Friday, December 28, 2012

Top 10 Las Vegas Films

In August, my mom and I were sitting on the beach celebrating our birthdays, and we got to thinking. We collectively decided that we wanted a change of scenery this holiday season. I proposed Vegas, and so here we are. I’ll be in Sin City through the New Year, so this list will act as my final post of 2012.

I plan on posting a ‘12 retrospective a little later, but for now, please know that I am forever grateful to anyone who has spent any part of their day reading this blog. When I began this beast five years ago, I never imagined I would gain an audience. My appreciation for you all is boundless. I’ll see you in ‘13.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Movie Jail Relay Race

In the comment section for my recent review of This is 40, I explained to one loyal reader my personal distinction between indifference and hate, as it relates to film. To summarize, I basically explained how uneasy it makes me feel to hate a piece of work that falls under the artistic medium I love. I don’t want to hate any movie, actor, director and so on. But sometimes we do, and Nostra and Terrence’s brilliant new Relay Race opens the opportunity for a little friendly payback. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Top 10 Non-Traditional Christmas Films

There’s certainly nothing wrong with sitting the family down and watching Home Alone over the holiday season. But with my gang, we’re a tad more inclined to take in Die Hard than It’s a Wonderful Life. So I got to thinking, what are my favorite non-traditional Christmas flicks? Below are some choice excerpts from some of the best movies that handle the yuletide joy in a slightly different manner. Happy holidays everyone!

Monday, December 24, 2012

This is 40

Watching a movie you hate is a funny thing. You’re sitting there, almost in shock of what’s happening. You debate leaving the theater, but can’t stop to take your eyes off the train wreck. You fool yourself with possible hints of redemption, and then anxiously try to laugh it off when the film let’s you down yet again. And then, at some point, you try to retrace your steps and figure out where it all went wrong.

I say “you” but I mean me, because what I’ve just described are only a handful of the feelings that moved through me as I watched Judd Apatow’s new, impossibly frustrating, hopelessly revolting film This is 40.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Top 10 Remakes (That are Better Than the Original Films)

It certainly doesn’t happen often, but occasionally, a filmmaker has the stones to not only remake a film, but somehow manage to make a better version. A handful of the films below are remakes of very fine movies, others are revisions of bad movies ultimatly made better. Whether the remakes are foreign-to-American, spanned decades apart, or an attempt by the same director to recapture his own magic, below are the 10 best remakes I’ve ever seen. And don’t forget to share yours in the comments!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

In Character: Alfred Molina

If you asked me last week, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you where Alfred Molina was from. He looks Spanish (or Italian…), sounds British (or Spanish, or Italian, or… American) and acts as anything. Culturally, he’s one of the most versatile actors in movies today. He can transform himself into any character from any nation, using a set of skills that is simply unparalleled. No two performances of the roles mentioned below feature the same voice or look. And that, my friends, is a remarkable feat in its own right.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

As a film fanatic, I have a few rules that I follow diligently while watching (or preparing to watch) a movie. The most important one is that I refuse to have any preconceived notions about any movie before seeing it. I see it and judge it for what it’s worth. I don’t convince myself that it will be garbage (or gold, for that matter) based on who’s in it, who made it, or what it’s about.

But one thing I’ve come to terms with over the past few years is that that rule is unrealistic. Tenacious studio marketing, social media, movie blogs – all of these things make it damn near impossible to not form an opinion before the fact. I still do my best to walk into every movie feeling fresh, with no positive or negative bias toward it, but on the occasion of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I simply could not help myself.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Favorite Scene: Warrior

Warning: Critical plot details will be divulged in this post. The ending to Warrior will be spoiled.

Warrior was a tricky film for me. My initial review spoke to the pleasure I had in watching it, but made no mention of its current status as a contemporary classic that I’ll never forget. And there’s a simple reason why: back then, I liked Warrior, now, I’m forever indebted to it. It’s a brutal, mainstream work of art equipped with a heart larger than most any five films put together.

Looking back, neither the film nor any of its performances popped up on my end of the year lists, which I find astonishing. If I drafted my top films of 2011 today, Warrior would be in the Top 5, no question. It’s a perfect movie with a flawless, heartbreaking ending, which is what I’d like to talk about today.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Bay

Barry Levinson’s new micro budget horror flick, The Bay, is yet another wave in the mild but no less shocking surge of very decent found footage films. I’m one of the few people who absolutely loved the found footage anthology V/H/S, and I feel it’s necessary to start this review the same way I started that one, by relenting upfront that I am in no way a fan.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Anthology Breakdown: Coffee and Cigarettes

Anthology Breakdown is a column I’ve neglected over the past few months, but am brining back full swing. The exercise is simple: view an anthology film and grade each segment individually. Hope you enjoy!

The title of Jim Jarmusch’s excellent anthology film pretty much sums it up: this is a movie about (mostly famous) people playing hyperbolic versions of themselves, sitting around and bullshitting as they drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. Their conversations vary from health, fame, anxieties, and the latent racism of Elvis Presley. Like most anthologies, Coffee and Cigarettes is not without its share of lacking segments. Check out which ones I dig most below, and, as always, be sure to tell me your favorites in the comments!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Top 10 Movies Set in Prison

Fear is a funny thing. If forced to recall a movie about ghosts, demonic possession, alien beings (or the like) that legitimately scared the shit out of me, I’d be hard pressed to think of many, if any. Set a movie in a realistic prison filled with realistic characters, and considered me scared straight.

Whether it’s the cold harshness of solitary confinement, the sadistic abuse from guards, or the survival of the fittest among prisoners, few things rock me more than a movie depicting the brutal accuracy of prison. Below are the 10 best films I’ve seen that take place within the unsympathetic confinement of penitentiary walls.

A few notes: I didn’t take concentration camps and other prisoner of war camps into consideration. Perhaps a list for another day. Also, I’m only featuring films that predominately take place inside the hoosegow. As accurate and terrifying as the prison sequences in American History X are, for example, it isn’t a film about prison.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

In Character: Emily Watson

Emily Watson’s career was born from chance. Or plain dumb luck, depending how you look at it. After Helena Bonham Carter dropped out of Breaking the Waves at the last minute, director Lars von Trier plucked Watson from obscurity and gave her a shot. Since that startling debut, Watson has become nothing short of a British force of cinematic nature.

Rarely raising her voice above speaking level, Watson is equipped with eyes that can do all the talking. Whether she’s charming, sinister, innocent or guilty, I have yet to see a character that Watson didn’t play to utter perfection. Her amount of notable roles extends far past the number I’m about to list, but here are the ones that have struck me the most.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Blogathon: Making the Case for Edward Burns

The rules for Stevee Taylor’s new expert blogathon, Making the Case, are simple: pick a film, performance, or aspect of a film that you’d love to see garner awards recognition this year, but know in your heart of hearts that it most likely will not.

Now, given that most of my favorite movies and performances from any given year typically aren’t recognized (To Michael Fass: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times), the possibilities for my contribution to this blogathon really are endless.

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas

If the opportunity presents itself, I do whatever I can to increase awareness concerning the charm of Edward Burns. Or, more specifically, the charm of his small, micro budget works of art. I love the films of Edward Burns, I wish more people watched them, and if people become taken with the films in the process, then rock ‘n’ roll.

Burns makes working class films for working class folks. His latest, The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is a perfect case in point. Funded solely through Burns himself, and whatever dough he could scrape together from family and friends, Burns shot the film in secret, marketed it in post through Twitter and Facebook, then released it on iTunes before it hit select theaters last Friday. That’s independent cinema at its most independent. And goddamn if I don’t love it.

2012 Screen Actors Guild Nominations

Things just got interesting. Over the past few years (with the immergence of Twitter, specifically), everyone has become a movie awards expert. People predict, exclaim, argue – and by the end, there are so many opinions floating around, surely the collective bunch will have predicted the potential nominees. But with the announcement of the Screen Actors Guild nominations this morning, I’d be stunned if anyone accurately predicted all of these nominees. Surprise and snubs abound, but goddamn if things didn’t just get intriguing.

Few notes: I typically shy away from discussing TV, so those nominations aren’t listed below. And the entire cast of Beasts of the Southern Wild (including Oscar nominee front runner Quvenzhané Wallis and her co-star Dwight Henry) were deemed ineligible for SAG nominations.

Monday, December 10, 2012

the Directors: Michael Haneke

In my recent review for Michael Haneke’s film, Amour, I made mention of the fact that Michael Haneke is many things, chiefly the master of tension. (Not a, the.) All of his films depict real people in real situations, but they depict them in such a way that it forces the viewer to reflect unpleasantly.

The characters in his films are plagued by What Ifs and How Do You Knows. The result for many (but certainly not all) is a slim filmography of essential works of cinematic art. Point in fact, I could make a strong argument that Michael Haneke has a more deliberate style of filmmaking than anyone currently making movies. Tediously paced and uncomfortably numb, Haneke’s films dare you to ask and force you to listen.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Michel Haneke is the master of many things. Tension, perhaps most prominently. But more specifically, the self-reflexing examination of tension as captured in moments of realism. For instance, what would you do if an unmarked videotape containing a two hour still shot of your front door, arrived at your doorstep? That’s the tension-laced situation that the characters of Haneke’s Caché spend several weeks of their lives trying to combat. It’s similar to how one would handle two polite teenagers who arrive at your door and refuse to leave. Or how one might react to being pestered senselessly on a subway station.

This, to me, is what links Haneke’s films: the tension of being placed in real life situations, and forcing you to decide what you would do, and how you would do it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

15 Directors Whose First Films Were Their Best

There’s a sad truth among many of the best debut films from directors: many times, that first film ends up being his (or her) best. This list aims to acknowledge the directors who peaked early and were never able to achieve that initial greatness.

Some of these directors are gone, while others are still actively trying to match their prior, superior work. Some went on to have excellent careers full of excellent films, others followed their solid entrance with continual nonsense. No matter the case, there’s no denying the talent that accompanied these directors so early in their careers.

(Notes: I’m not counting short films, or directors who only made one feature. Sorry Charles Laughton.)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Killing Them Softly

I’m half-tempted to dub 2012 The Year of the Enigma Film. Perhaps “enigma” isn’t right, maybe “polarizing” is more accurate. But what I’m getting at is that 2012 seems to be cinematically defined by films that have divided.

I’m not sure I’ve heard of anyone liking Holy Motors. I’ve read several reviews of love, and just as many of hate. For every person who considers David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis a disastrous waste of time (like me), there is a Top 10 list to argue otherwise. The Master, Cloud AtlasLincoln, hell, all the back to Haywire, people can’t seem to find common ground this year. And you know what? I dig it. It’d be boring as shit if we all agreed on what’s gold and what’s garbage. Now, to add to the separation, we have Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, a comedy crime drama to end all comedy crime dramas.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In Character: Steve Zahn

I firmly believe that Steve Zahn is one of the most criminally ignored comedians currently working in film and television. But perhaps comedian isn’t fair. It isn’t like the guy tours between film roles doing stand-up around the country. In fact, I’m not entirely sure he would refer to himself as one. But either way, dude is funny as hell, and his humor deserves to be discussed about more.

Now for the flip. Occasionally in his roles, Zahn is given all too brief moments to fully assert his drama, which always produces memorable results. He’s believable in his comedy, and authentic in his pain.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Oslo, August 31st

There’s a scene in the fantastically bleak and insufferable Norwegian film, Oslo, August 31st in which the main character sits in a café and listens. He looks over at a couple and overhears their exchange about music. He gently glances at another woman as she reads aloud a presumed self-reflexing monologue about things she wants to do with her life. Young women socialize, kids talk over their parents, and so on. Everytime our main character, Anders, locks in on a conversation, the film’s soundtrack slowly brings that dialogue into the foreground, making it the only thing we, the audience, can hear.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Life of Pi

Life of Pi is a film about so much more than its title suggests. Sure, at its core, it is the story of an adult man telling the unbelievable story of his childhood, and how he spent seven and a half months on a lifeboat with a tiger after being shipwrecked. But beyond that, it’s a film about resurgence. And loss. And regret, and love. In short, it’s a film about life, period. We’re just privy to it through the narrative of one old wise man.