I Know What I Want for Chanukah

"The Conversation" Russian movie poster, on sale for only $450 at Posteritati Movie Posters in Manhattan.

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Reasons to Go to the Movies Again in 07: Summer Update

RE-UPPED as of 6/27

Here is a look ahead at 2007... not everything that is coming out, just everything that might actually be worth your $12. These are the movies that you can expect people to be talking about, critics to be putting on their year-end lists NEXT January, and Cosmodrome to be regretting having missed. I'll continually update the list throughout the year, as release dates get changed and as new things pop up.

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Laughing at Movie Moguls: Ron Howard Edition

The DVD industry, with its insatiable appetite for repackaging old crap, has produced a glut of meaningless, trite, and horrible special features.

This is a new section to Cosmodrome, where we laugh at movie moguls gazing at their navels, talking about how brilliant they themselves are in special features that reveal just how un-special they really are.

Behold Ron Howard on the scoring of A Beautiful Mind. Get a load of the scripted ad-libbing. It's insane!

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The AFI Reloaded

The AFI’s new list of the 100 Greatest American Movies and the Wednesday night TV special which presented the list told two very different stories. The list itself offered an updated and slightly improved canon of American cinema, suggesting that our collective appreciation of film and understanding of film history has grown in the nine years since the first list. The TV special, on the other hand, suggested the opposite. Filled with poorly chosen clips and inane celebrity soundbites, 100 YEARS…100 MOVIES: 10th ANNIVERSARY EDITION revealed far more about the state of our culture and media industries today than it did about film history.

On the whole, the AFI list got a little better. No seismic shifts happened. Documentaries, avant-garde, and independent films remain grossly overlooked. And none of Cosmodrome’s five picks—MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, ACE IN THE HOLE, and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL— made it into the top 100. However, the AFI did make some positive and noteworthy additions to the list with pictures like SUNRISE (#82), SWING TIME (#90), and DO THE RIGHT THING (#97). Furthermore, the leaps forward on the list of American masterworks like THE SEARCHERS (from #96 to #12), VERTIGO (from #61 to #9), and RAGING BULL (from #24 to #4) represented positive steps forward for the AFI.

[Ed. note: this piece follows up on our recent discussion of what the AFI should add for its updated 100 Greatest. Click here to continue reading this story, or here for the original AFI post.]

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Daft Transformers

Admit it. You're You were damn excited about the new Transformers movie. Despite Shia Lebeouf. Despite Michael Bay. Despite the lame nu-metal theme song.

...and you're also damn excited about ageing French duo Daft Punk touring for the first time in many moons about. This instance of 80s and 90s nostalgia coming together in one summer has you very... excited.

...and then there's Kanye. You were damn excited when you heard he was going to sample Daft Punk's "Better, Harder, Faster, Stronger," in his new jam "Stronger", which isn't nearly as good as Juliette Lewis' Daft Punk video.

So in looking to provide something that combines the magic of the above three without any of the reservations, Cosmodrome presents the world premiere of:


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L.A. Confidential

In updating their 100 Greatest list, the AFI seems to be acknowledging that (i) they erred in their first list by omitting quality choices and (ii) new movies have come out in the last ten years which merit inclusion.

Or they realized the publicity from issuing a new list was too much to pass up.

Years of lists of movies has left the AFI grasping for straws. After going through Stars, Cheers, Passions, Laughs, and Thrills, rumor has it that 100 Years... 100 Groans was up next. (Robin Williams was set to dominate.) Thankfully, the AFI chose just to redo the Movies list.

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Ace in the Hole

On the AFI’s Wednesday night broadcast, multiple movies directed by Billy Wilder are likely to make the new list. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959), SUNSET BLVD (1950), and THE APARTMENT (1960) all made it into the top 100 back in 1998. However, one of Wilder’s worthiest films, ACE IN THE HOLE (1951), did not make the list in 1998 and is damn near certain to be shut out again this year. Alternatively known by the title THE BIG CARNIVAL, ACE IN THE HOLE tells the story of Chuck Tautum, an opportunistic newspaper reporter (played with animal energy by Kirk Douglas) who exploits the suffering of a man trapped inside a New Mexico cave for his own personal gain.

If my first pick, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, is unabashedly sentimental in its view of American history and culture, then I offer ACE IN THE HOLE as a brazenly cynical counterpart. And if HIS GIRL FRIDAY (Jon’s selection and truly a brilliant film) suggests that punchy journalism, social justice, and heterosexual romance can all go together hand-in-hand, then ACE IN THE HOLE—which is also set in the world of newspaper reporters hungry for a good story—suggests the opposite. The capitalistic imperative for a newspaper to sell (and earn its star reporter lots of money) will inevitably find itself at cross purposes with journalism’s responsibility to tell the truth and our moral responsibility as human beings.

ACE IN THE HOLE overtly stands as a critique of the modern media, but the film can be better understood as an allegory for the entertainment industry as a whole. Inside the door of Tatum’s editor hangs a framed, embroidered sign that reads “Tell the Truth.” For Tatum, the slogan is just as irrelevant as the embroidery is quaint. “Tell the Truth” the mantra of the journalist, but also of the artist. But what happens in Hollywood—when all works of art must be marketable and commercial? What happens when you see the world with a jaundiced view in which every human interaction might be a story to be exploited? Beyond journalism and showbusiness, ACE IN THE HOLE critiques an egomaniacal culture in which empathy and honesty has been tossed aside for the pragmatic and selfish question of “what is in this for me?”

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My Own Private Idaho

If you look at the original AFI list, almost all of them deal, in some way, with what Eric calls “American themes.” Possible exceptions include The Third Man, the David Lean films and A Clockwork Orange, each arguably British, as well as 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is thematically nationless as far as I’m concerned.

Those titles aside, the list is full of movies about the frontier, the road, capital, idealism, greed, as well as classic American dilemmas like interventionism vs. isolationism and the outer limits of democracy.

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HIS GIRL FRIDAY: The Screwball Pinnacle

The Screwball Comedy genre lasted for a relatively brief period of time but produced some of the greatest American films: TROUBLE IN PARADISE; IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT; BRINGING UP BABY, and nearly any of Preston Sturges’ major works. I would argue that the Screwball pinnacle is Howard Hawks’ HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940).

Unjustifiably omitted from the AFI’s 1998 list (but ranked #19 on their 100 Funniest Movies list), HIS GIRL FRIDAY is a film that people one hundred years from now will still find funny. Although Sturges’ string of madcap screwballs that followed HIS GIRL FRIDAY are edgier and more modern, HIS GIRL FRIDAY manages to blend its acerbic bite with a surprisingly sensitive heart. This balance is embodied in the character of Hildy Johnson, a strong, no-nonsense Chicago newspaper editor played to perfection by Rosalind Russell. Opposite Russell is Cary Grant, hilarious and classy (as usual). The plot, in brief: Grant’s character, Walter Burns, has been divorced by Johnson and is now persistently trying to woo her back romantically by wooing her professionally. Unusually progressive for its time, the film actually condones Johnson’s decision to stay and work as an editor at Burns’ paper rather than settle down with her fiancée (Ralph Bellamy, straight as they come).

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Meet Me in St. Louis

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (Vincente Minnelli, 1944) is a movie that seems to me both obvious and essential for any list of the 10 greatest American movies ever made—let alone any list of the 100 greatest. Yet Minnelli’s exuberant musical is nowhere to be found on the AFI’s 1998 list. Why is this? A box office success at the time and critically respected today, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS seems like a natural for the AFI. It’s a movie musical as American as apple pie. Made during World War II, the film brims with nostalgia for a warm, simple, and idealized American past. It’s an idealized, harmonious past in which seemingly contradictory elements resolve themselves effortlessly. You can have it both ways. St. Louis is a city that is also a small town. “New York is a big city,” says matriarch Anna Smith, comparing her beloved St. Louis to the Big Apple. “Not that St. Louis isn’t big. It just doesn’t seem very big out here where we live.” And thanks to the World’s Fair, the Smiths can stay put and have the wonders of the world brought to them, “right here—in St. Louis!”.

However, despite MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS’S strong flavoring of Americana, the film is highly un-American in one regard: its structure. An overriding conflict, three-act structure, and strong narrative drive are all central components of classical Hollywood cinema. Yet MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS lacks these typical elements. It is a film organized by seasons and episodes, not a central character’s growth over the course of three acts. And where is the conflict? The threat of the Smith family’s move to New York from St. Louis does not emerge until more than midway through the picture, so we can hardly call this an inciting incident. In his thoughtful essay “Happiness,” David Thomson suggests that “perhaps happiness is the absence of story” and goes on to celebrate MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS as a “movie in which nothing happens.” In lacking any sort of serious conflict, Minnelli’s musical invites us to live with the characters and share in their happiness. It’s a movie that suggests it’s ok to not take action—to not take the promotion, not move to New York. It is ok to just be.

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