12/30/01 - Dems challenge the GOP's commitment to the working class. And well they should, although to my mind they should stop giving the Prez a pass on domestic issues, war or no. Jonathan Chait surveys the excesses of the Conintern and the demonizing of Tom Daschle. In 2002, the next battle for campaign finance reform looms in the House. Woof, woof. The Globe looks at the rise of trash-talking. So, having turned 27 yesterday (which I celebrated by losing $8.50 in an impromptu poker night at a friend's apartment - so much for birthday mojo) and awaiting 2002 tomorrow, it looks like it's time for that year-end review bit again (2000 retrospective here.) Although in general the years are clearly going by faster, I gotta say, this was a long one. Which I suppose can be expected from a 365-day cycle that included shifts in employment, locale, and marital status - I started this year off a married speechwriter in Washington DC and ended it a divorced graduate student in New York City. All in the spirit of "pressing the reset button on the Playstation 2 of Life," as one friend put it, I suppose. There was also the summer month spent in Hawaii, which far and away stands out as the highlight of this past year. And, of course, there is the shocking matter of 9.11. In a year we were supposed to find life on Europa, we instead saw the Twin Towers fall. Let us hope that the unforgettable events of that day remain a singular and unique tragedy, and not a prelude of darker things to come in the new year. Top 15 Films of the Year (not including those I haven't yet seen, which include Black Hawk Down, Amelie, Royal Tenenbaums, Sexy Beast, Moulin Rouge, Ali, Ghost World, A Beautiful Mind, Monster's Ball, and In the Bedroom): 1. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring: I have already sung its praises enough in the past few posts. Suffice to say, it was everything I had hoped for and more. NOT for fanboys and fangirls alone - In fact, given its epic breadth and cinematographic sweep, I'd put it up as a worthy successor to the works of David Lean. Mr. Lucas, the bar has been raised. 2. Memento: In a spring and summer characterized by truly awful blockbusters, this small film proved that a great story is still the best eye-catcher around. A gimmick, perhaps, but flawlessly executed. 3. Traffic: Although it officially came out in 2000, I saw it in the first week of this year. An expertly-made, nuanced glimpse at the drug trade that was good enough to convince policymakers in Washington (among them, John McCain and Orrin Hatch) of the inefficacies of fighting supply at the expense of demand. Gets better with repeated viewings. 4. (tie) The Man Who Wasn't There: The Coen brothers stay in form with this beautifully shot film noir. Never thought I'd say this, but Billy Bob was hypnotic in the title role. 4. (tie) Mulholland Drive: Just when you thought it was safe to see a David Lynch film. After the surprisingly conventional Straight Story, Mulholland proves that David Lynch is still a master craftsman of the mindbender. 6. Monsters, Inc.: Pixar continues its great run. Most other people would probably disagree with me putting this above Shrek, but most other people can make their own lists. The best CGI of the year. 7. Shrek: Shrek was good too, though...clearly the best film to come out over the course of this dreary summer. 8. From Hell: The Hughes Brothers (directors of Menace II Society, still on my all-time top 25) successfully make Alan Moore's Jack the Ripper the meanest mutha in the hood. Heather Graham is lousy as usual, but at least she didn't have the worst British accent of the year. That goes to... 9. Ocean's 11: Seamlessly made caper flick, if in the end a bit breezy. Just plain fun. I hate to say it, but Don Cheadle was bad. 10. Waking Life: Although it's ranked higher than Ocean's 11 in the sidebar, the more I think about it, the more it seems that academic pretension ultimately gets in the way of the stunning animation in this film. Just a little too much name-dropping of theorists, in the final analysis. In other words, it's a bit dry. But still definitely worth a view. Linklater-esque to the extreme. 11. Training Day: Would probably be ranked higher were it not for the last 25 minutes or so, which almost completely ruins what had been a surprisingly good film. Denzel chews the scenery like no other. 12. Thirteen Days: Again, I think this came out in 2000. Nevertheless, I saw it this year, and was surprised by how involving it was. Costner's lame Boston accent couldn't ruin great character work by Bruce Greenwood (JFK), Steven Culp (RFK), and Dylan Baker (McNamara). Should be required viewing for all high school US history classes. 13. Snatch: Guy Ritchie's sophomore outing was better than most of the stuff on American screens this year, but it nevertheless pales in comparison to the joys of Lock Stock. 14. A.I.: A deeply, deeply flawed film. But you know, at least Spielberg was swinging for the fences. And I have to give it to Haley Jo Osment - the kid is good. 15. Vanilla Sky: Strangely disappointing. This really shouldn't be here, since in the end it wasn't very good. But, given what it was up against this year, it sneaks in to the last spot by default. Cameron Diaz was great, though. All in all, a strong fall and winter redeems what had been a grievously bad year for cinema. But, at least from this vantage point, 2002 looks to be chock-full of choice movie morsels for filmgoer and fanboy alike, including LOTR: The Two Towers, Episode II, Spiderman, Tom Hanks's gangster tale The Road to Perdition, David Fincher's The Panic Room, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (I know, I know, fool me once...), Spielberg/Cruise's sci-fi Minority Report, Blade 2, Adaptation (Spike Jonez and Charlie Kaufman's follow-up to Being John Malkovich, Below (U-571 meets Cthulu), X-Men 2, To the White Sea (the next Coen), Signs, and Star Trek 10. I'm eager to see how they'll all pan out. Happy New Year, everyone. See y'all on the flip side.
12/25/01 - MERRY CHRISTMAS, from Berk and I to all of you. We both received many nice gifts this year. As you might imagine, Berk got the traditional dog trifecta of bones, balls, and biscuits. As for me, I received (among other things) some games, some books, some DVD's, a case of Red Bull (mmm...Red Bull), and a Colonel Sanders Bobblehead. What more can anyone ask for? When this American Ballet Theatre soloist casually tosses double pirouettes between the fouette turns in the coda of the Black Swan pas de deux, then nails the finish as if to say "Ok, now give me something hard!" you realize 23-year-old Gillian Murphy is a wonder.. Gill is chosen as one of 2002's 25 Dancers to Watch by Dance Magazine. (On newsstands, not yet online.) Bah, humbug! When it comes to foreign aid, Uncle Sam plays Uncle Scrooge. Recession hits the states...here's a pretty good example of why mandatory balanced budgets are good in theory, lousy in practice. Archaeologists discover remains of Turkish Celts, backing up Old Testament references to Galatians. The Village Voice looks at the 2002 Progressive agenda for a Lefty New Year. Not to be outdone by China's recent moves, Japan enters the Space Race. The more the merrier, I say. Here come the Men in Black...again. Looks likes more of the same. Oh, who gives a rip about ZuZu's Petals...we're goin' to Potterville! Things have changed...Rod Thorn, formerly Stern's top enforcer, decries league punishment for Kenyon Martin. Can't touch the superstars, Kenyon, even if they're as washed up as Karl. Seen Fellowship thrice now, and I must say it's holding up quite well. Much better after a second viewing, once I could get over the hype anxiety and just watch the movie. Need a nudge to go see it, non-Tolkien folk? Here's W.H. Auden's reviews of both Fellowship and Return of the King. The first term is done! Those three twenty-five-pagers were a beast but, hey, it still beat working for a living. Next semester, I'll be honing in on my field (early 20th century), with Alan Brinkley and Eric Foner as profs. Should be grand.
12/17/01 - The young'uns had best get used to the heat. A new study reports that the climates of New York and New England may feel like Miami and Atlanta respectively in the relatively near future. New Spiderman trailer available. The jury's still out on this one, although it's strange how the Spidey effects look less CGI when you slow them down. (Image courtesy of Dark Horizons.) Other recent trailer releases include The Queen of the Damned (resurrected from Straight-To-Video land by the untimely death of Aaliyah) and David Fincher's latest, The Panic Room. Winona, darlin', what the heck happened? Talk about a bad way to go out. "In her brief appearance as the Snow Queen, Gillian Murphy was as sharp and bright as an icicle." Gill gets some minor props from the Post during her recent Kennedy Center sojourn. Five games into the Chaney era, the Knicks are in freefall. Floridians take note...Bob Dylan's Never-Ending Tour continues in 2002. Peter Jackson writes in the Times about filming Tolkien's trilogy. And your signature may be required to ensure he directs Episode III. Caught Vanilla Sky on Friday...quite disappointing. Cameron Diaz stood out, but the pacing of the film was all off. A shame, really. Ah...two 25-pagers down, one more to go. At least I can be content knowing that this is probably as busy as I'll ever be in grad school. And, if that's not respite enough, well, Fellowship is now only three days away...
12/11/01 - A short history of George Harrison's Handmade Films. Frank Foer examines soccer in the Middle East. It's Bad Sex award time again, and, as per usual, this year's winner - Christopher Hart's "Rescue Me" - is pretty doggone bad. For British critics, the verdict is in: Fellowship 1, Potter 0. In case you missed the last meteor shower, the Geminds fall Thursday night. Unlikely allies in any other endeavor, John Lewis (D-GA) and J.C. Watts (R-OK) get a bill passed in the House to establish a National African-American History museum in Washington DC. It is a bit strange we have a Holocaust museum on the mall but none dedicated to American slavery. Galileo gets a closer look at Tupan Patera, one of Io's many volcanoes. Bush backs out of the 1972 ABM treaty. Ridicky-goddamn-diculous. You know, you'd think the horrors of September 11 would instill in our leadership some semblance of the notion that a ridiculously expensive and scientifically untenable missile shield should be the least of our defense concerns right now. In happier Dubya news, Ted Kennedy seems to be talking up the education reform compromise plan. Just when you thought it was safe to be a New York Democrat...After squandering the mayorship by putting up candidate Mark Green, Charlie Rangel calls out Cuomo. In Tora Bora, the noose tightens around Bin Laden. To be honest, I'm surprised he's holed up there. I assumed he was going to make a run for it. End of an Era. A more than slightly burned-out Coach Van Gundy quits the Knicks to spend more time with his family. I'm gonna miss him fretting on the sidelines, Diet Coke in hand. And, judging by the team falling apart in OT against the revitalized Celts this evening, it's going to be a long, cold winter without him. Ah, if only the Spurs series had gone our way in '99... Dick Armey plans to retire (and thus also step down as House Majority Leader.) Aw, what a shame. Please please please replace him with Tom DeLay...it'll be harder for the Exterminator to scurry about in the light of day. (Update: Armey "stands down." Oh, please.) Tom Oliphant lambasts Reverend Ashcroft for his gun fetish. Saw the folks and Tessa over the weekend as they stopped by the Big City. Which reminds me, here's another Hawaii pic (from this summer) of Thad, Gill, and I off the Na Pali coast on Kauai (courtesy of Gill's official site.) Will Tolkien's trilogy save New Line? Caught Ocean's Eleven last Friday...good breezy fun. It and Vanilla Sky should make a good prologue to Fellowship 8 days from now. I must admit, though, it is a bit depressing to note that Don Cheadle was the worst thing about the film. Hey, Don, the local high school production of Oliver Twist called, they want their Cockney accent back.
12/7/01 (a date that will live in infamy) - Had Japan broken US codes before Pearl Harbor? A new report suggests they had. The Taliban fall, but where is Bin Laden? Dec. 7 v. Sept. 11. Oh, it turns out Reverend Ashcroft is FOR civil liberties...if you're packing heat. What a scumbag. (Slate's Jacob Weisberg, Salon's Jake Tapper, the Times and the Post think so too. More stunning Fellowship reviews (Tickets are ON SALE NOW...I got some for Wednesday morning.)Entertainment Weekly: "a great picture, a triumphant picture, a joyfully conceived work of cinema...vibrantly, intricately alive on its own terms. This is what magic the movies can conjure with an inspired fellowship in charge" Screendaily: Jackson’s Ring cycle generates the kind of epic cinema excitement, encountered in the films of Abel Gance (Napoleon), Akira Kurosawa (The Seven Samurai, Ran), David Lean (Lawrence Of Arabia), Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey), and arguably last seen on the American screen in Coppola's Apocalypse Now; it certainly far surpasses the standards of popular epics like Braveheart or Gladiator." Did I mention tickets are ON SALE NOW? The Martian ice caps are melting. Ought to facilitate the terraforming, I should think. Trailers abound of late, including looks at the Tom Cruise/Stephen Spielberg sci-fi foray Minority Report and the Mel Gibson Black Hawk-wannabe We Were Soldiers Ed Norton as John Connor in T3? That's just goofy.
12/2/01 - IT (Ginger/Segway)...sounds pretty cool. (Via Dumbmonkey.) And finally in the Tolkien department, here's a detailed list of rumored deviations from the original trilogy. Major Spoilers, so don't click if you haven't read the books. "THE MOVIE WORKS. It has real passion, real emotion, real terror, and a tactile sense of evil that is missing in that other current movie dealing with wizards, wonders and wickedness." Newsweek's David Ansen, unfamiliar with the trilogy, raves about FOTR. (Peter Travers of Rolling Stone previously called it the best movie of the year.) With the last Taliban stronghold under siege, the Bush administration preps for Phase Two: Iraq. From blue to red: A new study offers more evidence of once-vast Martian oceans. Archaeologists uncover symbolic thinking in extremely ancient African artifacts, further eroding the "creative explosion" theory of human evolutionary development. Look here, Mr. Ashcroft, I know Abe Lincoln, I've studied Abe Lincoln, and you, sir, are no Abe Lincoln. David Greenberg reviews the civil liberties record of our Civil War President. Attack of the Killer Condensed Comics! (Via Do You Feel Loved and LinkMachineGo.) Fool of a Took! A cave troll prowls the mines of Moria in this clip from Fellowship of the Ring (17 days...), which aired on Fox the other night. Along with many others in the music industry, Bob Dylan mourns the passing of his old friend, George Harrison: "He was a giant, a great, great soul, with all of the humanity, all of the wit and humor, all the wisdom, the spirituality, the common sense of a man and compassion for people. He inspired love and had the strength of a hundred men. He was like the sun, the flowers and the moon and we will miss him enormously. The world is a profoundly emptier place without him." IT's back, to be announced on Monday. If nothing else, Kamen has invented quite an impressive hype machine. But can he get 'em on shelves by Christmas?