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The Oughts in Film: Part IV (25-11).

Hello again, and a happy New Year’s Eve to you and yours. Well, I thought this Best of the Decade would end up being four parts, but now it’s looking like five. The recaps for this last twenty-five got so long that MT seems to be consuming the bottom of the entry as I write.

So, with that in mind, here’s #’s 25-11 for the Oughts, with the top ten of the decade to follow in due course. If you’re new to this overview, be sure to check out part 1, part 2, and part 3 before moving on to the…

Top 100 Films of the Decade: Part IV: 25-11
[The Rest of the List: 100-76 | 75-51 | 50-26 | 25-11 | 10-1]
[2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2007/2008/2009]


25. Donnie Darko (2001)

From the original review: “All in all, this is a marvelously genre-bending film with wonderful anchoring performances by the Gyllenhaals. I think I liked this movie much more for not knowing a lot about it going in, so I won’t mention the particulars here. But it’s definitely worth seeing. Extra points for the soundtrack, which with ‘Head over Heels,’ ‘Love will Tear Us Apart,’ and ‘Under the Milky Way’…reminded me more of my own high school experience than any other film I can remember. (The Dukakis era setting helped, since that was my own eighth grade year.)

I almost took this movie out of the top 25 on account of its association with Southland Tales and The Box, and even the director’s cut of this film, which snuffs out a lot of this movie’s weird magic by slathering it in needless Midichlorian-style exposition. As I said in my recent review of The Box, Donnie Darko seems to be a clear and undeniable case where studio intervention saved a movie.

Nevertheless, part Philip K. Dick, part John Hughes, Darko was a touching coming-of-age story (thanks in good part to Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne as Donnie’s cranky but loving parents), a decently funny satire about the vagaries of small-town life (think Sparkle Motion, “sleep-golfing,” and the Love-Fear axis), and a trippy sci-fi/psychological thriller. (Was Donnie really talking to a demon-rabbit from the future, or was he just off his meds? The original version muddles this question a lot better than the Kelly cut.)

Whether or not Richard Kelly just got struck by lightning here, everyone else involved clearly brought their A-game to this production. Two Gyllenhaals got on the Hollywood board with this flick, although Maggie would have to wait for Secretary to really break out. The Michael Andrews score contributed mightily to the proceedings, as did the Gary Jules cover of “Mad World,” which got a lot of run in the Oughts, from Gears of War to American Idol. And there are plenty of quality performances in the margins, from the late Patrick Swayze riffing on his image, to Beth Grant typecasting herself for the decade, to Katharine Ross coming back for one more curtain call. Fluke or not, the original version of Donnie Darko was one strange and memorable bunny, alright.


24. High Fidelity (2000)

From the year-end list: “An excellent adaptation of a great book, even if I preferred the Elvis Costello britrock emphasis of Hornby’s tome to the indie Subpop scene of the movie.

Charlie, you f**king b**ch! Let’s work it out!” Arguably John Cusack’s finest hour (although 1999’s Being John Malkovich is right up there, and I know many might cite the Lloyd Dobler of old), Stephen Frears’ adaptation of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity has continued to grow on me over the years. If it counts as one of David Denby’s slacker-striver romances (see the discussion of Knocked Up at #40), it’s definitely the one that hits closest to home for me.

The first thing people usually remember about this movie is all the Jack Black/Todd Louiso banter in the record store. (“It’s a Cosssssby sweater!“) And it’s true — All of that stuff is both really funny and all too telling about the elitism and obsessiveness inherent to the fanboy mentality — “Don’t tell anyone you don’t own ‘Blonde on Blonde’! It’s gonna be okay.” Besides, let’s face it, this entire end-of-the-decade list is really just an extended High Fidelity-style Top 5 (and I had a great time back in July organizing my history books chronologically, a la Rob’s record collection.)

Still, as with the book, High Fidelity‘s killer app is really the dispatches filed from Rob’s romantic life, as he ponders what went wrong with his Top 5 Crushes gone awry. (“We were frightened of being left alone for the rest of our lives. Only people of a certain disposition are frightened of being alone for the rest of their lives at the age of 26, and we were of that disposition.“) There’s a lot of truthiness throughout High Fidelity, from Rob’s catastrophic hang-up on Charlie (Catherine Zeta Jones) to his eff-the-world rebound with an equally besotted Sarah (Lili Taylor), to his single-minded infatuation about whether his ex, Laura (Iben Hjejle), has slept with the loathsome new boyfriend, Ian (fellow Tapehead Tim Robbins in a great cameo) yet.

In short, I’d argue High Fidelity gets the inner-male monologue closer to right than any flick this side of Annie Hall. In the immortal words of Homer J. Simpson, it’s funny because it’s true.


23. In the Mood for Love (2000) / 2046 (2004)

From the original review: “Since I spent Friday evening watching In the Mood for Love — a tale of a romance-that-almost-was, told in furtive hallway glances — and 2046 — a broader and more diffuse disquisition on love and heartache — back-to-back, here’s an Gone Baby Gone, The Assassination of Jesse James, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, & 2 Days, or my favorite film of the year, I’m Not There, get their due.

2008: Slumdog Millionaire (ugh) beats out Milk, Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon and The Reader. Of those, Milk and F/N are solid, and ideally would’ve been paired with The Dark Knight, The Wrestler, Let the Right One In, and/or WALL-E. Other possibles include Man on Wire, Snow Angels, Waltz with Bashir, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Iron Man, and The Visitor…although it seems more likely Oscar would’ve gone with Gran Torino, A Christmas Tale, Doubt, Revolutionary Road, or Valkyrie.

So, to review, in only one of the past ten years (2003) did Oscar pick the movie i’d argue was actually the best that year, although even that one feels a bit de rigueur. (Admittedly, they came close in 2007 as well.) In six of those ten years (1999, 2004-2008), my best film of the year wasn’t even nominated. In four of those ten years (’01, ’04, ’05, ’08), a — to my mind, of course — certifiably lousy film won Best Picture. And in three other years — ’99, ’00, and ’06 — an at best middling movie won the top prize. Not exactly what you’d call a record of distinction.

Can I Quote You on That?

I’m not normally one for blog memes here, but this movie quote game via Divine Comedy of Errors looked like particularly good fun. The rules, as direct from DCoE: “1. Pick 15 of your favorite movies. (Ok, I picked 20.) 2. Find a quote from each movie. 3. Post them here for everyone to guess. 4. Strike it out when someone guesses correctly, and put who guessed it and the movie. 5. NO GOOGLING/using IMDb search or other search functions.” Gotta stress that last one, y’all. That’s not cricket.

1. “The rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing Communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers. I think of us that way, sometimes, and I live here.” [SB got it. This is Annie Hall (not Manhattan.) Hard to pick one quote from this great, great film.]

2. “Are we like couples you see in restaurants? Are we the dining dead?” [Tessa pegged it: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, from the Chinese dinner scene where Joel and Clementine wallow in quiet desperation. Sunshine, by the way, often gets particularly quality remix treatment on Youtube.]

3. “Sister, when I’ve raised hell you’ll know it.” [sb got this one too: Miller’s Crossing, concluding one of the classic Tom-Verna dust-ups.]

4. “Defeat! Shameful, ignominious! Defeat that set back for twenty years the cause of reform in the U.S.” [An old wooden sled to sb, who correctly identified this as Citizen Kane. The line is from the News on the March newsreel opening the film, when Charles Foster Kane loses the governor’s race, on account of what we would now indelicately call a “bimbo eruption.”]

5. “Three: If asked if you care about the world’s problems, look deep into the eyes of he who asks, he will not ask you again.” [Props to Rob Newland (nee Aaron Jacob Edelstein.) This is one of the “Seven Simple Rules for a Life in Hiding” from I’m Not There, my favorite film of last year (and, still, I think, one of the more underappreciated.)]

6. “Nothing is f**ked? The goddamn plane has crashed into the mountain!” [Mark it eight: CJS correctly conjured up The Big Lebowski, still a treasure trove of hilarity for these dark times.]

7. “I got the *right* man. The wrong one was delivered to me as the right man, I accepted him on good faith as the right man. Was I wrong?” [A bit of a stickler for paperwork, J. Dunn got this one. It’s GitM’s namesake: Brazil. The line is Jack Lint (Michael Palin) rationalizing his murderous interrogation of Tuttle, ‘er, Buttle.]

8. “That Casey. He might have been a preacher but he seen things clear. He was like a lantern. He helped me to see things clear.” [10 points for Gryffindor and Kris. This is Tom talking about the Rev. Casey in The Grapes of Wrath. (Of course, if you’ve never read the book or seen the John Ford film, the Boss can summarize it for ya in 4:24.)]

9. “So I graduate, I call him up long distance, I say ‘Dad, now what?’ He says, ‘Get a job.’ Now I’m 25, make my yearly call again. I say Dad, ‘Now what?’ He says, ‘I don’t know, get married.’” [Kudos to Eric Sipple, despite his breaking the first two rules of Fight Club.]

10. “As Bertrand Russell once said, ‘The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.’ I think we can all appreciate the relevance of that now.” “Was that on a beer mat?” “Yeah, it was Guinness Extra Cold.”” [MattS correctly called it for Shaun of the Dead. Good on ya, mate.]

11. “We were frightened of being left alone for the rest of our lives. Only people of a certain disposition are frightened of being alone for the rest of their lives at the age of 26, and we were of that disposition.” [Also got by MattS, this is High Fidelity, another very quotable movie. Rob (John Cusack) is talking about his dalliance with Lili Taylor’s Sarah.]

12. “Everybody liked me. I liked myself.” [SB knocks it down with Amadeus. Salieri is referring to the good ole days before God’s Instrument arrived in Vienna.]

13. “Let’s get down to brass tacks. How much for the ape?” [Recognizing the hand of the Good Doctor, CJS got it: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. (And it seems the line actually made it into the trailer as well.)]

14. “Daddy what’s gradual school?” “Oh Gradual school is where you go to school and you gradually find out you don’t want to go to school anymore.” [Not even an Ellen Jamesian, mikefromeseattle made the call: The World According to Garp.]

15. “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.” [Kris beat several others to the punch here: The Empire Strikes Back. This deal is getting worse all the time…]

16. “Have you never heard of situationism, or postmodernism? Do you know nothing about the free play of signs and signifiers?” [Trust an academic and music lover, Ted, to get this one. It’s 24 Hour Party People, as Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) is explaining to a reporter why “Joy Division” aren’t in fact a bunch of Nazis.]

17. “You’re born, you take s**t. You get out in the world, you take more s**t. You climb a little higher, you take less s**t. Till one day you’re up in the rarefied atmosphere and you’ve forgotten what s**t even looks like.” [Welcome to the Layer Cake, claxton6. (This is Michael Gambon explaining the title.) By the way, I just learned very recently that chameleon Ben Whishaw played Sidney in this flick. Must’ve been focused on something else…]

18. “I was told to tell you that you’re a fascist pig.” [Points for Eric & Wendy: This is from Children of Men, when Clive Owen is making contact with Michael Caine’s police “friend.” (My favorite line from the movie would’ve been a dead giveaway: “Well that was even worse, everybody crying. I mean…Baby Diego ? Come on, the guy was a wanker!“)]

19. “You broke into my house, stole my property, murdered my servants and my pets, and THAT is what grieves me the most!” [Stephen recognized this as Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian. But does he know the riddle of steel, and what is best in life? One hopes, or Crom will cast him out of Valhalla!]

20. “You’re going to make yourself a new home out there. You’re a New Yorker, that won’t ever change. You got New York in your bones. Spend the rest of your life out west but you’re still a New Yorker. You’ll miss your friends, you’ll miss your dog, but you’re strong.” [Ted also caught this one. It’s from the final Brian Cox monologue of The 25th Hour, still arguably the best movie yet made about the impact of 9/11 on NYC.]

Twenty-Five for Fanboys.

EW lists the top 25 sci-fi offerings (in tv and film) of the past twenty-five years. Pretty arbitrary, really, but it includes Brazil (at #6), BSG (at #2 — these two should have switched places), Children of Men (#14), Eternal Sunshine (#17 — same problem), Aliens (#9), The Thing (#10), The X-Files (#4), Galaxy Quest (#24), and Blade Runner (#3), so it’s by no means a bad list. (Both Lost and Heroes should be replaced, however.) Just from what’s missing above, you can probably guess #1…can’t you, Mr. Anderson?

Dearly Departed.

As you no doubt know, the Oscars were held last night, with The Departed, Martin Scorsese (finally), Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland, and Helen Mirren for The Queen the big winners of the evening. [Full list.] (Letters from Iwo Jima was to my mind a better film than Departed, but Scorsese’s Aviator was better than the egregious Million Dollar Baby two years ago, so it’s a wash.) Alas, once again I was a very close also-ran in the Webgoddess Oscar pool, placing in the top-four [I got 10 out of 12 of the major awards right, missing only on Best Foreign Film (I picked Pan, but was glad to see it lose, in a way — it had already taken too many of Children of Men‘s awards) and Best Song. (Melissa Etheridge over Dreamgirls? Really? That’s just bizarre.)] Ah well, wait ’till next year…

2006 (Finally) in Film.

Well, there are still a number of flicks I haven’t yet seen — David Lynch’s Inland Empire, for example, which I hope to hit up this weekend. But as the Oscar nods were announced today, and as the few remaining forlorn Christmas trees are finally being picked up off the sidewalk, now seems the last appropriate time to crank out my much belated end-of-2006 film list (originally put off to give me time to make up for my New Zealand sojourn.) To be honest, I might’ve written this list a few weeks earlier, had it not happened that I ended up seeing the best film of 2005 in mid-January of last year, thus rendering the 2005 list almost immediately obsolescent. But, we’ll get to that — As it stands, 2006 was a decent year in movies (in fact a better year in film than it was in life, the midterms notwithstanding), with a crop of memorable genre flicks and a few surprisingly worthy comebacks. And, for what it’s worth, I thought the best film released in 2006 was…

Top 20 Films of 2006

[2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005]

1. United 93: A movie I originally had no interest in seeing, Paul Greengrass’s harrowing docudrama of the fourth flight on September 11 captured the visceral shock of that dark day without once veering into exploitation or sentimentality (the latter the curse of Oliver Stone’s much inferior World Trade Center.) While 9/11 films of the future might offer more perspective on the origins and politics of those horrible hours, it’s hard to imagine a more gripping or humane film emerging anytime soon about the day’s immediate events. A tragic triumph, United 93 is an unforgettable piece of filmmaking.

[1.] The New World (2005): A movie which seemed to divide audiences strongly, Terence Malick’s The New World was, to my mind, a masterpiece. I found it transporting in ways films seldom are these days, and Jamestown a much richer canvas for Malick’s unique gifts than, say, Guadalcanal. As the director’s best reimagining yet of the fall of Eden, The New World marvelously captured the stark beauty and sublime strangeness of two worlds — be they empires, enemies, or lovers — colliding, before any middle ground can be established. For its languid images of Virginia woodlands as much as moments like Wes Studi awestruck by the rigid dominion over nature inherent in English gardens, The New World goes down as a much-overlooked cinematic marvel, and (sorry, Syriana) the best film of 2005.

2. Letters from Iwo Jima: Having thought less of Flags of our Fathers and the woeful Million Dollar Baby than most people, I was almost completely thrown by the dismal grandeur and relentless gloom of Eastwood’s work here. To some extent the Unforgiven of war movies, Iwo Jima is a bleakly rendered siege film that trafficks in few of the usual tropes of the genre. (Don’t worry — I suspect we’ll get those in spades in two months in 300.) Instead of glorious Alamo-style platitudes, we’re left only with the sight of young men — all avowed enemies of America, no less — swallowed up and crushed in the maelstrom of modern combat. From Ken Watanabe’s commanding performance as a captain going down with the ship to Eastwood’s melancholy score, Letters works to reveal one fundamental, haunting truth: Tyrants may be toppled, nations may be liberated, and Pvt. Ryans may be saved, but even “good wars” are ultimately Hell on earth for those expected to do the fighting.

3. Children of Men: In the weeks since I first saw this film, my irritation with the last fifteen minutes or so has diminished, and Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men has emerged for what it is — one of the most resonant “near-future” dystopias to come down the pike in a very long while, perhaps since (the still significantly better) Brazil. Crammed with excellent performances by Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor and others, Children is perhaps a loosely-connected grab bag of contemporary anxieties and afflictions (terrorism, detainment camps, pharmaceutical ads, celebrity culture). But it’s assuredly an effective one, with some of the most memorable and naturalistic combat footage seen in several years to boot. I just wished they’d called that ship something else…

4. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan: True, the frighteningly talented Sasha Baron Cohen spends a lot of time in this movie shooting fish in a barrel, and I wish he’d spent a little more time eviscerating subtler flaws in the American character than just knuckle-dragging racists and fratboy sexists. Still, the journeys of Borat Sagdiyev through the Bible Buckle and beyond made for far and away the funniest movie of the year. Verry nice.

5. The Prestige: I originally had this in Children of Men‘s spot, as there are few films I enjoyed as much this year as Christopher Nolan’s sinister sleight-of hand. But, even after bouncing Children up for degree of difficulty, that should take nothing away from The Prestige, a seamlessly made genre film about the rivalries and perils of turn-of-the-century prestidigitation. (There seems to be a back-and-forth between fans of this film and The Illusionist, which I sorta saw on a plane in December. Without sound (which, obviously, is no way to see a movie), Illusionist seemed like an implausible love story set to a tempo of anguished Paul Giamatti reaction shots. In any case, I prefer my magic shows dark and with a twist.) Throw in extended cameos by David Bowie and Andy Serkis — both of which help to mitigate the Johansson factor — and The Prestige was the purest cinematic treat this year for the fanboy nation. Christian Bale in particular does top-notch work here, and I’m very much looking forward to he and Nolan’s run-in with Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight.

6. The Fountain: Darren Aronofsky’s elegiac ode to mortality and devotion was perhaps the most unfairly maligned movie of the year. (In a perfect world, roughly half of the extravagant praise going to Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth would have been lavished on this film.) Clearly a heartfelt and deeply personal labor of love, The Fountain — admittedly clunky in his first half hour — was a visually memorable tone poem that reminds us that all things — perhaps especially the most beautiful — are finite, so treasure them while you can.

7. The Queen: A movie I shied away from when it first came out, The Queen is a canny look at contemporary politics anchored by Helen Mirren’s sterling performance as the fastidious, reserved, and ever-so-slightly downcast monarch in question. (Michael Sheen’s Tony Blair is no slouch either.) In fact, The Queen is the type of movie I wish we saw more often: a small, tightly focused film about a very specific moment in recent history. Indeed, between this and United 93, 2006 proved to be a good year for smart and affecting depictions of the very recent past — let’s hope the trend continues through the rest of the oughts.

8. Inside Man: The needless Jodie Foster subplot notwithstanding, Spike Lee’s Inside Man was a fun, expertly-made crime procedural, as good in its own way as the much more heavily-touted Departed. It was also, without wearing it on its sleeve, the film Crash should have been — a savvy look at contemporary race relations that showed there are many more varied and interesting interactions between people of different ethnicities than simply “crashing” into each other. (But perhaps that’s how y’all roll over in car-culture LA.) At any rate, Inside Man is a rousing New York-centric cops-and-robbers pic in the manner of Dog Day Afternoon or The Taking of the Pelham One Two Three, and it’s definitely one of the more enjoyable movie experiences of the year.

9. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party: Speaking of enjoyable New York-centric movie experiences, Dave Chappelle and Michel Gondry’s block party last year felt like a breath of pure spring air after a long, cold, lonely winter — time to kick off the sweaters and parkas and get to groovin’ with your neighbors. With performances by some of the most innovative and inspired players in current hip-hop (Kanye, Mos Def, The Roots, The Fugees, Erykah Badu), and presided over by the impish, unsinkable Chappelle, Block Party was one of the best concert films in recent memory, and simply more fun than you can shake a stick at.

10. Casino Royale: Bond is back! Thanks to Daniel Craig’s portrayal of 007 as a blunt, glitched-up human being rather than a Casanova Superspy, and a script that eschewed the UV laser pens and time-release exploding cufflinks of Bonds past for more hard-boiled and gritty fodder, Casino Royale felt straight from the pen of Ian Fleming, and newer and more exciting than any 007 movie in decades.

11. The Departed: A very good movie brimming over with quality acting (notably Damon and Di Caprio) and support work — from Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Vera Farmiga, Ray Winstone, and others — Scorsese’s The Departed also felt a bit too derivative of its splendid source material, Infernal Affairs, to merit the top ten. And then there’s the Jack problem: An egregiously over-the-top Nicholson chews so much scenery here that it’s a wonder there’s any of downtown Boston left standing. But, despite these flaws, The Departed is well worth seeing, and if it finally gets Scorsese his Best Director Oscar (despite Greengrass deserving it), it won’t be too much of an outrage.

[11.] Toto The Hero (1991): Also sidelined out of this top twenty on account of its release date, Jaco Von Dormael’s Toto the Hero — Terry Gilliam’s choice of screening for an IFC Movie Night early in October — is definitely one for the Netflix queue, particularly if you’re a fan of Gilliam’s oeuvre. It’s a bizarre coming-of-age/going-of-age tale that includes thoughts of envy, murder, incest, and despair, all the while remaining somehow whimsical and fantastical at its core. (And, trust me: As with Ary Borroso’s “Brazil“, you’ll be left humming Charles Trenet’s “Boum” to yourself long after the movie is over.)

12. Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story: I guess this is where I should be writing something brief and scintillating about Michael Winterbottom’s metanarrative version of Laurence Sterne’s famous novel, one which gives Steve Coogan — and the less well-known Rob Brydon — a superlative chance to work their unique brand of comedic mojo. But I’m growing distracted and Berk has that pleading “I-want-to-go-out, are-you-done-yet” look and Kevin’s still only on Number 12 of a list that, for all intent and purposes, is three weeks late and will be read by all of eight people anyway. (But don’t tell him that — In fact, I shouldn’t even talk about him behind his back.) So, perhaps we’ll come back to this later…it’s definitely a review worth writing (again), if I could just figure out how to start.

13. Miami Vice: Michael Mann’s moody reimagining of the TV show that made him famous isn’t necessarily his best work, but it was one of the more unique and absorbing movies of the summer, and one that lingers in the memory long after much of the year’s fluffier and more traditional films have evaporated. Dr. Johnson (and Hunter Thompson) once wrote that “He who makes a beast out of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” I guess that’s what Crockett and Tubbs are going for with the nightclubs and needle boats.

14. CSA: The Confederate States of America: I wish I were in the land of cotton…or have we been there all along? Kevin Wilmott’s alternate history of a victorious Confederate America is a savvy and hilarious send-up of history documentaries and a sharp-witted, sharp-elbowed piece of satire with truths to tell about the shadow of slavery in our past. With any luck, CSA will rise again on the DVD circuit.

15. The Science of Sleep: Not as good or as universally applicable as his Eternal Sunshine (the best film of 2004), Michel Gondry’s dreamlike, unabashedly romantic The Science of Sleep is still a worthy inquiry into matters of the (broken) heart. What is it about new love that is so intoxicating? And why do the significant others in our mind continue to haunt us so, even when they bear such little relation to the people they initially represented? Science doesn’t answer these crucial questions (how can it?), but it does acutely diagnose the condition. When it comes to relationships, Sleep suggests, all we have to do — sometimes all we can do, despite ourselves — is dream.

16. Rocky Balboa: Rocky! Rocky! Rocky! I’m as surprised as anyone that Sly’s sixth outing as Philadelphia’s prized pugilist made the top twenty. But, as formulaic as it is, Rocky Balboa delivered the goods like a Ivan Drago right cross. Ultimately not quite as enjoyable as Bond’s return to the service, Rocky Balboa still made for a commendable final round for the Italian Stallion. And, if nothing else, he went down fighting.

17. Pan’s Labyrinth: A fantasy-horror flick occurring simultaneously within a Spanish Civil War film, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth ultimately felt to me like less than the sum of its parts. But if the plaudits it’s receiving help to mainstream other genre movies in critics’ eyes in the future, I’m all for it. It’s an ok movie, no doubt, but if you’re looking for to see one quality supernatural-historical tale of twentieth-century Spain, rent del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone instead.

18. Little Miss Sunshine: Another film which I think is being way overpraised, Little Miss Sunshine is still a moderately enjoyable evening at the movies. It felt overscripted and television-ish to me, and I wish it was as way over yonder in the minor key as it pretends to be, but Sunshine is nevertheless a cute little IFC-style family film, and one that does have a pretty funny payoff at the end.

19. The Last King of Scotland: I just wrote on this one yesterday, so my impressions haven’t changed much. Still, Forrest Whitaker’s jovial and fearsome Idi Amin, and an almost-equally-good performance by James McAvoy as the dissolute young Scot who unwittingly becomes his minion, makes The Last King of Scotland worth seeing, if you can bear its grisly third act.

20. Thank You for Smoking: It showed flashes of promise, and it was all there on paper, in the form of Chris Buckley’s book. But Smoking, alas, never really lives up to its potential. What Smoking needed was the misanthropic jolt and sense of purpose of 2005’s Lord of War, a much more successful muckraking satire, to my mind. But Smoking, like its protagonist, just wants to be liked, and never truly commits to its agenda. Still, pleasant enough, if you don’t consider the opportunity cost.

Most Disappointing: All the King’s Men, X3: The Last Stand — Both, unfortunately, terrible.

Worth a Rental: A Scanner Darkly, Brick, Cache, Cars, Curse of the Golden Flower, Glory Road, The History Boys, Marie Antoinette, Match Point (2005), V for Vendetta, Why We Fight

Don’t Bother: Bobby, Crash (2005), The Da Vinci Code, Flags of our Fathers, The Good German, The Good Shepherd, Mission: Impossible: III, Night Watch (2004), Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Men’s Chest, Poseidon, Scoop, Superman Returns, The Wicker Man, World Trade Center

Best Actor: Clive Owen, Children of Men; Forrest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland; Ken Watanabe, Letters from Iwo Jima
Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen; Q’Orianka Kilcher, The New World
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Wahlberg, The Departed; Michael Caine, Children of Men/The Prestige
Best Supporting Actress: Pam Farris, Children of Men; Vera Farmiga, The Departed; Maribel Verdu, Pan’s Labyrinth

Unseen: Apocalypto, Babel, Blood Diamond, Catch a Fire, Clerks II, The Descent, The Devil Wears Prada, Dreamgirls, Fast Food Nation, Hollywoodland, An Inconvenient Truth, Infamous, Inland Empire, Jackass Number Two, Jet Li’s Fearless, Lassie, Little Children, Notes from a Scandal, The Notorious Betty Page, A Prairie Home Companion, The Pursuit of Happyness, Running With Scissors, Sherrybaby, Shortbus, Stranger than Fiction, Tideland, Venus, Volver, Wordplay

2007: The list isn’t looking all that great, to be honest. But, perhaps we’ll find some gems in here…: 300, 3:10 To Yuma, Beowulf, Black Snake Moan, The Bourne Ultimatum, FF2, The Golden Age: Elizabeth II, The Golden Compass, Grindhouse, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Hot Fuzz, I Am Legend, Live Free or Die Hard, Ocean’s Thirteen, PotC3, The Simpsons Movie, Smokin’ Aces, Spiderman 3, Stardust, The Transformers, Zodiac.

Globes of Gold for Moviefilms.

This year’s Golden Globes nominees are announced, and it’s a particularly strange bunch, with The Departed, Bobby, Little Children, The Queen, and Babel vying for best picture and Kazakhstan’s finest up against Little Miss Sunshine, Thank You for Smoking, The Devil Wears Prada, and Dreamgirls on the comedy/musical side. (Also, lots of doubles, with Leonardo di Caprio (actor), Helen Mirren (actress, TV), and Clint Eastwood (director) all nominated twice in the same category.) Well, I haven’t seen all of these, but suffice to say, these aren’t the picks I would’ve made — even if you discount The Prestige, Children of Men, and The Fountain as genre choices, United 93 is very conspicuously absent. At any rate, it should be an interesting awards season regardless — the only real signed-and-sealed lock so far is Helen Mirren for The Queen.

Born out of your Frustration.


Children of Men, Alfonso Cuaron’s gritty dystopian parable of the near-future (which I saw in Nelson, NZ several days ago), is very, very close to being a great film. Boasting a standout performance by Clive Owen (other than Inside Man he hasn’t been in much lately, so I’d forgotten how good he can be), great character work by Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and others; timely ruminations on issues ranging from the War on Terror to immigration reform; a wicked streak of black humor (note, for example, the bus and pharmaceutical ads, as well as the “Baby Diego” stuff and the casual nod to the similarly sardonic Pink Floyd); cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki (late of last year’s best film, The New World) that’s both striking and muted; and some of the most visceral urban-warfare scenes this side of Saving Private Ryan, the film has a lot in its corner, and is definitely worth checking out this holiday season. (Between this, The Fountain, and hopefully Pan’s Labyrinth, it’s been a banner time for heady, intelligent sci-fi/fantasy.) Alas, the film takes a few egregious missteps in the last act — the last fifteen minutes, even — which marred the experience for me. As a result, instead of leaving the theater stunned or moved by the otherwise impressive Children of Men, I left irritated with it. It’s a very good, even a remarkable, movie, to be sure, but when it comes to the last few leaps of logic (and sentiment), Cuaron’s film can’t quite stick the landing.

Children of Men takes place in the London of the not-too-distant future, where, as part of a string of world calamities and catastrophes (including some that possibly, Cuaron coyly suggests, have their roots in the Iraq war), humankind has become infertile, western civilization is in the throes of decay, and England, true to stiff-upper-lip form, remains the one teetering bastion of order against the forces of anarchy and global chaos. In this childless city under siege, where immigrants (or “Fugi’s”) are rounded up in cages and coffee shops are bombed for no reason in particular, we meet a troubled Everyman named Theo (Owen — we know he’s troubled because he downs lugs of scotch from a hip-flask whenever possible, but don’t worry — this sort of clumsy screenwriting shorthand is generally the exception here rather than the rule.) At any rate, on his way to work one day, Theo is apprehended by several masked goons in a van, among them his activist ex-girlfriend Julian (Julianne Moore) and her #2 (Ejiofor), who, as it turns out, have a very important task for him — one that only he can fulfill, and one that might just change the shape of this post-apocalyptic world…

If you’ve seen the trailer, then you know what Theo’s charge is for the remainder of the movie. (But if you haven’t, I won’t spoil it here.) Suffice to say, his travels take him to various dilapidated locales in this babyless Purgatory (including, memorably, the hideaway of Theo’s aging drug buddy Jasper (Michael Caine)), and we get a full sense of how the demise of the future, in the form of the next generation, has caused the world to wither and rot. This culminates in some of the most powerful and immersive urban war footage to come down the pike in a good while (note the long, uninterrupted shots in the final act, which are particularly impressive.) But, as you’ll come to find, one of the escape scenarios near the end — you’ll know which one I mean — is completely and utterly implausible, to the detriment of everything that’s come before. And, coupled with the ridiculously over-the-top symbolism in the final moments, Cuaron’s film unfortunately ends on a sour note. Still, if you can forgive the movie its wince of an ending, it’s well worth it to suffer the Children. It may step away from greatness in the last act, but it’s still very easily in the top echelon of movies I’ve seen this year.

Childhood’s End | Hard Shell.

No teens or mutant teens, take your pick: In the near future, Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and Chiwetel Ejiofor look to save the Earth’s last pre-born in the dystopic new trailer for Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men. (Between this and The Fountain, it may be a good fall for sci-fi.) And Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, and Leonardo (the turtles, not the artists) get the CGI treatment in the teaser for TMNT. (No Elias Koteas or Sam Rockwell this time around? Bleah.)

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