Wednesday, November 26, 2014



Director: Sergio Leone
Screenplay: Age-Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Leone from the story by Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Leone. English version by Mickey Knox

The highest ranked foreign language movie on, is not a work by Kurasawa, Fellini, Bergman, Truffaut, Godard, or even Miyazaki, Ang Lee, Ozu, and it’s not even Cuaron, Innuritu or Del Toro. In fact, most people who’ve seen the movie are probably not even aware it’s a foreign language film. Directed by Sergio Leone, made in Italy where sound isn’t recorded until later (So everybody said the lines in the languages they spoke) and then dubbed into English and other languages later, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” is far and away the most popular of the revisionist westerns, and the quintessential spaghetti western. Spaghetti westerns are these  highly stylized Westerns made in Europe, and led by fired Fellini assistant Leone; they revised and revitalized the ailing western genre, creating worlds different from the American southwest desert landscapes that popularized the John Ford/John Wayne world.

Naturally, as with almost all of Leone’s work, despite Quentin Tarantino’s notion that “TGTB&TU” is the best directed movie of all-time, I continually admire his work mostly from afar. The talent and storytelling through cinematic images of Leone, is never in doubt, from the opening frame of any of his films, he’s clearly a master director, yet as an auteur, he’s shares eccentricities one might expect from a Coppola or a P.T. Anderson. His movies are slow moving, and sometimes exuberantly long, often allowing for images, edits and music to take over seemingly in place of an actual story for sometimes hours. In Roger Ebert’s Great Movie review of “TGTB&TU”, he notes that Leone had two undeniable masterpieces are “Once Upon a Time in the West,” and “Once Upon a Time in America,” which is ironic because Ebert actually gave a negative review originally to “…in the West.” I originally did too, as it takes two full hours before anything happens. Now, just like my original negative review of “TGTB&TU,” I recognize how both movies are brilliant works of art. I used to go claim that “…In the West” was the better work of art, but and maybe it is, but “TGTB&TU” is the better movie. ( I still haven’t seen “…In America,” yet, so I’m withholding judgment) This is also clearly the audience consensus, probably mostly because of its connection to Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name,” archetype Leone created originally with his two previous films, “A Fistful of Dollars,” and “For a Few Dollars More,” the former of which was a direct remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo”, (and together, they make up, what's been called "The Dollars Trilogy", although I always called it The Man With No Name Trilogy). The plot of the movie is too simple: three men, looking for a grave full of money. In it’s current extended version, it clocks in at 2 hours, 45 minutes, and now really feels long, and yet, the movie is basically about the ending shootout scene, the famous last one with Ennio Morricone’s score blasting, following the long shot of the Good, Blondie (Clint Eastwood, which is what his character’s called.), Bad, Sentenza or Angel Eyes, (Lee Van Cleef) and Ugly, Tuco (Eli Wallach) walking away from each other, and literally dozens of close-ups and extreme close-ups. Even the appearance of the Civil War has no significance other than getting us closer to the shootout. Once one looks over the stretch of storytelling logic, geographical impossibilities, and all the other storytelling absurdities, it becomes clear one watches Leone for the iconographic images on screen, and the way he manipulates them to tell his story however way he chooses; the look, the tone, the images, all his own, all the signs of a truly great auteur. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

THE TEN BEST MOVIES OF 2013!: Oh, Christ 11 Months late again- (Frustrated growl, deep breath) Let's just get this damn thing over with. Oh, and the TEN WORST FILMS of 2013 TOO!

With Thanksgiving coming up, I am in need of doing a Top Ten List for, last year. As usual I'm late again. I wish that wasn't the case, but I fear it will be the case more often than not nowadays and that mostly pisses me off. I've still not seen "The Wind Rises" and "Alone Yet Not Alone", the two Oscar nominees that I haven't been able to get around to yet, (Although I'm not as annoyed at missing the latter as the former) which is some of you may know from the past, that's usually the minimum standard that I've always set for myself and these Top Ten Lists but, I have to inevitably commit to a list and commit to one soon, and frankly, any longer and it would be beyond obnoxious and ridiculous how long it takes me, even by my standards. Personally, I'm still determined and willing to keep up my streak of not doing a Top Ten List until I've seen enough to make one that's at least legitimate but even I have to concede when somethings taken too long and it's just time to get it over with and move on. And truth be told, I've been dreading this Top Ten more than most. Not that it hasn't been great films this past year, but honestly, there hasn't been nearly as many films that have blown me away in 2013 than there were other years. Not technically, actually from a filmmaking standpoint, I thought their were plenty of great films, but personally I often found myself quite detached from the cinema this past year. Perhaps that was my issue moreso than the films themselves, but there was clearly something off for me about 2013. Anyway, because of that though, I can assure some of you that this was as tricky a Top Ten List as I ever remember constructing before, and never have I ever been so reluctant and unsure about one either, and that's not just because I still feel inadequate to make one despite having seen, almost 250 films from the year.

So, with the caveat that, there's always a strong possibility that this list will probably be subject to change in the future, it's time to discuss the TOP TEN MOVIES OF 2013,  at least, as of, whatever the hell today is. And it's a solid list by the way, there were some great films this year, lots of them, just a lot that personally I wasn't particularly attracted to.


10. What Maisie Knew

I'm gonna admit that I overall had a very difficult time trying to figuring out how to fill this list, and where to rank everything, in fact this was probably the toughest time I've ever had trying to figure out where to rank films. "Frozen" was in here for awhile, "All is Lost" came close to making this list; I only gave "Short Term 12" 4 1/2 STARS, but I thought about placing that one in here for awhile after that film had grown in relevance to me. "20 Feet from Stardom", "The Crash Reel", "More than Honey", "Stories We Tell", "The Square", and a few others documentaries were considered however for the first time since I started doing this blog, no documentaries broke my Top Ten. It took awhile, but after a lot of self-observation, the one film that felt right being here was "What Maisie Knew", from Scott McGehee and David Seigel, a story about a complicated divorce, seen through the eyes of a child.

From my original review:
A reinterpretation of the Henry James novel, "What Maisie Knew", is one of the better movies I've seen about divorce and separation, especially from the kid's perspective. And it sticks with that kid's perspective, as the title indicates, the main character is Maisie (Onata Aprile, in her feature-film debut) the seven-year-old daughter of Susanna and Beale (Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan). He's some sort of music executive who's job requires constant overseas travel, and Susanna is a rock'n'roll singer, and before I go any further there's a few things I have to praise about this film. First, the script, is spectacular. The way this scripts write the dialogue of the characters, and the way and moments when the Maisie character, hears these outpouring of anger and random flippant-ness and, just the tone of, those moments when a kid first realizes that the parents talk and treat you differently, then maybe they actually are or behave, is really spot-on. This begins with the script, moves secondly into the directing for knowing the ways to shoot some of these scenes. The directing team of McGehee & Seigel.... there are four great performances in this film, by the main supporting characters. Beale, quickly marries the family's nanny, Margo (Joanna Vanderham) a move that Susanna isn't even aware of until Maisie goes to Beale's house for the week, and she's living there, and they're talking about a cruise honeymoon. In a quick response to Beale marrying a trophy wife, Susanna marries Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard), a nice bartender, who was hanging out at one of those parties adults try to throw when the kids are supposedly in bed. I don't know whether to give too much away going forward here, but essentially what's happening to Maisie is that, there's two parents who do love her, but for really aren't capable of taking care of her, despite their best efforts. Beale travels too much to even take care of his new wife, much less a kid, and Susanna's preparing a new tour. What I really liked about how good the film is that, Maisie isn't used as a pawn here. The parents are in fact, fighting each other, and sabotaging each other if possible, but Maisie's merely a witness, who doesn't fully understand what's going on, and the two parents are trying to do what's best, but failing badly, and Maisie can only understand so much of these developments, between these four characters. And they are characters, everybody gets moments to shine as actors here, yet they are all supporting, and the way the movie does has certain character seem prevalent, then leave the movie, and brings new ones in...- There's a lot going on, and it's a great film! 

This is a great film, and it kinda, got swallowed up at awards time, but this really one of those where so much has to be done perfectly, or else, the whole film completely falls apart. It has to be the correct tone, it has to be completely believable in it's setting, you need really good actors in the right roles, including the role of Maisie, 'cause this little girl Onata Aprile, she is in pretty much every scene, or at least from her perspective, so she has to be good, and this script,- let's talk about this script for a second, 'cause this is a such a tricky script to write, it really is. First, you have a subject, like divorce, and remarriage where we've already got some pretty good films and images of that, that are already, well-placed in our minds, and a lot of cliche involved in those, and the screenwriter Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright, find a way not necessary evade them, but find an approach to them that makes sure we're completely engrossed in the film, that they come off not as cliches, really organically, and stays in this child's perspective, and gives all the other actors enough to work with to really do some of their very best acting. This story's been adapted once or twice before on film, in the wrong hands, this story can go really, bad, Nancy Myers, Nora Ephron romantic comedy, and it never comes close to feeling that way, it's really quite an accomplish, "What Maisie Knew" and that's why it deserves to find a place on this list.

9. A Touch of Sin

The first thing I wrote when I reviewed Jia Zhangke's "A Touch of Sin" was that, it was the first film I had seen from the controversial Chinese director, and that I would probably need a second viewing. By the time I finished writing the review, I did see it a second time, and my star rating kept climbing and climbing the more intricately I paid attention, and that will probably be a common theme when I look back upon this year, as this analyzing the numerous levels of self-conflict that are involved as China continues to suffer from the growing pains and consequences of it's embrace of Capitalism.

From my original Review:
Catching people offguard by getting the film approved by the Chinese board for theatrical release in the country, barely, "A Touch of Sin",  won the Screenplay Award at Cannes, and it requires quite an patient and observant eye, and probably more knowledge of the intricacies of Chinese geography and culture than I have, to fully contemplate it.  The film is based on four distinct true stories that occurred in China recently, each involving sudden explosions of violence, each about the disenfranchisement of the Chinese worker, and each taking place in a different distinct part of China, andalthough there is a degree of interconnection between the stories, it's probably best to think of them as separate so that they're easier to follow. (This isn't a "Pulp Fiction"-type film that gives us a new heading to obviously informs us of a change in the story, we often have to figure it out for ourselves.) The first tale is in Northern China where a respected worker Dahai (Wu Jiang) is frustrated with the owners and village chief of the town, 'cause of they're corruption and deals, and the way they've slowly started gaining material wealth, and turning their backs on their workers after promises of raises and deals....The second story takes place in a growing southwestern town where Zhou San (Baoqiang Wang) arrives on his motorcycle. He's already killed people that we know of, and he's home with his family, none of whom are particularly happy to see him, and his menacing presence puts a shadow over everything as seemingly no one's sure exactly what he will do next, all this, while the shadow of one of the largest hydroelectric project is starting to undertake the town and change not socio-cultural and environmental ecosystems of the area.... The Third story involves Xiao Yu (Tao Zhao)  a drifter who gets a job working as a receptionist at a massage parlor, until a customer starts insisting she be bought by him; she seems to somehow be protected with the image of snakes like Eve. (There's animalistic references throughout the film) The next, involves Xiao Hui (Lanshon Luo) who's a disenfranchised factory worker quits his job shortly after injuring himself, and finds himself working as a waiter in an upscale brothel that seems run more like a Vegas hotel, complete with suits, detailed instruction and even a floorshow with the girls coming out in unison in costumer, and then to another job, that gets and gets more and more disenfranchised from job-to-job.... The film is about the current situations in China, the way the Communist ideals are now in direct conflict with the continued influence of the west capitalist culture, and the personal effects it's having on the people. These are stories about people losing their identity and then resorting and falling into acts of violence as the only means of self-expression, and angry outbursts. I've seen it twice now, and the more I watch it, the greater it effects me, and the more I learn about the current state of China, in practice and mind. It shows a country in flux, trying to contemplate finding places for the old with the new, and focuses on those few people who can't seem to be able to navigate this new modern China. "A Touch of Sin" is incredibly insightful, and at times unnerving. It's a challenge to get through, but the more you dive into and digest it, the better it gets....

"A Touch of Sin" was definitely one of those films, that will try your patience, and there were a few this year, where I needed, or sometimes forced myself to watched something a second time, to fully see I grasped it, many times I didn't time for a second viewing, I was so swamped, and I still am, but yeah, there were a few films that shouted and grabbed you by the collar, we'll talk about a few of them, but there were a lot more than normal this year. "A Touch of Sin", was of the ones, that really forced me to sit it a second and then a third time, and it makes you do it in a very interesting way, where it forces you to concentrate on things, or you will miss everything, and then just as suddenly you're in a whole other world, and that was the metaphor of the movie and the critique of China as a whole, and it's really quite a journey. There's a certain elegance to it when you think about. Great film.

8. Rush

Ron Howard's made quite a few good and sometimes great films over the years, and the funny thing is, not only do we never really think about him as one of today's great directors, but when he manages to come up with something really special like "Rush", we're almost caught off-guard, 'cause I think we have tended to pigeon-hole in terms of his style, but if you really look closely at his filmography, you'll see many different inspirations and choices, and a lot of them came together in "Rush". It's one of his very best films, and in many ways, it really encompasses and brings full-circle much of Howard's director work and career.

From my original review:
Something that Ron Howard never gets credit for as a director is how he is an expert when it comes to telling a story through the details and minutia of the world, especially when it involves either cars or mechanics. I touched on this a bit in my review of "The Dilemma", how cars is actually a motif of Howard's,... and how this refers back to his very first feature, "Grand Theft Auto" about demolition derby, but it even goes beyond cars. The wonderful technical work when showing Russell Crowe's thought processes in "A Beautiful Mind", or the paced way we get to enjoy ever little detail of those moments of going to the moon, like the ice cracking off as the rocket goes up, or even the less glamorous moments, of showing how the helmets and gloves of the astronaut suits get put on. He's fascinated by the mechanics, and in turn, he uses these to tell a story, and this attention to the minor details makes "Rush" arguably his greatest achievement, if not that, I bet it's one he considers his favorite. For those fans of Formula-1 racing, the story might be familiar to you, it focuses on the rivalry being British driver James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austria Nikka Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), complete opposites who happened to be the best at their very dangerous sport at the same time, as they battle for the '76 Formula-1 Cup. Hunt's the arrogant risktaker, who loves the spotlight and.... Lauda's a technical master, who works at eliminating risk as much as possible and wins races through skill over speed, and impresses his wife Marlena (Alexandra Maria Lara) with his practical and intellectual approach to life, racing and love. The story itself, strangely is probably the weakest part of the film and the script from the great Peter Morgan, but what really separates the film is the details. There's a subtle story at the edges of the frame, about just how reckless and deadly the sport is, and even worst, the way the sport was run, almost intentionally to promote it's death-defying nature, often allowing for races to be run in horribly unsafe conditions, and on unsafe tracks, in order to see them cheat death (or not) as much as they are to race. I had a friend who attended the... the race killed former IRL and multiple-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon. It was determined after that the track, known for it's annual NASCAR races shouldn't have been clear for IndyCars to race, and they've since cancelled all future planned races they had for the track, and have no plans to return. Howard's goal is to show the kind of sport Formula-1 was at the time, and how to was run then (And to some extent  how it's still run now out of the remnants of that era.) the league and the races, and this is what really separates the film. Not only is this some of greatest car racing scenes in cinema history, but the editing, the production design, getting and recreating the cars and the tracks, and getting the era right, the amazing cinematography by Anthony Dodd Mantle, these technical arts that recreated the era, and the way he shot this film, are spectacular, first class filmmaking. It's truly amazing that they actually went to such lengths to recreate this world, and still manage to do it in a way that still makes it feel like it's accompanying, and is apart of telling the story, and not just showing off the incredible work.... It really might be his best directing achievement so far, incredibly impressive filmmaking on every level here....

You know, I'm not 100% sure if, somebody who might not really completely gets filmmaking will understand what Ron Howard was able to achieve with this film. They might watch it, and realize it's a good movie and a great story, but from a filmmaker perspective, "Rush" really is an amazing accomplishment. This was  a lot technical aspects, from production design, cinematography, a lot of actors, just creating this world of Formula-1 racing, in the '70s, none of it is extra, or unnecessary, and all of it, helps tell the story. Actually, the story, is the weakest part of the film and it's a pretty good story, it's a sports story, it's a rivalry/friendship, and some people already know the ending and whatnot, but the dedication and work involved in Ron Howard, making sure this story is told the best way possible- It's not just about having the money and the tools to be able to do it, you gotta be able to put it together also. He really put this film together, incredibly well, more than most would've thought of expecting, frankly.

7. Inside Llewyn Davis

The thing that really took "Inside Llewyn Davis", eh, sorta over-the-top for me was that,at least for a Coen Brothers movie, this is basically a similar structure from them, take a character, and continuously, beat the living crap out of him, metaphorically, and literally sometimes, make sure every decision they do is wrong, and make Murphy's Law applies to everything they do, unlike some of those other great films they've done, you got the sense, that there was something different at stake her for them. They almost treated this character of Llewyn Davis, the struggling folk singer, for lack-of-a-better-word, with a certain amount of tenderness and care, that I really hadn't seen from them before. It's such a bizarre contradiction, especially from the Coens of all people, but that's what made the film so fascinating.

From my original review:
To a certain extent, the Coen Brothers love to be complete sadists to there characters, and in turn, to it's audience, and that's a good thing, because they look at a scene or a movie and wonder sometimes, "What would the audience expect to happen here?" and then, immediately give us the opposite. There was at no point a moment where I thought "Inside Llewyn Davis" gave me the satisfaction of what I expected or wanted to see happen, and that is such a relief. No, it's not always satisfying, but that's life. Well, it's certainly life in a Coen Brothers film if nothing else. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a New York folk singer in '61, right before the big folk revival movement was about to hit. He used to be apart of a folk-singer duo, but his partner committed suicide, and since then, he's got a crusty old-time manager Mel (Jerry Grayson) who seems nice and friendly like Broadway Danny Rose, but still basically is a crook who promises more than he's capable of providing. Llewyn is not like by many, and most of them shouldn't. He housesits for the Goldsteins (Ethan Phillips and Robin Bartlett) but is constantly losing their cat. He doesn't stay in one place very long, and his current back-up residence, with a folk duo called Jim and Jean (Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan) but they have someone else on that couch, and it wouldn't matter 'cause Jean hates Llewyn most of all, not the least of which is because she's pregnant, and now must get an abortion because she doesn't know if it's Jim or Llewyn's kid. Llewyn can barely get a playing gig on good days, as he's antagonized most of the local folk places in town, but he's able to get a couple hundred working on a recording with Jim, and hopefully a place to stay for a day or two with another local musician/session player Al Cody (Adam Driver, who should definitely be the star of the next Coen Brothers film). As Llewyn stumbles through this parade of characters and places, literally on the road, sometimes hitchhiking, sometimes sleeping on the side of it, he finds out that a former girlfriend who's abortion he paid for two years earlier, actually had the kid instead, and he decides to make an impromptu road trip to Chicago, hitching a few rides, including a memorable one with Roland Turner and Johnny Five (John Goodman and Garrett Hedland) in order to take his one shot with a big-time producer Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham).... All Coen Brothers films are strange combinations of a few different genres,... but one thing that's rarely so clear in "Inside Llewyn Davis" is the constant conflict between the pure randomness of events, and the destiny of free will of choice. Things seem to come up and happen, almost at random, for Llewyn, even he seems capable of acting randomly,... but then he's confronted with numerous personal and moral choices, and he never makes the ones that we instinctively think he'd make based on our familiarity with movie plotpoints and patterns, but the fact that they give Llewyn the choice is bizarre..... I can't think of too many other times they've done that, everything their characters do is usually completely logical in their minds and ways of thinking and/or absolutely out of their control and at the will of destiny. Now, one not only get choices, we never know what he's gonna do in those moments. This is a strange clue to the movie, that they actually like and care about Llewyn Davis, and even at his most hateful, there's a humanity in him. There's a scene where they tenderly show him in a diner, after he was walking and having one of his feet fall through the snow, and he takes his foot out of his wet shoe to try and warm it up. There's no callback or emotional connection to the shoe or the foot to be made, or even a reason for the incident or the shot, other than to show him caring tenderly for his foot. Why do they do it? I think... secretly they care about them and have a deep emotional connection to them. And I suspect that they care about Llewyn Davis, probably more than most, if not all of their other characters.

The Coens Brothers always have this strangely innate sense of Americana about them. There's not a film where they don't have that to some degree, and you simply never where or why they decide to go with something. They come across, a place, an era, a period, something kind of twists in their minds, and kinda connect to it. The strange thing that I think they kinda connected to with this period, was hope, oddly enough. This whole film, they're presenting you with a character, who lacks it completely, and yet,we get the sense, that it could actually work out for him. Even the trailer, if anybody's seen it, it conflates this sense, much more than the film really does actually, and while much of it, we really find ourselves not looking and thinking of the film, for it's laughs, then even tell us his fate at the end, at the beginning, and yet, it's open-ended. I don't want to give anything way, but when you think about the movie, it's mostly New York, and there's some traveling to Chicago, Llewyn Davis is a folk singer, it's 1961, and if you know you're music history you know what's about to happen. Yet, despite everything that happens to Llewyn Davis, with the cat, with the trip, with snowstorm, the pregnancy and whatnot, they leave that doubt, that possibility that something good can still work out for Llewyn. Part of that, is the amazing Oscar Isaac performance, and part of is, the Coen Brothers, kinda letting us leave with that possibility. It might not end up the way Llewyn would want or prefer, but something good could still happen. It's a unique and unusual amount of care and emotions from the two people we except anything but that from. The Coens surprised me, and they made another spectacular film.

6. Her

Spike Jonze's "Her", is one of the most beautiful contradictions in recent cinema history. A science-fiction parable about the dangers of how technology is handicapping our ability to have real connections with people, while also being a beautiful poetic love story, that happens to be between a man, and an operating system.

From my original Review:
I'm now on my third viewing of Spike Jonze's "Her". It's not necessarily as original as some are making it out to be; it's clearly got influences. "Lars and the Real Girl" comes to mind for a recent film about a guy who has a relationship with something that isn't, for lack of a better term, alive. It's also got some of the insouciant wit and whimsy that the writer of Jonze's earliest features Charlie Kaufman,... I even suspect that the personal poetry in his ex-girlfriend Sofia Coppola's work like "Lost in Translation" probably had an effect on him as he was writing this. Don't get me wrong, this is definitely a most unique and original film, and a truly great and perfect script. Maybe too perfect, but it works here.... It's technically a sci-fi film, taking place somewhere in a near future. Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) works at a surprisingly popular and busy job as a hand-written letter writer, where he is hired to basically play a Cyrano and write letters for other people, expressing their true emotions which most people don't seem to be able to do in a modern world where video games curse and talk back to you. Theodore is going through a tough divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara). He's become mopey since, barely able to even go out and talk to his friend Amy (Amy Adams) and her husband Charles (Matt Letscher). He signs up for an O.S., and Operating System that's designed to meet his friendship needs. She names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) and they start developing a relationship and then later a romance. It's hard to explain exactly why this works so well. Communication is a common theme, or the lack thereof. When Amy's husband leaves her, he becomes a Buddhist monk and vows six months of silence, choosing to refuse to communicate rather than accept his own failures and tribulations, or discuss them with a significant other who wants more. Theodore struggles with video games and porn, two other replacements for human contact, but only resorts to the O.S. when he loses all interest in human contact. And Samantha, the machine isn't treated as a machine. She's highly advanced, and the ying-yang of Samantha's new-found life, inspired by every new experience, and capable of machine learning and adapting, this is a tricky performance, but more than that, it's these incredibly thought and observantly well-written strings of dialogue, particularly between Theodore and Samantha that make the film truly special. You can actually just listen to this movie, like a radio play and be entertained. And while, much of the romance, doesn't actually tread into unexpected or new territory, it carefully observes a future world where relationship with O.S. or other digital people can be plausible and in some ways, a new a booming form of relationship surrogacy....  It earned an Oscar for Spike Jonze's screenplay, and he deserved it, 'cause the script is so intricately written it managing to turn this sci-fi romance, practically into a Linklater-esque subtle piece of banal poetry. Some movies take a premise and do nothing to it; "Her" takes it seriously, and yet still makes it fun and enjoyable....

There's so many different aspects to "Her" that really make it special. This amazing mix of very disparate genres and influences, and this is really the movie where the script is the real reason to watch the film. I mentioned that this was like a radio play, and I gotta admit-eh, as amazing as things like, the production design, the cinematography, the music, the special effects were, the acting, but more than any other movie this year, you really could listen to it, and be entranced with it. Some people thinks a drawback, I actually admire films like that, without needing all exposition either. I watched it multiple times, and I found it most fascinating, that it worked so well at that level, it almost overshadows everything else, but Spike Jonze is such a talented and innovative director, he knows he created something amazing, and he knew exactly how to build upon it.

5. Blue is the Warmest Color

The highest-ranked foreign language film on my list was the controversial and provocative Abdellatif Kechiche epic love story, "Blue is the Warmest Color". This film was a three-hour film that still felt, incomplete to me, At three hours in length, my biggest complaint with this film was that it still felt incomplete; I wanted to see what happens next, and that's quite a rare accomplishment.

From my original review:
It seems strange at times that there's hardly a scene that goes by in Abdellatif Kechiche's "Blue is the Warmest Color", especially in the first half of the film, where is seems like he's able to get the camera off Adele's (Adele Exarchopoulos) face. Her face, her mouth, other body parts occasionally, sometimes the whole body when needed, her hair which she's constantly debating about whether to tie up or let flow, but much of the time, it really is just the face. I'm more familiar now with the two little indentations under Adele Exarchopoulos's nose, than I am mine. Based, believe it or not on a graphic novel, "Blue..." is an epic tale of a love story,.... I call it an epic, because it not only spans time, but it also because the scope of the story is long and arcing, an everchanging character piece that can skip years as much as it can focus itself on the literal day-by-day. It's also one of the sexiest movie I've seen in years. Yes, there's graphic sex, lots of it, and I'm sure I'll get some complaints and arguments from some lesbian friends of mine about how the sex scenes seem to have been from a male fantasy perspective.... I don't necessarily disagree, but I think the more crucial point he was making with these scenes was that sex, when you're in love with someone has a more fantastical emotional feel than sex without love. The movie begins in high school, Adele is in a young teenager, all of 15. She's quiet and inconspicuous although she has a clique of girlfriends she hangs with and talks to guys occasionally. She's starting to date a Senior hard rocker, Thomas (Jeremie LaHuerte) who's nice and charming. But before that, she sees a striking young girl with blue hair crossing the street, under the arm side-by-side with her girlfriend Sabine (Aurelie Lemanceau). That night, after her dates goes well, she masturbates to and imagines sex with that girl who she just got a fleeting image of.... Eventually she meets the blue-haired girl that rocked her world, a college of Fine Arts student named Emma (Lea Seydoux) She's in a relationship, and on some level, she knows that Adele is way too young for her. I don't know the legal age of consent in France, but 15 has to be pushing it, especially when you're in college,... but sometimes there's a connection that can't be ignored. That rare kind that's not just physical. The relationship is hidden from many. Adele's parents aren't fully aware at first. Emma's are probably more accepting. Adele becomes a pariah to many of her classmates, especially when they get a look at Emma. There's lots of gatherings of large people actually. Parties, a couple protests, collections of kids at school, both with Adele as a student and then later when she starts teaching, a job that makes Emma worry about her happiness. Yet, we constantly focus on Adele's face. Following her with incredible attention and intimacy....

Despite winning the Palme D'Or at Cannes, one of many awards it received, the film was not eligible for the Foreign Language Oscar because of a technicality regarding it's release date, as the buzz was so big on the movie, that the producers decided to release it early both in France, and then in the states; some hypothesize that it would've clearly won. I'm not as sure on that, but I mentioned the movie's length, and the movie needed to be this long. In America, I think our ideas of romance in film, tend to be, simply the meet cute, the getting together, you know, the putting up of obstacles essentially, in order to get the two characters to realize they're in love. Yes, it's a lesbian couple, but that's hardly a factor in what I'm talking about, it's about a loving relationship between two very distinctive young people that last for a very long time, a quite a few years, five years I believe, and how they meet, fall in love, evolve from those young people, struggle with the love in their youth, and how that love adapt, struggles, survives, and then falters over time, as the two young women continue to grow and evolve. The big complaint was that the sex scenes, were more male fantasy than realistic; I have plenty of lesbian friends, I'm not gonna pretend I know anything about their sex lives, it works metaphorically to me at least, but you take away those moments in the thrusts of lust and passion when we all act and behave a little differently than our normal selves, "Blue is the Warmest Color" is one of the most realistic portrayals of love and romance, ever put onscreen, and I wasn't kidding, I really hope that someday we see another part of this story and find out what happens exactly to Adele later.

4. American Hustle

Now we're really starting to get into the really special films from 2013, and number 4 on my list, is David O. Russell's return-to-form, "American Hustle", probably the most fun movie I saw this year, and for the first time in a long time, we finally get back to that sense of kinetic inventive sense of irony that first made us think of Russell as one of the most talented young directors out there. It's also just a really great movie about con artists conning other con artists, this piece of classic movie pulp that everyone can enjoy.

From my original review:
Finally! I've been waiting for this film from David O. Russell and here it is. Russell's been a good filmmaker, but lately, while many might have an opposing view, I've been underwhelmed with his recent films. I thought "Silver Linings Playbook" was good but overrated, and I barely recommended "The Fighter" at all; and I'm still a little surprised by that one's acclaim, but consider those projects for a moment. "Silver Linings..." was a personal project of his, and adaptation of a book, which he got into because Russell's kid suffers from bipolar disorder, so he's adapting another's work, admirably so, but it was a project that he felt more to do outside of himself. While, "The Fighter", was almost the exact opposite, that film's script was bounced around Hollywood for over five years, before Mark Wahlberg talked David O. Russell into the project, and he was basically a director for hire, working from a script that frankly had flaws that helped get Christian Bale and Melissa Leo Oscars, but ironically gave us an uninteresting lead character. They weren't his visions, and it had been so long since his masterpiece "Three Kings" and his breakout feature "Flirting with Disaster," that I had forgotten what I had loved about him to begin with. He's a comedy director, who loves kinetic action, but enjoys giving us constant an unsuspecting twists in his films changing the plotline halfway through, changing the story at times, switching genres.......  For "American Hustle", the inspiration was the ABSCAM sting operations in the '70s that took down several New Jersey politicians, including a Senator for accepting bribes. It begins with two con artists, Irving and Sydney. (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) I don't say, that he's a con artist, who brings her in, because if you pay attention, she's in the con game too before they eventually start working together. (Hint: con artist is the second profession her character has that requires a stage name) He owned a chain of dry cleaners legitimately, and dealt with stolen and forged art, outside of conning desperate men from having them give thousands of dollars in the oldest scam in the book. The one where you give me five thousand now, if we accept you as an investor.... Once Sidney finds out about this, she immediately develops a British accent and persona, to make the part about royal investors seem more believable, and they even upgrade their business. That is, until they get caught by an FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who convinces his boss Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K. in one of many strange and unexpected pieces of casting) to start setting stings up to catch politicians accepting bribes. It's the late '70s, and Atlantic City has just legalized gambling and New Jersey need more to start building casinos and start rebuilding it's once prominent tourist trade. This effort is lead by formed Camden Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) whose name sounds like he may have had a few people whacked in his day, but he's actually just doing whatever it takes to help out his state.... it's somewhat ironic that most of the politicians in the film, seem to legitimately fall into these scams, in order to help out others. They must've been ecstatic when they heard an arab sheikh was interested in investing in building up the Jersey shore. This unsettles Irving, who took pride in scamming only those who truly deserved it. He's a good guy himself who married a sexy but wasted wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and even adopted her young kid as his own, and despite his affair with Sidney, he doesn't want to leave her. I'm only giving you, some of the essential plot, the richness in the film is in the deconstructionist detail of what happens, and how things change and are improvised. This is a good movie for writers to study on how to create strong superobjectives for their characters, and actors to study how to use them to influence their character. Arguably, all five of the main performances are Award-worthy, and I think a few will get Oscar nomination; I personally like Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence's turns the best in Lead and Supporting categories respectively. I don't think it's quite perfect, but it's the return-to-form we've been waiting for from David O. Russell, or at least I have. I've heard some say this is his Scorsese-style movie, and there are influences, but this is truly his original vision, using all of his unique strengths and skills. In some ways "American Hustle" is just a classic con film, fun, flashy, and full of misdirection, constantly making us ask who's conning who. Those are harder to make than films that just passively tell a story, much less one that happens to be so entertaining....

I've seen the film a couple times since, and I think it's more closer to perfect than I originally gave it credit for. This film is so good in so many ways, just pure fun, entertainment. And I want to say, it's not like David O. Russell's been making bad films, he hasn't been, he's incredibly talented, and his films keep winning awards as they should, but he hasn't been making David O. Russell films. I don't see the Scorsese comparison that everybody makes. If this had come out, two years after "Three Kings", or even, like two years after "I Heart Huckabees", we'd be talking about how cool and fresh David O. Russell's style is, and how it stands out, even among great young contemporary filmmakers like P.T. Anderson and Spike Jonze that he came up with.

3. Gravity 

The greatest theatrical experience of the year lands at my number 3 choice, it's Alfonso Cuaron's 3-D sci-fi masterpiece, "Gravity". Visually, in a year of spectacular visuals, nothing came close to "Gravity", and just from a pure thrills standpoint, it was the movie that kept me clutched on the edge of my seat the most. While "12 Years a Slave", won Best Picture, let's not forget "Gravity" won the most Oscars including Best Director, it deserved every one of them, and frankly the screenplay should've been nominated too btw; it might be a classic formula, get your characters in a situation they can't get out of and have them struggle to get out of it, and it's as a bare a version as you can get, and the fact that it's still this exciting, is really a true accomplishment.

From my original review:
....The story is simple as all hell, two people are stuck in a situation they can't get out of, and now they have to get out of it. The situation, two astronauts drifting alone, in outer space. One of them is an expert astronaut on his last space mission, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who's got a ton of stories he tells Mission Control (Voiced by Ed Harris, who else could it be) to pass the time that all begin with "I have a bad feeling about this mission", and all of them, Mission Control has heard before, as he's disappointed that he won't break the spacewalk record, despite it being his last visit. The other astronaut is Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, in the best performance of her career), a first-time astronaut who's designed the new system they're installing, when disaster strikes. They were all outside when the Russians sent a missile destroying one of their own rockets, caused a case of runaway debris and shrapnel, sprinting through space, and right to their mission. The rest of the crew is dead, and from here on in, the film is a survivor's story, as they have only a jetpack running out of jet, and astronaut suits, running out of oxygen. What happens next is the movie, and I will not describe, other than to say, that for much of the film, we look at the movie, with amazement. We get a truly horrifying feeling of space, and the dangers of bodies, being flung and bounced around abandoned space station and exit pods. We never think about it from watching things like "Star Trek" and "Star Wars", but space travel is exhausting work, and with all hope being lost.... There are incredible visuals, and the 3-D is used to great effectiveness, even if at some times, maybe it's overused, the effect is jaw-dropping. A sequence of Bullock, coming out of her spacesuit and floating in a fetal position, as she gets in one abandoned rocket, recalls both "2001...", and "Alien" in our mind. Bullock is perfectly cast here, so is Clooney for that matter. This is the kind of movie where it's critical that we know these actors immediately. Clooney is playing a Clooney role, and Bullock, always so likeable in even the worst of rom-coms, helps us care about her character, when she literally has no one else to care about her. "Gravity" was directed by the great Alfonso Cuaron, and was co-written by his son Jonas, his directing is really key. Where he positions, moved, and changes perspectives in the camera, is even more critical than one would think, even in this kind of film. Hard enough, shooting this kind of movie, but the directing is incredibly smart, and creative. There isn't a single wrong angle here, and there wasn't a lot of noticeable editing in this film, 'cause of the way he floats the camera, like the astronauts are floating through space,- you know, it was so seemless, I don't think I even noticed the cuts, until, after he did them. He's always loved long takes anyway, remember that incredible sequence in "Children of Men" that starts inside a car, where Julianne Moore and Clive Owen are passing an egg, and then there a car crash and shootout, I think, but it's all ten minutes without a cut! What he's doing here, seems like that shot, over and over again, which is just so hard to do. This is really a special film; the more you think about it afterwards, the more special gets, on all aspects.

I also mentioned in my review of how I preferred "Life of Pi"'s visuals over "Gravity"'s, "Life of Pi" was of course, my number one film of 2012, and I also said it was really preference only that determines that, the 3-D for this film, is really special as well, and I absolutely despise 3-D, but irrelevant of that, this movie is the wrong hands, could've been such a disaster. Cuaron is really one of the greatest directors, and it isn't the long takes, it's the perspective of the camera, not only where it moves, but how it just stays there and remains so close to Sandra Bullock, who really is incredible in this one-woman show character, really, and you know, half of the other filmmakers, would've been trying to figure out how to not be that close, every second, they'll think, let's cut to Earth or Mission Control, or we'll see from a distance, and over-emphasize the vast emptiness of space, or one of a dozen other things, but Cuaron knows better. We are as stuck in space as Sandra Bullock is, and that's why it's such a masterpiece, every bump and bruise, is as visceral as every doubt and fear is, the directing really is the star of the film.

2. The Wolf of Wall Street

From my original review:
I don't remember the exact source or study, but sometime after housing bubble burst in 2008, and The Great Recession started had started, somebody figured it out that people act get addicted to earning excessive amounts of money. Seriously, the Wall Street bankers and stock brokers who were screwing over the country left and right through deregulation as well as outright illegal and shady activity,...  they found that their was a chemical reaction in the brain, a release of endorphin of some sort, secretes in the addiction center of the mind, and it's like, I don't know how much, but it's a certain number of times more powerful of a secretion than cocaine produces, and it dilutes the mind into not wanting to do anything other than make these incredible amounts of money. I thought about that, rather briefly during Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street", very briefly, it was in those rare moments of the three-hour film where there wasn't any debauchery going on. It seems like you could almost freeze-frame the moment it happens.... The movie is a Faustian tale filled with- no, overflowing with sex, nudity, drugs, violence, money, outlandishly expensive items and lifestyles and just full-on unabashed sick-to-your-stomach excess and overindulgence, to the point of make Sodom, Gomorrah and Las Vegas, blush and step away in amazement, shock, and repulsion, and I'm almost certain that it's the best film of the year. Titled from his autobiography, after a notorious article about him, the film tells about Jordan Belfort (Oscar-nominee Leonardo DiCaprio), a poor Long Island kid, who went to work on Wall Street with a Jersey wife Teresa (Cristin Miliotti) and gets taught the art of the con very quickly by his new boss and icon Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey in a memorable cameo, one of many in this film) unfortunately right as Black Friday hit in '87, but he goes back through Long Island penny stocks and scams and he soon starts to simply build his own empire, with a group of ragtags with nicknames that the hoods of Scorsese's "Mean Streets" would've thought we're dopey.  Belfort is power-hunger and corrupt and enjoying every minute of it. He quickly becomes addicted to drugs, alcohol, women, sex, and inevitably the lifestyle of the uber-wealthy, which isn't much different but there's a better chance of getting rarer Quaaludes. He upgrades his wife, with a former beer commercial model, Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie) his life, by continually growing and expanding his empire multiple times over. To describe the exact actions in the movie, would be trivial 'cause it's so episodic, like most of Scorsese's best, (And this film's style has many glaring similarities to "Goodfellas" and "Casino", only exponentially taken to the nth degree.) but also because it would deprive us of Belfort's narration of his excesses, adventures, and misdeeds. He inevitably gets 18 months after turning in most everybody who worked for him after a D.A. agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) a former stockbroker himself gets on the case, and both men know it's only a matter of time. How much now, and when to get out, and even then, just as Belfort starts a new career as an informercial pitchman, does everything hit the fan. We are sickened and despised by these people, and yet, when their riches are so vast, enough that millions of dollars can literally be taped to people, that you have to laugh at this-, yes, comedy, almost so we don't scream with anger. Belfort is actually the consciousness of the group, even when his howling pep speeches builds up his cult-like team of buyers and sellers, filled with greasy hair and last night's blue chip prostitute perfume, all over the phone banks, and then hum a war cry like at a college football game. His most trusted and erratic employee, Donnie Azoff (Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill) is a buck-teeth, overweight, overconfident slob of a man, who quit his job to work for Belfort after seeing his paycheck.... He's a disgusting visual representation of all the worst aspects of Jordan Belfort, which he can hide on his yacht, or escape through the yacht's helicopter pad in case he's too wasted to drive home. The lengths they go in the movie are just so unbelievable that you almost have to believe it couldn't be made up. Scorsese and screenwriter Terrence Winter, the creator of "Boardwalk Empire" pull no punches, at least I hope they didn't; I'm not sure what else would be left if they did, although the film was famously reported to be cut from a four-hour running time to just three by Thelma Schoonmaker for release. The filmmaking is as abundant and excessive and the content and it far exceeds almost any other level of debauchery that could be put onto film, it seems to be here. This is balls-to-the-wall and every other piece of furniture filmmaking, that only a Martin Scorsese could handle much less accomplish. "The Wolf of Wall Street", maybe the most succesful gangster Scorsese's ever made a film about.

Well, you'll notice, that I said "almost certain" it's the best film of the year, and it very easily could've been, it came very close to being it in fact, I must confess. Pretty much, every other film on this list, is in some way about the subtlety and detail, and "The Wolf of Wall Street" basically says "Fuck, subtlety!" and I fucking love that! The limitless filmmaking and freedom that's exuded all through the movie; it's just brilliant. I mean, there's no saying "Oh, they're not gonna do that..." oh, they fucking did it. You're not a witness, you're a passenger to this film. Plus, it really invites us inside that mansion on a hill, and that world, and shows just how all the obsessive and strange, disturbing things that happen there, is really just, the tip of the iceberg to all the shit they're actually doing. And you know, I said that Jordan Belfort was Scorsese's most successful gangster, and that's- first of all, I'm calling it a gangster movie, and it really is, these are crooks and scummy people, and it might be Scorsese's best gangster film, and that's a daunting statement to dare make, but you know, there aren't too many "Mean Streets" or "Goodfellas" and hell, the gangsters aren't even in casinos anymore, but they are on Wall Street. It's the same behaviors and actions as misdeeds as all the others, and we've all felt the raft of their actions, and it's that movie again, but it's today, and it's on steroids. Steroids, and Quaaludes and cocaine, and a couple passed out hookers covered in Dom Perignon probably, and every other fucking thing it seemed, and if you can't enjoy this much pure cinematic excess and absurdity, then I don't even really know where to go with you.  

1. Before Midnight

When I was finally talked into posting my Top 100 Films of all-time List earlier this year, I went against my own rule and included one film from 2013 on the list, and that film was Richard Linklater's third entry in "The Before Trilogy" "Before Midnight". Part of it, was that I felt the trilogy should be represented on the list, and it's the best one of the three so far, and that's saying something considering the other two. The other reason, was that it was that great a movie. Actually believe it or not though, like I didn't plan on putting it on that Top 100 Films list then, I didn't plan at all on making it number one here either, in fact, I had the first, second and third films switched places about ten or twelve times on this list, I even once thought about "American Hustle" being one for a few minutes even, but while I think cinematic achievement of "Gravity" is spectacular, and that the outlandish, exuberance of "The Wolf of Wall Street" both have to be commended for their sheer bravura and immense filmmaking execution, the one movie that's gonna most stick with me, and the one I'm gonna think about the deepest and most often, and the watch I want to watch again one more time, the most, was "Before Midnight", therefore it's the number one film of the year!

From my original review:
At the airport in Athens, a man has that one final, awkward, emotional conversation with his teenage son, Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) before he leaves on the plane to go home to his Mom in America. In a normal movie, this would be sad and emotional, but coming into "Before Midnight" the third film in what's now been deemed the "Before Trilogy", although I'm going to call the set of films what they really are, "The Ballad of Jesse and Celine" (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) this scene has more poignancy and emotional pull than most other similar scenes. That is of course, assuming you've seen "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" previously. If you haven't, well, do it now! And while you're at it, you might stop reading this review.  Yes, you can watch "Before Midnight" without having seen them but, God, why would somebody devoid themselves of not having seen such special films,...  In "...Sunrise", they were two strangers on a train, who spent their one dreamlike day and night on the streets of Vienna, talking, about life and falling in love, and in "...Sunset" they reconnect nine years later in Paris, after Jesse wrote a book about the encounter, continuing where they left off, but older, wiser, and with commitments. Oh, now the troublesome part of my review, just how do I or should I reveal and discuss of "Before Midnight"? The details keep spinning through my head, and all I really tell you is to watch it, and watch it again, and again, and again. I'm not going into the argument of which film is better anymore. A. they're all great, and they're all different, yet, they're not separate films so much as they are different chapters of a single story that we're being told. How have they changed over the years, what are they doing now, what's their situation, and all the small details. How they talk differently on the same subjects as before, or not, or how they're not talking about them at all, and have instead moved onto different topics, and how we discover them slowly. Almost like voyeur's, we're peeking in on them. Delpy and Hawke's naturalistic dialogue continues. Besides that B. Whichever one I feel most towards in the moment is the best one, and that can change often, the way the characters themselves change. They've been together since we last saw them, and now they have two twin daughters, Ella and Nina (Jennifer and Charlotte Prior). It's the last day of their vacation in Greece, where Jesse, was invited to stay from an old-time writer Patrick (Legendary cinematographer Walter Lassally, in his first acting role) at their magnificent villa, along with a bunch of other writers and their mildly-eccentric families.... The next part of the film, is them alone, walking through Greece like they did Vienna and Paris. Patrick has arranged for their final night, to let them have a hotel room and a romantic night alone without the kids, and most of the rest of the film, in the hotel room. What happens there, more talking, and arguing and discussion, and revelations.... It's the first time, we meet them, together as a true couple, and those romantic days in Vienna and Paris, have been replaced by the realities and consequences of their actions and decisions, and their thoughts and emotions, are at play. I really can't go into specifics, but there are a lot of specifics, and we can talk about them all night. For these two characters, the way we've grown up with them, they're all specifics now, and yet, we still can interpret and listen, to these two adults now, talking about their real adult problems. The first film ended with the promises of youth. The second, ended with a choice, one that both of them, and many more people have to live with. This one, ends, with a mystery to us, and them. The inconclusiveness and fragileness of adulthood. . As of this exact second, I've seen six films from 2013, so it isn't saying too much so far that "Before Midnight" is right at the top of the best so-far of the year, but it is, and if gets knocked off, you better believe it's a great film that did it.

You know, there were a few films that came damn close to knocking it off, and I think I kept trying to trick myself into finding a better ones, and this was a really good, let's not ignore that, but "Before Midnight" really just takes everything to such a different level. Yes, it works best within the context of the trilogy, but that doesn't dilute, "Before Midnight" as a great film in of itself. Eh, many different people can watch this film, and get many different things out of it. We can discuss who's right or wrong, we can talk about whether they'll stay together or not, or what's gonna happen to them in the future, one of a hundred different things, really. The subtexts and the interpretations of those subjects, there's nothing here that doesn't get multiple levels deeper than the page, and then, "Oh by the way, we've been following these people for eighteen years." The more I thought about it, the more my initial instinct is the correct one, and "Before Midnight is the best film of 2013!

Well, that's the Top Ten, but we don't leave it at that. There were a lot of great films in 2013, and many are worth noting and recognizing, so like we do every year, here's an alphabetical list of plenty of the Special Jury Prize winners, separated by live-action and animation and documentaries, along with their directors, each of these films are quite memorable and special, and definitely worth watching.

12 Years a Slave-Steve McQueen
All is Lost-J.C. Chandor
August: Osage County-John Wells
Berberian Sound Studios-Peter Strickland
Bless Me, Ultima-Carl Franklin
Blue Jasmine-Woody Allen
The Broken Circle Breakdown-Felix von Groeningen
Captain Phillips-Paul Greengrass
Computer Chess-Andrew Bujalski
Concussion-Stacie Passon
Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012-Sebastian Silva
Drinking Buddies-Joe Swanberg
Enough Said-Nicole Holofcener
Ernest & Celestine-Stephane Auber, Vincent Patar & Benjamin Renner
Fill the Void-Rama Burshtein
Frances Ha-Noah Baumbach
Frozen-Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Fruitvale Station-Ryan Coogler
Ginger & Rosa-Sally Potter
Graceland-Ron Morales
The Great Beauty-Paolo Sorrentino
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete-George Tillman, Jr.
The Invisible Woman-Ralph Fiennes
A Hijacking-Tobias Lindholm
Lore-Cate Shortland
Mud-Jeff Nichols
Nebraska-Alexadner Payne
Now You See Me-Louis Leterrier
Our Children-Joachim Lofasse
Omar-Hany Abu-Assad
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty-Terence Nance
The Past-Asghar Farhadi
Philomena-Stephen Frears
Pieta-Kim Ki-Duk
The Place Beyond the Pines-Derek Cianfrance
Saving Mr. Banks-John Lee Hancock
Short Term 12-Destin Daniel Cretton
Sightseers-Ben Wheatley
Thanks for Sharing-Stuart Blumberg
To the Wonder-Terence Malick
Una Noche-Lucy Mulloy
Wadjda-Haifaa Al-Mansour
The Way Way Back-Nat Faxon & Jim Rash

20 Feet from Stardom-Morgan Neville
The Act of Killing-Joshua Oppenheimer
A Band Called Death-Mark Covino and Jeff Howlett
Blackfish-Gabriela Cowperthwaite
The Crash Reel-Lucy Walker
Inequality for All-Jacob Kornbluth
Let the Fire Burn-Jason Osder
More than Honey-Markus Imhoof
The Missing Picture-Rithy Pahn
Narco Cultura-Shaul Schwarz
A Place at the Table-Kristi Jacobson and Laurie Silverbush
The Punk Singer-Sini Anderson
Red Obsession-David Roach & Warwick Ross
The Square-Jehane Noujaim
Stories We Tell-Sarah Polley
Tim's Vermeer-Teller
We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks-Alex Gibney

There's a few others too, worth looking up but this is a good start, and overall, this was a fairly good year for film.

That is, until you look at the very bottom of the barrel, the real pieces of garbage, Ugh! Seriously, folks, avoid, "As I Lay Dying", "Big Sur", "Charlie Countryman",  "Dark Touch",  "Europa Report", "Epic", "Filly Brown", "The Girl" (Riker)", "It's a Disaster", "Jack the Giant Slayer", "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa", "The Host (Niccol)," "Jayne Mansfield's Car", "John Dies at the End" "The Lone Ranger", "Movie 43", "Oblivion",  "Pawn Shop Chronicles", "Snitch", "Starbuck", "Stoker", "Turbo", and "Upstream Color". Now, why I did I just give an alphabetical list of the worst movies of the year? Well, I didn't! There were so many shitty movies, that I saw all of those, and none of them made my Worst Films Lists! And there were a few good directors responsible for some of them, I'm looking at you, Michael Polish, and you Andrew Niccol, but consider yourselves, very, very, lucky that I happen to find ten worst films this year. And you're not the only ones either, but here we go, let's piss in the bottom of the barrel, real quick, the Ten Worst Films of the 2013


10. "Pandora's Promise"

A blatantly misleading documentary about the benefits of nuclear energy, and I'm actually an advocate of nuclear energy, but this movie pissed me off the more I thought about it.

9. "The Purge"

The sequel for this godawful piece of shit, is already out, but the people I'd most like to purge were the filmmakers. Take the fake pretentious artistry and story out of "The Hunger Games" and "Battle Royale", and just let everyone slaughter each other. Ugh.

8. "Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?"

Michel Gondry's animated conversation with Noam Chomsky. I love Gondry, I really admire Noam Chomsky, but what the fuck was this unwatchable, boring piece of shit.

7. "Pulling Strings"

I almost forgot about this Mexican romantic-comedy; I wish I had. The setting was Mexico, that was about the only thing that wasn't a horrible cliche.

6. "Somebody Up There Likes Me"

This movie is everything wrong and bad about quirky, independent films right now. Even the main characters, basically do nothing but sleepwalk through their aimless, plotless, pointless lives.

5. "After Earth"

Oh, don't think M. Night Shaymalan's the reason for this one, Will Smith, produced, the movie, did much of the directing, extended the original concept, cast his kid, etc etc. Hey, I'm okay with him doing a vanity project if he wants to, he's rich enough to make this movie, and I'm for family spending time together, but this is the result, except to show up here.

4. "Dead Man's Burden"

A post Civil War Western that wouldn't be good enough for the Hallmark Channel, by a first-time writer/director known for producing "Storage Wars: New York". (To his credit, that actually was my favorite version of "Storage Wars" until it was canceled.)

3. "How I Live Now"

Saorise Ronan had a few bad movies this year, but the pointless teen romance-turned-apocalyptic "Grave of the Fireflies"-story. And from a good director, Kevin MacDonald of all people, ugh! Meandering meaninglessness.

2. "+1"

Oh, is this movie lucky, it's not number one. There was one interesting supporting character that this film about idiots at an insane college party where dobblegangers of the idiots show up had, and they did absolutely nothing with her, and that's the saving grace from it being the absolute worst film.

1. "You're Next"

This disgusting horror film took three years to finally get a theatrical release, and if I gave any other feature ZERO STARS this year, this movie was thankfully so bad, that I have blocked out those films but now I only remember this piece of shit, home invasion-gone-wrong-in-so-many-ways film.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

THE TEN GREATEST MOVIES OF 2008! Historic year, in general, and for movies!

Man, 2008 was a really good year. Yeah, the housing market crashed the country but it was inflated for years, it needed to. A historic year, Barack Obama got elected President of the United States, I still remember all the excitement and glee as seven o'clock came around and the polls closed on the west coast, confirming the news every sane person in America was hoping would happen, but wasn't still afraid it wouldn't. More importantly than that though, the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series, the first time in my lifetime any of the Philadelphia sports teams that I cheer for actually won. I didn't watch most of it, I was in class, really finally finding my voice and way in film school for many of the games, and more than that, every time I watched the Phillies that year they had lost, and after careful consideration, they decided that I shouldn't watch, but eventually, I had to tune in, and I did tune in for that legendary second part of Game 5 that had been rain delayed, when we beat Tampa Bay, and as the late Harry Kalas would say, we finally let the city celebrate. Well, the Phillies finished last place this year, and we're probably gonna start getting rid of many of the players that were the core of that team, and Obama- And, he's done a great job. Screw the critics on that one, no he wasn't perfect, but he's mostly been railroaded from the last grasps of a delusional conservative party, and besides, Obamacare means that I actually have health insurance now, so, he might be not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but slowly but surely, he's climbed over a few mountains that most weren't able to climb, and that's pretty damn good to me.

So, as to movies, in '08, there were a lot of really good ones. I can easily think of about 40 or so films that could've easily made this list. Not to sound like a pro wrestling cliche now, but for those of you wondering what we're talking about here, awhile back, I started a feature where I would go through each year of the naughts decade, and go over the ten greatest films from that year. I started with 2000, and we're almost finished. We're at 2008, and the next time I update this, it will be the last time, and I will, on top of doing a Top ten of '09, will also do a Top Ten of this decade as well. If you haven't caught up until now, here's the lists and links to the appropriate blogposts below with all the other years' lists. .

1. Once
2. Juno
3. No Country for Old Men
4. There Will Be Blood
5. Grindhouse
6. Into the Wild
7. 12
8. Persepolis
9. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
10. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

2. Children of Men
3. United 93
4. The Departed
5. The Lives of Others
6. The Puffy Chair
7. Babel
8. Sherrybaby
9. Hard Candy
10. An Inconvenient Truth

1. Munich
2. Good Night, and Good Luck.
3. Brokeback Mountain
4. Mysterious Skin
5. Sin City
6. The Upside of Anger
7. The New World
8. Crash
9. Saraband
10. Capote

1. Sideways
2. The Incredibles
3. Before Sunset
4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
5. The Aviator
6. Kill Bill: Vol. 2
7. The Five Obstructions
8. A Home at the End of the World
9. Million Dollar Baby
10. Hotel Rwanda

1. Lost in Translation
2. City of God
3. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
4. Love, Actually
5. Monster
6. The Fog of War
7. Dirty Pretty Things
8. The Twilight Samurai
9. The Barbarian Invasions
10. The Shape of Things

1. Adaptation.
2. Minority Report
3. 25th Hour
4. Spirited Away
5. Y Tu Mama Tambien
6. Bowling for Columbine
7. Frida
8. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
9. Lovely & Amazing
10. Far From Heaven

1. Mulholland Dr. 
2. Dinner Rush
3. Waking Life
4. The Royal Tenenbaums
5. Gosford Park
6. Monsters, Inc.
7. Amelie
8. Audition
9. Ghost World
10. Memento

1. Almost Famous
2. Amores Perros
3. Traffic
4. Requiem for a Dream
5. Chocolat
6. Best in Show
7. Wonder Boys
8. High Fidelity
9. 6ixtynin9
10. Cast Away

BTW, since I'm not really in the mood to go back or anything, (and besides, these should be reflective of the moment I wrote these anyway) but I recently finally saw "Infernal Affairs", which I count as a 2004 release, that's when it finally hit U.S. theaters, and had I done that list today, I might be prone to finding a place for that film. But, that's the thing, as much as we love making these lists, we're limited by our knowledge, our time, when we can and have time to watch, and so on and so forth, so, oh well. For every top ten I make, (Including my long-delayed one for 2013, which may or may not be coming soon) I usually have twice as many films at number 11, that I wish could've made it anyway. So, 2008, let's jump right into it and start the countdown, here's the TEN GREATEST MOVIES, from 2008!



Based on the famed so-called, Walkie-Talkie Robbery, "The Bank Job" is a dizzying heist movie, filled with numerous double and triple-crosses, and constant scheming and re-scheming. Somebody called it more complicated than "The Sting", and it is, it's also one of those films you really can't stop watching; I'm not gonna pretend I even understand all that happens in the movie, but like "The Big Sleep", it makes sense while you're in the middle of it, but trying to reconstruct the moving parts is worthless, and besides the point anyway. This is a British gangster film, based around a 1971 robbery of a Baker Street Vault, yes, that Baker Street, in London. The movie claims that the actual information about the crime was hidden away under an obscure British law called a D-Notice, or a DA Notice, that keeps a crime out of the media, the crime and the continuing investigation, at least, after the initial publications of the report. That report's probably not true, especially since most of the film and the players involved are so out there, it doesn't really matter, you can barely tell which side anybody's on at any point anyway. Jason Statham gives his best performance as the head bank robber who falls into this perfect crime, that becomes anything but, but who's smart enough to maneuver around that and help out nearly everyone involved. He's more known as an action star than an actor, but he gives some really great work here. Saffron Burrows has a role as a femme fatale, a former that's at least a double agent, and probably much more. This is the rare kind of movie that's just one kinetic thriller after another, and the more you watch, the more intriguing the film gets, The film was directed by Roger Donaldson, who's a bit of an erratic, although he's done top quality work like "The World's Fastest Indian", "Thirteen Days", and "No Way Out". He's good at taking stories that, on the page, might not be as dramatic, and he knows how to tell them in a way that really builds tension, even as everything seems to be going on around the film. "The Bank Job", isn't reinventing too many wheels, but it takes some of that Guy Ritchie-esque energy and quirks in his gangster films, smartens up the gangsters, and places it in a world of mystery and intrigue that would've just as well in any classic film noir. There's a lot going on in "The Bank Job", you'll be damned if you can keep track of it all, but you're have a helluva fun time trying.


Ron Howard finally won that long-delayed Oscar that he should've won for "Apollo 13" earlier in the decade for "A Beautiful Mind", which was a very good film, especially in a weak Oscar year, (Until Affleck for "Argo", "Apollo 13" was the last time the DGA winner didn't get a Best Director Oscar Nomination) but clearly the best film of his this decade was "Frost/Nixon", the story of one of the more memorable albeit at-the-time, more forgotten sidenotes in recent political and television history. That's the part that's kinda left out, that probably interested Howard as much as anything, that David Frost (Michael Sheen) basically put up most of his wealth to do his fame interviews with Richard Nixon (Oscar-nominee Frank Langella) to create this TV program of him interviewing Richard Nixon. Based on Peter Morgan's famed play, the movie takes an interesting off-kilter perspective at it's subjects, told through interviews of those who were there, all the details of the interviews, and how they came about, and the way they were when they were making the series, the places both Frost and Nixon were at, at the time. The quiet hidden pressures of Frost, needing to get that critical moment with Nixon, and Tricky Dick, trying to restore his reputation and essential defeat David Frost at his own game. I've often said that had Michael Sheen been nominated for Best Supporting Actor, I would've voted for him for this film, even over Heath Ledger's Joker, but really, this is, really a lead performance here and it is about both Nixon and Frost. Frost was talk show host, who produced movies occasionally, and had been on a downturn in his career, which for a Great Britain television star, they had to go down to Australia to reboot their career, and it was him that had to coarse Nixon somehow into hanging himself, while Nixon, had one last shot, to reclaim his integrity, and possibly a spot in the political world landscape. It was almost a contest, this game of chess, Nixon intimidating, knowledgeable, a great talker/debater trying to wear down Frost, (Which, in turn made some of the actual interviews, if you've ever seen them, boring beyond belief) while Frost, spending most of his money for the production and to Nixon for the sitdown, hoping and having to quickly learn how to go blow-for-blow with Nixon. Similar to "The Bank Job" oddly enough, Ron Howard and Peter Morgan's script, managed to do something here that's really difficult, building tension during something that's otherwise rather dull and boring, and has anything but tension in it. Two great performances in the leads, as well as a lot of good supporting work from Rebecca Hall, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon, Toby Jones and others, And we tend to forget how good a filmmaker Ron Howard can be, and he can be inconsistent at times, but with "Frost/Nixon" and recently "Rush" and of course "Apollo 13" among others; we see that he really does belong among those upper tier of Hollywood directors and here, he's take a part of recent history, that's really a footnote, a very forgettable one at that, and elevates it into great drama.


You know it's a good year, when the 8th best film of that year, is one I've already devoted a Canon of Film entry to. That link to the Canon of Film post is below:

So my appreciation of Tom McCarthy's "The Visitor" is clearly established already, and McCarthy's made three really spectacular films, and he's not a name, we even think much about, even when we think about American independent film too much, we don't think about him and yet, when you happen across his films, and I've rewatched "The Station Agent" once or twice too recently, you get so engrossed in his films, you can't turn away. He embraces these very unusual, almost banal characters, that seem to be rather aimless through their life, but the quiet ways that suddenly they find themselves, discovering more about themselves, and each other,- too many people think, great action, noise, special effects, that that stuff really amazing, when it's really much simpler than it looks, but what Tom McCarthy has done looks really simple, yet it is impossibly much more dfficult to achieve onscreen. Especially in "The Visitor", where there's a lot of major plot developments in a very short amount of time, when you consider the film, and yet it is the subtleness of the acting, and the emotional and moods that he hits, and it's not the actions, it's the relationships between the characters that entrance us the most, at his best he creates this real poetry with film that we just don't see enough of at all, and when we do, it's never done this well. Richard Jenkins, got a surprise Oscar-nomination for the film, and this is one of those movies, that will take people a few viewings to realize how special it is. They'll set it once, maybe twice, they'll like it, and then happen to come across it again and again a few more times, and then watch and appreciate it more and more as they go on. The more times this film gets rediscovered after a few years, the better it's gonna get. It gets richer and more perfect on each viewing.


If you go back and check Roger Ebert's Top Ten lists, you'll notice a couple things about 2008. First, he refused to rank the films that year, and secondly he had a Top 20 instead of a Top Ten. (Frankly, I understand perfectly why he did that right now.) He then named "Synecdoche, New York" as the best film of the decade, which, frankly I understand, completely. On some levels, "Synecdoche, New York", seems to exist, outside of the typical realms we think of as film, and it's not bound by any conventional sense of realism or the laws of man, and yet, it's goal seems to be to completely and entirely convey the complexities, subtleties and nuances of life, or at the very minimum, the way our mind has chosen and insisted on approaching it. The title, is not simply a euphemistic homonym pun on Schenectady, if you know your English grammar, it means a term where you're referring the entirety of something, by only referring to a part of it, (The best examples of this, are when people refer to people, usually women, by using only parts of their body.) but the film's story is essentially an attempt by one man, to exceed at creating a piece of art that encompasses his whole life. The man is Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) a playwright who's got a MacArthur Grant, and begins work on a play that involves constructing a lifesize mini-replica of New York City, inside a warehouse, where he will be retelling his life story, and actors are all hired to play the parts of characters from his life, often at different times and ages. The production, which is never-ending, is his representation of his life, or at least, how he may wish it were or want it to be. The movie seems to begin in a reality world, where his wife Adele (Catherine Keener) soon leaves him, along with their 4-year-old to Germany. He's haunted by her leaving, so haunted it still haunts him as he dives into his second marriage to an actress, Claire (Michelle Williams) who's in his play. Sometimes, the rehearsal and construction of the play are real life, sometimes we're in a memory of his, sometimes a fantasy, sometimes real life's separate from the play, sometimes he's changing real life in the play, sometimes memories, like the house that's forever burning down, still haunt his present that they might as well still be happening continuously like they never stopped, while other parts of his laugh, flow right by him, and he barely notices. Trying to explain much more or in any more elaborate detail is rather useless, but once again, Kaufman's journeying deep into the recesses of the mind, and the way it works, the differences between reality and how we channel that reality to help formulate something that makes sense for us, or how lost we get when it's impossible to do that. Kaufman throws almost everything he can think of into "Synecdoche, New York", and maybe that's the point. You can watch the film multiple times over and see something new, or something different and think about it differently on later viewings. It's a rich film that'll grow after each viewing. Kaufman


Amazingly, this is the first Woody Allen film to make any of Top Ten of the decade lists, and don't confuse that with him not making good movies. He made some clunkers, that's true, but especially the second half of the decade, he really started returning to form, and in some ways giving us some new forms of Woody Allen that we weren't used to, quite frankly. He made a couple great films in '05, with "Match Point" and the underrated "Melinda and Melinda", the former being his first film in London, as he had trouble getting American financing and then for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", he shot in Spain for the first time, Barcelona, where the engaged Vicky, a Catalonia Studies major is visiting for the first time, along with Christina, her more adventurous friend, who has experiences long enough to know that she doesn't enjoy/want them for herself. On this vacation, they meet a handsome and romantic artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) who asks them both out, for a menage-a-trois. Vicky is practically offended, but Cristina is intrigued. They both go on a trip to Oviedo, in northwest Spain (That's an inside joke, that's where a famous Woody Allen statue is, although Woody doesn't show it) What happens there, is hilarity, eroticism and romance, and it effects the three of them as Vicky struggles with her emotions, while her fiance Doug (Chris Messina) is waiting for her in New York, before he himself arrives, and Cristina begins a relationship with Juan Antonio, before his notorious ex-wife, Maria Elena (Oscar-Winner Penelope Cruz) suddenly shows up at their doorstep in the middle of the night, as treacherous and intoxicating as ever. After some initial reluctance, Cristina embraces a three-way relationship, much to the shock and chagrin of others, including Vicky, who's both appalled and jealous. Originally written with the city of San Francisco in mind, (Which Woody would eventually shoot at for last year's "Blue Jasmine") "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", is more fitting in Spain, and is almost like Allen's version of Luis Bunuel's "Belle de Jour", another film where an older director, would examine sexuality and desires late in life through the perspective of a 20-something woman;it's a lot of Allen's inner conflicts and neurotic and quirky stuck in situation they're not sure why they got into or how they got out of, but never has it practically abandoned the intellectual so much, and embraced our more arousing nature so much. It's intriguing actually, how these sudden changes of locations had suddenly opened up Allen to new possibilities with his characters, maybe never moreso with this romantic-comedy. This is really one of Allen's most fun films to watch.


One of the most thrilling documentaries in recent years, was James Marsh's Oscar-winning film "Man on Wire". And when I say thriller, this really was an intense thriller of a film, I was on the edge of my seat watching this, and I know a lot of people who don't like documentaries that have often said the same thing. In 1974, Magician and tightrope walker Philip Petit, and his amazing crime, of constructing an illegal tightrope across the Twin Towers and then walk across. Oh, he didn't just walk across it once, he went back and forth multiple times, even lying down on it. Using original video footage from Petit himself, interviews as well as reenacted footage, Marsh shows us, much of the preparation of the act itself, including many of the ins and outs of tightrope walking, but more importantly than that, was how to plan and then pull this off. Simulating the conditions on one end, trying to figure out how to sneak into both towers, to the top level and then be able to construct a tightrope, appropriately across a large street..., and these are just some of the initial problems, not to mention the dozens of things that could go wrong that they can't plan or prepare for. There's no mention of 9/11, or each really a mention that the towers aren't there anymore, in fact, the opening sequences beautifully shows old footage of the towers being constructed, and how it was then, that Petit thought this would be his latest challenge. (He was already famous for less daring feats including walking across the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, and across Notre Dame Cathedral) This wasn't just the best documentary of the year, "Man on Wire" was one of the most entertaining films of the year, and really put James Marsh on the map as a director, who's gone back and forth between great documentaries like "Project Nim" and quality features like "Shadow Dancer", and co-directing the "Red Riding Trilogy". This is really one of the premiere docs of the decade, and just as a movie, it's enthralling.


Probably the least surprising piece of news you can find from me about 2008 in film is that, "The Dark Knight" was pretty damn great, and it was. I don't know who's idea it was to put Christopher Nolan in charge of rebooting Batman originally but after the failures of the original films, back in the '80s and '90s that I grew up with that stressed the more comical nature of the character, Nolan, who had at the time, only directed a few features and was most known for the critically-acclaimed indy, "Memento", he took this trend of returning comic book favorites to the big screen and gave them a serious darker edge, that truly captured the true essence of Batman. I didn't have "Batman Begins" on my Top Ten list for the year that came out, but it easily could've been on it, and I frankly would've been satisfied with just that, but he decided not to leave it just at that, and created the best superhero movie of all-time (And if some asshole comments about Batman not being a superhero, I swear to God- just shut up!) Starting where we left off from that film, "The Dark Knight"'s most famous success is Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning portrayal of The Joker, in some ways Batman's most cartoony villain, but such a true villain like that, would've cheapened this franchise, and instead Ledger created a shockingly realistic and menacing villain, one who's capable of the most dastardly and evil schemes and plans, often for little more than the joy of committing his heinous crimes, and using the unpredictable as a stronghold for creating menacing fear, all while holding that knifed-in smile, that even he tells two different stories about how he got them, and there's no way of telling which, if either is even remotely true. We have had some memorable depiction of pure evil in this decade, including two of the greatest the year before with Anton Chigurh in "No Country for Old Men", and Daniel Plainview in "There Will Be Blood", but Ledger's Joker will not only exceeds in many ways compared to those two, but gives us added dimensions to an already familiar character that nobody really was there. That alone is worth the price of admission, but Nolan also brings us Two-Face, in Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent, Batman's most conflicted villain, who starts as a hero cop, hellbent on ending crime in the city, and then through the fates of both Bruce Wayne, (Christian Bale) and the Joker, he loses that trust in the city. In some ways Nolan's is giving Batman and Joker, two vigilantes one of pure good, one of pure evil, and then, stuck in the middle, Two-Face, who's evil and good is out of his control in both his creation and his actions. Maggie Gyllenhaal replaced Katie Holmes in this sequel, which was an upgrade from the original and the way he ends it, just like the first one, no cliffhanger, no extra information, the franchise could've ended right then and there and it would've been satisfying as a complete story. It's not only that he made these great films, he made these films, and they were so much better than they ever really needed to be; that's why they're so special. I mean, there's clearing the bar by an inch and clearing it by a foot, and he cleared it by a mile, and that's what really makes these films, especially "The Dark Knight" such great cinematic accomplishments.


Probably the two films that most people were upset in 2008 that didn't get Best Picture nominations were "The Dark Knight" on the Hollywood blockbuster end, and on the Independent cinematic end, was Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler". Aronofsky didn't have that much clout at that time, after the mess that his previous film "The Fountain" had been, but it's still hard to call "The Wrestler" a return to form, this was unlike any film we'd previously seen from him. Bare, stripped down, a character profile of a man, we're literally often just following, as he beats down, overuses and destroys his broken down body, after years of professional wrestling. Mickey Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, who's twenty years past his prime, still working any local pro wrestling shows in whatever bingo hall or college gymnasium that some second-rate promoted can find and put his body through beatings, steroids, alcohol, self-inflicted and non-self-inflected cuts and bruises, all to retain that last piece of fame and glory he once had. All 'cause that's the only thing he knows how to do. This was Rourke's comeback performance, and few performances really just get to me like this one. Not just the physical transformation that Rourke's achieved, through many of the same methods as wrestlers (He once quite acting to pursue a failed boxing career, completely disfiguring his face from the '80s) and it's almost like he's trained for this part for a lifetime. A sudden heart attack causes him a forced retirement, and the films shows his desperate struggle to formulate himself into the real world. Trying to make up with his daughter, trying to have a relationship, with a stripper, Pamela (Oscar-nominee Marisa Tomei) who's also been doing her profession way too long, trying to hold down a regular job. The writing of the film, didn't get enough, Robert D. Seigel's script could be taught in screenplay classes. Aronofsky's best films are "Requiem for a Dream", "The Wrestler" and "Black Swan", and the thing all three have in common is a look as the obsessive nature of it's character, how that takes over them. "Requiem..." made my Ten Best of 2000, but I think "The Wrestler" it finally clicked with him that the key was to solely focus on one character, and one character only, let that person's fate be the thing we are most interested in, let us grow to care about what happens to a washed-up broken down man like Randy. I've been a pro wrestling fan, I've written on once in a while, I even briefly wrote for another website on it, so I have a familiarity with the subject matter, (I would not call myself an expert) but this film makes you care about the character, it doesn't need to show or teach us all the ins and outs about the "sport", it shows what we need, that doing this to yourself for a very long time, is a hazardous and life-threatening choice, but that some people, like Randy, can't help themselves but to keep doing it.


You know, I won't discuss, how I happen to come about the scenario in which I happened to have seen "Slumdog Millionaire" before it hit American theaters after it's stunning debut at the Toronto Film Festival, but I did end up being able to see it before most people, and I came out of that viewing, telling everybody that "Slumdog..." was gonna win the Best Picture Oscar. Indeed, this is the highest ranking I've place a Best Picture winner on any of these lists, and it absolutely deserves it. This was one of the few films where I truly found myself crying tears of joy at the end, this was modern Charles Dickens by way of Mumbai, and it tore through every critical blockade I could possibly mount up. It's contrived, it's a feel-good story, it's all that, but it legitimately earns it. Jamal (Dev Patel as a grown-up) is an orphan who goes through some incredible life experiences, like Oliver Twist before him, new eccentric characters come in and out and he schemes and manuevers his way through the world while still madly in love with his childhood crush Latika (Frieda Pinto) who as he's constantly struggling to relocate, is constantly drifting farther and farther away from him. I mentioned Dickens a lot, but this really is a British sensibility with Manchester-born Danny Boyle's incredible directing with the help of the handheld digital camerawork of the great Danish cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, there's such a vibrancy to this film, it's constantly going forward and pushing us in many different directions, from comedy to horrific nightmarish drama to romance, it's a "Rocky"-story for fuck's sake;  it is this sprawling epic of emotions, that we see in life and all in this one life. Boyle was always a good director, who was known for shooting in almost any genre, although was most famous for the overrated but god "Trainspotting" beforehand, but I think with this film, he finally found an appropriate subject for his directing style, one that's constantly on the move, and giving us something new to look at all the time; this was the first time I got Danny Boyle as a great modern director, and especially with this film, sentimentality is such a tightrope to walk for a filmmaker, 99/100 it falls flat on your face, the one time, you get it right it's a masterpiece. An in a year of masterpieces, really, looking over this year, 2008, this was one of those really great years in cinema, were there were too many great, great films to name, and it was still beyond clear, how good "Slumdog Millionaire" was compared to the others, it's really an accomplishment, just how powerful and great "Slumdog Millionaire". And the fact that I'm still only ranking it 2nd, it makes me shake my head in disbelief at how great this year was, and how great this film is.


From a filmmaking standpoint, when I think back on what film really blew me away, looking at everything that was accomplished with the film, how much great work went into it, the most daring of films from this year, the most cinematic experience, in terms of combining the past and present of technique and storytelling in ways that we haven't seen done, and done so beautifully and funny and smart ways; the true best film of 2008, was Disney/Pixar's "WALL-E".  Famously the last film after "A Bug's Life", "Finding Nemo" and "Monsters, Inc." that was outlined from the infamous '94 lunch between John Lasseter, Pete Doctor and Joe Ranft, and directed by Andrew Stanton,  Wall-E is a robot. He's alone, very bored, with his job of cleaning up and compartmentalizing the trash on what's left of an abandoned Earth. We're informed eventually that he's been there, doing this for 700 years, enough time to create some assemblage of a personality. Then suddenly, another, more slicker robot, EVE, a slicker female robot, send down to search for signs of life. So many are involved in this film. For one thing, it's an incredible science-fiction film, one that has numerous references to other great sci-fi films and works of the past, while telling a fairly new story. From a storytelling side of filmmaking, "Wall-E", was a lot riskier and bolder than anything Pixar had done before. Using Ben Burtt to raid Disney's old sound effects literally out of storage, there's no dialogue for a good first half of the film. No art form of filmmaking is more visually inclined than animation, but this was a huge gamble. Hardly any human characters, most of the robot characters express themselves through beeps and other sounds and for much of that time, the only real character is WALL-E himself. They also found a way to use live action for the first, including a well-cast Fred Willard in old footage as an obviously conniving president of a United States that's been taken over buy a company called BuyNLarge, and "Hello, Dolly", another reference to film, is even used on an old dying, VHS tape that WALL-E covets. And then, the animation itself, this seems to be doing everything. From remnants of the past, to the Earth world of "WALL-E", compacting and compiling trash day in, day out for years, to the point where he's composed giant skyscrapers of them, to the Axiom ship in the sky that houses the world's humans, who've become monstrous flabby baby-like forms of their former selves, all this technical work, and oddly enough, one of the most beautiful sequences, is the dance in space with EVE and WALL-E with a fire hydrant, one of the most touching sequences of any movie I've ever seen. And every little detail in "WALL-E" was needed to create this film, there's a lot here, but it all tells the story, and it all really works. The most detail, the most filmmaking risk, probably the most technique used, a tribute to all forms of filmmaking and animation and from Pixar, who rarely does anything less than spectacular, "WALL-E" literally goes through the stratosphere. It was a great year for film, and in general, but the best movie goes to "WALL-E".