Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Horror Roundup

As I mentioned in one of my recent posts, I've been watching some horror films lately.  A friend who I worked with at school is a big horror fan, and we've been getting together every now and then to watch new and classic horror films for the hell of it.  Despite watching several films of debatable quality, it's actually been great getting to see so much newer horror stuff that I likely would have never gone out of my way to watch.  I'll start with MAMA:

To be as fair as possible, MAMA isn't a bad film; it's just not a particularly good one.  It unfortunately suffocates itself through some egregious adherence to the same old tired formula that has so much of mainstream horror profoundly stagnating.  There are a few decent scares in MAMA, some moments of terror that are well-staged and executed, and some incredibly eerie sound effects (I agree with Brandon about how frightening the noises Mama makes are. Yeesh).  I also agree with Brandon that the very ending is quite beautiful in its implications.  The trouble here is that in the buildup to this finale, MAMA again cannot resist some ridiculously contrived scenes of violence involving Mama in a poor effort to fit whatever overused mold studios seem to insist upon for every horror property they shell out (can anyone explain to me why characters in MAMA only visit the creepy deserted cabin in the middle of the night?).  It's just a shame that MAMA is shot, lit, and dialed-in in such a similar way to a film like THE POSSESSION (a horrible film that I'll get to in a second), and I don't think it's a coincidence.  This is the essence of formula without making it seem new again.

THE POSSESSION, I guess, I don't have a lot to say about now that I think of it.  It's complete amateur horror filmmaking.  Just terribly orchestrated in every conceivable way.  It's not even remotely scary (no tension is ever built before cutting to quick, disorienting violence), it's dull and stupid, and even has the temerity to tack on a pointless, undercooked divorce storyline in an effort to make the film "about" something.  There's probably no point in wasting more time on this one.  Just skip it entirely.

I re-watched THE CABIN IN THE WOODS and THE STRANGERS – two terrific modern horror films, in my opinion.  Seeing THE CABIN IN THE WOODS again reminded how fresh and exuberant it truly is amongst a very tired crop of carbon-copy horror films.  It's humor, intelligence, and sense of mischief stand out quite distinctly this time through.  I undervalued just how fun it was when I first wrote about it.  THE STRANGERS I'm not sure if I've mentioned on here before, but I remain a big fan.  It's a terrifying premise that is executed to maximum effect.  It also boasts one hell of an ending with a coldblooded creepiness that is only matched by the sorrow of its inevitability.

I think Brandon and I agree on more in THE CONJURING than we disagree.  But I think our one major point of disagreement is enough to polarize our responses to it.  I truly believe that despite some bumbling missteps in the final third of the film, it still remains one of the scariest films I've seen as an adult, and it is for this fact that I would give it a glowing response.  As a lesson in old-fashioned tension and dread, it really is that effectively wrought.  In a theater full of people, I felt sufficiently creeped out enough during certain moments to want to cover my eyes, and that almost never happens to me anymore.  The audience I watched it with was completely terrified too, which made the experience that much stronger.  Wan certainly makes the film unnecessarily loud and visceral towards the end (I could have done without the possession of the mother and the hair dragging, but I understand why they are there – things need to get amplified for our attention deprived viewers).  However, there are some truly exemplary scenes of terror in this thing that smooth out much of these rough patches (for me, at least).  Wan shows an intuitive sense of what's scary and what is not for much of the running time, and it all becomes increasingly taut and effective as the camera careens and cuts around every crevice of its environment.  I don't really have much else to say about it other than that it basically soars on the intensity of its scares alone.

Fede Alvarez's EVIL DEAD remake (surprisingly) stands prominently alongside THE INNKEEPERS and THE CONJURING as one of the best American horror films release in the last couple of years.  It sort of pummels you into submission through the sheer forcefulness of its unabashed depravity.  Its excessively, hilariously violent and it seems to get off on intensifying its grossness.  It flits with trite formula and makes lame attempts at characterizations in the beginning, but eventually it just abandons all sense of conventionality in favor of unrelenting shocks.  It's essentially the complete opposite of something like THE CONJURING, but I think they are both effective in their way.  EVIL DEAD, instead of being a shot-for-shot remake or sycophantic homage, actually goes for broke in terms of upping the gore ante and damn if that isn't an admirable thing by the time the bloody credits start pouring on the screen.  I agree with Brandon that Alvarez might just have a solid career ahead of him.  He knows how to shoot moments of dread and visceral horror – and he seems to know how to have fun doing it too.  EVIL DEAD is a bloodbath of gargantuan proportions, but it's a rollicking one too.

KILL LIST is the most recent of these that I watched, and I'm still trying to process how I feel about it.  John called it a "mess" but a potentially "glorious mess." I would certainly side with it being sloppy, but would also readily admit that it has got some intriguing grandeur too it, so maybe it is a glorious mess after all.  To its great credit, KILL LIST is never boring even as it builds in piecemeal increments towards its bizarre, grotesque finale.  It's violent and cold, but also an absorbing mystery.  It lays a pretty solid character foundation before it starts to rock the boat, and eventually it just gets so weird and creepy that you are glued to the screen.  I still have to wonder what the purpose of the ending is other than the pure shock value of the reveal, and whether the reveal makes any sense other than the immediate effect of its disquietude.  It may all be a prolonged metaphor for slowly destroying the ones you love through the dangerous, immoral choices you make, but I'm not exactly sure.  For what is worth, this is a pretty damn riveting thriller even if it might not be certain of its motives.

I guess that's all I've got for now.  I was hoping I'd make this longer and more in depth, but I'm having trouble composing original thoughts right now.  Perhaps more later?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Caché Rules Everything Around Me

I wish I had more to debate with you about CACHÉ, Brandon.  But your post is just so eminently reasonable that I'm struggling to pick it apart.  I think you still resort too readily to ad hominem attacks against Haneke whenever discussing his work, but I understand where this is coming from.  I know you hate his smug guts, and I can't necessarily say that I blame you.  As a man, he really is one of the most sanctimonious, self-important pricks in world cinema.  He holds everyone and everything to an impossible standard that he somehow displaces from himself.  He's also guilty of one of my least favorite traits in an artist (apart from the lack of empathy for animals) by explicitly stating what his films are supposed to be about instead of letting the artwork speak for itself.  So, believe me, I more than understand where your inveterate hatred for this guy comes from.

But I do believe that, as a technical and intellectual filmmaker, he honestly is one of the best we have today.  I agree with you that he almost invariably seems to be a few heavy-handed moralizing scenes away from a truly rich masterpiece.  I too would love for him to make a straight thriller without sermonizing someday (I think he gets the closest to achieving true ambiguity in THE WHITE RIBBON), but I'm not sure that would ever accord with with his deliberate, uber-confrontational style.  He wants to shake his privileged viewers out of their complacency quite possibly to his own detriment.  You're very right - he lambasts so much of what is vile between humans yet is incontrovertibly guilty of subjecting his audience to his own vile whims.  He doesn't understand the height of his own privilege.

With that all being said, Brandon, in your last paragraph you touch upon exactly why I still love CACHÉ despite the overwhelming evidence that Michael Haneke is sadistic creep.  You ask: "should I commend the filmmaking first even if it’s smothered in a message that feels as though it comes from a self loathing contrite place?"  I would never tell you to answer yes to this question because you are obviously free to choose your response to what Haneke has laid before you.  All I can say is that I personally answer yes to this question.  I commend, hell laud, CACHÉ as a technically bravura anti-thriller about what it means to watch and be seen.  I think its one of the most sophisticated looks at voyeurism and its relationship to cinema since REAR WINDOW or BLOW-UP (though obviously not nearly as close to the singular perfection of either of those films).  The static shots that bookend the film are some of the most complex that I can recall.

I love how mobile the idea of watching is in these shots.  In the opening shot there is a trajectory of viewership and ownership that goes from you watching the image on your screen (giving it meaning, controlling it almost since it is your eye that gives it life), to the realization that the image is being watched and controlled by someone else (Georges and Anne watching it on their TV), to the further realization that that image is watched and controlled even more so by someone else (whoever is sending the tapes), and the even further realization that the image is ultimately watched and controlled by the filmmaker himself (Haneke).  It is the same image but every single viewer and owner of that image gives it a different meaning that is hidden from each other (welcome to cinema itself).

The final shot is similarly complex in how nonchalantly it displaces the eye and its own meaning.  We sit, watch, and wonder what we are looking at.  We ask: whose point of view is it?  Are we watching a recording or an actual image? Where is our eye even supposed to focus?  What does it all mean? The fact that Haneke can raise so many questions from what is essential a very aloof, seemingly banal image is a testament to how successfully he lures us in to his mystery and treatise on the act of looking or not.  If he is eliciting these questions from us, then he has done his job with precision.  And by eliciting these questions he has not only involved us in his mystery but also in the art of dissecting cinema.  He makes us question the very meaning and reality of an image, which is the purpose of cinema as an art form and the idea you try to instill in anyone who wants to understand film as an important, singular medium.  It's an image that's downright brilliant the more you unpack it, and I feel that way about much of the film from a visual and intellectual standpoint.  That's why I love it.  I overlook so much of the film's hangups and Haneke's own interloping hand, so that all I can see is the beguiling visual mystery he's delineated for us.

When I watched CACHÉ again I just took everything for what it was or for how it came across to me on the screen.  When the political subtext became apparent to me, I thought it added a provocative layer to what I already found was a great enigma of a film.  I can understand, Brandon, how it can come across as obvious and self-righteous in the context of Haneke as a person.  But for me, when I watch CACHÉ, I try to ask what the film is communicating to me, not what Haneke is.  His overbearing personality is not greater than his art despite how hard he may try.  Even if he is personally sanctimonious and confrontational, the way he shoots the film belies these traits.  The political subtext about France's hidden racism can easily be drawn from Georges hidden relationship to Majid.  But everything that generates this connection is shot at a cool distance.  There's nothing confrontational about the involvement of the camera at all.  For that, despite the knowledge one may have of Haneke's personality, he diffuses his own aggressiveness through a resolutely detached lens.  Again, his images are greater and more complex than he is if only for the fact that a cinematic image is not a fixed position but a multiplicity.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pop Quizin It

1. Is there a TV show that you'd love to see a movie version of? If yes, what? If no, think a little harder. If still no, sorry for wasting your time.

I think in terms of being a seamless transition from television to cinema, BREAKING BAD would probably make the best film.  It's already so well-made and intensely cinematic as it is that I think Gilligan could probably direct one hell of a movie out of it.

I previously would have also suggested ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT but after seeing the latest season of it, I'm not sure the format of the show would call for 90 extended minutes or so.  It's sharpest when being short, sweet, and efficiently manic.

Actually to answer your question seriously:  VERONICA MARS.  I want to see it so bad I pawned everything I owned and contributed $5,000 towards it on kickstarter.  Can't wait see my name in barely visible credits at the end of the movie!

2. What's your favorite place/setting to watch a movie (out of the choices listed below)? Why? ALSO, least favorite and why?

d) In a house, alone

If I had my own private theater I'd want to watch every movie on that.  Since I don't, I vastly prefer watching movies on whatever screen I can find all by myself.  I like the intimacy I can garner with a film by viewing it alone.  It's easier to transport myself into its celluloid world without feeling self-conscious in any way.  Plus, I'm used to watching most movies by myself, so it's become a habit.

My least favorite would have to be a drive-in theater or a small theater.  You can't hear or see shit at the drive-in and you can't really hear or see shit at a small theater (plus there's people too close to ya).  Not the best movie environments if you care what you're watching.

3. If you could be an extra in any film, what would it be AND what scene would you like to be in?

How much do extras make, ya think?  From a utilitarian perspective, I'd want to be in whatever got me the most cash, so like SPIDER-MAN or some shit would be ideal.

However, engaging with the spirit of the question, I think it would have been awesome to be an extra in BARRY LYNDON.  For one, I would have gotten to meet Kubrick.  For another, it would have been incredible to get dressed up and then have him prop you in a very specific location so as to contribute in some way to the precise beauty of  any one of those glorious compositions.  Might've been cool to eat lunch with Ryan O'Neal too.

4. Name a movie you loved as a kid that still feels special even when you watch it now.

There are a lot of them.  The first animated movie that springs to mind is THE SWORD IN THE STONE.  We never owned that one on VHS, but I can remember always loving it and being excited whenever I did get to watch it.  It still makes me so happy to watch it now.

For live action - RETURN OF THE JEDI.  EMPIRE is my favorite now, but JEDI was my favorite as a kid and I still feel like one when I watch it.

5. Best film decade (out of the choices listed below)? And tell us why, if you're so inclined:

c) 00s (aughts)

The 80s are essentially the dark age for cinema.  This was post-Golden Age, post-New Wave with no direction to go but down.  The 90s has some great stuff, but I am also more familiar with the kids and mainstream stuff from this time period due to being a kid during its entirety.  So I'd have to go with the aughts.  It helps that I started getting fascinated by cinema in the early 00s, so I know the some of the good stuff from this decade better than the other two.  Here's hoping the 10s end up being the best of the bunch.

Bonus: Hypothetically, your friends have rented out a theater for your birthday. You get to choose the movie that's screened; what are you going with?

Hmmm lots of great stuff to choose from.  I'd want to show an old movie considering a majority of my friends don't watch them.  So, I'd probably go with REAR WINDOW or SHADOW OF A DOUBT.  It just seems like everyone could get down with those the easiest even if they don't like classic film since Hitchcock is the best.  Maybe DUCK SOUP too for some lighter fare.  That's easy to love.

Notes From a Dashing Bachelor

Hey Brandon.  Thanks for the kind words, my friend.  It's always hard to admit to people when you're feeling depressed, but I figured it was worth mentioning so as to offer an explanation for why I've found it so hard to write lately.  I've been feeling slightly dejected for the past month or so, but in the last couple of weeks I've basically descended into some full-blown depression.  It's nothing new for me and certainly nothing to worry about (I'll get over it), but it is enough of a problem that I've had trouble being motivated to do things or to find pleasure in the things I usually do.  So writing has taken a back seat for a while.  We all have our ways of coping with depression though.  I think for me its all about re-establishing a rhythm and routine to follow and be comfortable with.  Writing has always been a healthy thing for me, so I think getting in a pattern of writing more frequently will ultimately be beneficial.  Seeing you and the family this weekend will also be great.  Let's make that happen.

Anyway, I'm glad you were able to write so much back to me (so much rich stuff that's conducive to discussion too).  I know I didn't really give you much material to work off of, but I appreciate how much you sent back my way.  I'll do my best to help ya out on my end too.

Toally fair enough on THIS IS THE END.  I don't think we'll ever reach common ground, and I'm completely fine with that.  I don't begrudge you for not finding it funny either.  I'm happy to stick up for it though.  At least we'll always have SUPERBAD and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS.

I realize I'm way too late to the game on BEFORE MIDNIGHT.  That's what happens when you wait so long.  I'm glad I finally got something written on it, but I'm more than happy to let it rest for now too.  You guys already said it all anyway in much more eloquent terms than I could.

After watching THE SON, I knew I'd be a Dardenne fan for life.  I was initially disoriented by it, as well, but by the half hour mark I was thoroughly riveted.  And by the end of it I was practically floating in thin air I was so touched and elated.  THE KID WITH A BIKE had a similar impact on me (in terms of being so emotionally floored), but it was obviously much less arduous to sift through from the beginning due to the fluidity of its construction.  I would highly recommend seeing ROSETTA to you, also.  It has the same quality of grace and compassion to it, and while maybe not as instantly moving as these other two movies, it's just as impossible to shake or forget.

Man, there's nothing to do but shake your head at those who find the message in THE SON to be simple and expendable.  What rock are they living under?  In a world where vindictiveness so often serves as the primary solution to a problem, one small act of forgiveness can reverberate like a thunderclap and glow like a miracle.  I pine for the day when our compassion has become so luxurious that the Dardenne's message is no longer necessary but redundant.  As things stand now, however, we unfortunately need that message more than ever.  I welcome their "simple" lesson on compassion, forgiveness, and mercy with open arms.  More people should too.

I love Eastwood as an actor and as a director of westerns (hell, I even got a picture of the guy on my wall).  So I've got nothing personal against him, despite some highly suspect political affiliations that I disagree with.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I like him a lot.  I've just yet to be impressed or even mildly interested in any of his recent output.  Again I haven't seen A PERFECT WORLD or MILLION DOLLAR BABY so my post-UNFORGIVEN worthless comment might not hold that much water.  I would be interested in seeing these two films though.  I'm not rooting against the guy.  I'm just waiting for him to win me over.  MYSTIC RIVER isn't totally worthless; I just don't really care about it.  The same for the rest of the movies I've seen of his from the 2000s.  They're all well-made, but uninspired, run-of-the-mill type shit to me.  I don't know what any of the fuss is about.  I also wonder if I'm just missing something?

To be fair though, I'm compounding my lack of interest in his recent work to full blown scoffing merely for the sake of argument.  I don't mind playing the "Eastwood hater" if only because it gives us something to disagree about.  I really don't feel that negatively towards him currently.  I'm just mostly indifferent.  But, I should say, you have Dave Kehr (and many other great critics) thoroughly ensconced in the Eastwood camp with you, so I think you've probably already won the Eastwood debate.

I would be interested in seeing MASTER AND COMMANDER if only because I trust you implicitly.  I'll add that to my ever-growing list.  I should see some of Peter Weir's 70s films too.

I'm glad you didn't exactly take it easy on my marriage comment.  Even with the wink, I did say it to be deliberately provocative and hopefully spark a reaction.  It was also said in jest.  I don't need to be married or even be in a relationship currently to know how painful it is to be betrayed by someone you love or even to have them stop loving you.  I've never been cheated on (at least not to my knowledge), but I have watched girls I loved lose all their feelings for me, and its basically the most painful non-physical hurt I've ever experienced.  So, I don't want to create the impression that I'm callous to adultery and betrayal when it comes to their representations on film because that just isn't the case.  I just meant that the relationship in LOST IN TRANSLATION didn't bother from a lens of adultery (same as with BEFORE SUNSET).  I think both of those films make it pretty explicit that their main characters are: a) not happy and b) not in love with their partners anymore.  This definitely has to be sad for their unseen or underdeveloped partners (I can sympathize with them, believe me), but they'll eventually have to realize that you can't change the way another person feels about you.  Those main characters just aren't in love them anymore.  And can they really help those feelings?  If Bob and Charlotte don't love their respective spouses, but find enjoyment and maybe even love in each other, is that totally their fault?  Sleeping together would be a decision and 100% their fault because they made that decision, but feeling something for each other wasn't necessarily a decision they made.  It just happened, the same way it just happened that they no longer love their spouses.  I'm not sure what is precisely meant by the term "emotional adultery" but it does seem less nefarious to me than a physical act of sexual adultery if only because one implies a deliberate choice while the other can be merely happenstance.  You can feel emotion or desire for another person other than your partner and still not act upon it.

With all that I'm getting at here, I just want to stress that I believe that if you don't love someone anymore, you don't have to be tethered to them forever.  It wouldn't be healthy for either party to stick together if there was no longer love between them.  To my understanding, this is what is happening in LOST IN TRANSLATION.  I feel for the neglected spouses, but I can also understand where Bob and Charlotte are coming from.  Being the spurned party fucking sucks, but it happens and there's nothing you can do about it.  People can be fickle, and if you want and care about them, you are unfortunately subjected to the uncontrollable reality of their freedom and individuality.  It's a terribly brave and terrifying thing to love someone.

I liked SWEENEY TODD, as well.  Though BIG FISH is far and away Burton's last great film.  I'm still hoping he's got a couple more in him before he's done.

Not a huge Van Sant fan either, but he works wonders on ELEPHANT.

I'm also hoping that Eli Roth has a good career ahead of him.  I think it's important to remind myself that he has only made three films (one of which was essentially a carbon copy of another), so he still has lots of time to set things right.  CABIN FEVER is visceral, funny, and inspired enough that I'm still rooting for the guy, even if I hated his last two films.  I did decide to add CABIN FEVER to the ten spot on my list.  I actually remember a good deal of it, which is way more than I can say for many films from 2003.  It had a positive enough impact that it's stayed with me all these years.  (P.S. I don't know if you noticed, but I also previously added THE DESCENT and MARTYRS to my top ten lists for their respective years.  Those are two other horror films that I've been unable to shake the impact of).

I'm not going to be that much of snide ogre and bad mouth FINDING NEMO too hard.  It is, after all, just an endearing kids search-and-rescue movie. However, it strikes me as dull or uninspired (like CARS) when standing alongside the wonderful, brilliant Pixar output that would come later in the form of RATATOUILLE, WALL-E, and UP.

I also haven't seen THE BROWN BUNNY since it came out, so perhaps seeing it again would soften the pessimistic stance I have towards it.  I can just remember being exceedingly bored by its pretenses.  The blow-job at the end at least gave the film some character.  Before that, it's just a whole lot of nothingness (haha this movie hasn't even been relevant in years, so I'm glad we're bringing up the old arguments for and against it.  THE BROWN BUNNY lives! Gallo wins.)

Really, really great points/criticisms about DOGVILLE.  I actually agree with you completely, though I do find Von Trier's myopic finger-wagging to be important in its way and not entirely self-serious.  He does hammer a very specific, cynical point home about these characters and the nastiness they represent.  The nature of the film is conducive to this though because it's basically a fairy tale.  The characters aren't fleshed out; they are just one-dimensionally vicious and wanton because they are fitting an archetype.  Von Trier has created a fairy tale or parable about the overarching harmfulness of closed, xenophobic communities.  The chalked staging à la OUR TOWN should be enough to suggest that he's not actually trying to achieve realism with it but to suggest a very deliberate, generalized idea about human behavior.

It is funny that an unabashed Chaplin and Dardenne lover such as myself would find Von Trier's cynicism so personally indispensable.  I guess I'm just glad that both THE SON and DOGVILLE exist, even if they are basically polar opposites.  I think it's just that I want very badly to be the Dardennes, but deep down I'm afraid I may be Von Trier.  The fact that I carry both of their opposing views on humanity inside of me makes me appreciate both visions.  Long live both, I say.

Good talk, Brandon.  Thanks for encouraging me to write.  And thanks for the encouraging personal words too.  Looking forward to your 2005 list whenever ya finish it.


P.S. My friend Dan and I have been watching horror films fairly regularly these past few months.  I watched a few newer ones recently, so I'll try to get up a post on them soon.  I'll probably do a letterboxd roundup on here too sometime.

Monday, July 15, 2013

2003 & other things

I don't know if there's any point in arguing whether THIS IS THE END is funny or not.  It'd be like arguing whether each of us finds a certain food to be delicious or not.  As you mentioned Brandon, comedy, like our individual tastes for foods, is purely subjective.  I personally found at least 90% of THIS IS THE END to be flat-out hilarious therefore I readily forgive all of its faults and decidedly weak ending.  It made me laugh (a lot) at a time when I was experiencing some awful, debilitating anxiety, and for that I welcome it with open arms.  If you didn't like it or didn't find it funny, then that's cool.  To each his own.

I'm not sure what I can add to what's already been written about BEFORE MIDNIGHT.  I essentially agree with most of what's been laid out here.  It's definitely the best movie I've seen this year, even as it remains the most difficult to come to terms with.  The painful fissures on display here are undoubtedly the logical movements for these characters regardless of how emotionally taxing it is to see them reach this nadir.  If the first two films are more like miraculous, inebriated dreams then this is truly the sobering wake-up-call to the consequences and realities outside those dreams.  I'm inclined to agree with Brandon and Chris when they say that the ending does nothing to cover or nullify the cracks that have formed in Jesse and Celine's relationship. The ending is surely a call-back to the youthful insouciance of the first film, but like their one-night courtship in Vienna, this romantic hotel getaway is likely only to last for a night as well.  Just as they woke up in Vienna to a sunrise of transience and separation, they will wake up in Greece to one of calculated sadness and division.  Too many wounds were opened, too many problems laid bare for these two to simply pretend that all is forgotten and forgiven.  I don't think anyone would be shocked to find them divorced in another nine years.  Sad to see, but probably necessary in terms of their arc.

I was glad to hear John mention Rohmer and Brandon to mention Kiarostami because Linklater is definitely working within the realms of both masters here.  I can't think of too many other contemporary American filmmakers (apart from PTA) who would put so much faith in their actors and let their filmmaking be almost exclusively mapped by the intricate webs of personal relations.  I also can't tell you how joyous and refreshing it is to see a couple of people talking breathlessly in long takes in front of a static camera.  That, in itself, is a miracle.


It's great to see your 2003 list, Brandon.  And I commend you for posting as much as you have lately (you too, Chris) when things have been eerily quiet on the blogs.  If I weren't going through a mild depression and actually had the motivation to write, I'd be happy to join you more frequently on here.  As it stands, I just need to get out of whatever funk I'm in and start getting some shit typed up.  I'll start with your list.

I'm terribly pleased to see you take to THE SON so affectionately.  I knew that if you just gave it a chance and looked beyond the shaky-cam that you would love it unconditionally like me.  It's just too masterfully executed and powerfully resonant to resist, in my opinion.  The intense claustrophobia and rapid dizziness of the camera movements can be stifling at first, but once you realize that it serves a very exact purpose for the content of the film, it is easy to look past and eventually easy to admire.  I think the scene in the car when the boy is sleeping in his seat is one of the most harrowing I've ever witnessed.  And the ending is easily one of the most moving knock-outs I've ever beheld.  It's an unbelievable lesson in the power of forgiveness and the mysteriousness of mercy.  It's easy to see why Bressson gets evoked a lot when talking about the Dardennes.  "What does it matter? All is grace."

MYSTIC RIVER:  I've made my lack of interest in post-UNFORGIVEN Eastwood pretty transparent on here.  I still haven't seen MILLION DOLLAR BABY, but from what I have seen, I don't really think that a lot of what he's made over the last twenty years is really worth a damn.  I can't even remember enough of MYSTIC RIVER to expound upon why I don't like it though.  My memory for movies is terrible.  I'd say that I'd see it again, but I don't really care if I ever do or not.  Is that wrong? haha.

I haven't seen MASTER AND COMMANDER (never really got into Peter Weir much). Or BALSEROS, DEMONLOVER, THE FOG OF WAR, IN AMERICA, WINGED MIGRATION, RAISING VICTOR VARGAS, THE COMPANY, THE GOOD THIEF, LOONEY TUNES, or OPEN RANGE.  I have a lot of blind spots here, as you can tell.  Just wanted to get those out of the way.

LOST IN TRANSLATION:  It's been years since I've seen this, but I'll admit to still being a fan for the most part.  It still manages to charm despite some subtle xenophobic digs and an unmistakable orientalist framework (It would be easy to criticize the film for using Japan as merely a colorful backdrop against which an existential crisis and tryst brews between two affluent Westerners).  I'm much less concerned with the "adultery" argument against it, if only because I don't find the emotional relationship between these two to be all the problematic.  Do I need to get married first for shit like this to bother me? ;)

I still love BIG FISH.  It's a warm-hearted and generous little fairy tale of a movie.  The ending still gets to me too.

SCHOOL OF ROCK is charming and funny, but it also didn't stand out enough to win me over.  I like it, just not in love with it.  I also love ELF though, so what the hell do I know?

ELEPHANT:  I re-watched this a couple months ago.  It submerges you in this haunting, gut-sinking sensibility.  I love how every tiny gesture seems eternal and meaningful in the wake of the doom that lingers just beneath everything.

CABIN FEVER:  I'm actually toying with adding it to my own list.  I'd like to see it again to be sure, but as it stands I have nothing but fond memories of this one.  The ending has stuck with me so vividly that I still get a wry smile thinking about it even now.

28 DAYS LATER:  Pinpoint accuracy on what makes this so effective.  The film loves its characters and consequently so do we.  Killer ending.

DIRTY PRETTY THINGS is actually a surprisingly adept thriller.  I had to re-watch it for a class a few years ago and thought it held up well.  A smart lesson in drawing you in through strong characterization.

FINDING NEMO:  Still don't like it.  I don't doubt that it's heartfelt; I just wish it were more creative.

THE BROWN BUNNY:  Still hate it.  Dullness and stupidity under the guise of sincerity.  A blow-job is the least of this thing's problems.

Since I'm adhering my lists to John's rules, THE SON is now on my 2002 list. Writing about it above convinced me to put it atop that list, as well.  DOGVILLE is now my top film of 2003 because I'm a cynical little jerk.  But we don't need to open the DOGVILLE argument again...

Great, comprehensive list though, Brandon!  Are you planning any other years of the 2000s or is this just a one-off thing?

ONLY GOD FORGIVES this weekend, y'all?