Criticism

SIMULACRA NOW

What has happened to cinema over the last thirty years is a mystery so surreal that it can only be understood in flashes and starts. The Mad TV movie mash-ups, and later those from YouTube, have probably come the closest – like ideas that come to you in your dreams, stay on the tip of your tongue as you wake up, only to be forgotten again as you buy your next movie ticket.

Those of us who participate in “the business” in some capacity – whether as a critic, a distributor, a frequent IMDB user, or the writer/director/star of Tropic Thunder – all participate in the same echo chamber of clichéd rhetoric – Why Can’t They Make Movies Like They Did in the 30s/50s/70s?; All You Need Is A Good Story; Film Is A Visual Medium; Write What You Know; Don’t Forget The Audience. These are the prescriptions we toss around for a perceived decline in the quality of cinema, even though they often contradict one another and probably exacerbate the symptoms. No one and no film, however, has been able to fully mold these contradictory myths into one fixed, coherent expression. Until now.

Dear George Lucas,

Serial Filmmaking


Michael Haneke has brought his maniacal art horror to the United States, remaking his 1997 film Funny Games for American audiences. What he has given us, however, is not your average Hollywood remake – snipped and streamlined for the more delicate stateside viewer, much as Ron Howard’s imminent remake of Haneke’s 2003 Caché is likely to be. No, this is what they call a shot-for-shot remake – a genre that, to my knowledge, only includes one other film, Gus Van Sant’s Psycho.

Critics have often compared Haneke to Hitchcock, or at least cited him as a reference point. This does seem an apt comparison, especially for Funny Games. The two filmmakers share a common instinct: to deconstruct and parody the family, often by putting a murderer in their midst (usually a stand-in for the filmmaker), and softly – or not so softly – suggesting a question: Who is more morally repulsive – the transgressive murderer or the repressive family members?

The title of this film has been withheld for your viewing pleasure..

It really is so much better when you don't know til the end what they decided to call it.

There Will Be Omissions


As has been noted here, 2007 was the best year in American cinema since 1999. It might be argued that this was one of the worst for foreign cinema, or rather the American distribution of foreign films, in some time. It looks like the first quarter of 2008, with proper releases of new films from Hou, Breillat, Chabrol, etc. might make up a new season of high-quality movies we'll forget about come December.

I must admit to my own personal inability to see many of the heralded films that came out this year. This list is embarrassingly incomprehensive and as such I have not numbered the films, nor would I consider them the ten best films of the year--rather, the ten films that most "captured my imagination," which I suppose is a definition of greatness. Short notes on my choices follow.

There Will Be Blood
Into the Wild
Atonement
I'm Not There
The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
Southland Tales/Darjeeling Ltd.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters
The Simpsons Movie
Colossal Youth
28 Weeks Later

Mission Aborted

Well, it didn't take long for Eric's mandate to fall apart. Though Jon is, of course, right that the number of films is arbitrary, I would still encourage people to submit lists capped at ten, if only because I think it's a good experiment. Here's mine...

1. I'm Not There
2. Death Proof
3. Lake of Fire
4. 4 Months 3 Weeks & 2 Days
5. There Will Be Blood
6. The Host
7. Eastern Promises
8. No Country for Old Men
9. Zodiac
10. Knocked Up

Already, I can tell you from this experiment that I was forced, at the last second, to switch Knocked Up and Away from Her on my list because I couldn't stand the idea not to see Knocked Up make the final cut. While I may ultimately feel that Away from Her is the closer-to-perfect film, Knocked Up has generated so much discussion for me this year, has gotten me slapped so many times, that it seems wrong not to elevate it.

Ten, Schmen!

Fellow Cinephiles!

I respectfully disagree that ten is the definitive number we should use in making our lists. Yes, listmaking is about many of the things mentioned in the previous post. But don't forget that it should also be fun! Dictating to colleagues how to express themselves just ain't my idea of fun. I thought that kind of rigid cinephile negativity died with Susan Sontag.

Another thing: listmaking in its own right is subjective, of course, so the number of films we put on our list—ten, fifteen, even forty (as Jonathan Rosenbaum did in both 2000 and 2002)—is also merely a subjective decision. In other words, the number we choose is ultimately arbitrary. But the content of our lists is anything but.

Scratchy, Missing Reel Glory

To get us started, I present my list of the top 10 films of 2007, followed by a few words about some of my favorites.

1. There Will Be Blood
2. Ratatouille
3. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
4. No Country for Old Men
5. Grindhouse
6. The Lives of Others
7. Knocked Up
8. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
9. I’m Not There
10. No End in Sight

#1 –THERE WILL BE BLOOD is everything I love about the cinema. A work that is both extremely visceral and thought provoking. An exploration of the American themes of individualism, the frontier, capitalism, religion, and the relationship between capital and evangelical Christianity. It’s a picture where you watch a born filmmaker confidently take one bold step confidently after another, never tripping or falling, and harnessing the full genius of his collaborators, like Daniel-Day Lewis and composer Jonny Greenwood. There Will Be Blood is the year’s best picture.

2007 Was Great for Film. But Does the Future of Listmaking Lie in Jeopardy?


2007 was a great year for movies—one of the best in recent memory. It was a particularly strong year for American cinema. In addition to offering new important films from American auteurs (Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen Bros, and Todd Haynes among others), 2007 provided exceptional works of mainstream commercial movies, including Hollywood summer releases like Ratatouille, Knocked Up, and The Bourne Ultimatum, all of which one could argue are also the work of auteurs. There were interesting, significant works of American cinema across nearly all budget levels and genres. Less foreign films made my top 10 list than in previous years, which probably has less to do with a lack of quality than with the fact that I had the opportunity to see less foreign films due to increasingly poor distribution for international titles. But even if we were to just look at the U.S.’s output of movies in 2007 in isolation from the rest of the world (probably not an advisable position in today’s geopolitical climate, I admit), we would still have an exceptional crop of pictures for discussion.

[Read More, Discussion & Lists]

Age Without Wisdom

Sometimes, my anticipation for a particular film – Eyes Wide Shut, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, There Will Be Blood – becomes so intense that I have dreams about seeing the film before I actually see it. Inevitably, I wake up from these dreams completely relieved that my brain’s nightmarish concoction was not the actual film. Francis Ford Coppola’s Youth Without Youth is a nightmarish concoction from which you never wake up.

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