Saturday, October 19, 2013


The 5 Obstructions blogathon

OBSTRUCTION #5: Write about anything. It can't be a review or a feature you've done in the past.

I’ve been pondering this latest obstruction for a little while, trying to figure out what exactly I want to write about. The only other stipulation, other than the fact that I have complete freedom to write anything I want is that, I have to write about movies, and it has to be on something that I haven’t written about before. Well, despite the recent/ongoing interruption in my normal blogging patterns, I’ve written well over 300 blogs, including over 700 movie reviews, not counting my Canon of Film pieces, which are ineligible for this, since most of those I have pre-written. Frankly, I’ve written a lot about movies, and it’s hard to go out and find new things to talk about them at this point. Especially given complete freedom as a base. It may be counterproductive to most ways of thinking, but it’s easier to think outside the box, when you’re given a box to think outside of.
So, what to write about? Well, the first thing I thought of, was to ask you, the readers. I posted in several of the more active and more communal FB groups that I’m apart, and am often a participant of, those who certainly know my work ‘cause of how often I post there, and I asked them what they would like me to write about? I’m always looking for feedback and ideas to springboard off of anyway, and why not ask them? Well, nobody responded to my inquiries, so thanks, Readers, for that waste of time. (It’s true btw, I’m always looking for feedback, constructive, recommendations, useful, even negative feedback I appreciate, and I consider and read all comments and replies. I don’t always listen or agree, as at least one Anonymous poster has found out, but still, I do want to know what you guys think, and what you guys would like for me to discuss.)
I thought of things like personal favorite films and director and stars and whatnot, but that’s so common amongst bloggers, and usually when bloggers do that, it’s such a vanity project, that it really just turns into a list of movies, without any real constructive discussion on them. The other reason however that I generally avoid such things as a “My Top Ten Favorites…” or whatnot lists, things, is that, generally I don’t have favorites. I mean, of course I do, but I don’t use favoritism as a standard. I discuss some of my personal choices a long time ago on this blog, when I participated in multiple 30-Day Movie Challenges, and within that context, I like the use of discussing that as an introduction, but even then..., (Below are the links to those blogposts)
I strive to be the kind of critic/commentator, who looks for the differences between what I like, and what is good, leaning more towards the latter if possible, as oppose to like and don’t like. Maybe that’s made me more detached, some would say, (Or others might say that I take out the so-called “entertainment” or “fun” aspects of film-viewing) but they’re arbitrary to begin with, favorites, it feels so trivial to discuss them. Besides, you ask me to name 1,000, I’ll name 1,001; you ask me to name 1, I’ll name 1,001, or 2, or however many I feel like anyway. Except for always naming “Casablanca” as my all-time favorite, I simply find such questions puzzling. I know, I just did a huge TV show poll, but I did a poll on “Greatest TV Show”, not “Favorites,” for a reason. Whether or not some of the participants listen to that request, I don’t know, but still, I just don’t like dealing with favorites.
Not that determining the greatest of anything, isn’t arbitrary, but it is less so than favorites. It takes out the personal, and opens up for the possibilities, of really understanding why a film is so good, and/or better than other films, as well as why we like a particular film(s) better than (an)other.
So, without any real excitement in the favorites idea, and no real feedback on what you guys would like for me to talk about, and in a bit of a quandary, I decided to go to my last backup plan. Some of you really longtime readers, know about my list, for those who don’t, one of my original goals with this blog, was to publish the list I compiled of every movie I’ve ever seen. Oh yeah, it’s on here, here the link to that blog, as well as the blog explaining the list.
Well, the first 3,000+ films I saw anyway. Just, add almost all the films I’ve reviewed to that list now, and when I hit another milestone like 4,000 or 5,000, I’ll republish this list of coffee spoons I’ve measured out my life in. Oh, believe me, I’d rather this list be of women I’ve had sex with, or something more titillating, but it could certainly be worse. And those of you wondering about some websites that allow for one to compile such lists, well, I was doing it, long before those websites existed, and it would take so many manhours to literally transfer them to such a site…- I literally started saving this list, before USB drives were invented. What you guys don’t know, although probably would’ve guessed from my list-obsessed Aquarius ways (Although I do try hard to suppress such discussion of that) is that, there’s more than one list I have. I have some ranked lists, one for each decade, starting with the eighties, and going ‘til today. Originally when I started compiling them, I had lists separated for each decade, or each decade where I had seen a more-than-considerable amount of movies from that decade. (Actually, I’m wrong, the ‘80s list I compiled later; it was original a list of films from 1989 and earlier, now a list of films from 1979 and earlier, when I had enough films from the ‘80s to make its own list.) Well, since I started these lists, x amount of years or so, my viewing habits have become more elaborate and even moreso once I started writing reviews for this blog. Now, I’ve started separating films into years, narrowing them down even further. Originally, I started doing this, with this decade, because it was easier, but shortly after I passed the 1,000 film threshold for the entire naughts, (The ‘00s decade) I painstakingly began doing the same with that list, and it took a couple years actually, but recently, I finally made reranked and separated that decade list, into ten separate yearly lists, and needless to say, I retired the previous list. It’s a saved film somewhere, but when I now see a movie from that decade, I no longer rank it on that list. I’m still hundreds of films from doing that with my ‘90s list, and quite a few hundreds more from doing that with my ‘80s, and any other decade I so choose to do that with.
I know; I know, it’s such masturbation on my part, but might as well do something with them. I was actually delaying posting these Top Ten Lists, because for some of these decades, I hadn’t seen enough films, at least in my view, to really make a objective determination of what the best film was from those particular years. Take 2000, I’ve only seen 68 films from the year 2000. I’m not quite sure why I missed so many films from that year, although I’m sure being 15 at the time, and late fees and jobless and still going through high school had something to do with it, but I wanted to see more films, at least 32, and certainly more of the Oscar-nominated films from that year, before posting this list. (Or for that matter, 2001, I’ve only seen 77 films from that year so far, which is far too low) However, sometimes you have to say, what the hell, let’s talk about the year 2000, in films, and what films I’d argue as the best of that year. Might as well, besides finishing this challenge, now I got nine more blogs I can write to have you readers on the edge of your seats! He-he.
So, 2000, and like I said, this is a very limited sample, in fact, I want to label it an “Incomplete” list, for the time. Of course naturally all lists can be like that, but still…. Anyway, I do think there were some good and even great films from that year worth talking about even now, so, let’s do it. Shall we start at my bottom ten? Alright then, let’s get in the way-back machine and let’s have some fun, and take a look at the best films from the year, 2000!

10. Billy Elliot

You know, the movie that I really kinda, turned-around on, on this list, is “Billy Elliot”. I do have a tendencies, to look at Stephen Daldry’s other films more than this one, which is rather unfortunate ‘cause they seemed to have gotten progressively worse since this feature-film debut of his. That said, there’s a reason it’s his best, it’s the traditional story, kid overcoming obstacles to achieve his dream, told in the non-traditional way. The two things I really think about with this film, first the quick-cut editing in the film, really bolts you into the movie. It’s actually, when you go back and think about it, just how paceful, and quiet his other films tend to be now, or sweeping as in the case with “Extremely Loud…” this movie jumps into the film. It’s Guy Ritchie took over the editing of the film or something, and it forces you to really get into the film and the characters and start to care, like we have to with these films, or else there’s no point. The other thing I remember is the real sense of time and place the movie has. Yes, the core story, there’s a reason it’s been adapted for Broadway and still remains a relevant and relatable piece of art for many people, but it’s Ireland, it’s a specific time, there’s a strike going on, the father’s distressed, the family, the characters, this movie, didn’t have to be that specific in order to be successful, but, they did, and-, you know, it’s one of those great questions a screenwriter has to ask about his work sometimes, “Can this story take place anywhere or any time else?”, and if it can’t then you know you got a good story. This story, could’ve hypothetically taken place almost anywhere, anytime, on the surface, but that wasn’t enough, and the film makes sure that, it really surrounds itself with these characters, that time, in the only time the film could’ve taken place in. You know, this is the one change I made to my Top Ten, before posting, I had “O Brother, Where Art Thou” in my Top Ten originally, and “Billy Elliot” eleventh, but the more I thought about it, the really, much more important and seminal, and entertaining work, but this is the film that sticks with you, long after it’s over. I underrated this film originally, and really demeaned it, when I saw Daldry’s work continually decline, but I saw this one again recently, and I was young at the time, now I realize, this is the great underdog story of the year, and it’s great to watch and analyze from many different perspectives.

9. Cast Away

On top of being one of Tom Hanks’s greatest performances, it’s really quite amazing just what Zemeckis does with this film. I’ve watched it three or four times now, I always seem to slip into it whenever it’s on. It’s a little easy to joke about Wilson, and some of the other strange and often-parodied quirks of “Cast Away”, but the fact of the matter is, that this film could’ve been done badly in many different ways, and instead, it usually hits the right note. Hanks’s performance is practically equal to that of DeNiro’s Jake La Motta in “Raging Bull”, gaining and then losing considerable weight to play the part, but notice it’s a very quiet and often wordless performance by Hanks. We know he can play big and quirky characters, but never do we really see just how great he is with just with body and facial expressions. And consider how Zemeckis, really tamed himself. He’s known for sweeping films, that are loud and often boisterous, oftentimes great, going all out in some ways like “Back to the Future”, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” , or “Forrest Gump” even, but there’s hardly any score in “Cast Away”, and he very purposefully made this film as realistic as possible. It’s a lot to take in for a movie, but I buy into it, every time. It’s quite amazing what’s pulled off here.
8. 6ixtynin9
Probably the title most of you have never seen from my list is “6ixtynin9”, which is a film from Thailand, that’s one of the strangest and most fun black comedy heist thrillers I’ve seen. Actually, the film seems to be hard to define in any genre. If it was an American movie, well, it probably be called a Coen Brothers film, ‘cause the only kind of tone I can compare it too, and while it’s not a remake of any kind, I’m pretty sure the Coens themselves saw “6ixtynin9” and were then inspired to make “Burn After Reading”, one of their most underrated and funniest films. The title is not what your first thought; it’s actually a dreadful translation, but basically it refers to the common movie situation, where a 6 or a 9 on a door in a movie, is always upside-down, and the wrong room, in this case, bad guys seems to keep going into the wrong room, killing somebody in there, searching for money that they can’t find, leaving the room’s poor tenant, who’s in trouble with certain people herself (although not to the level of murder, but she’s certainly getting the wrong idea), but now has to find ways of disposing of these bodies left in her apartment, that she can’t get out, and more people keep coming in. She has to kill them, and then get rid of the bodies somehow, and that’s really the beginning of this story that gets more and more ridiculous as it goes on, and it’s absolutely funny as hell. It’s definitely a movie that we’re starting to see influences of elsewhere now, and it’s definitely worth seeking out. It’s definitely a deconstructionist’s wet dream film, you just don’t know what’s gonna happen next, but it’s definitely gonna be fun and funny.
7. High Fidelity
I think any list of the best romantic comedies of the decade, a decade that, let’s be honest was not great for the genre, but Stephen Frears’s “High Fidelity”, has to be considered for that list. For one thing, it’s about a character, who’s obsessed with lists. He’s more music driven, as he spends his days, mulling over his old girlfriends, and especially his latest ex, and compiling Top Five Lists at his record store. Yes, record store, for you young people, look them up. (I know, that’s an old joke, but vinyl rules!) John Cusack, another one of those actors who never gets the credit he deserves, and this Nick Hornby adaptation, one of the best adaptations of his stories as well, is really an insucient and carefree film. Frears’s is one of the most versatile of directors anyway, but he finds some really right notes in this film, from the music to the dialogue, especially the arguments, to the way he fully embraces this breaking the 4th wall narrative, there’s pure joy in this film, even the end credits, are more interesting visual graphics than most Hollywood blockbuster special effects extravaganzas. And John Cusack, another one of those truly great actors that never gets enough credit; he’s great in leading man roles, especially, even in bad movies, but there was a period where he was doing “Being John Malkovich”, “High Fidelity”, “Identity”, “Max”, these really great character roles, that really showed that A. he is one of our best actors, and that he can do anything. This is a first person film, has a lot to do, play a few different ages, many different emotions, and with a lot of different actors and actresses, and with the camera. Not everybody can do that, that talking to the camera thing, people don’t realize, when you’re acting, you get into a method and create a character from within, it’s hard to suddenly break into a soliloquy essentially, at least onstage there’s an audience, but too suddenly take that character, into another world, and jump into the surreal essentially, even if it’s a serious role, you need to be one of the best comic actors alive to take that kind of part.  Everybody else, whether a good or bad actor, they’re all kinda casted as types, in this movie, from Jack Black to Catherine Zeta-Jones’s cameo, to Tim Robbins’s strange cameo, even, that core center character, it either makes the movie or it breaks it, with this kind of film, and this film makes it. And it’s surprisingly realistic about the love story, romance between the characters, it’s not a real rom-com romance filled with the great romantic getting back together-scenes. Despite everything it’s sneaks on up you, it’s messy and chaotic a bit, gets a lot of things right that film. Kinda gets overlooked for not being a tradition rom-com, but that’s why it is such a good one strangely enough.

6. Wonder Boys
There’s something Chandleresque about Curtis Hanson’s “Wonder Boys”, another favorite of mine, and not just because I often use Bob Dylan’s Oscar-winning Song from the movie, “Things Have Changed”, as one of my personal theme songs. Essentially however, the film is one of those stoner comedies, where a main character is simply incapable of getting himself out of a situation, that he isn’t quite sure how he managed to stumble into in the first place. The only real difference is that they're smart stoners, really.  It’s also another one of those films that takes great joy, in surprising us at every turn. Just when you think you know what kind of movie this is, a character shoots a dog, and it’s funny. I tried reading the original novel the film was based on once, it’s a little convoluted and hard to read, but the way it got transferred to film in this slow-motion physical comedy, is all the more impressive. Of course Douglas’s performance, one of his very best, never gets the credit it deserves, but there’s some special supporting work from Tobey Maguire, Robert Downey Jr., Rip Torn, and Katie Holmes as well. The title refers to authors who had one major hit book, and then never seem to come up with another, (Meanwhile the Steven King’s out there….) so I guess essentially this is one of those struggling author movies, but again, this was a common theme with the best films from this year, taking a few elements from stories that we know, but finding new ways of twisting and telling them, and that’s really why the film works so well. It even has characters, like the Katie Holmes character, who’s a red herring. The way she’s positioned and placed in the film, you’re thinking, “Important character,” 20-something, boarding in the old man teacher’s room, and the film, doesn’t go in that direction. Some might argue that’s a waste of a character, but that’s actually  what’s great about the film, there’s chess pieces on the board, but they don’t move exactly the way you think they would. This is another one of those films I always get sucked into whenever it’s on, absolutely brilliant film.

5. Best in Show
The best of Christopher Guest’s films is “Best in Show”, it’s a film I’ve seen dozens of times now, never fails to make me laugh, and there are so many things to laugh at as well.  What I actually love about this one, and why I rank it so high, is that this is the one that, you really get sucked into, and you don’t realize why, until near the end, when you have no idea who’s actually gonna win. It’s actually the most ingenious of Guest’s ideas because of that, and it works because the acting is so well-done that we actually care about the characters at the end, even with the great commentary by Fred Willard that might be the best performance in the film, undercutting them. That’s what really gets me about “Best in Show”, as great as the comedy is, the way the movie plays out, it actually turns into a really intense competition at the end, and you realize, that was no playing favorites, he didn’t create good guys or bad guys, he just let the actors play some really great characters, and have them exist. That’s really the secret behind these mockumentaries, let the characters as outrageous as they may be, just feel like they actually exist, or could exist, and it just happens that the movie is funny as hell too. That’s really kind of the topping essentially, that the movie, keeps a great through line, without a predictable or outcomeless ending, which I think were the problems with “Waiting for Guffman” and “A Might Wind”, as funny and great as those films are, the more you watch it, the more you realize it’s at another level. This was definitely the best, straightforward comedy of the year.
4. Chocolat
Lasse Hallstrom’s another of those really underrated directors, he makes good movies, sometimes he can make a really great one, and “Chocolat”, is really just an enjoyable. It’s delectable, it’s quirky, it’s simple, it’s certainly not a complex film about a major subject matter or anything, but I don’t understand people who can’t sit back, watch it and enjoy it. It’s a literal film about chocolate versus lent, and, I guess it seems to be a pro-witchcraft movie when you think about it too deeply, but it’s just enjoyable. You know, I have friends who berate me a lot for not liking films like “Armageddon”, or “Independence Day”, or something like that, and tell me that I don’t look at how “fun” a movie is, I probably mentioned that some other point earlier, but, this is a fun movie. Not those noise and effects that signify nothing. When I want to sit down and have fun with a film, this is the kind of film I want to watch. Nobody getting killed, a light story, a good story about kids, a whimsical movie that’s more or less a fun fairytale, and I’m not gonna lie, the loads of chocolates helps too.
3. Requiem for a Dream
And now for something completely different, Darren Aronofsky’s masterpiece “Requiem for a Dream” is one of two movies about drug addiction in my Top 3 of this year, (Don’t know why it was a good year for drugs but…) and “Requiem…” which was originally rated NC-17 for a graphic dildo scene, is about the how drug addiction, of all kinds, derail a family into the utmost of depressions. An unrecognizable Ellen Burstyn, gives one of her greatest performance as a mother who get addicted to diet pills after being conned into thinking that she’s going on a game show, as her son, played by Jared Leto, falls into the sling of heroin addiction, as does his girlfriend in one of Jennifer Connolly’s best roles as well. The movie’s editing style of multiple cross-cutting makes the movie seem more hypnotic than it might actually be, as well as the hypnotic violin score that drives the movie. This is quite an unforgettable film that goes nowhere but down, and should probably be required viewing to teenagers or even preteens as we see just what depths some will go through for that high. I may post a Canon of Film Review on this film later, and I notice that I talk a lot about the search for happiness in that piece, and there is joy and happiness for awhile in their search for that perfect high, and just how temporary that high is, and just how low the downfall is. There’s a lot of great films about drug addiction, but any shortlist of the absolute best, has to include “Requiem for a Dream”, it’s one of the absolute most powerful.
2. Traffic
However, I must say that while “Requiem…” is a better film about drug addiction, the quintessential film about the drug trade is “Traffic”. Winner of 4 Academy Awards including Best Director for Steven Soderbergh, an adapted from a famous miniseries, “Traffic”, takes place in Mexico, San Diego and the Northeast, and follows three stories, each about the effects of drugs, wearing the corruption in Mexico, and how one cop works from within to not only fight it, but use it to his advantage, how straight cops, are unable to fight corruption at the border, among the powerful elite, and the battle of addiction at home, as the country’s latest drug czar, is suddenly dealing with his addicted daughter, who’s getting more and more out of control. The film is shot on handheld cameras, by Soderbergh (Under an alias) and is edited using thousands of jump cuts as well as some beautifully tinted cinematography to help separate the stories out, and great performances by a long list of all-star actors, “Traffic” on its surface seems like another film about the drug trade, but the craft and skill of the movie really separates it from all the other films of the genre. It’s investigative instead in exploitative, and the movie is really a technical masterpiece, and another reminder of just how naturally great a director Soderbergh is. Arguably his best film, as he masterfully tells multiple stories, and really shows just how complex the issue of the drug trade actually is, and how truly vicious the cycle of it is, and how the win in not only unwinnable, but in some ways, it’s completely essential the drug trade is to the socioeconomic workings of the country, and the world.

1.      Almost Famous

While I still consider this list, essentially incomplete, and in many ways I consider it embarrassing to be so ill-equipped to discuss this year in film in terms of the greatest, however I think I’m pretty sure that no many more films from the year 2000, I’ll later watch, that “Almost Famous”, is the definitive number one film from the year. I’ve discussed the film before, on a Canon of Film article,

and it stills holds up as the greatest and most inherently watchable film of the year. It's fun, it's entertaining, I think you can argue it as the best coming-of-age summer film of the all-time; it's Cameron Crowe's best film,- this is an iconic film that really has a lot of good things going for it. It's just a brilliant look at rock'n'roll in the '70s, that you can turn on anytime, like a great album, and always be enjoyed. Autobiographical, funny, smartly-written, amazingly acted, just a brilliant film.

Well, I've got nine more blogs of these to go, one for each year, after that, I'll post the entire list of films from the 2000s decade. In the meantime, I'm gonna build the suspense a bit, and let me see if I can start another debate here, and so, what do you guys have as the Top Ten in the year 2001! I'll try to get to some of the other films later.

POST-SCRIPT: After I posted this list, I realized that I mislabled another film as being apart of 2001, when it should've been listed as a 2000 film. That film, now ranks number 2, on this list, and you can move down one the rest of the list. That film is below:

2. Amores Perros

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Amores Perros", isn't the first film to directly borrow the plot structure from "Pulp Fiction", but I'd argue that it's the best one. The debut feature from the great Mexican director, "Amores Perros" translates literally to "Life's a Bitch", but Bitch has a double-meaning, as it's really a reference to dogs. All the characters in the movie are involved deeply with their pets, and all of there lives collide, shocking and unexpectedly in a car accident. The first story involves Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal) as he's deeply in love with his brother's wife, Susanna (Vanessa Bauche) and he decides to take up underground dogfighting in order to make enough to get her and her kid, and escape from his violent brother. That's the first story, the second involves a model named Valeria (Goya Toledo) who convinced her now-husband to actually leave his wife and kids for her, shortly before she gets in the accident, and is now wheelchair-bound, and struggling to get her leg to heal. This is not the new life either her, or her new husband had in mind, when they moved into their new high-rise apartment, which overlooks and big advertisement of her on the street below. A third story involves a homeless man, El Chivo (Emilio Echivarria) a witness to the car accident, who ends up taking Octavio's dog; he houses numerous others, while he also begins a transformation to slowly reconnect with his long-lost daughter, who he abandoned years earlier. This was also the first and arguably the best collaboration with Inarritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, they would make a trilogy of films using this fractured style that separates people through random events and misconnections that play with time and structure, the others being "21 Grams", and "Babel", at least one of which you'll probably likely see on another one of these lists in the future, and he later wrote and directed his own film, "The Burning Plain", another film with that style, that I was one of the only people who liked it. He's also an acclaim novelist, and that tells you why he's so willing to break with normal three-act structures, he's more interested in how everyone is connected, worldwide, and how certain the smallest details involving incidents they have nothing to do with, can alter the lives of others, in ways they can't imagine, or even understand. "Amores Perros", with it's skillful handheld camera and quick-cutting gives us a glimpse of the talents of these two men, a flashy glimpse, but what's just as amazing is not how good "Amores Perros" remains, but how well they've been willing to live up to the potential, from this groundbreaking, inventive film. This film could've been a career for most filmmakers, for them, it was only the beginning.

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