Leaving Las Vegas. Worse than this dis, however, was the one suffered by Sean Penn. Penn’s portrayal of a murderous death-row inmate in Dead Man Walking was intense and dead-on and far more impressive than Nicolas Cage’s portrayal of a suicidal alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas.

1996. Fargo lost to—get ready for this—The English Patient. What does the Academy have against unconventional crime films?

1997. Quentin Tarantino Is Snubbed, Part Two. This time his film, Jackie Brown, wasn’t even nominated. And this was the year in which the very mediocre and entirely formulaic Good Will Hunting received a nomination

1998. Jim Carrey shined in one of his first dramatic roles, playing the title character in The Truman Show. Yet he wasn’t even nominated.

2001. I never saw Monster’s Ball, but Haley Berry’s acceptance speech was so frickin’ vain and ridiculous that I wish someone else, anyone else, would’ve one Best Actress.

2003. Okay, maybe Lord of the Rings deserved to be recognized by the Academy. I suppose the films were quite an achievement, so blah blah blah let’s give it an award or two. But it was ridiculous that it won an Oscar for every single category it was nominated for. It might’ve deserved some of these awards, but some were clearly unmerited. Example: American Splendor had a unique and brilliantly structured script yet LOTR beat it out for Best Adapted Screenplay. Gimme a break.

2004. Quentin Tarantino Is Snubbed, Part Three. Even after seeing Million Dollar Baby, I think Kill Bill is the best movie of the year. Not only is every scene of the film fun and filled with surprises, but the movie contains quite a bit of beauty and depth. And not only did Quentin get snubbed, but so did David Carradine, who was amazing as the creepy Bill. And while we’re speaking of snubs, where’s Jim Carrey? And how did Ray receive a nomination, while Mean Creek and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind did not?