Monday, September 30, 2013

Top 10 M83 Songs

M83 at the Hollywood Bowl - Sept. '13
One year ago, I posted a list of my favorite songs by my favorite band, M83. It was the first (and only) time I posted about music on this blog, and I was amazed by what happened. My Top 12 M83 Songs list lived on. A year later, it still attracts a fair amount of new readers and commenters who all share in my love for the electronic wonderment that is M83.

The only reason I wrote that post was to convey how important M83’s songs have been to my own filmmaking. Their tracks have been a lush well of inspiration. I’m continually impressed by their sound, and so very thankful for their ability to cultivate my creativity.

Blue Caprice

In the fall of 2002, the Washington, D.C. area was at the mercy of a 42-year-old ex-Army rifleman, and a disturbed 17-year-old kid. Beginning on Oct. 2, 2002, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo spent 20 days wrecking havoc on the metropolitan D.C. area, spontaneously killing people from the trunk of their 1990 Chevrolet Caprice. They would drive up the interstates connecting southern Maryland and northern/central Virginia, stopping every so often to execute someone pumping gas or walking in a shopping plaza.

What made these killings so unnerving was that there was no pattern or motive. Age, gender and race were not of issue to Muhammad and Malvo, which meant no one was safe, and everyone was freaked the fucked out.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Top 10 Films Longer than 200 Minutes

An interesting thing happens when you finish a really long movie. Or at least, hopefully it happens. If the film was a good one, then you’ve spent a lot of time watching something great, obviously. But beyond that, you feel a sense of accomplishment in having clocked so much time with one story. That’s how I felt when I finished these films listed below. They are all exceptional works of art, but they also make you feel like you’ve done something.

An important note of distinction: director’s cuts, miniseries, films released in multiple parts theatrically (or on television) were not considered here. That leaves many, many excellent films off the list, but it also makes room for some lesser-known ones. I’d really prefer to not argue about different versions with different running times and discuss the films at hand. Ya dig?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Don Jon

My body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, my porn.

If you’ve seen the confident, snappy, amusingly repetitive trailer for the confident, snappy, amusingly repetitive new film, Don Jon, then you know the list above is what the title character lives for.

Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who could very well be the most gifted actor of his generation) is hailed as “Don Jon” by his bros because of his ability to easily lay attractive women. The introductory segment of the film is dedicated to watching Jon spend day after day going through his list. He works out, cleans his apartment, cruises the streets, hangs with the family, hits the club, brings a girl home – awesome night. Awesome save the fact that once his flavor of the day is fast asleep, Jon tip toes to the living room to find that perfect clip of online porn, then finishes himself off the only gratifying way he knows how.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My First Film: Full Circle

Today marks the sixth anniversary of this blog, and to celebrate, I wanted to do something fun and different. Five years ago, I spent the summer making my first short film, Full Circle. We had a principal cast and crew of five, cheap, store-bought equipment, zero permits, little resources, but a hell of a lot of determination.

A few months before we made the movie, I won a short story contest and realized that Yes, it’s time to put up or shut up and try to make a film. I was passionate about the story and excited that it had garnered a little acclaim, and I realized that its content, about a young man attempting to regain what he’s lost, could make for a good film.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Top 5 Joseph Gordon-Levitt Performances

This Friday, we’ll get a look at Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, Don Jon. I was lucky enough to catch an early screening of that film a few weeks ago (my review will be up soon), and I thought it’d be fun to list my favorite performances of Gordon-Levitt’s impressive acting career. While I’m more drawn to his work in independent films, Gordon-Levitt delivers stellar work in every film, cementing the fact that he’s one of the finest actors of his generation.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Prisoners

When you’re kid, you’re invincible. Or at least you feel that way. Your parents can teach you the dangers of the world, but nothing can stop someone from pulling over to the side of the road, grabbing you and driving off. It’d be that simple. You’re gone and your parents are left in ruin.

That’s the jumping off point of the exceptional new crime thriller, Prisoners. Early in the film, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his family walk to their friends’ home to celebrate Thanksgiving. Keller, his wife, Grace (Maria Bello), and their hosts, Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy (Viola Davis) have a great time catching up. They eat, they drink, they laugh, and so on, all with their kids running around and playing. After a while, Keller and Grace’s young daughter, Anna, asks her parents if she can run home to get something with Franklin and Nancy’s little girl, Joy. All parents agree, so off the kids go. Alone. The girls don’t return, and the parents’ worst fear is brought to life.

Top 10 Roger Deakins Films

I have yet to see a movie shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins that wasn’t memorable for the way it looked. Simply put, Deakins is one of the best, most gifted men to ever lens a film. After seeing what Deakins did with the purposefully drab and purposefully cold film, Prisoners, this weekend, I thought it’d be fun to list my favorite-looking Deakins films. Enjoy!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Top 10 Films About the Wrongfully Convicted

What’s great about many of the films on this list is that they actually changed things. Because of the determination of a few filmmakers, people’s lives were irrevocably changed for the better. And if the movies themselves didn’t help free people in prison, then they do a damn good job of depicting their fight for freedom.

For the sake of brevity, I’m limiting this list to the wrongfully convicted who served time in prison. Village scandal movies like The Hunt, or prisoner-on-the-run flicks like The Fugitive were not considered.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

In Character: Hope Davis

One of the best ways to judge an actor’s talent is to watch them in a really bad movie. If they can outshine the material and deliver a solid performance in an otherwise lame film, then they are well on their way to having something special. I’ve seen Hope Davis in a number of films and TV shows, some of which are, sadly, quite bad. Yet I’ve never seen anything less than a stellar Hope Davis performance. Known primary as a darling of American independent films, Davis’ talent is as solid as a rock, no matter the content she’s given.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Adore

There’s a scene early in the dangerous and erotic new film, Adore, in which two best friends sit on a beach and admire their grown sons surfing in the ocean. “My God… did we do that?” one asks gleefully. “They’re beautiful. They’re like young Gods.”

The beauty of this moment is that it hints at where Adore is taking us. As life long best friends Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) lovingly observe their sons from afar, we gather that these are more than mere looks of admiration. These are glances of temptation. The subtlety of Watts and Wright’s acting talents discard any creepiness that could have found its way into the scene. Instead, we witness two, middle-aged women who are silently teasing themselves with What if.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Top 28 Things I Love About Heat (that no one else talks about)


You know what the first thing I want to do as soon as I finish watching Michael Mann’s epic crime masterpiece Heat? Watch it again. Despite this film’s intricate storyline and lengthy running time, it never gets old. It never grows tired or forced. It’s sharp, on the edge, right where I like crime movies to be.

Friday, September 13, 2013

My Favorite Scene: Casino, Part II

The common movie maxim dictates that if we watch criminals rise to power, we’re almost certainly going to witness their downfall. Casino is no exception. Late in the film, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion BMV blasts over the soundtrack as a series of well-placed shots of contemporary Vegas flash on the screen. With these images, Martin Scorsese is ushering in the end of an era. By this point in the film, we’ve witnessed the fate of almost every character involved. But there’s still one left. Sin City itself. From birth, it lived a rather unique life, but now, like the gangsters who once owned it, the city itself must fall.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My Favorite Scene: Casino, Part I

Martin Scorsese is a master of many things. But one thing he’s never given enough credit for is his uncanny ability to depict a domestic argument. Henry vs. Karen Hill, Jake LaMotta and Vickie, the entirety of The Age of Innocence, and so on. Those respective films excel for many reasons, but the constant verbal battles depicted within them are utterly horrifying.

Noting Scorsese’s penchant for showcasing a family unraveled, no such scene in his career is more devastating than Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) viciously kicking his wife, Ginger (Sharon Stone) out of their house. The scene takes place shortly after Ginger has come back into town after running off with her and Ace’s daughter for several days. Ace welcomes Ginger back, but berates her at a public dinner, forcing Ginger to leave the restaurant. That night, Ace overhears Ginger whisper into the phone how badly she wants Ace killed. The camera cuts to below Ginger, just as Ace (who ingeniously moves into the camera’s focus) quietly comes up behind her. Ginger stops talking.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Character: Peter Greene

Peter Greene is the ultimate creeper. In the mid-‘90s, Greene dominated popular American cinema with his dark eyes, skinny frame and sinister sneer. All of his best characters are subtly terrifying, mostly because they’re played by a man who isn’t physically imposing. Greene’s terror is all about the attitude. His characters have this relentless confidence that is impossible to ignore. When Peter Greene walks in a room, you pay attention, probably because you know something bad is about to happen.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Debuts Blogathon: David Gordon Green's George Washington

The fantastic Debuts Blogathon, co-run by Three Rows Back and Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, asked for film bloggers to review the first films from filmmakers they admire. I chose to discuss David Gordon Green’s tiny (and best) movie, George Washington. The link below directs you to my post about the film, where I critique the film itself, and inquire as to whether or not the David Gordon Green I love is in fact, back.


Monday, September 9, 2013

A Career Retrospective: Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin is one of the best, most iconic living writers we have. He’s one of the few screenwriters that many know by name, and, more importantly, by content. Say what you will about Sorkin’s deliberate style, when you watch a Sorkin show, you know you’re watching a Sorkin show. The snap-crackle-pop dialogue, the walk and talk, the blend of comedy and humor, the intellect – I’m certainly an admirer of his work, but I’m also the first to admit that his career has been far from perfect.

Below are brief thoughts on each piece of material Sorkin has written for the big and small screen. For the films, my grades are solely based on the strength of Sorkin’s script. For his TV shows, my grade is based on the overall power of the show, all aspects included. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Top 10 Supporting Actors Not Nominated Alongside Their Leads

Similar to my list yesterday of neglected Supporting Actress performances, here are 10 Supporting Actor performances that deserved to be nominated alongside the leading men from their films.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Top 10 Supporting Actresses Not Nominated Alongside Their Leads

In the weeks I’ve spent reflecting on the acting power within Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, one nagging thought refuses to leave my mind: My God, I hope Sally Hawkins is nominated alongside Cate Blanchett. Blanchett is a lock for a Lead Actress nomination, but Hawkins equally deserves to fight for Oscar gold in the Supporting Actress category. I just hope she’s given the chance.

Some lead actresses are made better because of the women who support them. Other supporting roles stand out on their own, separate from whoever earns top billing. Either way, here are 10 supporting actresses who should have been nominated alongside the Oscar nominated leads for their films.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

The primary beauty of David Lowery’s new film, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, is the way it manages to devise its story around such a familiar plot, but is executed in such a unique fashion. An outlaw is sent to prison, leaving his wife and child behind. Years later, he escapes and does everything in his power to find his family. That’s a plot description we’ve seen on screen dozens of times over. And shortly after the film began, I feared that I would be shown nothing new in the subsequent 90 minutes. How wrong could I be?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Top 14 Werner Herzog Films

Werner Herzog is my favorite living filmmaker. I love his films. All of his films. But moreover, it’s his attitude that I’m drawn to. The way he’s driven by a sort of nonchalant necessity to make films. He’s compelled to tell stories that no one else is telling, and he doesn’t do it from the comfort of a studio lot. He goes to the jungle, pulls ships over mountains, puts his life in jeopardy, all in an effort to achieve a greater truth.

Herzog has made many films, both in fictional narrative and documentary form. I’ve seen nearly all of them (only a few short films remain) and here, on the man’s 71st birthday, are my favorite of his wildly eclectic oeuvre. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Short Term 12

Short Term 12 tells the story of a handful of young, dedicated people who supervise a foster-care facility for very troubled youths. At the center is Grace (Brie Larson), a strict but compassionate floor supervisor who works alongside her boyfriend, the goofy but reliable Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), and an innocent new guy, Nate (Rami Malek). Through a series of quick and amusing vignettes, we meet the staff of Short Term 12 before we are introduced to the kids who define them. And what an introduction the kids have.

Some are violent, others are angry. Some scream and shout and run, others sit quietly, waiting to explode. Grace and Mason are trained to handle anything these kids throw their way, but we, the audience, are not. Writer/director Destin Cretton knows this, and instead of exploiting our naiveté, he guides us steadily – never shocking, but consistently leveling us with brutal truth.