Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Halloween Horror Poll: '70s Edition

I jumped for joy yesterday when I realized that it's almost October. Not that I haven't had a great summer, but there's something about the crisp fall weather, Halloween decorations and watching as many horror movies as I can possibly cram into a month that feels like bliss to me. Since I had a lot of fun tallying everyone's choices for the best '90s horror movies last year, I'll be hosting another poll this season. While the '90s poll was an interesting opportunity to highlight the underdiscussed gems in what wasn't a great decade for the genre, this year I'll be focusing on a decade, the 1970s, that has no shortage of great horror movies to choose from (honestly, I could probably come up with a solid top ten for any year that decade).

If you'd like to contribute to the poll, please submit your own top ten via e-mail (bangfilmsnh@gmail.com), Twitter, Facebook, Letterboxd or in the comments sections here by 9/20. And if you'd be interested in writing about one of your choices, please let me know. I'm blessed with the problem of several other writing gigs and my movie's premiere in November, so I can certainly use the help.

A few things:

- You can rank your list if you want, but it won't affect how I'm tallying the votes.

- Release dates are determined by the movie's first commercial (non-festival) release anywhere in the world. If you want to make a case for a movie that you think should be an exception, I'm happy to consider it.

- TV movies/miniseries and shorts are allowed.

- "Horror" can mean whatever you want it to.

Thanks in advance - I'm looking forward to seeing your lists!

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

My Top 5%


I've been using Flickchart for several years now. It's a site that randomly pits two movies at a time against each other - you click the one you prefer, and the site gradually produces a ranked list of your highest-rated movies. The site has never taken off the way Letterboxd has - it doesn't allow you to write extended reviews or keep a viewing diary, and it's considerably nerdier than Letterboxd. However, it's one of my favorite time wasters.

This past weekend, I saw that my list had grown long enough that, according to Flickchart, I've now seen 5000 movies (the five thousandth was John Sayles' Lianna, which I quite liked). Granted, their definition of "movies" extends to things like Michael Jackson: Moonwalker, Gallagher stand-up specials and the straight-to-video My Pet Monster tie-in movie that I watched too many times as a kid. Still, I'll take it. To celebrate the occasion, I thought I'd post my top 250 according to my Flickchart rankings. I gave up making any sort of deliberately ranked best-of list a few years back, and this makes for a fun alternative - the first twenty or so are pretty close to the list I'd make if I sat down and thought about it, but after the first fifty, it gets a little more idiosyncratic. It's like a list made by an alternate universe version of me, slightly hipper and with less regard for good taste. I'd trust this guy's opinion over mine, honestly. He just likes the stuff he likes.

1. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
2. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
3. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
4. Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)
5. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
6. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
7. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
8. Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)
9. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)
10. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
11. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
12. Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976)
13. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
14. Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)
15. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
16. The Man Who Fell to Earth (Nicolas Roeg, 1976)
17. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Milos Forman, 1975)
18. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)
19. Kill Bill vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2004)
20. Kill Bill vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003)
21. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
22. Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1979)
23. Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973)
24. Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
25. The Elephant Man (David Lynch, 1980)

26. All That Jazz (Bob Fosse, 1979)
27. Nosferatu, Phantom der Nacht (Werner Herzog, 1979)
28. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
29. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
30. Fargo (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 1996)
31. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
32. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
33. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
34. Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)
35. Don't Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)
36. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960
37. The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986)
38. Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979)
39. McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
40. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
41. 8 1/2 (Federico Fellini, 1963)
42. Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)
43. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
44. El Topo (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1970)
45. The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988)
46. Jules and Jim (François Truffaut, 1962)
47. Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977)
48. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)
49. Sid and Nancy (Alex Cox, 1986)
50. The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)

51. Secretary (Steven Shainberg, 2002)
52. Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
53. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
54. Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1996)
55. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
56. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
57. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
58. The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)
59. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)
60. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
61. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
62. Modern Romance (Albert Brooks, 1981)
63. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
64. Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)
65. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977)
66. Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman, 1972)
67. Orpheus (Jean Cocteau, 1950)
68. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)
69. Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972)
70. Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)
71. No Country for Old Men (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 2007)
72. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
73. Blow Out (Brian De Palma, 1981)
74. Schindler's List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
75. City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931)

76. The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998)
77. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
78. The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)
79. Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1962)
80. Miller's Crossing (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 1990)
81. Phantom of the Paradise (Brian De Palma, 1974)
82. Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972)
83. Creepshow (George A. Romero, 1982)
84. Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allen, 1986)
85. La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960)
86. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
87. Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, 2007)
88. My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991)
89. The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 1998)
90. The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1983)
91. Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)
92. Spirited Away (Hiyao Miyazaki, 2001)
93. The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
94. Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini, 1957)
95. True Romance (Tony Scott, 1993)
96. Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982)
97. Fearless (Peter Weir, 1993)
98. The Dark Crystal (Jim Henson and Frank Oz, 1982)
99. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Nicholas Meyer, 1982)
100. One From the Heart (Francis Ford Coppola, 1982)

101. The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)
102. The Verdict (Sidney Lumet, 1982)
103. Lost in America (Albert Brooks, 1985)
104. A Trip to the Moon (Georges Méliès, 1902)
105. Re-Animator (Stuart Gordon, 1985)
106. Y tu mamá también (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)
107. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012)
108. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013)
109. The World's End (Edgar Wright, 2013)
110. The Year of Living Dangerously (Peter Weir, 1982)
111. Planes, Trains & Automobiles (John Hughes, 1987)
112. Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986)
113. Bambi (David Hand & various, 1942)
114. Eating Raoul (Paul Bartel, 1982)
115. Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1984)
116. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
117. The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970)
118. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948)
119. Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)
120. Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970)
121. Robocop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)
122. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)
123. Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967)
124. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)
125. Stroszek (Werner Herzog, 1979)

126. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)
127. The Last Emperor (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1987)
128. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Buñuel, 1972)
129. Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972)
130. The Dead Zone (David Cronenberg, 1983)
131. Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)
132. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
133. Images (Robert Altman, 1972)
134. The American Friend (Wim Wenders, 1977)
135. Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972)
136. Roma (Federico Fellini, 1972)
137. Aliens (James Cameron, 1986)
138. Superman (Richard Donner, 1978)
139. The Secret of Roan Inish (John Sayles, 1995)
140. Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)
141. Bad Timing (Nicolas Roeg, 1980)
142. Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000)
143. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002)
144. The Great Dictator (Charles Chaplin, 1940)
145. Throne of Blood (Akira Kurosawa, 1957)
146. The Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean, 1957)
147. Solaris (Steven Soderbergh, 2002)
148. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939)
149. Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)
150. Diner (Barry Levinson, 1982)

151. Betty Blue (Jean-Jacques Beiniex, 1986)
152. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)
153. Performance (Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, 1970)
154. Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, 1982)
155. Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (Joe Layton, 1982)
156. Tokyo Story (Yasujirô Ozu, 1953)
157. M (Fritz Lang, 1931)
158. A.I. (Steven Spielberg, 2001)
159. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
160. Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004)
161. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)
162. Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994)
163. Macbeth (Roman Polanski, 1971)
164. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
165. The Road Warrior (George Miller, 1981)
166. Day of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1985)
167. Inferno (Dario Argento, 1980)
168. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)
169. The Red Shoes (Michael Powell and Emetic Pressburger, 1948)
170. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012)
171. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
172. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978)
173. Doctor Zhivago (David Lean, 1965)
174. If.... (Lindsay Anderson, 1968)
175. Kagemusha (Akira Kurosawa, 1980)

176. Catch-22 (Mike Nichols, 1970)
177. Coming Home (Hal Ashby, 1978)
178. The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978)
179. Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick, 1987)
180. Three Kings (David O. Russell, 1999)
181. Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese, 2002)
182. Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju, 1960)
183. Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, 1960)
184. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick, 1993)
185. Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, 1964)
186. Black Sunday (Mario Bava, 1960)
187. Being There (Hal Ashby, 1979)
188. Night Moves (Arthur Penn, 1975)
189. Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983)
190. La jetée (Chris Marker, 1962)
191. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964)
192. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
193. A Star is Born (George Cukor, 1954)
194. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
195. Un Chien Andalou (Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, 1929)
196. Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai, 1944)
197. Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)
198. Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)
199. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
200. An American Werewolf in London (John Landis, 1981)

201. 3 Women (Robert Altman, 1977)
202. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)
203. I'm Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007)
204. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 199)
205. The Iron Giant (Brad Bird, 1999)
206. Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955)
207. Diabolique (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1955)
208. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)
209. The Killing (Stanley Kubrick, 1956)
210. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
211. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)
212. Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975)
213. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (F.W. Murnau, 1922)
214. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
215. The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940)
216. Raising Arizona (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 1987)
217. American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)
218. Inglorious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
219. Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, 1987)
220. The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky, 2006)
221. Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)
222. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (Sam Peckinpah, 1973)
223. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007)
224. The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese, 1993)
225. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)

226. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2014)
227. A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984)
228. Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993)
229. Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)
230. Popeye (Robert Altman, 1980)
231. Rushmore (Wes Anderson, 1998)
232. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)
233. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
234. The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)
235. The Postman Always Rings Twice (Kay Garnett, 1946)
236. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
237. To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962)
238. Belle de jour (Luis Buñuel, 1967)
239. Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson, 1994)
240. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)
241. Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
242. The 400 Blows (François Truffaut, 1959)
243. Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau, 1946)
244. Breaking the Waves (Lars Von Trier, 1996)
245. Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
246. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
247. Black Moon (Louis Malle, 1975)
248. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Terry Gilliam, 1988)
249. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)
250. Black Narcissus (Michael Powell and Emetic Pressburger, 1947)

Monday, June 01, 2015

I am into tacos like you are into turqoise.

This is my contribution to this year's White Elephant Blogathon, hosted by Philip Tatler IV at his blog Diary of a Country Pickpocket.

If a movie is repeatedly described by its fans as "Dadaist," isn't the joke on anyone who tries to write about it? Putting aside the question of whether "Dada" is a descriptor that has any real meaning outside of the zeitgeist that birthed it - WWI-era Europe - if a work, like Robert Downey Sr.'s Two Tons to Turquoise to Taos Tonight, is indeed deliberately artless as a protest against the crimes of polite society, is there anything else to say except to note its existence and move on? Maybe, but as I've been assigned Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight to write about, I will try.

For what it's worth, I wouldn't call the film (originally titled Moment to Moment) Dadaist so much as cheerfully nonsensical - while Downey's movies, most famously Putney Swope, were often designed to rankle the status quo, this plotless collection of brief sketches seems less like a calculated provocation than the result of Downey and his friends screwing around with a camera for their own amusement. One scene crashes into the next - there are men on horseback playing baseball, there's a scene aboard a spaceship, and at one point, it seems like the apocalypse might happen, but then it doesn't. The results are uneven as that sounds, though I admire the spirit of the movie even as the experience of actually watching it was something of a chore to get through. Writing that makes me feel like the lieutenant played by Fred Willard in This is Spinal Tap who tells the band he's a fan "not of your music personally, but the whole genre of rock and roll." That's how it is, though.

It's entirely possible that my feeling that I just watched a version of The Kentucky Fried Movie without jokes is on me for not being on Downey and his cast's wavelength. Everything about the way the movie jumps formlessly from one vignette to the next without concern for beginnings, endings or any kind of context suggests that, if it made Downey laugh, that was good enough for him. And as Putney Swope and some of his other movies combine this anarchic sensibility with more focused, pointed satire, I assume that he didn't set out to make a more conventionally satisfying comedy and screwed it up. This is the movie he wanted to make, and there's something admirable about how it's defiantly its own thing, even if I didn't enjoy it very much.

What enjoyment I did get out of it is reflected in the interview for the movie's Criterion release featuring Downey and Paul Thomas Anderson, where the younger director is clearly tickled by the notion that Downey convinced his cast - including his wife, Elsie, who appears in nearly every scene - to act out whatever crazy nonsense they could come up with, which is absurd in the way that all moviemaking is inherently absurd but which few movies acknowledge. My main takeaway is that Elsie, who, according to Downey, never said no to anything, must have been a real hip lady (young Robert Downey Jr. also appears in what seems to be home movie footage). Two Tons to Turquoise to Taos Tonight goes beyond personal into the realm of private filmmaking, and while I found myself thinking "that's clever" but not actually laughing throughout the movie, maybe it'll click with me if I revisit it sometime. And, while it's cheap to dismiss any surreal movie by accusing its makers of being on drugs, as the cast literally does lines at one point in the movie, it seems safe to say that I would have had a different experience if I was high.

Sidenote: I submitted one of my favorite movies, Dead Man, to the blog-a-thon, thinking that the person who was assigned it would be very lucky indeed. He actually hated it and spent multiple paragraphs rolling his eyes at it. Oh well, Jarmusch isn't for everyone. But I have to say, to the person that contributed Two Tons to Turquoise to Taos Tonight to the blog-a-thon: it wasn't my favorite, but if it's one of yours, thanks for nudging me to watch it, and I hope I haven't let you down.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Blatant self-promotion.

I'm making a movie this spring. It's called Most Likely, and it's a comedy about a group of lifelong friends spending a weird weekend in the country together for a wedding. We're scheduled to shoot in New Hampshire's White Mountains region in April, and we've assembled a talented cast and crew to make the movie, but we need your help. Please check out our Kickstarter page to learn more about the movie - at the very least, I highly recommend giving our ridiculous video a look. Whether or not you're able to contribute, sharing the link with your friends would be enormously helpful. Thanks very much!

Monday, February 02, 2015

It's not groovy to be insane.

I'm not sure exactly where to begin with Inherent Vice - I've seen it twice now, and I haven't completely wrapped my head around it, but I know it's a movie I'll be returning to for the rest of my life. It's not a problem of not understanding the plot, as the mystery at the center of Inherent Vice, while deliberately convoluted and elusive, isn't nearly as impenetrable as many of the reviews have made it out to be. It's that, beyond all of the missing real estate tycoons, Nazi bikers, Mansonoid conspiracies and coked-up dentists, at the heart of the movie is a pervasive undercurrent of melancholy that ties together its parade of sight gags and stoner humor and familiar faces popping up for brief, weird vignettes. It's a feeling captured perfectly by the song that plays over the end credits (and if you consider an end credits soundtrack cue a spoiler, consider yourself warned). I think I've listened to Chuck Jackson's version of "Any Day Now" every day since seeing the film - I was startled to hear it as the movie cut to black, but it's as perfect a coda for Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's book as it is unexpected.

"Then my wild beautiful bird
You will have flown
Any day now
Love will let me down
'Cause you won't be around"

The song serves as a requiem both for a lost love and for a brief, perfect moment that, as the movie begins, is already almost over, with the idealism of peace and love giving way to the inexorable march of time and "the ancient forces of greed and fear," as they're called by the movie's narrator, the possibly etheral, probably immortal flower child Sortilege (Joanna Newsom). Those forces are represented by the Golden Fang, the mysterious crime ring with a seemingly limitless reach that, as the movie begins, has apparently kidnapped real estate developer Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts). The movie opens with muttonchopped private eye Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) being paid an unexpected visit from his ex-old lady and Mickey's current lover, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katharine Waterston), who asks Doc for help. Watching the movie a second time, this entire scene took on a different meaning - it's clear that Doc, who is rendered defenseless by Shasta's "heavy combination of face ingredients," is being played, and throughout the movie, our well-meaning but hapless hero will be repeatedly manipulated into being in the right place at the wrong time, particularly by the ex and current old ladies in his life.

As the plot quickly expands and it becomes clear that the missing Mr. Wolfmann is only a fraction of a far greater conspiracy that encompasses heroin smuggling, a syndicate of dentists and a saxophone played turned government informant (Owen Wilson), Anderson - adapting Pynchon's novel mostly faithfully - is clearly having fun overloading us with information. One of the movie's many hilarious throwaway gags is Doc's diagram of the story's many players; our hero is as lost as we are. Some of the movie's fans have insisted that the plot doesn't matter, but it's not that, exactly - it's that, when by the time we meet the guy (or one of the guys) pulling the strings, it feels beside the point. The two obvious cinematic reference points for Inherent Vice are The Big Lebowski and Robert Altman's hazy, meandering film of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye, and those are both unavoidably a part of the movie's DNA. But I also found myself thinking about Chinatown, another Los Angeles mystery where the specifics of the central shadowy plot are less important than our hero's realization of everything that he'll never know or be able to change. In Chinatown, this realization transfoms the noir into a horror story; here, it's met with a dopey shrug that betrays more than a hint of sadness, mixed with the hope that, if our hero or any of us can save one little kid from the little kid blues, maybe all isn't lost.

If Inherent Vice is lamenting the end of an era, it works as well as it does because it never underlines this point. The loss of an idealized memory of a perfect moment that maybe never existed is crystallized in the scenes between Doc and Shasta, seen in flashback in a perfect moment, scored to Neil Young's "Journey Through the Past." I can't help feeling like I'm wasting a lot of words when film critic Miriam Bale has already written the perfect one-sentence review of the movie on Twitter, observing that "Sometimes I think Inherent Vice is only for those who have exes that seem like certain Neil Young albums." Contrast that with a scene late in the film where Shasta uses her sexuality to manipulate Doc; Waterston is remarkably fearless in the scene, which is - sexy isn't the right word, but it's made doubly disturbing because it's not entirely unarousing for any male audience members of the audience who'd like to think of themselves as better than that. The scene casts a dark shadow over the rest of the movie, a lingering reminder that, whatever our attempts at living the hippie lifestyle then or now, our own animal attraction to power and control - whether we'd prefer to be on the giving or receiving end - thwarts us as much as the Golden Fang ever could.

It's scenes like this that set Doc Sportello apart from Jeff Lebowski, as much as both are the men for their times and places. Whereas the Dude is a truly Zen creation pulled into a situation beyond his control, there's a constant tension in Doc best illustrated by his favorite gesture, a peace sign followed by a middle finger. At one point, Doc casually jots down the phrase "Paranoia alert" in his notepad, and Phoenix's performance is a masterpiece of muttered asides and little gestures, facial expressions and whimpers that suggest he's always just barely keeping a full-blown panic attack at bay. He's matched by Josh Brolin as Detective "Bigfoot" Bjornsen, a Jungian shadow of sorts for Doc - Brolin uses his rugged screen presence to great effect, suggesting a wounded and strangely empathetic soul underneath the macho bluster, and Bigfoot and Doc's complicated relationship culminates in a scene that had me in hysterics both times I've seen the movie. The rest of the star-studded cast is terrific - I particularly enjoyed Martin Short, who does the most hilarious bump in film history; Michelle Sinclair (nee Belladonna), whose scene ends in a neat reversal of the same moment in the book; and Reese Witherspoon as Penny, an assistant D.A. and Doc's sometime lady. Penny's an upstanding citizen who sneaks away to Doc's shack at the fictional Gordita Beach for occasional deviance, and frankly, her simultanous giving Doc a hard time while clearly being totally into this weed-addled mess of anxiety and frayed synapses reminded me of me and my old lady. Perhaps it's not a great sign of how I'm doing if I'm relating to Doc Sportello, even if Sortilege assures him he's doing good*; on the other hand, out of recent releases, better that I see myself in Doc than in Birdman or Listen Up Philip or, especially, those knuckleheads in Whiplash.

But I digress. The real star here is Paul Thomas Anderson, and while he's content to translate much of Pynchon's book faithfully to the screen, it's still unmistakably his movie. Anderson has made enough movies now to chart an evolution from the look-at-me wunderkind who filled Boogie Nights and Magnolia with jaw-dropping tracking shots and bold gestures like, say, frogs falling from the sky. As a teen, my reaction to these moments was "Oh my God, this guy is fucking awesome and I want to be him when I grow up." Now I'm older than Anderson was when he made those movies, and I can also see how desparate he was for validation, which actually only makes me love them (and him) more. If There Will Be Blood and The Master signaled that he was becoming a more "mature" filmmaker, then Inherent Vice is both a logical next step and a surprising left turn for the director. Anderson has cited the Zucker brothers as an influence, and during the second viewing I caught enough ingenious peripheral sight gags (How did I miss the machine gun-toting Jesuses the first time?) that I'm eager to discover more. At the same time, the few elaborate tracking shots or other big stylistic flourishes are very brief and precisely chosen - for the most part, Anderson favors letting scenes unfold in long master shots, and any camera movements are very carefully motivated, including some beautiful handheld camerawork (just when I thought I was sick to death of handheld).

Probably the most impressive thing about Anderson's work here is his confidence in the material - this was never going to be a major crowd-pleaser, but it's obviously work of a guy who is content to follow the stories that interest him. It's a movie for anyone tuned into its own peculiar wavelength, the straight world be damned. While it would have been nice if, somehow, the movie became a hit, it really never stood a chance, and that's okay. I drove an hour to see Inherent Vice the first time, to a college town I'd never been to; on the way home, driving through the beautiful northern reaches of my state, the movie still buzzing around in my head, I felt alive in a way no new movie had made me feel in quite a while. It feels inevitable that Inherent Vice is on its way to becoming a cult classic - not on the order of The Big Lebowski, perhaps, as it doesn't lend itself as easily to costume contests and bowling tournaments, but I look forward to the movie gradually finding its audience. In the meantime, I'm as content to love it for my own reasons as Anderson clearly was in making it for his.

*Sidenote: I wasn't familiar with Joanna Newsom before the movie, but now, I'd gladly listen to her narrate anything. She could turn an industrial training video into a lullaby.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Top 10: 2014

Earlier today, I wrote a paragraph on each of the movies in my top ten, along with a 600-word introduction. I was struggling with the tone, and I realized it's because, in the past year, real life has changed the way I watch movies. My moviegoing habits haven't changed, but since my dad's death last spring, I find myself valuing movies for different reasons. But honestly, it read like it should be titled "Top 10 Sad Things That Happened To Me This Year." I just deleted it all, and it feels liberating. However, I did enjoy putting together a playlist of songs from the movies listed below, and, if you have the time, I think it actually serves as a pretty good mixtape for 2014. Happy new year, everyone.

My top ten:

1. Under the Skin
2. Inherent Vice 
3. The Babadook
4. Selma
5. Only Lovers Left Alive 
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
7. Blue Ruin
8. Boyhood 
9. Love is Strange 
10. Birdman

The rest of my Muriels ballot:

Best Lead Performance, Male

1. Michael Keaton, Birdman
2. David Oyelowo, Selma
3. Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice
4. Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
5. Macon Blair, Blue Ruin

Best Lead Performance, Female

1. Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin
2. Essie Davis, The Babadook
3. Marion Cotillard, The Immigrant
4. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
5. Jenny Slate, Obvious Child

Best Supporting Performance, Male

1. Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice
2. Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
3. Patrick D'Assumçao, Stranger by the Lake
4. Tyler Perry, Gone Girl
5. Jonathan Pryce, Listen Up Philip

Best Supporting Performance, Female

1. Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer
2. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
3. Carrie Coon, Gone Girl
4. Emma Stone, Birdman
5. Emily Blunt, Into the Woods

Best Direction

1. Jonathan Glazer, Under the Skin
2. Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
3. Jennifer Kent, The Babadook
4. Ava DuVernay, Selma
5. Jim Jarmusch, Only Lovers Left Alive

Best Screenplay

1. Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
2. Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
3. Jennifer Kent, The Babadook
4. Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias, Love is Strange
5. Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl

Best Cinematography

1. Robert Elswit, Inherent Vice
2. Dick Pope, Mr. Turner
3. Darius Khondji, The Immigrant
4. Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
5. Bradford Young, Selma

Best Editing 

1. Sandra Adair, Boyhood
2. Kirk Baxter, Gone Girl
3. Barney Pilling, The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Leslie Jones, Inherent Vice
5. Simon Njoo, The Babadook

Best Music

1. Mica Levi, Under the Skin
2. Antonio Sanchez, Birdman
3. Hans Zimmer, Interstellar
4. Jonny Greenwood, Inherent Vice
5. Josef van Wissem, Carter Logan, Jim Jarmusch and Shane Stoneback, Only Lovers Left Alive

Best Documentary 

1. Life Itself
2. The Last of the Unjust
3. Citizenfour

Best Cinematic Moment 

1. “Trapped By a Thing Called Love,” Only Lovers Left Alive
2. Flying, Birdman
3. “Journey Through the Past,” Inherent Vice
4. Opening sequence, Under the Skin
5. Final shot, The Immigrant
6. Godzilla’s first appearance, Godzilla
7. School car, Snowpiercer
8. “I feel everything,” Lucy
9. Creation story, Noah
10. “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” Guardians of the Galaxy

Best Cinematic Breakthrough 

1. Jennifer Kent, The Babadook
2. Ava DuVernay, Selma
3. Jeremy Saulnier, Blue Ruin
4. Ana Lily Amirpour, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
5. Gillian Robespierre, Obvious Child

Best Body of Work 

1. Scarlett Johansson
2. Tilda Swinton
3. Joaquin Phoenix
4. Emily Blunt
5. Jake Gyllenhaal

Best Ensemble Performance 

1. Selma
2. Inherent Vice
3. Love is Strange
4. Birdman
5. We Are the Best!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Top 10: 2004

1. Kill Bill vol. 2 (Tarantino)
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry)
3. Sideways (Payne)
4. Birth (Glazer)
5. Spider-Man 2 (Raimi)
6. Shaun of the Dead (Wright)
7. Before Sunset (Linklater)
8. The Incredibles (Bird)
9. The Aviator (Scorsese)
10. Million Dollar Baby (Eastwood)