Thursday, December 22, 2016

1016. American Hustle

American Hustle
2013
Directed by David O. Russell








I apologize for taking so long to update this blog.  I have had a ton of writing to do (that just shows how burnt out I am; I just measured my writing in weight).  This has fallen pretty low on the priority list.  However, I am delighted by every comment I receive, even if it takes me a bit to respond.  I will renew my promises of fidelity for the new year.

In the meantime, let's talk about American Hustle.  This film is based on the Abscam scandal.  I have never fully gotten this scandal, but having confessed to not understanding Inception, I probably shouldn't dwell on my confusion.  I don't want to sound like an idiot (see below, where I praise Real Housewives of New Jersey).  Anyway, Irving Rosenfield is a small time crook.  He falls for Sydney Prosser, a fellow grifter, despite the fact that he is married to the very volatile Rosalind.  But the power of the boner is strong, so he partners with Sydney and begins pulling off bigger scams.  They are caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso, who blackmails them into helping his sting operation.  Oh, and Christian Bale is fat.  My god, the artistry.

I did not anticipate enjoying this movie.  I read that most of the scenes were improvised and I figured the entire cast would be Acting so hard that it might be unbearable.  While none of the performances could really be considered low-key (which is what I prefer), I was actually pleasantly surprised.  Parts of the movie were fairly clunky (probably due to so many deviations from the script) but this was still a decent crime drama.  I wonder if Scorsese feels threatened.

In any case, this is not a film that caters to my preferences, but I still managed to like it for what it is.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Was nominated for 10 Academy Awards but failed to win in any category.

Jennifer Lawrence drew inspiration for her character by watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey.  HA!  See, it's not a waste of time.

Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence made significantly less money than Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale.  *bangs head against wall*

Friday, November 25, 2016

1015. Inception

Inception
2010
Directed by Christopher Nolan








Before we begin talking about Inception (stalling?  I am not stalling!  I totally understand everything that happened in this movie!) I want to give a brief shout out to Alex, a new reader of the blog!  Alex has her own blog chronicling her journey through the 1001 movies.  Click here to check it out.  She has a funny writing style and can do what I cannot: criticize Grease.

Dom Cobb is a thief who is able to enter people's dreams and steal ideas and secrets from their subconscious.  Cobb is approached by Saito, a Japanese businessman, to do a seemingly impossible job: implant an idea into a competitor's heir's subconscious that will convince him to dissolve his father's company.  In return, Saito will use his influence to clear Cobb of murder charges.  And that is everything I can say for sure.

Well I suppose it is fairly obvious to say, but the special effects were incredible, considering the fact that Nolan used very little CGI.  I was annoyed at the beginning by how unreliable the storytelling was.  In the end, it really doesn't matter if what we are seeing is a dream or not.  This can be enjoyed strictly as a visual spectacle.

Of course, it can also be fun to examine it as a metaphor of filmmaking, but I will stop myself there before I get into too many spoilers.  Also, Leonardo DiCaprio wears a suit, so enough said.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

One of the top 50 highest grossing films of all time.

Working title was Oliver's Arrow.




Monday, November 14, 2016

1014. Bowling for Columbine

Bowling for Columbine
2002
Directed by Michael Moore








The sky has fallen, so perhaps I should have saved last week's post for today.  I apologize that it has taken me so long to post.  I was at work yesterday and a coworker asked how I was doing (after telling me my bra strap was showing; I've been kind of a mess) and I said "grieving."  "Still?" he asked.

Yes, still.  I tend to take a long time (maybe even a week!) to get over such trivial things as the fate of our country.  I am simultaneously miserable and enraged about the election results.  This has resulted in some extreme outbursts, so it has been an emotionally exhausting week.  My friends have been experiencing a heightened level of harassment.  Both my parents sent me texts telling me to never doubt my own self worth, despite how our new pres-I can't even say it yet.

In any case, I know that allowing myself a mourning period is a luxury that a lot of people don't have.  I know a lot of people are scared right now.  I know I am just a stranger from the internet with a Joss Whedon obsession, but if anyone needs to talk, vent, or discuss how Buffy would have handled this situation, you can email me at ampanda95@comcast.net.

Anyway, I guess I didn't leave myself much room to discuss Bowling for Columbine, a documentary that explores gun rights and violence in the United States (see how I slipped the summary in there?  I am already saving time!).  I suppose people might argue with the "documentary" label, as Moore is extremely biased and takes more things out of context than the Real Housewives of New Jersey.

Still, the horrific amount of gun violence in America needs to be addressed.  I think Moore is incredibly frustrated and if he comes across as exploitative at times, it is because Americans are so indifferent that he feels they need to be jolted awake.  Maybe standing in Chuck Heston's driveway with a picture of a murdered girl is the way to do that.  I myself am almost out of ideas.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Moore on the Trump election.  From YouTube:


Saturday, November 5, 2016

1013. Skyfall

Skyfall
2012
Directed by Sam Mendes












I have seen every Bond movie and read every Bond book.  It's an obsession that is a bit hard to justify sometimes, like my fascination with Real Housewives or slasher films.  Anyway, as much as I like watching a shirtless Daniel Craig, I feel that the best of the franchise is behind us.

James Bond and Eve Moneypenny (finally, this woman has a role beyond lusting after Bond) are tracking down a mercenary who has stolen a hard drive containing information on all of MI6's undercover agents.  The mission goes horribly wrong, mostly because of Moneypenny (you should have stayed in the kitchen, you skirt!).  Anyway, explosions, beautiful women, and casinos.  That about sums it up.

Let's start with the good.  The song is fantastic, obviously, as Adele is a goddess.  The performances were all extremely effective, particular Craig's, as he brings a quiet kind of sadness to the role that no actor has before.  Still, this franchise is getting more and more generic.  We have a few obligatory scenes that remind us we are watching a Bond movie.  But most of the time, I felt like I was watching a run of the mill action film.  I half expected to see Tom Cruise sprinting in the background.

I am not sure I can this is the franchise's fault.  After all, directors have been ripping off Bond films for decades, so the lines were destined to blur between the original and the copies eventually.  I suppose audiences are getting smarter as well; we are no longer content watching villains try to enact grand schemes in ridiculously convoluted ways.  Unfortunately, that was half the fun for me.

Anyway, if you like action movies, you'll probably enjoy this.  But I tend to find the genre a bit dull, so I will go with three stars.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Second longest Bond film of all time (after Casino Royale).

First Bond film to list the actresses as "Bond Women" rather than "Bond Girls."  Well, that took an appropriate amount of time.


Friday, October 28, 2016

1012. Lat den ratte komma in

Lat den ratte komma in
Let the Right One In
2008
Directed by Tomas Alfredson








We have reached the conclusion of our scary movie month, which is just as well, because I was really running out of horror entries.  I hope everyone has a great Halloween.  I know I will be consuming candy corn by the pound in honor of this sacred day.

Oskar lives with his mother Yvonne in a suburb of Stockholm.  Oskar is regularly bullied by the kids in his school and fantasizes often about getting revenge.  He meets his new next door neighbor, Eli, a pale girl his age who resides with a mysterious older man.  The two become close, although it is apparent that Eli is not quite what she seems.  Things get pretty gross.

I am not sure anyone gets genuinely frightened by vampires.  While there are some images in this film that are...unsettling, I am not sure I would even classify this is as a horror movie.  It's more like a romance that is occasionally disgusting.  The filmmakers make up for this by including many shots of pure beauty.

Despite the unusual juxtaposition, I still found my attention waning.  I could see where the narrative was going to take us and I spent most of the film waiting for characters to figure out what the audience already knew.

I would recommend this if you are in the mood for something different, but if you are looking for something scary, please see my previous raves.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Almost every scene contains the color red.  When are we all going to stop ripping off The Sixth Sense?

Friday, October 21, 2016

1011. Black Swan

Black Swan
2010
Directed by Darren Aronofsky









This film was a big deal when it was released, but I rarely hear it mentioned now as anyone's favorite movie.  I do hear references to the lesbian scene, which we have all collectively decided was awesome.

Nina is a timid ballerina in a New York City ballet company.  I don't think filmmakers are capable of portraying a happy ballerina, so you know this isn't going to end well.  Nina lives with her controlling mother (in my opinion, there is nothing scarier than a mother in a horror movie).  Nina's company is putting on Swan Lake and the director chooses Nina for the lead role.  Nina is able to perform the White Swan's part perfectly, but is unable to full embody the Black Swan role.  Slowly, she begins to get in her touch with her dark side.

I've only been to the ballet once in London.  I imagined that the experience would be dark and erotic, perhaps a little confusing, but utterly engaging.  I was a bit off the mark, but this movie felt like everything I imagined a ballet should be.

This is not the kind of movie that is packed with jump scares, but the characters have enough darkness in them that they manage to be genuinely chilling.  A beautifully twisted film.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Winona Ryder only has four minutes of screen time.

Natalie Portman's dancing double, Sarah Lane, has stated that she doesn't feel like she has gotten the credit she deserves, as she performed most of the dancing.  Aronofsky later said that Portman did 80% of her own dancing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

1010. The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods
2012
Directed by Drew Goddard








This is one of my favorite horror movies of all time.  As such, I have kind of dreaded writing about it.  I always feel as though I can be rather incoherent in my gushing.  So prepare yourselves.  I also worship Joss Whedon, so gushing might get a bit out of control.

I should probably start by saying that this movie is made for horror movie fans (more specifically, slasher movie fans) and if you don't enjoy those, you might not get a lot out of this film.  On the other hand, if you are like me and have spent many nights searching the darkest corners of Netflix trying to discover a decent slasher movie because you have seen all the famous ones already, this movie will speak to you.  Five friends decide to spend their break in a remote cabin in the woods.  Now I think, given this premise, we would all have certain expectations about what will happen and who will survive.  But this is Joss Whedon, people!  He lives to defy our expectations and break our hearts into a thousand pieces.

Being self aware doesn't always work in films.  I have seen movies that spend a lot of time winking at the camera, while still exhausting the same tired tropes.  Just because you are know you are performing cliches doesn't mean you are excused.  This movie manages to acknowledge many horror movie conventions while still being fresh.  I would go into more detail, but I am not sure what qualifies as spoilers in a film like this.

Anyway, I might go into more details about why I love this movie in the comments section, so I will give a preliminary spoiler warning.  But I will close with this Joss Whedon quote: "Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke."

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Drew Goddard was inspired by his upbringing in Los Alamos, where scientists lived ordinary, routine lives while building nuclear weapons.

Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard wrote the script in three days.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

1009. Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity
2007
Directed by Oren Peli








I had a hard time deciding what I would rank this film.  On the one hand, I have seen this movie enough times that I am forced to admit it is a favorite, and thus deserving of a five star ranking.  On the other hand, some of the criticisms of this movie are too valid to ignore.  Oh well, I'll stick to my guns and award it five stars.  This degree of heroic honesty is definitely deserving of a medal.

Since as far back as she can remember, Katie has been haunted by an unknown demonic presence.  Lately, the "incidents" have gotten significantly worse, prompting Katie's boyfriend, Micah, to begin filming the house to document the paranormal activity.

I've heard a lot of people complain about the lack of scares in this movie.  True; objectively, a sheet moving on its own isn't the darkest image that has ever been conjured by horror movies.  As a personal preference, I have always enjoyed scary movies that allow the audience to come up with their own versions of the monster (i.e. The Blair Witch Project, Jaws, etc).  The shower scene in Psycho will always be more chilling to me than watching some bimbo getting her head ripped off (this was a scene in Most Likely to Die; avoid at all costs).

To that end, I enjoyed the subtlety and rising tensions of this film.  There are so many instances in horror movies where the audience feels completely removed from the characters.  We think "well, I would never go in there" or "I would never wander off alone like that."  This thinking severely limits the ability of a film to really freak us out.  However, I found Katie's actions in this movie to be pretty plausible.  Micah, on the other hand, behaved in the typical horror movie boyfriend fashion.  I might stage a haunting before I move in with a guy, just to see if he transforms into a total asshole.  I can foresee absolutely nothing going wrong with this plan.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

The ending in the film was based on a suggestion made by Steven Spielberg.

The actors improvised most of their dialogue.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

1008. The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel
2014
Directed by Wes Anderson









Happy October everyone!  Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, as it combines the best things in the world: horror movies and candy.  In honor of that sacred day, I am going to do several scary movie posts throughout the month.

Anyway, first we have to take care of this film.  I invited my sister to watch this with me, but she bailed halfway through.  Knowing that this was on the List, I bravely soldiered on alone.  The film is a story within a story within a story...I am not sure why this method was chosen.  Maybe it allowed for more celebrity cameos.  I am not sure if Wes Anderson just wanted to give his film more star power or if a lot of actors just wanted to be in a Wes Anderson movie, but this film is packed with cameos.  It was actually kind of distracting.  But I digress.

Monsieur Gustave is the Grand Budapest Hotel's concierge.  He attends to the sexual needs of many of the older guests of the hotel, but only if they are blonde (some things never change).  Gustave befriends a young lobby boy and takes him on as his protege.  One of Gustave's lovers die under mysterious circumstances, leaving him in possession of a priceless painting.  Naturally, Gustave is suspected of the murder.

I have enjoyed the previous Wes Anderson films on the List and was looking forward to this one.  I always loved how literary his movies were.  However, I think Anderson has become a bit too infatuated with his own style (I thought the same thing about The Hateful Eight if you recall).  This movie was just too much.  Too many moments were odd merely for the sake of being odd.  I felt like he was sacrificing a cohesive story for his own strange style.

At least the film looked beautiful and everyone in the (slightly overcrowded) cast was extremely talented.  Still, I should have kept track of how many times I rolled my eyes.  I might have set a record.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

First Wes Anderson film to win an Oscar.

Tilda Swinton spent ten hours in the make up chair everyday

Monday, September 12, 2016

1007. Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids
2011
Directed by Paul Feig








Since anything female driven generates an enormous amount of hate (i.e. the new Ghostbusters, Gamergate, women's general existence), I thought I would pop over here and celebrate one of my favorite comedies of all time.

Annie Walker's life is a huge mess.   After the failure of her bakery, she is forced to take a job as a sales clerk in a jewelry store and move in with the eccentric Gil and his sister Brynn.  She is sleeping with Ted, a narcissist who is terrible in bed (but he's Jon Hamm so who could blame her?).  Basically, she is drowning and has lot all motivation to swim.  When her best friend Lillian becomes engaged, she is asked to be the maid of honor.  As every woman knows, being the maid of honor is incredibly expensive, time consuming, and overall horrific.  Annie is introduced to the rest of the wedding party, including the beautiful and intimidating Helen.

I hope I don't sound like a male hater with this next statement (particularly since most of my readers are men; hey fellas!), but I really appreciated the subtlety that the women brought to the table.  I know, I know, Melissa McCarthy could hardly be called subtle.  But there were several moments that I thought were perfect.  For example, when Helen approaches Annie for the first time.  Annie says, "You are so pretty!" and Helen replies "You're so cute!  Oh, you're so sweet!"  Every woman who watches this scene knows what a dig that was, but I am not sure men would pick up on it.  Even if they did, I don't think they would have ever put it in a script.

Of course, the male director literally had to shit all over this understated brilliance by making them include a diarrhea scene, presumably for the men in the audience.  I always fast forward that scene.  The rest of the movie is hilarious, heartwarming, and inspirational.  Also has a kick ass soundtrack.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Highest grossing R-rated female comedy of all time.

Maya Rudolph was pregnant with her third child during filming.


Monday, September 5, 2016

1006. The Aviator

The Aviator
2004
Directed by Martin Scorsese









Good morning and Happy Labor Day!  It has been an incredibly busy week, but I didn't want to neglect my lovely readers just because I have a ton of work to do.  In other words, I am using you guys to procrastinate.

The Aviator tells the story of Howard Hughes, a man who is seemingly invincible.  He survives deadly plane crashes, he successfully woos the hotties of yesteryear, and makes profitable big budget films.  Hell, he even invented the modern hospital bed.  Despite all of this, Hughes still has demons and their presence becomes increasingly obvious throughout the film's nearly three hour run time (I wonder if I will complain about that...).

This is going to be a rather short review, as I feel that the film's strengths really speak for themselves.  Leonardo DiCaprio, of course, gave a brilliant performance as Hughes.  Many actors would have completely overacted this role (I won't name any names because I don't want to get in a fist fight, but I have several rants about this topic in my arsenal), but DiCaprio approached the part with subtlety.  Cate Blanchett also did a great job as Katharine Hepburn.  Hepburn is a tough woman to imitate.  Maybe that's why people keep asking me to stop trying.

Anyway, I do have to gripe about the sheer length of the film, as I felt like the impact of the ending was slightly lessened by my own restlessness.  Still, it's Scorsese so I suppose he is worth it.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

I know this might come as a surprise, but this was the acting debut of Gwen Stefani.

Received 11 Academy Award nominations.

Friday, August 26, 2016

1005. Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy
2014
Directed by James Gunn







Hello all!  I apologize for not posting in awhile and taking so long to respond to your comments (which are always greatly appreciated).  I was on a beach vacation in one of the tackiest cities in America (guess which one and you win a prize).  I should also mention I am going camping today.  Having seen The Edge one too many times, I am fully convinced I will be eaten by a bear.  So it was nice knowing all of you.  In any case, I decided to write about Guardians of the Galaxy, as I feebly attempt to have some sort of thematic consistency in this blog (it's a summer blockbuster!).

Peter Quill, or Han Solo 2.0, steals a magical orb, unaware that its power is coveted by Ronan, an evil alien guy.  When Quill realizes that the entire universe is in danger, he rallies a motley crew of criminals to save the galaxy.  Can you tell I only half paid attention to the plot?

I think the only thing that saved this movie from complete mediocrity is Chris Pratt's likability and his...other assets.  Still, like I said, he is basically a carbon copy of Han Solo (but much handsomer) so perhaps I shouldn't give the filmmakers too much credit.  I suppose the soundtrack is also pretty great.  I am just so sick of the Marvel universe; if you have seen one superhero movie, you have pretty much seen them all.

Obviously, this film wasn't in my edition, so I am not sure why it was included.  If lack of originality doesn't bother you, you might actually have a good time with this one.

Oh, and I chose the above picture because to me, it is the most powerful screenshot of the film.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Vin Diesel said he recorded the line "I am Groot" over 1,000 times.

The sales of the song "Hooked on a Feeling" shot up 700 percent after the release of the first trailer.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

1004. Les Miserables

Les Miserables
2012
Directed by Tom Hooper









I figured it might get tiring to read rave after rave, so I thought I would tackle a film that I dislike to shake things up.  I have seen Les Mis at the West End and read the book, so I am pretty much an expert.  I actually went to the movies alone to see this film and was the only person in the theater, meaning I could sing along loudly to every song.  Not to toot my own horn, but I think I outstripped Russell Crowe.

This is an incredibly long movie based on an incredibly long book, so I won't go into plot specifics.  Basically, Jean Valjean is released after serving 19 years for trying to steal a loaf of bread to save his family from starvation.  His parole status ensures that he cannot find employment, so he steals silver from a kind bishop who had offered him food and shelter.  He starts a new life under a new identity and becomes a wealthy factory owner and the mayor of Montreuil.  After one of his factory workers dies on the street, he adopts her young daughter.

Okay, that description barely skimmed the surface, but I will still stop there out of courtesy to my readers.  I am guessing that the Listmakers included this entry because all the actors performed their singing live on set.  Normally, soundtracks are recorded months before filming and the actors lip-sync.  This is typically done because it sounds way better, but Hooper really wanted to defy convention on that score.  Consequently, there are some fairly cringeworthy moments when the actors sing off key.   Samantha Barks was the only performer who never seemed to screw up, making "On My Own" the most moving number in the film.

On the other hand, you have Anne Hathaway who wanted an Oscar so badly for her performance she was practically salivating.  Hugh Jackman was a disappointment, as I thought his voice would be a bit more powerful since he is trained in theater.  Russell Crowe was shockingly bad, but I ended up thinking Amanda Seyfried's voice was really sweet, even though it apparently makes professional singers cringe.

In the end, it was just way too long and bloated.  Some of the elements that made the stage adaptation so memorable just didn't translate on screen.  Still, I would highly both the book and the stage musical.

Anyone else wonder why Gavroche had a Cockney accent?

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Anne Hathaway has about fifteen minutes of screen time.

Robin Williams, Steve Martin, and Ricky Gervais were all considered for the role of Thernandier.

On My Own:

Friday, July 22, 2016

1003. Django Unchained

Django Unchained
2012
Directed by Quentin Tarantino







I apologize for taking so long to get back here.  It's strange; when I had about twenty reviews to write I was much more motivated to work.  Now that I only have to write one every once and awhile it's much easier to put off.  However, I have fought against my own lethargy and have emerged victorious.  Does that make me a hero?  I suppose that is up to you.

In 1858, Dr. King Schultz, a German dentist turned bounty hunter, buys Django, a slave who was recently sold off and separated from his wife.  Schultz wants Django to help him find the Brittle Brothers, a group of wanted outlaws who used to work as overseers on the plantation where Django was enslaved.  Schultz offers Django his freedom in exchange for his assistance in tracking down the Brittles.  Schultz and Django quickly form a true partnership and their respect for each other grows.  Schultz wants to help Django find and free his enslaved wife, Broomhilda.  This goal becomes a tad more complicated when they discover that Broomhilda's new owner is Calvin Candie, a sadistic plantation owner who forces slaves to fight to the death for his own entertainment.

Well, if you enjoyed Inglourious Basterds it is almost impossible to not like this.  Once again, we have a righteous tale of revenge with a great (and, in this case, hunky) villain.  It is arguably even more satisfying than IB, as the brilliant Christoph Waltz plays a good guy, while retaining the characteristics that made him such a fascinating person in IB.  I am trying to get "IB" started, although come to think of it, I think that abbreviation is already taken...

Overall, I think this is Tarantino at his best.  The action is well paced and the acting is fantastic.  I also liked that Tarantino used comedy to make the racist characters look ridiculous.  Highly recommended.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Leonardo DiCaprio accidentally crushed a glass in his hand during the dinner scene, but stayed in character and finished the scene.  He did, however, halt filming during another dinner scene, as he felt uncomfortable using so many racial slurs.  Could this man be any sexier?

Django and Broomhilda are meant to be the great great great grandparents of Shaft.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

1002. Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds
2009
Directed by Quentin Tarantino









I should probably develop some sort of system in selecting the order in which I complete the rest of the Lists.  Otherwise I will end up just writing about all my favorites and being left with such disasterpieces as Field of Dreams and Lincoln.  My only idea for themes so far is to write about horror movies for the month of October.  With these creativity skills, it's hard to believe that I keep getting turned down for jobs.

In Nazi-occupied France, Shosanna Dreyfus witnesses the slaughter of her entire family by Colonel Hans Landa, who is known by the moniker "The Jew Hunter."  She plots her revenge a few years later when German war hero Fredrick Zoller arranges to have the film based on his wartime exploits premiere at the theater she runs.  Meanwhile, Lt Aldo Raine leads a group of ruthless Nazi hunters, nicknamed the "Basterds." The film premiere, which will be attended by nearly every Nazi officer, attracts the attention of the Basterds, who plan their own attack.

Come to think of it, writing about films I enjoy is much harder than writing about movies I hate.  Maybe I will go through all the ones I expect to dislike first.  Basically, I think this film is brilliant.  To me, Quentin Tarantino's world is very simple.  People die young, violence solves everything, etc.  In his world, it makes sense for the Jewish population to attack the Germans just as mercilessly as they have been attacked.  It is also grimly satisfying to watch.  We all know violence only makes things worse, an eye for the eye makes the whole world blind, blah blah blah.  Sometimes it is nice to see evil people get swastikas carved into their skin.

I probably keep making this claim, but this time I mean it: Colonel Hans Landa has got to be the greatest movie villain of all time.  The only performance that I thought was a little off was Eli Roth's, but that might just have to be because of the strangeness of his character.

Love, love, love this movie and I might be back to talk about Django in a bit.  I'm kind of on a Tarantino kick right now.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Eli Roth and Omar Doom were almost burned alive during the fire sequence.  They were later treated for minor burns.

Shot sequentially.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

2000s Oscars!!!

I am really just in shock that I have finished, so I apologize if this isn't particularly well articulated.  I know it seems a bit silly getting emotional just because I finished a movie list, but it really feels like a huge deal.  Obviously I love films, but honestly, right now that feels like a very small part of it.  I have probably mentioned this before, but I make my extremely tiny salary through writing and editing.  Looking at my earlier entries, there is a definitive jump in quality, which I owe to this blog, as writing over a thousand posts certainly counts as progress.  I am still no Virginia Woolf but hey, at least I'm improving (and, you know, haven't drowned myself yet).  I also have connected with some great people and have been lucky enough to keep up a correspondence with a few of you.  I want to take this time to thank my frequent commentator Ray (can I call you a friend at this point or is that too forward?).  I hope to one day speak about films with the same level of intelligence and humor that you do.  I hope you feel better soon.

I also want to thank all of my readers, even if you are just a creepy lurker who never leaves a comment (no offense).  I'm flattered that you would take time out of your days to read my blog.  I will stop there before I give you all horrifying Sally Field flashbacks.

Currently I think the combined lists from all the editions contain 1157 movies.  As my next project, I will be reviewing the remaining titles, in no particular order.  It won't be at the alarming frequency that we have all become accustomed to, but I do promise to keep up with this blog fairly regularly.  After that, who knows?  I will probably find another list to tackle and I hope you will join me again.  If anyone has any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments!

And now, my Oscar picks!  Enjoy and let me know what you think!

BEST PICTURE: Little Miss Sunshine
Nominees: The Lord of the Rings
                  The Departed
                  No Country for Old Men
                  Once
                  Moulin Rouge!
                  Sideways
                  Pan's Labyrinth
                  Kill Bill
                  Downfall
WORST PICTURE: Irreversible
Nominees: Meet the Parents
                  Passion of the Christ
                  Borat
                  Uzak
BEST ACTRESS: Nicole Kidman
Nominees: Uma Thurman
                  Abigail Breslin
                  Toni Collette
                  Ivana Baquero
BEST ACTOR: Javier Bardem
Nominees: James McAvoy
                  Daniel Day Lewis
                  Steve Carell
                  Javier Camara
BEST DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
Nominees: Alexander Payne
                  Quentin Tarantino
                  Martin Scorsese
                  Jonathan Dayton
                  Valerie Faris
BEST LINE: "Okay, everybody just pretend to be normal, okay?"
Nominees: "When you decide to be something, you can be it.  That's what they don't tell you in the     church.  When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals.  Today, what I'm saying to you is this: when you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?"
"Even the smallest person can change the course of the future."
"Revenge is never a straight line.  It's a forest, and like a forest it's easy to lose your way...to get lost...to forget where you came in."
"The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return."
BEST SONG: "Come What May"
Nominees: "Falling Slowly"
                  "Elephant Love Medley"
                  "Your Song"
               
             

1001. Atonement

Atonement
2007
Directed by Joe Wright









Well, this is it!  I should really give Atonement the attention it deserves and leave my thoughts about ending this journey on my Oscar post.  But it's hard, as I have been working on this for five years (which, being a young thing, is about a quarter of my life).  Anyway, I did enjoy Atonement, so I will do my best.

In 1935, Briony Tallis, a thirteen year old who dreams of being a famous writer, sees Cecilia, her older sister, and Robbie, a servant's son, have a moment of serious sexten (sexual tension to the uninformed). Not truly understanding what she saw, Briony is further confused when Robbie gives her a sexually explicit letter to deliver to Cecilia.  After Briony witnesses Robbie and Cecilia having sex in the library, she believes Robbie is a sexual deviant.  When Briony's cousin, Lola, is raped in the woods, Briony accuses Robbie of the crime, ruining many lives (including her own).

I hate to be this guy, but the book was better.  Briony was much more sympathetic in the book.  This is a rather frustrating story and my annoyance with Briony threatened to ruin my enjoyment more than once.  Still, Kiera Knightley is one of my favorite actresses and James McAvoy was fantastic as eye candy.

Well, I suppose that's a wrap.  God this feels weird.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Saoirse Ronan received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for this film at the age of 13.

1000. There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood
2007
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson








1000.  This is thousandth movie review.  How insane is that?  I know, no one asked for a speech, but damn.  I just recently went out with a guy and when I told him I was nearly finished with this List he said, "Wow, that's a lot of time" with an almost pitying look as if I had just revealed what a loser I was. Still, I am pleased with this accomplishment, even if it makes me kind of a geek.

Daniel Plainview is a ruthless oil prospector who is willing to do just about anything in his pursuit of wealth.  His son, H.W., becomes his "business partner" until an accident renders him deaf.  Plainview sends H.W. to a school for the deaf and continues his manic quest for power.

Sorry if that summary was too vague, but I thought a lot of the excitement from this film came from marveling at the decisions Plainview makes, so I don't want to spoil anything.  I know I have complained about Daniel Day Lewis in the past, but he truly delivers a brilliant performance here.  I actually didn't feel as though he expected applause every five seconds, which was refreshing.  I was also quite impressed with Paul Dano, who I had forgotten was in this.  I really want to see more of his work, but he doesn't seem to crop up that often.

I do think the film could have used some trimming, but it was ultimately entertaining and looked great.  Sorry if I am rushing, but I am ready to get my last review written and peace out of this bitch.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

First film of Paul Thomas Anderson's to not feature Philip Seymour Hoffman.


999. Into the Wild

Into the Wild
2007
Directed by Sean Penn










I didn't expect to enjoy this one.  Christopher McCandless, in my opinion, doesn't deserve his nearly mythical status.  I think his actions were fairly selfish, arrogant, and possibly suicidal.  I can't even imagine putting my family through the ordeal that he forced on them.  I also have never really romanticized the beatnik lifestyle, having found On The Road to be self indulgent.  Fortunately, this was more entertaining than I expected.

In 1990, McCandless graduated college with high honors.  He decides to abandon his family, destroy all of his credit cards and identification documents, and donate all his savings to Oxfam.  He hits the road, meeting many memorable characters along the way.  He finally ends up in the Alaskan wilderness and um...well, you know the rest.

It's the supporting characters that really make this film memorable, as I couldn't stand McCandless himself.  I also wasn't a huge fan of Penn's direction, which was wonky at best.  Still, there is no denying that this film looked beautiful.  Most importantly, 999!!!!

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

No stunt doubles were used for Emile Hirsch.

998. No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men
2007
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen








With only four more movies to go, it is hard to keep my focus on the remaining titles.  Still, I will do my best to give each film the attention it deserves.  Just know internally I am freaking out (but what else is new?).

While hunting in West Texas, Llewelyn Moss stumbles across the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong.   He finds one wounded man who is begging for water, several dead bodies, and two million dollars in a case.  Moss takes the money, and surprisingly enough, his theft doesn't go unnoticed.   He is pursued by Mexican drug dealers and Anton Chigurh, a hired sociopath with the world's dorkiest hair cut (and I thought I had secured that title when I got bangs in ninth grade).  Sheriff Bell is hired to investigate, but he laments that he is too old for this shit.  Well, I paraphrased.

I always gush over Coen Brothers films, and this entry will be no exception.  This was a very exciting movie that featured one of the best movie villains in recent memory.  Javier Bardem did such a good job of portraying someone who was truly soulless that I might be frightened to meet him in real life.  The visuals were stunning and I thought the ending was absolutely brilliant.

This is going on my reading list.  Soon I will have more free time...

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Anton Chigurh's weapon, a captive bolt pistol, is commonly used to kill cows to minimize risk of flying bullets.

Body count of 22.

997. La Vie en Rose

La Vie en Rose
2007
Directed by Olivier Dahan






I remember having to watch this for my high school French class.  Even now it still feels like a homework assignment.

The film recounts the life of Edith Piaf, from her unusual upbringing in a Parisian brothel, to her early death brought on by her morphine and alcohol addictions.  The most interesting part of the film for me was Edith's romance with the married Marcel Cerdan, a famous boxer.

It's been awhile since I criticized a film for being too boring, but damn, this was boring.  It was two and a half hours of watching this woman self destruct, which was both tedious and frustrating.  I don't think Edith Piaf was a particularly admirable person and really didn't want to spend so long dissecting her life.  I am not saying the subjects of biopics have to perfect, but their flaws should be unique or intriguing enough that going on a cinematic journey with them feels worthwhile.

The music was still great and Cotillard delivered a fantastic performance.  But I would recommend skipping this, unless you are a huge Piaf fan.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Marion Cotillard shaved back her hairline and shaved off her eyebrows in preparation for her role.

The producers of this film wanted Audrey Tautou to play the lead, but Olivier Dahan insisted on casting Cotillard.

996. Le scaphandre et le papillon

Le scaphandre et le papillon
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
2007
Directed by Julian Schnabel







It's strange that the handicapped person/caretaker romance has become its own genre.  It's usually a female caretaker and male patient (except in the very creepy film Talk to Her but I would hardly call that a romance).  The only male nurse I ever had insisted that I call him "Hollywood" so uh...I can't say I have experienced anything in way of promising love interests who bring me applesauce.  Not that this is a romance in the strictest sense.

The movie tells the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, an editor at Elle who suffers a massive stroke which leaves him paralyzed from the neck down, but mentally normal.  He is only able to control his left eye and is able to communicate by blinking.  He works with a speech therapist who reads him a list of letters, blinking his left eye when she hits upon the letter he is thinking of.  He eventually decides to write a book on his experience, using his painfully slow method of dictation.

Writing is hard enough, but writing like that?  I can't even imagine going through what Bauby did and still producing something beautiful.  I am definitely going to have read his book.  Anyway, it's a touching story and wonderfully acted.

Sorry if this was a bit rushed, but we are at 996 people!  I am getting overly excited.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Julian Schnabel learned to speak French to make this film.

995. Gwoemul

Gwoemul
The Host
2006
Directed by Bong Joon-ho








We really haven't had a decent horror film on this List since The Blair Witch Project.  While I would hardly classify this is as scary, it was nice to get a taste of the genre again.  I have been really scraping the bottom of the barrel with Netflix Horror lately.

An American military pathologist orders his Korean assistant to dump 200 bottles of formaldehyde into the Han River.  Naturally, this creates a giant hell beast that begins attacking people.  Park Gang-du is delivering food from a snack bar owned by him and his father when the monster attacks, carrying away his young daughter, Hyun-seo.  The South Korean government and the American military quarantine the survivors of the attack, claiming that the monster is the host of some terrible disease.  When Gang-du and his family learn that his daughter is still alive, the family resolves to escape from the quarantine and save Hyun-seo.

I am not sure that I could justify calling this special or a must see.  It was certainly entertaining and tense, and the creature looked great.  Still, I must admit there is nothing truly remarkable about this film.  I suppose it makes an interesting political statement about the general shittiness of US foreign policies and environmental disasters.  But does that mean it deserves a place on this List?  I'm not sure.

In any case, I have to give it four stars for pure enjoyability.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Highest grossing South Korean film of all time.


994. The Queen

The Queen
2006
Directed by Stephen Frears







I miss England terribly and watching films like this just makes it harder.  I don't remember the aftermath of Diana's death, but I do recall some of the royalty related hysteria when I visited London just before Prince William and Kate Middleton's marriage.  Man, they love those royals.

After the death of Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth II struggles in the aftermath of a tragedy that no one could have predicted.  While the Queen believes that the royal family's grief should be a private affair handled away from the mourning public, Tony Blair and Prince Charles think that the nation deserves a more public expression of grief.

I expected to love this movie, but I didn't end up finding it as riveting as I initially hoped.  I felt as thought the filmmakers kept hinting at more interesting events taking place off screen, while the audience was stuck watching everyone try to dislodge the stick up the Queen's ass.  Ahem.  Clearly, I am not royalty material yet.

In any case, Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen did fantastic jobs and I still managed to find the politics of this one rather interesting.  Biopics just aren't for me.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Cherie Blair's dislike of the royal family has been widely reported.

Helen Mirren discovered while researching the role that the Queen has OCD.  It was her idea to use this element of her personality in the film.

993. Once

Once
2006
Directed by John Carney







Well, that was definitely one of the most charming things I have ever seen.  Even our resident hater of musicals, Ray, might have to praise this one.

An unnamed busker performs his original songs on Grafton Street, attracting the attention of a young Czech flower seller.  After learning that he repairs vacuum cleaners for a living, she promises to return the next day with her broken hoover.  They quickly develop a friendship and begin playing and recording songs together.  Our male lead is clearly attracted to her, but is still nursing a broken heart from his previous relationship.

I just can't get over the song "Falling Slowly" which has been playing in my head since I watched this. It is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.  I want to share it with my sister, but she is such a wuss that she would probably declare it "too sad" and turn it off after five seconds.  But I encourage others to listen to it as soon as possible (I'll post the video at the bottom).

I realized fairly quickly that this wasn't going to be the typical movie romance that ends with sprints through an airport and kisses in the rain.  Still, I loved these characters and was completely invested in their happiness.

Overall, I was very impressed with this film, particularly because it was shot on a shoestring budget.  I guess this proves that musicals don't always have to be Baz Luhrrman-level spectacles.  All you really need is great music and a camera.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Steven Spielberg and Bob Dylan are both major fans of this film.

The Dublin street scenes were shot without permits, so many bystanders didn't know they were on camera.

From YouTube:


992. Das Leben der Anderen

Das Leben der Anderen
The Lives of Others
2006
Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck








It was interesting to see this after just watching Goodbye, Lenin.  While the two films are obviously starkly different in both tone and style, I would highly recommend watching them together as the pair complement each other beautifully.

The movie takes place in 1984 East Germany.  Stasi official Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler is assigned to spy on Georg Dreyman, a playwright, and Christa-Maria Sieland, his beautiful girlfriend who is addicted to prescription medication.  It doesn't take long for Wiesler to figure out that Dreyman has been placed under surveillance simply because the Minister of Culture wants Dreyman's girlfriend and hopes to eliminate his romantic rival.  After weeks of observing the couple, Wiesler finds himself forming a strong attachment to the couple.

I'm paraphrasing, but I think the Book said this was a Kafka-esque twist on The Conversation.  I think that comparison sums it up brilliantly.  I was continuously surprised at the directions the plot took.  The opening of this film led me to believe that Wiesler was going to be a sadistic, Christoph Waltz-like villain.  I guess I shouldn't reveal any spoiler, but I will say that the film is very successful in subverting expectations.

9 more to go...

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

The actors agreed to work for 20% of their usual salaries.


991. Borat: The Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Borat: The Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
2006
Directed by Larry Charles











It's my own fault for getting cocky.  I was starting to think it was going to be hard to pick a Worst Picture for the 00s set.  Well, this just made things a little simpler.

Kazakh reporter Borat is sent to the USA to report on "the greatest country in the world."  When he arrives in New York, Borat sees an episode of Baywatch and desires to make Pamela Anderson his wife.  Hijinks ensue for eighty four insufferable minutes.

Look, I get the concept.  Sacha Baron Cohen acts like a racist, anti semitic, sexist asshole which encourages the real people he interviews to reveal their own prejudices.  Of course, I am sure that the majority of high school aged males aren't laughing at the exposed hypocrisy and ignorance.  Maybe for my own peace of mind I will pretend that everyone understands this is a satire.

No one is safe from Cohen's insults and disgusting jokes, so in the end it is only offensive to people with good taste.  Still, I found this to be incredibly dull and painful to sit through.

RATING: *----

Interesting Facts:

The police were called on Sacha Baron Cohen 92 times during filming.


990. El Laberinto del Fauno

El Laberinto del Fauno
Pan's Labyrinth
2006
Directed by Guillermo del Toro








Before we begin, let's all agree that the creature pictured above is the freakiest thing to ever be shown on screen.   Apparently it even had Stephen King squirming in his seat.  Now that I have given you all nightmare fuel, I can move on to the rest of the film.

In Post Civil War Spain, eleven year old Ofelia travels to a village in Spain with her pregnant mother to meet her new stepfather, Captain Vidal.  Vidal is a cruel man who is obsessed with hunting down rebels.  A large insect/weird fairy thing leads Ofelia into an ancient labyrinth.  There, she meets a faun who tells her that she must complete three tasks in order to acquire immortality.

This is one of the best and most creative fantasy films I have ever seen.  Creatures in Hollywood fantasy movies all tend to look the same.  You have the ogres, the dragons, the fairies, etc.  However, the filmmakers here manage to create monsters that are entirely unique to this story: strange, yet whimsical; dark, yet intriguing.

I thought the fantasy and war genres were pretty incompatible (although I did end up enjoying Night of the Shooting Stars) but I thought the end result felt brilliantly cohesive.  Another five star film.  Don't worry, Borat is next so a rant is forthcoming.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Guillermo del Toro was offered twice the budget for the film if he made it in English.  He declined, saying that he wouldn't compromise the story to suit market needs.

For the fairy eating scene, Doug Jones had to bite into condoms filled with blood.


989. The Departed

The Departed
2006
Directed by Martin Scorsese









I would have never thought that the early 2000s are my favorite era of film, but I am passing out five star ratings like there is no tomorrow.  This is probably my favorite Scorsese movie (a big statement, I know) and, according to the man himself, the only one of his films that has a plot.

What that plot is, though, is hard to describe succinctly.  Basically, Frank Costello, an Irish mob boss, plants Colin Sullivan as a mole in the Boston police department.  At the same time, the police department sends Billy Costigan to go undercover to infiltrate Costello's crew.  While both sides are aware of the other mole's existence, their identities remain a secret.  Sullivan and Costigan both find themselves falling for the police psychiatrist, Madolyn Madden.  Damon and DiCaprio?  She is just being greedy.

For once in a Scorsese film we had someone to cheer for.  Usually every character is fairly revolting.  Here we have flawed characters that still manage to be likable.  There was also a lot of humor in this film, particularly in the scenes with Baldwin and Wahlberg.  Who would have guessed the pair of them would have been funnier than Martin and Lewis?  I suppose that is not too high of a bar.

Anyway, I was sold on this film as soon as I knew the cast list.  I mean, Baldwin, Damon, DiCaprio, Nicholson, and Farmiga?  Truly, the film would have had to be horrendous to screw that up.  Farmiga is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses; I saw her in the Conjuring 2 recently and she was brilliant.

I really have to get around to watching the original.  A strong contender for my Best Picture choice.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Originally was meant to star Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.

Body count of 22.

Martin Scorsese joked that Mark Wahlberg's Boston accent was so thick he need subtitles.

988. Apocalypto

Apocalypto
2006
Directed by Mel Gibson








I have to hand it to Gibson, he rarely makes a boring film.  Still, that doesn't change the fact that he is an asshole, which is made abundantly clear in this movie.  I am no Mayan expert, but I know enough to know that their depiction in this film is inaccurate, mean-spirited, and ignorant.  Apparently Gibson doesn't believe in political correctness...or any kind of correctness at all.

Jaguar Paw's village is raided by a group of Mayans led by Zero Wolf.  Jaguar Paw's father is killed and his pregnant wife and child are left trapped in pit cave that is slowly filling with water.  Jaguar Paw is captured, along with the rest of the adults in the village.  The captives are taken to the city, where the women are sold into slavery and the men are to be offered as sacrifices.  Wasn't it the Aztecs that were into mass human sacrifice?  Fifth grade social studies seems like a very long time ago.  Anyway, the film follows Jaguar Paw's attempts to escape and reunite with his family.

Just like in Passion of the Christ, Gibson believes that having the characters speak in non English tongues is all that is needed to tell a historically accurate story.  I am not saying that everything he does has to be based on well documented facts, but this was just offensive.  And I thought Dances With Wolves was annoying.

Still, like I said, this certainly wasn't a dull film.  Gibson did a good job of building tension and the visuals were fairly stunning (and gross).  At the very least, I enjoyed this a lot more than Passion of the Christ.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

In the film's teaser trailer the entire cast was different.

Body count of 114.

987. Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine
2006
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris








This is one of my favorite films, having never failed to improve my mood after a shitty day.  Also, Olive is just about the cutest kid on the planet.  So prepare for some very disorganized gushing as I try to explain why this movie warms my cold, shriveled heart.

I suppose the best way to describe this movie is by giving a brief run down on all of our main characters.  Sheryl Hoover is an overworked mother who wants the best for everyone in her family; she is just not entirely sure what that is.  Personally, I fell in love with this character when she was serving fried chicken for dinner and insisted that everyone have "a little salad."  It felt so real to me and Toni Collette definitely goes down as the best movie mom of all time.  Her brother Frank is a gay Proust scholar who is temporarily living with Sheryl's family after he tried to kill himself.  Sheryl is married to Richard, who is trying to make it as a motivational speaker using his nine step program which includes gems like "No Hocus Pocus, Just Focus."  Richard's foulmouthed father is currently living with the Hoover family after getting kicked out of a retirement home for snorting heroine.  Dwayne is Sheryl's son from a previous marriage, who has taken a vow of silence until he can become a test pilot.  Finally, Olive is the daughter of Richard and Sheryl and dreams of becoming a beauty queen.  When Olive learns that she has qualified for the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in California, the entire family must take a 800 mile road trip in their yellow Volkswagen bus.

The film begins by showing us brief clips of each of our main characters.  Each clip only lasted for about fifteen seconds, but I instantly fell in love with every person.  Either I am just an easy audience, or that is some powerful filmmaking.  But what I truly loved about this movie was how nothing really ends up resolved at the end.  The characters are just as dysfunctional as they were at the beginning of the film and their lives haven't improved in the slightest.  Still, their affection for each other is stronger than any of the blows they receive during the movie.

I could keep rambling about this film, but I suppose I should wrap it up.  "Should" being the operative word.  Honestly, how fucked up are beauty pageants?  Every adult involved in these things should be locked up and studied.  Okay, now I'll wrap it up.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Production made sure that Abigail Breslin was actually listening to music during the scene when her grandpa goes on a profanity laced rant.  That's adorable.

Breslin wore a fat suit during production.

986. Tsotsi

Tsotsi
2005
Directed by Gavin Hood






So my goal is to finish this by Thursday.  It's quite an ambitious goal, but what am I if not ambitious (do me a favor and don't respond to that question in the comments)?  I have been working on this project for five years and am ready to finally complete the List.

Tsotsi is the leader of a Johannesburg street gang.  During a mugging on the Subway, Tsotsi's gang kills an old man.  Boston, one of the gang members, is sick after the killing and asks Tsotsi how he can be so inhuman.  Tsotsi badly beats Boston and leaves.  He then goes on to carjack a young mother, shoot her, and drive away with a baby in the backseat.  What a prince, huh?  Tsotsi's first instinct is to abandon the child but he ultimately decides to do what he can to take of him.

There's definitely a strong stench of cheese coming from this plot.  I mean a street thug becomes a better person after spending some time with a child.  Come to think of it, he doesn't actually spend that much  time with the kid, only enough time to get some "significant look while the music swells" moments.  Okay, I am being kind of harsh.  It actually wasn't that bad, just a bit too sentimental for my tastes.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

"Tsotsi" loosely translates into "thug" in Johannesburg slang.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

985. Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain
2005
Directed by Ang Lee








I know everyone has to say it, but I can't believe this didn't win Best Picture.  Well, I guess it's not so unbelievable, as the people who decide these things are stuffy old white men.  But this is clearly the superior film and I am still going to bitch about it anyway.

In 1963, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist are hired by Joe Aguirre to herd his sheep during the summer.  The pair fall in love, with Jack wanting to be more open about their relationship while Ennis is afraid of coming out.   Both end up living virtually separate lives that only overlap with the occasional fishing trip.  Still, their love is strong enough that it becomes noticeable to the people around them.

I was rage reading about the controversy surrounding this film, particularly how certain theaters wouldn't even play it.  There are so many horrible things happening in the world every single minute, but these people choose to take their stand against love.  It's so sickening.

Well, that went off the rails a bit.  Ahem...back to the movie.  The performances were incredibly inspired; I have never been too impressed with Anne Hathaway before but thankfully her cowgirl accent isn't as scary as her British one.  It's truly a touching romance, particularly since Heath Ledger passed away.  What an artist that man was.

Definitely one of the better romance films out there.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Heath Ledger nearly broke Jake Gyllenhaal's nose when they filmed a kissing scene.

Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams met and fell in love on set.

984. Paradise Now

Paradise Now
2005
Directed by Hany Abu-Assad









I was dreading writing this review, as it seems almost impossible to write about a movie like this without accompanying it with a well researched political thesis.  I don't particularly feel like writing a term paper or sharing my views on this platform.  So I will try to keep my comments concentrated on the film, even though the point of this movie is clearly to get people to think of the larger issues.

Said and Khaled are Palestinian childhood friends who have been recruited for suicide attacks in Tel Aviv.  They are both fitted with bombs that can only be removed with special keys that their handlers have.  They are both assured that they will be hailed as heroes and find paradise is the next life.  However, their mission goes slightly awry and Said gets separated from the group, which convinces the others that he is a traitor.  Both men brood over what the right thing to do is and surprisingly enough, the answer isn't clear to either of them.

I found this film fascinating, although I didn't sympathize with the main leads as much as I was expecting to.  That is not to say I was expecting to be on the side of the suicide bombers, but I went in thinking the entire point of the film was going to be to make us sympathize with our main characters.  I spent the entire movie being disgusted by Khaled and Said, who each seemed to possess their own special cowardice.

So upsetting, but interesting and I guess I will end it there.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

First Palestinian film to be nominated for an Academy Award.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

983. Va, Vis, et Deviens

Va, Vis, et Deviens
Live and Become
2005
Directed by Radu Mihaileanu








It took me around three days and five separate sittings to finish this film.  I enjoyed it, but I did feel like I was watching the story that wouldn't end.  I even cheered when it was finally over, which, if you have watched the final scene in this film, is beyond inappropriate.

Shlomo is a Christian boy who is disguised as an Ethiopian Jew by his mother in order to be sent to Israel during Operation Moses.  His mother believes that Israel is a magical place, free from famine and torment.  Schlomo leaves his sickly mother and pretends to an orphan.  Schlomo is adopted by two loving parents, but remains haunted by his secrets.

Maybe I have read too many Dickens novels, but I was shocked that Schlomo's new family was kind and gentle.  The most touching scenes in this film came from Schlomo and his adopted mother, like when she licked his face in the middle of the schoolyard to show that Schlomo was healthy and loved.  Gross, but nevertheless touching.

The narrative definitely threw me.  I was expecting a Europa Europa-esque tension, where Shlomo's secret was in constant danger of being revealed.  Instead, the filmmakers just seemed content to tell a simple story about love and family.

I do think about forty minutes could have been shaved off this film.  I think the story faltered a bit when Shlomo became an adult.  Man, they really didn't care about making any of the Schlomos look alike, did they?

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Won awards at the Cannes and Berlin film festivals.

982. Fahrenheit 9/11

Fahrenheit 9/11
2004
Directed by Michael Moore








I have been too depressed to discuss politics lately, given the current climate in the US right now.  However, I will briefly break my cranky silence and talk about Fahrenheit 9/11.

Basically, Michael Moore does his best to convince us in two hours that the Bush administration exploited the 9/11 tragedy in order to push forward their own corrupt agenda.   Moore alleges that the events like the signing of the Patriot Act or the footage of the US abuse towards prisoners are all evidence of an unlawful system.

So this is a rather scary film and skillfully presented that it is hard to visualize the other side of the argument.  I always take Moore's films with a grain of salt, but this truthfully shook me to my chore.  I have ranted so many times in the past week that I have no more rant to give.  But sometimes the fact that I am a US citizen scares me.

Easily Moore's most upsetting documentary yet.  And I thought Columbine would be unbeatable.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

First documentary to debut at number one at the box office.

Banned in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Monday, June 20, 2016

981. Sideways

Sideways
2004
Directed by Alexander Payne







This is a favorite of mine and one that I have been looking forward to for a long time.  I find the character of Miles extremely relatable (probably not a good thing) and the dialogue in this film absolutely brilliant.

Miles is taking is old college roommate Jack on a wine tour to celebrate Jack's upcoming nuptials.  Miles is failed divorced author whose wine obsession is clearly more than just a hobby, while Jack is a washed up actor.  Much to Miles' dismay, Jack informs him that he plans on getting laid on the trip and will do everything he can to make sure Miles has sex too.  Jack finds what he is looking for in a sexy wine pourer and Miles becomes interested in her friend Maya.

In lesser hands, this would have been a fairly disgusting bromance movie, where the two leads form an unlikely bond while having gross sexual misadventures.  Fortunately, Payne never condescends to the viewer and delivers a very real story about two flawed friends.  No one plays a down and out loser better than Paul Giamatti.  The scene between Maya and Miles when they discuss their love of wine is truly beautiful and always makes me feel guilty that I avoid red wine completely.  The humor in this film comes from very genuine human foibles and awkwardness, which is something we can all relate to.  If this were a typical Hollywood comedy, there probably would have  been some misunderstanding involving a prostitute.

Another strong contender for the Best Picture Oscar of the 00s (one of the most coveted awards in recent history).

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

The food that Miles, Jack, and Miles' mother ate together gave all of the actors food poisoning.

Most of the wine the actors' drank was non alcoholic.

Paul Giamatti doesn't like wine.

980. Der Untergang

Der Untergang
Downfall
2004
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel








By now I have seen quite a few World War II films for the List.  It is quite rare to see a movie from a Nazi perspective, let alone Hitler's.  While most of the children in this film were fairly reprehensible, it was interesting to see a few glimpses of humanity and love from the one of the most evil political organizations in history.

Based on the diary of Traudl Junge, Hitler's secretary, Downfall tells the story of the last ten days of Hitler's life.  It was strange seeing this part of a war.  Usually we get to see significant battles and only read about the surrender in a few lines of onscreen text.

I was worried that this film would be so eager to portray Hitler as a human being that it would either overcompensate by dismissing the atrocities he committed or just come across as annoyingly preachy.  Thankfully, I was wrong.  I didn't feel emotionally blackmailed in the slightest; the scenes where Hitler was shown to be affectionate felt very natural.  We still got to see the insane, hate fueled Hitler, but we also saw that he was capable of love.  I knew I liked Bruno Ganz before this, but I am now convinced he is one of the greatest actors of our time.

I also liked that the movie primarily takes place in the bunker.  Bunkers are obviously claustrophobic places and the film was effective in making me feel a similar tension.  Highly recommended.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Many of Hitler's lines were historically accurate, although they were said at earlier dates.


979. Crash

Crash
2004
Directed by Paul Haggis









I will try to get past my disgust that this won Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain long enough to write this review.  I mean, Chicago and then this??  Okay, I'm done.

Crash tells several interconnecting stories, some of which are more effective than others.  Among the more interesting characters are a wealthy African American couple who are humiliated by a racist police officer and a Middle Eastern store owner who fears for his family's safety.

A lot of films dealing with racism oversimplify matters to the point of absurdity, which I talked about a little in my Do The Right Thing review.  While there are definitely moments of oversimplification (particularly with Farhad) overall I think the filmmakers did a good job of depicting the more subtle moments of racism that occur in a day to day lives.  For example, when Jean, the white wife of the district attorney, walks in a different direction when she sees two black men.

Obviously, police racism and brutality are still very relevant issues.  Still, the film is somewhat bogged down by a few unnecessary characters that were seemingly there to fill out the race bingo card.  A good forty five minutes of this film could have been cut out, which would have cleaned things up considerably.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Lowest grossing Best Picture winner since The Last Emperor.

Paul Haggis himself has said that this film did not deserve to win Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain.

Friday, June 17, 2016

978. Passion of the Christ

Passion of the Christ
2004
Directed by Mel Gibson









I am not Christian, which might make the following post a bit awkward for some people.  I gave a similar disclaimer before my Rapture post and thankfully, no one got annoyed with me (or if they did they kept it to themselves).  Hopefully I can get through this without offending anybody too severely.

Basically, this film depicts the last twelve hours of Jesus' life before his crucifixion.  Interesting side note, someone on my music blog recently compared me to the people who crucified Jesus for giving a negative review to a Gary Numan album.  A little harsh, in my opinion.

We all know Mel Gibson is fairly anti Semitic, so I feared the worst going into this film.  It is a very ugly movie that seems to revel in its gore and sadism.  It seems to strange to me that crew members converted to Catholicism after filming wrapped (if that's even true).  What was divine about this movie?  You don't really get to see much of Jesus' life or teachings.  It's pretty much two hours of Caviezel getting the shit beaten out of him.  Gibson filmed this movie as if it belonged in the horror genre.  Some of these scenes definitely venture into torture porn territory.  I suppose his forgiveness at the end is what people find inspirational.  I didn't and I resented the Book for making me sit through two hours of religious propaganda.

Anyway, I heard there is a Passion of the Christ 2 in the works.  Wasn't Jesus himself the sequel?  If we are sticking with the horror themes, it will probably be a zombie film.

RATING: *----

Interesting Facts:

Jim Caviezel has said that he was struck by lightning when he was filming the Sermon on the Mount scene.

Macaulay Culkin was the first choice to play Jesus.