Thursday, January 28, 2010

Favorite Films of '09

20. Fighting- Dito Montiel’s sophomore film again feels like pages ripped from his own life. Starring Channing Tatum as a fighter who becomes involved with underground brawls per manager Terence Howard does several things very well: the relationship between him and beautiful Zulay Henao develops in gentle, sweet waves and the fight scenes (filmed in steady long takes) begin to mount with moral and psychological gravity. Director Montiel’s future is unlimited.

19. Jerichow- A German re-working of “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, Christian Petzold’s domestic noir rolls along with subtle nuance until the final 30 minutes when the consequences begin to elicit gasps. As the cuckold husband, Ali, Hilmi Solzer gives a tremendous performance as a shrewd businessman who slowly pieces together the strands of the affair between his wife and employee Tomas (Benno Furman). Petzold’s camera holds steady on the tension beneath the surface until it boils over into grand tragedy.

18. Somers Town- Shane Meadows second slice of autobiographical life (again starring young Thomas Turgoose) is a slight (72 minute) affair but hugely affecting. The relationship between Turgoose and the teenage Polish immigrant (Piotr Jagiello) he befriends is sketched out with humor and a fondness for that awkward age, especially when they begin flirting with a beautiful French girl (Ireneusz Czop). The final moments, when the film shifts from black and white to color home movie images of the three in Paris, reach a luminous expression of youth. Whether its real or imagined is beside the point.

17.Crazy Heart- A lot of talk will be about Jeff Bridges’ performance- which is terrific. But the real merit of Scott Cooper’s debut film is the way it tackles the subgenre of the weary, hard drinking country and western singer and makes it feel so vital. It’s the secondary performances from Maggie Gyllenhall and a wonderful Colin Farrell that gives “Crazy Heart” its depth.

16. House of the Devil- Ti West’s “House of the Devil” is a definite step up from his previous genre riffs, “The Roost” and “Triggerman”. Shrouded in a great 80’s funk (with the tone set immediately by the big yellow block credits and a Cars-like knock off tune), it tells the story of a broke college student (Jocelin Donahue) who takes on more than she can handle when she accepts a baby sitting gig at a cavernous house in the country. Populated with distinctive and eerie faces such as Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov as the house’s owners, the film builds slowly. The first 2/3 is all atmosphere, mood and formalism as West sets up the exploration of the house with carefully framed static shots and slow, portentous zooms. Then the last part accelerates into a frenetic, freaky ride with some terrific shock cuts. It’s ideas are a bit derivative, but “House of the Devil” remains a strong genre effort that deserves a large midnight audience.

15. Sugar- If Ron Shelton's "Bull Durham" is the comedic take on life in the minor leagues, then "Sugar" levels off and presents something a bit more realistic... where getting to "the show" is a daily grind that seems to crush the life out of every wannabe major leaguer. But in hindsight, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's intimate portrait of Sugar Santos (Algenis Perez Soto) and his search for a spot on a professional roster is less about baseball and certainly more about the compounding confusions that overwhelm a non-English speaking immigrant plopped down in the middle of America. And isn't that what the greatest sports movies do? Which is to say they present grand human emotions and self discovery against the ordinary facade of competitive sportsmanship.

14.Bright Star- Jane Campion’s film about the evolving relationship between young poet John Keats (Ben Whitslaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) is an especially taciturn effort, filled with compelling moments of shots through window panes and a gut-punch finale. I haven’t always been a fan of Campion’s cinema, but “Bright Star” is one of her best.

13. The Brothers Bloom- Rian Johnson’s candy colored heist film plays like a Mamet script on steroids. The ensemble cast (Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz and Mark Ruffalo) are more than just ciphers for Johnson’s deadpan humor and electric visual style. They generate actual warmth and certain moments (such as a long tracking shot following Weisz and Brody as they walk behind a pillar and emerge holding hands) recall the whimsical joy of Jacques Demy or Francious Truffaut. Probably the most under appreciated film of the year.

12. In the Loop- Vulgar, loose and fast… Armando Iannucci’s political satire is probably the first comedy about the mind-numbing beaurucratic vagaries of the military-industrial complex. And did I mention it was funny? Blink and you’ll probably miss a one liner. And if I had a vote, Peter Capaldi would take home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

11. Sin Nombre- Cary Fukunaga’s Sundance break out is essentially a modern day retread of Gregory Nava’s early 80’s immigrant-transfer masterpiece “El Norte”, but this film’s stunning visual palette and sense of unrelenting violence is all 2009. Young actors Edgar Flores and Paulina Gaitan undercut their seemingly benign performances with rare glimpses of honesty and emotion. Of all the films on this list, director Fukunaga’s star is shining the brightest.

10. Sunshine Cleaning- Probably the biggest surprise of my movie-going year was Christine Jeffs' "Sunshine Cleaning". I expected very little from this small comedy-drama out of Sundance, yet it resonated strongly. Emily Blunt- beautiful beyond belief- really makes me love this film even more. As the younger, more complex and off beat sister to Amy Adams, the duo organizes a crime scene cleaning business. The film goes to some very unexpected places, and I doubt I'll see a better scene in any film this year than the moment when Blunt takes her new friend (Mary Lynn Rajskub) to the train tracks and releases some pent up sadness. A very under appreciated effort.

9. The Road- John Hillcoat has already carved a splendid little career out of visually devastated landscapes and roughneck emotions, and his faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s apocalypse novel to end all apocalypse novels “The Road” excels in relentless grit and grime. As the father (Viggo Mortenson) and the boy (Kodi Smit McPhee) traverse the landscape, Hillcoat’s vision of snow covered wastelands lit only by far-away fires is compelling and realistic… and its certainly done the novel’s poetic descriptions justice. Every corner of this film is loaded with debris, broken trees and technological wreckage. The one real diversion from the novel- fleshing out the character of the mother played by Charlize Theron in flashback- feels like the right decision as it provides Mortenson and McPhee with purpose and heartbreak. And when the truly chilling moments arise, such as the emergence of a band of rovers from a dark tunnel or the grisly and disturbing discovery in a house cellar, “The Road” rattles around before your eyes like a one-of-a-kind horror film.

8. The Headless Woman- Lucretia Martel’s psychological puzzle of a film follows a middle aged woman (Maria Onetto) as she sleepwalks through the days of her life, wondering whether that bump in the road she ran over a few days back was a dog or a young child. Martel’s fractured visual style mimics that of her protagonists’ conflicted state and “The Headless Woman” is a film that demands repeat viewings, slowly revealing sounds and suggested body language that deepens the mystery and opens up new interpretations.

7. Two Lovers- Four for four. That’s the current track record for director James Gray. Sidestepping the ideas of his three previous films, which dealt with the complicated gestures of domestic harmony entrenched in criminal activity, “Two Lovers” carries just as much moral tension as Joaquin Phoenix has to choose between two different women- the more traditional (and Jewish) or the blond party girl. Filmed with the same quiet patience that feels like an early 70’s Gordon Willis picture, Gray wallows in such genuine feelings and images that even a trifle event such as the choosing between two women becomes a choice that could move mountains.

6. An Education- Lone Scherfig's "An Education" takes a prominently well-spun idea and turns it into something aching and real. The May-December romance (this time with a 16 year old schoolgirl and a suave older man) plays out with sincerity, mostly due to the very strong acting by newcomer Carey Mulligan. In just a few lines of dialogue, "An Education" sharply brings into focus the canyon of differences in lifestyles, world views and knowledge between the wide-eyed youngster and her well versed suitor. "An Education" positions itself as a character study of the highest order. This is precisely the intimately made little film that keeps me going to the movie theater in search for something redeeming.

5. Up In the Air- Razor sharp in its emotions and with nary a spare word of dialogue, the film unfurls with utter truth and honesty. As the traveling warrior whose job it is to fire people, Clooney again takes a simple role and embellishes it with gentle grace. There are life changes, and some big speeches, and some very tender moments with a similar soul (the always game and beautiful Vera Farmiga), and “Up In the Air” nails each and every moment. Much has been made of the film’s prescient tone about our nation’s current economy, and it’s the mixture of comedy and improvised drama (from mostly people who have actually lost their job) that creates the aura of a film with real purpose and vitality without flaunting its ‘nowness’.

4. The Cove- Louie Psihoyos' documentary is certainly bleeding heart agitprop... but it works and works magnificently. Expounding on the long-standing practice of Japanese dolphin slaughter on a little island known as Taijie, it often takes alot to move me and "The Cove" does it several times. Like a precise thriller or slow-screw-turning horror movie, Psihoyos and his team of animal activists give us tidbits of information- first charming nuggets about the level of intelligence within dolphins and the resurgence of the mammals' popularity after "Flipper" debuted in the 1960's- and then peels back the curtain to reveal a gripping espionage tale as the group attempts to document and record what is really happening in a two acre body of water just out of sight off the island. And when the images do come (something the film builds towards with thunderous propensity), it's a completely unnerving experience that I wasn't prepared for. And while those images and sounds will stay with you for days, the real heart breaker of the story lies in the main examination of Rick O'Barry- the perfect hero if there ever was one. As the dolphin trainer and head "capturer" of the dolphins for the Flipper show, he now dedicates his life to freeing the mammals around the world. The guilt of seeing his dolphins die in captivity strain his face and resonate in his voice. If nothing else, "The Cove" is a tremendous and moving confessional.

3. Adventureland- It would seem almost too easy for a film like "Adventureland" not to fail. Add catchy 80's pop tunes by the likes of INXS, The Cure, Husker Du, toss in the improvisational comedy of Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig, star two energetic and likable young stars (Eisenberg and Stewart) and milk off the success of indie-rock tales such as last year's "Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist" while treading closely to the Apatow brand. What director Greg Mottola captures is something altogether special- the way he films the hands of Stewart and Eisenberg touching as they kiss..... the little lean-in he does underneath a sky of fireworks...."Adventureland" is the type of film that makes one reminisce about their own awkward staggering through young love, and for me it even brought back a rush of sounds and feelings. And, the final scene stands as one of the most uplifting and breathless endings in quite a while.

2. Summer Hours- Olivier Assayas’ family chamber drama breathes with naturalism. Spanning the lives of one French family before and after the death of their matriarch, “Summer Hours” feels like Assayas’ paean to the tender movies of the late Eric Rohmer or Renoir.

1. Public Enemies- Michael Mann’s invigorating, hi-def exploration of 30’s era John Dillinger combines the best of his recurring themes into a propulsive crime film that succeeds on every level. The shoot-out at Little Bohemia rivals that of the downtown Los Angeles carnality in “Heat”, but it’s the smaller moments that register-the relationship between Depp and Cotillard and the dysfunctional art of honor and civility between crooks and criminals, especially in the performance of Stephen Lang. This is the film that energized and startled me the most in 2009.

Honorable mentions: Lion's Den (Pablo Trapero), Red Cliff (John Woo), The Girlfriend Experience, Thirst (Chan Wook), The Box, Drag Me To Hell, Flame and Citron

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tops In Pops '09: Top 5

5. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis “White Lunar”- A double cd featuring some of their soundtrack themes to films as diverse as “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford” and the little-seen documentary “The Girls of Phnom Penh”, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis deliver a knockout collection. Their musical expansiveness is breathtaking, creating timeless pieces of music that feel completely antique one moment then wholly modern the next. The real gems here, though, are the tracks from “The Vaults”… pieces that feel alive with the spontaneity of two guys who enjoy making music.

4. Do Make Say Think “Other Truths”-I have to thank Bob at Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind for turning me on to this band. Jamming instrumental is a weakness of mine. Just look no further than my enduring love for Texas band Explosions In the Sky. When its done right, this style of post-rock can be very elevating, and Do Make Say Think routinely elevate.

3. The Antlers “Hospice”- Coming out of relative obscurity, The Antlers (Peter Silberman, Michael Lerner and Darby Cicci) “Hospice” is a sweeping and moving album that tells a distinctly sad story. In essence, a 10 song lament for having to watch someone die of cancer, “Hospice” soars with hope in certain moments before crashing back into sadness. It’s a bold move, and one that floods the listener with various moods. Not for the faint of heart, but “Hospice” leaves us with the hope that all the angst has been washed away with this album. If nothing else, ignore the lyrics and wallow in the beautiful tempo of their sound.

2. Beirut “March of the Zapotec/RealPeople”-A schizophrenic album to say the least. The first half, titled March of the Zapotec, highlights the brass and Eastern European style of Beirut. It's the last few songs that combine to make Beirut's latest a wonder to behold. The shift into a more synthetic/electronica sound, reminiscent of the tortured vocals of say Thom Yorke, abruptly pushes the band into an adventurous area of new exploration. Released way back in January of '09, this is the cd that got worn out in my player.

1. The Mars Volta "Octahedron"-Very similar to the latest Pearl Jam album, The Mars Volta have churned out a very focused and tight collection of songs. Sure, the guitar lashings and freak-out jams are still present in some places, but overall, their latest is a revelation that they don't need a 13 minute King Crimson like jam to satisfy. By honing their sound, The Mars Volta have created a marvelous addendum to their ever evolving career.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tops in Pops '09: The Bottom Half

I welcome any suggestions to artists I should be listening to. In the meantime, here's Part One of my musical favs of the year.

10. Public Enemies soundtrack- Elliot Goldenthal’s mixture of 30’s era swing and contemplative mood harmonies perfectly sync up with the luscious Hi-def images of Michael Mann’s film. I’ve long admired the work of Goldenthal the composer, and with “Public Enemies”, he reaches a new plateau.

9. Ida Maria “Fortress Round My Heart“- Part of this album is way to pop for my taste. But once you push past the first seven tracks of “Fortress Round My Heart“- obviously meant to score on American alt radio- Ida Maria’s voice melts into something very cool. Part Nena in the 80’s and part soulful exploration of some raspy blues tunes that linger, the stunner on this album is “We’re All Going To Hell”. I look forward to whatever she does next.

8. Dinosaur Jr “Farm”- Not that I’d expect J. Mascas and his band mates to re-invent themselves, and with “Farm” they sound just like they did in 1992. And that’s a great thing. Either one is a fan of Dinosaur Jr’s crushing guitar sound and Mascas’ slurred vocals or not.

7. Pearl Jam “Back Spacer”- Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, Pearl Jam have crafted a tight, economical album full of blistering tunes. I’ve long been a fan of Pearl Jam, and this is probably their best record since “Vs.” The same sense of focus rolls out through every song and each track consistently surprises, while Eddie Vedder’s voice sounds just as competent and powerful as it did when they burst onto the grunge scene 20 years ago.

6. And You Will Know Us By the Trail of the Dead “The Century Of Self”- On first listen, the new album by Texas prog-rockers And You Will Know Us By the Trail of the Dead felt like they were still searching for an overreaching sound. Subsequent listens has narrowed their sound into something adventurous, revealing an exciting mixture of post-rock noise and more straight forward rock. It’s albums like this I love.

Part 2 (The Top 5) tomorrow.....

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Ballads of a Pioneer

I've been haunted by Stephen Kijak's "Scott Walker: 30 Century Man" for two weeks now. The film itself is pretty standard biographical fare, marching through the elusive but highly influential musical career of Scott Walker. What stirs me most is the idea that I could have been blind to the talents of a singer/composer like Scott Walker for so long. I'd heard bits and pieces of his music over the years, but never in the persuasive fashion explored by the film. I've since spent more time and money than I wish to admit, collecting a majority of his music on import cd's and downloads. Simply put (by the film, not just myself) Walker is a musical chameleon... a singer/songwriter/composer who surfaces in each decade with masterful songs and a crooning baritone voice, leaving his oddities behind to push seismic ripples out into the musical universe and abruptly shifting the sound into something more adventurous.

Through honest, unpretentious interviews with Scott Walker in 2004, when he was hard at work crafting his latest album which would become "The Drift", director Kijak creates a testimonial through visuals and talking head interviews (with fans and devotees such as David Bowie, Damon Albarn and Jarvis Cocker) that effectively conveys the importance of Walker's sound. The most fascinating moments involve his experimental techniques in percussion (a drummer punching slabs of meat for that thud) and the faces of the numerous collaborators, smiling and surprising themselves with little moments of the songs they'd forgotten where there courtesy of Walker. Starting at the beginning when Scott became 1/3rd of the Beatles-like pop band The Walker Brothers, things get supremely interesting as his solo career falters in the late 60's. In 1978, he reunites with The Walker Brothers and they're given a one record deal with a bankrupt record company. The first four tracks on that record, titled "Nite Flights", were penned by Scott and are routinely attributed with the praises of 'greatest 4 songs ever put on record'. That's debatable, but this is the type of hype that follows the cult status of Walker. For the record, after listening to "Nite Flights" and the first 4 tracks, they are incredibly mind blowing for 1978.

So continues the life and legend of Walker. For any more notices of the guy's coolness, he contributed the soundtrack to Leos Carax's "Pola X"..... and if you've seen that film, who could forget the crescendo of thrashing guitar and metal noise? With the overview of his last two albums, "Scott Walker: 30 Century Man" really gains traction. The avant garde side of his tastes (a mixture of Radiohead, who initially titled "Creep" the Scott Walker song, and off note jazz noise) begins to shine through in 1997's "Tilt" and "The Drift" in 2006. It takes an intense state of mind to endure and listen to the moody, dark and almost haphazard way musical instruments careen and float through his latest work, but they're entirely rewarding once you break through. And that's the beauty of "Scott Walker: 30 Century Man". There's no pizazz. There's no hyped up visuals. The film presents Walker and his music in a straight forward fashion, casting a fan's air of reverie and respect over the entire effort. Like the music, if one gives in, it can be extremely rewarding.

But enough talk. The only real way to do justice is to present the man and his music for yourself:

The beginnings: The Walker Brothers, and their first hit:

Scott Walker solo in 1969, one of my favs:

The incredible song from "Nite Flights" in 1978. The 2:04 mark is when it gets damn epic:

Sliding into the experimental but still insanely beautiful, from "Tilt" in 1997:

From "The Drift" in 2006.... still trying to wrap my brain around this album:

Bonus video- his contribution to 80's New Wave. Who remembers this video? I do.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Top 5 List: Best Non 2009 Movies I Saw in '09

5. The Molly Maguires (1970)- Written about here. From James Wong Howe's many seamless tracking shots to the grimy atmosphere that reeks of rain, mud and coal, this is one hugely under appreciated Martin Ritt effort. Taking the most elemental crime film trope (cop goes undercover to penetrate a group of 'terrorists'), "The Molly Maguires is also a bracing psychological experiment as good guy Richard Harris begins to fall in love with the enemy and even empathize with him. None of the performances are showy, and Sean Connery (as the leader of the Molly Maguires) seethes and rages with just the right amount of dignity. See this film soon.

4. The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (1959)-A virtual 'one off' for playwrights Charles Guggenheim and director John Stix, this is one twisted and way-ahead-of-its-time crime thriller. Starring a young Steve McQueen as the novice driver for a group of older criminals, "The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery" feels like the closest thing America had to the pivotal noirs of Jean Pierre Melville. Plenty of ominous scenes with men standing around in trench coats, "The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery" is an efficient and tight document of the tireless preparation put into the job by these grizzled veterans. Toss in some subverted homosexuality, a single four minute monologue by one of the criminals about his past, and a baroque bank robbery finale and you've got yourself one nasty little treat. Written about here.

3. The Whole Shootin' Match (1978)- Thanks to Watchmaker Films for allowing some of Eagle Pennell's early films to see the light of day. A bonafide Texas legend, this debut film from 1978 charts the lackadaisical scheming of two Texas layabouts (Lou Perryman and Sonny Carl Davis) over the course of a few days. Hugely inspirational for a whole generation of filmmakers who routinely create entire films about "hanging out", "The Whole Shootin' Match" deserves its now iconic status. Read my thoughts about it here.

2. Second Breath (1966)- Slowly but surely, the exhilarating films of Jean Pierre Melville are creeping out on home video. '09 saw two more titles (this one and "Le Doulos") added to the slate. Made smack in the middle of his continually rich film noirs, "Second Breath" simmers with the same ideas of loyalty, love, betrayal and misguided honor in the French underworld. This is a film that needs to be seen twice. Once to appreciate the spiraling trends in the narrative, and a second time to immerse oneself in the fatalistic attitude and glorious black and white cinematography. Hence the title.

1. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)- The crowning achievement of new to DVD films released in 2009, Peter Yates' crime drama concerns itself less with the magnanimous stardom of Robert Mitchum (as the titular Eddie Coyle) and more with the related activities of secondary characters as Coyle struggles with the impulse to 'flip' on them and save his own skin. The film is a deliriously good exploration of the Boston underworld, featuring two impressive set pieces (a parking lot stake out and Eddie's final hockey game). I've been hearing about this film for years, and it now stands as one of the true classics. Covered here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Trailers I Love

I don't know what to say about this one except please, let me see it now.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Hi Defness: Angel Heart

There's no real reason for choosing Alan Parker's baroque noir as the second Blu Ray film to discuss on this blog. I'd seen it once years ago, and it just sorta called out to me while scrolling through a list of recently released Blu Ray titles. Watching it now, years later, and in the midst of Mickey Rourke's second coming as an actor, "Angel Heart" doesn't deserve it's diminished status as the film that almost received an X rating due to its steamy sex scene between Rourke and actress Lisa Bonet- and I have to report, the scene is just as erotic and weird as I remember it. There's lots to love about Alan Parker's film, especially due to its downright steamy atmosphere and casual disregard for playing the noir genre by the rules.

Locating itself in 1955, "Angel Heart" uses the established noir genre for about 30 minutes before jumping off the deep end, bartering in eerie dream images, abandoned wintry coastlines and psychic paraphernalia instead. Hired by a dark suited man named Louis Cypher (Robert DeNiro), Chicago private investigator Angel (Rourke) soon finds himself in the deep bayou country of New Orleans tracking the whereabouts of an elderly big band singer. Complicating things are the dead bodies that routinely pop up after Angel questions them. Then there's the sultry presence of Lisa Bonet as the possible daughter of the missing man. In hindsight, one can easily brush off the image-change Bonet was trying to facilitate in 1987. Reinventing herself from the iconic status of the oldest Cosby daughter into a sexually voracious voodoo practitioner with a sex scene drenched in dripping blood was probably more of a hurdle back in '87 then it would be now where celebrity status is bathed in blood and sweat daily. And her intentions are clear from the first time we see her: as she washes her hair on an outside faucet, the water runs down and wets the thin shirt around her body, leaving nothing to the imagination. It's times like this I'm especially grateful for Blu Ray.

And that's the real reason for this post. Any film lover will probably already know the outcome (and twist) of "Angel Heart". A film such as "Angel Heart" feels refreshing on Blu Ray. A good deal of its running time is located indoors, along the dank French Quarter 'antiqueness' where the shadows and physical age can usually be hidden on standard editions. In Blu Ray, those black corners and sunlight steeped window valances that spray light around the room act as a second character. You can feel the atmosphere in the frame. Likewise, the film's early moments as Rourke swaggers around downtown Chicago take on a blistering quality as the various billboards and signs in the background pop with vibrancy. Both locations, New Orleans and Chicago, serve as diametric opposites in Angel's dogged pursuit of singer Johnny Favorite and the Blu Ray format does justice to both.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Another Decade Down

I really, really tried to resist doing this. My decade choices. With every passing day, and every blog entry I read, someone else was stirring up the pot and listing their favs of the decade. I cringed. I told myself I wouldn't do it... in some sort of nonconformist attempt to be different. Then Fletch went and conducted one of those polls, and the hand-wringing and cringing started for me. I had to do it. Now my choices are listed and out in the open. For the most part, every film on this list was my personal favorite of its respective year (or a very close second), and they haven't changed. 2007, being a particularly strong year, scores a couple of entries as does 2006. 2002 and '03 serve as cop-out years where I didn't feel strongly enough to rank any films, opting for the alphabetical route instead. In retrospect, creating this 10 best list was fairly easy, and I'm certainly comfortable with my choices now.

1. The New World- Terrence Malick's film about the colonization of America is a meditative tone poem that looks, feels and sounds just as compelling as it did in early 2006.

2. There Will Be Blood- I initially saw P.T. Anderson's '07 film twice in three days, shaken and stirred each time I emerged from the theater. From the opening moments, Anderson's visual and audible control is impeccable. "There Will be Blood" is a continuation in a career that will be legendary.

3. Rachel Getting Married- '08's best film towers above the rest and it features a shattering performance by Anne Hathaway. Director Jonathan Demme's Cassavetes-like character study is patient and observant, bouncing with warm musical styles and pitch perfect characterizations.

4. Public Enemies- Michael Mann's strongest film since "Heat"... a pulsating and visually audacious gangster tale that firmly establishes his recurring themes of criminal fatalism.

5. The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford- In a few years, this film may rise in stature. I never expected anything like this from director Andrew Dominik, but this is a lyrical exploration of idol worship and star fascination. Languid and beautiful, it could be twice as long and I wouldn't care.

6. The Man Who Wasn't There- My vote for most under appreciated Coen Brothers movie... ever! Their 2001 black and white film remains a dazzling comedy and an honest pastiche of 40's film noir.

7. Almost Famous- Kate Hudson never looked better. Filmmaker Cameron Crowe has a tendency to slide into treacle in his movies, yet "Almost Famous" avoids those pitfalls and emerges as an engaging and thoroughly heartfelt autobiography.

8. The Departed- The best film Scorsese directed in this decade, it's a fast, loose and dizzying exploration of the Boston underworld complete with double crosses and triple crosses... and he makes it all look so easy.

9. Oldboy- 2005 was a stellar year for Asian filmmaking, but none quite as star making as Chan Wook Park's revenge masterpiece "Oldboy". This is a film that articulates itself even better on repeat viewings, and it never fails to make me giddy with its long takes and oblique camera angles.

10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind- Pretty much the consensual choice for most lists of the decade, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is probably the decade's most prescient movie. It's use of multi layered storytelling, visual playfulness and emo-sensibility sums up the aughts in every way.

A few more films to catch up on (as well as 1 or 2 cd's) and the year end wrap of '09will commence.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

I Think TCM Programmers Are Reading This Blog

A few months ago, I started a series of posts dedicated to calling out some lost films not yet released on DVD. Through the kindness of some blog readers as well as dear friends, I've managed to catch up with a few of these films on bootleg DVD or old VHS tapes (all, mind you, without paying a dime for them... thank you again). And now Turner Classic Movies is really stepping up their programming. It's not that I haven't been looking, but over the past 6 months to a year, TCM has seemingly mixed up their programming to feature some real oddities and gems. The inclusion of their TCM Underground Friday night slot is a much appreciated welcome to the treasure trove of the exploited, weird and cheesy, but it's something more than that. Among the hard to find Billy Wilder, William Wellman or Anthony Mann classics, TCM has tossed in screenings of Hal Ashby's "The Landlord" (which was on one of my lists), Blake Edward's "The Carey Treatment" and a host of other not on DVD efforts. Now in January, in addition to their spotlight on the Russian Revolution (which will bring about a rare look at John Huston's "The Kremlin Letter" as well as more mainstream stuff like "Reds" and "Ninotchka"), they go and program two, two Jerzy Skolimowski films from the 70's- one of them being "The Shout" which was listed on my third Produced and Abandoned post. With that, we also get to see his 1970 film "The Deep End" which I've read or heard little about. Bravo TCM.

I highly doubt that Robert Osborne is reading my blog, but it's fun to see that my cinematic subconscience is sending waves out into the universe. Maybe TCM is just picking up on them. Whatever it is, I'll keep sending them if they keep showing great movies.