Thursday, December 31, 2009

TOP TEN--5 TO 1

(5) There Will Be Blood (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)—2007

Numerology aficionados, take note: number five on this list is the fifth feature directed by P.T. Anderson, “P.T. Anderson” has five syllables, “Daniel Day-Lewis” also has five syllables, it’s 158 minutes long (if you divide 158 by 31.6, you get . . . five!), it won five awards from the Austin Film Critics’ Association . . . oh, shit, wait, I forgot I wasn’t writing about Magnolia. Sorry.

I’ve personally gone back and forth on P.T. Anderson several times. I saw Boogie Nights, thought it was a masterpiece (still do), I saw Magnolia, thought it was a masterpiece, then watched it again and realized I was high when I watched it the previous time and thought it was a bit of a mess, talked to someone who swore to me that Magnolia was the best American film since Citizen Kane, watched it again, was swayed by their opinion, told someone else Magnolia was the new gold standard in auteur cinema, was told by them that I was a pretentious asshole and that Magnolia sucked, replied “fuck you,” let a couple years go by, watched Magnolia again, realized that it had its moments but was about an hour too long; saw Punch-Drunk Love, wondered why; finally Netflixed Hard Eight, aka Sydney, got very excited about the possibilities of cinema . . . and then came time to see There Will Be Blood.

There Will Be Blood is a legitimate epic. “Epic” is one of those words like “awesome” or “diva” (or “fact”) that has a different use now than it used to, and gets tossed around so much that it’s easy to lose sight that it once carried a grandeur implying something beyond the ordinary. One of the puzzling contradictions of modern-day Hollywood is that, in spite of the emphasis on commercialism (i.e. maximizing the number of screenings per day a picture can have) and the perceived dwindling attention span of the modern moviegoer, two-and-a-half hour movies are relatively common, but most of those movies are the result of the Gore Verbinskis of the world losing the keys to the editing room rather than there being a preponderance of actual epics. This, though, is an epic in a very American tradition.

It looks and feels like a Western, but is set sometime after the “Old West” period, at the dawn of the 20th century. The fact of its being a Western in form gives a sense of inevitability to the story of oilman Daniel Plainview, that this is where the Old West was always heading. There Will Be Blood is not a polemic, nor is it even overtly political; the best choice it makes from the very beginning is that, although Daniel Plainview does bad things, he is not a villain. He’s just a guy. This has always been P.T. Anderson’s greatest strength as a writer, not judging his characters, but scrupulously showing them as they are and letting the audience make up its own mind.

No discussion of this movie is complete without mentioning Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in the lead. It is, without exaggeration, one of the defining performances in the history of cinema. It’s so good that even talking about it is almost pointless. One understands immediately watching him on the screen, radiating intensity to the terrifying degree he does, why Mr. Day-Lewis retires after every movie and goes off to make shoes for a couple years. If he tried to sustain one of those Samuel L. Jackson four-or-five movie a year careers, his head would explode. (Actually, it’s this quality of DDL’s process that makes me like him less as an actor; being an actor myself I can’t help but think what a monumental fucking pain in the ass it must be to work with a guy who walks around set in character all the time, insisting on being addressed as his character . . . I still think he’s about as good at that kind of acting as anyone ever has or ever will be, I just really don’t want him to spawn any imitators).

Ultimately, even though There Will Be Blood is one of those movies it’s easier to admire than love, the admiration it demands is supreme. Any movie about which it can be said, “Okay, here are my top five favorite shots . . . wait, shit, that’s seven . . .” is a force to be reckoned with (take a bow, Robert Elswit). That necessary admiration is what jumps this movie to the top 5, but the emotional chilliness and deliberate (not slow, just deliberate) pace keep it from rising higher.

(4) Children of Men (dir. Alfonso Cuaron)—2006

Warning: spoilers ahead, so watch the movie first. You’re welcome.

When I was first compiling this list—as a joke, while Gchatting with my good friend James Comtois about his top 50—I forgot to include Children of Men. Some might say that this means “how memorable could it be?” That ain’t it, though. The real reason I forgot about this movie is because HBO has been showing it so often, and always when I’m flipping channels in the middle of the night (insomnia’s a bitch, folks), that I keep thinking it’s been around for longer, because at this point I’ve seen it so many times that I think it must be older.

(What’s that you say? You worry for me, since my idea of a good time is closing the shades, listening to gloomy Brit guitar music, watching dystopian science fiction movies, and contemplating man’s place in a near-infinite cosmos? You’re really too kind for worrying.)

Most other end-of-decade lists have Children of Men somewhere in the teens or twenties. I can see that, especially if you only saw it once or maybe twice. The first time I saw it a couple things really jumped out at me—Clive Owen’s performance is terrific, as is the vividly real, cinema-verite vision of the future—as well as the same thing that everyone was talking about: those now-famous uninterrupted takes. There are the most famous two—the one in the car and the one fucking incredible one at Bexhill—but upon repeated viewings, you notice even the first shot of the movie, where Clive Owen goes in, gets his morning coffee, sees on the TV that the youngest person in the world has died (an 18 year old in Argentina), goes out, puts his sugar in and BOOM the coffee shop explodes is all in one take. That the one where Clive Owen’s trying to jumpstart the car and push it through the mud, all in one take. That the one where the baby is born, all one take.

There isn’t a ton of exposition here. Alfonso Cuaron seems more concerned with the audience’s visceral experience of this world than in their understanding just why no babies have been born in 18 years. Exactly that kind of overexplanation was what stopped V for Vendetta dead in its tracks and made you go “wait, hold up” when you were supposed to be getting excited about Natalie Portman blowing up Parliament. Cuaron, with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s help, keeps us focused on the task at hand: getting Clive Owen, Kee, and Kee’s baby, the fuck out of England. No subplots, none of that crap, just an hour and forty-five minutes of focused intensity and a couple of eight-minute single-shot action scenes that will give you a boner. Or the nearest local equivalent.

(3) The Lives of Others (dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)—2006

I wrote this back in December ‘07: First things first, the director has a whole lot of name, but if you plan on seeing movies for the next 30-50 years, learn how to spell it. This cat’s here to stay.

While this technically came out in 2006 justintime for the Oscar eligibility—and had all those Pan’s Labyrinth fans going “huh?” when it won—it went wide(ish) in ‘07, and in any case I just saw it. All justifications for its presence here are null and void, though. This movie is goddamn extraordinary.

Europeans are the only people who can pull of a character study/thriller that’s equally great as both, and The Lives of Others is everything great about European movies: a serious movie by a serious (first-time!) director about a serious theme that is not only entertaining, it’s immensely powerful emotionally. The cast is sensational. You can get lost in this movie like few others ever made. It’s up there with Citizen Kane and The 400 Blows as the best first features ever. And yes, it is that good. Pan’s Labyrinth did not get snubbed. Seriously.

Now: I keep meaning to go back and watch The Lives of Others, but I haven’t been able to. Watching it the first time was a little overwhelming. I cried. I cry at the movies from time to time, but I was sobbing at the end of this one. (Top 5 all-time surprising “I’m crying at this?” movies: this, WALL-E, P.S. I Love You—don’t ask—Pulp Fiction, and The Remains of the Day. In retrospect, Lives of Others and WALL-E kinda make sense, but refer any questions about the other three to my attorney). Partly because I knew Ulrich Mühe died before the movie came out, and he was incredible as the Stasi agent. Mostly because it’s a large movie about something important—the horrible effect totalitarian regimes have on people—that’s as well done as this movie is.
Part of the PR problem this movie had at first was that the people plugging it were German: “You VILL sink zis ist vun of ze greatest feelms uv all times!” (Actually, that’s me being a shithead; von Donnersmarck spent part of his childhood in the Upper East Side of NYC and speaks perfect mid-Atlantic American English; he’s not that far behind Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in the “foreigners speaking our language better than we do” list. Tony Leung speaking English is beautiful to listen to. Maybe we can bring him and von Donnersmarck over to the States and have them make a picture together . . .) Most of it was the above-mentioned Pan’s Labyrinth business. People loved them some Pan’s Labyrinth. And I mean, it’s a good movie, but comparing it to The Lives of Others is stupid. They both have repressive political regimes looming large over everything, but they diverge slightly from there. Suffice it to say there are no Stasi or KGB guys with eyeballs in their palms in The Lives of Others. But still, the friends I was watching the Oscars with stood up when they announced the Best Foreign Film winner and said, “THAT WAS FUCKING BULLSHIT” when the winner wasn’t Pan’s Labyrinth. Some things you just can’t help.

I only want to back off on my Citizen Kane/400 Blows rhetoric a little bit. The fact that all the heat around it has died down, and I’m just about the only person I know still talking about it, indicates that it may not be remembered on that level. Still, it’s a good fuckin’ movie. RIP Ulrich Mühe.

(2) City of God (dir. Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund)—2002

“Benny was the coolest hood in the City of God.”

One of my quirks is a love for random movie lines that, out of context, don’t always have the same resonance, or even have any resonance out of context, or aren’t even that important in context. But the line “Benny was the coolest hood in the City of God,” for some reason, made me feel just how cool Benny was, how much everyone else loved him, and so on. And it fit with the tone of the movie for me: it felt like I was listening to Homer singing the epic tale of legendary Cidade de Deus, the most dangerous slum in Rio de Janeiro.

At the same time as it feels legendary, it also feels vividly real. Trying to describe City of God to a friend once—in one of my frequent glib, reductive moods—I said “it’s season 4 of The Wire in Portuguese.” Not my most precise analogy, admittedly. But one quality City of God and The Wire have in common is a feeling, whether true or not, of reality. (A lot of Brazilians on imdb and other internet fora make the counterclaim that City of God is a bullshit MTV version of the real favelas, and I’ve admittedly never been there, so maybe they’re right). But where The Wire always avoided building anyone up to legendary status (or in Omar’s case, letting him retain it), there are epic figures in City of God. No one is crazier than Lil’ Ze. No one is cooler than Benny. No one is more bent on revenge than Knockout Ned. And, naturally, no one is hotter than Angelica (Alice Braga, niece of Sonia, possessor of the same knee-weakening hotness), and no one is more in love with Angelica than the protagonist, Rocket.
So, maybe a better framework in which to discuss City of God than realism is intensity. It’s almost too intense in places. Some of the things the characters do are a little hard to watch (especially if you find it hard to watch 8 year olds waving guns). When the closing credits role, you exhale. For the first time in over two hours.

(1) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (dir. Michel Gondry)--2004

And at long last, number one. This, in many ways is a Bowes no-brainer:

French director? Check
Run-of-the-mill civilians been known to call it depressing? Check
Great lead performance by an actor about whom that has to be prefaced by “now, I know what you thinking . . .?” Check
Kate Winslet? Check
Best Original Screenplay winner at the Oscars? Check

That last might seem arbitrary and overly reliant on the notoriously unreliable Oscars, but the kind of movie that wins Best Original Screenplay more often than not is the kind of thing I’d rather see than a Best Picture winner. A brief selected (non-chronological) list: Citizen Kane, Pulp Fiction, Annie Hall, Eternal Sunshine, Lost in Translation, Network, Sunset Boulevard, The Producers, Chinatown, The Usual Suspects, The Crying Game. Every last one an all-time favorite. None of them a Best Picture winner except Annie Hall. As an award, I always felt like Best Original Screenplay was the “ok, you’re too weird to give the big trophy to, but even though we’re a conservative institution with an unspoken yet distinct set of voting criteria, we still know a good movie when we see it” award. And ever since I was 16, I’ve thought that I if ever win an Oscar, the one I really want is Best Original Screenplay.

Eternal Sunshine has a very original screenplay indeed. Conceived by artist Pierre Bismuth, director Gondry, and the inimitable Charlie Kaufman, it tells the story of an artist named Joel (Jim Carrey) and his troubled relationship with a colorful-haired, hard drinking girl named Clementine (Kate Winslet). It opens with Joel and Clementine meeting as strangers, little knowing that they have been a couple for two years. They have each decided, with Clementine’s decision preceding Joel’s, to erase the other from their memory. Joel, though, in the middle of the process, begins to resist, as he can’t let the memory of the girl he once loved so dearly go.

And there you have it, a very basic and true idea: as much as love hurts when it goes bad, it’s still the best thing there is. A lot of what keeps a relationship going, after the initial bloom of romance fades into the comfort of familiarity, is the memory of the first romance. Some blossoms fade faster than others. Some, upon fading, reveal that the first romance was based on false pretenses. Some reveal that, although you love each other very much, certain compromises are necessary to keep one or two things from avalanching into relationship-enders. Whatever way the particular relationship evolves, there was always a point at which it was perfect, and the memory of that time is something to never let go.

The most impressive thing about Eternal Sunshine is that when the protagonist has that realization, Jim fucking Carrey is having that realization. A real emotion? From Jim fucking Carrey? Balderdash, you say? That’s what I said—with a couple “fuck”s randomly thrown in, of course—until I realized, no, it’s true. Jim Carrey really is giving a spectacularly effective lead performance, but even more amazingly, Jim Carrey is giving an understated performance. Maybe Charlie Kaufman, intellectual that he is, stopped by Carrey’s trailer and showed him the definition of “subtle” in Webster’s. Whatever the hell happened, whoever was responsible for reeling that motherfucker in deserves a Nobel Prize, fuck an Oscar and furthermore fuck a Palme D’Or.

So there you have it. Eternal Sunshine is my best of the decade. It ranks up there with Michel Gondry’s music videos, which will warrant their own entry at some point in this blog’s future. Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

TOP TEN--10 TO 6

ABOUT THAT TOP TEN . . .


I concluded my debut post with a top ten for the ten year span starting the morning we woke up and realized Y2K hadn’t happened and ending tomorrow night at midnight. Like any top ten list based on subjective criteria, it’s arbitrary, holes can be poked in it, and ultimately it doesn’t mean much. It’s not a list of the ten movies I enjoyed the most over the past ten years—if it was, Casino Royale and The Room would have been in the top three. And if it was a list of top ten experiences of a movie, that time I watched 24 Hour Party People when I was so high my eyeballs were vibrating would be near the top of the list. It’s a list of the ten movies I think are the best of what I saw.

There are some patterns in the list. All but one—The Departed—of the movies on my list were written or co-written by their directors. Most of them were fairly popular, or at least widely discussed critically; I don’t have any cred insofar as obscure shit no one else saw. Most of them won at least one Oscar, as per that last point. If my top ten is any insight into my perspective as a moviegoer I suppose it reveals a college-educated, middle-class white guy in his early 30s who likes movies and doesn’t have much of a problem with Hollywood. Which is (shockingly!) accurate. So, enough analysis of the list, more about the movies on it (10-6 today, 5-1 tomorrow):

(10) Criminal (dir. Gregory Jacobs)—2004

This is a remake of an Argentinian movie called Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens), but I prefer this one. Nueve Reinas didn’t really grab me, maybe because of the mood I was in when I saw it, maybe because the pacing was a little erratic. Criminal, though, moves fairly well, and it hits me below the belt; I’ve always loved movies and books about crime and criminals, and this one waves its title in my face.

It’s one of those narratives one can only summarize so far without spoilers, so suffice to say it’s about a young con man played by Diego Luna who makes a rookie mistake scamming a casino, and is arrested by John C. Reilly, who appears to be a cop, but after hauling Diego out in cuffs, John C. explains that he’s a veteran con man, and offers to show Diego some basics. They pull a couple small-scale cons, then suddenly John C.’s sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal (they presumably take after different parents) calls him to the hotel where she works, where an old colleague has a very large job, which John C. agrees to help him with in exchange for a usurious cut of the eventual take.

This is where the twists and spoilers start, so we’ll leave the narrative be and focus on Criminal’s other virtues. Gregory Jacobs, directing his first feature, co-wrote the script with a pseudonymous Steven Soderbergh (for whom Jacobs is frequently first assistant director and occasionally co-producer), and keeps things moving briskly, never overdoing either the direction or the script. The cast is excellent—it might be John C. Reilly’s best performance, and he’s been one of the best character actors around for a long time. He and Diego Luna interact well, with the upper hand changing hands constantly and subtly. The supporting cast, especially Maggie G and Peter Mullan as a mysterious Scottish media baron, is excellent as well.

Putting Criminal at #10 on the list meant having to bump a number of movies I really liked over the past ten years—Traffic, Mulholland Dr., Far From Heaven, The Station Agent, Sideways, Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac, I’m Not There, The Visitor, Inglourious Basterds, and several others. I’m sure good arguments can be made for each of those movies in terms of superiority, narrative scope, et cetera. But this is a list being compiled by someone who’s a sucker for minimalism, crime fiction, and a good plot twist. So there you go.

(9) No Country For Old Men (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)—2007

Enough has been written about this one already that I don’t need to pile on much more. Some brief thoughts (and spoilers for any Johnny Come-Latelys who haven’t Netflixed it yet):

--It’s better than Fargo.
--Fargo, while overrated, was still really, really good.
--Where the fuck did Josh Brolin come from? Seriously, he brings it.
--Once Josh Brolin gets killed, it kinda falls apart (which is why I only have it at #9), but not really; I come down on the “it’s awesome” side of the controversial ending, the “it sucks” people need to listen closer to what Tommy Lee Jones is saying there.
--Josh Brolin’s late bloom into awesome reminds me: Tommy Lee Jones is another one who was around for a long time, kicking around, not really living up to his potential, until he walks into frame in The Fugitive, says “My, my, my. What. A. Mess,” as if the train wreck was his career and proceeds to own shit for the rest of the movie, which by extension is his career. I could go on all day about The Fugitive, and may at some point.
--Javier Bardem was all that, though I did murder five people who called me “friendo” at the time.
--The Coens’ Best Director and Best Picture wins were long overdue, but it kind of pisses me off that the Academy rewards people stepping outside their comfort zone instead of recognizing brilliance at a director or actor’s strong suit. Of course, I’m the asshole in the corner of the party spilling whiskey and bellowing that Miller’s Crossing should have swept the Oscars in 1990 (and forgetting about Goodfellas in the process).
--I remember someone asking me whether I liked No Country at the time and responding “Antonioni can go fuck himself, and so can John Ford,” which was overstating it a bit in retrospect, but it’s still a pretty damn good movie.

A closing note: I’ve still yet to manage to watch this one all the way through a second time, and I’m a compulsive rewatcher. Hence, #9.


(8) The Departed (dir. Martin Scorsese)—2006

Oh, The Depaaaaaaaaahted. Some of the accents sucked, yes. Jack seemed like he grew up in Boston’s Martian district. It’s almost an hour longer than Infernal Affairs, which was a terrific movie in its own right. All this is true. The Departed is still a really good movie.

Remakes are not, in and of themselves, bad, or even inherently lazy. At their best, when there’s more to the remake than merely recasting American stars in the leads to squeeze a buck or hundred million out of the multiplexes, it’s like a cover song. Or a revival of a play. In this case, screenwriter William Monahan had a story about the Boston underworld that fit within the framework of Infernal Affairs’ premise—a cop undercover in the Mob, a Mob mole undercover on the cops—to pose the question of what exactly is it that makes a good guy, or a bad guy. Or whether either good or bad really exists.

All of this could have been terribly ponderous with the wrong director running things. Or, in a different wrong director’s hands, it could have been a rote cops-and-robbers thing that dragged on forever. Mr. Scorsese couldn’t make a boring movie if he tried (which may very well have been the motivation behind Kundun, in which case he failed, it was pretty good), nor could he paint by numbers without setting fire to the canvas and slowly pushing the camera in on it with the Rolling Stones playing on the soundtrack.

Ultimately, The Departed will live on as one of the main pieces of ammunition in cynical Oscar watchers’ arsenal when they gripe about de facto lifetime achievement Oscars. Back in the dark days when we all wondered whether Scorsese was going to join the all-time Oscarless directors’ pantheon with Hitchcock and Kubrick, this used to really piss me off:

1976—Scorsese not nominated for Taxi Driver; John G. Avildsen wins for Rocky
1980—nominated for Raging Bull, Scorsese loses to Robert Redford for Ordinary People
1990—nominated for Goodfellas, Scorsese loses to Kevin Costner or Dances With Wolves

’76 isn’t that bad. Sure, Avildsen winning for Rocky is absurd and a symptom that “the people want to feel good when they walk out of a movie!” (though the kind of person who feels good about a movie based on the premise that Muhammad Ali needed to be taken down a peg is beneath contempt), but Sidney Lumet getting shafted for Network (which was years ahead of its time and a legit contender for Greatest of All Time discussion) was a bigger tragedy than a guy in his early 30s not getting nominated for a movie that was almost rated X.

It’s those 1980 and 1990 losses that burn my ass. Ordinary People is not a badly made movie. It’s got a good cast. It is, however, a good indicator of Redford’s future directorial efforts: looks nice, has all the polish money can buy, but there ain’t a whole lotta there there. Raging Bull is Raging Bull. Sure, it’s hard to watch, and it flopped at the box office (which has always been a factor with the Oscars). But it’s Raging Bull. Even if, for political reasons, you have to give Ordinary People Best Picture (which I understand, even if I don’t condone), Scorsese should have won Best Director for the fucking credit sequence alone.

Now, 1990. Dances With Wolves, oh Dances With Wolves. When I was 12 and I saw it on cable I was pretty impressed. But a lot of things impress 12 year olds. And, apparently, Oscar voters: “Oh, look, how meaningful! It’s about an issue! Oh, we’re such bad people for not caring about the Native Americans! Let’s show how much we care!” Now, if Costner hadn’t deleted the expository sequence about the time machine they sent a late-80s vintage politically correct liberal back in time with to assume the identity of John Dunbar, I might have bought it. Without that crucial bit of narrative, it remains one of the best examples extant of Hollywood jerking off to itself. And whose face took that sensitivity bukkake? Martin Scorsese’s. Goodfellas was the best movie of that year, and after the aforementioned Taxi Driver and Raging Bull snubs, it was a classic case of “we fucked him twice, let’s give him his reach-around this time.” But, alas. There was treacly sentiment and reductive liberalism to parade. The American Left doesn’t have cancer, it has diabetes. [Remaining ten pages of this political rant redacted, to be used if I ever get on the Huffington Post].

So, anyway, back to The Departed. Maybe it was his long-delayed reach-around. But if anyone deserved one, it was Scorsese. And there’s something to be said for a 151 minute movie that’s as re-watchable as The Departed (a few months ago when it was HBO all the time I watched it almost every time it was on).

(7) I’ve Loved You So Long (dir. Philippe Claudel)—2008

This is a real good one. Kristin Scott Thomas gets out of prison after a 15-year stretch and goes to stay with her sister and her family while re-adjusting to society. And that’s pretty much it. French novelist Philippe Claudel’s first film as a director unfolds like a novel. Kristin Scott Thomas’ character is revealed slowly, each revelation making her that much more vividly real. (Among the revelations is why she speaks French with an English accent). While there’s a mildly annoying tendency in independent/art-house/what-have-you cinema these days toward arbitrarily holding back information about character and plot in order to have a good end-of-second-act zinger, Claudel’s deliberate revelation of certain rather important details the circumstances behind Kristin Scott Thomas’ incarceration is not arbitrary at all. She, as a character, has put those circumstances behind her, and it’s only because of her sister’s (and the audience’s) need to understand that they’re even revealed at all. Elsa Zylberstein does a terrific job as the sister—in an American movie the sister who doesn’t approve of her convict sibling and is always harping at her and being self-righteous would have been torturous to watch, but in a French movie somehow she gets to be a real person. This is why we need French movies.

(6) Lost in Translation (dir. Sofia Coppola)—2003

Because Scarlett Johansson’s ass over the opening credits could end all war everywhere. Because when you feel lonely and far from home, staring out the window of a taxi with My Bloody Valentine playing just about sums it up. Because Bill Murray is, as GZA later dutifully reminded us in Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, “Bill Motherfuckin’ Murray,” and in his career from Rushmore forward, he’s transcended his previous incarnation as “Bill Ghostbustin-ass Murray.” Because Scarlett Johansson’s ass . . . oh, wait, already covered that (even if those underwear didn’t . . . zing!)

Most importantly, because this movie was so good that until Marie Antoinette came out as such a head-scratcher, for a couple years there I stopped thinking of Sofia Coppola as the twit who fucked up Godfather III. This was big, for me. The first two Godfathers are holy to me. The third had potential; seriously, what other mountains were there for Michael Corleone to climb than the Vatican? And after seeing his rise to power, seeing his end would bring closure. So unlike some people I’ve spilled whiskey on talking about this over years, I saw a third Godfather as being potentially a good thing. However . . .

To be fair, Sofia Coppola is not the only problem with Godfather III. Her father was no longer the same guy he was when he made the first two. Robert Duvall was sorely missed. But Sofia’s miscasting was the biggest, and most noticeable flaw (a tradition going back to the beginning of the Godfather series; Diane Keaton was awful in the first two and seemed better in the third in comparison to Sofia). And, not being above the holding of long-standing, pointless, violently irrational grudges, I completely wrote Sofia Coppola off. Rich kid, dilettante, etc etc. Until Lost in Translation, which, a couple of batting-practice-fastball Japanese accent jokes aside, is an extremely well-observed character study, and captures the awkward, otherworldly sense of being very far from home perfectly. And with a dynamite soundtrack—Bill Murray’s drunk karaoke “More Than This” is still the gold standard of drunk karaoke (my own rendition of the Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” is disqualified because, although I’d had a drink or two at that point, I was still sober).

Tomorrow, lengthy digressive essays on #s 5-1!

INTRODUCTION

The last thing the world needs is another dickhead writing about movies on the internet. I’ve been telling myself this for a few years now, and it’s the primary reason why I’ve resisted the urge to blog for so long now. But all things must pass, and one can only fend off the siren song of self-indulgence for so long. So hello to the various internets, and the series of tubes through which they run: my name’s Danny Bowes.
I’m going to start at the beginning. A story has a beginning, middle, and end, not always in that order—the first of far too many Godard quotes—but I’m going to be boring and start at the chronological beginning. The first movie I ever saw in a theater was Raiders of the Lost Ark. My memory doesn’t go back that far without help, so many of the highlights of my early years (running over Norman Mailer with my Big Wheel on Montague Street, almost getting kicked out of nursery school for pissing all over this wooden house in the playground, et cetera) are things for which I rely on the more wherewithaled. So I don’t know exactly how old I was, two or three, but whatever. The important part is that my mom was chomping at the bit to see Raiders of the Lost Ark, but my dad was worried about little two or three year old me being scared. He went to see the movie a day or two before we were all going to go, to make sure nothing in it would freak me out too much. He came back and reported that most of it was fine, but the ending might be a little questionable. However, because I suspect he smoked a joint before heading out to the movie, he came up with an idea: when Indiana Jones tells Marian to shut her eyes toward the end, my dad was going to tell me to shut my eyes too and keep them shut until he told me it was okay. I agreed that this seemed reasonable, and in any case was excited enough to go to the movies that a few compromises here and there were acceptable.
Years later when McDonalds was selling the Indiana Jones trilogy—and in spite of rumors that I’ve heard about a fourth one, it remains a trilogy—on VHS for $5 apiece with each meal, my mom brought them home, and I finally got to see what was so scary about the end of Raiders. All that pre-CGI face-melting seems a little quaint now, but I will concede that it could get to fucking with a two-year-old’s head. The thing that stays with me about the whole “close your eyes when Indiana Jones tells you to” business isn’t so much that my dad wanted to make sure I didn’t get excessively scared, though that was nice of him. It created the feeling that going to the movies was an event. That movies were special.
One could make a fairly well-founded argument that a bit too much of my attention has been devoted to movies. On weekend days with no football, no rehearsal (no girlfriend) I’ve been known to consider watching three movies. And I’ve been known to end up watching four. A few times when I was growing up, my mom and I hit the triple crown: catch a morning bargain matinee in the theater, come home to find something just starting on cable, and then watch a tape with dinner (or a DVD once I hit college).
This blog is going to be about some of the (many, many) movies I’ve seen. It’s not going to have a whole lot of “ZOMG AVATAR ROOLZ” or “ZOMG AVATAR SUX” posts, because I tend to like to let thoughts sit for a really, really long time before screwing up my face and farting them out. On that note, I’m going to go figure out what to write next, and will conclude with a list of my ten favorite movies from the decade that is (not really, but fuck off) coming to a close shortly. Explanations forthcoming.

TOP TEN 2000-09

1) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (dir. Michel Gondry)—2004
2) City of God (dir. Fernando Meirelles & Katia Lund)—2002
3) The Lives of Others (dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)—2006
4) Children of Men (dir. Alfonso Cuaron)—2006
5) There Will Be Blood (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)—2007
6) Lost in Translation (dir. Sofia Coppola)—2003
7) I’ve Loved You So Long (dir. Philippe Claudel)—2008
8) The Departed (dir. Martin Scorsese)—2006
9) No Country for Old Men (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)—2007
10) Criminal (dir. Gregory Jacobs)—2004