Tag Archives: movies

Read My Friend’s Project, 365 Movies in a Year


My friend Josh is probably the only person in the world with whom I can talk movies for hours.  The passion he and I share for cinema — something most people would call an unhealthy (or worse, boring) obsession — has led to plenty of great, sometimes drunken conversations about all manner of film topics (an example of our measured, reasonable dialogues: Josh: “I don’t think David Fincher is very good.” Me: “Well, I think you’re an asshole.”).  We have developed a mutual desire to push each other to be better filmgoers and appreciators.  After a year or more of suggesting he start writing regularly about them due to his deep knowledge (at least, it’s vastly superior to mine) of movies and film history, he vowed to watch a movie a day this year and write about each.  He launched his blog, 365 Movies in a Year, today, with a post for each movie so far.  So go read it, comment, and start a discussion.  It’s always fun to learn what bounces around this self-proclaimed “pop culture sponge”‘s head.

On a side note, I know I haven’t been around here for a while.  For that, I’m sorry.  But hey, I had to quit my job due to my upcoming semester’s class schedule (hello, one more straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back student loan).  That job, along with my nerd school, family strife, and a couple fiction side projects all coalesced into a break from this place the last couple months.  It may not be a regular column again until I graduate in May, but I hope to pound out at least a few more “I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School” entries in the coming months.  If you want to see more, remember that guilt is always a great motivator, and complain about how I’m depriving you.

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Can’t Wait: ‘Stand Up Guys’


While my other movie series, I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, looks back, I figured I should place at least one foot in the here and now of giddy anticipation.  Therefore, Can’t Wait focuses on upcoming movies I, well, can’t wait to see, along with a few reasons why.

Elmore Leonard’s influence, be it direct or otherwise, is always something I value in a movie.  Fast talking lowlifes, quippy small time crooks, and lounge bars are the cornerstones of Leonard’s work, and things that never fail to interest me.  And when Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, and Alan Arkin are playing elderly versions of those lowlifes, as they do in the upcoming Stand Up Guys, you can count at least one ticket punched.

Will Stand Up Guys be any good?  Who knows?  It’s slated for a January release, which is never a good sign for a film’s quality prospects.  However, that cast, including the aforementioned legends, also features Julianna Margulies and Mark Margolis (Tio!), which is exciting.  Pacino in particular looks like he’s stretching some of those early-career restraint muscles which have gone dormant for decades.  All three of Pacino, Walken, and Arkin have a jaded, beaten, and good-humored take on those Leonard scuzzy criminals, which is alone worth $10 to get out of the January cold.

 

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I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School: Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’


Welcome to I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, my weekly article to prove that I have it in me to go from movie buff to film critic.  With each column I try to better understand the art of filmmaking.  As these can be longish discussions, spoilers follow.  For more from me, check out the rest of Defeating Boredom or follow me on Twitter, @Rob_Samuelson.

Pan’s Labyrinth is, in a way, a schizophrenic film.  It is a story about the power of fantasy, wonder, and mystery, and also a depiction of the harsh realities of fascism and war.  It is not entirely successful in both measures; or, perhaps, it would be more successful if they served each other in a way other than pure juxtaposition.  If Guillermo del Toro had doubled down on one or the other, the film would not feel so disjointed.  Instead, he indecisively keeps a foot firmly planted in each, and the startling violence of the “reality” is weakened.  This is because del Toro fails the “give the audience only what they need” test.  The overt precision of the violence – the Captain’s brutal and uncaring murder of a hunter and his son, Mercedes’ slashing of the Captain’s mouth, etc. – has no mystery to it; a viewer sees exactly the effects of the violence, or rather they see del Toro’s vision for what the effects should be.  This leaves them without the option of filling in the blanks with their own nightmarish imagery (see Howard Hawks’s Red River, when John Wayne’s character murders a Native American beneath dark water; an act the audience cannot explicitly see).  Now, shocking and extreme violence has its place in the proper context (Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Refn’s Drive), but in a film that also places so much emphasis on mystery, trickery, and sleight-of-hand in its fantastical moments, Pan’s Labyrinth would be better served to employ some of those slyer elements into its harsher, more “realistic” segments.

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I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School: The Fascination of ‘Sunset Boulevard”s Norma Desmond


Welcome to I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, my weekly article to prove that I have it in me to go from movie buff to film critic.  With each column I try to better understand the art of filmmaking.  As these are longish discussions, spoilers follow.  For more from me, check out the rest of Defeating Boredom or follow me on Twitter, @Rob_Samuelson.

[Author’s Note: Again like last week, I have to apologize for a short post.  In what may need to be the new normal for this column (I go to a nerd school that requires perhaps too much of my time), this is another class-related essay about Billy Wilder’s 1950 noir-Hollywood takedown classic, Sunset Boulevard.  While William Holden’s Joe is an interesting guy in his own right, he is not the draw of the film.  To find that, one need not look further than his co-star.]

Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) would seemingly like to believe she gave it all up for the movie business.  Whether she had other career prospects is left to our imaginations, but one might assume she had never given second thought about what she wanted in life.  She got what she wanted, then it was gone; she was shuffled to her trophy house as the talkies ushered in a new era.  While she probably realizes deep down that her career is dead, the steady stream of “fan” letters penned by her butler/former husband, Max (Erich von Stroheim) are enough to keep her delusion working.  She’s unbalanced enough — her chimpanzee pet and frequent suicide attempts enhance this notion — to believe her own lies, as it were.  Until Joe Gillis (William Holden) enters her life, she is at least content with the status quo.  His detached, sardonic wit keeps her at arm’s length, but she thinks she’s found everlasting happiness.  Joe’s editing work on her “return” (she hates the word “comeback”) script gives her inflated sense of self the extra push into insanity.  Her deluded reasoning tells her that Cecil B. DeMille (playing himself) wants to make her picture, and her preparations for the role take her from dignified beauty — she’s aged quite gracefully for a 50-year-old woman — into a bug-eyed grotesquerie.  Her beauty treatments leave her with unsightly things stuck on her face at all times, and they seem to undermine their own central idea: To return her to her peak years.  Norma does not see this. In fact, she clings desperately to the idea that she has something (or rather two somethings, with Joe and her rebounding career) to lose.  She’s not about to let them go without a fight; hence the treatments, domineering neediness, and ultimately, murder weapon.

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I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School: What Makes ‘The Artist’ Special?


Welcome to I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, my weekly article to prove that I have it in me to go from movie buff to film critic.  With each column I try to better understand the art of filmmaking.  As these are longish discussions, spoilers follow.  For more from me, check out the rest of Defeating Boredom or follow me on Twitter, @Rob_Samuelson.

[Author’s Note: As will become apparent to you, this week’s post is short enough to be a capsule review.  But thanks to my school’s library closing for Monday’s holiday, I have to spend most of my time there Tuesday evening to do work.  This is a slightly edited version of a piece on the 2011 Best Picture winner, The Artist, I wrote for a class I’m taking.  This may have to become a more regular occurrence on this site when I’m short on time for longer essays.  Sorry in advance.]

What transforms The Artist from a mere genre exercise into a resonant film is its brief use of diagetic sound.  Its utilization of retro techniques — 1.33:1 aspect ratio, long takes, and the “mugging for the camera” common in the silent era — is charming and engaging, but would ultimately result in interesting emptiness without its acknowledgment of itself as a modern (re: talkie) film.  George Valentin’s (Jean Dujardin) nightmare about sound’s implementation in his business is a masterful use of impressionist ideas — dream logic, such as his inability to speak in a world where sound envelopes him —  and practical implementation of sound design.  Up to the point of his nightmare, the only sound in the film is its score; a whimsical, enjoyable score that bores itself in a viewer’s head.  Within the dream, though, George’s powerlessness is enhanced by his dog’s insistent barking, the shock of hearing a drinking glass clink against a table, young actresses on the upswing mockingly laughing at him, and eventually, a floating feather that lands like an atom bomb, waking him from his fitful sleep.  This experience shakes him, and instead of facing the changing film landscape over which he had previously reigned, he becomes obstinate and doubles down on his insistence that talkies will just be a short-lived fad.  His waking nightmare, the one in which he loses everything in a blur fueled by arrogance and the Depression, will continue for several years, before the sobering reality of the necessity of adaptability finally sinks in.

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Can’t Wait: ‘Hyde Park on Hudson’


While my other movie series, I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, looks back, I figured I should place at least one foot in the here and now of giddy anticipation.  Therefore, Can’t Wait focuses on upcoming movies I, well, can’t wait to see, along with a few reasons why.

Bill Murray has had one of the more unique career arcs of any actor from the last four decades.  A stand-up comedian who became a masterful improv artist who became a Saturday Night Live legend who became, along with Eddie Murphy, the biggest comedy star of the eighties, Murray has since departed the big stage for understated independent roles.  He is now the elder statesman/secret weapon of directors like Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch; that’s a Madonna-style rebranding.  While Murray’s latest role as former U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the upcoming Hyde Park on Hudson keeps him in the indie realm he’s occupied for the last decade-plus, it looks like his most dramatic yet.

Murray’s FDR would, on the surface, appear to be in line with his usual stable of characters, but that assumption would not be quite right.  His recent turns as dour, deadpan men searching for meaning in old age — think Lost in Translation or Broken Flowers — have added a new dimension to him.  In Hyde Park on Hudson, Murray seems to be fun, but not in the same way he was in his eighties heyday.  Gone is the detached, sardonic wit, and in its place is a damaged man who cares about people and life.  For the most part, the film’s trailer carries a light tone, but its implications of British royalty lobbying the U.S. president for help in World War II, along with FDR’s affair with his distant cousin, Margaret (Laura Linney), point to a darker reality the marketing campaign would be loathe to show.  The film probably stays away from the “icky factor” of the affair, but the frankness in its admittance of said infidelity is a rarity among the syrupy, awards-bait films that usually arrive in December, like this will.  A deeper look into the psychology of one of America’s most prominent twentieth century leaders (hopefully) without typical biopic hero worship is indeed something to look forward to.

P.S. There are few things that have brought me as much joy as this video.

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Can’t Wait: Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo’


While my other movie series, I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, looks back, I figured I should place at least one foot in the here and now of giddy anticipation.  Therefore, Can’t Wait focuses on upcoming movies I, well, can’t wait to see, along with a few reasons why.

“Ben Affleck wants to direct?  How cute,” seemingly everyone scoffed in 2007.  After all, Affleck had spent the preceding decade squandering his promise as an actor in toxic works like Daredevil and The Sum of All Fears.  Then he sat behind the camera for Gone Baby Gone and made a vibrant, violent, engrossing, and downright great thriller.  “Okay, but we’ll see how he follows up on that,” came the skeptical response.  Affleck then made The Town, this time starring in addition to his directing duties, and created a crowd-pleasing heist film without sacrificing artistry.  This time, his Argo is not eliciting the same skepticism.

The “based on a true story” hook is captivating in itself, given the high concept idea of faking a Canadian science fiction film as a front for sneaking American hostages out of Iran.  But the cast of iconic character actors — John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Philip Baker Hall, Victor Garber, Titus Welliver, and Alan Arkin among them — is a cineaste dream.  How these people interact in close quarters, ready to snap at each other and the circumstances surrounding them, is potboiler gold and worth seeing even if Affleck’s direction didn’t look so slick; Argo appears to continue his “artsy popcorn entertainment” aesthetic started in The Town.  Seeing Affleck direct increasingly elaborate films is a good sign for Hollywood, and any Oscar buzz surrounding Argo gives him and other like-minded filmmakers the cache to do special, interesting work.

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I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School: What Makes a Good Western?


Welcome to I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, my weekly article to prove that I have it in me to go from movie buff to film critic.  Each week I cover movies I’ve heard feature prominently in film school, films I believe are worth exploring deeply, classics I’m ashamed to have never seen, and occasional new releases if they strike me.  As these are longish discussions, spoilers follow.  For more from me, check out the rest of Defeating Boredom or follow me on Twitter, @Rob_Samuelson.

While its popularity has waned in recent years — replaced first by the musclebound action schlock of Stallone and Schwarzenegger and now by films based on comic book properties — the Western has long served as one of America’s great myths.  Its touchstones are attractive in that uniquely American way: loners, the open air, disregard for authority, sympathy for the underdog, opportunity for wealth redistribution, and violence’s ability to solve problems; watching a Western speaks to our visceral side rather than our need to intellectually analyze.  Its reliance on archetypes instead of well-rounded characters has given us some of our most recognizable and revered film heroes; these generalizations lead us to believe anyone can be the hero rather than shutting us out with a specific, singularly flawed protagonist.  But what elements combine to make a good Western?  What about a great one?  Is it an anti-authoritarian story paired with one of those shallow, archetypal men?  Is it something more?  It was with these questions in mind that caused me to watch three Westerns in recent days.  Two of them, The Searchers and Red River, are lauded classics.  To more fully understand and appreciate what makes those great, though, I watched a comic miscalculation of casting, story, and timing, Texas Rangers.

For the sake of my viewing chronology, I’ll start with The Searchers, John Ford’s classic end of an era film.  Ford’s most frequent protagonist, John Wayne, plays a deeper, more nuanced character than usual, but he remains an archetype: the reluctant hero.  What’s most interesting about this role, though, is Ford keeps the “hero” part in question until the very end.  Throughout the film, which spans several years, Ford leaves the audience wondering whether Wayne’s Ethan Edwards will choose the moral high ground or succumb to his demons.

While those demons — Ethan’s racist, war-scarred psyche — would normally be difficult to overlook from a modern viewpoint, his opinions are not unfounded.  These views have been shaped over years of experience.  Ethan may not appreciate the socio-political things that led to the violence, but he’s been witness to the antagonistic Comanches’ atrocities against white people, including his only family at the movie’s outset.  Wayne does his best work in this.  When he’s angry, which is a large portion of the time, you feel it; there is little of his usual hands-at-his-sides, cue-card-reading rigidity.  His moments of levity and acceptance, such as when he intends to bequeath his entire will to Martin (Jeffrey Hunter), feel natural and earned, given all the time they’ve spent searching for Ethan’s niece and Martin’s adoptive sister, Debbie (Natalie Wood), who had been kidnapped by the Comanches years earlier after they slaughtered her family.

If Ford had left the story at that, The Searchers would be a perfect film; as it stands, it’s near perfect, so the drop-off is not extremely disappointing, but it exists.  The problems lie in the subplot involving Martin’s lifelong romance with Laurie (Vera Miles) and on-again, off-again betrothal.  Their light romantic comedy throws an unwelcome wrench in the overall tone, and its attempt to add comic relief takes far too much time away from the riveting search for Debbie.  Likely the studio didn’t want such a bleak film and Ford was left with no choice but to toss less intriguing elements into the pot.

That said, The Searchers‘ problems are nothing compared to its heights.  Ford’s ability to frame a shot reaches its apex in this.  His outdoor vistas, combined with Technicolor’s heightened reality heyday, are worthy of awe.  His pacing and action scenes are impressive for any time, but especially 1956.  His ability to guide the stiff Wayne through a subtlely shifting performance is magnificent.  Its uncompromising look at brutality — Wayne shooting out the eyes of a dead Comanche so he cannot reach the underworld of his faith, his planning to kill his niece for taking up with the Indians, etc. — paints a picture of social unrest far more intriguing than a Robin Hood tale of protecting the little guy.  But most of all, the film’s greatness is on display whenever Ford can capture Wayne in his element: under an open sky, single-mindedly chasing his goal.

By 2001, the greatness exhibited by Westerns like The Searchers had all but dried up.  It was no longer a popular genre, but instead a collection of half-remembered stereotypes about white and black hats and “circling the wagons.”  Steve Miner, veteran television director, took those stereotypes, tacked on some ’90s teen heartthrobs and white guilt, and made Texas Rangers, a movie memorable only for its laughable overreaching.

There is nothing inherently “cinematic” about Texas Rangers beyond its aspect ratio.  Of its stars, only Rachael Leigh Cook had a reputation as a movie actress.  Everyone else was either the star of a hit teen-skewing TV show (James Van Der Beek on Dawson’s Creek and Ashton Kutcher on That ’70s Show), veteran character actors who hadn’t had much success in then-recent years (Alfred Molina and Tom Skerritt), an “elder statesman” TV star (Dylan McDermott of The Practice), or a non-actor altogether (Usher).  Everything about it reinforces the old — especially now in our post-Sopranos TV golden age — ideas about TV being inferior to film.  Everything is over obvious and overwrought.  Kutcher is Michael Kelso in a cowboy hat; yelling through a goofy grin is his entire range.  Westerns don’t require terrific acting — the best-known actors to don a hat are Wayne and Clint Eastwood, neither of whose “technique” (unrelenting stoicism) would be taught in most acting classes — but being able to hit the simplest of marks would be nice.  Kutcher doesn’t seem to understand that Texas Rangers is nominally a drama.  Van Der Beek fairs slightly better, inasmuch as he can at least look sad when his family is murdered by Molina’s mustache-twirling villain.

The quality of the filmmaking is hardly any better.  The sets and costume design don’t look dirty or lived in like the should for Western towns exposed to the elements, and the cheap lenses and film stock used make everything look an unbearably long episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.  In one hilarious chase scene, which is supposed to take place at night, what I can only assume to be a lack of funds caused Miner to shoot it on an overcast day and utilize an optical effect that looks like he clicked the spray can in Microsoft Paint to draw black around the racing wagons.

Predictably, the storytelling is equally bad.  Particularly egregious is the subplot featuring Usher trying to earn the respect of his fellow Rangers by proving that black people are humans, too.  It is so heavy-handed that the message, which is obviously a good thing, becomes worse than preachy and instead shines a spotlight on an inexperienced actor out of his element, which, when combined with the equality story line, negates the message.  It shows Usher — a career musician who should stay in that realm where he has real talent — is not up to par with even these second-rate players, which places a bad light on serious black actors and makes them look less qualified than white actors.

While categorically bad, a movie like Texas Rangers highlights what it is about its genre that resonates.  It does this by taking elements that typically work and showing what happens when not done properly.  It features familiar elements: the aging gunman on his way out; the young sidekick eager to take on a larger role; a larger-than-life, scenery chewer of a villain.  Instead of imbuing these characters with personality or twisting them in a new way, the people involved choose to give a warmed-over, “Remember when X happened in Westerns?”  Simply acknowledging that something exists is not a clever use of that thing; Texas Rangers never learns that lesson.  Everything is a twelfth generation VHS copy of things that had been done to perfection decades before by more talented people.

Texas Rangers‘s toxicity only helped emphasize the greatness of Howard Hawks’s 1948 exemplary Western, Red River, starring Wayne and Montgomery Clift in a surrogate father-son relationship.  Much like The Searchers, this opens with an act of aggression from Comanches toward one of Wayne’s loved ones, as they burn every wagon on a train Wayne had moments before left to strike out on his own as a cattle rancher in Texas.  Wayne gets cheap revenge in a wonderful sequence in a river where he stabs a Comanche beneath the water; there’s a hint of extreme violence without explicitly depicting the grisly nature of murder.  This moment sets Wayne on a dark path that turns him into a revenge-seeking monster.

Again, Wayne’s shortcomings as an actor aren’t particularly bothersome, but they do exist.  Early in the film, he can barely be bothered to recite his lines; he is listless, seemingly bored with the material.  Probably unsurprisingly, once his character grows villainous, he engages.  He cares, and the film picks up steam until its thrilling climax.  The film’s midstream change of focus from Wayne’s tenuous, violent grasp on leadership to Clift’s taking the reigns is an act of structural genius; as a commercially minded film, Red River needs the audience to relate to its protagonist, and as Wayne grows less human, Clift replaces him.  It is Clift who takes the archetypal role here: that of the aforementioned young man looking for more responsibility.  But instead of doing what Texas Rangers would do decades later, Red River provides an interesting — and, for 1948, entirely subversive — take on the character, with several scenes brimming with homosexual flirtation and phallic gunplay.  When the film introduces Joanne Dru’s Tess halfway through as a love interest for Clift, it feels tacked on, and you don’t buy the romance as fully as you do the flirtation he has with another ranch hand earlier.  Clift himself doesn’t appear desperate to have her; he abandons her first, and when she catches up to him at the end, he says he “guess[es]” he should marry her.  Not the strongest love story, but an intelligent, engrossing one that rewards close reading.

The only time the film falters is at the very end.  This is disappointing, as it is, until that point, probably in the top three of “proper” Westerns (not counting the spaghetti variety popularized by Italian filmmakers in the 1960s), behind only the first film in this column and Fred Zinnemann’s impeccable High Noon; perhaps it still is, but it’s a step or more below those two.  But after the film spends more than an hour building Wayne as a fearsome, power-mad egoist hellbent on murdering Clift for stealing his cattle, they have a standoff that results in them…  agreeing to reform their cattle raising partnership because they love each other?  The ending is too pat, too convenient, too eager to provide a happy ending that it sucks the importance out of the tension the film had built to that point.  But still, its high points bury the low much like The Searchers would the next decade.

As shown by these films, the American Western relies on archetypes to survive.  What it does with them, though, is key.  They cannot merely exist, as in Texas Rangers.  Something must be done to reshape the meaning of those archetypes.  If they don’t fit the story you want to tell, hammer at them until they are; make them malleable.  The Searchers has as its hero a murderous racist who barely chooses the right thing — family — in the end.  Clift’s homoerotic dealings with his peers in Red River indicate a deeper sense of identity than what entertainment-seeking audiences may realize.  Both these classics infuse their storytelling with dynamism, a singular personality.  Texas Rangers is an exercise in blandness and wannabe filmmaking that does not understand the importance of a leaving a creative stamp on a genre.  In that way, the Western is like any other branch of storytelling: telling a personal tale, when done with proper technique, will reach transcendence.

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Can’t Wait: Andrew Dominik’s ‘Killing Them Softly’


While my other movie series, I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, looks back, I figured I should place at least one foot in the here and now of giddy anticipation.  Therefore, Can’t Wait focuses on upcoming movies I, well, can’t wait to see, along with a few reasons why.

After watching The Godfather for the first time as an adult — I had only seen it at the age of 12 — and The Godfather Part II for the first time, period, in the past week, you could say I’m on a mafia movie kick.  While Coppola’s films rank among the greats, their high-minded take on the upper echelons of mob life is not my favorite of the genre.  As I wrote last week, Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas ranks in my 10 favorite films, and I think that’s because of its focus on the smaller aspects of the life; the two-bits, the less successful ones.

Writer-director Andrew Dominik (Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) appears to share Scorsese’s mindset in that regard, as evidenced by the new trailer for his upcoming Killing Them Softly.

Now, doesn’t that feel like one of Elmore Leonard’s lost gems?  Brad Pitt’s scuzzy-goateed, aviator-clad heavy looks to continue his winning streak of distinct, interesting characters (after Inglourious Basterds, The Tree of Life, and his Oscar-nominated turn as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane in Moneyball), and he deservedly earns top billing.  Pitt’s not the main reason I’m eager to see this, though.  Richard Jenkins is.

Jenkins is a wonderful character actor whose profile has risen the last few years, to the point where he’s nearly reached the Gene Hackman/Robert Duvall level.  The first time I noticed him was as the lovesick buffoon in the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading, and I haven’t stopped paying attention to him since.  From his tragically doomed Father in Let Me In (a movie that probably had no right to be good, yet still pulled it off), to being the best part of The Rum Diary as Johnny Depp’s cranky newspaperman boss, to his place as the secret weapon (with Bradley Whitford) of 2012’s best film to date, The Cabin in the Woods, Jenkins has earned every ounce of respect heaped on him.  I’m excited to see what he can do in the criminals-bullshitting-each-other milieu.

Oh, and how can you not be excited for that single-take working over of Ray Liotta?  It’s the best form of low-budget filmmaking.

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BFI’s Greatest Films of All Time 2012 List Revealed; I Feel Like a Know-Nothing


If you consider yourself a movie buff like I do, you probably make an effort to see the films noted by critics and filmmakers as the best.  In the last few years, I’ve made great strides in expanding my horizons in that regard.  As of my most recent count, I’ve seen 248 of the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (albeit the now slightly outdated 2005 edition), and I feel like I’m relatively educated on the subject of cinema.

That is, of course, until I saw the British Film Institute released their once-a-decade Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time list yesterday.  Looking at the top 10, I felt I’d done pretty well.  I’ve seen Vertigo, Citizen Kane, La Regle du jeu (The Rules of the Game), 2001: A Space Odyssey, and 8 1/2.  Quibbles about the worth of La Regle aside (Maybe I’m a dumb American for not appreciating it, but I think Robert Altman did a far more interesting version of the rich-people-and-their-servants-stuck-together-in-a-big-house story with Gosford Park — “BLASPHEMY!” I can hear you all yelling at me), I felt pretty good about myself.  Then I read choices 11 through 50.  In total, I’ve seen a meager 16 films on the list, and haven’t even heard of a large portion of the entries.  Once again, I’m humbled, and for the umpteenth time in my life, I feel this is appropriate.

What should you take away from this?  I guess it would be the un-profound, “Don’t be a know-it-all, because you don’t.”

And now, I’m left wondering what my own top 10 would be.  I’m too indecisive to rank them by worth, so it will have to be of the “in no particular order” variety.  This is something that could change by the hour, and some of these don’t necessarily reflect my feelings on the “best” cinema has to offer; rather, they are the ones I most enjoy and can watch multiple times.  Entertainment value plays a huge role.  So, here is my list of favorite movies (Thank you, Josh, for the formatting idea).

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb – dir. Stanley Kubrick.  I could really go with 2001, The Killing, Paths of Glory, or The Shining here, but this one is the funniest, so it makes the cut today.

Boogie Nights – dir. Paul Thomas Anderson.  This is the movie that made me say, “I want to make those.”

Ghostbusters – dir. Ivan Reitman.  It’s both sentimental — when I was a toddler, it served as my babysitter while my mom took care of my little sister — and still really funny.

Raiders of the Lost Ark – dir. Steven Spielberg.  This week, it edges Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Ask me again next week and it’ll probably be the opposite.

Ran – dir. Akira Kurosawa.  This is the newest addition, as I only saw it a week and a half ago; see what I mean by the evolving nature of this list?

Goodfellas – dir. Martin Scorsese.  Like Kubrick and Spielberg, this could be any number of Scorsese’s films, particularly Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – dir. John Huston.  Bogart goes unhinged and gets desperate while Huston explores the depths of human greed without neglecting entertainment.

Bronson – dir. Nicolas Winding Refn.  This is my generation’s (improvement on (here come the “BLASPHEMY!” charges again)) A Clockwork Orange and features Tom Hardy’s portrayal of an earthquake of a character.  Perhaps the finest film of the last five years.

Chinatown – dir. Roman Polanski.  A movie without fault.  Its story, characters, and themes create one of the greatest stories ever put to celluloid.

Fargo – dir. Joel and Ethan Coen.  In this, the Coens show a rare affinity for a character — Marge — and play with noir conventions in an Elmore Leonard way.  I watch it every six months or so, which is what helps place it above Miller’s Crossing and Barton Fink on my list.

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