Monday, February 25, 2013

Following Chris and John

I'm a follower.  I basically just copied and pasted your format, John, so thanks for it.

My 2012 Awards:

Best Film: The Master

Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master

Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

Best Actress: Greta Gerwig, Damsels in Distress (Inspired pick, John)

Best Supporting Actor: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, The Master

Best Original Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master

Best Adapted Screenplay: David Cronenberg, Cosmopolis

Best Original Score: Jonny Greenwood, The Master

Best Soundtrack: Tabu

Best Animated Feature: The Secret World of Arrietty

Best Foreign Film: The Turin Horse

Best Documentary:  This is Not a Film

Best Cinematography: (tie) Mihai Malaimare, Jr., The Master & Fred Kelemen, The Turin Horse

Best Costume Design: Anais Romand, Holy Motors

Best Film Editing: Leslie Jones & Peter McNulty, The Master

Best Sound Editing: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Sound Mixing: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Lincoln

Best Original Song: “The Sambola! International Dance Craze” from Damsels in Distress (yep, I'll go with this as well).

Best Production Design: David Crank & Jack Fisk, The Master

Best Visual Effects: Uhh, let's just go with THE HOBBIT.  Sure.


Best Drama Series: Game of Thrones

Best Comedy or Musical: Parks & Recreation

Best Miniseries or TV Movie: Sherlock

Actor, Drama Series: Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad

Actress, Drama Series: Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad

Actor, Comedy or Musical: (Tie) Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock & Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation

Actress, Comedy or Musical: Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation

Actor, Miniseries or TV Movie: Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock

Supporting Actor, series, miniseries, movie: Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones

Supporting Actress, series, miniseries, movie: Maisie Williams, Game of Thrones

Top 10 Best Picture Winners

Hey Brandon, Chris, and John – great lists.  As you could probably imagine, mine's fairly similar to all of yours.

The Academy Awards are decidedly a mixed bag.  As a film lover, I have an interest in watching them because, like Brandon, I enjoy seeing certain people win in various categories.  For instance, last night, I enjoyed seeing Daniel Day-Lewis win again because apart from being a phenomenal actor he's also an inimitable class act with a wealth of charm, generosity, and humor.  He never disappoints.  But the ceremony itself is usually a grueling experience.  Be it through woefully unfunny hosts (ahem, Seth MacFarlane) or padding through musical numbers and montages that seem unending, the Oscars are never a clean or brisk ceremony.  They always feel exaggerated to the point of numbness and ultimately tedium.  And this is saying nothing about the paltry selection of films that usually win these awards.

The Academy has an undeniable history of making awful choices.  They are basically notorious for it at this point.  So much so that it's hard to really take them seriously, especially in modern times.  There's no getting around it.  But it's important to remember that, despite the way they present themselves, they are hardly the definitive or prestigious voice on film quality within a given year.  Their members aren't a collection of experts, vigorously pouring over and analyzing films, but a large group of insiders within Hollywood who are easily swayed by groupthink, buzz, and mass appeal.  Some of them are likely very intelligent and thorough; some of them are likely very idiotic and fickle. But as a whole they tend to lean in an often predictable and boring direction.  As I said though, they aren't experts, just a group of random people essentially.  We shouldn't necessarily give them more prestige then they deserve nor truthfully be disappointed with what they pick.  I mean, is anyone really expecting all that much from them?  I said the Oscars usually disappoint me, but this has less to do with their selections and more to do with the sad commercialism that dominates what they nominate and how they present themselves.  As Brandon and Chris mentioned, it's unfortunate that the Academy has the antithetical task of trying to seem respectable whilst also pandering to populism and youthful appeal.  These desires are rarely leading down the same path - just look at cable news.  It's always nice when the HURT LOCKERS of the world beat the AVATARS of the world, but on the whole, the Oscars tend to lead towards the juggernauts or just those who campaign the most fervently (Weinstein).  It's more pageantry than earnest testimonial.

Occasionally they do get things right, however.  It's kind of a drag that the lowest rated ceremony happens to be the best I've ever seen.  NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN was a strong and bold choice for Best Picture.  It's one of the few picks that I think the Academy can be proud of within the last thirty or forty years.  It was critically acclaimed and seemed to find something of a niche audience at the box office, but still it's hardly the typical Oscar bullshit along the lines of CRASH, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, or THE KING'S SPEECH.  It's an unconventional pick.  The film's expertly made, but also uncompromising, brutal, and profound to the point that you could imagine it being esoteric to some.  And to think that the main competition to NO COUNTRY that year was THERE WILL BE BLOOD – an even more bizarre and seemingly rarefied choice.  In my opinion, THERE WILL BE BLOOD should have won, but I'm not even going to pretend to be disappointed that NO COUNTRY was chosen instead.  They are both undisputed masterpieces and among the very best films of the last 30 years or more.  That one of them had to win over the other is unfortunate, but I'm still stoked that we had one year where these two were the frontrunners for Best Picture.  It's hard to imagine any other Oscar ceremony like that going forward.

The history of Best Picture winners is hardly the spectacular array to choose from; I agree with John.  Looking over that list leaves plenty to be desired.  But there are still some great films in there.  I've seen a lot of them too.  Almost all from the 30's through 70s, not a lot of the 80s, and then most, if not all, from the 90s and 00s.  I don't really have a desire to see shit like OUT OF AFRICA.  I wish I had never seen CRASH.  Here are my favorites:

1. It Happened One Night

This is flawlessly endearing and majestic cinema.  You're right, Brandon, there is such a communal, romantic spirit to Capra that I've often found less schmaltzy and more edifying.  He doesn't get enough credit among cinephiles for having such a glorifying attitude towards humanity during a highly troubling and painful period in American history.  This is one of his great masterpieces.  The scenes of Colbert and Gable sharing a hotel with the sheet between them and the rain gently taping on the window outside are among the best I've ever seen at capturing a sort of dreamy romanticism and muted desire.  This is a witty, bustling, and highly amusing picture, but it's also tender to the point that it makes you swoon.

2. Rebecca

I suppose it's unfortunate that Hitchcock never won an Oscar for Best Director, but the list of directors who have never won Academy Awards is certainly greater than the list that have, so Hitch is at the head of some highly prestigious company.   REBECCA remains one of my very favorites of Hitch's many masterpieces.  I suppose it's partly due to my love for Gothic imagery and settings (I'm a huge Brontë fan, after all).  But, it's also due to the expertly taut way this film unfolds.  It's beautifully made and structured with a palpable eeriness and mounting dread.  These are all traits Hitchcock was famous for, but here they are presented in one of their most glorious displays.

3. Annie Hall

Oddly enough, two of my top 3 favorite Best Picture winners are comedies.  Comedies are notorious for being shafted by the Academy, but these two are among the best ever made and were justly rewarded.  I don't have much to offer in terms of selling this film other than that it introduced me to Woody Allen and I've been an unabashed fan of him and it ever since.

4. On the Waterfront

There's no question that this is a great film.  Emotional, gripping, powerfully acted and directed.  Kazan is a fine director whose talent I greatly admire.  His personal choices are unfortunate and it's hard to admire him as a man, but I've always firmly believed that an artist's personal life should have no detrimental weight on his or her art.  Case in point.  Also, ON THE WATERFRONT, apart from being a masterpiece of cinema, is just a fascinating document of the Cold War era and the post-McCarthy Hollywood landscape.  I'm not sure there's much here in terms of anti-McCarthyism as as there is just a personal desire to see informing rebranded as a moral imperative.  This is a highly personal film from Kazan because its his plea for informers not to be seen as traitors or rats but as people caught in a bad situation who must do the "right" thing no matter the consequences.  Whether one agrees with this message or not doesn't hide the fact that this is a great piece of American history.  It's an engrossing look at the culture of the Cold War.  A film very much of its time but certainly not dated.

5.  The Godfather

I do admire you for picking Part II over this one, Brandon, if only because it's the more explicitly courageous choice.  Still, as much as I love Part II, I remain a bigger fan of the first part.  I guess I just like its arch better.  The juxtaposition of Vito's rise and Michael's fall is fantastic in Part II, but you get a better since of the family dynamic in the first part that I find especially captivating.  I like the passing of the torch from Vito to Sonny and eventually Michael.  Sonny's death and Michael being pulled into the family business coupled with Vito's ailing health and sadness over what's become of both children is compelling stuff.  I also really like when Sonny beats the shit out of Carlo.

6. All About Eve

This was one of the first less-well-known classics I ever saw, which is likely why it holds such an endearing place in my heart, even after all these years (I mean "less-well-known" in that it wasn't as famous as CASABLANCA, GONE WITH THE WIND, or CITIZEN KANE).  I didn't know Bette Davis when I saw this, which is why I never really had a desire not to see this – I was just interested in seeing classics, period, at that point.  But now, knowing more about Davis and her films, I can see why you were a little apprehensive to see this one, Brandon.  I like Bette Davis and am a fan of several of her films, but she also tended to star in these super-serious prestige dramas made by studio directors that don't hold up all that well when compared to genre pictures made by the autuers of the era.  They just aren't as interesting or exciting to me.  ALL ABOUT EVE does not fall in this category, however.  It's a wonderfully scathing film that also happens to be incredibly well-written and viciously entertaining.  Mankiewicz doesn't get a lot of credit from cinephiles, but he could be as fun as Wilder when he was on top form.

7. The Bride on the River Kwai & Lawrence of Arabia

I'm lumping these two together because they are both majestically mounted and highly entertaining films from a master director.  I don't have much too add about them either.  Coincidentally, they were both on TCM this morning and a watched a bit of both.  Impeccable filmmaking.

8. No Country For Old Men

As I mentioned above, this is a straight-up masterpiece of the highest order.  Every decision the Coens made with it is practically perfect.  From the casting right down to the lack of a score.  There's so many terrific scenes in this that it's hard to single out just one, but the scene with Lewllen in the motel with Chigurh on the prowl outside is one the most masterfully suspenseful I've ever seen.  It's genius.  The tension-building gauntlet for the modern age was thrown down on this film.

9. The Apartment

I always liked that despite being very jaunty and amusing this film also has a hazy melancholia to it.  There's an air of loneliness and failure that hangs over Lemmon's character it that makes the film's humor all the more piercing and its inevitable romantic triumph all the more satisfying.  It's also gorgeously photographed.

10. Casablanca

Fuck it, I'm putting this on here.  I still find this to be a deeply romantic and admirable film even if it has been eclipsed in my mind by other less-praised films from the period.  I haven't watched it in a few years, but the last time I did, it still made a strong impression on me.  I watched it with an old girlfriend one rainy night, and it sort of put classic film in perspective for me.  The girl I was with hadn't seen it (or hardly any other classics), and it just reminded me that there's a majority of people in this country that not only haven't seen this but wouldn't be caught dead watching it.  As cinephiles we often take our small community for something larger than it is.  I can imagine that less than 5% of people under 50 have any interest in seeing anything black-and-white let alone anything pre-1970.  To a vast majority of people there's no difference between CASABLANCA and something like THE PROWLER.  They are as equally obscure.

 Honorable Mentions:

11. How Green Was My Valley
12. You Can’t Take It With You
13. The Best Years of Our Lives

Sadly, I haven't seen A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, but seeing how much John likes it makes me really want to now.  I'm glad Brandon added THE DEPARTED to his list, even if I'm not a huge fan of that film.  I like it, and I think you make a terrific case for it Brandon (a great enough case that I'm tempted to watch the film again and re-evaluate it even).  But I was really hoping Scorsese would win for THE AVIATOR, which I see as a painstaking labor of love from Marty and one of my favorites of his within the last decade.  Truthfully, he should have beaten Redford in 1980 and Costner in 1990, but I honestly thought '04 was his year to make up for those past mistakes and then Eastwood stood in the way. Did you ever notice how often Marty's best chances of winning were always squandered by actors turned directors?  Damn star-fucking Academy :)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Jeff Howard's Day Off

It feels great to be blogging again.  Like I said in my last post, I need to start making it a habit.  I miss the personal excitement I get over our little interactions.

we seem to be in a similar spot on SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS.  I probably align with you the most on this one, though I can understand Brandon finding some deeper emotional connection to it.  It's a solid piece of work, in my opinion.  Worth the love, for sure.

I see you really liked 2 OR 3 THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER.  Interesting.  I started watching it on hulu a while ago and gave up on it rather quickly.  Perhaps I just wasn't in the mood for it at the time.  I might need to give it a fair shake at some point.

I'm actually really stoked for SPRING BREAKERS.  I'm hoping it comes to Binghamton.  I'll be there opening weekend if it does.

I, unfortunately, care about the Oscars, as well.  I watch them every year, regardless of how disappointing I know in my heart they will invariably be. The year NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN won was probably the only Oscar ceremony I've ever enjoyed watching, and even then I was slightly aggrieved that THERE WILL BE BLOOD didn't win, despite my profound love for NO COUNTRY and the Coens.  ARGO is supposed to win on Sunday, and I truthfully don't mind if it does.  I've got nothing against Affleck, and actually get some pleasure out of seeing him redeem himself so triumphantly and find success as a director.  Good for him.  I'm glad you called me out for getting a little down on my hopes for ARGO.  I shouldn't be so despairing.  I blame Glenn Kenny and Matt Zoller Seitz.  They are among the few critics I follow on twitter and have been repeatedly disparaging ARGO lately.  It must be getting to me.  Truth be told, I was mildly excited for ARGO back in the autumn. I thought it could be last years THE IDES OF MARCH – not a great film, but a solid, engrossing one that is worth watching.  It could still very much live up to that expectation, and hell, for all I know, exceed it.  I'm hoping to see ARGO this week, as a friend of Chris' and mine might rent it on demand.  I will watch it with an open mind and hopefully a fair eye.

Can I just say - I love Haneke, if only because he always generates discussion between the two of us. This guy is a goldmine for controversy and debate. AMOUR is certainly his most mature film (kinda funny to say that about a 70-year-old), and I welcome more of his work having a similar subdued, emotional aesthetic.  It's infinitely better than his visceral, santicmonious one, even if I still remain a champion of "Le Cheval Morte du Ciné-club." :)  I was joking about BENNY'S VIDEO and the potential "fuck you" response from Haneke in the event that he does win an Oscar.  I really hope he doesn't respond in that way, though I wouldn't be surprised considering he seems to have made it his life's work to be brazenly anti-Hollywood.  Excluding the remake of FUNNY GAMES, Haneke's last three films (CACHÉ, THE WHITE RIBBON, AMOUR) have been largely finger-wagging free.  At least, overtly. They are more ambiguous and layered.  He really is a great technician and formalist, and I think letting that side of him show without being so abrasive is for the best.

THE WHITE RIBBON will long live as his masterpiece in my mind.  Maybe I'm just a sucker for the black and white.

Speaking of Haneke reminds me - have you seen his faux twitter account? If you haven't yet, you should. You will love it.

I'm with you entirely on BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD.  Did not register as all that powerful or moving to me.  Missing 20 minutes of it likely hurt its cause, but I feel I saw enough to be swayed one way or another.  When the Beirut/Arcade Fire-esque soundtrack crescendoed at the end, I really felt like I should have been on the verge of tears, but I wasn't.  Just sleepy eyed instead.  It's not a bad movie, it's just missing something, and is held back from greatness.  It might just be a little too contrived for its own good. "I felt suffocated by its deliberateness" is very well put.

I have a copy of Fincher's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO laying around my room.  I'm thinking about giving it another chance soon.  I'm willing to concede that I might have underestimated it, if only because it was made by Fincher, who is a master director.  He's worth giving a second chance.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Updates/Random Thoughts

My wrist was supposed to be healed this past Wednesday, but it looks like it'll need another two weeks to reach said point of full health.  Stupid brittle bones.

The good news, though, is that my hand feels fine and I can type again without any problems or pain.  I'm hoping to get back into blogging more now.  I've really got to force myself out of writing apathy.  My brain has basically melted into a fine paste these past five weeks.  Time to start molding everything back together.  Whatever that all is.

First, congrats to new dad and mom, Brandon and Tara Musa.  I can't wait to meet little Dean.  I also can't wait for he and Ezekiel Owen to be going at it on the blogs in 20 years.

Second, I'd like to take this time and space to express my love for the Encore Westerns channel I have here at my parent's house.  In the last few weeks, I have watched Daves' THE HANGING TREE, De Toth's THE BOUNTY HUNTER, and Tourneur's WICHITA.  I have Boetticher's WESTBOUND recorded (and can't wait to watch it - the last Boetticher/Scott film I've yet to see).  I just discovered that Daves' JUBAL will be on later this week.  Ford's SERGEANT RUTLEDGE will also be on a bunch in the next few weeks, and I plan on recording it soon.  God bless you Encore Westerns, you are rivaling TCM as the most valuable commodity on TV this month.  Eat your heart out John. :)

Now, just some random movie talk.

I watched KILLER JOE a few weeks ago.  I never mentioned it.  It is one of those films that you watch and is so inconsequential that the second it's over you immediately move on to something else and don't think about it anymore.  I don't mean that to be as harsh as it sounds.  It's an OK movie, but it didn't do much of anything for me.  I actually loved the bright saturated nighttime color scheme in the beginning of the film.  It looked like the technicolor from SUSPIRIA.  That's probably the only thing that caught my eye though.  I didn't find it to be all that disgusting, and readily identified that it is indeed supposed to be a comedy (a la DJANGO UNCHAINED ;) ).  It just wasn't really anything that interested me at all.  I'll give it (and Brandon) points; the ending is ballsy and a nice touch of mayhem.  But, the KFC scene is so gimmicky.  It's clearly trying to be outrageous for the sake of being outrageous.  Weirdness for its own sake – I may be getting too old for it.

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS doesn't feel as gimmicky with some of its outrageous moments.  I think the Tom Waits flashback sequence where he and his lover kill a bunch of serial killers is one of the best in the movie and downright inspired visually.  It's an entertaining film.  I admire McDonaugh's panache, exuberance, and gift with words.  I read one of his plays a few years ago.  He really is a lot of fun as a writer.

I fell asleep through like 20 minutes of BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD.  For a low budget film it looks sharp, and it's emotionally and creatively weighty enough that it doesn't deserve to be easily dismissed like another recent crowd-pleaser I can think of (i.e. THE ARTIST).  Still, I wasn't a huge fan of it either, Brandon.  Did it feel a little too manipulative to you?
I had no idea libertarians were using the film to hijack their beliefs on to it.  That's fairly hilarious.  I won't go in depth into my aversion to libertarianism just now, but let's just say that I mostly find it to be a joke.  Especially when coupled with objectivism.

Can I just reiterate what I recently wrote on Letterboxd and say that SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is a great, great movie?  Like VERTIGO, it gets nothing but praise nowadays, but it fully deserves it.  Watching it again yesterday just brightened my day like a big ol' spotlight was shining on me.  Wonderful film.

Does anyone give a shit about the Oscars?  ARGO is supposed to win best picture.  I'd still like to see it, even if I know I won't love it or may not even like it all that much.  I have a sneaking suspicion that Haneke is going to win best director, which would be very bizarre.  Affleck or Bigelow aren't nominated, Spielberg and Lee have already won, David O. Russell is still too much a douche to get that much love, and Zeitlan's nomination seems more token than genuine.  That leaves us with Haneke.  Or should I say future Academy Award Winning Director Michael Haneke?  I may be crazy, but I also wouldn't be shocked if it were to happen.  If he does win, does that also guarantee that his next film will be an English language remake of BENNY'S VIDEO or something equally abrasive to fight back against this newfound mainstream appeal? I'd like to hope so.

Speaking of Haneke – Chris watched CACHÉ the other night for the first time, and I watched the last half hour or so with him.  Despite AMOUR, I still think CACHÉ and THE WHITE RIBBON are his crowning achievements.  I don't understand John's AMOUR criticism all that much, but I will at least say that I'm kind of surprised by how MUCH attention it has received.  It's very good, and masterfully directed, but it's almost too clean and straightforward to be truly GREAT.  Don't get me wrong, I really like it, but I still vastly prefer the mysterious and opaque riddles that are CACHÉ and THE WHITE RIBBON.  I think Haneke works best when he is extending out into various points and intersections - crafting a sort of elaborate and exacting web of inquiries.  When he simply follows a straight line towards one answer he can still be interesting, but not nearly as memorable.  CACHÉ, by the way, is a masterpiece.  No question about it, in my mind.  Watching it again, I was cognizant more of it as a political allegory, which made it even more fascinating.  It is a film with many riches, not fully realized upon one or even two viewings.

January Recap

Better late than never, I suppose.

The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952) ****
Casque D’Or (1952) ****
The Red House (1946) ***
Taxi! (1932) ***
Broken Arrow (1950) ****
Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) ****
Midnight (1939) ****
I Wake Up Screaming (1941) ***
Gentleman Jim (1942) ****
Moontide (1942) ****
The Man Without a Past (2002) ****
Hondo (1953) *** 1/2
I Was a Male War Bride (1949) ***
Easy Living (1937) ****
Dodge City (1939) *** 1/2
The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) *** 1/2
The Major and the Minor (1942) ****
Body and Soul (1947) ***
Funny Face (1957) ** 1/2
Zero Dark Thirty (2012) ****

I wrote mini-reviews for a bunch of these on Letterboxd, which I don't feel like transcribing here.  Let's just say I watched BROKEN ARROW, BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE, MIDNIGHT, GENTLEMEN JIM, and MOONTIDE all within a close proximity to one another and haven't found anything to rival them since.  All masterpieces for various reasons and in disparate genres.  All highly recommended.

I didn't write anything about CASQUE D'OR or THE FLAVOR OF GREEN TEA on Letterboxd yet, but these two are also masterpieces.  GREEN TEA is the Ozu movie for John.  A Rohmer flick without the temptation, just a general feeling of marriage malaise.   It could easily be retitled "I Think I Love My Husband."  CASQUE D'OR, I think everyone would be a fan of.  It's black-and-white photography looks stunning in HD.  It's flawless poetic realism reanimated for a new generation.

I'm not much a fan of FUNNY FACE.  It's basically void of the charm and insouciance that Donen pictures usually have in spades.

Mitchell Leisen is an underrated comedy director.  Perhaps up there with Gregory La Cava.