Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Waiting for the Mann

Also, I'm not even quite sure why, but let it be said that this looks pretty damn cool - it's certainly the most enticing trailer I've seen in some months - and I didn't even like Collateral much. Something about the Foxx/Farrell combo just clicks, surprisingly, and it looks crazy-bombastic in a fun way, rather than phonily hard-boiled in, well, a Collateral way. Credit, according to my much-more-down-with-it younger brother Myles, goes to Linkin Park (!) and Jay-Z (!!) for that tune. And if someone's going to plunder yet another cult TV show for summer blockbuster hijinks, it might as well be the show's creator. Colour me keen...

(PS. No, I don't think Farrell does understand the meaning of the word "foreboding")

Method in Malick's madness

I get it: England is the new world. Clever! Thanks to Anthony Lane for that little aperçu - it helps prepare us for the shift in perspective from Smith to Pocahontas that I kind of think is the whole idea, and structurally the most confident thing about the movie.

Malick's opus is improving, slightly, in retrospect, but I'm still waiting for a passionate defence of it that actually makes sense...

#30: I Vitelloni (Federico Fellini, 1953)

Because the carnival can't last forever.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

That was 2005, that was

Top Ten Films of the Year

10. Mysterious Skin

9. Junebug

8. Kings and Queen

7. Capote

6. Howl's Moving Castle

5. Sometimes in April

4. Adam & Paul

3. The Holy Girl

2. The Sun

1. King Kong

Honourable mention: The Wayward Cloud, Primer, The Edukators, Head-On, Downfall, The Machinist, The Keys to the House, The Secret Lives of Dentists, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Friday Night Lights, The Shore, Brokeback Mountain, L’enfant, Caché

Best Director

Lenny Abrahamson (Adam & Paul)

Peter Jackson (King Kong)

Lucrecia Martel (The Holy Girl)

Phil Morrison (Junebug)

Aleksandr Sokurov (The Sun)

Best Actor

Romain Duris (The Beat That My Heart Skipped)

Bruno Ganz (Downfall)

Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote)

Tom Murphy (Adam & Paul)

Issey Ogata (The Sun)

Very honourable mention: Mathieu Amalric (Kings and Queen), Campbell Scott (The Secret Lives of Dentists), Matt Dillon (Factotum), Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain)

Best Actress

Annette Bening (Mrs Harris)

Toni Collette (In Her Shoes)

Embeth Davidtz (Junebug)

Laura Dern (We Don't Live Here Anymore)

Felicity Huffman (Transamerica)

Honourable mention:
Jennifer Connelly (Dark Water), Emmanuelle Devos (Kings and Queen), Naomi Watts (King Kong), Lesley Ann Warren (The Shore).

Best Supporting Actor

Edward Hardwicke (Oliver Twist)

Eugene Hutz (Everything is Illuminated)

Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins)

Vincent D'Onofrio (Thumbsucker)

Michael Peña (Crash)

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams (Junebug)

Corinna Harfouch (Downfall)

Linh Dan Pham (The Beat That My Heart Skipped)

Lucy Punch (Festival)

Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain)

And the rest...

Original Screenplay

Roger Bohbot, Arnaud Desplechin (Kings & Queen)

Angus MacLachlan (Junebug)

Lucrecia Martel (The Holy Girl)

Phyllis Nagy (Mrs Harris)

Mark O’Halloran (Adam & Paul)

Adapted Screenplay

Jacques Audiard, Tonino Benacquista (The Beat That My Heart Skipped)

Dan Futterman (Capote)

Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens (King Kong)

Ang Lee, Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana (Brokeback Mountain)

Josh Olsen (A History of Violence)


Shane Carruth, Anand Upadhyaya (Primer)

Alain Marcoen (L’enfant)

Diego Martínez Vignatti (Battle in Heaven)

Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain)

Toca Seabra (Lower City)


Michael Hudecek, Nadine Muse (Caché)

Joe Klotz (Junebug)

Santiago Ricci (The Holy Girl)

Ronald Sanders (A History of Violence)

Juliette Welfling (The Beat That My Heart Skipped)


Battle in Heaven

The Beat That My Heart Skipped

The Holy Girl

Last Days

The Sun


Explosions in the Sky (Friday Night Lights)

Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie (Mysterious Skin)

James Newton Howard (King Kong)

Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain)

Howard Shore (A History of Violence)

Costume Design

Marit Allen (Brokeback Mountain)

Sophie de Rakoff (In Her Shoes)

Terry Ryan (King Kong)


Brokeback Mountain

The Fantastic Four

King Kong

Production Design

Judy Becker (Brokeback Mountain)

Jess Gonchor (Capote)

Alex McDowell (Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride)

Grant Major (King Kong)

Yelena Zhukova (The Sun)

Animated Feature

Howl’s Moving Castle

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride

Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit

...and happy holidays to all!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

#31: The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, 1963)

Because it's a grand reading of my favourite book.

A brave new World?

(from Variety)

A small 'World' after all
Malick still cutting pic


Terrence Malick's "The New World" will bow Sunday -- but that doesn't mean the helmer's done tinkering with it.

Just days before its Christmas bow at two venues in Los Angeles and one in Gotham, director Malick has been trimming his historical drama from the 149-minute version shown to critics and advance screening auds.

Newer version is said to include 15-20 minutes of tweaks and trims, but has no major chunks cut out.

New Line will release the longer version this weekend, will show it at awards screenings and has sent out DVD screeners of it to such voting groups as members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

New Line execs will see a shorter version soon and decide then which version will go out when the film expands late next month -- around the announcement of Academy Award nominations on Jan. 31.

New Line distribution and marketing toppertopper Rolf Mittweg told Daily Variety the studio will make a decision on the exact release pattern of the new version once Malick delivers the new cut, either later this week or early next week.

"It's all part of the process of working with Terrence Malick," Mittweg added. "He simply wants 'The New World' to be the best possible film that it can be."

Pic, centering on the arrival of the English at Jamestown and the story of Pocahontas, has already been reviewed extensively at the 149-minute length. Critics have delivered mixed reviews, with some carping about languid pacing.

Malick is famous for tweaking his films until the last minute.

Running times have been getting more intense scrutiny in lead-up media coverage. Nearly every review of and pre-release feature about Peter Jackson's "King Kong" has mentioned the ape epic's three-hour-plus length.

The length was cited by studio execs when explaining the giant primate's weekend boost after its slow Wednesday start: Auds may have needed to wait for the weekend when they had more free time to spend at the theater.

Likewise, the 164-minute running time for Steven Spielberg's "Munich," has been a frequent target for critics taking issue with the pic.

What do we make of this? Much as I pray Malick eventually delivers a cut that works, languor and overlength per se weren't the problems for me. Choppiness was. It's just possible that cutting it down further might have ironed out some of the movie's wonkier transitions, though my own nagging hunch was that it really needed to be longer, and that too much of the colonial context was getting short shrift as it was. Either way, I'm pretty keen to see this new cut, if only for academic reasons, and fingers crossed that it's some kind of an improvement.

25 years ago Kubrick did much the same thing with The Shining, which is 15 minutes longer in its US theatrical version than its European one. In that instance I think the shorter cut is the better movie, but it goes without saying that this isn't always so. (Look at Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America for a particularly sad counter-example.)

With The Thin Red Line Malick had a wealth of footage to choose from and still managed to assemble a masterpiece. He's got a different struggle on his hands trying to crystallise The New World down to the very good film it often promised to be, without exacerbating its most serious flaws - rhythmic uncertainty, and unnecessarily confusing narrative lurches - yet further.

Those who haven't yet seen it now have a dilemma on their hands: which version to see first? I rather think that the rabidness of Malick-fandom among this site's regular readers will decide the issue. There's no way you guys are going to be able to wait beyond the weekend, right?

There's probably a discussion to be started, too, about whether it's exactly playing fair to screen one version to critics and voters and then release another. The cynic in me can't help but detect a whiff of New Line panic here. Maybe even Malick panic. I just worry that if he's still trying to find the film at this late stage, it may actually have slipped his grasp for good.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

#32: The Naked Spur (Anthony Mann, 1953)

Because it's all slippery slopes, and the rocky pathology of greed.

End-of-year listmania

Mainlymovies hopes to have a top ten up by the end of the week, along with his 2005 award nominees, right down to costume design and stuff. Unless I'm lucky with last-minute screenings, I won't have seen Munich, Jarhead or Memoirs of a Geisha, but I'm not holding out great hopes for any of those. May get to see Syriana tonight though.

#33: La Grande Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937)

Because The Rules of the Game does nothing for me, but this is almost faultless.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Betrayed! I'm feeling so... well, not really.

The movie of The Producers is hard to hate without having a complete sense of humour failure, but it's not very good. Spotty to say the least, drastically outstays its welcome, and most of it just sits there gurning at you. Lane yes, Broderick no, Uma not really, Ferrell... Ah, Ferrell. That Golden Globe nod wasn't just abject starfucking then. He steals the movie right from under Lane's nose, and, to be honest, he's welcome to it. C

Adam Mars-Jones on them gay cowboys

A really funny and thoughtful piece, I think. Respond! Respond!

#34: A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)

Because it's astonishingly raw, troubling and testing.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Woody 4 ever

Woody Allen's Match Point is getting its London première tonight, but it's by pure coincidence that I've been indulging in a little Woody retrospective of my own, prompted by some of the comments below under Annie Hall. Webloge and I treated ourselves to The Purple Rose of Cairo, which, despite its slender running time, I'd actually never seen from beginning to end, and I found myself thoroughly charmed by the conceit, faintly regretful that this featherlight movie doesn't quite know where to take it, and bowled over by the self-deprecating comic gifts of Jeff Daniels. Next up was a wondrous double bill this afternoon at the Curzon Mayfair - Broadway Danny Rose, already a firm favourite of mine, followed by a revelatory re-viewing of Hannah and Her Sisters.

Man. I don't know how I'd never quite clocked this film's greatness before - goodness knows, it's not been for any want of passionate prompting from film fans near and dear to me. I can only plead having last seen it more than ten years ago, probably on TV, doubtless with loads of commercial breaks and maybe homework to do at the same time, or with my eyes half-closed, or whatever. But, on the big screen this time, the movie just blew me away, with its impeccable ensemble generosity, capacious emotional range, jewellery box of beautiful performances, and sheer, bittersweet love of life. I think Nick's right - the movie vaults straight up to the top, or very near it, of Allen's filmography for me now. (Consider it a late honorary addition to the top 100 I'm still trawling through, somewhere close to the still-glorious Annie Hall, with Husbands and Wives coming in third.) I also recommend to anyone the experience of watching Hannah right after the lovely and gracious, smaller-hewn, deceptively throwaway Danny Rose, if only because the two movies ultimately cleave to the same life philosophy - one built around "acceptance, forgiveness, and love" - so similarly and well. Nick's dead right to close his review with mention of Hannah's centrepiece lunch scene, a breathtaking example of writing, direction, performance and cinematography all working in perfect tandem to deepen the feeling of a movie and realign its emphases.

I'm not sure Hannah would be the film it is if Bergman's Fanny and Alexander hadn't come a few years before it - the Thanksgiving celebrations which bookend the Allen film owe an obvious, fond debt to Bergman's classic, which in general terms seems to have prompted Allen into a much more warmly embracing view of family than he's ever demonstrated before or since. As such it strikes me as Allen's most successfully Bergmanesque film, as well as certainly one of his most successfully Allenesque. Though I'm still nervous about Match Point, it's impossible not to cherish this filmmaker's readily available company, like a favourite pair of slippers or something, when he's on this kind of sterling form.

#35: Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)

Because if replicants can love, why can't we?

Friday, December 16, 2005

#36: Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)

Because it's what I got.

#37: I Am Cuba (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964)

Because it sets out a recklessly beautiful stall for impossible ideals.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Unromancing The Family Stone

The Family Stone is all about Sarah Jessica Parker’s hair. So the movie’s first shot is a tight close-up on the scrunched whorl of her character’s coiffure, as, moby clamped to her ear for (hiss!) a business call, one-woman nightmare Meredith Morton does some frantically neurotic Christmas shopping around Bloomingdales (or wherever it is). Fiancé-to-be Dermot Mulroney waits tolerantly at the checkout; “Let It Snow” jingles button-pushingly on the soundtrack. The movie is quickly establishing, in shorthand, several things: it’s a Christmas flick! It’s going to be about letting it all hang out! And it’s going to be every bit as dreadful as you’d feared.

To contrast with Parker’s scraped, brittle ’do – with the name Meredith, it’s some kind of birthright – we have the luxuriant hairstyling of her prospective in-laws, from the swept-back, distinguished grey of paterfamilias Kelly Stone (Craig T Nelson), to the salt-and-pepper helmet of his sick wife Sybil (Diane Keaton, who seems to be turning into Elaine Stritch) to the lovely, reddish-brunette locks of daughter Amy (Rachel McAdams). And so on and so on. Brothers Ben (Luke Wilson), Everett (Mulroney) and even gay, deaf, cuddly little Thad (Tyrone Giordano) round out the ensemble with thick, enviable crops of their own. This family, it’s immediately obvious, have never wanted in their lives for love, laughter, or expensive hair products.

Meredith, on the other hand, has a hairstyle that’s almost invisible from the front and appears to be pulling her face off. The movie zooms in on it with the judgmental, eyerolling zeal of Joan Rivers at a red carpet première. “I’m not a completely ridiculous person,” she assures Everett at one point, but we have our doubts; writer-director Thomas Bezucha spends the first hour of his movie watching this pitiful fish out of water flap and gurgle, while the Stone family take against her boring, bigoted conversation, ridicule her uptight notions of decorum (she insists on sleeping in a separate room from Everett), and generally tear strips off the poor woman.

Meredith isn’t so much a person, then, as a human piñata, and the movie’s pillorying of her – it’s Sally Kellerman in M*A*S*H all over again – is far too cruel to generate any Meet the Parents-ish comic friction, or dramatic friction, or anything much. I wouldn’t want to be too vicious towards Parker, because it really is an unsalvageably awful role, but Bezucha encourages her to overplay Meredith in ways that make her every scene pretty much hell to watch. She drops a cringeworthy double-bombshell at the dinner table, clumsily getting herself tarred with racism and homophobia in the same breath, and it’s basically an excuse for the Stone family to close ranks on her and demonstrate their impeccably warm and cosy liberal worldview yet again. (I’d much rather watch the equivalent scene in Guess Who, actually – the only good bit in that movie, but it did have the virtue of being funny and genuinely confrontational at the same time.) Bezucha, for his part, keeps docking points off Meredith and giving them to the Stones, and I think it’s a cheap, offensive tactic; I also can’t remember the last time (short of Monster, or maybe Mary Reilly) that a film’s leading lady was so unflatteringly trussed and lit, here simply as a one-stop shortcut to characterisation.

You know Meredith’s hair is going to come down, eventually, but you’re also pretty sure she’s still going to be an unattractive pain even then, and so it proves. Bezucha’s film makes the usual festive feints towards generosity and inclusiveness, but the arc of his ensemble dramatics is so botched and glib that there’s virtually no will, good or otherwise, left in the well by then: we’re asked to believe that no fewer than six of the movie’s characters discover True Love over the course of a couple of deeply dull late-night conversations. Wilson’s epiphany entails mumbling his way through a horrendous speech about dreaming of Meredith in the snow (“I was the snow”) while Mulroney, finally getting around to second thoughts about this peculiar being he calls his girlfriend, shacks up with an inexplicable Claire Danes, as her slightly more human, considerably more underwritten younger sister Julie.

With its shamelessly derivative UK poster, The Family Stone is trying to position itself as this year’s Love Actually – another tinselly package of laughter and tears for our seasonal delight. But it elicits none of the above, and feels very much like a gift you dread opening – take a look at that hideously gaudy title montage and tell me it doesn’t prompt instant despair. Amid music cues lifted from every other Christmas flick in recent memory, the moment that really made me want to tear my hair out was the bounding obligatoriness of Tchaikovsky’s Russian Dance from The Nutcracker (you’ll know it when you groan hearing it) accompanying the ostensible comic climax, as every cast member does their best to bump into one another, chuck food around, and generally compete for the kooky idiocy prize. In fact, the only thing you can hear rattling around inside this movie’s monumentally vapid gift-wrapping – apart from a whole load of gone-off old chestnuts – is Rachel McAdams, who manages to make Amy the most unapologetically mean-spirited of the Stone clan, but also the only one we actually want to spend any time with. There was a vocal “Oh, fuck” from one reviewer when the movie appeared to end and didn’t: she spoke, eloquently, for the whole screening room, or at least for me. D

#38: The Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang, 1944)

Because of Lang's skin-prickling fascination with criminality.