Thursday, August 25, 2011


Best year for film ever? Many seem to think so. All I know is that these films are terrific, and I feel very strongly about each one. Very hard to choose between them. In many ways (like most lists) this is an arbitrary arrangement. I love 'em all.

1. The Rules of the Game (Renoir)

2. Stagecoach (Ford)
3. The Wizard of Oz (Fleming)
4. Ninotchka (Lubitsch)
5. The Roaring Twenties (Walsh)
6. Le Jour se leve (Carné)
7. Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks)
8. Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford)
9. Gone with the Wind (Fleming)
10. Destry Rides Again (Marshall)

11. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Capra)
12. Another Thin Man (van Dyke)

Still Need to See: The Women, Gunga Din, Love Affair, Dark Victory


Brandon, this is a little late, but have a blast on tour! I'll miss you brother, but I look forward to getting a post from you whenever you can. I'll refrain from posting any of the rest of my 2000s lists until you get back. Good luck with everything and tear shit up! Can't wait to see y'all at Jarvis in Oct.


Ben, I loved THE CROW as a young lad. I believe it was one of the first dvds I ever bought with my brothers (along with FIGHT CLUB and DUMB AND DUMBER). I haven't seen it in a very long time though.


I hope we can get as many film clubbers as possible at DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. I'm really excited to see it. The only thing I'm really dying to see after that is Nicolas Winding Refn's DRIVE, which comes out Sept. 16. I hope it comes to regal.

Monday, August 22, 2011

13 Assassins

You were right, Brandon. 13 ASSASSINS is awesome. It's very fitting material considering our recent talk about violence in film. This a film that is incredibly gory and violent, but it needs to be. The opening needs to be violent so we can know how much to hate the evil Lord, and the epic finale needs to be violent because we are seeing a bunch of warriors' last stand. We are seeing a swan song to the age of War, and what we get had better be soaked in blood. It is and it's pretty damn terrific.

Talk about violence that is entertaining and funny. There is one great moment when a man who is on fire is sliced down the middle and all you see are two burning slabs bend out of frame. Pretty sweet. Though, I think my favorite moment in the film is when the enemies enter the area decorated with swords. One master samurai just begins slicing dudes up and grabbing new swords to aid him in his slaughter. It’s fucking awesome.

Kurosawa and Peckinpah were evoked in a lot of the reviews I read. It's pretty easy to see why. This is an old-fashioned and violent epic through and through, which is something I wasn't expecting. I agree with you completely, Brandon, about how the fight scenes are shot and choreographed. It's so refreshing to see a fight scene that you can actually follow. Miike does a great job setting up each one of our assassins in the beginning and then letting us follow each one during the fight sequence in these brief but highly organized mini-episodes. This is how a big fight scene should be composed. Not just relying on shaky-cam and blistering cuts to disorient us through chaos, but carefully guiding us through clear and organized scenes so we know who is fighting who and can care. I thought the whole (nearly hour long) fight sequence was terrific. It was exciting, engrossing, and most importantly lucid.

This is a great samurai film from a director I really haven't gotten acquainted with. I don't think I could handle his horror films, but if he keeps making films like this, I'll surely keep watching.

Friday, August 19, 2011


John, thanks for updating our lists. I do really appreciate that you put them in there all nice, neat, and organized. 'Tis very helpful.

Have either you or Brandon (or anyone else too) seen Leo McCarey's RUGGLES OF RED GAP? It's very funny, and I think both of you would like it a lot, if you haven't already seen it. It's got a really great comedic performance from Charles Laughton. Maybe the most astonishing thing about it too is that Laughton starred in RUGGLES the same year as MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY. A real testament to his talent to play someone so despicable and someone so lovable in the same year. He was awesome.


I've got my temp. 1937 list finished. There are still a few more I need to see to make it feel complete, but for now this is a start.

1. The Grand Illusion (Renoir)
2. Make Way for Tomorrow (McCarey)
3. Stage Door (La Cava)
4. The Prisoner of Zenda (Cromwell)
5. Pépé le Moko (Duvivier)
6. Nothing Sacred (Wellman)
7. The Awful Truth (McCarey)
8. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Lots of People)
9. A Day at the Races (Wood)
10. A Star is Born (Wellman)

I'll just say something about the first three because I don't have a lot of time to write. THE GRAND ILLUSION is one of the absolute masterpieces of the 30s and of all time really. It's one of the first few foreign classics I watched when I first started getting into film in high school. I loved it then and I still love it now. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it immediately! Brandon, I believe you called this your favorite war film of all time. Same for me, no doubt. MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW seems to get overshadowed by THE AWFUL TRUTH, but make no mistake, MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW is the Leo McCarey masterpiece of 1937. It has to be one of the sweetest and most tender films Hollywood ever produced. Also one of the saddest (I believe Orson Welles said it would make a stone cry). If you haven't seen it, also check this one out. STAGE DOOR is hilarious, plain and simple. Another master comedy from a very overlooked director in Gregory La Cava. It has to contain some of sharpest and funniest insults in any film ever. They come so rapidly that it's hard to keep up with all of them. Watch this one if you haven't as well.

I'll have my '39 list done as soon as I watch ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS Sunday on TCM. I should have the rest of the 30s lists done by the end of September.

For now, I have to take the bullshit GRE tomorrow. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

No parents!!

John, I can’t believe you posted my fiancee’s eharmony video! That’s how we met!

The funny thing about John’s retort to Chris about PETA is that Chris is a voracious, lifelong meat eater.

Factory farming is evil. You don't need to be a vegetarian to think that.

Brandon, amazing Summer People songs man! I can’t wait to hear em live so I can sing em at the top of my lungs. You guys have really hit your stride as a band, and as a fan and friend this is incredibly exciting. Keep it coming.

I’m glad you wrote back so much on that topic. I was hoping it would elicit some decent discussion.
I agree with you on a lot of what you wrote. I definitely don’t think that the horror genre should be limited in anyway. It should be as nasty and unsettling as it wants to be. You’re right that as a genre it is supposed to make us feel uncomfortable and unsafe, and bring us into contact with the darkest side of our world and our imaginations. I like the horror genre a lot. I think I have my limits when it comes a certain level of violent depiction on film, but I don’t think that films that are disgusting in a violent way are necessarily bad or should be banned. I’m sure AUDITION is highly effective and well done. I don’t want to see it because I think it brings me into a world that I can’t easily shake or get out of. With films like that, it is as if you are presented with a world or universe that is inherently evil, which scares me much more than a purely indifferent universe. Afterward, I feel disturbed and unsafe just at the idea of existing and it makes me too depressed. I don’t want to see A SERBIAN FILM or THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE because I think they would make me feel really dirty and awful inside, and life is too short of that shit. I’m not saying these films shouldn’t exist, but I just reserve my right to not watch them. Much like Lisa does with all scary films. I have my limits too (yeah, call me a pussy if you’d like you big bully).

I also think that shock art can be effective. I like Odd Future and think Tyler is funny even if he's nasty.

I would absolutely agree that ANTICHRIST is of the same ilk as THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE and HOSTEL. It’s a nasty horror film that is trying to provoke and push boundaries of what is acceptable on film. I don’t think I have ever said or have claimed that it isn’t. However, I agree with you that it is done more competently than something like HOSTEL and is a much more interesting film. Like you said, it depends on the film. If a film features intense gore or elaborate torture, I’m not going to immediately dismiss it based on that, but I will dismiss it if I think it is poorly written, uninspired, shallow, etc. I think HOSTEL is bad thriller with torture as gimmick. I think that ANTICHRIST is a good horror film with torture feeding into the narrative.

When Orson Welles was asked if a film that is pornographic could be a masterpiece, he said no. He said you can have a masterpiece of pornography but you can never have a masterpiece of a film that is pornographic. His reasons were that if you are making pornography, you trying to arouse people. That’s your objective. To him, if you are doing this you are forgoing the key components of storytelling that make a film a masterpiece. You aren’t trying to make a great film, you’re trying to get people to jerk off. I’m not saying I totally agree with Welles here, but I think he makes an interesting point, and I’ll apply it to torture in film.

I think if you have torture in your film, you are trying to disgust, shock, and frighten your audience. It’s important for horror films to elicit these responses in us, but I also think it’s important to have something else going on. Maybe some intriguing themes, some character development, or anything that makes film worth spending time with.
I’m not saying that horror films need to strive to be masterpieces of storytelling, but I just like something more to grip on to besides torture because without it, the torture is just a gimmick and can be just as superfluous as hardcore sex in a film or all those unnecessary fight scenes in THE MATRIX RELOADED.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t mind the idea of including torture or drawn out nasty and violent sequences in films as long as there is something else going on and it is all done well and effectively. I feel like you have the impression that I dislike all gore or violence in film in general. I definitely do not, in fact I love it. It’s just at some point I get grossed out and have to look away because I want to be able to eat later. I still think gore and violence are awesome, and also love both when they are done humorously or inventively. I was cracking up throughout PLANET TERROR and have laughed at some pretty violent and gross scenes in my day.

However, I’m also of the opinion that you don’t even need torture or excessive gore to make your shit disgusting and terrifying. There’s no torture on screen in SEVEN but it is all implied. The film never gets bogged down with these superfluous scenes of John Doe forcefully feeding a man until bursts. We are just left to imagine these scenes on our own. In this way, the film gets to focus on its central narrative and is still more horrifying than most films that include these graphic scenes.

Graphic and extended violent scenes can be completely effective and not weigh a film down or they can do just the opposite. I’m all for these graphic scenes, I just hope they are not pointless. That’s my stance.

One thing I think that is interesting is that we are disgusted by torture when it is done to people we think are innocent. It disgusts and frightens us because we see ourselves as the victims. However, in revenge cinema, when we see violence or torture done to people we know are not innocent, we see ourselves as the aggressors and the torture/violence becomes triumphant (at least initially). It’s not a film, but DEXTER is like that. We never see ourselves on Dexter’s table. We always see ourselves standing next to him like a surgeon’s assistant.

Anyway, I don’t know what I’m saying here, other than that we definitely qualify violence, be it in film or in reality.

It’s really tough to say whether people are inherently violent or not, but we certainly have been violent for centuries. One of my favorite things about McCarthy’s BLOOD MERDIAN is that it opens with the reported finding of a 300,000 year old human skull that had been scalped.

“Movies and television have probably allowed our imaginations to grow. But while movies/tv can plant ideas in our head, there needs to be something else there to make us act on those ideas.” Very true. It reminds me of the last scene in Hitch’s ROPE. There does have to be something more there then just the ideas themselves. I can play Grand Theft Auto and shoot a bunch of virtual people or watch a movie with a bunch of people pretending to be shot, but if you put a real gun in my hand I wouldn’t even be able to lift it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Don't worry I'll still watch TRADE WINDS...

I just wanna post a preliminary 1938 list because it is finished. I’ll watch that crappy, Spanish subtitled version of TRADE WINDS soon (woohoo!), and then correct this list if necessary. I just wanted to post what I already have, and I’ve decided to actually write something about this list for a change. It's good to make yourself write even when you don't want to.

1. Le Quai des brumes (Carné)
2. The Lady Vanishes (Hitchcock)
3. The Adventures of Robin Hood (Curtiz)
4. La Bête humaine (Renoir)
5. You Can’t Take it With You (Capra)
6. Angels With Dirty Faces (Curtiz)
7. Alexander Nevsky (Eisenstein)
8. Bringing Up Baby (Hawks)
9. Jezebel (Wyler)
10. Pygmalion (Asquith, Howard)

Marcel Carné’ LE QUAI DES BRUMES (or PORT OF SHADOWS) surprised me. I was anticipating it to be good and for me to enjoy it based on my love and reverence for LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. It’s such an involving piece of cinema. It’s so beautiful to look at, with each frame seeming to glow and the atmosphere shrouded in fog and mystery. It’s also poetic and romantic with a precarious sense of doom holding sway over everything. You instantly connect with these characters who are all trapped in this lonely seaside city, looking for love, hope, meaning, anything. You’re alone there with them; you’re looking for a way out but you’re also looking for each other. In this way, the film reminds me of THE PETRIFIED FOREST and why I connected to that film so much. Being stuck in a place with only your romantic ideas to hope for is something I respond to immensely. LE QUAI DES BRUMES is a masterpiece and one of the best of the 30s.

THE LADY VANISHES has to be one of my favorite Hitchcock films now. I saw it many years ago and don’t think I was prepared for it. Watching it again, I just loved it. It’s exciting and mysterious exactly the way it should be. It often gets singled out with THE 39 STEPS as being the best of Hitch’s 30s work and it’s easy to see why that is. As a narrative, it is told very well and it unfolds perfectly, just hooking you in from the beginning. It’s also oddly humorous and whimsical in ways you wouldn’t expect. The shootout scene in particular is very funny and unusual.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD is just a blast. The stuff that pure boyhood enjoyment is made of.

LA BETE HUMAINE is a particularly dour noir (which I like), and it has such a tightly constructed narrative. Renoir was a storyteller who could illuminate just about everything and make you see it in a different way. He also understood the complexity and depth of humanity as well as any filmmaker of his age.

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU is so much fun. I remember reading the Self Styled Siren’s criticisms of it when she poster her films she doesn’t love but feels like she should list. I think she’s dead wrong with her criticisms. Jean Arthur and Jimmy Stewart are a great team, and the film is just trying to be silly the way great screwball comedies are. The thing I like about films like this is that they ask you to losen up and just enjoy the zaniness. I don’t think Grandpa Vanderhof’s tax stance is being seriously offered as an argument but as a piece of silliness. The main argument of the film is to be silly, but also to stick by your family. What’s so wrong with that?

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES has one of Cagney’s best performances (and he had many). I think what makes him so incredible a performer is that while he is very intense and seemingly rigorous, there is a vulnerability to him that makes him endlessly sympathetic (or at least he portrays this inner sense of vulnerability perfectly). He’s easy to be impressed by and to love. One the greatest actors ever. This is another great film from Curtiz, a director who I really admire. With this film, it doesn’t seem as if it is just a PSA against the rise in gangsters and organized crime. There’s also a little TREE OF LIFE thing going on in terms of this pull between nature and grace. I mean, the title says it all.

What ALEXANDER NEVSKY lacks in terms of narrative, it makes up for in terms of cinematic inventiveness. It’s basically a propaganda film, but it’s constructed like epics that would come much later in film history. The extended ice battle sequence is rightfully praised as much as it is.

I enjoy other Howard Hawks films more than BRINGING UP BABY but still find it very funny and a real good time à la YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU.

JEZEBEL is a real beautiful southern gothic. I love Bette Davis.

PYGMALION is a very fine adaptation of a truly great and witty play. Sorry MY FAIR LADY, I prefer the original story.

haha you can tell how quickly I get tired of writing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Kiss me deadly/1931

Watched KISS ME DEADLY a few days ago, and it was just awesome! A totally insane film noir, right from its upside down opening credits (complete with female orgasmic panting) to its shocking and brilliant sci-fi/horror ending. I love that Aldrich and Bezzerides took the sleaziest of material and just blew it up into something outrageous. It's the perfect macho nightmare.

I had always heard that the ending was crazy, and I was pretty stunned when it happened (The best box opening scene I've ever witnessed, along with Raiders of the Lost Ark). I think as soon as Mike finds the box and opens it slightly, you realize how freaky the stakes have gotten and you know you're in for a pretty wicked ending. It doesn't disappoint.


Brandon- How do you find all these film blogs? If you wouldn't mind, please send me a list of all the best ones to read and I'll add them to my bookmarks.

I wasn't really interested in seeing Miike’s 13 ASSASSINS until you gave such a glowing review. Are you a fan of Miike? I watched five minutes of ICHI THE KILLER and shut it off. I've seen brief clips of AUDITION (I believe on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments), but I would never never watch the whole thing. Too much torture for me man.

Have you heard of A SERBIAN FILM? What do you think about films like this that try to shock and up the ante in terms of disgust and depravity? Do you think they are just a part of a tradition in the horror genre to push the limits of what is acceptable to be depicted or do they deserve the pejorative title of torture porn? Just curious to hear you opinion on this (anyone else who wants to weigh, please do).

This is great what you said: "Intellectuals are supposed to be lovers of knowledge but instead seem more like lovers of bourgeois culture." Spot on. I encounter these BU types all the time. They remind me why I prefer to be alone.

This too: "Does this mean that most violent cinema is revenge cinema?" I'd say so. When you think about it, most violence in cinema does have a retributive quality. This is gonna make our top 10 revenge films lists a bitch. I'd say only choose films that have revenge as a central focus/crisis of the narrative. I've compiled a bunch of revenge films I like. Now I just gotta figure out how to rank em. I'm hoping you'll post yours first.


Here's my preliminary top 10 list for 1931. I'll add to it as needed.

1. City Lights (Chaplin)
2. M. (Lang)
3. Le Million (Clair)
4. The Public Enemy (Wellman)
5. Frankenstein (Whale)
6. Monkey Business (McLeod)
7. À Nous la liberté (Clair)
8. Little Caesar (LeRoy)
9. The Threepenny Opera (Pabst)
10. Dracula (Browning)

I'd like to post my 1938 list, which is done, but I should watch TRADE WINDS before doing so. It's a pretty solid 10 so there's a chance it might not make the cut, but still I'll watch all I can.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"What do ya know, Joe?"

Putting film titles in all caps is much easier than italicizing them. I'm gonna start doing the former.

A.I. is flawed and I don't love it unconditionally, but it has a strangeness and a power to it that I can't easily escape. It's a spectacular film.

I don’t know how I would rank Kubrick films. I know that BARRY LYNDON and 2001 are my favorites, but beyond both, I love all of his films with almost equal measure. EYES WIDE SHUT is one of the best films Kubrick ever made though, and it’s one that I love more and more with each revisit. Easily the best film of ’99 and in my top 3 of the decade. Glad you love it too, Brandon.

Chris, I also like that you say that the parents are more God than God in TOL. Absolutely, they are life givers and life shapers. They are responsible for the lives they create, and are easily identifiable as creators. For the children in the film, there is no mystery about who is responsible for their existence and how they’ve been shaped as people. But with God there is still that mystery and that lack of responsibility (until possibly the ending) that fuels the anguished whispering in the film. To me, that makes the film as important and ambitious as it is. It presents a seemingly simple story about the development of a single family in Texas, but makes the stakes no less than universal and eternal. It’s not just the creation and evolution of a family, but of everything that has ever existed.

Brandon, I’m excited to see your 1933 list. I might be able to have mine done by the end of the month. I’m definitely having fun with all these lists, but at times I do feel the weight of seeing too many films at once. I maybe don’t get the chance to really feel the excitement of watching a new film or to let each one sink in. Still, I’ve found all the films I’ve seen to be great and inspiring. I don’t regret watching any of them for a second. I think if I were doing an 80s marathon I would feel differently.

I think its swell that you stand up for action films. It’s a genre that is certainly frowned upon in many intellectual film communities. And you are totally right when you say, “I’ve sensed that a lot of people stare down their nose at the less reputable genres in art (punk, metal, action, horror, pulp, romance).” It seems as though whenever you want to become knowledgeable of any art form, you are immediately pressured into developing a sophisticated sense of taste and must repudiate all allegiance to anything deemed trashy. I’m glad you stick up for all these genres.

You mentioned this a while back, but I love what you wrote about revenge movies. The best ones do test us. They challenge our ideals and theories, and hit us on a very primal, emotionally raw level. I think I like revenge movies so much because they do hit me on such a level. I watch THE VIRGIN SPRING and I scream, “vengeance!” but I’m also conflicted about it. On a purely emotional level, I want the revenge and feel like it will restore the balance to the universe. But on a purely rational level, I know that it can never do this and that it is ultimately hollow. Some of the best revenge movies are conflicting in this way and present almost Pyrrhic victories. I think of two revenge movies coming up in my 2000s lists, OLDBOY and IN THE BEDROOM, and I think they present this exquisitely. Look at the scene in the elevator in OLDBOY after one of the characters has gotten his revenge, or the scene at the end of IN THE BEDROOM with the band-aid. It’s the bittersweetness of vengeance, with an emphasis on the bitter.

I really like your gangster list. It’s not too dissimilar to one I would make if pressed. I haven’t seen HIGH SIERRA yet, but plan to watch it on TCM very soon. Been meaning to watch it for a while now. Likewise, never got around to watching Cassavetes’ THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE, but have always been interested in doing so. Here’s the list I would make without too much thought or expertise:


I think THE ROARING TWENTIES is incredible and with time and more viewings it will only grow in stature for me. It’s hard to rank it above the first three on my list because I’m so familiar with them and have seen them multiple times. ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, I’m certain after one viewing, is a masterpiece and I’m excited to watch it more as well. What say you of The Coen’s MILLER'S CROSSING?

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Got one list done, with more to come. 1938 should be done by early this upcoming week. As I've made it clear with my two 50s lists, this is just a preliminary top 10 favorite films list of 1936. I will add to it if necessary as I see more pictures from the year. I will probably never reach an Ed Gonzalez level of depth with 20 or so honorable mentions, but this is a start.

1. My Man Godfrey (La Cava)
2. Dodsworth (Wyler)
3. After the Thin Man (van Dyke)
4. Modern Times (Chaplin)
5. The Lower Depths (Renoir)
6. The Petrified Forest (Mayo)
7. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Capra)
8. Fury (Lang)
9. Swing Time (Stevens)
10. Sabotage (Hitchcock)

Still need to see: Camille (Cukor), San Francisco (van Dyke), The Great Ziegfeld (Leonard), The Crime of Monsieur Lange (Renoir), and some others.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Here’s my initial 1957 list. There are still many, many films I need to see for it to be concluded, but this is a decent start. I haven’t seen Decision at Sundown, The Tall T, Night Passage, The Incredible Petrified World, Curse of the Demon, Run of the Arrow, and Gunfight at OK Coral, to name the ones from your lists, Brandon and John. Haven’t seen a lot of the westerns from that year. I have seen 3:10 to Yuma, but saw it back when the remake came out and can’t remember much of it. I’ll have to see it again along with the others up top.

Anyway, here it is for now:

1. Wild Strawberries (Bergman) / The Seventh Seal (Bergman)
2. The Bridge on the River Kwai (Lean)
3. Paths of Glory (Kubrick)
4. Nights of Cabiria (Fellini)
5. Throne of Blood (Kurosawa)
6. A Face in the Crowd (Kazan)
7. Le Notti Bianche (Visconti)
8. Witness for the Prosecution (Wilder)
9. A King in New York (Chaplin)
10. 12 Angry Men (Lumet)

Can’t decide between the two Bergman masterpieces. Go figure. I still love the Lean epics. Paths of Glory is an early masterpiece from, well, a master. I still love Fellini, period. Throne of Blood is an awesome reinvention of Macbeth. A Face in the Crowd is definitely as scathing an expose of human greed and manipulation as Ace in the Hole (it's easily as relevant today as it's ever been). Visconti's film is a luminous retelling of a great Dostoevsky story. Witness for the Prosecution is all about the great Charles Laughton, and it's also very entertaining. A King in New York is a hilarious satire from a man who never forgot what makes us laugh. 12 Angry Men is also real entertaining.

Up next: 1936.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Toy story

I was looking over my 2001 list, and I realized that I hadn’t seen Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence in ages. I decided to give it another watch to see if it’d rise from the 10 spot on my list. Having watched it again, it most certainly does rise, but I won’t know where to put it until I post my list. I thought about just waiting until I post the list to talk about the film, but it’s fresh in my mind now. If I wait, I’ll end up writing vague thoughts like I usually do for my lists. And that ain’t good. So, here's some rambling thoughts instead. There are spoilers so beware.

Isn’t it a really great coincidence that A.I. came out in 2001 of all years? The similarities between it and Kubrick’s ’68 masterpiece are numerous. But where 2001 is concerned with the evolution of man, A.I. is concerned with the evolution of man’s creations. As a vision conceived by Kubrick, A.I. is a challenging and profound companion piece to 2001 in this regard. As a film carried out by Spielberg, it is an, at times, narratively flawed yet very terrific fairytale/sci-fi nightmare.

A.I. opens with a shot of gray undulating waves. We are told that the polar ice caps have melted, submerging coastal areas around the world into an aqua oblivion. We then jump to the birth of David, the first robot ever built with the capability to love humans. David is a giant step on a long path in the evolution of artificial intelligence capabilities (and in this case artificial emotion).

We follow David’s journey through various layers of Mecha/Orga society until the end of the film when David, like New York and other coastal areas before him, is buried beneath the ocean. We then jump to his revival 2,000 years later at the hand of some mysterious yet highly advanced mecha/alien hybrids. Interestingly, water–the building block of life–has become a visual metaphor for the advancement of artificially created life, just like the 2001 monolith for the evolution of humanity. David, like HAL before him, is the evolution of robots into more humanistic creatures. The mecha/alien hybrids, like the Star-Child before them, are these humanistic creatures even going beyond their human creators towards something else entirely.
A.I. is about the evolution of robots and all the moral and philosophical questions that come with such advancements. It’s like an incredibly disturbing version of Toy Story.

Toy Story is a great franchise, but it never seems to ask what responsibility humans have for the toys they create or own (it's a kids franchise after all so I wouldn't expect it to). The humans are unaware of their toys’ life-like capabilities so they are never burdened with the realization that the toys they abandon are doomed to a life of eternal loneliness and purposelessness. A.I. is like a Toy Story where the humans know their toys come to life. Just like we would wonder in this scenario what kind of responsibility Hasbro has for Buzz Lightyears everywhere or what kind of responsibility Andy has to his toys, A.I. wonders what responsibility humans have for the creatures they make. It’s a theme that goes back to Prometheus and Frankenstein, and one that is prevalent today with the idea cloning and the possibility for advanced artificial intelligence in the future. What makes our potentially human-like creations human or non-human? And do we have a responsibility to treat them as humans if they have become so adept at emulating humanity that it’s difficult to tell the difference between what is real and what is fake?

Ebert seems to think there is no responsibility. He criticized the film for asking us to feel emotion for a creature that is programmed to feel and think certain things but not actually feel or think them. I understand this criticism ,but I think where Ebert is wrong is that David is programmed to feel and think on his own. He is able to simulate pain and emotion like love, fear, and loneliness, but does the fact that it is a simulation make it less real than say a human feeling pain through his or her nerves? Or a Human feeling emotion? If there is nothing to distinguish a feeling or an emotion in terms of the experience itself, then what is real in this scenario? I think the film tries to make this ambiguity explicit. David is a question mark testing our conceptions of what it means to be human. He is purposefully supposed to challenge us emotionally as well as conceptually. Writing him off as simply a robot would be a mistake. I know that oftentimes we will anthropomorphize things by giving them more human qualities than they have (like kids do with teddy bears and such), but David is purposefully supposed to challenge the line between toy and human, between childlike empathy and enormous moral responsibility. Come on Roger, isn’t that a majority of the film?

I think the film asking you to feel for David is also a comment on film itself. When we watch a film, we are usually asked to feel emotion for characters who we know aren’t real, who are basically programmed to say and do certain things, and who blur the line between simulated and actual emotion. Is it such a stretch for the film to ask us to feel for David if we are asked to feel emotion for the human actors in the film already? I don’t know, just a thought.

Let me just say this, A.I. is bleak, absolutely chilling stuff. Many have criticized the ending for its sentimentality claiming it is Spielberg ruining a perfectly bleak Kubrickian ending. Spielberg claims the ending was Kubrick’s creation, and he was simply remaining true to his vision. I do know that Kubrick’s original story had David being revived by the Mecha/aliens but that’s all I know about the ending as envisioned by Kubrick. I will say that anyone who finds it overly sentimental or hopeful is merely reacting to it as an emotional culmination and dismissing the ideas behind it. Jonathan Rosenbaum has a great reading of the ending when he writes:

“It sounds like typical Spielberg goo — for better and for worse — and when you’re watching the film it feels that way. But the minute you start thinking about it, it’s at least as grim as any other future in Kubrick’s work. Humankind’s final gasp belongs to a fucked-up boy robot with an Oedipus complex who’s in bed with his adopted mother and who finally becomes a real boy at the very moment that he seemingly autodestructs — assuming he vanishes along with her, though if he survives her, it could only be to look back in perpetual longing at their one day together. Real boy or dead robot? Whatever he is, his apotheosis with mommy seems to exhaust his reason for existing.”

I agree. David gets his wish, but his wish is just an extension of the horrible existence he has been doomed to live, and an extension of the irresponsible humans who have created him.
David is the last remnant of the “genius” human race the mecca/alien hybrids speak of. A humanoid toy built to service human needs at an incredible cost. He’s a shrine to human selfishness, vanity, and the insatiable need for love and validation. As one of the last remaining artifacts of humanity, he doesn’t paint a pretty picture beyond the technical acumen.

And it’s not just the ending that is bleak. The whole thing is too. It’s a damning look at humanity, and a tragic story from the first second to the last. We know David is doomed from the beginning. The opening scenes are cold and eerie. David is uncanny and a bit frightening to his family. Monica’s initial resistance to him linked with her irreversible imprinting on him foreshadows her abandonment of him. David is a toy doomed to love one person forever with a guarantee of unfulfillment because that person will someday die while he can go on living, seemingly forever. He’s Woody with ANDY printed not just on his foot but in his very makeup. He can't move on without being destroyed.

I think that A.I. is a horrifying vision of the future. But that’s what some of the best speculative sci-fi films do. They Illuminate problems and fears we have now and simply expand them into full-on nightmares.

On a lighter note, I watched WALL-E again the other night. What an incredible masterpiece it is. There's another film that asks us to feel emotion for a robot, and boy does it succeed instantly. WALL-E may be one of the most touching films I've ever seen, as well as an incredible sci-fi adventure. It's a miracle film. I had it at number 5 on my 2008 list. I just bumped it up to 3 behind The Dark Knight and Synecdoche, New York. I'm tempted to put it at number 2, but I seriously love Batman to death, so it's a tough call. I would say that if I went strictly with my heart, I would place WALL-E at number one, but I'm a heartless bastard. I should do a real post on WALL-E someday soon.